Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Another Box of Delights

My cup of happiness is full.  Yesterday my second veggie box was delivered and I was thrilled with what I discovered, as even though I knew what would be in the box (when viewing this last weekend on the Riverford website when ready to order) I had forgotten.

As to be expected, the veggies were seasonal and very fresh, but what was instantly apparent was - because this time I'd ordered the larger box, this held AT LEAST twice the amount of potatoes, onions and carrots than the smaller box, and whilst the smaller box contained a total of 8 items, this box had 13, but this time costing me only half as much again as the smaller box, so it seems that although there is 'free delivery', this is calculated into the final costings, and why the larger box gives so much more value.   This means that now I'll almost certainly be ordering once every two weeks (or maybe even three as winter root veggies keep so well), and this will bring the cost (per item) down considerably.  Looks like I'm on to a good thing here.

Although details can be picked up on the Riverford screen as to what to expect in each box each week, the veggies can differ depending upon what part of the country they come from (all orders appear to contain locally grown organic veggies etc).  This week my box held:
Salad potatoes; carrots; white onions; a big loose-leaf lettuce; courgettes; red bell pepper; green bell pepper; a big bag of spinach; a box of portobello mushrooms; sweet potatoes; a good sized bag of French (string) beans; a box of tomatoes; and a kohl rabi.

At first sight thought the kohl rabi was a big beetroot, as it was the same colour and the leaves were also like beet leaves, and my Food Encyclopedia says it is "one of the many forms of cabbage, but is sometimes elevated to a swollen species that has the stem swollen into a bulb from which the leaf stalks arise.  There are greenish white and purple varieties.  An excellent vegetable, something like a turnip but with its own individuality, popular in Europe and the Orient, less so in Britain and in the US."
So I look forward to cooking and eating this 'strange veg' and will let you know my thoughts after the event.

Previously I've not been too keen on eating courgettes (bought from the supermarket - the slugs ate all my home-grown so never bothered with them again), but as I'd now got two lots (one from last week) decided that as B didn't like them anyway, it would be me that had to eat them.  So - for my supper yesterday decided to have a bit of a 'fry-up'.  One of the white onions from the box was finely chopped and fried in a little oil, and the last of some chestnut mushrooms (bought from the supermarket) also sliced to be fried.  I sliced four courgettes and tasted one slice to see how they ate raw - being they were not too large - and they were gorgeous.  So crisp and not bitter at all.  No seeds in the centre to be noticeable, and some of those left I'll be eating raw with a dip - and looking forward to doing so.
The mushrooms and courgettes were added to the now-fried onions, and cooked until the courgettes were just turning golden, then scooped the panful into a bowl and sat down to eat.  Believe me, this meal tasted WONDERFUL and am now am a great fan of fresh and organic courgettes if they all taste as good as those delivered.

The onion also tasted far better than those 'cooking onions' I normally buy from Tesco, and tasted even better than those larger sweeter onions I also have bought from the supermarket.  After peeling off one very thin papery layer, the veggie box onions sliced easily and were very 'juicy'.  Unfortunately I didn't remember to taste them whilst raw, but they were certainly sweetish after frying.   So - as potatoes, carrots and onions seem to be the 'basics' of most of the veggie boxes, no need for me now to hoard any of these like I used to, this will give me more room in my veggie drawer and potato sack.

Having a new 'crop' of veggies every week or so now means I'll be planning the main meal to use these, just adding the meat or fish (to suit B's palate), myself might end up living off the veggies with just some cheese and eggs.  Who knows.   Already have found a recipe that will use up some of the spinach and potatoes that have been delivered, and as this can be eaten hot or cold (and will keep in the fridge for several days) one worth considering when planning a buffet perhaps?

Our 'foodie discussion' over the past few days has been 'party food', 'meat slicers', and - of course - the veggie box, so today am giving recipes that will cover these topics.  Hope you will find some useful.

