Thursday, June 16, 2011

Clariftying the Situation

Thanks to all who wrote it. Pleased to report my back is much better today, but then I didn't venture into the garden. Maybe today. Dizzy spells also under control, just as long as I slow down a bit when I bend over to lift heavy things.

Much of my work was spent yesterday in the kitchen where I made a deep cheese quiche. Have now begun to drape the pastry over the sides of the tin (then line with paper and baking beans to bake blind). Leave it there to continue baking when filled, and by this time it is deep golden brown. As I just HATE to waste anything, now collect the pieces carved off to neaten the edge, because to me they seem (and taste) exactly the same as those biscuit crumbs we use for cheesecake base. All I have to do is add sugar and melted butter. The crushed pastry could also be used as a coating instead of dried breadcrumbs I suppose.

Beloved made a loaf of bread, all by himself. Even greased and floured the tin. He didn't put the dough (made in the bread machine - so cheating a bit) in a warm place to rise, and after 2 hours when it wasn't anywhere near ready to bake (the idea was the loaf would be baked in the oven when the quiche came out), he decided to put it in the conservatory where the sun was shining, and this did the trick (in the meantime the oven had to be turned out and then turned on again). Once baked, the loaf looked truly wonderful, so let's hope that's one chore that B can take off my hands.

B's supper was chilli con carne (made enough for two so half was to be frozen when cooled), and the last of the trifle. I also made a 'Rhubarb Fool' using the few very thin weakly stems from the rhubarb we are trying to grow in the garden (without much success I may say), first chopping the 'barb' into short lengths, sprinkling them with sugar and adding a splash of water, then cooking them for 4 mins in the microwave. This then softened them beautifully, and so was able to mash them down to a pulp (puree sounds better), fold them into some of the EasyYo lemon yogurt, and fold in the remaining whipped cream left over when making the trifle. Had a taste and it was very good, but not yet eaten (will be today though if not by B it will be by me).

Almost certainly today's supper will be the last of the cold ham cooked recently, with some corned beef, cold cooked sausages, some of the cheese quiche, and salad. Also have radishes (B's favourite), and red/yellow sweet bell peppers, plus some vacuum packed beetroot, together making a very colourful 'display'. All I have to do is cook the sausages and open a tin, plus a bit of slicing/shredding. Easy peasy.

First wish to reply to a comment sent in yesterday from Keshling regarding the use of egg shells for clarifying stock. Remember adding a good number of lightly crushed egg shells (still containing a bit of white as they do) to the later stages of making chicken stock many, many years ago, to help clarify it, which - after straining through muslin - it did. Although there is a correct method and also one that doesn't need egg shells/whites at all.
Here is the professional way to clear stock (normally only used when wishing to serve a clear soup (aka consomme). Start with some ready made and strained chicken stock (it could be another meat), then in a bowl put one chicken drumstick, roughly cut up, with one carrot, one onion, and 1 rib celery, all diced. Beat two egg whites, just enough to break up and see a few bubbles, beat in tblsp tomato puree, then pour this over the diced veg/chicken in the bowl and give a good stir so everything is coated with egg white. Chill in the fridge overnight, then next day put 2 ltrs (3 1/2 pints) previously made chicken stock into a pan with the contents of the chilled mixture, stir to combine and heat very gently, stirring occasionally to prevent the egg white sticking to the base of the pan, and as soon as it begins to simmer, STOP STIRRING. Simmer over lowest heat for at least one hour or until a white crust has formed on the surface. When this is hard, poke a hole in the middle to check clarity of liquid beneath. When clear, widen the hole and pour the contents of the pan into a large sieve (over an even larger bowl), lined with two (even better three) layers of fine muslin and allow the liquid to drip through. This should be crystal clear.
Reason this works is that egg whites bind the solids together and any other 'bits' in the original stock will rise when simmering and also be trapped.

