Saturday, January 31, 2009

Creating the Impossible

In one of my culinary 'text books', is a recipe for a starter or buffet dish that looks remarkably like a cream slice, but is a savoury version using cream and curd cheese. Many of you I know make your own curd and even cream cheeses from yogurt, so you may wish to have a go at making this. More colour could be added to the filling by folding in very finely diced bell (or even hot) peppers.
Spicy Cheese Slices:
1 x 370g pack puff pastry
1 egg yolk
1 tsblsp salt (pref sea or rock salt)
8 oz (225g) full fat cream cheese (Philly type)
8 oz (225g) curd cheese
1 dessp brandy
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tblsp warm water
quarter ounce (7g) gelatine
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream
Using a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a 12" x 20" (30 x 50cm) rectangle. Leave to stand for 15 minutes, then sprinkle a baking tray with cold water. Beat the egg yolk and brush this over the pastry, then prick the pastry all over with a fork, and sprinkle one half with the salt.
Place the pastry onto the wetted baking sheet and bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 12 - 15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to get cold on the tray, then cut into half across the width.
Slice the salted half into five 2" x 4" (5 x 10cm) strips. Place the remaining half on a double sheet of foil 2" (5cm) larger than the pastry, and fold up the surplus foil all round to make a 2" (5cm) rim.
Beat together the cream cheese, curd cheese, brandy, parsley and seasoning to taste. When smooth, set aside while pouring the warm water into a bowl standing in a pan of hot water. Sprinkle the gelatine over the water in the small bowl and leave to stand for a few minutes to soften, stir until dissolved then stir it into the cheese mixture.
Beat the double cream until stiff and also fold into the cheese/gelatine mix, then spread this over the pastry base, sitting in its little tin, and top with remaining strips of pastry, salted side uppermost. Chill until the filling is firm, then when ready to serve, slice through the strips down through filling and the pastry underneath.

The more we can make ourselves, and the more self-sufficient we can become, the cheaper a dish will be to make, and what might have been thought of as impossible to serve, due to the cost, can with a little creativity and very soon become quite affordable. Even in this day and age. We never know what we can do until we try.

Looking forward to being back with you again tomorrow. Just realised it is Saturday and not a mardy in sight. Spring must be in the air.

Friday, January 30, 2009

How we Ate Then

We just don't know how lucky we are these days and how much it is costing us to be so for in World War II the rations were as follows. The luckier ones were those with big families, for - as today - the more food, the further it seems to go. Just multiply the amount by the number in your family to find out how little you would have to manage on.
per head per week:
Bacon or Ham: 4 oz (100g)
Sugar: 12 oz (350g)
Butter: 4 oz (100g) - later reduced to 2 oz (50g)
Tea (leaves): 2 oz (50g)
Cooking fat (lard): 2 oz (50g)
Margarine: 4 oz (100g)
Eggs: one PER FORTNIGHT, later one per week
Cheese: 1 oz (25p) later up to 2 oz (50p)
Dried eggs were introduced to compensate for the fresh, and later in the war one pack (equal to a dozen eggs) was allowed to be bought once a month.

Just over one shilling (in old money) was allowed to be spent on meat per head per week, and how much this would buy depended upon the cut, so everyone went for the cheaper and tougher cuts. With a large family, this amount of money would buy a good roasting joint, which went much further, but if you fancied a piece of rump steak, you would probably only buy a couple of ounces. Offal was not on ration, but even scarcer than fish, with everyone wishing to make meals using pigs' trotters, sweetbreads, cowheel, tripe, and ox-cheek. Sausages also were not rationed, but often made with very little meat, often offal and other unmentionables, my mother once swore she found a mouse tooth in one sausage.
Fish remained unrationed, but hard to find and often it was only 'smoek' available (and have been told this was whale meat). People would queue hours for the strangest fish, and if at the back of a queue, ending up with only a tail or fish head. Lucky ones might be able to buy a piece of salt cod.

Jams, marmalade, syrups, lemon curd, mincemeat and honey also went on coupons, and the amount allowed of just one (take your pick) varied from 8 oz (225g) a MONTH to 2 lbs.
Bread was of one kind only, the National Loaf, made from a grey wholemeal flour. Possibly full of fibre, nevertheless did not taste or even look appetising.

Fruit and Vegetables were not rationed, but as the farmers were now growing mainly cattle fodder, and probably just potatoes, so civilians were expected to DIG FOR VICTORY and grow their own. As not everyone could do this, one of the worst things that happened in veggie land was the disappearance of onions which normally had been imported to Britain from the Channel Islands and Brittany. An onion became a popular raffle prize, and several women would use one whole onion to flavour a stew, then remove it and cook it in another, and yet another, to try and make it last up to a month.
Any vegetables that were grown on smallholdings were, although not rationed, were allocated to various parts of the country by something called Controlled Distribution, and ration books were marked to ensure everyone got a fair share (albeit small). Any surplus was allowed to be distributed.

Oranges were one of the few fruits that were brought into this country, although usually reserved for pregnant women and children under the age of five. Lemons vanished completely, and bananas extremely rare and enough to alarm any child who tried them for the first time and bit into their skins.
Apples were also in very short supply, usually limited to only one per person (per week if that) and only when in season. Any other fruits were pure luxury and not around until the end of the war.

When it came to milk - again not actually rationed but under Controlled Distribution, the usual amount allowed being two to two and a half pints per person per week, and to supplement this, tins of Household Dried Milk went on sale - each equal to four pints when reconstituted, and for most of the war each family was allowed one tin a month. Barely drinkable by itself, and not that good in tea or coffee, it came into its own in cooking.
Children under two were entitled to National Dried Milk, a creamer version of the Household Dried and tasted more like the real thing. This richer dried milk had a "not for consumption after (use-by)...." date and once past that date could be bought by regular customers, and of course - used.

Cannot remember much about sweets, other than they were rarely to be found, but again rationed and if my memory serves me correctly the 'sweet coupon' allowance was around 4 oz (100g) but whether weekly (which I doubt for I used to be desperate for a sweet and buy Ovaltinetablets to suck instead) or monthly. Don't think sweets came off ration until the end of all rationing which I believe was six or so years after the war ended.

Strange as though it may seem, many of the foods eaten in wartime and perhaps disliked because of this reason, are now coming back into fashion. Of course they are now relatively much dearer than in the old days, purely because of 'fashion', but practically all offal is now in demand, also ox-cheek (which makes a wonderful stew). Fresh tuna, the most hated fish in war-time, now is much used by chefs, and eaten nearly raw to boot.

We should never dismiss a food 'just because...' for if a food has been eaten, one century or another, it can presumably be still eaten now, and with pleasure. There is no 'food only to be eaten by the poor' for all food is good food, admittedly some maybe better nutritionally than others, on the other hand there is expensive food 'only eaten by the rich'.
What the landed gentry DO like to eat is quality food, and much of it home-made, such as preserves, pickles, cakes, pies, biscuits, and a thousand other things we can easily make ourselves. So we - who love to cook - never need feel deprived, for we really can have it all.

