Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fabulous Fare

Welsh Cakes are more robust than the lighter cakes we know but really lovely to eat when still hot, split and buttered. Perfect for an autumn tea. Am using a few less currants than normally used mainly because the butter, lard, sugar and currants (all the same weight) then add up to the weight of flour to be used, thus making it easy to remember.
Pice ar y Maen (Welsh Cakes):
4 oz (100g) butter
4 oz (100g) lard
1 lb (450g) self-raising flour
pinch of salt
4 oz (100g) sugar
4 oz (100g( currants or raisins
1 egg, beaten
milk to mix
Rub the butter and lard into the flour and salt until like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and dried fruit. Add the egg and enough milk to make into a stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and free from cracks. Roll out and cut into 3" rounds with a cutter or glass. Heat a heavy flat-bottomed griddle or heavy frying pan and lightly grease the surface, then cook the cakes on each side, until golden brown. Best eaten hot, split and buttered.

In Northerm Ireland this Irish potato speciality is served hot at teatime and worth making if you have left-over mash you wish to use up in a more unusual way that topping a cottage pie.
Irish Potato and Apple Cake:
1 lb (45g) mashed potatoes
1 oz (25g) margarine
1 tsp caster sugar
pinch salt
4 oz (100g) plain flour
1 lb (450g) cooking apples, peeled, cored, sliced
1 oz (25g) melted butter
sugar to taste
Put the mashed potatoes in a bowl and mash in the margarine, sugar, salt and flour. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth. Divide in half and roll out into two rounds to fit a greased pie plate. Cover the plate with one round, trim and brush egg with milk. Lay the apple slices over the middle and pour over the melted butter, sprinkling over sugar to taste. Place the second pastry round on the top and pinch edges together. Trim edges and make a few slits on top so the steam can escape. Brush the surface with milk and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 5 for about 35 minutes, or until golden.

Devonshire Splits:
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
pinch of salt
3 oz (75g) margarine
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
Sift the flour with the salt and rub in the marg. untl like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, then just enough milk (approx 3 tlsp) to make a fairly stiff dough. Knead lightly on a floured board until the cracks disappear, then roll out to half inch thick and cut into scone-size rounds (just under 3" dia.). Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about 15 minutes, by this time they should be well risen. Cool, split with the fingers (a natural split usually appears half-way up when baking - if not use a knife) and serve with lashing of clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Hereford Cider Cake:
8 oz (225g) plain flour
pinch salt
half level tsp freshly ground nutmeg
half level tsp ground ginger
half level tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 oz (100g) butter
4 oz (100g) sugar
2 eggs
5 fl oz (150ml) cider
Sieve the flour with the salt, bicarb. and spices. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs. Whisk the cider to make it frothy and add to the creamed mixture, then fold in the dry sieved ingredients and spoon into a greased 8" x 6" tin and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for 45 - 50 mins.
Leave to cool and store for a day before cutting.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Finding Direction

Recipes for sweets (the suck and chew sweets, not desserts) but all made from natural ingredients.
Nutritionists will blanch at the amount of sugar used in some cases, but then they blanch at mostly everything these days.

Carrot Balls:
8 oz (225g) gran sugar
3 tblsp water
1 lb (450g) carrots, finely grated
juice half a lemon
1 oz (25g) chopped mixed nuts
Put the sugar in a saucepan and add 2 tblsp of the water, then heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the carrot and continue cooking, stirring from time to time, until the carrots are very soft. Add the remaining tblsp water and the lemon juice and continue cooking until the mixture has formed a thick paste. Fold in the nuts, then turn out onto a lightly greased tray, flatten slightly and leave to cool. Using wet hands, form the mixture into small balls and coat each with more nuts or sugar (could also coat with desiccated coconut). Chill before serving.

These next sweets are originally called 'liquorice bites' but not sure why as they have no liquorice flavour. Suppose a spirit like Ouzo could be used instead of some of the water and that might give them the expected flavour. Otherwise...
Call them What you Like Bites:
2 oz (5og) dried milk powder
2 oz (50g) wheatgerm
1 rounded tblsp black treacle or molasses
few drops vanilla extract
2 tblsp (approx) water
Put the milk powder and wheatgerm into a bowl and mix together, then add the treacle and vanilla working them into the dry ingredients to form a thick dough (easiest when done with the fingertips), adding water as necessary.
Roll the mixture into small balls and flatten slightly. Set aside to firm up before eating.

This next is probably just the recipe for those that make their own muesli and hummus, for they are sure to have the ingredients already to hand. After reading the recipe, dare say a softer version could be made to eat as a sweet form of dip. Grind sunflower seeds in a liquidiser or coffee mill.
Tahini Slices:
3 tblsp tahini
3 tblsp honey
3 tbsp ground sunflower seeds
2 oz (50g) desiccated coconut
1 oz (25g) wheatgerm or bran
4 oz (100g) raisins
Mix the tahini and honey together then stir in the remaining ingredients to make a stiff dough. As per usual, add more ground sunflower/coconut and/or wheatgerm/bran to make the mixture dryer, or add more tahini if it needs to be softer
Shape mixture into rolls, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge. Serve cut into thickish slices.

This recipe for muffins uses dried (granular) yeast, not the instant yeast we can buy today, will have to leave you to decide which to use.
London Muffins: makes 12
1 lb (450g) plain flour
rounded tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
half pint (300ml) tepid milk
2 tsp dried yeast
1 egg, beaten
2 tblsp butter, melted
Dissolve sugar in the milk (less two tblsp milk) and stir in the yeast. Cove and leave to froth - about 10 minutes. Meanwhile sift together the flour and the salt. Make a well in the centre, then pour in the yeast liquid, the egg and melted butter. Mix into a softish dough adding more milk if necessary. Turn out onto a floured board and knead well for about 10 minutes or until the dough has lost its stickiness.
Replace in the bowl, cover and leave in a warm place (or overnight in the fridge) until doubled in bulk.
Knock back the dough and roll out to half an inch thick. Cut into 3" to 4" rounds, cover and leaver to prove again. Dry heat a girdle or frying pan, rub butter or oil over the surface, then place on the muffins, leaving room to spread, and cook for 6 - 7 minutes on each side. Serve warm, split with the fingers (never use a knife), and spread with butter or beef dripping.

This next recipe is for crumpets, and the batter for these can be poured directly onto a heated griddle, but to make a true pikelet shape, pour the batter into greased crumpet rings. If you haven't these, make them from cardboard well wrapped in foil, smoothing out the creases. Or metal scone cutters could be used instead.
London Crumpets: (F)
1 lb (450g) plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 pint (600ml) milk, tepid
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried yeast
Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk then stir in the yeast and leave until frothy. Sift the flour and salt together and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast liquid and mix well. Cover and leave in a warm place for 45 minutes.
Grease a griddle or heavy frying pan and place on crumpet rings if using. Spoon tablespoons of the batter directly onto the griddle, or into each ring and cook until brown on the underside and bubbles have appeared on top (they burst and leave holes). Do not flip over. Toast the topside and serve spread with butter. Cooked but not toasted they freeze well.

When you see how the budding chefs in Masterchef spread purees of almost everything onto their plates, am sure we could do something with this.
Apricot and Apple Puree: (F)
4 oz (100g) no-soak apricots
2 large dessert apples
orange juice as needed
Put the apricots in a pan with just enough water to cover, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes, then drain and cool. Remove core from apples, leaving the skin on. Put them in a baking dish with a little water, cover and cook at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about half an hour or until tender (anyone with a microwave will probably have the container that cooks these apples in double-quick time).
Remove the softened pulp from the apple skins and puree with the apricots, adding a little orange juice if too stiff. Put into containers, wrap, seal and freeze for up to 3 months.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shape of Things to Come?

Coconut Meringue Slices: makes 14
8 oz (200g) shortcrust pastry
3 tblsp raspberry (or other) jam
2 egg whites
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
4 oz (100g) desiccated coconut
Roll out the pastry to line the base and sides of a greased 7" x 11" (18 x 28cm) Swiss roll tin. Spread the jam evenly over the base. Whisk the egg whites until peaky, then gradually whisk in half the sugar, then fold in the remaining sugar and most of the coconut. Spoon this over the jam and level off with a palette knife. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 15 minutes, then sprinkle the remaining coconut over the surface and bake for a further 15 minutes until golden. Cool in the tin, but cut into fingers while still fairly warm.

Recipes for scones have already appeared on this site, but with apples now beginning to fall from the tree with the winds we seem to be having this moment, or maybe an apple or two needing to be used up in the fruit bowl, this is a timely recipe:
Apple Scone: makes 8 wedges
8 oz (2oog) plain flour
pinch salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 oz (50g) margarine
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
1 medium-sized crisp apple, peeled, cored and grated
4 tblsp milk
1 tblsp demerara sugar
Sieve together the flour, salt and b.powder, then rub in the marg. Stir in the sugar and grated apple with just enough milk to make a soft dough. Knead lightly on a floured board and roll out into an 8" (20cm) circle. Place this on a greased and floured baking sheet. Score halfway through the top - down, across and then between the two to make 8 even wedges. Brush with a little milk then sprinkle over the demerara sugar. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 plus minutes or until well-risen and golden. Remove from oven, cool for 10 minutes, then eat warm, split and spread with butter.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Time to Choose

Apologies for giving this in 'cup' measurements, but 1 cup - 8 fl oz (fluid not solid ounces), about the size of a teacup or small mug. Personally find using a dry glass Pyrex measuring jug the easiest way to measure first the dry, then the wet ingredients.
Chocolate Beetroot Cake:
2 cups pureed cooked beetroot
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups olive or sunflower oil
4 eggs
half cup cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups self-raising flour
Mix together the sugar, oil and eggs. Sift together the flour, cocoa, bicarb and salt. Fold this alternatively into the egg mixture with the pureed beetroot.
Pour into a greased and lined largish tin, or springform tin (no size given), and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 minutes to one hour. Cool on a wire rack.

