Monday, February 20, 2012

Small Is Beautiful!

Had a good day yesterday. Make the first batch of choux pastry and ended up with around 30 round profiteroles (plus half a dozen mis-shapes that were saved for B's supper). Doesn't seem to matter which recipes I use to make this pastry, all are slightly different and really dislike any that gives imperial weights in half ounces (as impossible to weigh correctly.
However, my 'catering/cheffy' cook book gave a wonderfully easy recipe to remember and this was the one used yesterday. The only difference I made was to use strong plain white (bread) flour instead of the normal plain used when baking cakes. This has a stronger gluten content that gives a firmer shape without the pastry ending up 'tough'.

One thing I realised was that the small blobs of choux rose slightly more when baked on a flat baking sheet with no sides than in a shallow Swiss roll baking tray (had to use both as wanted to bake the lot in one go). There are other tips to make perfect profiteroles, but will give these with the recipe and photos once the 'cake' has been made and assembled.

Because the profiterole mixture made slightly less than the recipe said (I wanted them slightly larger), and as strong flour was more expensive than the plain, now that I've worked out how much cream will be needed to fill the 80 profiteroles (already filled the first batch, they are now in the freezer), also estimated the amount of sugar or chocolate for garnish (or both as may do half and half) see the final total comes to £6 (give or take a penny) for an 80 profiterole Croquembouche, slightly more expensive than first thought (originally hoped to keep it to under £5), but even then not at all expensive for what it is. Certainly worth thinking about as an alternative wedding cake (traditionally served in France, so if it's good enough for them it HAS to be special enough for us), and - according to number of guests - even if there are double or treble the number of 'profs' needed to be made, still far cheaper to make than any other special occasion cake.

Have taken to having a small breakfast before I begin my blog each day and this morning decided to thinly slice one of those mini-loaves made the other day. Spread with Flora pro-active and a little mustard, formed the slices into mini-sarnies filled with home-cooked ham. Each just the right size to eat as one bite, although did cut them diagonally to make them even daintier. Thought how wonderful this size sarnie would be to serve to small children at their parties (or a little girl's doll's tea-party) along with mini-cup cakes. The little baking 'boxes' (mentioned previously) could also be used to make mini Madeira/lemon drizzle cakes etc, which could also be served as-is or ready-sliced. Or make a fruit 'loaf' in the little boxes, or, or, or... When it comes to children we could make so many in this way that look exactly like the adult version, but much more child-size. To me, cooking 'small-scale' opens another cookery 'door' and is a perfect way to delight not just children but also adults, for these mini-bread slices (each loaf cuts into 8 slices plus two end crusts) could also be lightly toasted under the grill or dried off in the oven to use as bases for canapes etc. You can't believe how thrilled I was when I made my wee sarnies this morning. Does "little things please little minds seem appropriate"?

It was great to hear from you again Kathryn. Am sure you will feel a lot more relaxed now you don't have the pressures of work you had in the past. With teaching qualifications behind you, there is always an option to teach at night-school, even if only one evening a week, and it doesn't have to be in the field you were teaching formerly (science?). As you do so many crafts, and people are clamouring to learn the old skills (due to the recession) you could run general 'craft classes' covering lots of things through spinning wool to crocheting and knitting, and on to using up old material for patchwork etc. Call it 'Rags to Riches'.

Loss of a regular wage is not always the disaster it can seem, certainly if one is 'crafty' and enjoys making instead of buying, also growing own produce, for then it's quite possible to live a very healthy and contented life - albeit simple one -by doing so. Certainly gain more sense of achievement than many paid jobs will give us.
Please keep sending in comments Kathryn, your previous ones, were always very interesting and inspiring to read. Don't know if you have our own blog, but worth starting one about your 'new-improved' life.

Regarding bringing horse poo home from the stable. Surely if it was bagged up in strong poly-bags, the top tied, then the bag placed end down into another strong bag (also tied), there would be no aroma to waft around your OH's car. Worth trying at least once as this manure is so useful for your garden. Am I right in thinking you now have an allotment, or are you still on a waiting list?