But for those who can't be bothered (me for one) with this 'cheffy' approach, would probably like to try this simpler way. Make chicken stock as normal, straining it well to remove all large pieces, then cool the liquid. It won't be clear of course. Put the bowl of stock in the freezer and after a few days - when solid, tip the iced block of stock into a large sieve lined with 3 layers of muslin and place this over a large bowl, then putting it into the fridge to defrost. This may take quite a long time, but you will end up with a very clear stock in the bowl beneath, and a lot of gunge left in the sieve. Defrosting at room temperature doesn't work so you can't rush it.
The reason this works is that chicken stock contains a lot of natural gelatine (comes from the bones), and so when frozen (like jelly) the water part freezes into crystals, and as the the gelatine still holds itself together, once thawed the two will separate (sometimes we find the same thing happening when we have frozen a meal in thick gravy and it thaws out to thin gravy with thick bits in it). Like egg whites, the gelatine tends to hold onto the solids, so an easy way to make a clear stock, especially if you don't wish to make too much.
Incidentally, always season the stock well before straining, as adding it after adds 'impediments' to the clarity of the strained liquid.

The above is useful info only for readers who might wish to serve a 'consomme' for a dinner party starter, or maybe to use (with a little gelatine dissolved in) as an savoury jelly (aka aspic). Doubt that myself will ever bother to clarify stock again, but - as ever - the more we learn about cooking practices, the better.

Another new reader to welcome with group hugs. This is patriciawade (aka The Fallen Angel) who remembers me from long past. Glad to hear I was of some use then, and hopefully continuing in th at vein.

At least you are able to harvest some foods Urbanfarmgirl, and kale especially is one of the 'superfoods' we are all supposed to be eating. One old variety of kale was called 'Hungry Gap' so called because in the olden days kale played an important part in domestic economy, keeping cottagers alive at the back end of the winter.
Gooseberries make lovely desserts and jam, and of course salads are now coming into their own, so suppose Mother Nature gives us what we need when we most need it. It's up to us to preserve what we can when we can.

As both Margie and Woozy mentioned freezing strawberries, and - in the same comment making jam, am hoping the frozen strawbs will be turned into jam later, for these are the one (and only I think) soft berry that does not freeze well at all. When thawed it comes out slushy. Still tastes good though.
Other berries, black berries, raspberries, loganberries etc, and the firmer gooseberries, blueberries, black, white and redcurrants, and elderberries all freeze perfectly and thaw out almost as though fresh.

With the mention of peas now being harvested (petit pois and mangetout) am wondering if my marrowfat peas (grow from a box for culinary use and for harvesting tops to add to salads) if left to grow on will produce young pods that could be cooked to eat like mangetout, or would they be too tough, and perhaps leave the peas to grow on to maturity, then dry and store for winter use? If anyone has tried this, and it worked (or didn't) then please let us know.

Glad you managed to get a dry day to pick elderflowers Wen, it's been a good crop this year, so come autumn there should also be a lot of elderberries to gather as well. Before the flowering time ends, remember that these held by their stalks then the floret end dipped in batter and fried to then dip into caster sugar will also make an interesting and different dessert (only eat the fried flowers, not their stalks).
Remembering also that the flowers can either be dried or frozen to later make into cordials, 'elderade' (aka poor man's champagne), and wine. We should always take advantage of the free gifts provided for us Mother Nature who - at least in this country - appears to have provided us with all the food we need to survive, and without having to pay a penny for it. Mind you, over millions of years we have become a bit too selective, avoiding lots of good things 'just because'. Like snails!

Glad you had a good holiday Margie. Have heard that Cape Cod has a lot of fish (hence the name I suppose). It's much the same here, even if the furthest point from the sea is only about 60 miles in the UK, fish is still more expensive in the middle of the country compared to the locally caught fish. Obviously the price of transporting it even those few miles adds to the price paid.
I often wonder how some imported food prices can remain so low when brought by boat or plane from right the other side of the world, when we are charged more for the same when 'locally grown' (or reared as in the case of New Zealand lamb normally cheaper than 'our' lamb). Obviously 'our stuff' is better quality (?), but even so... .

