Thursday, November 10, 2011

Every Which Way.....

Yesterday had a can of Tuscan Bean Soup for my lunch (Tesco 46p). Found it really good (for the money). Just enough beans and spice that was pleasing to my palate.
Having decided to make a Cassoulet (soon) when I have some cold sausages and ham to use (which I hope to have after today's supper of Cold Meat Platter), these - could be cooked (in other words reheated thoroughly) in a can of the above Bean Soup instead of making the Cassoulet from scratch. Sprinkling over some buttered crumbs to make a 'crumble topping, then browning it off under the grill would make the dish even more 'authentic'.

So many products can be use in ways not intended by the manufacturer, and canned soups are really useful. Oxtail soup can be poured into a casserole as an almost instant 'gravy' instead of using a casserole mix. Chicken soup also make a good 'cook-in-sauce' when casseroling chicken, and usually find the cheapest soups work just as well as the more expensive products sold for the purpose.
Condensed soups again are extremely useful. Left as-is they can be used as a thick creamy base to hold 'extra bits' (mushroom, chicken etc according to the flavour of the soup) when filling vol au vents etc. Condensed soups can be spooned into ice-cube trays to later use a cube as 'flavouring' when making another dish.

The other day - after finishing up one of B's chosen Fajita kits was left with two flour tortillas. Decided to cut these into wedges and fried them in shallow fat where they turned into 'tortilla chips' - perfect for eating with dips or chilli con carne etc.

Another 'experiment' yesterday was when I was preparing the food for the chilli con carne (requested by our guest). Always, always find that minced meat 'clumps' together (albeit small lumps) when put in a pan to fry. Frozen meat that has been thawed tends to do this the most.
Have found - in the past - that if I put the meat in a saucepan and just cover with water, then the 'grains' will separate more easily, and often I cook the meat in the water instead of first frying it off in the pan.
Yesterday tried tipping the thawed meat into a bowl (still sticking together) then worked it loose with my fingers before tipping over some flour and working this in. To some extent this did help to separate the 'grains', and when I tipped the lot in the pan and started breaking it up with a wooden spoon discovered the flour really did help. Ended up with a pan of minced meat that wasn't lumpy at all. Also the flour helped to thicken the liquid that was added later.

My Beloved is very complimentary about my chilli at the moment, and think this has to be because the last two times I'd added a fair amount of Bisto gravy granules (the better kind, not the 'normal') and this gave the dish a much 'meatier' flavour which he enjoys. Basically the chilli was made with just fried onions - to which was added the mince - then a little water, some Bisto, a can of chopped tomatoes, some chilli seasoning, and finally - a can of red kidney beans. That was the 'expensive' version. To save money I would normally serve less meat and include the remaining two of the Holy Trinity (finely diced carrot, celery to first cook with the onion).

Also made an apple, pear and blackberry crumble for 'afters' (fruit from the garden). Plus a cake (which didn't work because I 'estimated' the amounts, used plain flour by mistake and had to throw in some baking powder, and also whisked the lot together instead of creaming the fat and sugar first. Maybe it will taste alright. B will eat it warmed up as a 'pudding' as long as he can pour cream over it.

Thanks Elaine for your comment. Having watched a cookery prog yesterday, saw Little Gem lettuce being braised in a pan after being sliced through from stem to tip. Looked a lot like Pak choi so another leafy veg that can be used as an alternative.

Thanks also to gillibob for the details/link re making our own laundry detergent. Also passing on the tip to use milk cartons as containers for soup. Suppose empty and well rinsed fruit juice cartons could also be used for the same purpose.

Regarding the Approved Foods site (or any similar), it usually works out very economical all round if a small group of friends could share an order (and share delivery charges). We don't always need a large amount of something sold in bulk, especially when living on our own, so even a kg packet of something (rice?) could be shared. Am sure - if prices continue to rise - that more and more people will be gathering together to form their own 'shopping group' where foods can be bought and shared.
Even shopping in store with a friend can really help when it comes to the bogofs. Myself used to take a friend to the supermarket, and we would always give the other the 'freebie' if the product was what we would normally be buying anyway. The price for each may be different but that didn't matter. We would each return home with as many as ten different things (maybe a big bag of jacket spuds, a pack of cheese, a can or two of something or other, a cauliflower, tub of cream ) all free as a bogof. Most of these might have been on our shopping list anyway, so remember "it pays to share".

