Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thinking Back but Moving Forward

Yet again I feel it is Sunday when - according to my 'menu' diary - it is now Tuesday. Am finding writing down each day the main meal cooked for the previous day is helping me quite a lot 'balance' B's meals. No two similar two days running. Yesterday was breaded cod fillets (a bogof), with oven chips and peas. Four fish in quite a large box, so I thought they'd last for four meal. Wrong!! The fillets really rattled around inside and I ended up serving two for B and (what the heck!) had two myself with peas (and no chips). So that's the bogof taken care of.

Not sure about today, might be liver and bacon (with cabbage and potatoes), there again might not. Will have to have a think about it later.
More bread needs to be baked today (we are now on home-baked bread only, but B has shown a desire to start baking bread himself, and as I have carefully shown him every stage, and especially how high the bread should rise before baking (in his first and only attempt he couldn't wait to get it in oven, so it had only risen half as high as it should), then see no difficulty, especially if he makes the dough in the bread machine. He could, of course, make and cook the bread in the machine, but it really doesn't end up the 'proper' loaf shape that we like and that fits into our rather small toaster. So baking is done in the oven.

With the weather forecast good for today - lots of sun and the wind has dropped thank goodness (I HATE wind), the plan today is to go into the garden and hopefully finish all the planting out that has been waiting to be done for at least a week now. After that it should be more a matter of making sure the containers don't dry out. With more rain forecast on Thursday, that should be a help.

Thanks for comments. That Money Education you will be teaching your students sounds a good idea Kathryn, do you have to follow 'guide rules' a curriculum or something, or can you do your own thing? Learning how to budget for food would be (I think) almost essential, and possibly taking students round a supermarket to let them see how different brands of the same foods are sold at very different prices. Or would that be taught under 'home economics'. If not it should be.

Have seen the ads on TV and also had 'flyers' through the letterbox about all the different products sold at Farmfoods. They do seem really good value, but not sure if they really are - the quality of the meats might not be up to the standard I like (hope that doesn't sound 'posh' - it's just that some of the cheaper ranges are more breadcrumbs than filling). Anyway, to take advantage of their better offers we would need to buy two, and as yet (B now having 'forgotten' he suggested buying a small freezer to give us more room to store the food) a trip to Farmfoods is not on the cards. It would be good to hear from readers who have shopped there as to what they thought about the standard/quality of foods bought.

Our strawberries too are just about ready to pick, hope to get enough to fill a bowlful, and as Beloved has been made a big family size trifle with sherry-soaked sponge, strawberry jelly, canned fruit cocktail, custard and whipped cream on top with (by special request for he is still a child at heart) chopped angelica, glace cherries and flaked almond studded into the cream, feel that it is me that ought to have the first strawbs, with some of the whipped cream that was left over. Just for once am putting me first.

Your mention of dusting off our slow-cooker and bringing it back into use Urbanfarmgirl has led me to giving recipes today that can be cooked in a slow cooker (but also in an oven of course - at very low heat). We normally use these 'appliances' for cold weather cooking, then they are pushed away at the back of a cupboard (or on a high shelf) during the summer months, but there are plenty of uses for them throughout the twelve months of the year, and considering how little fuel they use compared to 'conventional' cooking, with the rising prices of gas/electricity we should use them more and the oven/hob less.

Will also be giving the recipe for the apple pie you requested Woozy. The reason why so many of the earlier postings of past months have disappeared I really don't know, but feel it is due to the overall length of each posting which gradually got longer and longer. Possibly they have placed a limit on to how much can 'fill' a month. Luckily our firstborn copied the first few years of postings into another document, so I can find ALL the recipes that were published at that time.
Loved reading about your soup. A great idea to make asparagus go three ways. As you say, there are so many 'trimmings' from foods that we always used to throw away, that we can actually USE to turn into another dish. We often forget that the flavour of a vegetable (especially 'greens') is not confined to the bits we normally eat, it is carried throughout the whole of the visible plant, including the stem and core. The darker the green the leaves (always the outer ones) contain far more vitamins than the paler inner leaves.
Not all of every plant can be eaten, we can eat rhubarb stems but NEVER the leaves. Neither do we eat the feathery carrot leaves. Certainly NOT the little green tomato look-alikes that are produced by flowering potatoes as these too are poisonous. But I think cooks-with-experience know what can be eaten and what can't. If in doubt, always check. Never assume.