Reading about 'the way we lived then' shows how 'the way we live now' is becoming so similar. People used to discuss whether it was better to spread the ration books over several stores, in the hope of buying vital extras, or register the whole family at the one grocer's shop, in the hope that being a 'regular', a scarce item, often kept under the counter, might end up in the shopping basket. There were arguments about whether it was better to use a small corner shop or a large one.

As mentioned before, at the end of six years of war, the British were far healthier than they had been at the beginning. Prior to the war, the average housewife knew very little about nutrition (other than they should cook and eat balanced meals), and ask one what a calorie was or what was protein, and they would stare back blankly. But by the end of the war, housewives were angrily writing to the Ministry of Food to complain that the shops were not providing the energy-giving, body-building and health-giving foods that the family required. In some ways this can shame us now, for how many of us bother to work out we buy the correct amount of nutrition? Perhaps we feel if we buy and eat enough, we will take in enough nourishment, but that brings us back again to the fact that we can still eat a lot less and get the full amount of nourishment we need/ In other words, buy less which then leads us to spending less. If we can really cut down the amount we buy, then money saved could go towards buying better quality food and still have money left over. A win-win situation don't you agree?

Now on to the promised recipes, and maybe others if time allows.
Dried Apricot Jam: makes 5 lb (2.5kg)
1 lb (500g) dried apricots
3 pints (1.8ltrs) water
juice of 1 lemon
3 lb (1.5kg) sugar
2 oz (50g) blanched almonds, split
knob of butter
Put the apricots in a bowl, add the water, cover and leave to stand overnight. Next day, put the apricots and the soaking liquid in a pan with the lemon juice. Heat gently until beginning to boil, then simmer until soft, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and almonds. When the sugar has dissolved, return to the heat, add the butter then boil rapidly for 2 0 - 25 minutes, and keep stirring to prevent the fruit from sticking to the base of the pan and burning. When setting point has been reached, remove from heat and scoop off any scum that has risen to the surface. Pot in hot, sterilised jars, cover, label and store in the normal way.

Time-saving Apricot Jam: makes approx 3 lb (1.5kg)
3 x 425g cans apricot halves in syrup
2 tblsp lemon juice
1 lb (500g) sugar
Drain the apricots, reserving the syrup. Put the apricots into a blender or food processor with half a pint (300m) of the syrup, the lemon juice and the sugar (if using a small blender do this in batches). Blitz until smooth, then pour into a saucepan and boil gently until thickened. Pot up the jam in the usual way.

Apricot and Apple Chutney: makes 7 lb (3.5kg)
1 lb (500g) dried apricots, soaked overnight in water
4 lb (2kg) cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 lb (500g) onions, sliced
12 oz (375g) raisins
1 lb (500g) demerara sugar
1 pt (600ml) distilled vinegar
1 level tblsp salt
1 level tblsp ground mixed spice
Drain the apricots and coarsely chop. Put into a preserving pan with the rest of the ingredients and simmer gently for about an hour until the mixture has thickened and no excess liquid remains (if you can draw a wooden spoon over the base of a pan and it leaves a clear path with no liquid flowing back, then it is ready). Pour into hot sterilised jars and seal immediately with vinegar-proof air-tight lids. Store in a cool, dry, dark place for 2 - 3 months before eating.

This final recipe could possibly be made using no-soak apricots that have been soaked overnight in water and a little sugar added to make a syrup. If using this method, you will need to adjust amount of fruit and water to equal that of the canned. As it can be eaten hot or cold, again a dish that can be cooked in the oven when on for something else.
Crunchy Apricot Pudding: serves 4
2 lb (900g) canned apricots (rain and reserve syrup)
4 oz (100g) butter
pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
half tsp freshly grated nutmeg
6 tblsp runny honey
6 slices toasting bread
2 oz (50g) cornflakes
Put 5 fl oz (150ml) of the apricot syrup in a pan with the butter, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and honey, and heat gently until well mixed. Halve or quarter the apricots.
Toast the bread and cut into half inch (1 cm) cubes, then put this in the spiced syrup with the apricots and cornflakes, tossing everything together lightly.
Spoon into a greased ovenproof dish and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 30 minutes. Serve hot or cold with cream or ice-cream.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Use not Abuse

The very term 'left-overs' sounds a dirty word. Left-overs used to be given to the dog, or possibly form the main part of supper for the servants below stairs. In war-time there were no left-overs, as everything on the plate had to be eaten up. People were even fined if stale bread ended up in their dustbins. Other scraps used to go in bins to be collected to feed the pigs.
Considering the amount of food that people seem to be able to consume today, would doubt that much is left on plates, but when cost-cutting, it does help to 'plan' for leftovers, maybe cooking more than is necessary on one day, so that the surplus could be used in another dish the next. This saves both time and fuel.

But there are other edibles that we throw away without giving a thought. Mainly because we have always done so. Why keep the outer leaves of cabbage and lettuce, when the inside is more tender and tasty? Why keep the core of cabbage and cauliflower and the stalks of broccoli? They were never meant to be eaten - were they?
Why keep the stumps of celery and the peelings of carrots, parsnips and onions, and what about potato peel?
All the above can be used in one way or another. Several recipes have already been given that use lettuce leaves (soups etc) and cabbage leaves (for 'dolmas'). The cores of the cabbage etc can be thinly cut into matchsticks and added to a stir fries, or grated to add to a coleslaw. even sliced to dunk into dips.
Potato skins (after peeling) - never to be eaten raw, but can be sprayed with a little oil and 'roasted' off in the oven or under a low grill. Best to peel as thinly as possible and the peel then discarded, but even better never peel at all and eat them skins and all. It is the fibre in the skins and the vitamins just below the skins that our body needs - same with the outer leaves of green veggies, they hold the most vitamins, yet again we often throw the best away.
When peeling onions, try to remove only the dry outer brown skin, for so often we remove the first white layer as well, and this is perfectly edible, although may be slightly tinged with brown. If we prefer to take away the top layer of onion, keep/freeze it (with or without the brown papery skin) to flavour stocks. Adding the brown skins deepens the colour of stock, so by just boiling brown skins in water extracts the colour and this water can then go into casseroles to help make a dark, slightly onion flavoured gravy - useful in vegetarian dishes - or use as the liquid when making some in soups.
Have never done this, but am now wondering if a large amount of dry onion skins were ground up, the powder could be stored in jars to use both as a flavouring and a colouring?

Most root vegetable peelings, and also the outer (fleshy) layer of onions and their skins, plus the stump of celery can be covered in water and simmered for an hour to extract all their flavour, and the resulting liquid strained off and used as vegetable stock. If wishing to keep more than a few days in the fridge, it is best frozen.

