Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Looking for Trouble?

In many ways, cooking is an art form, so anyone who is the slightest bit creative should have no problem playing around with ingredients, and in this way we can explore the cuisine of the whole world if we wish.

When it comes to the vegetable stir-fry, there are so many veggies that can be used. The main aim is to make the dish as colourful as possible. A trad. Chinese stir-fry could contain sliced courgettes, strips of red and yellow peppers, sliced mushrooms, grated root ginger and sliced garlic, but you could make your own mix and match version by using these (or none of them) with any of the following: matchstick carrots, small string beans, mange-tout peas, baby sweetcorn, spring onions, sliced celery, broccoli florets and/or their stems cut into strips, similarly cauliflower, also bean sprouts. With such a wide variety of choice it should be easy to make a stir-fry from veggies we already have.
Chunks of pineapple can be added, also cashew nuts or peanuts, and 'ordinary' peas and sweetcorn could be used instead of the above mentioned, so lots of little bits and bobs of all sorts can go together to make a complete and very tasty dish. If you wish to include bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, these can be purchased in small cans, use just a few, and freeze away any surplus.

Incidentally, yesterday, using 'fresh' root ginger purchased several weeks ago then frozen, thought it worth measuring the size of the root - it was 8" in length with two 'arms' either side, facing upwards and looking a lot like a baby cactus, As it cost only 40p well worth buying a root as a little goes a long way. Fresh ginger, peeled, will also keep well bottled in sherry in the fridge, but freezing it is much the cheapest way to do it.
Anyone interested in growing plants should look for ginger root that has one or more small buds just starting to grow. These can be cut from the ginger, as long as there is a good piece of the original root attached to the bud, and when planted should grow. More a decorative plant than for growing more roots, but presumably, given a large pot to grow in and warm conditions, they may well produce more roots which we could use. Worth looking growing details on the Internet.

Ginger syrup is used a lot in Oriental cooking and I make this (to some extent) myself by buying a small pot of preserved stem ginger, draining off the syrup which is then shared between several other small jars, slicing the ginger and also dividing this betweent the jars, then topping up with stock sugar syrup (1 measure sugar to the same measure water, heating until dissolved then boiling for 3 minutes. Cool and store). Presumably, grated fresh ginger could also be boiled in the sugar syrup, left to cool and soak overnight, then drain, use the ginger in gingerbread or something, and bottle the syrup up for later use.

When making a stir-fry it is much easier to prepare the veggies earlier in the day, pop them into bags and keep them in the fridge until an hour before using, giving them time to come back to room temperature. The sauce also could be prepared in advance with the cornflour added when ready to use. Although stir-frying is often believed to be 'something tossed in hot oil and then served', this is not correct. The ingredients are added to a very little hot oil in the wok, those needing the most cooking time put in first, these are stirred around for a few minutes, other veggies added and then the cooking liquid. The pan is covered and the veggies get steamed for a short time, just enough to keep them al dente.
Sweet and Sour Sauce for Vegetable Stir-fry:
7 fl.oz (250ml) chicken stock
3 tlsp dry sherry
2 tlsp soy sauce
1 tblsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp five spice powder*
Just mix the lot together and pour over the stir-fried vegetables, cover to allow the vegetables to steam.

*Five spice powder can be bought ready-made from the spice rack or Chinese shelves of your supermarket. It can also be made at home by mixing together equal amounts of finely ground star anise, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves and Szechwan pepper.

One unrelated recipe to finish off today's posting:

As with most scone dough, this needs to be very soft before rolling. Often we keep it too firm. This recipe, contains no sugar. If you prefer - add a couple, no more, teaspoons of sugar. Sugar added to anything tends to make it turn golden brown, so if including sugar, you may need to cover the top of the scones after 10 minutes with foil (shiny side up to reflect away the heat),
Very Light Scones:
1 lb flour
2 heaped tsp baking powder
3 oz butter or margarine
half tsp bicarbonate of soda
fresh or sour milk (or diluted yogurt)
Dissolve the soda in a little milk. Sieve the flour with the baking powder and rub in the fat. Then add enough of the liquid to make the wettest dough that can be handled. Place on a floured board, dusting the top of the dough with flour and roll out lightly to half to one inch depth (best to experiment with the depth so see how high they rise). Cut into chosen shapes and bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 15 minutes or so until well risen and golden.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Mediterranean Medley

Firstly though a little bit of info about the peppers, sometimes called sweet peppers, bell peppers, or even sweet bell peppers. The true name for them is pimentos. Do not confuse these with the hot chilli peppers. In recipes a pepper usually means the pimento, a hot pepper is almost always called a 'chilli'. Apart from being high in vitamin C, the peppers (of all types) have little food value, their main role being to add flavour and colour. Although the sweet peppers can come in different shapes, and different flavours, cooks just love the boxy-shaped 'bells' with their flat bottoms, and conveniently hollow innards, as they stand up so well like birds with gaping beaks, waiting for their mouths to be filled.
Peppers grow best in hot countries, but can also be grown here given some protection. Myself, over past years, have grown many bell peppers on sunny windowsills (they need to be pollinated with a small paintbrush), and have to admit the best ones were grown from seeds taken from a ripening red pepper bought from a supermarket then sown into small pots of compost, later to be transplanted to much larger pots.

Basic Pepper Salad: serves 4
4 large bell peppers, mixed: red, green, yellow etc
2 - 3 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
Lay the peppers on a baking sheet and roast them in a hot oven 230C, 450F, gas 8 for about half an hour, turning them around from time to time so the skins turn really brown. Remove from oven and put them immediately into a plastic bag, closing the end and leave to stand for 15 minutes to loosen their skins.
After that time, remove from the bag, retaining any of the juices that may be in there, peel off the skins, slice the peppers, remove the seeds and 'septa' (the white bits), and cut into strips. Place the flesh in a bowl, pour over the saved juices together with some olive oil, seasoning to taste. Eat at room temperature. Instead of serving this as a side salad, add a drained can of tuna and it becomes a dish in its own right.

tunisian variation:
add a few black olives, a couple of teaspoons of capers, and a couple of hardboiled eggs that have been cut into quarters. Spike up the oil dressing with good pinch each of paprika and cayenne pepper, and a crushed clove of garlic. Can also be served with tuna.

egyptian variation:
to the prepared peppers, add an equal quantity of sliced (pref. peeled) ripe tomatoes. Add a bunch of thinly sliced spring onions, and add two tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley to the dressing.

moroccan variation:
for this use 3 green bell peppers, prepared as above, but after peeling chop into small dice. Add 2 peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes, a small pinch of salt, a good pinch each of cumin and cayenne, the juice of half a small lemon, 3 tblsp olive oil, and 2 tblsp chopped parsley. Miz together and serve cold.

spanish variation:
to feed four you need 8oz (225g) each of green peppers, red peppers, onions and aubergine. This time baking all the vegetables in the oven at 180c, 350F, gas 4 for about one hour until softened and their skins are brown. Again bag them up, tightly closing the bag, and leave for 10-15 minutes to loosen their skins. Then follow directions for the basic salad.

This next is a more substantial dish that originated in Tunisia, but can is eaten throughout the Arab world. Sometimes caraway seeds are used instead of the cumin, but either are optional. Sometimes a little sliced onion is fried with the peppers. This makes a good lunch or light supper dish, always served hot.
Chakchouka: serves 4
2 green peppers, thinly sliced
2 - 3 tblsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp paprika
half tsp cayenne
1 tsp cumin
3 large tomatoes, peeled and sliced
4 eggs
Put the oil in a frying pan and fry the peppers until softened. Add the garlic, and when this is just turning golden, stir in the paprika, cayenne and cumin. Add a pinch of salt. Stir together well. Add the prepared tomatoes. Make four shallow indentations in the pan and break an egg into each. Cook over low heat until the eggs have just set, then serve immediately.

