Thursday, May 30, 2013

Right or Long as it Works!

Yesterday B chose to have fish for supper so I made a favourite dish:  Fish Risotto.  A favourite of B's due to it being 'good eating' and a favourite of mine as I enjoy making it as it is so simple.  Some may consider it a bit time-consuming as the correct way is to stand over the risotto, continually stirring (for about 20 or so minutes) until ready to serve.

Yesterday I misread the clock (can never get my head round the '24 hour digitals') so began making the risotto an hour before I intended, so after cooking the main part (rice with the liquids etc) decided to switch off the pan whilst the rice was still 'al dente', then bring it back to the simmer and add the fish a few minutes before serving.   It actually worked!  Myself could not see or taste any difference in the dish had I cooked it properly.  Useful to know when wishing to do a bit of 'advance preparation.

A good risotto is easy enough to make.  Firstly we need to use the correct rice - a short-grain 'risotto' rice and I usually use Arborio but there is another with a name similar to Carnaroli (know that probably not spelled correctly but near enough).  These are very 'starchy' rices and this starch, together with the liquid (which is slowly added to make sure there is just enough and not too much) makes for a creamy texture to the dish.

Adding flavour to the rice is VERY important, so I normally start by finely chopping a shallot then frying this gently in a teaspoon of oil to which I've added a good walnut-sized lump of butter.  When the butter has melted and the onion softened a bit, then I stir in the rice so it is coated with the butter.  After cooking for a minute I then add  half a wine-glass of white wine (I pour out a whole glass, but sit and drink the rest whilst 'stirring', then maybe pour myself another!).  Once the rice  has absorbed the wine, I then add a ladleful of boiling chicken stock (home-made of course, and this is kept hot in a little pan at the back of the hob while I cook.  I also have another pan of fish stock (the water in which I poached the fish I would be using: smoked haddock, salmon and 'white fish').
As my chicken stock is fairly concentrated, I normally need to use no more than two ladles (the second added after the first has been absorbed).  Continually stirring, I just keep adding a ladle of liquid (first the chicken then fish - if using fish), each only after the last has been absorbed.  That way I can control the amount of liquid needed.   After about 20 minutes the rice should be tender to the bite (al dente), and then I would add the other ingredients, yesterday being roughly flaked poached fish and some thawed frozen peas (plus some seasoning to taste).  By the time this is heated through the risotto will have absorbed all the liquid, or at least most of it, the main thing is the rice should be 'creamy' and not 'dry' as it would be when serving (say) a curry.   To give it a bit of extra flavour I added a squirt of lemon juice (from a 'Jiffy' lemon to save me using half a fresh one). 

There are plenty of recipes for different risottos, some may be made with just mushrooms, others with just peas, but they all start off the same way:  rice in the butter, then some wine, then some stock, then cook and add what you wish.  Eat and enjoy!

Am not sure whether to be thankful we have a climate that is never hot enough for us to need our homes air-conditioned Margie (our electricity bills are high enough as it is),  or whether to wish it WAS hot enough to need cool air to blow through our houses.  Would you believe we are still having to put the central heating on for a short time each day.  Perhaps, being old we just feel the cold more.

This weekend the forecast is for warmer weather, 20C in some lucky parts of the country, so am going to bite the bullet and turn the heating off, just leaving it on 'heat water only'. That's tap water, not the radiators.   In previous years we have always had the heat switched off by the end of April, not to be put on again until the end of October, but the extra month this year will add ££££s to our fuel bill.
But as you say Margie, by using 'what we have' (food) instead of buying more, then this should pay for the extra, and I like that saying you gave (I paraphrase): "We can have it all, but not all at once".  In a way MUCH better to have things a bit at a time, then we have something to look forward to.  Who knows, the couch/settee you hoped for this year may well be in a Sale at a much lower price next year. 

