Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cook's Block

This page is not worth the writing if I don't offer a useful recipe. First a mention of meat in general, the type that does not take a long time to cook. Meat can be variable, for even though we think of a Strogonoff being made only with beef (as traditionally it is), this dish could be made with other meats that cook quickly such as lamb, chicken, pork, liver. As mushrooms are part of a Strogonoff, we could use a lot less beef, and a lot more mushrooms - especially the large field (portobello) variety, as these, when sliced into 'strips' resemble steak when cooked, and also absorb the juices from the steak - this making a little steak go much further, and even look as though there is more than there is.

Today's recipe uses a 'quick cook' stir-fryied, but instead of lamb, other meat can be used. If using pork, use sage instead of mint. Always choose ingredients that go best with the chosen meat.
The 'carbohydrate' part of this meal can either be rice, noodles, couscous, depending on your preference.

Lamb Stir-fry: serves 4
1 lb (450g) lean lamb, cut into thin strips
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
4 spring onions, sliced thinly
1 - 2 courgettes, halved lengthwise then sliced thinly
4 oz (100g) frozen string beans or peas (thawed)
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 good tblsp chopped fresh mint
2 tblsp light soy sauce
Break or chop the string beans into approx one inch lengths. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or wok and add the lamb, garlic and onions and stir-fry for 2 minutes, then stir in the courgettes, beans (or peas) and the mint. Keep stir-frying for a further 2 - 3 minutes until the vegetables are cooked but still have some 'bite'. Stir in the soy sauce.
If serving with noodles, these should be cooked, drained tossed in a little oil and then added to the stir-fry at the end. Otherwise serve the stir-fry over rice or couscous.

Using many of the ingredients in the above recipe, we can make something entirely different that will suit most palates and proves that we don't need meat to make a good meal. The cheese is variable, the original recipe used ricotta, but any cheese that crumbles easily could be used such as Feta Lancashire, or Wensleydale. You could even use a grated hard cheese, or drained cottage cheese.
What size IS a large egg? Many sold in stores are very little larger than medium. If you have really large eggs (sometimes called Jumbo), then use 5, otherwise use 6. Or if you use large eggs, use even less and more of the other ingredients. The egg (apart from the nutritional side) is there mainly to hold the other ingredients together.

Vegetable and Ricotta Frittata: serves 4 (V)
5 - 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tblsp chopped fresh mint leaves
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tblsp light olive oil
3 (about 1lb/450g) courgettes
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
5 oz (150g) frozen peas, thawed
4 oz (100g) chosen cheese (see above)
Stir the mint leaves into the beaten egg, adding pepper to taste. Chop the courgettes.
Place a large frying pan over low heat and add the oil. When hot fry the courgettes for 5 - 10 minutes stirring often, until just turning golden, then stir in the garlic and fry for a further minute before adding the thawed peas.
Spread the mixture evenly over the base of the pan then pour in the eggs. Add the crumbled cheese evenly over the surface, then cook over medium heat for up to 10 minutes or until the surface is nearly set, then remove the pan to a pre-heated grill and cook for a couple of minutes until the top is set, golden in colour and the cheese melted.
Cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve with salad.

Final recipe today is for mushroom 'burgers' (well a sort of burger). Great for both vegetarians and those who have need to keep the meat for another day. Can anyone tell me whether 'portobello' mushrooms are the same as the large field mushrooms we are used to? They look exactly the same. Not that it matters, for either could be used. Nay, I go further, if these are two different types of mushroom, then use the cheapest.

As the 'burgers' are served tucked into pitta breads, choose the size of the pitta according to the size of the mushroom (or vice versa). Some smaller mushrooms - when 'open' - could be used instead, and these would probably be better served two at a time in the larger pitta breads, or one in the mini-pittas - in which case you will need more (smaller) mushrooms..

'Portobello' Pockets: makes 4 - 6
8 large field mushrooms
3 - 4 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
half tsp each ground cumin, coriander and chilli powder
6 oz (175g) baby spinach
grated zest of 1 lemon
4 oz (1oog) Feta cheese, crumbled
8 pitta breads
Greek yogurt - for serving
Brush the mushrooms all over with 2 tblsp of the olive oil, adding seasoning to taste. Put the remaining oil into a frying pan over low heat, and fry the onions until tender, then stir in the garlic and spices and fry for a further 2 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile blanch the spinach by putting into a colander and pouring over boiling water, then squeeze out as much water as possible and chop the spinach finely.
In another frying pan, fry the mushrooms gill side down for 3 minutes, then turn and cook for a further five minutes or until cooked through.
Return the pan of onions to the heat and stir in the lemon zest, and spinach, adding seasoning to taste, then when hot, divide between the mushrooms, spooning it into their centres, pressing slightly down to form a flat 'burger'. Smooth a spoonful of Greek yogurt over the top of each and tuck each inside a warmed pitta breads. Eat with salads or a 'snack-in-hand'.

Yesterday mailed Tesco customer services to mention the problem re their new on-line ordering site. At very least hope they replace the words "from the frozen food shelf" under suitable products, otherwise no-one is able to work out what is frozen and what is not, as they seem to show fresh products even when frozen have been asked for. Just because something is sold bagged, doesn't mean it is frozen. Does it? My Rooster potatoes came in a bag that makes them look as though they are frozen spuds (which they aren't).
Have to wait and see what reply they give. Not sure that the 'powers that be' take much notice of a single voice.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Instant Satisfaction

Returning to the topic of convenience foods. One I have to admit to using, and quite often, is the cuppa soups (as I am sure you have realised). Again if cooking for a family, soups would ALWAYS be made from scratch, even when cooking for just Beloved I make his soup from scratch. But as ever, cooking for myself, take the speedy way to get my soup in the mug. just because it IS speedy. Having said that - when making chicken stock, do keep some in reserve in the fridge, so that it can be boiled up and the cuppa soup (usually tomato) added instead of using just water. This then really does taste like 'the real thing'.

Cuppa soups are also handy when needing to make a quick beef gravy (oxtail cuppa) or as a cooking liquid when slow-cooking beef or chicken (oxtail, tomato and beef or chicken cuppas). Have even added oxtail cuppa to a spag.bol sauce instead of a stock cube. Cuppa soups also help to thicken the sauce.
I try not to use these, but sometimes (waving the flag of old age), it is easier to be able to sit down with a mug of soup that is almost instantly made, than having to bother to go through the cook/blitz/reheat method that a good cook uses. Most of you will not agree with this approach, and suggest alternatives.
But before you slap my hand, if I had room in my freezer, would probably make all soups from scratch and then freeze these away in one-mug servings. Even then, having to defrost the soup would take too long for my instant pick-me-up. With me it is usually "I'm cold, tired and need a quick sit down with something warming to drink that will double up as lunch". To get this, it needs planning.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Cost of Convenience

Yesterday, brought in the large pot of mint that looked like dead twigs. Looking very closely, noticed a few green leaves just appearing at soil level, so carefully snipped off all the dead wood. hoping that some mint would eventually grow.. The pot was left on the kitchen table all last night, and this morning some shoots are now an inch high. Unbelievable. Plenty of them too.
The chives - brought in and now sitting on the conservatory windowsill - have also grown 6" during the last week.

Yesterday, weighed the home-cooked gammon - cannot remember the pre-cook weight but it was exactly 1kg after boiling. Checking Tesco prices for packs of cooked ham, these varied - but the better quality (as I hope mine can be classed) averaged around £1.36 per 100g. As 1 kg = 10 x 100g packs, the counter price for my ham would have been £13.60p. Cooking the reduced-price (£3.50) gammon has saved me over £10.
Plenty of packs of sliced gammon now in the freezer, plus several packs of sliced cooked chicken breast, and a plateful left after B's Cold Meat Platter (yesterday's supper) for him to make his sarnies.

As you know, some conveniences foods do end up in the Goode larder, and yesterday was interested in a feature in the daily paper re the pros and cons of some convenience foods.
Firstly we have to differentiate between convenience foods and junk foods. Junk foods do not save time, you cannot do much with them, they are not good for us, they waste money.
Convenience foods are so named because they ARE convenient, and not always additive loaded. With the fast-track living that seems to be done today, who can blame us for using SOME.

The feature was entitled "Are you just too idle to grate your own cheese?" followed by "the sales of so-called 'lazy foods' have risen by 14% in the last two years". Then came a selection of foods where much of the preparation had been done (see below), showing the (labour) time we were able to save by 'being idle', but also how much more we will be paying for this convenience. The critic's rating was also given, but have to say this I did not agree with " grating (Cheddar) is a grind, so this lazy option is good value", and "peeling and dicing onions is not hard work, but messy so these are a great idea".
Do I remember some years back that liquid egg was sold in packs "to save us having to crack eggs"? These were on sale only a very few weeks for there is only so much we are prepared to be lazy for.

