Monday, November 30, 2009

One Basic - Eight Variations.

Today I writing about sauces. Have written up something similar before, but today am giving a particularly easy way to work with a basic bechamel (which can be frozen), and then adding a few other ingredients this will turn it into other sauces. The French will add a sauce to almost every dish, and cookbooks are written giving nothing but sauce recipes, hundreds of them.

So here again is a recipe for the basic Bechamel that alone is delicious served with fish, eggs or vegetables, plus eight easily made variations. Ideally make a large batch of Bechamel, then freeze in small amounts, thaw, then add ingredients to make the richer sauce you wish.
basic Bechamel sauce: makes 2 pints (F)
2 pints (1.1 ltr) milk
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 small onion, quartered
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
6 peppercorns
4 oz (100g) butter
4 oz (100g) plain flour
salt and pepper
2 tblsp single cream
Put the milk, vegetables, bay leaf and peppercorns into a saucepan and heat gently until just beginning to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and leave to stand for half an hour to infuse the flavours.
Melt the butter in a large pan and stir in the flour. Cook for one minute. Then gradually add the milk, pouring this through a sieve to catch the solid matter (this can be discarded, or the veggies used in a dish or soup), and stirring continuously until the sauce is smooth and thick. Season to taste and stir in the cream.
To freeze: turn into 4 or 8 pots or rigid containers, leaving half inch headspace. Cover surface of sauce with a fitting sheet of greaseproof paper. Cool completely, seal and label. Freeze and use within 6 months.
To serve from freezer: thaw overnight in fridge, then beat well and reheat gently. Can also be reheated from frozen if put into a double saucepan or non-stick pan, stirring all the time.

Once the sauce has been beaten and heated, the following can be added (based on using half a pint of Bechamel):
cheese sauce: add 2 oz finely grated Cheddar cheese, and cayenne pepper to taste. Serve with fish, vegetables, eggs, pasta.
mushroom sauce: add 2 oz finely chopped and sauteed mushrooms, quarter teaspoon of Marmite, and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with steaks, chops, vegetables, fish.
mustard sauce: add 1 - 2 level tsp dry mustard mixed with 1 tsp each vinegar and water. Serve with oily fish such as herrings or mackerel, also with poultry.
tartare sauce: add 1 good tablespoon freshly chopped parsley; 2 small gherkins, finely chopped; and 2 level tsp capers, also finely chopped. Serve with fried fish.
watercress sauce: add half a small bunch of watercress, finely chopped; and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with fish, eggs, and poultry.
curry sauce: add 1 level tsp curry powder or paste; 3 level tablespoons of stewed apples; 1 level teaspoon tomato puree (or ketchup); half a small onion, finely chopped and sauteed; and 1 tablespoon of sultanas. Serve with meat, poultry, and hard-boiled eggs.
green sauce: add 2 - 3 tablespoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (basil, chives, parsley, fennel, savory, thyme, tarragon...). Serve with fish, eggs or vegetables.
tomato sauce: add 1 large tomato, skinned and finely chopped; 1 level tablespoon tomato puree; 1 shallot, finely chopped and sauteed; and basil to taste. Serve with meat, fish, vegetables, pasta.

We normally think of a pate as made with meat. The word itself just means 'paste', so there can also be vegetable pates which are not just for vegetarians, but also enjoyed by those with more carnivorous tendencies. Here is a pate made with mushrooms. As it will freeze, another dish to tuck away ready for the festive season.
Mushroom Pate: serves 8 (F) (V)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed (opt)
4 oz (100g) butter
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 level tablespoons plain flour
8 oz (225g) mushroom, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh fennel or dill
zest and juice of half a lemon
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream
Melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the onion for 3 minutes until beginning to soften, then stir in the garlic (if using). Cook a further minute.
Toss the celery in the flour, then add this to the pan with the mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring all the time.
Remove pan from heat, cool slightly then add the lemon zest and juice, herbs, salt and pepper to taste.
Choose to either mash together the cooked ingredients, cool then stir in the cream, and spoon into a dish. OR...put the cooked mixture into a food processor or blender to blitz into a really smooth mixture.
To serve now: Chill, garnish with slices of mushroom, and eat with crispbreads.
To freeze: wrap pot/s in clear film or foil, seal and label. Use within 3 months.
To serve from freezer: unwrap, then thaw in fridge for 4 hours. Garnish as above.

For those thinking about buying a slowcooker (or maybe even given one as a present this Xmas) here are a few facts taken from the instruction book that came with my crock-pot. Admittedly I have had this pot some 25 years or more and used regularly. It has a removable ceramic interior, so the food can be taken and served at the table. New models may differ, but they all work in much the same way. Always follow instructions that come with your slow-cooker, for they may differ slightly from those given below, although they all work in much the same way.
This is not critical because of the very gentle way of cooking. Even if a dish is ready to eat after 6 hours of slow-cooking, it will not overcook, and still be delicious to eat after 8 hours.
Most slow-cookers have two heats: Low and High. The low setting (on mine) uses 115 watts of electricity, the High uses 160 watts. Barely more than an ordinary light bulb. This alone save a great deal of fuel when it come to cooking.
Abnormally cold room temperatures or if the crock-pot sits in a direct draught will affect the cooking performance of the crock-pot, particularly when on the Low setting, and should be avoided. However, if there is no choice, then use the High setting.

One hour on High is approximately equal to 2 - 2 1/2 hours on Low. You can speed up cooking times if a recipe takes a long time on Low and you wish to eat earlier than planned. Cook the first quarter of the time on High, then the rest of the time on Low. the meal should be ready earlier, but will not spoil if having to be left longer on Low.

Preferably do not stir when the food is being cooked, especially when the cooker is set at Low as lifting the lid will lead to loss of heat and this means increasing the cooking time. An exception is when rice is being cooked as this benefits from a quick stir. Also when cooking on High for short periods, an occasional stir helps to distribute flavours and keeps the gravy smooth.

If there are (or have been) voltage reductions while the food is cooking in the pot, these may adversely affect cooking times, and some adjustments may be necessary.

Preparation of meat and vegetables:
These MUST be done in a different pan. Pre-browning of meat is advised as this gives better results.
Vegetables should be cut into small pieces as they tend to cook more slowly than meat and should therefore be placed on the bottom of the pot (or nearest the heat source) with the meat and liquid on top.
Frozen vegetables, such as peas and sweetcorn should be added during the last half hour of cooking so that they retain their colour and texture. To ensure they do not reduce the working temperature too far, they should be at least partially thawed before adding.
Dried vegetables are ideal for crock-pot cooking. Just mix them in with the other ingredients in the crock-pot.

Because there is very little evaporation, most recipes require less liquid than usual, up to half a pint should be sufficient. The amount of liquid used will also affect the appearance of meats. Using less liquid will give a browner appearance.
As so little liquid is used, at the end this will be concentrated and full of flavour. If stock is not used for meat and poultry, a stock cube can be used for extra richness.

Milk and Cream:
Milk, cream, sour cream/creme fraiche, and yogurt tend to break down during prolonged cooking, therefore if wishing to use them, add them during the last hour of cooking only.

Dumplings should always be cooked on the High setting, so if a meal is being cooked on the Low setting, switch to High before adding the dumplings and cook for approx. 30 minutes more.

Frozen cooked meals:
The crockpot is ideal for reheating frozen cooked dishes taken straight from the freezer, as the slow, gentle heat prevents the food drying out.
When re-heating ready-cooked frozen dishes such as stews, casseroles and tarts, leave them in their foil wrappings, put in the pot andand add 5 fl oz (125ml) water. Heat on Low for 4 - 8 hours depending upon the weight and shape. For a complete evening meal, add a foil parcel containing small scrubbed and greased potatoes, and leave the lot on the low setting for 6 - 8 hours.

Crockpot capacity:
The instructions above refer to a slow-cooker of just over 3 pints capacity. Cooking times vary when smaller quantities of food (that those shown in the recipe book) are used. Times given are applicable only when the pot is at least half-filled.
(NOTE: Lakeland limited sell a smaller slow-cooker suitable for one-two persons, this should come with its own instruction book.)

