Saturday, May 23, 2009

Yogurt - the miracle food (masterclass)

It seems the subject for today almost literally landed in my lap. Firstly a health-food book toppled off the table and fell open at the page dealing with yogurt, while picking it up my elbow knocked a pile of books over, revealing another book all about yogurt, and opening a page at random in my encyclopedia - what do I see? Yogurt! Twice may be a coincidence, thrice seems that something is pushing me in the direction it wishes to go.

However the spelling- yogurt (my favourite), yoghurt or yurt (there are other ways to spell it), most of us use the 'g' when naming it, even though the correct pronunciation is "yort". This milk product has been eaten for so many centuries by the Turks and Bulgars that its origin is lost in the mists of time, and not commonly known in other areas of the world until about 60 years ago. Initially not much liked until it was proved that it really is good for us, and the manufacturers began adding various fruit flavours. Now it seems we all eat yogurt, and quite a number of readers of this site have told us they make their own.
At the turn of the last century (1900) a famous Russian microbiologist proclaimed yogurt to be "almost the elixir of life", his theory based partly on the fact "that yogurt-eating Bulgarians seemed to live very long lives, and partly on the proved scientific fact that the lactic acid in yogurt discourages putrefactive bacteria".
Yogurt is such an important 'health-food' that every hospital in Turkey today serves it to the patients daily as a matter of course (but NEVER with sugar unless part of a dessert), and worth knowing, purely from the cost-cutting aspect, that 23 million Turks eat yogurt every day, and no Turkish housewife worth her salt would dream of buying something that can be made three or four times cheaper at home and so very easily.

Yogurt has its own natural bacillus (aka bacteria) that will go on breeding for ever, so having bought your first 'live' yogurt, you can use some of that as a 'starter' added to warm milk to make a fresh batch, and from there on continue using home-made yogurt to start a new batch, although to keep it as 'sour' as possible it is recommended that after some weeks a new starter is bought, and the whole process begun again.

In the Balkans, sheep's milk is regarded as the best milk to make yogurt, although this is slightly more indigestible than made with cow's milk. Yogurt can even be made with goat's milk but not - even in part - from reconstituted dried milk. Yet many of us do prefer to make it this way. But it is not the correct way. Adding dried milk is a modern way of giving more body to the yogurt, but then as the manufactured yogurt sold in supermarkets has not much similarity to the good thick yogurt eaten in Turkey (being thick,able to be cut with a spoon, smooth, and even called 'sweet', even though it contains lactic acid) we are not likely to appreciate the difference. If wishing to make a good yogurt, cream - due to the high butter fat content - is the ideal medium, although expensive and certainly in Turkey yogurt is made with fresh cream only on festive occasions. For general use, full-cream cow's milk is best.

Yogurt contains calcium and phosphorus (good for healthy bones), Vitamin B2 (helps to release energy from foods) and Vitamin B12 for a healthy nervous system. People who have lactic intolerance, so avoid milk, may find they can tolerate yogurt. Another interesting fact is that yogurt is much more rapidly digested than raw milk (in one hour only 32% of raw milk being digested as against 91% of yogurt), so particularly good to serve to invalids.

My 'yogurt book' (more than one in fact) claims that "as a medicine it might be called a miracle worker" being so powerful that it fights and destroys the harmful germs that breed in the intestines - the cause of many of our diseases, and remarkably efficient in all intestinal troubles.
In Turkey pregnant women are recommended to eat or drink yogurt in preference to fresh milk, and also when breast-feeding their offspring.

In the east of Turkey, where people are very strong, it is considered that yogurt, eaten with garlic, is a sure preventative against tuberculosis. The peasants believe their longevity and resistance to diseases are due to the daily eating of yogurt and outside every hut - when the temperature is in the hundreds - there will be seen a large vessel covered by sacking where the family yogurt is setting.

Yogurt being a natural food, and the bacillus not fussy about breeding conditions, only the simplest equipment is needed to make it. The only important thing is that the bacillus is fresh. It really is simple to make yogurt using only basic kitchen equipment, but - as ever - there are now many electrical gadgets that 'help to make the work easier', but who needs to pay for electricity when all that is traditionally needed is a bowl (to hold 2 - 3 pints of milk), something to cover it (a plate, cork tile or clingfilm), and some blanket to keep it warm (or use a tin lined with cushions, a haybox, a box lined with expanded polystyrene etc)? A vacuum flask is not recommended unless the yogurt is to be turned out and drained in muslin after it has 'clabbered' (set).

to make good yogurt:
It is not necessary to buy a 'starter' as a little taken from a pot of live yogurt will work just as well. Do not use too much - no more than 1 teaspoon per pint, preferably half that - as too much makes a grainy yogurt. The starter should contain Lactobacillus bulgaris and Streptococcus thermophilus, which both grow well at 40 - 45C (104 -113F), a higher temperature than the normal 'luke-warm' recommended. The temperature should be measured with a thermometer (first stirring the milk to make sure the warmth is evenly distributed), akthough the traditional way of dipping in the knuckle of the little finger to test the heat works almost as well, and much depends upon your pain threshold as the recommendation is to dip in the knuckle, slowly count to ten, feeling some discomfort but without coming to screaming pitch and having to snatch out the finger. Then the temperature should be just about right. It is worth having a practice with various degrees of warm water and seeing how hot you can stand it, then take its temperature.

The milk should be brought to the boil, or if you wish for a creamier flavour, boil the milk for several minutes to reduce and concentrate the flavour. The milk should then be poured into the bowl - which like the spoon used, should have first been scalded with boiling water - then left to get cool until it reaches 45C (113F) - some books go as low as 110F. Mix a teaspoon or so of the milk with the starter, then pour this back into the bowl of milk and stir to distribute evenly. Cover and immediately surround with the chosen insulation. Place in a room (or airing cupboard) - a room temperature of not less than 65F is essential and a kitchen (or airing cupboard) higher than that is all to the good. Take a look after about 6 - 8 hours, and quickly wrap again if the yogurt has not begun to set. Overnight can sometimes be too long. When clotted, removed the wraps and keep in a cold place, or when cold in the lower half of a fridge.
If reluctant to set firmly, the yogurt can be drained through a bag of muslin, hanging it up to drip until as thick as you want it. Long draining turns it into yogurt cheese. An alternative is to press a ladle in the surface of the yogurt to make a well, which - after a time - will fill with waterey whey that can then be spooned out. Repeat until the thickness required.

There are three main reasons for failure, the first is failing to keep the pot warm enough, this usually happens if the yogurt is made in too small a quantity. Another reason is using a 'dud' yogurt - one that contains no living bacteria. Or the bacteria may have been killed by adding the starter to milk that was too hot.
A failed yogurt can be made to set if the bowl is put into a pan of warm water, letting the water come up two-thirds up the bowl, and leave for a few hours, replacing the water as soon as it cools below blood heat. As with anything, practice makes perfect.

To obtain a thicker yogurt by using too much 'starter' is not recommended as it will not be as creamy because the bacillus has no room to expand, and the finished product will be a mass of tiny globules. The best yogurt is that made with the smaller amount of bacillus.
The bacillus lives indefinitely, so the next batch can be made from yogurt made a day or two previously. Best made daily (but not essential), and after several weeks the home-made yogurt will begin to get sweeter, but will not sour again unless the starter comes from a fresh bought live yogurtm or a sour (old) yogurt starts off the next batch. Fresh is best.

cooking with yogurt:
Yogurt made with goat's milk can be boiled (but carefully) without it separating, but yogurt made with cow's milk needs to be stabilized. To do this add a teaspoon of cornflour or chickpea flour and the white of an egg to every litre (1.75pts) of yogurt, then bring to the boil slowly, stirring it in one direction only. Once it comes to the simmer, and thickened, remove from heat and it can be cooled and kept in the fridge and used as needed. Remember to label it as 'stablilized.

Now we come to some recipes. The first makes good use of the chicken flesh removed from the carcase after the bones and vegetables have made stock.
Chicken Soup with Yogurt: serves 4
1.75 pints (1 ltr) chicken stock
cooked chicken, torn into pieces
8 fl oz (250ml) yogurt
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1 tsp fresh fennel
1 tsp fresh marjoram
salt and pepper
Put the stock in a pan and bring to the simmer. Add the cooked chicken.
Whisk the yogurt with the whole eggs and the egg yolks, thinning down with a little of the stock, adding seasoning to taste, then pour this into the pan and heat but do not allow to boil. Serve hot, garnished with the herbs.

This next dish also uses shredded chicken, and as this is virtually 'free' when picked from the carcase bones, this is really cheap to make. Because the recipe was originally in cup measurements, have used an average size mug as a convenient measure as a little more or less doesn't really make that much difference.
Lebanese Chicken: serves 4
4 tblsp minced onion
2 mugs finely shredded cooked chicken
1 mug chicken stock
half a mug of water
1 rounded tablespoon cornflour
3 tblsp butter, melted
1 mug button mushrooms
1 mug diced celery
2 fl oz (50ml) yogurt
salt and pepper
cooked noodles for serving
Put the butter in a saucepan and gently fry the onions and mushrooms until very lightly browned. Stir in the celery, stock, and half the water beaten with the yogurt, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add seasoning to taste.
Blend the cornflour with the remaining water and stir this into the pan, keeping stirring until the slightly thickened. Serve over a bed of cooked noodles.

Another easy one recipe to make especially if you have the minced lamb in the freezer (use thawed), the breadcrumbs and stock also ready and waiting in the freezer, your own home-grown mustard and cress, and a jar of home-made redcurrant jelly. This truly will be as near to self sufficient cooking as we get these days.
Turkish Rissoles: serves 4
1 lb (450g) minced lamb
2 tblsp minced shallots
1 small clove garlic, crushed (opt)
1 egg, lightly beaten
pinch cinnamon
1 slice toasting bread, crumbed
4 fl oz (100ml) beef stock
2 good tblsp yogurt
4 fl oz (100ml) redcurrant jelly
4 tblsp butter, melted
salt and pepper
punnet of mustard and cress
Set the stock, butter, mustard and cress to one side, then mix the remaining ingredients together, adding seasoning to taste. Form into fattish 'sausages' (aka rissoles). Put the butter in a pan and when hot, add the rissoles and turn until browned on all sides. Place in a single layer in a baking dish, pour over the stock, cover and bake at 180C, 350F, as 4 for a good hour. Serve hot, garnished with mustard and cress.

