Thursday, January 31, 2008

Which comes first?

Having bought, some times ago, a bag of small onions, I was happy to find a recipe in which they can be used. They go very well with liver and bacon (another favourite dish which I normally serve with shredded steamed cabbage), with roast chicken, chops and steak of course.
Creamed Button Onions: serves 6
2 lb (1kg) button onions
5 fl.oz (150ml) chicken stock
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
1 tbls plain flour
half a pint (275ml) milk
5 fl.oz (150ml) double cream
salt, pepper,
chopped parsley
Boil the onions in a pan of water for five minutes, then drain, While still hot, remove their skins. Return to the same (now dry pan) and add the stock (you could, if you wish, substitute white wine for the stock, or some of each). Cover and simmer for half an hour.
Meanwhile make the sauce by melting half the butter in a pan, stirring in the flour then adding the milk and cream. Heat gently, stirring all the time until thickened. If too thick, add more milk. Season to taste.
Drain the cooked onions, adding the remaining ounce of butter and toss to coat. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon, putting them into a dish. Pour over the sauce, drizzle over any butter from the pan, sprinkle with nutmeg (to taste), and the chopped parsley. Serve hot.

Parsnips are a very under-rated vegetable. Some people really dislike the flavour. But we love them in the Goode Household. This is a particularly good recipes and children will eat them in great amounts especially if coated with a mixture or crumbs and crushed crisps.
Parsnip Patties: serves 4 - 6
2 lb (1kg) large parsnips
3 oz (75g) butter
2 tblsp double cream
salt, pepper, nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
3 oz (75g) dried breadcrumbs
oil for frying
creme fraiche (opt)
3 (75 grated cheese (opt)
After peeling and removing the core from the parsnips, cut them into small chunks. Boil them in salted water until softened (about 10 - 15 minutes). Drain well. Melt the butter in a pan and add the parsnips. Stir in the cream and season to taste. Mash well. Cool, then stir in a couple of teaspoons of the egg. Using wetted or floured hands, form the mixture into balls, then flatten them into patties. Dip into the remaining egg and then into the breadcrumbs. Shallow fry for 3 - 5 minutes until golden on each side, keep warm until all the patties have been cooked. Serve hot with grilled or roasted meats.
As an optional extra, for brunch, lunch or a light supper, blend 2 oz (50g) of the grated cheese into a small tub of creme fraiche, pour over a dish of the hot patties , sprinkling over the remaining cheese, and grill under the cheese has melted and the sauce bubbling.

Suet puddings (both sweet and savoury) are normally steamed, but for today's dessert I give you a baked version.
Jam Roly-Poly: serves 6
6 oz (175g) suet pastry (recipe below)
6 oz (175g) jam, any kind
Roll out the pastry to an oblong 12" x 8" (30 x 20cm). Spread thickly with jam to within 1" (2.5cm) of the edges. Wet the edges with water and roll up from the short end. Pinch the edges together to seal.
Place on a greased baking sheet, with the join underneath. Bake at 20oC, 4ooF, gas 6 for 40 minutes until golden brown. Serve hot with custard.

This recipe for suet pastry makes enough for the above pudding, you would need twice as much to line a one and a half pint pudding basin if making a savoury pudding etc. It can also be made using self-raising flour, but if so, omit the raising agent. If possible use plain flour and raising agent as it makes for a lighter pastry. The same recipe, plus the addition of a tsp mixed dried herbs, and making the dough quite soft, can be used for making dumplings to add to a stew.
Suet Pastry:
4 oz (100g) plain flour
pinch salt
1 level tsp baking powder
2 oz (50g) shredded suet
approx 2 fl.oz (50ml) water
Sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in the suet and gradually pour in the water, mixing with a knife until the dough is soft and leaves the sides of the bowl clean. Turn out onto a floured board, knead lightly until free of cracks, then roll out to the thickness required. (For lining a basin the thickness is usually a quarter of an inch (5mm) thick.

If you fancy something different, then try this bread pudding, so named because it seems to stem from areas where this famous sailor lived. It can be eaten hot as a pudding or cold as a cake. Incidentally, The Lord Nelson is the name of the Tall Ship that my Beloved is crewing at this very moment. Let us hope the weather is warmer where he is. It should be.
Nelson's Cake: makes 12 squares
8 thick slices of day-old bread
half a pint (275ml) milk
1 - 2 eating apples
8 oz (225g) mixed dried fruit
2 oz (50g) chopped candied peel
3 tblsp soft dark sugar
2 tblsp orange marmalade
2 oz (50g) self-raising flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp mixed spice
40z (100g) butter, melted
Tear the bread into small pieces and put into a bowl. Pour over the milk and leave to soak for at least half an hour, then beat with a fork until smooth and lump-free.
Grate the apples, including their peel, down to the core and stir into the bread mixture, together 2 oz of the melted butter and the rest of the remaining ingredients. Beat well together then spoon the mixture into a greased 11" x 8" (28 x 20cm) roasting tin, smoothing it flat. Pour the remaining butter over the surface. Bakeat 150C, 350F, gas 2, for 2 hours, then increase the heat to 180C, 350F, gas 4, and bake for a further half hour. Cut into portions and serve with custard or sprinkle surface with demerara sugar, leave to get cold and cut into squares to serve as a cake.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Country Matters

Start with a country-style soup which originated in Denmark, this version appearing in 1863 made especially for Princess Alexandra when she married Edward Prince of Wales because she was so homesick for the country she had left. So you see, it doesn't matter how frugal a soup can be. If it finds favour at the top tables, then why not go for it?
Gale Aerter (Danish split pea soup) : serves 6
4 0z (100g) dried split peas, soaked overnight
3 oz (75g) pearl barley, soaked overnight with the peas
2 pints (1.1 litres) vegetable or chicken stock
1 oz (25g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper
3 tblsp tomato puree
5 fl oz (300ml) single cream
finely chopped parsley
After the split peas and barley have been soaking in plenty of water for at least 8 hours, drain well and add to a pan of boiling water. Boil for five minutes, then drain well.
Put the butter into a large pan over medium heat, and when melted stir in the butter and fry gently until golden, then stir in the peas and barley and the stock. Season to taste then simmer for half an hour. Stir in the tomato puree and simmer for a further half to one hour until the peas and barley are very tender.
Blitz in a blender/processor and/or rub through a sieve to make a smooth soup and stir in the cream, up to but not quite boiling. Thin with a little milk if still too thick. Adjust the seasoning and serve up in bowls with a garnish of chopped parsley sprinkled on top.

A dish to use up cooked beef or lamb (other than the ubiquitous Cottage or Shepherd's pies) is always welcome. This was very popular around Victorian times although the addition of tomatoes is a twentieth century updated version. The used of cooked dried beans makes it economical, but instead of starting from scratch, canned (drained) beans could be used.
Hashed Meat with Beans: serves 4
8 oz (225g) dried beans (butter, haricot, red or a mixture)
2 oz (50g) butter
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 oz (75g) mushrooms, sliced
8 slices cooked beef or lamb (any fat removed)
salt and pepper
1 - 2oz (25 - 50g) flour
1 pint (600ml) beef or lamb stock*
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
Soak the beans in plenty of cold water overnight, then drain and put into a pan with fresh water, and simmer for half an hour until just becoming tender, but not over-cooked.
Melt half butter in a pan and fry the onion until softened. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper, then put the onions in an ovenproof casserole. Add the mushrooms to the frying pan and fry, adding a little more butter only if necessary. Spoon out and place on top of the mushrooms, then lay the sliced meat on top. Season to taste. Melt the remaining ounce of butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour, then add the stock, a little a time, whisking until thickened to a smooth gravy. Drain the cooked beans and lay these over the meat and sprinkle with the mixed herbs. Stir the canned tomatoes, with their juice, and the sugar into the gravy and pour the lot over the beans. Season again to taste, and cook, uncovered for 30 - 40 minutes in an oven at 180C, 350F, gas 4. Serve with rice or crusty bread, and a green salad.