First recipe is the Spanish Omelette  and because I now have the fresher than fresh spinach, potatoes and onions, using half the amounts, this is one I'll be making today to eat for supper, then then either cold or reheated - to eat tomorrow and maybe the next day. A good buffet dish that can be made in advance, and when can be cut into any size or shape portions you wish.
Spanish Spinach Omelette:  serves 8
1 x 400g (14oz) bag spinach leaves
3 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and finely sliced
8 large eggs
salt and pepper
Put the spinach into a large colander and slowly pour over a kettle full of boiling water until the spinach has wilted, then run under the cold tap to stop cooking.  Squeeze out all the liquid from the spinach and roughly chop.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the onions and potatoes for about 10 minutes, or until the spuds have softened. 
Meanwhile, beat the eggs, adding seasoning to taste. Add the spinach to the frying pan and stir in to mix with the potatoes and onions, then pour over the eggs, giving the pan a shake, the cook - giving an occasional stir - until the eggs are nearly set, then finish off by putting the pan under a pre-heated grill to set the top (but not brown).
Slide the omelette onto a plate, then place the frying pan over this and invert so the top of the omelette is now facing down into the pan, and continue frying until the underside is cooked and golden.  Slide onto a board and leave to cool.
This can stay at room temperature overnight if to be eaten the next day, or can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days.  Cut into wedges to eat cold, or can be reheated in the microwave.

Next recipe is one that can use all the trimmings that fall from or are left over (ends of etc) home-cooked ham after slicing.  Being able to provide little 'extras' like this makes the purchase of a meat slicer well worth while for not only (as said before) does this machine pay for itself in a very short time, it also gives us the chance to climb a little further up the ladder of good eating when any 'trimmings' can be used to great advantage in this way.  Use beef and turkey 'trimmings' after slicing; to make similar 'potted meats'.  These are another food that 'eats well' at parties, serve in pots with toast for everyone to help themselves, with side dishes of cucumber, gherkin, radish, chutney or what you will... alternatively serve already spread on crisp toast/biscuits etc with garnish, to serve as canapes.
I like to think that following this  'Shirley advice' (re slicing machines, using up scraps etc) we can all end up saving more money and eating far better cooked meats/spreads than any bought.   Eating like kings on a pauper's pittance is the name of my game.
Potted Ham: serves 8
1 pack (250g) unsalted butter, melted
1 lb (500g) cooked ham (suggest using scraps)
handful curly parsley (leaves only) finely chopped
small pinch ground cloves (or freshly ground nutmeg0
pinch yellow mustard seeds (or dried mustard powder)
pinch of sea salt
1 tblsp cider vinegar
Preferably pour the clear melted butter into a small bowl, leaving the milky residue behind (this can be discarded - however I often use the lot). Shred the ham as finely as possible (if fallen from the edges of he ham when carving it is already in 'bits').
Mix the ham with the parsley, spices and vinegar, two-thirds of the butter and the salt, then divide between 8 small ramekins/pots (or if wishing to serve at a buffet for 'help-yourself ' just put into one larger pot).  Level the surface (I place a piece of cling film over the top and smooth it flat with my fingers so flesh doesn't touch surface, then remove the film) and pour the remaining melted butter on top, tilting the pot/s so the butter touches the sides and completely covers the meat.  Chill until the butter is solid then wrap the pot/s in clingfilm.  Can be kept in the fridge (uncovered) for a week (but once dipped into, keep covered and use with a day or two), alternatively can be frozen for up to three months, then defrosted in the fridge overnight.
Can be served in the pots, or turned out (to do this dip the pots briefly in a bowl of hot water, then plate up (individually) with toast, small gherkins (cornichons) and chutney. This presentation makes a good 'starter' for a dinner party.

Final recipe today is for Samosas.  Myself find these little stuffed triangles of filo pastry well worth making as they freeze so well and - after cooking - make another superb buffet dish, as well as an accompaniment to curry (although for the latter I would use a more spicy - and different - filling as the one given today).
Because this is the season for sweetcorn, this is the version shown, although would probably substitute a similar crumbly cheese such as Wensleydale if I had no feta.  As I've successfully used VERY thinly rolled out puff pastry as an alternative to filo, then you might like to try this, but it must be rolled thinly.  You know, like when you rolled it thinly, then you roll it again to make it go twice as far (and almost rolled thinly enough to read the newspaper through it!).
Have to say that thinly rolled puff pastry is a bit easier to handle than filo as this tends to crack easily if not kept damp (cover unused filo with a damp cloth between using each sheet or it dries out almost instantly).
The sweetcorn is given as 'frozen', but at this time of the year you can remove the kernels from the cob and cook from fresh, alternatively use well-drained cooked and canned sweetcorn.
Instead of the dried curry powder (garam masala) you could used a teaspoon - or more to taste - of curry paste.
Sweetcorn and Feta Samosas: makes 14
12 oz (350g) frozen sweetcorn (see above)
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 tsp cumin seeds (or 1 tsp ground cumin)
1 large onion (pref red) thinly sliced
2 tsp garam masala (see above)
7 oz (200g) feta cheese, crumbled
juice of 1 lime or 1 small lemon
6 sheets filo pastry (see above)
3 tblsp vegetable oil
Cook the sweetcorn in boiling water for about 3 minutes, then drain well and set aside.
Put the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds and cook for 30 seconds before adding the onion. Give and stir then continue frying until the onion has softened.  Stir in the cooked corn, garam masala, feta and lime (or lemon) juice, and continue frying for a further minute.
Lay out a sheet of filo and cut lengthways in half. Brush with oil and spoon 2 tblsp of the mixture on the end of each sheet, then take a corner and fold it up over to meet the other side to form a triangle. Keep folding from side to side until each strip of pastry is used up. Brush the end strip with oil to fold over and make a seal.   These can now be frozen for up to a month.
To cook, place samosas onto a baking sheet and brush the tops with oil, then bake for 15 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 (25-30 minutes if from frozen) until golden and crisp and heated through.  Serve immediately (although have found they do eat well cooled slightly, but whilst still warm).

