Saturday, May 01, 2010

Frugal Feasting

Moving on to foodie things - have been watching The Best British Menu (or some similar name) and it does seem that cooking meat in water baths at around 65 deg. is becoming the new way to cook. Also dehydrating some foods (fruit, carrots, beetroot etc) so they can be ground up when dry and used as a flavouring powder. Is this the way we will be cooking in the domestic kitchen in the near future I wonder?
At least the 'micro-shoots' that now adorn many gourmet styled dishes are not beyond those of us who now have Mixed Leaf Salads growing on our windowsill. 'Micro-chives' was mentioned yesterday "only need a few for they are very strongly flavoured". Now the peas are coming through, hope soon to include a few 'pea-shoots' to our own 'Michelin meals'.

Of course a lot depends upon what we choose to keep in our store cupboards, but the ingredients for the following dish are in the Goode larder and fridge including the new kids on the block - the produce growing in our conservatory. Whether this recipe has been given on this site before am not sure - but worth giving again as it is very inexpensive to make, yet good enough to serve at a dinner party. A dish that I might even make as a treat for myself. Because B was responsible for the missing bangers, in other words 'taking the food out of my mouth', will take the Marie Antoinette approach and "let him eat cake" - that I might bake for him today.

Smaller servings of this dish - with or without the rice - could serve 6 to 8 as a starter.
Creamy Chicken Livers with Mushrooms: serves 4
1 oz (25g) dried porcini mushrooms
5 fl oz (150ml) hot water
1 x 400g pack chicken livers
2 rashers streaky bacon
1 tblsp olive oil
1 oz (25g) butter
5 medium open (flat) mushrooms
4 tblsp creme fraiche
salt and pepper
few young (micro?) salad leaves for garnish
Put the porcini mushrooms in a bowl, pour over the boiling water and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
Chop the chicken livers into even sized pieces and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Cut each rasher of bacon into three, and fry for a few minutes until crispy, then drain on kitchen paper.
Remove stalks from the flat mushrooms, and taking one of the mushrooms, chop this finely along with the stalks. Set aside.
Put half the oil and half the butter into the bacon fat in the pan, and fry the four large flat mushrooms five minutes on either side (starting with the flat/stalk side down). Remove from pan and keep warm (flat side up) on a serving dish in the oven.
Put the remaining oil and butter into the pan and fry the chicken livers for a couple of minutes before turning and cooking a further 2 minutes. Spoon the cooked livers onto the mushrooms. Then add the chopped mushrooms to the juices in the pan together with the rehydrated porcini mushrooms AND their liquid, and raise the heat so that the liquid bubbles down to about 3 tblsp. Stir in the creme fraiche and season well.
Pour the sauce over the livers and mushrooms, top with the pieces of crispy bacon, and garnish with micro-leaves - serve with rice, and enjoy.

A good starter for a dinner party is home-made soup - for this is something that can be prepared ahead of time and reheated. The flavour of the soup depends a great deal on what is being served for the next course. We would not wish to serve oxtail soup when beef is 'the mains'.
But even though onions are used in many main course dishes - we could still serve onion soup as a first course.
French Onion soup is the one that comes first to mind - this is the one that has slices of 'cheese on toast' floating on the top. Good enough for entertaining, and filling enough if you wish to be thrifty with the ingredients for the main course, but the following soup is slightly more 'upmarket', especially when served with the Cheese Crisps. Otherwise serve a good rustic bread (is this called 'artisan' these days?).

Posh Onion Soup: serves 4 (F)
3 tblsp olive oil
4 large onion, finely chopped
pinch of salt
5 fl oz (150ml) white wine
15 fl oz (450ml) boiling water
salt and pepper
chives for garnish
Heat 2 tblsp of the oil in a pan and stir in the onions and salt. Fry gently, stirring from time to time, for about 15 minutes or until the onions are very soft but not browned.
Add the wine and simmer for 8 - 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half, then add the boiling water. Add seasoning to taste, then simmer for five more minutes before removing from heat. Cool slightly, then stir in the remaining oil and blitz down in a blender/food processor or use a stick blender. Sieve to make a smooth soup. Add more water if you wish it to be thinner. Check seasoning and serve with crusty bread or Cheese Crisps.
This soup can be frozen in containers for up to a month. Defrost thoroughly before reheating. The Cheese Crisps will not freeze.

Normally, Parmesan 'thins' are made by spooning mounds on grated Parmesan onto a baking sheet and baking them for a very few minutes in the oven. This is a somewhat easier way to make them.
Cheese Crisps: Take 2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese and spread half over the base of a dry non-stick frying pan. Cook over medium heat for 1 - 2 minutes until the cheese has melted and turned a light golden colour. Remove from pan with a fish slice and drape over a bowl or rolling pin until set. Repeat with remaining cheese.
Best made fresh on the day, but will probably keep in an airtight tin (haven't tried this), and snap into large pieces to serve with soup. Can also be crumbled and sprinkled over salads.

When entertaining, we often feel we should pull out all the stops and served a memorable pudding - mainly because if the first courses have not turned out as well as hoped for - it is always the pudding that remains in people's memories. If the pud is good - then the whole meal has been a success.

On the other hand - if fairly confident that the starters and mains are almost foolproof - then why make work for yourself. This simple and traditional apple crumble - when served in individual ramekins - cannot fail to please. Use Bramley apples as these soften quite rapidly during the cooking process. If using a firmer apple, it might be worth cooking them off a little first before continuing with the recipe.
Baked Apple Crumble: serves 4
1 lb (500g) apples, peeled, cored and sliced
6 oz (160g) soft brown sugar
juice half a small lemon
2 tblsp water
4 tblsp melted butter
2 oz (50g) flour (plain or S.R)
3 oz (75g) porridge oats
1 - 2 tsp demerara sugar (opt)
Put the prepared apples in a bowl with the lemon juice, water and brown sugar. Toss together to coat all the apple slices, then place in a greased ovenproof baking dish (or four individual ramekins).
Mix together the melted butter, flour and oats until well combined. If you wish you could add a little demerara sugar to sweeten. Spoon this over the apples, and bake for 30 - 35 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until the crumble topping is golden and bubbling.
Serve warm with creme fraiche, Greek yogurt or a scoop of ice-cream.