Friday, November 13, 2009

Great Beginnings

Yesterday, noticed that a small butternut squash bought recently, was developing mould spots on the skin. Was surprised as this vegetable usually keeps for weeks and weeks. So decided it was time to use it. Being smaller than usual, slightly bulbous both at top and bottom (almost a veggie version of Marilyn Monroe), after slicing through discovered it had no cavity containing seeds, so all was flesh that could be used. Removing the peel, chopped it into chunks, put it in a shallow dish with a couple of tablespoons of water, and popped it into the microwave to cook on High for 4 minutes. Didn't even cover it. When the pinger went, it was cooked. Ate it for my supper along with other veggies, and it tasted lovely, so a couple more will go on my shopping list today for my next trial will be to make butternut soup. Pumpkin could be used instead of the butternut.

Today am concentrating on food that begins a meal, whether served as canapes prior to sitting down at the table, or served as a true 'starter. Depending upon how thick you like the soup, use more or less of the liquid.
Butternut Bisque: serves 4 - 5
1 tblsp butter or marg.
1 finely chopped spring onion or shallot
9 oz (250g) cooked butternut squash
4 fl oz (100ml) water
2 tsp brown sugar
pinch salt
pinch white pepper or to taste
pinch ground cinnamon or to taste
half pint (300ml) chicken stock
8 fl oz (225g) single cream
(garnish: thinly sliced lemon and finely chopped parsley)
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and cook the onion until tender. Stir in the squash, water, sugar, salt, pepper, cinnamon and stock until blended and the mixture begins to simmer. Cook for 5 minutes to blend flavours then blitz in a liquidiser or use a stick blender in the saucepan. Stir in the cream and heat, but do not boil. Serve in soup bowls, garnishing each with a slice of lemon and a sprinkling of parsley.

This next recipe is for canapes, but could equally be made as a TV 'nibble'. The idea behind this one is to save money by using ingredients we normally keep in store (the 'saving' excuse is that we don't then have to go out and spend more money buying them). As always, a lot depends on the individual as to what we keep in our fridge/freezers, and as usual tend to believe that everyone keeps the same things as I do. Let us hope that today you and I are clones, so these canapes can then be made at the drop of a hat.

Despite the ingredient in the first recipe being 'shrimps, normally we would use the very small, cooked and peeled prawns that we keep in our freezers, and that are often on offer (or BOGOF). Not even sure if proper shrimps are sold in the frozen state. Plenty of Morecambe Bay shrimps caught close to where we live, but these are usually sold fresh, or cooked and potted with butter, mace etc.
The following recipe can be prepared early in the day (up to **), then covered and chilled. Twenty minutes before serving, grill and garnish.
It is always worth keeping Gruyere cheese in the fridge as this is one that melts very easily.
Shrimp Canapes: makes at least 20
10 slices white bread
2 tblsp butter or marg.
pinch fresh thyme leaves
8 oz (225g) cooked shelled frozen prawns, minced
2 oz (50g) Gruyere cheese, grated
3 fl oz measure mayonnaise
pinch salt
(garnish: fresh dill, radish slices, caper and parsley)
Remove crusts from the bread. Using a 2" scone cutter cut some circles from the bread, then cut remaining slices into 1 1/2" triangles, and 2" x 1" oblongs to make 20 'croutons' in all. Blitz the bread trimmings in a blender to make a 4 fl oz measure of crumbs.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the thyme. Leave to cool slightly then brush the cutouts with the butter mixture and place on a baking sheet and grill for 2 minutes or until just golden.
In a bowl, mix together the minced prawns, breadcrumbs, cheese, mayo and salt and spread some on each 'crouton' (** they can be covered and chilled at this point). Place these about 7" below the hot grill and cook for 10 minutes or until well heated through. Arrange on chosen garnish on top, using a different one for each shape. See above for advance preparation.

It is sometimes difficult to come up with an interesting way to serve mushrooms, and so was pleased to discover this American 'starter' as it has plenty of flavour and can be prepared ahead of serving as it needs to be well chilled. Serve with an 'interesting' salad (by this I mean a variety of different shapes and colours of salad leaves) and will serve a really good starter.
Chilled Lemony Mushrooms: serves 8
1 lb (450g) medium sized mushrooms
1 lemon
2 fl oz (50ml) light olive oil
2 tblsp water
2 tsp soy sauce
pinch each salt and sugar
pinch dried sage
mixed salad leaves
Wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth, and trim away the extreme end of the stem, but leave the rest attached to the mushrooms. Cut each into slices.
Cut the lemon into 6 very thin slices squeezing 2 tsp of juice from the lemon. Set aside.
In a saucepan, put in the oil and cook the mushrooms, stirring carefully, until the mushrooms are coated with the oil, then stir in the water, soy sauce, salt, sugar and sage. Add the lemon slices and juice then heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender, stirring often. Spoon the mixture into a bowl, cool, cover and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Longer if you wish.
Arrange salad leaves on individual serving plates, and arrange the mushrooms next to the leaves or on top. As with any dish, this is just a suggestion, the presentation is up to you.