Friday, January 16, 2009

Take Five

Take the breakfast dish of fried bread, eggs, tomatoes and bacon ( five ingredients if you count the oil or butter). Almost the full English, sans the sausage. These can be cooked and eaten as a standard 'fry-up', or served in a much healthier way by plating up scrambled (or poached) eggs on toast with grilled tomatoes and bacon on the side. Another way could be to make 'eggy bread' fried in a little butter and top this with the grilled or fried tomatoes and bacon. Often it is fun to play around with a few ingredients and see just how much can be made from them. The chefs do something very similar on Ready Steady Cook, although possibly with a more elaborate outcome than the above.

Once we begin to think about it, many dishes do contain the same ingredients but in a different form. Beef, potatoes, carrots and gravy can be roast dinner, yet another day be the makings for a Cottage Pie. With the addition of a can of tomatoes, these could then turn into end a spag.bol sauce or form the base of a chilli con carne. Once cooked, and whizzed together these four or five ingredients would also make a flavoursome soup. Sometimes cooking can be easier than we think.

Whenever possible (both for ease and economy) we should try to keep ingredients down to just a few. Five should be quite enough - and however lengthy the ingredient list for a savoury recipe can appear, there should still be no more than three main ingredients, possibly only one. The 'secondary ones' are there for nourishment and 'padding' (usually vegetables, pasta etc), and the remainder normally to add flavouring (herbs, spices etc). Perhaps this is simplifying a recipe too much, but by adjusting the variety and amounts of the secondary and remaining ingredients is the way to turn it into something slightly (or completely) different - thus offering up a new dish to be tried, when really it is only a variation of the original. Every cookery book and mag will have come up with the almost the same recipe (spag. bol meat sauce for instance), but just slightly different enough for it to be included. In one we may read "add a pinch of salt" and in another "add a quarter teaspoon of salt" and that is how it works. Myself would include 1 tsp of sugar, for this improves the flavour of any dish containing tomatoes as these are very acidic. Even a wee sprinkling of sugar over sliced tomatoes served with a salad improves their flavour immensely, and for some reason, a sprinkling of sugar over lettuce has the same effect. This culinary 'flavour enhancer' tip was given to my by my best friend's mother when I was a schoolgirl, and have used it ever since. It really works.

When we are working to a budget, we do become more cautious about the amount of food we use at any one time - again usually in a savoury dish. Why use a whole carrot or large onion, when half would be enough? Half a large carrot can go quite a long way, but in general we tend to use up the whole carrot in one go, possibly because it is good for us, and maybe using it all does mean we can get away with less meat in the dish. That is a good reason to do so, but when we can get away with using less of anything, this always means there will be some left to use in another dish. It's a bit like not spending all our money in one go. Save some back for another time.

One chicken breast is usually 8 oz (225g) or (with DIY) be much more, and nutritionally we need no more than 4 oz/100g meat (actually 3.5 oz when converted to metrics). So should stores encourage us to serve more than we need?
Ideally, the way to make a chicken breast LOOK more, is to slice it through horizontally to make two thin breast pieces, then bash them even thinner between sheets of clingfilm. After egging, crumbing and frying, these 'chicken escalopes' make a good-sized serving. They look even larger if you egg and crumb them twice.
Another way to use these bashed breasts is to put a little filling on one half: garlic butter, garlic and herb cream cheese etc), fold the other half of the breast over, press the edges together to seal, then egg, crumb and fry. These are then called "chicken Kievs". Having a filling, they look quite 'fat' and no-one can feel they are being short-changed.

We will never see a store suggesting we use half of anything, or suggest how to make something go twice as far, for it will never be to their advantage to do so. What we should all remember is to use only the amount of ingredients that suits our purpose and bodily needs, and this alone should help to reduce our food budget.

Even suggesting to you that doing such and such "...can be a good way to save money", might be construed as 'power of persuasion', but none of us are going to get anywhere unless we read or listen to what is said, then work out for ourselves if something (such as eating a whole chicken breast instead of half or buying frozen mash) makes good sense, or not. We should never blindly follow (we have only to look where that has led in many religions) but always sift the wheat from the chaff and find the way that suits us best.
During a recent interview some of my methods of cost-cutting' were considered 'eccentric'. Not quite sure what that meant, but hope it does not give the impression I am a doddery oddity.

Thisdish has to come high in my favourites list, so almost certainly this or a similar recipe will be been posted before, but always worth giving again for not only is it a great cold-weather dish, it can use up all sort of 'meaty' and other oddments that we may keep in our fridge or freezer. Considering the ingredients, the cassoulet is not a million miles away from the recipe for Boston Baked Beans. Which just goes to show how so many of the recipes around the world can be very similar.

Again a lengthy ingredient list (should I apologise for this?), and there is no real 'main' ingredient, for nearly all of have a reason to be there, each adding its own flavour to the dish. Miss one out and a regular eater of Cassoulet would immediately notice this. As with the recipe above, this is one to make the day before, then chill overnight to reheat up the following day. Alternatively, allow an extra 15 minutes cooking time and then add the bread and cheese topping, returning the casserole to the oven to allow the top to brown. When a casserole is allowed to rest in the fridge overnight before being reheated, it does give a much greater depth of flavour.
Easy Cassoulet: serves 4
4 oz (100g) dried red kidney beans (or other)
4 oz (100g) dried haricot beans (or similar)
1 large onion, sliced
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 can (approx 450g) plum tomatoes, chopped
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 tblsp black treacle
half pint (300ml) beef stock
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) lean ham/gammon, diced
4 chicken wings
4 oz (100g) smoked spiced sausage (eg chorizo), diced
2 oz (50g) butter
2 tblsp stale breadcrumbs
2 oz (100g) grated hard cheese
Soak the dried beans overnight in cold water, then drain well. Fry the onions in the oil for a few minutes, then stir in the garlic, tomatoes, tomato puree, treacle, stock and seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes, then add the beans.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the ham/gammon, chicken wings and spiced sausage over medium heat until lightly browned.
Put half the bean mixture into an ovenproof casserole, add the assorted meats, then cover with remaining beans. Cover and cook at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for one hour fifteen minutes, then cool, keep covered and chill in the fridge overnight.
The following day, remove the cover from the casserole, give the contents a stir, then sprinkle the bread and cheese over the top and return to the pre-heated oven (temp as above), leaving the pot uncovered and cook on for 35 minutes, by which time the crumbs should be golden and the casserole heated through.