Here is a curry sauce that can be made in a crockpot, for the long slow cooking enables the curry spices to blend thoroughly, and this makes it much more enjoyable. So - if you have a slow cooker, love eating curry, then why not make up a larger amount and freeze it away. To keep the balance correct, use level spoonfuls. If a curry buff, you may wish to use different spices to give different flavours, if so, make sure to label freezer containers with each type of sauce (Korma, Rogan Josh, Jalfrezi, Masala...), for once frozen many will look alike.
Crock-pot Curry Sauce:
1 oz (15g) lard or dripping
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder or to taste
1 tablespoon plain flour
half pint (250ml) brown stock
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 tablespoon chutney
1 dessertspoon lemon juice
2 oz (50g) raisins or sultanas
salt to taste
Melt the fat in a frying pan, and fry the onion. Add curry powder and flour and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, gradually stir in the stock and remaining ingredients. Transfer to the crock-pot and cook on Low for 4 - 6 hours.
If you wish to turn this into a curry (not to be frozen), add COOKED meat or fish during the last half hour of cooking - which should then be turned to the High setting.

Browsing through the recipe book that came with my slow-cooker, this gives a dish that can be made with left-over turkey from Xmas. Although we are still a few weeks away from the festive season, better to pass this on now so you can file it away, rather than me forget to give it to you nearer the time (as I surely would).
Crock-Pot Turkey Pilaff:
12 oz (300g) cooked turkey meat
1 onion, finely chopped
1 small green bell pepper, de-seeded and chopped
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms, left whole
4 oz (100g) easy-cook long-grain rice
1 x 210g can chopped tomatoes
half pint (250ml) water or stock
quarter pint (125ml) dry white wine
salt and pepper
Put all ingredients into the crockpot, and cook on Low for 6 - 8 hours, or on High for 3 - 4 hours.

Although most of us tend to do our baking in the oven, we can still use a crock-pot to make a cake. This recipe (again from the manufacturers cookbook) uses a packet sponge mix (some of these can be very inexpensive), but adds that a home-made sponge batter based on two eggs (with 4 oz each flour, butter and sugar) could be used instead. Serve warm as a dessert, this is not quite a 'cake', but no doubt any leftovers would eat well cold.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake:
2 oz (50g) butter
4 oz (100g) brown sugar
1 packet sponge cake mix
1 x 380g can pineapple slices
glace cherries
Set the crockpot to High and put the butter in the stoneware pot to melt. Mix the cake according to instructions, using the strained pineapple juice as the liquid required.
When the butter has melted, use a little of it to grease the sides of the pot, then stir in the sugar to the rest of the butter, making sure this is spread evenly over the bottom.
Arrange the pineapple over this, with a cherry tucked into each hole in the centre of the pineapple rings, then pour in the cake mixture, spreading as evenly as possible. Cook on High for 1 hour, then turn to Low and cook for a further 3 hours or until the cake is risen and firm. Invert onto a warm serving dish.

Cold weather affecting the temperature of a slow cooker, reminded me to say that there is nothing written in stone that says all cooking has to be done in the kitchen. A slow-cooker cooks just as well in a hall, living or bedroom. The same could be said about baking bread in a machine. Or cooking a meal in a Remoska. If something is electrically controlled, it should be able to be used anywhere there is an electric socket.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sighs of Relief

Winter is the time for soups, and as so many of us now have freezers, it is worth making several kinds to store in there ready to thaw, heat 'n eat. We often have oddments of fresh produce that needs using up, so here is a recipe that might suit our needs. If space is limited, use less liquid when deciding to freezing, and add more after thawing.
Using it Up..Soup: (F)
1 onion, chopped
1 oz (25g) butter
1 lb (450g) pumpkin or butternut squash
8 oz (225g) carrots, grated
4 oz (100g) white cabbage, shredded
1 pint (600ml) chicken stock
2 tblsp sherry
Peel and remove seeds from pumpkin/squash and then grate. In a large saucepan, fry the onion in the butter until softened, then add the remaining prepared vegetables. Stir and cook for a few minutes, then pour in the stock and sherry. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Eat as-is or if you prefer a smoother soup, puree by using a stick blender or a liquidiser. Serve hot with croutons.
To freeze: leave to cool, then store in a container leaving half an inch (1 cm) headspace to allow for expansion.
To serve: thaw or reheat gently from frozen.

Having unearthed an old cookbook from one of our packing cases, discovered there are many - let's say interesting - recipes still worth trying today. It does seem that KISS (Les's reminder to 'keep it simple, stupid) applied very much in those days. Probably had to be, for many recipes were not written down, just handed down by the spoken word. Here are a few worth considering:

Mock Crab:
4 oz (100g) grated cheese
yolk of one hard-boiled egg
pinch each cayenne pepper and salt
little mustard
tablespoon each of vinegar and salad oil
Mix to a paste and spread on thin bread and butter or brown biscuits.

Banana Pudding:
8 ripe bananas
2 tblsp sugar
1 teacup of breadcrumbs
Place in a deep dish and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Mystery Pudding:
1 slice white bread
half a cup of water
1 egg
2 tblsp sugar
pinch of salt
pinch of nutmeg
1 pint of milk
1 oz (25g) butter
Break up the bread into chunks and boil with the water. Remove from heat and beat the egg into the bread pulp. Add the sugar, nutmeg, salt, then stir in the milk and butter. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Note: this is a dish suitable for an invalid.

Six Cup Pudding:
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup currants or sultanas (or half of each)
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup suet
1 cup milk
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Mix everything together thoroughly, put into a basin, cover and steam for two and a half to three hours.
Note: this pudding is sufficient for 3 - 4 persons, is inexpensive and suitable for Christmas.

The recipe book also gives an idea of how life was in 'Granny's Day', and worth giving an extract from the chapter entitled The Modern Kitchen.
"Granny used to spend hours of her life scrubbing and polishing things which we today have merely to wipe over with a damp cloth or duster to restore them to sparkle and cleanliness. She used to spend further hours 'watching' her foods when she was cooking; we have cookers today that we can automatically control and leave to look after themselves.
Another large slice of her time was made in wasting journeys which would have been unnecessary if her kitchen equipment had been planned and placed with more intelligence.
Another way in which we have learned to avoid fatigue is by sitting down when we have 'stationary' jobs to do instead of stooping over them as Granny did. She would have thought it laziness to sit down while preparing vegetables, beating cake mixtures or ironing. "

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bees in My Bonnet

Some time back we discussed the advantage of keeping split peas in our store cupboards, for they are one of the cheapest and nutritious ingredients. Normally we never look much further than using them to make split pea soup, so here today is a very different recipe. This makes a good buffet snack, and also good to accompany a dish such as curried eggs. If you prefer, make larger balls then flatten them into 'burgers'. These eat well with salads, and make a good light lunch or supper dish.
Spiced up Split Pea Skewers: makes 36 (F)
8 oz ( 225g) chick peas, soaked overnight
1 large onion, grated
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
quarter tsp each chilli powder and salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
(to fry: use beaten egg, wholewheat flour, oil)
Drain the peas and put them into a pan, just covering them with clean cold water, then bring them to the boil and simmer until tender (about 1 hour), and all the liquid has been absorbed.
Mash with a fork, then add rest of ingredients (not those in brackets) and beat together (or liquidise) until smooth. Shape into small balls, each about the size of a walnut.
To serve now: dip in beaten egg and roll in flour ** then fry in batches for 3 - 4 minutes, turning once or twice, until golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve hot or cold. Serve several skewered on cocktails sticks with salad and pitta bread as a party snack. Or serve 'loose' with salad as a lunch /supper dish.
To freeze: open freeze at **. When solid bag, seal and label. Use within 3 months.
To serve from freezer: unwrap, and fry from frozen for 7 - 8 minutes, serve as suggested above.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weather Permitting...

Just one recipe today, and unusual in that this is recipes was originally for 'slimmers', so fairly low calorie, and also is a dish made with both fish and cheese - something that the Italians would throw their hands up in horror, for they believe the two should never be cooked together.
You will note that 'low-fat' spread is used to cut down the fat and calorie content, but non- dieters could use 'ordinary fats' instead. This is a meal to serve five dieters, although probably makes only enough for 4 people with normal appetites.
Fish 'n Cheese Crumble: 4 cod steaks
1 oz (25g) low-fat spread
1 oz (25g) plain flour
half pint (300ml) skimmed milk
1 tblsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper
Put the cod into a one and a half pint (825ml dish). In a pan melt the spread and stir in the flour, than slowly stir in the milk and heat until thickened. Season to taste and stir in the parsley, then pour this over the fish, allowing it to run around and also under the fish. Make the crumble (see below) and sprinkle this on top. Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for about 40 minutes or until golden and crispy on top.
crumble topping:
2 slices white bread, crumbed
1 oz (25g) low-fat spread
1 oz (25g) cheese, finely grated

Friday, November 20, 2009

Foiled Again!