Fresh beetroot and radish leaves can be chopped and added to salads, the radish leaves being as spicy as watercress. Brussels sprout leaves can also be cooked like cabbage, and probably the stem/leaves could be chopped and cooked to make a soup. If it works with cauliflower, why not cabbage and other brassicas?

Citrus peel can be dried and used in many ways - as 'fire-lighters', giving extra fragrance to pot-pourri, to dry (especially tangerines) and pop into a beef casserole to give extra flavour. Fresh peel can be grated and frozen or dried to add flavour to cakes and biscuits. Orange and lemon peel can make a good economy marmalade.
Even the inside of banana skins, when rubbed over leather (or maybe even plastic) makes a 'polish' that will buff up to a good shine. One of the reasons why it is so easy to slip when treading on a banana skin.

Fish heads, fish skins and bones, and prawn shells, all simmed together with the usual carrot, celery, onion,make a wonderful fish stock. Again one to be frozen once strained. Even before making the stock, collect up the small amounts of fish 'discards' (remove any eyes from the heads - these can be thrown away unless someone has a sensible suggestion for using them) bag up and freeze, then make the stock when there is enough.
The same goes for any bones left over from chicken portions that might be cooked (not the whole bird), collect and freeze these too, then add to chicken skin, chicken winglets (which might also have been left-over and frozen), break up the bones, put the lot in a pot with a carrot, onion, and piece of celery, plus a bay leaf cover with water (or if you wish depending upon the amount of winglest) and simmer very gently for a couple of hours. That's your next batch of chicken stock made. Strain, leave overnight in the fridge (makes it easier to remove any fat from the top) and freeze away.

Don't throw out the vinegar left in the jar after the pickled onions have been eaten. Keep it to sprinkle over fish and chips, or boil it up with more vinegar and use to pickle your next batch of onions.
If making a dish using canned tuna (in oil) that requires oil for frying (say a tuna risotto), then use the oil from the can instead of using olive or other vegetable oil.

No need to peel or remove stems from mushrooms when cooking. Just wipe clean with a damp cloth then cut or slice as needed. In restaurants, 'duxelles' (very finely chopped mushrooms, fried with a little chopped shallot and a smidgin of oil, then cooked down for about an hour until all the liquid has gone) are made from just the mushroom stalks and the skin peeled from the caps. But then they go through boxes and boxes of mushrooms in any one day. But it proves that chefs make use of what others might throw away.
Always remember that when we throw away any part of foods bought from the store, whether it be the boxes they are packed in, or just the peel and leaves from the produce, everything that goes into the bin has been paid for, and it is our money that we are throwing away. Use and recycle as much as we can.

Remembering a past query about uses for semolina, have found an interesting recipe for a dessert using said grain that - as it cooks - forms into layers. As it can be served hot or cold, file this recipes as a dish useful to bake when the oven is on for something else.
Layered Lemon Bake: serves 4
2 oz (50g) butter
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
3 tblsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 eggs, separated
2 oz (50g) semolina
15 fl.oz (450ml) milk
Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the sugar, lemon juice and zest. Remove from heat, then beat in the egg yolks and semolina. Add the milk, stirring until it has formed a smooth mixture. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then - using a metal spoon - gently fold them into the semolina mix. Pour into a greased ovenproof dish placed in a roasting tin, and pour water into the tin to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Storing the Surplus

Many times in the past I've made jars of pickled eggs. So easy to make, and they will keep for several months. If wishing to have 'white' pickled eggs, use the clear 'white' distilled vinegar, if using the brown vinegar this colours the eggs brown. They taste just the same, although I prefer them when white.
Only very fresh eggs should be pickled, although fine up to a week old, and in fact it is very difficult to shell really fresh eggs that have been hard-boiled. Ideally - once boiled - plunge the eggs in cold water, then very gently crack the shells all over, replacing into fresh cold water. With a little care, once a piece of the shell and inner membrane has been removed, the shells squeezed VERY gently, the water then seeps between the shell and the egg and after a few minutes the shell should slide off rather than have to be picked off bit by bit.
Put the bay leaves and cloves in the jar because as well as adding flavour, they also look pretty.
Good jars to use are the re-cycled wide-topped ones such as large mayo jars.
Pickled Eggs:
1 pint (500-600ml) spiced pickling vinegar
2 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
12 small hard-boiled eggs
Put the spiced vinegar into a pan with the bay leaves and cloves, cover and simmer for five minutes. Shell the eggs and place into a sterilised screwtop jar. Cool the vinegar slightly then pour the vinegar over the eggs and leave to cool. Cover jar with a piece of clingfilm, then screw on an airtight lid. Chill in the fridge for 2 - 3 days before eating.
If you prefer, no need to chill, just store the eggs in their jar in a cool part of the kitchen and eat sliced for sandwiches, with salads or a Ploughman's.

This next is a deli speciality. Worth making if you have occasion to be given a large piece of fresh salmon. Adjust the ingredients according to the weight of salmon you have.
Gravad Lax:
3 lb (1.5kg) fresh salmon
large bunch fresh dill or parsley
1 tblsp coarse (sea or rock) salt OR...
...1 1/2 tsp table salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp white pepper
Scrape the scales off the salmon, slice it in half along the length and remove the centre bone. Rinse both halves well, and pat dry.
Place one half, skin-side down in a deepish dish, wash, drain and and coarsely chop the chosen herb and sprinkle this on top of the salmon in the dish. Mix together the salt, sugar and pepper, then sprinkle this over the herbs, and top with remaining fillet, skin side up. Cover fish with cooking foil and weight it down with a board and two preserving jars filled with water (or preserves - or use any comparable weights). Place in the fridge and leave for 3 days, turning the fillets every 12 hours, and basting the fish with the juices collecting in the bottom of the dish.
To serve, place one salmon fillet on a wooden board, scraping off the herbs and seasonings. Serve cut into very thin slices with freshly toasted bread and a green salad.

Quite often butter is sold at reduced prices. It freezes well, but can also be 'improved' by adding savoury ingredients to softened butter, then reforming into blocks, rolls or balls. Herb and spice butters are normally sliced and added as a topping to a steak or chop (or similar) but can also be spread on canapes or on bread as the base for a sarnie. Some of the savoury butters would be excellent spread on toast. As they freeze well, they can also be made towards the end of the year to add to a Christmas Food hamper to give to a 'gourmet-style' cook.
The most economical way to make these flavoured butters is when you have surplus herbs, spices etc that can do with being used up. As the recipes all used 4 oz (100g) softened butter, am just giving the additional ingredients/method and variations.
Savoury Butters: based on 4 oz (100g) softend butter
garlic butter: nix in 1 crushed clove of garlic, 1 tsp lemon juice and a pinch of white pepper.
mustard butter: beat in 1 tblsp English mustard, 4 drops Tabasco, and dash of Worcestershire sauce.
paprika butter: work in half tsp icing sugar, half tsp tomato puree, pinch cayenne pepper, and 1 tblsp paprika pepper.
red pepper butter: beat in pinch ground ginger, 4 drops Tabasco, then mix in 3 tblsp finely chopped red pepper. Form into a tube, chill then roll in finely chopped parsley.
horseradish butter: beat in 1 - 2 tblsp creamed horseradish and a pinch of sugar.
herb butter: beat in pinch each pepper and sugar. 1 tsp lemon juice, and 3 tblsp mixed chopped fresh herbs.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Could we? Would we? Should we?

