Saturday, February 26, 2011

Making it Easy

Today am giving a recipe for those who wish to make bread but not bother with the kneading. Have to admit to not yet trying this recipe, but hope to shortly. It sounds as though it could be a winner. First published in a 'Farmhouse Fare' cookbook (c. 1940), the original recipe was sent in by a farmer's wife (who had access to all the ingredients that urban people were short of during wartime rationing) it is less an 'austerity' bread than might first be expected. More a speedy way to get what we want. A 'breakfast cup' was a large tea-cup, and an average mug would be a good alternative measure. I've suggested using instant yeast as that is the one most of us use today. Normally, one sachet of yeast raises 1 lb flour, so adjust weight of flour if necessary.

Wholemeal Splits:
2 breakfastcupfuls of whole meal flour
1 breakfastcupful of white (strong?) flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 sachet instant yeast (see above)
knob lard (size of a walnut), melted
1 breakfastcupful warm water
1 tblsp milk
Mix the flours together in a bowl with the salt. Make a well in the centre and into this put the yeast and sugar. Mix the water and milk and stir in the melted lard. Pour this over the yeast.
Allow to stand until the yeast starts working and the liquid rises and bubbles, then mix this in with a knife - only to the consistency of a soft paste - adding more warm water if necessary. Dust top with flour, then cover the bowl and set in a warm place for the dough to rise (double in size).
Turn out onto a well-floured board and lightly roll out to less than half inch in thickness. Place on a warmed greased tin (or in a greased shallow Swiss roll tin), and leave to rise once more. When ready to bake, mark into bread-roll sized squares - using the blunt (back) side of a knife to press into the dough to form the shape, but without cutting right through, then bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until done (suggest half an hour, then check),
When cold, break/cut into individual 'splits' and spread with butter. Good also eaten buttered then spread with chopped walnuts and dates, or chopped nuts and cream cheese. Eat alone (or buttered( with soups, or use as 'baps', split and 'stuffed' with a burger or other chosen filling.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Your Choice or Mine?

Over the weeks/months - have discovered a fews websites that could be useful for all of us. Many of you already know of them, but for those that don't, would like to recommend the following: (REALLY good site)
http://www.mysupermarket/ (price comparisons)
http://www.approvedfoods/ (end-date b.b.foods at very low cost) (sign up for their regular email)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Try Before We Cry

This dish is all to do with adding as much flavour as possible, so there are plenty of ways to adapt this dish and reduce the costs but still ending up with plenty of tasty things. Myself find a tablespoon of tomato puree stirred in also boosts the flavour.
Remember that dried beans weigh twice their weight (at least) after soaking and cooking, so you will need to use extra canned cooked beans, but only if you can afford it.
Simple Cassoulet: serves 4 - 6
2 lb/1.2 kg dried haricot beans (use cooked, canned beans)
1 large onion, chopped
4 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped (use canned tomatoes)
3 stalks celery, sliced
5 cloves garlic, chopped (use 2)
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh parsley
1 lb (450g) belly pork (use one pork hock)
12 oz (350g) collar of bacon (or chunks cooked ham)
1 pint (600ml) chicken stock or hot water
1 tblsp oil
8 Toulouse sausages (use any herby sausages)
1 duck cut into 8 pieces (use skinless chicken portions)
2 tblsp chopped parsley
1 oz (25g) breadcrumbs
Soak, cook and drain the dried beans in the usual way (or drain the canned beans). Into a large pan put the onions, tomatoes, celery, garlic, herbs, pork,bacon and chicken, then pour over the stock/water and simmer gently for an hour.
Meanwhile put the oil in a frying pan and cook the sausages until browned all over (they don't have to be cooked through), and cut into large chunks.
Strain the meat and vegetables (reserving the liquid) then cut the meat also into large chunks. Then begin to assemble the cassoulet.
Spoon half the beans into a large, deep casserole. Top with the chunks of meat and sausage, then cover with remaining beans. Pour in enough of the reserved liquid (including sauce if using canned beans), to cover, adding extra stock or water if necessary. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.
Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 1 1/2 hours. Every 30 minutes, break the breadcrumb crust into the stew - but don't stir it in. Then repeat every half hour.
If the stew is beginning to dry up, add just a little more boiling stock or water. When cooked, take to the table and serve directly from the pot.
Note: Cassoulet is best prepared the day before serving as the flavours improve with re-heating, always making sure it is thoroughly heated through.

Although baked (aka 'jacket') potatoes can be speedily baked in a microwave, they are not as tasty as when baked in the oven, where their skins become crisp and taste so good. There are short-cuts. (1) Boil the whole potatoes for four minutes, and then finish off in the oven, this usually saves a third of the time needed to cook them (1 hour instead of 1 1/2 hours). (2) Stick a metal skewer through the middle/length of the potato. The metal gets hot and this cooks the centre of the potato more rapidly. Or (3) Part micro-wave and part grill - 'recipe' for this follows:

Speedy Jacket Potatoes:
1 baking potato (approx 8 oz/225g) per person
olive oil
Prick the potato with a fork. Sit each on a piece of kitchen paper in the microwave, then cook on High for 8 minutes (10 minutes if baking 2, longer if baking more). When soft, transfer to a baking tray and brush all over with olive oil, then place under a pre-heated grill (medium - high heat) and grill for 5 minutes, turning the potato until the skin is crisp.
Ideally, then cut a cross in the top of the potato using a sharp knife, hold the base and squeeze open. Pop in a knob of butter or your chosen filling, then eat and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cooks Guide to Goode Eating

Bearing in mind that adding plenty of 'flavourings' (herbs, spices etc) will lift fairly tasteless ingredients to a higher level, today am giving a recipe for a basic meat loaf that ends up really tasty, and unlike some meat loaves, this is intended to be eaten cold. If you wish you can change the flavours according to your taste, or include others. Instead of tomato puree, add chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Instead of W. sauce, use H.P (brown sauce). Obviously, choose different herbs according to what you have.

Meatloaf: serves 6
about 1 lb (500g) minced beef
about 1 lb (500g) minced pork
1 onion, finely chopped
2 eggs
2 oz (50g) stale breadcrumbs
half tsp each salt and pepper
1 tblsp fresh oregano/marjoram leaves OR...
...1 tsp dried oregano
1 tblsp fresh thyme leaves OR...
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves
...1 tsp dried thyme
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (opt)
2 tsp tomato puree
olive oil
Put the minced meats, onion, eggs, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, into a bowl. Chop the fresh herbs and add most of them to the bowl (or all the dried if using) together with the garlic, W. sauce (if using), and tomato puree. Using your hands, mix everything very well together.
Press the mixture into an oiled 2lb (900g) loaf tin, pushing well into the corners, but leaving the top slightly rounded, then sprinkle the top with a few chopped fresh herbs, finishing with a drizzle of oil.
Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for one hour 10 minutes (by which time the meatloaf should be cooked through). Remove from oven and pour away any fat/juices from the loaf, then leave to cool in the tin. Keep the meat in the tin, then wrap in foil and place in the fridge to chill thoroughly before unwrapping, removing from tin and slicing.
Great served (thickly sliced) in a burger bun with chutney, or sliced and served on a plate with salads.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Cost of Living

We have all got into the habit of buying food on a regular basis, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, and ALWAYS while we still have food in our larder or fridge (not to mention frozen foods)that we could be cooking and eating. Break this shopping habit, and begin using up what we've got. Discovering we can make something ourselves that might normally have been bought for a higher price (than the ingredients) adds to the enjoyment. Then time we begin stocking up again (using the March budget), we will probably find we don't need half of what we thought we did, and end up spending only half of what we used to.

