Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Weekend Starts Here

Another late start today due entirely to me going back to bed (when I should have stayed up) so that I could continue dreaming. Really enjoy my dreams, hardly any nightmares but certainly frustration appears now and then interspersed with lovely bits that I hate to miss,

This is the good thing about being old and retired. No reason to get up if we don't want to. If I hadn't my blog calling me would probably still be dreaming this very minute. Thank goodness for my blog that's all I can say or I'd end up dreaming the rest of my life away.

Having two to cook for yesterday (B and daughter) really brought back my enjoyment in preparing a meal (not that it was much more than a snack as it was a very early supper, hardly a High Tea as B was out early that evening at his social and no doubt eating more there). Why cooking for two (or more) gives me loads more pleasure than cooking for just B, but it does.

Decided to make a soup and serve this with freshly baked rolls. Possibly followed by individual Toad in the Holes. I'd asked B to bring me in a dozen thick pork sausages from the local butcher (next door to the chemist where he was going to collect my prescription). Was intending to freeze most of the sausage, but he brought in 7 long thin chipolatas (why was I not surprised, and why 7? - perhaps that's all that they had left, didn't ask), so put 6 in the oven to cook and froze the last one - this being size of two but hadn't been twisted in the middle.

Then set about making bread dough in the bread machine. Forty five minutes later this was ready to be 'knocked back' and placed in the containers. Had decided to use half the doughto make a fruit loaf, and the remainder to make mini-loaves.

Must give a glowing mention to these 'boxes' bought from Lakeland. Called 'baker's presentation boxes' they are made of lined card and are grease-resistant and oven safe to 220C. In several sizes, (mini-loaf, square, both at £2.99 for 12, and - previously - also small tray-bake and large tray-bake) these were perfect (baking left in the container) to give as gifts.

Have baked bread in these mini-loaf boxes several times, (also great for making individual lemon drizzle sponges) found these containers are also reusable (if not permanently, at least several times), all that happens is they can get very slightly discoloured, but not a problem. The mini-loaves are perfect for serving with soup, and HALF a batch of dough (on its own would bake into a 2 lb loaf) was enough to make 8 mini-loaves, meaning each weighed about 2 oz after cooking.
B loves to eat these minis split with a cooked sausage tucked inside, so decided to serve the soup with hot sausages and mini loaves (instead of Toad) then they could eat them as they wished.

The soup was supposed to be a bit special but almost ended up as a disaster. My intention was to use the last can of soup on my larder shelf - this being condensed cream of mushroom. But instead of rinsing the can out with water and adding to the condensed in the saucepan, decided instead to rinse out with the last of a tub of whipping cream, making up the shortfall with water. A very big mistake as this made the soup overly rich and smothered the mushroom flavour so it ended up tasting of nothing but cream. Grasping at straws thought I'd try adding a chicken cuppa soup to see if there was an improvemen. Certainly better, but still too 'creamy', so added another chicken cuppa and then it was perfect but now far too thick, so diluted it down with more water and then came the Goldilock's moment. Not too this, not too that, but just right. Eureka!

Served big bowlsful of the soup to my 'diners' with a sprinkling of ground black pepper on top, plus the freshly baked rolls, a dish of butter and bowl of hot sausages. Then left them to it whilst dealt with the fruit loaf I was baking, but as our current 'dining area' is the conservatory (open end of our kitchen) was able to hear daughter say very complimentary things about the soup. She is an excellent cook herself, and - like me - will only say something is good when it really is, so felt very chuffed. Thanfully she didn't ask how it was made.

Earlier had popped the minis over the c.h.radiator to keep warm and rise, then rolled out the second half of dough, sprinkled over sugar and some mixed spice and a good sprinkling of dried mixed fruit. Rolled these in with my rolling pin, then rolled up the dough like a Swiss Roll, then rolled it out again and repeated. After the final 'roll-up', gathered it up into a ball and worked it a bit with my fingers into a round then long thick sausage and popped it into a greased and floured 1 lb loaf tin. Put this on the radiator also to rise (rising takes about an hour done this way). All the dough being covered to prevent it drying it out.
They were all placed into the oven 200C, and left to bake, the minis taking 20 minutes, the loaf about 40 mins and still in the oven when the meal was served.

After 'supper', with only a couple of mini loaves left and a couple of sausages, B said he'd have some as a 'snack' when he got in later that evening. This morning noticed that he had eaten the lot PLUS a slice or two of the fruit loaf. Toasted myself a slice this morning to eat with my coffee and pills and it was really good, perhaps needed a bit more spice. This is a trial in progress, each time slightly adjusting the amount of added ingredients (different sugars, spice, dried fruit..).

