Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ways Around the Problem

Today am giving recipes based on bulgar wheat (sometimes called 'burghul') and couscous. Although both made from wheat they are not exactly the same, but similar enough, and as they are cooked (if you can call it that - as they are more often soaked than boiled) in much the same way one could be substituted for the other in any of the dishes given below, although it is best to use the ones suggested as these are more 'traditional', especially as there is a slight variation in they way they are 'cooked'. Bulgar also has a slightly nuttier taste than couscous (which hasn't really any taste at all).

As is often the case with any grain, they don't have a flavour of their own, but as they will happily absorb any they can soak up, whenever possible use a well-flavoured liquid for this purpose. This can either be stock or lemon juice. If using water as a soaking liquid, then make sure there is enough seasoning/herbs/lemon zest etc to make sure the grain becomes 'interesting' enough to eat.
The Middle Eastern 'Tagine' (recipe not given today) is an exception. The couscous is steamed separately, then served in a big dish with a very well flavoured (usually lamb) 'stew' piled on top. As this has lots of spicy gravy, the cooked couscous soaks this up, so ends up 'flavoured'.

Although not using rice in today recipes, felt it worth mentioning (otherwise I might forget) that recipes suggest one measure of rice should be boiled in two parts of water, but myself find this always makes it too moist and using one measure of rice to one and a half of water works perfectly. Also - by putting the rice into a pan with the cold water then leaving it to stand for several hours (the rice then starts to soak up the water) it will then need only to be brought to the boil and should then take only about four minutes boiling to be ready to eat. Even when cooking for the recommended time in a recipe, keep the pan covered and turn the heat off after ten minutes, then - without removing the lid - allow the rice to cook on in its own steam for a further 10 minutes - by which time it should be tender and all the water absorbed. Either way - this does save fuel.
Rice again can be flavoured by either adding lemon juice (or stock) to the cooking liquid. Risotto rice usually has white wine added before the stock/water. A few spices (cardamom seeds, turmeric, bay leaves) added to the water when boiling will also flavour the rice.

But back to the 'grains'. the first dish today being a simple one using bulgar wheat. This it to prove with two rather boring main ingredients all these need are a well flavoured dressing to bring them together. Bit like a marriage made in heaven.
The recipe uses garlic oil in the dressing, and the easiest way to make this (but never store garlic cloves in oil to flavour it as this can go 'off') is to put the 6 tblsp oil in a small pan with a finely sliced (or crushed ) clove of garlic. Heat to the simmer, then remove from heat and allow to cool, then strain. The oil will then have the flavour of garlic. This can be prepared in advance (make more if you wish and store it in a bottle in the fridge for up to a month). Naturally frozen peas can be used instead of fresh. One tip: when adding peas to a dish always add them at the end of the cooking time, just allowing enough time for them to become tender. Cooking for longer and the peas will change colour to an unpleasant khaki.

When using mixed herbs in a dish such as this, go for those with a more delicate flavour: mint, parsley, marjoram, tarragon, chives, lemon balm etc. The stronger herbs: rosemary, sage, thyme, should be used sparingly and better kept for the 'meatier' dishes.
Herby Bulgar: serves 4
7 oz (200g) bulgar wheat
6 oz (175g) fresh (or frozen) peas
the dressing:
6 tblsp garlic flavoured oil (see above)
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
handful of mixed herbs: mint, parsley, chives (chopped)
Put the bulgar wheat in a saucepan and cover with plenty of boiling water, adding a pinch of salt. Simmer for 1o minutes then add the peas and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside, but keep warm.
Meanwhile make the dressing by blending the garlic oil and lemon juice together, adding seasoning to taste, then pour over the drained bulgar adding the chopped herbs, then fold the lot together and serve immediately. It will probably also eat well at room temperature.

Although this next dish is NOT vegetarian, there are vegetarian alternatives to meat (Quorn for example) so these could be used instead of the chicken. The recipe is given mainly as a way of showing how to add flavour to couscous - the meat (this time) almost an 'extra'.
One-pot Chicken with Couscous: serves 4
8 chicken thighs, skin left on
2 tsp turmeric
1 tblsp garam masala
pinch of salt
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced (more if you wish)
1 - 2 cloves garlic, sliced or crushed
16 fl oz (450ml) chicken or vegetable stock
2 tlblsp green olives, stoned
zest and juice of 1 lemon
9 oz (250g) couscous
handful fresh parsley (pref flat leaf), chopped
Mix the spices and salt together and rub HALF over the chicken. Heat 1 tblsp of the oil in a large shallow pan and fry the chicken, skin side down, for 10 minutes, then turn and fry for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and - over low heat - fry the onions for 6 minutes, then stir in the garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes, then add remaining spices. Stir-fry for one minute then add the stock and finally the chicken (keeping this skin side up). Cover and simmer for 40 minutes, then remove chicken and place on a warm dish (preferably standing over a pan of hot water so it stays warm).
Remove pan from heat, stir in the lemon juice and couscous and - if necessary - add boiling water, the liquid should just cover the couscous. Cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes or until the couscous has softened.
Fold half the parsley and lemon zest into the grain then sit the chicken on top, scattering the remaining parsley/zest on top. Take to the table and serve.

Two types of 'salad' can be made that are very similar, and in both cases either couscous or bulgar wheat could be used. My favourite is the first one, made using fresh herbs and with plenty of lemon juice, then covered and kept in the fridge for several hours, the flavours get soaked up by the grain and each mouthful then becomes a treat to eat. Although not mentioned in this (traditional) recipe, I also add finely diced cucumber.
Tabbouleh: serves 6 plus
4 oz (100g) bulgar wheat
juice of 2 large lemons
salt and pepper
3 fl oz (75ml) olive oil
4 good handfuls parsley (pref flat leaf)
3 handfuls fresh mint
1 mild onion, halved and thinly sliced OR...
...6 spring onions, sliced
4 tomatoes, halved, seeds removed, flesh diced
Little Gem lettuce for serving.
Soak the wheat in plenty of cold water for 15 minutes, then drain and rinse, pressing the wheat in the sieve with a wooden spoon to remove as much excess water as possible, then put the bulgar into a bowl with the lemon juice and give a good stir. When the juice has been absorbed, stir in the oil. It can then be covered and left for an hour to allow the flavours to develop, the remaining ingredients folded in just before serving although they be added earlier. Serve in a big bowl surrounded by individual Little Gem lettuce leaves - these traditionally being used to scoop up the Tabbouleh (or can be filled with a spoon to be eaten in the hand.

Similar to the above but in many ways completely different (yes, this can happen) is the above made with couscous and some of the same ingredients, others being different - some of these optional but add to the flavour and colour of the dish. This eats well with barbecued meats such as kebabs.
Couscous Salad: serves 4
10 oz (275g) couscous
18 fl oz (550ml) boiling vegetable stock
16 black olives, stoned and halved or sliced
2 small courgettes
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and cut into strips (opt)
1 oz (25g) flaked toasted almonds
4 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 tblsp chopped fresh coriander
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
half tsp ground cumin
good pinch cayenne pepper
Put the couscous into a bowl and pour over the boiling stock. Give one stir, then cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes by which time the grain should have absorbed all the liquid. Fluff up with a fork.
Trim the courgettes and cut in half crossways, cutting each half into thin strips (like thick matchsticks, then fold into the couscous with the olives and almonds.
In a jug, mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, spices and salt, then fold this into the salad.

This next recipe is intended to be cooked on a barbecue, but no doubt would work just as well if oven-baked. Again uses couscous and a good way to use up those green peppers that end up lurking in the fridge, although the red and yellow ARE much sweeter, so use some of each if you can.
Couscous Stuffed Peppers: serves 4
6 bell peppers, any colour
1 oz (25g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
8 fl oz (250ml) boiling water
1 tsp olive oil
6 oz (175g) couscous
1 oz (25g) raisins
2 tblsp fresh chopped mint
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper
Cut each pepper in half lengthways and remove seeds and membrane. Melt the butter in a small pan and gently fry the onion until softened but not browned.
Meanwhile pour the boiling water into a bowl, add the oil, a pinch of salt and the couscous, stir, cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then stir in the onion, raisins and mint. Season well and stir in the egg yolk.
Fill the pepper 'shells' 3/4 full with this mixture (best use a teaspoon to do this), the couscous will swell more as it cooks, then wrap each in oiled foil and cook on a medium hot barbie for 20 minutes or until the peppers are tender. Can be served hot or cold.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tightening Pursestrings

One good thing about Halloumi cheese is that it has a very long shelf life when kept unopened in the fridge - something like a year! Once opened, wrap tightly and it should still keep a few months.
Mediterranean Salad: serves 4
1 small red onion, finely sliced
6 small tomatoes, sliced
4 oz (100g) roasted red and yellow bell peppers, sliced
1 tblsp capers
2 tblsp black olives, stoned and halved (or sliced)
3 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 x 225g packs Halloumi cheese
few fresh basil leaves
Place the onion in a small bowl and pour over boiling water to just cover. Leave for a couple of minutes, then drain. Rinse with cold water and drain again.
Prepare the dish by placing the sliced tomatoes on a platter, then scatter over the now blanched onions, add the sliced peppers, capers and olives. Drizzle with 2 tblsp of the olive oil, adding seasoning to taste.
Slice the Halloumi fairly thickly and place in a heated frying pan or on the ridges of griddle pan and cook over high heat for a minute each side until golden (this will need to be done in batches). Add the cooked cheese to the platter and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil. Garnish with basil leaves. Good served with c crusty bread.

