Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Experimenting

Suggestions are being given today for a couple of starters that I read about recently. Weights and measures of ingredients were not given, so are up to the cook. A little experience helps re this. But not beyond most of us. As these can be made ahead of time, then chilled - a great time-saver when entertaining. Scaled down these could also be served as canapes instead of as starters.
Potted Ham with Apple:
Mix together diced ham with apple sauce, parsley, finely chopped spring onions, and season with black pepper. Line ramekin dishes with cling film, then with slices of Parma ham . fill with the ham mixture, and top this with a thin slice of chorizo sausage. Fold the overlapping bits of Parma ham over to cover the filling. Cover and chill before removing from ramekin, peeling away the paper and serving. Garnish with a few rocket leaves and (opt) pistachio nuts.

Goat's Cheesecake:
Line a small loaf tin with a double thickness of cling film. Blitz goat's cheese in a food processor with beaten eggs, mascarpone cheese and black pepper. Spoon into the tin and bake uncovered at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 25 minutes until a firm crust has formed. Cool and chill. Turn out and serve sliced with Melba toast.

We still have a few clementines in the fruit bowl. Surprised they have kept so well, although the peel is looking a bit dry. Have discovered a recipe for storing the clementine flesh in syrup, so will be filling a jar with these today. Said to be good eaten with ice-cream, yogurt, or dark chocolate cakes.
Spiced Clementines:
5 - 6 clementines
2 - 3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
star anise
2 oz (50g) sugar
2 tblsp water
Peel the fruit, reserving the peel from one and cut this into strips. Remove as much white pith as possible from the fruit (keeping the segments attached to each other), then put the fruit into a clean and sterilised hot jar with the cloves, cinnamon, star anise and shredded peel.
Meanwhile, heat the sugar and water together, and when the sugar has dissolved, simmer until syrupy. Remove from heat and stir in some brandy (1 - 3 tblsp) and pour this over the fruit, shaking the jar so any trapped air comes to the surface. The liquid must cover the fruit. Seal and store in a cool dry place for a month before using. Use within 3 months.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cooking is a Learning Curve

Have now learned that grating pastry is a very speedy way to make a fruit 'topping' taking even less time and trouble to rolling it out as a pie 'lid'. Next time it will be easier to handle if the pastry had been frozen solid than just chilled (it softened as I held it). So next time, all left-over pastry scraps will be kept together, frozen and can be used in this way.

These seeds are exactly right for cooks - called "Salad Leaves - supplied by Thompson and Morgan), with the back of the pack saying: "an exciting alternative to bags of salad from the supermarket, and delicious added to stir-fries, salads or sandwiches. The mix is a treat for gardeners who want their salad leaves as quickly as possible! The mix features a lovely range of spicy and tangy tastes, textures, colours and leaf shapes."

The pack contains seeds of Pak Choi Canton White, Greek Cress, Salad Rocket Victoria, Mustard(Pizzo and Red Frills), and Mizuna - and apart from Rocket, all new varieties to me. Quick growing in under 30 days (60 days in winter) can be grown outdoors from April to September, October to March under glass, and all year round on the windowsill.

It is difficult to sow very small seeds, and as they grow, usually need thinning out, but with salad leaves we save the most money if we can keep the sown seeds well apart. The way I do this is to cut a sheet of kitchen paper to the size of the container (if the paper is layered then peel apart to give a thin sheet) lay this on the surface of the compost and wet it before sprinkling on the seeds, then take a cocktails stick or even a sewing needles, and carefully spread the seeds well apart before covering with a thin layer of fine compost.

With hundreds of seeds in the normal packs of basic (say) lettuce, we can afford to sow more thickly and then 'thin out'. In the old days 'thinnings' used to be thrown away, but we should remember these are the same thing as the fashionable microshoots that now garnish gourmet dishes, so 'salad leaves thinnings' now need never be discarded (aka wasted). However, as thinnings as a garnish are used only once, when the seeds are planted with room to spare each shoot can be allowed to grow and grow, so we gain more leaves, and after the first few weeks after sowing, we can begin to pick a leaf here and continue picking regularly from each plant.

You could say pushing a few seeds around with a cocktail stick is being over thrifty. What is a thinning here and there. especially if these can be eaten as microsprouts? But if each seed cam provide us with more than one mouthful, a few shillings worth of leafage over the months can come to pounds saved over the year, and you know what I do with saved money! Start spending it on quality. What I call a win-win situation.
Today some (maybe all) of the salad leaf seeds will be sown, and it will be interesting to find out how far this freebie pack will go.

Still no sign of life from seeds sown previously, the conservatory is warm enough in the day (we have a clock in there that gives the phases of the moon and also the temperature), so something should soon be stirring. Some (perhaps many) gardeners sow and plant according to the moon's phases, and this allegedly gives better, stronger and more flavoursome yields. Some times the old ways are best. As said on this site so often, there is always something new to learn.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Frugal Feasting

The good news is that the credit crunch has hit everyone, so - perhaps not surprisingly - sales of the highest quality foods have slowed down, and to keep regular customers coming back for more, many of these foods can now be found 'on offer' from time to time.

As lean times are still with us, before things begin to get back on track, NOW is the time to begin stocking up with quality when of offer (because we probably will never be able to afford them again) and by doing more home-cooking and a bit of 'grow our own' we should all be able to enjoy (even if only for the next couple of years) the pleasures of eating like kings on paupers pay. In some ways, the credit crunch has been more of a help than a hindrance to those who love to cook.

The recipe today is an example of good eating. Similar to Daube de Boeuf, this is a cheaper version of the Beef Carbonnade, but instead of using stewing steak (my normal choice), the less expensive (and more flavoursome) shin of beef is used. I suggest using (dare I mention the word again) quality shin, because this will give the 'gravy' plenty of flavour, as we can get away with using less meat than suggested (and more veg) if we prefer. Whenever possible make quality (there I've said it again) meat go half as far again. This way we can afford to buy it.

One tip - when stretching meat- is to cut casserole cuts into small chunks so there will appear to be more to go round. Finding only two chunks in a serving looks downright mean, finding several smaller ones and we feel satisfied we have had our fair share. Life's like that.

Myself just love the flavour of this dish, especially the 'gravy', so tend to add more liquid than the recipe states, just so there is some left over to thoroughly heat through and have as soup the following day (or surplus gravy can be frozen).
A dark stout (such as Guiness) is too strong in flavour for this dish, so use a lighter brown ale, OR use less of any ale and make up the shortfall with beef stock (made from a cube). Add more flavour by using beef stock instead of water when covering the beef.

For those who grow their own herbs, the bouquet garni for this dish would be 1 bay leaf, and a couple of sprigs of both thyme and parsley. Chefs often use just parsley stalks when making a bouquet garni as these have as much (often more) flavour as the leaves (which can then be used in another dish - another example of making something go in two directions). A traditional way to make the 'garni' is to push the herbs into the curve of a short piece of celery, tie the lot together with string, then tuck this in the casserole pot with the end of the string hanging over the edge so that it is easily removed when ready to serve.

If we haven't the milder Dijon mustard, we can use dried English mustard powder that has been blended with milk, as this makes it less 'hot' than when made with water. French bread stales very rapidly, but French sticks being cheap enough to buy, it is worth using this, and any remaining bread can be cut into chunks (or sliced almost through and spread with garlic butter between the slices) then wrapped tightly and frozen to be used at a later date, perhaps served with soups, or heated as garlic bread.

