Sunday, June 02, 2013

Pick 'n Mix...

Thanks Eileen for giving the recipe for the Bread and Butter pickles.  Am looking forward to hearing the results from Pam.   Was surprised to hear that there are not that many pickles (and chutneys?) in the US.  Maybe they prefer to eat the more freshly made salsas.

Do they sell Piccalilli in the US Pam, if not - and this is one you miss - I'll give a recipe for this closer to autumn when the ingredients will be 'in season' (although of course they are now available all year round because they are imported).

How on earth did you manage to get landed with feeding 20 horses Kathryn?  Appreciate you do some work at the yard in return for stabling Dolly, but it sounds as though you are bearing the brunt of all the labour there.  On the other hand, it is mainly outdoor, and healthy no doubt, so if you can handle it - then fine.  Still, good to hear you have a new job, even though it is part-time. My friend Gill has a daughter-in-law who works part-time at a sports outlet where the D.I.L. has a small 'concessionary stall' selling all things equine, and is making quite a good job of it.  She herself owns two horses, but according to Gill never rides them, just cares for them - they have stables and a big paddock to run around in.  To me seems pointless having horses if you don't ride them (I used to love riding until I had a very bad fall and really injured my back).

Despite the forecast of sunny and warm weather, we in Morecambe are now back having more cloud than blue sky, the occasional sunny spell, but with very high winds it still feels too cool for me (at least) to sit out, so that's another weekend out sunning myself missed.  However, still have plenty of kitchen work to do.  Am contemplating on whether to take the doors off the wall cupboards so that it would be a range of open shelves holding ingredients and crockery etc, always visible, I'm sick of continually having to open the doors (the bottom corners exactly the right height to hit heads), and not seeing what I have, then I'm inclined to forget I've got them, or at least where I put them.

Even so - with a weather forecast showing high pressure over the UK, then surely some of us will get some sunshine and warmth.   Officially spring is now over and summer has arrived, so let's hope we are able to get out into the garden for some al fresco meals, or if no garden, then off out with a picnic.

All food seems to taste better when eaten outdoors.  Not sure why this is, but certainly always used to find that tomato sarnies tasted SO much better eaten in the fresh air.  Nothing wrong with sandwiches anyway, but when serving a number of people (family and/or friends), providing lots of 'nibbles' is a very enjoyable way to enjoy a warm evening outdoors.

Myself find it is less trouble to make a variety of 'bases', and also a variety of toppings, then let family/guests choose which they prefer to go together, then they can make up their own 'bites'.

Here are a few suggestions for bases starting with 'fritters'.  These can be used a bit like 'blinis' (little pancakes - recipe given below) that can hold a variety of toppings (smoked salmon, sour or cream cheese, 'caviare' etc...) and as these 'fritters' can be frozen for up to a couple of weeks before serving (thaw at room temp/ or reheat from frozen for 10 minutes) useful as this means you have them almost ready when the sun decided to come out (which is often with only a day's notice).

Sweetcorn Fritters: makes 48
1 egg
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
half a bell pepper, roasted and chopped
half a small red onion, finely chopped
1 tblsp freshly chopped basil
3 oz (75g) self-raising flour
pinch bicarb of soda
Whisk together the egg and milk, then stir in the bell pepper, onion and basil.  Sift the flour and bicarb together over the egg/veg mixture, and fold in until well combined.  Add a little more flour if the mixture is too thin (it needs to be a dropping consistency).
Fry rounded tablespoons of the batter in a large oiled frying pan, over medium heat, for about 2 minutes each side or until the fritters are browned.  Best served whilst still warm with topping of your choice.
Fritters can be frozen when cooled and then bagged up.  Use within a couple (or so) weeks.  Reheat in single layers on oven trays, covered loosely with foil, at 180C (or slightly less) for about 10 minutes.  They can also be put into a loose foil 'bag' to re-heat over a barbecue.
Provide a bowl of sour cream or creme fraiche/Greek yogurt to spoon on top, and any other toppings you may wish to add.