The dessert recipe today is basically a fruit crumble with a difference. It works well with apples, but rhubarb or pears would take the topping flavour just as well - reminiscent of flapjack. Good dish for this time of year.
Autumn Apple Crumble: serves 4
2 lbs (1 kg) crisp eating apples, peeled, cored, sliced
2 - 3 tblsp runny honey
zest and juice of 1 orange
4 oz (100g) porridge oats
3 oz (75g) plain flour
half tsp cinnamon
3 oz (75g) butter
3 oz (75g) sugar
1 tblsp black treacle, warmed
Mix the apples with the honey and orange juice. A put these into a buttered, fairly shallow ovenproof dish.
Level the surface.
Sift the cinnamon with the flour and mix together with the oats, orange zest and sugar, then rub in the butter. Drizzle over the treacle, stirring to incorporate it evenly. Tip the crumble mixture onto the apples and spread evenly over. Bake for 30 or so minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until the fruit juices begin to bubble up. Leave to cool slightly, then serve with creme fraiche, yogurt, cream, custard, ice-cream...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Name of the Game

This next dish has been cobbled together by me - almost a fusion food apart from the countries not being that far apart from each other - the Pavlova recipe coming from Australia, and the Kiwi fruit from New Zealand and for the time being will call it Anzova but there must be a prettier name - perhaps you can think of one (oh, deary me - 'ans over the ocean' has now come into my mind. No wonder I am not let out.
This is another good way to use up those eggs whites. While I think of it, the normal recommended amount of sugar is 2 oz (50g) with each egg white, and a medium white at that, so if using larger eggs, allow just a little bit extra sugar. A little less if using bantam eggs.
Anzova Delight: serves 8
4 egg whites
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
1 tblsp cornflour
2 tsp white vinegar
4 oz (100g) toasted hazelnuts, ground down
3 tblsp kirsch
10 fl oz (300ml) double cream
1 small can pineapple pieces
4 kiwi fruit, sliced
Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then whisk in the sugar, a tblsp at a time until the meringue is very stiff, then whisk in the cornflour and vinegar. Gently fold in the hazelnuts.
Cover a baking sheet with baking parchment and pile the meringue in the centre then spread this into an 8" (20cm) circle, making the centre slightly thinner than around the edges (a bit like a pizza base). Bake for one hour at 150C, 350F, gas 2. Turn off heat, leave in the oven for half an hour, leave to cool then peel off the backing paper and place on a serving plate.
Meanwhile, drain the canned pineapple, put the pieces into a bowl with 2 tsp of the juice and all the kirsch, stir and leave to stand for an hour, then drain away the liquid and put this liquid into a bowl with the cream and whip together until stiff. Spread the cream over the meringue base and overlap some of the kiwi slices around the edge, then - working inwards from the kiwi fruit- spread some drained pineapple in a ring over the top, followed by more kiwi until the centre has been reached.
variation: instead of pineapple, use canned sliced peaches or mandarin oranges, or even fresh orange segments (removed from their membrane).

Final recipe today when first discovered seemed exceedingly rich, but then considering the relatively small amounts of 'richness' used, and that it is said to feed TEN - it has to be a certain winner when it comes to cost. When on a diet, there is a certain satisfaction serving food like this to others, knowing that with some it may end up on their hips. We keep out lips zipped shut and just stand back and watch it happen.
Lemon Trifle: serves 10
1 pkt trifle sponges
grated zest and juice from 3 lemons
3 eggs, separated
1 x 397g can condensed milk
5 fl. oz (150ml) whipping cream
1 oz (25g) flaked almonds, toasted
Break up the cakes into one large glass trifle dish. Beat the egg yolks with the condensed milk, half the lemon zest and all the lemon juice until thick. Spoon 8 tblsp of this over the cakes and allow them to soak for a few minutes. Meanwhile whip the egg whites until stiff and fold into the remaining lemon mixture. Pour this over the top of the soaked sponge and level the surface. Whip the cream and carefully pipe this on top of the lemon mixture either around the edges, or criss-cross fashion, and decorate with the toasted almonds. Chill well before serving.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pulling Together

The following are a couple of recipes that would scrub up well for not only a children's party, but for eating at any time. Both freeze well and in fact mature in flavour by doing so.
Banana Bread: makes 1 loaf (F)
4 oz (100g) soft margarine
8 oz (225g) soft light brown sugar
2 eggs
8 oz (225g) wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 fl oz (75g) natural yogurt
2 ripe bananas, chopped into small chunks
4 oz (100g) sunflower seeds
Cream together the marg and the sugar. Beat in the eggs. Sift the flour and baking powder and fold this into the mixture. When thoroughly combined, mix in the yogurt, bananas and seeds. Pour into a loaf tin that has been lined with baking parchment. Bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for approx one and a quarter hours, depending upon oven it may need slightly longer. After 30 minutes baking, tent with foil, shiny side up (as this reflects away the heat), to prevent becoming too brown. Test with skewer or knife - when they come out clean the cake is done. Cool on a cake airer, then wrap in parchment. Will keep in the fridge for 2 - 3 days, will freeze for at least a month.

This next recipe appears to use quite a lot of ingredients, but it does freeze well so worth making a whole batch, otherwise make half the amount (12). For adult eating add a couple of tablespoons of brandy to the syrup, or 1 tblsp of orange liqueur.
Chocolate and Orange Brownies: makes 24
1 lb (450g) soft margarine
1 lb (450g) soft brown (light muscovado) sugar
8 eggs
12 oz (350g) wholewheat flour
4 oz (110g) cocoa powder
1 tblsp baking powder
2 oz (50g) plain dark chocolate, chopped
juice of 3 oranges
2 tblsp brandy
2 -3 oz (50-75g) light muscovado sugar
Make the brownies by creaming together the marg and sugar then beat in the eggs adding a little flour with each egg (prevents the appearance of curdling). Sift together the remaining flour, cocoa and baking powder and fold this into the cake batter, finally folding in the chocolate.
Pour into a greased and lined baking tin 10" x 14" (25 x 36cm) and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for half an hour. Cool in the tin but do not remove.
Make the syrup by gently heating together the syrup ingredients until the sugar has dissolved, then leave to cool. While the cake is still sitting in the tin, prick the top of the cake all over with a fork , then pour the syrup over. Place in the fridge for about an hour to allow the cake to absorb the syrup. Take the tin to a chopping board, lift the cake out using the lining paper to carry the cake and slice the cake into 24 brownies.
Will keep for 2 - 3 days if placed in an airtight container and kept in the fridge.
To freeze: after soaking the complete cake with the syrup, leave intact, freeze in the tin, then when solid, remove and overwrap well with clingfilm. Will freeze for at least a month. Thaw at room temperature but best cut when partially thawed.

Another useful recipe which can fit many occasion: packed lunches, picnics, the occasional snack, and in this instance, because this is a healthy flapjack, good for the above party for budding pirates (who hopefully will have read Treasure Island) will immediately be tempted by the name (my choice, call it whatever you like).
Captain Jack's Flap: makes 12
5 oz (150g) butter, cubed
8 oz (225g) porridge oats
1 oz (25g) desiccated coconut
2 oz (50g) light muscovado sugar
5 tblsp golden syrup
6 oz (175g) chopped mixed nuts
3 oz (75g) dark chocolate, chopped
Mix together the oats and the coconut and set aside. Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a pan and heat gently until dissolved, then remove from heat and stir in the oat mixture. Spoon into a greased shallow 9" (23cm) square baking tin and press down the surface to level. Scatter over the nuts and the chocolate and press these in lightly. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for half an hour or until pale golden. Remove from oven and leave in the tin to cool, but mark into bars whilst still warm. When cold the bars can then be easily cut through. Store in an airtight tin.

Monday, August 18, 2008


This next recipe is for roasted beetroot dip, and myself would use just the vacuum packed beetroot that - unopened - have an exceedingly long shelf life compared to the freshly cooked. This means we have the beetroot ready for when the fair weather comes (and with our fair weather we need to be on the starting blocks to gain full use of it). So my version of the dip is as follows:
Rosy Beetroot Dip: serves 6 - 8
1 vacuum pack (4 - 5 beets) cooked beetroot
juice one small lemon (or half a large)
5 fl.oz (150ml) Greek yogurt
tsp horseradish sauce
salt and pepper
thin slices toasted garlic bread
batons of raw veg (carrots, celery, red/yellow peppers etc)
Chop the beetroot and blitz together with the yogurt, lemon juice, horseradish sauce and seasoning to taste. Place in a container, cover and keep chilled. Serve with the crusty bread and/or vegetable sticks.

improvising :
Save empty plastic pill bottles and camera film containers, and use these to take small amounts of sauces, mayo and salad dressing to picnics or with packed lunches.

Use polystyrene trays from packaged supermarket meat to use as disposable pet food dishes. Use deeper containers that hold tomatoes, mushrooms etc., fill with compost and use them to grow seedlings.

Add small quantities of left-over wine to wine vinegar, and it will keep going indefinitely. If a recipe calls for wine to be added to a stew, add 1 tblsp red wine vinegar and a couple of lumps of sugar instead.

To make brown gravy without using gravy browning or a stock cube, place a tablespoon of flour in a cup in the oven while the roast is cooking. This will brown the flour and the flour will colour the gravy.

When brown sugar has dried to a hard lump, grate it back down using a hand grater. Alternatively place a damp cloth over the top of the jar, place on the lid and the following day the sugar should be soft again.

Stand a tin of syrup or treacle in a bowl of hot water, or place in a warm oven for a few minutes (NOT a microwave) - but with lid removed, and the syrup will be runny and easier to measure out. To measure by weight, place the tin on the scales, weigh this, then remove syrup to the required amount.

Sufferers of indigestion may find that drinking water that has first been boiled and poured over a few fresh sage leaves and left for a few minutes will give as much relief as an over-the-counter preparation.

