Thursday, February 28, 2013

Slowing Down...

Have a feeling this comp will soon stop working.  Today, after switching on, it took over 15 minutes before anything came up on the screen, I thought it had already broken down.  When my 'desktop' icons eventually appeared, it again took severa; minutes before it opened the icon of my choice.file, Eventually I have managed to reach the blogger page, so perhaps had better begin before the comp decided to throw more wobblies.

Took it easy yesterday, my anti-histamines making me feel very drowsy, but managed to stay awake to watch several cookery progs.  Am always amazed how much salt is used in US recipes, The Barefoot Contessa was making a 'Truffle Mac 'n Cheese' for some friends, she used truffle butter to make her white sauce (butter with shaves of truffle in it), which I don't think is on sale here but wish it was, and then she added TWO TABLESPOONS of salt when making her white sauce, because she said the pasta doesn't have much flavour, but then added only 1 TEASPOON of ground black pepper.  Here in the UK we would use more pepper and very little salt. 

Also watched Hairy Bikers last night.  As ever, I have issues with the cost of their 'budget' recipes, and although I agree that it IS far cheaper (as they demonstrated) to make a meal at home that would cost a LOT more when eaten in a restaurant, the ones they showed still cost a great deal more than most people would wish to pay when 'eating in'.  Even then feel the price they paid for some of their ingredients was excessive. For example, they showed a whole fresh filled salmon that had been saying it cost 'only' £25.  That must be London prices, for here in Morecambe we can buy the same for £12 at Glasson (dock), and Morrison's too have had 'offers' of half a (filleted) salmon on sale this year for £5.

There were some good tips in yesterday's prog.  I liked the one where the Indian chef cooked some cnions until well browned, then blitzed these with yogurt to make a marinade for lamb. He said it also helped to thicken the sauce when cooked.   Also good to know that food sold in Indian stores are far, far cheaper than those sold in the supermarkets.  Unfortunately don't think we have one here in Morecambe.  Believe there might be one in Lancaster, but when we drove down the street where we were told there was one, all that road was residential, not a shop in site.  But who knows what goes on behind closed doors.

No, sorry Hairy Bikers, think this time you have lost the cost-cutting plot.  Nothing you have made yet seems to be what I call 'budget' food.   Did like the idea of the pork pie they made, although again far more costly than it need have been, and would have preferred the 'jelly' in the pie and not served separately..  Where they buy their ingredients I don't know, it certainly isn't here 'up North'.   Perhaps it is Londoners and those in the more affluent 'south' of the country that they are expecting to be interested in this current series, so all the food is sourced 'darn south', where the prices would probably be much higher (but surely all supermarkets keep their prices the same throughout the country?) 

When our daughter comes over from Ireland, normally she (and spouse) fill up the car with food bought from our supermarkets, being cheaper than the same sold in the Rep. of Ireland.  This time she says the food here has risen so much in price it is DEARER now than in Ireland, so no need to buy any food other than a very few not normally sold over there.

Am also enjoying the new 'Food and Drink' series, probably because my most favourite chef: Michel Roux Jnr is one of the hosts (the girl who chooses the wine I find a bit 'forced' in her presentation, she is probably not used to being on TV.), so also enjoyed watching the prog last night where they showed how the Masterchef series was made.  It is so true, as M Roux said, his loves food and cooking so much his face lights up when he talks about it.  That is true enthusiasm that I find very inspiring and because of this I love him more each time I see him.  How I wish I could meet him 'for real'.

Thanks for your comments.  As to whether I could make a two-course meal for 4 for less than the cost of my book Kathryn, all I can say is 'Yes, I could' (for I have always found it difficult to say 'No' and would even manage to cobble together a meal using 'free food' and very little else if I had to, but am hoping no-one will test me on this, it could be almost a step too far, but if it had to happen....!!!).  My two-course meal for the price of the book (the real price not the 10p paid for second hand) would begin with soup (being very cheap to make) the rest of the money for the 'mains'.  Do you wish me to give recipes to keep within this budget, or will you just take my word for it?

There could be a reason why 'ready-meals' say they will serve two people when there is barely enough to serve one, for if there are enough calories in the dish to make it a 'it a recommended calorie-counted serving' then it should be adequate, but not necessarily nutritious, for many ingredients can be high in calories, but small in amount (like sugar, fats...).   It could also be that some people need to eat larger meals as they work a lot harder than others (laborious work, not sitting at a desk), but do agree that practically all ready-meals are smaller (per portion) than most of us would wish to be served.  Perhaps this is another manufacturers ploy to get us to buy extra, hoping we need to buy three meals instead of two, to be able to serve enough to satisfy our appetites.