Rosti is another 'base' that can hold different toppings, and as these can be made several hours ahead, another good idea for that al fresco buffet.  Goes without saying that the packs of smoked salmon 'offcuts' are the ones to buy for this as so much cheaper than buying the longe slices that need breaking up anyway.
Rosti with Smoked Salmon: makes 24
1lb 12 oz (800g) potatoes, peeled
half oz (15g) butter, melted
1 tblsp chopped fresh dill
4 fl oz (100ml) olive oil
7 oz (200g) creme fraiche
7 oz (200g) smoked salmon, sliced
extra dill for garnish (opt)
Grate the potatoes coarsely and place on a clean tea-towel.  Wrap up and squeeze out as much liquid from the spuds as you can, then put into a bowl with the butter and dill.
Heat a little of the oil in a frying pan, then place an oiled 2" (5cm) metal scone cutter in the pan and fill with 1 tblsp of the mixture, pressing it down firmly to flatten.  Carefully remove the cutter (take care, it will be hot), and keep repeating with remaining potato mixture using more oil as necessary. Cook rosti until golden brown on each side and drain on kitchen paper.  Leave to cool. 
The rosti can be made several hours ahead, but add the toppings close to serving time.
To serve, place 1 teaspoon of the creme fraiche on each rosti and top with a tiny roll of smoked salmon, with - it you wish - a small frond of dill on top as garnish.

This next is a topping that could go into ready-baked individual pastry cases, or on blinis or rosti, or slices of bruscetta...  A good way to use up those cooked chicken 'scraps' that we home-cooks peel from a chicken carcase once the bones have been boiled for stock.  Otherwise just chop up a slice of cooked chicken.
As an added extra, the recipe to make your own blinis is also part of this...
Chicken Salad on Blinis: makes 24
2 oz (50g) buckwheat flour
2 tblsp plain flour
half tsp baking powder
1 egg
4 fl oz (100ml) butter milk or diluted yogurt
1 oz (25g) butter, melted
4 oz (100g) chicken, shredded (see above)
1 green apple (Granny Smith) finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely sliced
3 oz (75g) mayonnaise
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tblsp chopped chives
Sift both flours and the baking powder into a bowl, then gradually whisk in the egg and the milk until the mixture is smooth, stir in the butter.
Drop 2 tsp of batter into a pre-heated large oiled (or non-stick) frying pan (you can probably cook up to four at a time), and cook each blini until browned on both sides.  Cool on wire racks that have been covered with a clean tea-towel, and cover blinis with more towel as they cool so they remain soft (as we would do when making drop scones/Scotch pancakes).
Mix together remaining ingredients (except the chives) in a bowl, then assemble the blinis ready for serving (or serve a platter of blinis and the bowl of topping for everyone to assemble themselves). Top each blini with chicken salad and garnish with a sprinkling of chives.

Here is another base that will freeze successfully.  Good eaten with tapenade (recipe also given for this.
Parmesan Scones: makes 50 plus
7 oz (200g) self-raising flour
2 oz (25g) butter
2 oz (25g) finely grated Parmesan cheese
6 fl oz (175ml) buttermilk (approx)
9 oz (250g) tapenade (recipe below) and...
...6 oz (175g) goat's cheese (for topping)
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until like breadcrumbs. Stir in the Parmesan. Using a knife, mix in enough buttermilk to make a soft dough.
Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.  Press out to 1.5cm thickness and cut into 30 x 3cm rounds.
Place rounds/scones onto an oiled oven tray, fairly close together without touching, and bake for about 20 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6.  When baked, place on a wire rack/cake airer, and cover with a clean cloth.  Leave to get cool.    Serve, split in half and top each half with tapenade and goat's cheese.
The scones can be made a month ahead, wrapped in foil and frozen.  Can be reheated from frozen by placing them (still foil-wrapped) on an oven tray and heated at 180C.... for about 10 minutes.

tapenade: enough for the above scones
7 oz (200g) pitted black olives
1 tblsp drained and rinsed capers
1 clove garlic, quartered
good handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
5 anchovy fillets, drained
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 tblsp olive oil
Just put all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. to make a 'spread'.

Anchovies are not something many of us tend to use regularly as an 'ingredient'.  Surplus anchovies (from a can) can be drained and frozen to use later, maybe including as part of a pizza topping. But when making an 'al fresco' meal, and serving the above 'bites' (with home-made tapenade), any leftover anchovies can be used for this hot 'dish', perfect to serve along-side the other cold 'bites'.

For this dish use the large open mushrooms.  Not necessary to use the biggest 'field' or 'portobello' mushrooms (to expensive when serving a number of people), the largest button mushrooms will do, just as long as the gills are showing.  Myself tend to buy a Tesco large  'value' pack of white mushrooms where many are already at the 'open' stage, and far cheaper than when buying them 'loose'.
Although the original recipe suggests discarding the mushrooms stems, I always keep these to add to a mushroom soup or spag bol meat sauce that I plan to cook over the next few days.  Chefs never discard mushrooms stems and mushrooms skins, they make them into duxelles.  However, no reason why the stems should not be finely chopped and included with the other ingredients to make the 'topping' for the recipe below.