If plain chocolate is needed to be used when baking, one teaspoon of melted butter and four tblsp cocoa powder mixed together could be used instead.

If a spag.bol, or chilli or other meat stew catches on the bottom of a saucepan, DO NOT STIR . Instead, tip the contents into a clean pan, leaving the burnt bits behind and add more liquid if needed. With any lucky there will be no burnt flavour left, but if there is, just spice up the mixture by adding Worcestershire sauce, or more chilli powder and that should disguise it. Put cold water in the burned pan with a few drops of detergent and the next day it should come clean.

To save buying fancy vinaigrette type salad dressings, make up a basic mix by putting 8 tblsp olive oil in a screwtop jar along with 2 tblsp white wine vinegar, a pinch of salt, half a tsp of mustard powder and be generous with the freshly ground black pepper. Shake vigorously to blend, then store in the fridge. Each time of using give another good shake to combine the ingredients. This will keep for some weeks as long as you don't add any garlic or fresh herbs, as these can be added separately to a small amount of the dressing when ready to dress as salad.

If wishing to make a clear fruit jelly preserve, add a few broken eggshells to the simmering fruit (and before the sugar is added). The sediment will cling to the shells, which can then be removed.
The same thing works when wishing to make clear stock, add eggshells to cloudy stock, simmer for 10 minutes then remove eggshells.

Save the waxed paper from breakfast cereals and cut into circles of different sizes. Use waxed side down and place over the top of jams and jellies to seal before placing on the lids. Use larger circles to interleave home-made beefburgers. Cut squares to wrap home-made sweets such as individual toffees or to wrap around toffee apples.

This time of the year it is often possible to buy small pickling onions. The quick way to pickle these is to peel, then half-fill chosen jars (I use the larger mayo jars), sprinkle with a couple of tsp of pickling spice, then top up the jar with onions. Cover with malt vinegar and seal with a vinegar proof lid. Store for at least 2 months before eating, but use within 4 months of making.

Use the vinegar from empty jars of pickled onions, strain and use instead of malt vinegar sprinkled over fish and chips.

To get rid of the smell from jars that have contained pickles, fill with cold water, add a tsp of bicarbonate of soda and leave to stand for 24 hours.

The late Michael Smith, who I worked with several times swore by the use of biological washing powder for cleaning hobs. He also used to soak all his wooden spoons, spatulas etc overnight in a dilute mixture of powder and water.
Soaking pans in a bucket of Ariel he said cleans pans better than any other product, and also tea-towels soaked overnight in a bowl of Ariel before washing brings them up spanking clean.

Not sure whether this recipe could be called an 'improvisation', but it can certainly take the place of breadsticks that we often buy to eat with soups and dips. Those who make bread will probably make their own breadsticks, but those that don't should try making this variation. Similar in many ways to cheese straws they are slightly firmer. The recipe makes a goodly amount (depending on the size you choose to cut them) but will store well in an airtight tin.
Cheese Sticks:
1 lb (450g) wholewheat flour
2 tsp salt
half tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp baking powder
4 oz (100g) hard margarine
12 oz (340g) grated Cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
cold water
Either process the flour, salt, pepper, b.powder and marg. together, or rub with the fingers to make fine crumbs. Mix in the cheese then fold in the eggs with just enough water to make a firm dough. Knead gently until smooth.
Roll out to a two-thirds inch thick (1 cm) rectangle, and cut into sticks of the length you wish (suggest around 4" (9cm). Place onto parchment paper covered baking sheets and brush with beaten egg. Bake at a good 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 7 - 8 minutes or until golden. Cool on tray then on a cake airer.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Seasonal Dishes

Because vegetable stock appears in many of my vegetarian recipes, it is worth giving the correct recipe for 'how to make'. Myself tend to throw veggie peelings in the pot and make it from those, and to a point that works, but the recipe below makes it from scratch. My only reserve on this is that once cooked, the veggies are expected to be discarded and this has to be a no-n0. Maybe most of the flavour has disappeared into the stock, but the fibre remains, so don't see why the veggies themselves cannot be liquidised into a puree with a little of the made stock, and eaten as a thick soup. They could even be chopped and added to a spag bol meat sauce to give extra bulk. But whatever you do, don't let them end up in the bin. All should be available at this time of the year, even if they have to be imported - such as leeks. Leeks we can do without, just add an extra onion.
Vegetable Stock: makes around 4 pints (2.2ltrs)
2 large onions, chopped
4 large carrots, chopped
2 large leeks, sliced
4 ribs celery, sliced
8 cabbage leaves, sliced
2 Little Gem lettuce, sliced
6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, incl. stems
3 spring fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
pinch salt
6 pints (3.5ltrs) cold water
Place all ingredients into a large saucepan, using only the amount of water needed to cover the veg. Cover pan and over low heat, bring to the boil. Do not at any time stir. Simmer gently, with lid slightly ajar, checking now and again and removing any scum that may have come to the surface. After one hour, remove from heat and strain through a sieve without pushing any veggies through as the aim it to get a clear stock. Cool and chill or freeze. Use the solid vegetables in which ever way you choose.

This next recipe is a way to use up the rather coarse and stringy rhubarb stalks and originated in America where they use the 'cup' measurement (1 cup = 8 fl.oz). We will probably find that a mug contains approx that amount, and I don't think an ounce either way makes that much difference.
Alaska Rhubarb and Onion Relish: makes 8 cups
4 cups chopped rhubarb
4 cups chopped onions
2 cups cider vinegar
3 tsp salt
4 cups brown sugar
1 tsp each cloves, allspice and cinnamon
cayenne (up to 1 tsp if you like it hat)
Put all ingredients into a pan and bring to the simmer. Cook slowly until quite thick, then pour while still hot into hot, sterilised jars with vinegar proof lids, and seal immediately.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Stockup up Provisions

This next recipe could work both as a 'serve as-is' dish in its own right, and also as part of a winter casserole. Being Austrian it has the charming name of Speckknodel and we may recognise 'speck' as being diced bacon. The traditional way to serve it as a topping to a beef stew/casseroles. An economical way is to serve the dumplings during the colder months with a vegetable casserole. As an even more economical main dish in its own right, the Austrians serve the dumplings topped with sauerkraut and crisp fried onion rings. We could serve the dumplings with cooked red or white cabbage (red cabbage, cooked properly with apples and vinegar has far more flavour).
Bacon Dumplings: makes about 16
3 or 4 rashers of bacon, finely diced
8 oz (225g) 1/2" bread cubes, cut from stale bread
2 tblsp finely chopped onions
3 tblsp milk
2 tblsp finely chopped parsley
2 oz (50g) flour
Put the bacon into a hot dry frying pan and fry until the fat is running free and the bacon lightly browned. Removed bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Pour the fat from the pan and return 4 tblsp to the pan and re-heat, when hot stir in the bread cubes and toss in the fat until brown all over. Remove to a mixing bowl. Add remaining bacon fat to the pan and re-heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes until beginning to brown, then add to the bread cubes. Pour over the milk and add the parsley. Stir in the flour and season to taste.
Leave the mixture to stand for about 10 minutes or until the croutons are moist and softened. Carefully mix in the bacon and, using wetted hands, form the mixture into small balls (about the size of small tomatoes). To cook in a casserole, drop the dumplings into a pan of simmering beef broth and cook, uncovered for about 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Alternatively cook in salted water, drain and coat the dumplings with the thickened gravy, serving meat and veg separately.

Caramelised Milk Pudding: serves 6 - 8
15 oz (425g) can condensed milk
1 pint (575ml) fresh milk
half tsp bicarbonate soda
5 oz (150g) dark brown sugar
2 tblsp water
Put the condensed milk, fresh milk and the soda into a pan over high heat, and stirring all the time heat just up to boiling point, then immediately remove from the heat.
In another pan heat the sugar with the water and stir until the sugar has dissolved then pour into the hot milk and mix well. Return the milk mixture to a very low heat and simmer for at least an hour, stirring often, and watching that it doesn't catch and burn. When the mixture has turned an amber colour and thickened then pour into a dish. Serve at room temperature or cool and place it in the fridge for a few hours and serve it chilled.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Here are a couple of easy recipes, first is a fairly simple way to use up filo pastry (there always seems to be too much in the pack, and although it does keep well wrapped, this 'recipe' makes good use of filo). These 'cocktail munchies' contain less fat than if made with puff pastry, and when assembled, can also be frozen to be baked later. Other dried herbs, or even spices could be used instead of the dill. No need to use the amount of filo in the recipe, use only the number of sheets you want as it is more a method than one to follow exactly.
Herb Sticks: makes 24 sticks (F)
12 sheets filo pastry
4 tblsp melted butter
2 tsp dried dill weed
Unroll the pack of filo and remove 12 sheets, keep these between two sheets of clingfilm to stay moist, then re-wrap and return the rest of the pack to the fridge/freezer.
Covering work surface with parchment or greaseproof paper, take one sheet of filo and brush surface with butter and sprinkle a little of the dill over the surface (about eighth of a teaspoonful). Fold filo crosswise in half, then roll up tightly from the long open side towards the folded side. Cut in half to make 2 sticks.
Repeat with remaining sheets of pastry and place sticks, seam side down onto a large greased baking sheet. Brush tops with melted butter. If not intending to bake immediately, cover tray with clingfilm and keep chilled. Can be frozen at this point: cover sticks on baking sheet with foil and freeze until firm. Using a fish slice, carefully remove and store in a plastic container, with waxed paper between each layer, seal and freeze. Will keep up to a month. Bake for 15-20 minutes from frozen.
When freshly made bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 6 - 9 minutes until golden brown, serve hot or cold.