Would appreciate hearing your thoughts on these:
ready peel garlic:
saves 3 minutes but costs 59p extra.
Rating: 6/10

grated cheddar:
saves five minutes but costs 46p extra.
Rating 8/10

prepared (bagged) lettuce:
saved 2 minutes but costs 70p extra.
Rating: 3/10

carrot batons:
saved 6 minutes but costs 40p extra.
Rating: 4/10

diced onion:
saved 5 minutes but costs 29p extra.
Rating: 8/10

prepared broccoli:
saved 3 minutes, costs 22p extra.
Rating: 7/10

ready-whipped (aerosol) cream:
saved 10 minutes, costs 66p extra.
Rating: 7/10

ready cut apple:
time saved only 30 seconds! Extra cost 34p.
Rating: 6/10

ready-cut orange:
time saved 30 seconds. Extra cost 21p.
Rating: 2/10

very lazy chillies (in jar):
time saved 15 minutes. Extra cost 39p.
Rating: 10/10

very lazy ginger (in jar):
(no comparative costing given)
Rating: 9/10

As far as I am concerned, a convenience food has to save me quite a lot of time before it is deemed worth buying. But not only that, often ingredients in some mixes - such as spices used in small amounts - would never stand the test of time if bought in larger quantities. How often do we have to throw away spices - albeit bought in small jars - that are used so rarely that the flavour has disappeared before we have used barely more than a teaspoonful? This to me is a great waste of money (although spices shaken over soil do act as a cat deterrent), and why I tend to favour using ready made curry sauces or curry pastes. But even this has not satisfied the cook in me (a step too far in my honest opinion), and believe that now have resolved some of this problem, but more about that another day.

The reason why most of us use custard powder instead of making custard from scratch is not just because it is far easier, but considering the price of eggs and cream, a darn sight cheaper. So that is a 'convenience' product that gets 10/10 from me.
It is when we move past the powder, onto the 'instant just-add-water' custard mix, or the canned custard, and onto the aerosol custard that then becomes that bit too convenient. But having said that, have found that canned custard freezes well, and doesn't separate when thawed. So this has its uses.
Same with instant potato. This lurks in the Goode larder because - once reconstituted (pref. with milk and butter) - this also freezes well. Far better than mash made the normal way.

Casserole mixes I find very useful, even with the knowledge this is not the correct way to make a good gravy base. If cooking for a family, and certainly for guests, it would be worth taking the time to make good cheffy-style casserole, but when cooking for one (Beloved and I tend to eat different meals), it sometimes seems too much work, especially when B would never notice the difference between home-made and a casserole mix (truly he wouldn't and if he did he would probably prefer the packet version).
Perhaps this is me just being lazy, but in the past have spent a whole day preparing a delectable meal for Beloved, only to find he scoffs the lot without a word then gets up and within minutes, makes toast or sarnies to snack on. At times like this feel that he doesn't appreciate (or even realises) the work that has gone into his meal, and until he does... I take short-cuts.

On the other hand, when there is no need to use a whole packet of casserole mix - for instance making just one serving - and only part is used, the remainder is left in the packet, folded tightly, then tucked into a sealed jam jar to be used another day (or maybe twice more).

Yes, sometimes I do use 2 minute microwave rice, but only occasionally. If a quick meal needs preparing, the speedier I can get this served the better. Microwave rice helps. The only other way to quick-cook rice is to soak it for several hours before cooking - but this needs advance planning. Not always possible, and having to wait a further 15 minutes to eat his meal can sometimes be too long for Beloved. In desperation he gets himself a slice of toast "to stave off hungerpangs", and then of course has lost his appetite to enjoy his meal as I hoped he would.

With Beloved now finding that some cooking is not that difficult, he feels the microwave rice would be a great help to him (which is why he brought in six packets yesterday "cheaper if you bought three at a time" he said). Often - when wishing to make a quick kedgeree, it is useful to use a microwave rice as the base (it doesn't have to be heated in the microwave, it also works heated in a pan), then just add spices, cooked fish, hardboiled eggs, parsley... Job done. Soon hope to report that Beloved has cooked himself a proper supper. Somehow doubt it will be THAT soon. One his confidence grows he might even cook a meal for ME.

Meanwhile will continue balancing the expense of some convenience foods, by making savings where I can be in control, such as grating oddments of cheese by hand (or in the food processor), slicing, dicing onions and carrots using my kitchen knife, and buying a whole iceberg lettuce and using it as and when (much longer shelf-life than the bagged leaves), BECAUSE, have just worked out that it would cost us £1.85p more if we buy only four ready prepareds: the onion, carrot, lettuce and grated cheese. The preparation time saved would be 18 minutes max. So, using time wisely and productively this means we can save (or are worth) at least 10p per minute.

How long does it takes us to drive to the supermarket, do a big shop, then return home? Working rapidly, using a shopping list, possibly one hour (if lucky). Maybe longer if driving some distance. At 10p a minute, that is £6 an hour PLUS cost of petrol. Far. far cheaper to order food on-line (all the offers are still there, some only for on-line orders), have it delivered, and use the time saved to do some home-cooking ( or grate cheese, chop onions etc.). As with any work, when we bring time and motion into it, we find more profit (or more savings) can be made. To a cook, a kitchen is a workplace, and despite the 'work' being unpaid, the better we 'manage', and the more efficient we can become, the easier things get and the more can be accomplished. In other words we can save a lot more money if we put our minds to it.

Remember that our time DOES have a value, so we should not waste it. Unless of course we wish. Slave-driver I am not. Unfortuntely (due to age) time I now do waste. So perhaps it has come to "don't do as I do, do as I say". You won't be sorry.

It was interesting watching recent programmes about bread. In two of them was the mention of the sliced white bread that we all so love to buy (Not!). The reason why it doesn't go stale as quickly as good bread is that the 'squidgy' loaves are cooked in steam. This makes the bread light, but when cooking it also absorbs moisture, and this is one way to keep the loaves a standard weight. The same amount of dough - cooked in a drier oven - after baking would weigh less (but taste a lot nicer).

Many foods are sold that contain more water than they should - we are all familiar with chicken flesh being pumped up with water. It was only the other Christmas that we bought a reasonably sixed plump frozen turkey, and after thawing it in a cold place (our porch), so much water had thawed out we were almost paddling in it. The bird itself looked shruken, with the skin like a deflated balloon, ending up with barely enough meat on it to feed four. We would have been better off with a cheaper chicken.

We can also see water flowing into the pan when frying cheap bacon. It froths and bubbles unlike pure fat that just 'melts'. Beef that has not been hung as long as it should also contains more liquid. Most of the time it seems we are paying for water when water is not what we wish to have.
"No added water" may be on a pack, but this doesn't mean flesh therein has been 'dry-cooked'. Often meat is 'steamed' to make it moister. Even my own gammon I prefer simmered in liquid rather than roasted in the oven. Leaving it to cool in the cooking liquid keeps it that little bit moister. Seen on packs of cooked meats "Added water" usually means by way of pumping in extra after cooking. Or so it seems to me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sharing the Load

For once, yesterday was a productive time spent in the Goode Kitchen. The grocery delivery arrived late morning, a much smaller order than normal due to the problems ordering on the revamped supermarket site. Even so, more by luck than judgement, had managed to order foods that were on special offer, which led to 'promotional savings' of one fifth of (20%) taken off the total cost. So was well pleased. Double points too.

Many of you will frown at some of my purchases, but have got to the stage where quite often it seems too much hard work to make everything from scratch, and have at least managed to work out that however hard I try to make them myself, some things are still better when bought.
So a few 'convenience' mixes do end up in my virtual shopping trolley, and am not ashamed to say I use them. If a manufacturer can help share the load with me, then am always grateful, especially when the end result is better than I could have done left to my own devices.

The way I see it is that a meal should always start with using fresh produce, of the best quality that can be afforded. After that, any specific flavourings (curry etc) might be best left to those who offer more experience. It is not as though the meal would end up as 'junk food' if such products are used, and if a reader is happy to buy and eat HP sauce, or tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and make custard using powder, then he/she is not the one to throw the first stone at me. We are in the 21st century, and however much we are being urged to start 'home-cooking' again, this doesn't mean home-cook everything.

One of my purchases was a 225g (8oz) pack of chicken livers. No one should be frowning at that for these are not a convenience food - but a protein packed and exceptionally worthwhile buy as they cost only 37p. The livers on their own can be quickly fried in a little butter for only a very few minutes and then served scattered over a crisp green salad. Enough to feed two or three served this way - and think how inexpensive this would be. As a pate the livers should make enough to serve four to six. They are also good when chopped finely and added to minced meats to make a variety of dishes.

Was able to buy the smoked streaky bacon that Beloved likes so much, also plenty of different cheeses (all at special price - as wanted extra to grate some), and one of my dives into the convenience pool was to get some canned new potatoes to put on my larder shelves. Tend to use these when potatoes are expensive, or when I have inadvertently run out of the small ones, or we are snowed in and cannot go out. In any case, these are cheaper than the 'fresh' new/small potatoes, being only 25p for a 567g can. This is the total weight of the can, when drained the contents weigh less, but even when drained the fresh spuds would cost 25% more.

These canned potatoes eat well when diced and added to a frittata (or Spanish omelette), also when heated then fried in a little butter until browned slightly. Also make quite a good speedy potato salad. They can also be added to a casserole towards the end of the cooking time. Fresh are best, but canned potatoes certainly save both time, money and they don't sprout! Maybe convenient, but they save money and also time when time is short.

