Tuesday, February 12, 2013

If Only...

With my thoughts still on 'Michelin Star' on a shoestring, kept thinking of dishes I've seen prepared on TV and in so many cases it is the presentation that seems to be the secret.  Obviously the best quality foods have been prepared/cooked, but in very small amounts.  It is the spun sugar that is piled on top of a tiny amount of (say) ice-cream, the creatively shaped slivers of chocolate carefully placed on or around a dessert that makes us go 'ooh, and aah' before we tuck in.  Or perhaps delicately take tiny spoonfuls to make it last that little bit longer.  When we pay a fortune for a small helping, it's best to make it last as long as possible.

With savoury dishes it is again the presentation,  maybe something as simple as Bubble and Squeak presented as a 'tower', or thin slivers of sweetbreads (well, why not?) overlapping down the centre of the plate, surrounded by very concentrated 'jus' (readers will remember my mention of Heston's B's extra-special onion 'jus' that needed loads of onions to be cooked for over half a day in his sous-vide to concentrate the juices, and only a small amount of 'jus' was left.  Come on H, if that is Michelin Star cuisine, then try a little harder.  Even I could do that (but wouldn't even wish to).

So, have come to the conclusion, that allowing we would have to pay more for top quality ingredients, and this could be set off by not needing nearly as much as if serving a family meal (so it could break even), all we need to do is improve our skills if we wish to serve 'posh nosh'.  This of course is no help to any novice cook who might be reading this blog for the first time.  On the other hand it is worth working up to this level.  Start with the easy things and then improvements will follow.  Myself was 40 before I learned how to cook properly - up until then it was 'meat and two veg', beans on toast, boiled eggs with soldiers type of meals.  Recipes that could easily be followed, and not that well cooked anyway.  
That month of having no money and having to start to learn to make almost everything from scratch (using storecupboard food mainly) taught me such a lot, and if it took only 4 weeks, there is a lot of light to be speedily found at the end of this particular tunnel.

As today have written up 'things to do', and - stupidly - spent extra time in bed, must now move on to recipes...(replies to comments following).
Firstly the cheaper-than-cream filling for profiteroles, this could be also be used to sandwich sheets of baked puff pastry together, with a little jam, to make 'cream slices'.  Admittedly it does use some cream, but makes a goodly amount of filling so the end result is far cheaper than if using all cream.
To make the coffee essence, dissolve 1 tblsp of instant coffee into 1 tblsp hot water.  OR use a tblsp of Camp coffee (remember that, it is still on sale).  The 'filling' can be flavoured with chocolate, vanilla, or any other flavouring you have and may wish to use.
Filling for Profiteroles etc:
2 tblsp custard powder
3 tblsp caster sugar
half pint (300ml) milk
2 tblsp coffee essence (see above)
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream
2 oz (50g) icing sugar
Mix together the custard powder and sugar with a little of the milk to make a smooth paste.  Heat the remaining milk then stir this into the paste.  Return to the pan and bring to the boil, stirring continuously.  Simmer for 5 minutes to form a thick custard.  Remove from heat, stir in the coffee, and leave to cool. 
Whip the cream until just beginning to thicken, then beat in the icing sugar.  The cream needs to be soft, not beaten too thickly, then fold into the cooled custard.  Pipe or spoon into profiteroles or use as you wish.

So often we cook more by habit or tradition rather than by experimenting with new ideas, although as most recipes have been repeated (for almost centuries) the only new dishes to appear on the horizon are likely to be the 'deconstructed' or 'variations'.   This next recipe almost falls into that category.