In olden days, when sugar was very expensive, the sweeter vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips, were used to make sweet pies which were served as a dessert. This one is particularly good, the filling being very similar to lemon curd. If the parsnips are large and old, remove the woody core before cooking. The tradition goes that in the spring, in Kent, it was decorated with sugared primroses, tucked inbetween the lattice.
Parsnip Open Tart: serves 4 - 6
8 oz (225g) shortcrust pastry
1 1/2 lb (700g) parsnips, peeled, quartered
2 tblsp thick honey
1 tsp ground ginger
half tsp mixed spice
grated nutmeg to taste
2 egg yolks
juice and zest of 2 lemons
Roll out the pastry and line an 8 or 9" (20 - 23cm) flan tin. Put the parsnips in a pan of boiling water and cook until softened. Drain well and mash to a soft pulp. Blend in the honey, spices, egg yolks and the lemon juice and zest. When thoroughly mixed, spoon into the flan case. Gather together the pastry trimmings and roll out again. Cut into strips and place across the flan in a lattice pattern. Bake for 20 -25 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6. When cold, serve with cream.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

'Tis the Season...

Today I am concentrating of the best of British, not just the seasonal produce, but some of the wonderful recipes enjoyed by our ancestors, many of which have gone out of fashion. They will take in some of the meat cuts and offal previously mentioned, and will include some imported ingredients only because they have been imported for centuries and have become part of our traditional cooking.

This first recipe has a strange sounding name, British in that this was the orginal name of our royal family. It can be made with the sprouts, but far more economically using the sprout leaves from the top of the plants.
Saxe-Coburg Soup: serves 4
3 oz (75g) lean ham, finely chopped
2 oz (50g) butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
12 oz (350g) Brussel sprouts or sprout tops
1 tblsp flour
1 1/2 pints (850ml) chicken or vegetable stock
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream
salt and pepper
Thinly slice the sprouts, or shred the sprout tops, and set aside. Fry the shallots in the butter until softened, then add the prepared sprouts and half the ham and cook/stir until all the butter has been taken up. Season with the salt, pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Stir in the flour, then - when that has been taken up - stir in the stock, until it comes to the boil. Simmer for 8 minutes, then put in a blender or food processor. Rub through a sieve to make a smooth puree, returning this to the pan. Stir in the cream and the remaining ham and heat through. Do not boil. Add more stock or milk if the soup is too thick. Serve with crusty bread or croutons.

If you are in the mood for a history lesson, toast originated as trencher bread. Trenchers being thick slabs of stale bread which served as plates in medieval times. The juices from the meal soaked into the bread, which could then be eaten. No waste in those days. Many of the meals were a type of thick broth, poured over this bread, which later led to it being called 'sops', from whence came the name 'soup'. As time moved on, soup became more refined and smooth and then the dry (or even fresh) bread was dunked into the soup. This then led on to the toast and croutons as we know them today. Food is all about change, but often not changed as much as we think.
Devilled Lamb's Kidneys: serves 4
4 lamb's kidneys, trimmed, cut into chunks
1 tblsp butter
1 tsp mango chutney
1 tsp mild curry paste
1 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tblsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
4 thick slices granary bread
Fry the prepared kidneys in the butter for 3 - 4 minutes until browned. Stir in the mango chutney, the curry paste, W.sauce, and the lemon juice. Season to taste and heat to the simmer for 2 - 3 minutes. Meanwhile toast the granary bread, put one slice on each of four plates, spoon over the kidney mixture and serve immediately.

I could be wrong, but I think that Easter is early this year, for somewhere I read (or did I dream it) that Pancake Tuesday was in early February. Now, if I am correct, Ash Wednesday falls the day following Pancake Day, and in the north of England, the Monday before Ash Wednesday was called Collop Monday. Are you still with me?
It was on Collop Monday that the devout gave up their meat for Lent and this was the traditional dish served that evening. In the south of the country the collops (thin slices of meat that we now call escalopes), were cut from a bacon or ham joint, in Scotland it is often venison, but more often tender cuts of beef or lamb were used. The following recipe uses either lean meat from a leg of lamb, frying steak, or lean pork.
Collop Monday Supper: serves 4
4 slices chosen meat 2" x 4" x 1" (5 x 10 x 2.5cm)
1 oz (25g) flour
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) butter
12 oz (350g) mushrooms, sliced
2 tsp cornflour
1 pint (600ml) brown stock
Lay the slices of meat between sheets of cling film and bash them to half their thickness, they can be then left whole or cut in half for easier handling. Put the flour into a flat dish, season well with the salt and pepper and dip in the sliced meat to coat both sides. Put the butter into a frying pan and fry the meat for two minutes on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, put the mushrooms into the juices in the pan and lightly fry, then put into an ovenproof dish and lay the meat collops on top. Blend the cornflour with a little of the stock, pour into the frying pan and stir around to pick up any remaining sediment. Stir in the rest of the stock and heat until thickened, then pour over the meat and mushrooms , cover and cook for 45 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 . Served with creamy mashed potatoes and cabbage.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dishes du Jour

On to today's recipes. Usually chalked up on a board in an eating place will be chef's specials, amongst them , soup du jour (soup of the day). I have always believed this to be soup made from the previous days left-overs (and why not, because these can make very good soup). But perhaps it could mean that the cafe (I dare not call it a restaurant for they never make anything with leftovers DO THEY?) just serves a different soup each day. But whatever, this is kind of the title for today's posting in that the couple of recipes offered today are made using up at least one ingredient (if not all) leftover from the previous day. You could call it the second coming.
This first recipe uses leftover cooked sausage, maybe some bell peppers almost past their best, and any sort of pasta shape, although the one mentioned looks the prettiest. Measurements are by volume not weight, so use a glass measuring jug.
Sausage and Pepper Pasta: makes 2 servings
12 fl.oz measure (350ml) bow tie shaped pasta
8 fl. oz measure (225ml) each red and green peppers
1 red (or white) onion, chopped
1 oz (25g) butter
8 oz (225g) cooked sausage, cut into slices
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Trim and de-seed the pepper and cut the flesh into strips. Saute the onion and peppers in the butter until tender. Season to taste. Add the sausages and cook until the sausage is heated through. Drain the pasta, add to the pan, toss everything together and serve.

This next dish is a type of layered casserole. The potatoes could leftover boiled potatoes, or sliced canned potatoes, or use fresh and raw (they will cook anyway). The cheese can be grated from odds and ends of any hard cheese, the turkey (or it could be chicken) should be cooked, so could be taken off a carcase. Even the broccoli could be yesterday's pre-cooked, although that too could be used fresh. Or use other leftover vegetables. The recipe gives the servings as 12 to 15, which I find puzzling according to the ingredients used. So I leave you to decide.
Turkey and Potato Tetrazzini: serves more than you think
2 jars of Carbonara sauce
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
7 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
4 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 pint measure diced cooked turkey or chicken
1 pint measure grated hard cheese, pref Gruyere
10 oz (275g) broccoli (thawed if frozen), chopped
Blend one jar of the carbonara sauce with the milk. Spread a little of this over the base of a 13" x 9"x 2" baking dish. Top with a third of the potatoes and sprinkle with a third of the Parmesan. Take a large bowl and put in the turkey, half the grated Gruyere cheese and the broccoli. Add the remainder of the carbonara and milk mixture and fold together. Spoon half of this over the potatoes, top with another potato layer, and repeat, finishing with the potatoes. Cover and bake for 45 mins at 200C, 400F, gas 6 (make it 30 minutes if the potatoes were precooked) then top with the remaining jar of sauce (or save some of it for another day), just enough to cover, then sprinkle over the remaining cheeses and bake until golden. Allow to stand for five minutes before serving.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Signs of the Times

Thanks Cheesepare for your comment, but sorry to burst your bubble, our party was very moral, apart from the occasional role-playing, nothing happening behind closed doors. The only sensual pleasures came from eating, eating, eating, plus the occasional drink. There was rather a lot of food, but then it did cover many centuries. Great fun to research and make, and a sample from each made quite a history lesson in its own right. Forgot to mention the drink - that ranged from grape and apple juice to mead and small beer, with tea, coffee, hot chocolate and coca-cola available if wished. The history of cooking and domestic life is one of my hobbies and I am always delving into books on the subject. At the moment, it is a second read of Samuel Pepys diary which I keep at my bedside.
You mentioned eating a tuna steak. Now this is something I cooked for the first time this week for Beloved. Have to admit it was a frozen piece of tuna, which looked remarkably like a beef steak when thawed. He chose to have it cooked in the microwave, where the colour then went pale (as it would when fried). Not eating any myself I asked Beloved what it was like, and he said very tender but not much flavour and passed me a lump on the end of his fork which I pulled off and tried. Tender it certainly was but to me I found almost exactly the same in flavour and texture as canned tuna. This might have been because of the method of cooking. The remaining piece, still in the pack, I may cook on a griddle to see if it improves. Otherwise I will stick to the canned for it is far less expensive.