Read some good tips yesterday about fuel-saving, especially when it comes to electric ovens, although may work also with a gas oven. Pastry, cakes and biscuits etc should be cooked in pre-heated ovens as they do require a specific cooking time, although the oven could be turned off towards the end of the cooking time.
If savoury dishes need to be cooked longer than 45 minutes then it is said that these can be put into a cold oven so they can begin to warm up at the same time. Also, after the food is reaching the end of its cooking, the heat can be turned off 10 minutes before the end as ovens take a fair amount of time to cool down. Best not to open the oven doors if doing this, as heat can be easily lost. So - within reason - we can make use of both the warming-up and cooling-down oven heats, which can save a considerable amount of energy costs over a year.

Microwaves are said to take half the power of a conventional oven, but it did not specify whether this means the new-style microwaves which can now roast and bake, or whether it means the old-style.

One recipe for you today, this time using those green lentils that make much more substantial eating than the red split lentils. First had these during the war, when we had moved to Leamington Spa, and took in evacuees. The family were Jewish and had come over from Prague. They seemed to live off the lentils, and although they did not eat bacon, told my mother that this would add flavour to the green lentils, and it certainly did.
This recipe also uses the cheap chicken thighs, which have far more flavour than the breast, particularly when cooked with the bone (easily removed once cooked). If you have no wine, use water with a dash of white wine vinegar and a sprinkling of sugar (not quite the same as wine but almost).
Chicken, Lentils and Bacon: serves 4
4 rashers streaky or back bacon, trimmed and chopped
2 tsp sunflower oil
4 chicken thighs, skin removed
2 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tblsp plain flour
1 tblsp tomato puree
half pint (300ml) white wine
14 fl oz (400ml) chicken stock
4 0z (100g) green lentils
spring thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
6 oz (175g) button mushrooms, halved
salt and pepper
Put the bacon in the pan with the oil and fry quickly until just beginning to crisp. Remove to a plate and set aside. Put the chicken into the oils in the pan and brown on each side, then add to the bacon.
Put the onions into the pan and fry for five minutes, then add the garlic and fry for a further minute. Stir in the flour and tomato puree, reduce heat and cook for 2 - 3 minutes, then slowly stir in the wine, stock and lentils. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, add the thyme, and simmer for 5 minutes, then stir in the mushrooms, chicken and bacon. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and the lentils tender. Season to taste and serve hot.
A suggestion for this dish is to serve it with boiled potatoes, but feel that it would go even better with rice or another carbohydrate - maybe hot crusty bread. Cook's choice.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

:Buy when the Price is Right.

Whenever we read details of a meal where the ingredients are priced out, it is worth turning this into a turn a mini-challenge, and see if we can make it even cheaper. We do not need to make the meals find out if we can do it cheaper, just the working out can prove the point.

Tesco have a leaflet that shows us 6 ways we can spend less when shopping on-line. They want us to spend LESS? Maybe method in their madness.
They suggest we stick to our budget, giving us a running total as we put food in our virtual shopping basket, so we don't get a nasty shock as we might when reaching an in-store checkout.
Another suggestion is buy online as this helps us to avoid impulse buys and no problem with pester power.
Now we come to the dangling carrots: we have over 6.000 cheaper alternatives"on top selling brands, making it easy to switch and save. The cheaper alternatives being the store's own-brands. And (on checking) see that a good percentage of these offers are on non-foods.

Quite naturally, stores pull out all the stops when it comes to keeping (or gaining back) our custom, and we should take advantage of offers when they are what we need, not what they want us to think we need. It makes sense to buy six bottles of Fairy liquid when reduced in price, for these should last a full year before we need buy again. We can buy with an eye to the future, or buy according to our needs for just the forthcoming week, and always be flexible. Plan a menu by all means but only so far as "Sunday will be a roast", then choose the roast according to the best value. Have four days in the week eating meat, the remaining three can be vegetarian, but what meats, which vegetables, should depend on the best value at the time of buying. This way we should be able to spend far less than we expect.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tasting the Difference

Today am returning to the 'adding flavour' part of cookery and am giving three recipes where the end results burst with flavour, yet can be quite inexpensive to make (once we have the herbs and spices). At this time of the year it is worth planning to sow and grow a wider variety of herbs than we may already have, or just maybe grow a few on the windowsill if we have never grown them before. Sow seeds, or buy the plants from a garden centre or through the Internet. My 'must have' herbs are Garden Mint, Basil, Thyme, Chives, Sage, Parsley, and Rosemary. Coriander and Tarragon are other good 'cook's herbs'.

The next two recipes are for meat balls, ones made with lamb, the others with beef. Using fresh mince, once made, they can be frozen to be later thawed and cooked as per the recipe.
Spicy Lamb and Herb Balls: makes 24, serves 6 (F)
1 small onion, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tblsp olive oil
2 lbs (500g) minced lamb
2 tblsp chopped fresh mint
1 tsp paprika pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
half tsp chilli powder
salt and pepper
Using a food processor blitz together the onion, garlic and oil to make a paste. Add the lamb, mint and spices, adding seasoning to taste, then blitz further until well mixed. Shape into 24 balls, chill for 30 minutes then open freeze, and when solid bag up, label and seal. Use within 3 months. If preferring to cook immediately after chilling, the balls can be grilled for 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Good served with a cool cucumber, yogurt and mint (Raita) dip.

These beef meatballs are probably best frozen before being fried, although they could be fried for longer, then frozen, and after thawing they can be cooked on in the tomato sauce. The name for this dish in Greece is Soutzoukakia.
Beefballs in in Tomato Sauce: makes 20 (serves 4) (F)
1 lb (500g) minced beef steak
1 egg, beaten
1 oz (25g) stale breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano or marjoram
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
3 tblsp olive oil
8 oz (225g) pitted olives (green, black or both)
4 oz (100g) Feta cheese, crumbled
Either by hand or pulsing in a food processor, mix the minced beef, egg, breadcrumbs, garlic, onion, cumin and herbs together. Season well and form into 20 balls (if freezing, open freeze and when solid bag up, seal and label. Thaw slightly before continuing with the recipe). Chill for half an hour then heat the oil in a frying pan, and fry the meatballs (best done in 2 - 3 batches) for five minutes until browned. Set aside whilst making the sauce (using the same pan and oil/juices to cook the sauce).
tomato sauce:
1 onion, finely chopped or grated
2 cans chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
2 tblsp tomato puree
5 fl oz (150ml) beef or vegetable stock
Fry the onion in the pan until golden, then stir in the tomatoes, sugar, tomato puree and the stock. Bring to the boil and cook for five minutes until reduced slightly, then blitz together in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Returnt the sauce to the pan with the fried meatballs and olives and simmer, uncovered for half an hour. Check seasoning, adding more if necessary. Serve with Feta cheese crumbled over the top.

