Sunday, February 08, 2009

Keeping it Simple

A good idea Jennifer about keeping part-baked bread in store, and hadn't realised it need not be frozen and also has a good shelf life. Thanks for telling us about this.

A slow-cooker might be very useful to you Kathryn for there is nothing like having a hot meal ready when you get in from work. With a little organisation you can save time in the morning by putting the meat (frozen or raw) in the pot with maybe some onions and also cold water, prior to going to bed, then the next day all you need do is switch it on as you leave for work. If cooking beef a can of oxtail soup could be used as the 'gravy although myself might stir in an oxtail cuppa soup to the liquid in the pot.
Chicken joints cooke particularly well in the crock-pot (alternative name for a slow-cooker), and these would cook well in the contents of a can of chicken soup. If needing plenty of 'gravy', use condensed soups that have been diluted with water.
If wishing to cook veggies in the pot at the same time, these need to be diced or sliced thinly, as they need a higher heat to become tender, or they could be prepared the evening before, blanched for 4 minutes in boiling water, then drained, chilled under cold running water, and then placed in the pot nearest the source of the heat, with the meat laid on top. Pre-blanched 'crock-pot casserole' vegetables could be prepared weeks in advance, then packed in the amounts needed and frozen. Defrost overnight so they don't chill down the pot in the morning.

Other things can be cooked in slow-cookers, such as over-night cooking of porridge or pre-soaked pulses, although it is necessary to fast boil the red beans for 8 minutes to get rid of toxins before lowing the heat and letting them cook on. I do this with most dried beans now anyway.
After the initial boiling, the still-hard beans could be added to a casserole as they will cook on with the rest of the ingredients, so it should be possible to make a sort of cassoulet.
There are books written giving recipes just for using crock-pots/slow-cookers, and there should be plenty more details about 'how to use and what to cook' given on the Internet. Because these cookers (allegedly) use only the fuel used by a light bulb, not only are they useful to make a ready-and-waiting meal after a day out, they are also one of the cheapest ways to cook. Another advantage is that the food is cooked at so low a temperature and for so long that it will rarely spoil by over-long cooking, A delay on returning home is never then a worry.

Just loved the way you counted out your king prawns Stewpam. A girl after my own heart, for I do exactly the same thing - even with Brussels sprouts (but not with peas - these I measure by the tablespoonful). Even doing something like this we control the amount we use and so often gain an extra meal. A simple but tasty meal you made yourself by adjusting a rice recipe and adding those prawns - making a saving of £4! Think I shall have to begin handing out gold stars.

The sharing of shopping and meal ideas is bringing us all closer together and am so pleased that Moira and Eileen are holding virtual hands. As to running out of flour Moira, across the pond they do use an 'all purpose' flour which is slightly stronger than ours - and a mix of about one third strong flour to two thirds of our 'weak' flour (the one we normally use for baking). When sifted together this makes excellent pastry and profiteroles, and can also be used for some cakes where extreme lightness is not needed. So when running short of the normal flour, extend it with some of the strong. Some pastry and also pasta is also better when made with a stronger flour.
Cannot remember whether you are fond of spiced foods Moira, but as you mentioned lamb am enclosing a couple of recipes for an easy curry dishes which, although made with raw lamb, should work nearly as well using cooked lamb as this absorb the flavours. Just reduce the cooking times.

Eileen, your mention of defrosting freezers reminded me of the way we kept our frozen food when defrosting our huge chest freeze. We used to pile the food in the freezer baskets and then tuck these inside sleeping bags, or wrap the lot up in a duvet. This insulated them and they would stay frozen for ages.
After cleaning and drying out the freezer, hope you remembered my tip: wipe glycerine (available from a chemist) round the insides of the freezer, from the very top (and also along the rim where the lid sits, to about halfway down where the ice tends to disappear anyway. The glycerine works as a barrier between the ice and sides, so next time you need to defrost, just slip a plastic spatula or the blade of a butter knife between the ice and the freezer sides and the whole lot should come off in one sheet, saving all that time spent scraping down.