SweeterRita, thanks for your comments and recipes. Your second, and faster version of trifle is just about the same as the one I make (making up the custard with custard powder of course). I do remember watching a programme a few years ago about children being evacuated and I believe this is the one being repeated. Not that I was evacuated, but the programme brought back memories of how life was in those days. Perhaps it is time for me to admit my age. I've always hestitated about this, for I still cannot relate to being in the same bracket as being 'one of those old people'. My mind is eternally young, and at least I am certainly younger than Marguerite Patten, and a little younger than Mary Berry, so perhaps - when chatting about cooking, age does not really matter, on the other hand - experience does. Like most older 'grown-ups' I find the youngsters hard to understand. Why chat on mobile phones incessantly - don't they realise how much it cost? And all those text messages. Even my friend (admittedly eight years younger) now receives text messages on her mobile when she is staying with me, and immediately answers by texting back to her friends in the same way. I actually feel left out when sitting watching her doing that. Signs of the times.
When it comes to war years - then I have vivid memories, for I was born in Coventry and so many awful things happened they are eternally etched into my mind. Perhaps awful to a child, interesting to everyone else. So maybe that is something I can fill a page with when I have a mental block re recipes. Someone who was writing a book about wartime was asking for memories, and I sent two which he included in the book which was later made into a film. Although the film was set in London and the child was a boy, it was creepily so much like what happened that I felt like a time-warp and I was right back there again.

In your second comment S.Rita, which I picked up this morning before I began my blog, you mentioned a website which I fully intend to look up later. The recipe for making microwave lemon curd is similar, maybe not quite the same, as the one I posted up on 9th July 2007.
As to the eggs. Oh, dear - the correct way of storing and using differs from mine. So that I don't rock the boat and for health and safety this has to be don't do as I do, do as they say. Following this recommendation I pass on what I do.. Eggs are almost alway kept at room temperature using the oldest first - even if they end up older than the use-by date suggested on the box. If in doubt, I always test by the water method (see below). One the rare occasion I have too many eggs delivered (when I forget to cancel the weekly delivery from the milkman) the new ones I sometimes keep in their box in the fridge, and - in truth - sometimes forget I have them if I have put salads on top or something, yet find they seem to be (following the tests below) really fresh even after weeks (more like a couple of months) past their date. Now I'm not suggesting anyone should follow my method. Am just stating facts.

Earlier last year I did quite a lengthy posting about various ways of keep eggs fresh for months, even up to a year, but can't now remember in which month it was published. But here is a useful way to find out whether eggs are still 'fresh' enough to be used:
Take a bowl of cold water and gently place in the egg. If it settles right on the bottom, lying on its side, then it is fresh. If it shows a tendency to lift at the broad end, it is still fit to eat. If it stands up vertically, then it is stale but can still be used for cooking (the higher the heat the better. If it floats under water, it might still be able to be used in baking, but if floating on the surface must be discarded.
Another test is to crack the egg. Most of the eggs bought from the shops can be a week old. Really fresh eggs, when broken onto a flat plate, have the yolks standing in a high mound, and the whites tend to stay close. The older they get the flatter the yolks become and the whites more watery until they get to the stage where the yolks just break and mingle in the whites. At a pinch these could be used for baking but absolutely no good for anything else, and generally I tend to throw them away if they have got to this state, but it depends upon whether I have been a bit rough when breaking the egg, which breaks the yolk, or it does it easily all by itself.

Each week I have half a dozen eggs delivered and keep these on an egg rack which holds twelve, six above and six below (the oldest eggs always being kept at the top). Each time I get a new delivery I take any remaining eggs from the top and put into a basin to be used first, then move the bottom layer up to the top, replacing with the fresh delivery . This way they are always used in the correct order. There are exceptions: for boiled eggs the freshest (most recent delivery) are used. For baking, the oldest are used. When making any recipe which uses eggs cooked gently (such as poached, or lemon curd) always use the freshest eggs. Hard-boiled eggs are best cooked when the eggs are about two weeks old, otherwise it is difficult to remove their shells. If, inavertently, you have mixed up hard-boiled eggs with uncooked egg in shell, you can find find out which is which by laying them on a table and spinning them around. The hard-boiled spin rapidly, the uncooked much more slowly.

It is sad how we have now got to the stage where lightly cooked eggs are forbidden to be served to young children and the elderly, for I well remember my babies being fed a little of the yolk from a lightly boiled egg, and later dunking their bread soldiers into the yolks. So perhaps today worth concentrating on preparing baby foods, although these are equally good enough to serve as invalid food or for those who have trouble with their teeth.
The recipes below could also be used for more general use as a type of pouring sauce (the savoury with rice or pasta, the sweet with pudding or ice-cream)), and work very well as a normal and nourishing soup.
Apart from being so expensive to buy, and so very cheap to make, think to the future - for babies who have been given the manufactured foods often find it hard to accept the flavour of the home-cooked, with some ending up as very picky eaters. Being served only home-made baby food, they usually end up eating most foods enjoyed by the family.

Foods for Babies:
Always use the freshest food and make sure all surfaces, utensils and containers are spotlessly clean.
For babies between 3 and 6 months, serve only purees starting with just a bit on the tip of a spoon, progressing to a spoonful as they get older. Don't make too much for a start but you can always freeze the surplus in ice-cube trays. Never remove the cubes by running the tray under hot water, for this starts them thawing. Run cool water over the underside of the tray to release the cubes then pack them away in air-tight bags, label well, and keep frozen. Thaw out as needed.
As the baby gets older, the food can be frozen in small foil dishes or yogurt cartons. Never refreeze anything once thawed. When heating food, always bring it back to boiling point, then pour it into the baby's dish and allow to cool to lukewarm before serving.
Some foods that can be frozen pureed are: potatoes, cauliflower, swede, peas and carrots. Fruit can be apples and pears; meat can be beef, lamb or chicken; fish - plaice, cod or haddock. Or use as a guide the ingredients in the manufactured products. NEVER add any salt or sugar, and if wishing to use some of the food prepared for the rest of the family, omit all seasoning and the family can add this at the table.
All food should be mashed or pureed, then sieved to remove any lumps or bones.

This fish puree could be served to adults as a pasta sauce, or as a soup. Add a tblsp of chopped parsley if you wish your child to get used to the flavour of herbs.
Pureed Fish:
8 oz (250g) plaice fillets, rinsed and dried
half a pint (300ml) milk
4 oz (100g) carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 oz (100g) swede, peeled and chopped
1 tsp tomato puree
Poach the fish in the milk for about five minutes until just cooked. Remove from the milk, reserving the liquid. Flake the fish making sure all bones are removed. Boil or steam the vegetables until very tender, then put the fish, tomato puree, carrots and swede into a blender, adding enough of the cooking liquid to the consistency you desire. Store into chosen containers, cool rapidly, then freeze for up to one month.