It was some many months ago that I bought a 'Mediterranean' quiche, and have to say was bowled over by the filling.  Just loved the flavours.  So when I discovered this next recipe felt it worth sharing as it is a useful way to use up any left-over roast vegetables that we may have.  The difference between this and the above mentioned quiche is that this time the veggies have been left in large pieces (finely chopped in the quiche), and there is no pastry.  At least that bit saves money and time.  Readers might suggest this is more like a Spanish omelette or 'tortilla', but that would be completely cooked in a frying pan - this version is baked in the oven.  We could make something very similar if we used left-over roast veggies, putting them in a frying pan and pouring the eggs over, then cooking until set.  It all depends on how we wish to cook it..
As the quiche ate well cold, then see no reason why a wedge of this couldn't be included in the following day's packed lunch.
Crustless Vegetable Quiche: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into chunks
2 courgettes, cut into wedges (or thickly sliced)
2 red onion, cut into wedges
4 eggs, beaten
4 fl oz (100ml) milk
2 tblsp pesto sauce
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a frying pan and stir-fry the veggies for a couple of minutes before transferring them to an ovenproof dish.  Mix together the eggs, milk, pesto sauce, and seasoning to taste, then pour this over the vegetables. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 minutes until firm to the touch in the centre.  Serve warm with a crisp green salad.

If we prefer our veggies in a pastry case, then there are plenty of variations on that theme. Here is one dish worth making when we have some Stilton cheese that we may wish to use up.  It can be eaten as-is, but will stretch much further when served with a big mixed salad and garlic bread.  Individual 'tartlets' of this could make a good starter for that Michelin Meal?
Stilton and Walnut Tart: serves 6
3 tblsp olive oil
1 lb 5oz (600g) onions, thinly sliced
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 x 375g pack ready-rolled puff pastry
6 oz (175g) Stilton cheese, crumbled
2 oz (50g) walnut pieces
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onions for about 10 minutes until softened and just beginning to colour, stirring occasionally.  Add the vinegar and seasoning, then cook for a further 10 minutes to lightly caramelise the onions.  Remove from heat and leave to cool whilst you deal with the pastry.
Unroll the pastry and use to line the base and sides of a 9" x 13" (23 x 33cm) shallow baking tin (Swiss Roll type). Spread the onions over the surface, covering this with the cheese, then scattering over the walnuts.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15 - 20 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden and the cheese has melted. Cool for 5 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

Here is a similar tart, this time made with shortcrust pastry.  Another useful recipe as it will keep in the fridge for up to three days, so useful for unplanned picnics (well, we never know if it will be a sunny day until it happens) and/or packed lunches.
Cut and Come Again Tomato Tart: serves 6
1 x 340g pack shortcrust pastry
1 x 200ml tub creme fraiche
2 eggs, beaten
2 tblsp red or green pesto
salt and pepper to taste
6 ripe tomatoes, sliced
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
snipped fresh chives (opt)
Roll the pastry to line the base and sides of a baking tin (dimensions as above recipe).  Mix together the creme fraiche, eggs, pesto and seasoning.  Pour this over the pastry, then spread both kinds of tomatoes on top, add more seasoning, then bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 20 minutes until set.  Sprinkle the chives on top (if using) and serve hot or cold, cut into squares, with a green salad.

Penultimate recipe, still on this theme, again uses puff pastry.  We all buy this ready-made (don't we - even top chefs use this) and so worth keeping in the freezer so always there when we need it.  Feta cheese is used in this tart, but the creamy or crumbly Lancashire cheese makes and excellent substitute as this has a very similar texture and the same slightly salty flavour to the Greek cheese. Onion, Cheese and Olive Tart: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
2 large red onions, finely sliced
pinch of salt
2 tblsp light muscovado sugar
2 tblsp balsamic vinegar
1 x 450g pack puff pastry (thawed if frozen)
4 oz (100g) Feta or Lancashire cheese, crumbled
6 oz (175g) black olives, pitted and chopped
salt and pepper
1 tblsp extra V. olive oil
basil leaves (opt)
Melt the butter in a pan and add the onions with the pinch of salt.  Fry for about 10 minutes until softened and caramelised.  Stir in the sugar and vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes, until the pan juices are reduced and become syrupy.  Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Roll the pastry out on a floured surface to the size to line (base and sides) of a 12" x 8.5" (30 x 22cm) Swiss Roll tin.  Spread the onions over the base, then scatter over the cheese and olives. Add seasoning to taste, then drizzle the oil over the surface.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15 - 20 minutes until the pastry has risen, golden and the base is crisp (we don't want soggy bottoms, do we?). Garnish with a scattering of torn basil leaves (if using) and cut into squares or wedges.  Serve with a green salad of your choice.