Tried out a chefs way way of placing paper in the pastry lined tins before adding dried beans (to hold the paper down) and it does work very well. Just take a square (or circle) of baking parchment to the size to cover the base and sides of the pastry case, then tightly scrunch up into a ball. When unwrapped it is then easily pressed into place, and fits more tightly than when just pressing in 'flat' paper. After filling with baking beans, cooking, then removing, the paper can be used for the same purpose again (and again, and again..).

For our own security we should all keep a few weeks supply of foods in store, especially when coming up to the winter months. This last winter proved that we need to have something to fall back on when weather conditions prevent us shopping (or even having foods delivered). Things such as UHT milk, baked beans, canned tomatoes, canned fish, corned beef, flour, raising agenst, sugar, rice, name but a few, and the usual butter, oils, vinegar etc. Also no reason why we shouldn't fill shelves with home-made jams, marmalade, chutneys and pickles as our grandparents used to do. Possibly also making mincemeat, Christmas Puddings, and rich fruit cakes that also have a long shelf-life. Make more, buy less.
The odd jars and packs of things we thought we might find a use for and never have - well, perhaps discovering these will have taught me a lesson at least.

It may be sensible to buy a pack of sticking plasters just in case we might cut ourselves, it's another thing to buy a can of anchovies when we KNOW nobody likes them. I have these in store because the chefs use them regularly (to stuff into a joint of lamb before cooking - they say no-one realises they are there. So why bother?). Suppose I could use them on a home-made pizza and eat this myself, but am I likely to? Prefer chorizo to anchovies. What a silly girl I've been. Always wanting to play chef when all I am is a 'just a housewife'.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Flour Power

Both chapatis and the soft flour tortillas are very easy to make and cook, both in a similar way, so will be giving recipes for these today as we can probably make use of them as an 'enhancer' to a 'using up what we've got' meal that will probably be gracing our tables every day.

We don't even need to serve a vegetable curry with rice if we have Naan bread or chapatis to eat with it. salads, and the tiniest scraps of meat can be far more enticing when tortillas are used as a 'wrap to hold them together'. Tortillas can be fried (or grilled) until crisp and used for dunking into dips.

Tortillas: makes 10
8 oz (225g) plain white flour
2 oz (50g) lard, diced
1 tsp salt
4 fl oz (120ml) hand-hot water
Sift the flour into a bowl, add the salt and rub in the lard. Pour in the water and mix to a dough. Turn out onto a floured board, knead for 2 - 3 minutes, then wrap in cling-film and chill for an hour.
Divide the dough evenly into 10, forming each piece into a ball, then roll out into as even a circle as possible, about 6"/15cm dia. To cook, heat a DRY frying pan and cook on each side for 2 - 3 minutes, removing each as done and stacking between sheets of baking parchment/greaseproof paper. Wrap in foil to keep warm if using 'fresh'. Wrap in foil to keep soft if using later.

Chapatis: makes 6 - 8
7 oz (200g) wholemeal flour
3 fl oz (75ml) warm water
2 tblsp butter, softened or melted
Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the water then mix together to make a dough. Knead on a lightly floured board for 6 - 8 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, then replace in bowl, cover and set aside to rest for 15 minutes (no need to chill).
Divide the dough into 6 - 8 equal portion and roll each out thinly (to the thickness of a 50p coin), and using a DRY frying pan, cook one chapati at a time for 30 seconds, then turn and cook on the other side for 1 minutes - bubble then start showing on the surface. Pat down with fish slice, turn again and cook for a final 30 seconds (one minute each side total). Smear the top of each chapati with butter when cooked, and stack together. Wrap in foil and keep warm ready to serve.

Although baking powder is made from both bicarb and c.of.tartar, these are not in the proportions as in the recipe below. As long as we understand there is a scientific reason why bicarb. of soda should be used when cooking with acidic ingredients such as soured milk/yogurt, we realise we should always used the raising agent/s a recipe states:
Soda Bread:
1 lb (450g) plain flour
2 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 level tsp cream of tartar
1 level tsp salt
1 oz (25g) lard
1 tsp caster sugar (opt)
half pint (300ml) soured milk, buttermilk, or diluted yogurt
Sift together the flour, bicarb, cream of tartar and salt. Rub in the lard using fingertips. When like fine breadcrumbs add sugar (if using). Make a well in the centre, pour in the chosen liquid, and using a round-bladed knife, stir together to form a soft dough. Add more liquid if necessary.
Turn dough onto a floured surface, knead lightly then form into a round (about width of a hand span), then place on a floured baking tray. Flatten the dough slightly, mark the top by slashing (not too deeply) across in both directions (top to bottom, side to side) , then bake in centre of oven at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Best eaten freshly made as this goes stale quite rapidly, although makes pretty decent toast the following day.

Although most of us prefer to eat a richer sponge, there might be a time when we wish to cut down on the fats we eat, or make what we have go further so am giving a recipe for a fat-less sponge cake - this quite often used for making Swiss Rolls where we can include 'fat' if we wish by spreading the cake with cream (and jam) before it is rolled up. Fat-less sponge cake is very good to use when making trifle, so any trimmings should always be saved for this purpose (freeze them).

The sponge cake below comes under the heading of a 'whisked cake', where their texture is dependent on incorporating the eggs and flour in the right way. Mixtures such as these should always be baked immediately after making.
Normally, the eggs and sugar are placed in a bowl that is standing over a saucepan containing simmering water, this allowing them to warm up and after being beaten for some minutes, this should leave a trail in the surface when the beaters are lifted, When using balloon or rotary hand whisks, the bowl should always be heated. With an electric whisk not so important, but myself prefer to still keep the bowl warm over water as it speeds up the process. Never let the mixture become too warm or the cake will be tough.
Sifting the flour is a very important part of the process. Never mind in the flour bought is already 'sifted' (it will have settled in the bag anyway). Sift twice or even thrice with the salt before making the cake, the last time over the whisked eggs, then carefully fold in without losing the air trapped in the eggs.

Fatless Sponge:
3 oz (75g) plain flour
pinch of salt
3 eggs
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
Place a deep mixing bowl over a pan of hot water, and into this break the eggs and start whisking, slowly adding the sugar. Continue whisking until the mixture is very pale in colour and thick enough to leave a trail when the beaters are lifted. Carefully fold in the sifted flour and salt using a metal spoon and using a figure of eight movement.
Divide mixture between two greased and floured (base-lined if you wish) 7" sandwich tins, putting any scrapings from the sides of the bowl around the edge (NOT in the middle). Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 15 minutes or until golden and springy to the touch.
Ease the cakes away from the side of the tin, turn out, peel off paper (if using) and place on a cake airer to cool. Then sandwich together with whipped cream and jam. Dust top of cake with icing sugar. Keep chilled until serving.