All countries around the Med like to eat a dish of stuffed peppers, and this recipe makes good use of green peppers, although the more colourful ones could be used instead. Myself I prefer to cook the green peppers and eat the brighter colours raw with salads. There is no real substitute for tamarind, but some recipes suggest using the grated zest and juice of a lemon as a substitute although the resulting flavour is never quite the same.
Stuffed Green Peppers: serves 4
4 large green peppers
6 oz (175g) long-grain rice
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 tblsp olive oil
1 rounded tblsp pine-nuts
1 tblsp raisins, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
1 tblsp tamarind paste (see above)
1 pint ( 600ml) boiling water
2 tsp sugar
2 tblsp finely chopped mixed herbs: parsley, mint, dill
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
Slice the top off each pepper (to later form a lid). Remove seeds from the peppers and any thick white parts (septa). Rinse the rice under running water, draining well. Using a large saucepan, fry the onion in the oil, and when softened and just turning golden, add the pine-nuts. When they too are turning gold, stir in the rice. Add the raisins and season to taste. Mix together well.
Dissolve the tamarind in the boiling water, stir in the sugar and pour this over the mixture in the saucepan. Mix in the herbs and tomatoes, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. The rice should be al dente at this stage and fairly sloppy.
Stand the peppers in an ovenproof casserole, and spoon in the filling but do not pack it down too tightly. Place over the reserved pepper lids. Pour a quarter of a pint (5fl.oz/15mil) cold water into the dish to surround the peppers, then cover with a lid or foil and bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 40 minutes, then remove lid/foil and cook on for a further 15 - 20 minutes or until the peppers are softened.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fusion Food

The following recipes for Japanese chicken and fish stock are made in a very similar way, the main difference is with the timing. Am so taken with this recipe for chicken stock that today I will be defrosting all the (free) chicken winglets that I have hoarded in the freezer for months, using also root ginger that has been stored in my freezer, again for weeks, and still have those leeks I vacuum packed the other week. As this makes a fair amount of stock, will need to reduce qantities, but certainly - once made and chilled - it can be frozen..
chicken bouillon (stock): (F)
2 lb (1kg) chicken pieces and bones
4 slices fresh root ginger
1 leek, coarsely chopped
3 pints (1.5 ltrs) water
Put the chicken pieces and bones into the water and bring to the boil. Carefully remove the scum that rises to the surface (this may need doing two or three times), then add the ginger and leek, reduce the heat and simmer for an hour and a half. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 20 minutes, then strain through wet muslin placed in a sieve or colander that is standing over a large bowl. Leave to cool then chill in the fridge, removing all the fat once it has set. In Chinese cooking (not necessarily here) it is expected the stock should be completely clear, so - if necessary - strain it a second time. Freeze for later use.

If you have a friendly fishmonger in your vicinity, or live close to a fishing harbour, you may well be able to get free fish bones and trimmings, maybe even (at the harbour side) cheap fish.
fish bouillon (stock): (F)
1 lb (500g) fresh fish bones and trimmings (sole, brill etc)
4 slices fresh root ginger
1 leek, coarsely chopped
1 tblsp mirin or medium dry sherry
3 pints (1.5 ltrs) water
Rinse the fish and bones under cold running water, then put them into a large pan with the measured water and bring to the boil. Remove any scum from the surface as it rises (this may need doing several times).
Add the ginger and leek, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain through muslin. When cold add the mirin or sherry. Freeze for later use.

Following the above recipe for stock is one for fish soup, and perfect for making a small amount of fish go a long way. Cutting and slicing the fish as thinly as possible makes it look more even though it is only 2 oz (50g) per serving. Possibly, using a very sharp knife (it helps to freeze the fish for half an hour before slicing to enable very, very thin slices to be cut) we could make the soup using 6 oz (175g) of fish. Because the raw fish is prepared in this way, it cooks immediately the boiling stock touches it. Although the fish is given as in the original recipe, other - and cheaper - white fish could also be used.
Japanese Clear Fish Soup: serves 4
8 oz (225g) fresh white fish fillets (sole, brill, turbot etc)
4 spring onions, chopped
2 pints (1.2 ltrs) boiling fish stock (see above recipe)
Cut the fish into very thin slices, then cut each slice into thin strips. Divide these between four serving bowls. Sprinkle over the spring onions then pour over the boiling fish stock. Serve immediately.

Many Asian and Caribbean recipes use coconut milk as an ingredient. An easy way to make this is with desiccated coconut, and note that this recipe will make both the thick and the thinner coconut milks.
coconut milk:
7 oz (200g) desiccated coconut
2 pints (1.2 ltrs) boiling water
Put the coconut into a blender with half the boiling water and blitz for 30 seconds. Strain through a sieve lined with muslin, leaving everything as it is until the coconut is cool enough to handle, then tighten the muslin into a bag and squeeze as much liquid out as possible, adding it to the coconut milk drained into the basin. This is classed as thick coconut milk.
To make thin coconut milk, returned the squeezed coconut to the blender, adding the remaining boiling water and repeat the straining, cooling and squeezing.

Another useful storecupboard/fridge standby is pickled ginger. This I usually buy in jars as I just love to eat it with sushi, but it can also be added to other dishes. Now I will be making my own. When using fresh root ginger that has been frozen, allow time for it to thaw. If not intending to use it often, make smaller amounts.
pickled ginger:
1 lb (450g) fresh root ginger
14 fl.oz (400ml) rice vinegar
6 tblsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Peel the ginger and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute, then rinse under cold running water. Pat dry with kitchen paper, then cut into fairly coarse shreds. Put the vinegar into a pan with 5 tblsp water, add the sugar and salt and stir until these have dissolved, then add the ginger. Bring to the boil, then immediately remove from heat and spoon into small, warm sterilised jars, topping up with the liquid. Screw on airtight lids and store in a cool place for up to 3 months.

The first of the main dishes today is Chinese scrambled eggs - enough for four when served as a side dish, however, this would make a good lunch or even supper dish for one or two people. Easily extended.
Cantonese Scrambled Eggs with Spring Onions:
4 egg, lightly beaten
pinch sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp ginger syrup
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
5 fl.oz (150ml) chinese chicken stock
2 tblsp groundnut or sunflower oil
2 beef (or large) tomatoes, skinned and diced
parsley sprigs
salt to taste
Put everything except the parsley into a bowl and mix together. Heat the oil in a wok, swirling the pan round so the oil coats the sides, then when the oil is hot tip in all the mixture in one go, and stir-fry until set but still moist on the top. Serve at once onto warm plates (or if you wish, on toast) and garnish with the parsley.

This next recipe uses firm white cabbage which is so reasonable in price. It could be served with hot or cold meats, or as one of a selection of vegetarian dishes.
Peking Sweet and Sour Cabbage:
1 lb (450g) white cabbage
4 tblsp groundnut or sunflower oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1 small dried red chilli
2 tblsp malt vinegar
2 tblsp ginger syrup
1 tblsp hoisin sauce
2 - 3 tblsp chicken stock
Slice the cabbage into thin shreds. Heat the oil in a wok and stir fry the garlic and chilli until the garlic has turned golden, then remove the garlic and chilli from the oil. Add the cabbage to the wok and stir-fry for five minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients. Stir to mix everything together, then bring to the boil. Cook for one minute then serve immediately.

Desserts do not play an important part in Eastern cuisine, although some - mainly fruit - can be served after the main courses. Note I said 'courses' for several (often many) dishes are served so that everyone can have a sample of everything to go with their bowl of rice. Sometimes, when soup has been the starter, it is far better to end the meal with a refreshing bowl of tea (with no milk and no sugar). Green tea would be perfect.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tools of the Trade

Today am offering salad dressings, but even these play a vital part in the cooks' s kitchen. Yes, they can be bought ready-made, but often we don't want to keep a whole range in the larder, preferring to stick with just the mayo. Given a few basic ingredients, we can extend the mayo to make quite an assortment of dressing ourselves, as and when we wish. So try these for size:

Beginning with the classic French Dressing, As the oil and vinegar always separates when standing, give it a good shake before drizzling over salads. Although not given as an ingredient, sometimes I add a pinch of icing sugar.
4 fl oz (100ml) olive oil
2 tblsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Mix everything together. Easy as that.

This colourful dressing is often served with shell-fish, as with the retro prawn cocktail. But equally good drizzled over salad leaves, even spread into the curvy bits of a celery stick, or scooped out cucumber. At a pinch you can get away with just the mayo, ketchup and the seasonings, but the other ingredients certainly add more flavour.
Thousand Island Dressing:
4 oz (100g) mayonnaise
3 oz (75g) tomato ketchup
good pinch each of salt and paprika
quarter of a red bell pepper, finely diced
2" (5cm) piece of celery, finely diced
Again, easy, peasy - just mix everything together.