Final recipe, yet another variation, this time uses Brie. As this is a cheese that doesn't keep too well, it's always good to find a recipe that will use it up.  If you haven't Brie you could use another easily melting cheese.
Soft Cheese and Tomato Tart: serves 4
9 oz (250g) puff pastry
8 oz (225g) Brie
4 beef (or large) tomatoes
8 oz (225g) courgettes
2 tblsp olive oil
half teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
salt and pepper
Roll the pastry to a 9" x 12" (23 x 30cm) oblong and place on a damp baking sheet (the damp helps the pastry to rise and crisp on the base).  Score the the pastry with a knife (not all of the way through) about 1" (2.5cm) from the edges, then - inside the marks, in the centre - prick the pastry with a fork.
Slice the Brie, tomatoes, and courgettes into thin slices.  Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the courgettes for a couple of minutes (maybe less) until softened, then add the dried herbs and seasoning to taste. Cook for a further minute, then remove from heat and leave to cool slightly in the pan..
Starting at a short end, and working across the pastry, but keeping the marked edges clear,, arrange overlapping rows of Brie, tomatoes and courgettes, until all the pricked part of the pastry has been covered. Drizzle the pan juices on top, adding more seasoning, then bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes until the pastry is well risen and the courgettes are tender.  Best served warm with the usual 'green salad'.  Or could be eaten as-is as a 'light lunch'.

Our weather forecast doesn't look good at all.  More snow they say, yet today is almost spring-like, the sun shining over an almost clear sky.
Yesterday was sitting in my chair when suddenly got hit in the eye by a bright ray of sunshine, this reflected off an upstairs window from the house almost opposite ours.  It was either move my chair or close a curtain.  When the sun starts reflecting off house and car windows, then I know summer is around the corner, so am hoping that the snow will not - after all - arrive, and as the sap is already rising in my veins, do hope that it won't get frozen as it moves through my body. 

Believe today is Pancake Day.  Have decided to give up eating carbohydrates for Lent, it will make my dieting that much easier.  Or is that not being fair?  Perhaps I should give up dieting?

Valentine's Day on Thursday, but don't feel like giving any dishes to our 'partners' (do wish they wouldn't use that word, if we have a husband then say so, if we 'live' with someone, then just say 'our OH' (other half).  Back to what I was saying, "don't feel like..."  It's us long-suffering ladies who spoil our men folk every day who need to be pampered and cherished on the 14th.  Otherwise we never get a look in.  Unfortunately B will be out filming again on the 14th, probably returning home late, so it's up to me to spoil myself.  So, what's new?

Almost envy your hot weather Noor, but certainly couldn't cope with any humidity. One thing I realised with Far Eastern cookery is that very few kitchen utensils are used.  Seems a wok, a cleaver, and a pair of chopsticks will suffice, with perhaps a pair of tongs or a spoon to help.  Here we have countless gadgets, most not really needed, but we find 'useful'.

As eels are just 'long fish', suppose they really don't taste that bad, it's just the thought of eating something that looks more like a large worm I suppose.  'Jellied eels' are a very traditional dish, mainly eaten in London, is not something I would fancy, but wouldn't mind trying smoked eel.
Neither Granny G nor Janet could face eating eels, and am sure there are many other who feel the same.

Good to hear from you again Eileen, but very sorry you have problems with your hand and do hope that this will rapidly improve so that we can soon hear from you again.  We all wish you well.

Those that can and will, do enjoy tossing your pancakes today. It may be a tedious job cooking endless pancakes for a large family, but at least we can be grateful we have to do this only once a year.  On the other hand we could start early today and make up a pile of pancakes (interleaved with baking parchment) then cover with foil to reheat in the oven whilst the family eat their main course.  All you need then is plenty of lemon juice and a bowl of caster sugar. 
Whatever you choose to do, hope all of you enjoy your day. TTFN.