Up until now have felt that the weather in Missouri sounds much the same as we have it hear in the UK Lisa. That is until today when you mentioned the tornados. We very rarely have tiny ones that don't do much harm - maybe one tree uprooted or one roof blown off, but nothing much more than that - but, as this is England - it would be on the news, published in all the papers etc.
Do you have 'root cellars' in houses in America still. Can only relate to what I've seen in films but it seems these are a good place to shelter in (being underground) when a tornado strikes. Possibly American town houses are more sturdily built than those in more rural places (which always appear to have fallen like a pack of cards when a tornado has struck).

Somewhere I have some gluten free recipes for bread and cakes, scones etc, so will hunt them out and put them up on this site for you. Hope you will be able to convert to the US cup measurements from our own 'metrics/Imperials' and also remember that our 'pints' are 20 fl oz, not the 16 fl oz as in the American pint.
As I have a recipe to hand for carrot cake you may be able to adapt this to make variations.
Gluten Free Carrot Cake: serves 8
5 oz (150g) softened butter, pref unsalted
7 oz (200g) caster sugar
9 oz (250g) carrots, grated
5 oz (150g) sultanas
2 eggs, beaten
7 oz (200g) gluten-free self-raising flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
2 oz (50g) chopped walnuts
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then fold in the carrots and sultanas, adding the eggs a little at a time.
Sift together the flour, cinnamon and baking powder and add this to the mix along with most of the nuts. Mix together well then spoon the mixture into a greased and lined 2 lb (900g) loaf tin. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 50 - 55 minutes (or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean). Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes or so before turning out to finish cooling on a cake airer.
Traditionally this cake is topped with cream cheese that has been sweetened with icing sugar, the remaining chopped walnuts sprinkled on top.

As not familiar with gluten-free cooking, would like to ask readers whether gluten free flour could be substituted for normal flour when tackling most recipes. And if not, why not? Also wondering if it might work better than the 'normal' when making some things such as pastry where gluten might be more of a handicap than of use (too much handling of pastry means the gluten then 'works' and the pastry can become tough).

One of the 'cheffy' competitive cookery progs yesterday dealt with 'spun sugar', and this is a perfect example of how a relatively inexpensive ingredient (in this instance sugar) can turn into something really special that we would expect to pay a lot for when 'eating out'. Did given a mention to chicken livers yesterday (also cheap), but when dealt with 'correctly' again can make something we could be charged a lot for in a restaurant.
There is no secret other than we are paying only for the skill of the chef, and - like any craft (and cooking IS a craft), over time we can learn to do many things. Even I can 'spin sugar'. Not that I do these days, but it is not THAT difficult.

However - there are easier ways to produce something a little more spectacular than a dollop of ice-cream on a plate. Next time why not serve it in a lacy 'sugar dish'. Use the same recipe for Brandy Snaps (given below) but instead of rolling the 'biscuit' round a handle, instead drape it over an upturned tea-cup (or mug) then leave it to firm up before removing and 'hey presto' you've formed a 'sugar dish' that can hold almost anything you wish (but great to use when serving ice-cream to guests. These keep well when stored (unfilled) in an air-tight tin.
Brandy Snaps: makes 18
2 oz (50g) golden syrup
1.5 oz (40g) caster sugar
2 oz (50g) butter
1.5 oz (40g) plain flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp brandy
Put the syrup and sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and beat in the flour and ginger, followed by the brandy.
Have ready two baking sheets greased with butter then - using a teaspoon - spoon the mixture onto the baking sheets - leaving about 3 inches between each as they spread - and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 10 minutes (by then each spoonful should have spread to a thin golden disc with holes in it.
Remove from oven and leave for a couple of minutes before removing one at a time with a palette knife, rolling each round the handle of a wooden spoon - then remove and cool on a wire tray (or - if making 'lace dishes' - drape the circles over the bottom of a upturned teacups greased with butter).
Practice makes perfect, and it should be possible to make all the tubes/dishes quite rapidly (why not make some of each), but if working more slowly, the mixture may become too stiff to mould, so place it back in the oven for a couple of minutes to re-soften, then bring out and continue.
Store (unfilled) in an airtight tin and fill just prior to serving.

That is it for today. Will be meeting up with Eileen this morning, so looking forward to having a good chat. After that will be doing more cooking and planning ahead for the weekend meals.

Hope you will all be able to join me again tomorrow. If so - see you then.