Saturday, March 29, 2008

Know your Onions

Two things to remember about onions. Firstly, they can be pre-prepared if you wish to make a bowlful to last the week, (or even freeze them) but as cut onion can develop a nasty smell, then avoid this by following a chef's trick, and lightly frying the chopped or sliced onion in butter, before storing (covered) in the fridge.
Secondly, when an onion begins to sprout, or has a woody core, certainly if feeling soft, it should not be used, for even though it seems possible to save and use some part of the onion, it will always have an unpleasant flavour. Have to admit, I have used some parts of a sprouting onion, because it just seems a waste to throw it away, but it is not a good idea. Far better to stand the end of an onion in water and let it sprout on, then cut the green shoots and use as we would chives.

As with most vegetables it is the layer right next to the skin that contains the most vitamins.
Onion skins alone will add colour (often used when dying wool), so when next making stock, just cut a complete onion in quarters, leaving the skin on and this will deepen the stock colour t0 brown- useful when making beef stock. If wishing to make a light chicken stock, then remove the skins before adding the onion.

Apart from adding flavour, onions are nutritionally and medicinally very good for us, and are low in calories (about 7 per oz). They are also relatively cheap compared to other veggies, so here are some inexpensive recipes to keep both your tum and your purse full.

This first is for soup, and yes - there are more traditional ways to make it - however this one is easy, and for the beef stock just use hot water, a spoon of Bovil (or some of AWT's beef gravy mix), or even a beef stock cube. Ideally the bread should be slices cut from a French stick (and always worth buying one, slicing and bagging up to freeze just for a dish such as this - and remember, if you find you have any leftover French bread which is turning a bit stale, slice and freeze it). Otherwise for this dish, use pieces of toasting bread.
Simple Onion Soup: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 largish onions, very finely sliced
1 desstspoon of plain flour
1 1/2 pints (900ml) beef stock
2 slices French bread, 1" (2.5cm) thick
grated cheese
Fry the onion in the oil until softened. Sprinkle with the flour and stir until pale gold. Add the stock, a little at a time, and keep stirring until it thickens. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Season with pepper to taste.
Sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the sliced bread and pop under a grill to toast until melted and bubbling. Pour the hot soup into one tureen (or individual serving bowls) and float the toast on top.

This next soup is a classic chilled soup, and due to the cream admit it is a little bit more expensive, Serve cold it is Vichyssoise, served hot it should be called it by its more common name, adding a swirl of cream just before serving.
Vichyssoise (leek and potato soup): serves 6
2 oz (50g) butter
8 oz (225g) diced white part of leeks only
2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced or diced
2 pints (1 litre) chicken stock
salt, white pepper, grated nutmeg
half a pint (30ml) single cream
chopped chives for garnish
Melt the butter and stir in the leeks. Cover and cook gently over a low heat for about 15 minutes or until the leeks are softened, turned pale yellow and the butter has been absorbed. Do not let them go brown.
Add the prepared potatoes, stock and seasoning to taste and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are softened. Blend or process the soup until very creamy. Check the seasoning. If serving hot return to pan and reheat, adding a swirl of cream once the soup is in the bowls. To serve chilled, stir the cream into the pureed soup then cool as quickly as possible then chill in the fridge. Serve in chilled soup bowls with a good scattering of chives over the top

For this dish, if no fresh or dried thyme, use sage, or dried mixed herbs. This could also be served, pasta fashion, covered with a cheese sauce, then grated cheese, before baking.
Caramelised Onion and Cheese Pancakes: serves 4
8 ready-made pancakes (pref savoury - see above)
2 oz (50g) butter
3 onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp caster sugar
few fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
salt and pepper
7 oz (200g) finely grated cheese (see above)
Fry the onions in the butter for five minutes until just beginning to soften, then stir in the sugar and cook on for a further five or so minutes until the onions are a rich golden colour and beginning to caramelise. Chop the herb finely then add them to the pan. Season to taste.
Keep back 1 oz (25g) of the cheese. Lay out the pancakes and sprinkle the remaining cheese over them, then cover this with the fried onion mixture and roll each up. Arrange the rolls in a greased, shallow ovenproof dish, and sprinkle over the remaining cheese.
Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for about 10 minutes until the cheese has melted. Serve warm.

This next is a topping to put on a ready-made or home-made pizza base. For good measure, after the topping, I will be giving a recipe for a gluten free pizza base. We don't need to have allergies to try out new ways of making and baking. Mozzarella is traditionally the right cheese for the job, as - once melted - it is delightfully stringy, but other cheese could be used instead, or half an half. When I grate up cheese to keep in the freezer, I do a boxful which includes some grated mozarella, just for sprinkling over home-made pizzas. Instead of rosemary, use marjoram/oregano or tear up 4 basil leaves.
Red Onion and Herb Pizza topping: enough for 1 pizza
2 tblsp olive oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced or crushed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 can plum tomatoes, drained, and chopped
2 - 3 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
salt and pepper
5 oz (140g) mozzarella or other cheese (see above)
Fry the onions and peppers in the olive oil for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic, cook for a further five minutes or until all are softened. Stir in the prepared tomatoes and the herbs and heat through. Remove from heat, then spread this over the pizza base. Cover with the grated cheese and bake for approximately 20 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 or until the base is cooked and crisp. Serve immediately.

Gluten free Pizza dough: makes 1 pizza base
4 oz (100g) maize (corn) meal
2 oz (50g) potato flour
2 oz (50g) soya flour
1 tsp gluten free baking powder
pinch salt
2 oz (50g) butter, diced
approx 7 tblsp milk
Put the three flours into a bowl with the baking powder and salt and mix together. Rub in the butter until like breadcrumbs, then stir in enough milk to make a soft dough. Place dough on a sheet of baking parchment, and roll or press out to make a 10" (25cm) round, keeping the edges slightly thicker than the rest of the pizza base. Brush with a little oil then spread the onion mixture (or any other chosen topping) over the base, finishing with grated cheese. Bake on the paper alone, or place the whole lot on a baking sheet at times and temperature given above.

Onions, sliced thickly, then roasted, look quite like beef steaks, so although this is a vegetarian dish, it could please those who like the appearance of meat on a plate. Quite a cheapie to make, but go posh with the presentation and it will look like Gordon Ramsey might have thought of serving it (then decided not - but who cares?).
Red Onion Steaks: serves 4 (V)
4 red onions
4 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
2 tlsp water
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper
After peeling, lay the whole onion on its side and cut through into 1/2" (1cm) thick slices (rounds).
Mix together the remaining ingredients, seasoning to taste, and - placing the rings flat side down in a wide bowl, pour over a little of the marinade, placing more onion rounds on top, finishing with the marinade. Cover and leave to stand for half to one hour.
To cook: place the onions in a single layer on a baking sheet, spooning over any marinade left in the bowl. Roast at 220c, 425F, gas 7 for 40-45 minutes or until just turning brown. A good presentation would be making a bed of well-flavoured cous-cous, topping this with wilted spinach and finally the onions steaks on top, spooning over the marinade juices from the pan.

This next is another vegetarian dish, and - excluding the cream (it might even work with yogurt) - uses seasonal and inexpensive ingredients, and the spices make for an amazing flavour. Gratin means the dish is topped with bread-crumbs only, although often gratin dishes seem now to use both breadcrumbs with grated cheese. Cheese could be added to the topping for his dish if you wish to include protein.
Onions with a Gratin Toppping: serves 4 (V)
2 lb (900g) onions
1 oz (25g) butter
8 oz (225g) spinach, washed and shredded
salt, pepper and nutmeg
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
half a pint (300ml) double cream
2 oz (50g) fresh breadcrumbs
After peeling the onions, and leaving the root intact, cut the onions in half through from top to bottom. Put the onion halves into a pan of boiling water and simmer for half an hour or until just tender. Carefully remove from the water and drain on kitchen paper.
Melt the butter in a pan , add the prepared spinach, toss and cook in the butter for 2 - 4 minutes or until wilted. Season well, adding a grating of nutmeg. Spread the spinach over the base of a shallow, ovenproof dish.
Cut the root end from the onions, and separate each half into two or three , and place layers of the onion over the spinach.
Using a dry pan, dry-fry the cumin and turmeric , plus a further grating of nutmeg, and toast these for half a minute before removing from the heat. Stir the spices into the cream, then pour this over the onions. Finish with a topping of breadcrumbs, and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 - 25 minutes or until the crumbs are golden and the dish is bubbling hot.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Kiss and Tell