Chicken and Sweetcorn:
2 chicken breasts, skinned and diced
1 potato, peeled and dic ed
3 tblsp frozen sweetcorn*
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
half a pint (300ml) cold water
Put the chicken into an ovenproof dish with the rest of the ingredients and the water. Cover, and bake in the oven for 1 - 1 1/2 hours at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until tender. Puree, using only enough of the cooking liquid, to the required consistency (add more boiled water if you need to), then cool rapidly, place into containers, cover, label and freeze. Keep up to one month.
*Note: always use fresh or frozen sweetcorn. Canned sweetcorn contains sugar, so not suitable for babies.

Apple and Apricot Puree:
4 oz (100g) dried apricots*
2 large dessert apples
orange juice
Soak the apricots in water overnight. Drain and put into a pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain, cover and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, wash the apples, leaving on the peel but remove the core. Put into a baking dish with a little water and cover. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for half an hour or until tender. Remove the apple skins and discard. Puree the apricots with the cooked apple flesh, if necessary adding a little orange juice to slacken the mixture. Put into containers, cover, label and freeze. Can be frozen up to 3 months.
* Note: use the proper dried apricots, as the no-soak may contain sugar. But read the details on packs of both as some no-soaks may be suitable. The really best dried apricots are the Hunza apricots which are smaller, darker, more expensive and still have the stones which should be removed after soaking.

Obviously, there are many more foods which can be served to babies, rice pudding for example, and many good books dealing with the subject alone. Even though many of you who read this blog may well be past the baby-rearing stage, the information can be passed on to the next generation. Once a start has been made feeding home-cooked foods to the babies, this progresses naturally to serving good and home-prepared foods through the rest of their young years, and so far less chance of junk foods becoming part of their daily diet.

Friday today - already? How fast the days fly by. These next few days will be busy with more viewings. Beloved departs for his trip the exact time one of the viewings has been booked. My best friend arrives almost immediately after for a long visit. At hectic times like this I often retire to this room to get away from it all, in the (often forlorn) hope that some of you will have sent comments to me or each other. It is the next best thing to relaxing with a cup of coffee, sitting and having a personal chat with each of you. So keep those comments coming, from this moment on, I may feel in great need of them.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Choosing the best Flavour

Today we look at lamb, and strictly speaking a sheep is a lamb up to one year old, a hogget up to two years, and mutton after that. There have always been disagreements over the best cuts. In Victorian times the front half of the sheep was regarded more highly that the back, and - although more difficult to carve, and with less meat, the shoulder was preferred to the leg. The cheapest breast having the most flavour of all.

Thankfully, there are fewer cuts to describe than beef, and even pork, the underside of the lamb being mainly called the breast. Beginning at the head end and working across the back we start with:
The neck, more commonly called scrag end. This has a rich flavour, and is sold whole or sliced known as neck rounds, or neck pieces. Needs slow, moist cooking to make tender.
Directly behind the neck is the middle neck, which is good for braising and sometimes sold as small chops. Then comes best end of neck , sold whole, or divided into cutlets which can be fried, grilled or baked. This is the part sometimes sold as rack of lamb. we often see pictures of this as two racks interlaced (like our palms held flat together, fingers kept straight and interlaced) - this is called a Guard of Honour. When the two racks are joined in a circle, it is called a Crown Roast.

The middle of the back is the loin, usually cut into chops, again for grilling or frying. Two chops joined together in the centre is called a butterfly, or sometimes a Barnsley chop. A whole loin is called a short saddle of lamb. The chump end is often divided into chops but can be bought whole to be roasted or braised.
The back leg is the most popular for roasting and often divided into the fillet end of leg, and the shank.
Gigot chops are sliced from the top end of the fillet.

The breast takes up the major part of the belly. Economical but fatty, it has excellent flavour and can be roasted whole or boned and braised. Can also be left on the bone and cut between the ribs into 'spare ribs' and roasted/glazed to serve in the Chinese way. Good for barbies and to nibble at.

The shoulder, under the neck and forming much of the forepart of the lamb, can be sold whole or divided into blade side, or knuckle end, the latter being the part attached to the top of the foreleg. This meat is firmer, but more gelatinous than the rear legs, and is still fairly tender. Best bought boned for easier cooking and carving. It can be grilled, poached, roasted or braised. Do remember, that when buying from a butcher, he will always do the boning for you.

Cooking temperatures and methods:
Like beef, lamb can be well cooked or left slightly pink - which makes it more tender. So allow 10 minutes per 1 lb (500g) if you like it pink, and 12 - 15 minutes for medium. Give it 20 minutes if you like it well done. Allow the meat to rest for 15 minutes to give it a chance to relax and absorb back the juices.

Poaching the lamb depends upon the cut. The coarser the meat, the longer it will take to cook, and this can take up to 2 hours.

A little known fact, but one well worth knowing, is that when lamb has previously been cooked by dry heat (as in roasting), reheating it can toughen it. So thick pieces of cooked lamb need to simmer in a stock or gravy for up to one and a half hours to become tender again. Minced roast lamb will take less time, but allow at least 45 minutes. Lamb that has been poached or braised will come to no harm during a second cooking.

If you really want good flavour, then buy mutton, which is often cheaper than lamb, so well worth considering. To suit an epicure, the sheep should be between three and five years old before being sold as mutton. It has a wonderful rich flavour and is more usually stewed or casseroled rather than roasted. Or pressure cooked, cubed, minced and used in curries.

As regards the tracklements: the traditional accompaniment with lamb is mint sauce and redcurrant jelly. Capers with mutton or boiled lamb, also onions. Garlic and rosemary are also used to flavour a roast, and a lesser known method is to rub ground ginger into the joint before roasting it.

Now for some recipes:
Lamb Salad with Mushrooms: serves 4
1 Little Gem lettuce
12 oz (350g) roast lamb, cut into strips
4 oz (100g) mushrooms, sliced
1 yellow or red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 spring onions, trimmed and sliced diagonally
mint dressing
Tear the outer leaves off the lettuce and use to line a serving dish. Finely chop the inner leaves. Put the prepared lamb, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, spring onions and shredded lettuce into a bowl, toss together and arrange on top of the lettuce leaves. When ready to serve, either drizzle over the dressing or serve separately.
mint dressing:
2 tblsp fresh mint leaves
2 tblsp white wine vinegar
1 egg
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp Dijon mustard
good pinch each salt and pepper
dash each Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce
2 fl oz (50ml) olive oil
Put everything but the oil into a blender or food processor and set it running, then slowly add the oil.

Stuffed Breast of Lamb or Mutton:
1 breast of lamb or mutton (boned)
1 - 2 tsp lemon juice
1 dessp fresh thyme leaves
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
8 oz sausagemeat
salt and pepper
dripping or oil
Mix the sausagemeat with the herbs and lemon juice. Lay the breast skin side down and season with salt and pepper. Cover with the forcemeat (sausage mixture), fold over and tie with string. Melt some dripping (or use oil) in a heatproof dish and brown the meat on all sides. Pour off any excess fat and then add enough stock to about 2" in depth. Scatter the prepared vegetables around the meat (and under the stock), cover and cook for 2 hours at 160C, 325F, gas 3. Remove the joint and make gravy from the pan liquids. Serve the meat with redcurrant jelly and vegetables of your choice.

A further recipe which makes excellent use of breast of lamb can be find in a much earlier posting, maybe the late end of 2006. Look up my Poitrine d'Agneau au Chou (breast of lamb with cabbage). It is an absolute winner, full of flavour and my most favourite way of cooking breast.

Caribbean Lamb: serves 4
1 tblsp oil
2 oz (50g) butter
2 onions, finely sliced
1 lb (500g) minced lamb
1 tblsp curry powder
half tsp turmeric
pinch each ground ginger and cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
half a can of chopped tomatoes
juice of 1 small lemon
half a pint (300ml) stock or water
Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan and saute the onion until softened. Add the lamb and stir until browned. Add the remaining ingredients using just enough stock to cover the meat. Cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes or until the meat is cooked and the sauce reduced. Serve with boiled rice, sliced bananas and a selection of chutneys.

