Monday, June 06, 2011

Putting Me in My Place

Had a real humdinger of a dream last night. Started off well. I was invited to a gathering of cooks, hosted by Prue Leith. There were about six of us altogether sitting round a long table, and as Prue began to talk about food, more and more cooks arrived until the table was full. I was squashed next to James Martin who had suddenly appeared (then almost as suddenly disappeared to my sorrow).
We were all asked what we did in the culinary world and all the men there (I was the only woman except Prue), said they were top chefs (most had at least one Michelin star) in either a top hotel or had their own restaurant. Not that I had heard of any of them.

I was the last to speak, and stood up, mumbled something like "I'm Shirley Goode, give demonstrations and write about making good meal that cost very little". Then sat down. Can still remember the look on the men's faces. Some rolled their eyes to heaven, others shrugged their shoulders and said "huh", other really seemed to sneer. No one of course had heard of me, and obviously wished I wasn't there at all.

Things brightened up when Prue Leith said she had a cookery task for us all. To make a meal to fee four from a set amount of money, and I was to be the first to cook and serve it. She then gave me the chosen amount, mostly in small coins, which added up to less than £5. That didn't faze me at all (being quite used to making meals for less than that) and was really happy when the other chefs started shouting and saying they couldn't POSSIBLY make a decent meal for one person with that money, let alone four.

To cut a long dream short, was so busy with the first course - a chunky Mediterranean soup served with a variety of home-baked breads, too busy with that to think about more than a pan-fry pizza for the mains that I hadn't even considered dessert. Realised that the balance was wrong anyway so - as I seem able to do - scrolled back the dream to plan and cook the meal again. Lots more of the dream that would take pages to describe, but in the end settled for making a good starter (either a good soup with Parmesan crisps, or chicken liver pate), the main course would be a buttered bread case filled with Strogonoff (the bread case being the carbo part of the dish, the filling to be mushrooms and chicken (the chicken scraps from the carcase)(could afford to add sherry and cream), served with roasted and colourful veggies, and a Fruit Fool (custard folded together with fruit puree and yogurt, topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of popping candy).
Woke as I was just about to serve the starters, but honestly - the dream really put me in my place. To all there I was obviously a nobody cook in spades!
Whether they felt the same after eating my meal I don't know. Unfortunately woke before I could find out. Had they disliked it, would probably hang up my apron and give up writing my blog. Was the dream trying to tell me something?

Back to real life and replying to your comments. It sounded so good Woozy when reading about having your first Rooster potatoes and mangetout for your lunch. An absolute bliss of a meal. That's what's good food is all about. Enjoying the fruits of your labours. Most top restaurants can't match that.
Regarding the joint of beef you cooked. Pleased it turned out to your satisfaction, and although it was a lean cut - if you too (like my B) enjoy good beef dripping, you can always ask the butcher for extra fat (usually free) when you buy another joint, just for this purpose. Lay it on top of the joint and it self-bastes it as it cooks. It won't make the beef fatty, it just helps to seal the surface and the fat collects in the bottom with the juices from the meat and makes a wonderfully flavoured dripping.
When the meat is cooked and placed on a plate to rest, carefully pour the hot fat from the tin into a bowl and leave to set as dripping. You should then find a lot of 'stuff' stuck to the bottom of the pan (and would probably end up being washed. Pour a little boiling water into the pan and let it soak for a while, then get a wooden spoon and stir it around. It will have softened the 'stuck' juices and these then will melt into the water (this is called 'de-glazing'), and can this liquid can then be reheated, a little red wine added and reduced down by boiling to make a 'jus', or a few Bisto gravy granules will help to thicken it if you wish for a larger amount of gravy. Either way it is very tasty and should never be wasted. Alternatively freeze it to use another time, or as the base of a soup.
Feel I'm teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here, but someone may be reading this who might normally have washed the 'gungy' pan out without making use of the 'bits' stuck onto it. These ARE the best bits.