This dish is one that seems to go a lot further when served spooned into LARGE individual Yorkshire puddings. Being a carbohydrate, this pudding takes the place of potatoes, and if wishing to serve it in this way, the mustardy buttered bread could also be omitted. Whichever way you wish to serve, this dish eats well with a green vegetable, carrots and or parsnips. A good winter dish and one we will enjoy eating this chilly weather. Carbonnades a la flamande: serves 4 - 6
3 tblsp sunflower oil
2 - 3 large onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed
1 - 2 lb shin beef
3 - 4 tblsp flour
salt and pepper
half pint (300ml) brown ale
1 tblsp light muscovado sugar
water or beef stock
fresh bouquet garni or tsp dried mixed herbs
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
1 good tblsp Dijon mustard
6 slices French bread
Heat half the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onions until softened and just beginning to turn brown. Meanwhile cut the shin beef into fore-finger sized strips, no more than half inch (1cm) thick. If you are using less meat, cut each strip into three chunks.
When the onions are beginning to change colour, stir in the garlic. Fry for a couple more minutes then, using a slotted spoon, transfer contents of the pan to an ovenproof casserole dish.
Put the flour into a bag with some salt and pepper to season, add the meat and toss until each strip is coated with flour.
Raise the heat under the pan and add the remaining oil, then brown the meat in two batches (doing the lot in one go will reduce the temperature of the oil, and the meat needs browning not 'stewing'). As the the meat is browned, add to the onions in the casserole dish.
To the juices in the pan, add the beer, stirring the pan base to add residues into the liquid. Bring to the boil then stir in the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, pour over the meat. Add the bouquet garni (or dried herbs) and pour in enough water (or beef stock) to cover the meat. Cover and cook in the oven for 2 - 3 hours at 160C, 325F, gas 3. Check after the first two hours, give a stir and add a little more (boiling) water or stock if necessary.
While the Carbonnade is cooking, mash together the butter and mustard and spread it thickly onto the sliced bread. Half an hour before serving, place the bread - butter side up - on top of the meat and cook, uncovered, for a further 30 minutes or until the bread is crisp and golden. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Easier Than We Think

It is the 'home-cooked' meal that always wins over the ready-made, and the more we can do ourselves, the more money we will save - and quite often this can be a LOT of money. It is important to save this money, for this can then go towards buying the more expensive ingredients of which I will be talking about later in this posting. This way we will be spending no more money than in days past, but end up eating much better meals.

Start frugally by making our own chicken stock from the chicken carcases that most butchers will let their customers have for free, and seek out a fishmonger who will also let us have a bag of fish scraps for free. Money hasn't yet left our purses and already we have the makings for the base of several good restaurant quality meals.

Although we think of them as 'binnables', chefs often use only the stalks and peelings of mushrooms to make 'duxelles' (almost a mushroom pate) that can be used to flavour soups, or used as a stuffing between the meat and pastry when cooking Beef Wellington. Chefs realise the potential of all foods, and make the most of bones, trimmings and things domestic cooks usually discard. That is what good cooking is all about. Cost does not always come into it.

Baking our own bread (even the simple Soda bread), and making soups from chicken stock and the Holy Trinity (carrots, celery and onions) that we cooks always have in our kitchens because they have a good shelf-life as well as flavour, means that we have the making for a quality starter (or light lunch) at very low cost. Different stocks, different vegetables, the variety of soups we can make can be endless. But all very good. And very, very cheap.

It goes without saying that growing our own produce and serving it within minutes of picking will be way above what many top restaurants are able to manage - unless they have their own kitchen garden outside their kitchen, like Raymond Blanc. So again, we can have quality with very little outlay.
Even if we do not have room to grow things outdoors, much can be grown on windowsills, and if nothing else, fresh herbs should be always be grown.

So far, none of the frugal suggestions above has cost more than pennies, but already we could be getting together the Michelin star basics of good dishes. Now we need to consider the more expensive ingredients that often we wish we could afford to buy but rarely do. But there is a way. The Shirley way is to make sure you get given these as gifts. For this is yet another way we can gain quality for no extra outlay.

We really need very few expensive ingredients to cook excellent meals. My basics would be keeping extra virgin olive oil (blending a little with sunflower oil to make a home-made light olive oil for cooking purposes). A block of Parmesan cheese to grate as and when needed, and - of course - butter and cream. Booze is useful addition to the good cook's store cupboards, but again - taking my tip - ask for bottles of spirits and a box of both red and white wine (even the olive oil) to be given you as presents. Why spend money when you can persuade someone else to splash their cash!

We come now to what some might call the expensive side of good cooking - the meats, fish and poultry. Despite these being on sale in the supermarket at 'affordable' prices, quality it 'aint. Supermarkets are realising that their customers are aware that the longer meat is hung the better flavour it has, and demanding this, so this too is available for a higher price. But 'well-hung meat' does not necessarily mean it was top quality in the first place. All too often farmers sell their cattle in bulk for the supermarket trade, where the 'job lot' can contain quite a number of animals that are - to put it nicely - not what a good butcher would choose. So unless the pack gives enough information, we might not be getting our money's worth.
On the other hand, a good local butcher tends to buy locally produced meat so are more aware of how it is reared.

The other week mentioned buying meat on offer from an on-line company (Donald Russell), and this has made me realise the difference really good meat can make to a meal. As a meat eater, my Beloved thinks he has died and gone to heaven. To those who think - as a cost-cutter - my sights were set too high for readers of this blog, just recall the month of January where my challenge was to use the foods we had in store and stay away from the supermarkets. Allowing myself £10 a week for survival rations (eggs, milk etc) and not needing to spend any of it at all, this alone saved £40, which paid for the meat (with money left over) so I like to think of this as yet another 'freebie'. By making 'deliberate' savings, we are now - without further cost - able to eat like kings. Almost in the Nigella Lawson league. Perhaps not yet caviar, but getting there.

Said before, and will no doubt this will say again, and again (for this has great importance in the Goode kitchen), when it come to well-hung quality meat the flavour is so intense that a little goes a long way, and when it comes to casseroles - where all the flavour stays in the gravy - then we can get away with using less meat than a recipe might state. This means because it goes further, what might seem moderately expensive in the first place, actually isn't.
As you know, we Goodes cannot afford to pay full whack for on-line meat and will probably never be able to afford paying top price for sirloins and beef fillets, veal and venison, but certainly the cheaper cuts (for braising and stewing) being less expensive in the first place, packed with flavour, and almost impossible to ruin when cooking, these - when on offer - would be my first choice and make no mistake about it - offers like these are never missed.

Although butcher's meat can be excellent, there are advantages to buying meat that has been professionally frozen at far lower temperatures than our own freezers can reach. Thawed out slowly overnight in the fridge - the meat still in its unopened vacuum pack - this will be far superior in texture than meat we freeze ourselves. Also the packs can stay on the fridge shelf for a few days before being cooked (as long as the pack remains unopened), whereas home-frozen meat is best cooked within hours of thawing.

Whichever method of freezing - meat should always thawed slowly in the fridge. Thawing at room temperature, any liquid in the liquid rapidly flows out leaving the flesh rather dry and having less flavour. Incidentally, learned the other day (TV prog) that although it looks as though it is, the red liquid that drips from meat before - or after cooking rare - is not blood (that was drained off when the beast was killed), cannot recall what they said it was, but lets call it 'juices'.

Due to the credit crunch, more and more people are 'dining in', and younger folk are finding it fun to entertain, and when it comes to giving wedding (or other anniversary) presents it is worth forgetting the flowers, cutlery and electric toasters. Instead give what people REALLY need, and what better gift could a budding (or experienced cook) receive than pots of (home-grown) assorted herbs, Or arrange to have a delivery of quality frozen meat or fish (or both) sent to the newly weds (once you know their preference and making sure they do have a freezer in which to put it). They will be eternally grateful - as will their future guests. Alternatively vouchers to purchase on-line meat and fish can be bought, so an order can be placed later.

Was going to suggest as a gift a box of assorted wines, but as most guests tend to bring a bottle anyway, why not serve theirs? At least it keeps the cost of the meal down. If teir wine is not as good as you would have liked to serve, then that's hardly your fault. Or is that a step too far in meanness? Believe me, you want mean? You haven't seen anything yet.

You may feel that a gift of home-grown herbs is not enough a present when everyone else is forking out loadsa money. But time and effort has gone into growing the herbs (we expect to pay for this when someone else has done it), and after all - it is the thought that counts. How many of us would prefer a gift that we really do want or find useful, than one that cost a lot more that ends up in the back of a cupboard and never used at all? If not a gardener, than a flourishing bay tree in a pot is as good a gift as any to a cook.