Many of us fall by the wayside and buy a ready-meal just because it can be popped into the oven without having to do anything to it. Often it stays in its own tray (with just the plastic film removed), so no pans to clean (some of us eat from the tray instead of putting the cooked food onto a plate).
Almost certainly it is the lack of preparation that appeals to us. So today am giving some suggestions as to how to make up our own 'packs', that can then be frozen, thawed and then put straight into the oven. Saves a lot of cleaning pans, although slightly more expensive due to the disposable foil (but wiped clean it can go into a recycle bin).

Portions of chicken, turkey, meat, offal and fish - together with herbs, vegetables and seasoning - can all be wrapped in foil for oven baking (or can be frozen, thawed and then baked).
All treated in the same way by first taking a sheet of foil, large enough to enclose the food(s) to be cooked. Lay the foil flat on the table, shiny side up (this reflect the heat towards the food), and have the longest sides parallel to you. Brush the foil with oil and place the chosen food in the centre. Lift each side of the foil to meet in the centre, and make a double fold, pressing them firmly together. Fold each end over twice, really firmly, to make an airtight (and leakproof) parcel.
Note: for freezing, closely wrap the food, then undo the foil and re-fold more loosely so that the heat can reach the food. If not freezing, then wrap the food loosely. But in both instances makes sure the package is tightly sealed.
All suggestions below are cooked at the same temperature: 190C, 375F, gas 5. See each suggestion for the timing.

Pork and Apple:
Put a pork chop in the centre of the greased foil, finely chop a small peeled apple, and a shallot and spread this on top of the chop. Season with salt, pepper and sage, and moisten with a tablsp of cider or stock. Wrap tightly and freeze, or wrap more loosely and bake for 45 minutes.

Trout with Orange:
Put cleaned and prepared trout onto centre of the greased foil and top with 3 slices of orange.
Squeeze juice from remaining orange and pour this over. Wrap tightly for freezing, or loosely for baking' Bake for 40 minutes.

Chicken Escalope:
Put a slightly flattened boneless chicken breast onto greased foil, top with a few sliced button mushrooms, add seasoning to taste, and moisten with 2 tblsp cream or white wine. Seal and bake for 30 minutes.

Gammon with Apricots:
Put the gammon steak onto the greased foil, and top with a couple of canned and drained apricot halves. Spoon over 2 teaspoons of the apricot syrup. Seal and bake for 30 minutes.

Savoury Haddock:
Put the fish onto the greased foil. Top with some thyme and parsley stuffing, and spoon over 2 tblsp parsley sauce. Seal and bake for 35 minutes.

Liver, Bacon and Onions:
Thinly slice 4 oz (100g) lambs liver and place, overlapping, in centre of greased foil. Snip one bacon rasher into small pieces over the top of the liver, then arrange thinly sliced onion ringson top of that. Season to taste and moisten with 2 tblsp red wine or beef stock. Seal and bake for 35 minutes.

Lamb with Courgettes:
Put a lamb chop or lamb steak onto the greased foil. Top with 3 or 4 slices of baby courgette and also a sliced tomato. Season to taste and sprinkle with parsley or mint. Seal and bake for 45 minutes.

Cooking vegetables in foil packets:
Save fuel by cooking several vegetable in the same pan.
Put the vegetables on a square of foil, season to taste and add a knob of butter. Gather up the four corners and twist tightly together. Put into a pan of boiling water and cook.
The following timings are for 1lb (400g) fresh vegetables. Reduce the time by a quarter if the vegetables are frozen.
35 minutes for: broad, French and runner beans; broccoli and cauliflower florets; baby (new) potatoes.
30 minutes for: diced swedes.
25 minutes for: sliced courgettes; peas.

When freezing food, a lot of us use the ready-made foil tins, sold in various shapes and sizes. If only used once these are costly, but lining with 'layering tissue' (Lakeland sell this) before putting in the food, once frozen this can be lifted out leaving a clean container than can be used again (and again). Covering the surface pf the food with the tissue means the lid will also stay clean.

To make our own foil containers, choose the container you wish to copy, then turn it over and place a large enough square of double-thickness foil over the base, pressing firmly down the sides, pleating if necessary. Remove the container and trim/turn over edges of the foil.. If filling with liquid, stand home-made container on a baking sheet before filling, and leave to set or freeze before removing.
To make a sturdier base, cut an old container lid to size, and slip this between the double sheet of foil, where you wish the base to be. Old lids can be used again if the surface of the food is first covered with foil, the lid then placed on top.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Retail Therapy

Regarding the amount of food normally thrown away each week - said to be about one third of the weekly purchase, and thrown away even if still edible - when it comes to Christmas I read yesterday that this wastage increases to a massive 80%!!! This I find incredible, but sadly true, so we should bear this in mind during the run up to the festive season and make quite sure we buy only as much as we can eat during that time (or at least be able to freeze any surplus).

Myself never do know why we always buy so much more food than normal at this time, for it is not the amount of food that makes a festive meal, more the serving of traditional dishes, and presenting them in a different and hopefully more attractive way. Why buy a huge turkey, when a much smaller bird, or even turkey crown will suffice? None of us really want to keep eating turkey in one form or another over the following days, and in truth, most of us feel more like eating less than normal after the Big Binge on Christmas Day. A lot depends upon how many will be eating the meal, for when normally feeding two, and then faced with a much larger number round the table, it is easy to over-compensate and buy far too much food as a way to make sure there is enough.
Take the professional approach and think 'portion control' (allowing a little bit extra for the gannets). As long as plates are full (and it doesn't take much of anything to fill a Christmas plate when you consider that besides a few slices of turkey (both white and dark meat) and gravy, we have sausages, bacon rolls, stuffing, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, bread sauce, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and/or parsnips, peas, squash, cranberry sauce...) everyone will feel well fed. A tablespoon of peas put into half a satsuma shell and placed around the bird, looks different, and everyone can take one, yet probably ending up with less peas because of it.
Allow enough extra for seconds, although most people will not really need to eat more, especially when a starter has been served. After all, there is Christmas pudding to follow!

Maybe buying food for Christmas is another form of retail therapy, we are entranced and tempted by all the food in the sparkly wrappings, and we wish to load our tables with as many edible treats as possible. Cooks love to spoil their family and friends, and we know it won't all be eaten, but does it really matter just for once?
Well, it should matter, particularly during this credit crunch (and with the warning of all that possible and unnecessary wastage).

A recent letter in the paper was from a lady who, because of lack of funds this year, has this year had to start making her own (with the help of her children) Christmas decorations, presents, cards, and food, and what she did say is that they are all loving every minute of it. That says a lot. So bring back the good old days (or dare I even say Goode old days), and enjoy the real pleasures of Christmas past and now present.

We are fortunate in having two fairly large holly bushes in our garden, one in the front, one in the back. Both need pruning, so with a few false berries (saved from previous years), the house can be traditionally trimmed at no cost at all. If no holly, we can still make our own decorations, and the most amazing festoons can be made using old plastic carrier bags (read Have a Goode Year to find out the cheapest decorations we can make). We can trim a tree with edible gingerbread shapes, and string popcorn and cranberries together to drape over the branches. Narrow strips of kitchen foil wrapped round a ballpoint pen will make 'ringlets' to dangle from the tree.
Placing a small ball of kitchen paper on top of an upturned empty yogurt pot, then covering them both tightly with a circle of foil, tucking the ends up into the pot, makes a 'silver' bell, that can be hung, with others, from a tree or shelf.
Open up a wire coat hanger to form a circle, and use this as a frame for attaching ivy, pine cones, and any Christmas decorations, and hang by the hook as a door decoration.

Get the children to cut up glossy and colourful junk mail into strips (or a parent can do this if the children are small) and then they can link and glue them together to make paper chains.

When it comes to Christmas crackers, the easiest way is to buy the very cheapest, then carefully ease open one end and drop in a gift of your choice before closing the gap again. Just make sure the right person gets the cracker.
Good cracker 'inserts' are (according to the individual and their hobbies), a folded book of postage stamps, a packet of seeds, a lipstick, new batteries, small pens, packet of sewing needles,
book token, lottery scratch cards.... and am sure you can think of a lot more small things that will fit inside a cracker.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Counting the Hours

It is surprising how much flesh can be left on a chicken carcase, and probably more if the carcases are first portioned raw, for there are many chunks of chicken attached to the main body of the bird that are not removed when we joint the birds. Normally expect to about 8 oz (225g) cooked flesh after the carcase (raw or previously roasted) has been simmered for stock. If more has been left on the carcase, then we will end up with more meat. These make very good chicken pies, or a Chicken and Sweetcorn Chowder. The scraps can also be added (cold) to a salad, or mince up and added to other ingredients to make Chicken Burgers.

