Monday, September 28, 2009

Fingers on the Pulse

Yesterday cooked the three that I had soaked overnight: red kidney beans, cannellini beans, and the chickpeas. Checking prices see that Tesco are selling the dried chickpeas at a reduced price of 43p for 500g. The other two beans still at normal price up to 80p per 500g, but other stores may sell them cheaper.
Did not weigh the beans after soaking and cooking as they all absorbed at least twice their weight in water so each 500g pack must have come to at least 1500g cooked weight, probably more, and when cooking also appeared to take in more liquid. Each type of pulse - once cooked and drained - filled 2 x 1 litre ice-cream tubs.
When all the pulses had been cooked (each taking about 45 minutes), they were drained, spread out on a baking sheet and left to dry off slightly - this helps to prevent them sticking together when freezing. Another way to help keep them separate is to drizzle a little oil over them while they are still hot in the colander and give them a shake.

Apart from the chickpeas - these having a slightly nutty flavour - the other two beans, despite one being dark red, the other white, both tasted much the same. Most beans of this type are very similar in flavour. If mashed and then blind-tasted would defy anyone to be able to say which bean they were eating. Yet the colours, shapes and sizes can be quite different. However good a dish tastes, it is more appreciated if it also looks good, and using different coloured beans really helsp.
Most of the time we fancy trying a recipe just because we see a photograph of the dish, we cannot smell it, we cannot taste it, but it looks 'good enough to eat'. So 'eye appeal' is more important that might expect. For one thing a good looking dish (of the edible kind) can tempt jaded appetites and picky children.

We have become used to seeing a specific type of bean in a dish, so chilli con carne would not be the same if white beans were used instead of the traditional red. Baked beans would not be enjoyed if made with the larger butterbeans instead of the haricot beans. When we are used to the appearance of something we do not care to see it altered. But this doesn't mean we can't change it if we wish. a bean is a bean is a bean, so use what you have.

Yesterday seemed to have an inspired moment. When it came to cooking the cannellini beans (these look similar to haricot beans) noticed a tablespoon of golden syrup in a jug that I had managed to rescue from the almost empty syrup tin. Heating the tin by standing it in hot water had softened the syrup so that every last little bit stuck to the sides and bottom was able to be poured out - or I could have added a little hot water to the tin, stirred it into the syrup and removed it that way. In the past may well have thrown an 'empty' tin or bottle out, but not these days - every last bit is rinsed out to be used in whatever way possible. Even the bottles are kept for preserves, and some of the more attractive tins used to hold pens or small flower pots..

Back to the syrup. What I was trying to say before I led myself astray was that I had decided to add the syrup to the pan with a little more water and cook the cannellini in this. Once cooked, a couple or so tablespoons of beans were removed and drained and to these stirred in a little tomato ketchup (another 'end of jar'). The end result not a million miles away from baked beans as we know them, both in appearance and flavour.

When I serve baked beans, B always wants the beans but not the sauce, and to make sure of this he has to have first bite of the cherry, and using a slotted spoon carefully drains the beans onto his plate. This means I (or any other visitors for that matter) end up with a lot of sauce and few beans , so now usually drain the can of beans through a sieve before heating or serving.
Usually I freeze the surplus sauce to later add to a spag bol or soup, but feel now that the slightly sweet cannellini beans could be reheated in this and end up looking and tasting almost like proper baked beans. Not that many would bother to do this, but when we need to cut costs, this is a very cheap and acceptable way to get beans on toast. Important to add that having before tried this approach (using cooked haricots), they didn't taste nearly as good as yesterday, and feel that it was cooking the beans in the syrupy water that made all the difference this time.

The other day watched a repeat of one of Jamie Oliver's programmes and in this he was cooking his home-grown fresh borlotti beans. These beans are extremely pretty, white flecked with red, although some of the colour is lost in cooking. What he also did was to soak some dried borlotti (any dried bean would do) in cold water in which he had tucked herbs, onion, garlic and - if I remember correctly - a cut tomato, with possibly some spice such as star anise. The idea being to give the beans a lot of different flavours that can be absobed as they soaked.
Perhaps soaking beans in beef stock (using a beef stock cube blended with boiling water) could give them a meaty flavour. This could be useful when we can't afford to use much meat, or any meat. Important to remember that all beans need soaking in COLD water for a good 12 hours before cooking. Don't add salt to the water when soaking or cooking as this toughens the skins.