It is said that bay trees are tender and should be grown in a frost-free part of the garden, perhaps best grown in a pot so they could be brought into the porch during the winter. Well, unfortunately the one given to us as a house-warming present got neglected, and only the other day went to take a peek at it, yet despite it being against a north-facing wall of the conservatory, and no doubt the compost frozen solid (the water in the bucket next to it certainly was), it still appears to be thriving despite the snow and heavy frosts we have been having. Perhaps we have been lucky, or the bay tree is a hardier plant than we realise.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More Can Cost Less.

Not all gravies freeze well, but here is a recipe for one that does, and it can be thawed and thoroughly reheated to serve with chicken or turkey. Veloute means 'velvet' so expect this gravy to have a smooth and velvety' texture.
Veloute Gravy: makes about 1 pint (F)
1 large shallot (or small onion) finely chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
3 - 4 fluid ounces dry white wine
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
18 fl oz (500ml) chicken stock
7 fl oz (200ml) double cream
freshly ground black pepper
Put the oil in a small pan and gently sauté the onion for 5 minutes. Add the wine and herb, and bring to the boil. Fast boil until the mixture has reduced down to a couple of tablespoons, then add the stock, reduce down by half then add the cream. Boil for 5 minutes, then add pepper to taste. Cool, then strain into a freezer container, and freeze until required.
To use, thaw and bring back to the boil (hob or microwave) then - after fat has been removed - add the pan juices from the chicken or turkey, reboil for 2 minutes, season with a little salt, strain and serve.

Roasted vegetables are a great favourite of ours (red and white onions, parsnips, red, yellow and orange peppers, courgettes, aubergines, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes etc., and although this next recipe suggests using roasted mixed peppers from a jar, home-roasted peppers would work equally as well, as would using other roasted vegetables. It could be useful to cook extra roasted vegetables, and then chill the surplus for up to two days to use in a recipe such as this.
Using the vegetables we grow, have in our fridge or veggie basket, and some chorizo in the fridge, home-cooked (frozen) chickpeas - or canned chickpeas - this is an easy dish to make that can have several variations. Instead of chickpeas we could use cooked butter beans, or other smaller white bean, and instead of peppers, serve grilled aubergine slices.
Warm Chorizo, Chickpea and Peppers: serves 2
1 tblsp olive oil
6 oz (175g) chorizo sausage, chopped into small chunks
1 x 410g can (15oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
250g (9 oz) jar roasted mixed peppers (or...see above)
Heat the oil over high heat in a large frying pan and cook the chorizo for 4 -5 minutes, stirring to help release its oil and stop when the edges start to crisp. Time then to add the chickpeas to the pan and cook for 2 minutes or until hot. Stir in the roasted vegetables and heat through, making sure everything is coated with the chorizo oil (this gives good flavour). Serve in individual bowls, topping with a dollop of yogurt.
Note: omit the beans, dice the roasted vegetables before adding to the chorizo, and serve as a spicy sauce with pasta.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Less of One, More of t'Other

A well-known (and think French Michelin star) chef recently said on TV, "that canned asparagus is worth using as it has a lot more flavour than the fresh", and he uses this when making quiches etc. Myself used these successfully in the past, first removing the spear heads, then blitzing the stems with the eggs and milk/cream to make a well-flavoured quiche 'custard', finally arranging the spear heads on top of the quiche before baking (they sink slightly into the custard so do not burn).
The canned asparagus are also good as a filling for vol-au-vents. Mash the stems and mix into condensed asparagus soup, or if that is now not available, use creme fraiche and more asparagus to give flavour plus seasoning to taste. Use this as a filling for the pastry cases, topping each with the tiny piece from the top of the spear. Asparagus cuppa soup stirred dried into creme fraiche will thicken and give an asparagus flavour (similar to the condensed soup) to which the crushed stems can be added.

Nutritionists recommend 100g (just under 4 oz) of meat is an adequate portion for an adult, and also advise eating meat only a few times a week with a vegetarian meal on alternate days, and bearing this in mind, during the few years this blog has been written, have given many recipes where less than 1 lb of meat (to serve four) is used. Sometimes as little as 8 oz. There are other sources of animal protein - such as eggs, cheese, milk - and a cheese quiche uses all three.

Now the recipes designed to stretch meat that little bit further:
Winter Hot-Pot: serves 3 - 4
2 tsp sunflower or other oil
8 oz (225g) minced beef
1 beef stock cube
1 large onion, cut into wedges
6 oz (175g) carrot. roughly chopped
1 lb (450g) potatoes, cut into chunks
15 fl oz (425ml) hot water
200g (half a can) baked beans (use more if you wish)
dash of Worcestershire or HP sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Put the minced beef into a bowl with the oil and work together with the hands (this helps to prevent the beef sticking together in lumps when frying).
Put the meat into a large pan and fry the meat, quite rapidly, until browned all over. Crumble in the stock cube and mix well. Stir in the vegetables and add the hot water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the baked beans and add brown sauce to taste. Heat through, adding seasoning if necessary.
Serve hot, ladled into individual bowls.

Moroccan Lamb Pilau: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 tsp ground cinnamon
12 oz (350g) minced lamb
9 oz (250g) long-grain rice (pref. basmati)
18 fl oz (500ml) hot water
1 lamb (or vegetable) tock cube
12 no-soak dried apricots (cut in half)
salt and pepper,
handful toasted flaked almonds
handful fresh mint leaves, finely chopped (opt)
Fry the onion in the oil over medium heat until softened, then stir in the cinnamon and fry for a minute longer. Raise the heat, add the lamb to the pan and fry until the meat has changed colour, then stir in the rice. Cook/stir for a further minute, then pour in the hot water, crumble in the stock cube, add the apricots and seasoning to taste, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 12 minutes until the rice is tender and has absorbed all the stock. Add nuts and mint (if using). Serve hot.

Chicken Pasta Bake: serves 4
12 oz (350g) pasta shapes (shells, penne etc)
8 oz (225g) broccoli, chopped into small pieces
2 tblsp olive oil
10 oz (350g) minced raw chicken
6 oz (175g) mushrooms, cut into quarters
4 tblsp tomato paste/puree
100g soft cream cheese (Philly type)
milk if necessary
salt and pepper
3 oz (75g) grated cheddar cheee
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds
Put the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water, cook for 6 minutes, then add the broccoli and cook further until the pasta is 'al dente' (just tender with a bit of bite left in the centre)' Drain well, then return to the pan and set to one side.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a wide frying pan, then add the chicken and cook until just beginning to brown. Add the mushrooms and cook/stir for one minute, then add the tomato paste, and the cream cheese. Simmer, stirring constantly until the cheese has melted and the mixture has become a thick sauce (add a little milk if too thick). Season to taste.
Pour this sauce over the pasta and broccoli, stirring very gently until the pasta is coated, then tip into a shallow ovenproof dish.
Mix the grated cheese and almonds together, and sprinkle over the pasta. Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 20 minutes until golden.
Note: If the pasta is kept hot, and the chicken mixture cooked through, after assembly the dish could be browned off under the grill instead of using the oven.

Budget Burgers: serves 4
8 oz (225g) lean minced beef
3 oz (75g) breadcrumbs (pref wholemeal)
3 oz (75g) carrot, grated
1 small onion, grated
salt and pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire or HP sauce
Mix together all the ingredients, then shape into 4 burgers and place on a baking tray. Grill for 4 - 5 minutes on either side until cooked through. Serve in burger buns with salad.
Note: these burgers could also be fried in a pan, or cooked in the oven. The mixture could also be used to make meat balls which could be first fried then cooked on in a tomato sauce and served with pasta.

Pork Chop Melts: serves 4
4 pork chops
salt and pepper
4 - 5 oz grated or crumbled cheese (Stilton is good)
4 good tblsp apple sauce
Season the chops on both sides, and grill under medium heat for 12 - 15 minutes, turning once until just cooked.
Spoon the apple sauce over the chops and cover with the cheese, then return to the grill and cook for 3 - 4 minutes or until the cheese has melted and turning brown.
Serve with mashed potatoes and green vegetables. If any cheese had dripped through to the grill pan beneath, the scoop these up and serve these also.