Agree with you Eileen about the flavour of beer when used in cakes (and also good when used in a beef casserole - like Carbonnade). There are two recipes on this site that have cakes made with beer, one is Brewery Cake on 15th Dec. '06 (and how long ago that seems now), and Cake 'n Ale on 26th Sept. '07. Your suggestion of adding it to gingerbread also sounds good. Am even now contemplating whether a dash of beer would not go amiss added to beef when making my next Cottage Pie.

However much we do like to cook, there are times when we HAVE no time, and serving a quick meal seems far more important than serving a tasty meal. But who says quick meals cannot be tasty?
Often we make the mistake of thinking a quick meal has to be one that is started from scratch and finished within minutes, and believe me there are plenty of these already on this site, but to me a quick meal can also be more to do with the speed of preparaton - then allowing it to cook on all by itself. Quick to prepare, quick to make - almost the same thing.
Simple dishes are slightly different, and - as before - can be quick to prepare, but the main difference between fast food and simple food is that the latter is generally a simplified version of a dish that can be much more complicated if prepared and cooked in the classic way.

We begin with three easy-to-make curry dishes. The first being a rice dish. The spices used are the ones we cooks should strive to keep in our stores, but if we are missing one or two, then use as many ingredients that are given as possible. Flaked almonds are a possible alternative to cashew nuts.
Pilau Rice: serves 4
9 oz (250g) long-grain rice (pref basmati)
2 bay leaves
3 tblsp sunflower oil
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 oz (50g) cashew nuts
6 cardamoms, crushed to extract seeds
3 whole cloves
12 black peppercorns
zest of half a small lemon
17 fl oz (470ml) water or chicken stock
good pinch rock or sea salt
Put the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Add the bay leaves. Leave to soak for at least half an hour (the longer it soaks the faster it will cook. If soaking for several hours, you may need extra water.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat, and add the shallots, nuts, cardamoms, cloves, peppercorns and lemon zest, and stir/fry for about 3 minutes or until the onions are lightly coloured.
Drain the rice well, then add to the pan, stirring well to mix everything together, then add the water and salt. Simmer for 9 minutes (less if the rice has been soaked for longer), then cover and turn off the heat and leave for a further 10 - 15 minutes. Fluff up with a fork before serving.

A lamb curry that uses a small amount of meat as it also contains butternut squash or pumpkin, and split peas, When using any peas or beans that require soaking, do not add salt until the end of the cooking time as it prevents them softening.
Mutton (or lamb) Dhansak: serves 4
2 large onions, finely chopped
5 oz (150g) chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
8 oz (225g) butternut squash, peeled and finely chopped
6 tblsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
6 tblsp chopped fresh mint leaves
5 oz (150g) split peas
10 oz (300g) lean lamb, cubed
1 tsp each turmeric, chilli powder, sugar
16 fl oz (450ml) water
4 tblsp distilled vinegar
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
pinch of salt
Put all but last three ingredients in a saucepan and cook until the lamb and split peas are soft. Carefully remove the pieces of meat and mash the vegetable and split peas down using a wooden spoon or potato masher. Return the meat to the pan, add the vinegar and salt and stir.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan, and fry the cumin seeds, then pour this over the curry in the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes until heated through. Serve hot.

Was it yesterday the recipe was given for making flaky pastry? Wish I''d discovered this extra-quick method of making puff pastry at the time, for it would have been included. It comes from an American 'food-processor' cookbook, so the measurement are given in 'cups' - 1 cup = 8 fl oz measure (by volume not weight). Find the right size mug or teacup and we can be well on our way to making puff pastry the simple way. Once made, the pastry will keep for up to a week in the fridge, and can also be frozen. For all-purpose flour, see above in my replies to your comments.
Quick Puff Pastry: (F)
12 oz (350g) butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
half tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sour cream or creme fraiche
Cut the butter into 15 - 18 slices. Using the steel blade in a food processor, put the butter, flour and salt into the bowl and blitz for a few seconds until the butter has been chopped coarsely into the flour. Remove cover and add the sour cream. Replace cover and pulse until the mixture has formed a ball. Do not overwork.
Remove the ball of dough and divide in half. Flatten each and wrap in clingfilm, the chill for about an hour, but not leaving it too long to become too firm.
Roll pastry out into an oblong about 6" x 16" (15cm x 40.5cm) and approx half inch (1 cm) thick. Fold into thirds - top to middle , then bottom up over that - making a smaller rectangle. Turn so the open end is facing, then roll and repeat the folding process. This can be repeated as many as 6 times, but always chill for half an hour between each two 'turns'. Then wrap and chill/freeze until ready to use.

