Friday, March 02, 2012

Making The Most from...

Hope your toothache has now been sorted Lynne. Your mention of planting strawberry plants reminded me to pot up individual plants (at the moment clumped together in a large tub), bring them indoors and hopefully get an earlier - and larger - crop when they are in the warmer conservatory. Last year we didn't get many strawberries, so hoping for a better crop this year.

What a coincidence Lisa! It was last Friday that I first heard about 'The Pampered Chef", when I was reading the sailing club's monthly money-raising events, and the Pampered Chef was listed as the one for (late) March. When asked what it was they said it was something like Tupperware with food demonstrations, so at the time thought I might go and have a look-see. No doubt I will be tempted to buy something, but only if it is useful of course!

Have noticed, when checking back after publishing, all of a sudden the recipes have more space between each ingredient, also spaces between each paragraph. This is not as written, where I prefer to keep things closer together, but I don't seem to have any control as to how the blog appears once I've pressed the 'publish' button. Possibly if I went into edit I could get things back as I wish but this hasn't always worked in the past, anyway for the moment have just shrugged and hope it is only annoying to me, and not others.

As you know I usually buy my mushrooms in a 'value pack' (these being much cheaper by weight than bought in smaller packs, or loose). Sometimes - if really fortunate - the Value mushrooms are chestnuts, but still at the same price/weight as the normal 'whites'.
All too often I have more mushrooms than needed, so rather than waste any I tend to dry the surplus off in the oven - or maybe use them to make mushroom strogonoff, or soup.

Here is a good recipe for a type of mushroom 'spread', similar to but without the lengthy cooking needed to make 'duxelles'. It makes good use of surplus mushrooms (pref chestnut), especially if you have some dried porcini in your larder (always worth keeping these) as these give a richer flavour.
This 'spread' is used in the same way as potted shrimps - to spread on toast, the good thing is that once made it can be frozen for up to 3 months, so from now on we never need to fret about how to use up those last mushrooms in the box.

Potted Mushrooms: serves 8
1 x 30g pack dried porcini mushrooms
9 oz (1 x 250g) pack butter
1 onion, very finely chopped
1 - 3 cloves garlic (to taste) crushed
2 springs fresh thyme
9 oz (250g) mushrooms, finely chopped
2 tblsp brandy
juice of half a lemon
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
Put the dried mushrooms into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for half an hour, then drain well and chop finely.
Melt 2 oz (50g) of the butter in a pan over low to medium heat, add the onion and fry until softened. Stir in the garlic and thyme and fry for a further minute before addng both types of mushrooms, tossing to coat in the butter. Raise the heat and fry untl the mushrooms are softened, then add the brandy and lemon juice and cook for a few more minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated.
Remove from heat, add the parsley and seasoning to taste then leave to cool. Heat the remaining butter until just melted then mix this into the mushrooms. Divide between 4 ramekins (or you can use smaller containers if you wish, one for each serving). Place in the fridge to chill until the butter has set. Cover each with cling-film if wishing to keep for a few days before eating (up to three days in the fridge). Or wrap in cling-film then place in freezer bags or containers and freeze for up to three months. Defrost overnight in the fridge before serving.