Back to the kitchen and the title for today. K.I.S.S stands, as most of you probably know (but I didn't until yesterday), for Keep it simple, stupid! This I have changed to Keep it simple, Shirley! and will be writing KISS on a card to pin up where I can see it. Simple recipes, simple methods, that was my original aim, but latterly I feel I have given far too much detail about the whys and wherefores. These should still be included, for learner cooks would find them useful, but now these will be put at the bottom of the method, rather than breaking it up by waffling on about them. N0w to the recipes for the day, starting with one taken from 'The Goode Kitchen', including the foreword:

"I like to believe that this recipe originated when Fatima saw the sharing of the loaves and the fishes. It struck her that you can feed a lot on far less than you think. She decided to go one step further and find a use for the leftovers at the bottom of the baskets."
Fatima's Fishcakes: serves 4 (F)
8 slices wholewheat bread, crumbed*
10 fl.oz (300ml) milk
12 oz (350g) fresh white fish, skinned and minced*
half an onion, grated
3 tbslp chopped fresh parsley
grated zest of 1 lemon
freshly ground black pepper
wholewheat flour*
Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk until all the liquid has been absorbed. Place in a sieve and press down gently to squeeze out excess milk, then put the bread into a bowl and mix together with the fish, onion, parsley, lemon zest and season with the pepper to taste. Flour your hands thoroughly* and divide the mixture into 12 portions.
Shape each into a round flat cake about half inch (1cm) thick. Place onto a floured plate* until all are done. Chill for half an hour*. They can be frozen at this stage. To cook, heat some oil to half the depth of the cakes, and when hot, place in a few cakes at a time. Fry at medium heat for a few minutes on each side (allow longer if cooking from frozen) until they are crispy and golden and heated through. Drain on kitchen paper, and serve with grilled tomatoes and salad. Also good with chips.
*white bread and white flour could be used instead of the wholewheat, but the brown bread has a better flavour, and is more substantial.
* Flaked smoked haddock could be used instead of the white fish, or even canned fish. When using raw fish, they will take longer to cook through.
* Flouring hands is necessary or the fishcakes will stick to the fingers. Similarly, placing the cakes on a floured plate also prevents them sticking to the plate.
* chilling will firm up fish cakes, making them less likely to break up when being fried. Even if not wishing to freeze for any length of time, often half an hour in the freezer will firm up the cake enough to get the fried coating crusty enough to hold the mixture together. If you wish you can also flour, egg and crumb the frozen fishcakes before frying, this will also help them to hold together.
If any fishcakes break up, why not just mash them together in the pan and cook as one whole thick 'pancake', turning when the underside is golden, this may also break up, but doesn't matter as long as the unfried side gets a chance to hit the heat, so become heated and cooked through.

Pitta Bread: makes 8 (F)
12 oz (350g) strong plain flour (white or brown)
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
1 tsp caster sugar
3 tsp olive oil
approx 8 fl.oz (225ml) warm water
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the yeast and sugar. Make a dip in the centre and pour in the oil and enough water to make a soft dough. Turn this out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Shape into a round, place in an oiled bowl, cover, stand in a warm place until doubled in size.
Gently knock back the dough then divide into 8 portions. Roll each out to a flat oval, approx eighth to quarter inch (3 - 5mm) thick and about 6" (15cm) in length.
Place the ovals on a floured tea-towel, cover and leave to rise at normal room temperature for half an hour.
Put 2 or 3 baking sheets (depending upon size) in the oven to heat as the oven gets to 230C, 450F, gas 8, then place 3 or 4 pitta ovals on the hot baking sheets and bake for 10 minutes or until puffy and golden.
Serve warm, or wrap in a clean tea-towel*and leave to cool on a cake airer. (They can be frozen when cold but do not let them dry out before packing). Re-heat under a grill when required.
To serve: split open and stuff with a favourite filling. They can also be cut in half, and each half cut into triangles, dried off in the oven and used to dip into - well, dips.
*Covering the pitta bread with a towel helps to keep the steam in, as otherwise they would dry out very rapidly. The same towel method is used when making drop scones.
using a breadmaker:
amend the ingredients above to 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp fast-action yeast, and the full amount of water. Use standard dough setting, then continue as from after the first rising in the bowl.

Chilli Bean Picnic Loaf: serves 8 - 10
1 x 400g (14 oz) red kidney beans
1 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
4 oz (100g) mushrooms (pref chestnut), finely chopped
1 tsp chilli powder*
1 x 200g (7oz) can sweetcorn, drained
6 oz (175g) cheddar cheese, grated
6 oz (175g) fresh wholemeal bread crumbs*
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
1 handful parsley or coriander, chopped
Heat the beans in their juice, and when hot drain, rinse with hot water, and drain again. Put into a bowl and mash while they are still hot. Set aside.
Fry the onion in the oil until softened, add the garlic a couple or so minutes after*. Fry for a further couple of minutes then stir in the mushrooms and saute these until soft (2 - 3 minutes), then stir in the chilli powder. Fry for one more minute then stir in the mixed beans. Remove from the heat, and season to taste. Add the eggs and herbs and mix well.
Spoon into a greased 2lb (900g) loaf tin and smooth the surface level. Bake for 60 - 70 minutes or until firm and golden brown on top. Remove from oven, leave to stand in the tin for 10 minutes* the turn out onto a cake airer. Can be eaten hot, or sliced when cold. Good with mixed leaf salad and more crusty bread.
*Instead of chilli powder, use 1 tsp each ground cumin, coriander and garam masala.
* Weigh a slice of bread, then in future recipes you will know how many slices are needed to make up the weight. Normally, not worth removing crusts if you can crumb in a blender or processor.
*garlic can burn easily, so should always be added towards the end of frying the onion, rather than at the beginning.
*leaving contents to rest in the tin before turning out gives them a chance to settle down - as often the moisture, by way of steam, puffs up the ingredients, and turning out immediately means the whole thing could collapse. By cooling slightly, the contents settle , and will become firmer.

Monmouth Pudding: serves 6
8 fl.oz (225ml) milk
8 oz (225g) fresh white breadcrumbs
1 oz (25g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) jam, any kind*
3 eggs, separated
finely grated zest of 1 lemon or orange*
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
Put the breadcrumbs into a bowl. Put the milk into a pan and the milk until not quite boiling* then pour this over the breadcrumbs. Stir in the butter and chosen citrus zest, and set aside to cool slightly.
Grease a 2 pint (1.2ltr) ovenproof dish and spread the jam over the base. Add the egg yolks to the breadcrumb mixture, and mix well together. Whisk the whites until stiff, beat in the sugar, then fold *this into the crumb mixture and spoon this carefully over the jam. Bake at 140C, 275F, gas 1 for 45 minutes or until the pudding is set and a light golden colour. Remove from the oven and cool slightly before serving warm, dusted with icing sugar.
*the zest of the citrus fruit depends a lot on which type of jam is chosen. Strawberry or apricot and orange go well together, as do raspberry, blackberry and lemon.
*always fold egg whites into whatever, using a metal spoon and do it as gently as possible to avoid losing air that has been beaten in. Often it is better to start by folding in a tablespoon of beaten egg white, which helps slacken (loosen) the mixture, making it easier to fold in the rest.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Have to admit I have never had too much success in making croissants. They never seemed as light as the bought ones which seem to be more like puff pastry than a yeast bread. Mine seemed to turn out like bread without the puff. Maybe I rushed the procedure cutting out a couple of the rollings/chillings. . Nevertheless, a recipe is given for making by hand (details for making by machine follow). Pains au chocolate are a variation of crossaints (details also given below).
Croissants: makes 12
1lb 2oz (500g) strong white flour
half tsp salt
10 oz (280g) butter, softened
1 sachet (7g) easy-blend dried yeast
1 oz (25g) caster sugar
approx half a pint (300ml) warm milk
beaten egg for glazing
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl then lightly rub in half the butter. Stir in the yeast and sugar. Make a well in the centre and pour in enough warm milk to make a soft dough (don't panic if the dough is too soft, add a little more flour). Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 3 - 4 minutes, then form into a bowl, place in a greased bowl, cover and leave to stand in a warm place until doubled in size.
**Knock back the dough, slightly, then onto a floured surface and roll out to form a rectangle 14" x 7" (35 x 18cm). Form the remaining butter into a block about 3/4" thick (2cm). Place this at one end of the dough, so that it covers 2/3 rds, then fold the remaining dough over the top of the middle bit, and the remaining third over on top of that (as you do when making puff pastry). Seal the edges with a rolling pin.
Give a quarter turn so that the fold is to the left and and roll into a rectangle as before then (without using butter) fold again - bottom third up, top third over that. Seal edges as before. Wrap in greaseproof, chill in the fridge for 20 minutes. Repeat the rolling, folding and chilling, twice more, giving a quarter turn each time.
Finally, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to make a 21" x 14" (53 x 35cm) rectangle, and cut into 12 equal triangles. Starting from the long side, roll each into a sausage shape ending with the point at the centre. Curl round into a crescent and place on two greased baking sheets. Cover lightly and leave to rise in a warm place for half an hour or until doubled in size.
Lightly brush with egg, and bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
Serve warm.
to make in a breadmaker:
as quantaties above, but allow the full amount of milk. Add an extra half tsp salt, and use fast-acting yeast. Add the 2 oz butter to the flour in the machine and set to the dough setting. Once taken from the machine, continue from ** in the above recipe.

