Thursday, December 31, 2009

Counting Out, Counting In..

Yesterday turned out to be quite productive. Once my hairdresser had curled my locks and departed, the preparation for supper was begun. This meal was to be Chilli con carne. Went to the freezer to get some stewing steak and a bit of minced pork. The small bag of stewing steak weighed 4oz (100g), so decided (as other ingredients would also be used) did not really need the minced pork, so that was put back in the freezer to use another day.

The original wrapping for the stewing beef was still in the freezer bag. The price ticket said the meat was "cubed beef", so hoped this meant 'stewing steak'. With the price being £5.99 kg ( the same as £6, and round figures are always easier to work with), this meant the 100g bundle of beef worked out at 60p. But as it was intended to feed two of us, was happy with that, and also being THAT expensive per kg, it must have been stewing 'steak'.
Although the traditional Chilli con carne is made with cubed beef, and not minced as over here, still decided to chop the meat up and although this would have taken less time if using the food processor, was in my 'survival mode' (thinking also this would save extra washing up), so sat and sliced very thin bits off the chunk of frozen meat using my kitchen scissors, letting the 'shards' fall into a bowl. By the end of it, it looked quite a lot, but still only 4 oz of course.

Decided to cook the chilli in the morning and then heat it up at supper time, so sliced a medium onion, fried that in a little sunflower oil, added the prepared beef, let it fry until browned, then tipped in HALF a can of plum tomatoes, chopping these when in the pan. Normally would have used a whole can, but the Challenge is to use up what is in store, which doesn't mean using it up as quickly as possible. The food has to LAST as long as possible.

After putting the remaining tomatoes into a container then into the fridge, the can was rinsed with cold water and this liquid also added to the pan, lid on and left to simmer. When reduced slightly, stirred in a third of a pack of hot chilli con carne mix, and about half a pint of red beans thawed from the freezer. After heating through, giving one final stir, covered the pan, turned out the heat until suppertime. Decided not to add a cube of chocolate to the chilli as this could be used elsewhere (to find out, read on).

Meanwhile, was contemplating whether to soak some rice to serve with the chilli, as had no pitta bread, then suddenly said to myself "Shirley, what is the matter with you, it is survival time, make the darn pitta bread yourself". Now why didn't I think of that yesterday?
So up I got and searched for some white bread mix that had been brought with us. Old stock, nearly thrown out, and each 500g pack has a separate sachet of yeast to use with it. Luckily I found some of the yeast packs, and eventually the flour. The best before date was June 2007, but I thought "what the heck, it will either work or it won't".

Again working with God's own tools, the bread dough was made by hand and not in the machine. This just meant pouring the flour mix into a bowl, and adding 1 tblsp of sunflower oil, and enough hand-hot water to bind it together. First kneaded in the bowl, then tipped onto the kitchen table and kneader further, then when I got fed up with that (it could have done with being worked longer), put it back into the bowl, covered it with a towel and left to rise.

Around that point daughter arrived, we had a coffee, sorted out the Christmas trimmings from the cake she gave us, plus other decorations so she could take them back, had more chat, then after she had left, checked the dough and it had still not risen (so the yeast was too old?). Decided perhaps this was because the room was cold (the heating not on at that time of day) so put some warm water into the sink and stood the covered bowl in that. Then went into the living room to do the daily crosswords. Half an hour or so later could detect a yeasty smell wafting through the air when B walked into the room (a good sign), so went back into the kitchen to check, and lo and behold - the dough had doubled in bulk. So never throw anything out when it has got past its best-before date. Even well past. It may still be fit for use.
Knocking the dough back, kneaded it again slightly, then shaped it into a thick sausage and cut it into 12 equal portions.

Following the pitta recipe preheated the oven, not as hot as should be, but at least 230C (fan oven), at the same time heating a large baking sheet. Rolled out 6 of the balls very thinly to about 6" ovals, then when the oven was hot, laid each on the mega-hot baking sheet. Could see the first ones beginning to rise by the time the last couple were laid on. Closed the door, left to bake for 10 minutes by which time they had risen and puffed up. Looked really good. Removed them to a wire rack and covered with a tea-towel to prevent them drying out.

While they were cooking, decided not to roll out the remaining dough as did not need that many pitta AT THAT TIME (although after baking they could have been frozen). So instead, rolled each of the 6 pieces into balls, wrapping them singly in layering tissue, and then put them into a bag and popped them into the freezer. Next time there is a need for pitta bread a couple of balls can be brought out, thawed and then rolled and baked.
Even better - two or three balls could be rolled out to make a pizza base. The supermarket sells balls of frozen 'pizza dough', so had made my own version. Ended up as feeling rather pleased with myself that I had managed not only to make and bake some pitta bread, but had also put into the freezer 'something for the future' that would save me time when needed.

By then the bit was firmly between my teeth and I charged on doing more cooking, deciding first to make some microwave lemon curd. As well as zest and juice of 2 large lemons, 2 oz butter, and 5 oz caster sugar, this also needed 3 eggs and 1 egg yolk, so knowing the value of egg whites, instead decided to use 4 large eggs and save two of the whites. The lemon curd was duly made (filling three small containers), then set about making some soft-scoop ice-cream using the saved egg whites.

Four ounces of granulated sugar and 2 tblsp cold water were put into a small pan and gently heated until the sugar had dissolved, then the heat raised and boiled for about 3 minutes to reach soft-ball stage. Meanwhile was briskly whisking the reserved egg whites until thick, then - still whisking (using an electric hand whisk) - slowly drizzled the very hot syrup into the whites. When all was beaten in, kept on beating until the meringue was very thick and cooled down. Then (using the same beaters - they don't need washing first) beat up a good quarter pint of double cream until thickened, then added some rose syrup and beat again until the thickness of the meringue. Checked the flavour, added more rose syrup, beat again and finally folded the cream into the beaten whites. Grated up the chocolate (meant for the chilli - told you it would have a use), and folded this into the mixture, then put the lot into a litre ice-cream tub (have saved several of these including lids) where there was enough mixture to fill the tub. This is my version of Turkish Delight Ice-cream.

A little was left in the whipped cream bowl, and also the final 'folding together' bowl, to make it worth giving to B to scrape out with a spatula and eat. At the moment, B thinks he has gone to heaven as there is now so many good things he can have (like licking out the two ice-cream bowls and lemon curd bowl and that was just yesterday) and the Challenge has only just begun.

Beloved loved the chilli (definitely enough for two) also the pitta bread. We had two of those each, the remaining two put into a bag to be frozen. B had his chilli with watercress and the pitta. Had mine slightly later (but still warm) deciding to split the largest two pittas and stuff them with the chilli - this meant I could eat them using fingers while watching TV (suppose this could be called a Mexican sandwich) as by then felt suddenly tired and needed to relax.