Oh Aileen, you sound such a busy lady. How do you find time to do all those things? But 'good on yer' as they say in Oz. Do remember when I was alone (twice last year) when B was away on his sailing trips, that the amount of washing up was almost nil compared to when he is here. Cooking for B usually mans endless pots and pans, utensils and cutlery to be washed, and when he is away there is usually one mug and one plate, one fork and one spoon and barely anything else. Most of the time I rarely 'cook' for myself, and if I do it is a 'one-pot/pan' meal. Also there is little mess. Once cleared up it stays cleared up. Same with the laundry, that is cut by more than half, and the bedroom stays clear of his clothes he throws on the floor (clean and dirty intermingled). But I wouldn't be without him.

Is Justine a new commenteer? Am getting confused these days as to who is new and who is not. But welcome anyway and keep writing so we can keep you in mind. Hope the Oat Crisp recipe was to your satisfaction.

Urbanfarmgirl is requesting recipes for barbecues. Am pleased as this will take me away from the yogurt and oats for a while (but who knows, they may turn up in the recipes today being 'useful' ingredients to the cost-cutting cook), but before I start the 'barbie', because the elderflowers are now appearing, here is a very good recipe to make cordial from the blooms. This is concentrated and although will keep only for a few weeks in the fridge, it can be frozen in ice-cube trays to dilute later (just drop them into a jug of cold water and they will chill and flavour the water as they defrost). As this is a most refreshing drink for a summer's day/evening, it would also go down well at a barbie.

Always gather elderflowers away from busy roads (the fumes stick onto the blossoms). You need at least two dozen large blooms to make the cordial, and once home remove the leaves and thick stems - you just need the elderflower head (thin stems as well, not just the petals).
Elderflower Cordial:
24 fully opened large elderflower heads
2 lemons
1 orange
90g citric or tartaric acid (chemists stock these)
1.5 litres cold water
2 kg caster sugar
Put the elderflower heads in a very large bowl (or very clean, preferably 'new' bucket). Squeeze the juice from the lemons and orange and cut the peel into large chunks. Mix the citric or tartaric acid into the juice and pour this over the elderflowers, also add the cut peel.
In a separate pan put the water and sugar and gently bring to the boil, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. It doesn't have to boil for any length of time. Just to dissolve the sugar.
Pour this syrup over the flowers, then give a gentle stir, cover and leave for 24 hours. Strain through clean muslin and pour into sterilised jars or bottles (glass or plastic), and seal tightly. Always keep chilled and in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Check occasionally in case it has suddenly decided to turn itself into 'elderade' and develop bubbles. This gas needs to be released.
Serve diluted to taste with sparkling water (or sparkling white wine). This cordial also has culinary uses, being a perfect marriage with gooseberries when making jams, jellies or pies.

Not all food served 'al fresco' has to be cooked on the barbecue. It helps to proved a wider variety from which to pick and choose, so am starting off with small savoury 'pancakes/drop scones' that can be served as a type of canape, or 'starter' (in other words something to nibble at whilst waiting for the food to cook). These 'pancakes' are equally good served at indoor buffet and as they can be made well ahead of time and frozen for up to 3 months, a recipe worth using - if not now, later perhaps. If semi-skimmed milk is normally used, then adding a little cream will bring it back to 'whole milk'.

Myself like to bake potatoes in the microwave when I wish to mash the flesh as cooked this way it contains no 'lumps. A recipe using potato 'skins' is also given today, this being an example of what I call 'jigsaw' cookery, where part of an ingredient goes onto make something else (it helps even more to look on it as 'free'). But to gain the best of both worlds, read both recipes before you begin.
Baby Potato and Onion Pancakes: makes 24
6 large eggs
9 fl oz (250ml) whole milk (see above)
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
3 fl oz (75ml) olive oil
3 oz (75g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
5 oz (150g) cold mashed potato
salt and pepper to taste
Make the pancake batter by whisking together all the ingredients. Heat dry a large heavy frying pan over medium heat for 5 minutes, then brush with melted butter (heating 'dry' gives the pan a chance to get to a good heat without burning, and this means all pancakes then cook evenly). Spoon tablespoons of the batter into the pan, leaving plenty of room for them to spread. Cook for about a minutes by which time bubble should appear and burst on the surface, when they do flip each pancake over and cook for a half a minute longer, then transfer to a tea-cloth covered cake airer, covering over with a fold of the cloth to keep the pancakes from drying out, and continue until all the batter is used.
When cool, top with a creamy spread (cream cheese, creme fraiche or Greek yogurt with herbs) and a roll of smoked salmon. Or serve plain, surrounding a bowl of smoked mackerel pate or a thick dip - so guests can spread on what they wish.
To freeze: layer pancakes between layers of baking parchment, place in a sealed plastic container and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost completely and add the toppings when ready to serve.