Red Pork in a Pot: serves 4
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 lb (450g) lean pork, cut into chunks
2 tblsp paprika pepper
half pint (300ml) chicken or vegetable stock
100ml (half a tub) creme fraiche or yogurt (see note)
Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions. Fry gently for 10 - 15 minutes until softened and just beginning to change colour. Stir occasionally.
Add the pork to the pan and cook until browned on all sides, then stir in the paprika pepper and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to the boil.
Cover and cook for half an hour or until the pork is tender. Stir in the creme fraiche and simmer for two minutes. Serve hot with rice and a green vegetable.
N0te: Thick Greek yogurt could be used instead o creme fraiche, but as this may split, stir this in just before serving, just long enough to allow it to get hot.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Best is Yet to Come

An ancient cookery mag has fallen on my lap, opened at a page of 'toast toppings', so with slight adaptations you may wish to try some. All recipes make enough to top four slices of toast. Use any bread, white, brown or granary.

Hot Toasties:
Cheese crisp:
Mix together 6 oz (150g) diced cheddar cheese, with 2 ribs celery finely chopped, one small red bell pepper - diced. Spread this on toasted bread and top with strips of streaky bacon. Grill until crisp and bubbling.

Mama Mia:
Spread each slice of toast with tomato puree. Top with finely diced (or grated) onion, grated cheese and slices of salami. Grill until cheese is bubbling.

Mushroom Scramble:
Gently fry 2 oz (50g) sliced mushrooms with 1 oz (25g) butter. Add 3 large eggs beaten with 2 tblsp milk. Stir, and when scrambled, add two teaspoons of capers. Season to taste and spread onto the toast.

Spiced Sardines:
Empty one can of sardines in tomato, with 1 tbslp chilli relish (more it you like it hot, hot, hot), and then add 1 tblsp diced cucumber, and one large tomato that has been skinned, seeds removed and the flesh chopped. Spread on toast and grill until heated through.

Cool Toasties: also make good sandwich fillings
Tasty Tuna:
Flake one 98g can tuna fish and blend in 3 tblsp mayonnaise, 1 tbslp chopped fresh chives, 1 chopped hard-boiled egg, and 1 tsp lemon juice. Season to taste and spread on toast.

Pickle Pate:
Blend 9 oz (250g) drained cottage cheese, with 2 tblsp piccalilli and 2 oz (50g) cooked ham. Season to taste and spread on toast.

Coro Chicken:
To 8 oz (225g) chopped cooked chicken, add 1 diced dessert apple, 1 tblsp sultanas, a tsp of mild curry paste, and 4 tblsp mayonnaise. Mix together well and spread on toast.

Sweet Toasties: use plain or currant bread
Citrus Slices:
Mix chopped segments from grapefruit and orange into 6 oz (175g) cottage cheese. Add 1 oz (25g) chopped walnuts. Spread on toast. A sprinkle of caster sugar on top (or in the mix) is optional.

Tropical Toasts:
Beat 4 oz (100g) cream cheese with 1 oz (25g) icing sugar and add the grated rind of one orange. Spread on toast and top with chopped pineapple (or orange segments) and finish with a sprinkle of toasted coconut.

Those who are fans of pizzas would also find toast works as an instant pizza base. First spread the lightly toasted bread with tomato puree, add chosen toppings, then grill until cooked (or toppings can be pre-cooked, spread onto the tomato puree, topped with cheese and then grilled until the cheese melts).

Friday, February 19, 2010

How Sad is That?

Cassoulet is a classic French peasant dish, and although correctly made using the best ingredients, we can make a passable version using 'cheapies' thus making an inexpensive meal to serve a family. Ideally use good sausages (Toulouse is traditional) but a herby flavoured cheaper one would make a reasonable substitute. By soaking and cooking our own dried beans cuts costs, but any canned white bean (and these are not expensive) saves time.
Bacon offcuts are perfect for a dish such as this, and the more fat they have on the better. if you can get smoked offcuts, these give even more flavour.
It goes without saying we use should home-made chicken stock, but a chicken or ham stock cube is another alternative. Use the end crust from a loaf of bread to make the crumbs, and a little oil or marg if you haven't butter. The remaining ingredients am hoping you have in your larder.

Cheapsticks Cassoulet: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter or oil
8 Cumberland sausages (or similar flavour)
1 large onion, cut into wedges
equivalent of 6 smoked rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 tsp paprika pepper (pref smoked paprika)
1 x 410g (14oz) can cannellini or butter beans
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
7 fl oz (200ml) hot chicken or ham stock
half tsp dried oregano or marjoram (or mixed herbs)
1 tblsp tomato puree or tomato ketchup
salt and pepper
4 - 5 tbslp fresh breadcrumbs
1 oz (25g) butter (or marg) melted,
Starting with the ingredients at the top of the list, first melt the butter/oil in a frying pan and in this fry the sausages until browned all over (they do not have to cook all the way through), then remove and put into an ovenproof casserole dish.
Add the prepared onions and bacon to the frying pan and cook for 5 minute, then sprinkle in the paprika and cook for a further minute before stirring in the beans, tomatoes;;;;, stoke, herbs and tomato puree/ketchup. Season to taste, then pour this over the sausages in the casserole dish.
Cover and bake for half an hour at 180C, 350F, gas 4, then mix together the breadcrumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle this on top of the mixture in the casserole dish. then bake on, uncovered for a further half hour, until the topping is crisp and golden. Serve hot with green vegetables or a crisp cool salad.

There is a story (believed true - and it was in France) where a Cassoulet was kept cooking for days and days in a large pot over an open fire . Could even be years. As the food was served, more ingredients would be put into the pot (ham hock, chicken portions, sausages, and more tomatoes, stock and the rest. Extra crumb would be put on top, and crisped with some heat source (possibly a salamander), once the crumbs were crisped, they were stirred into the casserole and more crumbs put on top and crisped up (this double crust also works with the recipe given today).
After overnight cooking (the cauldron being the peasant version of our slow-cooker no doubt) the added 'fresh' meats would then be cooked, previous meat still in the pot would be meltingly tender and dissolved into the stock, and so it went on, improving texture and flavour as the days (years!) went by.

With the Italian meal eaten yesterday evening still fixed firmly in my mind, am ending today with a version of Gino D'Acampo's favourite soup, his recipe appearing in several of his books (his latest being The I(talian) Diet (£12.99 - on offered at £9.99) and Gino's Italian recipes sound a lovely way to lose weight.
This soup is easily made by ingredients that many of us keep in our larders, and although Gino uses (obviously) pancetta, but being my English version have substituted streaky bacon. Not that I have found much difference between the two, other than pancetta seems to be is sold in packs already chopped, bacon rashers we have to chop ourselves.
Gino's Onion and 'Bacon' Soup: serves 4
4 oz (100g) rindless streaky bacon rashers diced
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb 9 oz (700g) white onions, thinly sliced
2 pints (1.3ltrs) chicken stock
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 - 6 fresh basil leaves, torn not cut with a knife
4 tbslp grated Parmesan cheese.
Put the bacon into a saucepan over medium heat and stir/cook for 2 minutes until sizzling. Add the oil and and onions, stirring all together, then lower the heat and cookd for 20 minutes , stirring from time to time, until the onions are deeply golden, but not caramelised.
Then add the chicken stock and the canned tomatoes, with seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to simmer, half cover the pan and cook for a further 30 minutes again stirring occasionally.
After 20 minutes, check the consistency, and add more stock if desired, then just before serving, stir in the basil leaves, check if more seasoning is needed, and serve hot with the Parmesan sprinkle over.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Extreme Cuisine

My problem, when trying to devise a dish that cost only 50p, although - as said earlier- easy enough if a single portion, this can be much more difficult if it has to feed a family. Although it is possible to put together a really cheap meal, we could be in danger of not getting all the nutrition we should be having. Much depends upon other meals served during the day. As long as these provide the missing pieces of the jigsaw then there is no problem.

On the other hand, how many people these days bother with nutrition at all? Many youngsters and even older ones seem to live quite healthily on a bags of crisps, chips, and burgers. Some people of all ages have never eaten vegetables (other than perhaps potatoes). Eating home-cooked meals that use cheap (but still good) ingredients, however limiting, would be far better for us than a life of eating nothing but junk food.