When typing the above was reminded of a cook who recently demonstrated a dish on the Food Network.  Think his series is called 'Fresh Food Fast' or something similar and I quite enjoy watching him.  I didn't see the start so was slightly alarmed when I heard him say "put Grandma into the pan".  He kept chatting about his 'Grandma' (sometimes giving her full name - 'Grandma Cellar') that I realised - when the dish was almost completed (a curry) that what he was saying was his pronunciation of 'garam masala'.  It really made me smile.  I do so love the American way with words and only wish I could visit that lovely country and enjoy all the different dialects and (especially) the regional food.

This coming Friday the 'Cup Cake Cook Callenge' (4.00pm. Freeview 49) is one I must not miss. Normally find this prog a bit of a waste of time as mostly the producers like to fill it with the cooks saying  'oh my Gawd you've dropped/burnt/ruined the cakes', rather than be seriously showing us how to cook, but something keeps dragging me back.  Anyway this Friday they are having British cooks (yes really) to make 'cup cakes good enough for the Queen'.  HavIng seen the trailer already have heard that the British accent sounds so strange next to those of the US presenters and judges, and know darn well that the 'British'  shrieks and screams when things go wrong (obviously told to do this by the producer) would NEVER be heard this side of the pond (we are far more inclined to say '****' either under our breath or even say it out loud, but never make the fuss that the American producers seem to feel appropriate.

Perhaps it is an American thing, as many of their programmes (food and otherwise) do seem to like to make a lot of noise, whereas we Brits are probably too backward in coming forward.  Many US films seem full of noisy car chases and countless firing of rifles, pistols etc before someone falls down dead, whereas here in the UK one gunshot hits the target, no need for more. 
Maybe its a good thing to have a 'shout', gets rid of all our tensions,  and so this difference between our two cultures makes me wonder what the US citizens think of us.  Do we seem cold and unfeeling?  Are we hard to understand?  Don't we let our hair down enough, are we too 'private'?  Be interested to know, so let's hear it from all you non-Brits, let us have it, warts and all!

The weather has certainly turned much cooler, but thankfully this room (our dining room) was warmer than our living room, for I had to spend some time in here whilst B watched his footie match last night). Probably warmer as this catches any daytime sun (patio doors facing south, and two other window facing west - all double glazed), the living room has no sun on it and the very large bay window is not double glazed.  Think I'll have to start the day with a bowl of steaming hot porridge if the weather doesn't warm up.  Have already bought several large bags of porridge oats with this in mind (as I also use these oats when baking).

Your comment Les reminded me of the time when I worked as 'food stylist' for a photographer. Not that I'd had any special training, but as I began the easy way  by just putting frozen peas into a pan, and scoops of mashed potato (to resemble ice-cream) in bowls, this led me to doing more 'advanced' work with the photographer that lasted several years.
Regarding the mashed potato - had the photo been used to advertise ice-cream, then real ice-cream would have had to be used, but in the instance mentioned it was the bowls that were advertised, not the contents, so 'cheating' the contents didn't matter.
This is always the problem when buying (say) a ready meal or a 'mix', when removed from the box, then heated/cooked and served, it never looks like the picture on the front.  This doesn't mean the contents are wrong, it is just that the food stylist has assembled the dish to look as perfect as possible, and memories of using a pair of eye-brow tweezers to carefully place each sesame seed or pea to give a balanced picture come flooding back to me.