This next is a soup that is normally made with pumpkin, but (in my opinion) tastes even better made with Butternut Squash and can be made as gentle or as spicy as you wish. Remember that a cook always has control of the amount of flavouring so always start with the smallest amount (in this instance a hot chilli/Tabasco sauce) then taste, for more can be added to the strenght that we wish. Good cooks always taste before they serve up anything that can have a spoon dunked into it (more difficult if it's a pie), and possibly why I never feel like eating when I have been preparing a large meal for guests. During the day will have probably tasted enough spoonfuls to fill a large dish.
Squash Soup Creole fashion: serves 4 - 6
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 rib celery, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 tblsp sunflower oil
4 tblsp demerara or soft brown sugar
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 pints (1.25lts) chicken stock
2 lb (1kg) butternut squash, peeled and deseeded
3 tblsp smooth peanut butter
half pint (300ml) double cream
3 tblsp lime juice
2 tblsp chilli sauce, or few drops Tabasco (to taste)
salt and pepper
Using a sturdy pan, fry the onion, celery and carrot in the oil until just softened, then stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute. Add the sugar and nutmeg, and stir in the chicken stock. Cut the squash into 1" (2.5cm) cubes and add this to the pan. Cover and simmer until the pumpkin has softened, then cool slightly before blitzing in a blender or food processor.
Return the soup to the pan adding the remaining ingredients - the chilli sauce and salt and pepper to taste. If a thinner soup is required, thin down with more stock or water. Reheat to just a simmer, but do not boil. Serve with a good dollop of creme fraiche.

If we choose not to eat garlic, do we then dismiss any recipes where garlic is given as an ingredient? What happens if we have no olive oil and only have a cheaper vegetable oil? Would margarine be as good for frying as butter? What happens if we are missing a spice or herb?
Myself would never throw a recipe out because it does not fit in with 'what we have' (or perhaps have not). By all means leave garlic out if you do not like it. Quite often less garlic is given in a recipe on this site because many people do not like too much (my Beloved being one) , so if garlic is 'your thing' feel free to double the amount. Olive oil does give the best flavour to a dish that originated from a region where olives grow (and surprisingly each region's oil tastes slightly different so purists may prefer to make a Spanish dish using oil made in Spain). Try if you can to buy 'ordinary' olive oil (not the extra-virgin), and make it go further by blending (half and half) with a cheaper vegetable oil such as sunflower. This gives the flavour without the expense.
Margarine should not be used for frying. Butter has such a wonderful flavour it is worth saving up for. In fact a lot of the cheaper butters are no more costly that the quality soft margarine. As butter burns easily when heated in a frying pan, use less butter and add a little oil. You then get both the flavour and a higher frying temperature.
If we are short on herbs and spices, then we can only use what we have. In all recipes these are there mainly to enhance the natural flavour of foods, never to overpower them (with the exceptions of some curries and chilli dishes), and we might be able to manage this by using other spices and other herbs than those suggested in the recipes' Always remember that tastes differ, and what might be perfect for one person may be far too weak or even too hot for another. When serving to guests try to suit the tastes of those being served.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Crash Landing

This Scottish recipe is perfect for this time of year when all the vegetables can be seasonal and can also be varied (eg. use curly kale instead of cabbage, swede instead of turnip). When made to eat during the warmer months, fresh shelled peas and a seasonal cabbage can be added to the broth, and today frozen peas could be used during the winter, or - alternatively - use dried split peas that have been soaked in cold water for several hours, and cook these along with the meat. Note the interesting way the dish is served - with or without the meat, as this can then turn one dish into two.
Scots Broth: serves 4
1 lb (450g) neck of mutton or lamb, fat removed
2 oz (50g) pearl barley
2 oz (50g) fresh or frozen peas, OR...
...quarter pint measure of split peas
1 medium onion, sliced
1 small leek, white part only, sliced
half a small white cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot, diced
1 medium white turnip, diced
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
2 1/2 pints (50 fl oz) water
salt and pepper
Slice the meat into four 'cutlets' and put into a pan with the water, bring to the boil then remove any scum from the surface. If using dried split peas, add them to the water with the meat (if possible, soak the peas for several hours in water prior to this). Season to taste, then simmer for one hour before adding the prepared onions, leeks, carrots, and barley. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, then stir in the shredded cabbage and add more seasoning if necessary. Simmer for five minutes then add the parsley, then after a further five minutes the vegetables and meat should be tender. Serve the broth hot, with or without a portion of meat, as this traditionally was often served after with a caper sauce.
caper sauce:
1 tblsp plain flour
1 tblsp butter
2 tbslp capers plus 1 tblsp of their juice
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
5 fl oz (150ml) lamb stock
salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flour. Cook for one minute then add the milk and stock, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. If too thick, add a little more milk or stock. Add the capers and juice, stirring until smooth and creamy. Serve poured over sliced cooked mutton or lamb.

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.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

££-£--£---£----£-----£ Stretching

Moving back to the pound stretching, am concentrating today on recipes using cooked chicken for we can pick as much as 8 oz (225g) from a carcase after making stock - so why not make good use of it? It doesn't matter if a recipe expects us to used cooked chicken in 'chunks', for we can change this to 'scraps', but the larger the bits the better if presentation is important. For personal and family dishes, scraps are as good as anything. Also please remember, the full amount of chicken does not need to be used (for when taken from a carcase the amount is never predictable), just make up the shortfall by using more of the other ingredients. It is the total weight of ingredients that makes enough to serve four.

A part-can of condensed soup can be decanted and frozen to use another time, and in this instance doesn't have to be mushroom - it could be cream of chicken or any other that goes with chicken.
Regarding the use of potato crisps. With such a variety of flavours on sale, you could make a choice from bacon, cheese and onion, chicken, prawn, or just plain unsalted. Another alternative would be to use crushed corn Tortilla chips. Or maybe something a little more healthy such as crushed dried breadcrumbs. The choice is yours.
Crunchy Chicken Bake: serves 4
1 lb (450g) diced, cooked chicken
juice of half a lemon
4 fl oz (100ml) mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
1 - 2 ribs celery, chopped
5 oz (150g) condensed mushroom soup
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tblsp flaked almonds
2 oz (50g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz (50g) potato crisps, crushed
Mix together the almonds, cheese and crisps and then set to one side. Mix together the remaining ingredients and spoon into a baking dish, then top this with the cheese/nut/crisp mixture. Place in the fridge to chill overnight. Next day, bring back to room temperature and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 minutes until hot and bubbling.