My main purchase was 3 x 1.5kg chickens on offer for £10. This is where you are all jumping up and down shouting 'hypocrite', and you would be right to do so. For despite me saying buy the best we can afford, have to admit to viewing this chicken purchase purely from the economy angle.
My excuse is that Beloved really loves to eat chicken, if possible at least twice a week. As he also loves to eat quality meat on other days (this I now buy on-line when on offer because it is excellent and am prepared to pay for this) decided the chicken offer was the only way I could afford to keep Beloved content.
Perhaps my morals seem to be a bit mixed, and when wearing my both my economic and nutritionists hats know that cheaper chickens - weight for weight - are no worse or no better than free-range (same goes for eggs - although am prepared to pay more for these) - this does mean that I can keep my man healthy and food-happy on a limited income. You could say this B's happiness is my main reason to be, despite how much I appear to moan about him most of the time.
We have had the debate (heatedly) in the past re the cheaper chicken v free-range. We each are free to choose what, how and why we buy. Other than my pointing out the economics, let's leave it like that.

After weighing each bird, decided these had turned out to be good value as one was an ounce short of 4lb, the other two slightly less. Much more than the 1.5kg they were each supposed to be. Jumping from metrics to imperials is not always a good idea, but either way it showed that I seemed to be getting more for my money.
Why buying whole chicken from a supermarket, even if all are sold as the same weight (say 1.5kg), check the cooking times - usually printed on the front of the wrapping - for these will have be different if the bird is heavier than stated. The longer the cooking time (even if by only a few minutes) the heavier the bird will be. These are the ones to buy.

Two chickens were put into the coldest part of our fridge to be dealt with today, the third I set about jointing up. As usual I trimmed the fillets from the breast and managed to scrape off several other chunky bits from the carcase - these pieces were saved for B's supper. The joints/breast frozen separately and the carcase also put into the fridge to add to the others - then turned into stock. At one time used to remove the skin from all the joints, but yesterday left the skin on one chicken quarter as this can be cooked as an individual chicken 'roast', where the crispy skin will please Beloved.
Chicken wings are frozen in pairs, as these often save the day when my supply of chicken stock has run dry for the wings alone make excellent stock without the need of a whole carcase, so a bagful (six at least) will be kept in the freezer are 'back-up'. The wings can also be cooked as buffet 'nibbles'.

As well as the above, the gammon joint was put into water and simmered until cooked, then left to cool in the stock. Today will be weighing it before slicing, and also be comparing this against the price (by weight) of pre-cooked sliced ham sold over the counter. Tomorrow will be able to tell the the amount that has been saved by 'cooking our own'.

Due to me jointing up the chicken yesterday afternooon, (never have managed to do this cleanly), decided to do a 'quickie' supper for Beloved. Firstly fried half an onion in a little oil, then added the two chicken fillets (cut into chunks) plus the other scraps. After a few moments frying, stirred in 1 tblsp Thai Red Curry paste, and cooked that for a minute, then poured in a quarter of a pint of coconut milk (made using dry coconut powder and hot water). After a good stir, left it to simmer while I packed and froze the chicken joints, then decided there wasn't enough meat in the curry to satisfy Beloved, so fetched some small prawns from the freezer, quickly defrosting them in cool water. Decided not to bother with cooking rice AS WELL (how lazy can I get?), so went and fetched a pack of 2 minute microwave Thai Sweet Chilli Rice from the larder, and popped that into the microwave to cook. Meanwhile threw the drained prawns into the curry, and finally stirred in the last of the double cream from a pot in the fridge (about 3 tblsp).

It is not like my Beloved to rave over something, but yesterday rave he did. "You can make this again" he said, "lots of times". He loved the rice, especially liked the creamy sauce, and when I suggested squeezing a little lime juice over (to my taste the sauce was a bit too creamy), he found this improved the dish even more. Other than a quick taste of the sauce (which is why I suggested the lime juice) myself did not taste the rice, but obviously it was good.
For such a quick meal (even using convenience foods) this turned out memorable enough for B to comment (which he rarely does with such great feeling), so I have no reason not to cook it in exactly the same way again, and again, and again... (memo, write Thai Sweet Chilli rice on my shopping list).

When serving chilli con carne (was it the previous day?) Beloved dolloped yogurt on the top of his portion to help reduce the 'heat' of the dish. Yesterday asked B if the yogurt was alright (having made it myself using a bio-Greek EasyYo sachet) he said it was really lovely, and he was surprised it was 'home-made'. Home-made only with the help of EasyYo, but even so - cannot really call that a convenience mix. Or should I? Either way, an easy way to get a litre of yogurt that will keep for at least 2 weeks in the fridge, and cheaper than buying it ready-made.
Next time I order from Lakeland will get one of those assorted packs containing fruit flavoured Bio-EasyYo (1 pack each Strawberry, Cherry, Lemon, Raspberry, and Mango), then might be able to wean Beloved away from the more expensive fruit flavoured yogurts he keeps bringing in for himself (and that I end up paying for).

Went over to BBC 4 to watch the second (and last) episode of Fat Man in a White Hat. An American Chef's tour of France. We watched a famous baker make his bread - and oh dear, the baker wore dirty clothes that he never seemed to change, blew his nose on a tiny hanky which barely covered his fingers, then immediately prodded his finger into the dough - funny how health rules and regs don't seem to apply to France. Nevertheless the bread he made was wonderful, served in top restaurants where people often asked for an extra roll to secretly pop into their pocket and take home to enjoy later.
Even the baker's bread did not conform to exact sizes or weights. French sticks came out a bit wonky, loaves were all sizes, and experiments were made using different flours. No-one quite knew what would be on sale each day, it was how the baker chose to make and shape the bread. It all tasted wonderful, and that was all that mattered.

In truth, all good food can be simply made and cooked. We do not need any refinements such as manufactured products to help us on our way. Perhaps we ourselves are becoming too refined in our choice of dishes we wish to eat.

Another good prog. last night was 'Grow your Own Drugs' and this series continues highlighting the way Mother Nature has provided us with herbage that can illeviate many of the health problems we may have. Interesting to learn that because peas give us 'gas', when we eat mint with it, this herb eases the problem. Traditionally mint and peas have always been served together, and this could possibly be the reason why. A programme worth watching, either 'live' or on IPlayer.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Home Farming?

Nuts tend to go rancid if kept too long, and ideally - if not wishing to use them up within a few weeks - store them in the freezer, where they will keep in good condition far longer.

Today the recipe is made using nuts - which can be almost any that you have, hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts, cashew nuts, whole (chopped) almonds... just make sure they are unsalted.
This recipe also uses up any chunky cranberry sauce you have left in a bottle (although this is optional - and could also be spread on top of the cooked 'loaf' rather than an integral ingredient), and together with regular store-cupboard ingredients (lentils, curry paste/powder, tomato ketchup...) and home-grown herbs, we should have all the 'makings' to hand.

Lentil and Nut 'Roast': serves 6 (V)
4 oz (100g) red lentils
8 oz (225g) mixed hazelnuts, walnuts (or your choice)
1 onion
1 carrot
2 ribs celery
4 oz (100g) mushrooms
2 oz (50g) butter
2 tsp mild curry powder OR curry paste
2 tblsp tomato ketchup
2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 - 2 tblsp cranberry sauce (opt)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp salt
handful fresh parsley, chopped
5 fl oz (150ml) water
Put the lentils into a bowl, cover with water and leave to soak for 1 hour.
Meanwhile put the nuts in a food processor and grind them down (not too fine), and tip into another bowl. Using the food processor again, finely chop the onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms.
Melt the butter in a frying pan, tip in the vegetables, stirring to coat with the butter, then stir/fry gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder or paste and cook for a further minute, then remove from heat and set aside.
Drain the lentils, and mix them with the ground nuts, then add these to the pan with the ketchup, W.sauce, cranberry sauce (if using), egg, parsley and water.
Line a 2¼ (1kg) loaf tin with baking parchment or foil, spoon in the mixture, pressing down firmly, and bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 1 - 1¼ hours or until just firm. Check half-way through and if browning too fast, cover the top with foil to prevent the top burning.
Leave in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out - spreading cranberry sauce on top if you wish -and serve immediately.

Most cooks keep a head of celery in the fridge, celery being one of the Holy Trinity of vegetables (celery, onion and carrot).
In the store cupboard we might keep (as I do) coconut powder, or maybe a block of coconut cream. Perhaps goes without saying we make our own thick yogurt.
So this next, and quite unusual salad, is made with the above and very little extra other than a lime, unusual andl very refreshing, so worth making on a hot summer's day (if we ever have one). Similar to a raita, it eats well with spicy dishes (especially Thai curries) and also as a side dish to eat with grilled (barbecued?) meats. Instead of coconut cream or fresh coconut, desiccated coconut could be used.
Celery and Coconut Salad: serves 3 - 4
3 - 4 tblsp thick (pref Greek) yogurt
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
zest and juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
1 small head of celery (about 8 ribs) incl. leaves
third of a block of coconut cream, grated OR...
...flesh of half a fresh coconut, grated
flat-leaf parsley for garnish
Put the yogurt into a large bowl, and add the garlic and lime zest with seasoning to taste.
Grate the celery - reserving the tender leaves - and fold into the yogurt mix with the grated coconut. Leave to stand for 15 minutes to allow the celery juices to flow into the yogurt, but don't leave it longer or it will end up watery.
Spoon into serving bowls and garnish with celery leaves. Serve immediately.