Turkish Kebabs: serves 4
1 1/2 lb (675g) minced lamb
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper
pinch cayenne
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Mince or process the lamb, onion and garlic. If mincing, do this three times as the aim is to make the mixture as smooth as possible. Stir in the spices and seasonings. Add the parsley and mix everything together thoroughly. Using floured or oiled hands, form into sausage shapes and leave to chill for several hours.
To cook: thread the kebabs onto oiled metal skewers, and spray or brush with oil. Cook under a moderate grill for abour 15 minutes or so (depending upon thickness) turning round while cooking so that all sides are grilled. Serve with cooked rice and salads.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Now to the beef. Unlike the pork, if drawing a sketch of the animal, the carcase is divided into three sections horizontally. But basically, the top rear end of a cow has the most tender meat which can be grilled, fried or hot-roasted.
Depending on the country, cuts of beef often have different names, even being butchered differently, but here is the British version:
Starting at the neck end and working across the top to the rump we begin with the neck and underneck both of which are well-flavoured but need long slow moist cooking to make tender. Generally sold cubed or minced.
The top of the shoulder - the chuck - is usually sold as chuck steaks, and also sold cubed for stewing. Again this needs long, slow and moist cooking.
Under the chuck is the shoulder blade, which can be cut in different ways to yield steaks for braising etc. This meat is fairly lean, although some cuts have a thick strip of gelatinous tissue running through it which melts down and becomes tender through slow moist cooking.
Returning to the top of the cow we have back rib, a tender cut which makes a good slow roast. The bones can be left in or removed and the meat rolled and tied.
Then comes the forerib, usually cut into 2 or 3 rib roasts. This meat is very tender and should be roasted on the bone for the best flavour. Single ribs are excellent grilled.

Now we are nearer the rear end of the cow - the cut here being sirloin, again a very tender meat which can include 3 wing ribs. This can be roasted on or off the bone or cut into various steaks to be grilled or fried. Sirloin steaks have the bone removed, Porterhouse steaks include the bone from the rib end. T-bone steaks contain a piece of the fillet.
When the fillet is sold separately, it can be roasted whole, or cut (across the grain) into steaks or strips.

The rump meat is boned and sliced across the grain and sold as tender steaks for grilling and frying. Large pieces (3 lb in weight or over) can be roasted whole at a high heat.
The topside, silverside, aitchbone and top rump are cuts obtained from the upper hind leg. Topside should be slow roasted or braised; silverside has a coarser grain.
The rest of the hind leg is usually sold thickly sliced or cubed and makes excellent stewing meat.

Working from the rear end, under the belly is the skirt, very often sold as it is the butcher's favourite cut because of its good flavour so they like to keep it for themselves. Although coarse-grained, it can be grilled or fried, but only if serving rare. Otherwise treat as a stewing meat.
Around that region, is another cut called the flank. The flesh contains tough membranes which need removing and the texture is coarse. Suitable only for stewing although sometimes added to mince.

Thin rib, best poached as the flavour is good and the fat helps to keep it moist, in appearance it is much like belly pork (or streaky bacon).
Brisket, a long piece of meat, usually boned, rolled and tied. Often salted. Needs moist cooking, the longer the better and poaching is recommended.

Now to the forelegs. From here comes shin beef , usually cut across the grain into rounds, or cubed for stewing. Lastly, the thick rib - above the leg in the chest region. A good- sized cut of well-flavoured meat, boneless, which needs slow-roasting. Sometimes cut into steaks for braising.

Cooking temperatures and methods.
Unlike pork which needs to be well cooked, beef can be cooked rare, medium or well-done according to individual tastes. Chefs differ as to the temperature for slow roasting, one might say roast at 180C, 350F, gas 4; another 130C, 250F, gas 1/2 (that's a half, not 1 or 2). Start with the average (150C, 300F, gas 2) then alter accordingly. A lot depends upon individual ovens.
The prime cuts are best roasted at a high heat, starting off with the oven at very high which helps to sear the joints and the temperature can then be reduced for the remaining time. Timing should include the initial roasting at the higher heat. The times given relate to minutes per 1lb (500g). If the meat has been chilled, allow it to come to room temperature before cooking.

High-heat Roasting:
Rare: 10 - 12 minutes on the bone / 8 - 10 minutes boneless
Medium: 12 - 15 mins on the bone / 10 - 12 mins boneless
Well done: 18 - 20 mins on the bone/ 15 - 18 boneless
Sear at 240C (475F/gas 9) for the first 15 minutes, then roast for the rest of the time at 180C/350/gas 4.

Low-heat Roasting: (no difference in timing whether on the bone or boneless)
Medium: allow 20 - 25 minutes per lb
Well done: allow 30 - 35 minutes per lb
Roast at 150C (300F, gas 2 ) for the total time.

All cooked meats (roasts and steaks) benefit from resting in a warm place for about 15 - 20 minutes, after removing from the oven. This gives the meat a chance to relax and absorb back its juices.

Stewing beef should be cooked at a bare simmer, and the timing depends upon the cut of the meat. The tougher the meat the longer it needs - anything from one and a half hours to three (hob or oven).
Really tough cuts of meat are best poached in that meat is cooked just under the simmer (for more details on how to poach, see yesterday's posting on pork). Never boil the tougher cuts of meat or they get very stringy and chewy. The really tough cuts of meat can be made wonderfully tender by cooking them all day (or overnight) in a slow cooker at the lowest heat. Always add liquid, but no vegetables except onions as these are the only ones that become tender at such low temperature. (Protein will cook under boiling point, vegetables cook best above boiling point, as when steamed).

When it comes to buying small packs of mince or cubed/sliced beef from the supermarket, very rarely (if at all) are we told from which part of the cow the mince or stewing beef comes from. The above details may help us to recognise certain cuts, but certainly with mince, what we see is what we get - probably all sorts of offcuts shoved through the mincer. Minced steak should at least come from a more tender cut. Also supermarket beef is so very red. This shows the meat has not been hung long enough, giving far less flavour. Beef that has been hung longer turns a rich mahogany colour and is much the best. Some supermarkets do sell this , but of course we have to pay a lot more. I cannot see why hanging beef a couple of weeks longer should make the slightest difference to the price, but of course it does.
The very best way to buy meat is from a butcher who knows just about everything about all meats, makes sure the meat has been hung properly and he will gladly give guidance. Also we can buy only what we need and not the amount in supermarket packs (which is often too much, or not enough so we end up buying two packs).

Perhaps worth mentioning here, that when I was really, really short of money (and having no pride), I would go into the butcher, slap coins down onto the counter, say that's all I'd got and ask him to weigh me up mince to that amount (which might be as low as 30p in today's money). Which he gladly did. This is often quite an easy way of buying. Even now I write up my meat order like this: £2's worth of diced stewing steak; £2.50p worth of minced steak; 5 thick sausages; £1's worth of lamb's liver...and so on. This way I can control my spending and once the price per pound has been tapped into the electronic scales, all the butcher does is add meat until the selected price is reached. Not a penny more, not a penny less.
Personally I have found large joints bought from supermarkets are far tougher and have less flavour than similar joints bought from a butcher. Again due, I think, to them not being given enough 'hanging time'.
However much we shop around for bargains, I always believe we should buy the best meat we can afford, so hunt out a local butcher and make him your friend.