Returning to the Goode household again, mentioned to B how annoyed I was as not being able to spend the weekend in London visiting the 'Taste of London' and also the Portobello market. If I could be sure of having a mobility scooter available, then it might have been worth going. An idea occurred to me - someone should set up a company like Rent-a-Car, but instead of a car - rent out mobility scooters (could call it Rent-a-Mob!), the idea being a person with mobility problems could use taxis, rail, even planes, to reach where they were going to, and have a scooter waiting for them so they could then continue 'exploring'. Great for places like the Chelsea Flower Show, or any other exhibition. This may eventually happen, but not in my (usable) lifetime no doubt.

After a couple of lovely sunny days, what do I see through the window? Rain, rain, and yet more rain. At least it saves me watering the containers, and those plants in the greenhouse have enough to last them today. So looks like more cooking/housework is the order of the day.
We are hoping for another fine spell so we can hold an (hopefully) annual buffet and barbecue, the one held last year for our neighbours was a great success, hardly anyone leaving until well after midnight. That's the good thing about a 'neighbourly barbie', everyone within walking distance of home (like next door and over the road...) so they can safely drink (lots), and no fear of any noise upsetting the neighbours for they are the ones making it!
Trouble is with planning this sort of party, like to hand out the invitations at least two weeks in advance, and with our English weather no way can we definitely plan for eating 'al fresco', so it has to be both 'indoors and out', which is not really much of a problem. In fact last year, it wasn't until about 5.00pm that the weather cleared up enough (wind dropped and sun came out) for everyone to be able (from 7.30 onwards) to sit outside and for B and firstborn to cook the food on the barbie. The 'back-up' buffet food remained indoors, on a help-yourself basis.

As many readers seem to enjoy my 'ramblings' feel it is worth continuing, although these do lengthen the postings to the extent that blogger seem to feel 'enough is enough', so earlier blogs of each month they then remove (although I can still find them for myself via the 'edit postings' page). This is of not much help to newere readers who might miss out on some useful hints, tips and recipes. Also certainly now worth copying recipes of interest when they first appear, especially during the first half of a month, or they might have disappeared before you remember to do so. Anything after the 20th of each month should still be able to be found.
Have discovered that if I delete 'unnecessary' copy from earlier postings, then this leaves space for one (or more) to be returned, so how about I start from the beginning, and where months are 'cut short', remove 'ramblings' that relate only to that time (like what I made for B's supper that day, or what the weather was like etc), to bring back more useful info. Do you think that would be a good idea?
The only other alternative would be to have a new blogsite just for recipes, but that would mean skipping from one to another and (for me at least) this could be more trouble than its worth. Appreciate hearing readers comments re this.

With our thoughts at the moment concentrating on using a slow-cooker (it saves a LOT of fuel), and the mention of rice pudding made in one, am giving the recipe for this. Cooked in a slow-cooker, rice pudding is wonderfully creamy and richly flavoured, and unlike the same pudding cooked in an oven, it doesn't form a thick brown skin on top (although many people enjoy eating this, most don't seem to like it). Any flavouring should be added at the beginning (or half-way through) the cooking, not at the end. For a different flavour, use half the milk given, making up the shortfall with some coconut milk and double cream.
Slow-cooked Rice Pudding: serves 4 - 6
1 oz (25g) butter, softened
3 oz (75g) pudding rice, rinsed and drained
4 tblsp caster sugar
1 1/4 pints (750ml) milk
6 fl oz (175ml) evaporated milk
Using the butter, spread this thickly around the inside of the cooking pot, taking up at least half-way up the sides, then put in the remaining ingredients, including any flavourings you may wish to use (grated nutmeg etc). Cover with the lid and cook on High for 3 - 4 hours until the rice is cooked and most of the milk absorbed ( if you prefer - you can cook it on Low for 5 - 6 hours, or until rice is cooked etc).
Stir the pudding at least twice during the cooking time, and if the pudding is getting too thick towards the end, just stir in a little more (hot) milk.