This next recipe, although serving four, uses very little chicken, and although the recipe (as given) cooks the packages by deep-frying, these could also be baked in a hot oven 200C etc. until the pastry is puffed and golden. It is worth knowing that when food is cooked in really hot oil, it does not absorb much fat as the heat immediately seals the surface of the food that is being fried.
Chicken and Sweetcorn Parcels: serves 4
half oz (12g) each butter and plain flour
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
4 oz (100g) cooked chicken, chopped
2 oz (50g) sweetcorn kernels
1 lb (450g) puff pastry
Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flour. Cook for one minute then gradually add the milk, stirring continuously until the sauce thickens and comes to the boil. Season to taste, remove from heat and beat in HALF the egg. Fold in the chicken and sweetcorn, then set aside.
Roll out the pastry as thinly as possible and divide into 8 small rectangles. Divide the chicken mixture between them, spooning it onto one half of each rectangle, leaving the edges clear, then brush the edges with some of the remaining egg, folding the pastry over to form square parcels, and sealing the edges together. Brush both sides of the parcels with the remaining egg and chill for 30 minutes.
Fry the parcels in deep hot oil for 6 minutes until golden brown and puffy. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with a pre-prepared green salad.

This next is a variation of the kedgeree, and although I have included turmeric to give slight curry overtones, this can be omitted. As the original recipe (but adapted) was given as a 'light supper' dish to serve four, have a feeling that is pushing it a bit and myself might call the serving more 'a snack' (that word should be banned), so you may wish to increase the ingredients if everyone has a good appetite. To gain more protein content, add more eggs rather than chicken (unless you have plenty of chicken scraps to spare). If you wish, the rice can be cooked in advance, also the eggs, then it is really a matter of assembling and heating through thoroughly.
Chicken and Mushroom Kedgeree: frugally serves four
6 oz (175g) long-grain rice
1 tsp turmeric (opt)
4 eggs, hard-boiled
3 oz (75g) butter
4 oz (100g) small mushrooms, sliced
6 oz (175g) cooked chicken, chopped
4 tblsp double cream or creme fraiche
salt and pepper
4 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Cook the rice and turmeric (if using) in salted boiling water for 10 minutes, until just 'al dente' (with a bit of bite left in it), and drain well. Shell the eggs and cut into quarters (or they can be sliced or roughly chopped).
Melt the butter in a large frying pan and stir the the prepared mushrooms, cooking gently for a few minutes until they have softened. Stir in the cooked rice, chicken, and the cream adding seasoning to taste.
Heat through, then spoon onto a heated serving dish, decorate with the eggs and sprinkle over the parsley.

To keep this recipe really simple, those of us who have made own chicken stock (stored in the freezer) could just read through the ingredients, and realise we could dilute some stock down to the amount required (estimate this), adding the spices - then simmer for half an hour to extract the flavours. After running it through a sieve, continue with the recipe. When made properly, chicken stock does take the flavour of the vegetables cooked with it, so no need to add the dried ones.
Chicken (or turkey) Soup: makes 6 - 8 servings
Chicken or turkey carcase (after roasting, not raw)
cooked meat from carcase (approx half a pint measure)
3 tbslp dried vegetable flakes
2 tblsp dried onions
5 peppercorns
4 whole cloves
pinch nutmeg or mace
1 bay leaf
1 tblsp vegetable stock powder (eg Marigold)
6oz (175g) long-grain rice
Crack the carcase bones and put into a large saucepan along with any skin. Add the dried vegetables and onions, the peppercorns, cloves and other spice, plus the bay leaf. Add enough water to cover the bones and bring to the boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Cool slightly, then strain, spooning off excess fat if you wish. To the strained broth, add the stock powder (or if you prefer add concentrated chicken stock you may have in your freezer), the chicken or turkey meat and the rice. Simmer for 20 or so minutes until the rice is tender. Serve hot.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One Thing Leads To Another

Some time back mentioned that grated apple added to bread helped to keep it moist, and flicking through Have a Goode Year noticed the recipe that led to me mentioning it. The recipe itself started off as a batter to make pancakes, of the drop scone variety, and it was having leftover batter that inspired me to experiment and turn it into a loaf. As the procedure makes interesting reading, I include the 'chat' with the recipe.

Apple Fritters and Spiced Bread:
"This bread was an inspiration. I had originally made a batch of batter to try out Spicy Apple Fritters which is a local Yorkshire dish eaten on Ash Wednesday.
Having made too much batter and not wanting to throw it away, I then added more flour and ended up with a loaf that my husband raved over. With its crunchy crust and moist crumb that stays fresh for days, it's a winner.
basic (fritter) batter:
2 large apples, peeled and grated
1 sachet 'instant' dried yeast
1 1/2 lb (750g) plain flour
15 fl oz (450ml) each - milk and water
2 oz (50g) butter, melted
4 oz (100g) raisins or sultanas
2 tblsp sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
Blend the yeast into the flour. Heat the milk with the water until hand-hot then stir in the melted butter. Pour this mixture into the flour. Beat until it has formed a thick batter, then fold in the grated apple, dried fruit, sugar and spice. Cover and leave for an hour in a warm place to rise.

to make fritters:
Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan and when hot fry tablespoons of batter until golden brown, turning once. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot.

spiced bread:
Work enough STRONG plain flour into left-over batter to make a soft bread dough. Knead lightly for a few minutes until smooth. Place in a greased and floured loaf tin (size depends upon the amount of dough you have made), cover and leave to stand in a warm place for half an hour or until doubled in bulk. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 200C, 400F, gas 6 or until the bread sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. Cool on a wire rack. When cold, wrap in foil."

Recently the mention of using Yorkshire puddings for other purposes than just serving with roast beef, has led me to thinking about onion gravy, the perfect complement to the Yorkies, but equally good served with sausage and mash. Or just with mashed potatoes. The gravy would also taste good served in a split jacket potato for lunch. One idea leads to another and am sure you can think of more ways to use this tasty gravy.
Onion gravy: makes 4 servings
4 medium onions, halved and sliced
1 oz (25g) butter
2 tsp sunflower oil
salt and pepper
1 tblsp flour
half a glass red wine (opt)
half a pint (300ml) meat stock
1 tsp tomato puree
1 tsp English mustard
half tsp Worcestershire sauce
Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan and stir in the onions. Allow them to brown slightly, then stir so the lighter parts also get a chance to brown, this takes about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low, season to taste, cover and simmer for half an hour. Remove lid, raise the heat to medium and cook until the juices have evaporated. Sift the flour over the onions, toss to coat, then - using a wooden spoon - stir in the wine (if using). Add the stock and continue stirring, until the liquid begins to simmer, then stir in the tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce, and cook for a couple more minutes. Serve hot with what you will. If wishing to make in advance, make sure it is thoroughly reheated as it is made with meat stock.