Dressings for Caesar salad usually contain anchovies, which can make the dressing quite strong. An alternative is to use a little anchovy essence (this comes in tubes, similar to both tomato and garlic pastes - both useful to keep in store). Because Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies, only a little anchovy is used in this recipe and could be omitted if you prefer.
Caesar salad is traditionally made using Cos lettuce, but Little Gem is a good alternative. Crunchy croutons are another essential ingredient (a way to use up that cheap bread discussed over the past few days). Instead of adding anchovy fillets to the salad, use strips of crispy bacon and slices of avocado.
Caesar Salad Dressing:
8 fl oz (225ml) mayonnaise
juice of half a small lemon
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 anchovy (0ptional)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 oz (5og) grated Parmesan cheese
Blitz everything together in a small blender or use a pestle and mortar until smooth, then just prepare the salad, drizzle over and toss together.

Tartare Sauce:
Just add chopped tarragon and finely chopped capers to mayonnaise to make this classic sauce to be served with fish.

The flavour of this next dressing depends upon the type (strength) of blue cheese, and the amount used. One of the dressings where we can be in complete control. A classic dressing served with a salad made with lettuce, avocado, bacon, tomatoes and cooked chicken. But as ever, omit the expensive items (chicken/avocado), and it still makes pleasant eating.
Blue Cheese Dressing:
3 fl.oz (75ml) olive oil
juice of half a lemon
approx 3 oz (75g) blue cheese of your choice
freshly ground pepper, black or white
Blend or mash everything together until smooth and drizzle over the salads in the normal way.

Garlic Dressing (Aioli):
8 oz (225g) mayonnaise
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tblsp horseradish sauce (creamy type)
Mix everything together. Great served with roast beef, hot or cold.

Speed merchants will grab a pack of ready-made melba toast, crostini slices or something ready-made. But hopefully, we will can cut out unnecessary expense and make our own, after all it doesn't take much effort or time to slice home-baked (or even bought bread) and toast it - does it? Sliced baguettes (see previous postings) would make wonderful croustades.

Caesar Croustades:
Spread the croustade with a little Caesar dressing, top with a little mashed avocado and lemon juice, a dollop more of dressing, topping with a little crispy fried bacon.

Prawn Cocktail Bites:
Chop up cooked prawns into little pieces and bind together with Thousand Island dressing. Spoon this on top of the chosen base. Garnish with chopped chives.

Ploughman's Piece:
Spread a lightly toasted slice of granary bread with a little pickle, cover with a few rings of red onion, and top this with Blue Cheese dressing into which has been mixed plenty more blue cheese.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Suitable for the Purpose

Yesterday's supper was another bargain bag experiment. This time I chose the can of curry sauce (5p) and the pack of noodles (8p), planning to make a prawn curry with the remaining tiger prawns from the freezer (half-price pack bought some time back). Beloved was given rice as the noodles made only enough for one, the sachet containing the flavouring was kept for later use. Obviously the prawns were the costly ingredient, but cheap enough, Beloved had most of them.
Considering the price, we were both very surprised how good the curry sauce was, the can even coming with a ring-pull (usually adding a couple of pence to the price of a can). Reading the label, the curry sauce contained sultanas, mango chutney, think it might have had coconut, spices of course, and few (if any) unwanted additives. It took only a couple or so minutes to heat up, the noodles likewise took less than 3 minutes to cook in boiling water. The (thawed) prawns were heated with the curry sauce, the rice (apologies for using a micropouch) took 2 minutes to heat up in the microwave. My helping of noodles, few prawns and half the curry sauce cost in total, about 25p.
Apart from remembering to bring the prawns out to thaw in time, the actual 'cooking' of the meal took less than five minutes.

Although many would say I should be ashamed of serving such cheap foods, in fact I was overjoyed that sometimes (and I stress only sometimes) this can work well, although perhaps more to do with what they have been cooked with it. Certainly I feel the curry sauce bought was good value for the price. Naturally not as good as the top brands of canned and bottle curry sauce, that goes without saying, but this particular sauce was tasty, mild - similar to a Korma - and would go well with fish, chicken, even poured over hardboiled eggs. Although not yet tried, I would expect, when thickened in some way, once cooled, it could also turn into a very good curry dip.

Buying and using low-priced food works well only if the money saved is put towards buying other, and mainly fresh produce, of top quality. This way we get the best of both worlds - at (when you think about it) no extra cost than when buying the mediocre. Although my £5 bargain bag was eye-opening, most of the items are intended to have a supporting role, rather than acting as the star ingredient of any dish. With cheap food, such as the bread mentioned in an earlier posting, all can have a purpose, and not always the one originally intended (cheap bread = sandwiches, NOT!). As Janet commented ( about food) : "learn to think, and think in different ways". I couldn't have put it better myself.

This next dish is one where we need to use the right rice for the right purpose, so when making a risotto always use Arborio or other risotto rice, otherwise don't bother and make something else instead. Basically this is a green risotto, so vary the green vegetable according to the season. Always worth growing a few mangetout or sugarsnap peas in the garden, as - apart from the pods - cookery fashion now decrees we should pop a few pea shoots into our salads as well, so these too now have a purpose other than growing taller. What next I wonder?
Green Vegetable Risotto: serves 4 (V)
1 - 2 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
8 oz (225g) risotto rice
1.5 pints (900ml) hot vegetable stock
6 oz (175g) small broccoli spears
2 oz (50g) peas
1 can asparagus spears, drained
2 tblsp fresh chives or other herbs, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tblsp pesto
2 - 3 tblsp grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion until softened. Stir in the rice until the grains are coated with the oil, cook for a further 2 minutes. Pour one third of the hot stock into the rice and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, then add another couple of ladles of stock, simmering until that also has been absorbed. Add more stock and the broccoli to the pan, continuing to add more stock as necessary. Finally add the peas, and asparagus tops (keeping the stalks for something else, see foreword), and when the rice is just tender, stir in the herbs. The rice needs to have absorbed the liquid but should still be creamy, not at all dry. Season to taste.
Divide the rice in half, stir the pesto into one half, the cheese into the other, then lightly fold together so that not all the rice has turned green (purely for presentation/appearance, it can all be mixed together). Serve at once.

This next recipe has been adapted for using the packet of chicken noodles (8p), some of the canned sweetcorn (approx 5p worth), chicken stock (could be home-made but the sachet with the noodles will give the flavour), leftover cooked chicken taken from the carcase after making stock (free), and a few extra items from the fridge/cupboard. Altogether a good lunch dish which could easily be stretched to an extra helping or three. Keep fresh ginger root in the freezer, then it is always there to grate.
Chicken Noodle Soup: serves 2 plus
1.5 pints (900ml) water or chicken stock
approx 6 oz (175g) shredded cooked chicken
1 tsp grated root ginger
1 clove garlic, finely chopped (opt)
1 small pack chicken noodles
2 tblsp canned or frozen sweetcorn
2 mushrooms, thinly sliced
a few very thinly sliced shreds of red bell pepper
2 spring onions, thinly sliced diagonally
2 tsp soy sauce
few small basil or mint leaves for garnishing
Boil the stock, break up the pack of noodles and add to the pan, adding the flavour sachet if using water, but can also add it to chicken stock. Stir round, then add half the spring onions and the rest of the ingredients, simmering until the noodles are cooked (about 3 minutes). Ladle into bowls, sprinkling over the remaining onion and garnish with strips of pepper and a leaf or two of herbs.
Vegetarian variation: use vegetable stock, plain noodles, and tofu instead of chicken.

Sorting out my endless scraps of paper scribbled with suggestions discovered in the past, have come across one which would make good use of that cheap bread bought the other week (and stored in my freezer).
Perfect for topping all kinds of broth, from the chunky winter warmers, to the cool summer soups. Although I bought medium sliced bread, toasting thickness was also sold for the same price.
Pesto Croutons:
4 thick slices bread, cut into chunks
3 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp pesto
Put the olive oil in a bowl with the pesto and mix together. Drop in the chunks of bread then toss together until the cubes are evenly coated. Tip onto a baking sheet and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about 10 minutes or until crisp.