This next dish makes a perfect 'fish free' version of Spanish paella. Great for vegetarian summer suppers, but also makes a great dish to serve when entertaining as it not only looks good, but also bursting with flavours. If you haven't saffron, a drop of yellow food colouring would tint the rice. Another way to add yellow colouring is to soak the petals of pot marigold (NOT French marigold) in hot water..
Vegetable Paella with Almonds: serves 4
large pinch of saffron (see above)
3 fl oz (89ml) olive oil
7 oz (200g) red or yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
4 oz (100g) string beans
4 baby courgettes
3 oz (75g) peas (fresh or frozen)
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 sprigs rosemary
12 oz (300g) paella or risotto rice
a good pint of vegetable stock
2 oz (25g) flaked and toasted almonds
Infuse the saffron in an eggcup full of boiling water, and set aside. Put half the oil in a frying pan over high heat. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes, then remove from pan and set aside.
Add the beans, courgettes and peas to the pan and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Remove and add to the tomatoes, then set aside until needed.
Add the remaining oil to the pan, stir in the garlic and rosemary and fry for 1 minute, then reduce heat before stirring in the rice. Cook-stir for 2 minutes so that all the rice is covered in the oil and turning opaque, then add the saffron with its water, the stock. Stir a couple of times, then raise the heat and bring to a fast boil. After a few minutes (by which time little holes will have formed in the rice) reduce heat to just above a simmer, and continue cooking (but without stirring) for about 20 minutes, by which time all the liquid should have been absorbed. If the liquid has been absorbed but the rice is still not cooked through then add a little more boiling water.
Once the rice is cooked, spread the cooked tomatoes, beans, peas, and courgettes, cover and leave for five minutes to heat through, stir through once gently to mingle the ingredients together (but without breaking up the toms), scatter the almonds on top, take the pan to the table and serve.

Soya beans are one of the few vegetables that contain all the amino acids - so on a part with animal protein, but as this next dish also contains eggs, another type of bean (or pea) could be used instead. As with many such tortillas, different vegetables could be used. The traditional Spanish omelette (aka tortilla) made using only potatoes and onions.
The good thing about these 'thick' omelettes is that they eat equally well warm or cold, so perfect for family meals, packed lunches or picnics. Or even just an evening 'snack'. If stored in the fridge, allow them to come back to room temperature to allow the flavours to be fully appreciated (chilling often dampens them down).
Low Carb, Low Cal..Tortilla: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, sliced
5 oz (125g) frozen soya beans (defrosted)
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
pinch dried chilli flakes
6 large eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
Put the olive oil in a medium sized frying pan, stir in the onion and peppers and gently fry for about 10 mintues until softened, stirring in the garlic towards the end. Add the soya beans, parsley and chilli flakes and give another stir. Season the beaten eggs, then pour this over the vegetables in the pan, giving the pan a shake so that the eggs coat the veggies evenly, then leave to cook over a low-medium heat for a good 10 minutes (maybe longer depending upon size of the pan). Check the underside of the tortilla occasionally to make sure it is not getting too brown. The top will still remain 'runny'.
Cook the top of the tortilla by placing under a pre-heated grill, allowing 5 - 6 minutes, or until the top has turned golden, and the middle is set. Slide onto a platter and cut into wedges to serve.
Garnish with extra chopped parsley if you wish, and serve with a crisp green salad (although good eaten on its own).

For a vegetarian family supper you can't get a much more attractive and tastier cold dish than the following. Always supposing that cheese is allowed, if so it doesn't HAVE to be goat's cheese, it could be feta or Wensleydale - almost any white cheese that crumbles easily. Maybe there are even vegetarian versions of these cheeses, not forgetting that 'tofu' is also classed as a type of 'cheese'.
The broccoli is the 'green' part of this dish, so watercress, spinach or even Little Gem lettuce leaves could be used instead.
Beetroot, Broccoli and Goat's Cheese Couscous: serves 4
4 oz (100g) tenderstem broccoli florets, cooked
zest and juice of 1 large orange
5 oz (150g) couscous
4 fl oz (150ml) water
1 oz (25g) walnut pieces
3 oz (75g) firm goat's cheese, crumbled
6 no-soak apricots, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
4 small cooked beetroot, cut into quarters
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon
Put the orange zest and juice in a pan with the water into a pan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and stir in the couscous. Cover, and leave to stand for 10 minutes, then fluff up the grains with a fork and add the walnuts, cheese, apricots and seasoning to taste. Fold in the oil and lemon juice, finally folding in th e broccoli (broken into tiny florets, or chopped), and lastly the beetroot (otherwise the beetroot stains the rest of the ingredients red). Serve immediately.
If wishing to prepare this in advance, prepare up to and including the broccoli, but keep the beetroot separate, adding it when ready to serve. If wishing to take this as a picnic dish or packed lunch, place the beetroot on top, then fold in when ready to eat.

Even though warm days should now be here, we still feel the need for a hot meal, so am hoping this Vietnamese 'sweet and sour' dish might suit vegetarian tastes. Myself find that one butternut squash will last several meals, and if the cut side is tightly covered with cling-film, the unused part will keep for quite a few weeks in the fridge.
Oriental Hot Pot: serves 4
2 tsp sunflower oil
knob of fresh ginger, shredded
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed
half a large butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
2 tsp soy sauc
2 tsp light muscavodo sugar
7 fl oz (200ml) vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) green string beans, chopped
4 spring onions, sliced
fresh coriander as garnish
freshly cooked rice (opt)
Heat the oil in a saucepan and stir-fry the ginger and garlic for 4 minutes, then add the butternut, soy sauce, sugar and stock. cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove lid, add the green beans, and cook for a further 3 minutes or until the squash and beans are tender. When ready, stir in the spring onions then serve, garnished with the coriander. Can be eaten as-is, or with the addition of cooked rice.

Final dish today uses vegetables that are shortly coming into season (although no doubt the supermarkets stock these the whole year round). Another good-looking vegetarian dish (always supposing that eggs are allowed (although in this instance could be omitted), and can be prepared in advance, then gently reheated the eggs being added then.
Ratatouille with Poached Eggs: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 aubergine, diced
2 courgettes, diced
1 x 4oog can chopped tomatoes
cold water
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 large eggs
freshly ground black pepper
basil leaves for garnish
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion, pepper and rosemary for 5 minutees, then stir in the garlic and then cook until the onion has softened. Stir frequently during this time.
Add the aubergines and courgettes, then cook for 3 minutes more before adding the canned tomatoes. Rinse the can out by filling with cold water, and tip this also into the pan, then bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then remove lid and simmer for a further 20 minutes or until the contents are pulpy and the liquid reduced to a thickish sauce, then stir in the vinegar. At this point it can be removed from the heat to be reheated later.
If wishing to continue, make four big dentations in the ratatouille to hold the eggs. Crack each egg into its hole, and season with pepper, Cover and cook for 2 - 5 minutes (or until the eggs are set to your taste) then serve with a garnish of basil leaves scattered over the top. Also serve a bowl of chunks of crusty bread to mop up all the lovely juices left in your dish.

Friday, May 27, 2011

If Only....!

Can give a few tips about roasting beef. Firstly meat on the bone usually ends up with a much better flavour, although more difficult to carve (for this reason tend to buy boneless joints myself). How the beef is cooked depends on the cut. The more expensive (sirloin, rib-eye, fillet, top rump) you need to get the timings right or it could end up over-cooked. At one time always bought top-side, but although it roasts well enough, it is less tender so sometimes braised. Silverside and brisket should always be slow-cooked.

When meat has to be roasted, it MUST be at room temperature before it is put into the oven. So allow 30 minutes for any meat that might have been kept in the fridge. Frozen meat should be thawed slowly in the fridge overnight - then once fully thawed brought to room temperature. When using the quality roast, put this into your roasting pan into a very hot oven 220C, gas 7 for 15 minutes to sear the outside. This helps to keep the juices in the meat which will also keep it moist. Then turn the temperature down to 180C, gas 4 and continue cooking, for the rest of the recommended time (see below), basting occasionally.

When the time is up, remove the cooked joint to a platter, then tent loosely with foil and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes, half an hour is better. Despite what people think, meat is best served warm rather than hot, and as a roast will continue cooking (from the outside in) after being taken from the oven, even if 'red juices' collect on the plate under the joint, this doesn't mean the centre will end up rare. These juices are often absorbed back into the meat, and if not - I add them to the gravy.
Try not to lift the meat using forks spiked into the surface as the meats juices then flow from the holes, Myself tend to make pads of kitchen paper and lift the meat from the pan holding it from each end.
At one time I used to panic seeing these juices, and so would pop the meat back into the oven to cook for a further 15 - 30 minutes more - ending up with well-overcooked and dry meat.

Ideally, follow this timing guide and if you like your meat a bit pink, then settle for the 'medium' cooking time. When serving to a number of people, some who might prefer their meat well-done, others medium etc, then choose a boneless joint that is slightly tapered in shape, the narrow end will then be cooked through, the wider end be 'medium' (more pink).

These are the recommended cooking temperature for the prime cuts of beef (incl. topside) as given in my chefs's 'tome', all to be cooked at the start at 220C for 15 minutes, then temp reduced to the 180C (as mentioned above):
Rare: 15 mins per lb (450g) plus 15 minutes over
Medium: 20 mins per lb, plus 20 minutes over
Well done: 25 mins per lb, plus 25 minutes over

If you have a meat thermometer, the internal temp of the meat should be 60C/140F for rare; 70C/160F for medium; and 80C/175C for well-done. Remember the temperature will rise a few degrees in the centre as the meat 'rests'. Also roasted joints will always shrink, so if you wish to have enough to carve to eat cold, then buy a joint large enough.
Also, worth asking the butcher to give you an extra (and large) piece of fat to put on the top of the beef when roasting (even if it comes with fat) , as this helps to 'self-baste' the joint, and - after cooking - this fat can be poured into a dish and used either to spread on toast (with a pinch of salt) - B just LOVES to eat this - or used for roasting potatoes etc.