Often fudge can be difficult to make as it required using a sugar thermometer, but not this recipe. Easy enough for the children to have a go, and although laden with calories, could make ' that little something extra' to pop into a Christmas Hamper . As the chocolate is melted, the dark (with 70% plus cocoa solids) chocolate is a healthier option to the standard chocolate drops.
Festive Foolproof Fudge:
1 lb 2 oz (500g) semi-sweet chocolate drops
1 x 14oz (400g) can condensed milk
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 - 3 tblsp chopped nuts, optional
In a bowl standing over simmering water, melt the chocolate then stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour and spread evenly into a lined 8" (20cm) square baking tin. Chill for 3 hours or until firm. Turn out onto paper on a cutting board, peel away the paper and cut into squares. Store loosely covered (this helps it to dry out slightly) at room temperature.
variation: chopped glace cherries could be included instead of the nuts, or use both - keeping total amount the same.

This next dish is fairly ordinary (but not to those who love sweetcorn as I do), but can be 'lifted' by adding a little diced red bell pepper and fried chopped onion and/or mushrooms. As it uses only one egg, that saves a bit of money, and those who make their own yogurt will be on cloud nine.
Sweet Corn Quiche: serves 4 (V)
1 x 8" (20cm) pastry case, baked blind for 15 minutes
approx 14 oz (400g) sweet corn, fresh or frozen
3 oz (75g) white or wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 large egg, beaten
10 fl.oz (300ml) plain yogurt
1 tsp chopped basil (0r other preferred herb)
salt and pepper
Cook and drain the sweet corn and allow to cool. Into a bowl put the egg and yogurt and mix together, then stir in the breadcrumbs, herbs and sweetcorn (and anything else you wish to add). Season to taste. Pour the mixture into the flan case, levelling the top and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for half an hour. Serve hot.

This next recipe is really how to make a pastry for vegans. But as with vegetarians, foods that they prefer to eat should not be dismissed lightly by us carnivores. We get so used to making pastry the traditional way, that it does not even cross our mind to try another way. What we do need to remember is that most oils and fats are used for the same reason, fats just being solidified oil, so one could be substituted for another, taking care that the flavour does not intrude. No way would I suggest using beef dripping to make a cake instead of butter. Horses for courses. If preferring to use a white flour, use a little less water, more can always be added.
Vegan Pastry: to line an 8" (20cm) flan dish
8 oz (225g) plain wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tblsp vegetable oil
3 tblsp water
pinch rock or sea salt
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, adding any coarse flakes back into the mixture. Mix together the oil and water and stir into the flour, mixing thoroughly and as quickly as possible.
Wrap in foil or clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour. Roll out on a lightly floured board and use as needed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In the Nation's Interest

We begin with lemon-barley water, a healthy drink with no additives, use less sugar if you wish, or a sugar substitute if you prefer. The advantage of this is that after cooking, the barley itself can be added to a casserole or soup, so it has a dual use - and the barley can be frozen if not needed then and there. Poured over ice cubes this makes a most refreshing drink, and if some of the ice-cubes are made from frozen lemon juice, this will make the drink much more lemony.
Lemon Barley Water:
3 oz (75g) pearl barley
1 1/2 pints (900ml) water
2 lemons
4 tblsp caster sugar
ice cubes
Put the water and barley into a saucepan and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the rind from the lemon in big strips, removing any pith and put into a jug. Squeeze the juice from the lemons and add this to the rind with the sugar. Strain the barley into a jug, cool slightly, then pour this over the lemon juice/rind/sugar. Stir and leave in a cool place for several hours then strain into another jug and keep in the fridge until needed (use within 2 days). Put a handful of ice cubes into tall glasses and pour over the barley water to serve.
To transport: put well chilled lemon barley water into in a vacuum flask, but do not include ice cubes.

One useful storecupboard 'product' is Camp Coffee. This has been around since I was a child, probably when my parents were children, but an excellent product for flavouring. To make iced coffee, just stir the amount of Camp into cold milk until the flavour you wish, then chill.
Use Camp coffee for flavouring cakes, biscuits, ice-creams, blancmanges and custards. Or just use as it was meant to be used: to make a cup of coffee (with milk preferably). Made with some evaporated milk the coffee will taste even better. Mixing chocolate (cocoa) and coffee together makes a 'mocha', again a flavouring in its own right for all the above, including drinks. Camp, being concentrated, would need diluting down to drinking strength for most recipes.

This recipe is perfect for the barbecue, but also could be prepared in advance, wrapped and frozen to be cooked later in the oven, rather in the same way as stuffed apples wrapped in pastry (apple dumplings) can be frozen to bake later. Vary the fruit as you wish. Try mincemeat and grated marzipan as a filling.
Baked Fruity Apples: makes 6
6 cooking apples
2 oz (50g) sultanas
2 oz )50g) no-soak apricots, chopped
1 oz (25g) preserved stem ginger, chopped
2 oz (50g) demerara sugar
3 oz (75g) butter
Core the apples, but leave on the peel. Mix the fruit and the sugar and stuff the apples with this mixture. Butter fairly thickly, six squares of aluminium foil, stand an apple in the centre of each and securely wrap the foil around the apple. Then cover with another layer of foil. To barbecue: stand the apples directly on the hot coals, and cook for about 20 minutes, turning the apples around from time to time. To serve, open up the foil and leave the apples standing in the foil 'cups' to hold the juices.

This next recipe today is my own concoction - suitable certainly if camping, but equally as good as a packed lunch or part of a picnic hamper.
Breakfast in a Bun: serves 4
4 large sausages
2 large eggs
1 tblsp water
2 large tomatoes, sliced
2 rashers bacon (optional)
salt and pepper
4 oblong bread rolls
brown sauce, optional
Split the sausages in half lengthways and grill or fry on both sides until cooked - if using bacon, cook this next until crisp. Beat the eggs and cook as one large omelette in the fat already in the pan. Leave to cool. Split the bread rolls lengthways, almost in half, spread both cut sides with a little brown sauce (or butter if you prefer). Cut the omelette into four, tuck each piece into a bread roll with two split sausages, bacon and tomato, season to taste. Fold over top of bun and wrap tightly in greaseproof paper, foil or secure with a cocktail stick. Then read to munch. Can be eaten warm or cold.
Variation: the eggs could be scrambled instead of cooked as an omelette. Instead of bacon, cut strips of cheese and sandwich these with the tomato between two sausage halves. If preferring a vegetarian version omit the bacon and sausages and make a well flavoured cheese , mushroom and herb omelette, tuck this into the bread with tomato and some green salad leaves.

Final recipe today is a chilled cauliflower souffle. Well, almost a souffle as it starts off like one, but then by omitting the eggs, and adding other ingredients, it ends up as a chilled summer mousse with no danger of collapsing as it is brought to the table. Cauliflower is very good for us, as is its cousin: broccoli. So why not make it with broccoli instead. Or use both, making two mixtures then folding them together to give a ripple effect or spoon together to make blocks of colour. Never let it be said that cauliflower can look or taste boring.
Normally I put the cauli florets in a plastic bag, fold over the top and cook on Full in the microwave for about 7 minutes, or until as tender as needed. This keeps in all the flavour.
Cauliflower Mousse: serves 6
12 oz cauliflower florets (or 1 small cauli)
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tblsp plain flour
5 fl.oz (150ml) milk
1 oz (25g) grated Cheddar or Gruyere cheese
1 tsp gelatine
6 tblsp chicken stock
6 tblsp double or whipping cream
salt and pepper
Cook the cauliflower until tender, then drain and rub through a coarse sieve or food mill, or blitz in a food processer until a coarse puree. Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatine on top of the hot stock and leave to stand.
Melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook for one minute then whisk in the milk and cook over gentle heat until thickened. Season to taste. Add the cheese and cauliflower. Whip the cream and set this to one side.
Stir the gelatine into the stock and when fully dissolved, stir this into the cauliflower sauce and leave to cool. Keep checking and when just about to set, fold in the whipped cream. Pour into the serving bowl and leave in the fridge until set. Good served with cold meats and salads.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Easier When We Know How

This tray-bake is a recipe worth filing away ready for the apple season. Although it can be made in a large ring mould as a cake 'proper', considering the way we now need to cut fuel costs, best made as a traybake where it will cook in half the time of a large cake and will also freeze successfully.
Apple and Walnut Tray-bake: makes about 24 pieces (F)
10 oz (275g) caster sugar
3 eggs
10 oz (275g) plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
few drop vanilla extract
2 oz (50g) walnuts, chopped
1 lb (450g) cooking apples, peeled, cored, chopped
5 fl.oz (150ml) corn or sunflower oil
(optional glace icing)
Sift the flour and baking powder together. Beat the sugar with the eggs then fold in the flour. Add remaining ingredients and mix well together. Pour into a greased roasting tin 10" x 13" x 1 1/2" (25 x 32.5 x 3.5cm) and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 minutes. Cool in tin for a few minutes than turn out onto a cake airer to cool completely.
To Freeze: overwrap cooled cake, seal, label and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw for 3 - 4 hours at room temperature. If you prefer, the cake can be cut into squares, and these take less time to thaw out.

As many of you make your own muesli, almost certainly the ingredients in this next recipe will be in your storecupboard. Even if not, some substitutions could be made. Perhaps crushed wheat or bran flakes instead of using wheatgerm. Pumpkin seeds or pine nuts instead of sunflower seeds, mixed spice instead of cinnamon, white sugar with a spoon of black treacle instead of muscovado sugar, white bread instead of brown. Apples, well suppose they could be a crisp eating apples (Granny Smith) instead of cookers. There you are - a completely new recipe along side the original one - and that is how recipes evolve.
Healthy Eating Apple Crisp: serves 4
2 fl oz (50ml) sunflower or soya oil
4 oz (100g) wholemeal breadcrumbs
3 oz (75g) dark muscovado sugar
1 oz (25g) wheatgerm
2 oz (50g) sunflower seeds
1 level tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1 lb (450g) cooking apples, cored and sliced
Over low heat, fry the breadcrumbs in the oil for 2 - 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar, wheatgerm, seeds, spice and salt.
Grease/oil a 2 pint (1.1ltr) ovenproof dish and place in a layer of the apples, then a layer of the breadcrumbs, and repeat, finishing with the crumbs. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for half an hour until brown and crisp. Serve hot with a good dollop of Greek Yogurt or creme fraiche.