This recipe uses a definite cut of beef, so worth buying it specially so that you become familiar with the different steaks. The stock can be made from a cube or use a spoonful of the concentrated beef stock which is now available in jars, diluted with water. The recipe calls the stuffing by the old name of 'forcemeat'.
Beef Olives;
1 lb (500g) thinly sliced shoulder steak
1 pint hot beef stock
butter and oil for frying
1 0z (25g) plain flour
for the forcemeat:
3 rashers streaky bacon
3 tblsp fresh breadcrumbs
1 beaten egg
1 tblsp fresh berbs, chopped
milk or stock if required
First prepare the forcemeat (stuffing) by chopping the bacon as finely as possible and mixing it together with the other forcemeat ingredients, adding milk or stock to bind, but only if needed, as the mixture must be stiff.
Cut the meat into strips about 2" x 4" (5 x 10cm) and place between sheets of clingfilm. Beat well with a rolling pin or meat basher until thin. Cover each with the stuffing and roll into parcels. Secure each with a cocktail stick or tie with string. Put a knob of butter in a pan with a couple of teaspoons of oil and when hot lay in the beef olives and fry, turning, until brown on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the flour to the pan and stir into the oils with a wooden spoon, cook for one minute then gradually stir in the hot stock, whisking to prevent lumps. When thickened, return the beef olives to the pan, cover and simmer for about one hour or until the meat is tender. Alternatively, transfer contents of the pan (olives and gravy) to an ovenproof dish, cover and cook in the oven at 325C, 170F, gas 3 for one hour.

Pot Roast of Brisket in a Mustard Sauce:
3 lb joint of brisket or silverside of beef
3 large onions, quartered
3 large carrots, thickly sliced
2 tsp cornflour
3 tsp dry mustard (could use ready made)
3 tblps tomato puree
beef dripping or oil
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tblsp vinegar
2 shallots, diced
1 dessp brown sugar
1 tsp dried herbs
1 wine-glass red wine
In a large bowl mix together the mustard with the vinegar, add the tomato puree, the sunflower oil, the shallots, sugar, herbs and wine. Place in the joint of meat and leave to marinade, turning once, for 12 hours or overnight in the fridge.
Remove from the marinade (reserve this) and pat the meat dry with a kitchen towel. Heat the dripping or oil in a casserole pan and sear the meat in this, then reduce the heat, put the prepared onions and carrots around the joint and pour over the remaining marinade. Cover tightly and simmer very gently for at least 3 hours until the meat is tender. Remove the meat to a warm serving dish, and using a slotted spoon take out the vegetables and place around the meat. Thicken the liquid in the pan with the cornflour which has been slaked with a little cold water. Boil for one minute then pour this sauce over the meat. Serve hot. If you wish to serve any remaining meat sliced cold, then serve the sauce separately.

This is a fairly simple way to cook shin of beef. Use a beer stronger than lager, but not as strong as Guinness. The beer could be diluted with water if you wish, alternatively use beef stock (but it won't taste as good). The advantage of this dish is that it can be served with a wide variety of carbos: take your pick from mashed potato, noodles, crusty bread, serve in a large Yorkshire pudding, or even just add dumplings to the stew.
Stewed Shin of Beef:
2 lb (1kg) boneless shin beef
sunflower oil
plain flour
salt and pepper
bottle of beer (approx 1 pint)
1 tsp dried herbs
8 oz (225g) shallots or small onions
8 oz (225g) carrots
4 oz (100g) mushrooms
half a pint frozen peas (thawed) or canned peas
Remove fat from the beef and cut into chunks. Put the flour in a bag with a pinch of salt and pepper, add the cubed meat and toss to coat. Heat some oil in a pan and when hot, add the meat and cook until browned all over. Do this in batches or the oil will tend to cool down too much. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and place in a warmed ovenproof casserole. When all the meat is done, add the herbs and cover with the beer. Cover and cook in the oven at 150C, 300F, gas 2 for about 3 - 3 1/2 hours.
Slice the carrots and peel the onions, fry in a little melted butter, then add to the casserole. Cook for a further half hour, adding the peas ten minutes before the end. Serve with a carbo (see above) and a green vegetable to make that perfect balanced meal.

One final tip - when meat is expensive, use far less than you need in a casserole, and then blitz up some dried porcini mushrooms to a powder (they have a very meaty flavour) and stir these into the stock to cook along with the rest.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Everything but the Squeak

There has always been the need to cook pork thoroughly, and this still applies, although - due to the flesh being so lean, long cooking can make it dry, which can be avoided (see below). The given temperature of cooked pork should be at least 59C (137F), but as the temperature can vary in a joint, the recommended temperature for cooked pork is given as 75C (170F), to check this, push a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, and not close to a bone. It is always worth buying a meat thermometer, as this can be used for any types of meat (different meats need different temperatures). However, if no thermometer, then as with chicken, push in a skewer and - if the juices run quite clear with no trace of pink - then the joint should be done. Leave to rest in a warm place for 20 minutes before carving.

Starting with the head - this can be used for making brawn, and even the ears make a very good dish.
Moving along from the head towards the the rump, first comes the neck end, sold as spare rib (not to be confused with spare ribs) which are cut int0 chops. The whole joint can be boned and rolled for roasting or braising.
Next comes the foreloin, as a piece excellent for roasting, and also sold as chops. Followed by the middle loin usually roasted with or without the bone, although sometimes sold as chops to which you will see a bit of kidney attached. The final part of the top end is the chump end, which again can be roasted whole or divided into chops which this time have a wrap-around shape and contain more meat than other chops.
Under the middle and chump end of the pig lies the fillet - sometimes called tenderloin - which can be roasted whole, braised, or sliced for frying.
The back legs are for roasting or braising whole. The leg is often too large, so divided across into two parts to retail separately. The upper leg section or fillet end of leg provides excellent lean meat for roasting.

Now we come to the under parts of the pig, this time working from the back to the front. A good part of it is belly pork , however the belly from the middle contains more meat than the hind part.
Forward to the spare ribs (plural) not to be confused with the upper spare rib- singular) not much meat to the bone, usually roasted and glazed in sauces - eaten a lot as a Chinese side dish.

The foreleg is known as hand and spring (now called hock). Usually separated at the knee, the hand is the top half part which includes part of the belly and the upper foreleg. The hock is the lower foreleg. This is coarse meat, suitable for slow cooking, often sold boned and cubed for stewing.
Pig's trotters are cooked by lengthy poaching, then coated in breadcrumbs and grilled. They contain a lot of gelatine which makes them very useful for making jellied sauces (as used in pork pies for instance).
Pig's liver is generally too strong a flavour for most cooking, but is the best to use for making pate maison.

On to the cooking:
Rapid frying is only suitable for the very thin, lean slices of pork (as in escalopes), or strips for stir-frying. Thicker slices need to be seared (browned) over high heat then the heat reduced to allow the meat to cook through without burning. Thick chops can take up to half an hour to cook through, so cover with a lid to keep in the moisture.
To keep meat moist as it cooks, brush the meat with oil before grilling. Skewered, cubed pork should be wrapped round with streaky bacon which serves a similar purpose.
Roast pork needs the exposed areas of flesh covered with strips of pork fat or rind. They can also be basted regularly during the roasting time. However - to make good crackling, always score the rind before roasting and baste this part with water, not fat, which will ensure a crisp bubbly surface. Often the rind is removed from the joint and cooked separately so that you can baste that with water leaving the joint to be basted with its own juices.
Half an hour before the end of the recommended cooking time, check the temperature of the meat with the thermometer. Ovens vary and you don't want to overcook the meat.

Cooking times and temperatures:
Most cuts of pork should be started off at a temperature of 200C, 400F, gas 6, then - after 1o minutes - reduce heat to 170C, 325F, gas 3.
For prime roasts allow around 23 minutes per 1lb (500g). For cuts such as leg, hand etc, allow 2 - 3 minutes more per lb.
Any boned, stuffed cuts should first be weighed and the timing worked from that.

Poaching pork needs to be done with a fair bit of accuracy. Poaching is when the water is below boiling point and just hot enough for bubbles to be seen on the bottom and side of the pan. Even below what we call a simmer. No bubbles should break on the surface as when boiling, indeed the surface liquid should just quiver. If wishing to check by temperature, the water should be between 80 - 85C (175 and 185F). Placing a lid over the pan, allowing a small gap for steam to escape will prevent too much evaporation and also stop the steam building up which will raise the temperature of the water and ruin everything.
Pork poached at this low simmer will become very tender and any tissues will soften. At a higher heat (at boiling point) the meat will become tough and stringy.