Thanks to Anonymous (no name given) re the possibility that is is MSG that is the cause of my allergy.  Also to Margie who says the same.  This could well be the case, but maybe not the only cause as I've had facial swelling (but not nearly as bad as this recent attack) after several days eating only fresh home-cooked foods, and been particularly careful what I eat even then. 
Today my cheeks are still swollen, so think this time it could be MSG that caused it.  From now on no more Chinese meals - yet having said that, when we've eaten at this particular restaurant before, and had a Chinese take-away, I haven't had an attack.  Maybe it was a particular dish that I hadn't tried before that set it off this time.

Normally, once I've had an attack, my immune system seems to have wakened up and prevents me having another for at least two weeks.  Sometimes I don't get facial swellings, and instead get 'hives' on my arms, usually on one forearm or the other, never both at once. They start small, then grown almost all round my arm, and very itchy.  Sometimes only one side of my face swells up, and not the other.  It is all very strange, but as it started when I had cellulitis and was prescribed a number of pills that I have to take each day (some of these have the allergy side-effects), wonder if my body tends to build up an over-dose, and the immune system plays up, for the allergy can be quite regular, like every 16 days, and for no other reason I can think of.  Will definitely get an appointment at the surgery to try and get this sorted once and for all.

Back to what interests me most.  Food!  With today's recipes being my version of 'budget with a twist'.  The 'twist' will add a few more pennies, but we probably have the ingredients anyway that need using up (so we can almost ignore the cost of these), certainly far cheaper than something similar the H.B.'s are likely to demonstrate.
It's that little 'extra something' that can lift a recipe from the basic to more, good enough to serve to guests.  Call it 'posh nosh on the cheap' if you like.

First recipe is for potato salad.  For family fare suppose we could use canned new potatoes, but these are not nearly as nice as freshly cooked potatoes, and as the spuds absorb flavours better while still hot, then this should be made as soon as the potatoes have been cooked.
Spring onions are used in this recipe as these have a delicate flavour, both the white bulb and the lower part of the green leaves are used, but if you have none, then use finely chopped shallot or red onion.  The white/brown onions we use for cooking have too strong a flavour.
Potato Salad:
1 lb (450g) new potatoes, scrubbed
6 spring onions, finely sliced (see above)
1 x 7oz (200g) can sweetcorn kernels, drained
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
3 tblsp mayonnaise
2 tblsp Greek yogurt
1 tblsp milk
pinch of salt
dash of Tabasco
paprika pepper
Cook the potatoes until just tender, leave to stand for 5 minutes, then drain.  Slice the potatoes fairly thickly (or cut into chunks) and put into a bowl with the onions, sweetcorn and pepper.
Blend together the mayo, yogurt and milk, adding salt and Tabasco to taste.  Spoon this over the potato salad, and toss gently to coat.  Cover bowl and chill in the fridge (overnight if you wish). Sprinkle with a little paprika pepper before serving.

Next dish more suitable for warmer weather - or for those who are fortunate to live in warmer climes - but worth making now if you have bits you wish to use up as it can be frozen at *** if you wish, the rest of the ingredients added when ready to serve.
Myself would use canned plum tomatoes at this time of year, then use ripe toms when they are in season.
If you have only double or whipping cream, then dilute with equal amounts of fresh milk.
Chilled Tomato Soup: serves 4
1.5 lb (759g) ripe tomatoes (see above)
1 oz (25g) butter
1 rib celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 potato, chopped
1.75 pts (1 ltr) chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
4 fl oz (100ml) single cream
1 onion
4 oz (100g) cooked ham, diced
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
2 tsp Worcestershire sauec
juice of 1 lemon
2 tblsp chopped parsley
Peel the tomatoes and set aside. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the celery, carrot and potato. Fry for a few seconds then add the tomatoes and lastly the stock, adding seasoning to taste, and also the sugar. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for one hour. 
Cool slightly, then pour the soup into a blender or food processor (or rub through a sieve). Then stir in the cream, check the seasoning, adding more if you wish, then leave to cool. *** At this point it can be frozen.
Just before serving, finely chop or grate the onion and then wrap the bits in kitchen paper and squeeze out as much juice as you can (catching the juice in a bowl).  Add this juice to the soup, together with the W. sauce, lemon juice, ham, and cucumber. Fold carefully together and serve in a tureen or individual bowls.  Garnish with the parsley and serve chilled.
If served with hot garlic bread, this turns the soup into a meal in its own right.