A mention of tapioca recently reminded me of this pudding, delightfully named 'apples in frogspawn' by children. Suggest another name might be more appealing. Give me a minute to think of one...
Apples with Golden Pearl Sauce: serves 4
4 cooking apples, peeled and cored
4 tsp mincemeat*
4 tsp demerara sugar
2 oz (50g) tapioca
grated zest and juice of 1 large orange
water or more orange juice
Stand prepared apples in a shallow ovenproof dish. Mix the mincemeat with the sugar and use this to stuff the holes in the centre of the apples. Sprinkle the tapioca and orange zest around the apples and make up the orange juice to one pint (550ml) with water or more juice. Pour this round the apples and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally so the tapioca mixes evenly with the liquid as it thickens.
Serve apples hot with the orange sauce poured over, plus custard or cream if you wish.
Note: If you have no mincemeat, used raisins, sultanas or mixed fruit soaked in rum, brandy or just orange juice.

The final recipe today, again made with apples, has a duel role. Because of the cheese (protein), pastry (carbos), apples and sultanas (vitamins) almost a meal in itself. Although, in this instance, made as a complete pie, the filling could be wrapped in pastry and cooked as individual pasties. Another way would be to turn it into a traybake, placing the filling between two thin layers of pastry. A good recipe to make for a picnic, or eaten with a salad for a packed lunch.
Cheese and Fruit Pie: serves 4 - 6
12 oz shortcrust pastry
1 lb (450g) sharp apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, cubes or grated
3 oz (75g) sugar
1 oz (25g) flour
2 oz (50g) sultanas
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 oz (25g) butter
Mix all the ingredients together except the pastry and the butter and put into a 1 1/2 pint (825 pie dish. Dot the surface with the butter.
Roll out the pastry larger than the diameter of the dish, then cut of a strip and place it on the wetted rim of the pie dish. Dampen the surface of this strip then lay the remaining pastry over to make a lid, trim and seal the edges, pinching with fingers or fluting with a fork to decorate. Bake at 20oC, 4ooF, gas 6 for approx 40 minutes until pastry is golden and cooked. Serve with creme fraiche, cream or yogurt.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Making Do

Here is a way of making double-cream and could prove most useful when we need (or do I mean want?) cream to use when making quiches, ice-cream, etc. The metrics may seem slightly different than usual against the imps. but don't deviate, use one or the other as given. As some microwave ovens 'cook' faster than others, start with the lower time then keep checking.
home-made double cream: makes approx half pint/300ml
6 oz (150g) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
5 fl oz (140ml) milk
Place butter and milk in a small microwave bowl and cook on Full, uncovered for 2 - 3 minutes or until the butter has melted. Pour mixture into a blender and blend on medium speed for 30 seconds, but do this in three bursts of 10 seconds each.
Transfer to a bowl and chill in the fridge for 2 - 3 hours. Place beater blades in the fridge or freezer to chill. To whip, beat the cream with chilled beaters until thickened, then serve.

Today I leave you with yet another penny-pinching dish. Made with choux pastry - and despite what the critics say - this is very easy to make and with a savoury dish such as this, very little can go wrong. Traditionalists beat the eggs into the flour mixture using a wooden spoon, but a hand electric mixer at lowish speed works just as well. The joy of this recipe is that the meat could be a continental cooked meat (salami, chorizo) or cooked bacon. Even scraps of cooked chicken or other cooked meats could be used. Vegetarians may wish to include a few vegetables instead of meat.
Gourgere Americaine: serves 4 - 6
1 lb (450g) onions, sliced
5 fl.oz (150ml) water
1 oz (25g) butter or margarine
5 fl.oz (150ml) milk
3 tblsp plain flour
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) salami or other cooked meat, sliced
4 oz (100g) grated Cheddar (0r other) cheese
choux pastry:
4 oz (100g) margarine
half pint (300ml) water
5 oz (150g) plain flour
4 eggs, beaten with half tsp salt
First make the filling by putting the onions and water into a pan, cover and simmer for 5 minutes, then stir in the margarine or butter. Blend the milk with the flour, then add this to the onions and cook for two minutes, season to taste and fold in the chosen meats and cheese. Set to one side.
Make the choux pastry by putting the margarine and water into a saucepan over a low heat until the marg. has melted. Bring to the boil then tip in the flour all at once. Remove from heat and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a tight ball and comes away from the sides of the pan. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes then beat in half the eggs, adding the remainder a little at a time. Keep beating until the mixture holds is smooth, glossy and holds its shape.
Spoon the choux pastry around the innder edges if a greased shallow ovenproof dish, then fill the centre with the ready-prepared filling.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 35 minutes or until the pastry is risen, golden and crisp. Serve hot with a green vegetable.

Tip: Once made, the choux pastry can stand for a while before being cooked, just cover the bowl or pan so that a skin does not form on the surface. If you prefer to make a small gougere, use the surplus pastry to pipe into profiteroles or eclairs, or pipe into a largish ring, bake until crisp, split the ring in half horizontally (leave to dry out further in a turned-off oven if you wish) then fill the hollow centre of the rings with whipped sweetened cream, place the top back on the base, sift over icing sugar and you have made a Paris-Breste - a classic French dessert.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Simply Delicious

Now we come to the topic of the day, food that is delicious and quite simple to make - and as little or as much as you wish. In all cases, it is more a matter of giving ideas/recipes for the main part of the dish, and this can then be served with salads, or rice/pasta/couscous/ or your choice.

Mushroom with Poached Egg: one portion
1 medium egg
1 large flat field mushroom, stalk removed
2 blsp creme fraiche
2 walnut halves, finely chopped
1 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
mixed salad leaves
Poach the egg until cooked but still soft. Remove from water or poacher and keep warm. Plunge the mushroom into a pan of boiling water, bring back to the boil, cover and remove pan from heat. Leave for one minute then drain the mushroom flat side down on kitchen paper. Mix together the creme fraiche, walnuts, parsley, a grating of nutmeg and seasoning to taste. Place the mushroom on a bed of salad leaves, put the poached egg on top and coat with the creamy herb and nut sauce. This dish can be eaten while still warm, or the mushroom and egg left to get cold, covered with the sauce then chilled in the fridge.

This next recipe makes small meat balls that can be cooked, then frozen away to be later reheated in a flavoursome sauce. Alternatively, these are delicious eaten cold with cooked and dressed beans (the pulse type or broad beans). The recipe uses minced pork, but minced turkey, lamb or chicken could also be used.
The recipes makes enough to serve three as it is hardly worth making just a few for one. Make the lot or double the quantity and then freeze the remainder to eat another day/week/month.
Pork Balls with Mint: (F)
8 oz (225g) minced pork
1 tsp ground cumin
half tsp chilli powder
1 tblsp tomato puree or ketchup
1 tblsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper
cashew nuts (optional)
1 tblsp sunflower oil
As the meat needs to be really fine in texture, give the mince a whizz in a food processor, or - if you have a mincer, give it a second mince. Otherwise chop it finely, then put into a bowl with the cumin, chilli, tomato puree, mint and the egg yolk. Add seasoning to taste. Mix together thoroughly with a wooden spoon, then -
using wet hands - form the mixture into small balls, the size of cherry tomatoes. If you wish tuck one cashew nut into the centre of each pork ball to make a surprise filling.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan and fry the meatballs over medium heat for 10 or so minutes, shaking the pan from time to time so the balls turn and brown all over. When cooked, drain on kitchen paper and leave to cool (when cold they can be bagged up and frozen - thaw in the fridge overnight) and serve at room temperature with a chosen salad dressing (oil and lemon juice etc). Serve with dressed cold beans, salad, or hot with pasta and tomato based or cheese sauce.

Some many months ago was writing about cooking for one, and mentioned the usefulness of having one of those four-portion Yorkshire pudding tins. These are perfect for cooking individual pies, even cakes. Even one egg can be used for two different dishes. In the past have cooked a meat pie (filling had already been cooked), an apple pie, a Bakewell Tart, and a quiche - all in the same tin and baked at the same time. As not everything has to be eaten on the same day, an ideal way to get an assortment baked at the same time. Using two tins, even more of an assortment could be cooked at the same time and some frozen away.
Suggestions are: chicken pie, beef and ale pie, fish pie, apple pie, cherry pie, treacle tart, Bakewell tart, curd tart, assorted quiches.

Instead of a pastry 'case', use a small foil case or line one or more parts of the the tin with foil, and then a mashed potato topped pie (Cottage Pie, Shepherd's pie) could be cooked along with anything else. Also something like a fruit crumble.
As well as the above, a small Soda Bread, or a round scone (that could later be cut into three) could be baked in one of the containers. Always useful to keep a box of home-made scone mix, crumble mix and pastry mix in the fridge/freezer so that just small amounts can be baked when the oven is on for something else. Scones are best eaten fresh and on the day of baking, so a couple baked now and again, is much better than having to bake a whole batch at a time.
These tins can also be used to make single-portion uncooked desserts - such as a cheesecake, or a sponge base topped with fresh fruit and Quick-Jel.