Swiss Roll:
Same ingredients and whisking as above, but this time fold half the sifted flour into the whisked eggs and sugar, before folding in the final flour then folding in one tablespoon of hot water. This helps the mixture spread more evenly over the greased and lined base of a Swiss Roll tin.
Bake at 210C, 425F, gas 7 for 10 minutes until well risen and golden. While baking, prepare a sheet of baking parchment by sifting over caster sugar, then - when the cake is baked - turn this out immediately onto the sugared paper, remove paper and trim away the crisp edges. Spread with jam and roll up from the short side, firmly at the start, then slightly looser. Place on a wire rack with join on the underside and cover with a clean cloth to allow to cool.
If wishing to fill with whipped cream, turn out onto plain parchment (no sugar), but leave the lining paper still in place, then roll the sponge round this whilst still warm. When cold, carefully unwrap then spread with cream and jam, and roll up again. Dust with icing or caster sugar when ready to serve.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Old Time Common Sense

So today am beginning with some classic French recipes because they are 'cheap', also easily adapted, and for those of us who have even a small garden, we should be able to forage there to find at least one ingredient.
Foraging for food (hunting 'food for free' in the countryside) is now becoming so 'fashionable' that several top restaurants now employ someone to do the foraging. Because the foraged food is fresh and not on sale, this is counted as almost 'posh nosh' and we are charged accordingly when it is shown on the menu. Why pay when we can easily go out and forage for ourselves, but before we do, we should always get a guide book that tells us what is edible and what is not. Mabey's book Food for Free, is a good one to use. It may now be out of print, and there will almost certainly be similar, and new books on the subject, that we pay more for, but worth seeking a copy in a second-hand book shop or website.

The first 'freebie' few of us need to look up as it is so familiar. The Dandelion! The name itself comes from the French 'dent de lion' - because the dandelion leaves, with their deeply serrated edges, look like a row of lion's teeth. The French call it Pissenlit (translated in English to 'wet the bed') - as the leaves have diuretic properties).
It makes an excellent starter when entertaining, both for the economical aspect and also the 'history'.

Although the recipe serves a goodly number, amounts can easily be reduced to feed as few two (or even one for that matter). Again just use the recipe as a guide. The two 'essential' ingredients being the dandelion leaves and bacon, and at a pinch you can get away with just that, with a little dressing.
It is essential the dandelion leaves are freshly picked and clean. Ideally, when they start growing in the garden, put a plant pot over the top to 'force' them, then they become a lighter green colour and slightly sweeter - also keeps the cats away! If not forced, use the young leaves as they are not so bitter. In any case, after picking in the wild (or garden), always give them a good rinse. Avoid 'foraging' by the roadside as everything grown there will be covered in car fumes, often difficult to remove by washing. If you have no garden, unable to forage elsewhere, then baby spinach or chicory leaves are suggested as being used in place of the dandelion.
A suggeston, if - having purchased packs of bacon offcuts - there should be enough fatty bits to render down on their own, this bacon 'dripping' can be used instead of oil for this dish, as it adds even more flavour.

Pissenlit aux Lardons: serves 8
2 tblsp sunflower oil
8 oz (225g) bacon rashers, cut into half inch (1cm) dice
about 8 handfuls crisp dandelion leaves
4 tblsp red wine vinegar
2 - 3 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
4 slices bread, made into garlic croutons (recipe given below)
Fry the bacon with the oil until crisp. Tear the dandelion leaves into pieces and place in a WARMED salad bowl, then pour over the bacon together with the oils in the pan. Add the vinegar to the pan, bring to the boil, then stir in the mustard. Pour this over the salad seasoning well with pepper, and a very small amount of salt (to lift the flavours). Serve whilst still warm, with croutons.

garlic croutons:
use sliced white or wholemeal bread (toasting thickness), brushing each side with olive oil or melted butter and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 200C, 400G, gas 6 for 2 minutes, then turn the slices over. Turn off the oven and continue crisping the bread for 3 minutes in the residual heat or until just becoming crisp, then rub the baked bread with a cut garlic clove, then cut into cubes. If you wish to crisp further, return to the oven for a couple more minutes (again using residual heat).

This next recipe, in many ways is almost identical to the above when it comes to ingredients, but prepared differently. The basic recipe is given, but it is very common in France to add lightly fried chicken livers, pieces of herring (sardines?), anchovy fillets, beef tongue, farmhouse sausages, boiled potatoes, pickled herrings, and fresh herbs (possibly not all at the same time - but then, with the French, who knows!). With the additions, the cook book calls this then "an exuberant dish, and always highly seasoned".
The 'fresh greens' suggested in this salad are: young dandelion leaves, curly endive, cos lettuce (Little Gem would be good), and lamb's lettuce. To this I suggest those young Mixed Salad Leaves that I hope most of us will be growing (again) this year.

Salade Lyonnaise: serves 4
6 handfuls of young dandelion leaves, OR- see above.
6 oz (175g) streaky bacon, chopped into 2" (5cm) pieces
2 slices granary bread
2 cloves garlic, halved
1 tblsp red wine vinegar
4 eggs
2 tblsp red wine vinegar
5 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp Dijon mustard
1 tblsp chopped fresh chives, tarragon, and/or parsley
salt and pepper
Grill the bacon until crisp (or fry if you prefer). Toast the bread then both sides with the garlic, then cut into 1" (2.5cm) strips. Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together until well blended.
Bring a shallow pan of water to the boil, adding the vinegar. Break the eggs into a cup, then carefully slide them into the boiling water so that the bubbles hold the whites together. Simmer for 4 minutes to cook the whites firmly enough, but still keeping the yolks runny. Remove from the pan and tidy the whites by trimming with a pair of scissors.
Tear the greens into bite-sized pieces, mixing in the herbs, then add the bacon and crouton. Pour the vinaigrette over and toss. Finally arrange the eggs on top. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More Ways to Make Things Easy

(1) Pastry made with lard actually IMPROVES after being frozen, and becomes much more tender. Don't ask me why, but it is a known fact.
(2) When wishing to bake jam tarts, to prevent the jam bubbling up over the sides of the pastry, always store the jam in the fridge. It then holds itself together whilst baking.

Although not often eaten this way, a French omelette is very good eaten cold, so can be made in advance and kept in the fridge, even overnight if you wish. Pour an oily or salsa dressing over, cut the omelette into strips, stir into the dressing, eat and enjoy.
An Italian omelette is called a frittata, cooked over a lower heat, and for a longer time than its French cousin. Normally thicker so cut into wedges to serve. The basic recipe is given, and to this add any of the suggestions shown, or whatever you feel will be to your taste.
4 eggs (larger the better)
salt and pepper to taste
good handful of grated Parmesan or any hard cheese
2 oz (50g) butter
Beat the eggs with a fork until well mixed, then beat in the seasoning and cheese. Melt the butter in a frying pan (at least 10"/25.5cm) in diameter, and when it begins to froth it is time to tip in the egg mixture.
Reduce heat as low as it will go (use a heat diffuser if necessary), and leave the eggs to cook for about 15 minutes, by which time the base will have set but the top still appear runny. Time then to remove pan from hob and place under a pre-heated grill for about one minute to set the top but avoid browning it. Slide onto a heated plate and serve cut into wedges.