Right - a further attempt to find a recipe that could use up almost-ready-to-throw-away apples, plus the dented cheap can of pears bought in my bargain bag, was needed, and surprise, surprise, has suddenly surfaced - right in front of me. Not only that, it can also make use of the cheap bread and blackberries from the freezer. Sometimes I think I must have a guardian angel doing my filing. Always the right recipe turns up at the right time.
Pauper's Pudding: serves 4
1 small can pears
2 cooking or eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced
juice of half a lemon
3 oz (75g) light brown sugar
4 oz (100g) blackberries
slices white bread, crusts removed
Strain the pears and put their juice in a pan with the lemon juice and sugar, heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then add the apples and simmer until soft. Stir in the blackberries and cook until they are just softened but still holding their shape. Chop up the pears and add these to the pan. Stir together then remove from the heat.
Drain the fruit and pour the syrup into a shallow bowl. Cut the bread to fit over the base and around the sides of the dish and dip one side of each into the juice before arranging the bread to cover the base and sides of the bowl (juice side facing out). Make sure there are no gaps, overlap the bread if necessary.
Spoon the fruit into the bread-lined cavity, along with more juice (any remaining juice can be served with the pudding), and fit a lid of bread over the top. Place on a saucer and a weight (baked bean tin for instance), and leave in the fridge overnight to chill.
To serve, remove weight and saucer, and invert basin onto a shallow dish. Remove basin and the pudding into wedges to serve with reserved juice and creme fraiche.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

One Thing Leads To Another

Todays recipes are based around cheese. There are many varieties of cheese, and some are better for one purpose than another, although - in general - one hard cheese can be substituted for another.
Many of the dishes below could be made using a different variety of cheese so why not experiment using what you have in your fridge.

For the first recipe, instead of using milk, add the extra liquid by way of water, then stir in some dried milk towards the end of the cooking time. Instead of prawns, some flaked cooked smoked haddock could be added.
Cheddar Chowder: serves 4
1 rasher streaky rindless bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
8 oz (250g) potato, peeled and diced
1 oz (25g) butter
15 fl.oz (450ml) chicken or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
15 fl.oz (450ml) milk
1 x 198g can sweetcorn
3 oz (75g) grated Cheddar cheese
2 oz (50g) frozen cooked prawns, thawed
chopped parsley for garnish
Melt the butter in a sauce pan and fry the bacon and onion until softened. Add the celery and potatoes, cook and stir for a further 2 minutes, then add the stock. Cover and simmer until the potato is cooked. Add the milk, sweetcorn and prawns, heat through and season to taste. Serve in warm soup bowls garnishing each with a sprinkling of parsley.

This next recipe is for a cheese pate, using three different cheeses, so a great opportunity to experiment. Just make the most of what you have, remembering that a bit of blue will give the strong flavour the pate needs. As to the mustard, Dijon is much milder than the English. Do not add too much, taste and then add more if necessary.
The Variable Cheese Pate: serves 4
3 oz (75g) each, blue cheese, Cheddar and Wensleydale
2 tblsp natural yogurt
2-3 tblsp double or whipping cream
2 tsp each finely chopped chives and parsley
little blob of made mustard
Mash the cheeses together then work in the yogurt and cream. Finally, stir in the herbs and mustard. Mix together until everything is well blended.
Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and chill overnight. Serve with melba toast, crispbreads, rye bread or cream cracker type biscuits.

Fondues are coming back into fashion, but even if there is no fondue pan to hand, make the cheese sauce in a small pan and stand this over a candle heater. This recipe is a variation on the Swiss Fondue, as we probably have the makings to hand already in our storecupboards. If no cider, use apple juice. The onion - being used to flavour rather than as part of the dish - can then be wrapped tightly in cling film to be used the same day, or the next in another dish. Traditionally French bread is used for dunking, and - as often stale French bread can be left over from a previous meal - this can be frozen away ready for a dish such as this.
Farmhouse Fondue: serves 6
half a small onion, cut in half
half a pint (300ml) dry cider
1 tsp lemon juice
1 lb (500g) mature Cheddar cheese, grated
1 tblsp cornflour
2 tblsp sherry
pinch of dry mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
cubes of white bread for dunking
Rub the inside of the chosen pan with the cut side of the onion. Put the pan on the hob and pour in the lemon juice and cider. Heat gently until just beginning to simmer. Adding the cheese a little at a time, stir and heat until melted. Blend the cornflour with the sherry, adding the W.sauce and the mustard, with enough pepper to taste. Stir this into the cheese and continue with the stirring, cook for a further 3 minutes until thickend and creamy. Stand the pan over a candle warmer (already placed on a table), and serve immediately with the bread cubes and forks (preferably long-handled ones) for dipping.

Whether for buffet parties, or just to nibble while watching TV, these 'cubes' make good eating. If possible choose a flavoured cottage cheese either with onion, herbs or pineapple. This is one time when cup-a-soups are worth having. Change the flavour if you wish.
Nutty Cheese Dice: serves 8 - 10
8 oz (225ml) cottage cheese
3 oz (75g) Double Gloucester cheese
3 oz (75g) Wensleydale cheese
3 tblsp asparagus cup-a-soup mix
2 spring onions, finely chopped
dash Tabasco sauce
3 oa (75g) salted peanuts
Drain any surplus liquid from the cottage cheese, and place in a bowl with the other cheeses and the soup mix. Blend together thoroughly. Stir in the onions and the Tabasco sauce. Shape into a 1" thick block, wrap
tightly in clingfilm and chill in the fridge until ready to use, then cut into 1" (2.5cm) cubes.
Blitz or very finely chop the peanuts, then toss the cubes in the peanuts. Arrange on a plate and chill until ready to eat.

Final recipe today is for a traditional recipe, and although given as coming from the region we live in at the moment, a very similar version is also made in Leicestershire, where we used to live. Possibly many counties have their own version.
Yorkshire Curd Tart: serves 6
8 oz (225g) shortcrust pastry
8 oz (225g) curd cheese
2 oz (50g) ground almonds
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
2 oz (50g) sultanas
5 fl.oz (150ml) double cream
Roll out the pastry to fit a 9" (23cm) flan ring or loosebottomed flan tin. If using a ring only, place this on a baking sheet before you fit with the pastry. Prick the base
Put the cheese into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients (egg yolks only, not the whites) and mix well together. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold this into the mixture. Pour into the flan base and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 18oC, 350F, gas 4 and cook for a further half an hour or until the filling is firm and golden. Can be served warm or cold and lovely dusted with a fine coating of icing sugar.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lateral Thinking

You have your yogurt, you have your 'old' spices, you have cheap breadcrumbs. Even chicken drumsticks are cheap. What more can you ask for?
Crumbed Chicken:
8 chicken drumsticks
1 tsp curry powder
2 tsp Dijon mustard
5 fl.oz (150ml) plain yogurt
half pint measure breadcrumbs
Remove the skin from the drumsticks. Mix together the curry powder, mustand and yogurt and smear this over the chicken, then roll them in the breadcrumbs. Chill for half an hour then bake in a shallow dish for 40 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4, until crispy. Make sure the chicken is cooked through. Serve hot with a side salad.

Here is a recipe that could use canned or freshly cooked potatoes, and makes good use of the 'old spice'. If time allows, make the yogurt dressing an hour or two before hand to allow the flavours to develop.
Spicy Potato Salad:
1 can (drained) or 4 medium cooked potatoes
1 apple (skin on) finely diced
2 tblsp sultanas
2 tblsp walnuts, finely chopped
5 fl.oz (150ml) plain yogurt
3 fl.oz (75ml) mayo
2 tlblsp fruit chutney
half tsp each: ground cumin, coriander, garam masala
salt and pepper to taste
2 tblsp chopped parsley or chives
Cut the potatoes into evensized chunks, mix together with the apple, sultanas and walnuts. Blend together the yogurt, mayo, chutney and the spices to make the dressing. Add this to the potato mixture and blend together. Season to taste and garnish with the herbs.

This next dish make use of any tasty left-over cheeses, again 'old spice', and spinach - that many of you seem to have growing. Also makes use of left-over rice. No eggs are needed, so that is a saving in itself.
Spicy Spinach Flan:
12 oz shortcrust pastry
3 oz (75g) grated cheese
4 fl.oz (100ml) plain yogurt
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
half to one tsp curry powder (depending upon strength)
pinch salt
1 tomato, chopped
good half pint measure cooked rice (pref brown)
2 bunches spinach, chopped
Roll out the pastry to fit a 9" (22cm) quiche or pie dish. Prick the base with a fork and chill for 15 minutes.
Make the filling by mixing together the cheese, yogurt, garlic, curry, salt and tomato. Fold in the rice and spinach. Spoon into the pastry case and sprinkle over some paprika to taste.
Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 minutes. Serve hot.