Think today might even make a fruit cake for Christmas. Should have made it before, but then didn't feel like making anything at all in the kitchen the way it was. Now I can't stop cooking. Not that we need to eat a heavy cake around Christmas tea-time, especially after the massive lunch. But it is traditional. As are my childhood pre-war (and after war) memories of salmon sandwiches and trifle were also served at tea-time. At least fruit cake (especially after a drink of rum or brandy) will keep for ages, and B prefers to eat it with with cheese rather than as 'cake'. He is not keen on marzipan or icing either, so may top the cake with glace fruits and nuts instead, or not even bother. As long as there is a fruit cake, then B will be happy.

However, this is still a cookery blog, so will give a recipe so keep some of you happy. This is made with pomegranates, a fruit my dad used to love, but myself never got found the way to remove its seeds successfully. Since then have learned a good way to do this is to make deep cuts top to bottom and side to side at the flat base of the pomegranate, then plunge the fruit into a bowl of cold water. Using your fingers carefully prise the fruit apart at the cuts, the scoop out the seeds. The water prevents the fingers getting stained. The pulpy seeds drop to the bottom of the bowl and pithy bits float to the top. The seeds can then be drained and look really attractive scattered over a salad, or folded into couscous or rice dishes.

This recipe treats the fruit in a different way, and being a sorbet can either be made using an ice-cream machine or freezing the syrup in a shallow tray to make a 'granita', and then break up the ice crystals with a fork when it turns slushy. Finally leave it to freeze completely.
Pomegranate Sorbet: (F)
1 lb (450g) caster sugar
8 pomegranates
1 pint (600ml) boiling water
Put the sugar into a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Stir until dissolved, then set aside to cool.
Put one pomegranate to one side, then juice the remaining seven fruits by squeezing and pressing the skin vigorously to crush the seeds inside. Hold the squashed fruit over a bowl, slit the skin with a knife and the juice will pour out.
Mix the juice with the cold syrup and churn in an ice-cream maker until set (see above for the 'granita' method), Then scoop out, put into a container and freeze.
Serve in scoops, each scattered with a few seeds from the reserved fruit.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Party Plan

Considering how much I go on about the way supermarkets pull our strings, you may wonder why we ever use them at all. In an ideal world and given enough money, we would shop elsewhere, but as always, beggars can't be choosers. It is up to each of us to become aware of the tricks the supermarkets use to first get us to shop there in the first place, then get us to buy more than we need.

In the October issue of Which magazine there was a very interesting articles titled "How Supermarkets make you buy more". Earlier surveys revealing interesting facts:
Apart from nearly 66% of shoppers saying "special offers at shop entrances were helpful or convenient", there were many tactics disliked. 73% of us are annoyed (I am VERY annoyed) when goods are moved around to a different aisle. 47% annoyed when essentials are placed at the back of the store.
Where staple groceries or favourite brands are placed on the shelves, how much space they occupy is carefully worked out. The most sought-after shelves are the ones at eye-level, and manufacturers often pay a lot for the best spots. Manufacturers can also pay the supermarket for displaying shelf-labels (called 'shelf-talkers') which promote a special product placed behind the labels.

Supermarkets negotiate special offers with manufacturers to highlight leading brands, and manufacturers who fund these offers hope then to see a lot of stock shifted. Once one supermarket has agreed this price, then other stores wish to follow, so manufacturers my have to improve on the offer for a rival market. It is usually the stores that make the most profit doing this, manufacturers making less.

Here are some guidelines to canny shopping, as given in the magazine.
1. Fruit and Veg are placed towards the front of the store to present a healthy, fresh image that supermarkets wish to portray.
2. Most of us look right when we enter the store, so that is where supermarkets put current deals they want us to buy, so placed there to grab our attention immediately.
3. Lunchtime snacks are usually on the shelves near the supermarket entrance, along with other impulse buys such as bunches of flowers, tobacco, and newspapers. Convenient for workers on a lunchtime break, but also reminding us we can pick up lunch when buying other essentials.
4. Themed aisle are often near the front of the store. We have already had Halloween, but remember this for Christmas. These aisles change with the seasons.
5. Groups of foods that go together are often (but not always) found close together to prompt us to buy them at the same time. Tea and coffee next to biscuits, cereals etc.
6. In nearly every store the essentials such as bread and milk are placed at the back of the store to entice us to buy other foods as we walk past them.
7. Alcohol too is almost always towards the back as it contradicts the healthy image the store wishes to maintain.
8. The cheapest lines are never placed on the best shelf spots as supermarkets don't wish us to buy 'value products'. Having different varieties of the same product placed close together may encourage us to switch to an even pricier brand.
9. The row ends are the most profitable part of the store for product manufacturers. They pay to put their products there, and often the special offers that accompany them.
10. At checkout points are placed sweets, reminder buys, and non-food related services such as finance products. It is said that we'd never consider these at any other point in the store - only when we've got some waiting time.

Every storekeeper worth his salt will do his best to sell products that have been hanging around for some time, but thinking about the old days, when all we had to do was make a shopping list of foods we wished to buy, go into the grocers, hand it to the shopkeeper, and sit down while he fetched the good from the shelves and packed them in a box for you (often delivering them to your kitchen door), we should wonder why we need such a large variety of food that faces us every time we enter the larger supermarket doors.
Perhaps the size of a supermarket has more to do with selling everything we need under the one roof. For carrying just about all the foods we need: meat, fish, groceries, dairy foods, fruit and veg, even stationery, magazines, books and newspapers, the supermarkets have to be the main reason why so many local and independent shops have had to close down. It may be more convenient for us to buy everything in one go, but we have lost a lot of quality and control with the purchases we buy.

In a way we ARE very lucky in that we can now buy fresh produce all year round, not just during their 'seasons', for with this we can widen our horizons when it comes to choosing which dishes to serve. We can, to some extent (money permitting) eat exactly what we want, when we want. But by doing so we have lost the pleasure of waiting for different fruits and vegetables to come into season, and enjoying them fully for the often short time they are available. Nothing to stop us still buying 'when in season' but even when we do, somehow it is just not the same anymore, for most fresh produce now seems to lack flavour, as more importance is put on shape, colour and shelf-life. Fruit is never picked when fully ripe when the flavour is at its peak, as by the time it got to the shelves it would have gone rotten. With many foods, it is one step forward, and two steps back.
Even when we 'grow our own', the old and full flavours are missing because the powers that be (the EC or whoever) have removed many traditional varieties of seeds from the market, and we are only allowed to buy what they say. There are organisations that still provide old varities of seeds, and gardeners should seek these out.
Myself wistfully remember that bacon never tastes as good as it did when my mother bought it (Wiltshire back) sliced to her wishes from a great side hanging in the grocers. Tomatoes never taste as sweet as those my father grew in his greenhouse. Strawberries are not as sweet, neither are plums. Large eggs are rarely larger than medium, certainly not the giants our Rhode Island Reds used to lay, and now rarely have rich yellow yolks anymore.
To get anything near the quality of the food we used to eat we have to buy from a recommended local butcher, farmers markets, and possibly have organic boxed vegetables and other foods delivered to our door. But it all costs money, and during the credit crunch, how many of us can afford to pay extra?

It is not all doom and gloom. Those of us old enough to remember what real food tastes like, can still make their own jams, marmalades, preserves and pickles. We can bake our own bread, cakes and biscuits, and grow our own vegetables. Or is it that we are getting too old to do all this, and too many generations have passed that now only remember food of a quality we would spit out? Time for us who are still able to do some cooking, to pass on the old ideas, encourage other younger folk to eat our cooking and maybe hope that one or two will be prompted to have a go themselves.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Great Beginnings

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pantry Perks

Here is a recipe for the always favourite chocolate brownie and uses the cheaper and softer chocolate 'cake covering' (but use the darker chocolate that has 70%+ cocoa solids if you prefer then be generous with the marg), and also includes raisins and walnuts which adds more nourishment so that we can feel we are offering a 'healthier' brownie to children and adults alike. As these will freeze, worth making ahead for the festive season.
Raisin Brownies: makes 16 squares (F)
3 oz (75g) margarine
2 oz (50g) plain chocolate cake covering
5 oz (150g) moist brown sugar
2 eggs
3 oz (75g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 oz (100g) raisins
2 oz (50) walnut pieces, roughly chopped
Melt the margarine and chocolate in a bowl standing over hot water. Remove from heat and beat in the sugar and eggs. Sift the flour and baking powder together and stir into the mixture, then fold in the raisins and walnuts.
Pour into a greased and base-lined 7" (18cm) square, shallow tin, and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 40 - 45 minutes or until the cake has begun to shrink from the sides of the tin. Cool in tin for 10 minutes then cut into squares.
To freeze: cool completely in tin, then remove as a whole, wrap, bag up, seal and label. Use within 3 month.
To serve from frozen: remove outer wrappings, thaw at room temperature for 3 - 4 hours, then cut into squares.