Normally I always make my own custard, admittedly using custard powder, but this does use milk that we sometimes cannot spare.  Recently (and only because they were on offer) bought a couple of cans of ready made custard (yes, I can see you throwing up your hands in horror), but was very glad I did for was able to use one this week when making a trifle.  Saved me a LOT of time.

Some readers may have canned custard in their larder, so am giving a couple of recipes that are made with 'fresh custard' (not sure if the canned counts as 'fresh' but we could use left-over home-made).
Easy Bread Pudding: serves 4 - 6
5 oz (150g) stale white bread, cut into triangles
2 oz (50g) raisins or sultanas
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
1 x 562 tub fresh custard (see above)
5 tblsp caster sugar
Put the bread into a large bowl with the raisins.  Mix the milk with the custard and pour over the bread, mixing well.  Tip into a buttered baking dish an bake for 30 - 35 minutes at 140C, 275F, gas 1 until just about set, then scatter the caster sugar over the top and pop under a pre-heated grill until caramelised.

Next recipe makes chocolate muffins to be served with a hot chocolate custard, but if you have leftover chocolate muffins that have gone stale, just heat them up in the microwave for a few seconds until heated through (don't over heat or they will dry up in the centre). Then serve these with the custard.
Chocolate Muffins with Chocolate Sauce: makes 6
1 tblsp cocoa powder
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
half tsp bicarb. of soda
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
4 fl oz (100ml) milk
1 egg
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 x 150g pots ready-made custard (or use canned)
1 oz (25g) dark chocolate, chopped or grated
Sieve the cocoa and flour together and add the rest of the dry ingredients. Stir to combine, then make a well in the centre.
Beat the milk, egg, and oil together, pour into the well and mix the lot together quickly to make a batter (it doesn't matter if it is a bit lumpy, but no dry flour should be seen).
Spoon into 6 oil-greased holes n a muffin tin, then bake for 15 minutes at 170C, 325F, gas 5 or until risen and firm to the touch.
Meanwhile, heat the custard (on the hob or in a microwave) and add the chocolate, stirring until smooth.  Turn the puddings out into individual bowls and pour over the chocolate custard.

I've been asked to make another Indian meal for B's social club in a couple or so months.  Will really enjoy doing that as I make nearly everything myself (other than buying poppodums, but even these I fry myself).
As I can begin making things that will freeze well, will start with samosas.  For these I normally use filo pastry, but last time, having not quite enough ended up making the last samosas using very thinly rolled out puff pastry, and these worked very well.

Although this time there will be no chance of me having filo pastry left over (all will be used to make samosas), very often we come across a recipe that we would like to make, but uses only a few sheets of filo, so what do we do with the rest?  Manufacturers do not recommend refreezing unused filo sheets, but if covered with a damp cloth whilst making an intended dish, the remaining pastry needn't go to waste as long as you have some ideas for its use.

So today am giving a few suggestions for desserts/treats, all made with filo with most being able to be made and frozen (uncooked), so a very good way to use up the rest of the pack, especially as - when baked - all good enough to serve at a dinner party.

Almond and Ginger Slice: makes 10 - 12
4 sheets filo pastry, thawed if frozen
1 oz (25g) butter, melted
8 oz (225g) marzipan
2 tblsp grated root ginger
2 lemons
4 oz (100g) flaked almonds
1 tblsp runny honey
Lay the filo sheets on top of each other, brushing each with the melted butter as you do so.
Roll out the marzipan very thinly, until it is the same size as the filo, then lay this on top of the stack.
Remove the peel and pith from one of the lemons, cutting the flesh into tiny pieces and spread these over the marzipan together with the almonds, the begin rolling up the pastry from both the long sides until they meet in the middle.  At this point it can be frozen. Overwrap, seal and freeze. Use within 6 months.  Thaw at room temp. for four hours than continue as below.
Baked freshly made (or when thawed), place on a baking sheet, brush with butter and bake for 25 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4.
Meanwhile, cut the remaining lemon in half lengthways, then slice across. Remove the baked filo from the oven and rapidly brush the surface with the honey, arranging the lemon slices on top. Return to the oven and continue baking for a further 10 minutes.  Slice when cold.