Final recipe today uses up cooked rice which, together with other store-cupboard ingredients will turn into the most delectable fritters. Serve piping hot, dusting with icing sugar.
Golden Rice Balls: serves 4
6 oz (175g) cooked rice (pref basmati)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tblsp caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz (50g) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 oz (25g) desiccated coconut
sunflower oil (for frying)
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients (but not the oil), mixing well together.
Using a deep frying pan or wok, fill one-third with oil to 180C (when a cube of bread dropped in with brown in 15 seconds), then gently drop tablespoons of the mixture, one at a time, into the hot oil, and fry for 2 - 3 minutes until golden. Using a slotted spoon, removed cooked fritters and place on kitchen paper to drain.
Immediately (while still hot) pile the fritters on a serving platter, dust with icing sugar, and let everyone tuck in.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What's the Alt(ernative?

As not all of us feel confident enough to make a souffle, this is the perfect recipe to have a trial run and even if a failure (we all have those) we can at least eat what comes out of the oven for a light lunch or supper dish, for whether it looks good or not, it will still be perfectly edible. Practice will eventually make perfect, so do have a go. This is so easy, you should get it right first time..

Mushroom and Tomato Souffles: serves 4
1 oz (25g) dried mushrooms
1 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
1½ oz (40g) butter
1½ oz (40g) plain flour
8 fl oz (250ml) milk
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) grated mature Cheddar cheese
4 eggs, separated
2 sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
1 tblsp chopped fresh chives
Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover with warm water. Leave to soak for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile grease (butter) four ramekin dishes and sprinkle the Parmesan in each, rotating and shaking so the cheese sticks to the buttered base and sides.
Melt the butter in a pan, and then stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat then slowly mix in the milk. Return to the heat and cook/stir until the sauce has thickened. Add the grated Cheddar and seasoning to taste.
Remove from heat and beat in the egg yolks - one at a time - then stir in the chopped tomatoes and chives.
Drain the mushrooms, chop coarsely and fold these into the souffle mixture. Finally whisk the egg whites until soft peaks, fold a little into the mixture to slacken it, then carefully fold in the remaining whites.
Divide the mixture between the four ramekin dishes and bake for 25 minutes at 190C, 375F, gas 7, until well risen, golden on top and firm to the touch. Do not open the oven during the cooking time.
Serve immediately as souffles start to sink as they begin to cool. The centre of a souffle is always light and a bit creamy, so do not think they are undercooked.

There is more than one type of 'Parmesan cheese', so if you want the correct one, look for Parmigiano Reggiano. This are very strict rules when it comes to making this. If a cheese is just labelled 'parmesan', it probably isn't.
Grano Padono is another quality hard cheese, but not aged as long, so even though almost as flavoursome as the real PR, it is cheaper. So one to look out for.
Pecorino is slightly saltier than PR, much the same price, but one I prefer as it seems to have more flavour. Of course we can always save the last inch or two of a hard cheese such as a mature Cheddar, leave it in unwrapped in the fridge to dry out, and then grate finely as a (good) substitute for PR.

Here is a recipe that makes use of chorizo sausage from the fridge, and cooked prawns from the freezer, sundried tomatos could also be added. Depending upon the country, this dish is called a tortilla or frittata - myself tend to call it 'a thick flat omelette'. Instead of chorizo, snippets of ham could be used, or lightly fried bacon. If like to see the colour red (always appetising) in your 'omelette', add sun-dried tomatoes or chopped red bell peppers.
Surf 'n Turf Frittata: serves 2
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 oz (50g) chorizo (or other spiced sausage) sliced
2 tsp olive oil
3 large eggs (or 4 medium) lightly beaten
1 tblsp milk
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) small cooked peeled prawns (defrosted)
4 oz (100g) frozen peas (thawed)
snippets of sun dried tomatoes (opt)
Put the chorizo and onions in a pan with the oil and fry gently until the oil runs from the chorizo. When the onion has softened, remove pan from heat and pour away excess oil (this oil could be saved and used to fry onions for perhaps a pasta dish as it adds chorizo flavour without using more of the sausage).
Stir the milk into the eggs, add seasoning to taste, and pour this over the pan contents. Leave to cook for a few minutes, then stir in the prawns and peas. Continue to cook until the top is just beginning to set (approx 10 minutes) , then pop the pan under a hot grill until the top is cooked and golden.
Serve hot or cold, in wedges, with a crisp green salad.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cold Comfort

You may remember, some weeks back, when I made a batch of dough to make pitta bread, some of which I baked in the oven (make great pittas), the remaining balls of dough were separately bagged up and frozen. Later I removed two balls and when thawed (did not take as long as expected) they were kneaded together and rolled into a pizza base which was then covered in the normal way with tomato (pizza) sauce, so odds and sods as toppings, and finally little bits of mozzarella. Worked very well. Bear this in mind with the 'topping' recipe coming up, for it is always worth making dough balls (that contain a little olive oil) and freezing them away. Some supermarkets sell frozen dough balls to use in this way - at a price.

So today am giving another recipe to make pitta bread - this time baked on the hob and not in the oven, and also a recipe topping for 'flat-bread' (which could be a pizza base, or flour tortilla, and which only uses 8oz (225g) minced lamb to serve up to FOUR. Obviously not a main course in its own right, makes a great snack, AND with a side salad a light lunch or supper dish.

There are many types of pitta bread, some are flat (flatbread), others are plumper with 'pockets'. The best pittas are always soft, tender and moist. The following recipe makes a dozen fairly flattish pittas, and best eaten freshly baked, so if you are only wishing to make one or two, form all 12 balls, then freeze away the surplus to use as many or as few as you wish to make more pittas or pizza bases. If into healthy eating, use half wholemeal (wholewheat) flour with half strong white bread flour.
The amount of salt may see a lot, and could be reduced slightly, but it is there for a purpose and after all - divided between 12 pittas, not a lot of salt gets into each. No reason why the dough could not be made in a bread machine up to the second rising, and then follow the method, which appears lengthy, but when read through can be broken down into stages and then all will appear simple.
Hob Top Pitta Bread: makes 12
1 x 7g sachet instant (easyblend) dried yeast
1.25lb (500g) strong white bread flour
1 tblsp salt
2 tsblp olive oil
8 fl oz (250ml) lukewarm water
Put the flour, salt and yeast into a bowl and mix together. Into a larger bowl put the water and oil, whisking together to mix as far as possible, and before the oil rises to the top again stir in half the flour mix, and keep stirring in the same direction until the mixture is quite thick, then - while still in the bowl - knead in the remaining flour.
Remove the dough to a clean and oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for at least half an hour - and up to two hours. Then knock back the dough and knead again for 10 minutes or until smooth. Lightly oil the bowl again (if needed) return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave again in a warm place for a further hour or until doubled in size.
Divide the dough into 12 equal sized pieces (or balls). Flatten each and roll into a round about 8" (20cm) diameter and no more than half an inch (1cm) thick. Keep the pittas covered with a clean cloth while the remaining flatbreads are made, this prevents their surface area drying.
Place a large heavy frying pan (or girdle) over a medium-high heat. When fully heated, gently lay on pitta on the pan and cook for 15 -20 seconds, turn over and cook the other side for 1 minute.
When large bubbles begin to form, turn the pitta over again, where it should then begin to puff up. Using a clean towel, press the bubbles down. Cook for 3 minutes, then remove from the pan, place on a cake airer and cover with a towel to keep the surface tender. Repeat with all pittas you wish to make. Keep wrapped in a clean towel until ready to serve warm while they are still soft and moist.

This next recipe could use two-thirds of the above pitta dough (useful to know if having frozen some) or you could make an easier 'flatbread' following the recipe below this one.
Spicy Lamb and Tomato Flatbreads: serves 2 - 4
pitta dough (see above)
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
8 oz (225g) minced lamb
2 tblsp tomato puree
1 tsp sugar
1 red chilli pepper, desseeded and chopped
1 tsp dried mint or chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper
1 lemon, quartered
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped (garnish)
Put the butter and oil in a frying pan and when melted, add the onion and fry gently until softened, then stir in the garlic and fry for 2 minutes. Leave to cool in the pan.
Into a mixing bowl put the lamb, the tomato puree, the sugar, red pepper and the cooled onion and garlic. Add the mint and seasoning to taste, then - using clean hands - knead the mixture together. Cover with cling-film (not touching the meat itself) and place in the fridge until ready to use (later the same day).
Make the flatbreads by punching down the risen dough, kneading lightly then divide into two or four pieces, rolling each out into a thin round, stretching the dough with the hands as you roll.
Brush two pre-heated baking sheets with oil and immediately place the flatbread on these, covering each with a thin layer of the meat mixture, spreading it evenly right to the edges.
Bake for 20 minutes at 220C, 425F, gas 7 until the meat is cooked.
Remove from oven, slide the flatbreads onto serving plates, sprinkling each paprika, and parsley. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the top. These can be rolled up, cut in half and eaten in the hand, or cut into wedges and eaten like a pizza.

Flatbread Dough: serves 2 - 4
1 tsp instant dried yeast
half tsp sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) warm water
12 oz (350g) strong white bread flour
few drops sunflower oil
Put the first four ingredients into a bowl and mix together to make a dough. Turn onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Put the oil in a bowl and roll the dough into it, cover and leave in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Then follow recipe above.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spuds U Like!