Yet again this dish uses cooked chicken scraps, preferably minced (or given a quick, and I do mean quick, blitz in a food processor). A good recipe for those who grow their own beef tomatoes. For British tastes there may be too many olives, but as ever, use an amount according to your taste - or don't bother with them at all. Remember that freshly poached eggs can be slipped into a bowl of cold water, kept in the fridge overnight, and reheated the next day by putting into a pan of hot water and leaving for a minute to warm up before serving (this is the way hotels and restaurants manage to serve hundreds of guests with poached eggs at any one time).
Palas Eggs: makes 6
3 very large tomatoes (skinned)
6 eggs, poached but cold
half pint minced cooked chicken
1 tblsp finely chopped parsley
8 fl oz (250ml) yogurt dressing (see below)
30 black olives
Cut the prepared tomatoes in half and remove the pulp and seeds. Put a cold poached egg inside each halved tomato, then arrange on a serving dish. Pile the minced chicken on top of the eggs, then chill for half an hour before masking the top with the yogurt dressing and garnishing with parsley. Scatter the olives around the tomatoes. If not using olives (or even with) good served with a crisp green salad.
yogurt dressing:
1 rounded tblsp plain flour, sifted
half tsp sugar
half tsp salt
half tsp dry mustard
5 fl oz (150ml) water
2 fl oz (50ml) tarragon vinegar
2 egg yolks
4 fl oz (100ml) olive oil
2 fl oz (50ml) yogurt
2 tblsp minced chives
Set aside the egg yolks, olive oil, yogurt and herbs, and put the remaining ingredients into a saucepan, and - stirring all the time - simmer until the sauce thickens. Boil for one minute then remove from heat. Beat in the egg yolks and continue beating while VERY GRADUALLY adding the olive oil, then chill thoroughly and an hour before serving, stir in the yogurt and chives, then beat together for half a minute before using.

This next recipe is included as it has an interesting ingredient: Bovril (in a jar not a stock cube), and this then led me to think that Marmite might be a vegetarian substitute. Some people prefer not to fry mushrooms, but flavour them by steeping them in a good 'stock' and this word I use loosely as recently spoke to someone who always flavoured her mushrooms by soaking them in tea (wouldn't do them any other way). So whether on a low-fat diet or not, this recipe could easily be adapted to suit needs and tastes. Just for the sake of speed, suggest using microwave '2 minute' pilau rice. If making it from scratch flavour the water with a Bovil stock cube.
Mushroom Pilau: servss 3 - 4
ready made pilau rice
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms
3 tblsp butter
9 fl oz (250ml) yogurt
half tsp Bovril
2 tblsp finely chopped parsley
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
Cook the mushrooms in the butter for a 10 minutes, then add the Bovril and stir well. Beat the yogurt a few times with a fork, then add this to the mushrooms. Do not boil or the yogurt may split. Add seasoning to taste, then serve the mushrooms on a bed of pilau rice, garnishing with the parsley and slices of tomato. Serve hot.

Yogurt adds much to a salad, and here are a few easy ones to make:
Little Gem Salad:
2 Little Gem lettuce
2 - 3 tblsp chopped gherkins
8 fl oz (250g) yogurt dressing (recipe above)
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
salt and pepper
Cut each lettuce through from top to bottom, and then each piece in half again, making a total of 8 quarters. Place in a serving dish. Mix the gherkins with the red pepper, adding seasoning to taste and scatter these over the lettuce, pouring the yogurt dressing over the top. Chill well before serving.

Cucumber Salad:
1 cucumber, sliced
1 tblsp minced or very finely chopped chives
half a small white cabbage, grated or finely shredded
3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
half pint (300ml) yogurt dressing (recipe above)
2 tblsp chopped red bell pepper
Put the grated cabbage into a bowl and toss with half the yogurt dressing. Place into a serving bowl and top with the cucumber slices. Arrange the eggs round the sides, and garnish with the chives and pepper. Chill well before serving with remaining yogurt dressing.

Cheese Salad:
Iceberg lettuce
1 pint measure grated cheese
4 hardboiled eggs
1 tsp horseradish cream
8 fl oz (250ml) yogurt dressing (above)
2 tblsp finely chopped gherkins
1 tsp poppy seed
asparagus tips
salt and pepper
Take a serving bowl and make a bed of shredded lettuce, then sprinkle over the cheese. Slice the eggs in half, remove yolk and push this through a sieve. Mix the sieved yolk with the horseradish cream and a little yogurt dressing, then use this to fill the hollow left in the egg whites. Place on top of the cheese, pour over the remaining dressing and garnish with cooked asparagus.
tip: being modestly mercenary tend to use canned asparagus, the tips going into a dish such as the above, or for garnishing. The stalks blitzed with milk to use for flavouring a soup or quiche.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Low-fat but which fat?

The type of oil or fat used in the kitchen is immensely important, even when aiming to cook 'low-fat' recipes. Fats give flavour and character. Even when tasteless, each have their own quality of 'greasiness' and can produce quite different results when mixed with flour in a sauce, or used in a pastry and every recipe should be specific about which oil or fats should be used, and not just generalise (as so many do).

With our need to cut down on saturated fats, is it any wonder that we find the chips we fry, or even buy are not 'like they used to be'? Remembering the days when chips were really crisp, and stayed so for quite a long time, nowadays they become limp and soggy almost as soon as brought from the fat, even after a double fry. More and more chip shops fry in oil, and - in general - the more saturated the fat, the higher temperature it will tolerate, which is why chips fried in beef dripping are really, really good, and those fried in oil are not.

Of the vegetable oils regarded as suitable on a low-cholesterol/low-fat diet, safflower, sunflower, soya, grapeseed, corn and sesame are good. Olive oil and peanut oil are in the middle category, as are avocado oil and nut oils. Oils in fish (particularly herring) are very good for us, and surprisingly chicken fat is not as bad as it seems, much depending upon what the chicken has eaten. Chicken fat is nearer in consistency to oil than the more solid fats and, when clarified, it fries well to 200C without burning. The reason I mention chicken fat at all is that we can 'collect' free chicken fat if we simmer the carcase with the chicken skin and any fat taken from the bird. After making the stock, chill then removed the fat from the top. Free is free, let's not forget that.

The oils /fats to avoid are coconut oil, palm oil, and the animal fats such as butter, vegetable shortening, and hard margarines. We know that butter is 'bad' for us (not that this stops me using it), but often think of vegetable shortening and margarine as 'better for us'. Some margarines are better for us than others.

The fats used give areas of the world their 'regional flavours'. In Normandy they would cook with their renowned butter; in Provence oil is preferred. Eastern France uses lard, and towards the south-west they cook with goose-fat. Maybe it is because abroad they seem far more 'laid-back' than us, and their fatty diet does then little harm. Add stress and things might be different.
In China, butter is not used (don't think any diary products are eaten there), instead they use lard, but not the steam-stripped flavourless lard we are accustomed to - no, they render down pork fat (as we could and probably should do). They also use oils such as peanut and sesame.
In India the refined butter called ghee is most often used, and it is said that there is an incredible difference in the taste between a curry made with ghee, coconut oil or dalda (a hydrogenated fat) that no amount of spices can change. Proving again, that it is the flavour of the fats used that really make a difference to a dish, and a good cook should always take that into account.

So - even when cooking a low-fat recipe, by all means cut down, but try not to cut out altogether, and if possible use the correct type of fat - even if only a drop or two. Generally, low-fat recipes suggest using olive oil, but from the cook's point of view even this needs to be of reasonable quality.
The best oils (of any type) are 'cold-pressed' which retains some of their original flavour, and when it comes to olive oil the more information we have on this the better chance of choosing the right ones to use.

olive oil:
To give oil, the olives must be ripe, and the traditional method of extracting the oil - and still used today in some villages - is to crush the fruit in a trough under a rolling stone - similar to a millstone - so that the liquid is squeezed out and then purified by floating it in water.
The modern way is to squeeze the fruit under hydraulic presses and separate the oil by centrifuge (as a washing machines spins out the water). Oil pressed without any other treatment is called virgin oil, although there are many differences in this depending on the country it is made. In Spain, they produce a good oil, which is on sale, but prefer their virgin oil to have a 'rank' flavour just because it is the way the Spaniards prefer it. So if holidaying in Spain take care if bringing home a bottle.
In Italy their virgin oil has several grades, the 'extra virgin' having 1% acidity, 'superfine virgin' 1.0 - 1.5%, 'fine virgin' 1.5 - 3.0%, and 'everyday virgin' 3 - 4% acidity (and apologies to any Italian reader for making a hash of the translation).
Poor quality and acidic oils can be treated by adding an alkali to neutralise the excess acid, then filtering and finally steam-stripping to remove the flavour. 'Ordinary' olive oil can consist of stripped oils with between 5 - 15% virgin oil added for flavour - but if made by extraction should be labelled so (eg Olio di sansa e di oliva), and although fit to use, is not really 'proper' olive oil.

Light affects oil, and not in a good way, so always store the bottles in the dark, and even better, decant into small full bottles and keep in the fridge. The cold will cause the oil to go cloudy, but once at room temperature it will return to normal clarity.
The custom in many Italian households is to use oilseed oils for cooking, and to keep olive oil as a condiment to sprinkle over the food when served.
All good olive oil is expensive, and the top quality extra virgin is always recommended (and by Italians) as being used as a condiment rather than used for cooking. To make a good light oil for cooking purposes, blend together equal amounts of sunflower and olive oil. This way you get the flavour without the expense.

Cod with an Olive Topping: serves 4
10 black olives, stones removed, flesh finely chopped
3 oz (75g) fresh breadcrumbs (brown, white or mixture)
1 tbslp chopped fresh tarragon
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 shallot, finely chopped (or 3 spring onions)
1 tblsp olive oil (see above tip)
4 x 6oz (175g) thick, skinless cod fillets
After preparing the olives, put them into a bowl with the breadcrumbs then gently stir in the tarragon, garlic, shallot, and olive oil.
Place the fish fillets on a lightly oil baking sheet and place spoonfuls of the olive mixture on top of each fillet, spreading and pressing the mixture down lightly and evenly so the top of the fish is covered.
Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and the topping is golden brown. Serve with vegetables or salad of your choice.

Another fish dish, but why not? Fish is good for us and we should eat it more often. This next recipe is a good way to use the frozen plaice fillets that - it has to be said - lack the flavour of fresh fish, but then also work out cheaper.
Traditionally we serve lemons with fish, but oranges work equally as well alone, or with lemons as in this dish.

St. Clement's Grilled Fish: serves 4
1 teaspoon sunflower oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
6 oz (175g) long-grain rice
5 fl oz (150ml) orange juice
2 tblsp lemon juice
8 fl oz (225ml) vegetable stock
spray of oil
4 x 6 oz (175g) plaice fillets, skins removed
1 orange and 1 lemon
1 oz (25g) low-fat butter or spread
2 tblsp chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion, bell pepper and rice for 2 minutes, then stir in the orange and lemon juice and bring to the boil. Pour in half the stock, bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 or so minutes or until the rice is tender. Add more stock as necessary.
Spray the base of a grill pan with oil, then place the fish fillets in the pan. Grate the orange and lemons, then cut each in half and squeeze the juice from one half of each fruit.
Take a small saucepan and - over low heat - melt the butter, then add the citrus zest, the squeezed juices and half the tarragon. Brush this over the top of the fish then - under a pre-heated medium grill - cook for 5 minutes, basting continuously.
When the rice is cooked, stir in the remaining herbs and season to taste. Cut the reserved citrus halves into wedges. Serve the fish immediately with the rice, garnished with the lemon and orange wedges.
tip: timing needs to be fairly accurate to have everything ready at the same time, so have the basting liquid ready and kept warm, and the fish ready to put under the grill just as the rice becomes tender. Turn the heat off under the rice, but cover the pan (it will still cook on in its own steam), and the rice will stay hot long enough to cope with several minutes delay before serving.

