Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Professional Opinions

The main food-related topic of the moment is the finding of horsemeat in many different meat-based products marketed as 'beef'.   This is causing much alarm, although most people realise it is not the meat that is the problem, just that it shouldn't be there.  Leading to concern as to what else will be discovered that shouldn't be there in other products.

Somehow feel that horsemeat - in the disguise of beef - could have been on sale in shops some many years ago, for when we first moved to Leeds, did have a reputable butcher (Dewhurst's), but when that closed down our greengrocer began to sell a small amount of 'beef'. 
I began to buy beef from this greengrocer, and couldn't understand why the flesh was so dark, and fairly strongly flavoured, it also smelt a bid odd.  I queried this and was told this was because it was 'well hung'.  In fact it didn't taste like I thought beef should, and although not suspious at that time, believing I just didn't know any better, eventually stopped buying it.  In retrospect feel it could have been horsemeat, it certainly wasn't like any beef I'd previously bought from a butcher, and the 'well-hung' meat I buy today certainly doesn't have a 'different' flavour, but the greengrocer was the sort of person who might probably sell something that fell off the back of a lorry....!!!

Had to smile when I read an article in yesterday's paper;  "Iceland boss (says): 'I wouldn't eat 'value' food because it won't contain much meat'."  As I'm a great one for reading labels, am particularly interested in the amount of meat that any processed food contains, so feel that the above quote could cover many branded products as well as a stores 'own-brand-value...".  If we followed the ingredients given to the letter (other than omitting certain additives), to cook the same ourselves, we would be shocked to find how little meat there is in the meat pies, beef broths, even some sausages. 
As the paper gave some comparisons between brands of sausages, Iceland's own brand (45 sausages for £2) came out worst with only 27% pork content. Bet the Iceland boss wish he hadn't said anything after all.  This made Tesco's 'value' sausages (20 sausages for £1.50 with 40% pork content) look quite good.  But then we could be fooled into believing 'pork content' meant quality minced pork sausagement, when 'preformed' pork could be used.  'Pre-formed meat may be edible, and probably (almost) as nutritious as better quality meat, but do we really want to eat the bits that are normally thrown away (then minced up with other to make a kind of 'slurry')? Jamie Oliver showed us what that turned out like.  What we want is 'real' meat.  Minced or otherwise.

Back to horsemeat.  This is 'real' meat, perhaps even better than the oddments of 'real' beef that eventually turn up as 'mince' in some manufactured products, and reading my current library book: "Relish.  My life on a plate" by Prue Leith, felt this extract says a lot (at the time Prue was living in France)...
"We developed a love of steak tartare... and one day I asked Jane "can we really afford steak tartare again? It must cost an arm and a leg."
"Oh, it's fine," she replied, "I got it from that cheap butcher on the corner with the horse's head over the door".
And that's how I know horse fillet makes better tartare than beef does."

Another extract from the book relates to the time when Prue started her restaurant, and although very successful, she found she was losing money.  This due to the chef and his wife 'cooking the books'.  After their dismissal, things improved, and Albert Roux was also able to give some help. He was not interested in the book-keeping but in the kitchen, pointing out that too much uneaten food ended up in the bin because diners, eating four courses, could not manage to eat it all, a third of the food being left on the plates.  Portions were then reduced.
But this is the bit I liked, especially as it comes from one of the most reputable Michelin starred chefs (Albert Roux), who really knows how a kitchen should be run...
He fished an apple out of the chef's bin.  "Regardez. This is criminal. Why throw this away?"
He took the apple and turned it over. 'It's BAD, Albert', I said".
"no, no, no, it's only 'ARF bad!".
And then he fished out a bunch of watercress stalks and explained there was more flavour in the stalks than the leaves, and they would make good soup."

The truly good chefs NEVER waste food, and all can turn even the cheapest cuts of meat (like pigs ears/trotters...) into wonderful meals, and those of us who are really interested in cooking should take notice of what they do and say, especially when they waste virtually nothing.  What's good enough for the professionals, is good enough for us.
Have still nearly half of Prue's book to read, so maybe more culinary 'secrets' will come to light. Let us hope so.

Once or twice, over the last few months, recipes for batch-baking have been given, variations made from one basic mix, and these seemed to have proved popular with my readers. 
The other day found yet another 'set', and although based on a 'pastry mix', it was good to see that this could also be used when making cakes.   We might find the use of 'hard' margarine and lard unusual, as today we tend to make our pastry with butter, but worth using hard marg if we can find it (is 'Echo' marg still on sale?) as it does make better pastry, and certainly both fats are cheaper than butter.  But no reason why we can't use butter instead of marg. if we wish.  The lard will make the pastry less 'rich'.
As the basic mix will freeze, it can be made and stored 'loose' in a container, although perhaps more useful to bag up in the smaller amounts (shown below) as this is the amount that would be used for each 'variation'.

basic pastry mix: makes 12 x 12.5oz (350g) quantities
6 lb (2.7g) plain flour
1.5 lb (675g) hard margarine
1.5 lb (675g) lard
Sift flour into a large bowl.  Cut fat into cubes and rub into the flour until fine breadcrumbs.
Divide into 12 quantities, put into polybags, seal, label and use within 3 months.  To use, leave to stand at room temperature for 15 - 20 minutes before using.