Thanks for letting us know minimiser deb that hummous (several ways of spelling this) does freeze. And thanks Jenny Mac for letting us know that Morrison's have quite a good selection of fresh produce sold in 30p bags, especially as the majority of my recent grocery delivery (other than the ingredients for the 'social' desserts) were the 'fresh'. If I can keep topping up with these great offers on 'fresh', then this could see an even greater reduction of my already dwindling food budget. Will just have to wear blinkers so that I'm not tempted by other items on shelves as I 'scoot' through Morrison's. At least the fresh produce section (fruit and veg) are towards the front of the store so no real need to travel further in unless I need milk or eggs (one reason why these are always at the back of the store to tempt us to impulse buy as we walk past the aisles)

Beloved brought home two fresh mackerel from Morrison's on Saturday, but as kedgeree had already been made, it was decided he would eat them the following day (yesterday). As B wanted to cook them himself, found a suitable recipe and let him get on with it. He only wanted one, but when I said I'd have the other he looked a bit glum, so said no reason why he couldn't eat them both. Suggested he stuff them with some gooseberries, so got some out of the freeer to thaw. When unwrapped he found the mackerel were really plump, and as they already been gutte and had heads removed, he also found they had been stuffed with slices of lemon and herbs.
To cut a long story short B grilled the fish and brought me one with some very cold gooseberries at the side. The fish wasn't really to my liking, although cooked well enough. It had lots of bones and was very rich (aka 'fishy') and oily in flavour - thankfully the goosegogs offset this. Certainly seemed to be worth the cost as plenty of flesh on the bones £2 for two large fish).
For 'afters' B ate the six cream-filled profiteroles that I'd saved for him (with a dusting of icing sugar on top), then later ate the last of the fresh fruit salad from the day before, with half a jug of double cream (also left over). He later went and made himself another snack but not sure what.

Later that evening I ate an orange, and later still was really desperate to make myself a sandwich or something. I spent about an hour persuading myself that I didn't need to eat anything and - for once - managed to stay in my chair and not touch another morsel. This at least meant I had lost 1 lb overnight. Having put a few pounds back on again (due mainly to me scoffing most of that fat-less, one-egg fruit loaf made recently. It was gorgeous, but hardly fat free as each slice I spread liberally spread with butter or Flora pro-A). Do need to lose nearly a stone by the start of April just to prove to the diabetic nurse I can still lose weight (am losing much more slowly these days).

Kathryn has requested recipes using eggs, so today's 'offerings' are based on these. Perhaps one of the simplest 'mains' we can make is an egg curry. Basically this is hard-boiled eggs served in a curry sauce (and if those cheap curry sauces - once as low as 4p a can) can still be found, then use one of these to make a really cheap meal. Just heat the sauce, add the eggs, then serve on a bed of rice.

Here is a recipe that uses chicken joints and as this dish also included hard-boiled eggs the chicken joints could be - if small - one per person, or if large - half a joint per person. When we buy fresh chicken joints (cheaper if we joint a fresh chicken ourselves) that we are planning to freeze, we should remove the bones then they are easier to divide up in pieces once thawed. We know that leaving any meat on the bone improves flavour, so the flesh could be re-wrapped around the bones to cook, or the flesh removed from the bones after cooking. Whatever suits our purpose.
Myself tend to buy several chickens to portion up, then wrap each portion singly for freezing (other than winglets - these bagged in half-dozens) as it is almost impossible to separate any raw meats (and sausages) that touch each other. Far better to freeze in small quantities than have to thaw out too much at any one time. Easy enough to thaw out two small packs than divide one large then have to find a use for the rest.
When I freeze the chicken, some joints are boned, others left as-is. Likewise some have the skin left on, the others have skin removed. Much depends on the recipes I will be using, if frying or roasting crispy skin is usually desired by B.
Save any skin and bones removed to add to the carcase when making stock. The skin usually gives off plenty of fat (dripping) and this I use for frying or when making pastry instead of lard (to cover chicken pies etc).

