Saturday, February 12, 2011

What Grows Together Goes Together

Am giving a pared-down version of the Fork Biscuit recipe - easy enough to follow, so if you can't be bothered to go back through the Archives this saves a bit of time. Have to say though - early 'blogs' on this site are absolutely packed with economical tips and amazingly good (and cheap, and easy) recipes, so if you ever do have a few minutes to spare, a good idea to start reading your way through from the start (Sept. 2006).
Fork Biscuits:
4 oz (100g) butter or margarine (softened)
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
5 oz (150g) self-raising flour
Using a fork, cream together the sugar and butter/marg, then work in the flour. Knead to a dough (this can then be rolled into a thick sausage and wrapped/chilled/frozen to use later. Or continue by breaking off bits of dough and shape into walnut-sized balls and place well apart on greased baking sheets lined with baking parchment. Use a wetted fork and press each ball down, leaving an imprint of 'ridges' on the top. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 15 minutes.
Add flavourings to the butter/cream when making one batch only.
citrus: add the grated zest of one orange or one lemon.
ginger: add 1 tsp ground ginger
chocolate: replace half tsp flour with cocoa.
If adding flavourings AFTER the mix has been made. Cut chunks from the chilled dough, leave at room temperature to soften, then work citrus zest, chopped crystallized ginger, or grated chocolate into the dough before forming into balls and pressing down.
Tip: When baking any biscuits, always best to remove them from the oven before you think they are 'done'. Most biscuits continue cooking for a few minutes longer when left on the hot baking sheets after removing from the oven. Even after cooling on a cake airer - if not 'crisp' enough, they can go back in the oven for a couple more minutes to dry out.
Most 'softish' biscuits will crisp up during cooling. If over-cooked to crisp when in the oven, sometimes these can be 'saved' when removed at once from the tin, and left on an airer to cool, then piled up on a plate and left uncovered for 24 hours on the kitchen table/unit. They tend then to absorb any moisture that is in the air.
It goes without saying that - after cooking (or even buying them) to keep biscuits crisp, they should always be stored in an air-tight tin or jar.

Now we come to today's useful tips. Most of us probably already know these, but always worth a reminder.

When freezing minced meat, place 1 lb (450g) or thereabouts in a large freezer bag, then press flat with a rolling pin. Seal bag and freeze flat (best placed on a baking tin to keep it flat). Once frozen these 'tiles' can be stacked flat or on their sides (by the freezer walls), and when the meat is needed, due the layer being very thin, the meat thaws very rapidly, and if only part needs using, just snap it off while still frozen and return the remainder to the freezer.

Supermarket's packs of 'stewing beef' can be made up from end trimmings of various cuts, not all cooking to the same tenderness in the time given. Far better to buy a whole piece of meat and dice it yourself. Same goes for mince - 'minced beef' can often be really tough oddments of meat, cooking in less time than in chunks because the mincing process tenderises it. If wishing for good mince, then look for 'minced steak' but again always best to buy the meat in the chunk and mince it yourself.

Eggs should always be used at room temperature, so if kept in a fridge - bring them out an hour before using. and always store with the pointed end down as this then keeps the yolks in the middle and also helps to keep the eggs fresh.

When making scrambled eggs, add a small amount of water before beating. Adding milk will toughen the eggs.

When cooking vegetables (potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots etc...) try to buy/cut them to the same size so that they cook evenly. If cooking different vegetables in one pan, begin cooking those that take the longest time to cook, and add the others accordingly.

When buying cabbage, iceberg lettuce or any 'compact' leafy vegetable, press the centre to make sure the leaves are tightly packed. When priced by the unit a loose-leaf veg can look large, but weight considerably less that a firm one.

To cook spinach rapidly, buy washed spinach in the sealed bags from the supermarket. To cook - make a couple or so holes in the top of the bag and microwave on High for 90 seconds. Job done. Serve immediately.

Bag up carrot tops, parsley stalks, celery stumps, onion peelings (incl skins), mushroom stems etc. and store in the fridge to later make vegetable stock.

Celery will keep for weeks when wrapped in foil and kept in the fridge. To revive limp celery, stand the stalks in iced water for a couple of hours.

When cooking 'greens', they keep their colour better if the pan is not covered.

To chop onions without shedding tears, always use a very sharp knife. A blunt knife squeezes the cell walls and allows the onion juice to leak out - and it is these fumes that irritate our eyes.

If preferring to bake 'jacket' potatoes in the oven rather than in the microwave, you can save time by first boiling the whole potatoes for 10 minutes, then drain, place in the oven (200C) and bake for 30 minutes - thus reducing the time to cook in the oven by half.

Tough-leaved herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme benefit from a long cooking time, so add these to a casserole etc at the beginning. The more delicate herbs: mint, parsley, basil and tarragon prefer a gentle and short simmer, so should be added towards the end of the cooking process.

To dry herbs, use those little mesh bags that come with laundry tablets. Put the fresh herbs in the bags and hang them up to dry. When dried, just rub the bag between your fingers (over a sheet of paper) and the dried flakes will fall out, leaving the stems in the bag. Fold the paper and slide the herbs into a small, lidded jar, and store in a cool, dark place (remember to label).

Freezing rather than drying preserves some herbs better than others. Although losing some texture, freezing helps to retain more flavour, particularly with basil, tarragon, chives, parsley, dill and mint.
Simplest way to freeze herbs is to finely chop the fresh herbs and push as much as you can into each section of an ice-cube tray. Add a little water to each and then freeze. Remove and bag up once frozen (but remember to label) and use as required.

baking and cooking tips:
During hot weather, instead of using a rolling pin, to keep the pastry cool roll out with a wine bottle that has been filled with chilled water (this can be kept in the fridge for this purpose).

When wishing to fry foods, a lighter batter can be made by using carbonated water (soda water, lemonade, beer etc) instead of the water or milk stated in recipes. Beer works well with fish and onion rings (adding even more flavour), and soda water for vegetable fritters. The sweeter fizzy drinks best used when making batter for fruit fritters.

Pears are about the only fruit that ripes better off the tree than when on. Taste best when picked young and left to ripen in storage (or even on the supermarket shelf). When buying, avoid any with cuts, that are shrivelled, or bruised.

For easier slicing of the large dried fruits (dates, apricots, prunes etc) first chill in the fridge or freezer. The colder the fruit is, the easier it is to slice.

When pureeing fruits - these being mainly acid - always rub through a nylon sieve using a wooden spoon as a metal sieve/spoon can react with the acid and discolour the 'coulis'.

To prevent cling-film from sticking to itself when unwrapping, keep the roll in the fridge or freezer.

Always chill cream, bowl and beaters before whipping as this takes far less time to thicken.
When cream is over-whipped, little more cream (or milk) poured over and gently whip in will help to slacken it.

spices and seasonings:
If the atmosphere is moist (as it can be by the seaside), prevent table salt clogging up in the salt cellar by adding a few grains of rice.

Never salt meat or add salt to water when soaking dried pulses. The salt draws juices out of the meat and will also toughen it. Salt will also toughen dried pulses.