To gain control over our spending - but still eat well - we need to find the best way to make use of good food when it is on offer. You could say 'being at the right place at the right time'.
Buying a gammon joint may not seem to fit into a tight budget, but once cooked it can be sliced as ham and kept frozen for many weeks to use in dishes or sarnies (much tastier and far cheaper than the best cooked ham sold in packs). Even the stock the ham has been boiled in can be used to make incredibly cheap soup using split peas. If you remember, the gammon joint (still waiting in the fridge to be cooked - and still within its use[by date) was reduced by half-price to £3.50. One cooked, it will be weighed and compared in price to supermarket premium cooked sliced ham, and will let you know the savings made.

Ignoring the moral issues, a barn hen is just as nutritious as a free-range, and whichever we choose to buy, jointing the chicken at home means the portions are cheaper (by weight) than those on sale, and we have the carcase to make wonderful stock. Both can be frozen.
Even moving a step down the ladder and not 'buying' chicken at all, we can usually persuade our local butcher (who normally sells free-range birds) to let us have his chicken carcases for free, and often they throw in a few winglets as well. So we can still end up with chicken stock made from quality chicken.
Yes, I know that chicken stock can be made using stock cubes, but it is extremely salty and nothing like as good and flavoursome as home-made stock. Although I do use beef stock cubes, and vegetarian stock powder, NEVER use chicken stock cubes, only home-made stock.

With the now 'fashionable' way to judge a meal by the price - such as 'Make a Meal for Four Pounds (to feed four)', the idea being to think this is a reasonable price, we then tend to believe all meals should end up costing that much. Break it down and it works out at £1 a portion, which to my mind is far too expensive. For one thing, a family of four is often assumed to be two adults and of two small children - who eat smaller portions - so a meal costing £4 pounds then might be only enough to feed three adults - the portions then working out at £1.25p a head.
All we have to do is prove we can make a good balanced meal for less than that. Even serving three courses - it should still be able to be done.

Now the days are beginning to be less chilly, we probably have given up eating porridge for breakfast, so have oats left in the larder. We may also have some chocolate and these together with other staple ingredients will make some good cookies. With Easter looming over the horizon, children may like to make these during school holidays. Omit nuts if you wish and add a little more oats and chocolate.
Chocolate Oat Cookies: makes approx 20
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) soft (pref dark) brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 - 4 tblsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz (100g) porridge oats or rolled oats
5 oz (150g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
5 oz (150g) chocolate, chopped into small chunks
4 oz (100g) chopped mixed nuts (almonds, walnuts etc)
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the milk, eggs and vanilla and beat together.
Put the flour, baking powder and salt into a sieve and sift into the beaten mixture, stirring until well mixed. Finally, fold in the oats, chocolate and nuts. Place in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up.
Using a soup spoon (or two teaspoons) place rounds of the mixture well apart on two large greased baking trays (or cook in batches using one tray) and flatten slightly using a fork.
Bake for 10 - 12 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until the edges are colouring, then remove from oven and leave to cool on the tin.
Note: cookies are softer than biscuits, but both continue cooking on the hot tins after these have been removed from the oven, and will firm up when cooling, so don't worry if they seem undercooked. If they end up too soft, they can always be popped back into a hot oven to cook for a further minute. Cooked in the oven until they are 'as you would like to eat them' after cooling (even if transferred directly to a cake airer), they usually end up far too crisp and unpleasant to eat.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No 'iding Place

Still working on 'using up', my suggestion today is using up the dried fruits etc, left over from making Christmas cakes and puddings, and making some pots of mincemeat ready for next Yule Tide.
Mincemeat improves in flavour the longer it is kept, so it is a good idea to make this as early in the year as possible. The also make good gifts, so make enough to be able to add to a food hamper etc.

Spiced Apple Mincemeat: makes about 4 lbs
1.25 lbs (500g) tart cooking apples, peeled and cored
4 oz (100g) no-soak apricots, coarsely chopped
2 lb (900g) luxury mixed dried fruit
4 oz (100g) flaked almonds, crushed
6 oz (175g) beef or vegetarian suet (granules)
8 oz (225g) dark muscovado sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
4 fl oz (120ml) brandy
Coarsely grate the apples (or slice and chop finely) and put into a large bowl with the remaining ingredients, and mix together thoroughly, then cover with a clean cloth and leave to stand in a cool place for two days, stirring occasionally.
Spoon the mincemeat into cool sterilized jars, pressing down firmly and taking care not to trap any air bubbles. If you wish spoon over a little more brandy. Cover and seal.
Store in a cool dark place for at least a month before using. Once opened, keep in the fridge and use within 4 weeks. Unopened jars will keep for a year.
Tips: if the mincemeat seems a little dry once opened, decant into a bowl and stir in a spoon of brandy or orange juice. Cover and leave for a couple of hours, then use.
To make this (or bought mincemeat) go further, add extra grated apple just before using.

One salad vegetable I like to keep in the fridge is cucumber. Trouble is I cannot always find enough uses for a whole one during the colder months, so tend to buy half a cucumber, serving it with salads, fish, or in a tabbouleh and tsatziki.

This next recipe uses not just cucumber, but also another store-cupboard standby - canned salmon. These together with breadcrumbs, celery, lemon (other ingredients we often need to find a use for), make up a really lovely fish loaf which makes a light lunch or supper dish, and perfect for picnics. The cucumber sauce could be made independently and served with poached salmon or other hot or cold fish.

Instead of celery, grated celeriac or grated fennel could be used. These should be tossed with lemon juice to prevent them discolouring.
Salmon Loaf with Cucumber Sauce: served 4 - 6
4 oz (100g) fresh breadcrumbs
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
2 eggs, beaten
3 oz (75g) celery, finely chopped
1 x 400g (14oz) salmon
grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
salt and pepper
half a large cucumber
1 oz (25g) butter
1 egg yolk
1 tblsp plain flour
Put the breadcrumbs, milk and beaten eggs into a bowl, mix well then leave to stand for 10 minutes.
Drain the salmon, put the fish onto a saucer and flake up with a fork, then add this to the breadcrumb mixture with the celery, two-thirds of each lemon zest and juice, and add seasoning to taste.
Stir until well blended, then spoon into a greased (buttered) 1lb (450g) loaf tin and bake for one hour at 180C, 350F, gas 4. Leave in the tin to cool completely if wishing to eat the loaf cold, or leave in the tin to cool down slightly if wishing to eat it warm.
Make the cucumber sauce by first peeling the cucumber, slicing it in half lengthways and removing seeds by scooping these out with a teaspoon. Then slice the cucumber - not too thinly, putting the pieces into a small pan, just covering with water, then simmering until the cucumber is tender. Remove cucumber using a slotted spoon, and set to one side. Pour the cooking liquid into a measuring jug and make up to half a pint (300ml) with water.
Put the butter into the small pan, and heat gently until melted, then stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute before whisking in the reserved cooking liquid. Keep stirring until it boils and thickens, then add the saved third lemon zest and juice, followed by the cooked cucumber.
Beat the egg yolk in a cup, the mix in a little of the hot sauce before pouring this into the pan and heat gently (but do not boil) until the sauce has thickened a little bit more. Remove from heat and add seasoning to taste.
To serve: loosen the salmon loaf around the sides of the tin and invert onto a plate. Serve sliced, warm or cold, with the warm cucumber sauce spooned at the side.

While not quite a storecupboard soup, this does use some dried ingredients, and caught my eye because it makes the most of seasonal (and other) ingredients that are inexpensive, yet the dish itself is striking and unusual enough to serve at a dinner party.
Vegetable Soup with Omelette Shreds: serves 4
1 egg, beaten
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 large carrots, finely diced
4 outer leaves Savoy cabbage, shredded
1.25 fl oz (900ml) vegetable stock
2 tblsp soy sauce
half tsp sugar
half tsp ground black pepper
fresh coriander or flat-leaf parsley leaves
Firstly, make an omelette by heating the oil in an omelette pan until hot (but not smoking) then pour in the egg and tilt the pan so the base is covered evenly. Cook until the top is set and the underneath golden, then slide the omelette onto a plate and roll up fairly tightly. Then slice thinly (to give the appearance of thin noodles) and set aside for garnish.
To make the soup, put the stock into a pan with the prepared cabbage and carrots. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes (or until the carrots are tender - some take longer than others), then add the soy sauce, sugar and pepper. Mix well, then ladle into soup bowls, scattering the omelette shreds on the top. Finish with a few fresh herb leaves.

The above 'omelette shreds' also work well when served with a vegetable stir-fry, giving animal protein without the expense of meat. Depending upon the size of the egg, and/or frying pan, two omelettes may be able to be made from one egg. Lay one on top of the other before rolling up and slicing, and scatter these over the stir-fry when serving.

Normally we think soy sauce is used only in Oriental dishes and marinades, but it has a way of improving the flavour of beef casseroles, spag bol meat sauce, Cottage Pie etc, so worth adding a couple of teaspoons when making the dish, as it gives a depth of flavour that we appreciate is there, but cannot think what caused it. A cube of chocolate works in exactly the same way.

Last recipe for today is more a method than giving exact ingredients as much depends upon the amount that we have to use up. You could call this a version of Tiramasu, and fairly adaptable, as the base 'cake' could be trifle sponges, coffee cake, chocolate brownies or whatever flavour goes with coffee. Traditionally marscapone cheese is used, but am suggesting using cream cheese that we should always keep in the fridge. I tend to buy several packs at one time as cream cheese is extremely versatile- both in sweet and savoury dishes - and often have a part-used pack that needs using up.

