Saturday, February 02, 2013

Cracking Good(e) Ideas

Like you Alison, I find that eating carbohydrates slows me down, almost to the extent of falling to sleep the moment I sit down after a meal.  On the other hand, a high protein diet makes me feel far more energetic, also don't have the urge to want to keep 'grazing' (as often happens when eating carbos).  Losing weight is easy when on a high protein diet (eating absolutely no carbos or it doesn't work), but not recommended to keep it up for more than a couple or so weeks at a time. 
Myself now find that if I can keep to mainly protein with fruit and veg, then am able to still lose weight, but more slowly, with occasionally a slice of toast for breakfast.

Can never understand why macaroons are so very expensive to buy, as they can be very easy to make.  The ingredients are cheap enough - I 'deliberately save' egg whites to make these, icing sugar and ground almonds are always in the larder, and that's all that is needed. 
The 'classic' recipe uses egg whites that have to be prepared in two ways before mixing together with the other ingredients. Too fiddly for me, so when I discovered a much easier way to make macaroons and found IT WORKS, now always make them this way, but as I don't have the recipe to hand, will need to look it up today then publish it tomorrow.  So, TravellingNinjas, watch this space, then you will easily be able to make your own.

Forgive me asking Noor, but as you were born in Malaysia, are you from an English speaking family as you 'speak/write' it so well, or is English a first or second language in Malaysia?  This is not a region that I am familiar with, so would love to hear more about fresh foods (meat, fish, veg, fruit) that are 'traditional' to that area. 

Regarding fish, here in the UK we don't have as many different varieties as you probably have, although a lot more are being imported and appearing on the fish counters, and certainly the better restaurants use fish that we probably would never buy, even though it tastes good (some - in the raw, untouched state, look horrendous.  Monkfish being one.  
Traditionally we have always favoured the fish caught in 'local waters' such as cod, haddock, halibut, hake, turbot, herrings, pilchards (now called 'Cornish sardines'), and mackerel.  Unfortunately, whereas once we had huge stocks of these in the sea, overfishing by other countries has led to 'our' fish becoming very limited, and the word 'sustainable' seems to be all important, the fewer the fish, the smaller amounts allowed to be caught, and perhaps some not at all for the time being. 
We do have have a good variety of shellfish close to shore: scallops, whelks, cockles, mussels, oysters, crabs, lobsters, shrimps and prawns.  Trout and salmon can be caught in rivers (if you have a licence), but now both are generally 'farmed' with salmon being one of the cheapest fish now on sale (when once it was the dearest.  Wild salmon still is expensive.).
Much of the frozen 'white fish' sold in supermarkets almost certainly comes from further afield, and probably the place of origin is printed on the packet, but I don't often check this - although should.

Already have Paul Hollywood's scone recipe Les.  But thanks for mentioning it.  Paul uses bread flour when making his scones, and have not felt inclined to use this as I feel it may make the scones a bit 'heavy', but unless I give it a try I won't know, will I?  

There are a few different varieties of egg plant (aka aubergines) Pam, the ones grown and sold here are the larger, longer, purple aubergines.  They need sunshine to ripen, and myself have grown these successfully on a sunny windowsill, but they should grow well in a greenhouse, or a sunny warm spot outdoors.
When young, aubergines can be sliced and cooked as-is, but when older they become bitter, and then it is necessary to sprinkle the slices with salt(placed in a colander) to draw out the bitter fluids, and after leaving for an hour, they then need rinsing before being cooked.  Myself and my Beloved are not fond of aubergines as a vegetable, but as they can be very tasty, it's worth trying out a few recipes.  Some I will give today, more will follow over the next few weeks - so, as I keep saying, "watch this space".

Before I read the comments that arrived since yesterday, had decided to post up recipes based on eggs - purely because eggs are high in protein, and very cheap compared to meat.  One of these dishes contains aubergines, so I'll start with that one.