With low-cost meals still firmly in my mind, today am offering an inexpensive recipe that at least has enough attitude to be worth serving as dinner party 'starter' (also good served as a side dish with fish). But think on, for this dish can be the very thrifty side of 'extreme cuisine' when we grow our own courgettes and herbs. We can even grow our own beans for drying, to soak and cook later. Consider also owning a container-grown lemon tree (get someone to buy you this for a present), and when kept in a sunny sheltered spot these do bear fruit. All we need then to make the dish is the oil and seasoning, and now that we can also buy small olive trees to grow in pots (another present?) we could even press our own oil. Perhaps this could lead to a further programme called 'extreme kitchen gardening'!

Ribbons and Beans: serves 4
4 courgettes
zest and juice of 1 lemon (pref unwaxed)
1 x 400g can (14oz) cannellini beans, drained
2 tblsp chopped chives
1 tbslp flat-leaved parsley
salt and pepper
2 tblsp olive oil (pref. extra virgin)
Using a 'Y' shaped vegetable peeler, slice thin ribbons from the courgettes, then blanch thee in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and refresh under cold running water, then drain well again.
Place the ribbons into a large dish and add the lemon zest and juice. Then stir in the beans and herbs and add seasoning to taste. Pour in the oil and toss together.
Leave to marinate for a few minutes before serving at room temperature.

Not that many of you will be interested, but if the idea of 'gourmet' appeals, then the following might be useful (printed out and given to me by a professional chef) - starting with (say) carrots that have been peeled and the sides removed, and then cut to make even sized long 'slabs' which are then cut into different sized 'batons'.

basic cuts of vegetables:

Jardiniere: a short (possibly finger length) baton of 5mm width and depth, used to accompany mains. When these batons are diced (all sides being equal length), these cubes are then called macedoine and used for soups.

Julienne: thin strips of 2mm width used as garnish. When these are diced they are given the name of brunoise, and used for garnish.

Paysanne: is the name given to 1 cm 'flat cuts' cut from geometrical shaped strips of vegetables (triangular, round, square, hexagonal).

Miripoix: is the name given to 'rough cuts' which are more often bits left over after preparing vegetables and of no particular size. These are used when making stock.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cut our Coats Accordingly...

Here are a couple of potato recipes, the first one using small (new) potatoes. Cost-cutters could used canned new potatoes, and (at a pinch) canned salmon. For 'posh nosh' use quality smoked salmon and petit pois. For medium spenders, use the cheaper packs of smoked salmon 'pieces' and bog standard frozen peas. If cooked through thoroughly a wedge of this 'frittata' would eat well cold as part of a packed lunch, or - in summer - as picnic food.
Salmon and Pea Frittata: serves 4
1 lb 2 oz (500g) new potatoes, cooked
1 x 200g pack smoked salmon
8 large eggs
2 tblsp chopped dill
4 oz (100g) frozen peas (pref petit pois)
salt and pepper
3 tblsp olive oil
Slice the potatoes thickly, and cut the salmon into strips. Beat the eggs until just foamy, the stir in the smoked salmon, dill, and peas. The gently stir in the potatoes.
Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan, then carefully pour in the egg mixture and cook over medium to low heat for 10-15 minutes until the egg is just beginning to set but the surface is still uncooked. Slide the frittata onto a plate, then invert the frying pan over it and turn the two over, so that the top of the frittata is now sitting on the bottom of the pan. Cook for a further 5 minutes to brown the underside, then slide onto a serving plate and leave to cool for a few minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve with a tomato salad.

The second recipe uses the larger baking potatoes. Ideally, cook the potatoes in the oven for an hour so that their skins get really crisp. Oven-baked potatoes also have a better flavour, but if time is of the essence, cook the potatoes in the microwave.
To cut oven-baking times down, first boil the potatoes in their skins for 10 minutes before putting into the oven, this usually reduces the baking time by half an hour.

Bollywood Baked Potatoes: serves 4
4 baking potatoes
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp garam masala
half tsp ground tumeric
large pinch chilli powder
salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
Greek yogurt
If cooking in the oven, prick the potatoes with a fork and brush the skins with a little oil, then place directly onto the oven shelf and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 1 hour or until crisp on the outside and soft when squeezed (the larger the potatoes the longer they will take to cook).
While the potatoes are cooking, put the oil into a small pan and fry the onion for 10 minutes until softened and turning brown, then stir in the spices. Add seasoning to taste and cook/stir for 2 minutes. Set aside.
When the potatoes are cooked, split each in half and scoop out most of the flesh into a bowl, leaving 1/4 inch (half centimetre) still attached to the shell. Crush the flesh with a fork, then stir in the onion and spice mixture. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, then pile the mixture back into the shells. Serve warm with a raita made with Greek yogurt in which has been mixed some finely chopped cucumber and mint (or omit cucumber and just add mint - or vice versa).

Friday, February 12, 2010

Time to Begin

The other day noticed a recipe/photo for a dessert which was basically an Apple Strudel, but - instead of being cooked in a long roll - had been made into individual desserts in the form of 'samosas' (triangular shapes). Just because something is cooked in a traditional form, doesn't mean we can't alter it. Suppose there is no reason why the savoury samosas cannot be cooked 'sausage shape' like the Chinese Spring Rolls', or the Spring Rolls themselves cannot be shaped into triangles.
Myself - when making vol-au-vents, prefer to cut the pastry cases into squares or oblongs or even triangles, rather than in the round. This way there is no wasted pastry.

Here is a recipe that could use up the last of the Christmas mincemeat. Make it into a traditional fruit pie using shortcrust pastry, or cook in puff-pastry parcels if you wish. The method given today is a filo pastry triangle (and the 'brique' pastry mentioned a few days ago could be used instead of filo). If you have any dried marzipan cake covering left over from the festive season, this could also be grated and mixed in with the apples and mincemeat.

Fruity Samosas: serves 4
2 large crisp apples, peeled and grated
4 tblsp mincemeat
4 sheets filo pastry
melted butter
creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
Mix the apples with the mincemeat.
Lay one sheet of filo on a board and brush with the melted butter. Fold into three, lengthwise. then lay a quarter of the apple mixture in one corner, and fold the filo diagonally over to the right side, then continue folding until the end of the sheet is reached. Seal by brushing the end with butter, flat against the package. Repeat with remaining sheets of filo and mixture.
Place 'samosas', sealed side down, on a lightly buttered baking sheet, brushing the surface of the samosas with a little more butter, then bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15 minutes or until golden. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt.

Although not a recipe proper, here is a suggestion for a really good and speedy dessert to prepare and cook and one worth considering for Shrove Tuesday. All you need are a couple of pancakes per person, and a couple of squares of firmly frozen ice-cream. Home-made ice-cream is best for this as it does tend to freeze into a very solid block.
All that has to be done is put a square of solid ice-cream into the centre of a pancake, and then fold the sides over so that it forms a package. Pop into the basket of a deep fat fryer, fold side down and plunge into the hot fat. Fry for half a minute until the pancake is crisp, then bring out, drain on kitchen paper, and serve immediately.
The pancake insulates the ice-cream and so gives enough time to crisp the pancakes before melting the ice-cream, and - if you wish - these packages could be prepared in advance, covered and stored in the freezer, and cooked immediately on removable.
These packages can also be shallow-fried, fold side down to start, and then turned to crisp the other side.
Depending upon the flavour of the ice-cream, good served with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, or just dusted with icing sugar.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Right or Wrong?

Next Sunday will be Valentine's Day, so what better day to serve up an 'almost-gourmet' meal. This will be a personal choice, for 'one man's meat is another man's poison'. When it comes to dessert, we cannot go far wrong serving chocolate. So here is a recipe for an easy but delicious pudding. Use half quantities if you wish to serve just two (good) portions. To 'posh it up' a bit, serve with whipped cream that has a little icing sugar and orange liqueur added.