tips when using puff pastry:
Usually rolled slightly thicker than eighth of an inch.
Edges should be trimmed to help the pastry rise.
Sprinkle baking sheets with water before baking and lay pastry up- side down.
Improve surface by glazing with two layers of egg, but do not allow glaze to run over the edges or this glues the layers together and prevents the pastry puffing up.
Always chill pastry after rolling and before baking, and pastry should go directly from fridge or freezer to oven.
The pastry puffs better when put in the upper third of a hot oven, and when puffed and browned, can be put on a lower shelf and the heat reduced (or turned off) to finish drying it.
Puff pastry never spreads but shrinks slightly as it puffs upwards, so if covering a pie, make it oversize.
Puff pastry should feel crisp on the edges when it is done, and always best eaten the day it is baked.
Although the pastry may not be perfect at first, it is always good.

Chocolate (fondant) Puddings: makes 4 (F)
butter, softened
cocoa powder or caster sugar
4 oz (100g) dark chocolate, chopped
4 oz (100g) butter, diced
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
4 oz (100g) plain flour
First take four individual moulds (see above) and grease well with the melted butter, then add a spoon of the sugar or cocoa powder and turn t mould around until the sides are completely coated. Remove an excess.
Place in the fridge to chill and set the butter.
Melt the chocolate and diced butter together in a bowl standing over simmering water. When melted, remove from the heat, stir well to combine then leave to cool slightly for about 10 minutes.
In another bowl beat together the whole eggs, the egg yolks and the sugar until thick and a trail is left when the whisk is lifted. Sift in the flour then beat together. Add the chocolate mixture a little at a time, beating well after each addition, then pour this mixture into the moulds (more easily done if the mix has been transferred to a jug), chill for at least half an hour (or longer). At this point the puddings can be frozen. To bake from frozen, add 5 minutes on to the cooking time.
To cook the puddings, place on a baking tray and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 10 - 12 minutes. The top should appear crusty and the pudding beginning to pull away from the sides. When ready, remove from heat but allow them to stand for 1 - 2 minutes before turning out.
To help removal from mould, carefully slide the tip of a knife between the pud and the container and tip out onto a serving plate. If still stuck on the base, stand the bottom of the container in a saucer of cold water for a minute and this usually works.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice-cream.

Final recipe today if for those who might have some whole cranberries left over from Christmas. They keep for ages in the fridge, so worth using up in this rather special chutney that will keep for 6 months stored in a cool dark place. Best bottled in small jars as once opened the chutney should be kept in the fridge and used up within a couple of weeks. Good eaten with turkey, chicken, other cold meats and also cheeses.
Cranberry and Apple Chutney: makes 2 lb (1 kg )
1 lb 2 oz (500g) cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
9 oz (250g) eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped
9 oz (250g) onions thinly sliced
1 oz (25g) root ginger, grated
86black peppercorns
9 oz (250g) granulated sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) cider vinegar
9 oz (250g) cranberries
Put all ingredients except the cranberries nto a large saucepan, and heat gently, sirring often, until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the simmer, then cook, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, stirring frequently, until the apples and onions are very tender. When ready, the mixture should be thick and very little liquid runs out when a wooden spoon has dragged a path across the base of the pan.
Stir in the cranberries, then cook for several more minutes until these have just begun to soften. Do not cook too long or the berries will burst.
Spoon immediately into small hot sterilised jars, and seal with vinegar-proof lids. Store in a cool dry place for up to six months. Once opened keep in the fridge.