So - all in all - the Goode kitchen yesterday saw plenty of action, and surprisingly more has been put back into the fridge and freezer than actually came out. Mainly because some of the basic 'dry goods' (flour etc) from the larder had been used to make some of the edibles, but as long as gaps keep getting filled without having to buy more to fill the spaces, this I find very pleasing.

Beloved mentioned we are running out of bread, so two loaves (one white, one granary) will be baked this morning. Dough made in the machine, the loaves baked in the oven.

The problem always is - when doing a lot of cooking - never then feel very hungry. At Christmas could barely eat my helping of the main meal, while everyone partook of seconds and thirds. Perhaps I absorb the aromas. When working as bar-maid was warned that the smell of beer alone (don't need to drink it) often makes some people gain weight. Had heard this before, so there maybe something in it. Maybe that is why some chefs are very overweight, despite not eating that much. Just cooking the food for hours on end is enough to add those extra pounds.

With any luck, after several weeks (and hopefully months) of working through the Challenge, by the end of it, lots more cooking will have been done than usual, and despite the danger of gaining lbs because of the aromas, not eating as much means I could be pounds lighter.
It is not often we can save pounds(£££'s) and lose pounds (lbs) both at the same time. Which makes attempting the Challenge worth doing if not for the right reason.

With next Christmas in mind, my dried orange slices studded with star anise in the centre, have been put into a box. Might even sprinkle cinnamon over and put them into a small bowl as a seasonal pot-pourri before putting these away until next December.
Noticed a few empty potato crisp packets in a waste bin. The insides of the packs are very shiny and metallic, and turned inside out could be cut up to make decorations. Will certainly save some over this coming year with a view to making all decorations from recycled things like crisp packets, colourful plastic carrier bags (make good festoons) and empty boxes. it is not just because it saves money, it is just that it is fun to do.

Today it has become normal to buy what we want, then throw it away when we don't want it, then buy something else, and then throw this away, and so it goes on... It might be that retail therapy is behind the purchasing, but we can gain even more pleasure when we stop shopping and start making. Let us try and make 1210 the year when we spend as little as possible and make as much as we can.
For those who really love to buy things, plan to buy only what is needed - such as presents for family and friends (or the makings for them if you make them yourself), and search the charity shops, jumble sales, and car boot sales rather than just pop into a shop and buy something on the spur of the moment. Searching for the perfect gift can take weeks, quite long enough to keep the addictive shopper happy. Often receiving a gift that has cost very few pence but what you really like is far more acceptable than one that has cost pounds but not what you really wanted.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Canned Laughter

Have to concede that my food stores are more than average, although being able to take a TV walk into Nigella's larder noticed she has a lot more stock that I have. Delia's huge and second freezer that is kept in an outside 'room', also holds more frozen food than our Boris. So allowing for the fact that cooking has been my 'work' for over 25 years, maybe you will understand the reason why I like to have as many ingredients as possible to hand. With me, cooking is not just getting the next meal on the table. It is being able to make the meal even more special, and although lots of my 'dry goods' are not always necessary, these can make a great difference to the flavour and texture of both savouries and sweet dishes.
When it comes to cost-cutting, these basic 'dry goods' are also a means of getting a good and nutritious but still inexpensive meal on the table. luckily I have the time to experiment, to 'invent' new dishes (but as said before, nothing is new, only a variation on a theme). The one thing I really hate to do now is have to go out (or send B) to buy food for supper.

Maybe I am just an oddball, and am the only one who can see the sense (if you can call it that) of keeping so much food in store. Whether or not I cook more than most, it really isn't that necessary to have so many of the 'non-essentials', and it would be quite possible to keep putting meals on the table with a much smaller amount of stored food. The early challenge (begun at the end of 2006) continuing for 10 weeks, listed the foods bought and used, and these were not as many as I have in store today (although did have chicken livers and minced beef which are the two items I am missing most now).

Having so many 'extras' (chocolate, cake flavourings etc) are more a way of making things that taste that much more 'special'. Having to live on a restricted budget (as the Challenge mentioned in the above paragraph), it is even more important to make meals taste good. A dash of cream here, a block of chocolate stirred in there, not to mention jars of home-made lemon curd, and tubs of Turkish Delight (or rum and raisin) flavoured soft-scoop ice-cream. Such delights probably not normally made (or bought) that often, but always looked forward to, and so an extra special treat in times of thrift.

These next weeks leading up to spring will be my time of thrift where very little money will be spent (probably only on replacing milk, bread and eggs). The aim being to spend nothing as long as possible. But during that time, treats will certainly be made, almost on a daily basis. My Beloved says that when I am wearing my thrift hat, all the meals and other home-mades he eats are always the best. There must be a moral in that somewhere.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Still Stocktaking

Quite a lot of yesterday was spent stocktaking. After doing the chilled and unchilled fresh foods, moved on to the larder where I sat in my chair, writing down every last little thing on five long shelves.
Beloved laughs at my stocktaking, but do think he realises the sense of it. He has to help me by letting me know when he helps himself to foods listed, and he is free to eat anything he likes. Last night he came into the living room and said he had used 5 tblsp of double cream with his pudding (heated leftover Xmas pud that was not on the list but the cream was). Did he expect me to keep count of every spoonful? Perhaps he did. There is no need to be that exact.

My first concern is to use up the fresh foods that will deteriorate the soonest. Already need to use up some celery, and with an onion and carrot (maybe even a small parsnip) it looks like vegetable broth will be served for supper tonight.
Three or four bananas will be put into the freezer, as they thaw out quite well, and if at all mushy can be used to make a banana cake or something similar.
Possibly a fresh fruit salad will also be made, some fresh fruits could be set in jelly - this will keep them 'fresh' for a few days longer.
The bag of watercress, not yet opened, will need using within a few days, also the iceberg lettuce (this has been in the freezer at least two weeks if not longer, so may not be fit for use although it looks and feels solid enough). Must keep an eye on the cream, but double cream will freeze, so a good way to keep it longer.
The baking potatoes need a weekly check as noticed they were just beginning to sprout. These were rubbed off, and the potatoes will keep well if all shoots are removed as soon as they appear.

Although all foods can be eaten fresh, freezing those that can be does make them accessible over a longer period. Yes I do have an old recipe (as yet untried) to make an easy double cream, and if it works - then that is another thing that will help to improve desserts once the real cream has been used up.

Luckily, oranges keep for weeks (months in fact), and so do the apples, so it is mainly the bananas that needs using. Kiwi fruit, kept in a cool place, keep quite well. A lot more vitamin C in a kiwi than other fruits, so worth eating at this time of year.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

And So it Begins...