First 'variation' uses the above mix to make both the pastry base and - with other ingredients - the sponge cake topping, so most of the 'prep' has already been done.
Bakewell Tart: serves 6
1 quantity of basic mix
2 tblsp jam
1 tsp baking powder
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
1 egg
2 tblsp milk
few drops almond essence
to decorate:
2 oz (50g) almond paste/marzipan
Take HALF the basic mix and add enough cold water to make a smooth dough for the pastry base. Chill for 30 minutes before rolling out on a floured board to the size to line a 7"(18cm) square tin.
Spread jam over the base.
Beat together the other half of the basic mix with the remaining filling ingredients, and when smooth, spread this over the jam.
Roll out the almond paste and cut into strips, arranging them on top of the tart in a lattice effect.
Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 25 minutes until risen and golden brown.   Serve sliced, hot or cold, with cream or custard.

Next is a cake made by the 'all in one' method.  As the basic mix will have already been made, the cake is speedily prepared and handy to make when there is a spare shelf in the oven when cooking something else.  Something worth remembering is that the more things cooking in the oven at any one time, a little extra cooking time should be added.  Perhaps only a few minutes in the case of cakes, but allow for this.
Cherry Coconut Cake: makes approx 8 slices
1 quantity of basic mix
4 oz (100g) glace cherries, chopped
2 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1 tblsp milk
2 oz (50g) desiccated coconut
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
Put all the ingredients into a large bowl, and beat until smooth.  Spoon into a deep 7" (18cm) round cake tin and level the surface.
Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 35 - 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Next variation has similarities to Chelsea Buns.  Although just apricots were used in this version, we could use half apricots and half sultanas, or dried mixed fruits.
Sticky Apricot Buns: makes 10
1 quantity basic mix
1 egg, beaten
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
5 oz (150g) no-soak apricots, chopped
3 oz (75g) demerara sugar
1 tblsp warmed apricot jam (for glazing)
Put the basic mix into a bowl, stir in the egg and sugar, then knead to a soft dough. Roll out on a floured board to an 8" x 12" (20 x 30cm) rectangle.
Mix together the filling ingredients (not the jam) and sprinkle these over the dough, then roll up from the long edge.  Cut into 12 even slices and arrange on a greased 7" (18cm) round tin, putting one in the centre, then arranging the rest around the sides.
Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 25 minutes, then remove from oven and brush the warmed jam over the top to glaze.  Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Final recipe today is for biscuits.(there are other variations using this basic mix if you are interested - just let me know if you want the recipes for these).  The fruit used in the original recipe was glace pineapple, but as this is not always easy to find, have chosen to use crystallised ginger, adding a little ground ginger.  If you prefer, omit the gingers and add glace fruits if you have them.
Ginger Biscuits: makes 16
1 quantity of basic mix
1 - 2 tsp ground ginger
3 oz (75g) crystallised ginger, chopped
1 tblsp milk
1 large egg (keep back a little for glazing)
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
Put all the ingredients into a bowl and beat together until smooth. Knead lightly on a floured board and divide into 16 equal pieces.  Roll each into a ball, then place these, well spaced apart, on greased baking sheets. Flatten tops lightly with a fork (it helps if the fork is first dipped in flour to prevent it sticking to the dough). Glaze with a little beaten egg, then bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 20 minutes until golden.  Cool on the tins for 5 minutes before removing to a cake airer.  Serve warm or cold.

The only comments that came in were from Les who enjoys having a TV in his kitchen.  Am a bit puzzled as if I had one switched on whilst I was cooking, I would find it very distracting.  The radio is about as much as I can cope with and only listen to that when I'm doing something that doesn't need close attention (like the washing up, or I'm taking five minutes off to have a cuppa).
It would be impossible to try and copy what a chef is cooking at the actual time,  and having to take my eyes off the screen to watch what I'm doing (like chopping onions, or breaking eggs) could miss some very important bit of cheffy 'action'. 
On the other hand, I suppose I might be more inclined to cook what I have just seen, if I was already in the kitchen and could begin immediately.

I watched Delia Smith in the Graham Norton Show last night (think it was a replacement prog due to the industrial strike) where she was promoting her new 'series', this for novice cooks and can be viewed via her Internet website.  It is 'free', so can be seen on a comp. or one of those clever mobiles that can receive almost anything.   Delia is starting her cookery course with 'baking' as she believes novice cooks would be more likely to make something that is easy and enjoyable, then presumably will move onto something more nourishing. 
We were shown a few snippets of the 'course', but only shots of some of the 'prep', and end results.  At no time did we see Delia - or anyone else doing the actual cooking - so maybe it is just shots of 'what to do', with voice overs.

As we are having our youngest daughter (and spouse) visiting for a couple or so days next week (we don't see them often as they live in Ireland), will be taking those days off from writing my blog as I want to keep my time free to be with them.  Will remind you nearer the time.

Another lovely day due to a high pressure area over our country.  Almost wish it wasn't as this could mean we might not get another for weeks/months.  Or even a year!  Low pressure almost guaranteed all year round, so when a high-pressure arrives it is rare, but wonderful when it happens.  Unfortunately, at the moment, it is too cold to go out and enjoy sitting in the sun.   I just have to enjoy looking at the blue sky through the windows, or reflected in mirrors.  Sometimes I feel very much like the Lady of Shallot, especially as I have a basket full of them and continually slicing them to add to numerous dishes. 

Good heavens, is that the time?  Really did mean to finish earlier today as have much to do, but as ever, got caught up in 'rambling' again.  Hope you will have time to join me again tomorrow, and keep those comment coming!  TTFN.