For further information go to where you can see their step by step demonstrations of how to cook named cuts of meat.

As to using up cooked meat. Myself always buy a larger joint so that we do have plenty left over. Left-over cooked meats, wrapped in foil then chilled are easier to slice thinly. Myself cut several thin slices and freeze in packs of four to use later for sarnies. Thicker slices are frozen in its own gravy ready to re-heat to serve with all the trimmings to make another 'roast dinner'. Large scraps can be minced (or whizzed in a processor) to use to make a cottage pie. Cooked 'chunks' can go with veggies to make 'Cornish Pasties', small scraps can be shredded and mashed with butter and nutmeg to make 'beef spread'. Cooked meat can also be marinaded in a spicy sauce (to allow the flavour to soak in) and then heated to make a curry.

Anyone who grows their own courgettes will just love this first recipe as it uses their flowers. Often it can be just the male flowers used, but this recipe uses the female blossom PLUS their babies just beginning to grow behind. Maybe seems odd to use these, as when left to grow on they will make a more substantial dish, but courgettes can be very prolific, and often grow so many so fast that they have to be given away (or frozen, and never feel they freeze that successfully due to their water content).
The 'risotto' part of this dish can be prepared a day ahead, spread on a tray, covered and refrigerated until ready to use. Zucchini is the other name for courgettes.
Risotto stuffed Zucchini flowers: makes 24
5 fl oz (150ml) white wine
half pint (300ml) vegetable stock
1 tblsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 oz (100g) arborio (risotto) ric
3 oz (75g) button mushrooms, thinly sliced
few baby spinach leaves, finely shredded
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan cheese
24 baby courgettes, with flowers attached
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion until softened, stir in the garlic and fry for a further minute, then stir in the rice so it is coated with the oil. Meanwhile heat the wine and stock until just as the simmer. Pour half a pint of the hot stock into the pan and cook over low heat, stirring most of the time, until the liquid is absorbed, then add a ladle of stock and continue cook/stir, adding more stock as each is absorbed. Total cooking time should be about 30 minutes or until the rice is tender.
Stir in the mushrooms and spinach, and when the mushrooms are just tender, fold in the grated cheese.
Remove and discard stamens from the centre of the flowers, then fill each with the risotto, twisting petal tops to enclose the filling.
Cook in batches on a heated grill (or barbecue) until the courgettes are just tender and the filling is heated through.

Another courgette recipe, this time a worthy addition to a buffet when time is short as they can be made a day ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge to then bring out and eat at room temperature.
As courgettes don't grow to exact weights, the amount shown below is for a small to medium courgette.
If you don't have a mini-muffin tin, then make tiny tins by pushing shaping a double or triple layer of foil into an egg cup, then removing and carefully folding down the top of the foil to make one small 'mini-tin'. Repeat until you have made enough.
Mini Courgette Fritters: makes 24
4 eggs
4 fl oz (100ml) creme fraiche or sour cream
1 tlblsp finely chopped fresh chives plus extra for garnish
3 oz (75g) green courgette, coarsely grated
3 oz (75g) yellow courgette, coarsely grated
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan
Whisk the eggs with two-thirds of the creme fraiche until smooth, then fold in the chives, grated courgettes and the cheese.
Spoon the mixture into lightly oiled mini-muffin tins and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 15 minutes, then turn out and cool on a wire rack.
When ready to serve (at room temperature remember) top with remaining cream and extra chives.

Not apologising for giving yet another recipe that uses courgettes as those that 'grow their own' are usually knee deep in them and seek interesting recipes. Because this next is a pizza, to serve to, it can be made as one larger one to serve four, or several mini ones to serve at a buffet. Also - as normal with pizzas - we can alter the topping so we can use up ingredients we wish to see the back of.
Ideally, slice the courgette with a 'Y' shaped veggie peeler to make thin 'ribbons', or use a potato peeler.
'Good Health' Pizza: serves 2
pizza base:
4 oz (100g) each strong white and strong brown flour
pinch salt
1 x 7g sachet easy-blend yeast
4 fl oz (125ml) warm water
1 x 200g can chopped tomatoes, drained
few cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large courgette, thinly sliced with a peeler
1 oz (25g) mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces
1 tsp capers in brine, drained
8 green (or black) stoned olives, roughly chopped
1 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Ideally, make the pizza dough using a food processor/electric mixer with a dough hook (but of course it can be made by hand in the old-fashioned way). First make the pizza dough by blending together the flours, salt and yeast, then pour in the water then mix to a soft dough. Work for one minute in the machine, then remove and place the dough on a lightly floured board and roll out to a circle about 12" dia (30cm). Then place on an oiled baking sheet.
Spread the well drained canned tomatoes over the dough to within half an inch of the edge, then arrange the halved tomatoes and courgette ribbons over this, finally scattering over the mozzarella, the capers, and olives. Drizzle over the oil, brushing the uncovered sides also with oil, then bake in a very hot oven: 240C, gas 9 for 10 - 12 minutes until crisp and golden at the edges. Sprinkle top with the parsley and serve.

Here is a dip that makes a good complement to those less colourful dips. Beetroot is also a very good veggie to eat as it has many 'healthy' attributes. Helps to lower blood pressure for one thing (but needs to be eaten regularly for this).
Rose-Red Dip: makes about 1 pint (600ml)
1 lb (500g) cooked and peeled beetroot
1 clove garlic, crushed
7 oz (200g) plain yogurt
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp lemon juice
Roughly chop the beetroot, then blend or process with the remaining ingredients until smooth. Otherwise grate the beetroot by hand and then mix together - but this will be less smooth.
Serve with tortilla chips, breadsticks, or raw vegetables (aka crudites).

Tzatziki is a Greek dish that is similar to the Indian 'raita', and usually served as part of a 'meze' - this being a selection of help-yourself dishes, also perfect for buffets. With any luck we might already have the ingredients sitting in our larder/fridge, so why not try making it this weekend? The very best olives to use are the Kalamata (these can be bought in cans/bottles, or from a deli) but 'ordinary' black or green olives could be used instead. If you don't have dill, you could use a little fennel (both slightly aniseed in flavour), if neither suppose mint would be OK.
When making a dish such as this, myself prefer to using icing sugar instead of ordinary granulated, as this dissolves almost instantly. Otherwise use caster sugar, or allow the dish to stand for a while so the coarser sugar can 'melt down'.
Tzatziki: serves for as part of a 'meze'
9 oz (250g) Greek yogurt
half cucumber, peeled, seeded then coarsely grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
16 Kalamata olives
3 tblsp chopped dill
2 tsp white wine vinegar
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt
Mix all the ingrediients together in a bowl. If possible allow to chill in the fridge before serving to allow flavours to develop.

Final recipe today is for an 'omelette cake'. Basically layers of three different 'omelettes' stacked together, then chilled to be served cut into wedges. Certainly something different and extremely tasty to serve up for both family and buffet meals. To turn it into bite-sized helpings, the 'stack' could be trimmed to have square sides (I would eat the trimmings a cook's perks) and then cut across in both directions to make small squares.
Yes, this does use a lot of eggs (but then some readers keep chickens and this time of the year find they have so many eggs they need a recipe such as this to use them up), and it is bit 'fiddling' to make, but read the recipe through and am sure you will feel inspired to make it (or even a smaller version - using one egg per person).
Either an 8" or 9" )20 - 23 cm) frying pan can be used, but make sure to use a cake tin the same size as the frying pan to make sure the omelettes fit the tin snugly.
Savoury Provencal Cake: serves 10
10 eggs
1 tblsp olive oil, plus extra for frying omelettes
2 courgettes, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely sliced
salt and pepper
4 roasted red peppers, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
10 oz (300g) cream cheese (Philly type)
5 - 6 tblsp milk
3 tbslp finely snipped chives
2 tblsp chopped basil
Take two bowls and break 5 eggs into each. Whisk slightly.
Heat the tblsp oil in a frying pan and stir in the courgettes and shallots, frying gently for about 10 minutes or until softened. Remove from heat and leave to cool, then stir into one of the bowls of eggs, adding seasoning to taste.
Add the roasted peppers, garlic and chilli, plus seasoning to taste, to the other bowl of eggs and set this aside.
Heat a little more oil in an 8" (20cm) omelette pan, and pour in about one-third of the courgette mixture, swirling to cover the base. Cook until set on top and lightly browned beneath, then cover pan with a plate and invert the omelette onto it, sliding it back into the pan to brown the underside, then slide onto a plate, repeating with the rest of the mix ( adding a little oil to the pan each time), stacking them - as made -together on a plate. You now end up three 'courgette' omelettes.
Repeat the above, this time making three omelettes with the red pepper mixture, stacking these - as made - on another plate.
To make the filling: Mash the cheese with a fork to slacken it, then beat in the milk to that it then becomes a spreadable consistency. Stir in the herbs and seasoning to taste. Take an 8" (20cm) deep cake tin and line with cling film - enough to overlap the rim. Take the best looking pepper omelette and place this (pretty side down as it will end up at the top) into the tin. Spread with a thin layer of the filling, top this with a courgette omelette, spread with more filling, and repeat with alternate layers of courgette/pepper/filling until all used up, finishing with an omelette.
Fold the overlapping clingfilm to cover the top, then place in the fridge to chill for 24 hours.
To serve, unfold the clingfilm from the surface, invert the 'cake' onto a serving platter and remove the clingfilm from around it. Sprinkle grated Parmesan on top with a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of freshly ground black pepper. Serve cut into wedges.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Do I Bother?