A couple or so days ago the turkey and gammon had been cooked then sliced. The important thing to remember when making comparison costs for home-cooked sliced meat and the supermarket packs of sliced cooked meats is to work with their pricing per 100g. Also weigh home-cooked meat AFTER cooking and once any bones, or skin/fat have been removed.

The gammon weighed 1.2kg after cooking (and the skin/fat had been removed), and was able to be cut into 40 round slices. These were packed in 5's, and a few packs kept in the fridge for sarnies etc., the rest frozen. The supermarket pricing for 100g varied according to quality, but allowing an average of £2 a 100g, that meant the total of 'my' packs would have cost £24 over the counter. Uncooked the gammon cost me £8. Making myself a 'profit' of £16.

The turkey cost £12 for the turkey roast, and after cooking and boning the profit was £12.
After slicing, some of the turkey meat was saved to serve on Christmas Day, the rest packed in small containers and frozen.
This I hope proves (along with the beef cooked several weeks earlier (and some still in the freezer) that home-cooking meat to eat cold, really does save an incredible amount of money. There will be those who will say the fuel used in cooking also has to be taken into account, and this for exactness, this is true, but even so a good profit will still be made.

The pan juices from the turkey were saved to make gravy, but the breast carcase (for once) was binned due to no flesh left on and couldn't break it up to fit into my largest pan.

As always, have bought more food than was really needed over the Christmas period but with foresight to the weeks ahead. So all the cheeses (as yet untouched), the pork pie, the Christmas Cake, the Pannetone, cold meats, double cream, numerous root veggies, some fresh salads, all now have to be 'used up', although with some this can take several weeks, if not months. As I said to B, "you can now look forward to good meals these next months". And "don't you find the meals ARE better when I am making do", at which he nodded fervently and said "yes". Not sure what that says about when not making do, but at least it is proof positive that by putting a bit more thought into our cooking, we can improve it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Waking to a White World

Not sure what I was making yesterday (it may have been the minestrone), but was going to add an ingredient that was not essential, then decided not to, saying to myself " this could be used in another dish so better to save it". And this is what should happen when having to make the most of what we have. Use only if necessary, for many ingredients could be saved for another day.

Let us say we will be frying two large eggs. Instead of breaking both eggs into the pan, will save the white from the second and just add the yolk to the white of the first. The saved white can be turned into meringues or used in cakes and souffles, and becomes a 'necessary' ingredient that is then 'free'.
To really make the best use of what we have, this again requires a little advance planning, so that everything goes as far as possible. As with the core of the cabbage. That was able to be used in the minestrone (but as not an essential ingredient - enough in the soup anyway - so using the approach above - perhaps could and should have been saved to grate and add to carrot and onion to make coleslaw).
Unlike the old advice 'think twice and cut once', perhaps with food it should be 'think twice then use thrice'. Remember, it is what we do with what we've got, that makes all the difference when it comes to feeding the family through lean (and especially very cold) times.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

One Man's Meat is Another Man's...?

Recently there was a comment from someone who had made a chocolate fondant in the microwave, and not turning out quite as it should. So, with the school holidays now starting, here is a chocolate pudding recipe that SHOULD work, and with a few variations to the ingredients, will also make a lemon pudding.
Speedy Chocolate Pudding: serves 4
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
1 oz (25g) cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 oz (25g) dark chocolate, broken into pieces
4 tblsp ready-made hot chocolate sauce
Mix together the sugar, butter, flour, cocoa, eggs and vanilla together until creamy, then fold in the chocolate pieces. Spoon into a microwavable baking dish, and microwave on High for 3 minutes, turning the dish halfway through the cooking time, and by then the cake should be risen and set all the way through. Leave to stand for one minute before pouring over the hot chocolate sauce. Serve with creme fraiche or ice-cream.
Lemon Pudding: omit the cocoa and add zest of 1 lemon then continue with the recipe as above. Once the baking is completed, while the pudding is resting, instead of chocolate sauce, heat 4 tblsp lemon curd in the microwave for 30 seconds and pour this over the top of the pud. As before, serve with creme fraiche or ice-cream.

In the run up to Christmas, we often try to use up oddments in the freezer to give us room for the festive foods. So here is a recipe that adds flavour to those smaller joints of chicken we may wish to use up.

But before I give this, was very interested in the first few minutes of The One Show last night (for those who missed it, it may be on IPlayer). This covered foods bought for the Christmas Meal, and was glad to see the presenter showing us mis-shapen carrots that were just as tasty as their perfect cousins, but far cheaper being sold as Second Grade.
They then compared turkey. One costing £70 as against a very much cheaper frozen bird from the supermarket. As a nutritionist said, possibly a slight difference in flavour, but absolutely no nutritional difference.
The presenter, a well-known cookery critic, then took the ultimate test. He was put into a room, lit only by a red light, so no difference could be seen with any food served (all of which had been prepared to look exactly the same). Two plates containing the Christmas meal were passed through a hatch, and the presenter began to eat. First tasting carrots from the first plate, and then from the second. Same with the turkey.
At the end of the tasting session, very little difference could be found, but one seemed to have slightly better flavours, so this was deemed the plate containing the expensive foods. But this was not the case as it happened to be the one filled with the cheapest. Just goes to show that we often pay more when it really isn't necessary.

Usually it pays to joint our own chickens, rather than buying the joints separately. Sometimes it is possible to buy packs of drumsticks and thighs on offer, and these are sometimes worth buying and freezing away. Always unwrap a pack and wrap the joints either in pairs or separately, this way only what is needed is thawed out.
Citrus Chicken: serves 4
8 chicken portions (thighs, drumsticks, wings)
zest and juice of 2 oranges
1 rounded tblsp dark muscovado sugar
2 tblsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp paprika pepper
2 tsp ground ginger
salt and pepper
Put the orange zest and juice into a large bowl, add the sugar, ketchup, pepper, ginger and seasoning to taste. Mix well to make a marinade.
Stab the chicken joints in several places with the tip of a knife or a fork, then place them in the marinade, turning them so they are coated. Cover and leave in a cool place for 2 hours or preferable overnight, if possible turning the chicken joints once or twice during this time to allow the marinade to penetrate every stab wound.
To cook, place the joints on a roasting tin, spooning over a little of the marinade, and roast at 200C, 375F, gas 6 for 40 - 45 minutes until tender and golden. If you wish, during this time, a little more marinade can be spooned over.
These can be served any way you wish, either with salad and new potatoes, or with roast potatoes or roasted vegetables (cook these in the oven at the same time). Or with rice or couscous according to your personal tastes.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter Wonderland

Finishing today with a suggestion of an alternative topping to a casserole. You could say this is a variation on dumplings. Made without suet - the cheese taking its place - the dough covers the whole pot. First cook the casserole in the usual way, then finish off by covering with the 'lid' and bake as given in the method below.
'Dumpling Topping':
8 oz (225g) plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
5 oz (150g) grated Cheddar cheese
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a large bowl, then stir in half the cheese.
Mix the oil and milk, then blend this into the flour to make a soft dough. It should be slightly sticky. Spoon this over the surface of the casserole (small gaps will close as the dough swells) and sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes at 150C, 300F, gas 2 until risen, golden and cooked through.
Tip: to add more flavour, add a pinch of dried mixed herbs to the flour.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Making a Meal of It.