Pains au Chocolate:
First prepare 6 oz (175g) chocolate by chopping finely.
Follow directions given above up to the final end of the rolling/folding/chilling processes. Then roll out as the size/rectangles as for croissants, but this time cut them into 12 equal rectangles. Put 1/2oz (12g) chocolate at one end of each rectangle, then roll up to make a tube, enclosing the chocolate completely. Place, seam-side down, on greased baking sheets, then cover and rise as for croissants. Bake at a slightly lower temperature (200C/400F/gas 6) for 15 - 20 minutes until crisply golden. Serve warm.
breadmaker: follow directions as given for croissants.

When Marie Antoinette said "let them eat cake", it apparently was a mistranslation, for what she really said was "let them eat brioche". Brioche is a great favourite of mine, although expensive to buy, the main reason why I rarely eat it. Must have a go at making it myself.
Brioche: serves 10 - 12
8 oz (225g) strong plain flour
good pinch salt
1 1/2tsp easy-blend dried yeast
1 oz (25g) caster sugar
2 oz (50g) butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 - 2 tblsp warm milk
egg for glazing
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the yeast and sugar, making a well in the centre. Add the butter, eggs and enough milk to form a soft dough.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Shape into a round, place into an oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place until doubled in size (this may take longer than ordianry bread).
Knock dough back slightly then tip out onto a lightly floured surface and remove one quarter, setting this to one side. Knead the remaining dough into a large round and place in a 2 pint brioche mould (this could be a round cake tin or use a loaf tin), both greased and floured. Shape the smaller piece of dough into a round (or oblong) and place it on top, pressing down lightly. Cover and leave to rise again for half an hour, or until the dough reaches the top of the mould/tin.
Brush the dough with beaten egg and bake at 230C, 450F, gas 8 and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 190C, 370F, gas 5 and bake for a further 20 -25 minutes or until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped underneath. If browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil. When baked, turn out onto a cake airer to cool. Can be served warm or cold.
Note: a brioche mould has a wider top than base, with fluted sides. The brioche could also be baked in a ring mould, just making allowances for a possible difference in timing.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Planning Ahead

Whether or not we have just egg yolks left over, or would prefer to use a whole egg, am offering today a more upmarket version of Poor Knight's of Windsor (traditionally a fried bread and butter sarnie with a jam filling) the recipe will appear at the end of today's chat. Other ways of using up egg yolks can be scrambled (add a little milk or cream), omelette (adding one whole egg to numerous yolks), and making lemon (or other fruit) curd.

With so many of my readers now making their own yogurt, am repeating the quick way to make one of the easiest cheesecakes ever:
Yogurt Cheesecake:
take a 500g of yogurt and stir in 3 tblsp (or more) of dried fruit. Leave overnight, and the fruit will have absorbed the liquid in the yogurt, so the whole thing turns out into a really thick mixture, the texture of cheesecake. All that needs to be done is dollop the yogurt and fruit mixture onto a crumb/butter/sugar base, and smooth the top. Chill and serve.

Wealthy Knight's of Windsor: for 1 serving
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
Nutella chocolate hazlenut spread
beaten egg, or egg yolk and milk
knob of butter
caster sugar
Spread one slice of bread, fairly thickly, with Nutella. Place the other slice on top. Slice into three fingers. Dip both sides of the bread into the egg (if there is enough egg, the bread can be left to soak for a few seconds). Melt the butter in a frying pan, and when hot, lay in the slices of bread and fry until golden, turn and fry the other side. Sprinkle over caster sugar and serve hot, with a dollop of Greek yogurt, cream or custard.
Note: When next making a bread and butter pudding, spread the slices with Nutella instead of the butter and sandwich together before pouring over the egg and milk.

The next recipe for fruit cake can be adapted in several ways. Use white granulated, or dark brown sugar if you prefer, the latter making a moister cake. Or use half the sugar and add a good tblsp of treacle if you wish to have a really dark moist cake. Chopped glace cherries and chopped nuts could also be included in the list of ingredients, but if using, keep the total weight of all fruits and nuts to the 12oz as in the recipe.
In our oven, this cake is always cooked within the hour, despite the original recipe stating it takes one and a half hours to cook, so have kept to my recommended time. But ovens vary, so check with a skewer to make sure it is cooked through before removing from the oven. A good guide to cake making, is - that once you can smell the cake - it is pretty near the end of its cooking time.
Easy Fruit Cake:
12 oz (350g) mixed dried fruit, with or without candied peel
4 oz (100g) butter or margarine (any sort)
4 oz (100g) demerara sugar
5fl.oz (150ml) water
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp mixed spice
Put the dried fruit, cherries, butter/marg, sugar and water into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat and leave to stand for half an hour, then tip the mixture into a bowl. Sift the flour with the spice and stir this into the fruit, together with the eggs. When thoroughly mixed, pour into a greased and lined 7" (18cm) cake tin, and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for approximately one hour. Cool in the tin for ten minutes before turning out onto a cake airer. When wrapped in foil, and/or stored in an air-tight tin, this cake keeps well.

Deeply Passionate Cake: makes 1lb cake (F)
5 oz (150g) butter, softened
5 oz (150g) light brown sugar
3 eggs, separated
zest and juice of one medium orange
3 oz (75g) self-raising flour
half tsp baking powder
2 oz (50g) desiccated coconut
3 oz (75g) walnut pieces, roughly chopped
1 tsp mixed spice
5 oz (150g) carrots, grated
4 oz (100g) cream cheese (Philly type)
1 oz (25g) butter
4 oz (100g) icing sugar
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 tsp flour (prevents the mixture curdling) and beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, alternating with the orange juice. Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices and gently fold this into the batter, together with the coconut. Finally, stir in 2 oz (50g) chopped walnuts and all the carrots.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks, then fold a little into the cake mixture, and once combined, fold in the remaining egg whites. Spoon the mixture into a greased and lined 1lb (450g) loaf tin and bake for 50 mins at 180C, 350F, gas 4, or until the cake is a deep brown colour and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out onto a cake airer to get completely cold.
If wishing to eat on the same day, beat the cream cheese with the butter and icing sugar and just before serving, spread on the top of the cake, sprinkling over the orange zest and the remaining walnuts.
The cake will keep without the topping for up to a week in an airtight container. It can also be frozen. Thaw thoroughly before serving.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Meals in Minutes

This next recipe is one of my favourites. Although the recipe uses raw chicken, it is also a splendid way to use cooked chicken scraps taken from a carcase. Cashew nuts could be used instead of the peanuts.
Gingered Chicken with Peanuts: serves 3
3 fl.oz (75ml) water
1 tsp cornflour
1 large chicken breast, skinned and cut into strips
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1o oz (275g) stir-fry mixed veg (see below)*
2 tblsp salted peanuts
1 tblsp soy sauce
half teaspoon ground ginger OR 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Blend the water and cornflour together and set aside. Put the oil in a frying pan or wok, and when hot saute the chicken until it turns white (omit this part if using cooked chicken which will be added later). Add the vegetables to the hot oil, give them a minute or two stir-fry, then add the peanuts, soy sauce, ginger and slaked cornflour. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, tossing or separating the vegetables with a fork to ensure they cook through. Reduce heat, adding cooked chicken if using, and cover. Simmer for 4 minutes, then serve.
* mixed vegetables: use all or any of the following: string beans, halved; frozen peas or mangetout; matchstick carrots; sweetcorn kernels or baby corn; diced celery, sliced onion or spring onions; bean sprouts, sliced mushrooms, tiny cauliflower florets, baby broccoli florets, strips of red, orange or yellow bell peppers...)