Cheat's Tiramasu:
Beat together two parts of cream cheese with one part of double cream until 'spoonable'. Stir in icing sugar to the sweetness you require. Cut chosen cake into cubes. Divide the cake between serving dishes (glass dishes are best to show the layers). Spoon over some strong black coffee (instant coffee is fine) blended with a little rum or brandy, and top this with some of the 'cream'. Cover with another layer of cake, moisten with more coffee, finish with the cream and dust with cocoa. Eat and enjoy.
Note: this dish can be made earlier in the day and kept chilled in the fridge, Add the cocoa when ready to serve.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cooking Something Different

Polenta is a dish that has little flavour of its own, and so often not made because of this. But then rice and pasta have no flavour either, but for some reason we don't bother about this because we know that itt is what we add or serve to these that makes them 'interesting'. And we can do the same with cornmeal/polenta.

Basically, polenta is made by heating cornmeal with water to make a very thick mixture which is then poured into a tin and left to set. Sometimes slices are cut which are then fried and served with a savoury sauce, or the mixture can be used 'plain' as in the following recipe.

Many chefs add flavour to the basic polenta by making it with a good chicken or vegetable stock instead of plain water, and this is an excellent idea. The more flavour we can put in the better. Various seasonings can also be added. We can experiment and make it taste how we wish.
Am using canned plum tomatoes in this dish as they always seem richer in flavour than the cans of chopped toms. But either can be used. Either blitz up plum tomatoes to turn them into a puree, or chop them up when they have been tipped into the pan.
Baked Cheese Polenta: serves 4
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 oz (75g) Gruyere or other mild cheese, grated
1.75 pints (1 ltr) water
good pinch salt
9 oz (250g) cornmeal or quick cook polenta
1 tsp paprika pepper
half tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 tblsp olive oil
1 x 400g (14oz) cans plum tomatoes
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Put the water and salt in a pan and bring to the boil then slowly pour in the cornmeal/polenta, stirring all the time, and keep stirring for 5 minutes. Beat in the paprika and nutmeg and cook until the mixture is thick enough for the wooden spoon to stand upright in it.
Line a Swiss roll tin with cling-film, and pour the polenta into this, levelling the surface. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion until softened, then stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute before adding the tomatoes (if using plum tomatoes chop them when in the pan), the tomato puree, and sugar. Simmer for 20 minutes, then add seasoning to taste.
Cut the now cold polenta into 2" (5cm) squares and layer these, with the tomato sauce, in a shallow greased ovenproof dish. Cover with the grated cheese and bake for 25 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6, until the top is golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.

This next recipe is for Semolina Cake, which - in this instance - is a cross between cake and pudding, and made by the hob method, rather similar to making polenta, but using syrup and not just water, also it does not need baking in an oven. It would probably work just as well if cornmeal was used and not semolina.
Semolina Cake: serves 6 - 8
1.75 pints (1 litre) water
1 lb 2 oz (500g) caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
8 fl oz (250ml) light olive oil
12 oz (350g) semolina
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Put the sugar and water in a heavy pan and add the cinnamon stick. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil. Boil for 4 minutes - without stirring - to make a syrup.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan and when hot, add the semolina, stirring until its colour changes to light brown, then lower the heat and add the almonds, and cook together for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside.
Remove the cinnamon stick from the hot syrup, and gradually add the syrup to the semolina mixture, always keep stirring, but don't look down into the pan as the mixture may spit at the start. When combined, return pan to the heat and cook//stir until all the syrup has been absorbed and the mixture is smooth.
Remove from heat, cover with a cloth and leave to stand for 10 minutes, the spoon or scrape the mix into an 8 or 9 inch round cake tin and leave to cool.
When cold, turn out onto a serving dish and sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Serve sliced.

The final recipe today is not a 'use-up' one (unless you have plain flour past its b.b. date) but unusual in that is a loaf of bread that is baked on a hob and not in the oven, so thought it well worth a try. Ordinary plain flour (type we used when making pastry etc) is the one to use, as the strong bread flour doesn't work in this recipe.
In the old days a 'bakestone' was used - this being a thick flat piece of iron that is sometimes called 'girdle', which - if lucky enough to have one (I did but stupidly gave it to one of our daughters) can be used instead of the heavy frying pan used in the recipe. But all in all, a heavy frying pan is just a bakestone with sides, so not that much difference. A DRY frying pan/griddle can be heated in advance - safely - for there is nothing (like oil or other fats) that will burn when heated. Often it is better (and safer) to heat a frying pan first, then add oil when ready to cook. Small amounts of oil heat almost instantly, and whatever needs frying (steak, onions etc) can be added at the same time. When putting oil in a cold pan to heat up, comes a knock at the kitchen door, or some other distraction, the oil left a minute too long and it ends up burnt (or catches fire).

Bakestone Bread: makes 1 loaf
1 x 7g sachet instant dried yeast
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
5 fl oz (150ml) water
half ounce (15g) butter, cut into small pieces
1 lb 2 oz (500g) plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sunflower oil
Put the flour into a bowl with the salt, sugar and yeast. Put the butter, water and milk into a small pan and heat gently until luke-warm, then pour this into the dry mix, stir with a knife to gather into a ball.
Tip onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth, firm and elastic. Put the oil into a bowl and place in the dough, turning until the surface of the dough has a covering of oil, then cover the bowl with cling film or a damp cloth, and leave in a warm place to rise (up to a couple of hours) or until the dough has doubled in size.
Tip the dough onto a floured board, and this time knead gently (aka 'knock back') just until the dough is again smooth.
Using a rolling pin, gently flatten the surface to make a round approx 8" wide and 3/4" deep. Leave to stand for 15 minutes to allow the dough to relax.
Meanwhile, heat a dry frying pan over medium heat, then carefully (using a paddle, fish slice or hands) carefully lift the dough onto the hot pan and leave to cook gently for 20 minutes, then turn the bread over and cook the other side for a further 20 minutes.
Both top and bottom crusts will end up crusty and brown, the sides remain pale and soft. Place on a wire rack/cake airer to cool.

Friday, March 12, 2010

More from Store

An ingredient on our shelves might be 'pearled spelt' or quinoa, but as each ends up (once cooked) similar to pearl barley, all could be used in the following dishes. If none of the above, then just use a risotto or Paella (or any other short-grain) rice. Have a feeling these next two recipe might have been given before, but as they use store-cupboard ingredients, fit into the 'use-up' challenge, so worth another mention.

This first dish used dried mushrooms (another 'need to find a use for') and the vegetable stock could be made from a storecupboard cube. Ideally use the cheese as given, but in none to hand, then use left-over hard cheese from the fridge which also grates up finely.

Grain and Mushroom Risotto: serves 4
8 oz (225g) pearled spelt or other grain (see above)
2 oz (50g) dried porcini mushrooms
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
4 oz (100g) closed cup mushrooms, thickly sliced
4 fl oz (100ml) white wine
1.75 pints (1 ltr) hot vegetable stock
1 tblsp creme fraiche or cream cheese
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan cheese
Put the spelt (or other grain) in a bowl and cover with cold water. Put the porcini mushrooms in another bowl and cover with 4 fl oz (100ml) boiling water. Leave both to stand for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions gently for 5 minutes, adding the garlic at the end, then add the sliced mushrooms and cook for a further 2 minutes. Drain the grain and add to the pan with the wine. Simmer until practically all the liquid as been absorbed/evaporated.
Drain the porcini mushrooms and their soaking water to the pan, and simmer until most of the liquid has again evaporated, then keep adding the stock, a cup at a time, until all the liquid has been absorbed/evaporated, and the grain is tender (takes about 20 minutes ). Stir in the creme fraiche, add seasoning to taste, and serve with Parmesan.

The last recipe today uses more storecupboard lovelies, as well as herbs from the windowsill and a few fresh salad 'fruits' that we often find need using up. Although the original recipe called for this to be served with chargrilled turkey, it would eat equally as well with fish, burgers, cold meats, canned tuna, or even on its own. Normally, bulgar wheat or couscous is used when making tabbouleh, this time quinoa is the chosen grain. As with most grains of this type, when cooked as per instructions, we could adapt this dish according to which grain we wish to use up.
Instead of parsley and mint, use parsley and coriander.

Quinoa Tabbouleh with Tahini dressing: serves 4
8 oz (225g) quinoa
1 pint (300ml) water
half cucumber, cut into small chunks
8 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
3 spring onions, finely sliced
handful each fresh parsley and mint, finely chopped
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
2 tblsp tahini
2 tblsp Greek yogurt
juice half a lemon
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 tsp runny honey
3 tblsp water
Put the quinoa into a saucepan and pour over the water, cover and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the water has been absorbed (as we cook rice). Turn off the heat but leave the lid on and leave for 10 minutes if you wish the quinoa to be more tender.
Otherwise remove lid and leave to cool whilst preparing the salad.
Put the cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions, and herbs into a bowl, pouring over the olive oil and lemon juice, adding seasoning to taste. Mix well then add the quinoa and toss together.
Make the dressing by mixing together the tahini, yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and honey, with the water and use this to pour over grilled meats served with the tabbouleh. Or just drizzle some over the tabbouleh if eaten alone.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Foods for Thought

Brisket is a very useful and inexpensive cut of beef. Not only is it good eaten as we would a roast, for perhaps Sunday lunch, it also eats well sliced when cold. Good with salads, and in sarnies etc. Leftovers could be minced and turned into Cottage pie.