Most of the Indian take-aways here are not the same as many similar 'food outlets', the curries are normally supplied by the Indian restaurants and can either be ordered and delivered (if within a few miles) or can be collected.  So the food is pretty well much the same as when eaten in the restaurant, but cheaper!
On the rare occasions that we do order an Indian meal to be delivered, we always order a 'Thali'  (around £15 to serve two).  A 'Thali' is a selection of four different flavoured curries, we can choose from all meat based (lamb, chicken etc), or all vegetarian, or two of each.   With that we get rice, also bhajis, salad, pickles, raita, chapatis and poppadums.   Really good value if you think how much it would cost if we ate the same thing in a restaurant, on the other hand it would be cheaper to make the lot myself, but 'fiddly' just for the two of us.  Anyway, I enjoy not having to cook a meal for myself for a change. 

Through the window in front of me I see the various shrubs being blown back and forth, and a very cloudy and partly dark grey sky, so maybe we will get rain before the better weather.  The lilac blossom is just beginning to open, it seems to have taken weeks to get from bud to bloom this year.
When we first moved here this bush was just one tall 'twig' growing at the end of the border.  It is still not much taller, but over the last three years has developed a few branches, and each year has given a few blooms.  This year I can see at least a dozen 'bunches' of flowers ready to throw off their beautiful scent so am really hoping this weekend it will be fine enough for me to go and sit outside by the lilac bush and enjoy the perfume.
A lilac bush always reminds me of my childhood where my parent's had a huge, pale lilac coloured bush in the back garden, close to the house.  I would sit under it and the scent was wonderful.  They also had a lilac bush in their front garden but it never had flowers on it and one year I got the Harmsworth Encyclopedia and found out how to prune the lilac, and the next year it was covered in white blossom.  My mother was so thrilled. 

It's funny how some smells and sounds can take us back.  I've only to step into a nursery school and the smell (particularly around the cloakrooms!) reminds me of my childhood and also when I used to take our small children to their first schools.   Suddenly the memory of writing on slate boards (with chalk or something even more 'squeaky') has popped into my head, and would you believe that when I first started school at the age of 5 (1938) I was given a slate to 'write on'.  Goodness me, that's almost as though I've lived in what the youngsters of today call 'ancient history'.

Watched more of the Food Network this morning, even B saw some of it (the newspaper being delivered a bit later than normal).  He was very impressed with all the creative work done on 'Amazing Wedding Cakes'.  He asked me how much they cost.  Prices are rarely mentioned, but do know that 'Planet Cake' (the Australian cakes) charge around $4,000 for a fancy cake, and a great deal more for a really special one.  Suppose some people earn enough money to be able to afford to 'have their cake and eat it too'.

Methinks, due to the way we follow the 'American way' like the rats followed the Pied Piper, very soon we too will be expecting bigger and better cakes on sale.  Already we have at least one cup-cake store, and a couple of very elaborate-cake makers (who provide cakes for celebs and royals). So perhaps time for those who already make good cakes, to start improving their decorating skills as am sure there is money to be made 'out there' selling all types of celebration cakes.

Not sure if anyone has made a layer cake where the layers are vertical, not horizontal (as in the normal way), but worth having a go as it looks so impressive when cut.  A friendly chef once showed me how to make one, and although a bit more work than the normal 'sandwich' cake, well worth doing.
The idea is to bake a sponge cake (chocolate always looks good when assembled) in shallow 'Swiss Roll' tins.  The more tins used the wider the cake will be.
Turn out the baked cakes and trim away the edges, then cut each through lengthways to give two strips (if you want a high cake) or three (if you want a shallower one).  The strips need to be exactly the same width.  

Begin by spreading each strip fairly thickly with butter cream (or thickly whipped cream), the take the first strip and begin rolling it up like a Swiss roll, and when you come to the end, butt the next strip up to it and continue rolling until you have used all the strips.  By then you will have a big roll of cake, and when placed flat-side down should be at least 8" across (or more according to how many strips used) and a few inches deep (according to how wide you have cut the strips).
Looking down at the cake you will see ever-decreasing circles of cake filling, and so you now need to cover the top and sides of the cake with more butter cream or ganache (or fondant icing if you prefer).   When sliced, there will be seen many layers of cake with filling between (going up and down instead of across).  