Depending upon the size of the potato used, these 'jackets' can be served to accompany a family meal, made a good 'light supper', or - when using really small potatoes - are great to include in a buffet. Best eaten while still warm (they don't need to be hot) these can be prepared in advance, baked and then kept warm in the cooling oven. If using smaller (new) potatoes, break or chop the broccoli down into really small 'florets', Other vegetables/cheeses can be used.
Stuffed Jackets: serves 4 when using large spuds
4 large baking potatoes
10 oz (300g) broccoli florets
1 tblsp wholegrain mustard
1 egg, beaten
5 oz (150g) grated Cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
Microwave the potatoes on High for 15 or so minutes, until tender, meanwhile steaming the prepared broccoli for a few minutes until also tender (but not collapsed).
Allow the potatoes to cool slightly before cutting them in half lengthways, then scoop most of the flesh into a bowl (leaving a smidgin still stuck to the skin).
Mash the flesh with a fork, then stir in the mustard, egg, broccoli and most of the cheese, adding seasoning to taste. Pile this mixture back into the potato skins, place on a baking sheet, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of each spud (they can then be covered and left to rest if not wishing to cook immediately), then bake for 15 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 or until the tops are crispy golden.

Next dish is a great way to use up stale bread, and not intended to be eaten as a dish in its own right, more as an accompaniment to salads (particularly tomato based ones) as it adds great texture.
Crunchy Crumbed Pasta: serves 4
4 oz (100g) stale bread
zest of 2 lemons
handful parsley
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tblsp oil
1 tblsp butter
14 oz (400g) pasta (any shapes)
Put the bread, lemon zest, parsley, cheese and garlic into a food processor and blitz together. Alternatively crumb the bread by hand, chop the parsley, and then mix the lot together.
Heat the oil and butter in a pan, and then fry the crumbed mixture, continually stirring until golden and crisp.
Meanwhile cook the pasta as per packet instructions, drain well, add the crumbs, toss/mix together and serve with salad.

Although this next dish is intended to be a 'family' dish and served hot, like most rice and veggie dishes, it should eat well cold. My suggestion with any dish such as this, always leave a little left over and sample it when cold so that you know how it will taste. One tip that should always be followed. Any dish that uses butter (or a 'solid' fat) makes the food feel 'claggy' in the mouth when cold, due to the butter 're-setting'. Using only oil makes it much more palatable.
Rice and Mushroom Risotto: serves 4
7 oz (200g) long-grain rice, pref Basmati
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
9 oz (250g) chestnut mushrooms, quartered
2 red bell peppers, deseeded and sliced
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
15 fl oz (425ml) vegetable stock
chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
Rinse and drain rice. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion until softened, then stir in the rosemary and mushrooms. Fry for 3 minutes then stir in the rice, making sure it is coated with the oil in the pan before adding the rest of the ingredients except the parsley and seasoning.
Bring to the boil, stir once then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. Season to taste and scatter the parsley over when serving.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Aiming to Please

Pasta and rice salads ARE more interesting than the usual 'greenstuff' , so today recipes are mainly these, and although they can be a 'side-dish' to mains, can also be eaten as a dish in their own right, and as a 'help yourself' (with other dishes) at a buffet.

The first recipe has both pasta AND vegetables, the idea being the dish looks like a plate of colourful spaghetti. For those who wish to cut out carbos, just preparing the vegetables in this way to to serve with 'spag bol meat sauce' might get 'veggie hater' youngsters tucking in ("if it looks like spaghetti then it must be spaghetti...").
Lemon dressed Vegetable Spaghetti: serves 4
10 oz (300g) spaghetti
8 oz (225g) celeriac
2 carrots
2 leeks
1 rib celery
1 each red and yellow bell pepper
pinch celery salt
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tblsp lemon juice
4 tblsp low-fat natural yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
2 tblsp chopped fresh chives
Cook the spaghetti as per instructions on packet, then drain and keep warm.
Meanwhile, peel the celeriac and carrot and cut each into thin 'spaghetti-like' strips. Trim and rinse the leeks then cut these lengthways into similar thin strips, do the same with the celery. Trim and deseed the peppers, also cutting these into thin strips, then toss the lot with the celery salt and lemon juice, then into a sieve or colander over boiling water, cover and steam for 6 or so minutes or until just tender.
Mix together the dressing ingredients. When the pasta and veggies are ready, toss these together, tip onto a serving platter and pour over the dressing.

Next salad is based on grains - this time the couscous. The ;dry' couscous we buy from the supermarkets has usually been pre-cooked, and therefore only needs soaking for a short time. Check the packet to make sure.
One of the problems with couscous and bulgar wheat (both are very similar) is that they have little flavour (if any) of their own, so - depending on the dish - we can boost the flavours by soaking the grains in a good stock (such as chicken). However, this recipe may not need this as the other ingredients pack a fragrant punch.
To serve as a hot dish, add the prepared ingredients immediately to the hot couscous with a teaspoon of olive oil, then serve. To serve cold, follow the method below.
Coconut Couscous Salad: serves 4
12 oz (350g) couscous
6 oz (175g) no-soak apricots, thinly sliced
handful fresh chives, finely snipped
2 tblsp desiccated coconut
1 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste
1 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp orange juice
half tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tsp runny honey
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
2 tblsp finely chopped mint leaves
Measure the weighed couscous, then put into a bowl with the same measure of boiling water. Cover and leave to stand for 15 minutes. The grain should then have absorbed all the water. If not, pour into a sieve and press out surplus liquid. Fluff the couscous up with a fork, then leave to cool before stirring in the rest of the salad ingredients.
Meanwhile mix the dressing ingredients together, pour this over the bowl of couscous mix, and mix well until combined, then cover and leave in the fridge for at least an hour to allow flavours to develop before serving.

Next recipe uses rice. Also contains avocado that - although lovely - is not the cheapest of ingredients. But what the heck? With most salads we can chop and change many of the ingredients to suit what we have, although a little cookery experience helps us know what goes with what the best. Putting my little grey cells to work believe that chunks of banana would make a very good substitute for avocado. Where would you be without me?
One thing am not sure about. The (adapted) recipes give an amount of rice, then says 'cooked'. Does this mean dry rice to be cooked, or the cooked weight? Am assuming it is dry weight or there won't be enough to serve six otherwise. This is the problem with some recipes, they are not specific enough, or perhaps the authors think we should know enough to work things out for ourselves.
Summer Rice Salad: serves 6
1 avocado (or banana - see above)
juice of 1 small lemon
8 oz (225g) long-grain rice (pref brown rice), cooked
8 oz (225g) pineapple pieces (can be canned)
3 tblsp cashew nuts
5 - 6 spring onions, shredded
1 tblsp cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
half red bell pepper, deseeded and sliced
Dice the avocado (or banana) flesh, and pour over lemon juice to prevent it discolouring (save a tblsp of the juice), then mix with the cooked rice, pineapple, cashews and spring onions, then put into a serving bowl.
Blend together the reserved lemon juice, cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic and seasoning to taste, pour this over the rice salad, and sprinkle the top with the sliced red pepper.

Am tucking in here a recipe to make Scotch Eggs without using a meat covering, and although mashed potato and cheese works well enough, the recipe given is far more 'meaty' and has more flavour. Although no Worcestershire sauce is included in this , worth mentioning that as one of its ingredients is anchovies, not always suitable for those with vegetarian leanings (I tend to add W. sauce to all sorts of things).
Veggie coated Scotch Eggs: makes 3
4 oz (100g) mashed potato
1 small onion, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 oz (100g) Brazil (or other) nuts, ground down
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves finely chopped OR
...good pinch dried thyme
1 tsp Marmite
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 hard-boiled eggs
1 egg, beaten
4 oz (100g) fine dry breadcrumbs
oil for frying
Mix together the first nine ingredients (that's down as far as the eggs). If necessary add a little water or egg to help it bind together.
Coat the hardboiled eggs with this mixture, as evenly as possible, then dip each into the beaten egg, and then the crumbs (do this twice if you want a good crust), then fry in hot oil (pref deep fry or keep turning if shallow fryig) until golden brown.

Back to salads. Another rice one coming up. This is intended to be served hot, but will also eat well cold. A useful recipe in that it will freeze for up to three months.
Spiced Rice Salad: serves 6 -8 as a 'side'
1 large onion (pref red) finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tblsp olive oil
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tsp ground cumin (or cumin seeds)
good pinch chilli flakes or chilli powder
12 0z (300g) long-grain rice, pref Basmati
one and a bit pints (650ml) hot vegetable stock
1 x 4oog can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
zest of 1 lime (or lemon)
salt and pepper
2 tblsp chopped fresh coriander leaves (or mint)
Put the onion in a saucepan with the oil and butter and cook over low heat until tender, then stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute. Raise the heat to medium and add the cumin and chilli and continue stir-frying for 2 minutes before stirring in the rice. When all have been mixed well together, pour in the hot stock, bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to stand for five minutes BUT WITHOUT LIFTING THE LID. Test the rice and if it needs more cooking (Basmati cooks faster than ordinary long-grain), return to the heat for a few minutes, the stir in the drained beans, the citrus zest and seasoning to taste (and if not freezing - also the coriander) allow to heat through then serve. Can be eaten hot, warm or cold.
If wishing to freeze, omit coriander, cool completely and pack in plastic containers. Seal and freeze for up to three months. Defrost well, then stir in the coriander and serve cold.