Before I begin the recipes will give a mention to "The Taste of London" to be held in Regent's Park later this week 16 -19th June. An email sent to me leads me to think it is more a promotion of top London restaurants and top chef will also be there, but there will be lots of sample tasting going on, the Malaysian stand sounding particularly worth a visit.
So anyone planning a trip to London, or who lives near enough, and just loves food - it sounds well worth a visit. Only sad I cannot make the journey myself.

Now for the recipes.
Low Fat - High Top Apple Pie: serves 6
2 lb (9oog) cooking apples, peeled, cored, sliced
4 tblsp water
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tblsp cornflour
8 oz (225g) filo pastry
1 tblsp icing sugar
Put the apples and water into a pan and simmer until softened. Stir in the spice, lemon zest and juice, and cornflour, then cook until thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.
Take an 8" (20cm) shallow cake tin and place 1 sheet of filo in the centre, allowing the pastry to overlap the edges. Add the remaining sheets, moving them round so that the corners look like the points on a compass.
Work fast as the filo dries rapidly (placing a damp tea towel over helps to keep the unused ones soft).
Spoon the apple mixture into the pastry case, levelling the surface, then brush overlapping filo with butter and lift and crumple/ruffle each piece back over the pie. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 4 for about 20 minutes until golden, dust with icing sugar and serve warm.

Now come the crock-pot recipes. There are some absolutely gorgeous soups that can be made in a slow-cooker, all quite suitable for summer meals, where often a soup with crusty bread might just be enough (with cheese and biscuits to follow?).

This first soup needs the veggies lightly sauteed (to soften) before adding to the crock-pot as most veggies do need a higher heat to become tender. So we have to give them a start. The pesto is optional, but traditionally added to this soup from Genoa. As the plum tomatoes need peeling and chopping, then see no reason why a couple or three canned plum tomatoes couldn't take their place.
Genoese Minestrone: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 potato (about 4 oz/100g) cut into cubes
1.75 pints (1 ltr) hot vegetable stock
3 oz (75g) green beans, chopped
1 courgette, thinly sliced
2 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 x 200g can (7 oz) cannellini beans, drained
one quarter of a Savoy cabbage, shredded
2 oz (50g) 'quick-c00k' spaghetti, broken into small bits
salt and pepper
bottled pesto
Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion, celery, and carrot and cook/stir for about 5 or so minutes, until beginning to soften. Transfer these to the cooking pot, add the potato and stock, cover and cook on High for one and a half hours, then add the green beans, courgette, tomatoes and cannellini beans. Cover and cook for a further hour, then stir in the cabbage and pasta, cover and cook for a further 20 minutes.
When ready to serve, add seasoning to taste then stir in two tablespoons of the pesto. Serve hot in warmed soup bowls, drizzling a little more pesto on top if you wish.

Next soup is a great 'year-rounder' as it can be served hot or chilled. A variation of the Russian 'borscht' this can be made with either raw beetroot or the vacuum packed cooked beetroot (but not the pickled). When using cooked beetroot and if the carrot is grated, the initial cooking time can be reduced (although extra time will help to allow the flavours to develop anyway).
To be served cold: after cooking, leave to cool at room temperature, then chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. An alternative garnish to cream/yog would be to scatter finely chopped hardboiled eggs on top.
Beetroot, Tomato and Cabbage 'Borscht': serves 6
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
6 raw beetroot (4 diced the other 2 grated)
1 x 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes
6 new potatoes, coarsely chopped (could be canned)
1 small white cabbage, shredded
1 pint (600ml) vegetable stock
3 tblsp sugar
2 tblsp white wine (or cider) vinegar
2 tblsp chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper
sour cream or Greek yogurt to garnish
Put the onion, carrot and the diced beetroot into the crock-pot with the stock. Cover and cook on High for about 4 hours, or until the vegetables are tender. Then stir in the grated beetroot, sugar an vinegar and continue cooking for a further hour until the beetroot is cooked. Taste the soup, and add more sugar and/or vinegar to give a good sweet/sour balance of flavour. Add seasoning to taste. When ready to serve, stir in the chopped dill and ladle the soup into bowls. Top each with a good dollop of sour cream or yogurt.
Good eaten with crusty dark (rye) bread liberally spread with butter.