So many times we see recipes that we would like to try, but don't have all the ingredients, so it is shelved for another day, which probably never comes. Myself believe we should never dismiss a a recipe because of a missing ingredient, but should try to substitute something similar and make it anyway.
Practically all recipes have only one main ingredient, which would probably be meat, but even this doesn't always have to be the same type. Chicken could be substituted for pork, lamb for beef. Adjust cooking times as necessary. Sometimes there is a secondary 'main' (especially if a vegetarian dish), and often this gives more freedom to mix and match.
Always take a recipe as a guide as to preparation and cooking method, then feel free to chop and change the ingredients as much as you wish. This is how a 'new' recipe evolves. Always the same few recipes, just coming back again and again in different guises.

This 'rearranging' of ingredients works particularly well when aiming to use up all foods that might normally be thrown out. Also, when we keep plenty of food in store, we always have that little extra that will turn a boring dish into something special.

Yesterday mentioned how stocking up with plenty of provisions will lower our culinary costs. "But ingredients will eventually need replacing, so where is the saving?". We spend the money one way or the other, either before or after. And what happens if we can't afford to stock up in the first place?

Can see the point, but even I cannot afford to pay cash for the amount I had delivered this week. The orders are always paid by credit card, and as long as cleared within four or five weeks (depending upon the date) no interest is charged. It is the same as putting the normal shopping money away each week and saving it to pay the total later.
But even better than that, for if I purchased £200 of food at any one time, (an example only, as would rarely buy this amount in one go unless it included a large order of meat/fish), and expected this to this last at least one month (to feed two and more), it would be no different to paying £50 (or less) a week over the same period of time, with only part of that eaten, the rest stored in the larder. Being able to bring home/or delivered a wider variety of food than normal, more meals can be made from these, with the supplies going very much further. Don't ask me why, but it always does.

Having a wider range of 'dry' carbo foods and pulses to draw on (potatoes, rice, pasta, quinoa, oats, pearl barley, couscous, red beans, butterbeans, haricot beans, lentils...) means very satisfying meals can be made that use less meat than a traditional British 'meat and two veg' , and also very nourishing and filling meatless meals can be served when we have a good assortment of vegetables to use.
Being able to plan more uses for food will help to fill our shelves and plates. We could make lemon curd, and use the zest of the lemons in another dish. Or use egg yolks in one dish, the whites in another. We can buy whole chickens and portion them ourselves and then end up with pints of gorgeous chicken stock to which we have added the cut the ends from carrots, the stump from a head of celery, the tops and tails from onions. We have stock, we then have the makings for soup.
The less we have to deal with, the more our hands are tied when it comes to making an interesting meal and so often we would find we end up having to serve something far more expensive than if we had a wider variety of cheaper foods to draw upon.

If a roast joint of (any) meat loses up to a quarter of its weight during the cooking, then we have to take this into account when costing out a serving (if cost we do). Far better to cook meat casserole fashion, where nothing is lost (it all goes into the gravy) and - taking this into account - we should be able to get away with using 25% less meat by using a different cooking method. The normal 4 oz (100g) serving of meat is always worked on the raw weight. Once cooked we can then reduced the amount to 3 oz.

Cost-cutting cooks always have to work out the economics. What we pay for is not necessarily the amount that ends up on our plate. Why peel vegetables if a lot has to end up in the bin? As what we 'throw out', has been paid for, we should make use of it. Make vegetable soup or stock with the discards. Or at least add them to the compost heap.
If meals are appetising and 'portion controlled' (as in restaurants), then there should be no leftovers.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Quick and Easy

Today am giving suggestions for meals that have been 'inspired' by foods mentioned in recent comments. Starting with a very quick and easy prawn curry - to make use of Buy One get TWO free packs of prawns.
Hurried, Curried Prawns: serves 2
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 tblsp curry paste (mild to medium)
1 onion, thinly sliced
7oz (200g) large cooked prawns, defrosted if frozen
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
chopped fresh coriander
Put the oil into a frying pan, over low to medium heat, the fry the onions until softened, then stir in the curry paste and fry for a further 2 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and heat until just simmering, lower heat then add the prawns and cook for a few more minutes until heated through. Stir in chopped coriander and serve immediately with rice and/or naan bread.

This next is very similar to the above, but made with fish instead of prawns. We are not buying the fish by its flavour (the spices would mask this), so buy the cheapest white fish on sale.
Fast Fish Curry: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 - 2 tblsp curry paste (suggest Madras)
1 x 4oog chopped tomatoes
7 fl.oz (200ml) vegetable stock
1 lb (500g) fish fillet, cut into large chunks
Heat the oil in a pan, and fry the onion until beginning to soften, then stir in the garlic and curry past and fry for a further couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to a simmer, then add the fish. Cover pan and cook for 4 - 5 minutes or until the fish flakes easily. Serve immediately with rice or naan bread.

Another fish dish. Why fish again? Because it cooks so quickly and easily, and this is what today's recipes are about. Fish (like chicken) can be the perfect 'fast food', and also good for us, so keep a few chunky fillets in the freezer ready to make a quick meal. Of course a little planning ahead to allow time for the fish to be de-frosted. Otherwise buy and use fresh fish.
Tomato and Herb Cod-pieces: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp soft light brown sugar
4 sprigs thyme (use leaves only)
1 tblsp soy sauce
4 cod fillets (or other white fish)
Fry the onions in the oil over medium heat, until just softened. Then stir in the sugar, thyme leaves, and soy sauce. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add cod/fish fillets to the pan, spooning some of the sauce over the top, cover and simmer/poach for up to 10 minutes (depending upon thickness of fish) until the fish flakes easily.