Not everyone wishes to eat prawns, but they do make good eating, as long as enough flavour is added. The little frozen prawns are often sold 'reduced-price', and so here are two dishes that make good use of them:

Prawn and Corn Soup: serves 4 - 6
2 tsp grated root ginger
1 tblsp dry sherry
8 oz (225g) frozen peeled prawns, thawed
1.5 pints (900ml) light chicken stock
1 x 326 (12 oz) can sweetcorn kernels, drained
pinch salt
2 oz (50g) lean ham, diced (opt)
1 tblsp chopped chives
low-fat yogurt (opt)
Mix together the ginger, sherry and prawns. Put the stock in a pan, bring to the boil, the stir in the prawn mixture and the sweetcorn, adding salt to taste. Cook/stir gently for 2 minutes. Serve immediately either sprinkled with the ham and chives, or drizzle a swirl of yogurt on top, also sprinkled with chives.

For this second prawn dish, the prawns can either be fresh or frozen. Frozen is easiest as they have already been cooked and shelled, all they need is thawing and heating through. The time given in the recipe is for 'cooking' fresh peeled prawns, reduce this to 2 minutes if using thawed prawns as they toughen if cooked too long, but they do need heating through.
Prawn Creole: serves 6
2 tsp light olive oil, or sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
12 oz (350g) tomatoes chopped, either fresh or canned
1 green bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
salt and pepper
4 tblsp white wine
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 lb (500g) peeled prawns (see above)
dash Tabasco sauce or to taste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Fry the onion in the oil until softened and just beginning to brown, then stir in the garlic and celery, and fry for a further 2 minutes before adding the chopped tomatoes and green pepper, with seasoning to taste. Stir in the tomato puree and the wine, then bring to the boil and simmer (uncovered) for 20 minutes.
Stir in the Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, also adding the prawns if uncooked. Simmer for five minutes. (If using frozen, cooked and thawed prawns, add the two sauces with the prawns but reduce the simmering time to 2 minutes) then stir in the parsley. Serve immediately, garnished with celery leaves if you have them (tender ones usually found in the centre of a head of celery). This dish is good served with rice, pasta, couscous or quinoa, and a green salad.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Just Desserts

Today are more recipes for the freezer, concentrating on the iced desserts, for as they always need preparing ahead, but can then be kept in the fridge for some weeks, they make the perfect dessert for a party. All we need to do to devise a similar dessert one ourselves is to read the recipe - use it as a guide, then using the base syrup, and change the other ingredients, keeping the quantities as accurate as possible and of a similar type.

First comes the descriptions of various frozen 'ices' for there are several different kinds. As several contain no cream, suitable for those on a low-fat diet, just accept they still have plenty of calories due to the sugar used. All frozen desserts normally have a 'shelf-life' of 2 months.

granita: the simplest of all water ices, as these are basically a sugar syrup that has been flavoured with a fruit juice or puree (black coffee makes a particularly good one) partially frozen, forked up as it freezes, until it resembles sugar crystals. It can then stay frozen and served in glass dishes. It thaws fairly rapidly, so serve immediately with or without cream.

sherbets: again the foundation is a sugar syrup, made in a similar way to the water ice but afters added beaten egg white to give a fluffier texture does not need 'forking up'.

sorbets: similar to sherbets but often contain a spirit or liqueur, these helping to keep the sorbets from freezing solid, and so they can often be served straight from the freezer. Not necessarily sweet, as some can be served as starters or courses as a 'refresher/cleanser' to the palate.

ice-cream: normally made with a base of custard (made with eggs and milk/cream) plus more whipped cream folded in, there are umpteen flavourings that can be added. So, rather than deal with these, will be giving a few 'different' ice-creams. One being my own 'soft-scoop' recipe (using egg whites ), and another (using egg yolks), so that both can be made the same day without having to fret about using up the whites or yolks in another dish. This 'jig-saw' cookery (as I call it) is another form of 'cost-cutting-cookery'.

It saves a great deal of time if sugar syrup has been made in quantity, then stored in cleaned, sterilised jars. It will keep almost indefinitely and has many other uses. My favourite being a way to make ginger syrup (which is lovely poured over melon and ice-creams). The way to do this is buy a jar of stem ginger, the tip the contents into a bowl. Slice the ginger, then divide between four to six small sterilized jars (that have screw cap lids). Also divide the original ginger syrup between the jars, then top up with the home-made sugar syrup. Screw on the lids, give the jars a shake and leave for a month before using. During this time the ginger will have flavoured the syrup, and if any is taken out to use, the jar can be topped up again with more syrup.

basic sugar syrup:
4 oz (100g) granulated sugar
half pint (300ml) water
Dissolve the sugar in the water over low heat. Bring to the hoil and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Cool and use in recipes below or pot up to use later.

The first of the recipes is for an admittedly luxurious water ice, but you could omit the brandy, using more fruit juice instead, and use different canned fruits.
Peach Brandy Water Ice: serves 4 - 6 (F)
1 x 425g (15oz) can of peach halves or slices
1 quantity sugar syrup (see above)
4 tblsp brandy
3 tsp lemon juice
Drain the fruit but reserve 5 fl oz (150ml) of the juice. Puree the fruit in a blender, then mix together with the syrup, reserved juice, brandy and lemon juice. Pour into a container, cover and freeze. Allow to soften in the fridge for up to one hour before serving.

This next recipe is a sherbet as it is a water ice that has added egg white. A lemon sherbet is extremely refreshing served on a hot day, and/or after a fish course, and orange sherbet equally refreshing, and a better balance of flavours if orange sherbet is served after a beef casserole. Similarly, a sherbet made with apple would eat well after a pork main course.
lemon sherbet: serves 4 (F)
2 quantities of basic sugar syrup
zest and juice of 3 large lemons
1 egg white
Heat the sugar syrup, and stir in the lemon zest. Leave to cool naturally, then stir in the lemon juice. Strain through a sieve to remove zest, then pour into a container and freeze until mushy. Then whisk the egg white until stiff, pour the mushy water ice into a bowl and fold in the egg white, mixing thoroughly. Return to container and freeze. Cover, seal and label. thaw in the fridge for half an hour or more before serving.

We now come to the recipe for sorbet. Similar in some ways to the sherbet, but this first does not use sugar syrup and has kirsch added. As spirit helps keep the sorbets soft, these should be able to be served straight from the freezer.
Black Cherry Sorbet: serves 4 (F)
1 x 425g (15oz) can black cherries
2 tblsp Kirsch
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 egg white
Remove the stones from the cherries and puree the fruit with the juice from the can, the Kirsch and lemon juice. Pour into a container and freeze until mushy. Beat the egg white until stiff, spoon the mushy mixture into a bowl and fold in the whites. Return to container, cover and freeze until firm. Serve straight from freezer.

With the gooseberry season coming up, worth including this lovely sorbet, and as the water and sugar balance is different to the basic syrup this needs to be made from scratch. The gooseberries can be fresh or frozen, but if using canned berries, use the juice in the can and omit the sugar and water.
Gooseberry Sorbet: serves 6 - 8 (F)
2 lbs (900g) gooseberries, topped and tailed
5 fl oz (150ml) water
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
2 tblsp lemon juice
edible green colouring (opt)
2 egg whites
Put the gooseberries in a pan with the water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer until very soft, then stir in the sugar and cool. Pour into a sieve, rubbing as much of the gooseberry flesh through as you can, then stir in the lemon juice and colouring (if used). Freeze until mushy. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, and fold into the half frozen mixture. Return to container, cover and freeze.

This next recipe is slightly more complicated, although some parts - such as the apple puree - could be prepared ahead (even frozen then thawed) before assembly. Can either be served as a starter, a between course 'refresher', or a dessert.
Apple and Ginger Sorbet: serves 6 (F)
4 cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
zest and juice of 1 small lemon
3 tblsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
6 pieces stem ginger, finely diced
4 tblsp syrup (from stem ginger jar)
5 fl oz (150ml) apple juice
2 egg whites
Cook the apples with the lemon zest and juice until very soft, blitz or mash to a smooth puree, then stir in the sugar and ground ginger and leave to get completely cold before folding in the stem ginger, ginger syrup and apple juice.
Pour into a rigid container, cover and freeze for about an hour or until half-frozen and the centre is mushy. Scrape every bit out of the container into a bowl and beat until smooth. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold these into the apple mixture. Return to the container and freeze until firm.
Place in the fridge about half an hour to soften slightly, then scoop into chilled dishes and serve.

Two more 'savoury' herb-based sorbets coming up both making an excellent starter, or served between courses. As a between course 'refresher' can be served in small 'shot' glasses, this would serve almost twice as many guests.
Melon and Mint Sorbet: serves 6 (F)
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
5 tblsp water
good handful mint
1 large ripe melon
zest and juice of 2 large lemons (or limes)
2 egg whites
Put the water and sugar into a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the mint, stir and leave to get cold.
Cut the melon flesh into chunks, and blend to a puree. Strain the herb-flavoured syrup into the melon and add the citrus juice. Mix well, then pour into a container, cover and freeze for a couple or so hours or until half-frozen but mushy in the centre.
Scrape the contents out into a bowl and beat until smooth. Stiffly beat the egg whites, and then fold these into the melon mixture. Return to container, cover and freeze. Place container in the fridge for half an hour before serving, then scoop into chilled dishes, garnishing each with a sprig of mint.

Tomato and Basil Sorbet: serves 6 - 8 (F)
1 x 1.2 ltr (43 fl oz) can tomato juice
juice of half a lemon
1 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tblsp finely chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tblsp white wine
2 drops Tabasco
salt and pepper
2 egg whites
Mix together the tomato juice, lemon juice, W. sauce, basil, wine and Tabasco. Add seasoning to taste. Freeze until mushy, then turn into a bowl and beat until smooth. Return to container and freeze for a further hour, then beat again. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold them into the tomato mixture, return this to the container, cover and freeze. Place in the fridge half an hour before serving, to allow to soften slightly, then spoon into chilled glasses and garnish with a basil leaf.