Additions to a frittata can be little 'chunky' as the cooking time will soften them, but best to first soften in a little olive oil before pouring over the eggs that are already starting to cook in the pan. Here are some suggestions:
small auberines and/or courgettes sliced to thickness of a pound coin and first fried lightly with a chopped shallot
grated potato mixed with fennel seeds
left-over cooked (or canned and drained) new potatoes, diced and tossed with a little butter in which has been fried a good pinch of curry powder
red, yellow or orange bell pepper, deseeded and flesh cut into chunks, fried with a little chopped streaky bacon or ham
chopped sun-dried tomatoes with some crispy fried onions
goat's cheese or Feta cheese with chopped fresh thyme leaves
creamy blue cheese with toasted chopped walnuts

A 'piperade ' is a cross between a French and Italian omelette. The vegetables first being fried in the pan and the eggs added later. This recipe is a Basque (French) traditional, and makes a good lunch or light supper dish.

Piperade: serves 4
3 tblsp olive oil
3 red bell peppers, flesh cut into narrow strips
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 x 225g (8oz) cans plum tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
6 - 8 large eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
fresh basil and parsley leaves (chopped finely together)
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and over moderate heat fry the peppers and onions for about 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes.
Meanwhile drain the tomatoes (save /freeze the liquid to add to a soup or casserole), chop up the tomatoes and add to the pan. Simmer until the mixture thickens. Add seasoning to taste, then stir in the beaten eggs, as if intending to scramble them. When just 'creamy' add the chopped herbs, give one final stir and serve.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Make More To Store

One more 'not quite a....' recipe is given. This one for 'Welsh Rarebit' - this previously posted and discovered when trying to find the mince recipe. Again can be made in bulk, and will keep for a short time in the fridge, and longer in the freezer, but thaw to room temperature before using, or it won't spread.

'not quite a Rarebit': serves 3 - 4
8 oz (225g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tblsp milk or cream
pinch salt
1 tsp made mustard OR...
... 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 shallot, grated
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until forming a spreadable paste. Lightly toast three or four slices of bread, spread the cheese paste on one side then grill until the cheese is bubbling. Serve immediately.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Laying the Foundations

This next recipe is quite a stunner - definitely suitable for a starter when entertaining. As this dish is basicallyj a layer of mashed potato (instant is used but you could use 'real' mash), with a layer of green vegetable (ou could use a different green vegetable if you have no spinach - or consider using well-seasoned 'crushed' cooked peas, or change the colour and substitute mashed cooked carrots. This choice I leave to you. The final layer made with eggs and cheese.
Fluffy Eggs: serves 4
1 packet (or 100g) instant mashed potato
2 lb (1kg) fresh spinach
good pinch freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) butter
4 eggs, separated
4 oz (100g) Cheddar (or other) cheese, grated
half level tsp Cayenne pepper
Make up instant potato as per instructions, and pipe or spoon this over the base of four individual ovenproof dishes. Place in a hot oven (200C, 400F, gas 6) for 10 minutes to brown.
Meanwhile trim stalks from the spinach, and cook leaves in a little water until well wilted and tender. Drain through a sieve, pressing down firmly to remove excess water, then melt a good ounce of the butter in a pan with the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste, then add the spinach and stir until heated through. Divide this into four and add to the top of the browned potato. Keep warm whilst preparing the eggs.
Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat until stiff. Using a metal spoon, fold in the grated cheese and the cayenne. Spoon this mixture round the sides of the dishes of spinach/potato leaving a small hollow in the centre, and into each of these 'nests' drop an egg yolk, topping each with a knob of the remaining butter.
Bake for 10 - 15 minutes until golden. Serve immediately.

A noodle omelette is a good way to use up left-over cooked noodles. These noodles are the Italian 'ribbon' pasta (aka tagliatelle) - not the Chinese ones, but see no reason why a variety of different pasta/noodles couldn't be used instead.
Omelette with Attitude: serves 4
6 oz (175g) ribbon noodles, cooked and left to get cold
3 oz (75g) butter
1 onion, sliced
4 tomatoes, skinned and sliced
finger length piece of cucumber
4 eggs
salt and pepper
5 oz (150g) Cheddar cheese, grated
Melt half the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry until softened, then add the tomato and cucumber and continue cooking for 1 minute. Remove from pan and keep hot.
Beat the eggs with seasoning to taste, then stir in the cold cooked noodles and mix well. Melt remaining butter in the frying pan and pour in the noodle mixture, cooking over low heat until the underside in browned and the sides have set. Arrange the onion/tomato/cucumber mixture over the noodle omelette and sprinkle the cheese on top, then place under a pre-heated grill and cook for a couple or so minutes until golden brown and the cheese is bubbling. Serve immediately, either straight from the pan or (if you want to be posh) first slide onto a pre-heated plate before taking to the table.

list of substitutes when cooking/baking:
instead of breadcrumbs for coating used crushed cornflakes or cream crackers/water biscuits/crisps.
instead of 1 tlsp cornflour when thickening, use 2 tblsp plain flour
instead of half pint (300ml) single cream use 8 oz/225ml milk mixed with 2 oz/50ml melted butter.
instead of 8 oz (225ml) honey use 8 oz (225g) sugar plus 4 tblsp water OR golden syrup.
instead of 1 tsp lemon juice use half teaspoon vinegar or lime juice.
instead of ice-cream use frozen yogurt.
instead of half pint/300ml whole (full cream) milk use half pint skimmed milk with 3 teaspoons melted butter.
instead of tartare sauce use 7 tablespoons mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons chopped sweet pickle.
instead of tomato sauce use condensed tomato soup, or packet tomato cuppa soup made with half quantity of water.
instead of gravy use packet soup of flavour wished (oxtail, chicken etc) made up with half the usual quantity of water.
instead of red wine use red wine vinegar sweetened with a little sugar.
instead of balsamic vinegar use raspberry vinegar.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What Grows Together Goes Together

Am giving a pared-down version of the Fork Biscuit recipe - easy enough to follow, so if you can't be bothered to go back through the Archives this saves a bit of time. Have to say though - early 'blogs' on this site are absolutely packed with economical tips and amazingly good (and cheap, and easy) recipes, so if you ever do have a few minutes to spare, a good idea to start reading your way through from the start (Sept. 2006).
Fork Biscuits:
4 oz (100g) butter or margarine (softened)
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
5 oz (150g) self-raising flour
Using a fork, cream together the sugar and butter/marg, then work in the flour. Knead to a dough (this can then be rolled into a thick sausage and wrapped/chilled/frozen to use later. Or continue by breaking off bits of dough and shape into walnut-sized balls and place well apart on greased baking sheets lined with baking parchment. Use a wetted fork and press each ball down, leaving an imprint of 'ridges' on the top. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 15 minutes.
Add flavourings to the butter/cream when making one batch only.
citrus: add the grated zest of one orange or one lemon.
ginger: add 1 tsp ground ginger
chocolate: replace half tsp flour with cocoa.
If adding flavourings AFTER the mix has been made. Cut chunks from the chilled dough, leave at room temperature to soften, then work citrus zest, chopped crystallized ginger, or grated chocolate into the dough before forming into balls and pressing down.
Tip: When baking any biscuits, always best to remove them from the oven before you think they are 'done'. Most biscuits continue cooking for a few minutes longer when left on the hot baking sheets after removing from the oven. Even after cooling on a cake airer - if not 'crisp' enough, they can go back in the oven for a couple more minutes to dry out.
Most 'softish' biscuits will crisp up during cooling. If over-cooked to crisp when in the oven, sometimes these can be 'saved' when removed at once from the tin, and left on an airer to cool, then piled up on a plate and left uncovered for 24 hours on the kitchen table/unit. They tend then to absorb any moisture that is in the air.
It goes without saying that - after cooking (or even buying them) to keep biscuits crisp, they should always be stored in an air-tight tin or jar.