Another useful grain is 'quinoa' (pronounced 'keen-wah'). Possibly one of the most nutritious grains we can eat, so worth keeping some in the larder. This dish also has avocado as an ingredient, but this time do NOT think that banana would make a good substitute. Another grey cell has just lit up and sweetcorn kernels are floating before my eyes as an alternative to the expensive 'alligator pear'.
Whenever possible always like to remove the white skins from the podded then cooked broad beans as this can be tough. Young beans don't need this - it is optional but worth it.
Quinoa and Broad Bean Salad with Avocado: serves 6
7 oz (200g) quinoa
1 lb (500g) broad beans (fresh or frozen)
1 large or 2 small lemons
2 small ripe avocados (see above)
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 oz (175g) radishes, sliced
handful watercress leaves
1 tblsp ground cumin
3 fl oz (75ml) olive oil
good pinch dried chilli flakes (or dash of Tabasco)
salt and pepper to taste
Put the quinoa in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 9 minutes, then drain well and rinse under cold running water. Set aside to dry off.
Bring another pan of water to the boil and add the broad beans, then as soon as the water returns to the boil, remove from heat and drain and rinse under cold water to prevent them cooking further. Set these aside to dry off, then remove the white skins.
Remove the peel and membranes from the lemons and - using a sharp knife - cut between the membranes to release the segments. Let these drop into a large bowl squeezing over the now empty membrane to extract the juice.
Remoe the avocados from their skins and slice or dice the flesh. Add to the bowl of lemon segments and spoon over the lemon juice. Add the quinoa, broad beans, garlic, radishes, watercress, cumin, oil and chilli, plus seasoning to taste. Toss gently (to avoid breaking the avocado. Serve as a dish in its own right, or with grilled (or barbecued) meats.

Final recipe today is for an Italian pasta salad and intended to be served hot, although as long as not allowed to get completely cold (otherwise the butter then 'sets' again and makes the - then cold - feel unpleasant in the mouth). If wishing to eat any pasta cold, never use butter, only olive oil and - in this instance - flavoured with the herbs.
'Primavera' is the Italian for 'springtime', and so the veggies used in this dish are seasonal to that time of year (remembering that the weather is warmer in Italy and we may have to wait a while before we can trot into the garden to harvest them - however, all are available in supermarkets most of the year round). As ever, we can use different vegetables according to what we have (fresh or frozen). Traditionally the veggies used are all very young (almost babies) to be cooked and served without being chopped, grated or harmed in any way (other than being trimmed and washed). Chantenay carrots are a good variety to use as they can be really tiny, and don't take much cooking to become tender. When growing our own courgettes we should pick these when no larger than a little finger, otherwise chop the carrots and courgettes into chunks.
If you can afford it, include the asparagus. If not, use another green vegetable such as string beans (same shape). As ever - when it comes to using up what we have, the pasta could be any kind.
Pasta Primavera: serves 4
3 oz (75g) butter, softened
1 good tsp each finely chopped parsley, mint and chives
7 0z (200g) carrots (see above)
7 oz (200g) courgettes
14 oz (400g) tagliatelle (aka thin noodles/spaghetti)
8 oz (225g) small asparagus spears (see above)
9 oz (250g) peas (fresh or frozen, loose or mange tout)
3 tblsp olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
Mix together the butter and herbs, then set aside. If the carrots are small, leave as - is. If large, cut into chunks. Same with courgettes .
Being by cooking the pasta as per packet instructions, meanwhile cooking the carrots in boiling water, then when JUST becoming tender, add the courgettes and asparagus and cook for a further two minutes before adding the peas, then cook for about 3 more minutes, by which time all the veggies should be tender - but still with a bit of a bite.
Drain the pasta and vegetables, making sure as much excess liquid is removed (pasta shapes often retain a lot of liquid in their curvy bits). Put the pasta back into its hot pan with the oil, half the butter, the lemon juice and zest and toss together.
In the other pan put the vegetables with the remaining butter and seasoning to taste.
Pile the pasta on to a warmed serving dish and top with the vegetables.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Healthy Eating

Today am giving some low-fat recipes that can suit any occasion. Some can be made in 'bulk' to keep in the fridge to bring out when there is a need to ;snack'. More recipes will be given over the next few days.

The first recipe today makes a light meal, but can equally be counted as a 'snack' (depending upon the size of the portion). If intending to eat 'some now, some later', then best to add the fish to the salad when serving. The cooked (or canned) fish and the salads can be prepared then kept in separate containers in the fridge ready to mix and match.
Sweet and Sour Fish Salad: serves 4
8 oz (225g) cooked white fish
8 oz (225g) cooked salmon or trout OR...
...use canned salmon or tuna
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and shredded
4 oz (100g) pineapple chunks (pref fresh)
1 bunch watercress, long stalks removed
1 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
pinch of chilli powder (or a good dash Tabasco)
1 tsp runny honey
salt and pepper to taste
Flake the fish and place into a bowl with the spring onions, lemon zest, pineapple and bell pepper. Make the dressing by mixintg the oil, lemon juice, chilli powder and honey together, adding seasoning to taste. If you like the dressing 'hot' add Tabasco.
Wash and drain watercress. Place on a serving platter and pile the fish mixture on top, pouring over the dressing. Or keep cress, fish mix, and dressing separate and put the dish together when snack is needed. Should be eaten up within a couple of days. Always keep chilled.

Another 'make-ahead' dish that can be eaten as a main course, or dipped into as a 'snack' is one made with pasta. These can be any pasta shapes, and ideally (because of the fibre) brown pasta has the edge when it comes to healthy eating. As artichoke hearts are not on everyone's shelves (certainly not on mine), suggest instead using lightly cooked mange-tout peas and baby sweetcorn - or maybe even cooked cubed butternut squash. Whatever vegetable takes your fancy.
Although a vegetarian dish, adding canned and flake tuna (in brine) helps to fill a few corners - as all protein is 'satisfying' .
Pasta Provencale: serves 4
8 oz (225g) pasta penne (or other shapes)
2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 oz (25g) pitted black olives, chopped
1 oz (25g) sun-dried tomatoes, soaked and chopped
4 oz (100g) raw baby courgettes, trimmed and sliced
4 oz (100g) tiny plum or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 x 450g can artichoke hearts, drained and halved
4 oz (100g) mixed salad leaves
4 tblsp passata (sieved tomatoes)
2 tblsp low-fat creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
1 tblsp orange juice
1 handful young basil leaves, shredded
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, but don't over-cook. It should still be 'al dente' (having a bit of a 'bite ' in the centre.) Drain well and return to the pan, and stir in the oil, seasoning to taste (omit the salt if you wish,, the olives and the sun-dried tomatoes. Leave to cool. In a separate dish mix together the courgettes, plum tomatoes and artichokes.
Mix all the dressing ingredients together then assemble the dish. Fold the courgette mixture into the pasta mixture, and add the dressing - tossing the lot together. Arrange the salad leaves on a serving platter and spoon the pasta/courgette/dressing mixture on top.
If wishing to serve as a 'snack', keep the pasta, courgettes and dressing 'mixtures' separate then make the sih up as needed.

For this next dish always use freshly cooked (or vacuum packed) beetroot. Do not use beetroot that has been near vinegar as this will completely spoils the flavour.
Thrifty cooks will save the orange peel either in cup form (to use as containers - as mentioned in an earlier posting) or to make candiend peel. Or the zest removed to use as flavouring. Can be frozen to use later when decided.
Beetroot and Orange Salad: serves 4
8 oz (225g) long-grain rice
4 large oranges
1 lb (450g) cooked beetroot, peeled
2 heads chicory or Little Gem lettuce
salt and pepper to taste
snipped chives or chopped mint/parsley
4 tblsp low-fat yogurt or creme fraiche
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tblsp whole-grain mustard
half tsp grated orange zest
2 tsp runny honey
Cook the rice until tender, then drain and set aside to cool down. If not using immediately chill as rapidly as possible (the quickest way is to spread out in a thin layer on a shallow baking sheet, and flap with a piece of card, then put the rice in the fridge. When cold, put in a bowl, cover and chill. Use within 24 hours.
Slice off the top and bottom of the oranges, then slice down to remove all the peel and pith. Hold the ball of flesh over a bowl and slide a sharp knife down the side of a segment, turning the knife to slide under and along the other side to release it. Once all segements have been removed, squeeze the ball of membranes in your and so that the remaining juice drops over the segments. Cover and leave to chill in the fridge until required.
Sliced the cooked and peeled beetroot fairly thickly and then cut each slice into cubes. Cover and also leave to chill.
Mix all the dressing ingredients together, and leave this in the fridge until needed.
To make the salad, drain the juice from the orange segments and stir this into the cooled rice, adding seasoning to taste. Spread the chicory or lettuce leaves over a serving platter and top with the cubed beetroot and orange segments. Either spoon the dressing over the top and garnish with the chopped hersb, or just add the garnish and serve the dressing separately.
Red Hot Momma Slaw: serves 4
half a small red cabbage, finely shredded
1 large carrot, grated
2 red apples, skins on, flesh finely diced then tossed in...
...1 tblsp lemon juice
1 red onion, grated
1 large cooked red beetroot, peeled
4 oz (100g) Edam cheese, grated
2 mild (or hot) Peppadew, diced (opt)
3 tblsp low-fat mayonnaise
3 tblsp Greek or low-fat yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp paprika pepper
1 - 2 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
pinch cayenne pepper (opt)
salt and pepper to taste
Mix the cabbage, carrot, onion and apple together. Fold in the cheese, and - when ready to serve , and if 'appearance' matters - add the beetroot after the salad has been dressed. Mixed in at the same time as the other veggies, the beetroot juice tends to stain them all red. Not that this matters in the least, the dish will taste just as good. Adding it separately is more for the appearance of the dish than for any other reason. Mix all the dressing ingredients together, start with a small amount of chilli then add more if you wish for more 'heat', remembering that cayenne also is a 'hot' pepper. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss together. Cover and leave to chill for about an hour before serving to allow flavours to develop.