This next is a variation on a Chinese dish. Although made with tender beef steak, no reason why chicken or lean pork could not be used instead as they all cook in much the same time. Or even leave out the meat altogether. Vary the vegetables according to the meat used. At a pinch, oddments of cooked meat could be used instead of fresh.
This is another quickie that cooks in only 10 minutes after the preparation. If you haven't broccoli, used string green beans, if you haven't horseradish sauce, use tartare sauce. If you haven't cashew nuts, use peanuts or walnuts. If you haven't creme fraiche use fromage frais or Greek yogurt. As to beef stock, make with part of a cube. So no excuse for saying you can't make it becaue you haven't got the ingredients. Take the idea and with the above guidelines, use what you have.
Any Which Way Stir-fry: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
2 oz (50g) unsalted cashew nuts
12 oz (350g) beef frying steak
freshly ground black pepper
1 head broccoli, divided into florets
3 ribs celery, cut across into slices
5 fl oz (150ml) beef stock
2 tblsp horseradish sauce
2 tblsp creme fraiche
Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or wok and toss/fry the nuts until toasted. Then remove and set aside.
Cut the beef into thin strips, season well with the pepper, then add to the pan and stir-fry for 2 minutes until browned all over. Remove from pan, add to the nuts and set aside.
Put the celery and broccoli into the juices remaining in the pan and stir-fry for a couple of minutes, then add the stock, cover and simmer for 3 minutes.
Blend together the horseradish sauce and creme fraiche and set aside.
Uncover pan, add the beef and nuts and toss into the vegetables. When heated through, drizzle over the horseradish 'cream' and serve immediately. Eat with rice or mashed potatoes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Planning Ahead

The first dish today is a Balti-style curry that uses up cooked turkey (or chicken). So one to think about using when faced with the left-over Christmas bird. If you haven't coconut powder in store (not a lot of people know about this, but it is on sale), you could whizz up desiccated coconut in the blender to make a version of your own, or instead use coconut milk/cream instead of the evaporated milk.
Sometimes we see a recipe that does not give servings, just calling it a 'family meal'. In recipe-land, a 'family' usually means two adults and two children, and if adults only, the amount shown might only be enough only to serve three good portions.
Turkey Curry, Balti-style: serves 3 - 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 lb (450g) cooked turkey breast
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
1 yellow bell pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
2 carrots, diagonally and thinly sliced
4 oz (100g) frozen string beans, thawed and halved
4 oz (100g) frozen peas
3 tblsp mild curry paste
1 x 410g can evaporated milk
2 oz (50g) coconut powder
fresh coriander garnish
Cut the turkey into small chunks. Heat the oil in the pan and stir-fry the peppers, carrots and green beans for 3 minutes. Stir in the curry paste and cook for a further minute, then stir in the peas and the evaporated milk. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle over the coconut powder and stir until dissolved. Add the chunks of cooked turkey, and cook/stir for a few minutes longer until the vegetables are tender. Serve hot, garnished with coriander leaves. Good eaten with either pilau rice or naan bread.

There are many recipes for pilau/pilaf, which is a rice dish with 'added extras'. Here is one that - after initial pan-frying - is oven-cooked, can be eaten as a main meal in its own right to serve four, or will serve twice as many when served as a side dish with curry. The advantage with this dish is that it makes good use of shelled nuts that have also been leftover after the festive season.
To give an interesting flavour, use a variety of nuts such as: almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts and cashews.
Nut and Apricot Pilaf: serves 4 or more
1 oz (25g) butter
1 dessp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
small piece of root ginger, grated
8 oz (225g) long-grain rice
5 oz (150g) toasted mixed nuts (see above)
3 oz (75g) no-soak apricots, chopped
half tsp saffron strands (optional but worth it)
15 fl oz (450ml) boiling vegetable stock
5 fl oz (150ml) white wine
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 tblsp chopped fresh mint
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
5 fl oz (150ml) Greek yogurt
Heat the butter and oil in a large pan, add the onions and celery and cook gently for 6 minutes then stir in the garlic and ginger, cooking for a further 3 minutes until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned.
Add the rice, stirring so that it becomes evenly coated with the oil, and then stir in the apricots and nuts, mixing everything well together.
Stir the saffron into the stock and pour this into the pan, also stirring in the wine. Season well, bring to the boil, then pour into a buttered casserole dish (approx 2 pints/1ltr capacity), covering tightly with a lid or foil, and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 35 minutes, or until the rice is tender.
Before serving, stir in the spring onions and herbs, adding a dollop of yogurt to garnish the dish.

This next is a two-part recipe as the cake base can be made well in advance and can be frozen for up to 3 months. It also keeps well for a week on a larder shelf when well wrapped in foil. So perhaps the time to plan ahead and make this now. Assembling the dessert can be done several hours ahead of serving, but the syrup should be poured over during the last hour.
The aim with this dessert is to use up the oddments of fruits that we often have languishing in the fruit bowl around New Year. It is not necessary to use the fruits as given in the recipe, use what you have, but keep it colourful.
Festive Fruits Torte: serves 8
torte base:
2 oz (50g) unblanched almonds
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
5 oz (150g) caster sugar
3 eggs
Grease and base-line a loose-based 10" (25cm) cake tin. Coarsely grind the almonds in a food processor/blender, the put into a bowl with remaining ingredients. Beat for several minutes until light and fluffy. Spread evenly over the prepared tin and bake for 25 - 30 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until golden and firm to the touch. Turn out cake and cool on a wire rack.
torte topping:
7 oz (200g) medium fat soft cheese
1 tsp grated orange zest
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
6 figs
6 satsumas
12 oz (350g) mixture green and red seedless grapes;
6 tblsp orange juice
2 tblsp sherry
Beat together the cheese, orange zest and 1 tblsp of the sugar. Halve the figs, break the satsumas into segments, and remove grapes from their stalks.
Put remaining sugar into a pan with the orange juice and sherry and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Poach the figs in this for a couple of minutes then - using a slotted spoon - remove and set aside. Poach the satsuma segments in the same way. Finally just dip the grapes in the syrup, then drain and leave to cool. Reserve the syrup.
Put the torte base on a serving plate and spread with the cream cheese mixture. Arrange the fruit over the top, more piling it on than being precise.
Less than an hour before serving, boil the reserved syrup until beginning to thicken, then immediately remove from heat, wait for the bubbles to subside, then spoon/drizzle the syrup back and forth over the fruit. Serve a.s.a.p.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

One Thing Leads to Another...

Many people are now cutting down on how much they spend on gifts, and even if the home-made is not for you, try the new idea of setting a small amount (say £5) so that no-one in the family spends more than that on any gift they give. If a family is large and £5 is too much, then make it £1 or even 50p. This way, far more thought goes into what is bought. It is a challenge to see what can be bought for that amount, and when scouring the charity shops and jumble sales, you would be surprised at what you can find. Who says that a present has to be 'new'. As long as it is something that someone wants or can use, then that is the right gift to give. Even the time spent trying to find the 'right something' to give, and opening gifts given to you then makes this far more fun. Getting the sense of achievement is almost a present in its own right.