Because of the protein content of lentils, this next slow-cooked soup is almost a meal in itself. Again one that can be served hot or cold, and because it ends up pureed in a blender, could also be frozen to thaw and eat chilled on a hot summer's day.
Potage of Lentils: serves 4
3 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 potato, diced
9 oz (250g) red lentils
1.25 pints (750ml) hot vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 piece of lemon peel (without pith)
half tsp ground cumin
Tabasco sauce, to taste
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for about 5 minutes or until beginning to soften, then stir in the celery, carrot, garlic and potato. Cook for a further five minutes then transfer to the crock-pot, and switch to High. Add the lentils, stock, bay leaves and the strip of lemon peel. cover and cook for one hour.
Switch to Low and cook for a further 5 hours or until the veggies and lentils are soft.
Remove the bay leaves and lemon peel, then put the soup in a blender or food processor, and blitz until smooth. Return to pan, stir in the cumin and Tabasco with seasoning to taste. Cook on High for a further 45 minutes or until piping hot (or you could speed this up by heating in a saucepan on the hob), then serve in warmed soup bowls, topping with a garnish of chopped parsley.
The flavour is even more improved if a little lemon juice is stirred in when serving chilled.

Slow-cookers can make more than a hot meal. This next dish (again using lentils) ends up as a chilled pate, so again one for both summer (and winter buffet) eating.
Red Lentil and Goat's Cheese Pate: serves 8
8 oz (225g) red lentils
1 shallot, very finely chopped (or grated)
1 bay leaf
16 fl oz (475ml) very hot vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) goat's cheese
1 tsp ground cumin
3 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper
Rinse the lentils, drain and tip into the crock-pot, adding the shallot, bay leaf and hot stock. Switch cooker onto High, cover and cook for 2 hours, or until all the stock has been absorbed and the lentils are soft. Stir once or twice during this time to prevent the lentils sticking to the base of the pot.
Remove dish from cooker (turn this off), and remove the bay leaf. Leave uncovered to allow to cool (and the steam to evaporate). Transfer to another dish so the crock-pot bowl can be washed and dried, then returned to the cooker.
Lightly grease the base of a 900ml/1 1/2pt loaf tin, and line base with greaseproof paper. Place an upturned saucer or metal trivet in the bottom of the crock-pot and pour in about 1" (2.5cm) boiling water, switch to High.
Put the goat's cheese into a bowl with the cumin and beat until soft and creamy, then gradually beat in the eggs, then stir in the lentil mixture, seasoning well. Tip into the prepared tin, cover with cling-film or foil, the stand the tin on the saucer in the cooker, adding more boiling water to come halfway up the sides. Place lid on crock-pot and cook for 3 - 3 1/2 hours or until the pate is lightly set.
Remove tin from cooker (it will be hot), and place on a wire rack to cool completely, then chill in the fridge for several hours, pref overnight.
To serve: turn the pate out of the tin, removing base lining paper and cut into slices. Serve with melba toast, crispbread or what you will.

As there is a great saving with fuel costs when cooking in a slow-cooker, no reason why we should not use it also to make cakes. Perhaps more 'steamed' than baked, they are nevertheless very good to eat. Have quite a selection of desserts/cakes that can be cooked in a slow-cooker, but the one given today I'm particularly fond of as it is a type of carrot cake that also has parsnip as an ingredient (when parsnips are out of season, then use courgettes) 0r just make it with all carrots. If you don't wish to bother with drying some of the zest with sugar, then add all the zest to the cake, and omit the 2 tsp sugar.
Carrot and Parsnip Cake: serves 8
1 orange or lemon
2 tsp caster sugar
6 oz (175g) butter or marg
6 oz (175g) soft light brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
6 oz (175g) carrots and parsnips, grated
2 oz (50g) sultanas
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
2 oz (100g) self-raising wholewheat
1 tsp baking powder
half - 1 tsp cinnamon
Put an upturned sauce or metal trivet in the bottom of the cooking pot and pour in about an inch of hot water. Switch the cooker to High.
Lightly grease a deep 7" (18cm) cake tin or souffle dish with oil, lining the base with baking parchment.
Grate the zest from the chosen citrus fruit, and mix half the zest with the caster sugar then place in a hot-spot (cool oven or sunny windowsill) to dry (see above).
Put the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat until soft and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs. Stir in the remaining (unsugared) citrus zest, the grated carrots and parsnips, and the sultanas.
Sift both flours, baking powder and cinnamon together and gradually fold into the carrot/parsnip mixture. If there is any bran left in the sieve, add this too.
Spoon mixture into prepared tin, levelling the surface. Cover loosely with oiled foil, then place in the crock-pot (standing it on the saucer). Add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the tin.
Place lid on cooker and cook for 3 - 5 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove tin from cooker and leave to cool for about 5 or so minutes before turning out onto a cake airer to get cold.
If you wish to make a topping for the cake you could spread some cream cheese over the cake and sprinkle over the dried zest and sugar.