Because biscuits can be made in bulk and can be stored in an airtight container (or even frozen) it is useful to make one or two varieties that are both healthy and can be eaten as a nibble with a cup of coffee, or eaten with cheese and grapes perhaps for a light lunch. The flavour of a biscuit can be changed by just varying the fat used. For richness use butter, for economy use margarine or lard. To make a biscuit taste even more delicious use a moist brown sugar, for general purposes use granulated sugar, or even reduce the sugar and add a little salt if eating with cheese. Walnuts go well with cheese, but other nuts could be used. The suggestion for the following recipe is to eat the biscuits with a soft cheese such as Dolcelatte and a handful of strawberries. But they would eat equally as well with Stilton and chilled green seedless grapes.
Oat and Walnut Biscuits: makes 15
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
3 oz (75g) soft light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 oz (50g) porridge oats
2 oz (50g) walnuts, finely chopped
3 oz (75g) plain flour
half tsp baking powder
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg. Sift together the flour and baking powder then stir this into the creamed mixture along with the rest of the ingredients. Place spoonfuls of this mixture, leaving space to spread, on greased baking sheets and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4, for 15 minutes until pale golden. Remove from oven, leave on the tin for 5 minutes then cool on a cake airer.
These keep up to a week in an airtight container.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Supermarket Savings

Here is a recipe for a jam that needs no cooking. Because of this, best potted up in small jars as although it will keep in the freezer for up to 9 months (it may need stirring once thawed), and in the fridge - unopened - for 3 months, once the jar has been opened it must be kept chilled and used up within 3 weeks.
This type of jam will be softer than the boiled jams - more like a conserve and a little bit mushier. But the flavour is excellent. The best fruits to use are the fleshy ones that need no cooking, and that will mash easily (strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blackberries, plums, ripe gooseberries, elderberries, black and red currants). The jam can consist of one type of fruit only, or several can be mashed together. Liquid pectin is on sale in supermarkets - called Certo I think, but not sure.
No-cook Strawberry Jam: makes nearly 4 lb (1.75kg)
1 1/2 lbs (675g) ripe strawberries, hulled
2 lb (900g) caster sugar
4 fl oz (100ml) liquid pectin
2 tblsp lemon juice
Mash, process, sieve or liquidise the berries. Stir in the sugar. Leave to stand for one hour, stirring from time to time. Add the pectin and lemon juice and stir for 2 minutes.
Pour into clean yogurt pots (for freezing), or small sterilised jars and cover with foil. Remember to label. Leave to stand in a warm place for 6 hours, then place in the fridge for up to a couple of days (the time it takes to 'jell'). Stir then store in fridge or freezer.

This next recipe is also for a jam (made the convential way) and originated in Australia. Because no red fruits were available, tomatoes were used instead to give the bright red colour. Tasting rather like plum jam, this is an excellent way to cope with gluts of tomatoes and windfall apples. As tomatoes were originally called Love Apples, this has to be the name for this jam, although another under the same name (but different) has been posted months ago.
Love Apple Jam: makes 7 lb
4 lb (1.80kg) ripe tomatoes
2 lb (900g) cooking apples, peeled, cored, sliced
5 lb (2.30kg) granulated sugar
1 x 400g can crushed pineapple
juice of 2 lemons
Remove skins from tomatoes by placing them in a bowl of hot water for a few seconds then peel off the skins. Put the tomatoes and apples into the preserving pan and place over a gentle heat until simmering, then cook until softened. Stir in the sugar and heat gently until dissolved, then add the pineapple and lemon juice. Raise the heat and boil rapidly for about 20 minutes or until setting point has been reached. Cool slightly then pour into warm sterilised jars, cover and seal.
testing for a set:
Have a saucer in the fridge or freezer so that it is very cold, bring out and immediately put a teaspoon of the jam onto the saucer - if it jells, then it is ready. If not, return cleaned saucer to the fridge and boil the jam for a few minutes longer before testing again.
Myself, find that dipping a wooden spoon into the jam, then holding it above the pan and watching how it drips works just as well. Jam that is ready to set will first drip away the surplus, but the last drips just dangle from the spoon not wanting to drop, beginning to setting as they hang.

However much cooks were forced to improvise during the war years, this actually led to some wonderful recipes being 'invented'. Here is one of them:
Apple Marmalade: makes over 1 lb
12 oz (350g) sugar
1 pint (550ml) water
1 lb (450g) cooking apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
1 lemon
Put the sugar and water into a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the prepared apples to the syrup. Cut the lemon and squeeze out the juice. Cut away the lemon rind from the shells, removing any pith. Cut the rind into narrow strips. Add these strips and the lemon juice to the pan and simmer for about an hour or until setting point has been reached.
Cool slightly, then pot into warm sterilised jars, and seal in the normal way.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Running Cost = and more

Before you come to the list (leaving it at the bottom so it is easy to print off), am giving some recipes for jams that can be made in the microwave, as the microwave seems to be cheap to run. Firstly the hints and tips:
Never use a metal container, use only deep heatproof glass and ceramic bowls.
Because the container will be very hot, ALWAYS use oven gloves when handling.
Weigh the fruit AFTER preparation, unless otherwise stated
Do not cover the bowl unless otherwise stated
Make no more than pound and a half (675g) at any one time (this is the amount the recipes below will make). For larger amounts use the conventional hob-top method of making.

Microwave Strawberry Jam:
1 lb (450g) strawberries, hulled
2 tblsp lemon juice
1 lb (450g) caster sugar
Place strawberries and lemon juice in a large bowl and cover with a plate. Cook on Full for 5 minutes.
Using a potato masher or fork, lightly crush the strawberries, then stir in the sugar, mixing well. Cook on Full for 2 minutes. By then the sugar should have completely dissolved. Otherwise stir well until it has, if necessary return to the microwave and give it a further half-minutes.
When sugar has dissolved, cook uncovered on Full for a further 12 - 15 minutes, stirring every 2 - 3 minutes, until setting point has been reached.
Pot up into hot sterilised jars, cover with a waxed disc and seal in the normal way.

Microwave Blackberry and Apple Jam:
8 oz (225g) blackberries
8 oz (225g) cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 tblsp water
1 lb (450g) caster sugar
Place the berries and apple in a large heatproof bowl , cover with a plate and cook on Full for 5 minutes.
Stir in the sugar and cook, uncovered, on Full for 2 minutes until dissolved, then continue as in the above recipe.

Microwave Plum and Orange Jam:
1 lb (450g) plums, stoned and chopped
zest of 1 large orange
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 lb (450g) caster sugar
Place plums, orange zest and lemon juice into a large heatproof bowl, cover with a plate and cook on Full for 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar and cook, uncovered, on Full for 2 minutes until the sugar has dissolved, then continue as with the other recipes.

Microwave Low-sugar Peach and Raspberry Jam:
1 lb (450g) peaches, skinned, stoned, chopped
1 lb (450g) raspberries
2 tblsp lemon juice
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
Place the peaches, raspberries and lemon juice in a large heatproof bowl, cover and cook on Full for 5 minutes, then stir in the sugar and mix well.
Cook, uncovered, on Full for 2 minutes until the sugar has dissolved then continue as above.
Note:this 'spread', not being a jam proper due to low sugar, will not keep too long, so once made and bottled, store in the fridge and use within 3 weeks. It could be put into plastic containers and stored longer in the freezer.

Running costs for electrical appliances:
To find out how much it costs, multiply the units value (given on the right) by the unit cost (this you will find on your electricity bill).

Radio = 24 hours for 1 unit (value)
Stereo = 3 hours for 1 unit
T.V. = 3 hours for 1 unit
Digi box/cable = 11 hours for 1 unit

Storage heater = 7 hours for 12 units (1.7kw)
Storage heater = 7 hours for 18 units (2.5kw)
Storage heater = 7 hours for 24 units (3.4kw)
Bar fire 3 kw = 1 hour = 3 units
Fan heater = 1 hour = 2 units
Oil filled radiators = 1 hour = 1 unit

Computer = 1 hour for 1 unit
50w light bulb = 15 hours for 1 unit
20w low energy bulb = 50 hours for 1 unit

Upright freezer = 24 hours for 2 – 3 units
Fridge = 24 hours for 1 – 2 units
Fridge/freezer = 24 hours for 2 – 3 units

Washing machine:
90deg cycle = full load = 3 – 4 units
40deg cycle = full load = 2 – 3 units

Cooker = 1 week’s meals for 4 people = 25 – 30 units
Convection oven = med heat for 1 hour = 3 units
Fan oven = medium heat for 1 hour = 2 units
Microwave oven = 45 minutes = 1 unit

Dishwasher, cold fill = 1 full load (12 place) 3 – 4 units

Hair dryer =1 hour = 1 unit

Monday, August 04, 2008

One Pot Cookery

Today's title may seem misleading when the first recipes use the 'pot' (a cleaned standard 150ml yogurt pot -flowerpot shaped) as the measure used when preparing the tray-bakes and loaf recipes that are to follow, but it is so simple a way to measure that it has to be tried. As we need to bake in bulk as often as we can, batch-baking is perfect for using this way of measuring and baking, it has been worked out that 120 slices of assorted cakes can be baked in two hours - and all at the same temperature: 180C, 350F, gas 4. Also only two type of baking tin needed - a 2lb loaf tin and a Swiss roll tin.

Firstly the hints and tips:
When filling the yogurt pot tap gently to settle the dry ingredients and level off the surface.
When filling half a pot, no need to worry if not quite accurate with the measurements, slightly below or over won't hurt.
Amounts of fat are based on the normal 250g pack of margarine or butter, but remove from the fridge for at least 15 minutes to soften up slightly before using.

There are two basic mixes given, each followed by several variations. First the cakes.
Basic cake mix:
half a packet of margarine
2 pots of self-raising flour
1 pot caster sugar
2 eggs
4 tblsp milk
Beat all ingredients together until smooth - then continue:

St. Clement's Slice: makes 24 slices
1 batch basic cake mix
1 orange
1 lemon
2 pots icing sugar, sifted
remove the zest from both the lemon and orange, keeping separate. Squeeze the juice from both, and this can be mixed together, but reserve 2 tblsp. Also reserve a little of the lemon zest to sprinkle over the finished cake.
Beat the mixed juice and citrus zest into the basic mix and bake in a greased and base-line 2 lb loaf tin (900g) for one and a quarter to one and a half hours until golden. Cool in the tin. Blend the icing sugar with the reserved juice and spoon over the cake. Sprinkle with the reserved zest. Slice when set.