Final recipe today is for a yogurt based dessert. The original recipe was given in cup measurements, but for ease I use just the word 'measures', then you could use either an eggcup, a tea-cup, mug or bucket according to the amount you wish to make.
Lemon and Yogurt Sherbet: (F)
3 measures double or whipping cream
2 measures icing sugar
3 measures yogurt
zest and juice of 3 large lemons*
*assuming 1 measure = 8 fl.oz
Whip the cream until thick. Fold in the icing sugar, yogurt, and zest and juice of the lemons. Freeze, stirring every 45 minutes until frozen (takes about 5 hours). Remove from freezer half an hour before serving.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Poverty with Panache.

Today we begin with pastry dishes, beginning first with the economics (because there are more ways to skin a cat) followed by hints and tips to make life easier.
If a pastry case is to contain a liquid or soft filling, it is best to first bake the pastry case 'blind' for 10 minutes - this makes for a crisper (rather than soggy) base.
Instead of pastry, flan tins can be lined with crushed crispbreads, biscuits or cereals, all mixed with some melted butter, pressed into the case and then left to set. These are less likely to break if the flan tin has strips of folded foil pressed firmly into the tin, the ends folded down over the edge before the crumb base is assembled. Lifting up the folded down side tabs, these can be used to lift the whole thing out after baking and cooling. Even cooked rice can form the base and sides of a flan.

Adapting, substituting, call it what you will, is the good cooks way to cutting costs. Adding cream to a quiche filling can be expensive, but instead of double cream use half double and half single. Or half double cream and half yogurt. Or single cream and yogurt. Even just (thick) yogurt. Yes, it could work out cheaper still using one or other of the skimmed milks, but if so, add a tablespoon or so of dried milk to make it creamier. The aim being to cut the costs without cutting down too much 'quality' or depth of flavour.

Cheese is also variable Always worth buying it when on BOGOF, but some cheeses are always cheaper than others. Consider using Edam instead of Cheddar as (thinking health here) it is lower in fat (and save the red or green wax rinds, they can be made into candles). Curd cheese, cottage cheese (which includes the home-made 'drip through a bag' yogurt-cheese) can be used instead of the more costly cream cheese, or again, use a blend of each. To make a cheaper form of Parmesan, grate Cheddar that has been left to go hard, using the finest grater. Use half of this with half Parmesan, or use on its own.

Eggs could be reduced in recipe quantities, but not the best idea as they are one of the cheapest proteins, and they do help set the custard. Egg yolks could be added to whole eggs if you wish to keep the whites for another dish, or vice versa.

Fillings for flans (or quiches if you prefer the posh name) can be as varied as the toppings on a pizza. But here are a couple of recipes using courgettes to make a start. One has more ingredients than the other, and - in their own way, are completely different. But reading through them both, we can see that some ingredients from the more costly version could be added to the cheaper. So - a bit like marriage (or perhaps not by today's standards) - two can then become three.

Crispy Courgette Flan: serves 4
One 8" (20cm) pastry flan case, baked blind 10 minutes
1 oz (25g) butter or margarine
3 courgettes. chopped
1 onion, sliced
3 tomatoes, chopped
4 oz (100g) breadcrumbs
3 oz (75g) chopped walnuts
2 oz (50g) grated hard cheese
half tsp dried mixed herbs
pinch cayenne pepper or chilli powder
salt and pepper to taste.
Melt the fat in a frying pan and saute th onion and courgettes until softened. Stir in the breadcrumbs and cook for a further couple of minutes, then stir in the tomatoes. When heated through, remove from the heat and (omitting the cheese) stir in the remaining ingredients. Fill the flan case with this mixture, scatter the cheese over the top and replace the flan back into the oven for a further 15 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the pastry is crisp. Oven temp: 200C, 400F, gas 6

Simple Courgette Quiche: serves 4
8" (20cm) pastry case baked blind 10 mins
1 oz (25g) butter or margarine
1 onion,
2 courgettes, thinly sliced
5 fl oz (50ml) single cream or creamy milk
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Melt the fat in a frying pan and saute the onion for one minute, add the courgettes and fry on for a further five minutes. Stirring from time to time to cook them evenly. Remove with a slotted spoon, transferring them to the flan case. Beat together the cream/milk with the eggs and seasonings and pour over the courgettes/onion. Finish with a scatter of the cheese and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until set. Serve hot.

This next quiche is slightly different in that it uses rice (preferably brown rice) to use as a flan case. Pastry could be used instead. Ordinary 'green' broccoli, or cauliflower could be used instead of the purple sprouting.
Purple Broccoli Rice Quiche: serves 4
6 oz (175g) cooked brown rice, well drained
8 oz (225g) cooked purple sprouting broccoli
half a pint (275ml) milk
2 eggs
4 oz (100g) Cheddar or other hard cheese
grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Lightly grease an 8" (20cm) flan dish and top in the cooked rice, spreading it evenly across the base and up the sides, pressing firmly with he back of a spoon to make a smooth finish. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4, for five to ten minutes or until crisp.
Meanwhile steam the broccoli florets until cooked. Cool then place them over the base of the rice case. Beat with eggs with the milk, stir in half the cheese and the seasoning. Pour over the broccoli finishing by scattering over the remaining cheese. Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for half an hour or until the filling has set.

This next 'quiche' uses inexpensive ingredients. Vary the herb if you wish. Chicken goes well with sweetcorn, so any cooked chicken scraps torn from a carcase could also be included. Likewise, a thinly sliced tomato could go on the top. Although this recipe again uses a pastry case, using rice (as in the above recipe) could be an alternative, and this (rice with sweetcorn and chicken) than makes me think of a light curry, so even a little curry paste could be included. Who says cooking can't be fun?
Sweetcorn and Yogurt Flan: serves 4
the usual 8" pastry case baked blind.
approx 14 oz (400g) sweetcorn, fresh, frozen or canned
3 oz (75g) breadcrumbs
2 medium eggs (or 1 large) beaten
2 small cartons plain yogurt
1 tsp basil, chopped or torn
chives for garnishing
salt and pepper to taste
Where necessary, cookd the sweetcorn, drain and leave to cool. Into a bowl put the beaten eggs and mix in the breadcrumbs, sweetcorn, yogurt and basil. Season to taste.
Put mixture into prepared flan case, level the top and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for half an hour. Serve while still hot, sprinkling over chives to garnish.

Now we move on to a couple of sweet dishes. The first is a very easy one to make, using a completely baked pastry case. But take note, the case could be made using crushed biscuits held together with butter (as when making a cheesecake). Even better, it needs freezing before being eaten. The second has a case made from muesli, but again that could be made by the crushed biscuit/butter method. Cases like this are easier to remove when made in a loose-bottomed tin, or a tin lined with foil so that it can be easily lifted out.
Semi-freddo Lemon Pie: serves 4 (F)
pre-baked 8" (20cm) pastry case, chilled
8 oz (225g) cream cheese
1 small tub (5fl.oz/150ml) plain yogurt
4 - 6 tblsp lemon curd
Have ready the pastry case (should be chilled). Beat the cream cheese until softened, then mix in the yogurt (make sure any liquid from the yogurt has been poured off first). Add lemon curd to taste and fold together until well blended. Spoon mixture into flan case, level the top and freeze for at least 2 hours. Serve straight from the freezer.