This next recipe was intended to be served with roast turkey as part of the Christmas Dinner, but it is very attractive in its own right and mini (individual) portions could be made in using muffin tins, either way served as a main course with (say) a salad.
This is a good way to make a few rashers of bacon, a few sausages, and instead of using the onions, celery, breadcrumbs, and sage, why not use instead that pack of sage and onion stuffing you might have in your larder. Also it is sometimes cheaper to buy sausagemeat than sausages in skins.
Tip: if you don't have a spring-sided cake tin, then line the tin with a double thickness of foil, allowing plenty of overlap. Once cooked, carefully lift the 'cake' from the tin using the foil as 'handles'.
Sausage & Bacon 'Cake': serves 6 - 8
2 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
1 oz (25g) butter
1 small onion (or 3 shallots) finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
4 oz (100g) white breadcrumbs
6 thick pork sausages, skins removed
2 oz (50g) walnuts, chopped
grated zest of 1 small orange (opt)
1 tblsp chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp dried sage
1 egg, beaten
8 rashers streaky bacon
Put the oil and butter into a pan over medium heat, then gently fry the onion (or shallots) and the celery for 5 minutes until softened. Tip into a bowl and add the breadcrumbs, sausagemeat, two-thirds of the walnuts, orange zest and sage. Season to taste and diving in with clean hands, mix the lot together. Alternatively use a small pack of sage and onion stuffing, made as per packet instructions (you can use the juice of the orange to moisen it), and mix this in with the sausage meat, and walnuts). Then mix in the egg until everything is well combined.
Take an 8" (20cm) round spring-sided cake tin and line the base and sides with tbe bacon rashers, letting any excess drape over the sides. Fill the tin with the stuffing mix and level the surface, folding the bacon back over the top to cover as much as possible (to keep the bacon flat when cooking it is a good idea to hold the ends together by spiking with a cocktail stick). Sprinkle the remaining walnuts on top. At this point the 'stuffing cake' can be frozen for up to 2 months, then defrost in the fridge for at least 24 hours before cooking.
To cook: Place the tin on a baking sheet, and bake for 50 - 55 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until the top is golden. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 - 15 minutes before serving.

Not even sure whether I dare offer this next recipe as it uses - wait for it! - a 'convenience' pack of cheese sauce. But if you have something similare in your cupboard then why not make good use of it. There are times when I would make this dish using a packet of cheese saue mix or Bisto cheese sauce granules. But don't let this stop you making your cheese sauce the 'proper' way (have also given a recipe for this).
Obviously this recipe is similar to the the old-fashioned Macaroni Cheese, made in my youth when macaroni was the only pasta we were familiar with. Nowadays we have umpteen types of pasta shapes, and most of them could be used in this dish, although probably the penne, fusilli, rigatoni, and (of course) macaroni would be the best for this meal. When 'making the most of'' ingredients we have, then we use these (or similar) not always what a recipe suggests. So the pasta choice I leave to you.

This recipe suggests using a 350g tub of 'four-cheese sauce', but myself would make up the same amount using my 'packet mix' and adding grated odds and ends of various cheeses lurking in the corners of my fridge. The stronger the flavour the better, so a bit of Stilton would be a very welcome addition.
The amount as shown will serve four as a 'starter', and serve two as a 'main' lunch or supper dish. If we have some cauliflower or broccoli (or a bit of both) that also needs using up, then lightly cook these and add them to the pasta and cooked in one larger shallow oven-proof dish and it should then serve up to four as a 'mains', and taste even better if a few rashers of bacon were laid across the top to crips up whilst the dish is cooking in the oven.
Baked Cheese Pasta: serves 2 - 4
7 oz (200g) pasta penne (or your choice of shape)
12 oz (350g) ready-made cheese sauce
extra grated cheese (3 different ones if you can)
ground black pepper
2 oz (50g) breadcrumbs
2 oz (50g) parmesan cheese, grated
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions then drain and place back in the warm pan. Add the cheese sauce and the extra grated cheese, adding pepper to taste, and heat through. Divide between two ovenproof (or 4 smaller 'starter' dishes). Mix together the parmesan and breadcrumbs and sprinkle on top. Bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 15 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Here is the recipe for cheese sauce that can be made using grated mature cheddar, or a mixture of cheeses (Cheddar, Red Leicester, Lancashire, Parmesan etc, plus a bit of Stilton if you wish).
Make-it-Yourself Cheese Sauce: serves 4
1 pint full-cream milk, warmed
2 oz (50g) butter
2 oz (50g) plain flour
1 - 2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 oz (175g) grated hard cheese (see above)
salt and pepper
Put the butter into a pan and heat gently until melted, then stir in the flour, and keep stirring for one minute to 'cook' the flour, then remove from heat and pour in one-third of the milk. Beat well with a wooden spoon (or electric whisk if you must), and when smooth (and it will be thick) beat in half the remaining milk until smooth, then beat in the last of the milk to make a completely smooth (and lump free!!) white sauce.
Return the pan to the heat and stir-cook until the suace has thickened, then lower the heat and simmer for a couple of minutes (the sauce should appear glossy), but always keep stirring. Remove from heat and fold in the mustard followed by the cheese. Add seasoning to taste.
Please note this sauce is not suitable for freezing although it can sit (covered) happily in the fridge for a couple of days before using.