Now we come to today's useful tips. Most of us probably already know these, but always worth a reminder.

When freezing minced meat, place 1 lb (450g) or thereabouts in a large freezer bag, then press flat with a rolling pin. Seal bag and freeze flat (best placed on a baking tin to keep it flat). Once frozen these 'tiles' can be stacked flat or on their sides (by the freezer walls), and when the meat is needed, due the layer being very thin, the meat thaws very rapidly, and if only part needs using, just snap it off while still frozen and return the remainder to the freezer.

Supermarket's packs of 'stewing beef' can be made up from end trimmings of various cuts, not all cooking to the same tenderness in the time given. Far better to buy a whole piece of meat and dice it yourself. Same goes for mince - 'minced beef' can often be really tough oddments of meat, cooking in less time than in chunks because the mincing process tenderises it. If wishing for good mince, then look for 'minced steak' but again always best to buy the meat in the chunk and mince it yourself.

Eggs should always be used at room temperature, so if kept in a fridge - bring them out an hour before using. and always store with the pointed end down as this then keeps the yolks in the middle and also helps to keep the eggs fresh.

When making scrambled eggs, add a small amount of water before beating. Adding milk will toughen the eggs.

When cooking vegetables (potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots etc...) try to buy/cut them to the same size so that they cook evenly. If cooking different vegetables in one pan, begin cooking those that take the longest time to cook, and add the others accordingly.

When buying cabbage, iceberg lettuce or any 'compact' leafy vegetable, press the centre to make sure the leaves are tightly packed. When priced by the unit a loose-leaf veg can look large, but weight considerably less that a firm one.

To cook spinach rapidly, buy washed spinach in the sealed bags from the supermarket. To cook - make a couple or so holes in the top of the bag and microwave on High for 90 seconds. Job done. Serve immediately.

Bag up carrot tops, parsley stalks, celery stumps, onion peelings (incl skins), mushroom stems etc. and store in the fridge to later make vegetable stock.

Celery will keep for weeks when wrapped in foil and kept in the fridge. To revive limp celery, stand the stalks in iced water for a couple of hours.

When cooking 'greens', they keep their colour better if the pan is not covered.

To chop onions without shedding tears, always use a very sharp knife. A blunt knife squeezes the cell walls and allows the onion juice to leak out - and it is these fumes that irritate our eyes.

If preferring to bake 'jacket' potatoes in the oven rather than in the microwave, you can save time by first boiling the whole potatoes for 10 minutes, then drain, place in the oven (200C) and bake for 30 minutes - thus reducing the time to cook in the oven by half.

Tough-leaved herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme benefit from a long cooking time, so add these to a casserole etc at the beginning. The more delicate herbs: mint, parsley, basil and tarragon prefer a gentle and short simmer, so should be added towards the end of the cooking process.

To dry herbs, use those little mesh bags that come with laundry tablets. Put the fresh herbs in the bags and hang them up to dry. When dried, just rub the bag between your fingers (over a sheet of paper) and the dried flakes will fall out, leaving the stems in the bag. Fold the paper and slide the herbs into a small, lidded jar, and store in a cool, dark place (remember to label).

Freezing rather than drying preserves some herbs better than others. Although losing some texture, freezing helps to retain more flavour, particularly with basil, tarragon, chives, parsley, dill and mint.
Simplest way to freeze herbs is to finely chop the fresh herbs and push as much as you can into each section of an ice-cube tray. Add a little water to each and then freeze. Remove and bag up once frozen (but remember to label) and use as required.

baking and cooking tips:
During hot weather, instead of using a rolling pin, to keep the pastry cool roll out with a wine bottle that has been filled with chilled water (this can be kept in the fridge for this purpose).

When wishing to fry foods, a lighter batter can be made by using carbonated water (soda water, lemonade, beer etc) instead of the water or milk stated in recipes. Beer works well with fish and onion rings (adding even more flavour), and soda water for vegetable fritters. The sweeter fizzy drinks best used when making batter for fruit fritters.

Pears are about the only fruit that ripes better off the tree than when on. Taste best when picked young and left to ripen in storage (or even on the supermarket shelf). When buying, avoid any with cuts, that are shrivelled, or bruised.

For easier slicing of the large dried fruits (dates, apricots, prunes etc) first chill in the fridge or freezer. The colder the fruit is, the easier it is to slice.

When pureeing fruits - these being mainly acid - always rub through a nylon sieve using a wooden spoon as a metal sieve/spoon can react with the acid and discolour the 'coulis'.

To prevent cling-film from sticking to itself when unwrapping, keep the roll in the fridge or freezer.

Always chill cream, bowl and beaters before whipping as this takes far less time to thicken.
When cream is over-whipped, little more cream (or milk) poured over and gently whip in will help to slacken it.

spices and seasonings:
If the atmosphere is moist (as it can be by the seaside), prevent table salt clogging up in the salt cellar by adding a few grains of rice.

Never salt meat or add salt to water when soaking dried pulses. The salt draws juices out of the meat and will also toughen it. Salt will also toughen dried pulses.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Reading Between the Lines

Tomorrow there will be more cookery tips, so hope you will all join me again and 'have a good read'. My final task today is to give a few more additions to the 'Rich Cake Mix' given yesterday:

Chocolate Cake:
half quantity Rich Cake Mixture (given in yesterday' blog)
2 level tblsp cocoa
2 level tblsp golden syrup
2 tblsp milk
1 level tblsp granulated sugar
Put cocoa, syrup and milk into a small pan and heat gently until it boils, by which time it will have thickened. Remove from heat and stir until cold (speed up cooling by standing pan in bowl of cold water).
Whee the cocoa mixture has cooled down, and using a metal spoon, cut his into the Rich Cake batter. then spoon into a greased, deep 6" cake tin, lined with a double thickness of greaseproof paper or baking parchment which should also be greased. Then sprinkle the sugar over the top of the cake batter.
Bake in the centre of the oven set at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for about an hour and a half, checking to see if cooked by pressing the top lightly with the fingers. When cooked it should spring back, and the cake also begun to shrink from sides of tin. Leave to cool in tin for 15 minutes before turning out, removing paper and cooling on a cake airer.