This next dish really needs the depth of flavour that the muscovado sugar can bring. If none, then use caster or demerara sugar, and if you have some, add a tsp of black treacle. Go easy with the almond essence as some can be very strong. Always best with essences/extracts to begin with a little, taste then add more if needed. If wished, use vanilla essence instead, and add some finely grated chocolate (or even a spoon of cocoa) to the custard mixtureS. Once assembled, this flan needs baking immediately, so make sure the oven is pre-heated.
Yogurt and Almond Custard: serves 4
4 oz (100g) muesli
2 oz (50g) butter or margarine, melted
2 eggs
half pint (275ml) plain yogurt
1 oz (25g) light muscovado sugar
half tsp almond extract/essence
1 oz (25g) toasted flaked almonds
Mix together the muesli and the butter and press into a lightly greased flan dish.
Beat the eggs with the sugar (and treacle if using), then whisk in the yogurt and almond extract until smooth, then stir in the milk. Pour this mixture into the muesli base and sprinkle over the toasted almonds , Bake at 140C, 250F, gas 1 for half an hour, or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Can be served hot or cold, on its own or with fresh or cooked fruit.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Moving Forward

One of the best ways to serve economical meals is to seek out traditional recipes. Country folk have always made the most of what they have, and very nourishing it can be. So today am offering regional dishes, as - apart from being inexpensive - several come with a tale to tell.
The first dish is made with a cheap cut of lamb or mutton (butchers' mutton is usually cheaper than lamb, and in the olden days, if this was too expensive, then kid or bacon would be used instead). More or less any vegetables can be included, in some kitchens even potatoes are added. Cattwg the Wise is attributed to saying 'it is as good to drink the broth as it is to eat the meat'. Certainly, this Welsh Cawl makes a very satisfying and substantial meal. If possible, make the Cawl a day in advance so the fat can be skimmed off when cold.
Cawl Cymreig:
1 lb (450g) approx, scrag end of lamb or mutton
few chopped bacon rinds
2 large onions, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
3 leeks, cleaned and chopped
2 turnips, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper
pinch dried herbs
chopped parsley (optional)
2 oz (50g) pearl barley
Trim excess fat from the meat. Put into a large saucepan with the rest of the ingredients, except the pearl barley, adding the seasoning to taste, and covering with water. Bring to the boil, spooning off any scum.
Cover and simmer for 2 - 3 hours, depending upon the meat, and strain into a bowl. Remove the meat from any bones (the bones can be discarded), and place in a bowl with the vegetables and the stock. Chill overnight. Next day skim off any fat, put back into the pan with the pearl barley and re-heat thoroughly until the barley is cooked. Add chopped parsley just before serving.
Tip: to hasten the second cooking, add the pearl barley to the broth before chilling, this gives it a chance to soak and soften and will cut the cooking time of the barley by at least half.

This next regional dish comes from Scotland, and - if extra vegetables are cooked at the same time - a good way to make the most scrawny chicken go a good distance.
Stoved Howtowdie Wi' Drappit Eggs: serves 6 - 8
1 chicken
breadcrumb/herb stuffing
4 oz (100g) butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves
1 pint hot chicken stock
2 lb (900g) spinach
6 - 8 small to medium eggs
First make up the stuffing (this could be from a packet mix if you wish). Heat the butter in a casserole dish and fry the onion, spoon out and add this, with the cloves, to the stuffing, and then stuff the bird. Put the bird in the remaining butter in the casserole and turn to brown all sides, then pour over the stock, cover and cook at 189C, 350F, gas 4, for an hour, or until the flesh is tender. Meanwhile, wash the spinach and cook, with no added water (wilting) fpr about 5 minutes with a pinch of salt. Drain, stir in a little butter, and keep warm. Remove the chicken from the casserole and place on a warm serving dish. Strain the stock into saucepan and poach the eggs, three or four at a time until set. Place these on a bed of spinach. Boil down the stock to thicken, adding chopped chicken liver if possible. Pour this over the chicken and serve.

Another Scottish dish is this slicing sausage. Eaten hot or cold it makes the most of minced beef. Although the recipes says that after cooking it can be kept in the fridge, it doesn't say how long for, so best no longer than a week. Interleaved slices would probably freeze.
Aberdeen Sausage: serves 6
1 large onion
4 oz (100g) streaky, rindless bacon
12 oz (375g) minced beef
6 oz (175g) rolled or porridge oat
1 egg, beaten
1 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tblsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper
Mince the onion with the bacon and add to the minced beef. Stir in the remaining ingredients, adding seasoning to taste. Shape the mixture into a big sausage and wrap tightly in a piece of oiled foil. Twist ends to secure, and bake at 179, 325F, gas 3 for about 2 hours. The sausage can be sliced and served while still hot, or left to get cold in its foil wrapping and kept in the fridge until required.

Still in Scotland, and mainly because the recipe says "the keeping qualities of this rock are incredible, in some cases it has remained edible for fifty years", it seems worth including for those who like to give Christmas Hampers filled with home-made delicacies. So made now, seems it could keep hampers stocked up for years without having to make another batch. There are plenty of good flavourings (extracts and essences) on the market these days, as well as the more usual, there are chocolate, coffee, rose, ginger...so make your own choice.
Edinburgh Rock:
1 lb (450g) granulated sugar
6 fl oz (210ml) water
half tsp cream of tartar
flavourings: vanilla extract, peppermint essence etc.
colourings to suit the flavours.
Put the sugar in a large pan, add the water and heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved, then turn up the heat, bring to the boil and add the cream of tartar. Ball to hard boil stage (124C/225F on a sugar thermometer), then add your choice of colouring and flavouring. Quickly pour onto an oiled slab or tray - marble is ideal if lucky enough to have some.
Using an oiled knife, lift the corners up and over to the centre (this could be done more than once) , but do not press or stir the mixture at this stage. When cool enough to handle, dust hands with icing sugar and start pulling the rock into a long strip, folding it back on itself then repeating, until it has lost its gloss and turned dull. This could take 5 mins or longer. Using oiled scissors, cut the strip into pieces of chosen length and leave in a warmish place for 24 hours to become soft and powdery.
As the recipe says "all very messy but great sticky fun".

Perhaps even more well know than Edinburgh Rock, is Kendal Mint Cake. Described as "a pack full of energy", it is a great favourite with mountaineers and explorers, and - using a sugar thermometer - is very easily made. Worth making some later in the year to add to those hampers.
Kendal Mint Cake:
1 lb (450g) sugar, white or brown
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
half to one tsp peppermint essence
Put the sugar in a pan, add the milk and heat gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Boil to soft ball stage (115C/240F), then remove from heat and stir in the essence. Beat until smooth. Pour a quarter inch layer into oiled shallow pans or trays. Leave for a while so that it starts to set, then mark into oblongs slabs. Or mark into squares and wrap each individually. When cold, wrap the block in baking parchment, then in foil, and when needed, break off an oblong as needed.

As I just love the history of food, this next recipe particularly appeals to me. It originated in Grantham, a town of originally great importance, for it was here the Mail coaches would stop to change the horses. Also, the perfect place for travellers along the Great North Road to stop for a bite to eat, and even spend the night.
As today, people would stop to buy something to munch as they wended their way, and Grantham Whetstones were well liked. Despite them being a bit on the solid side, many were made and sold.
One day, in the year 1740, William Egglestone, the local baker, went into his shop to make some cakes and got his ingredients mixed up, with the end result his cakes were twice the size they should have been. First the family tried them, then the neighbours, and then some were sold in his shop and everyone loved them, the travellers much preferring them to the Whetstones.
These 'cakes' are a type of gingerbread, pale and hollow, similar to a meringue and utterly delicious. Obviously the original recipe is secret, in the hands of the owners of Catlin's Cafe in Grantham's High Street (let us hope it is still there), and there the cakes were, and hopefully are still sold. The following recipe is somewhat similar.
Grantham Gingerbreads:
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
1 level tsp ground ginger
3 1/2 oz (84g) butter, softened
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten
Sieve together the flour and ginger. Mash the sugar into the butter, and when well mixed, stir in the egg. Add the dry ingredients, stir together then knead to make a firm dough. Break off walnut sized pieces and, using your hands (preferably warm) roll into balls. The heat from your hands helps to smooth away any cracks. DO NOT ADD ANY LIQUID. Leaving plenty of room between each (they will spread to about 3" across) , place balls on a large baking sheet and bake at 150C, 300F, gas 2 for about 45 minutes. They should still remain a pale colour. Leave to cool and harden before removing from tray otherwise they will break up.

Apart from the apples, this bread pudding requires no cooking, and yet another regional dish making the most of what is in the larder. It can of course, be made with dessert apples. Whichever are the cheapest. Cheapest of all being home-grown. Made in a similar way to Summer Pudding.
Yorkshire Apple Pudding:
pound and a half (675g) cooking apples
3 oz (75g) sugar
6 slices just-about-stale bread
1 tblsp golden syrup
2 tblsp hot water
Peel, core and slice the apples, then put the slices in a pan with a very little water and the sugar, and heat gently until softened.
Butter a putting basin and line with the bread. Spoon in one third of the apples, cover with a slice of bread, and continue layering the pudding, until all the apple is used. Finish with a layer of bread. Mix the syrup with the water and pour over the pudding. Cover with a saucer and weight it down. Chill overnight before turning out and serving with more syrup poured over and whipped cream.