Chocanana Cake: makes 24 squares
1 batch basic cake mix
1 ripe banana, mashed
half pot grated chocolate
plus 1 full pot of grated chocolate for topping
one eighth of a pack of margarine
2 tblsp water
half pot icing sugar, sifted
Mix the banana and half-pot of chocolate into the basic cake mix. Pour or spoon into a greased and lined 7" x 11" (17.5 x 27cm) Swiss roll tin. Level the surface and bake for 40 - 45 minutes until risen and firm. Remove from tin and cool on a cake airer.
Put the full pot of chocolate into a bowl with the water and marg. and place over a pan of simmering water, when melted, remove from heat and beat in the icing sugar until smooth. Spread this icing over the cake and when set, cut into squares.

Tropical Fruit squares: makes 24 squares
1 batch basic fruit mix
340g can pineapple pieces, drained and chopped
2 pieces preserved stem ginger, finely chopped
2 tblsp ginger syrup
1 pot glace cherries, halved
half pot soft brown sugar
Have ready a greased and lined Swiss roll tin (measurement in above recipe). Scatter the pineapple pieces, ginger, and cherries (these can be sliced after measuring if you wish). Mix the sugar with the ginger syrup and spoon this over the fruit. Place dollops of the basic cake mix over the top of the fruit and level the surface with a knife then bake for 40 - 45 minutes until risen and springy. Turn out onto a cake airer, fruit side up, and cut into slices when cold.

Boozy fruit loaf: cuts into 24 slices
1 batch basic cake mix
2 tblsp rum
2 pots raisins
2 tblsp demerara sugar
Put the raisins in a bowl and pour over the rum. Leave to soak for 15 minutes, then stir the fruit and any remaining rum into the cake mix. Spoon into a greased and base-lined 2 lb (900g) loaf tin and level the surface. Sprinkle the sugar evenly on top. Bake for one and a quarter to one and a half hours until golden and a skewer comes out clean. Turn out onto a cake airerand cool. Slice when completely cold.

Now the turn of the flapjacks:
Basic Flapjack mix:
one pack of margarine
one pot golden syrup
one pot soft brown sugar
6 pots porridge oats
Melt margarine with the syrup and sugar and then stir in the oats and mix well.

Spicy Flapjack: makes 30 squares
1 batch of basic flapjack mix
1 pot chopped mixed nuts
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp sesame seeds
Stir nuts and spice into basic mix and spoon into two greased Swiss roll tins. Spread evenly without compressing the mixture. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top and bake for 40. Mark into squares while still warm, then leave to get cold in the tin before removing.

Fruity Flapjack: makes 30 squares
1 batch basic flapjack mix
1 pot ready-to-eat prunes, chopped
1 pot ready-to-eat no-soak apricots, chopped
Stir the prepared fruit into the basic mix then spoon into two tins as above, also following above baking directions.

To freeze the above: after cooling wrap whole cakes in cling-film or in a polybag. Squares and slices should be placed in a polybox, interleaved with greaseproof paper. Seal, label and use within 4 months. To serve: thaw whole cakes for 4 hours at room temperature, slices thaw for 2 - 3 hours.

Now we come to another form of one-pot cookery: The Casserole, and with this again a few hints and tips:
Cook a small amount of food in a small casserole to prevent foods from drying out and losing much flavour. If you have only one casserole, and too much room above the contents, place a sheet of baking parchment over the surface of the food.
To judge the size of the casserole needed, roughly a 1 - 2 pint dish will hold food for 1 to 2 people, a 2 - 3 pint dish serves 2 - 4, and a 3 - 4 1/2 pint large enough to serve 4 - 6.
Make sure the lid is well fitting, if not cover the top of the casserole with foil, large enough to overlap, then place the lid on this, pressing the foil down tightly around the sides of the dish.
Generally, with one-pot cooking, the easiest way to serve is bring the pot to the table and serve from that. This saves extra washing up. But always have a thick mat or stand on which to place the pot to save harming the table top.
To clean a used pot easily, empty it of any food left (do not discard, this can be frozen or made into soup), then fill the pot with cold water and leave to stand for several hours - preferably overnight. The stuck-on food will then be easily removed with a nylon scour. Never use steel wool or it will harm the surface of the pan.
If glass or enamel casseroles become stained with regular use, add a little bleach to the water when soaking.

Not every casserole dish needs a lid, some are shallow and the contents baked uncovered (as with lasagne), but whichever dish is used with the following recipes, they end up being cooked in the one pot. Sadly they are not cooked at my favourite oven temperature (apart from one which is near enough) , but the bonus is cooked at a lower temperature this saves fuel.
Some of the first recipes are for "instant casseroles", using all the naughties, such as packet sauces, soups, even canned vegetables and meat, and although oven cooking is suggested, many will cook/heat just as well using a heavy lidded frying pan on the hob. Well, as I am not a chef, don't expect perfection from me, if a convenience food saves time - worth thinking about.

Bean and Franks: serves 4
8 (canned) frankfurters
2 oz lard or dripping
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
2 x 450g cans baked beans in tomato sauce
tsp of Worcestershire sauce OR...
...dash of Tabasco sauce
ground black pepper
ready grilled rashers of bacon for serving
Cut the franks into 2" lengths. Melt lard in a heat-proof casserole and saute the onion and pepper until softened. Add the beans, franks and and chosen sauce, pepper to taste. Mix well, cover and cook at 325C, 170F, gas 3 for approx 15 - 20 minutes or until heated through. Serve with grilled bacon.

The Ultimate Convenient Casserole: serves 4
1 can braised steak
1 x 275g (10oz) pack frozen mixed veg, thawed
1 pk dehydrated French onion soup
1 tblsp cornflour
15 fl oz (45oml) water
1 vegetable or beef stock cube
2 large potatoes, cooked
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Empty the can of steak into the casserole and cover with the thawed vegetables. Blend the dry soup and cornflour together, stir in the stock (made with the water and stock cube) and pour this over the veg. Slice the potatoes and lay these on top. No need for a lid. Cook at 325C, 170F, gas 3 for half an hour or until the contents are hot and the potatoes are browning nicely. Sprinkle with the parsley before serving.

Ham Rollups: serves 4
8 slices cooked ham (square or oblong in shape)
Dijon mustard
8 slices processed Cheddar cheese
1 can condensed celery soup
2 fl. oz water
Spread ham thinly with mustard and place a slice of cheese on top, roll up and secure with cocktails sticks.
Place the rolls in a single layer in a buttered and shallow ovenproof dish. Mix the soup and water together and pour this over the ham. Cover with foil and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for approx. half an hour or until heated through. Serve with boiled rice or hot crusty bread.

Quick Chicken Casserole: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter or marg
4 chicken portions
1 can condensed chicken soup
2 fl. oz dry sherry
2 oz (5og) grated Cheddar cheese
Melt butter in a flame-proof casserole and fry chicken until golden brown all over. Mix the chicken soup and sherry together, pour this over the chicken and sprinkle with the cheese. Cover the pot and place in the oven at the usual 170C, 325F, gas 3 and cook for approx 1 hour or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the lid for the final 15 minutes of cooking time. Serve as above dish, with rice or bread.
Tip: instead of the sherry use a can of condensed chicken and white wine soup.

Moving on to a few less 'convenient' but still easy and economical casseroles to make using what we already have (if no-one is looking, use instant potato to make the mash).
Cheesey Potato Pie: serves 4
1 pint measure mashed potato
1 oz (25g)plain flour
salt and pepper
4 eggs, separated
15fl oz (425ml) sour cream or creme fraiche
quarter pint measure grated Cheddar cheese
grilled bacon or sausagesfor serving
Mix together the potato and flour together and season to taste. Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the sour cream and beat together, then - reserving 2 tblsp - stir in the grated cheese. Mix potato into the cream mixture. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold a couple or so tablespoons of the white into the potato mixture to slacken, then fold in the rest. Pour into a greased ovenproof casserole and scatter the remaining cheese on the top. Bake, uncovered, for approx 30 minutes at 190C, 375F, gas 5 until golden brown. Serve immediately with the grilled bacon or sausages.
Tip: if serving with sausages, these could be cooked in the oven at the same time as the casserole.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Seasonal Suggestions

Thanks for your comments.
Interesting to read that you have managed to buy tapioca Ceridwen, as have not seen that for sale for many years, and see no reason why it couldn't be cooked overnight in a slow cooker. My book tells me it can be ground down into flour and perhaps used for coating food that need frying or as a thickening agent. Ordinary (not ground) tapioca can also be used in place of pasta or pearl barley in soups etc. A classic Brazilian tapioca pudding is made as we would an English one, but they use red wine or grape juice where we could milk, and they serve it cold with vanilla flavoured cream. So a good chance to experiment with the product in many different ways.

Really appreciate you sending that list of running costs of electrical appliances Moira, and was shocked to see how much fuel was used when roasting a chicken, for it has got to the point now where we have to add a good 50p more to the price of the bird before it is served up at the table. As ever, fill that oven as full as you can every time it is turned on, and use the residual heat to cook meringues and biscuits when it is turned off.
Remember that, rather similar to microwaves, the more there is in the oven at any one time, the longer things can take to cook, having a fan oven helps as this means the temperature can be reduced a notch, so uses less heat and the heat itself circulates evenly around the food being cooked. It crosses my mind that it could be useful to publish a cook book or three where every recipe cooks at the same oven temperature, then it should be easier to get that oven filled to capacity without having to search through endless books.

Oh, Cheesepare, what an interesting time I had yesterday taking note of your mention of Fortnum and Mason's website. Yet, looking through the various picnic hampers found them very strange. Take one of those with us on a picnic and we would find ourselves very short of the necessary. Fancy teas need fresh boiling water and a china tea pot, cups and saucers to do them justice, and despite the inclusion of some preserves and pickles nothing was there to spread them onto - no bread, scones etc. Plenty of wines but not a lot of food. Perhaps this is the refined way of eating - like just a nibble as long as there is plenty of plonk. Possibly the only useful hamper was the Ploughman's, but again have never heard of the cheeses included, and still no bread!Not even sure if there was any beer.