But I digress. Here is the recipe I was about to give. An Ethiopian dish, slightly spicy that is more fragrant rather than curry-hot. Although 2 chicken portion would normally be served per person, we could use just one per head and make up the protein shortfall with a larger egg (or two small ones)
Ethiopian Chicken with Eggs: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 - 3 garlic cloves (to taste) crushed
1" (2.5cm) piece fresh root ginger, grated
1 tsp ground cardamom
half tsp turmeric
quarter tsp each ground nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon
6 fl oz (175ml) chicken or vegetable stock
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
4 hard-boiled eggs, medium size (see above)
4 - 8 chicken portions (see above)
paprika pepper
red onion, finely sliced
naan, flatbread or rice for serving
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions for 10 minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic, ginger and spices and fry for a further minute, then add the stock and chopped tomatoes. Bring to the boil and stir-cook for 10 minutes until thickened. Add seasoning to taste.
Transfer half the pan contents to an oven proof dish and place over the chicken, then pour the rest of the 'sauce' over so the chicken is covered. Place on lid (or cover with foil) then bake in the oven for 1 hour at 180C, 350F, gas 4.
Prick each shelled hard-boiled egg a few times with a fork or cocktail stick. Add to the sauce and and cook for a further half an hour, or until the chicken is cooked through and very tender. Add extra seasoning using paprika pepper.
Serve with boiled/steamed rice, naan or flatbread and sliced raw red onion rings.

Next recipe is easily adapted by using different vegetables, but always include chorizo (or another similar spiced meat). As this is very definitely a dish with 'eye appeal', aim to keep to the red, green, yellow and white ingredient colours.
Flamenco Eggs: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
4 oz (100g) streaky bacon, diced
3 oz (75g) chorizo, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 - 2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 each red and green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
half tsp paprika pepper
1 tblsp sherry or white wine
3 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
8 large eggs
salt and cayenne to taste
garlic crumbs:
4 slices toasting bread
2 cloves garlic, bruised
sunflower oil for frying
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the bacon and chorizo until they give up their fat, then add the onion and cook gently for five minutes. Stir in the garlic and peppers and cook for a further 1 - 2 minutes or until the peppers have softened. Pour the canned tomatoes into a sieve to remove some of their liquid, then add the tomato 'solids' to the pan with paprika and sherry. Mix gently to combine, then divide between four individual baking dishes, sprinkling each with parsley. Break the eggs into a bowl, just breaking them up with a fork (do not beat), stirring in some salt and cayenne, then pour this over the vegetables and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 8 minutes or until the egg has just set.
Meanwhile make the garlic crumbs by removing crumbing the bread with a grater or using a food processor/blender. Put enough oil to fry the crumbs into a a frying pan over high heat, add the garlic cloves at the start so they begin to flavour the oil, then remove when the oil is hot and discard. Scatter the breadcrumbs into the hot oil and as they begin to colour, turn them with a slotted spoon until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper, season with salt and paprika, then sprinkle spoonsful over the eggs. Serve hot.

Anyone who has a surplus of fresh eggs could pickle them (as often sold as 'pub grub' - also can be bought in jars in the supermarket). All we have to do is hard-boil the eggs, shell carefully (unfortunately the fresher the egg is the more difficult it is to remove the shell), then place in wide-topped (pref glass) sterilised jar and cover with boiled and cooled spiced or plain vinegar. The clear (distilled 'white') vinegar keeps the eggs white, covering with the brown malt vinegar turns the whites a pale brown (same shade as egg shells). These keep well for several weeks/months in the larder and are good served with salads, cold meats, chopped with mayo to make a sarnie filling, or nibbled as a snack etc.

An early finish today as must now go and make my second batch of profiteroles, maybe the third (and last) this afternoon. The rest of the week will also be busy. Have not yet decided whether to take a few days off from writing my blog. Probably will later in the week, but will let you know closer to the time. Tomorrow at least will be back as usual. Hope to see you then.