Final dish of the day is a well-known Yorkshire cake, somewhat similar to tea-cakes, but made without yeast. Known in the moors area as Turf Cakes, because they used to be cooked on a griddle over a turf fire.
Fat Rascals:
4 oz (100g) lard or butter
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
pinch salt
3 oz (75g) sugar
2 oz (50g) currants
2 oz (50g) sultanas
water and milk
Rub the fat into the flour and salt until like breadcrumbs. Add the dried fruit using just enough water to make a fairly soft dough. Roll out to about half inch thick. Cut into rounds and brush with milk. Bake on a greased baking sheet at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 15 minutes.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Feasible Freezables

This recipes makes use of most types of left-over meat. But if you haven't the meat, or wish to use a meat substitute, the barbeque sauce could be frozen in individual amounts, then on another day, leftover meat could also be frozen separately and combined with the sauce later when ready to reheat.
The Barbeque Dinner: makes 4 (F)
2 pint measure of leftover meat, chopped or sliced
2 oz (50g) butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 x 400g cans chopped tomato
4 tblsp tomato ketchup
4 tblsp malt vinegar
4 tblsp brown sugar
4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 - 2 tsp chilli powder or Tabasco sauce
Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the onions in softened. Excluding the meat, stir in the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes. Leave to get cold then stir in the meat. Freeze. To serve, defrost and heat through thoroughly.

For this next dish pancakes are used. These can be made in bulk and frozen separately, can be used as long as they don't hang around before being returned to the freezer, so first make up the filling before defrosting the pancakes. The recipe can either make a complete family dish, or be separated into three or four individual dishes. Plan to make this when a roast chicken has been cooked, or the remains of a bird simmered to make stock, even the scraps picked off from the carcass should be enough for this dish.
Chicken Pancake Rolls: makes 12 (F)
3 oz (75g) butter
5 tblsp plain flour
8 fl.oz (225ml) hot milk
8 fl.oz (225ml) hot chicken stock
4 tblsp chopped mushrooms
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tblsp butter
3 shallots or 1 small onion, chopped
a good half pint measure diced cooked chicken
3 tblsp sherry
12 ready-made pancakes
1 egg yolk, beaten
4 tblsp double cream
grated cheddar or Parmesan cheese
Melt the 3 oz butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour, cook for one or two minutes until lightly browning, then gradually stir in the hot milk and hot stock. Bring to the boil and cook until thickened. Cover and leave over the lowest heat while, using another pan, melt the further ounce of butter and fry the shallots, then stir in the mushrooms, cooking for 3 minutes, then into this mix the cooked chicken, the sherry and threequarters of the cream sauce from the other pan.
Spread the mixture over the 12 pancakes and roll up like a Swiss Roll. To remaining sauce add the beaten egg yolk and the cream and pour this over the pancakes. Chill quickly, then freeze. To serve, defrost, cook from room temperature , sprinkle over plenty of grated cheese and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 10 - 15 minutes.

This next is not really a dish, but could be used as a lite-bite, starter or even to end a meal. Small pots of these make very good gifts. There are several recipes to make this cheese, which I believe has always been one of those cheeses that can be made at home, as I have never seen it for sale. Incredibly good it is too, and it will freeze.
Liptauer Cheese: fills 3 - 4 small ramekin dishes (F)
1 lb (500g) soft cream cheese (Philly type)
8 oz (225g) butter, softened
2 tsp caraway seeds
2 tsp chopped chives
2 tsp chopped capers
1 tsp paprika
Mix well together, then freeze in glass or plastic containers. Thaw at room temperature for 4 or 5 hours and best served with thinly sliced pumpernickel bread.

Am including this recipe because it is said this is the way to prepare a souffle to the cooking stage, but then freezing it so that it can be cooked later. This is definitely the sort of recipe that needs trying out on the family first. But if successful - then this can solve many problems. Try it also with savoury souffles.
Note: it is absolutely necessary to freeze the souffles immediately after making or it will collapse. The souffles can be baked immediately after baking if you prefer not to freeze.

This is the basic souffle mixture, the flavours could be altered.
Orange Souffles: makes 12 (F)
zest of 2 orange
9 tblsp sugar
9 tblsp flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt
18 fl.oz milk
9 eggs, separated
2 tblsp orange liqueur (or 1 tbls orange juice)
Firstly, prepare the ovenproof containers (ramekin dishes are ideal) by buttering the insides, then place on a tin or tins of the size that will fit into the freezer (easier to handle a number at a time when on a tin).
The prepare the mixture by mixing together the sugar, flour, salt and orange zest. Stir the vanilla extract into the milk and gradually blend this into the dry mix. Put this into a saucepan, over moderate heat, and cook, continualluy stirring, until thick and smooth. Remove from heat, cool slightly then stir in the lightly beaten egg yolks. Beat the egg whites until stiff, fold a little into the mixture then carefully fold into the remainder taking care not to lose any air whipped in. Divide the mixture between the souffle dishes and freeze immediately.
Once frozen, run a knife around the edge of each souffle and remove each from its container. Place these on a flat sheet and cover well with freezer paper/foil. Return to freezer.
To serve, place each souffle back into each buttered souffle dish and place in an oven heated to 200C, 400F, gas 6, then immediately reduce the temperature to 190C, 375F, gas 5 and bake for 20 - 30 minutes until the souffles risen/puffy and no longer runny in the centre. Serve at once sprinkled with icing sugar.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Power of Persuasion

A suggestion for cutting costs, cutting time, and then freezing away surplus to use - again in various guises, through the month, rather than all in one week isl Magic Mince which can be cooked in bulk then to be later used (once thawed) for: Cottage Pie, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Chilli Con Carne, and even Biryani. Not to mention a filling for a not-quite-Cornish Pasty.
basic minced beef recipe: (F)
2 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
3 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 pint (575ml) beef stock
pinch mixed dried herbs
Fry the onion in the oil, then add the garlic and minced beef, breaking it all up with a wooden spoon to avoid lumps* - this may have to be done in batches. Cook for 15 minutes, then add the stock and , simmer and cook for 30 minutes (if minced steak is used), or longer until the meat is tender. Cool and freeze in small containers** for up to 3 months.
*Mixing most of the oil in with the mince helps to prevent it clumping together when frying. The chopped onion could also be worked in with the mince and the lot fried together.
**Freeze the cooked mince in small containers as small packs thaw out faster, and also larger packs may contain more meat than is needed for a particular recipe, especially when extra vegetables can be added to stretch the meat further.

for cottage pie:
mix diced cooked carrot into the 'magic mince' or cover with a layer of diced cooked carrot and top with mashed potato. Heat through in a hot oven.
for spag.bol:
Saute diced carrot and celery, more onion if you wish, and (optional) a finely chopped rasher of bacon. Sliced mushrooms can also be added. When the veggies are tender, stir in an equal quantity of 'magic mince'. Add a can of chopped tomatoes, a good dash of Worcestershire sauce (a small glass of red wine also improves the dish) add seasoning to taste, and simmer until the liquid has reduced. Have ready some cooked and drained pasta, then fold this into the meat sauce and serve.
If you wish you could blitz up the sauteed vegetables, bacon and mushrooms with the chopped tomatoes, to make a thick sauce and mix the meat into this before adding the pasta.
for chilli con carne:
Heat the 'magic mince' in a frying pan with a can of chopped tomatoes, a tblsp tomato puree, stir in chilli powder to taste, a teaspoon of sugar and add a can of red kidney beans.
Heat the 'magic mince' through in a pan and stir in teaspoons of curry paste to the strength you desire. Using an oiled ovenproof dish, layer the meat with cooked long-grain rice that has been mixed with flaked almonds, sultanas, crispy fried onions, ginger...finishing with rice on top. Cover and heat through in the oven.
not quite a Cornish Pasty:
Mix the 'magic mince' with cooked diced swede and/or potato, and spoon into the centre of short pastry circles, folding in half and sealing the edges. Cook in the oven 200C etc until the pastry is cooked.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Putting it All Together