With the trade mag having arrived this morning, noticed the front cover mentions that 'Morrisons are introducing a 19-strong veggie range. As known as the mutiple that sells more locally grown produce (by this I mean grown in this country not imported) than others, was impressed, but a quick look at the inside article shows this 'veggie range' is connected with a launch of a new veggie range of Morrison's vegetarian ready-meals. Good only if you already do eat 'the readies' as maybe these will be of better quality that other brands, Most of us make our own 'readies'. Or am hoping we do. Will have to wait until I've read the full article before giving more detials.

Replying now to your comments.
Thanks Lynne for comparing prices 'then' and 'now' (as taken from Goode For One). At the time of writing prices were fairly stable, and it quite stunned me to realise how much the cost of food has risen since the book was published. Am not even sure if I still have a copy, I had only one of each of the 3 BBC publications, and one of the Penguin, all now falling to bits, mainly because to keep the price low (by my insistence) they books were printed on recycled paper and not bound very securely, so the paper darkens with age and the glue breaks down. The Penguin book is just a pile of pages kept (sometimes) in order, tucked into the covers. The BBC books almost as bad.

Anyone who has a 'Mrs Beeton' cook-book will see how she has listed all the foods on sale at that time, giving the prices for those - often two prices according to whether in season or not. She also gives - with each recipe - how much it costs to make. What may seem low price then has to be relative to earnings at that time (often not much more than £1 a week). Almost certainly many of 'her' ingredients used now cost (relatively) less today than they did then (one glaring example, a pineapple 'then' was 15/- (75p in today's money), and today can still be bought for 75p.
It was only a few weeks ago that some comparisons of food prices were given in the trade mag (their special issue celebrating 150 years of publication). So however much we moan and groan about rising prices today, we have a 'food life' a hundred/thousand times better than did our ancestors. We should always remember that.

Your mention of toppings for baked spuds Urbanfarmgirl, reminded me that if you like 'jackets', then always worth freezing just one or two tablespoons of spag.bol meat sauce, chilli con carne, or curry when next making, as this amount won't be missed when serving as a full meal, and this small amount can be easily thawed and re-heated to pop onto the next 'jacket' you have cooked for yourself (or others).
These also make good toppings/spreads to put onto pizzas, or as a layer between 'stacked' pancakes (one pancake spread with a tomato 'pizza' sauce, topped with a pancake, this spread with a meat sauce, topped with a pancake, this spread with a creamed vegetable, topped with a pancake, then repeat layers at least twice more, ending with a pancake. Pour over a cheese sauce, sprinkle with grated cheese then reheat in the oven. Tent with foil if you wish to reheat first with just the sauce then remove foil and sprinkle over the cheese to finish off browning).

Here are a few more 'jacket toppings' you might wish to try. With the first a cheat's way would be omit the chopped tomatoes and haricot beans and used bog-standard baked beans. Instead of using chorizo you could spice up the ingredients by stirring in a spoon of curry paste when frying the onion, or add chopped/sliced cooked pork sausages and paprika to give the 'spice'.

With any toppings that will freese, best to divide intoseveral small (individual) amounts, then you always have the right amount according to how many to serve. It might be you are wishing to serve 6 people with 'topped' jackets, but have only 2 or 3 different toppings, either ask first for their preference or thaw out a selection they can choose from at the table.
Spicy Bean topping: serves 4
1 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced or grated
3 oz (75g) chorizo, sliced or chopped
1 tblsp chopped fresh rosemary (opt)
2 tsp Demerara sugar
1 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 x 410g cans haricot beans, drained
freshly ground black pepper
2 oz (50g) mozzarella cheese, grated (opt)
4 cooked 'jacket' potatoes
Heat the oil in a pan and fry - over medium heat - the onion, chorizo and rosemary for 10 minutes until soft. Stir in the sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 or so minutes or until the sauce has thickened. Add the beans and heat through. Season with pepper to taste, then stir in the cheese (if using) and pile onto the top of hot, split jacket potatoes. Top with the cheese.

This next topping originally used flakes of smoked salmon, but canned salmon or tuna could also be used. Smoked mackerel would be wonderful with the other ingredients, but as ever - the cost of such a dish does matter these days, so my advice is to use what you have, and only the amount you have, no need to be exact as to quantities.
Salmon and Broccoli Topping: serves 4
5 oz (150g) broccoli florets
8 oz (200g) smoked or canned salmon (see above)
1 tblsp capers, rinsed and chopped
1 x 200g tub creme fraiche
2 tblsp horseradish sauce/cream
4 cooked 'baking' potatoes
1 tblsp chopped fresh dill or parsley
zest of half lemon
Cook the broccoli until just tender (takes about 2 minutes boiling), then drain well and put back into the pan. Keep warm over very low heat.
Meanwhile flake the fish and add to the pan with the capers, creme fraiche and horseradish. Fold gently together and cook for 2 minutes until heated through, then pile onto the hot, split, potatoes and garnish with chosen herb and lemon zest.