Now we come to my Beloved's favourite ice-cream. My soft-scoop. Basically, this can be any amount of egg whites (four, when whipped is about as many as a large bowl will hold), as long as 2 oz (50g) sugar is used for each egg white. When using four egg whites, half a pint (300ml) of whipped cream is sufficient. Personally I add half cream and half Greek yogurt, as using all cream the dessert is very rich. If wishing to use fruit puree, use half whipped cream, half fruit puree (or half yogurt, half fruit puree).
Shirley's Soft-scoop Ice-cream: serves 6
4 egg whites
8 oz (225g) granulated sugar
4 tblsp water
half pint (300ml) double or whipping cream
Put the sugar in a pan with the water and heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved, then raise the heat and boil the sugar to 'soft-ball' stage (this takes about 3 minutes - and to test for 'soft-ball' drop a little of the syrup into a saucer of cold water, it should be able to be gathered up into a soft ball. If not ready, boil a little longer. When used immediately.
Meanwhile start whisking the whites really thickly, then - when the sugar is ready - and still whisking, very slowly pour in the hot sugar. When all the sugar has been whisked in , keep whisking until the mixture is very thick and cooled slightly. If possible, wrap a wet tea towel round the mixing bowl to help it cool down. When cold, fold in the lightly whipped cream and/or yogurt, fruit purees etc. Then turn into containers, cover and freeze. After several hours freezing, preferably overnight, the 'ice-cream' will still be soft enough to be able to be scooped directly from the container.
flavour variations:
mint choc chip: tint the water and/or the cream with green food colouring, and add a few drops of peppermint essence to the water and/or the cream. Fold in grated chocolate to the basic mixture before freezing.
rum and raisin: soak a cupful of raisins or sultanas in rum, drain (any rum can be beaten into the cream) and fold the fruit in after the initial folding of cream and Italian meringue.
strawberry: puree fresh fruit and fold into the cream/meringue mixture.

Zabaglioni ice-cream: serves 8 (F)
6 egg yolks
2 oz caster sugar
6 tblsp Masala or sweet white wine
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream, lightly whipped
Put the egg yolks, sugar and wine into a bowl that will fit over a pan of simmering water. Start whisking, and continue until the mixture is thick and creamy - this can take about 10 minutes - then remove bowl from the heat, and fold in the cream until well mixed together. Pour into a rigid container and freeze until solid. Put into the fridge half an hour before serving to allow it to soften slightly.

This next 'ice-cream' (not a true ice-cream as it contains no cream) can be made with different fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, ripe pears, bananas...
Fruit 'ice-cream': serves 4 (F)
1 small can evaporated milk
8 oz (225g) fresh raspberries (or other fruit)
2 oz (50g) sugar
Chill the can of milk overnight (or even longer). Pulp the fruit then sieve to make 5 fl oz (150ml) puree, and add the sugar.
Open the can of evaporated milk, pour into a chilled bowl and whip until stiff, then fold in the fruit puree. Pour into a container, cover and freeze until solid. Place in the fridge for half an hour or so to soften before serving.

Cream Cheese 'Ice-Cream': serves 6
half pint (300ml) thick cold custard
8 oz (225g) cream cheese (Philly type)
2 tblsp lemon juice
8 tblsp chilled evaporated milk, whipped
1 oz (25g) walnut pieces, chopped
Blend the cheese with the lemon juice and stir in the whipped evaporated milk. Fold in the walnuts, and finally the cold custard. Pour into a container and freeze and serve in the usual way.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

To Mash or not to Mash? - mini-masterclass

We think of potato varieties as very few, yet over 700 are kept at the Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland. The largest potato gene bank being in Peru where they hold 3,694 cultivars (as at 1999). At least this means many more varieties that we expect (some in short supply) can be bought as ‘seed’ potatoes, and home-grown. Farmers’ markets will also have more varieties on sale than the supermarkets carry.

During wartime rationing there were only two varieties grown in any amount, ‘Home Guard’ being the early, and the maincrop, called ‘Arran Consul’ - known as “the potato that won the war”.

Ffor general culinary use we cannot do much better than Maris Piper, a good all-rounder, which is now Britain’s most popular potato, especially in fish and chip shops, but it can break easily if overcooked.

Desiree is said to the world’s favourite red-skinned potato, and cooks well especially when roasted or cooked in wedges as it holds its shape. Another all-rounder as it is suitable for baking, boiling, chipping, roasting, mashing, Good also for salads – in fact all methods of cooking. Rooster is another good one.

Pink Fir Apple is not so well known, and often avoided as it is very knobbly and nigh impossible to peel, but it is firm and waxy with a delicious flavour. It can be easily peeled once cooked (if you insist on peeling), and best served cold in salads, or hot as new potatoes.

Charlotte has a firm waxy texture with a hint of chestnut flavour. The best way to cook this potato is by steaming whether eating hot or cold, and eats particularly well cold in salads. Extremely popular in France where cooks respect the quality more than we might do.

(La) Ratte is a potato similar to Pink Fir, but not so knobbly, and – like Charlotte – also has a nutty flavour. Again extremely popular in France and fast growing in popularity here.

Royal Kidney – better known to us as Jersey Royals. Although the ‘royal’ is grown in different countries, only the rich Jersey soil brings out the true flavour, and Jersey Royals are respected all over the world. Being a ‘first early’ they are picked and sold within days, unlike maincrop which can be stored for months. So when on sale, make the most of them.

When it comes to preparing and cooking potatoes there are many useful hints and tips. So as I work through several of these, hope that at least some of the info will be of help. Have not covered frying potatoes (as chips), as it seems oven-chips seem the healthiest way to cook, but other methods of cooking will be given.

First the preparation:
Potatoes can be grated either before or after cooking, depending upon the recipe chosen. Raw potatoes, when grated, exude a surprising amount of starchy liquid that can help some dishes to ‘stick together’, other dishes need the liquid removing, and this is best done by squeezing the gratings by hand, or wrapping them in a clean tea towel and wringing them out.
Cold floury potatoes are easier to grate after they have been cooked, as long as they have not been overcooked. Waxy potatoes are best for making rosti and hash.

chopping and dicing:
Waxu potatoes are the best first cooked and left to get cold before dicing as then they chop more easily and cleanly. If intending to use diced potatoes in soup or chowder, then chop floury potatoes when raw as these are more likely disintegrate and their starches help thicken the soup.

Normally slices are used as a topping to a casserole or similar dish. Aim to cut them an even thickness so that they cook evenly. The recommended thickness is one eighth of an inch thick (3mm).

We are all pretty used to cooking potatoes by boiling, but even this should be done correctly according to the type of potato used, and other methods are also given.
boiling potatoes:
With maincrop potatoes, cut into similar sized chunks (or the smaller ones can be left whole) so that they cook evenly. Place in a pan immediately after peeling and cover (and only just cover) with COLD water, adding 1 – 2 tsp salt to taste, then bring slowly to the boil.
Floury potatoes need gentle cooking (simmering) or the outside will be cooked before the inside, and then they begin to fall apart in the pan (some varieties are worse than others).
When finished cooking, drain well then return to the pan to dry off (especially necessary when wishing to mash them), leaving them over a very low heat to allow moisture to escape. In the north of England the spuds are sprinkled with salt while drying off. In Ireland the cooked and drained potatoes are wrapped in a clean tea towel until ready to serve – turning out dry and fluffy.
New potatoes (because of their higher vitamin C content) should never be left soaking before being cooked but placed in a pan of BOILING water and cooked for about 15 minutes.
The very firm salad potatoes should also be put into boiling water, then simmered for 5 – 10 minutes, removed from heat, and left in the pan of hot water for another 10 minutes to cook through evenly.

With potatoes, blanching helps to soften the skin to make them easier to peel, they can then be returned to the water to finish cooking.
Blanching also helps to remove excess starch from the spuds, this being necessary for some recipes, and is also done before roasting.
To blanch, place the potatoes in a pan of COLD water, bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 2 – 5 minutes depending on size. They can either then be drained (peeled if necessary and cooked on), or left in the cooling water until needed.

Steaming is an excellent way to cook floury potatoes and those that fall apart easily. The small and new potatoes, when steamed in their skins (as they should be) are particularly delicious. Adding a bunch of mint to the simmering water gives a subtle flavour to the steamed spuds.
Allow 5 – 7 minutes steaming time for sliced or small potatoes, and up to 20 minutes for the larger ones. Test by sticking the tip of a knife into a potato to tell when it is cooked.
Once the potatoes are cooked, they will keep warm for several minutes if placed in a steamer over a pan of boiling water.

When roasting potatoes, use the large baking potatoes (Maris Piper, Desiree, King Edward, Kerr’s Pink etc). Cut into even sized pieces, blanch for 4 - 5 minutes (depending on the size), then remove from heat and stand in the cooling water for a further 4 - 5 minutes so that they part-cook evenly, then drain well and return to the pan over low heat for a few seconds to dry off.
To give a really crispy coating to a roast potato, rough up the surface with a fork, or give a good shake in a colander. Some cooks sprinkle the surface of the potato with flour or semolina before roasting.
The success of a good ‘roastie’ depends upon the type of fat used. Traditionally, beef dripping gives the best flavour, although goose fat is also delicious and gives a very light and crispy result.
A vegetarian alternative is a light olive oil, which is basically equal amount of sunflower and olive oils blended together.

To have perfect roast potatoes, the fat needs to be fairly shallow and hot enough to seal the surface of the potato immediately. The temperature of the oven should be 220C, 425F, gas 7. When the oil is very hot and shimmering, add the dried-off potatoes and toss immediately so all the surfaces are covered in the oil. Roast on the top shelf for up to an hour, occasionally turning the potatoes so they cook evenly. Towards the end of the cooking time, drain off all the fat as this will allow the potatoes to crisp up and brown more easily.

mashed potatoes:
However many time we mash potatoes, always they seem to have some lumps. If large potatoes are cooked in the microwave, the flesh mashes easily with a fork and there should be no lumps at all. When boiled in water (the more usual way), they need draining and drying off in the pan over low heat for a few minutes to get rid of the excess moisture. It is worth knowing that cold potatoes mash more easily than when hot.
How the potatoes are mashed depends upon the cook. Irrespective of whether butter, cream or eggs are included, the initial mashing can be done in several ways. Using a fork does not usually give good results, making for an uneven and lumpy texture (although suitable for the fashionable ‘crushed potato’ look). A potato masher works much better, but the best utensils to use are either a potato ‘ricer’, or a food mill (aka mouli mill). Pushing though a sieve also works but can take a long time and a fair amount of elbow grease.
NEVER ‘mash’ potatoes in a blender or food processor as this causes them to end up as a solid, gluey mass fit only to use when making soup. While an electric hand whisk does a reasonable job – if the potatoes are not overworked – it still remains that the best ‘mash’ is made by hand,

my chores. Pleased to hear you are enjoying the potato Masterclass, and hope today does not fail your expectations.
As to using mustard. When mustard is made with water, it can be really ‘hot’, but much milder when made with milk, this is perhaps why it seems to have less ‘bite’ when made into a mustard sauce. Many recipes originate in France where they normally use a milder mustard such as Dijon, so it maybe wiser to use less ‘Coleman’s’ if the ingredient just states ‘mustard’ without giving a type.
Incidentally, using mustard powder (either directly as an ingredient or made-up) works out far cheaper than buying it ready made in bottles or tubes.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wasting Away

We do not rate our personal skills highly enough, whether around the house or in the kitchen, perhaps especially in the kitchen for by now we all know that home-cooking is the best, and once we have had enough practice, we can produce food that would be very highly priced if we had the same served to us in a restaurant.
What this credit crunch has done is brought us back to the point where we can all live like kings without having to spend very much at all. All we have to do is - well, DO the necessary. Bring back all things home-made, whether knitwear, patchwork, jams/marmalades/preserves. Grow at least some of our own produce, and discover (re-discover if old enough to remember) the pleasure we gain when doing-it-ourselves.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Low-fat Filo

When it comes to lowering the fat content of the foods we eat, we normally avoid any dish made with pastry, particularly puff pastry due to the high amount of fat it contains. This does not mean we need cut out pastry altogether, for filo pastry is very low in fat, and although normally brushed with melted butter to keep the sheets apart when layering, a light spray of oil is sufficient.
Filo pastry comes in fairly large packs, and when using should always be covered to prevent the sheets drying out. It keeps well in the fridge, so take out only the amount you need, re-wrap the remainder and keep chilled.. If necessary cover the sheets waiting to be used with a damp cloth to keep them flexible.