One recipe today, and although this is made with minced RAW chicken, it cries out for being made with leftover cooked poultry (any kind) , so another to file away as a Xmas 'left-over' recipe. If so, the amount of cooked flesh may not be enough, so add more cheese and breadcrumbs to make up the shortfall, or just make a smaller amount.
If the chicken has already been cooked, the cooking/reheating time can be slightly less than when using raw chicken. Instead of the 'balls', the mixture could be flattened to make small 'burgers' and fried off in a pan instead of using the oven. The amount makes 2 dozen, as intended to be 'buffet bites', but can be made larger as part of a main course or supper snack.
Chicken (or other) Balls: makes up to 24
1 lb (450g) minced chicken (see above)
6 oz (175g) breadcrumbs
5 oz (150g) Cheddar cheese, grated
1 tblsp mayonnaise
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
salt and pepper
1 large egg
Put the chicken into a bowl with half the breadcrumbs, all the cheese, the herbs and the mayo. Add seasoning to taste and mix well (if using cooked chicken the mixture may be slightly too dry, so add a little beat egg to help bind).
Shape into ping-pong ball shapes and size. Roll in beaten egg and then into the remaining breadcrumbs. Chill for an hour, then place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 25 or so minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until cooked through (20 minutes if using cooked chicken).
Serve with a tartare dipping sauce, and a crispy green mixed leaf salad.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Story of my Silverside...and others.

Have seen chefs recommend simmering sausages in water for between 6 - 10 minutes before cooking off in the oven, this is supposed to prevent the skins splitting and also helps to make sure the 'innards' are cooked through. They should then take only about 15 minutes to cook/brown in a hot (200C) oven, longer if the oven is set lower.

Yesterday watched the grocery episode of 'Rip off Britain'. They were saying how package weights were going down, but not the price. So we have now to watch out for that. One lady said there was a lot more sauce than there used to be in the tins of baked beans, and to have enough to serve the family she had how to use two cans rather than one.

Here comes the financial bit about the silverside cooked very recently - my cost-cutting approach preferring to deal with things of such importance.
Firstly, after cooking in a conventional oven, at around 160C, when cooled the 5lb silverside weighed just over 3.5 lbs. At the time of removing from the oven, the inner temperature was a fraction over 160 (so presumably it never gets hotter than the temperature the oven is set at?). My meat thermometer gave that as 'medium', and although red juices leached out during the resting time, and my fear was that it had not been cooked it long enough (for B does not like his meat 'rare'), after standing until cool, then being wrapped in foil (two lots to prevent leakage) and chilled overnight in the fridge, when sliced on the electric slicer, it was exactly right. Just the barest pink in the very centre, and so incredibly tender and moist. And full of flavour.

Checking Tesco's online grocery site saw they were selling silverside (and similar cuts such as topside) at £10.48p kg. Converting my 5 lbs to kgs, this means the weight of our joint would have been 2.25kg, and if I got my calculations correct, this would have meant paying over £23 from the supermarket for the same weight. Buying from the local butcher, we paid just over £17 - a saving of £6.
The joint was basically the same shape throughout, so when cut, the slices were a good 6" x 3.5".
Half the meat was cut into thin slices (as sold in packs of cooked meats) and with me this gave 3 - 4 four (according to thickenss) to a 100g pack (which is the weight chosen to pack and freeze them). The joint cut into 40 thin slices, and 20 thicker ones (the latter suitable either to eat cold with salads, or reheat in gravy as 'roast beef').

Tesco's price for their 100g packs off cooked beef was either £1.59p for 'no added water cooked beef', or £2.65p for roast beef. I took an average and worked out our roast meat at £2 per 100g. Remembering the meat had reduced in weight after cooking, the amount of cook meat when sliced and weighed, would have cost over £31 had it been bought in packets. So again, cooking it at home has saved me over £14. And that's at the average price. If I had taken the top price (after all ours was 'roast beef', and top quality) the savings would have been greater.
We now have enough silverside to last several weeks (if not months). Incidentally, having saved the meat juices (which had set when chilled), addeding some finely diced (leftover) onion, and a glass of wine, plus a pack of ox-tail cuppa soup to help thicken made a really good gravy. It really does prove that buying from a butcher and cooking a joint ourselve will save POUNDS. Also we end up with meat that has more flavour. How good(e) is that?
All I need now is to buy a joint of gammon and cook, chill and slice that. Then that is Cold Meat Platter sorted for a few months.

The two recipes promised now follow. Very similar to ones seen recently in (it has to be said) more than one magazine (do they copy each other?) mine has the usual 'Shirley twist'. So can safely say it is my own version.

First we have a pudding that thinks it is a cake. A version of Bread and Butter Pudding, this is cooked and eaten as a (preferably) warm traybake, and a great way to use up surplus bread. Give it a 1 minute warm through in the microwave and eat with cream or ice-cream and you then bring it back to a hot pudding.
Use either white or brown bread, and if you choose to use a fruit loaf, then you can reduce the amount of dried fruit by a third.
Bread Cake: makes 9 squared
1 lb (450g) bread, roughly crumbed
1 lb 5 oz (600g) dried mixed fruit (inc. candied peel)
1 tsp dried ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp mixed spice
1 pint (600ml) milk
3 medium eggs (or two large), beaten
4 oz (100g) light or dark muscovado sugar
1 tsp orange zest
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and very thinly sliced
4 oz (100g) butter, melted
demerara sugar
Put the torn bread into a large bowl and add the fruit and spices. Pour over the milk, and stir to mix well. Add the eggs, light or dark sugar, and orange zest. Mix well again, the set aside for about an hour (up to 8 hours in the fridge if you wish), to allow the liquid to be soaked up by the bread and fruit.
Grease and base-line a square 8" (20cm) solid-based cake tin or tray bake tin. Stir the melted butter into the cake mixture, tip half into the tin, cover with sliced apples, spoon over remaining mix, level the surface and scatter the top with demerara sugar (approx 2 tblsp).
Bake for an hour and a half at 180C, 350F, gas 4, until firm and golden. If browning too quickly, cover with foil. When baked, leave in tin to cook for five minutes, then turn out, peel away any paper stuck to the base, cut into squares and (preferably) serve warm.