As the stock is made up with milk/water and cubes, instead use home-made chicken stock and stir in some dried milk powder.
Chicken Tetrazzini: serves 4
8 oz (225g) spaghetti
2 oz (50g) butter
1 oz (25g) plain flour
12 fl.oz (350ml) milk
8 fl.oz (225ml) water
2 chicken stock cubes
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp paprika
5 fl.oz (150ml) Greek or plain yogurt
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms, sliced
4 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
about 3/4 pint measure cooked chicken
Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling water, for the recommended time. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour, cook for one minute then whisk in the milk, water and crumbled stock cubes (see foreword for a healthier option). Season to taste with the two peppers, and cook over medium heat, stirring all the time until the sauce has thickened.
Blend a little of the yogurt into the sauce, then add the rest of the yogurt, stirring in the sliced mushrooms, and 3 tlsp of the cheese. Heat through but do not boil. Drain the spaghetti, return to the pan, add the sauce and chicken. Tip into a shallow greased 12 x 9 (30 x 23cm) baking dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Pop under a grill for 5 minutes to brown the top, then reduce grill to low, cover the dish with foil and leave to heat through for a further 5 minutes.

Ending today with a gooey pud, just for you chocolate lovers, and a way to use up an excess of chocolate Easter eggs. The average cook should be able to make this from start to serving in 20 minutes, but even half an hour is not that long to wait. If you haven't the proper tins, then make these in oven-proof teacups. Remember, when folding anything into something else, always use a metal spoon, and take care not to fold to vigorously over or too much air will be lost.
Chocolate and Orange Frothy Pudding: serves 4
1 orange, zest and juice
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
1 oz (25g) cocoa
1 tblsp orange liqueur
4 egg whites
4 tblsp creme fraiche
1 oz (25g) dark chocolate, grated
Grease 4 ramekins (or 225ml/8fl.oz teacups) with a little oil. Put the sugar, orange zest and juice in a pan and simmer until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture turned syrupy. Tip into a bowl and stir in the liqueur and the cocoa. Whisk the egg whites until firm peaks, then take 2 tblsp whites and fold into the syrupy mixture, once blended, fold in the rest of the whites, and spoon into the prepared cups. Bake at 150C, 300C, gas 2 for 8 - 10 minutes until the mixture has souffled, risen and firm to the touch.
Make a dent in the centre, spoon in the creme fraiche and scatter the cocolate liberally over the top. Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Less is More, More or Less

An old-fashioned ways of dieting was "The chew everything 35 times before swallowing". My aunty always believed in doing something similar, and she was very fit. So many mothers serve their family first, then have little time to leisurely eat their own, so it is gobbled down in time to serve the next course., and this habit can last a lifetime (as I know to my cost). Taking time to eat can make us feel full, even with food left on the plate. Anyone who has attempted to eat a Chinese meal using chopsticks (pref. a learner), will know that by the end they can barely finish. Certainly no room for pudding, which in any case are not usually served with a Chinese meal (certainly when eating out). It is said that after 20 minutes of eating, we should feel satisfied, and not wish to eat more, so it is not surprising that people who eat their meals quickly feel they can cope with seconds and even thirds.
An easy way then, to cut costs, is to try and get everyone to eat more slowly. Perhaps sitting around the table together, having a chat as we eat, will slow down our eating, and eventually we can end up serving less. A win-win situation on every count. Spend less, more family time together, slim down. Must try it sometime. Must try it TODAY.

Originally an allotment was for people who had no gardens, and was of a size that was sufficient to grow enough vegetables to feed a family of four throughout the whole year. This covered everything from potatoes, onions, all seasonal vegetables and maybe some soft fruits, often - as with salads - it was possible to get more than one crop per year from the same strip of ground. Today the allotments still stay the same size, but many are divided into two as being more easily managed in today's busy life.
In the olden days, father would disappear to the allotment on summer evenings, bringing home a box of very fresh produce for mother to cook. Nowadays, the same can happen, but this time all the family take part in growing foods, which is much more fun, and again, the freshest of produce taken home each time. If time is short, then plant raspberries, gooseberries, black and red currant bushes. Potatoes, onion, and crops that need little attention once established. Soft fruits particularly are very expensive to buy, but cheap enough to plant. Raspberries in particular grow so many side canes (the old ones being removed after fruiting) that they can take over the whole plot/garden (as ours did - and we started with only 6 canes. At one point friends (who lived in the next town) used to come round and 'pick-their-own' we had that many. Just think of the price of raspberries in the shops. Barter the surplus for something that you don't grow.

For those with only a back yard in which to grow things, do not despair, as long as it gets some sun during the day, quite a lot can be grown. Potatoes can be grown in black sacks tucked into a dustbin. An even better way is to start of growing them in an old tyre from a car. Put the bag of soil in the middle and plant one potato. When leaves appear, cover with soil, add another wheel on top, filling up with more soil everytime the leaves appear, and evenually you will get a stack of about 4 or 5 tyres, holding a fair amount of good sized potatoes which can be harvested. So edibles CAN be grown almost anywhere, even on a windows sill. And if no windowsill (some double-glazing seems to lack these) - seeds can still be sprouted in jam jars, and grown into bean sprouts.

At this time of the year, large oranges juicy oranges are for sale. We particularly like the Navels, as they contain no pips. Valencia have few pips and are even sweeter and juicier. Although not as cheap as they used to be, oranges can make a very simple and delicately scented dessert. Although this recipe uses one orange per person, if the oranges are very large, then three should be enough for four. Another way of getting the most from almost anything is to slice as thinly as possible, so that less can look more.

Salade d'Oranges: serves 4
3 or 4 oranges, depending upon size
3 tblsp orange flower water
3 tsp ground cinnamon
Peel the oranges, removing all the pith. Slice thinly and lay them on one large, or four individual plates. Sprinkle slices with the orange flower water, and give a dusting of cinnamon.

This next recipe is more of a dessert than a cake. Soaked in the syrup it eats best the day after it has been made.
Orange Syrup Cake: serves 6 - 8
4 eggs, separated
5 oz (125g) sugar
2 oz (50g) ground almonds
zest of one orange
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds, finely chopped
juice of 3 oranges
3 oz (75g) sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1 tblsp orange liqueur
Mix together the sugar, ground almonds, orange zest with the yolk of the eggs. Beat the whites until stiff and fold these into the mixture. Pour into a greased and floured 8" (20cm) cake tin (preferably a spring-sided tin), or line the base. Bake for 45 minutes at 180C, 350C, gas 4. Cool, then remove from tin and place in a shallow dish/serving plate.
To make the syrup, heat the orange juice (this should be about 10fl.oz/300ml - make up with water if not enough) and stir in the sugar and cinnamon stick. Simmer until the sugar has dissolved, then add the liqueur. Remove the cinnamon stick.
Stick a skewer into the top of the cake in several places, then pour over the syrup slowy, so that some of it soaks into the holes in the top of the cake. Leave any residue in the bottom of the dish and allow the cake time to soak this up. Preferably overnight. Best served at room temperature.

When eating large oranges, if you have the time or inclination, either cut the orange in half and remove the flesh, or cut partially through the orange so that the two halves can be carefully peeled away, leaving orange 'cups'. These can be put into bags and kept in the freezer.
Two ways these can be used: as containers for an assortment of diced fresh fruits (fruit salad), or fill with jelly (made with half the recommended amount of water to keep it firm), and then - once set - these can be cut into wedges, to be eaten in the hand if you wish. A plate of jelly wedges in all colours: strawberry,lemon, orange, lime etc, look very pretty and great for a childrens party. Make the jelly up with champagne, or an alcopop and you make the adult version.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chlll in the Air

Now to today topic. Freezing:
Freeze only young and fresh vegetables and fruit. Really fresh river or sea fish, and best quality meat and poultry.
Prepare food correctly, always blanching vegetables. Whole birds can be frozen, but often it is better to joint birds so that there is a choice of which part to use, and a raw (or left over from a roast) carcase can also be bagged up and frozen separately to make stock later. If chicken breasts are bought separately, then I remove the little fillet from the back of each and bag these up to use chopped in pies or curries, or to thread on skewers. Each breast is wrapped in clingfilm and frozen separately before being bagged up so they don't stick together. Small amounts when frozen, such as just chicken winglets, or the fillets, are - one frozen in their own small bags - added to larger bags which contain other frozen winglets or fillets. They can all look much the same once frozen, so always put a label in each large bag so that they don't get mixed up.