The low fat recipes today are all made using filo pastry, and once tried feel that almost anyone will prefer these to the heavier (and fattier) shortcrust.

The first recipe is a nutritionists dream as it contains calcium-rich salmon, and mineral and vitamin rich spinach. Although the recipe is said to feed four, the amount of salmon used we would expect to feed one, so this makes an economical ‘light’ lunch or supper dish, or even a ‘starter’.
Salmon in Filo Nests: to serve 4
1 bay leaf
4 peppercorns
2 springs parsley
6 oz (175g) salmon fillet
4 large sheets filo pastry
oil spray
4 oz (100g) baby spinach leaves
8 tblsp low-fat plain yogurt or fromage frais
2 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
Put the bay leaf, peppercorns and parsley stalks (reserve the leaves) into a frying pan. Lay the salmon on top and add enough water to just cover the fish. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and poach the fish for 5 minutes, or until it flakes easily. Then remove fish from the pan and set aside.
Lay out a sheet of filo pastry and give a light spray with oil, then scrunch up the pastry round the sides to make a nest approx 5” (12.5cm) diameter. Repeat with the remaining three sheets making 4 nests in all.
Place the nests on a baking sheet and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 10 minutes until the pastry is golden and crisp.
Meanwhile, blanch the spinach in salted boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain well and keep warm.
Finely chop the parsley leaves and mix with the yogurt or fromage frais and the mustard, adding seasoning to taste. Warm slightly.
Remove any skin from the salmon and flake the fish. Divide the spinach between the filo nests, cover with the flaked salmon and spoon over the yogurt and parsley sauce. Serve immediately.

If care is taken skimming the fat from the top of home-made chicken stock (or use a cube), the skin and all visible fat removed from the chicken breasts, and oil is sprayed on the filo, this again make a very low-fat dish.
Chicken and Mushroom Pie: serves 4
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
8 fl oz (225ml) chicken stock
2 – 3 chicken breasts (according to size)
5 fl oz (150ml) white wine
1 bay leaf
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms
2 tblsp plain flour
3 tblsp cold water
1 tblsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper
approx 3 oz (75g) = 5 sheets filo pastry
spray oil
1 tsp sesame seeds
Put half the stock into a saucepan with the onion and leek, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 5 minute, then remove lid and cook until all the stock has evaporated and the vegetables are tender.
Cut the chicken breasts into small cubes. Add these to the pan of onions together with remaining stock, wine and the bay leaf. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes
Mix the flour with the water, then stir this into the pan and stir constantly until the liquid has thickened to a sauce. Season to taste and stir in the tarragon.
Remove the bay leaf and spoon the contents of the pan, including the sauce into a 2 pint (1.2ltr) pie dish.
Take each sheet of pastry, spray lightly with oil, then crumple up and place on top of the contents of the pie dish, working across from one side, and doing the same with each sheet of pastry, until the top of the pie is covered. Give a final spray of oil over the pastry and sprinkle over the sesame seeds.
Bake the pie at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden. Serve immediately with seasonal vegetables of your choice.

Final filo recipe today is for a ‘pudding’. Admittedly there is some butter and oil in this dish, also an orange curd, but even so it still comes under the ‘low-fat’ banner. Not as low as I would wish, but it should not be beyond a cook to substitute the curd for perhaps low-fat custard (with maybe some orange zest folded in). As with most recipes, take the idea then adapt it according to fruits in season and your personal tastes or needs.
Plum Pudding Pie: serves 4
1 ½ lb (700g) plums, stoned and quartered
2 tblsp soft brown sugar
zest of 1 small lemon
1 oz (25g) butter, melted
2 tsp olive oil
6 sheets filo pastry
7 oz (200g) orange curd
2 oz (50g) sultanas
icing sugar
half-fat thick Greek yogurt to serve
Put the plums in a pan with the sugar and cook gently, over a low heat, for 8 – 10 minutes until the fruit has softened. Then remove from heat and set aside.
Mix together the lemon zest, butter and olive oil.
Spray an 8” (20cm) round cake tin with oil and lay one sheet of pastry in the bottom, brushing with the lemon/butter/oil mixture, then fold over the surplus pastry towards the middle, so that it makes a neat base. Brush the surface with the lemon mix.
Cut 4 of the remaining sheets of filo in half, and place one piece in the cake tin, brushing again with oil, this time leaving surplus pastry up the sides of the cake tin. Continue layering the pastry in the same way, but turning the pastry sheets so that all corners end up lining the sides of the tin. Any corners sticking up will later be folded over to part-cover the pie (the aim being to form a filo pastry case into which the fruit will be spooned).
Mix together the plums, sultanas and orange curd and spoon into the pastry lined tin, pulling the pastry edges back over the filling as far as possible. Brush remaining sheet of pastry with the lemon mix, fold in half and cut into thick strips, then crunch up each strip and place over the top of the visible fruit.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden. Serve dusted with icing sugar and a dollop of low-fat Greek yogurt.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Meals without Meat

Depending upon who will be eating this next dish, start by making this vegetarian version of paella, and then - if necessary - divide the mixture between pure vegetarian, and almost vegetarian by adding a little fish to one half. Even some can have some cooked chicken wings slipped into the final serving if a non-vegetarian is at the table and hungry for meat. Feel free to vary the vegetables according to what is in season, the quantities also can be varied. The only ingredient that needs accuracy is the rice and liquids. If wishing to use white rice, it will take less time to cook, and probably need less liquid, so start by using half the liquid and then add more as the rice takes it up. Leave just a little liquid in the dish after the initial cooking as the rice will absorb this during the 'standing time'.
The adaptable Paella: to serve 8 (V)
4 oz (100g) flageolet beans, soaked overnight
8 fl oz (250ml) white wine
juice 1 large lemon
1 pint (600ml) vegetable stock
1 tsp saffron strands
16 fl.oz (500ml) measure long grain brown rice
3 tblsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 carrots, finely diced
1 each red, green and yellow bell pepper
4 oz (100g) frozen peas, thawed
4 oz (100g) flaked almonds, toasted
4 tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 large handful each fresh mint and parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
(optional extras: hardboiled eggs, black olives)
Drain and rinse the soaked beans, then boil in fresh water until tender. Drain and set aside.
Put the wine, stock, lemon juice and saffron into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir in the rice, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, then remove from the heat, still keeping the pan covered, and set aside for 15 minutes by which time the rice should be tender and all the liquid absorbed.
Meanwhile, trim and de-seed the bell peppers and cut into small squares. Using a deep frying pan, heat the oil and stir-fry the carrots and onions over high heat for 2 minutes, then reduce the heat and stir in the garlic, peas and bell peppers, and cook for a further couple of minutes, then stir in the rice, half the almonds and the beans, and all the herbs. Heat through, stirring occasionally, and serve garnished with the tomatoes (and quartered hardboiled eggs and olives if using). Scatter the remaining almonds over the top and serve immediately.

If recently 'turned' vegetarian, then sometimes we might feel something is missing from our plates. There are meat substitutes aplenty, but as they are not meat - just pretending to be - why not serve a cheaper 'steak' that you can prepare yourself.
Aubergine Steaks: serves 4 (V)
1 - large aubergine, thickly sliced
1 tblsp olive oil
4 fl oz (100ml) red wine
pinch each dried oregano and dried thyme
salt and pepper
Take a large shallow dish and place in the aubergine slices, lying flat in a single layer. Whisk the oil, wine and herbs together, adding seasoning to taste, until well mixed, then pour this evenly over the aubergines. Cover and chill for half an hour, then turn the slices, cover and leave for a further half hour.
To cook: place the marinated aubergines a single layer in an oiled baking tray, spooning over any marinade left, and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for 10 minutes, then turn each slice over and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the slices are tender and all the wine marinade has been absorbed. Remove from the dish and drain on kitchen paper.
Finish by frying the steaks in a little oil in a frying pan (or oiled griddle pan) for 1 - 2 minutes each side. OR - before the final frying - dip each into beaten egg and then breadcrumbs and then fry for the time given above.
Serve with cooked vegetables or a crisp salad as you would serve a beef steak.

All cooks keep plenty of onions in their vegetable racks, so this is a dish we should be able to make at any time. Use ordinary or vegetarian cheese according to your needs. In any case the 'stuffing' can be easily adapted to suit your tastes, but this one is particularly tasty. Don't peel the onion before the initial cooking, the skin helps to hold it together. As a 'side' dish, serve one onion per person.
Stuffed Onions: to serve 4
4 very large Spanish onions, unpeeled
1 oz (25g) butter
1 fl oz (25ml) white wine
4 oz (100g) grated (vegetarian) Cheddar
4 oz (100g) cottage cheese
pinch of dried thyme
4 oz (100g) walnut pieces, toasted
dash of Tabasco
salt and pepper
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, then carefully drop in the unpeeled onions and simmer for 10 minutes to soften the flesh enough so the middles can be easily removed. Do not over cook or the onions will fall apart.
When cooked, set aside to cool, then remove the brown skin. Remove the centre part from the onions, leaving at least 2 - 3 'rings' of onion to form a shell. Put half the middles to one side, and chop the rest finely, putting them into a frying pan with the butter and wine, and frying gently for 3 minutes. Remove from pan to a bowl, and mix in the cheeses, herb, walnuts adding Tabasco and seasonings to taste.
Stuff the onion shells with this mixture, then take an oiled dish and pour in a little water or wine to just cover the base, then place in the stuffed onions. Cover with foil and bake at 179C, 325F, gas 3 for about 40 minutes until the onions are tender. Serve hot with mushroom or onion gravy.
onion gravy:
take the reserved 'middles' and chop coarsely then fry for a few minutes with a small knob of butter and half a teaspoon of sugar, then when beginning to caramelise, add a little onion water or vegetable stock and cook until the onions are really tender. Either blitz in a blender to make a pouring gravy, or thicken with a little arrowroot, adding a dash of soy sauce if you wish more flavour.
mushroom gravy:
instead of using onion 'middles' (in which case use all the onion centres in the stuffing mix), saute finely chopped mushrooms in butter, omit the sugar but add a dash of brandy to give a rich flavour. Add stock and finish as above.