Penultimate recipe can be served either as a dip or a pate to spread on crispbread. Contains protein, so - as said before - will make a 'satisfying' snack. Fat content is low due to lean meats being used. This is a very good dish to make when we have scraps of chicken pulled from the carcase, and oddments of home-cooked ham left after carving. This pate can also be made using peeled cooked prawns, or canned fish such as salmon, tuna or crab meat.
Chicken and Ham Pate: serves 4
8 oz (225g) cooked lean chicken,
4 oz (100g) cooked ham
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
grated zest of 1 lime (could use lemon)
2 tblsp lime juice (or lemon juice)
1 clove garlic, grushed
4 - 5 fl oz (125ml) low-fat creme fraiche or yogurt
salt and pepper
Dice the cooked chicken and ham and place in a food processor. Add the parsley, citrus zest, and the garlic, then blitz until finely chopped. Can also chop the lot together by hand. Put into a bowl and stir in the lime (or lemon) juice and the creme fraiche/yogurt. Season to taste, then cover and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving. Either eat spread on crispbread or melba toast, or as a dip - by scooping up with tortilla chips.

And so we come to today's final recipe. This time a 'sweet treat', yet still low fat and healthy with it. When made these can be stored for up to four days in an airtight tin, but to avoid temptation, worth freezing in sealed bags where they can happily stay hidden for up to 3 months.
We don't normally snack because we are hungry, it's usually either from habit or because we 'fancy' something at that moment, so 'waiting to thaw' will often prevent us eating when the urge comes upon us. Suggest removing one muffin from the freezer early in the day (but never more than one) to thaw and either eat later or - if strong willed enough - can be eaten the following day.
Yummy Fruit Muffins: makes 10
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour (pref wholemeal)
2 tsp baking powder (1 if using white flour)
1 oz (25g) light muscovado sugar)
4 oz (100g) no-soak apricots, finely chopped
1 smallish banana
1 tblsp orange juice
1 tsp orange zest
half pint (300ml) skimmed milk
1 egg, beaten
3 tblsp sunflower or corn oil
2 tblsp porridge oats (opt)
Sift the flour and baking powder together, adding any coarse bits that remain in the sieve, then stir in the sugar and the apricots.
Mash the banana with the orange juice, and then mix this into the milk, sest, egg and oil. Pour this 'wet' into the 'dry' (flour, sugar etc), and mix together to make a thick batter. Like any muffin recipe, do not overmix.
Line muffin tins with 10 paper muffin cases (or place the paper cases side by side in a deep baking (roasting) tin, and divide the mixture between each case, leaving space at the top for them to rise.
Sprinkle top with the oatmeal (if using) and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes or until well risen and firm to the touch, then remove from tin/tray and leave to cool (still in their paper cases).
These are good served warm with a little honey drizzled over. Muffins can be reheated for a few seconds in a microwave, but they also taste good even when eaten cold. As anything sweet gives us the urge to eat more, perhaps best to avoid the honey unless the tip about thawing only one at a time has been taken.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Food, Glorious Food...

Cheese and Raisin Dip: serves 6
8 oz (225g) cream cheese (Philly type, can be low-fat)
2 oz (50g) Stilton or other blue cheese, grated
2 oz (50g) raisins, chopped
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Beat the cheeses together, then fold in the remaining ingredients, making sure all are well combined. Spoon into a serving dish, cover and chill. Serve with crudites, bread sticks etc.

Sweet Corn 'Dipper': serves 4 - 6
8 oz (225g) cream cheese
3 fl oz (75ml) creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
2 tblsp grated onion
2 tblsp chopped chives
2 tblsp diced red bell pepper
2 tblsp chopped black olives
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 x 340gg can (or 12 oz cooked) sweetcorn kernels, drained
salt and pepper to taste
Beat the cheese and yogurt together, then mix in the remaining ingredients until well combined. Spoon into the serving dish, cover and chill for several hours. Serve with savoury biscuits, crudites etc.

Green Herby Pate: serves 6
8 oz (225g) baby spinach leaves
2 lb (1kg) courgettes, grated
1 tblsp salt
2 oz (50g) butter
4 eggs
half pint (300ml) double cream
2 tablsp whole grain mustard
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
ground black pepper to taste
Wash the spinach, give a shake to remove excess water, but allow some water to still cling to the leaves. Place in a pan, cover and heat for 2 minutes to 'steam' and wilt the spinach, then drain thoroughly (if using older spinach removed stems). Line a 2 lb loaf tin first with baking parchment, then with the spinach (covering the base and sides with the leaves). Reserve a few to put on the top.
Meanwhile, place the courgettes in a colander and sprinkle over the salt, leaving it to drain for half an hour. Then rinse away the salt, and pat the courgette dry with a kitchen towel.
Melt the butter in pan, add the courgettes and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat and set aside.
Beat the eggs with the cream, mustard and parsley, the fold in the courgettes, adding pepper to taste. Pour into the prepared tin, cover with any remaining spinach leaves (opt), then with foil, and place in a roasting tin with hot water to come halfway up the sides of the loaf tin.
Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for one hour fifteen minutes or until the pate is firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin before turning out onto a serving dish to be sliced and served with toast.

Bramley Pasties: makes 5 - 6
4 oz (100g) potato, peeled and grated
6 oz (175g) Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 tblsp grated onion
6 oz (175g) grated (vegetarian?) Cheddar cheese
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
half tsp dried thyme
2 tblsp creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb (450g) wholewheat pastry
Excluding the pastry, mix together the rest of the ingredients. Divide the pastry into 5 or 6 equal pieces (or depending upon the size you want the findshed pasties to be) and roll out thinly into circles.
Divide the filling between each of the rounds, dampen the edges with water and lift up to meet at the top and pinch together to make a firm seal.
Place on a baking tray (if you wish glaze with beaten egg/milk) and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about 25 minutes or until golden. Can be served hot, warm or cold..

Salad in a Pocket: makes 8
4 pitta breads (pref whole-wheat)
6 oz (175g) white cabbage, finely shredded OR...
...use shredded iceberg lettuce
2 carrots, grated
4 oz (100g) toasted peanuts or cashew nuts
4 oz (100g) raisins
1 oz (25g) sunflower seeds (or pumpkin seeds)
4 tblsp mayonnaise or salad cream
1 tblsp oil
2 tsp vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the pitta breads in half and open each to make a pocket. Mix together the cabbage/letuce, carrots, peanuts/cashews, raisins and seeds together. Blend the mayo/s.cream wth the oil, vinegar and seasoning, then add to the vegetable mixture and toss together to coat. Pile into the pitta pockets and tuck together into a wide bowl for everyone to help themselves.

Spicy Meatless Kebabs: serves 4
2 tblsp oil
1 onion, finely chopped or grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 ribs celery, very finely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
8 oz (225g) red lentils
2 tblsp tomato puree
1 tblsp mild curry paste
1 pint (600gml) vegetable stock or water
1 oz (25g) wholewheat breadcrumbs
2 oz (50g) walnuts, finely chopped
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
Raita to serve (Greek yogurt with grated cucumber)
Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion, celery and carrot for five minutes, then stir in the garlic and fry for a couple more minutes until softened, then add the garlic, celery and carrot and fry for a further five minutes. Stir in the lentils, tomato puree, curry paste and stock and simmer for about an hour, stirring often, until the mixture is very thick and no excess liquid is visible.
Fold in the breadcrumbs, walnuts, parsley, egg and seasoning to taste.. Leave to cool then divide into 8, shaping each round soaked wooden skewers (or use metal skewers) to make sausage shapes. Place under a hot grill and cook for 4 - 5 minutes, turning frequently. Best served hot or warm with Raita spooned over the kebabs.

. One really attractive way to serve fresh fruit is to save/freeze all halved orange shells, trim any flesh or membrane from the peel (but the pith can stay), then store in the freezer to use at party time.
Fill each shell with a selection of fresh fruit: one orange segment, one slice of apple (skin left on), a cube of pineapple, a strawberry, maybe a couple of blueberries, raspberries or blackberries. A melon ball could be included. These can be filled and kept chilled in the fridge, sliced banana added when ready to serve (or it will turn brown/soften). A dusting of icing sugar on top (opt), and a tiny two-pronged fork (used for spearing olives) is all that is needed to spear the fruits from the shell as you hold it in your hand.

Other uses for citrus shells are fill lemon shells with a fish pate (sardine, smoked mackerel etc), or for another 'dessert' fill each half shell (grapefruit, lemon or orange) with a citrus jelly (made using just over half the amount of recommended water - to give a stronger set). Once firmly set, cut the 'cups' in half or even into three, and arrange on a plate. To eat, just pick up and eat directly from the shell. No need to use a spoon.
Doesn't really matter what shell is used for what flavoured jelly (orange, lemon, tangerine, lime...) but stick to the citrus flavours, and not the strawberry, cherry etc, although pineapple is acceptable.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tales of the Unexpected

Although I do have some knowledge about making stocks, maybe hadn't mentioned before something quite important. When making stock, we get the most flavour from the bones. Roasted bones make a darker stock with a deeper flavour.
Whenever possible, break the bones into smallish pieces ( a butcher would chop the larger bones for us), and when making chicken stock we can break up the carcase ourselves. Two reasons for this: the marrow inside the bones (normally only visible when broken) add a lot of flavour to the stock, and the more bones we can fit in the pan (by crushing them down) the less water is needed to cover and the more intense the flavour will become.
To make a good stock, keep the liquid at the merest simmer, barely a bubble breaking the surface. Cook for the recommended time (usually a couple of hours), as by then the all the flavour should have been extracted from the bones, so no point in simmering it for an hour or two longer. The only way to concentrate the flavour further is by removing the bones and any veggies used and reduce the stock down by fast boiling.

