Sunday, October 19, 2008

Everything in the Garden's Lovely

Time-saving, money-saving, fuel saving. These three now seem to take priority in the kitchen - which is a pity. Money I can do without, but sometimes a little bit more time and not having to worry about the cost of fuel can make the difference between a good meal and a great meal.
However, today am giving recipes that have always been quick and easy to prepare, and need not be expensive at all. They also take little time to cook.

For this first dish, save fuel time by using quick-cook pasta. This takes rarely more than five minutes to cook, less if needing it al dente, so the whole dish should be on the table within 10 - 15 minutes. Although the traditional (nay classic) way to make carbonara is with spaghetti, my preference is using a shorter pasta - such as penne or macaroni because the creamy sauce can ooze its way both into and around the pasta, and - if you wish - can be eaten with a spoon. Beat the egg mixture with a wooden spoon rather than a whisk, to prevent too much air being mixed in.
A good tip for any dish that may have a gravy or what I call 'loose sauce' with it that would normally be eaten with a fork, is to place a slice of crusty bread in the individual serving dish/bowl before the food is put in. This will soaks the surplus liquid and can be eaten at the end.
Pasta Carbonara: serves 4
6 oz (175g) streaky bacon
1 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
4 tblsp creme fraiche or whipping cream
12 oz (350g) quick-cook penne or other shapes
salt and pepper
freshly grated Parmesan or other hard cheese
Put the eggs, yolk and cream/creme fraiche into a bowl and beat with a wooden spoon and season well. Chop the bacon into thin strips, heating the oil in a pan and frying the bacon gently so the fat begins to run free. After 6 minutes frying, stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute until the bacon is crisp.
While the bacon is frying, cook the pasta as per packet instructions, then when al dente, drain thoroughly and add to the bacon and garlic. While the pasta is still very hot, remove pan from the heat and immediately pour over the egg and cream mixture. Stir so that the pasta is coated with the egg cooked just enough to cling to the pasta and not begin to scramble. Sprinkle over a dusting of Parmesan, and serve immediately.

This next dish is perhaps more an exercise of what to make with 'planned' leftovers, for the potatoes, haddock and even the poached eggs can be 'pre-cooked'. But even if cooked 'from fresh', this meal would take no longer than 30 minutes cooking time.
Smoked Haddock Hash: serves 2 - 3
1 lb (450g) salad (waxy) potatoes, cooked and diced
4 oz (100g) streaky bacon, chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
1 lb (450g) smoked haddock, cooked and flaked
handful fresh parsley
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 oz (25g) butter
2 - 3 eggs, poached
Put the oil in a frying pan and add the bacon, cook for a few minutes, then remove and set aside. Add the butter to the fat in the pan and fry the potatoes. When beginning to brown, stir in the shallot and when that has softened, add the fish and the bacon. Season with pepper and sprinkle over the parsley. Slip the pre-poached eggs into a bowl of very hot water, and leave to heat through while dishing up the Hash. Serve the Hash with a poached egg on top of each portion.

For a light lunch or starter to a dinner party, this is a really speedy hot dish. Takes only 8 minutes cooking time and any preparation can be done well in advance. Ideally use English muffins as the base of this dish for they have a firmer texture than ordinary bread rolls (sometimes called baps). Otherwise fall back on good old toast.
Mushroom Muffins: serves 2
8 oz (225g) mushrooms
1 oz (25g) butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tblsp finely chopped fresh chives
2 tsp lemon juice
4 thin rashers streaky bacon
4 English muffins
4 tblsp double cream or creme fraiche
salt and pepper
Slice the mushrooms thinly and fry in hot butter, seasoning to taste with. As the juices begin to flow from the mushrooms stir in the garlic and half the chives. Keep frying gently, stirring from time to time, until most of the liquid has evaporated**. Test for seasoning, adding the lemon juice.
Meanwhile, cut the bacon rashers in half and fry until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper. When the food is ready, toast the muffins lightly, and whip the cream (the cr.fraiche will be thick enough). Spread half the cream over the muffins, top with the mushroom mixture and sprinkle over the chives. Spoon a blob of the remaining cream on top of each and press the bacon rashers in lengthways. Serve immediately.

One way to save money is to use less of something than normal, so with this in mind have chosen this recipe for apple tart that uses puff pastry that we would normally keep in the freezer (and use less of it). The apples could come from the freezer as well. Either way we need to allow time to thaw and/or prepare. The cooking time takes less than 15 minutes. For future use, roll out the pastry to the thickness (in this case thinness) that is needed, cut to size, interleave and re-freeze, so half the work is done for the next time. Personally would cut the pastry into squares rather than circles, as this would leave very little waste pastry scraps (puff pastry cannot be scrunched up and re-rolled as can shortcrust). The 'sharp cream' is my name for creme fraiche.
Apple Puff with Sharp Cream: serves 4
1 x 250g pack puff pastry
4 apples (pref Cox's)
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tblsp icing sugar
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 oz (25g) butter
creme fraiche
Using a floured board, roll out the puff pastry really thinly. Cut four circles, using a saucer as a guide - the remaining pastry can be cut to shapes or rolled up with greaseproof paper and refrozen.
Lay the circles on a wetted baking sheet and prick the centres with a fork, leaving a quarter inch unpricked rim around the edge (this will rise up higher than the centre and help to contain the fruit).
Put the lemon juice and sugar into bowl and set to one side of the work area. Peel, core and slice the apples and immediately put the slices into the lemon mixture turning them to coat all sides (this prevents the apple going brown). Cover the entire surface of the pricked part of the pastry circles with overlapping slices of apple. Then sieve the icing sugar over the apples and pastry rim. Dot the apple part with a little bits of butter and bake in a hot oven 240C, 475F, gas 9 for 10 minutes. Depending upon the oven (you may wish to use slightly less heat or a fan oven) it may need a further 5 minutes. Can be served hot, warm or cold with a good dollop of creme fraiche.