A 'pea salad' makes a good addition to a barbie, especially if different varieties can be mixed together. Here is a good recipe that will use home-grown (or bought) mangetout and sugar snap with fresh or frozen peas.
Pea, mint and Spinach Salad: serves 8 - 10
1 lb (450g) frozen peas
9 oz (250g) mangetout peas
9 oz (250g) sugarsnap peas
5 oz (150g) baby spinach leaves
big bunch mint, use leaves only
1 tblsp Dijon mustard
1 tblsp olive oil (pref extra virgin)
2 tblsp red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 good tsp icing or caster sugar
Cook the peas in salted boiling water until just tender (takes about 2 - 3 minutes), then drain and refresh under cold running water. Drain well again and put into a bowl with the spinach leaves and mint.
Whisk the dressing ingredients together and when ready to serve, whisk again and pour over the pea salad, toss well and serve immediately.

Now we come to using up the potato skins once all the flesh has been removed. These can be prepared several hours ahead, just cook the skins shortly before serving. Good eaten with dips, as a nibble, or a 'crunchy' bite to serve with salads as an alternative to chips.
Oven-roasted Potato Skin: makes 30
5 large baking potatoes
2 tblsp olive oil
4 oz (100g) creme fraiche, or chosen dip
Brush the potatoes with oil and place on oven tray and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about an hour or until potatoes are tender (alternatively bake in the microwave for less time).
Cool and cut potatoes into wedges, then carefully remove the flesh, leaving the skins intact. Place skins on a wire rack over an oven tray, brushing with remaining oil, then roast in the hot oven for about 20 minutes until crisp. Serve with creme fraiche or dips - or with whatever you wish.

Skewered meat is always a barbie favourite as cooks fairly rapidly. If using wooden skewers always soak these in cold water for an hour or so to prevent them bursting into flames. Although this recipe uses three different meats, you could stick to using one. As they are all tender 'fillet', all cook fairly rapidly so all could be alternated on one skewer. If you do mix, just make sure everyone eats pork.
To make the meat go further - and end up with more skewers, alternate the meats with chunks of red bell pepper, mushrooms etc.
Assorted Satays: makes 12 skewers
8 oz (225g) chicken breast
8 oz (225g) beef fillet
8 0z (225g) pork fillet
chosen marinade
satay sauce:
3 oz (75g) roasted peanuts OR...
...use peanut butter
2 tblsp red curry paste
7 fl oz (180ml) coconut milk
2 fl oz (50ml) chicken stock
1 tblsp lime juice
1 tblsp demerara sugar
Cut the meats into 1.5cm thick strips (or into chunks). Place in a shallow dish and brush with chosen marinade, turning so they are well coated, then cover and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Meanwhile make the satay sauce by blitzing the peanuts in a food processor (or use peanut butter) then blend in the curry paste. Put in a pan with the coconut milk and whisk together, heating until just beginning to boil, the add the chicken stock and continue cooking until the sauce has thickened. Add lime juice and sugar, and when sugar has dissolved, remove from heat.
Skewer the meats onto their sticks, cook over the barbecue until cooked through, then serve immediately with bowl of hot satay sauce.

Myself like to cook chicken on a skewer rather than as a drumstick as this way it is easier to make sure the chicken is cooked through. However, no reason why the chicken can be part cook in the oven and then finished off on the barbie to give it the authentic smoky flavour. Here is a recipe for curried drumsticks (one of the ingredients being yogurt!) that can be cooked either in the oven or on a barbie (or both). A short-cut to the recipe is to omit the spices and used tandoori curry paste instead. The red food colouring is to give it the authetic Tandoori colour. A little red tomato paste could be used instead.
Tandoori Chicken Drumsticks: makes 12
12 chicken drumsticks, skins left on
5 fl oz (150g) yogurt
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika pepper (pref sweet)
1 clove garlic, crushed
few drops red food colouring (see above)
lime pickle, mango chutney, raita to serve
Slash the chicken several times through the thickes part of their flesh. Mix together the yogurt, spices (or curry paste), garlic and food colouring. Cover, chill for three or more hours, or overnight.
Cook undrained chicken on a barbecue (or can be grilled, griddled or oven cooked), until browned all over and cooked through. If any marinade is left, the chicken can be basted with this whilst cooking, but do NOT serve the marinade uncooked as a pouring sauce when served as it will contain uncooked chicken juices.
Tandoori drumsticks are good served with Indian relishes such as lime pickle or mango chutney, also good with Raita.

