Monday, May 16, 2011

The Wider Picture

The requested recipe for 'boil and bake' cake is given below. It can turn out rather dry, but after wrapping tightly in foil for a couple or so days this improves it slightly. Even better, drizzle over some brandy (or even orange juice) over both the top and base before wrapping, and this really does work wonders for a dry fruit cake. Our cake has now been started and due to the fact I had a slice myself, then another, then another, already half gone. This time it really has turned out well. The added brandy obviously helped!

Although I checked with an oven thermometer, and it is correct according to the recipe, myself feel the cake is 'done' about half an hour before it should be. Even stuck in a 'cake tester' wand to make sure, and it seemed to be done, but gave it a bit longer which is probably why it did seem rather dry. But once cooled and wrapped in foil, the cake will soften up.
If using a square tin, the cake is often easier to cut - if you prefer a slice to a wedge that is - and as this can often make a slightly shallower cake, probably it will take a little less time to cook. Worth covering the cake tin with foil (shiny side up to reflect away the heat) halfway through the cooking time to prevent the top cracking.
Although this is a cake that can use pre-measured ingredients (sugar, butter, and 2 x flour) 'bagged up' ready to use as mentioned in previous blogs, I use demerara sugar (as recipe suggests) in place of caster as this gives a better colour to the cake. Also I used orange juice instead of water (mainly to use up the juice).

In fact, this cake is so good that I will probably bag up 'the necessary' (including spice in the flour, and the amount of dried fruits needed, then keep these in a special container ready for when I next wish to make the cake.
Using only a mix of dried fruits as bought from the supermarket (raisins, sultanas, currants, can always add more candied peel, some chopped glace cherries, maybe even some chopped nuts (keeping the total weight the same). Adding these, and making it early early enough (say November) and keep 'feeding' it with a spoonful or so of brandy each week, and by Christmas it will be perfect!!

Boil and Bake Cake:
12 oz (350g) mixed dried fruit
4 oz (100g) margarine
4 oz (100g) brown sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) water or fruit juice
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
1 level tsp mixed spice
2 eggs, beaten
Put the fruit, margarine, sugar and water into a saucepan over a low to medium heat. Stir occasionally, and when the sugar and marg have dissolved, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the fruit from sticking to the base of the pan and burning.
When time is up, remove from heat, tip into the mixing bowl to be used and leave to cool down a bit (half an hour is about right). Don't let it get quite cold or the fat will start setting again.
Sift the flour and spice together, then add this to the fruit with the eggs, mix together thoroughly then pour into a greased and lined 7" (18cm) round cake tin and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for half an hour, then reduce heat to 150C, 300F, gas 2 and continue baking for a further hour and a half (perhaps worth testing after the first hour at the lower temperature).
Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out. When cool, peel away the lining paper, pour over a tablespoon of brandy (if using) over the top - also over the base if you wish), then wrap tightly in foil and store for at least a couple of days before cutting. Best kept in an airtight tin to avoid it drying out.

Traditionally, pasta dough is made by putting the flour onto a work surface, making a well in the centre, break in the eggs and then slowly work in the flour. This recipe gives the speedier method - using a bowl or food processor, but whichevr way chosen, the end result will be the same.
Home-made Pasta Dough: make 1 lb:
11 oz (300g) pasta flour or strong plain
3 large eggs
pinch of salt
Put the flour and salt into a food processor (or mixing bowl) and add the eggs. Pulse (or mix with the hands)until ending up like sticky crumbs. Turn out onto a floured board (using the same type flour)and form into one solid lump, then begin kneading the dough (as you would bread) until it looks and feels smooth. If the dough sticks to the board, sprinkle over a little more flour. Wrap dough in cling film (or put into a plastic bag) and place in the fridge to chill for a good half hour - this making it easier to roll out.
When chilled enough, unwrap pastry and cut into quarters. Dust a pastry board lightly with flour, then roll out each piece to approx 10" - 12" (25 - 30cm) or - if you have one - roll out using a pasta machine. Aim for the dough to be 1mm thick (what's that in inches?) or even less (depends upon what you intend to use it for).
Leave the sheets to dry for 20 or so minutes, then roll up loosely and cut into half in strips (1cm) if you want to make 'tagliatelle'. Cut thinner to make the other versions (see above).
Shake each roll out and pile the 'ribbons' - again loosely - on a dry tea towel which has been dusted with flour. Leave to dry for a further half hour before cooking.
To cook, boil for 3 - 4 minutes in lightly salted water - by which time it will be tender. Drain in a colander and separate strands with a fork to prevent them sticking together. A little olive oil drizzled over also helps to stop them sticking.