Believe we have already done a Masterclass on pastry, but there are always variations to the classic recipes and this one is 'vegetarian'. It won't work unless the margarine has been frozen and used when still frozen. Otherwise said to be foolproof. Two suggestions: if it makes it easier, cube the margarine before freezing, then less chance of it softening when added to the flour. And - if like me your hands are often warm - plunge hands into cold water for a few seconds (then dry well) before handling the pastry.
Vegetarian Pastry:
14 oz (400g) wholewheat flour
1 - 2 tsp salt
9 oz (250g) hard vegetable margarine, frozen
2 tblsp lemon juice. chilled
4 - 5 fl oz (100 - 150ml) iced water
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Finely chop or grate the margarine into the flour and stir with a wooden spoon just long enough for the margarine to be coated. Stir in the lemon juice and enough cold water to make a dough. It should be slightly sticky.
Turn onto a floured board and knead lightly so it just gathers itself together. There may be bit of margarine visible, but nothing to be concerned about. Wrap in greaseproof or put in a polybag and chill for at least an hour before using.
When ready to use, knead lightly until smooth, then use in the normal way.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Freeze with Ease

This is a dish made with canned pilchards, and being extremely inexpensive mean a meal that everyone can afford to make. As pilchards are just teenage sardines, sardines in tomato sauce (to the same weight) could be used instead.
Pilchard Pasta: serves 4 (F)
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
3 oz (75g) mushrooms, finely chopped
1 oz (25g) butter
1 lb can (454g) pilchards (or two smaller cans)
freshly ground black pepper
1 tblsp lemon juice
12 cannelloni OR 12 strips lasagne
1 oz (25g) butter
1 oz (25g) plain flour
15 fl oz (425ml) milk
salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a pan and fry the celery and mushrooms until tender. Mash the pilchards with their sauce then fold in the fried vegetables, adding the lemon juice and pepper to taste.
Cook the chosen pasta in salted boiling water until just tender, drain well and rinse with cold water. Stuff the fish filling into the cannelloni, or lay a 'sausage' of filling across the lasagne strip and roll it up into a cylinder. Place the filled pasta in a single layer into a foil-lined baking dish or rigid foil container.
Make the sauce by melting the butter, then remove from heat, stir in the flour and gradually blend in the milk. Return to the heat, stirring all the time, then bring to the boil, and boil for 1 minute until thickened, adding seasoning to taste. Cool, the pour over the cannelloni so that the sauce covers it completely. Chill then freeze until firm then lift the foil from the baking dish, folding it over, or covering tightly with more foil (if using a foil dish, just cover that before freezing), then seal, label and return to freezer for up to 2 months.
To serve from frozen: unwrap, return to the original container (if necessary) and reheat from frozen at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 45 minutes.

This next is more a party 'nibble' that can be made weeks ahead, frozen, then just thawed before eating. However these would also work as a 'side' to go with salads, and because of the crisp coating, probably enjoyed by children. Other cooked fish could be used, but smoked fish is particularly tasty. The thought has occurred that kippers might be less costly but still enjoyable.
Fish 'n Chip Nibbles: makes about 30 (F)
8 oz (225g) smoked haddock fillet
2 slices lemon
handful parsley
6 oz (175g) cream cheese
2 tsp lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
1 x 25g (1 oz) packs plain potato crisps, crushed
Remove the stalks from the parsley (reserving the leaves) and put the stalks into a pan with the lemon juice and fish, adding enough water to just cover. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer until the fish is just cooked. Meanwhile chop the parsley leaves finely and set aside.
When the fish is cooked, drain well, and remove the skin, membrane and bones. When the fish is cool, flake the flesh finely.
Cream together the cheese and the lemon juice, and when fully blended, fold in the chopped parsley and season to taste with the pepper. Fold this cheese mixture into the flaked fish until smooth.
Lightly flour your hands and take heaped teaspoons of the mixture (aiming for walnut sized portions) and roll into balls. Then roll each ball into the crushed crisps, pressing the crisps into the mixture, and rolling through the crisps again if necessary to cover the mixture completely.
To freeze: place in a single layer on a baking sheet and open freeze. When solid pack in a freezer bag, seal and label. Store in the fridge for up to 2 months.
To serve: remove balls from the bag and lay on a baking sheet. Leave at room temperature for about 3 hours, then serve - each speared with a cocktail stick - as buffet fare or as a cocktail savoury with drinks.

Yet another fish dish - this time a cross between a Scotch Egg and a Chicken Kiev, but without the sausage and the chicken. Read on and you will understand.
Mackerel a la Kiev: makes 6 (F)
4 mackerel, filleted
2 eggs
fresh breadcrumbs
plain flour
4 oz (100g) butter
2 level tsp dry mustard
Poach the mackerel in a pan of simmering water for about 5 minutes or until cooked. Drain, and remove the skin and bones, then flake the flesh.
Add one beaten egg and enough breadcrumbs to bind, then divide the mixture into six. Using floured hands, flatten each portion into a 'fishcake', then chill until ready to use. Soften the butter and mix with the mustard, then form it into a roll and chill.
To assemble the 'Kievs', slice the mustard butter into 6, and put one portion on the centre of each fishcake, the fold the cake over the butter so that it is covered completely. Shape into balls or ovals, then dip into remaining beaten egg and coat with breadcrumbs.
To Freeze: open freeze on a baking sheet, and when firm, put into freezer bags or containers. Use within 2 months.
To serve: unwrap and place on a tray, cover loosely with foil and thaw for two and a half hours at room temperature. Deep fry slowly for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately while piping hot.

Final recipe is for those who like something sweet. Although digestives are mentioned, almost any unfilled sweet biscuit could be used. The dried fruit can also be varied, anything from sultanas to finely chopped no-soak apricots and dates, prunes and pineapple.
Frozen Chocolate Crunch Bar: (F)
8 oz (225g) digestive biscuits, roughly crushed
2 oz (50g) seedless raisins
3 oz (75g) butter
2 tblsp golden syrup
1 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp cocoa powder
(2 oz/50g grated chocolate to finish)
Mix the biscuits crumbs with the raisins. Put the butter, syrup, sugar and cocoa into a pan and heat gently until fully dissolved, stir togther to mix then pour into the crumb mixture. When well combined, pack into a lined and greased 7"(18cm) shallow square tin, and leave to set.
To Freeze: open freeze until firm, then remove from the tin, peel off the paper and re-wrap in foil, then overwrap tightly with more foil, label and return to the freezer.
To use: unwrap and thaw at room temperature for about 1 hour, then sprinkle with grated chocolate. Serve cut into squares or bars.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Baking Bread by hand - mini Masterclass

Today I continue giving some more facts and a recipe or two dealing with bread. Some info may be useful when using a bread maker, but the mini-masterclass today mainly covers bread made by hand.
As with any basic bread recipe, the ingredients are strong plain flour (the stronger the better), salt, sugar, yeast and water. The flours and yeast leavens can be selected to affect the flavour and texture. Not all yeast comes in packets. Some can be naturally made, but these only suitable when making bread by hand. (For anyone interested in making bread without dried yeast, a 'sourdough starter' is given with the recipes below).

The kneaded dough must be allowed to rise, and the number of risings depends upon the flour use. Bread dough made using wholemeal flour are usually shaped into loaves or the dough put into tin and then left to rise just the once before baking. This is because the bits of husk left in the flour inhibit the rising and no improvement to the texture comes from letting it rise again.
Dough made from finer, strong white flour will benefit in flavour and texture from a second rising - and even a third - so should not be shaped until after the dough has been risen at least once, for if baked after the first rising, the bread would have a loose texture and full of large holes.

To make a loaf that holds its shape well when baked on a sheet rather than in a tin, it helps if it is kneaded again after the first rising, and for at least 10 minutes. The more kneading and stretching of the dough, especially in different directions, will help to develop the gluten into a tight-knit network which maintains the bread's well-defined form, and gives a firm textured crumb.

Making bread by hand may seem time consuming, but the process can be arranged to suit a personal schedule. Left at room temperature of 65 - 70F(18 - 20C) dough usually doubles in bulk in one and a half to two hours. If in a hurry, it can be left in a warmer place - up to 85F(29C) - although the results will not be as good as the dough risen at the lower temperature. It is worth knowing that when leaving the dough in a cool place for several hours, or chilling in the fridge overnight will give bread a finer texture and flavour.

Whether the dough is baked in a tin or other container, or formed into cottage loaves, 'bloomers', sticks, plaited or small rolls, the choice is ours and once shaped and risen the dough is then cooked and although normally baked, bread dough can be steamed, and a looser dough can be cooked on a griddle or frying pan to make crumpets.

When a loaf is placed in a pre-heated oven, the dough will expand even more during the first 20 minutes or so until the yeast has been killed and a crust forms. To delay the crust - and therefore allow for more expansion - make the oven as humid as possible during this period. Place a large dish of hot water on the floor of the oven as it pre-heats, and when the loaf goes into the oven, spray in fresh water.

Other than a risen loaf, bread dough can also be used to make 'flat-breads', these made by rolling out the dough fairly thinly to the size required. Because of their thinness, all flatbreads cook quickly, and by varying the baking time can be as soft and chewy or as dry and crisp as you wish.

Middle-Eastern pitta breads are based on an oil-enriched dough and baked in a very hot oven, so that the high temperature causes the flattened dough to puff up, forming the hollow interior that is so useful when eaten in many ways. For soft pittas only 10 minutes cooking time is needed, for crispier ones allow twice as long. Easy to make and extremely versatile they can be made entirely by hand or the dough made in a machine then finished by hand.

pitta breads: makes 6 - 10
7 fl oz (210ml) water
1 tbslp olive oil
12 oz (350g) white bread flour
1 rounded tsp salt
1 tsp gran. sugar
1 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
When making by hand, put the dry ingredients into a bowl, then add the oil and water and mix together. Knead thoroughly. (if using a bread maker put the water and oil into the pan, followed by the flour, salt and sugar and then the water, or reverse water/yeast according to the machine used. Set the machine to dough cycle, or used basic bread or pizza dough setting).
When the dough has been made by hand, place in an oiled bowl and cover, leaving it to stand in a warm place for half an hour, then knock it back slightly, (if made in a machine also knock it back slightly), then divide the dough into six or ten equal sized pieces (depending upon the size of the pitta bread you want) and shape each into a ball.
Cover the balls with oiled clingfilm and leave them to rest for about 10 minutes, then place 3 baking sheets in the oven to heat up (230C/450F, gas 8).
Meanwhile, Flatten each ball of dough slightly, then roll into an oval or round, approx quarter inch (5mm) thick. Lightly sprinkle each pitta with flour, cover again with oiled film and leave to rest for 10 minutes, the place on the pre-heated baking sheets and bake for 5 - 6 minutes or until puffed up and lightly browned. Cool on a cake airer.

breadsticks are made from long strips of dough rolled out so thinly that after baking, there is more crust than crumb, and as the crust is what we are seeking, the preparation differs from normal bread. Mix and knead a basic bread dough and leave to rise in the normal way, and then knead it into a round. On a lightly flour surface roll the dough into an oblong about 9" wide, and half an inch (1cm) thick. Using a long, sharp knife, cut the dough across its width into half inch wide strips.
Sprinkle the work surface with rock or sea salt and lay over a strip. Placing a hand at each end, at the same time, slide one hand forward and one hand back to twist the strip and coat it in the salt. For thinner bread sticks roll the dough between the fingers to lengthen it before using the salt and twist procedure. Bake the sticks on a baking tray for 10 - 15 minutes or until golden (a lesser time if thinner) at 230C, 450F, gas 8, then place on a wire rack (cake airer) to cool. These sticks can be eaten hot or cold.
variation: roll in sesame seeds or black pepper (or even grated Parmesan) to make assorted flavours.