It is true that when earning a living by cooking then the best equipment should be used. Even in the domestic kitchen this should still apply, although we don't need nearly as much.  Gordon Ramsay was explaining that we only need two (but good and heavy) saucepans, one large, one smaller, but to this I would add a third even smaller - this I call a 'milk pan'. 
In recent years have 'splashed out' and bought better (and heavier) baking tins (from Lakeland) and these are really, really worth having.  You wouldn't believe how much better the bread is now it is baked in the heavy metal loaf tins (only recently bought as my old ones were much lighter and too large anyway).  Also have heavy 'muffin tins', and baking sheets.  Well worth the money as there is now much less chance of burning.

By the way, did I mention that when I cooked the 'Wellington' (puff pastry crust) the other day I pre-heated a circular baking tray and the put the 'Wellington' on that, this helps the pastry to start cooking underneath as well as on the top.  B mentioned how lovely and crispy the base pastry was (often it can be 'soggy'), so a tip worth remembering, always heat the base before baking pastry if you can.
A reminder, that although most tins are OK up to 180C (gas 4) as soon as the temperature reaches 200C and over then there is a good chance that oblong (and maybe even square) tins will 'warp', and when baking something shallow like a cake for a Swiss Roll (although this would never be cooked at such a high temperature), this 'tilting' can alter the shape of what is being cooked.  For some reason (am sure Les will explain why), circular tins/plates don't warp at high temperatures.  Heavy quality tins are less likely to warp and can probably stay flat at 200C, but above that I wouldn't be sure.

Lakeland used to sell flat baking sheet 'guaranteed not to warp', and I found that when cooking puff pastry (over 200C) it DID warp.  When cleaning the sheet discovered "do not use above 200C" etched into one corner, and pointed this out to the Lakeland rep when I was visiting her, and she didn't know about this, so they added  printed reminder to the packaging as the 'guarantee' only applied to 200C or less.  Not above.

Was interested to hear about your visit to the Mexican restaurant Lisa.  We don't have too many of these in the UK although becoming more popular.  You may have seen Thomasina Miers' on the Food Network showing 'Mexican Food made Easy'.  She won 'Masterchef' not that many years ago,  and since then has opened several restaurants in London (and Greater London)  -  four opened when her Mexican series was made, and several more since then, they are all called 'Wahaca' after the Mexican town which she often frequents in her cookery series. 

Myself have not yet eaten Mexican other than the home-made versions of tacos, enchiladas etc, and guacamole.  Think chilli con carne is not true Mexican but more 'Tex-Mex'. 

Was pleased your were appreciative of the D.R. meats you ordered Sooze, do hope you enjoy the 'beef rib trim'.  I tend to defrost all my 'trim' packs, then cook the lot in a slow cooker overnight, then pack it into small containers with a bit of its 'stock from the pot', and freeze to use later.  The remaining 'stock' I freeze separately, this being very useful to add to all beef dishes, to make 'gravy', and to use as the base for soup.
If you have a garden, make use of the poly box to grow salad veg (make a few holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain away), or keep the box intact and use as a cool box to put in the car boot to keep frozen foods chilled when bringing home from the supermarket, or to keep chilled foods cold when going on a self-catering holiday etc).  Alternatively use to slow-cook casseroles (once fast boiled) using the container as a 'hay-box'.

Beloved is working at the RNLI shop this morning, the weather has improved (it has been raining) and the sun is shining, although more black clouds are visible.  The shop gets only a few customers (if any) when the weather is bad, probably because it is sited on the shoreline - where obviously the lifeboat station has to be housed, this being a bit of a walk away from the prom that has most of the other shops.  When the weather is good, especially during school holidays, the shop does well. As all profits help to fund the RNLI (it is not government sponsored), every penny counts.  The season ends in October, and the shop then open then only on a Saturday.  

Now have to go and read a few books to find out how to make the best dish using the kohl rabi, then probably served to B tonight, and have to say he is finding the veggie box 'a good idea' as he too likes to try veggies he hasn't had before. Who knows, he may even find he likes courgettes after all when included in a 'roasted veg' dish.

It's always lovely to get your comments, so keep them coming, and do hope you will all be able to find time to 'have a read' again tomorrow.  So - see you then.