Because I believe that every 'appliance' should be used in every which way possible, we really should use our slow-cookers for more than making the ubiquitous 'casseroles' (however good they are). As well as cooking a complete meal in the one pot, do thaw out a goodly amount of assorted stewing meats (beef rib trim, shin beef, stewing beef, braising beef, ox tail....) and cook the lot together overnight in a potful of water. This gives the most wonderfully flavoured 'stock' (not at all clear as it has loads of 'meaty bits' floating in it). It is easy enough to removed the different meats and keep them separate to freeze in some of the stock to later use for making a meal. Remaining stock is frozen to either use as a base for soup, spag bol, or for gravy etc.

Dried, soaked and initially fast boiled for 10 minute beans are also 'cooked on' in a slow cooker. This way their skins don't seem to shrivel as much, so they remain plump and glossy. Overnight on Low is not too long for the beans to become tender. So another good use for the pot.

Cakes too can be 'baked' using a slow-cooker, and this next recipe is an especially good one as like most fruit cakes once baked and wrapped, improves on keeping a few days before being eaten. The 'luxury' fruit in the recipe is the more expensive dried fruits that are plump (and not so dry), we can use the bog standard cheaper dried fruit and soak this overnight in a little wine, spirit or even just tea, just to 'plump it up' and gain more flavour.
Obviously all tins used should have solid bases or water will seep in. If you use only loose-based tins, the closely wrap the outside of the tin with cooking foil, making sure there are no holes. This should keep the water out.
Slow-cook Light Fruit Cake: serves 12
2 eggs
4.5 oz (130g) butter, softened
8 oz (225g) light muscovado sugar
5 oz (150g) self-raising flour
5 oz (150g) self-raising wholewheat flour
pinch salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon or mixed spice
1 lb (450g) 'luxury' mixed dried fruit (see above)
Begin by lining the base and sides of a deep 7" (18cm) cake tin with baking parchment. Set aside. In the crockpot place an upturned saucer or metal scone cutter or trivet (shallower the better or the lid may not fit over the cake tin) in the centre of the base of the slow-cooker, then pour in about 1" (2.5cm) of hot water. Switch on to High.
To make the cake batter, break the eggs into a bowl, add the butter and sugar, and sift in the flours, salt and spice (if any bran left in the sieve add this also). Mix everything together with a wooden spoon, then add the dried fruit and beat for 2 minutes or until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level the surface. Cover the top of the tin with a piece of buttered foil. Stand tin on the saucer in the slow-cooker and add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides, then cover and cook for 4 - 5 hours or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Remove from cooker and - still leaving the cake in the tin - place on a wire rack to cool for about 15 or so minutes, then turn out, cool completely, then wrap in greaseproof paper or baking parchment and then foil, and store in a cool place for a day or two before eating.

Whatever time of year a curry is always acceptable, and so as this is yet another dish that can be cooked in a slow-cooker am sure the following will be worth making for a summer supper. Although this is made 'the correct way' using various and whole spices, we can always take a short-cut and use some 'pre-mixed' curry powder (aka garam masals) or some (bought) curry paste - to the heat strength we prefer.
Slow-cooked Potato and Cauliflower Kasmiri: serves 4
2 tsp cumin seeds
8 black peppercorns
seeds from 2 green cardamom pods
2" (5cm) piece of cinnamon stick
half tsp grated nutmeg
3 tblsp vegetable oil
1 fresh green chilli, seeded and chopped
1" (2.5cm) fresh root ginger, grated
1 tsp chilli powder
good pinch of salt
2 large potatoes, cut into 1" (2.5cm0 chunks
8 oz (225g) cauliflower florets
14 fl oz (400ml) boiling vegetable stock
5 fl oz (150ml) Greek yogurt
1 - 2 young courgettes, sliced
roasted almonds for garnish
Put the cumin, peppercorns and cardamom seeds and nutmeg in a mortar or spice grinder, and grind down to a fine powder.(or use pre-mixed curry powder).
Heat the oil in a frying pan and stir-fry the chilli and ginger for 2 minutes, then add the chilli powder, salt and ground spices, and continue stir-frying for a further 2 - 3 minutes, then stir in the potatoes and cauliflower (so they get coated with the spices) and transfer the contents of the pan to the cooking pot.
Pour over the stock, cover and cook on High for 2 hours.
Lift cover, remove a few tablespoons of the hot stock to a bowl, then stir in the yogurt, then pour this over the vegetables in the pot, stirring until everything is well combined. Add the courgettes, giving a final stir, then re-cover and continue cooking for a further 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until all the veggies are tender.
Serve immediately, either straight from the (removable) pot, or transfer to a warmed serving dish. Scatter toasted almonds on top as a garnish.