Taking brisket as the main ingredient, we could then cook a pot-roast using root and other vegetables we wish to use up. These could be a mixture of red and/or white onions. butternut squash, parsnips, swede, turnips, chopped red and/or yellow peppers, carrots and celery.
Brisket Pot Roast: serves 4
1 brisket of beef
1 red or white onion, chopped
2 tblsp cider vinegar
2 tblsp brown sugar (pref dark brown)
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1.5 pints (800ml) hot beef stock (made from a cube)
salt and pepper
chosen vegetables (see above)
Sear the brisket in hot oil in a frying pan, then transfer to an oven-proof casserole. Add the onion to the pan and cook for a couple or so minutes and then stir in the cider vinegar, sugar, herbs and stock, bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then pour this ovr the meat in the casserole dish. Cover with a fitted piece of greaseproof paper (to prevent too much evaporation) and place on lid. Cook at 170C 325F, gas 3 for up to 3 hours, or until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally, and topping up with more boiling water if becoming too dry.
Season and add the prepared (chopped or cubed) vegetables 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Serve with mashed or jacket potatoes and a green vegetable.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Using Up...

To cook puff pastry with an even and flat top - as when wishing to slice and fill with cream (then ice the surface), chefs often place the pastry on a pre-heated baking sheet, then cover this with another baking sheet so as the pastry rises, it can only rise as far as the sheet above - keeping the surface flat. The best way to do this is use something to keep the sheets apart (hot air needs to flow between) so the top one doesn't rest on the pastry - for then it would never get a chance to rise.

However (although not yet tried this) it might work if a couple or so sheets of foil were folded (to give a little weight) and placed shiny side down over the surface (but not sides) of the pastry. Light enough to let the pastry rise, but giving enough support to keep the pastry flat. Must try it sometime.

If using canned pineapple rings, often we can save a couple or three to use in another dish. These, once drained, will freeze very well, and one can be taken out and easily cut into pieces to add to a Chinese stir-fry, or maybe to a fruit salad. The pineapple juice from the can can also be used to make up a pineapple jelly, or added to fruit salad, or frozen away to use in a sweet and sour sauce.
Rather than open a can of crushed pineapple to make the following, just finely chop some (frozen?) pineapple rings and use with desiccated coconut (another ingredient that often waits in the larder wings). The recipe uses a pancake mix (this is often no more expensive than making pancakes from scratch) because less liquid is needed than when making normal pancakes, and these end up more like Scotch pancakes (aka drop scones). Ideally use full-cream milk, or semi or skimmed milk fortified with some dried milk powder. Alternatively use diluted evaporated milk.

Pineapple and Coconut Pancakes: makes 16
1 x 250g pack pancake mix
4 oz (100g) desiccated coconut
1 egg, beaten
12 fl oz (350ml) milk (pref full cream)
8 oz (200g can) crushed pineapple
(2 tblsp Golden Syrup for serving)
Put the first five ingredients into a bowl and mix together to make the batter.
Heat a little oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, then pour rounded tbslp of the batter into the pan, flattening tops slightly.
Fry for 2 minutes until bubbles form on the surface, then turn over and fry for a further 1 - 2 minutes, both sides should be golden. As these are cooked, lay on a cake airer, cover with a tea cloth and cook the remaining batter in batches, in the same way.
Serve warm, two or three per person, with Golden Syrup drizzled over, and top with a spoon of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt.

Many of us keep a pack of stuffing mix in our larder. Often it is only half a pack, left over from Christmas. Also we may have a sausage in the freezer we wish will feed more than one. Same goes with a couple of rashers of bacon. So here is a suggestion to make a small amount of meat also go that little bit further. We can use the idea with chicken breast or pork fillet, both beaten thinly to be able to wrap it round the filling.
The amount it will serve depends more on the amount of meat used. As - after cooking - the meat 'roll' is then sliced, depending on whether a lunch or more a main-course, this could feed two to four people.
Savoury Slices:
2 oz (50g) sage and onion stuffing mix
1 - 2 skinned sausage
1 small apple, grated
1 chicken breast OR...
1 small pork fillet
2 - 3 rashers of bacon
Make up the stuffing mix with water as directed on packet, then mix this with the sausage meat and grated apple. If using chicken breast, split this nearly through and open up. Cover with cling-film and bash with clenched fist or rolling pin to flatten. If using pork fillet, slit through and bash thinly in the same way.
Spread the stuffing mixture down the middle of the meat, and roll the sides over to make a parcel, tucking the ends in underneath.
Take the bacon and lay the rashers flat, stretching each with a knife, then wrap around the chicken (or pork). Place in a roasting tin and cook at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 minutes. Leave to rest for five minutes, then slice and serve with roasted vegetables (or roasted parsnips and potatoes, green peas etc).

Make use of foods that - in the past - might have been thrown away. Blitz stale bread (even the end crusts) into crumbs and store in the freezer. This saves so much time when a recipe calls for fresh breadcrumbs, as one less job to do on the day.
Those last inches of cheese left in the fridge. Too hard to even nibble. But when left to become hard as Parmesan, they can be grated and used with or instead of Parmesan. Personally feel that a mixture of grated hard cheeses has a lot more flavour and obviously far cheaper than the famous Parmigiano Reggiano. In my opinion Pecorino cheese although very similar to, has much more flavour than Parmesan.
Grated cheese keeps well in the freezer and ready to use for cheese sauces, risottos, pizzas, mixing with mashed potato, and sprinkled over pasta bakes.

This next dish is a version of the vegetarian Glamorgan Sausages, and uses both grated cheese and breadcrumbs (hopefully by now these will be already in your freezer). It doesn't really matter whether leeks, white onions, red onions or shallots are used, just as long as one of them is. Practically all the ingredients fit into what we might wish to use up - the breadcrumbs can be brown or white, the herbs can also be varied according to our taste. Use any hard cheese, or a mixture. Mustard can be the Hot English, the mellow Dijon, or (pref) wholegrain. Chilli powder is optional, but as with many meat based sausages, different flavours could be added, so the following sausages could be curry flavoured, chilli flavoured, horseradish flavoured or whatever flavour you choose (but be sensible - doubt that chocolate flavoured sausages would go down well). Every time we make these sausages, we can change the flavour.

Vegetarian Sausages: makes 8 (V)
3 tblsp sunflower oil
2 leeks (see above) finely chopped
1 tsp chilli powder (or chilli sauce)
7 oz (200g) fresh breadcrumbs
5 oz (150g) grated Cheddar (see above)
2 tsp made mustard (see above)
handful fresh chives (or other herbs) finely chopped
3 eggs
salt and pepper
Heat 1 tblsp oil in a pan and lightly fry the leeks until softened. Then add the chilli (or chosen flavouring) and mix well. Remove from heat and spoon into a bowl. Add three-quarters of the breadcrumbs, the cheese, mustard and two of the eggs. Mix well, adding seasoning to taste.
Place the bowl in the freezer (not fridge - unless leaving longer) for five minutes to really chill down, meanwhile putting the remaining crumbs into a shallow dish, the remaining egg (beaten with a little salt and pepper) into another dish.
Shaped the chilled mixture into 8 sausages, and dip each first into egg, then into breadcrumbs - rolling around to cover. Heat remaining oil in a pan and fry over medium-high heat for 10 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.
Good served with salad and chutney.

Monday, March 08, 2010

It Pays to Experiment

This recipe caught my eye because the Goode kitchen has all the makings. It is unusual, but a very tasty way to make a snack or light lunch. If possible use slices of French bread or baguette to make the toast, or perhaps granary bread. Otherwise use what bread you have. If possible, use both red and green apples (for colour effect) but as some apples are tinged with red on one side, green on the other, use these instead. Or just use apples you have and forget the colour. Eat with your eyes shut.
Blue cheese works best, and it doesn't HAVE to be Stilton. Suppose at a pinch, ordinary grated Cheddar could take its place. But you get the idea - cheese and apple. Try different cheeses from time to time and choose your own favourite.

If preferring to use a grill instead of the oven, lightly toast the bread, then add topping as per recipe, do not place too close to the grill or the apples may burn. Alternatively, put the apples on the toast and the cheese on top of the apples, then these can be placed nearer the grill until the cheese melts.
Cheese and Apple Toasties: serves 4
8 slices chosen bread (see above) toasting thickness
2 tsp olive oil
butter or sunflower spread
1 large red apple, cored and thinly sliced
1 large green apple, cored and thinly sliced
1 good tsp wholegrain mustard
1 good tsp honey
5 oz (150g) Stilton cheese, crumbled
Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 10 mins at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until the slices are beginning to turn crunchy.
Meanwhile heat the oil and butter/spread in a small pan and fry the apple slices for 6 or so minutes until they begin to turn golden, stir in the mustard and honey and cook for another couple of minutes.
If you have your timing right, the bread will then be ready. Pile the crumbled Stilton on top of the toasties, then top with the apple mixture (some red skinned, some green) then return to the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese has begun to melt. Serve at once.