Baklava: makes about 16
3 oz (75g) walnuts, chopped
3 oz (75g) almonds, chopped
3 oz (75g) no-soak apricots, chopped
2 oz (50g) soft brown sugar
half tsp cinnamon
half tsp mixed spice
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
8 sheets filo pastry, thawed if frozen
3 oz (75g) butter, melted
3 oz (75g) sugar
2 tblsp honey
half pint (300ml) water
2 oz (50g) toasted flaked almonds, chopped
Mix the walnuts, almonds, apricots, sugar, spices and lemon rind together.  Lay one sheet of filo in a 12"x8" (31 x 20 cm) Swiss roll tin and brush liberally with butter. Repeat with 2 more sheets, then cover with half the nut mix.
Butter an layer two more filo sheets and cover these with the remaining nuts. Finally, cover with the last 3 sheets of filo, brushing between each layer, as before.  At this point it can be frozen (same packaging and thawing as with above recipe).
Brush the top with butter, then  score into a diamond pattern and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 35 minutes until golden. Meanwhile, put the sugar, honey, lemon juice, and water into a pan, slowly heat until boiling, then boil for 10 minutes.  Strain, then pour this over the baked Baklava, sprinkling the toasted, flaked almonds on top, then leave for at least a couple of hours to get cold before slicing.  It is easier to slice if left until the following day.

This next suggestion uses canned cherries (or cherry pie filling), but a variety of fresh or canned fruits can be used.  The end result is similar to the puff pastry 'slices' filled with cream and iced on top, but these are somewhat easier to make.  The recipes says 'best not frozen', but am sure the pastry 'slices' would keep for several days in an airtight tin, to be assembled when ready to serve.
Myself find that icing sugar is best to use when wishing to sweeten cream, but caster sugar is nearly as good.

Mille Feuilles: makes 8
3 sheets filo pastry, thawed if frozen
1 oz (25g) butter, melted
1 x 14 oz (400g) black cherries (see above)
3/4 pint (425ml) double cream, whipped
1 oz (25g) caster (or icing) sugar (see above)
icing sugar for dusting
Stack the filo sheets on a baking sheet, brushing between each, and the top, with melted butter. Neaten edges and cut into 3 long strips.  Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 20 minutes until golden.
Strain the cherries, reserving 8 whole ones for decoration, then halve or chop the rest, making sure stones have been removed from all. 
If using icing sugar, this can be beaten in with the cream, otherwise fold caster sugar into the cream once it has been whipped.   Divide into three, spreading one third on each of 2 pastry layers, cover with the cherry halves.  Sandwich these layers together, and place the final bare pastry layer on top. Dust with icing sugar, then slice into 8.  
Decorate top by piping on cream rosettes,  studded with the reserved whole cherries that have been stoned and halved, then ready to serve.

Apple Strudels: makes 8 - 10
1lb (450g) Bramley apples, peeled, cored, chopped
2 tblsp water
2 oz (50g) demerara sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 oz (75g) sultanas
2 oz (50g) fresh white breadcrumbs
4 oz (100g) butter
8 - 10 sheets filo pastry, thawed if frozen
3 tblsp icing sugar
2 tsp hot water
Put the apples in a pan with the water, sugar, and cinnamon, and cook gently for about 10 minutes until softened.  Stir in the sultanas, then leave to cool.
Put half the butter in a frying pan, then fry the breadcrumbs until golden, then add these to the cold apples.
Melt the remaining butter and brush one sheet of filo with a little of this, then fold in half, lengthways.
Place a spoonful of apple mixture at one end and brush the rest of the pastry with butter before folding over then rolling up to encase the filling. Brush top with butter and place on a baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining sheets of filo and apple.  They can be frozen at this point, packed and thawed as given above.
To complete, bake for 30 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until golden brown, then cool on a wire rack.
Decorate by mixing the icing sugar with about 2 tsp hot water (use a little less, you can always add more) to make a thin (runny) glace icing. Drizzle this diagonally over each strudel, then leave to set before serving. 
If you wish, the Strudels can be served hot, freshly baked, without the icing, but served with cream.

That's it for today, and what a lovely day it is.  Still frosty at night, but viewed from the window (with the heating on in this room) it looks (and feels) almost like summer.  Am envying Kathryn who I'm sure will be taking the opportunity to saddle up and go off for a rural canter. Given the opportunity and days like this, we are glad to be alive.

Keep those comments coming, for often this is the only way I know you are 'still out there' interested enough to keep on reading my overlong 'ramblings'.  Today I will do what I intended to do yesterday (but never got around to it) - sorting out the shelves in the freezer side of 'Boris'.  With a large Indian meal to plan for, I'll need plenty of freezer space.  Hope you all enjoy your day, and - computer permitting - will be back 'chatting' again tomorrow.  TTFN.