Monday, September 17, 2012

Cooking from Scratch

Title today is apt as I've now got big weals on my left arm, from base of thumb downwards and these constantly itch. Caused (I'm told) by the same allergy that causes my face to swell. Have noticed that I do get these weals (mostly on my arms but sometimes on my legs) appearing the day before my face swells up, or the day after. This time it is the day after. Am wondering if the cheaper own-brand soap powder (tablets) that I use for my laundry that might be the cause. Will change to a better (more expensive, sob, sob) brand and see if this shows any lessening of my allergic reaction to I know not what.

Thanks for your comments. You don't know how pleased I was to read that Les (aka 'Mr Cleverclogs' had made an error in a previous comment of his. It is good to know that he has feet of clay. Am sure readers appreciate all your advice Les, it's just me that tends to stick my toes in sometimes when reading your advice as tend to prefer staying with what I know and understand, mainly because it works to my satisfaction. Younger folk will appreciate your tuition that enable them to improve their skills - and just hope they can afford to buy the necessary equipment!

Regarding me using a mini-oven. We don't really NEED one as I do have two ovens, one smaller placed beneath the larger, and do use this when cooking just one thing (but more often used as a grill). Normally, when using the larger oven (the one I prefer) I always plan the cooking so that more than one thing at a time can be cooked, for instance cooking several lamb shanks and also other foods that need slow-cooking, or a tray of sausages and maybe some pies/biscuits/cakes at the same time. Yorkshire Puddings and puff pastry cook well at the same heat (and at the same time) B never uses the oven for cooking, so far he hasn't progressed further than using his mini-wok or small frying pan, although he does use the smaller oven for grilling his cheese on toast (as long as I set it for him, he gets confused with all the different buttons).

We don't really have room for a comb-microwave, and I'm not that fond of microwave ovens anyway although do find our basic one useful to make custard, lemon curd, and of course for defrosting and reheating. Am old fashioned enough to prefer using a 'proper' oven as I can judge when something is cooked by the aroma it gives off. I like a kitchen that smells of food cooking, such as roast meat, baked bread, cakes etc. Makes me feel warm and comfortable. B also loves the smell when he comes in from a day out in the fresh air.

As we are extremely short of kitchen space, our microwave has had to be put beneath the two main ovens, the top of the microwave being about knee height which means it is awkwardly placed.
At my age prefer to stick with what I have, make best use of it as regards fuel, and instead of spending money on buying new (admittedly better) appliances, prefer to spend any 'spare' (usually deliberately saved) money on better quality food

Re your query about slicing your cucumber Shayna. I always work round the cucumber, slicing down the length so that each very thin ribbon has at least one green edge as this makes it look more attractive, and work round until the seedy centre has been reached, this I then discard.

A slicing machine is always a 'profitable' buy as when used regularly can very soon pay for itself. Home-cooked roast beef and ham can be sliced very thinly, making a slightly tougher cut (topside, silverside etc) much easier to eat/chew. 'Machine-sliced meat - due to being able to be cut really thinly, then goes so much further than when carved by hand. Wafer-thin slices of meat when 'ruffled' up make a sarnie look more than it really is, so fools the eye - and the thinner the slices the more we get which can save oodles of money, believe me.

Although it is possible to slice roast chicken breast (removed from the bone - all meat should have no bone when being sliced by machine), the breasts can be so small as to make it difficult, so myself buy buying a turkey breast (or roll) ready to to roast and this makes it much easier to slice on the machine.

Readers who have stayed with this blog for several months/years will remember that when I roast meat especially for slicing, will then weigh it, but AFTER cooking (asome weight is lost during the cooking process) then compare the cost per 100g against this of the same weight of pre-packed sliced meat as sold in the supermarket. Home-cooked sliced meat can save us literally £££££s!!!

Once the meat has been cooked, cover with foil and leave to cool before putting in the fridge so that it chills overnight, this makes it much easier to slice thinly without it tearing. Almost always there are bits of 'torn' meat at the start and end of slicing and these, worked in with softened butter and seasoning, maybe nutmeg etc, will turn into wonderful 'meat paste/spread', similare to a pate, and perfect for sarnies or spread on toast. This can be potted up, covered and frozen to use later.

When the meats have been sliced (and the thickness can be varied, B prefers thicker slices in his sarnies, I prefer thinner ones), I pack four slices of meat to a small bag (or 4 slices x 2 -separated with a double piece of greaseproof/parchement for easy release and because this the amount we would use at any one time) removing as much air as possible from the bags. Then put these smaller bags into a larger bag (again removing air) remembering to include a label so I know what meat it is (different meats can often look alike once frozen). Cooked meat can be kept frozen for at least a month. Often for up to 6 months.

Home-made bread can also be easily sliced on a slicing machine, and this makes it easier to cut thinner slices than the normal 'medium sliced' on sale today. Also the slices are much neater than when using a bread knife (home-made bread not always easy to slice thinly by hand).