Joints of meat can be frozen, or individual chops, chunks of stewing meat etc. It is always better to wrap each chop in cling-film before freezing, so that they don't stick together, and bag up the stewing meat in small amounts. Sausages I open freeze on a baking tray, so that again, I can remove one or two from a bag, rather than having to thaw out a whole pack.
Minced meat I have a special way of treating. This I buy in bulk, say 3 lbs at a time, then put my hand inside a small polybag and grab a handful of mince, turning the bag back around my hand, This weighs about 4 oz, and would be quite enough to feed two by the time I have added things. For spag bol, I mix together minced beef and minced pork (the pork being slightly cheaper) as this is a traditional blend in parts of Italy for making a spag bol sauce. Again this is bagged up in small amounts. The small bags are frozen separately, then collected up as one type (beef only, or beef and pork) and a label written to say what is what and tucked into each bag.

Ensure good rotation of stock (first in, first out as mentioned in a previous posting) to keep up the quality and flavour of food that has been frozen.

When buying prepacked fresh meats, fish and fowl, it should always say on the pack whether it can be frozen or not. Again, always worth taking the time to remove from the original pack and dividing up into smaller quantities or portions to be frozen separately if needed. Often cooking instructions are given with the pack, both for cooking from frozen (sometimes not advised) , microwaving, or cooking from thawed. So tuck these details into the packs you have just made up, or you will surely forget otherwise, unless you are so organised that you have a note-book to keep all records. Putting the instructions in a bag is the speedier way.

When freezing vegetables aim to freeze within 2 - 3 hours of picking. Although this may not always be possible, but if going to a pick-your-own, you could have a chilled box ready and waiting in the car boot, and pop the veggies in this. When preparing vegetables for freezing, do only a small amount at a time and keep the surplus in the fridge to avoid losing any freshness and food value which will happen if they are left to stand in a warm room.
Freezing will not improve the quality of vegetables, as they go in - they will come out, and although most vegetables can be frozen, some are more successful than others. Any veggie with a high water content, such as lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, are not suitable as they end up limp after thawing. However, tomatoes and onions are worth freezing if they are to be later used for cooking sauces, soups or for adding to casseroles as they retain their flavour if not their texture.
It is easiest to freeze tomatoes whole (they end up like snooker balls), and then skin them while still frozen, just dipping them into very hot water for a few seconds and the skin will slide off.
A good guide is that any vegetable that is cooked before being eaten will freeze successfully. Though we have to remember that many veggies can also be eaten raw as well as being cooked. Baby spinach for example. On the other hand, wilted spinach is often used in recipes, and best frozen in that way.

Unless planning to eat frozen vegetables within a month of freezing, all vegetables should be first blanched by plunging them into boiling water for the required time, or by steaming. To blanch i water you need a large pan and a wire basket to fit inside (rather like a chip pan basket). Blanch small quantities at a time, then lift out, drain and tip the veggies into a bowl of iced water. Leave for a minute, then drain and dry off as much water as possible, then pack and freeze. Blanching is very important for it prevents deterioration by enzymes, which will still happen when frozen, unless inactivated by blanching.
Frozen vegetables (either home-frozen or bought) require less cooking time than the fresh as the blanching has already begun the process. For best results cook from frozen in a minimum amount of salted boiling water, for half to two-thirds of the time if cooked from fresh.

The list of vegetables which can be frozen is fairly lengthy, so I am including only the ones most likely to be used. Blanching time is given in minutes (depending upon size), followed by lowest suggested storage time - could be longer).
Aubergines (4mins/9 months); Broad Beans, podded (3mins/9 months); French or Runner beans (4 mins whole beans, 3 mins sliced/ 9 months); Whole cooked beetroot (no blanching/6 months); Broccoli, trimmed to equal lengths (3 -4mins/9 months); Brussel Sprouts, trimmed, (3 - 5mins/9 months).
Cabbage/Spring greens, trimmed and shredded (2 mins/6months); Carrots - new keep whole, slice larger ones (whole 5, sliced 2 mins/6 months; Cauliflower florets (4mins/6 months); Corn on the cob (7 -10mins/9 months; loose sweetcorn (5mins/9months); Courgettes, sliced (3mins/9months); Leeks, trimmed, whole or sliced (2 - 4 mins/6months).
Parsnips, peeled and cut into lengths (3 mins/9 months); Peas, podded (1 1/2mins/9months); Bell Peppers - red or green, halve or slice (2 mins/9 months); Spinach and Kale (2 mins/9 months); Tomatoes (no blanching/9 months); Turnips and Swedes, peeled and cubed (3mins/9 months).
Herbs: no blanching. Chop finely (bay leaves keep whole), wrap tightly in small foil packages remembering to label each bag. Freeze for up to 8 months

Fish should be frozen with hours of being caught. Otherwise don't bother. Slightly different methods according to which type of fish to be frozen, so for time being this will not be covered, and if anyone wants to know more, just ask.

Freezing of meat is fairly simple. Whenever possible remove the bones before freezing, although these can be frozen separately to be later cooked to make stock or gravy. One of my books says that meat can be cooked while still frozen, but I have never done this and never will. Frozen raw meat, once thawed and then cooked throughly can be frozen, but with a lower storage time than previously. Bacon and ham should always be kept in the fridge rather than being frozen, for previous salting will cause rancidity in a very short time. Having said this, I do freeze slices of home-cooked ham to keep for a few weeks to add to my cold meat platters, or for sarnies.
There is no blanching of meat. Just wrap tightly in moisture proof paper and seal. I have asked Beloved to buy me one of those vacuum pack machines for my birthday, which will be perfect for freezing meat.
Beef: large cuts (storage 10 - 12 months); small cuts (6 - 8 months);
Lamb: as beef
Pork: large cuts (4 - 5 months); small cuts (3 - 4 months);
Offal: (2 - 3 months);
Mince meat: must be freshly minced (1 - 2 months)
Sausages: omit salt if home-made (1 - 2 months);
Chicken (whole or jointed) 9 months
Duck/Goose/Turkey: (6months)
Game birds: after hanging, plucking et al (6 - 8 months)
Hare/rabbit: after preparation (4 - 6 months)

As to dairy foods.
Butter can be frozen, unsalted keeps longer (3-6 months). Cheese may become crumbly, although grated cheese freezes very well (6 months). Double cream (40% fat) will freeze and adding a little icing sugar (1 tsp per pint) will increase the storage life (3 months).
Cottage cheese they say should not be frozen, but this is mainly because this breaks down the lumps, which I find quite useful for then it thaws out more like curd cheese - useful for cheesecakes (3 months).
Eggs can be frozen, shelled and mixed with half a tsp salt or sugar to each 6 eggs. Or the yolks and whites frozen separately (yolks mixed with the sugar or salt, whites left alone). Hardly worth bothering with.
Ice cream, home-made or shop bought: 3 months.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Quest for the Best

This first recipe uses mainly storecupboard ingredients, and the beans could be varied - red kidney beans, haricot beans, pinto beans, butter beans, even baked beans. With so many different canned beans available, the choice is ours. If, like me, your oven takes several minutes to heat up, switch on before you start the assembly.
Chunky Tuna Cassoulet: serves 4
400g can tuna in oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 tblsp tomato puree
5 fl oz (150ml) vegetable or chicken stock
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
400g can flageolot beans (or other variety)
400g can cannellini beans
1 can hot-dog sausages (0pt)
2 slices buttered bread
Drain the tuna, and use 1 tblsp of its oil to fry the onion for 7 minutes, until softening, add the garlic towards the end of the cooking time.
Stir in the tomatoes, the puree, dried herbs and stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the drained beans and parsley. Stir in sliced sausage (if using). Place half the mixture into a casserole dish, and place the flaked tuna on the top. Pour over the remaining sauce. Blitz the bread and butter in a processor and sprinkle this over the top. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 5 for roughly half an hour, give or take a minute or two (depends upon the depth of the dish), until golden and heated through.
Tip: once the onion and garlic have been cooked, the remaining ingredients, being already 'cooked', really just need heating through, so the whole lot could be assembled in one pan, just tucking in the tuna, and heated through on the hob. Once-the bread has been sprinkled on the top, finish off under the grill.