With many readers now cooking gammon to make 'home-cooked ham', and although I have to cook my gammon in water on the hob (due to my slow-cooker being wide and shallow) if you have enough depth in your slow-cooker to hold the gammon with water to cover, then this using this is definitely a good way to cook the meat. The amount given serves 8 as a main course, but when left to get cold should provide many slices (that can be frozen) to eat with salads, in sarnies, or used in any dishes that use cold ham (sliced, cubed, shredded or otherwise). If using smoked gammon, best to soak it overnight before cooking. If you prefer, honey can be used instead of the sugar when making the glaze.
Cider glazed Gammon:
4 1/2 lb (2kg) middle gammon
1 large onion
about 30 whole cloves
3 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
cold water
5 fl oz (150ml) medium-dry cider
3 tblsp soft light brown sugar (or runny honey)
If the gammon has been soaked overnight, drain well then place in the cooking pot. Cut the onion in half and stud each with four cloves, and place in the pot with the bay leaves and peppercorns. Pour over cold water to cover the gammon, switch the cooker to High, cover and cook for 1 hour, then remove lid and scoop off any scum that has risen to the surface. Re-cover and cook for a further 4 - 5 hours, check once or twice to remove more scum if necessary. As the gammon is barely covered with water during the cooking, and although there will be little evaporation, it may be necessary to add a little more boiling water to top it up.
After the cooking time, carefully lift the joint from the cooker and place in a roasting tin. Leave to stand for about 15 or so minutes to become cool enough to handle. Set the (convential) oven to 220C, 425F, gas 7.
Meanwhile, make the glaze by putting the cider and sugar into a small pan and heating until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 5 or so minutes to reduce down to a sticky glaze. Remove from heat and also leave for a few minutes to cool and thicken slightly.
Prepare the gammon my removing any string that holds it together, then carefully slice away the rind/skin but leaving a thin layer of fat, then - using a sharp knife -score the fat across in both directions to give a diamond pattern, pressing a clove in the centre of each diamond. Spoon the glaze over the fat (and down the sides and ends if you wish), and bake for 25 minutes or until the fat is deep brown, shiny and crisp, then remove from oven and place on a plate.
If wishing to serve hot, cover with foil and leave to rest 15 - 20 minutes before carving. Otherwise wrap in foil, leave to get cold, then chill in the fridge overnight. Chilled ham is easier to slice thinly.

Can't believe it is already after 11.00am. But seeing the weather has cleared and we now have sunshine, perhaps not surprising. The older we get the faster time seems to move.

Having given quite a few recipes to suit recent requests, do you wish for more, or has anyone any other suggestions as to recipes wished for? The more requests and queries sent in, the more 'useful' I feel, and you wouldn't want to deny me that, would you?
Already Thursday with yet another weekend looming on the horizon, let us hope the weather holds out so that we can spend more time with 'productive gardening'. Or just sitting lazing in the sun. Whatever.

Please join me again tomorrow for our usual 'chat' (that I like to feel takes place around my virtual kitchen table, with coffee in hand and plates of cakes and biccies to imagine you are eating). Perhaps if I imagine I'm eating a meal instead of actually making it, I might lose weight even more rapidly, but already am working my way down to the next stone (below the last one lost), and hope by the end of next week to have gone below that. Then will really HAVE reached a milestone.
Meanwhile will keep on with my daily blog and hope you continue to keep logging on.