If you have a freezer Morgan (or even just an ice-compartment in a fridge), then you will have no problem keeping food chilled right up to the time of serving at your party venue. Here is a tip on how to keep food chilled during transport and for an hour or two at room temperature, a tip that I use in my own kitchen when I am short of fridge space, especially during hot days.

In your freezer (or ice-making compartment) freeze as many of those 'ice-blocks' (flat bottles filled with liquid) as you can, then when wishing to keep salads, unopened tubs of cream, a trifle etc, place these (in their containers) either on a table or preferably in a cold box, then place a cake airer (wire grid or even oven rack) over the top of each placing the frozen blocks on the grids. The icy-cold air from the blocks will fall downwards, and if you cover the lot with thick towels, to prevent the blocks thawing too rapidly, the food will stay chilled for several hours.

If you have a cool box/bag, then put the food in that with the ice blocks scattered around (preferably on top of the food containers). A cardboard box lined with baking parchment can hold prepared sarnies, close the box and put the ice blocks on top of that if you wish to also keep these chilled.

Anyone who has had a frozen food delivery of meat/fish from a company like Donald Russell should have this delivered in a strong polystyrene box, and this is perfect for keeping food chilled. Just put the food in the empty box, lay the grids on top with the ice blocks on top of this, then place on the lid and the contents should remain chilled for several hours. Alternatively, place the ice blocks in the polybox (lid on) prior to filling so this gives a chance for the inside of the box to chills before placing in the food, but if possible leave the ice-blocks in there to help keep it chilled especially if not transporting immediately.

These polyboxes are extremely useful, and myself find this offests paying extra for 'quality meat' as am successfully using these boxes as plant containers in our small garden (they look a bit like old Belfast sinks), and also keep a couple in the garage so that we can take one with us when going the several miles to the Smokehouse (or Barton Grange) when purchasing fresh salmon, or a bulk buy of chicken breasts etc as on a hot summers days the inside of a car boot can get very warm. Ice blocks are placed in the box prior to leaving to keep the food chilled on the return journey.

As mentioned the other day, the poly box can also be used as a 'hay-box', and if anyone has to take an amount of chilled food to another place, maybe a picnic or for the start of a caraven or self-catering holiday, a good way of transporting these. And vice versa, for when I made that full 'Indian meal' for the sailing club (was it last year?) the big pots of curry as well as pans of rice were kept piping hot for a good four hours after packing into the poly boxes with some tea-towels/bubble wrap tucked round to fill the gaps.

This last weekend tackled my 'bakeathon' in a slightly different way, this time filling the basin in the sink with very hot water (plus detergent), then washing up the bowls and utensils as use. Also the ingredients were put back on the shelves if not to be used again. Normally tend to leave everything out, and also leave the washing up until the end, and then am too tired to do it.
This new approach worked admirably well although have to say it used up most of the hours of my 'working day' (this in itself can be at least 12 hours long - even more -when doing a big-bake). Wished more than once I had a dish-washer, but then would have to wait for it to complete its cycle before I could re-use the various basins and utensils.

At times like this B comes in ready to collect the goodies and says "I'll do the washing up (tomorrow)". This time I told him I'd done all the washing up so he says "I'll put it all away (tomorrow)". B's idea of putting it away is just removing it from the draining rack and placing it on the kitchen table, basins together, cutlery together, and that's as far as it goes, I still have to put everything back into their proper place. Oh yes, for some reason B never bothers to wash any pans on the hob, so there will almost always be frying pans, saucepans, colanders still waiting for me to wash and put into the cupboard. But, bless him, he does do most of the last evenings supper dishes/cutlery, always the morning after, so I have to wait until he has finished before I can venture into the kitchen (he doesn't like me in there when he is at the sink, I get in his way). The rest of the day I tend to wash up what has been used since then and in honest truth mainly because it is very pleasant to have my hands in very warm water, because I still feel chilled. The weather has turned much colder so it's back to cuddling a 'hottie' again as I sit and watch TV.
Have noticed the washing on the airer in the conservatory is not drying as fast as it has been, even though the sun does shine on it, must be there is less heat in the sun these days. Once the central heating is back on can dry the laundry on or by the radiators, but am hoping we don't have to start heating the house again until at least the end of October.

Watched the repeat of the 'British Bake-off' yesterday - this time they were baking pies. This inspired me to make a cheat's 'Beef Wellington' for B for tonight's supper as have some cooked minced beef in the freezer, some mushrooms in the fridge (to make duxelles), and part of a pack of puff pastry also in the fridge - having discovered a recipe that I can adapt to make this. Will give this recipe today and also another for a gluten-free chocolate cake that I read about yesterday.