Some of us have mincemeat left over at this time of the year, and taking the idea from the recipe below, a 'mincemeat scone ring' could be baked, using an ordinary scone recipe, and mincemeat instead of the savoury filling. By the same token, other 'interesting' fillings could be used. The recipe uses a blue cheese 'Hellman's' type dressing but some 1 tblsp soft blue cheese could be mashed into ordinary mayonnaise as a substitute.
Blue Cheese Ring: serves 6 - 8
4 oz (100g) rindless streaky bacon, chopped
4 oz (100g) onion, chopped
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
salt and pepper
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
half level tsp baking powder
5 tblsp Blue cheese mayo dressing
1 egg, well beaten
bowl of raita (yogurt and cucumber)
Fry the bacon in a small pan until just crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Cook the onion in the remaining bacon fat until softened, but not brown. Then mix in the herbs, adding seasoning to taste, and add the onions. Stir well, remove from heat and set aside.
Put the flour, baking powder and a little salt in a bowl, add the mayonnaise, the egg and the milk. Knead together lightly, turn onto a lightly floured surface, roll out into an oblong 17" x 8" (43 x 20cm) and spread the bacon mixture over the dough and roll up, starting at the long edge.
Seal edges with a little milk and place the dough onto a baking sheet, forming it into a circle by bringing the ends together and sealing together with a little milk.
Working from the outside of the ring, and using a sharp knife, cut the dough not quite through to the inner side, at intervals of 1" (2.5cm), and open slightly so the ring can be gently pushed round and the slices lie overlapping each other just enough to allow the filling to be seen.
Brush with a little milk and bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 15 - 18 minutes until well risen. Transfer to a cooling rack* and when cold can be served with a bowl of Raita placed in the middle of the ring, and garnish with watercress.
Note:* When wishing to remove anything fragile from a baking sheet, use a sheet that has no upturned rims so that the baking can be more easily be slid onto a cake airer or wire rack. If you have only shallow baking tins (Swiss roll type), just turn the tin over and put whatever needs to be cooked on the flat underside of the base. It often helps to slide one to the other if a fish slice is tucked under.

The mention of the above has now led me on to the possibilities of giving the basic bottle mayonnaise a different flavour. Why buy a bottle of each when we only need a little? Just get one jar of quality mayo - and then spoon some out into a dish adding as much as you want of the following, always according to taste (start with a small amount and you can always add more):
Yogurt and diced cucumber = a Raita
Tomato Ketchup and a little Worcestershire = Marie Rose sauce
A tsp curry paste and a little mango chutney = a Curry mayo
Creme fraiche, chopped chives = Sour cream and chive

and, as one thing leads to another...
Add a can of flaked tuna to the raita, with plenty of black pepper to make a tuna Dip.
Spoon the curry mayo over halved hardboiled eggs to make a change to the ordinary 'eggs mayonnaise'.
Make cheese balls by mixing together 4 oz (100g) grated hard cheese with 2 oz (50g) breadcrumbs, 8 tblp Curry mayo and 2 oz (50g) desiccated coconut. Form into small balls, chill then spear onto cocktail sticks. Makes around 32.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Take Another Look

As you will see from the recipe below - a non-yeast version of not-quite Chelsea buns - because of the acidic yogurt and cheese, again bicarb is used with baking powder. Instead of the filling given, why not spread the dough with left-over Christmas mincemeat.
Shortcut 'Chelsea' buns: makes 12
12 oz (300g) plain white flour
quarter teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp baking powder
good pinch of salt
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
2 oz (50g) butter, pref unsalted* cut into cubes
5 oz (150g) cottage cheese
3 tblsp natural yogurt
approx 1 tblsp milk
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
2 oz (50g) dark muscovado sugar
1 rounded teaspoon cinnamon
4 oz (100g) pecan nuts or walnuts, chopped
Make the dough by putting the flour, bicarb, baking powder, salt* and sugar in the food processor. Give a quick pulse to combine ingredients, then add the butter and blitz to a sandy texture. Add the cottage cheese, the yogurt and the milk and run on slow speed until the ingredients come together to form a soft ball of dough. If too dry, add a little more milk.
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll to an oblong approx 12" x 9 " (30 x 23cm). Spread the soft butter over the surface, mix together the dark sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle this over the butter, then with the nuts.
Roll the dough from one of the long sides to form a Swiss roll shape, then - using a sharp knife - cut into 12 even sized pieces. Arrange in a well-greased, tray-bake pan (approx 9" x 8 " (25 x 21.5cm) in rows of three by four, spacing them apart. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 minutes until golden. Remove from tin and cool on a cake airer for a few minutes, then gently tear apart and eat whilst they are still warm. Can be left to cool but best eaten the day of making. These do not freeze well.
Note: * if using salted butter, then reduce the amount of salt in the ingredients or omit it altogether.

One of the more 'upmarket' nibbles is biscotti, usually eaten with a Starbucks espresso, but they also make a lovely accompaniment to desserts such as creme brulee or a mousse. Delightfully crisp, and made with no fat, the biscotti may well be the 'coffee and biscuits' choice of the well-heeled, but certainly cheap enough to make at home. A plainer biscotti recipe was given some months back, and the following is a slightly more expensive version, but if you have the ginger and the nuts - well, go for it. Even if we can only afford to drink coffee at home (even made the instant way), we can still give guests (and ourselves) the appearance of a yuppie standard of living.
Store the biscotti in an airtight jar or tin and they will keep for several weeks.
Ginger and Hazelnut Biscotti: makes 25 - 30 biscuits
11 oz (300g) plain flour, sifted
7 oz (200g) caster sugar
3 medium eggs
1 tsp baking powder
5 oz (150g) roasted shelled hazelnuts
5 oz (140g) stem ginger, thinly sliced
zest from 1 small lemon
Using a food processor, mix together the flour, sugar, eggs and baking powder. Tip into a bowl and add the nuts, ginger and lemon zest. Knead together lightly and form into a log shape just over an inch (3cm) in thickness. Wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 then remove from the oven and reduce the temperature down to 180C, 350F, gas 4.
While the oven is reducing to the lower temp., cut the log into thin slices about 3mm thick, then place the slices on the baking tray , return to the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes. Cool on a cake airer.

Sometimes a photograph of a dish can lead us to taking a second look, and the 'filling' below, although intended to baked in an uncooked puff pastry tart base, looked - in the photo - remarkably as though it had been cooked in one of those large 'Aunt Bessie' type Yorkshire puddings. Which of course then led me to thinking 'why not'? Most of us tend to serve these frozen Yorkshire puddings traditional style, with a roast beef dinner (although I know of at least one person who eats them with all roast meats and poultry, and probably with fish as well).
Time I think to take another look at some foods - such as these 'puds' - and use them in different ways, and maybe some of you can come up with ideas. Have not myself gone further than filling the large puds with a good beef casserole (usually Carbonnade), with a green veg on the side, and the following 'filling' is now another suggestion.
Caramelised Onion and Goat's Cheese: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
3 red onion, cut into thin wedges
1 tblsp caster sugar
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
3 oz (75g) goat's cheese
Melt the butter in a frying pan and saute the onion until softened (takes about 5 minutes). Sprinkle over the sugar and balsamic vinegar, give a gentle stir and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Use to fill either uncooked puff pastry cases or medium to large frozen Yorkshire puddings, dividing the onions equally between the 'containers', and then crumble the goat's cheese over the top. Bake for 15 minutes at the heat needed to cook the pastry or the puds.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Variety is the Spice of Life

Different regions in India and Pakistan serve curries of vastly different flavours, some hot, some subtle, and so the variety of spices used can be quite a number. Start with just the one below, then learn more about others. This way we can dispense with the cans and jars of curry pastes and sauces and 'do it properly'. Something I am aiming for. Below is my first attempt.