Final recipe today makes use of onions that - at this time of the year - are just about ready to sprout. Any that have already sprouted can be used if you removed the darker bits you see in the centre once the onion has been cut in half. The green sprouts can be chopped and used in cooking in the same way as we use chives.
The original recipe suggests this 'onion marmalade' is used to make a 'toast topper', either alone or the toast topped with sliced (or grated cheese) and then grilled. But myself ind this can also be used (pref. hot) to top baked potatoes, or as a cold or hot 'onion relish' to serve with cold meats. Usually white onions are used for this recipe, but no reason why red onions can't be used, or a mixture.
The brandy adds flavour, and if you don't wish to use alcohol you could use a little white wine vinegar (or even apple or orange juice), just cooking it down until the liquid has evaporated but the flavour still remains.
Onion 'marmalade': serves 6 as a 'topper'
2 oz (50g) butter
3 onions, sliced
2 tsp caster sugar
splash brandy (opt)
salt and pepper
Heat the butter in a frying pan and stir in the onions and the sugar. 'Sweat' the onions for 10 - 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time until the onions are sticky and golden in colour. Make sure they don't glue themselves to the base of the pan or they will burn.
Add the brandy (if using), then continue cooking until the liquid has disappeared. Add seasoning to taste. Spoon into a bowl, cover and - if you wish to use it later - this will keep for up to 2 -3 days in the fridge, then use as you wish.

My Beloved is a poorly boy at the moment. He began with a really sore throat late Monday - so counting back three days (incubation time) this means he picked up the virus on Friday, probably at his birthday 'bash'. He was kissing one or two of the ladies there, so serves him right if it was one of those who shared her bugs with him. Or is that being mean? Any man who has reached 80 deserves a kiss from a lady other than his wife now and then.

This meant that yesterday B was not 'into' supper. He decided to get himself snacks every few hours with a finger of whisky and a teaspoon of cough medicine taken between times. Not sure how that mixture will affect him, but he will not take advice, he just has what he wants when he wants. Anyway, he says his throat is a bit better this morning, so he will almost certainly be OK to go to his usual 'social' this evening (myself would keep my bugs to myself, but B is not that bothered about things like that).
In the hope I don't catch B's bug (should have the symptoms by now) have been eating raw red onions as a 'preventative'. Raw onions are REALLY good for helping to ease sore throats (maybe even kill the bugs that cause it if taken early enough. Normally I wouldn't eat onions raw (although the red ones are fairly mild and OK in small amounts in salads etc), they say garlic is even better, although we are not that keen on garlic unless roasted as a whole clove (when cooked and squeezed from the clove it then tastes sweet and not a bit garlicky).

As B was going to Morrison's to buy himself some more lemonade (he can drink a 2 litre bottle in one night) I asked him to bring me in some more eggs. Was pleased with what he bought - a tray of 18 eggs (it said mixed weight but they all were largeish) working out at around 10p each.
As I was waiting for my mug of morning coffee to cool decided to weigh each egg and they were all over 2 oz (standard weight for a medium egg) most were around 2.5 oz, one nearly 3 oz.
It is useful to know the weight of eggs as unless a recipe states otherwise, the eggs used are based on 'medium' and as a 'weight' would then be 2 oz each (so four eggs = 8 oz/8 fl oz). So this means we can often get away with using 3 larger eggs instead of 4 medium eggs. Just another way to save a few pennies, and we all know how these can soon mount up.

That's it for today, hope you can join me tomorrow when it will be another weekend. Let us hope the weather is fine enough for those with gardens to start sowing a few seeds. See you then.