This dish can be prepared in advance, then chilled.  Reheat in a pan, add the eggs and cook until set.
Ratatouille with Poached Eggs: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tblsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 aubergine, diced
2 courgettes, diced
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
4 eggs
basil leaves for garnish, crusty bread to serve
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion and peppers for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened, then stir in the garlic and rosemary, aubergine and courgettes and stir-fry for a couple more minutes, then add the tomatoes.  Fill the can with water, swirl to collect any tomato juices left n the tin, then add this to the pan.  Bring to the boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, remove lid and simmer for a further 20 minutes until the ratatouille has thickened and turned 'pulpy'.
At this point it can be removed from heat, cooled then chilled.  Reheat when ready to continue.
To the pan of hot ratatouille, add the vinegar, then make four hollows in the mixture and break an egg into each one.  Cover pan, then cook for 3 - 5 minutes or until the eggs are set to the softeness or firmness you prefer. Scatter basil on top (if using) and serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Next recipe I liken to a 'half-English breakfast' - with a Mexican twist.  Although making a good breakfast dish, it also eats well as a lunch or supper dish (or teenage snack).
When you buy a pack of tortillas, remove them from the packet and interleave each with foil or baking parchment, then put into a freezer bag and freeze.  Interleaving them makes them easy to remove one if that's all you need.  Keep grated cheese also in the freezer, then you are half-way to making these.  Read the recipe through before making as you will see the ingredients all need to be ccoked, so hot and ready for rolling up.  
To make just one, use 4oz (100g) baked beans and one of everything else, with proportionately less cheese.
Breakfast 'wraps': serves 4
1 x 400g can baked beans, heated
4 rashers streaky bacon, grilled or fried
4 mushrooms, sliced (opt), fried
4 flour tortillas
4 eggs
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) grated Cheddar cheese
Put 1 tortilla wrap into a frying pan over medium heat.  Beat one egg with seasoning to taste, then spread this all over the tortilla, leaving it to cook until just set.  Keep warm in a low oven whilst you repeat with the remaining 3 tortillas and eggs.
When all are ready, divide the beans, bacon, mushrooms (if using) and cheese over the tortillas, then roll up and eat whilst still warm.

It's always worth hard-boiling a goodly number of eggs as these can - over the next couple of days -be added to a kedgeree, a salad, to make egg mayonnise for sarnies, and/or a wonderful curry.  Myself would use a jar of ready-made Korma sauce (always in my larder) instead of the paste, so would then omit the coconut milk, so all I really need then are hard-boiled eggs and cooked rice, but that's a bit too easy, and the version shown today is far more tasty.  The potatoes add more 'bulk' and as they are carbohydrate, rice isn't really needed, so would suggest naan bread (even though this too is a carbo). As even use what you have and/or what you wish.
Curried Eggs with Potatoes: serves 4
3 tblsp sunflower oil
1 red onion, sliced
2 lbs (450g) diced potatoes
4 - 5 tblsp Korma curry paste
1 x 400g can coconut milk
4 eggs, hardboiled and halved
Put the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add the onions and potatoes.  Fry for 8 - 10 minutes until the onion has softened and the potatoes golden.  Stir in the curry paste, then the coconut milk. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  Remove lid, add the balved eggs (yolk side up) and simmer for few minutes more, then serve with rice or naan bread.

The last of today's egg recipes (more aubergine recipes to follow) is one for a sandwich filling.  This will keep for three days if stored in an airtight container in the fridge.  One of the ingredients in the recipe is given as 'mesclun', and although a glossary of ingredients used is given in the Australian cookbook, there is no reference for this 'ingredient'.  It doesn't affect the filling as it seems to be what is spread on the bread, so my thoughts is that it could be something like a cream cheese (but not listed under 'cheese varieties), or some other 'spread' to go on the bread (where we might use butter or marg).  If any reader knows what 'mesclun' is, please let us know.  As said, this isn't included in the filling, so we can still use the recipe as it stands, then spread what we choose on the bread.
Incidentally, I find a little finely grated red onion (not mentioned) will give a little more 'bite' to the filling.
Egg Salad Sandwich filling: makes 3 sandwiches
4 - 5 hardboiled eggs, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes (11oz/300g), chopped
3 oz (75g) mayonnaise
(6 slices white bread, and 2oz/50g mesclun)
Mix together the eggs, tomatoes and mayonnaise (this can be kept chilled, up to 3 days when stored in an airtight container).
(To make (as per original recipe) top bread with a third of the mescalun, and a third of the egg mixture, topping with another slice of bread.  Repeat (when needed) to make up the remaining two sandwiches).