A barbecue is good for cooking things other than meat, and once the meat is cooked, use up the heat by grilling the following to munch with any remaining salads.
Pesto Bread: makes 12 slices
1 ciabatta loaf (or French baguette)
2 fl oz (50ml) olive oil
2 oz (50g) green pesto
2 oz (50g) red pesto
Cut bread diagonally into 12 slices. Brush each with oil then toast under grill or on a barbie turning so the bread is toasted on both sides. Spread half with the green pesto and half with the red, then serve immediately. These can be kept warm away from direct heat over the barbie.

A great salad for al fresco eating is one made with couscous. Similar to Tabbouleh, this recipe includes cheese, the best varieties being Feta, Panneer, Mozzarella or any similar cheese that is mild and has a creamy taste. Even halloumi, cut into chunks after grilling could be used.
Couscous Salad with Cheese: serves 4 as a 'main'
1 pack chosen cheese (see above), cubed
8 oz (225g) couscous
1 cucumber, deseeded and cut into small chunks
1 lb (450g) small cherry/plum tomatoes, quartered
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
4 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
3 tblsp chopped fresh mint
2 tblsp oil and vinegar dressing
Make up the couscous as per pack directions. When all the water has been absorbed, fluff with a fork and set aside to cool, then mix with the rest of the ingredients. Add the cheese and turn out into a serving bowl.

Although barbecues often are more like buffet parties, the barbecue can be used as an outside 'oven/hob' if wishing to cook and eat a 'proper meal' outdoors. So here is a Greek dish that is easy to cook, with some parts able to be prepared earlier. Then on a fine day, sit the family round the garden table and eat your meal in the fresh air as so many Greeks (and Italians and Spanish) often do. Tzatziki is virtually the same as the Indian Raita (grated cucumber blended with yogurt, and in this instance with a few chopped black olives also folded in). Greek salad is a mixture of fresh tomatoes cut into large chunks, mixed with chunks of cucumber, finely sliced red onion, a good handful of stoned black olives (pref Kalamata), few fresh oregano/marjoram leaves (or a pinch of dried), dressed with a little olive oil and chunks of feta cheese folded in.
Lamb Souvlaki: serves 4 as a main or more as a 'meze'
1 clove garlic, crushed with...
...2 tsp sea or rock salt
4 tblsp olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbslp finely chopped fresh dill
1 lb 9 oz (700g) lean lamb (fillet or boneless leg) trimmed
pitta or flatbread, Greek salad and Tzatziki to serve
Whisk together the oil, lemon juice and zest, dill and garlic. Cube the lamb, add to the mixture and mix well together. Cover and marinate for several hours or pref overnight, but take out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to allow to come to room temperature.
Thread the meat onto metal (or soaked wooden) skewers, then place on the barbecue (or under a high grill) and cook for 3 or so minutes on either side (basting with any remaining marinade).
For dining, give each person a large platter on which are pitta breads, a dish of Tzatziki and a bowl of Greek salad, then add the skewered meat when cook. The idea is to stuff the pitta breads with the lamb (aka souvlaki) dress with a little Tzatziki, and eat with the salad. If using flatbreads (warmed flour tortillas), just put salad in the centre, the meat on top, spoon over some Tzatziki and roll up to eat.

As I have zillions of recipes that can be cooked on a barbie, the above is only a small selection of easy ones (most are easy anyway - that's the whole point of a barbie), so if there is any preference for a particular meat, fish or vegetable that a reader wishes to cook on the barbie, let me know and I'll give the recipes. My books are already sitting at the side of me ready to be delved into, so you won't have to wait more than a day to get the recipes once I know what you want.

