Saturday, April 17, 2010

Food with Attitude.

Back into the kitchen (you could call this my comfort zone), and the mention of herbs has brought to mind a really lovely summer soup that makes good use of the prolific herbs that are now starting to flourish in our garden or on windowsills. Remember, the more we cut, the more they grow.
Although we normally use only the leaves when cooking herbs, the stalks have just as much (sometimes even more) flavour, so worth using when making stock, and keeping the leaves to add to salads or use as a garnish. When adding herbs to any dish, the leaves are best prepared and added just before serving as this keeps their freshness and individual flavours. Use the milder herbs when making soup (parsley, chives, tarragon, marjoram, basil, chervil...), the stronger tasting (sage, mint, rosemary etc) tend to go better with meats.
Note: When herb leaves are chopped with a knife, they bruise and begin to weep, so can lose a lot of their flavour quite rapidly. Ideally, tear the leaves by hand as this gives a cleaner look, with no loss of colour and they keep most of their flavour, and as said before - best to do the preparation just before using/serving (unless a recipe states otherwise).

Fresh Herb Broth: serves 4
handful of each of several chosen herbs (see above)
1.5 pint ( 750ml) chicken or vegetable stock
2 oz (50g) butter
1 large potato, diced
1 large leek, sliced into rings
salt and pepper to taste
squeeze of lime juice (opt).
First remove the leaves from the herbs and set aside. Put all the herb stalks plus a few assorted leaves into a pan with the stock. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat and leave to stand for 15 minutes to allow the stock to become infused with the herb flavours.
In another pan, melt the butter and add the potato, then cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. If the spuds begin to stick to the base of the pan, add a little of the 'herby stock'. Then add the leek and cook - uncovered - for a few minutes. Strain the herby stock over the leeks and potatoes and bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender, add seasoning to taste and a squeeze of lime juice (if using). Either leave as a 'soup with chunks', or liquidise to give a creamier texture. Chop or tear the herb leaves (see above), stir into the soup and serve immediately.

Whenever we go somewhere where there is a restaurant, Beloved makes a point of asking for a menu to bring home. Most are happy to provide one. He picked up one from Barton Grange yesterday. The advantage to us cooks (me anyway) is that a menu gives inspiration to make dishes that we might have chosen to eat when 'dining out'. Why - if the meals cost that much - can we afford to make them anyway?

Well - think about the asking price for a starter of Home-Made Soup with Crusty Home-Baked Bread. Or Chicken Pate with Melba Toast. Then work out how much either would cost ot make at home. Pennies instead of pounds. Same goes for all the courses, and I shake my head in disbelief when I read how much it would cost for a slice of Treacle Tart, or a couple of scoops of Ice-Cream. This has very little to do with the cost of ingredients, more to do with the overheads of running a restaurant, and paying staffs wages. In domestic kitchens we are both staff and chef - and work for free. Even our 'overheads' can be ignored as we live there and if we are going to cook something anyway we can serve 'restaurant quality' meals in our own homes without any fear of not being able to afford to.

Those of us who are now 'kitchen gardeners', have the edge over most restaurants in that the produce we harvest will be fresher than any bought that day from suppliers. If we can begin thinking on the lines that by using the home-grown, plus more home-cooking - which in itself leads to more savings - we then have money left to spend on better quality. Yes, have said this all before, but if by doing this we can then afford to serve meals that millionaires would be prepared to pay the earth for, then why not make the effort? It is as easy as that.

Fortunately for us, a lot of 'foods in fashion' - now served in top restaurants - are what our grandmothers used to cook. Obviously cheap to make then, and relatively cheap to make even now, but have so much flavour that people now prefer to eat these rather than the more 'cheffy' dishes. Wouldn't you rather have a slice of Treacle Tart or Sticky Toffee Pudding than a Champagne Sorbet? Know I would.

Am almost writing myself into a day of kitchen activity - starting with making a tub of my soft-scoop ice-cream using egg whites, home-made yogurt and whipped cream. Then using the egg yolks to make microwave Lemon Curd. Thinking ahead to supper, this will probably be Jumbo Prawns with Marie-Rose sauce sitting on a bed of avocado and home-grown Salad Leaves. Followed by the last of the Sticky Toffee Pudding (so had better make more).
Might as well make a granary loaf while I'm at it, which will eat well with some of the Herby Broth for my own supper (having leeks and potatoes that need using up not to mention home-grown herbs and home-made chicken stock) - perhaps followed by some smoked Cheddar and oatcakes. Or instead (or as well as) eat some of the home-made strawberry yogurt with some of those fresh strawberries bought yesterday.
Wonder how much a restaurant would charge for the above. Yes, sometimes it is worth doing a bit of home-cooking.