We begin with a version of a 'classic' potato dish, this time using seasonal purple sprouting broccoli or kale, and also yogurt, which should please a number of readers, with a reminder the easiest, and best way to make mashed potato is first bake the potatoes in their skins, in the microwave. This makes for a much drier potato, and the skins can also be frozen to be later filled with a savoury mash, or brushed with oil, cut into wedges, and baked as chips. Great to use with dips. Although this dish is geared up to use a microwave, the veggies can be cooked in the normal way and reheated under the grill or in the oven (adding garnish after reheating).
Green Colcannon: serves 3 - 4
1 lb (300g) hot, mashed potato
4 oz (100g) p.sprouting broccoli or kale, chopped
2 oz (50g) butter
4 oz (100g) diced swede or parsnip
2 oz (50g) Greek yogurt
6 oz (175g) frozen peas, thawed
salt and pepper
chopped nuts (any favourite) for garnish
chopped fresh mint or parsley for garnish
Put the broccoli/kale and swede/parsnip and peas into a heatproof bowl with 4 tblsp water. Cover with clingfilm and pierce with a few holes. Cook on high for 10 minutes or until tender. Put into a processor with the yogurt and give a quick blitz, then fold this into the mashed potato. Season to taste. If no processor, mash the veggies with a little yogurt, then fold in the rest of the yogurt. Pile into a heatproof dish, cover with pierced clingfilm and microwave on high for a further 5 - 8 minutes. Garnish as desired.

tip: when you have an opened bottle of port or wine, pour some into ice-cube trays to freeze away ready for a dish such as this. If you wish to use less alcohol, or no alcohol, add orange juice.
Tipsy Ham, Mushroom and Cranberry Sauce: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 oz (50g) butter
8 oz (225g) closed cap mushrooms, halved
4 tblsp port or red wine
2 - 3 tblsp cranberry sauce
5 fl.oz (150ml) hot chicken or vegetable stock
zest and juice of one orange (or 2 satsumas)
dash soy sauce
approx 12 oz (350g) chunky bits of cooked ham
Put the oil and butter in a pan and fry the mushrooms until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. To the juices in the pan, stir in the chosen wine, then reduce the heat and add the cranberry sauce and orange zest. Stir, and when melted down, add the orange juice and the stock. Raise the heat and boil rapidly until the sauce has thickened slightly. Reduce heat to a simmer, stir in the soy sauce, add the mushrooms, tuck in the ham and heat through for a few minutes. Season with pepper*, and serve hot with rice or potatoes.
*Because soy sauce, and some ham can be salty, no need to include salt as a seasoning.

Nearly always we find we have some cheese in the fridge that needs using up and this recipe is exceptionally speedy to make when we have the cheese ready-grated waiting in the fridge or freezer. This 'cheese spread' can be made up and kept in the fridge for a few days ready to use for that 'instant' snack, so with hungry teenagers, worth making it in bulk for them to help themselves. Always remember that (unless stated in a recipe), it is always best to let chilled products (eggs, cheese etc) come to room temperature before using otherwise flavours and texture never get the chance to blend together. Also when cooking any fully pre-prepared and chilled dish (again, unless otherwise stated), always bring back to room temperature, OR allow an extra 5 - 10 minutes cooking time.
Not Quite a Rarebit: tops 2 - 3 slices
8 oz (225g) cheddar cheese, grated (room temp)
2 tblsp milk, creme fraiche or single cream
pinch salt
1 tsp made mustard OR 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 shallot, grated
3 - 4 thick slices toasting bread
Put the grated cheese into a food processor with the salt, mustard or W.sauce, and the shallot. Blitz together until it is like a thick, spreadable paste. Spread over lightly toasted bread and grill for a few minutes until bubbling hot. Serve immediately.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Making the Most Of...

Mentioning cauliflower and creme fraiche reminded me of some notes I made some years ago about what to do with 'bits and bobs' we might previously have felt like chucking in the waste bin. So here are a few suggestions, all recipes taken were said to 'serve 2', so make allowances if you wish to serve more. Along with the recipes, more hints and tips are included, so worth reading through, even if you are not inclined to make the dish.

This first can be eaten hot (but do not boil if using yogurt) as a creamed vegetable, and can also be eaten cold, perhaps thinned down slightly with milk, to make a chilled summer soup.
Creamed Cauliflower:
half a cauliflower, cooked
2 good tblsp creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Put all ingredients except the paprika into a blender or food processor and blitz until pureed. Pour into a
bowl and serve, sprinkled with paprika.

Although a celery stump is always worth saving to add to the pot when making stock, or even to tuck under a roast to flavour the gravy, it can also be turned into an effective soup. So never discard the root end. Remember, that when using home-made stock, we always have control of the salt content, in fact complete control of any herbs, flavourings and seasonings we may wish to add, which is more than we can say about the ready-manufactured.
Celery and Almond Soup:
1 - 2 celery stumps
a good pint chicken stock
10 whole blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper*
Trim the stumps and shred as finely as possible. Heat the stock in a pan, and boil for 2 minutes before adding the celery, then reduce the heat and simmer for 8 minutes. Pour contents of the pan into a blender and blitz until creamy, season to taste,then pour into serving bowls and scatter over the nuts.
*Chicken stock cubes are always heavily salted, so always worth making and using home-made chicken stock, which can be stored in the freezer.

With asparagus soon coming into season, this is a way to use the stalks alone, perhaps just the pieces that will have been trimmed off. Too woody to eat on their own, they still contain plenty of flavour so turn them into this asparagus puree, which itself can then become the basis of a quiche, or a soup. If really stringy, cook the stalks until very soft and press through a sieve before continuing with the recipe (remembering to reserve the cooking liquid if making soup).
Pureed Asparagus:
10 asparagus stalks
8 fl.oz l (225ml) water
1 oz (25g) butter (pref unsalted)
2 fl.oz (50g) creme fraiche or double cream
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground pepper
Cut the asparagus into 2" (5cm) lengths. Heat the water in a pan and when boiling, add the stalks and simmer until tender. Drain and puree together with the butter and cream.
for a quiche filling: add two beaten eggs per half pint of puree
for soup: as main recipe but add the cooking liquid when pureeing.

Often there is a piece of Iceberg or one small Little Gem lettuce languishing in the fridge. Sad looking, maybe a bit brown around the edges where it has been cut with a metal knife. Not worth serving as salad, but tired lettuce can certainly be cooked with peas (they go together like strawberries and cream), to be eaten as a vegetable serving, or even pureed as a soup.
Lettuce and Peas:
2 oz (50g) butter
10 oz (275g) frozen peas. thawed
lettuce leaves (as many as you wish), shredded
4 fl.oz (125ml) chicken stock
salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a pan and add the peas and lettuce, stir and cook gently for a couple of minutes. Add the stock, simmer for five minutes, then season to taste and serve as-is, or puree to make a soup (in which case more stock may be needed before simmering for those five minutes. All stock needs re-boiling, NOT just heating up.)

Rice is another basic ingredient that we should be keeping in our cupboards, not just because it keeps for ages and ages (certainly basmati rice is best used after 10 years of age), but also as there are several different varieties. More often we use the long-grain, and a recommendation is we should always rinse it first to prevent it becoming sticky after cooking. However, with Arborio (or similar) risotto rices, there is an Italian saying "always wash your hands, but never wash the rice". This recipe makes use of a small amount of spinach, and apart from the rice, not a lot else - the variation however, adds a lot more 'oddments'.
Green Risotto Rice:
1 1/2 pts (850ml) vegetable or chicken stock
2 oz (100g) butter
1 shallot, chopped
half pint measure Arborio rice
half pint measure raw spinach leaves
3 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan cheese
Pour the stock into a saucepan and bring to the simmer. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the shallot for 1 minute. Stir in the rice until well coated with the butter. Chop the spinach coarsely and add to the rice together with the parsley. Add 2 ladles (or one mug) hot stock and cook for a few minutes until absorbed. Keep adding a ladleful of stock as each is absorbed, or until the rice is tender, but still has a slight bite in the centre. When the rice is ready, it should be creamy and just about all liquid absorbed (but not over absorbed or this will make it dry), remove from the heat, season to taste, and stir in a handful of the cheese. Serve hot.
variation: add chopped vegetables (carrot, celery, green beans, courgette, peas, spinach leaves...) after the rice has been stirred into the butter. Chopped cooked ham could also be added towards the end of the cooking time.

This last recipe is a quickie, worth making when the oven is on for something else, and makes good use of the last of the dried fruits not used at Christmas. This has been converted from American cups to the imperial and metric weights (all three weights are given), although - to make sure of accuracy, if you have a set of American cups, use these.
Oaty Snacks:
3 oz (75g/one third cup) butter, melted
4 oz (100g/half cup) soft brown sugar
3 oz (75g/one cup) porridge oats
2 oz (50g/quarter cup) raisins
Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Put into an oiled 6" (15cm) baking dish, smoothing the top. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about 5 or so minutes until golden brown. Leave in the pan for five minutes before cutting into 12 squares.