Final recipes today are for muffins, the first savoury, the second for the sweet-toothed. The American muffin is a larger and coarser version of our 'fairy' or 'cup cakes' and very easy to make as it is a matter of using one bowl of dry ingredients, another of wet, without a rush to put them together (sometimes I prepare the mixture the evening before and then assemble when ready to cook - but a lot depends upon which muffin recipe is used). The wet/dry mixtures are rapidly mixed together and lumps allowed as overmixing ruins them. Best eaten the day of making, preferably while still warm (otherwise they tend to dry out quickly), some - such as the second recipe - will keep longer because of the moist fruit used.

This first is the savoury version, that eats very well served warm with butter and a cup of tea as a snack, served with a cheese omelette as a light lunch or supper.
Pea and Ham Muffins: makes 12
4 oz (100g) frozen peas
10 oz (300g) plain flour
1 tblsp baking powder
pinch dry mustard
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh chopped chives OR...
...half tsp dried mixed herbs
freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg
4 oz (100g) feta cheese, crumbled
7 fl oz (200ml) full fat milk
2 oz (50g) cooked ham, diced
3 oz (75g) Cheddar cheese, grated
Blanch the peas for 2 minutes in lightly salted boiling water, then drain and refresh under cold running water. Drain and set aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder and mustard together into a bowl, then stir in the salt and herbs, adding ground pepper to taste.
In another bowl, lightly whisk the egg, then add the cheese and continue whisking until the cheese has combined smoothly with the egg. Whisk in the milk, then take a wooden spoon and stir in the prepared peas and ham.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix quickly but lightly until just combined. Do not overmix.
Spoon mixture into a well greased 12-hole muffin tin and sprinkle the top of each with the Cheddar cheese. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for around 20 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and firm to the touch.
When cool enough to handle, turn out onto a wire rack and serve warm.

This next muffin recipe is a fruity one, and although the recipes uses blueberries, blackcurrants or blackberries (or any other soft fruits that go with bananas could be used instead). Because the fruit keeps the muffins moist, these keep longer and will store in an airtight tin for 3 days or can be frozen for up to a month.
Banana and Blueberry Muffins: makes 12 (F)
10 oz (300g) self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 oz (100g) light muscovado sugar
2 oz (50g) porridge oats, plus 1 tblsp
2 medium bananas, riper the better
1 x 284ml carton buttermilk or natural yogurt
5 tblsp light olive oil
2 egg whites
150g punnet (5oz) blueberries
Sift the flour and bicarb into a bowl. Reserve 1 tsp of the sugar and add the remainder to the flour with the 2 oz porridge oats. Make a well in the centre.
In a separate bowl mash the bananas until smooth, then stir in the buttermilk, egg whites and oil and mix until combined.
Pour the wet ingredients into the well of the dry ingredients and mix quickly together using a wooden spoon. The mixture will appear lumpy with even an odd speck of flour visible, but as ever with muffins DO NOT OVERMIX.
Add the chosen berries, giving it one more stir, then divide the mixture between 12 muffin cases sitting in a 12-hole muffin tin - these will almost fill the cases to the top, then sprinkle the tops with the reserved oats and the tsp sugar. Bake at the usual 180C oven temp (see above) until risen and dark golden. Leave in the tray to cool for 5 minutes before removing to a cake airer to cool completely.
Eat when just cooled or store for up to 3 days in an airtight tin. Freeze as recipe above.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Ways with Traditional Recipes

As always, thanks for comments sent in. As to the difference between a stew and a casserole Kadeeae, have myself always believed that a stew was cooked on the hob in a pan and a casserole cooked inside the oven. With a stew, the meat would first be cooked until tender and the vegetables either cooked and served separately, or could then be added to the pot and cooked along with the meat as with Irish Stew (trad. cooked on top of the stove).
Meat cooked in a slow-cooker would be counted as 'stewed', as normally vegetables (other than onions) are not usually added as they need a higher heat to become tender.

Nowadays, after first browning the meat in a frying pan, it is then normally transferred to a casserole dish along with prepared veggies at the same time along with any liquid called for and then cooked on in the oven. Also the gravy with this tends to end up thicker than when cooking as a stew.
Have to say I cook a lot of 'casseroles' in a deep lidded frying pan using the hob rather than the oven. so rather a grey area as to what name to call it, but because it is complete in itself to my mind it is nearer a 'casserole' than a 'stew', and in any case sounds more appetising.

Definitely will be decorating my computer for Xmas, and maybe will put a small tree on the windowsill and you could all dangle prettily from there if you wish during the festive period. Which one of you will choose to be the fairy on the top? Definately not me, for the moment I 'sat down' the tree would be squashed flat, along with the rest of you.

Was very disappointed to read that Campbells condensed soups seem not to be around any more Cheesepare. Even when firms sell out to another, often the original name of the product is kept. We would be amazed at how many well-known brand names are now 'owned' by just one major company. However, if bought out by another firm and the name changed, let us hope the condensed soups on sale are still of the same quality.

The cookery prog you mentioned CP, this was probably on a digi channel as these are repeats of the originals first shown on ITV and called Cooks Challenge or similar name. For readers who have not watched, two chefs compete against each other each weekday, a different pair each week. They cook three dishes, the first their own choice of a dish that cooks in in 5 minutes, a different celebrity each day having a taste of all the dishes cooked and giving their opinion as to the best. The chefs second challenge is to cook a dish (one portion only) on a set budget (this changes every day and can be anything from 50p to £3.50p), although four items can also be used from the storecupboard for no extra charge, and again this dish is tested by the celeb.
Finally a dish has to be made using an ingredient the celeb wishes them to use. This could be anything from asparagus to scallops and the chefs make their own choice of which dish to make and serve. After the five days, the chef with the most points wins the week. A good programme to watch as it both helps with the timing and budgeting of a meal, and entertaining because of how competitive the chefs are with each other. Some can really sulk when losing.

Not sure about the courgette CP. Doubt the lemon juice would 'cook' it, as this seems only to happen with proteins (fish etc). Expect the lemon would be to add flavour to an otherwise rather tasteless vegetable. Also much depends upon the age of the courgette. Really young ones, freshly picked, are lovely raw (myself use them cut into strips to eat with dips). Possibly, as the programme seen was a repeat, the courgettes were in season. At the present time, shop bought courgettes are probably imported or if a variety able to be grown locally in hothouses this might make them slightly more bitter in flavour.
If you like the idea of raw courgette marinaded in lemon juice, but the lemon flavour is too strong, you could always rinse the ribbons and pat dry before serving them. Another way to serve is lightly sear the courgette ribbons on a griddle pan, and then sprinkle over lemon juice.
Today am giving some traditional Latin dishes that have a new slant. To get the authentic flavour try to use an Italian lager (such as Birra Moretti). If not able to buy this, use a mild lager of any make.

Most risottos are made in a similar way. One may use chicken stock to cook the rice, another water. both with or without and white wine. This recipe uses lager which gives a clean sharp edge to the dish that complements its richness. Parmesan cheese can vary in quality, so choose the Parmesan sold as Parmigiano Reggiano.
Beer Risotto: serves 4
2 onions, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely diced
2 large carrots, finely diced
2 tblsp butter
4 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb (450g) risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)
1 pint mild Italian lager
2.5 pints hot vegetable stock
1 tblsp each finely chopped fresh parsley and thyme
8 oz (225g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (see above)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the prepared vegetables in a heavy based pan with the butter and oil. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are softened but not browned (takes about 10 minutes).
Add the rice and stir/cook for a few minutes so that the rice is coated by the oils, and turns translucent. Then pour in the beer and simmer until it has just evaporated.
Stir in one ladle of the hot stock, and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is creamy, then keep adding stock - one ladle at a time - until the rice is tender (this takes between 20 - 30 minutes) and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Note that a risotto should be creamy, and not too dry.
Sprinkle the cheese and herbs over the risotto and add seasoning to taste, stir to blend then serve immediately.