This next recipe is for Bagels, the 'rings' of dough that are first poached in water before being baked off in the oven. Normally made with an enriched dough that enhances the flavour and gives a softer crust. To produce the dense crumb needed, the dough's first rising is limited to one hour, and - after shaping - the dough is only given a brief rising before cooking. Shaping the bagels is simplicity itself. Shape each pieces of dough into a ball, then poke a floured forefinger into the centre, working it round to widen the hole until it is about a third of the roll's diameter.
After poaching, and before baking, the bagels can be brushed with egg to glaze and - as an additional 'extra' - poppy seeds, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, coarse salt or even finely chopped onion can be sprinkled on the top of the glaze before baking.
Traditionally split and spread with cream cheese and smoked salmon, they can also be split and buttered, or split, toasted and buttered.
bagels: makes 12
16 oz (500g) strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 sachet easy-blend dried yeast
1 tblsp caster sugar
1 tbslp melted butter (or sunflower oil_
8 fl. oz (quarter litre) milk, approx
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp water
salt, seeds etc for topping (see above)
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then stir in the yeast and caster sugar. Make a well in the centre and pour in the melted butter or oil and enough milk to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. then shape into a ball, place into a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to rise until increased in bulk by half (some recipes say 'until doubled in bulk' so do not worry if risen that far.
On a lightly floured surface, knock back the dough, then divide into 12 equal portions. Shape each into a ball, then using a floured finger (or floured handle of a wooden spoon) make a hole in the centre of each ball (see above). The holes need to be large or they will close up again as the bagels rise again and cook.
Place the dough rings on baking sheets, cover and leave to rise again in a warm place for about 15 minutes. Then heat a large pan of water until just simmering, and carefully drop three or four bagels into the water and poach for about 30 seconds turning once until they have puffed up (some books say poach for 3 minutes, but over poaching can cause the bagels to break up and lose their shape so this can be more a matter of trial and error).
Using a slotted spoon, remove the bagels from the water, draining well then put onto buttered baking sheets, glazing with the egg and sprinkling with seeds etc. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Serve cut in half, warm or cold.

Final recipes today are for two 'leavens' made using natural yeast in our atmosphere. Traditionally used by the pioneers as they crossed the wide expanse of America, coast to coastm as usually it was possible to use some of the starter, replenish with more flour, and the leaven continues to keep making itself.
In the first recipe, the large amount of sugar is necessary to feed the yeast and encourage its growth. Any type of strong plain flour made from: wheat, rye, barley, cornmeal, rice and oats...can be used, or a mixture of several. The recipe below is based on strong plain wheat flour and makes enough starter to make 5 lb (2.5kg) dough.
Once made, the starter can be stored in the fridge for up to one week. When making bread using the 'sourdough', use four parts of flour to one part of the starter.
traditional sourdough starter:
1 lb (500g) strong plain flour
1 medium sized potato
approx one and a half pints (90cl) water
8 oz (250g) sugar
Put the unpeeled potato in a pan and cover with water. Boil until tender then remove but reserve the cooking liquid. Peel the potato and mash it thoroughly.
Place the potato into a large bowl. Add enough tepid water to the reserved potato water to make it up to one and a half pints, then stir this into the mashed potato, also stirring in the flour and sugar to form a thick batter. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and fold a blanket or large towel around it, then stand in a warm place (an airing cupboard is ideal) for three days.
The mixture is ready when it is bubbly and gives off a sour smell. Any liquid that forms on the top should be stirred back in.
If the mixture has no bubbles, or has turned reddish or orange in colour DO NOT USE. Throw it away and start a new batch.
If not used immediately, or some has been used and needs replenishing, add a handful of flour and a little tepid water to make a thick batter when beaten together. As above, cover the bowl, wrap up warm and leave in a warm place for 24 hours.

salt-rising leaven: enough for four 8" x 4" loaves
2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tblsp cornmeal
pinch of bicarbonate of soda
2 tblsp sugar
16 fl oz (half litre) boiling water
At noon on the day before making bread, prepare the leaven by first putting the potatoes intoa 2 pint jar, then adding the cornmeal, sugar, and the bicarb. Pour in the boiling water and place over a lid, BUT DO NOT SCREW IT DOWN. Wrap the jar in a blanket and set in a warm place until the morning, when there should be about an inche of foam on the top, and it will give off an odd smell. If no foam, discard the mixture. The success of salt-rising bread depends upon the quality of the leaven.

salt-rising bread: makes 4 loaves
5 lb (2 kg) strong plain flour
pinch bicarbonate of soda
1 3/4pints (1ltr) milk
a bare ounce (40g) sugar
butter or lard, softened
Scald, but do not boil the milk, then add half the sugar, the bicarb., and 8 fl.oz (quarter litre) of liquid drained from the jar containing the leaven.
Add enough flour (approx 8 oz) to make a batter, cover and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk. Then add the salt, the fat and remaining sugar and flour and knead for about 20 minutes. Pour dough into 4 buttered 2lb (1ltr) loaf tins and leave to rise for about 3 hours, or until the loaves have risen about 3/4" above the top of the tins.
Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 45 minutes or until the bread is well risen and golden brown.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Bread-makers - Masterclass

Now to making bread - today using a 'bread-maker', always remembering this machine only does what used to be done by hand, but - it has to be said - because of the lengthy kneading time, and the very accurated temperatures, bread made in a machine is just about foolproof.

There are several different types of bread-makers on the market, but how they are used can be different. In every instance the water and yeast are kept separate at the start, with some machines requiring the yeast put in first, then the dry ingredients followed by the water, with another machine it is vice versa - the water in first, the yeast last. Then some wish the dry ingredients kept separate, with the salt put in one corner, the sugar in another, and so on... Personally, the moment the machine is switched on and the paddle starts mixing, all the dry ingredients get mixed together, so see no reason why the dry ingredients (other than the yeast) cannot be mixed together in the first place. Maybe this separation of the drieds is more to do with delayed baking (when the machine is set to start at a given time).

Many bread-makers come with a variety of settings according to the type of bread being made, and it is important that the recommended flour is used and the correct ingredients added in the right order (if necessary) - also the right setting is used (see below). The book that comes with the machine will give the instructions.

As when making bread by hand, there are many reasons why one loaf could turn out better than another. One type of flour may need more water, and even the weather can affect the moisture level. When we knead dough by hand we can feel whether it is too wet or too dry, but the bread machine cannot do this, so after a few minutes open the machine lid and take a peek at the dough, it should appear pliable and soft. When the machine stops kneading, the dough should start to relax back down into the pan.

understanding the bread-maker:
Bread makers will mix, knead, prove rise and bake the dough, so once we have followed the manufacturers directions we can let the machine do all the work, most of that being done in several stages starting with:
Machines differ, one may start mixing immediately, another may wait/'rest' before starting, and then 'rest' again before starting the next cycle. This gives the machine a chance to warm the ingredients to the correct temperature for the yeast to begin working.

Using the paddle, the machine mixes all the ingredients together in the same way as we would do by hand, and this usually is done in stages with a rest between. With some machines the paddle will go first clockwise, then rest before going anti-clockwise, and repeating until the dough is ready for baking. Sometimes there will be an initial quick mix, followed by more vigorous mixing, with resting in between, and each stage can sound different. Just let it get on with it, but at the same time learn how the different cycles sound, for you may need to raise the lid for one reason or another at certain times.

When extra ingredients need be added (fruit, nuts etc) these are usually added towards the end of the kneading time to prevent them being broken up by the paddle earlier on. Most bread makers have a setting for these, so that the machine will 'beep' when it is time to add the extra ingredient. But the beeps are only a few and not that loud, so stay near the machine.

rising the dough:
When made by hand the dough is always left in a warm place to rise. The warmth encourages fermentation of the yeast, the bubbles then trapped in the dough, and these cause the dough to swell. A bread-maker automatically creates the right temperature, so when the kneading has stopped the machine becomes silent the dough then begins to rise, occasionally you will hear the machine giving a few quick movements as the paddle 'knocks back' the dough between rises, automatically varying the length of time between the risings to reflect the different composition of different varieties of bread - the wholewheat and French programmes normally being given a much longer rise than the basic white loaf.

The machine automatically switches from the rising to baking programmes, with the temperature and timings controlled depending upon the composition and size of loaf. During the baking cycle the machine may become hot, and take special care when removing the pan from the machine as the pan (and bread) will be very hot indeed. If using the machine to make dough only, it will only be warm.

the machine cycles:
The machine will adjust itself according to the type of loaf made and the correct programme used, although it needs our help to programme it correctly. There is usually a 'menu' button to allow us to do this, and here is a little more about the settings;
for baking standard loaves made from white or wholewheat plain or bread flour. If you wish for a soft crust to your standard loaf, bake it using the 'sweet' cycle.
for making loaves using a heavier wholewheat flour, or when using oats and rye. This usually means a longer rising time then for a lighter loaf.
when making French loaves, this cycle produces the distinctive light and airy crumb, with a golden and crispy crust.
quick bread:
to make a quick-cooked loaf, one or more of the rising cycles may be skipped, so the loaf normally does not rise as well as when made using the full process.
sweet bread:
uses a lower baking temperature to prevent over-browning or scorching the crust.
use this setting for mixing bread dough that will then be finished and baked in the convential way. With some machines the cycle finishes after the kneading stage, others include the rising time. Either way, it is better to knock back the dough and let it rise again before baking.

One of the problems with a machine baked loaf is the shape. The larger loaves tend to be taller than they are wide, and whichever way they are sliced (upright or sideways) the slices seem too large to fit in many modern toasters. If wishing for a large loaf but with smaller slices, make the dough in the machine, then remove it, knock it back, form into a thick 'sausage', put it into a greased and floured (usually 2 lb) loaf tin, cover and place somewhere warm for the dough to rise to the top of the tin, then bake in the oven for about 35 - 40 mins (200C...).

The advantage with the above 'dough only' method is that the dough need not be dealt with immediately it comes from the machine. The dough can be put into an oiled bowl, the top covered with clingfilm, then put in the fridge and kept for up to five days if no perishable ingredients have been added. If butter, milk or eggs have been used, then it will keep only up to 2 days.
Despite the chilling, the dough will still slowly rise so needs to be knocked back occasionally, this does no harm and often improves the crumb texture. When ready to use the dough, bring it back to room temperature, then shape, prove and bake in the normal way.
freezing bread dough:
basic bread dough can be frozen in a freezer proof bag for up to 1 month. When ready to use, thaw overnight in the fridge until it doubles in size (allowing room in the bag for it to rise). Them remove and shape, prove and bake as normal. Remember that the dough - being cold - will take longer to rise than freshly made dough.

storing baked bread:
after the bread has cooled, wrap in foil or place is a plastic bag to preserve the freshness. Ideally, wrap the bread in a clean cloth, or use a bag that bought (sliced) bread has been wrapped in. However, wrapping the bread will soften the crust, so if it is crusty bread you like, leave uncovered overnight before removing the first slice, then place the loaf in a large paper bag, but try to use within 2 - 3 days as home-made bread has a tendency to dry out more rapidly than bought.
Breads made with eggs tend to dry more quickly than those made with honey or added fats.