Beans can be cooked in the water they are soaked in, or they can be drained and cooked in fresh water. If not soaking in flavoured water, then fresh is best for otherwise quite a bit of froth (aka scum) comes to the top of the pan and needs skimming off.
Yesterday removed quite a lot of scum as the beans started to boil, and this was scooped off and tipped into a bowl at the side. For some reason left it there and late evening B came in and asked if it was a mousse and could he eat it. The froth had not collapsed, and it did look rather pretty as slightly pink due to the red beans. Of course it was discarded, but began to wonder if even that could be used in some way. Desperate times and all that...

It was one of our famous female cooks who got herself into real trouble when she gave a recipe using dried red beans with nothing said about the initial fast boil. But doubt at that time whether anyone was aware there were such things as toxins in beans or that they needed to be first boiled at a high temperature rather than just simmered throughout. These toxins do not affect everyone, but one family was made very ill after following her recipe. The fault was found with the beans not being cooked correctly, and this ended up with the cook being successfully sued.
Since then we are all made aware that all beans should be fast boiled for 8 minutes before reducing the heat to a simmer and cooking until tender. Originally the advice was for only the red beans, but now - to be safe - best done with all dried and soaked pulses, other than those that require little or no soaking such as lentils. Always read the cooking instructions on the back of the pack, then you can't go wrong.

The first recipes today are suggestions of how to turn the ordinary into something more unusual. As with most dishes of this kind, the it is the flavoursome and interesting secondary - and relatively cheap - ingredients that help to pad out the dish, the main ingredient being usually the most expensive. For fun calling these "Fork Lift Food", as they are the type that can be just cut and eaten with a fork (or even the fingers) as a snack or with salad as a main course.

Because many of us cannot always spare time to cook from scratch each and every day, these recipes can also be frozen, and as a bonus - as most of us have microwaves - to save even more time, for once am giving this method of cooking. If preferring to use an oven, then cook the Fork Food at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 30 minutes (or from frozen, 225C etc for 35 mins).

These 'Fork Lifts' are made using meats that have been bashed really thinly with a rolling pin between sheets of greaseproof paper or cling-film, thus making a little goe a long way. The idea is to sandwich these together with a tasty filling, cover with breadcrumbs and make them into flattish cakes. Toast the breadcrumbs before using and they will stay crisp in the microwave. If cooking the Fork Lifts in the oven, use fresh breadcrumbs.

toasted breadcrumbs:
2 oz (50g) unsalted butter
8 oz (225g) fresh white breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
Melt the butter, add the crumbs and season to taste. Spread a quarter over a microproof plate and cook on High for 2 mins. Stir to bring middle to sides then cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove, then repeat until all the crumbs have been toasted
Note: Once the butter, crumbs and seasoning have been mixed together, they could all be spread over a baking sheet and grilled/stirred until toasted.

This first Fork Lift is made using chicken breast and depending upon the size/weight of the breast usually we can get away with using two breasts, each sliced through horizontally to end up with the four pieces we need to start with.
Chicken Stack: serves 4 (F)
4 x 4 oz chicken breast (skin removed)
salt and pepper
3 oz (75g ) no-soak apricots, finely chopped
1 oz (25g) butter
3 oz (75g) mushrooms, finely chopped
4 - 6 tblsp sweet pickle (or mango chutney)
1 tsp finely grated orange rind
8 oz (225g ) toasted breadcrumbs
Cut each breast through horizontally, but not quite through and open out butterfly fashion. Flatten out to 9" x 4" (24 x 10cm) and season well. Cut each into three 3" x 4" strips.
Cover one slice with apricots, spread a second slice with a little butter and place this butter side down on top of the apricots, then top this with mushrooms, finally covering with the third piece of chicken. Tuck any overlapping ends in/round/or over.
Warm the pickle or chutney and brush this all over the chicken. Add the orange rind to the breadcrumbs and coat the Fork Lifts in this.
Microwave 2 at a time on High for 5 minutes.
To freeze: freeze uncooked, on a baking tray until solid. Then bag up, seal and label. Use within a month.
To cook from frozen: microwave on High for 7 minutes.