Also watched a bit of the Food Network (I'm becoming obsessed with this, not for the recipes but more to enjoy the great difference between our two nations in the way we cook and yesterday - the spoken word. There is a programme all about making cup cakes, and yesterday we saw a fireman go into the cup-cake shop to buy a big bag of cupcake for the fire-fighters. That alone seemed odd, I cannot believe that our English fire-fighters would even think of eating a cup cake, they would much prefer a bacon butty.
Anyway the fireman asked if the owners of the shop could teach him and the station cook how to make cupcakes as it would save him buying them. So off they toddled to demonstrate how, and t one point, when the station cook was about to break an egg into the bowl she was asked "is that egg appropriated". After breaking the egg, the cook nodded, so can only assume the question meant '"is that egg fresh?"

Am often surprised how - in the US - much longer words are used than here in the UK where we tend to keep them as short as possible, but to be fair have recently learned that the word 'gotten' (we in the UK would say 'got') was always spoken here, certainly up to the times the Pilgrim Fathers sailed away in the Mayflower to settle in the US. It was later we shortened it to 'got', so it's us that have made that change, and possibly many other words that we think are 'American' but were really ours in the first place.
The difference in pronunciation could sometimes lead us to make mistakes. Do remember President Bush's way of saying 'terrorists' that to us sounded like 'tourists'. If heard out of context something like this could lead to some of us Brits' both suspecting and avoiding all 'tourists' that arrive in this country expecting our hospitality.

Time is moving on so here are the recipes... The first being my 'cheat's' Beef Wellington. Once the meat has been cooked to the 'sausage' stage, then covered in pastry, it can be kept chilled for a day in the fridge before being cooked.
'economical' Beef Wellington: serves 4
1 lb (500g) minced beef steak
2 oz (50g) tomato ketchup
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste,
2 fl oz (50ml) water
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
few sage leaves, chopped
small handful parsley, chopped
1 oz (50g) butter
4 oz (100g) mushrooms, finely chopped
1 small shallot, finely chopped
9 oz (250g) puff pastry
Put the beef into a bowl with the ketchup, most of the egg (leave a little for brushing the pastry), seasoning to taste, the water, garlic and herbs and mix together until very well combined. Shape into a short thick sausage shape about 6" x 4" (15 x 10cm) and place on a baking sheet. Cook for 20 minutes then leave to cool.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a frying pan and add the mushrooms and shallots and fry for several minutes until the mushrooms have leached out all their liquid and this has evaporated (alternately fry for 5 minutes then pour away the liquid and put the mushrooms onto kitchen paper to remove any left).
Roll the pastry into a rectangle large enough to wrap right round the beef, allowing extra at the ends to tuck under. Add a little water or milk to the saved egg and brush this over the pastry. Spread the mushroom 'duxelles' in a strip along the centre of the pastry, then place the cooked 'sausage' of beef on top. Either wrap the pastry over to make a parcel, tucking end under, or -preferably - cut the pastry lying at either side of the 'sausage' into strips, then criss-cross these over the meat. Brush surface with more egg, place on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6.

Final recipe is for a gluten-free 'upside-down' chocolate cake. You could omit the fruit if you wish, but this does make it more 'special' when entertaining. Although the recipe uses fresh (very ripe) pears, myself would almost certainly use very well drained canned pear halves (because they are often cheaper than fresh pears!). Also I'd use ground almonds instead of the hazelnuts.
Gluten-free Chocolate and Pear Cake: serves 8
3 oz (75g) butter plus 1 tblsp butter (melted)
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
3 oz (75g) dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 tblsp brandy (or could use orange juice)
3 eggs, separated
3 oz (75g) hazelnuts, toasted and ground
4 very ripe pears, peeled, halved, and cored
icing sugar
Take a 10" (25cm) loose-bottomed circular cake tin and brush the sides and base of this with the melted butter, then place a circle of baking parchment over the base. Brush the top of this with more butter then spoon in 2 tblsp of the sugar and give a good shake so that this coats both the sides and base, tipping out any excess.
Put the chocolate and the 3 oz butter into a bowl and stand this over (not touching) a pan of hot water, then when melted, stir in the brandy and leave to cool.
Meanwhile whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until very pale and thick, then fold in the chocolate, followed by the ground hazelnuts.
Using another bowl, and very clean whisk, beat the egg whites to a soft peak, then add a tablespoon of this to the chocolate mix, folding it in to help 'slacken' the mixture, then gently fold in the rest of the whites, half at a time. Spoon this into the prepared tin, then arrange the pears on top, cut sides down placing them around the sides, not higgledy piggledy.
Bake for 40 minutes until the pears are soft (if using fresh) and the cake is cooked through.
Leave to cool in the tin for 10 or so minutes before removing and place on a cake airer to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar and serve with creme fraiche or whipped cream.

Sorry the blog is later today, didn't get up until 8.30am (as didn't go to bed until 4.30am due to me watching 'interesting' TV). Now have to go and start working on the above Beef Wellington. Hope you can join me tomorrow - see you then.