Anchovy and Cheese topped Mushrooms: makes 20
20 large open button mushrooms (see above)
4 oz (100g) stale breadcrumbs
4 oz (100g) goat's cheese
2 fl oz (50ml) olive oil
4 drained anchovy fillets, finely chopped
fresh chives
8 fl oz (225ml) chicken stock
Remove the stems from the mushrooms (see above) and place the mushroom caps, in a single layer, in a shallow baking dish.
Mix together the breadcrumbs, cheese, anchovies, and chives (and mushroom stems as well - see above).  Use this to 'stuff' each mushroom (in other words spread/pile on top of each cap).
Pour the stock around the mushrooms (but not over them) and bake, uncovered, for about 15 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 or until the mushrooms have browned slightly.  Best served whilst still warm.

Readers who grow their own courgettes will no doubt they have too many to use at once (and baby courgettes are always best eaten within a day of picking as they then begin to taste slightly bitter. So here is another 'picnic' recipe.  These 'frittatas' (a bit like mini-souffles) can be made a day ahead as they keep quite well, covered, in the fridge, but need to be served at room temperature.
Courgette Mini-Frittatas: makes 48
8 eggs
9 fl oz (250g) soured cream
3 tblsp finely chopped chives
2 large green courgettes (10oz/300g)
1 oz (25g) finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tlbsp coarsely chopped chives (as garnish)
Whisk the eggs with two-thirds of the sour cream until smooth.. Coarsely grate the courgettes and add these to the egg mixture with finely chopped chives and the Parmesan.
Lightly oil four x 12-hole mini muffin tins and divide the mixture between each.  Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4, then turn out on a wire rack to cool.  Serve when at room temperature, topping each frittata with remaining soured cream and a sprinkling of chives.

When serving buffet food, while it is tempting to serve as many different dishes as possible, better to have a few that go well together than make a work load for yourself.  Aim for a range of complementary flavours, colours and textures, and - if possible -serve a mixture of hot and cold savouries, and a couple of different sweet 'minis'. 

How much to serve (per person) can always be tricky.  Some people just want a nibble here and there, another will keep on eating as much as possible, but there are a few ground rules to make sure you supply enough - but not too much (amounts are per person). 
pre-dinner nibbles: 4 - 5 mini-bites
drinks party: 4 - 5 mini-bites per hour
full evening party: allow 12 - 14 mini-bites

Late finishing today due to Gill's phone call.  This afternoon am of to our daughter's for a 'Coronation' celebratory tea.  She is hoping that B and I will remember enough of the day to tell her other (younger guests), but can't say I remember much about it at all.  No doubt we did watch it on TV, but my most vivid memory was on the day Elizabeth became Queen, for that was the day of my tennis club annual ball, and I'd just been to town to have my hair done, and on getting onto the bus to return home heard a passenger saying that the King had died and all I could think of was 'Flippin' heck, does that mean the club dance will now have to be cancelled?" (which it was to my great disappointment).  Can't say, at that age, I was overly interested in the monarchy.  Far more interested in dancing.  And boys!

Expecting to keep myself fairly busy next week (now that the bug has bit), and even had Norris charged up ready for an outing.  Let us hope the weather stays fair.  Will still find time to have a morning chat with you, and looking forward to hearing about what you too have been doing over the past few days.

Another full page in the newspaper yesterday about Paul H.  Seems he is now back in this country, allegedly returning to his home to 'talking it through' with his wife.  His American 'girl-friend' is said she wants to be the best (TV?) chef in the US and has no intention of leaving that country, so have a feeling Paul's bubble might have burst a lot sooner than he expected. 
With so much publicity (even more than usual for any celeb) am beginning to feel this all might be a bit more than it first appears.  Just before all this hit the news it is said that Paul signed over a new deal with his wife (who I believe also manages his affairs) and if he leaves she comes out of a divorce very well off.  So this US 'affair' must have been unexpected, even for Paul.  Perhaps the US girl is pulling a few strings to make herself seem more 'important' (than she really is) and maybe even hoped that Paul was worth more - financially - that he will now end up with.  We will just have to wait and see.
Unbelievably, there was once a time (in my green and salad days) when I was never at all cynical. I believed the best of everyone.  Sadly, over many years since, have learnt that life is not always like that, and to never believe everything the newspapers write.  So now call me 'Shirley the Cynical'.

Enjoy the sun while we have it, and will leave you with a bit of optimism.  "Tomorrow is another day, and it could even be better than this one".  TTFN.