At the bottom of our veggie drawer in the fridge will always be found a few vacuum packs of beetroot, and once opened we have to find a use for the beets not eaten, so here is a recipe for a version of 'borscht' (beetroot soup), the other ingredients being also part of my 'basic stores'. Because the idea is to use up odds and ends, this recipe makes only enough to serve one or two (depending upon appetite) but can easily be extended to make more. Traditionally, borscht is made using beef stock. Suggest using a stock cube (because most of us have them- some of mine are years old), and we can make the choice between using beef OR vegetable. If using canned potatoes (often we wish to find a use for them) the ingredients need less cooking time.
Beetroot Soup: serves 1 - 2
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 shallot (or piece of onion) chopped
finger length piece of celery, thinly sliced
3 oz (75g) potatoes, peeled and diced
5 oz (150g) cooked beetroot (more if you wish)
5 fl oz (150ml) vegetable stock (see above)
salt and pepper
(sour cream, creme fraiche or yogurt for serving)
Heat the oil in a pan and gently sauté the onion, celery, and potatoes (if raw) for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Then stir in the diced beetroot and canned potatoes (if using). Add the stock and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about half an hour or until all the veggies are tender. Pour into a blender or food processor and blitz to a puree (or use a stick blender and puree in the pan itself), then return to the pan and heat through.
Season to taste and serve with a dollop of the soured cream and (optional) a sprig of dill (so budding gardeners, this is another useful herb we should be growing).

Sunday, March 07, 2010

More CHEating

Most of us keep canned tomatoes in our storecupboard, red lentils in a jar, and carrots and onions in our veggie basket, also a last rasher of bacon that needs using up. For economy, buy the packs of bacon offcuts, for any oddments can be used in the following dish. If you have all the above then this is the soup for you.
Lentil and Bacon Soup: serves 4
5 oz (150g) bacon pieces, chopped
1 onion, chopped
8 oz (225g) carrots, diced
4 oz (100g) red lentils, rinsed
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
14 fl oz (400ml) water
pinch dried herbs
Put half the bacon into a dry pan and fry until crisp, then set aside.
Put the oil with the rest of the bacon. the onion and carrots in a pan, cover and fry gently until for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Then add the lentils, tomatoes, herbs and the water, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for a further 20 minutes.
When cooked, either liquidise using a food processor, or stick blender then return to the pan and heat until almost a simmer but NOT boiling.
Serve in individual bowls sprinkling the top with the crispy bacon bits. Eats well with crusty bread.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Love Your Larder

What I'm aiming to do is give recipes over the next few weeks that will get us using more of the ingredients that most of us have, but not only this - each recipe can be adapted to use 'something else', for we all have different ideas of what makes good food. Some like spicy, some like creamy. Take an easy recipe then make it your own (using of course, only what you've got).

But even before we get that far, we could start by building up a stock of home-made mixes that save so much time when we wish to make something. We can blitz up flour and butter then keep it chilled (fridge or freezer) ready to make pastry, or by adding sugar and maybe a few oats - turn some of it into a crumble topping. We can also grate cheese and store this ready for many dishes.

With or without a bread-making machine, we can make dough balls and freeze these ready to turn into pitta bread or pizza bases.

The Basic Recipe below is for a scone mix which can be used in mix that can be used - in several different ways. The idea came from a old cookery mag, and have adapted the recipes to fit into my 'challenge'. Bearing in mind the scone mix is similar to pastry mix (using flour and butter although not in the same proportions), so some pastry mix could be used for making the scones if more flour was then added. It is not a bad idea to keep a small notebook and write down variations - such as "to make scone dough, weigh some pastry mix and add half the weight in flour, plus baking powder in proportion".

When making mixes such as this, if wishing to store and perhaps use some to make savoury dishes, omit the sugar and add this when preparing to cook.
Basic Scone Mix: makes 9 scones
12 oz (350g) self-raising flour
pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
3 oz (75g) butter
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) natural yogurt
4 tblsp milk (pref full fat)
Blitz the first four ingredients in a food processor. This can then be stored in containers in the fridge or freezer. If making and baking immediately, the sugar can be blitzed with the dry ingredients.
Warm the milk and yogurt together, then mix into the dried scone mix after adding the sugar. Working fast, stir the lot together with a round-ended knife (like a butter knife) and as soon as it has come together, stop. Do not overwork.
Tip the dough onto a floured surface and turn sides to middle, kneading just enough to make a smoothish dough. Better to under knead than over. Roll lightly to 1 1/2" (4cm) thick, then dip a scone cutter into flour and stamp out rounds. Push the scraps together and repeat until all the dough has been used up.
Have ready a preheated baking sheet, sprinkle a little flour over this, then place on the scones, brushing tops with egg wash. Bake for 12 minutes at 220C, 425F, gas 7.
These (like any scones) are best eaten warm and certainly the day they are made. Split and eat with jam and clotted cream (or just butter and jam with a squirt of aerosol cream on top - then this is truly a storecupboard feast).
If wishing to make fruit scones, add dried fruit to the flour before adding the 'wets'.

If you wish, you could turn the basic scone dough (omit the sugar) into a savoury Bread. Make the vegetarian version below as it stands, or include snippets of fried bacon or ham. Other herbs could be used. Think Italian and add a few chopped olives, and or sun-dried tomatoes, roll the dough out thinner and dimple the surface with finger tips, tuck in a sprig or two of fresh rosemary and drizzle a little olive oil over the top. This type of bread can be made using all sorts of tasty ingredients that we have in one or other of our kitchen cupboards and are aching to find a way to use them. To keep this almost 100% storecupboard, used drained and sliced canned new potatoes. Keeping a tube of garlic puree in the larder saves using a fresh clove.

Cheese and Potato Bread: serves 8
2 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 batch Basic Scone dough (no sugar)
8 oz (225g) cooked new potatoes, thinly sliced
1 tsp chopped rosemary leaves (plus extra sprigs)
2 oz (50g) Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan) grated
3 oz (75g) Gruyere or Cheddar cheese
Heat the oil in the pan, stirring in the garlic. Cook gently for 5 minutes so the flavour permeates the oil. Set aside.
Place the Scone dough onto a floured surface and roll lightly into a larger rectangle. Scatter over the potatoes, and chopped rosemary with some of the garlic oil. Take the Gruyere cheese and grate half, dicing the rest. Scatter the diced cheese and most of the grated cheese over the (now) oily potatoes, then roll the dough up into a ball, knead a few times, shape into a round and place on a floured baking sheet.
Mark the top with a knife, scoring lightly from side to side to form 8 triangles, then sprinkle over the remaining grated cheese, and drizzle over the rest of the garlic oil. if you wish stud with a few small sprigs of rosemary.
Bake for 25 minutes at 220C etc until the bread has risen, turned golden and sizzling around the edges. Best eaten freshly baked while still warm.

The final dish using the Scone Mix (although am sure you can think up other ideas to use it) can be eaten as a tea-time treat, or cut larger to serve as a 'pudding', and is a variation of the Apple Strudel. To keep this at cheat's level, make using canned or frozen apples
Scone Strudel: makes 10
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tblsp demerara sugar
4 tblsp butter melted
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2 oz (50g) sultanas or raisins
Basic Scone Mix ingredients
1 egg (for glazing)
Mix the half the cinnamon and half the sugar into the butter, then mix this with the apples and sultanas. Add the rest of the cinnamon to the Scone Mix flour then make up the dough as given in Basic Scone Mix.
Tip the dough onto a floured surface and roll out to 40 x 30 cm (mislaid my measure so not sure what that is in inches). Spread the buttery apples/fruit over the surface then roll up from the long side, tucking the ends under. Cut across into ten pieces (or fewer larger ones) and brush the surface with beaten egg before scattering over the remaining sugar. Take a preheated baking sheet, sift with flour then place the 'Strudel's on this. Bake for 14 or so minutes at 220C until golden and risen. Eat warm with custard, cream or what you will.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect.

I leave you today with an alternative - and very tasty - topping to a casserole, which makes a change to dumplings. This works equally as well with a meat based stew or a vegetable one. Depending upon how many you wish to serve, use as many slices of bread as you need to cover the surface of the casserole, remembering the slices are overlapped. The amount given is to top a casserole to feed six, cooked in a 2 litre pot, but see no reason why extra slices couldn't be prepared, then interleaved and frozen, to be thawed and put on top of another casserole at a later date.
The timings are based on a casserole cooked at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 2 hours. If wish to cook your casserole at a lower heat for a longer time, allow for this, and increase the heat after adding the bread to allow it to crisp up.

Marmite and Mustard Casserole Topping:
a couple of dozen or so thin slices baguette
1 clove garlic, peeled
unsalted butter, softened
Dijon mustard
Rub the bread slices with the garlic on one side only. Butter the reverse side and spread with Marmite, mustard, or both.
Thirty to forty minutes before the casserole is cooked, remove the lid and place the sliced bread, butter/spread side up, overlapping the slices slightly, and pushing the under (garlic) side into the gravy. Return to the oven, uncovered, and cook for 30 -45 minutes longer or until the bread is golden and crisp. Serve immediately.

The above 'crusty topping' reminds me of the bread and cheese which is toasted then floated on top of French Onion Soup. So see no reason why it couldn't be slices of buttered bread topped with grated cheese, or buttered bread, mustard and cheese, to pop on top of a casserole. Cheese would be particularly good if the casserole is veggie based. An 'instant spread' could be made by mashing butter with mustard, or butter with Marmite, or butter with mustard AND Marmite. Store this in pots in the fridge and use when required (might even work with breakfast toast). Goes without saying that grated cheese should always be to hand in the fridge/freezer.