Fruit Cake:
half quantity of Rich Cake Mix
3 oz (75g) chopped dates
3 oz (75g) sultanas
1 oz (25g) custard powder
2 tblsp milk
1 level tblsp granulated sugar
Fold the dates, sultanas, custard powder and milk into the Rich Cake Mix by 'cutting' them through using a wooden spoon (in other words, don't beat them in).
Spoon mixture into a greased, deep 7" cake tin, lined with a double thickness of baking parchment, also greased. Level the surface and sprinkle with the sugar.
Bake on lowest shelf of oven (same temperature as above) for one and a half - one and three-quarter hours - again giving the 'press finger' test to make sure it is cooked through. Cool in tin for 15 minutes before turning out. Remove paper and cool on a cake airer.

Keeping both yesterday's and today's recipes together, and if reading them through, you will have noticed that in all cases the oven temperature is the same for all, although the position in the oven may differ according to the recipe. Also the timings will be different. Those who use a fan oven will probably find the cakes can be cooked on any shelf, with a slight adjustment of temperature (normally the next temp. mark lower when using a fan oven than one without).

Final tip for today: All ovens vary and I have to admit that when following many of Delia Smith's recipes, my cakes need a lot less cooking time that she states. Yet my oven thermometer shows the temperature is what the recipe says.
Most of us (eventually) get used to our own oven, and able to adjust the temperature if needed. Often a guide to whether a cake is cooked comes more from the lovely smell in the kitchen, than following the timings given. One I can smell what is baking then start to begin checking. If unsure whether a cake is cooked (some fruit cakes are not that easy to gauge), then always worth buying a 'cake-testing stick' - this when stuck into the middle of a cake will show (by change of colour of tip) whether the cake is done or not. The stick is re-usable. Lakeland sell these and they are not expensive - I certainly wouldn't be without mine.

Keep those lovely comments coming, and I look forward to being with you again tomorrow. See you then.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Be Prepared!

We need to enjoy cooking, and the best way to keep cool, calm and collected is to prepare as much as we can well in advance, and so am suggesting a few hints and tips that I follow myself to make culinary life a lot easier.

Firstly, try and avoid using weighing scales if we can. Our mothers and grandmothers and right back through the centuries used to be so familiar with cooking they could gauge just how much they needed, either by 'the handful' or a 'spoonful' (from salt-spoon up to a tablespoon). I rely on my mum's old tablespoon as being the right size (many spoons differ slightly - so best check before you start), and then work with the following...
each of the amounts shown are approx.: 1 oz/25g
1 level tblsp .....salt
3 level tblsp .....flour
2 level tblsp .....rice
5 level tblsp .....grated cheese
4 level tblsp .....grated cocoa
1 level tblsp .....honey/jam/syrup
2 level tblsp .....granulated sugar
3 level tblsp .....sifted icing sugar
6 level tblsp .....fresh breadcrumbs
4 level tblsp .....porridge oats

spoon measures:
1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
1 level tablespoon = 15ml
1 level teaspoon = 5 ml

Most recipes use 'level' spoons when measuring, and my cooks' reference book (from which the above and below are taken) says this:
"A tablespoon (or tblsp) - when referring to dry goods (i.e. flour etc) usually means a rounded tablespoonful.
A rounded tablespoon means there is as much of the product above the rim of the spoon as there is in the bowl of the spoon.
A heaped tablespoon means as much as you can get on the spoon without it falling off.
A level tablespoon is where the ingredient is level only with the top edge (rim) of the spoon. To achieve this, fill the spoon and then run a knife horizontally across the top, discarding anything above the level of the spoon - making sure you have something underneath to catch it (as this can be returned to the packet etc)"

When it comes to measuring anything like butter - normally sold in 250 blocks, cutting diagonally from corner to corner will give us four and a half ounces (125g or thereabouts ), so not difficult to cut a bit off if we wish for only 4 oz (or 100g). When using melted butter (or any fats) use a measuring jug (the 'weight' is the same either in g's or mls). Four ounces of melted butter/fat/oil are equal to 8 tablespoons.

Now we come to the preparation bit where scales are useful when 'bagging up'. When making up my own bread mix (for the bread machine) found it so much easier to make up 12 'mixes' (6 white, 6 brown) in one go. A plastic bag was put on the weighing scales and into this went the flour to make one loaf, then all that needed to be done was add the the right amount of dried milk, sugar, salt, (all usually measured by the teaspoonful) and even a knob of butter (or lard). This then tied up, and another bag put on the scales and another mix made. All then stored together with the rest made at that time. When needing to make a loaf, no need then to drag out the scales and start measuring. Oh no, all I need to do is sprinkle yeast into the machine, tip the contents of one bag on top, and then add the right amount of water (some machines add water first, yeast last), then swith on. This makes it all so EASY when the mixes have been prepared in advance.
Busy mums might find their school-age children would be happy to make up the mixes for you.

Other 'advance preparations' can be home-made pastry mix (flour and butter blitzed in the food processor - only water needed to be added when used), home-made scone mix (flour, butter, sugar etc - milk added when used), crumble mix (flour, oats, sugar, butter - then just use as required) - all these to be kept in the fridge or freezer. Even biscuit dough can be made in bulk, rolled into thick sausages then frozen to be sliced and baked as required.
It goes without saying that as much cheese as possible should be grated and bagged up. When frozen it keeps a long time, also quite a long time in the fridge. Myself mix oddments of any hard cheese: Cheddar, Edam, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, even White Stilton. Sometimes include Gruyere, and Mozzarella as these - when cooked - go 'stringy' and perfect for pasta dishes and pizzas. Cheese that has gone very hard is grated on a fine disc to us with (or instead of) Parmesan and kept in separate to the more roughly grated cheeses.

Even when it comes to baking cakes and such-like we can still partly prepare. My favourite 'bake' is the American muffins, as the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, spice etc) are weighed and put into one bowl, the 'wet' ingredients (oil, milk, egg etc) put into a measuring jug, then left overnight. Tip the wet into the dry with a rough mix, it doesn't matter if it is a bit lumpy, and then just popped into a pre-heated oven to bake.
If we make muffins often, we could measure out the dry ingredients and have these already bagged up, leaving only the 'wet' to do the night before or even on the day.

When we think about it - many cakes start off with the same - or very similar - 'weights and measures'. One we are most used to is the traditional recipe for Victoria sponge cake - this being made with the the same weight of (each) flour, sugar and fat (butter or marg) to the weight of eggs used. It doesn't matter than what size the eggs are, tiny or large. The cake starts with their weight. However today, bought eggs tend to be the same size, and medium eggs (for cooking purposes) are expected to weigh 2 oz (50g) each, so if making a V. Sponge, using 2 eggs, we would then be using 4 oz (100g) each of the other three ingredients. Worth remembering this as many of use now use larger eggs, so theoretically we should slightly increase the weight of the rest to allow for this. Same when making meringues - normally 2 oz (50g) sugar to each egg white. If using large eggs, allow a little extra sugar.

Nevertheless, if we have a favourite cake recipe we use often, there is nothing stopping us measuring out as many ingredients as possible into small bags (I use cheap plastic 'sandwich' bags - these being reusable with dry ingredients), then just stacking them into a larger container to pull out and use as required. This works well with flour, sugar, dried fruit.... .

Butter/margarine are easy enough to judge by weight when sold in the block, (but weigh if you must - and then wrap up in small amount if useful - ready for 'instant' use), then, when cake- making, all the ingredients will have been ready weighed and just need mixing with some liquid (which might be just eggs - and they are usually to hand - and when baking should always be at room temperature).

