Monday, February 16, 2009

Potential Possibilities

Using 2 oz (50g) home-ground caster sugar (5p worth) and a 'free' egg white that we so often find left over (or even deliberately saved when frying several eggs in one pan), we can make meringues that over the counter that could have cost us at least £1. After drying out then stored in air-tight containers they can keep for months.
Spend half the money saved on a small pot of double cream and this with some 'free' fruit (blackberries etc) and the meringue made into a 'pavlova' this could then turn into a stunning dessert which works out at 10p per serving (based on serving 6 - and it could serve 8).

Porridge oats ground down to a coarse flour in the blender/processor, together with a pinch of salt and bound with 'free' bacon dripping, can be rolled out into those thin oat biscuits that eat so well with cheese, to be 'cooked/dried off' in a cooling oven. A pack of similar could sell as much as 8 times the cost of home-made.

Once upon a time I was a packet-mix addict, and can still be if I lose control. It was after making up a pack of white sauce mix and reading the ingredients on the back that I realised it was basically nothing much more than cornflour, and as a packet of this already stood in my cupboard, why in earth was I not making it scratch? So I did, and it took only seconds longer. What we need to remember that in most cases we have to make up the mix with milk anyway, so the cost of the milk has to be added onto the cost of the pack.

A cheat's way to make a passable bechamel sauce (flavoured white sauce) is to make it using home-made vegetable stock and dried milk powder with a little cornflour to thickened. A cheese sauce mix is mainly cornflour and dried (yuk!) cheese. Although no cheaper than a packet mix (as no milk need be used probably works out much the same) a small tub of creme fraiche heated with plenty of grated cheese from the fridge is even quicker to prepare, and a great deal more luxurious.

Yesterday, bringing out a pack of minced lamb bought from the supermarket (hanging my head in shame as we normally buy meat from the butcher) - to thaw for tonight's Shepherd's Pie, noticed on the label "a mixture of lamb and mutton" - and a red warning light switched on in my head. Cut for cut, mutton is tougher than lamb, so the mince might need longer cooking. Have just about got to the stage where I do not trust any minced meat (other than bought at the butcher), for it often seems to come from the cheapest cuts, and even though minced, still requires long cooking to become tender.
Not at all sure what frozen minced beef is made of, as when it is in the pan and thawed, it just turns into a mush which seems very dubious. The very best minced beef is minced steak and this is best of all when bought from a butcher as it cooks to tender within minutes (great fuel saving). If the price is right, we could do well to buy one of the topside or similar joints when on half-price offer at the supermarkets, and then mince this ourselves and freeze away in small packs until needed. Table-top mincing machines are coming back into fashion, and well worth getting. Myself have two, one that belonged to my mother, and the other to my mother-in-law, both slightly different, but being metal (iron?) they have lasted. The newer models are often made of plastic.

Once we begin to mince our own meats, we can progress to making our own 'burgers, be they beef, lamb, chicken or pork. There are even little gadgets on sale to help us make these, and they are very good, coming complete with layering film to place between each, but have to say not essential as a large scone cutter could be used as a mould - the meat pressed inside to the depth needed.
Recently on TV chefs have said that when using quality minced meat (other than pork) it is not essential to cook a burger right the way through as this can make it tough. If we prefer it well cooked, then sear the burgers on both sides in hot oil (or under the grill), then turn the heat down and let them gently cook through - this tends to keep them moister.

Only one recipe today and so-called 'no-bake', although it has a certain amount of cooking on the hob. Apart from the bonus of not needing an oven, the one recipe can be turned into two quite distinctly textured and flavoured biscuits - one an oatmeal cookie, the other a peanut slice.
Basic 'no-bake' cookie mix: makes about 2 dozen
12 oz (350g) granulated sugar
3 oz (85ml) milk
2 oz (50g) butter
1 tblsp cocoa
2 drops vanilla extract
9 oz (250g) quick-cook porridge oats
(3 oz (75g) peanut butter for slices only)
Put the first five ingredients into a pan and heat gently until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Boil for 2 minutes, then stir in the oats and boil for a further minute.

oatmeal cookies:
Spread a sheet of waxed or baking parchment on a baking sheet. Using half the above mixture, drop heaped teaspoons onto the paper and flatten slightly to make biscuits. Leave for several hours to harden.

peanut slices:
Line a baking sheet as above. Blend the peanut butter into the remaining half of the cookie mixture, and spread in a thin layer. Leave to firm up, then mark into squares or oblongs with a knife. Leave overnight in a cool place to harden, then snap into even pieces.

tip for the day:
If a block of marzipan has gone hard, grate some of it and add to a crumble mix.
Grate frozen pastry scraps to add with a little bit of sugar and a few oats to make another crumble mix. Or use to thickly top a pie without having to roll out the pastry.