Something went wrong with yesterday's weather. Went into the garden to transplant the rest of the bedding plants and the temperature had dropped several degrees, so ended up just watering them and came back in. Did I mention yesterday that tomatoes were forming on my 'tumbler'? These seemed to have grown overnight, but still at the green stage of course. The sun is trying to come out, so hopefully things will warm up. Have loads of strawberries on the plants, but they are not as large as I hoped, so gave them copious amounts of water yesterday in the hope they will swell, they still have not got any colour, but am sure when ripe they will taste wonderful.

B has now finished the granary loaf and halfway through the newly baked white loaf. One pot (of the three) beef dripping also finished.
Ate the rest of the chicken pie myself as have to say it did taste pretty darn good, despite the filling being a bit dry. Definitely will make it again adding the meat of one sausage to the cooked chicken, plus a bacon rasher that has more fat on it that the one used. Also pour in chicken stock instead of redcurrant jelly (although adding a few whole redcurrants did add a good flavour to the meat.

Beloved kindly ate up the rest of the cold roast beef and cooked gammon, along with the last of the oven chips that he actully managed to 'cook' in the oven all by himself, although he had to come and ask me several times what to do: "What oven temp?? How long to cook? (although all this info was on the pack!!) "Do you think they are ready yet? "etc. etc.). He also fried a couple of eggs to go with it all. He'll get there in the end.

Wrote out my online grocery order, the site would not accept my card details although they were correct, so expected to have to sort that out today, but when clicking back it appeared my order HAD been accepted and would arrive tomorrow, so will just hope that it will. Not a problem if not, can always re-order.
Will still go back to the order as need to add something forgotten and delete things I didn't really need (so why order them? Just enjoy filling my 'basket' I suppose. Always over order and then delete half the following day). With £33 taken off the bill using the points and another 'free money' voucher, it was worth placing an order (later in the week the £13 'free money' voucher would be out of date and could not be used). Noticed that the offers on milk have changed from buying 2 x 4 litres to get the reduction has now rise. to buying '3 x 4 litres'. At least there was a good brand of butter on sale that was CHEAPER than Tesco's Value butter, so ordered that instead. Noticed that the four-pack of Heinz beans worked out DEARER than buying four of the same sized tins individually. We should never assume that a four-pack will work out cheaper per can. Always have to check and it all takes time.

Whether or not the facts are now accurate, did hear on the news yesterday that the ecoli outbreak seems to have come from some locally grown beansprouts. If this is the case can see a lot of salad growers (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber etc) demanding to be compensated for all the trade lost because the outbreak was blamed on the wrong produce. Perhaps it would have been more sensible to say that all fresh vegetables and salad should be thoroughly washed before eating until the source was found.

Watched (again) one of my favourite 'dramas' called 'Goodnight Mr. Tom', yesterday, and again felt that nostalgia that hits me when I see programmes/plays about the time of my youth. However dreadful those war years were, and the hardships that people used to put up with, there was a certain 'purity' of life that is no longer with us. It is true that technology has given us the change to make great advancements, many of then (probably) necessary, but often wish we could just go back to living life as it used to be led, where people respected each other, children could go out and play happily and freely, with no nanny state to say they shouldn't pick daisies (in case dogs have peed on them), or climb trees (in case they fall).

Yet, we have a big chestnut tree outside our house, belongs to the council as do all the trees in our road. We have to leave it to them to clear up the fallen leaves. Our tree, along with others, grow shoots from the trunk lower down, and now these are in full leaf they hang over the pavement almost at waist level, just about hitting our wall. No-one can walk past without being hit in the face and although we have told the council, nothing is done. Twice more we have told them and they say they 'have put it into the hands of their contractors' but still nothing is done. If children are no longer allowed to throw up sticks to knock down conkers "in case they hit someone on the head", why is it OK then for us to be hit in the face (or worst in the eye) by the tree's branches/twigs? Seems there is always one rule for one and one rule for someone else these days.

Anyway time has moved on apace, due to me getting up later - being too engrossed in my dream I suppose. Hope to do enough today to give me something to write about tomorrow. Hope you can join me then.