A very simple antipasto dish is slices of beef tomatoes alternating with slices of mozzarella and basil leaves. This is a hot version, and makes a really good 'starter' (one I must add to my menu). Make your own basil oil by blitzing together 2 handfuls of basil leaves with 2 tblsp of good olive oil.
Grilled Vegetable Towers: makes 4
2 large yellow peppers, deseeded and quartered
1 large aubergine, sliced across into rounds
2 large beef tomatoes, sliced across into rounds
2 balls smoked mozzarella, sliced
salt and pepper
basil oil
Put the peppers and aubergines under a hot grill (or use a griddle pan) until just cooked. Then assemble the 'towers' by putting the four largest slices of tomato onto a greased baking sheet, top with an aubergine round, cover this with peppers, then repeat, using the smaller rounds towards the top to prevent the tower toppling over. Finish off with the cheese and season to taste.
Bake at 190C, gas 5 for 10 - 12 minutes until the cheese has melted. Carefully remove each to an individual serving plate, spooning a little basil oil over the top, and serve with a little frissee or rocket leaves at the side.

This Italian dish uses an unusual beer and radicchio sauce that is served with pasta. Ideally cook fresh egg tagliatelle or other fresh pasta, but at a pinch (remember that freshly made pasta weighs heavier than dried pasta) any dried pasta of your choice could be cooked and served with the 'sauce'. Once we decrease the quality of an ingredient we also lessen the quality of the dish, so whenever possible buy the best you can according to the recipe.
Pasta with Beer Sauce: serves 4
4 tblsp olive oil
1 large red onion. finely chopped
2 handfuls radicchio leaves, finely shredded
8 fl oz (225ml) mild Italian lager
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
8 fl oz (225ml) chicken or vegetable stock
1 lb (450g) fresh egg tagliatelle
2 oz (50g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and black pepper
Put the oil into a large pan over medium heat, then when hot add the onion and stir/cook for 5 minutes. Add the radicchio leaves and cook/stir for a further five minutes, then raise the heat and add the beer, boiling this until evaporated, then stir in the balsamic vinegar and season to taste. Add the stock and cook for about 5 minutes or until the 'sauce' has become creamy and thick.
Meanwhile, using a different pan, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, then drain well. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir to combine, adding more seasoning if needed. Top with the Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Final recipe today is for an English fruit pie where the pastry is made in a completely different way than normal. Ideal for cooks (like myself) who find it difficult to make good pastry. Any fruits could be used instead of the one given.
Rhubarb Pie: serves 8 - 12
8 oz (225g) butter
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
2 eggs
12 oz (350g) plain flour
Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and soft. Then add the eggs and beat together for several minutes. Reduce speed and beat in the flour. Turn out the dough onto a sheet of floured greaseproof paper, shape into a round, flattening the top, wrap up and chill for at least an hour. Removed from fridge too soon and the pastry is difficult to handle.
When ready to use, roll out to eighth of an inch (3mm) in thickness and use two thirds to line a 22cm square tin (2.5cm deep) and add the filling (see below).
1.5lb (700g) rhubarb, cut into 1/2" chunks
9 oz (250g) caster sugar (more if you like it sweeter)
beaten egg for brushing pastry
caster sugar for sprinkling
and whipped cream to serve
When the tin has been lined with pastry, put in layers of rhubarb and sugar. Cover with a lid of pastry (rolling out the reserved piece) sealing the edges and using pastry trimmings to decorate the lid. Brush with egg wash and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 45 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender (check after half an hour as ovens vary, and also cover the pastry with a tent of foil, shiny side up, if the pastry is browning before the rhubarb is cooked).
When ready, remove from oven but leave in the tin for five or so minutes to cool slightly, then cut into squares, sprinkle each with caster sugar, and serve with cream.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Measure First Cut Once

Today's title refers to mistakes that can be made by not double checking. So often we choose a recipe then decide to make it without first reading the method. Generally I try to give the preparation at the side of ingredients (eg 1 lb carrots, trimmed and sliced), but often some things need to be done at the time of making (eg 'whisk the egg whites'), so the more utensils and appliances we can assemble before starting, the easier it becomes. Also double check the spoon measurements because even when written in full or in short form, one teaspoon (1 tsp) can often be mistaken for 1 tablespoon (1 tblsp).

Quite often we hear of cooks adding sugar to a dish instead of salt, and vice versa, and as many ingredients can look exactly the same, we need to label carefully if we remove them from their original packets to put into a storage jar.

Always prepare dishes and baking tins before the preparation of ingredients starts, there is nothing worse than reading 'immediately pour the mixture into a buttered dish/ heated frying pan' if you haven't yet greased the dish or heated the pan. Sometimes speed is necessary to get the best results from preparation to the actual cooking.

Check also oven temperatures as sometimes cooking begins with one heat that later needs to be can be lowered. On the hob take especial care when simmering because this means barely a bubble on the surface of the liquid (AWT calls this a 'burp'), far lower than a slow boil. If necessary stand a saucepan in a dry frying pan (or even in a pan with boiling water) to reduce the heat even more.

Back to the Goode kitchen. Around this time of year feel that a stock of assorted condensed soups are always a useful thing to keep in the storecupboard. Undiluted and straight from the can, the mushroom, chicken and asparagus condensed soups make a good filling for vol-au-vents. Just fold in more veg or meat according to the flavour. Diluted, half a can of oxtail will make a good 'stock/gravy' for a casserole, and undiluted except for perhaps a little cream, and maybe extra seasoning/spice, could turn into a credible dip. Any unused condensed soup can be decanted into a small container and frozen to use another time.

We do not often eat pork, for no reason other than we prefer beef, lamb or chicken. But pork is an excellent meat, lower in fat than most meats (once any visible has been removed) and when minced or cut into chunks, cooks fairly quickly. So here is a recipe for a pork casserole that cooks in the oven in less than one hour. The easy way to make it is use a can of condensed soup, and depending upon how you like the thickness of the 'gravy', a little more liquid can be added if you wish. As ever, reduce the amount of meat when you wish to lower the cost, just add more of the vegetables to make up the shortfall. This is one of those dishes that can be frozen although as it takes longer to reheat in the oven than cook in the first place, feel that this is a bit of a waste of freezer space and time. Bearing this in mind, am giving instructions for reheating in the microwave which cuts the time down by half.
Pork Casserole with Apricots: serves 6 (F)
2 lb (900g) diced pork
2 tblsp flour
salt and pepper
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tblsp sunflower oil
8 oz (225g) onions, sliced
5 ribs celery, chopped
half a pint (300ml) orange juice
1 x 295g (10.4oz) can condensed cream of celery soup
8 oz (225g) no-soak apricots
Put the flour in a bag with the dried thyme and salt and pepper to taste, add the diced pork and shake until coated.
Heat the oil in a large pan then add the pork (best done in batches) until beginning to brown, then using a slotted spoon transfer to a casserole. Add the onions and celery to the pan juices and stirfry for about 4 minutes, then add the orange juice and condensed soup. Blend well then bring to the boil. Pour over the pork in the casserole, add the apricots and mix well.
Cover and cook at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 minutes or until the pork is tender*. Serve with boiled rice.
To freeze: When the pork is cooked (*), cool and store in a rigid container leaving half an inch headspace. Seal, label and use within 3 months.
To serve: thaw for 6 hours in the fridge, then transfer to ovenproof dish and reheat at above temperature for at least 1 hour or until piping hot.
Alternatively, transfer to a microwave dish, breaking the block down with a spoon, then microwave on Full/High for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until heated through.

When we first moved to Leeds, many of our neighbours were Jewish, and lovely they were, so

Monday, November 09, 2009

Finding the Time

A speedy recipe given today for making sausage rolls. Take the Nigella tip and use a pack of cooked pork cocktail sausages, then just wrap these in the cheese dough (recipe given below). These when freshly baked, cool slightly but eat with still a bit of warmth and these make good buffet fare.
To make it even easier, make the pastry 'dough' in advance and keep it in the fridge, then bring to room temperature when wishing to use. It goes without saying that boxes of already grated cheese (a mixture of hard cheese is fine) should always been ready and waiting in the fridge or freezer. Or the sausage 'rolls' can be assembled, chilled then baked prior to eating.
If you normally use semi-skimmed milk (as most of us do these days), stir in a teaspoon or so of dried milk or double cream to enrich it, or use two parts semi-skimmed and one part single cream.
Sausage 'Packets' : makes 50
13 oz (325g) self-raising flour
1 tsp salt
1 oz (25g) Cheddar or Red Leicester cheese, grated
7 fl oz (200ml) full-fat milk
1 large egg
3 tblsp sunflower oil
1 pack 50 cooked pork cocktail sausages
Put the flour, salt and cheese into a bowl and mix together using a fork. Put the milk into a jug, add the egg and oil and beat together, then pour this into the dry ingredients, mixing with the fork as you pour.
The dough needs to be soft but not too sticky to be rolled out. If too dry add a little more milk, if too sticky add a little more flour.
Divide the dough in half and roll one piece out fairly thinly on a floured board, aiming to make a thin rectangle. Cut this into 4cm wide strips, then each strip into 4 - 5 cm oblongs.
Place a sausage on the edge of each strip, slightly on the diagonal, and roll it up. Dampen the cut edges and squeeze them shut and place edge-side down on a non-stick baking sheet (or one lined with baking parchment), and repeat with the second piece of dough. You will probably need to use three baking sheets to hold all the sausage 'rolls'.
Give a golden glaze to the dough by brushing with egg yolk beaten with a teaspoon of milk and a pinch of salt. Then bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 12 - 15 minutes until puffy and shiny gold. Remove from oven and cool on tray for a few minutes before serving.