To get us started, today am giving the basic recipe for 'A Rich Cake' - not a million miles away from the trad. recipe for Victoria Sponge, but slightly more flour used. This recipe can be used as a 'starter' to make other things. Several suggestions given below, but remember that with each only HALF the basic recipe is used, OR you could use all the recipe and make two things at the same time. With all recipes the oven temperature is the same (given below).
If intending to use these recipes often, then worth weighing out the flour and bag up in advance. Ditto the sugar, and if you wish also measure and wrap the marg/butter and keep this in the fridge. Eggs wating at room temperature on the table for you to use.
Basic Rich Cake recipe:
10 oz (300g) self-raising flour
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
8 oz (225g) margarine
4 medium eggs
Cream margarine and sugar together, add a teaspoon of flour (this helps to prevent the eggs 'curdling') then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Using a metal spoon, fold in the flour.
Use this mixture for the following recipes - all to be baked at the same temperature: 170C, 325F, gas 3.

Coconut Cup Cakes: makes 18
half quantity of above rich cake mix
2 oz (50g) desiccated coconut
2 rounded tblsp desciccated coconut
few drops pink colouring
4 oz (100g) icing sugar
hot water to mix
Fold the 2 oz/50g desiccated coconut into the cake mixture and spoon into 18 paper baking cases (these should preferably be standing in tart tins). Bake for about 25 - 30 mins (temp. given above). When cooked the tops should spring back when pressed gently. Cool on a cake airer.
Place coconut and colouring in a small jar, fit on lid and shake gently until the coconut is tinted pink (you could omit the colouring and leave it white if you wish - or just colour the icing). Mix the icing sugar with a little hot water, a few drops at a time, to make a fairly thick icing. When cakes are cold, spread this thinly on top of each and sprinkle with the coconut.

Seed Cake:
This ones easy - just mix two level teaspoons Caraway Seeds, into half the basic cake mix (above) and place into a greased and lined 1 lb loaf tin (or deep, round 6" cake tin) and level the surface.
Bake at temperature given above (lowest shelf) for one and a half hours. When cooked the cake should have begun to shrink from the sides of the tin, and the top spring back when gently pressed. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out, remove paper and finish off cooling on a cake airer.

Fruit and Nut Bars: makes 15
half quantity of basic cake mix
2 oz (50g) unsalted peanuts
2 oz (50g) raisins
3 oz (75g) porridge oats
2 oz (50g) demerara sugar
2 level tblsp golden syrup
3 oz (75g) margarine
Prepare the base by first brushing a shallow oblong 11" x 7" (Swiss Roll type) tin with oil or melted fat and line with greaseproof (or parchment) paper. Then grease the top of the paper also. Spread the basic cake mix over this.
Prepare the topping by putting the peanuts and raisins in a bowl with the oats and sugar. Measure the syrup carefully (making sure there is no extra on the underside of spoon) then put this in a pan with the margarine and place over a low heat until melted, then add this to the dry ingredients. Mix well, then spread this on top of the cake batter ready and waiting in the tin.
Bake towards top of the oven (temp given above) for 45 - 50 minutes. If browning too quickly cover with a tent of foil, shiny side upwards (shiny side reflects heat away). Do the finger press test - if cooked the cake should spring back when pressed, bubbling should have stopped and cake beginning to shrink from sides of tin. Leave to cool in tin for 10 minutes, then cut into squares or fingers. Leave to cool a little longer before turning out, then removed paper and finish cooling on a cake airer.

Banana and Orange Pudding: serves 4
(note: other fruit could be used instead of bananas - canned sliced peaches, canned pineapple rings etc)
half quantity basic Cake mix (recipe above)
zest and juice of 1 orange
2 large bananas, peeled and sliced
6 glace cherries (opt) cut into quarters
1 oz (25g) butter
1 oz (25g) sugar
First prepare the tin. Brush the base of a shallow 7" baking tin with oil or melted fat, then line the base with greaseproof paper or baking parchment, then grease the surface of this also.
Arrange the sliced bananas and prepared cherries (or other fruit if using) over the base of the tin. Put the butter, sugar and orange juice into a pan and bring to the boil. Pour this over the bananas.
Fold the grated orange zest into the cake mix, and spoon this over the bananas. Level the top with a spoon or spatula.
Bake at given temperature (above) in centre of oven for about 45 minutes - then given the finger press test. When cooked turn out onto a serving plate and remove paper. Serve hot with custard or cream.

Cherry Cake:
Again a simple recipe using the basic mix again. First wash 3 oz (75g) glace cherries and leave to dry on kitchen paper before cutting into quarters, then mix these with 1 oz (25g) cornflour, making sure all the cherry pieces are kept separate. All you do then is fold these into half the basic cake mix. Spoon into greased and lined 1 lb loaf tin and bake on lowest shelf at the usual temperature for a good hour - maybe longer - until the top springs back with the 'finger-press' test. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, remove and cool on a cake airer. Best to remove paper once it has got cold.

Other than greasing and either flouring or lining cake tins in advance (these can be done days ahead and stored in plastic bags), having ready a tray with the assorted spoons, forks, knives, beaters that may be needed, all we need then to do is toddle off to the larder with a tray, remove the pre-weighed ingredients from jars/tins, take them all back into the kitchen and - with most of the preparation already done - we can start baking.

Just think about it. No table littered with numerous bags of flour, sugar, dried fruits etc having to be carried from the larder then sitting waiting to be returned, and no scales needed to be washed (often between weighings). How easy is that?

Was contemplating a scoot with Norris again, but see it has now begun to rain, and getting quite misty outside, so think I'll give my airing a miss today - although if the weather clears, may nip out mid-afternoon. There is always another day. Meanwhile will start 'bagging up' my own 'mixes' ready to lighten the load in the future.

Looking forward to hearing any tips you have about advance preparation. Or anything else for that matter. Just keep those comments coming. Already looking forward to tomorrow when we will all meet up again.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Times they are a'changing

The first recipe is a great one for a buffet party, or family 'nibbles', and a way of making sausage rolls with bread instead of pastry. Sliced bread we normally have, and this does save the hassle of either making or buying ready-to-roll pastry - thus saving time and money.
After trimming the crusts from the bread - don't discard, but bag up and store in the freezer to later turn into breadcrumbs). A different hard cheese (or mixture) could be used. These can be prepared earlier in the day, wrapped in foil and kept chilled to be baked when ready to be eaten.
Crispy Sausage Rolls: makes 16
8 slices white bread
4 oz (100g) Red Leicester cheese, grated
2 oz (50g) butter or marg., softened
1 tsp made mustard
pinch salt
8 chipolata sausages
16 cocktail sticks
Remove crusts from bread (see above) and roll the sliced bread out fairly thinly. Mix together the grated cheese, butter, mustard and salt, then spread this over each slice of bread. Place a sausage on each and roll up. Cut each in half and secure with a cocktail stick. Place on a baking sheet, and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Serve hot.