All sorts of preserves, relishes and chutneys can be made in a slow-cooker, and this appliance makes especially good mincemeat. So if anyone wishes for a recipe for mango chutney, Confit of Onions (onion marmalade), lemon curd, 'hot' dried fruit chutney.... all you have to do is ask. Here is a great chutney that - when bottled, has a shelf life of two years, so worth thinking about to add to those Christmas Hampers we cooks like to give as gifts.
Butternut, Apricot and Almond Chutney: makes 4 lbs
1 small butternut squash (approx 1 lb 4 oz/800g)
14 oz (400g) granulated or demerara sugar
half pint (300ml) cider vinegar
2 onions, finely chopped
8 oz (225g) no-soak apricots, chopped
zest and juice of 1 orange
half teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 tblsp salt
4 oz (100g) flaked almonds
Halve the squash and remove seeds and peel. Cut the flesh into half inch (1cm) cubes.
Put the sugar and vinegar into the crock-pot and switch to High. Cover and ook for 30 minutes, then stir until the sugar has dissolved, then add the cubes of squash and the rest of the ingredients (but not the almonds), stirring well to combine.
Cover nd cook for 5 - 6 hours, stirring occasionally. After 5 hours the chutney should be fairly thick with no liquid visible. If still runny, remove lid and cook uncovered for the final hour. When ready, stir in the almonds.
Spoon into hot sterilised jars, cover and seal. Store in a cool dark place and leave for at least a month to 'mature' before eating. Will store unopened for up to 2 years. Once opened, keep the jar in the fridge and use within 2 months.

Whenever we make anything to store, it is always worth writing the date of making on the label. Especially important when it comes to food that have a shorter shelf life - such as lemon curd. We can even write down the date of opening a bought bottle of something if it needs to be used up within a short time - allowing that we don't ALWAYS have to be so exact about dates.
It's got to the point now that we now make a note of the date when we put new batteries into things, for certainly the batteries in our door bell don't seem to last very long. I do the same with the bottles of washing up liquid (and good to find out they last more than 3 months - each time trying to make them last a week or so longer by adding a little water to the bottle and giving a shake before it gets too empty).

Another 'money-saver' is to not always to bother with using labels. Find that if a glass jar contains something pale in colour (could be white or demerara sugar, lemon curd, a certain shape of pasta, couscous or burgul wheat etc) the contents/dates can be written directly onto the glass using a marker pen. Easily washed off when the contents are changed.
At one time we used regularly to have a Chinese meal delivered (or collected). Both dishes and rice came in separate fairly shallow plastic boxes (about 8" x 4") including lids, and these were always cleaned and saved. They are great for freezing individual servings of a cooked dish, and the contents (and any other heating instructions if necessary) written on top with marker pen. So continually being reused.
To fill freezer space more 'tightly', the last veggies/oven chips etc are also stored in the above boxes so the bags can be thrown away. Because anything 'bagged' takes up more room in a freezer than if in a solid block, it's often a good idea to decant the contents of a whole bag into several smaller (square/oblong) containers.

When freezing soups/stocks/milk or anything liquid, if not using a container to start with, always put the bag into a container with square sides, then pour in what you wish to freeze. Once solid the bag can be removed, and end up as a block which can be stacked up with others and no gaps inbetween (always remember to write the contents on the outside of the bag - it is incredible how so many completely different things look exactly alike once frozen. Egg whites, chicken stock, apple sauce, lemon juice for example).

With wall to wall blue sky and barely a hint of a breeze, will now wind up today's 'diary' and take myself outside to do some potting up. If I carry on rambling (as normal for me) it will be noon before I finish.
Hope you are all experiencing some good weather today after most of us have had a weekend of rain (although badly needed in some parts of the country). It's around now that those 'who grow their own' are now starting to sample a few of their 'first fruits'. And it can only get better. Have a feeling that readers will start demanding more recipes on how to use up the glut of courgettes we often have. But the recipes there when ready. As ever - all you have to do is ask. That's what I'm here for.

A few 'regulars' send in comments, and for these I thank you, but it would be good to hear from others, even if you haven't a query, but queries always welcomed as they help me to find something useful to write about, otherwise I just babble on. But whatever, as long as you all keep logging on..... (but how will I know unless you tell me). Hope many of you find time to join me tomorrow. See you then.