Valentine's Pudding: serves 6
for the pudding...
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
2 oz (50g) soft muscovado sugar
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
2 eggs
2 level tblsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat well together. When the mixture is smooth, spoon into a 1 litre (2 1/2 pints) buttered pie dish (if you have a heart-shaped dish then all the better) and level the surface. Then make the sauce...
2 level tblsp cocoa powder
5 fl.oz (150ml) boiling water
3 oz (75g) soft muscovado sugar
Put the cocoa into a jug and add the boiling water. Stir until the cocoa has dissolved, then stir in the sugar. Pour this over the pudding mixture.
Place the dish in the oven and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 30-35 minutes or until the pudding is well-risen and firm on top - the sauce will now be underneath.
Spoon onto serving plates and serve hot with double cream, creme fraiche or ice-cream (vanilla or chocolate).

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Proof of the Pudding...

Regarding the 'skill of shopping'. The other day read a newspaper article where a reporter (who previously bought her food from M & S) was asked to buy the same foods instead from Aldi (although the brands were different). It was such a glowing report as to the amount of money saved (A LOT!!), that I thought the feature must have been an Aldi advert.

The reporter's family loved all the foods bought from Aldi, with the exception of one dessert (think it was a cheesecake). A similar trial was done at Lidl where this proved more expensive, but they did sell a wider variety of the more well-known brands (always discounted) and still cheap compared to M & S.
On the down side, the discount stores were a mess, food piled high on shelves and in boxes on the floor, few checkout girls (the one mentioned 'was surly') and there was little variety. Although the fresh vegetables were expected to be poor - instead they were given a thumbs up for freshness - other than nets of lemons and limes.

On one of my 'better days' may try to make the effort. Not sure how it would rate for 'quality' - but if the fresh produce is so good, that at least could be purchased from there.

Today's recipes are suitable for family fare, but also able to 'be improved', the first being a dish where the recipe uses 'fresh tagliatelle' - and because is not dried, this weighs 'heavy'. If using dried pasta, use about half the given weight before cooking.
Fresh pasta, bought over the counter, is more expensive than the dried, but (like many pasta dishes) at a pinch we could get away with using almost any pasta shapes. We could, of course, make the tagliatelle ourselves - this would then lift the dish to the higher level.
'Tagliatelle' is the name given to pasta strips that some call 'noodles'. If we have dried lasagne sheets, after cooking, these could be cut into narrow ribbons to give the same effect.

Another ingredient in this dish is smoked salmon, and it is certainly cheaper to buy smoked salmon pieces (scraps) rather than a 'flat-pack', although the quality may not be as good. The one luxury ingredient is vodka, and for fine dining it is recommended this be used. Otherwise leave it out.
This is so easy to make that my Beloved will be having it for supper tonight as - other than the tagliatelle - 'the makings' are all in 'store'. I may make the pasta noodles, or I may cook dried pasta penne.

Salmon and Vodka Pasta: serves 4
1 lb (500g) fresh tagliatelle
half a pint (300ml) double cream
1 tblsp chopped fresh dill
3 tblsp vodka
6 oz (175g) smoked salmon, cut into pieces
Cook the pasta in boiling water as per instructions on the pack. Put the cream, dill, and vodka into a small saucepan and mix together, the heat slowly and simmer for 3 minutes before setting aside.
Drain the pasta well, then add the smoked salmon. Pour in the cream sauce and toss until the pasta is thoroughly coated. Serve with salad leaves and warm ciabatta.

Before Christmas, the flat basket that holds my onions was full. There were large onions, red onions, medium sized onions, oval shallots and some smaller round shallots. Over the weeks these have been used regularly (hardly a day goes past without using an onion or three), so now there is more basket then onions, with only a few of the larger ones left, a couple or so mediums and several reds. More shallots than onions it has to be said. But at least should I wish to serve these as a vegetable with the quality meat purchased, have found a good recipe - here it is:

Sweet and Sour Shallots: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tblsp olive oil
4 tblsp light brown sugar
4 tblsp red wine vinegar
2 tblsp water
1 lb (500g) shallots, peeled
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tblsp raisins
salt and pepper
Put the butter and oil in heatproof casserole with the sugar, vinegar and water. Heat gently until the butter and sugar have dissolved then add the shallots, rosemary and raisins, shaking the pan so that all the shallots are coated with the mixture. Cover, then place the casserole in an oven at 200C, 400F, gas 6 and cook for 30 - 40 minutes, shaking the dish once or twice during the cooking time to turn the shallots. When tender, season to taste and serve in a warm dish.
Note: this is best oven-cooked when the oven is on for something else (like roasting a joint), otherwise these shallots could be cooked in a covered frying pan on the hob over a low heat- just remember to stir often, and add more liquid if necessary.

Final recipe today is for a Thai curry, but unlike many Thai dishes, no curry paste or lemongrass is used in this dish. Hopefully, the ingredients are all kept in our store cupboards. Having a good half of a large cauliflower (purchased mid-December but still perfect) might just make a smaller portion for myself when B has his steak and kidney.

Thai Cauliflower Curry: serves 4
1 x 30g pack fresh coriander, roughly chopped
3 shallots, finely chopped (or bunch of spring onions)
1 tblsp turmeric
2 oz (50g) pieces root ginger, finely chopped
1 good tblsp light muscovado sugar
1 x 400g can coconut milk
3 oz (75g) water
1 small (or half a large) cauliflower
1 small can sweetcorn kernels
2 oz (50g) frozen peas (thawed)
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
Make a curry paste by blitzing together the coriander, shallots, turmeric, ginger and sugar. Put the coconut milk into a pan with the water. Break the cauliflower into florets and add these to the pan and bring to the simmer. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is just tender. Do not overcook.
Stir in the curry paste, the sweetcorn and the peas. cook for a few more minutes until the vegetables are ready then stir in the lime juice, adding seasoning to taste. Serve with Thai fragrant rice.

Friday, February 05, 2010

All in a Name

Trying to discover what makes a gourmet meal, the photos shown on various websites of dishes with that name, have puzzled me, for they appear to be very similar to those that have been cooked in the Goode kitchen for years - often the recipes have appeared on this site. Sometimes it is the name we give a dish that makes it sound special. My favourite example is 'Poitrine d'agneau au chou' which sounds really special but just translates into Breast of Lamb with Cabbage. Nevertheless, a very good dish to eat.

To call a meal 'gourmet' means that the highest quality fresh produce is used, but not only that - it is HOW it is used. Also, when an ingredients is rarely used in a domestic kitchen, even when cheap enough to buy, this too can be included in 'fine dining'. So we might often see quinoa(pronounced keenwah) on a menu where it would be served instead of rice. Or if rice - then perhaps a red rice, or wild rice, something that little bit different.

Much is to do with fashion, for in Victorian times, oysters were so cheap that even the very poorest could afford to eat them - now they are 'gourmet' food. In my childhood, roast chicken was served only on special occasions, now this meat can be one of the cheapest, and eaten by most people several times a week. It seems the foods we eat rarely are the ones to choose when preparing a memorable meal (by this I mean a dish that has been enjoyed, not remembered because "it was awful") , and many foods that fall into that category are inexpensive (chicken livers for instance). When everyone regularly eats chicken livers at home, then the top restaurants will stop serving them, and because they have become popular, this will then cause the price will rise, so let us make the most of them while we can.

Reading up on 'gourmet food', this is more than just ordinary cooking, it is a way of preparing and cooking a meal that has a balance of texture, flavour and colour. While some chefs will spend many years perfecting this art, at the domestic level this type of meal is not that difficult to cook, as long as we keep it simple. Really only three things to remember - use quality ingredients, cook them correctly, and present the meal attractively.
We are probably now familiar with the 'tower' presentation. Perhaps a vegetable base (could be common or garden mashed spuds - sorry 'creamed potatoes'), on which is placed the same size or smaller round of meat or fish, this then topped with finely diced vegetables, concentrated 'jus.' spooned over, then served. How to eat it elegantly is a different matter. Once touched the lot usually falls over. But that would be our problem, not the chef's.

In all honesty, thought I would need to teach myself the finer art of quality cooking. But it seems it is not the case, for much of the gourmet food seen in photos on various websites, are much the same as come from the Goode kitchen these days, the only difference being that my Beloved wants substantial portions, his plate full with no 'fiddly bits' and drizzled 'jus'. So although the food served to him is pretty good of the whole (apart from the odd blip) the presentation not as good as it could be.