Do not store home-made or bought bread in the fridge as this causes it to become stale quite rapidly, although the cooked breads can be frozen, in a freezer proof bag or foil (making sure to push out all the air before freezing), for up to 3 months. If intending to use bread for toast or sandwiches, it is easier to slice the bread before freezing, so that you only remove the slices you need that day.
Very crusty bread, such as French sticks, do not freeze well as they tend to come apart when thawed, although any leftover after using a fresh 'stick' can be sliced and frozen ready to eat with soups etc.

cleaning the machine:
It is important to keep the machine clean as dried crumbs and other particles end up in the hollow under the pan, seen only when the pan is lifted out. Disconnect the machine from the electrics and then use the hose of a vacuum cleaner to suck up the debris, and then wipe round with a damp cloth.
After a few weeks use my machine developed an ear-splitting 'squeak' when the paddle began to knead the dough and I rang the manufacturers. Apparently this was normal, no need to worry, and caused by sediment getting down into the 'works'. The suggestion was remove the particles (as above), and there should be no more problem. Occasionally it gives a squeak so I know it is time to wipe it out again (which I should do more often).
If the pan is not washed immediately, the paddle can glue itself to the pan as the trapped dough sets, so always remove the paddle (sometimes this comes out embedded into the loaf - so always check as once I gave a freshly baked loaf to a friend with the paddle stuck in it, unnoticed by both of us. Luckily she lived close so was able to get it back the same day). So put water into the pan to soak off any dough, and make sure the paddle and spindle are kept clean.
tip: to avoid the hole in the bread made by the paddle, lift out the dough after the rising period and before it begins baking, remove paddle and place dough back in the pan to continue baking.
Also NEVER use metal utensils to remove the bread from the pan or to remove paddle from the bread as these will scratch and damage the non-stick surfaces. Also NEVER wash the pan or paddle in a dishwasher. Always wash by hand.

for the best results, bread should be made using 'high protein' flour such as 'strong' flour. Sometimes called 'bread flour', or 'strong bread flour'. Very strong bread flour is usually imported from Canada and North America and gives a better volume with lighter results. This type of flour is the best to use when mixing with a lower gluten flour such as rye, wholemeal, seeds and whole grains.
Flour should be stored in an cool, dry place, in an airtight container. If baking occasionally rather than regularly, store the flour in a freezer, but make sure to bring the amount needed back to room temperature before using. Because wholemeal/wholewheat flour contains more fat than white flour, it does not keep as long.

when making bread by hand, the best yeast to use is the fresh yeast, but when making bread in a machine, use only the 'instant', 'fast-baking' or 'easy-blend' yeasts. With some brands, Vitamin C has been added - this vitamin being a natural dough improver - which helps to ensure the fast action of the yeast and improves the protein structure.
Even when packed in airtight sachets, yeast will still deteriorate in time and especially if the packet has been opened and only part used, so problems with rising may be due to yeast stored for too long.

salt controls the action of the yeast all the way through the baking, and also improves the keeping quality, so should always be used but with care - too much will kill the yeast, too little will mean the dough can rise out of control. Left out altogether will give a poor quality loaf with a collapsed crust.

sugar feeds the yeast and is needed to allow sufficient fermentation to occur within the limits of the machine's cycle. But as with salt - too much sugar will kill the yeast. Take particular care when using recipes that contain more than one sweet ingredient (eg. honey, syrup...) as collectively they may be enough sugar to kill the yeast.

fats are added to bread to give a good textured crumb, enhance the taste and above all allow for longer keeping before the bread goes stale. Butter, margarine, lard and vegetable oils can normally be substituted like for like, and all will vary the flavour according to your taste. Many bakers prefer to use only lard.

almost any liquid can be used to bind the dough together. Water is the normal choice, but milk, cream, buttermilk, yogurt, can all be used. Some breads are made using beer, cold tea, fruits juices etc. If wishing to use milk, dried milk can be mixed in with the flour, then water added.
Whatever liquid is added, it should always be at the right temperature as yeast will die if the temperature is too cold or too hot. Even though bread makers gently heat the ingredients as they are blended, always start off with water at room temperature rather than drawing it directly from the tap (or just add a splash of hot water to it).

ingredients that can be added:
often extra ingredients can be added, although refer to the instruction book as to amounts and cycle to be used. A rough guide is to add 1 measure of added ingredients to 3 measures of flour.
nuts: walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecan nuts, unsalted cashew nuts and peanuts.
seeds: sunflower, caraway, pumpkin, poppy, sesame
dried fruit: raisins, sultanas, currants, candied peel
semi-dried (no-soak and chopped) fruits: apricots, prunes, mango, pineapple, apple, pear, cranberries, blueberries.
herbs/spices: 1 - 2 tsp either.
other: dried onion flakes, grated chocolate or chocolate chips.

ingredients to be wary of:
the following can be used but with caution: garlic, fresh onion, too much cheese, fresh herbs, water vegetables (courgettes, spinach etc), and fresh fruit (such as grated apple).

the order of ingredients:
the important thing when putting the ingredients into the pan is to keep the yeast and water apart. Some machines need the yeast putting in first, followed by the flour and then the water, other machines do the reverse, water in first, then flour then yeast. Some machines also recommend the salt and sugar is also kept away from the yeast, this mainly important when the delay timer is used. If baking directly the ingredients are added, other than keeping the yeast and water separate, there should be no problem - in fact I now tend to bag-up my home-made bread mixes, several at a time. Weighing carefully, the flour, salt, sugar, dried milk, are all put into one bag, even a knob of butter tucked in. The bag twisted tight, and then another filled in the same way. Usually I do seven at a time, so that when wishing to bake bread, all that needs to be done is put the yeast in the pan (my pan has yeast in first), then tip in the contents of one bag, and pour over the correct amount of water. Job done.

look and learn:
some machines come with a window so that you can see what is happening, with others just lift the lid during the kneading and take a peek. Most recipes need the dough to be smooth, a bit tacky to the touch and the dough relaxes back into the pan when the paddle stops. As the kneading progresses the dough will become smoother. With experience, the sound of the machine will tell you whether the dough is right, or whether too dry.

glazing machine-backed bread:
glazing the top of loaves makes them look really special. For high-sugar glaze simply brush the top of the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven or pan, any extra toppings such as seeds or coarse grains should be sprinkled on top immediately after the glaze has been brushed over as this will help them stick to the bread.
If using an egg glaze, this can also be brushed onto the bread immediately it is baked, but if worrying about using 'raw' egg, lift the lid during the final minutes of baking and - working rapidly, brush the top of the loaf, adding other topping, then close the lid until the time is up.
Most machines have a timer, so that it easy to see when a couple of moments are left before the 'end of baking' bleep, but if there is no way of checking, a rough guide is that most machines bake for 45 minutes after the last cycle. Take care when lifting the lid as the machine will be hot and steam may puff out. Wear gloves, have the glaze at room temperature, apply quickly and add any seeds etc, then close the lid.

different glazes:
egg: gives a shiny, golden crust. Make glaze by whisking 1 egg with 1 tblsp water and a pinch of salt. Can be brushed over proved dough before baking.
milk: also gives a golden crust. Use just milk for basic bread, but for sweet breads, add a little sugar to warm milk, and use as for egg glaze.
water: this gives a 'French-style' finish to bread. Brush with warm water at the beginning of the baking cycle, then brush up to three times during the baking, but make quite sure the crust is dry between glazing or it may go soggy.
salt water: this gives a shiny surface and a crisp crust. Brush immediately before the baking cycle.
beer: use at room temperature. This glaze gives a rich and shiny crust.
olive oil: brushing both before and after baking, this adds a subtle flavour and makes for a rich and shiny crust. Good on focaccia bread.
butter: brush melted butter or margarinel over the top of a cooked loaf (and while it is still hot). This gives a rich flavour but a softer textured crust.

seeds: best sprinkled over the crust immediately after it has been glazed.
grains: whole, cracked and crushed grains added after glazing.
bran: both improves the texture of the loaf when added as an ingredient, but also makes a great textured topping.
oats: all grades can be used, and can be sprinkled over proved dough that has been brushed with waterbefore baking or when baked and glazed.
flour: sift dough over the proved dough before proving, and again before baking.
cornmeal/polenta: brush proved dough with water and sprinkle over the cornmeal. This gives a crispy golden crust.
cheese: best applied (grated and sprinkled) to baked bread that has just been removed from the oven or pan, and allowed to melt. Alternatively sprinkle over the bread 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Parmesan cheese is especially good when sprinkled over an egg or water glaze.
herbs: although dried herbs can be used, finely chopped fresh herbs can be sprinkled over a glaze, and best used on flat-breads, rolls or oven-baked loaves. Either at the end of, or the last few minutes of cooking time if a loaf is cooked in a machine.

French Bread Recipe:
Although most French bread is typically baguettes, French sticks, or free-formed loaves, the bread dough itself can be fully cooked in a bread-maker, and still give the same and very distinctive light an airy crumb. Like all French bread, best eaten the day of making. For those that prefer the traditional shaped bread, the alternative method is also given below.

basic French dough:
8 fl oz (225ml/1 cup) water
1 1/2 teaspoons each sugar and salt
16 oz (450g/3 cup) very strong bread white bread flour
1 1/2 tsp instant/fast-acting dried yeast
Pour water into the machine pan, followed by the sugar and salt, then cover the liquid with flour and sprinkle over the yeast (or in reverse order depending upon the machine).
Put the pan into the machine and set to the French programme. Once cooked, carefully shake the loaf from the pan and stand right way up on a cake airer. Brush with chosen glaze (see above) and leave the bread to cool for at least an hour before cutting (or removing the paddle if stuck inside).
to shape traditional French bread:
make the dough in the machine, then remove the dough, place on a lightly floured surface and knock it back. Divide into 3 or four portions, then shape each into a ball, rolling each into a rectangle approx 8" x 3" (20 x 7.5cm). Fold one-third up lengthways and one-third down, then press. Repeat twice more, allowing the dough to rest between foldings.
Then gently roll and stretch each piece to a 11" x 13" (28 x 23cm) loaf, or whatever size you wish (aiming for a small baguette shape). Place each loaf between folds of a pleated and floured tea cloth so that the traditional shape is maintained as it rises. Cover with lightly oiled clear film and leave to rise in a warm place fro 30 - 45 minutes, then roll out of the cloth onto a baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between each. Slash the tops across diagonally in several places using a sharp knife, then place at the top of a pre-heated oven 230C, 460C, gas 8, spray the inside of the oven with water and bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until golden. Cool on a cake airer.
tip: normally a bread-maker does not have a French dough setting, so use the French bread setting and remove the dough before the final rising stage and shape/prove/cook as above.