This next vegetarian casserole comes with great flavourings. Reading the ingredients it could seem as though it is a main course and dessert rolled together, but in truth it is quite the traditional way to cook vegetables in Africa and Arabia.
Sweet Winter Casserole: serves 4 (V)
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
2 large parsnips, thinly peeled and cored
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
8 oz (225g) frozen string beans, cut in half
3 oz (75g) sultanas
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds
1 tblsp runny honey
1 pint (600ml) vegetable stock
salt and pepper
zest and juice of 1 small lemon
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion until softened, stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then stir in the cumin and fry for a further minute. Cut the parsnips into chunks and add to the pan together with the sweet potatoes. Cover and cook over low heat for five minute, stirring occasionally. Add the sultanas, honey and almonds, stir to mix well, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce the heat to simmer, and cook for approx half an hour or until the vegetables are just tender. Add the thawed beans and cook for a further five minutes. Season to taste, stir in the lemon zest and juice and serve.

Celery is more often eaten raw, or cooked in stocks and other dishes, more as a flavouring.This next recipe uses celery as a vegetable, and because the dish contains both carbohydrate and protein content, as well as the celery, this can be called a 'well-balanced meal', suitable for a lunch dish, or as a starter at a dinner party. Served after a bowl of hot soup, it could also make a supper dish.
Celery and Ham Gratin: serves 2 - 4
1 head of celery
4 large, thin slices of cooked ham
half a pint of cheese sauce, hot
4 oz (100g) pasta penne
2 oz (50g) grated cheese
1 slice bread, crumbed
Wash the celery, removing outer ribs, tops, leaves and stump*. Divide the remainder into four thick pieces
and cook in boiling water until just softened. Drain well, and wrap each piece with the slice of ham.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta until tender, drain and place on the base of a buttered shallow casserole dish, , place over the celery bundles, and cover with the cheese sauce. Mix together the grated cheese and the breadcrumbs, and sprinkle this on top. Finish off under the grill.
*Tip: save the trimmings from the celery, use the stump and outer ribs for adding to soups, stocks, or whatever, and use the green leaves to add to salads.

The final recipe today is for a type of pastie. Traditionally made in the pasty shape, the pastry could be cut into squares and folded over to make triangles or oblongs. Can be eaten hot or cold.
Ham and Apple Pastie: makes 4 individual ones
10 oz (275g) short pastry
6 oz (175g) cooked ham, diced
2 eating apples, diced
1 tsp sugar
Roll out the pastry and cut into 4 circles. Sprinkle the apples with the sugar and mix with the ham, then pile this over one half of each pastry circle. Dampen the edges and fold over to make a semi-circle. Alternatively, put the mixture into the centre of the pastry and bring the sides up to the top. Either way, seal well and flute or curling over the edges of the pasty.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about half an hour or until the pastry has browned. Remove from oven, cool slightly and serve with a salad, or cool on a cake airer to eat later in the day.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Learn Something New Every Day

Although I tend to cook lamb shanks in the oven, after first browning in a frying pan, then transferring into a lidded casserole with a little water, cover and cook at a low oven temperature (17oC, 325F, gas 3 - or even less) for about a couple of hours or until the meat falls from the bones - this is the hob-top method.
To cook lamb shanks:
Use, if possible, a heavy metal saucepan (pref not non-stick kind), with a tight fitting lid, and one of a size that will hold the shanks fairly easily.
Remove any excess fat from the surface of the shanks, but make sure you leave the membrane. Salt the shanks and put a couple of tablespoons of oil in the pan, and when hot, brown the shanks. Turn down the heat to as low as possible, and cover the pan. Cook the shanks for at least one and a half hours, turning them occasionally. The idea is to let the shanks stew in their own juices. Depending upon the type of pan used, these juices should hold their own for up to an hour, but with some pans the juices evaporate too quickly, so as soon as the pan begins to sizzle, then add a tablespoon of water from time to time so that a very little liquid always remains at the bottom of the pan. Once the meat has become tender, and dropping off the bone, stop putting in the water and when all the liquid has evaporated and again the pan begins to sizzle, remove the meat to a plate. To make a gravy, deglaze the pan with white wine, stirring with a wooden spoon to remove the caramel. You need only enough 'jus' to coat the shanks. Serve one shank (still on the bone) with chosen vegetables. We like the shanks with new (small) potatoes cooked in their skins, tossed with a little butter, and minted peas. Serving also mint sauce and redcurrant jelly. But shanks can be cooked as a stew, after the initial browning, with onions, potatoes and carrots, adding water or stock, all in the pot together.

Although we don't normally need to take advantage of all this 'ready-prepared', if this is the direction cookery is going, then at least we can move with the times and show the younger ones how easy it can be to follow the trend in our own (or their)kitchens, for it takes little time to dice, blanch, and then freeze vegetables (or even prepare ahead ready for the next couple of days to keep in the fridge) . We could do the same with minced or diced meats, cook them first, cool them down, bag them up, then freeze (a bag of cooked minced beef can be turned into chilli con carne, a biryani curry, a spag.bol meat sauce, meat balls, a cottage pie, and many other dishes to numerous to mention). With a little thought we can all 'do a Delia', yet in our case it wouldn't be cheating at all. Just advance planning, and all that money saved. Think I'll call it this economy fast-track.

One of our daughters told me that she had been talking to a friend who - strangely in this day and age - didn't have a freezer. Our daughter (only two in family) has a chest freezer in their garage and another (smaller) in their house. Couldn't manage without them, she told the girl, who found it puzzling that someone would eat that many ready-made frozen meals, for she believed that was all a freezer was used for.

With fresh vegetables for sale, two recipes today are based around 'greens''. The first being a pasta sauce that needs no cooking. Although spinach is the green ingredient in both recipes, steamed kale should work just as well, or even any dark green leaf that will soften and wilt when steaming. Walnuts could be used instead of pine nuts.
Green Spinach 'pesto' Pasta Sauce: serves 4
4 oz (100g) spinach leaves (or other dark green vegetable leafage)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
juice of 1 small lemon (or half a large)
1 x 250g tub cream cheese (Philly type) or mascarpone
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan cheese
2 oz (50g) toasted pine nuts
Wash the spinach and cook in a dry pan until just wilted. Leave to cool. Put into a food processor with the remaining ingredients and whizz to a smooth sauce. Stir into hot, drained cooked pasta, and serve with extra Parmesan sprinkled over.

This next is for a cannelloni type dish, but using spinach pancakes instead of the pasta tubes. A low-cost vegetarian dish it looks very appetising because of its colour. Again, any wilted/cooked green vegetable leaf could be used instead of spinach. Instead of making the tomato sauce from scratch, you could use bought passata and add extra seasoning to taste. Although nutmeg is not included in the recipes, it goes well with greens.
Spinach Pancakes with Ricotta: serves 4 (V)
5 oz (150g) plain flour
2 eggs
9 fl oz (270ml) milk
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) frozen spinach, thawed, drained, finely chopped
2 x 250g tubs ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese, sieved)
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp tomato puree
2 tsp chopped fresh basil
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
2 oz (50g) Parmesan cheese
Make the pancake batter by beating together the flour, eggs and milk (or blitz together in a blender). Stir the prepared spinach into the batter and season to taste. Heat a little oil in a 10" (25cm) frying pan and pour in about 5 tblsp of the batter, tilting the pan to cover the base. Cook until light brown underneath, turn and cook the other side for about 30 secs. Remove, put on a plate and repeat with the remaining batter to make four pancakes in all.
Season the ricotta with salt and pepper, and divide between the pancakes. Roll up into tubes and place in a greased, shallow ovenproof dish.
Make the sauce by frying the onion in the oil for four minutes, add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Stir in the paprika and tomato puree, then stir in the chopped tomatoes and cook until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in the basil.
Pour the tomato sauce over the filled pancakes, sprinkling the top with the grated cheese and season with a little more pepper. Bake for 20 minutes at 180F, 350F, gas 4. Serve with a crisp green salad.