Reading a book about chef-level cooking proves to me how sadly lacking I am when it comes to culinary techniques. But then does everything HAVE to be so perfect? My Beloved would not be impressed if his main course ended up as a tower with a bit of 'jus' drizzled round it, and a 'shard' of bacon (or whatever) balanced precariously on top. No, he likes to see a good plateful of nosh that he can recognise, so perhaps no need for me to feel a failure again.

What I do feel is worth doing is making a dish in the easiest and cheapest way possible without sacrificing any of its attributes, and the first of today's recipes is 'sort of' this way inclined. Normally I would plonk a dish of this on a table and call it 'hummous'. Hummous is also made using chickpeas but with the addition of sesame paste (tahini) which many readers probably do not keep as a 'staple' in their larder. Myself feel the recipe below has far more flavour, and hopefully readers ARE growing their own herbs and have the rest of the ingredients to hand so can also make it.

This dish is said to be very popular amongst the poorer people in Turkey and the Lebanon, and this only goes to prove that when strapped for cash, people then are more inclined to make the most of what is available and manage to 'invent' what today would be served in top restaurants who command a high price for the tasting.
There are several way in which this dish can be served. Eaten hot or cold it goes very well with a crisp green salad, and piled into a dish with paprika sprinkled on top and a little olive oil drizzled over - then becomes a 'hummous-style' dip.
Although we could used canned (drained) chickpeas, these will absorb much more flavour if the dried are used and soaked/cooked ourselves (as mentioned in an earlier part of this posting). Depending upon your love of garlic, use as much or as little as you wish. But do use some.

Chickpea Puree: serves 4 as a dip
9 oz (250g) chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 - 4 cloves garlic, crushed
approx 5 fl oz (150ml) olive oil
3 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tblsp finely chopped fresh mint
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
Boil the chickpeas until tender, then drain, cool and either mince, process or mash into a puree.
Meanwhile, put a little of the oil into a pan and fry the onions until tender, then stir in the garlic and fry for a further couple of minutes. To this then add the rest of the ingredients, mixing well together and heating through. Add as much olive oil to give the dish the required consistency - depending upon whether this is to be used as a dip or a side-dish to a main course.

Almost certainly the most expensive ingredient in a savoury dish will be meat or fish, so it makes both economical and healthy sense to eat 'vegetarian' now and again, ideally on alternate days if meat HAS to be part of your life-style. This way we can then afford to pay that little bit more for 'quality' protein - and you know how important that can be as we gain much more flavour when we cook with beef that has been well hung.
Another 'useful comment' in the 'cheffy book' as that the professional cooks prefer to use the cheaper cuts of meat that need a much longer cooking time than the more tender cuts that only need a flash in the pan. Nothing to do with the cost - just the great flavour the cheaper cuts have (when cooked properly) that the expensive cuts lack.

But I transgress, the intention being to give a meat-less recipe to keep those costs down, the one shown being a 'store-cupboard' rice dish that originated in the Middle East. The basic recipe is given, but it is suggested that other ingredients such as : grated fresh ginger, mushrooms, peppers, marjoram, thyme, cloves, cardamoms, orange zest, white wine (as part of the stock) could also be included, presumably not all at the same time.

Turkish Pilaff: serves 6
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb (500g) long-grain rice (pref brown)
4 tblsp sunflower oil
2 - 3 bay leaves
1 x 400g can chopped or plum tomatoes
2 tblsp tomato puree/paste
4 oz (100g) no-soak apricots, halved
2 oz (50g) sultanas
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds
salt and pepper
1 pint (600ml) vegetable stock
Fry the onion and garlic in the oil until transparent, adding the garlic towards the end rather than at the beginning (otherwise it easily burns). Add the rice and stir-fry for 3 minutes, then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 25 - 45 minutes (according to the rice used - brown takes longer), then serve.

One of the problems when giving recipes is assuming (probably incorrectly) that most readers keep the same ingredients in their store-cupboards as those that lurk in my own larder. So it is with some trepidation that I offer the next recipe as one worth serving as a 'treat' in the hope you too have all the makings. You will note that the Demerara sugar is 'ground', and if you have a liquidiser/blender all you need do is whizz the D. sugar down to a fine 'caster'. Otherwise use the soft brown sugar (this has smaller crystals) or use ordinary caster (or even icing sugar). If you make your own yogurt (and let's hope by now most of you do), then just put some in muslin to drip overnight to make your own curd cheese. Or buy cottage cheese, pop it in the freezer for a couple of days, then once thawed you will have found it broken down to 'curd cheese' texture.
If you don't keep a jar of preserved ginger in your stores, then chop up some crystallised ginger.

Russian Cream: serves 6
1 lb (500g) curd cheese
2 oz (50g) Demerara sugar, ground (see above)
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds
2 oz (50g) raisins
2 oz (50g) no-soak apricots, halved
2 tblsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp preserved ginger, chopped
half pint (300ml) double cream, whipped
Mix everything but the cream together and put into a pudding basin (or individual dishes) . Leave overnight in the fridge to set, then turn out from the basin onto a serving dish (or leave in the smaller dishes) and top with the whipped cream.

The above ends up similar to a cheesecake mix, and when making one of these always find the 'biscuit crumb with butter' base becomes almost impossible to cut through after chilling. Have found the way round this problem is to line the dish with clingfilm then spoon in the cheesecake mixture, smoothing the surface level, allow this to set, then top with the biscuit crumb/butter and not pressing it down too firmly.
When ready to serve, remove from the fridge and leave for about five minutes before inverting onto a plate. Because the base was originally at the top, the room temperature helps to 'soften' it, so once turned upside down so the base then is in its rightful place, this makes it far easier to cut into wedges.

Am now reminded of another tip from the chefs' book. When lining a tin with cling-film, to make sure the contents of the pan (in this instance a terrine) end up with smooth sides and no creases or wrinkles, first lay a sheet of cling film on a work surface, smoothing it out as flat as you can (stretching it over a board if at all possible), then lay over another sheet, smoothing/stretching this also, then a further sheet (or two). There have to be at least three layers large enough to fit into the chosen tin allowing for plenty of overlap.
Wet the inside of the mould, then fit in the paper. The water helps the plastic to cling to the sides, and press it down so that it lies as smoothly as possible. Then spoon in the filling. Smooth the surface and then pull up the overlap of cling-film, stretching it as much as you can before folding over the top.
When turning out the sides/base (which is now the top) should be as smooth as a baby's bottom.

Possibly most of us don't wish to go to those lengths, a wrinkle here a crease there isn't the end of our cookery world, but have to say am always irritated by how difficult it is to line a tin smoothly with said cling-film, and previously have found that laying a sheet of film over the chosen tin then pushing it down with a similar size tin (works best if the sides slope a bit like a loaf tin) also helps to keep the film from creasing, but the idea of first wetting the inside to help make the film 'stick' is a good tip to know.
Another tip (one of my own) is to keep the roll of cling-film in the freezer, as it won't then stick to itself when unrolled, but WILL still cling to whatever it is to be wrapped around.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Remember, Remember...!

Regarding making a quiche without using a 'custard'. It can be done, but normally at least one egg is needed to bind the contents together. There is no need to add milk or cream. Just pour over beaten egg once the pastry case is full. The egg then drains into the gaps between the filling and it is less likely to fall apart once sliced.
Another way to give moisture to the flan is to spread the base first with cream cheese, or melt this off in a pan and pour it over the veggies (or beat the egg into the melted cheese before pouring).
If no moisture is added, the contents of a flan could end up like 'roasted vegetables in pastry', although the thought has just come to mind that you could first fry off the veggies (or oven roast them) before using as a 'filling', and then put them in a pie dish with the pastry on top, tucking the edges down the side, then - after baking - turn out onto a plate to make an 'upside-down' flan - otherwise known as 'Tarte Tatin'.
A couple of recipes today might point you in the right direction, although you may wish to used different veggies/cheese, at least it gives an idea of how things go together.

Some recipes don't bake a pastry case blind when making a quiche, but myself always part blind-bake the case first as this prevents the base becoming soggy. The case can be baked earlier, paper and beans removed, then left - uncovered - at room temperature. This also gives the base a chance to dry out even more.
Another way to prevent 'soggy bottoms' is to paint a part-cooked base with egg (white, yolk or both) immediately it comes out of the oven and beans removed. The egg white cooks with the heat and makes a seal between the filling and the pastry.

As to whether the flan will freeze - this I'm not sure. 'Normal' quiches can be frozen, but myself never find this improves them. They keep fairly well in the fridge for several days, and then the amount needed is removed and brought back to room temperature before being eaten as the flavour tends to disappear the colder the food (this with almost any food). All I can suggest is when you make your flan, you cut a small wedge, wrap and seal and then freeze. Thaw it out a few days later and see how it turns out.
One of today's recipes does have freezing instructions.

A couple of recipes for a 'custard free' type of quiche/flan. It is not necessary to use the variety of cheese as given in the recipe, just take the details as a guide, and use the ingredients you have, nearest to the ones shown.
Two Cheese with Tomato Tart: serves 6 - 8
1 x 9" (23cm) pastry flan case, baked blind
1 tblsp Dijon mustard
6 ripe tomatoes, sliced
5 oz (150g) ripe Camembert cheese, sliced
5 oz (150g) soft goat's cheese, sliced
1 large egg plus one egg yolk
2 oz (50g/ml) creme fraiche
1 tblsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
salt and pepper
Place the pastry case (it an still be in its tin) onto a baking sheet, then spread the mustard over the base of the cooked pastry case, then over with overlapping and alternating slices of the tomato and cheeses.
In a bowl put the whole egg, the egg yolk and the creme fraiche and whisk together. Fold in half the chopped rosemary leaves, season well (be generous with the pepper) and pour this evenly over the tomatoes and cheese. Sprinkle the remaining rosemary over the top.
Put the baking sheet into the oven (2ooC, 400F, gas 6) and bake for 40 minutes until just set and golden, then remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tin. Can be served warm or cold.
Freezing instructions are given: Cool completely, then wrap well in cling film followed by foil. Freeze for up to three months. Defrost thoroughly before serving cold, or cover and warm through in the oven.