In the past have often cut financial corners by zooming in onto those offers, and not always buying free-range chickens. It was important at that time to spend less, not more. However, over the years have found that the more that cooking is done at home, the more money can be saved, and some of that now is being ploughed back into buying quality produce. As proved this week, it is still possible to buy the very best quality at a price we can afford - when on offer.

Yesterday was wondering if there was such a thing as a gourmet breakfast, and probably there is. Not sure what, but a glass of Buck's Fizz, followed by snippets of smoked salmon folded into scrambled eggs crossed my mind. It is how the eggs are scrambled that makes a great difference. The eggs are best put into bowl standing over hot water, heated and gently stirred until setting, although this takes longer, this makes them far more creamy with far less lumps than a 'greasy spoon cafe' might serve. Some people cook good scrambled eggs in the microwave, but let's not go there for the moment. At this time we are 'chef in the kitchen' not working for a motorway cafe.

Could a 'Full English' count as gourmet? Doubt it, even if the sausages served were butcher's best, the eggs free range, the bacon Gloucester Old Spot, an award winning slice of black pudding, fried tomatoes that had been home-grown, and a large field mushroom oozing with butter.

So maybe we should think less about the 'fine dining' aspect of food and concentrate more on just serving quality. The breakfast above has already got my mouth watering. Thoughts of a bowl of porridge served with cream and honey, home-baked bread toasted and served with butter and home-made marmalade. Plus a pot of English breakfast tea. What more can we wish for? All right, freshly squeezed orange juice, croissants with black cherry jam perhaps, and proper coffee. But I know which I prefer.

But still keeping with the theme, today am giving a recipes that are slightly more up-market than we might normally serve and like to feel they fit into Shoestring Gourmet.
The first is a lamb version of Beef Wellington - and this is a way to make meat go a little bit further (useful to know when paying for quality). This could also be made with pork tenderloin (but if so use a chunky apple sauce instead of the cranberry and omit the rosemary). Buy ready made puff pastry (many chefs use this) and if you have a 'lattice' pastry roller a thin layer of pastry 'mesh' placed over the top of each portion before cooking adds nothing to the final flavour, but does improve the presentation.

Lamb Envelopes: serves 4
4 x 4oz (100g) lamb steaks or lamb fillet
salt and pepper
3 sprigs rosemary (plus extra for garnish)
1 tblsp light olive oil (or sunflower oil)
1 x 375g pack ready-rolled puff pastry
4 tblsp cranberry sauce
1 egg, beaten
Remove leaves from the 3 rosemary sprigs, and chop finely. Set to one side. sprinkle seasoning over the lamb, then sprinkle over the chopped herb.
Put the oil in a frying pan, and when hot, fry the lamb for 2 minutes on each side, until sealed, then removed to a plate and leave to cool.
Unroll the pastry and cut into 4 rectangles, then roll each out large enough to wrap around a lamb steak. Place a piece of lamb in the centre of each piece of pastry and spoon 1 tblsp of the cranberry sauce onto the top of each piece of meat. Brush the edges of the pastry with the beaten egg, then fold over the pastry to secure the lamb, making sure the edges are sealed. Although these can be cooked immediately, the pastry is better if the 'envelopes' are chilled for 20 minutes before baking, and can be kept chilled in the fridge for up to four hours.
To cook, brush the surface of the pastry with beaten egg, stick a little sprig of rosemary into the top of each envelope, place on a pre-heated baking sheet (pre-heating helps to crisp the underside of the pastry), and immediately place in the oven (200C, 400F, gas 6) and bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden brown. Serve with vegetables of your choice.

Despite this next recipe being fairly 'rustic', as long as served with well prepared and cooked vegetables (the texture, colour and flavour of prime importance), it could easily end up on a restaurant menu, particularly when free-range chicken, Gloucester Spot bacon, and organic veg and herbs are used. Have you noticed how menus are now telling us the quality of the foods used? Probably to give a reason why they charge so much.
Chicken, Bacon and Leek Roulade: serves 4
2 chicken breasts, skins removed, flesh diced
6 rashers smoked back bacon, diced
1 - 2 leeks, washed and chopped
salt and pepper
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
9 oz (250g) self-raising flour
4 oz (125g) shredded suet
approx. 5 fl.oz. (150ml) cold water
Put the prepared chicken, bacon, leeks, parsley into a bowl, adding seasoning to taste, and mix well.
Put the flour into another bowl and stir in the suet with a pinch of salt. Stir in the water to make a soft dough. Roll out on a floured surface to approx. 12" x 14" (30 x 35cm) and place n a baking sheet that has been covered with a sheet of baking parchment. Brush the edges of the pastry with water. Spread the chicken/bacon mixture over the top leaving the damp edges clear, then fold the pastry over to encase the filling, crimping the edges together. Loosely wrap the paper around the roll (needs to be loose to allow for expansion) then place this on a sheet of foil, and wrap this - again loosely - around the parcel.
Place on a rack in a roasting tin, and pour water into the tin to reach the base of the parcel. Bake in the centre of the oven set at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 2 hours, topping up the water as it evaporates.
Remove from oven, unwrap the foil and paper - keeping any juices that may have collected - slice and serve immediately, spooning a little of the juice over the top.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Live and Let Live.

To bring us back to earth, for those who prefer something simple to make that is as far away from 'fine dining' as you can get, here is a very easy dish that can be made with foods we normally have in the house (but this doesn't mean everyone has all these, am just assuming...). Instead of canned potatoes, freshly boiled new or small potatoes could be used instead, in this case leave the skins on.

Creme fraiche is always a fridge 'staple' in the Goode fridge, for it makes a very easy 'cheese' sauce when mixed with grated cheese, when making a cauliflower cheese. It is also makes a good foundation for dips, and can be used as thick cream with desserts where the slighly sharp flavour complements the sweetness.
Creme fraiche does not split when heated, and at a pinch 'Philly type' cream cheese, dilted with a little milk could be substituted (or make up a packet of cheese sauce and use this - and don't tell anyone I said that!.
'Open a Can' Grill: serves 4
1 lb 7oz (650g) canned new potatoes
4 oz (100g) frozen peas
1 x 200g can salmon
salt and pepper
1 x 200ml tub creme fraiche
4 oz (100g) strong Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
Put the canned new potatoes in a pan of boiling water, add the peas and bring to the simmer. Cook for 3 minutes. Drain well and tip into a bowl. Cut each potato in half lengthways - the larger ones could be sliced into three.
Drain the salmon and flake the flesh with a fork, then gently mix this into the potatoes and peas. add seasoning to taste, then spoon into a shallow, heatproof bowl.
Spoon the creme fraiche over the surface and scatter the cheese on top. Place under a pre-heated grill for a few minutes until the surface is bubbly and golden. Serve hot.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Swap Our Gluts!

Before beginning with highlights of yesterday, wish to say more about the Shoestring Gourmet Challenge. Perhaps 'Gourmet' was not the right choice of word, for this does tend to lean in the direction of the Chateaubriands, Duck Confit, and Venison, and all too expensive for the likes of us cost-cutters. 'Gourmet' food is 'fine dining', and although my version means definitely smaller portions (with perfect presentation) and not very expensive at all. In a Michelin star restaurant, every last little thing - like the 'jus' (gravy to you and me) will have been made by hand, and reduced down to a drizzle on a plate,- and this can sometimes take hours to prepare. But again, nothing beyond any of us, if this is the route we wish to take.

As am not seeking a Michelin star, will be aiming to serve more substantial meals - made with quality produce - of the type that the top restaurants are now offering. These dishes often called 'Cuisine Grandmere' (like Grandma used to make), where the presentation is slightly more 'rustic'.

Even 'gourmet' food can be easy enough to make at home. Take chicken liver pate for instance. Whether we choose to serve this as a rough 'terrine', or a smooth spreading pate is up to us. But it is certainly an excellent and simply made pate. The top restaurants would probably serve it with Melba toast), and bread is also something that is also easy enough to bake at home.