That seems to have covered every eventuality except recipes. So I offer a few. Please ask if you have bought a cut of pork and not quite sure what to do with it.

The other week I cooked pork chops (leaving the fat on) in a frying pan until golden, then laid them on a bed of thickly sliced apple. Topped the chops with a prune and ginger stuffing (from a packet bought for Xmas but unused - but sage and onion would also go well with pork), covered the baking tin with foil and cooked them for half an hour before removing the foil to crisp up the stuffing. They were good, moist and tender - and everyone loved the stuffing, not to mention the apples (and of course the pork).

This next recipe makes good use of a mincing machine - and these are now coming back into fashion. The easiest way to clean a mincer is to run a crust of bread through it when finished with the mincing.
If using raw pork cut from a joint, just cut it into chunks and shove the pork, onion,bacon and herbs through the mincer together. Alternatively, you could blitz in a processor but not overdo it because you don't want it to end up like paste. When buying pork already minced, then just blitz the bacon and onion and herb in a processor or chop finely, then add them to the mince.
As regards the mashed potato - work in a knob of butter and maybe a spoon of cream, plus seasoning to taste.
Country Cottage Pie: serves 4
1 lb (500g) minced pork
1 lb (500g) mashed potato
2 rashers bacon, minced
1 onion, minced or grated
1 tblsp chopped parsley
8 fl oz (225ml) chicken or vegetable stock
1 tblsp tomato puree
salt and pepper
Mix together the pork, bacon, onion and parsley and place in an ovenproof dish, mixing in enough stock to give a fairly moist consistency. Season to taste.
Spread the mashed potato over the top, making sure you cover the meat completely so no juices can escape. Bake at 180c, 350F, gas 4 for one hour. If you wish for a browner top, finish off under the grill. Serve hot with vegetables of your choice.

Pork Stuffed Mushrooms: makes 4 starters
4 large flat mushrooms
1 oz (25g) butter
4 oz (100g) minced pork
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tblsp fresh breadcrumbs
2 tblsp chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper
olive oil
Clean mushrooms with a damp cloth, remove the stalks and chop these finely. Heat the butter in a frying pan and gently cook the chopped stalk for a few minutes. Stir in the pork and saute for 5 minutes. When evenly browned, stir in the lemon zest, breadcrumbs and sage. Season to taste.
Brush both sides of the mushroom caps with olive oil, and place on a baking sheet, gills side up. Divide the pork mixture and use to top the mushrooms. Bake at 170C, 325C, gas 3 for 15 - 20 minutes. Garnish with watercress.

This final recipe is for a pie made with pork, rather than a pork pie, which is something completely different. As in the above recipe, this makes a little meat go quite a long way. The original recipe was made in two pie dishes to serve 16 - 20 people. Too much I thought, so have halved the ingredients. These could even be halved again to serve 4. The advantage with this dish is that it can be prepared earlier in the day, kept chilled and then baked an hour before serving.
Pork Tourtiere: serves 8 - 10
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 1/2lb (675g) minced pork
2 tblsp chopped parsley
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
pinch of cayenne
2 fl oz (50ml) dry cider (or apple juice)
1 bay leaf
6 oz (175g) puff pastry
beaten egg for glazing
Saute the onion, garlic and celery in the oil for 5 minutes. Stir in the pork and cook/stir until browned, then add the parsley, herbs, and seasoning/spices. Stir well, add the cider or apple juice, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Leave to cool.
Put the pork mixture into a 10" (25cm) pie dish. Roll the pastry into a circle large enough to cover the filling. Crimp the edges (it helps to put a strip of pastry around the sides of the dish, moisten that and then put the circle of pastry on top). Brush with the beaten egg, making a hole in the centre for the steam to escape.
Bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 180C, 350F, gas 4 and continue cooking for 35 minutes, covering the pastry with foil (shiny side up to reflect heat away ) to prevent it browning too much. Serve hot.
tip: As pastry is part of this dish, there is no need to serve potatoes with it. Suggest carrots and a green vegetable, or just a crisp green salad.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kitchen Chat.

Today, eggs are the theme. Cheap enough compared to the more expensive (meat and fish) proteins. Large eggs always have large whites, so when frying two eggs, I break one whole egg into a bowl and just the yolk of another, and then carefully tip them into the frying pan. The white saved can be used in other dishes (see below for suggestions). It can even be frozen.
If lucky enough to fry four eggs (two whites, four yolks), the two whites would be enough to make meringues and even several servings of soft-scoop ice-cream.

The first recipe today is a light meal in its own right. Cheaper even if you boil your own gammon joint and slice it thinly for the ham (those of us who have now bought electric slicing machines know that within a very short time it will pay for itself). Within the recipe is a secondary one - the making of Hollandaise sauce, which uses only the yolk of an egg. Don't discard the white. Find a recipe (as in a couple below this) in which it can be used.
Eggs Bendict: serves 2
4 oz (100g) butter, melted and cooled
1 egg yolk
1 tblsp warm water
1 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
1 flat round bap
4 slices ham
2 whole eggs
freshly chopped parsley
First make the Hollandaise sauce. Pour the clear melted butter into a bowl, leaving the solids behind. Put the egg yolk into another bowl and whisk in the warm water until thick, then slowly whisk in the butter until the mixture has thickened. Whisk in the lemon juice and season to taste.
Half fill a frying pan with water and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Bring to the simmer. Meanwhile cut the bap in half and toast both sides. Break each of the whole eggs (best done in individual cups) and slide the eggs into the pan of water. Turn out the heat, and leave to stand for 5 -6 minutes or until the white has set but the yolk still soft. Cover the pan only if you wish the steam to cook the top of the eggs - which tends to make them look white, so less attractive on the plate.
Top the toasted baps with the ham, and top each with an egg. Sprinkle over parsley to garnish, the nspoon over the hollandaise sauce.

Coming up is an omelette-with-a-difference in that the whites are separated from the yolks and then whipped. Two eggs, two whites as per the standard recipe, but if using a large egg, I think one large whole egg plus one egg white would work (to use up the spare white from the preceding recipe). The recipe given is for a savoury dish, but the basic souffle omelette is very often served with a fruit or jam filling, as a dessert. So plenty of choice there to choose your own fillings.
Savoury Souffle Omelette: serves one
2 oz (50g) thin salami or pepperoni
2 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 oz (50g) green olived, pitted and halved
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp fresh herbs of your choice (such as marjoram)
2 eggs, separated
2 tblsp warm water
salt and pepper
half ounce (15g) butter
Put the oil in a pan. Chop the meat into thin strips and fry in the oil, together with the tomato for 2 - 3 minutes. Then add the herbs. Remove from heat but keep warm.
Place the egg yolks in a bowl, add a little seasoning and the warm water and whisk together. Using a separate bowl (and very clean whisks) beat the egg whites until thick, then fold into the yolks until evenly mixed, but do this carefully to keep in as much air as possible.
Melt the butter in an omelette pan and when hot, put in the souffle mixture, spreading it as evenly as possible. Cook for a couple or so minutes until the base has set, then pop under a preheated grill for a further 1 - 2 minutes to set the top. Place the warm filling on one half of the omeltte, folding the other half over. Slide onto a plate and serve with a green salad.

One advantage with this next dish is that a variety of different vegetables can be used to make the base in which to break the eggs. Start with the basic recipe (fine as it stands) and then try adding chopped cooked potatoes (canned new potatoes would be ideal), or slices of courgettes, maybe halved baby tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, even peas and/or sweetcorn. Fora meatier version, fry bacon bits with the onions. Or add chunks of cooked ham or chorizo. This is how a recipe can be adapted, so you will see versions of this, each with a different name in books and mags. Most recipes are adaptions of a basic, which is where the fun comes in cooking - make up your own version. Add or adjust seasoning so that the dish can taste as you wish it to be. A dash of paprika, or a few herbs, maybe a few drops of Tabasco, or even a touch of curry paste - each will add a subtle and different flavour to the dish (or not so subtle if you are heavy handed). Dare I suggest you could adapt this basic recipe to make something different for each day of the week, fortnight or even a month?
What shall I call it today? with Fried Eggs: serves 4
3 different coloured bell peppers
1 large onion, sliced
1 tblsp olive oil
seasoning to your choice
4 eggs
herbs of your choice to garnish
Cut the peppers in half and remove stem and seeds. Slice into strips. Put the oil in a frying pan and add the onion, fry for 2 minutes then add the peppers, stir-fry for a further 6 - 8 minutes. until softened.
Stir in seasoning used. Make four holes in the mixture and into each break one egg. Cook, uncovered for 10 minutes until set. Garnish with herbs and serve straight from the pan.