Bean and Sausage Stack: makes four
1 lb (500g) pork sausage meat
salt and pepper
4 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
1 x 440g (15oz) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
4 slices salami
4 tblsp mustard relish
8 oz (225g) toasted breadcrumbs
Divide the sausagemeat into four, roll out each on a floured board to 8" x 4" (20 x 10cm), and sprinkle over a little salt and pepper to taste. Cut each in half to make 2 x 4" squares.
Sprinkle each with the parsley, pressing this into the sausagemeat, then cover half the squares with half the beans (easier to manage if mashed slightly), then cover the beans with the salami. Top with remaining beans and finally with the rest of the sausage squares, pressing the edges lightly together to keep the filling intact.
Warm the relish and brush this all over the sausagemeat, then coat in the toasted crumbs.
Microwave 2 at a time for 6 minutes on High.
To freeze: as chicken recipe - above.
To cook from frozen: microwave at full power for 8 minutes.

This next recipe is a vegetarian 'cobbler' made with chickpeas, therefore a cheap dish to make. As an added bonus (do love to give bonuses) it can also be frozen.
If possible use 3 oz (75g) self raising wholewheat flour with 3 oz while self raising flour. This is slightly more nutritious than using all white flour, and also more filling (most 'brown' foods are more filling: brown flour, brown bread, brown pasta, brown rice.
This makes is a hearty casserole full of fibre. A perfect dish for cooler days.
Vegetarian 'Chobbler': serves 4 (V) (F)
6 oz (150g) self raising flour (see above)
pinch of salt
2 oz (50g) margarine or butter
3 fl oz (85ml) milk
sesame seeds
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 carrots, fairly thinly sliced
1 tblsp sunflower oil
3 oz (75g) mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dried mixed herbs (or two tsp fresh chopped)
half teaspoon Marmite
1 tblsp tomato puree or ketchup
salt and pepper
15 fl oz (425ml) water
400g (14oz) can (or home-cooked) chickpeas
2 tsp cornflour
2 tblsp cold water
chopped fresh parsley to garnish
First make the topping (cobblers) by sieving the flour/s and salt into a bowl. Add the chosen fat and rub this into the flour (if you wish you could also add a pinch of the dried herbs). Stir in enough milk until the dough forms a ball. Roll out onto a floured board to half an inch (1cm) thick. Cut into 1 1/2" (4cm) rounds. Sprinkle tops with sesame seeds then set aside.
Put the onions and carrots into a pan with the oil over low heat and saute for 2 minutes, then add the garlic. Cook for a further minute then stir in the mushrooms, herbs, Marmite, tomato puree, and water, add seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the chickpeas. Drain through a colander, reserving the liquid. Place the vegetables in a casserole dish.
Mix the cornflour with the water (this is called 'slaking'), then add the reserved liquid. Heat in a pan and bring to the boil, and when thickened pour this over the vegetables, then arrange the 'cobblers' overlapping, on top of the filling and around the edges of the dish leaving the centre cobbler free.
Bake for 30 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 or until the topping is golden brown. Garnish with the chopped parsley.
To freeze: when cool, leave in the dish, overwrap, seal and label. Use within 3 months.
To serve: remove wrapping, cover dish with foil and reheat at same temperature for 20 minutes.

This next is a 'cheapie' that makes good use of left-overs from a roast. The recipe uses lamb, but cooked chicken could be used as this goes well with the other ingredients. If using beef you may wish to omit the cranberry and possibly use a mustard or sweet pickle relish instead.
It is always worth spending half an hour making a large batch of pancakes as (interleaved) when home-made are very inexpensive and they freeze so well, thawing almost immediately so with meat scraps and pancakes to hand, it takes very little time to prepare this dish. Much depends upon the size of the pancake as to how many the filling will 'fill', or for that matter, how much left-over meat you wish to use. So play this one by ear.
Fruity Lamb Pancakes: serves 6
ready-made pancakes
1 onion, finely chopped
1 oz (25g) butter
4 oz (100g) mushrooms sliced
1 tblsp flour
4 oz (100g) cranberry jelly
5 fl oz (150ml) stock
salt and pepper
8 oz (225g) cooked roast lamb, diced or minced
2 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
fresh chopped mint (or parsley) to garnish
Fry the onion in the butter until softened, the raise the heat, add the mushrooms and fry for 2 more minutes.
Stir in the flour, cranberry jelly, stock, and lamb, adding seasoning to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes, then divide the filling between the pancakes and roll up.
Lay pancakes in a shallow, buttered heatproof dish, and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top. Pop under a preheated grill to brown.
Serve with gravy and cranberry (or mint, or other) sauce. Garnish with the parsley.