Another party 'nibble', but a smaller amount can be made if you wish, and these will keep fairly crisp after cooling if stored in an airtight tin between layers of kitchen (paper) towel. A tip to keep unfilled puff pastry cases crisp (to use for vol au vents etc) is to put a layer of cooking salt in the bottom of a tin, cover this with kitchen paper, then put the pastry on this - again between layers of the kitchen paper if you need to store a goodly number. After a tight-fitting lid is fitted, the salt will absorb any moisture in the tin, thus keeping the pastry crisp).
Marmite Straws: makes approx 7 dozen
1 oz (25g) butter or marg.
1 rounded teaspoon Marmite
1 pack (approx 200g) puff pastry
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Melt the butter and Marmite together in a small pan. Roll out the pastry and trim to a 12" square, then brush the butter/Marmite mixture over the pastry and sprinkle the cheese on top. Cut in half, then cut each half into quarter inch strips, each 6" long. Without stretching the pastry, twist each strip gently and place on baking sheets that have been brushed with water (this turns to steam as it cooks and helps the pastry to rise).
Bake in a hot oven 230C, 450F, gas 8 for 9 minutes until golden and crisp, then carefully remove (they will be a bit fragile until they cool so best use a fish slice) and leave to get cold on a cake airer.

There have been several recipes for 'crunchie bars' on this site over the past few years, but this recipe is slightly different. As with most bars of this type, we can add dried fruit if we wish, or even use muesli instead of just the oats. Use this as a basic recipes than add what you wish - always making sure there is enough of the ingredients to make sure it all holds together.
Crunchy Bars: makes 12
2 oz (50g) walnut pieces, chopped
3 oz (75g) margarine
2 level tblsp golden syrup
2 level tblsp runny honey
3 oz (75g) soft brown sugar
5 oz (150g) porridge oats
Without boiling, melt the margarine, syrup and honey together. Remove from heat and stir in the oats. Spread this mixture evenly in a greased 7" square tin, then sprinkle the chopped walnuts on top, pressing them lightly into the surface. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 25 or so minutes until golden and bubbling. Remove from oven, leaving the mixture in the tin, and after 5 minutes mark into 12 bars. then leave to get quite cold before removing from the tin.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Stirrings of Spring

Mindful of the oddments of cheese many of us have in our fridge, here are a few thrifty recipes to use up what we've got. Any hard cheese will do - it doesn't HAVE to be Cheddar.

Beany Crisp: snack meal for 3 0r 4
1 large can (1lb/450g) baked beans
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz (50g) cornflakes
1 oz (25g) margarine or butter
Pour the beans into a shallow casserole dish. Mix the cheese with the cornflakes and sprinkle this over the beans. Dot with marg. or butter. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about half an hour. Serve hot.

Cheese Pudding: serves 3 - 4
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated
5 slices toasting bread, crusts removed
made mustard
softened butter
2 eggs
half pint (300ml) milk
salt and pepper
Spread 3 slices of the bread with mustard, and remaining two slices with butter. Cut each slice into four fingers.
Spread a quarter (1 oz/25g) of the cheese on the base of an oblong ovenproof dish, then top this with a layer of the mustard-spread fingers. Continue with another layer of cheese, then mustardy bread, and continue layering, finishing with a final layer of the buttered fingers with the remaining cheese on top.
Beat the eggs and milk together, adding seasoning to taste, then pour this over the 'bread 'n cheese'. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 35 - 45 minutes. Serve hot with crispy salad or what you will.

This next recipe is very adaptable. Use left0ver cooked vegetables in preference to canned veggies, and you could also include canned chickpeas if you so wish.
Cheese Curry: serves 4
8 oz (225g) long-grain rice
1 large onion, chopped
1 oz (25g) butter (or marg)
1 oz (25g) plain flour
1 tblsp curry powder (or curry paste)
1 large can mixed vegetables (see above)
1 tblsp black treacle
1 tblsp lemon juice
good pinch salt
1 oz (25g) sultanas
8 oz (225g) Cheddar cheese, grated
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
1 banana, sliced
serve with: mango chutney and salad
Cook rice for 12 minutes, then drain. Rinse with boiling water and keep warm. Meanwhile make the curry.
Fry the onion in the butter then - when tender - stir in the flour and curry powder/paste and continue frying gently for 2 minutes. Drain the canned vegetables and make up the liquid to half pint (300ml) with water, then gradually add this liquid to the pan, stirring continuously until it boils, then continue to stir boiling for 3 minutes. Time then to add the treacle, lemon juice, salt, sultanas and mixed vegetables. Bring back to the simmer and cook for a further 5 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the cheese. Serve with the hot, cooked rice, and garnish with the sliced banana and egg. Serve with chutney and salad.

This next is a savoury version of 'Chelsea Buns' - made without yeast. Eat - with the tomato 'sauce' base as a lunch or supper dish with salad, or - if you prefer not to bother with the tomatoes - just make the savoury pinwheels (maybe with some sundried tomatoes included in the filling) to eat warm 'at the wander' as a savoury snack.
Cheese 'Pinwheels': enough for 4
2 rashers smoked streaky bacon
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tsp cornflour
2 tsp sugar
1 x 14 oz/400g can plum tomatoes
scone dough:
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
good pinch salt
2 oz (50g) margarine
milk to mix
Cut the bacon into strips and fry until fairly crisp. Strain the tomatoes and reserve the liquid. Use some of this liquid to blend the cornflour and sugar together, pour into a pan, add the tomatoes - chopping them up with a knife or scissors whilst in the pan, then bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Add more tomato liquid if becoming too thick (it needs to make a thickish sauce). When ready, pour this into a 9" (23cm) glass pie dish.
Make the scone dough by mixing together the flour and salt, then rubbing in the marg until like breadcrumbs. Stir in enough milk (approx 5 fl oz/150ml) and mix with a fork to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured board and roll out to an oblong 12" x 6". Cover with the bacon and cheese and roll up - Swiss roll fashion - from the long side. Then slice into 1" pieces.
Place these, cut side down (and facing up) on top of the tomato 'sauce', brushing with milk and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes until risen and golden brown. Serve hot.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Past, Present and Future

Here is a recipe to use up cornmeal or semolina that we may have lurking in our larders. This is best flavoured with oranges, but we could use lemons instead, or maybe both and then it can be called a 'St.Clement's Cake. Up to you. You will find - if you crack and measure 4 large eggs, they come to nearly half a pint, so if you have a mixture of different sized eggs, this is a good guide. ,
Orange Semolina Cake: serves at least 8
9 oz (250g) butter, pref unsalted
9 oz (250g) caster sugar
4 large eggs
5 oz (150g) semolina or cornmeal (aka polenta)
8 oz (200g) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
zest and juice of 2 oranges
an extra 4 oz (100g) caster sugar (for the glaze)
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in a teaspoon of the flour before beating in the eggs one at a time (adding flour helps to prevent the mixture curdling - not that it really matters). Sift the baking powder with the flour, and add this to the mix together with the semolina/cornmeal and the orange zest. Measure out roughly 4 fl oz (100ml) or orange juice and set this aside, then fold the remaining juice into the cake batter.
Spoon the mixture into a greased and lined 9"/23cm round cake tin and level the surface, the bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. When baked, remove from the oven and turn out to cool on a cake airer.
Make a glaze by putting the reserved orange juice in a pan with the 4 oz/100g sugar and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool, the drizzle this syrup over the top of the cake.