Herethis is a way to make a veggie sausage, the best cheese to use is one that melts easily. As I absolutely love Wensleydale cheese on toast, then this is my choice. Choose a different herb if you wish.
Yorkshire Meatless Sausages: serves 4 (V)
1 lb (450g) cooked, mashed potatoes
1 oz (50g) butter
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms, finely chopped
4 oz (100g) Wensleydale cheese, grated
1 tblsp chopped parsley
3 0z (75g) white breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
0il and butter
Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the mushrooms for a couple of minutes. Put the potatoes into a bowl and tip in the mushrooms. Add the cheese adn parsley, adding seasoning to taste. Form into 8 sausage shapes and roll into the breadcrumbs. Chill for half an hour (or to make them easier to handle, freeze for no longer than half an hour).
Put a little oil and butter into a frying pan and when hot, add the sausages, turning from time to time, for about 8 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with salad.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Scooping the Rewards

To make this recipe easier, I suggest totting up the amounts of specified fruits then using that weight of mixed dried fruit - so you only have to weigh them once. Sometimes candied peel is included in bags of mixed dried fruit, so you could include that weight as well. To save having any pastry scraps left over, make the cakes in squares or triangles instead of rounds.
Eccles Cakes:
8 oz (225g) puff pastry
2 oz (50g) sultanas
2 oz (50g) candied peel
bare half tsp mixed spice
2 oz (50g) currants
2 oz (50g) margarine
2 oz (50g) sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
caster sugar, water or egg white to glaze
Roll out the pastry thinly and cut into large, saucershape rounds. Mix together all the remaining ingredients except those needed for glazing, and put spoonfuls of the mixture into the centre of each round, then brush the edges of the pastry with water, pick them up and bring them to the centre above the fruit and pinch them together to make a seal. Turn each upside down and flatten with a rolling pin. Make 2 or 3 slashes on the top, brush with water or egg white, and sprinkle over some sugar. Bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for about 20 minutes. Tent with foil after 15 minutes if the cakes are beginning to get too brown. Cool on a cake airer.
Banbury cakes: as the above but add 2 oz cake crumbs or crumbled macaroon biscuits, glaze with milk and sugar.
Tip: as this is an old recipe, it does not state how to treat the margarine. Personally I would put all the ingredients into a pan, heat until the marg. has melted, then leave it to cool. The juice will plump up the fruit and the margarine will be well blended in.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Add a pinch of Parsimony

Did you know that we would get as much nutrition from a can of sardines than from a good sized piece of expensive fresh salmon? And that when one lady was given details of 'healthy' foods ('healthy' by the manufacturers standards) to replace her normal shopping, and by the time she had bought her trolleyload it came to nearly £200 (at least double or maybe treble what she normally would spend). We should always be aware that many 'healthy' foods may be low in fat but often higher in sugar, so not nearly as healthy as they seem, and should be able to get all our nurtients by eating sensibly and as much fresh foods as possible. The sound tip when it came to the packs, was ALWAYS READ WHAT IS SAYS ON THE BOX. Then, I suggest, put it back on the shelf.

The recipes today come directly from the jottings of Mrs Scrooge (aka Shirley Goode). Despite their frugality, they have good flavour and, of course, are open to adding additional ingredients.
The ingredients in this first dish, almost all of us will have to hand at some time or another, and if not, why not?
Lentil Curry: serves 3 - 4
8 oz (225g) lentils, soaked for a few hours
1 tblsp curry powder or paste
1 tsp apricot jam or mango chutney
juice of half a small lemon
2 large onions, diced or sliced
2 tablsp sunflower oil
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper
boiled rice
Using the soaking water, simmer the lentils until just softened. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion and apple also until just soft. Stir in the curry powder and fry for one minute, then add the lentils and the remaining ingredients, seasoning to taste. Heat through thoroughly, the serve over freshly boiled rice.

Onion and Potato Rosti: serves 4
4 large potatoes, peeled
2 oz (50g) plain flour
1 large onion, coarsely grated
few springs parsley, chopped leaves only
salt and pepper
oil for frying
4 eggs
Cut each potato in half, put into boiling water and boil for 5 minutes, then remove, cool under running water, and dry them thoroughly. Using a coarse grater, grate the potatoes into a bowl, adding a little salt and pepper, half the parsley, onion, and enough flour to bind.
Heat about 2 tblsp of oil in a frying pan, and when hot, drop spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot fat, flattening each to make a large round. Fry over medium heat until golden on the underside, then turn and cook on the reverse side until golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve with either fried or poached eggs for Scatter over the remaining parsley.
To turn into a breakfast dish, serve with the eggs and strips of fried bacon.

This next recipe saves no end of cooking time as against the normal method of dicing the vegetables. Also the vegetables can be varied according to season and your personal choice. The stock could be chicken stock (home-made of course), vegetable stock, or use a stock cube, or just use plain water. My personal preference is the Marigold bouillion powder when making up a vegetable stock.
Vegetable Soup at Speed: serves 4
approx 1 lb (450g) mixed vegetables after peeling
1 1/4 pints boiling stock
seasoning to taste
chopped parsley
grated cheese
Coarsely grate the prepared vegetables, and add to the pan of boiling stock, adding seasoning to taste. Boil rapidly for 5 - 8 minutes until the vegetables are just tender. Serve, sprinkled with the chopped parsley and the grated cheese.
Tip: choose vegetables that have good flavour, such as carrot, celery, parsnips, and include potato.
Suggest adding no salt as stock cubes and powder usually have more than enough added. Always taste to check seasoning before serving, salt can be added at the table if you prefer.

Yesterday I mentioned the advantage of gaining a ham-bone, often discarded at the deli counter, so just let them know if you want one and they may keep it for you. Although the ingredients for this soup are cheap enough, the stock made from a ham-bone lifts it into the almost gourmet level. Instead of dried (green) peas, the yellow split peas could be used.
Pea Soup: serves 4
8 oz (225g) dried peas (any kind)
2 pints ham-bone stock
2 onions, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 turnip, chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 sprig mint
2 rashers bacon, crisply fried
Soak the peas overnight in the ham stock, then put into a pan with the vegetables, sugar, seasoning and mint and simmer for approx one and a half hours, or until the veggies are very tender. Either run through a sieve or blitz in a blender/processor until smooth. Taste, re-season if necessary, bring back to heat then serve, garnishes with crispy pieces of bacon.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cooking for Pleasure and Profit.

Cooking for profit, in this instance, does not mean selling our wares or expertise. It is more the discovering which dishes please, and which are the least expensive to make. In other words having money left over that might normally have been spent.

With a dish, the main ingredients (and with most recipes this can be one or two) will be the most expensive, and this is where it is possible to cut down the amount used (this with almost any recipe) but still end up with a very similar dish that, by way of a little juggling, just happens to cost less. The remaining ingredients should be adjusted so the total weight ends up the same (or it won't feed as many) . Sometimes it is possible to alter one or both of the main ingredients, and still come up with a very similar dish.

Based on cooked chicken, the following recipes would work just as well using cooked turkey, beef, and possibly ham. Although battery farmed chickens are cheap enough, even so I would expect the best value (cost per pound cooked) would be turkey. And not being the Christmas season, this could be a good time to buya frozen bird. But always check prices. Don't do as I did last Christmas, buy a small frozen bird which - once thawed - leached out so much water it was barely the size of a large chicken. Go for a larger bird, which gives more flesh to the bone.
Cooked turkey meat keeps best when removed from the carcase, so remove all cooked meat from the bones. Wrapped well in greaseproof paperand then foil, it will keep refrigerated for four days. Even better, put in freezer bags and freeze in meal-sized portions. Keep the white and dark meat separate.

Firstly, how to go about adjusting a recipe to cut the cost. This first is for a sarnie, but one nourishing enough to eat as a brunch or lunch dish, but could be made using two slices of bread and half the ingredients as more of a snack than a meal. The recipe is given without attempting to lower the cost - so follow these hints and tips if you wish it to be more frugal:
Ideally, use the multi-grain (granary) bread, otherwise a good wholewheat bread, or - if you have to - just plain white. White bread would probably be cheapest, but comparing the costs slice per slice, savings would be minimal and the better option would be to use the healthier granary and make other cuts as suggested.
The recipe uses the large, open-cap field mushrooms. Lower the price by selecting the largest and most open mushrooms from smaller ones sold loose. Use less chicken. The rashers of bacon could be reduced by stretching out with a knife before grilling - this makes a rasher go further and takes a little less time to crisp. Change the olive oil to a blend of sunflower and olive and omit the lemon juice. And mix a little plain yogurt into the mayo. Use lettuce instead of watercress - and presto! - the sarnie is now much cheaper, but we still end up with much the same.
Chicken Club Sandwich: serves 1 (could stretch to 2)
2 large open-cap mushrooms
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp lemon juice
2 slices granary bread
2 tblsp mayo
6 oz (175g) sliced cooked chicken
handful of watercress
First fry the mushrooms in the oil until starting to brown. Add the lemon juice and and cook over high heat for 1 minute, then remove from the pan and set aside. Lightly toast the bread. Start with one slice, then put on one of the mushrooms, top this with some mayo, followed by the half the chicken, then half the bacon, then top with half the watercress. Cover with the next slice of toast and repeat. Spread the top slice of toast with mayo and place this, mayo side down on the top of the pile. Spear with cocktail sticks to hold, and then slice in half diagonally. Serve alone or with a side salad.