Savoury souffles are often avoided because of the danger of them flopping the minute they are taken from the oven, and also they often appear difficult to make. Basically they start with a thickish white sauce, to which are added egg yolks, and whatever ingredient you want for flavouring, and then beaten egg whites folded in to make it rise in the oven. Nothing difficult in that.
To make things even easier, I offer a recipe for a souffle which is twice-cooked. Either cooked in two parts, or part-baked the day before serving, and then finished off in the oven when ready to dish up. Makes a good starter for a party.
Individual Cheese Souffles: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
1 oz (25g) flour
1 tsp mustard
half a pint (300ml) milk
4 oz (100g) mature Cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper.
3 eggs, separated
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for one minute then add the mustard and the milk. Bring to the boil, whisking all the time, until thickened. Simmer for one minute. Add half the cheese, remove from heat, season to taste, then leave to get cool.
Once the cheese sauce has cooled down, stir in the egg yolks. Whisk the whites until stiff and using a metal spoon, gently stir a little of the white into the sauce mixture to slacken it, then carefully fold in the rest of the beaten whites.
Fill four ramekin dishes three-quarters full with the souffle mixture and stand them in a roasting tin. Pour water into the tin to come halfway up the sides of the containers. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and slide a knife around the edge of the souffles and turn each out onto a baking sheet (at this point they can be, cooled, covered and kept in the fridge to finish off the cooking the following day). Raise the oven temperature to 200C, 400F, gas 6, sprinkle the remaining cheese over each souffle and bake for a further 10 minutes until the cheese is melting and golden. Serve warm with salad and tomatoes.

For the sweet recipe of the day I am offering a cookie recipe which uses just the white of one egg, so one way to use up the spare white when following my cost-cutting suggestions early in today's posting.
Crafty Cookies: makes 18
8 oz (225g) plain flour
5 oz (150g) butter, diced
5 oz (150g) caster sugar
1 egg white
few drops vanilla extract/essence
Rub or process the butter into the flour until like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Mix in the egg white and vanilla to form a dough. Knead on a floured board until smooth.
Roll out the dough and cut 3" (7.5cm) circles (knead scraps and reroll to use it all up). Place onto a greased baking sheet (you will need two sheets, or cook in batches) chill for 15 minutes before baking. Bake for 10 or so minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until pale golden. Remove from oven and leave to stand on the tin for five minutes, then cool on a cake airer.
tip: Never bake biscuits until they are hard. Far better to remove from oven when just firm and leave them to stand on the hot tin to finish off cooking, as they should then crisp up on the cake airer. If still soft when cooled, return them to the oven for a further minute or two and that should sort them out.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Try Before You Buy

Pilaf/pilaff/pilau, however it is spelled, is rice-based, and the recipe coming up has amazing flavours which burst out. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients, the trick is to collect them up ready to use before you start, after that it is a doddle.
Admittedly there is some butter in the recipe, but not a lot (per head) and necessary for the flavour and for coating the rice. All the ingredients we probably have in our storecupboards, although I might substitute soaked green or brown lentils rather than trotting off to buy the puy lentils. Try if you can to make the recipe as given, as the flavours work well together, but don't feel tied - feel free to experiment.
Persian Pilaff: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and shredded
1 tblsp peeled and shredded root ginger
8 cardamon pods, crushed
7 oz (200g) long-grain rice (pref basmati)
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 oz (25g) puy lentils
1 pinch saffron (opt)
1 tblsp runny honey
5 oz (150g) no-soak apricots
2 oz (50g) sultanas
16 fl. oz (450ml) hot vegetable stock
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) toasted flaked almonds
Heat the butter in a pan and fry the onions until golden (10 minutes). Stir in the garlic, ginger, the crushed cardamon pods, the rice, celery, and lentils. Set aside. Put the stock into a saucepan over medium heat and add the saffron, honey, apricots and sultanas. When just beginning to simmer, pour the contents of the pan (stock and fruit) over the rice, season to taste, cover and cook gently for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender and all the stock absorbed. Stir in the flaked almonds and serve.

Still on the less-fat, more use of grains, path to health, not to mention the money-saving, this next dish is one that can be prepared and chilled before serving. It makes very good use of the scraps pulled from the chicken carcase, and although not really a dish for the colder weather, it could be served as a starter, or eaten between a soup and a hot pudding.
Couscous Salad with Chicken and Cashew nuts: serves 4
8 oz (225g) couscous
pinch salt
boiling water
1 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
4 oz (100g) cashew nuts or whole split almonds
approx 12 oz (350g) cooked chicken, shredded
4 tblsp capers, drained
handful fresh coriander leaves (or herb of your choice)
salad dressing
Put the couscous into a bowl, stir in the salt and cover with boling water (to a fingers depth above the grains). Cover and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Then fork up to separate grains. If you wish, fork in a tiny knob of butter and this helps to prevent grains sticking. Set aside.
Put the oil in a frying pan and fry the onions over medium heat for about 10 minutes until soft and golden. Remove the onions and place them into a large bowl. Add the nuts to the pan, stirring to brown them slightly. Drain on kitchen paper. To the bowl of onions stir in the couscous (drained and forked again if necessary), then add the nuts, chicken, capers and roughly chopped herbs. Dress the salad (see below - for dressing recipes, the lemon one works well with this dish), tossing well. Spoon out into a large shallow serving dish. Serve immediately, or chill in the fridge for up to 2 hours before serving.

French Dressing:
8 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp red or white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
half a tsp Dijon mustard
half a tsp caster or icing sugar
salt and black pepper to taste
Put everything into a screw-top jar. Fasten lid and give a good shake. This will store in the fridge for 2 weeks, always give a shake before using.
tip: for a strong flavour use extra virgin olive oil, for a lighter flavour use half extra v. (or ordinary olive oil) and half sunflower oil

balsamic dressing:
replace vinegar with balsamic vinegar and the Dijon with whole-grain mustard.
lemon and coriander:
replace vinegar with lemon juice and a little lemon zest. Add 2 tblsp finely chopped coriander.

Because of their shape, these palmiers would be very good served on St. Valentine's Day. The excuse being that eaten once a year they can't do us that much harm. But why not make them now, as frozen (uncooked) they can be baked whenever you wish.
Naughty and Very Nice Palmiers: makes 16 (F)
375g pack ready-rolled puff pastry (oblong not round)
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
6 tblsp red jam
5 fl.oz (150ml) double cream
icing sugar
Unroll the pastry and brush with water, sprinkling over half the caster sugar. Press the sugar into the pastry with your hands, then turn the pastry over and do the same on the reverse side.
Fold the two short sides in about an inch (2.5cm), then repeat until they meet in the centre. Then close the two sides together (like closing a book). Cut into 1/2" (1cm) thick slices (at this point they can be laid on a baking sheet and frozen, bag up when solid). Lay the palmiers on a baking sheet, flat side up (so you can see the folds), keeping them well apart as they spread when baking. Press down lightly with the heel of your hand to flatten them slightly (they will look a bit heart-shaped) , then chill for at least half an hour before baking.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15-20 minutes, turning with a fish slice (or palette knife) halfway through. When cooked they should be golden and crisp. Place on a wire rack to get cold. When ready to eat (or within 2 hours of serving), sandwich together with jam and whipped cream and dust with icing sugar.