Next 'topping' is one that can make use of any left-overs. Such as those chicken scraps we 'scrimpers' sit and pick from the carcase once we have made chicken stock, as a topping use these combined with any 'sauce' that complements the flavour. Such as half a can of condensed chicken or mushroom soup, and - if using the latter - you could use less mushrooms than stated, or omit them altogether. Or perhaps you have some leftover creamy carbonara sauce that you could use instead. Alternatively make up some cheese sauce using Bisto granules and add extra grated cheese (when cost-cutting it can sometimes save money to use a few 'convenience' products). You get the idea, just use the recipe as a guide.
Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Topping: serves 4
12 oz (350g) chosen sauce (see above)
4 oz (100g) mushrooms, chopped (see above)
8 oz (225g) cooked chicken, shredded (see above)
handful baby spinach leaves,
4 pieces sundried tomatoes, chopped
few basil leaves, torn into shreds (opt)
4 cooked 'jacket' potatoes
Heat the chosen sauce in a pan until it is just beginning to simmer. Add the mushrooms and cook very gently for 5 minutes until just beginning to soften, then fold in the chicken and cook for a further 2 minutes until heated through.
Add the spinach leaves, tomatoes and basil. Spoon on top of the split 'jackets' and serve.

Final topping is fairly simple to prepare, even easier if you have pre-cooked crispy bacon and left-over steamed cabbage that you could use. Often when preparing a dish it is worth cooking that little bit extra to use in another dish such as this. These I call 'planned leftovers'.
Bacon and Colcanon Topping: serves 4
4 slices streaky or back bacon, fried or grilled
half white or firm green cabbage, shredded and steamed
4 tomatoes, halved
2 spring onions, sliced
1 x 200g tub creme fraiche
freshly ground black pepper
4 cooked 'jacket' potatoes
Cut or break the cooked crispy bacon into pieces. Halve the tomatoes and fry or grill. Meanwhile mix the cooked (steamed) cabbage with the bacon. Fold the onion into the creme fraiche and add pepper to taste.
Split open the hot potatoes, then top each with the cabbage and bacon mixture, spoon the onion/creme fraiche on that, then place two halved grilled tomatoes on top before serving.

Also cold and wet here too Alison, comfort eating is definitely what we all need at the moment, and your mention of steamed puddings is one of the best for these winter days. There are many recipes given for these, the easiest one to remember is use the same recipe as for a Victoria Sponge ( same weight of butter/marg, sugar, s.r.flour to eggs), making the cake batter in the same way, but instead of cooking in tins, place into a well greased pudding basin, cover with pleated greaseproof/baking parchment and foil, then place on a trivet or in a steamer and cook for about an hour an a half (making sure the water in the pan doesn't dry out during this time. Preferably the water should reach half-way up the basin if sitting on a trivet).
This pud could also be steamed in greased tea-cups, again covered, but as they are smaller (individual) puds, normally take only about half an hour to cook.

Steamed sponge pud can be flavoured in several ways. Either put a tablespoon or so of jam or golden syrup in the base of the bowl before adding the batter, or add ground ginger to the dry ingredients before mixing and syrup again at the base. Alternatively add a tblsp of cocoa powder when making, then serve with a chocolate sauce. Alternatively leave plain but add dried fruit.
The very best accompaniment to steamed pud has to be custard (and by this I mean made using custard powder not the 'proper' way). If you have sachets of flavoured blancmange, this could also make a good hot 'custard', use the flavour that compliments the pudding.

Due to late start, this means it's now almost time for me to start thinking about (and preparing) supper. Being a Saturday (not a lot on TV that appeals) might even do some more baking. Incidentally, not sure if I have mentioned it before, but those Chocolate Fondants I made (then froze) cook perfectly from frozen. Definitely the dessert worth preparing several days ahead (to freeze) when giving a dinner party.

Believe it is half-term this coming week in parts of the country (some counties seem to have it a week earlier (or later) than another. Readers with children will be kept busy, teachers will be able to have a little more time to relax (or catch up with what has been waiting for them). Do hope that you will still find some time to read and send in comments.

Heard yesterday that Eileen had a bad fall on the black-ice, just outside her door, and hurt herself quite painfully, especially in one foot, so we all sen her our sympathies and hope for a speedy recovery.

Despite the bleak weather, those who cook will probably be finding enough to keep busy over the next few weeks. Valentine's Day, Pancake Day, Lent, Mothering Sunday (refuse to call it Mother's Day), and no doubt several more before Easter descends upon us. Always something we can find to look forward to. So better start planning. TTFN.