Saturday, May 14, 2011

Does It Still Work?

Firstly made a 'boil and bake' fruit cake now that I had found the missing recipe. This is so easy to do - just put marg, sugar, dried fruit and water in a pan, bring to the boil, simmer 20 minutes, leave to cool 30 minutes, then stir in s.r.flour that has been sifted with mixed spice, plus two beaten eggs. Pour into a greased and lined tin hen bake. Will give the recipe another day - if you want it that is.

During the cake-making, realised that this was another recipe that used the same weight of the main ingredients (fat, sugar, flour, egg)as many cakes (Victoria sponge for one) so once the fruit was bubbling on the hob, filled several little bags with 4 oz caster sugar and put them in the larger bin that holds said sugar. The flour already was in weighed bags in its own bin. Then measured out 4oz packs of Stork marg, and put these in a container in the fridge.
It really IS so easy just to go and get a pre-measured bag each of flour, sugar and marg, then all I need are the eggs (they are ready and waiting in shell in the egg rack). Necessary to bring the marg back to room temperature for easy beating, but at least all the 'prep' has been done.

Left with an empty marg tub, got some kitchen paper and wiped out every last little scrap left and used this to grease the cake tin I was using, PLUS another cake tin and also a couple of other loaf tins (as regularly cook bread). Added a little flour to the tins (from the flour used for the cake), gave them a good shake to coat their innards, then a good tap on the table to make sure all the surplus flour was able to be tipped back into the bowl, then put the spared tins away in a cupboard.

Incidentally, instead of adding water to the dried fruit, used orange juice from a carton in the fridge that needed using up. Later also cooked some carrots in the juice instead of water, by the time the carrots were cooked, almost all the juice had evaporated (had to keep checking to make sure the veggies didn't burn), and this gave them a lovely flavour (especially after adding a wee knob of butter).

Another 'change of plan' was to move my kitchen scales to the larder side of the table, this means that I don't have to walk all the way round to the larder to bring something out to weigh it, then walk all the way back to put the ingredient back on the shelf. It just saves time to have the scales as near to the larder as possible. Who knows, may even find enough space on a wider bottom shelf to keep the scales in there and can weigh 'on the spot'.
A further 'time-saver' was to pour the now-boiled fruit into a wide mouthed shallow metal bowl so that it would cool down faster. This seemed to work well, so instead of waiting half an hour before adding the flour to the bowl, needed to wait only 20 minutes. Sometimes we need to save time when we can.

Cleaning the saucepan that contained the fruit/fat etc, was a doddle. Just put one drop of detergent into the pan, added a little cold water (this instantly being heated up by the still very hot pan)gave it a good swirl round, tipped the liquid into the washing up bowl to save the detergent (it would be used later when washing up properly) and the saucepan was instantly clean. A rinse in a little more water (again poured into the bowl) a wipe down with a clean tea towel and the pan was put back into the cupboard ready to use.

Seeming that I was 'on a roll', decided to 'grill' the last of the grated Parmesan, then break it up into a coarse powder to sprinkle over things (still have a lump of 'fresh' Parmesan to grate later). This worked well, so the 'powder' is now stored in a box.
Decided to try something similar with bacon, having admired the very flat, crisp and almost dry bacon that is often added as a garnish when 'eating out'. Tried a 'cheffy' tip and placed four rashers of smoked streaky bacon on a shallow flat baking tin and placed a similar tin on top of it - the weight holding the bacon flat.
This was put into the oven while the cake was baking, and once I 'smelt' the bacon, removed it (possibly after 10 minutes) and the bacon was as flat as could be and beautifully crisp. After drying it crisped up even further, but not rock hard (as can happen if fried on the hob), and just about 'melted' in the mouth when eaten. This too could have been crushed to sprinkle over salads, pasta etc, but have to admit to eating the lot once removed from the oven and cooled. Well it was protein!

Quite honestly it still surprise me how easy it is to cook great meals within a small budget, and this has to be because most of the ingredients have been bought for the very best (this means lowest) price, without sacrificing quality (especially when it comes to meat).
It is true that after a month of taste-testing, have discovered that 'value' butter baked beans, and canned tomatoes are just as good (as regards flavour) as the top brands, so this has helped save me a lot of money since switching. Meat (as you know) is always top quality, but again bought only when 'on offer' Being frozen in vacuum packs, buy enough (always the slow-cooking/braising cuts, and mince steak etc) to last up to a year, so a good meal is always able to be prepared.
Occasionally buy meat from my local butcher - but again cheap cuts such as the recent belly pork, and have found a source of free-range chicken breasts that are cheap enough when bought in bulk (as I do).

Sometimes I feel I'm trying to justify storing so much food, but the quality of meals I prepare for B is important to me. He enjoys 'good food', and unfortunately not the 'simple stuff' such as sausage and mash. I could eat that until kingdom come, but B wants 'something better', and am happy to provide this for it helps me keep improving as a cook.

Am Mrs Critical today. Still the Sainsbury ad (£50 to feed a family of four) irks me, mainly because they have laid the menu plan out so the roast chicken is served at the end of 'their' week. Why not start the week with Sunday so we could then make the chicken go further (at least one more meal), and make stock from the carcase etc. Something as simple as that would make a lot more sense, or would this prove too difficult for the powers that be to work out for themselves? Perhaps even the suggestion of making stock is one step too far (the suggestion is buying their own-brand stock cubes), and myself have to remember that there are many domestic 'cooks' out there who cannot yet even cook from scratch, so what is simple to me is probably darn difficult to another.

Most cake recipe tend to work on 4 oz (100g) of this that or the other (or multiples) so easy enough to build up a stock of ready-weighed flour/sugar/fats. Or take your favourite recipes and - if different amounts to the above - weigh these out ready and keep together to make a specific cake (a bit like having your own cake mix ready to add the 'wets'). Just remember to label.
Goes without saying one shelf of our fridge (or freezer) should hold boxed of home-prepared pastry mix, scone mix, crumble mix, grated cheese..., and had a thought yesterday that a box of 'shortbread' mix could probably also be added to the stockpile.
Some chefs often use a shortbread biscuit dough to line pastry cases for desserts. It is less likely to puff up once baked (so can be baked 'blind' without the need of baking beans). Will have to try that sometime.