An easy way to make meat balls to serve with pasta is to remove skins from quality sausages, break each into three or four pieces, roll into balls and fry these off then finish cooking in a good sauce.

This next recipe is a doddle to make, and has plenty of flavour. It feeds four, but by adding extra beans (giving extra vegetable protein) and more of the other ingredients but still keeping the original weight of sausage, it can be stretched to feed six or more.
Also a good recipe if wishing to serve only one as a single leftover cooked banger can be used to make a good lunch or supper dish. Just adjust the amounts of the remaining ingredients.
Sausage Stovies: serves 4
2 large onions, sliced
2 lb (1kg) potatoes, cut into half inch (1 cm) slices
2 oz (50g) butter or beef dripping
half pint (300ml) beef stock
3 tblsp tomato relish or pickle
salt and pepper
1 lb (450g) herby sausages, cooked, cooled and sliced
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 x 397g (14oz) can red kidney beans, drained
Put the butter or dripping in a pan and heat, then fry the onions and potatoes until browned. Add the stock, relish or pickle, adding seasoning to taste, then simmer for 15 minutes.
Stir in the sausages, W.sauce and the beans and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Spoon into a warmed bowls and serve hot with a green vegetable.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Closing the Gap

If a whole sponge cake is too much to serve at any one time, just make or take one sponge layer, cut it across into two semi-circles and sandwich together to make 'half a cake'.
Another way to make a decorative sandwich cake is to fill one 'half cake' with (say) chocolate butter cream, and spread the top and outer side also with the buttercream and coat with chocolate vermicelli or flakes. Fill and coat another 'half cake' using a different flavoured filling and coating. Then cut each into three or four wedges and re-assemble as a complete cake, alternating the slices. Looks very attractive.
Flavours that go well with chocolate are: orange, peppermint, and coffee.

This is an interesting version of Bubble and Squeak that my mum always served on Boxing Day with the cold turkey. It can be prepared the day ahead (and if this means Christmas Day, but let someone else do it for you), or can be made earlier on Boxing Day and allowed to rest for a couple of hours. For speed, the microwave cooking method is given, with a conventional oven method also given if that is your preference.
Bacon and Cabbage Bake: serves 6
1 large (approx 2 lb/1kg) Savoy cabbage
6 streaky bacon rashers (pref unsmoked)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp butter, plus extra for brushing
salt and pepper
Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage, and then strip off 8 of the large outer leaves and cut away the central hard part of the stems. Set aside.
Shred the remaining cabbage finely, discarding the central core. Set aside.
Cook the 8 large leaves in boiling salted water for 4 - 5 minutes until tender, then drain using a slotted spoon (keep the pan of water on the boil) and refresh under the cold tap (preferably in a bowl of iced water - a bowl of water could be put in the fridge for an hour to use for this purpose).
Put the shredded leaves into the pan of boiling water and cook these also for 4 - 5 minutes, then drain through a colander and refresh as above.
Chop the bacon into lardons and cook in a frying pan (no need for extra fat) until just becoming crispy. Remove and set aside. Add the butter to the pan and when melted stir in the onion and cook over low heat for up to 10 minutes until the onions are tender. Set aside and leave to cool, then add to the shredded cabbage with the bacon and season to taste.
to microwave:
Line two microwavable plates with clingfilm and brush with butter. Cover one plate with four of the large cabbage leaves, leaving a small border, fill with the shredded mixture, then fold over any hanging edges and top with and tuck in the remaining four large leaves.
Put the second plate on top, film side down, and lift the plates, pressing together tightly, so any excess liquid is squeezed out and can be drained away. Place a weight on top and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours.
To serve, remove the top plate and film, and reheat in the microwave on High for 4 - 5 minutes. Have ready a warmed serving plate and invert the 'cake' over, removing the plate and its covering of clingfilm. Allow guests to cut it into wedges and serve themselves.
to oven-cook:
prepare as for above, but omit the clingfilm and just brush the (ovenproof) plates with butter. After squeezing out excess liquid, weighting and standing time (see above), cook in an oven at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 - 25 minutes and then serve as above. Cooked in a convential oven causes the cabbage to discolour slightly, but does not harm the flavour.

Buffet foods can be easy for the cook as most can be prepared in advance, allowing time to mingle with guests and down a drink or two without having to rush back to the kitchen.
So here is a Turkish version of the Italian pizza in mini-form, and although the recipe does not mention this, experience has shown me that the dough can be made in advance then frozen in small balls to remove, thaw, form into the bases and rise slightly again. The 'topping' can also be cooked and then frozen, to again thaw and use as shown below.
When baked, remove the 'pizzas' (Turkish name being Lahmacun), cover with a clean towel to prevent a hard crust forming, the idea being the 'pizzas' then remain soft enough to fold into two or can be rolled up to eat in the hand. For everyday use, make less dough, less filling, then bake into one or two large pizzas and eat hot in the normal way.
Lahmacun: makes 25
5 oz (150g) strong bread flour
4 oz (100g) plain flour
1 tsp instant blend dried yeast
half tsp salt
6 fl oz (175ml) warm water
1 tblsp olive oil
Mix the flours together with the yeast and salt, then add the water and oil. Mix to a dough and knead for 5 - 10 minutes (depending on whether using hands or a mixer) until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic.
Place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for an hour until doubled in bulk.
1 onion, finely chopped or grated
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
9 oz (250g) minced lamb
pinch each cayenne pepper and allspice
half tsp ground cumin
2 tblsp tomato puree
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tblsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
2 tblsp melted butter
To make the topping, fry the onion in the oil until softened, adding the garlic towards the end. Stir in the minced lamb with the spices and stir/fry until turning brown, stir in the tomato puree and continue to cook making sure the lamb is moved around constantly to prevent it clumping together. After 10 minutes stir in the parsley and lemon juice. Check flavour and add seasoning to taste if necessary. Set aside.
to assemble the 'pizzas':
Knock the dough back and form into 25 small pieces, weighing about half ounce/15g each.
Roll into circles about 6 - 7cm in diameter. Place on oiled baking sheets and drape over clean tea towels for 10 minutes to allow them to slightly rise again.
Put a heaped teaspoon of the filling mixture in the centre of each 'pizza' and spread over the centre, almost but not quite to the edge. Paint over with melted butter, esp. the edges, and bake for 8 - 10 minutes at 220C, 425F, gas 7 until firm but not browned. Remove from oven, cover with clean cloths so they remain soft and able to be folded or rolled to be eaten in the hand.
Serve with tzatziki (chunky Turkish verson of Raita) - a blend of yogurt, diced cucumber, chopped mint and a little garlic.

Another buffet dish that can be made ahead and also frozen are Latkes, a European version of Hash Browns and similar to Rosti.
Extremely easy to make when using a food processor, all they need after the initial cooking is either serve at once or reheat in the oven, and this can be done while still frozen. For adults serve them with an upmarket topping such as smoked salmon and creme fraiche, for children just top with apple sauce and maybe a small slice of cooked sausage.
Latkes: makes 50 (F)
a good 3 lb (1.4kg) potatoes, peeled
1 onion, chopped
2 large eggs
half tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 - 4 tblsp self-raising flour or matzo meal
sunflower oil
Finely grate the potates, using the fine grater of a food processor, then put the gratings in the centre of a clean tea-towel, twist the ends tightly to squeeze out at much liquid as possible. Alternatively put into a sieve, pressing down firmly to extract the liquid.
Put using the normal double blade, put the onion, eggs, salt, pepper and flour or matzo meal into the processor, and pulse until just mixed to a light pulp. Do not overmix to a puree.
The mixture should be thick and sticky. If too runny add more flour/matzo meal.
Put oil into a frying pan to a depth of 1cm, and when hot add dollops of the mixture and fry for about 3 - 5 minutes on each side, flattening slightly when turning. Drain on kitchen paper and cool slightly before topping and serving OR...
...cook as above then spread out on a baking sheet, cool, cover and chill overnight (or freeze)
then crisp up in a hot oven 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 5 - 7 minutes (7 - 9 minutes from frozen), cool slightly, add chosen topping, then serve.