Another 'interesting' way to serve (this time) an 'ordinary' sandwich cake is to bake two sponge layers (as when making a Victoria Sandwich.  Then, when cooled, cut each in half across to make four semi-circles in total.  Cover one semi with chosen butter cream (say orange flavoured), top with another semi, then cover the top and sides of this with more butter cream and coat with grated chocolate (or nuts or whatever you choose).  Make another 'half-cake' but doing the same thing but with a differently flavoured butter cream and coating.  Then cut each 'half-cake' into three, then re-assemble as a complete cake by alternating the wedges.  It looks really good.  Well, good enough for the glossy mag 'Good Housekeeping' to photograph it for their 'You Cook for Us' feature.

When using a chocolate sponge as a base for the above, there are many different flavours that go well with chocolate, so we can choose orange, coffee, chocolate, mint... for the butter cream fillings.  No reason why not bake four sponges and make four 'half-cakes' each with a different flavour, then interleave these (but ending up with two 'complete' cakes of course - one could be frozen).

I'm now talking myself into baking mode and desperately want to dash into the kitchen to start making cakes.  But before I do will give one recipe where the end result looks as though we have used a Swiss Roll as the base (and suppose we could do), but instead it really is bread-based.
To make this (successfully) we need to use a whole, uncut fresh white loaf to give us the length of slices needed, but to serve four only half the loaf needs using. Can only suggest the remaining 'long' slices are then cut in half and used for toast, or blitzed to make crumbs - together with the crusts - and freeze for later use.
Roly-Poly Pudding: serves 4
2 oz (50g) butter
5 oz (150g) raspberry (or other) jam
1 uncut white loaf  (see above).
2 eggs
7 fl oz (200ml) double cream
7 fl oz (200ml) milk
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
few drops vanilla extract
Use a little of the butter to grease a deep 1 ltr baking dish and spread half the jam over the base.
Remove the crusts from the loaf and cut lengthways to give 2 thick strips and spread the butter over one side of each.  Turn the bread over and spread the 'dry' side with the remaining jam.
Working from the short side, roll up each slice, jam-side inwards to make 2 fat Swiss rolls, then cut each into three to give 6 short 'swirls.  Put these into the prepared dish, cut side up, squashing them in together.
Whisk together the eggs, cream, milk and vanilla, beating in most of the sugar at the end, then carefully pour over the bread, do this a bit at a time to allow the bread to soak it up in stages.  When all has been poured over, allow the mixture to stand at room temp. for at least 30 minutes - longer if possible, to allow the bread to soak up as much of the 'custand' as possible (I often prepare a bread pudding such as this in the morning, then cook it later in the afternoon).
Scatter the remaining sugar over the top of the pudding and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for 1 hour - 1hr 15 minutes (or for slightly longer at 150C, 300F, gas 2 if you prefer) until the top is golden and the custard is set (but still with a bit of a wobble).  Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

B has just brought me in a cup of coffee and forgotten to add the sweeteners.  However hard I try I just don't enjoy a cuppa if it has not been sweetened.  So went to the kitchen to fetch them and found B just about to start the washing up (actually he was clearing up a pile of saved oil from a little bowl he had just knocked over!!!).  So can't now start cooking until he has left the kitchen (considering the time he takes doing the washing up this could take 30 minutes, why he takes so long I don't know, I could do it in 5, but then he says he does it 'properly'!!!).

However, there are things I really need to do on the comp.  Have had an email offering me free samples so think that is one I should take up, and a couple of others than need dealing with, so will still take my leave of you today, get on with what has to be done at my desk, then do the baking after that.  Hope to meet up with you all again tomorrow, usual time.  See you then.