After Xmas we tend to have a surfeit of cold meats to use up. This recipe for apple chutney not only eats well with pork or ham, but also cheeses. It keeps well for up to 6 months when stored in a cool, dry place. Ideal to include in that 'hamper' that several readers say they like to make as gifts. Best apples to use are Granny Smiths. It should be stored for 2 weeks before ready to eat, but if made early this week, will be ready to use the week after Xmas when we are desperate to eat something flavoursome with the cold cuts.
Granny Smiths Apple Chutney: makes around 3 lb (1.5kg)
18 fl oz (500ml) cider vinegar
2 lb (1kg) crisp green apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 " (5cm) root ginger, grated
1 lb (500g) light muscovado sugar
8 oz (225g) raisins
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 tblsp white mustard seed
3 tsp salt
Pour the vinegar into a large stainless (or preserving) pan, and throw in the remaining ingredients. Heat gently, stirring all the time, until the sugar has dissolved. Then increase the heat slightly until the mixture begins to simmer, the cook slowly for up to 50 minutes, or until the mixture leaves a path on the bottom of the pan when a wooden spoon is drawn across.
Turn off the heat and leave the chutney to cool slightly before potting up into warmed sterilized jars. Avoid trapping air bubbles by stirring with a sterilized skewer. Allow to cool completely before sealing. Store in a cool place for at least 2 weeks before using.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

After the Event

Decided to render down the free fat from the butcher to make B some of the dripping that he adores (on toast with a sprinkle of salt). Realised that to give it a good flavour it really needed cooking with a joint of beef, so sent B off to the butcher to buy a joint of silverside. "How much" he asked, "about a foot long" I replied. It came to just over £17 in price, but weighed a good 5 lbs, so at just over £3 a lb was not THAT expensive, despite B saying that to get the flavour of dripping he liked, the small bowlful cost me £17 to make. And what did he think I was going to do with the cooked joint. Put it in the bin?

Seared the outside of the silverside in a hot pan before transferring it to the oven with the fat on top, and brought it out when the inside of the meat had reached 'medium'. Perhaps a bit too rare for red juices seeped out when standing, but as the intention is to slice it when cold (it is wrapped in foil and sitting in the fridge as I write), and reheat in gravy, it should be about perfect. The juices have been saved (also in the fridge) and will be used to make gravy along with other ingredients (onions, wine etc) to serve with supper tonight (beef, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, gravy... all for B, as I will have a salad and maybe some of the veggies). Was even prepared to make a Yorkshire pudding, but (thank you B from the bottom of my heart) was told it wasn't necessary. One thing less to do.
The dripping was a lovely deep cream colour with darker flecks in it. Made about quarter of a pint, but still some of the fat left that can be rendered down further. Said to B, "make the most of this, as will probably not be cooking a joint of beef again for at least 3 months".

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Seasonal Changes

Here is a recipe for a savoury 'crumble' topping. This eats very well when cooked over a bed of mixed vegetables, but would go with any dish that needs a 'topping', especially where shortcrust pastry might be used, for as a basic crumble has the same ingredients as when making pastry - but without liquid being added - it is virtually the same, but with added 'crunch'.
Savoury Crumble Topping: for a dish to serve 4 - 6
6 oz (175g) wholewheat flour OR..
...4 oz (100g) wholewheat flour and...
...2 oz (50g) porridge oats
3 oz (75g) butter, cut into cubes
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz (50g) chopped mixed nuts
2 tblsp sesame seeds
pinch dried mixed herbs (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the flour (and oats if using) in a bowl and rub in the butter until like breadcrumbs. Then stir in remaining ingredients. Spread this over the top of the chosen meal, and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 minutes or until crisp and golden.

Another pastry 'topping' is real pastry, but instead of rolling it out, coarsely grate a block of frozen (and still solid) pastry over the food in the dish to form a lid. Then bake in the usual way. If browning too quickly, tent with foil, shiny side up, then continue until the contents of the dish are cooked through.

Vegetables are now being used more and more when making cakes. We are all familiar with the Carrot Cake, and more recently the chocolate cake made with beetroot. Here is a cake recipe made with parsnips, but with a twist, a variation Shirley style. Sandwich layers will freeze but not when filled.
Suggest you give this cake a different name, so that children will be more inclined to eat it. When serving carrot cake before, have noticed that it is ALL eaten up (especially by men) when called by its alternative name: Passion Cake. Not that there is any romance in calling this veggie cake 'Parrot Cake', but it does come from part of the two veggie names.
Parsnip and Carrot Sandwich Cake: serves 8 (F)
6 oz (175g) butter
9 oz (250g) demerara sugar
4 oz (100g) golden syrup or maple syrup
3 large eggs
9 oz (250g) self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
9 oz (250g) mixture of grated parsnip and carrots
1 medium apple (any kind) peeled, and grated
2 oz (50g) walnuts, chopped
zest and juice of 1 orange
icing sugar
1 x 250 tub cream cheese (Philly type)
Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a pan and heat gently until melted and dissolved. Cool slightly.
Sift the flour, baking powder and spice into a bowl and put to one side. Have ready prepared vegetable and apples, nuts and orange zest mixed together.
Pour the melted butter/sugar mixture into a bowl, and stir in the flour, followed by the vegetable mixture. Stir in the orange juice, and when well mixed pour/spoon the mixture into two greased and base-lined sandwich tins and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 25 or so minutes until the top is firm and spring back when lightly pressed.
Cool the cakes in their tins for five or so minute before turning out onto cake airers to cool completely **.
When ready to serve, mix a little icing sugar into the cream cheese and spread this over one later, topping with the other. Give a final dusting of icing sugar before serving.
To Freeze: After cake layers have been cooked and cooled to **. Wrap each layer separately and freeze. Use within 3 months.
To serve from Freezer: remove cakes and wrappings, place on cake airer, cover lightly with foil and allow to thaw at room temperature for a couple of hours. Then prepare the filling, and continue as above.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Everything in Place

We can take some fiddly work off our shoulders when we make good use of our freezers. Use ice-cube trays for decanting lemon juice (1 cube = juice of half a lemon). Or tomato puree (one cube = 1 tablespoon). Even reducing home-made chicken stock and freezing that to make 'stock cubes'. The ends of a bottle of wine can be frozen, each cube probably equals 1 tablespoon.
Once the cubes are frozen, pop them out of the tray and into a bag.

Also keep bags of pastry mix, crumble mix, scone the freezer ready to use. Again saves time having to make from scratch.
When cooking, whenever you can, try to think ahead, plan ahead, and be as professional as possible. After that it is easy-peasy.

Here are some tips for the use of kitchen foil.