Decided instead to look at the various goodies for sale. Everything of course was sold with no weights mentioned, at least not on the pages I looked at. Suppose when you have money, you don't need to ask how much you get when you buy (similar to Bond Street where the clothes in the windows have no price tags). Goes without saying everything seemed to be treble or quadruple the price than if we bought something similar locally. Everyone expects to pay a lot more for quality, so we have to allow for that, but are some things THAT important, for when whole black peppercorns are £7.95 as again £2.75p for the best quality sold in the supermarket (can be bought for less), and Curry Paste at over twice the price of Patak's (which is very good indeed) you wonder if anyone would notice the difference. The price of Curry Power shocked me, for it does not keep its flavour THAT long, and was 5p short of £8 (as against a penny under £2 if I cared to 'something similar' here). Packs of dried porcini mushrooms were twice the price of a pack looking remarkably similar in Tesco's, and a small jar of mint sauce was priced at £3.50p.
Most preserves seemed to be in standard sized jars (possibly 12oz) but when blackberry and apple jam (sorry, preserve) is £5.95p a jar, Rose Petal Jelly £8.95p, and Rhubarb and Ginger £6.65, think all we home-cooks can sit back with a smirk on our face. Even smallish pots of Lemon Curd were £3.75p - and did expect them to charge more considering it is more fiddly to make than jam (unless made in the microwave).

Recently mentioned making antipasti, and F & M were selling jars of this (chargrilled artichokes, sweet peppers and roasted onions, bottled in olive oil) for £12.50p. Also baby onions bottled in balsamic vinegar for £7.50p. The price of canned sardines started at £2.25p a can (dare I mention I still prefer Tesco's 35p a can, and even their sardines at 17p a can taste very little different to those more expensive). Have noticed there are branded cans of sardines 9in Tesco) that are sold boneless (and cost more because of it), yet it is the bones we need to eat as they contain plenty of calcium.

Margot, in The Good Life would certainly have taken a hamper to her picnic filled by F & M or Harrods (if they do them). In our case the Goode Life hamper would be filled with much cheaper ingredients, but like to feel they could stand up and be counted. What would I include? If based on the website hampers, seemingly not a lot (they didn't offer that much in the way of food, plenty of leaf tea and wine though) but our hamper would most probably start off with: a picnic pie (recipe below), assorted chilled salads, scones, butter and jam . Fruitcake, cheese (bought), biscuits and grapes. Sparkling wine or fruit juices. Why get poncy about the whole thing? Keep it simple and tasty - and as much as possible home-made.

As a reminder, many months ago mentioned that I used to make marmalades for a well-known stately home in the area. These were sold in their shop for about 6 times the price that I charged. Perhaps I could have charged more, after all had to travel some half-hour or more to deliver them, all they had to do was stick on labels. Even so I made a profit (although was not out to make a lot of money, just enjoyed mixing with the nobs). Point being made is that we should all be able to make truly wonderful foods in our own kitchens that would cost a bomb if sold in a shop, and still at low cost to us. Make sure your families know and appreciate what you provide for them. A good cook should never be taken for granted (although often they are).

Have a comment sent in by Angela re minced beef and curry. Thanks for telling me about the keema curry made with mince and delved my head into various books to find the recipe. So far have only managed to find one that mentions keema and that is for patties made with minced lamb but is served as a curry dish. One Indian cook-book tends to favour chunks of cooked lamb/chicken/beef in their recipes for biriyani, but another does use mince, and strangely our excellent local curryhouse seems always to use mince when making theirs, so horses for courses I suppose. It is always good to hear of new dishes, so thanks Angela.

My goodness, the rain came down yesterday, never seen such a torrent. Was just like someone pouring a huge bowl of water from up above. Fortunately didn't last too long, but long enough to flood the drive for a few minutes, luckily it slopes down and there is a gutter nearby. The other night we had thunderstorms, and today the weather could turn nasty again. More rain is forecast in the early part of the week. Perhaps we have now had our summer. Oh for those days when summer was pleasantly warm without all the excessive heat we seem to get these days. We did have hot days of course, remember my Dad showing me how it was hot enough to fry an egg on the paving stone in the garden, but the sun never seemed to scorch our bodies as it does now. Or it is my memory playing tricks again?

Moving back to picnic foods. Here is a recipe for a picnic pie - taken from Have a Goode Year, and because it was fairly economical gave it an old-fashioned name.
Humble Pie: makes 18 x 2" (5cm) squares
8 oz (225g) chicken livers, trimmed
1 oz (25g) butter
2 oz (50g) mushrooms, sliced
2 eggs
1 lb (450g) sausagemeat
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
freshly ground black pepper
12 oz (350g) shortcrust pastry
Finely chop the chicken livers. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the liver and mushrooms. Stir/cook for 2 - 3 minutes to brown the livers. Remove from heat and cool, then mix together with the sausagemeat, herbs, eggs and season to taste.
On a floured board divide the pastry in half and roll one piece into an oblong to line a baking tin 12"x 6" (30 x 15cm). Spread the meat mixture over the pastry, then roll out the remaining pastry and lay on the top. Brush with beaten egg and prick the surface with a fork (or make small slashes with a knife). Bake for 30 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6, then reduce heat to 180C, 350, gas 4 and bake for a further hour. Cover lightly with foil (shiny side up) if browning too quickly. Cool in the tin then cut into squares to serve.

Here is the paupers version of Beef Wellington and, because several of the ingredients are mixed into the meat, a little less of the expensive protein (if you can call mince expensive) could be used and more of the cheaper.
As this will freeze, one to prepare and make ready for the sunny day when it appears (hopefully one weekend), then this can either be served for a family, a picnic or make two or more for a buffet.
Poor Man's Wellies: served 4 - 6 (F)
1 lb (450g) minced beef
1 thick slice bread, crumbed
1 onion, finely chopped
4 oz (100g) mushrooms, roughly chopped or sliced
half tsp dried mixed herbs
2 tblsp sweet pickle
salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 x 227g (8oz) pack puff pastry
Keeping back 1 tlsp of the egg, mix all the ingredients together (except the pastry). Grease, line and grease again a 1lb (450g) loaf tin and spoon in the mixture, pressing the top flat. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 1 hour until firm and the mixture is shrinking from the sides. Cool in the tin, then turn out and peel away the paper.
Roll the pastry out and trim to an oblong 13" x 11" (33 x 28cm) and place the cooled beef loaf in the centre. Brush edges of the pastry with water and wrap over the meat pressing out as much air as possible and sealing the edges well together. Place on a wetted baking sheet with the fold edge of the pastry under. If you wish cut pastry scraps into leaves to decorate the top (wet the underside so they stick on), then brush the lot with the reserved egg. At this point it can be frozen: open freeze, then wrap in foil, seal label and use within three months. To cook from freezer: unwrap, place on baking sheet, thaw 4 - 6 hours in the fridge then bake as from fresh (see below).
Bake at 225C, 425F, gas 7 for 12 minutes, then reduce heat to 180C, 350F, gas 4 and continue baking for 30 minutes until heated through and the pastry is a good golden brown. Can be eaten hot with vegetables and a good gravy or passata type sauce, or eaten cold and sliced.

As not everyone eats meat, here is a vegetarian version of a nut roast which also eats well hot or cold. A slice wrapped in lettuce leaves and tucked into pitta bread would make a good picnic munch, brunch or lunch.
Peanut Loaf: serves 4 - 6
3 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
8 oz (225g) mushrooms, sliced
8 oz (225g) peanuts, chopped
4 oz (100g) fresh breadcrumbs, pref brown
8 oz (226g) mashed potatoes
1 egg, beaten
1 tblsp soy sauce
1 tblsp tomato puree or ketchup
1 tblsp chopped fresh coriander or chosen herb
salt and pepper
Heat 2 tblsp of the oil in a pan and fry the onion and celery for a few minutes until softened, then stir in the garlic and fry for a further minute. Mix the peanuts, breadcrumbs and potato together, then mix in the fried onion mixture , the egg, soy sauce and tomato puree. Season to taste and stir in the herbs.
Heat remaining oil in the pan and fry the mushrooms for 3 minutes. Take half the nut mixture and press this into a greased and lined 2lb (900g) loaf tin, cover the mixture with the mushrooms and press remaining nut mixture on top. Level and cover with foil. Bake for 1 hour at 180C, 350F, gas 4 then cool in the tin for five minutes before turning out onto a serving dish. Can be served hot or cold. Good with green vegetables/salads.

Another recipe which would eat as well at a picnic as at home is for a sweet type of loaf - more a tea-bread than bread as we know it, and also leans towards being a carrot cake. Whatever, it is very good sliced and spread with butter. This can also be frozen, so one to make when the oven will be on for something else.
Sweet Harvest-time Loaf: serves 6 - 8 (F)
3 eggs
6 fl.oz (170ml) sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz (150g) carrots, coarsely grated
5 oz (125g) desiccated coconut
6 oz (150g) cooking apples, peeled, cored, grated
4 oz (100g) walnut pieces, chopped
4 fl oz (100ml) runny honey
6 oz (150g) raisins or sultanas
7 oz (175g) self-raising wholewheat flour, sifted
half tsp ground cinnamon
half tsp freshly grated nutmeg
pinch salt
Beat together the eggs, oil, vanilla, the beat in the carrots, coconut and apples, the walnuts, dried fruit and the honey. Sift the flour with the spices and salt and gently mix this into the wet mixture. Turn into a greased 2 lb (900g) loaf tin and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for a good hour or until a skewer comes out cleanly. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes then turn out onto a cake airer to cool. Serve: sliced and buttered.
To freeze: overwrap the loaf when it has cooled down, seal and label. Freeze and use within 6 months. To serve: thaw at room temperature for 4 - 5 hours, then slice and butter.