Final recipe today is for coconut Tuiles. These very thin curly biscuits are another upmarket favourite, but because of the thinness, a little of the mixture goes a very long way. Chefs make their own templates for forming tuiles, sometimes cut from those thin pliable plastic sheets sold in a selection of colours to use for chopping and preparing foods, at other times cutting the templates from the plastic lids of ice-cream containers. Use a sharp knife so the edges have no frays, and the templates can be used again and again.
If you wish for round Tuiles that can be draped over the handle of a wooden spoon to curl up, then cut a 7cm round from the chosen plastic, or - as other chefs seem to prefer - cut out triangles that have two long matching length sides, when cooked curl these round something thicker, such as a rolling pin. If they break - well who cares? They taste just as good.
Coconut Tuiles: makes 24
2 oz (50g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 oz (75g) desiccated coconut
3 oz (75g) icing sugar
1 oz (25g) plain flour
2 egg whites
Whizz the coconut in a blender or food processor until finely ground (but not to the powder stage). Add the icing sugar and flour, then pulse to combine, then add the egg whites and cooled but still runny butter and whizz again to form a smooth and slightly runny paste.
Scoop out into a bowl.
Line baking sheets with parchment and place over a template. Put a teaspoon of the mixture in the middle of the template and spread over very thinly to fill the template. Some will spread over the sides of the template, but that doesn't matter (it can be scraped off), the idea is to have a very thin and even layer of mixture on the paper. Carefully lift the templace and shape 3 - 4 more Tuiles, keeping them well spaced apart.
Bake in batches for 7 minutes at 180C, 350C, gas 4 until just golden round the edges, then carefully remove using a palette knife and place over a rolling pin pressing slightly round before it cools (or keep flat on an airing tray). Remove when cool and crisp. When all cooked and cooled, used as decoration or garnish with a dessert. If not used immediately, store in an airtight tin.
tip: to prevent crispy things (including vol au vent puff pastry cases) from going soft, place a layer of salt over the bottom of an airtight tin, cover this with a layer of kitchen paper, and then place the items you wish to store on top of this. The salt will absorb any moisture and helps to keep the goodies crisp.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cupboard Love

A winter vegetable dish that can be made a day ahead and freezes beautifully is red cabbage. This particular recipe has the spicy flavour of Christmas, so could be served with turkey, but even better if the chosen meat is beef.
This makes quite a large amount appropriate for a large festive family gathering, but can be frozen in smaller portions.
Christmas Ruby Cabbage: serves 8 - 10 (F)
4 oz (100g) butter
5 rashers smoked bacon, chopped
2 red cabbages (approx 1.5 kg total)
4 cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
4 oz (100g) raisins
zest 1 orange
8 oz (225g) light muscovado sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
half pint (300ml) red wine
3 tblsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
Using a large saucepan, melt the butter over high heat then fry the bacon for 4 or so minutes until just beginning to brown. Remove from heat.
Halve the cabbages, removing the core and thinly shred the leaves. Lay a quarter of these over the bacon in the pan, cover with a quarter of the apples, and a quarter of the raisins, a sprinkle of orange zest and some of the sugar, add a little seasoning then repeat layers until all the aforementioned ingredients are used.
Shove the cinnamon sticks into the cabbage and pour over the wine and vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 - 4 minutes, then place on a tight-fitting lid, reducing the heat as low as possible (using a heat diffuser if necessary), and cook for one and a half hours or until tender. Do not stir during this time, and make sure the lid is sealed, although check the liquid level every 20 minutes, adding a little boiling water only if necessary.
Cool and keep in the fridge to be reheated gently over a low heat the following day or pack into containers, seal, label and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat gently over a low heat until hot.

The other day gave an recipe to make an alternative stuffing to go with the bird, and today am offering another, this time cooked in one dish. To prevent it becoming dense when baked, make sure you follow the method given. For authentic flavour, whizz ciabatta bread to make the breadcrumbs. This stuffing goes particularly well with turkey, goose, and also breast of lamb.
Note: if wishing to make ahead, mix together the dry ingredients only and keep in the fridge or freezer. Then when ready to cook, mix in the eggs and butter.
Italian Christmas Stuffing: serves 6 - 8
5 oz (150g) soft fresh breadcrumbs (see above)
3 tblsp raisins
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 tblsp pine nuts
4 oz (100g) parmesan cheese, finely grated
3 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
3 eggs, beaten
2 oz (50g) melted butter
salt and pepper to taste
Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together, and lightly sprinkle the mixture into a lined 1 lb (450g) loaf tin, WITHOUT PACKING IT DOWN, and bake for 20 - 25 minutes at 170C, gas 5 for until crispy and golden. Turn out onto a chopping board and cut into slices to serve.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Bending with the Wind

If we have room in the freezer, then it is not too soon to start preparing for Christmas as most frozen food has a 'shelf-life' of at least three months as the nearer we get to the winter solstice, the busier we become. It helps to have 'ordinary' food to take from the freezer to cook while we get on making something more festive.
Dip gougons (finger width strips) of fresh raw chicken, turkey or fish in seasoned flour and egg and crumb, then freeze them raw. These can be deep-fried from frozen and take only a few minutes, or can also be cooked in a hot oven.
Make fish cakes and home-made beefburgers and freeze these. As the ingredients for fish cakes are already cooked, they can be shallow-fried from frozen (or oven heated) until heated thoroughly. Thaw burgers before cooking.

If there is room in the freezer, make plenty of different soups, pots of tomato sauce to use on pizzas and with pasta dishes. Have pots of home-made chicken stock to use for soups, and to add extra impact, stir in a little Marmite to turn it into a rich gravy.

Don't forget the cook's time savers. Make up tubs or bags of pastry mix, crumble mix, scone mix, boxes of grated cheese, and store in the fridge or freezer. Even uncooked bread dough can be frozen in balls to thaw, rise and use for pizza bases and other 'flat-breads' or to bake as individual rolls.

If serving stuffing with the turkey, the stuffing balls could be made now and frozen ready to cook on the day. Here is a healthy stuffing recipe that freezes well and can be formed into balls or used to stuff the neck of the turkey.
Brown Rice Stuffing: serves 8 - 10 (F)
2 eating apples, peeled and grated
9 oz (250g) brown rice, cook until just tender
4 rashers rindless streaky bacon, chopped
3 oz (75g) flaked almonds,
2 oz (50g) raisins
2 eggs, beaten
1 level tsp dried thyme
1 level tsp salt
pepper to taste
Drain the rice and add the grated apple. Put the bacon in a dry pan and fry until the fat begins to run, then add the nuts and cook until the are slightly browned. Add contents of the pan to the rice with the remaining ingredients. To cook from fresh, use to stuff neck of turkey (allow for this extra weight when timing the cooking) or make stuffing balls and place in roasting tin under the bird as it is cooking and cook for 1 hour.
To freeze: pack into rigid container, seal and label, and use within one month.
To serve: thaw stuffing for 4 hours, and cook as above.

Although we like the idea of eating a traditional Christmas Pudding after the main course, we are usually too full to enjoy more than just a spoonful, and not everyone likes the heaviness of a full-on Xmas Pud. Here is a lighter version, very similar to Sticky Toffee Pudding, that can be enjoyed by all, including the children. Serve it after Christmas lunch, or at any other family gathering. Very definitely a winter pud that is a winner as it cooks in only 15 minutes in the microwave with no pre-steaming.
Christmas Date and Chocolate Pudding: serves 8
4 oz (100g) softened butter
6 oz (175g) dark muscovado sugar
3 eggs
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
1 tsp ground cinnamon
5 oz (140g) stoned dates, chopped
3 oz (75g) dark chocolate, chopped
2 oz (50g) walnut or pecan nuts, roughly chopped
6 oz (175g) each butter and golden syrup
2 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
cream for serving
To make the pudding, cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs. Sift the flour with the cinnamon and stir into the mixture, then using a wooden spoon, beat in the milk for 2 - 3 minutes until light and fluffy.
Stir in the dates, chocolate and nuts and spoon into a buttered 2 pint (1.2ltr) basin and cover with cling film.
Pierce the film several times and microwave on Medium for 12 - 15 minutes until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted comes out clean (melted chocolate may stick to the skewer). Leave to rest for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, put all the sauce ingredients into a small pan and heat gently until butter and syrup have melted and sugar dissolved. Simmer for 2 minutes until syrupy.
Remove clingfilm from pudding, and turn out onto a shallow dish. Pour over half the sauce and serve with a jug of remaining sauce and a jug of cream for pouring.