The second recipe is more a tart than a flan, yet the 'filling' could still be baked in a short-pastry case rather than using puff pastry as in this instance. Again goat's cheese is used, but crumbled Mozzarella, Feta or even Wensleydale (at a pinch even grated Cheddar) should give almost the same effect (if not the flavour).
Note that these 'tarts' are made as individual servings, so double the ingredients if wishing to serve four (or just make one large one) and halve the amount if wishing to make just one for yourself.
If you haven't red pesto, then use green. If you haven't a jar of roasted red peppers in oil, then roast fresh bell peppers, remove skins and drizzle with oil. If you haven't thyme, use chopped rosemary leaves, or chopped parsley and mint.
Red Pepper and Goat's Cheese Tart: serves 2
375g pack of ready-rolled puff pastry
2 heaped tablespoons red pesto
1 x 290g jar of roasted red peppers in oil, drained
4 oz (100g) milk goat's cheese, cut into rounds
few sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper
Bring the puff pastry to room temperature before unrolling (otherwise it may crack). Cut in half and re-roll half back again and freeze for later use. Cut the reserved half into two equal oblongs and place onto a lightly greased baking tray.
Using the tip of a knife, scored a half-inch border around the edges of each pastry (but don't cut through), then divide and spread the pesto over each piece of pastry, keeping the pesto within the borders.
Cut the peppers into large chunks and lay these over the top, then place slices of the cheese on top of that, sprinkling over the thyme. Season to taste, then bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 12 - 15 minutes or until the pastry is risen, golden and cooked through. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before removing from tray and serving on plates.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Wider Picture

The requested recipe for 'boil and bake' cake is given below. It can turn out rather dry, but after wrapping tightly in foil for a couple or so days this improves it slightly. Even better, drizzle over some brandy (or even orange juice) over both the top and base before wrapping, and this really does work wonders for a dry fruit cake. Our cake has now been started and due to the fact I had a slice myself, then another, then another, already half gone. This time it really has turned out well. The added brandy obviously helped!

Although I checked with an oven thermometer, and it is correct according to the recipe, myself feel the cake is 'done' about half an hour before it should be. Even stuck in a 'cake tester' wand to make sure, and it seemed to be done, but gave it a bit longer which is probably why it did seem rather dry. But once cooled and wrapped in foil, the cake will soften up.
If using a square tin, the cake is often easier to cut - if you prefer a slice to a wedge that is - and as this can often make a slightly shallower cake, probably it will take a little less time to cook. Worth covering the cake tin with foil (shiny side up to reflect away the heat) halfway through the cooking time to prevent the top cracking.
Although this is a cake that can use pre-measured ingredients (sugar, butter, and 2 x flour) 'bagged up' ready to use as mentioned in previous blogs, I use demerara sugar (as recipe suggests) in place of caster as this gives a better colour to the cake. Also I used orange juice instead of water (mainly to use up the juice).

In fact, this cake is so good that I will probably bag up 'the necessary' (including spice in the flour, and the amount of dried fruits needed, then keep these in a special container ready for when I next wish to make the cake.
Using only a mix of dried fruits as bought from the supermarket (raisins, sultanas, currants, can always add more candied peel, some chopped glace cherries, maybe even some chopped nuts (keeping the total weight the same). Adding these, and making it early early enough (say November) and keep 'feeding' it with a spoonful or so of brandy each week, and by Christmas it will be perfect!!

Boil and Bake Cake:
12 oz (350g) mixed dried fruit
4 oz (100g) margarine
4 oz (100g) brown sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) water or fruit juice
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
1 level tsp mixed spice
2 eggs, beaten
Put the fruit, margarine, sugar and water into a saucepan over a low to medium heat. Stir occasionally, and when the sugar and marg have dissolved, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the fruit from sticking to the base of the pan and burning.
When time is up, remove from heat, tip into the mixing bowl to be used and leave to cool down a bit (half an hour is about right). Don't let it get quite cold or the fat will start setting again.
Sift the flour and spice together, then add this to the fruit with the eggs, mix together thoroughly then pour into a greased and lined 7" (18cm) round cake tin and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for half an hour, then reduce heat to 150C, 300F, gas 2 and continue baking for a further hour and a half (perhaps worth testing after the first hour at the lower temperature).
Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out. When cool, peel away the lining paper, pour over a tablespoon of brandy (if using) over the top - also over the base if you wish), then wrap tightly in foil and store for at least a couple of days before cutting. Best kept in an airtight tin to avoid it drying out.

Traditionally, pasta dough is made by putting the flour onto a work surface, making a well in the centre, break in the eggs and then slowly work in the flour. This recipe gives the speedier method - using a bowl or food processor, but whichevr way chosen, the end result will be the same.
Home-made Pasta Dough: make 1 lb:
11 oz (300g) pasta flour or strong plain
3 large eggs
pinch of salt
Put the flour and salt into a food processor (or mixing bowl) and add the eggs. Pulse (or mix with the hands)until ending up like sticky crumbs. Turn out onto a floured board (using the same type flour)and form into one solid lump, then begin kneading the dough (as you would bread) until it looks and feels smooth. If the dough sticks to the board, sprinkle over a little more flour. Wrap dough in cling film (or put into a plastic bag) and place in the fridge to chill for a good half hour - this making it easier to roll out.
When chilled enough, unwrap pastry and cut into quarters. Dust a pastry board lightly with flour, then roll out each piece to approx 10" - 12" (25 - 30cm) or - if you have one - roll out using a pasta machine. Aim for the dough to be 1mm thick (what's that in inches?) or even less (depends upon what you intend to use it for).
Leave the sheets to dry for 20 or so minutes, then roll up loosely and cut into half in strips (1cm) if you want to make 'tagliatelle'. Cut thinner to make the other versions (see above).
Shake each roll out and pile the 'ribbons' - again loosely - on a dry tea towel which has been dusted with flour. Leave to dry for a further half hour before cooking.
To cook, boil for 3 - 4 minutes in lightly salted water - by which time it will be tender. Drain in a colander and separate strands with a fork to prevent them sticking together. A little olive oil drizzled over also helps to stop them sticking.

This next recipe is a warming soup made with ingredients that many of us keep in our store cupboard (if not why not?). Almost any small broken bits of pasta can be used (just crush up the larger bits) although the true recipe uses small 'soup' pasta such as 'filini' (tiny strips of noodles) or broken spaghetti. As 'beans are beans are beans' almost any variety of canned bean could be used
Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup: serves 4 - 6
1 x 300g can canned Borlotti beans
3 oz (75g) streaky bacon
4 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1.75pints (1 ltr) chicken stock
5 oz (150g) small pasta pieces
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan for serving
Put the olive oil in a pan and fry the bacon with the onion , carrots and celery until all are softened. Then add the drained beans and stir together thorougbly before adding the stock. Simmer slowly until the beans are almost collapsing, then add the pasta and cook until tender. Season to taste and serve hot with freshly grated Parmesan.

Another pasta dish coming up. One of my favourites as so easy to make and a way of using up egg yolks that might be 'left over'. Many recipes use spaghetti to make this dish, but the wider 'tagliatelle'/noodles are this time used, but again - almost any pasta 'shape' could be used. The 'curlier' shapes (fusilli, shells etc) can also be used as the sauces are 'held' more easily. The amount of pasta used seems excessive, so - as an Italian recipe - possibly fresh pasta would be used, although cooking for 8 minutes sounds more like 'home-made-dried'. If using bought dried pasta, we could reduce weight, perhaps allowing 2 - 3 oz (50g - 75g) per person.
Pasta Carbonara: serves 4
1 lb (425g) fresh tagliatelle
1 tsp olive oil
3 oz (75g) butter
2 egg yolks. beaten together
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan
4 fl oz (100ml) double cream
4 oz (100g) streaky bacon, diced
salt and pepper
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the oil and half a teaspoon of salt. Cook the pasta for 8 minutes.
Meanwhile melt 1 oz (25g) of the butter in a pan and fry the bacon for 4 - 5 minutes. Melt the remaining butter, then beat this into the egg yolks with the cheese, cream and some freshly ground black pepper.
Drain the pasta and put back into the pan to retain its heat, then immediately add the bacon and its juices (or - if you wish - add the pasta to the pan of bacon, stirring in the egg and cream mixture. Toss well - the heat will cook the eggs - add more seasoning to taste, and serve with more Parmesan if desired.

Ideally - with a recipe such as above - we can always reduce quantities of the more expensive ingredients. Ignore the weight, a couple of rashers of bacon should suffice, use an ounce less butter and - by frying streaky bacon over low heat it gives out its own fat. The cream could be whipping cream or - at a pinch - single cream or even a dollop of cream cheese (cream cheese works like magic with pasta dishes as when heated it melts into a really creamy sauce).
Using the cheaper alternatives, we can still make a very good and tasty meal, worthy of serving to guests.

Once we stand back and take a long hard look at what cooking is all about, and then discover that savings can be made, we can then look at the wider picture. Add up the savings to cover (say) five future years and this will prove how much has been previously spent that needn't have been. Once we understand that - by our own efforts - we can have our cake and eat it too, then the future is nothing to be overly concerned about.