This next uses flour tortillas, and is a cheat's way to get the flavour of Peking Duck. Ideally use the cooked dark meat from almost any edible bird. Alternatively used strips of cooked roast beef. Although a couple of the ingredients are not what you call cheap, they come from a bottle so the actual amount used can be counted in pennies. And with many bottled ingredient of this type, there is plenty left for later use.
Chinese Mock Peking wrap: serves 4
4 flour tortillas
Chinese hoisin or plum sauce
sesame oil
dark cooked chicken meat
finger length piece of cucumber, shredded into thin strips
4 spring onions (2 if plump), likewise shredded
Using a fork, tear the dark meat into strips, and place on a baking sheet, spread with the chosen Chinese sauce and sprinkle with a few drops of the oil. Put onto a baking sheet and grill for about 5 minutes until the meat is browned and bubbling. Meanwhile warm the tortillas. Lay each tortilla out and divide the grilled meat between them, top with the cucumber and onion, wrap the tortillas up pancake roll fashion, but open one end, and serve immediately.

This next is a hot, vegetable based chicken dish, which I believe would work equally well with turkey or ham, or even a mixture of both. At one time (and this may still be done) I used to go to the deli counter of the supermarket and ask for a ham-bone, left over after carving off the roast ham. Often there was quite a bit of useful ham left on the bone which could be pulled away, the bone itself was sawn in half to make stock. Ham scraps are useful for many dishes from quiches, pasta dishes and sarnies (remember, that if anything has to be torn or chopped up, such as ham, smoked salmon, bacon, it is often cheaper to buy and use packs of scraps rather than complete pieces). Other savings can be made by using different vegetables, and the cheapest of the seasonal range. Again this recipe has not been adjusted to lower the cost although I have added a choice of vegetable where applicable, it should really be up to the cook to use what vegetables they have, or what they can afford. Other savings could be made by grating up some left-to-get-hard cheddar to be used in place of the Parmesan, and making a white sauce to use instead of the creme fraiche.
Vegetable Gratin with Chicken: serves 4
1 lb (450g) cooked brussel sprouts (or broccoli florets) halved
2 leeks, blanched and sliced (or 2 onions, sliced)
salt and pepper
grated nutmeg
1 lb (450g) sliced, cooked chicken meat, pref breast
200ml pot creme fraiche
2 tblsp holegrain mustard
2 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
Scatter the prepared vegetables over the base of a greased, shallow ovenproof dish. Season to taste and grate over a little nutmeg. Spread an even layer of the cooked chicken over the vegetables. Mix the creme fraiche with the mustard, if necessary adding a little milk to make a pouring consistency, and spoon this over the chicken and vegetables. Sprinkle over the grated cheese and bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for half an hour, or until golden brown on top.

Today's final recipe has, this time, been adjusted to cut costs (in brackets you will see the original suggested ingredients, so you can always substitute one or more of these if you can afford to be more extravagant).
Crunchy Chicken Salad: serves 3 - 4
2 tblsp olive oil (recipe says 3)
3 tblsp sunflower oil (recipes says 2)
3 tblsp lemon juice
2 tblsp runny honey
lettuce leaves (any kind)
2 " (5cm) piece of cucumber, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, grated
1 - 2 apples, thinly sliced (or pear, mango, kiwi fruit)
approx 14 oz (400g) cooked dark and light chicken meat
2 tblsp roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
half tsp dried chilli flakes
First make the salad dressing by whisking together the olive and sunflower oils, the lemon juice and the honey. Put the lettuce leaves into a bowl (use the amount you feel will be enough), add the cucumber, onion, carrot and apples. Toss together with just a little of the dressing, then pile onto individual plates. Shred the cooked meat with a fork and scatter this over the salad. Finish with a sprinkle of peanuts and the chilli flakes. Drizzle the remaining dressing over just before serving.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Counting the Cost

Even with an eye to the expense, it is sometimes possible to serve a small amount of an expensive cut of beef, such as fillet, when it is able to be mixed with other ingredients (as with the recipe below), whereas - served on its own, in one piece with a salad on the side, the amount (per head) would appear ridiculously small. A ready-made French or Italian salad dressing would go with this, or we could make our own using walnut oil and lemon juice.
Crisp Green Salad with Hot Seared Beef: serves 4
olive oil
8 oz (225g) fillet steak
salt and pepper
7 oz (200g) sprouting broccoli
2 Little Gem lettuce
1 bag watercress, rocket and baby spinach
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 oz (50g) walnuts, toasted
salad dressing
Brush the steak on both sides with the olive oil and sprinkle over a little salt and pepper. Put the steak into a hot pan and fry for 6 - 7 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove from pan and set aside, tented with foil, to allow juices to be reabsorbed. Meanwhile, prepare the salad.
Cook the broccoli in boiling salted water for 3 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and refresh under cold running water to stop it cooking further. Tear the leaves from the lettuce and arrange with the other salad leaves, the broccoli and the tomatoes. Slice the beef as thinly as possible and scatter this over the top.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve immediately.

With this recipe for pilau, almost a meal all in itself, the suggestion is to serve it with some type of meat balls, burgers or patties. Or perhaps a vegetarian meat substitute. Plum tomatoes I find to have more flavour than the chopped, and are often cheaper, so worth doing the chopping ourselves (or blitz in a blender). If the given herb is not available use flat-leaf parsley or other herb of your choice. When using other grains, check the cooking time on the packs and adjust the recipe to suit.
Bulgar Pilau: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp ground coriander
half tsp ground cumin (opt)
14 oz (400g) bulgar wheat
1 x 400g can plum tomatoes, chopped
11 fl.oz (315ml) water
pinch salt and pepper
handful coriander, chopped
4 tblsp toasted flaked almonds
2 tblsp sultanas or raisins
bag of watercress, rocket and baby spinach
oil and lemon juice
Gently fry the onion in the oil until softened, then stir in the ground spice, garlic, tomato, water, bulgar wheat and season to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the bulgar is tender. Add the herb, dried fruit and nuts to the mixture and stir until combined. Pile onto a warmed serving dish and serve with the side salad which has been dressed with the oil and lemon juice.
If serving with burgers, patties or meatballs, serve a bowl of Greek yogurt for spooning over.

One recipe of yesteryear made use of cake crumbs. Today this could be crumbled trifle sponges, or the last bit of a Victoria sponge. If a layer cake has jam in the centre then use a little less in the following recipe. For adult tastes substitute rum for the essence.
6 oz (175g) cake crumbs
2 - 3 tblsp warmed apricot jam
1 tsp almond essence
8 glace cherries
grated chocolate or chocolate vermicelli
Mix the first three ingredients together and divide into 8 portions. Shape each around a glace cherry and form into a ball. Roll in the chocolate, pressing it in firmly. Chill until set.
variation: instead of the cherries, form cherry-sized balls of chocolate spread (such as Nutella), freeze or chill these, then roll the cake mixture around them.

Mix in a Minute Cakes:
To make each cake, put all their ingredients (as given below) together in one bowl (or processor) and beat well for one minute until well mixed. Add a little more milk if necessary to bring to a dropping consistency (or use some of the juice from the fruit). Spread the mixture into two 8" (20cm) sandwich tins, greased and lined on the base, and bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 (middle to low shelf) for 20 minutes.

orange layer cake:
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
pinch salt
1 level tsp baking powder
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
6 oz (175g) soft margarine
3 eggs
grated zest of 1 orange
approx 3 tblsp milk

lemon layer cake:
as for the orange, substituting lemon zest.

chocolate layer cake:
6 oz (175g) self-raising flour
pinch salt
4 level tblsp cocoa
half tsp bicarbonate of soda
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
6 oz (175g) soft margarine
3 eggs
few drops vanilla extract
approx 3 tblsp milk

coconut layer cake:
6 oz (175g) self-raising flour
pinch salt
1 level tsp baking powder
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
6 oz (175g) soft margarine
3 eggs
few drops vanilla essence
2 oz (50g) desiccated coconut
approx 3 tblsp milk