Next recipe is a 'dip', sometimes called 'Baba Ganoush'. Very traditional in the Middle East, and extremely good to eat. One of the best aubergines recipes in my opinion.
Smoky Aubergine Dip: serves 8
2 aubergines
4 oz (100g) natural or Greek yogurt
juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 green chilli, chopped (or dash Tabasco)
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
Cook the aubergines whole on a barbecue or very hot griddle pan until the skin is blackened and blistered and the flesh is softened.   Place in a bowl and leave to cool, then peel away (and discard) the skin, then chop the flesh.
Put the aubergine flesh into a food processor, adding the yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, chilli, coriander and most of the olive oil, add seasoning to taste, then blitz until smooth.  Spoon into a bowl, drizzle over a little more oil.  This can be made a day ahead but should be kept covered and chilled. However it should always be served at room temperature.  Good eaten with tortilla chips, crispy pitta bread or poppadums.

Here is a recipe that in many ways is similar to the one above, but cooked to make more of a 'meal' than a dip, hence the smaller number it serves. Prepared and cooked indoors rather than out, so useful for us Brits who rarely have the weather for cooking over a barbecue.  The pomegranate seeds can be bought packed separately (no need to buy the whole fruit), but as used as a 'garnish', these are optional.  
Note: The aubergines need to be cooked long enough so they have completely collapsed, very tender with no hint of 'sponginess'.
Roasted Aubergines: serves 2
1 large or 2 smaller aubergines (approx 14oz/400g)
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
3 tlbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
handful fresh parsley, leaves finely chopped
Greek yogurt
1 - 2 tblsp pomegranate seeds (opt)
Halve the aubergines lengthways, then chop into cubes about 1" (2.5cm). Place in a bowl with the coriander and cumin, most of the olive oil and plenty of seasoning.  Turn the aubergines over in this 'dressing' until evenly coated, then spread - in a single layer - onto a baking tray.  Cook for 30 - 35 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4, turning once, until the aubergines have turned crispy and dark at the edges and the flesh is completely 'squashy'.
Cool on the baking sheet to almost room temperature, then transfer to a serving bowl and stir in the parsley adding a little more seasoning if necessary. Drizzle top with a little more oil.  When ready to serve, plonk the yogurt on top and scatter over the pomegranate seeds.

Think that's enough for today, and what a beautiful day it is turning out to be, wall to wall blue sky with - of course - lots of sunshine, and - because the sun is now climbing a little higher into the sky each and every day- it really feels as though spring has almost arrived.  Unfortunately I heard a forecast of snow somewhere in the UK (perhaps Scotland?), and this could mean further south as it is very cold AGAIN!  But looking out of the window it really seems like one of the first good days for many months.  Not that I'll be going out to enjoy it (although could have a potter round the garden I suppose), for Norris needs charging up before I sit in his lap and have a scoot.  Beloved has told me he is watching TV much of today (sport!), so no offer of a drive out in the car.  Not to worry, I'll be happy enough in the kitchen listening to the radio, and sticking to my plan of having a 'baking afternoon'.

By the way, was looking through a seed and plant catalogue that recently was sent to me.  Noticed that they now have the smaller quince and medlar trees (as mentioned by a reader some days ago), also some other strange sounding fruits that looked 'interesting'.  Most of the larger fruits will probably need five or more years to grow enough fruit worth harvesting, and at my age don't think its worth the trouble. Even if veggies are difficult to grow, most fruit trees and bushes seem to thrive, and as many - such as cherries (which do crop well within a year or two) - can now be grown in containers, we should aim to grow at least some of them.

Off now into the kitchen to remove the cooked and cold chicken from the carcase, begin making the stock, grate that cheese (should have been done yesterday but wasn't), make a cheese quiche, a chocolate cake (to use up some ganache), and a Tiramasu (to use up some cream), and maybe even have a go at making P.Hollywood's scones.  Together making my Beloved a very happy bunny indeed. 
Hope the weather is as good where you are as it is here, if so make the most of it.  It may be the last we get for a while (and I'm not joking).  As ever, hope you enjoy your day, and look forward to meeting up with you again tomorrow.  Maybe a bit later publishing as have to wait for Gill's regular hour-long phone call before I make a start.  See you then .