Line cake tins with foil instead of greasing. Less messy and easier to remove cakes from tin (but this depends upon what type of cake you are baking).
Cracked eggs can be boiled if they are first tightly wrapped in foil to prevent the whites escaping.
Crumple foil and use as a filler for pastry cases when baking 'blind'.
Foil can be folded into strong strips to make 'slings' for lifting basins out of boiling water when steaming puds.
Meringues and biscuits won't stick if you line the baking tins with foil.
Line grill pans with foil to catch food drips and save washing up.
Instant table mats can be made for hot dishes by covering cardboard with foil.
Brown sugar will stay moist if the bag is wrapped tightly in foil.
Re-cover old cake boards with foil to make them look as good as new. OR make your own cake boards by covering several thicknesses of card cut to required shape, with foil.
Refresh a stale loaf (or rolls) by sprinkling with water, wrapping loosely in foil, and heating at 190C - gas 5 for about 15 minutes.
Melon that has been cut before it's ripe can be wrapped in foil, the left to ripen without discoloration.
Pan scourers can be made by crumpling used bits of foil to make a pad.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An Apple a Day...

Recipes today are for homemade sweets. Normally fiddly to make as when made the more conventional way usually a sugar thermometer is needed, However, these can be cooked in the microwave where the timing takes care of that (temperatures also given if you wish to be exact). This is the time of year when sweets come into their own. As well offering a big boxful for guests to help themselvs, guests, they also make very good gifts.

The important thing to remember when cooking with sugar is that - when heated - it will have a very high temperature and turn sticky, so care needs to be taken to prevent it boiling over.
When cooking sweets in a microwave, use a very large heatproof container (a 5pt Pyrex one is ideal), and always handle it wearing oven gloves because both the contents AND the bowl will become very hot. Keep children out of the way.
Stick the the quantities given or they may be problems. The microwave cuts down the constant stirring usually necessary when making sweets by a more conventional method, and does away with a double pan when melting chocolate.
Some microwaves have a temperature probe, but this is not suitable for sweet cookery as the temperature of the sugar is far too hot. If you wish to check the temperature of the mixtures, use a sugar thermometer, but DO NOT leave it in the microwave during the cooking process.

Chocolate Cherry Truffles: makes 32
Power setting Full. Time 2 minutes
6 oz (150g) dark chocolate
2 oz (50g) butter
12 oz (350g) plain cake crumbs
4 oz (100g) icing sugar, sifted
2 - 3 tblsp rum (or orange juice)
4 oz (100g) Maraschino cherries, chopped
(for coating: icing sugar, grated chocolate, cocoa)
Place chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl. Cook for 2 minutes.
Stir in remaining ingredients. Chill in fridge until firm enough to handle. Form teaspoonfuls into balls, and roll in sifted icing sugar, grated chocolate, or cocoa powder. Put into paper cases and keep chilled.
Note: Maraschino cherries are those sold in jars, for adding to cocktails. These are NOT the same as glace cherries.
Tip: If you wish these to have a longer 'shelf-life' chill (or freeze) the mixture once it has been formed into balls. Then dip these into melted chocolate to cover completely. Once set these can be kept chilled for several days.

Coffee Fudge: makes 1.25lb (550g)
Power setting. Defrost (30%) and Full - 17 minutes
1lb (450g) icing sugar, sifted
1 x 196g can sweetened condensed milk
2 tblsp golden syrup
2 oz (50g) butter, cubed
1 tblsp water
1 tblsp coffee essence
Mix ingredients together in a large heatproof bowl and cook - uncovered - on Defrost for 10 minutes, stirring four times. Then cook on Full Power for 7 minutes (or until the temperature reaches 116C, 240F).
Beat until mixture begins to thicken and go grainy. Pour into a shallow 7" (18cm) square tin. Cool, then mark into 32 squares. Cut into pieces when the fudge is quite cold.

Coconut Ice: makes 1.25lb (550g)
Power setting Defrost (30%) and Full - 18 minutes
1 lb (450g) caster sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
5 oz (125g) desiccated coconut
pink food colouring
Mix sugar and milk together in a large heatproof bowl. Cook, uncovered, on Defrost for 10 minutes, stirring four times during this period to help dissolve the sugar. Then cook on Full Power for 8 minutes (or until it reaches the same temperature as the above recipe). Stir once.
Then immediately stir in the coconut. Pour half the mixture into an oiled 2lb (900g) loaf tin, then colour the remaining half pink, and pour this on top of the white mixture.
Mark into pieces with a knife. When set hard, turn out and cut into pieces.

When there are children in the family, it saves a great deal of money if anniversary cakes are made and decorated at home. It doesn't matter how ham-fisted we are, start when the children are young (when one year old they don't care a fig what a cake looks like), and as the years go by practice makes perfect, and by the time a daughter gets married, the cake should always be able to be made at home. Think how much money THAT will save.

The problem when colouring icing is that liquid colour dilutes the icing too much, so if wishing for a bright red, (often needed at Xmas time) it is almost impossible to get this as when the colour is deep enough, the icing has then become too runny. Add more icing sugar to thicken and this then turns it a lighter shade. The way to get round this is to use colour 'paste'. Have noticed in a recent Lakeland catalogue that they too now sell something similar (think they call this 'gel') and ' for those that ice', these concentrated colours are really worth having.

Make gingerbread men and pipe white icing round to define the trousers, boots, coat, beard, hat, then fill in with deep coloured thick glace icing. Red for the coat, trousers and hat, black for the boots, white for the beard etc. and hey presto: Father Christmas! Make a hole in the head before baking and thread a ribbon through after decorating and hang on the Christmas tree. Other shapes can also be made and iced to be hung from the tree. Between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night, they can be taken down and eaten.

Take a block of marzipan. Cut into three and knead a little green colour into one, red in another and leave one as-is. Roll out into strips, sandwich the plain between the colours. Roll out again to help stick together, then cut into small oblongs. Or place two together, roll out thinly, and roll up like a Swiss roll. Cut into slices. These make attractive marzipan sweets to add to the others above. Oddments of colours can be rolled up together into small balls (can also be coated with chocolate).

To make home-made 'chocolates', coat small (smaller than you first think) pieces of fudge, marzipan, Turkish Delight, fondant icing, etc. with chocolate. Or dip Brazil nuts, Maraschino or Glace cherries into chocolate. Or, mix melted chocolate with sultanas, then form these into sweet shapes, and give an overcoat of chocolate. Or do something similar with coco-pops or rice crispies. It is SO easy to make a wide variety of sweets, and many quite suitable for children to prepare (as long as they have clean hands). Just keep them away from hot sugar.

With those words, have almost got myself into sweet-making mode, we have already been given a box of chocs (with me that is mainly 'look but don't touch') but somehow it was much more fun when we made our own. And what a lot we made from just a few bits and bobs. One cube of (bought) Turkish Delight, was enough to cut into six oblongs to coat with chocolate. We can even make our own Turkish Delight. Am sure the recipe for this was given somewhere on this site. If I can find it, will let you know tomorrow.