Tomato (balti-type) curry sauce: to serve 3 - 4 (F)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 - 2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp sugar
half tsp ground cardamom (or seeds)
half tsp chilli powder
half tsp paprika
half tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 - 2 tins chopped tomatoes
Mix the spices, sugar and salt together and set aside (at this point the mix can be stored in small containers and kept in the dark). Saute the onion in the olive oil until tender, then stir in the spices and cook (almost dry-fry) for 2 minutes, then stir in the chopped tomatoes, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly then blitz down to make a curry sauce (this could be frozen). Use in the normal way.

Will leave you today with one really economical recipe that uses cooked chicken scraps and pancakes. The recipe can be made as given, but the filled pancakes could also be dipped into egg and breadcrumbs to shallow fry (similar to those ready-made ones from the freezer cabinet). As the pancakes and filling can be made in advance, they can be reheated through thoroughly in the oven or microwave just before serving.
Chicken Pancakes: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 oz (25g) flour
half pint (300ml) milk
salt and pepper
pinch dried mixed herbs
2 oz (50g) mushrooms, thinly sliced
8 oz (225g) cooked chicken, cubes or scraps
4 warmed pancakes
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Fry the onion in the butter until softened. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute then gradually stir in the milk. Bring to the simmer, stirring all the time, then cook for 2 minutes. Season to taste then add the dried herbs and mushrooms and continue simmering for 6 minutes. Add the chicken and heat through.
Divide the filling between each pancake and fold into quarters . Serve immediately sprinkled with the parsley.
If wishing to egg and crumb, the pancakes can be filled in advance, folded over to make a semi-circle, then coated and shallow fried. Make quite sure the filling is heated through before serving.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Value Planning

They do say "the grass is always greener the other side of the fence", so why not jump over and view your own plot from your neighbour's perspective. Chances are you will find yours is not that bad after all. Look for the advantages that we still have - but often don't realise until we look from a different viewpoint - and make the most of them. Could be your neighbours run three cars and holiday abroad, but they could also be living off ready-meals and spend half their life wishing they could have some of the home-made bread, cakes and casseroles made in your kitchen next door. There is nothing quite as tantalising as the aromas that come from a cook's kitchen, and there is nothing like eating a good home-cooked meal to make life feel so much better. I know which life I would rather choose.

Strip away luxuries and we all end up in the same boat, but it is those that can cook that are the luckiest and -dare I say it - ones most sought after. My friend recently left me a pile of 'The Lady" mags, albeit a year old. It was fascinating reading the ads for the cooks/housekeepers etc. There were several that offered free accomodation (like a cottage in the grounds), use of a car, husband to follow own occupation, and a wage on top. Sometimes just for cooking, and this often only at weekends. Particularly liked the one where a 'cook for Christmas' was requested. Living in a 17th century house, log fires, able to use their car, do all the shopping, and cook the food - even if only for the Twelve Days. My idea of Heaven - and would be tempted to do it for free. Oh, if only I was younger.
So bear this in mind. Finding someone able to cook well - and often all is asked for is just 'good plain food' - is today not that easy, so all you cooks out there, consider your worth and never underestimate your abilities. Like anything - 'hand-made' (knitting, embroidery, carpentry...) cooking has become a dying art, and there are people out there willing to pay over the odds for such skills, and many families extremely envious because you have them in the first place.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Making Comparisons

When we begin to analyse a dish, it is often the accompaniments that give the flavour. What is salad without a good dressing? What is beef (or other meats) without a good gravy? What is lamb without mint sauce and/or redcurrant jelly. Cold meat can be boring without the mustard, pickles and other tracklements. So even if the basic meal is frugal fare, by adding something very cheap but flavoursome it can be lifted into a dish worthy to serve to a king.

Here are some examples of adding flavour:
fish pate: use smoked mackerel, kippers, sardines, tuna etc. Flake and cream the fish with softened butter (ration 2:1 of fish to butter) then add the flavours. Beat in a little creamed horseradish, lemon juice and add a pinch of cayenne pepper, with salt and pepper - all to taste (which means add a little at the beginning and continue adding more of each until you have the flavour you desire).

fried cheese sarnies: mix together 4 oz (100g) grated Cheddar cheese and the same of cream cheese. Add flavour by grated up 2 peeled dessert apples and adding these with a couple of drops of Tabasco or other pungent sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Divide between four slices of bread, and cover these with bread to make sarnies. Fry in melted butter on both sides until golden and the cheese is melting slightly. Serve hot.

Tomatoes needing to be cooked for quite a lengthy time to bring out their flavour. Only the quality Italian canned tomatoes have the richness of taste we look for. Lengthy cooking time of fresh tomatoes can be costly, so it is now worth paying that little bit extra to buy quality canned tomatoes, and cook for less time. Adding tomato puree/paste can also intensify the flavour.
Here is a recipe for a tomato fondue with so much flavour that - without the cheese - would make a good pasta sauce or soup in its own right. A smaller amount of cheese could then be added after if wished.
Tomato Fondue: serves 4
2 oz (50g) butter
1 small onion, finely chopped or grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 x 794g (28oz) can tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano or marjoram
1 tsp paprika pepper
2 tsp dried basil ( or a few torn fresh leaves)
half pint (300ml) white wine (or half and half with water)
salt and pepper
1 lb (500g) grated Cheddar cheese
Melt the butter in a fondue dish or heavy pan/casserole. Stir in the onion and cook until softened then stir in the garlic. Drain the tomatoes thoroughly then mash them to a pulp (or blitz in a blender). Add to the onion, with the herbs, paprika and wine, adding seasoning to taste. Simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Gradually stir in the cheese and cook over a low heat until melted. Serve immediately with cubes of bread to be dipped into the hot fondue before eating.

When someone is on an upward path to learning how to cook (from scratch), sometimes it can become far too complicated and who can blame anyone for returning to the ready-meals again. Far better to use some convenience tricks to reduce the work load, so that when eventually experience makes everything so much easier, then maybe many of the 'cons' can then be left out.

As this is credit-crunch time - and possibly for the whole of this year and the next - we can now avoid calling cheap food 'frugal fare' and instead call it the 'crunch munch'. Strange isn't it how changing a name can make it more appealing? Wonder how long it will be before some cook book comes out with that as a title.