This next recipe is a warming soup made with ingredients that many of us keep in our store cupboard (if not why not?). Almost any small broken bits of pasta can be used (just crush up the larger bits) although the true recipe uses small 'soup' pasta such as 'filini' (tiny strips of noodles) or broken spaghetti. As 'beans are beans are beans' almost any variety of canned bean could be used
Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup: serves 4 - 6
1 x 300g can canned Borlotti beans
3 oz (75g) streaky bacon
4 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1.75pints (1 ltr) chicken stock
5 oz (150g) small pasta pieces
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan for serving
Put the olive oil in a pan and fry the bacon with the onion , carrots and celery until all are softened. Then add the drained beans and stir together thorougbly before adding the stock. Simmer slowly until the beans are almost collapsing, then add the pasta and cook until tender. Season to taste and serve hot with freshly grated Parmesan.

Another pasta dish coming up. One of my favourites as so easy to make and a way of using up egg yolks that might be 'left over'. Many recipes use spaghetti to make this dish, but the wider 'tagliatelle'/noodles are this time used, but again - almost any pasta 'shape' could be used. The 'curlier' shapes (fusilli, shells etc) can also be used as the sauces are 'held' more easily. The amount of pasta used seems excessive, so - as an Italian recipe - possibly fresh pasta would be used, although cooking for 8 minutes sounds more like 'home-made-dried'. If using bought dried pasta, we could reduce weight, perhaps allowing 2 - 3 oz (50g - 75g) per person.
Pasta Carbonara: serves 4
1 lb (425g) fresh tagliatelle
1 tsp olive oil
3 oz (75g) butter
2 egg yolks. beaten together
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan
4 fl oz (100ml) double cream
4 oz (100g) streaky bacon, diced
salt and pepper
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the oil and half a teaspoon of salt. Cook the pasta for 8 minutes.
Meanwhile melt 1 oz (25g) of the butter in a pan and fry the bacon for 4 - 5 minutes. Melt the remaining butter, then beat this into the egg yolks with the cheese, cream and some freshly ground black pepper.
Drain the pasta and put back into the pan to retain its heat, then immediately add the bacon and its juices (or - if you wish - add the pasta to the pan of bacon, stirring in the egg and cream mixture. Toss well - the heat will cook the eggs - add more seasoning to taste, and serve with more Parmesan if desired.

Ideally - with a recipe such as above - we can always reduce quantities of the more expensive ingredients. Ignore the weight, a couple of rashers of bacon should suffice, use an ounce less butter and - by frying streaky bacon over low heat it gives out its own fat. The cream could be whipping cream or - at a pinch - single cream or even a dollop of cream cheese (cream cheese works like magic with pasta dishes as when heated it melts into a really creamy sauce).
Using the cheaper alternatives, we can still make a very good and tasty meal, worthy of serving to guests.

Once we stand back and take a long hard look at what cooking is all about, and then discover that savings can be made, we can then look at the wider picture. Add up the savings to cover (say) five future years and this will prove how much has been previously spent that needn't have been. Once we understand that - by our own efforts - we can have our cake and eat it too, then the future is nothing to be overly concerned about.