We home-cooks need to recognise that we already serve good meals, purely because they ARE home-cooked from scratch. All we need to do to lift them up step further up the ladder is to make sure the ingredients we use are top quality. This does not mean we need always buy the most expensive branded of canned foods, for many cheaper brands are still worth buying. But we do need to be selective for a good brand of canned chopped and plum tomatoes is always worth buying (often they are on offer so then a good time to stock up), for however good our own tomato crop will be, the fruits never gain the depth of flavour that the Mediterranean sun will give. Even top chefs use the canned tomatoes. Many also use ready-made puff pastry.

Other additions to a gourmet's 'stores' are Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano), double cream, creme fraiche, extra virgin olive oil and butter. Definitely butter. A small cupboard containing bottles of 'cooking booze' (brandy, rum, kirsch, vodka, limoncello...) means that even a simple meal can be lifted into gourmet heights, and myself find a box of red Merlot and a box of white Chardonnay is very handy (open a top cupboard door, and stick a glass under the box tap) to add to certain dishes. As said before, this does not mean extra expense for us - we just ask for 'a bottle of ....' next time we are asked what we would like for a Christmas or birthday present. One bottle of spirit can last many years in a cook's kitchen.

One last thought, home made pasta is infinitely superior to any dried (also takes a lot less time to cook), and cheap enough to make. Although we have a pasta-making machine that does all the kneading/rolling out (although still have to turn a handle), this is not necessary for after kneading by hand pasta can be easily rolled out in the same way as pastry (but need to be much thinner) using a rolling pin, then cut into strips for lasagne, cannelloni, ravioli etc.

When 'eating out' often the cost of ingredients in a dish we are served bear little relation to the price we pay, and this can be because quite a lot of time and effort has been put into preparing the meal and the cost for this has to come from somewhere. The more chefs working in the kitchen, the more wages to be paid.
In our own kitchen there maybe only us to do the cooking, but then we don't have a restaurant full of people to serve. Begin with just one good dish, then when familiar with the making, add more to our 'collection' as the days/weeks go by.

Yesterday made a good start as did allow myself more time than usual. First the bread dough was made in the bread-machine, and whilst that was doing what it had to do, fetched the last of the chicken from the freezer - B having requested chicken for supper. There were three small drumsticks and two chicken thighs and two big winglets. Half-thawed the chicken then removed the flesh from the bones and put these in a stockpot with the winglets plus large carrot cut into chunks, one onion peeled and quartered, and a good two inches sliced off a head of celery. Also four bay leaves (from our Leeds bush, and frozen).
The chicken flesh was set aside and the stock ingredients put over a low light with enough water to cover (two and a half pints), then left to simmer until late afternoon. To keep the heat really low put a heat-diffuser over the flame. This very low heat kept the stock really clear.

My timing was pretty good for the moment the stock went onto the stove, the bread machine bleeped, so my next task was to knock back the dough, put it into the 2 lb bread tin that had been greased and floured, cover and set in a warm place to rise. The way I do this is to place the tin in a roll-top large plastic container (originally bought to hold cheese, but now always used when making bread or as a mini[greenhouse on the window sill) pour in a pint of hot water to surround the base of the tin, roll down the lid and the bread then rises in a warm and steamy atmosphere. Takes about an hour to rise.

While the bread was rising went into the conservatory and did some repotting of geraniums and give all the plants a good watering. Then a quick trip to the living room to do a crossword, then back to the kitchen to bake the bread, then back to do some sudoko, then returning to the kitchen where I tried to find an interesting recipe for chicken curry as this was B's final choice of chicken dish.

Found a recipe that had all the ingredients that were in my stores, and while holding the booklet in one hand and tipping spices into a pan with the other, B wandered into the kitchen and said he couldn't believe I was following a recipe and must confess this to my 'readers'. At least he was interested enough to realise that recipes could be followed, so began to read the booklet himself and was very soon choosing which dishes he would like to make. He began reeling off ingredients and I had to say whether we had them or not.

Having what was needed was only part of the story for then Beloved then asked "how can I find the things if I want to cook something?". That was a problem, especially as I had just asked him to fetch a jar of ground coriander from the spice shelf and he said there wasn't any. At which I got up from the table went to the shelf and immediately picked up the jar. He can look straight at something and swear blind we haven't got it. (Think this is a man thing for many women have said the same about their men).
So said that when he was ready to cook, I would put all the ingredients he needed on the kitchen table, even measure them out if he wished, and he could take it from there.
One day he may cook us both a meal. But don't hold your breath.

Although rarely do this - preferring to make my own adaptations - yesterday did follow the recipe to the letter, and ended up very disappointed. It dish not have the flavour I hoped for - far too bland for the likes of B and me. But at least it wasn't one of my recipes. Nevertheless B cheered himself up by later asking if he could start the loaf baked earlier that day, firstly snacking on yogurt, then a pile of toast, and then....

The above proves that even a home-made meal can sometimes prove unsatisfactory, and in this instance prefer to blame the recipe and not myself. Even if free-range chicken had been used instead of a cheaper one, this still would not have improved the dish. I myself should have tasted, then tasted again, and then added more spices. Maybe my spices were getting too old (that would be my fault), or a dash of lime or lemon juice would have improved it. There is always room for improvement.

Today begins with bringing the stock back to the simmer, then putting it through a sieve, and reducing the stock down by half - at which point it should have good strength of flavour and enough to freeze away a few tubs. Good home-make stock is another 'gourmet' necessity, and although not actually 'food' - things like home-made redcurrant jelly, mint sauce, other preserves and pickles are other 'tracklements' served with quality restaurant meals. Suppose really we should consider making our own mayonnaise, but will probably keep using a quality 'bought' one, and just make salad dressings at home. Same goes for horseradish sauce - that will still come from a jar as there is only so far I wish to go when feeding two of us. With a larger family - old enough to appreciate the difference - then might make more from scratch.

Have a feeling that I'm stuck in a culinary rut and becoming a sad old git. "Get a life" will soon be shouted at me. But is there more to life than good(e) food? If not left too late, one day may find out.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Shoestring Gourmet

What makes a shoestring gourmet meal? Shoestring is self-explanatory - it means a quality meal that didn't cost a lot. Well we can say that about a lot of the meals we cook. To a certain extent ALL home-cooked meals can turn out to be good, even if they do cost only pennies..
Gourmet stands for quality of the produce cooked, but also for standard and expertise of cooking and the presentation of the meal itself. Here we may have different ideas on this. May have got it wrong, but think Gourmand means the person who prefers and enjoys eating Gourmet food.

Those of you who watched Delia last week will remember that time when Nouvelle Cuisine hit our plates. Quality food it certainly was, but we needed a magnifying glass to see it. Since then portions have increased, along with the price, but there is nothing the chefs do that we can't do ourselves - if we wish to.
Fortunately Beloved is not a lover of 'jus' drizzled across his plate, and much prefers to have a small jug of gravy to pour over what he wishes. This makes the presentation a lot easier for me, although I certainly respect the produce I cook and try to cook it to perfection - especially when I know the cost (although not THAT much, as I never spend much more than the higher side of cheap) - and always make the serving look as appetising as possible.

As produce - my aim is to always buy free-range eggs, free-range chickens (occasionally), fresh produce from the farmers' markets, and grow as many salads and other veg that our small garden can contain. Tend to sit on the fence when it comes to the 'organics', for this does not mean vegetables are grown without using fertiliser and pesticides. These are still needed, but made from a 'natural' source, rather than chemicals.

In fact, read only the other day that all fruit and vegetables that have thick skin that would normally be removed before eating/cooking, are - internally - the same as those grown organically, for nothing sprayed on the surface will get down to the flesh inside. Citrus fruits, bananas, butternut squash... all come to mind. The thinner the skin, the more need to wash and peel. It is best to grow our own soft fruits then we can be sure these are as 'clean' as possible. Apparently onions and garlic are by their very nature 'pest proof', so no need to pay more for organically grown.

Eating a hearty breakfast of the Full English variety can be quite a good thing, as long as this would be the main meal of the day, and less eaten later. For one thing there would be enough nutrition there to keep us going for hours, and also give us time to work off those extra calories during the day. The old saying is "eat like a king at breakfast, and a pauper at supper" makes a lot of sense.