Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fingers on the Pulse...

Believe a welcome due to Rae (don't think she has commented before). Usually older folk use companies like Wilkinson's Farm Foods, and normally eat smaller size portions.  My B is probably the exception, his portions are almost twice what they should be.

Practically all ready-meals, even those of quality, are small in portion size. I remember my friend Gill, when trying to lose weight, would buy and eat TWO weight-watchers meals together because the amount was so small (even so she still lost weight).
Almost certainly the meals I serve for B are far too large, but give him any less and within minutes he's up toasting himself some bread, then half an hour later fetching himself something else, and this repeats for most of the evening.  His weight stays fairly constant, at least during the summer months when he is more active with the sailing club (he doesn't sail any more but occasionally drives the safety boat and does quite a few repairs for them).

Yesterday B went to Morrison's to get the "buy one get two free" offer of prawns.  I was happy with prawns as can use them in many dishes (esp stir-fries, paellas, fish risotto and prawn cocktail...). But of course they were not prawns per se, turned out it was packs of breaded scampi (really no use to me).  B was delighted (he likes scampi), and said he was returning to the store today to get three more packs.  
He wanted some for his supper yesterday, the packs weren't large, so I said "let's share a pack", forgetting that B doesn't do equal, so not surprised when he said " OK, there are 16 in a pack, I'll have 10 and you can have 6".  I settled for that, but perhaps should have tried "You have 9 and I'll have 7".  Glad I didn't for the scampi had little flavour.  Not worth the money, even allowing for the freebies.  B can eat the lot over the next few months (they were frozen and with the use-by date summer of next year they have a long freezer-shelf life).  Am hoping to persuade B not to go back and buy more, doubt he will listen.

Thanks Margie for letting us know what 'perogies' are.  They sound rather nice.  Wonder if they are sold in the Polish-run shops (there is one in Morecambe).  I've tried a few Polish 'delicacies' that are sold at the supermarket (dry goods), but never found them quite to my taste. Perhaps I should persevere. 
Myself have loads of housework to do (its been waiting for months, a few more weeks won't matter?) and maybe, once the hour has gone back (tonight) with an extra hour to play with, I should use this to advantage.  It's surprising how much housework can be done in one hour when I put my mind to it (and role-play cleaning lady).

We expect heavy rain and gales this weekend, but any rain that fell last night seems to be drying off, and hardly a twig is moving in the garden.  Maybe we are in the eye of the storm (the bit that stays still when the rest of the weather is rushing round it).  Or maybe the strong winds have yet to come.  No plans to go outside, the usual Saturday-in-the-kitchen for me, so don't really care what the weather does.  Just hope it stays fair enough for those that have outdoor plans.

Today my recipes are based on pulses, these I class normally as beans, but include lentils, split peas etc.  As these are some of the cheapest ingredients they should be used more often, so today hope to put that right.

Usually I find a recipe with a long list of ingredients is off-putting, and rapidly turn the page to find a simpler one.  Generally - and certainly when the dish is 'pulse-based' - the extra ingredients are there only in very small amount and just to give plenty of flavour, so it's always worth reading down the list as often we can substitute different spices and/or herbs if we don't have those recommended, or we prefer something less spicy, more spicy, or not even spicy at all.

Most recipes don't pick out the ingredients that we could make ourselves (breadcrumbs), or veggies that we can use up (such as the stump of a head of celery instead of using a stalk/rib - I always save these 'stumps' as they are useful for grating or adding to the pan when making chicken stock), and the following recipes have such ingredients, so - if you have them - making the dish even cheaper.

This first dish is meant to serve two and can be made a day ahead (keeping the uncooked patties separate and covered in the fridge), but worth making in bulk as the uncooked patties can also be frozen for up to six months.  A variation could be made using yellow split peas instead of the red lentils.
Lentil Patties: serves 2
4 oz (100g) red lentils
2 oz (50g) celery stalk finely chopped (see above)
1 small carrot, finely chopped or grated
just under a pint (500ml) water
half tsp each ground coriander and cumin
5 oz (150g) stale breadcrumbs
1 tblsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tblsp plain flour
1 egg white, lightly beaten
3 tblsp olive oil
Put the lentils, celery, carrot, water, and spices into a pan and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the mixture thickens, then leave to cool.
Stir in half the breadcrumbs and the parsley,, then shape the mixture into four patties (like burgers or fish-cakes in shape). Toss the in the flour, then dip into the egg white, then into the remaining breadcrumbs (they can be chilled then frozen at this point).
Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the patties until well browned on both sides.  Drain on kitchen paper and serve with a yogurt sauce such as Raita, or (bottled) sauce tartare, or just mayo (or whatever sauce you fancy), plus a crisp green salad.

Next recipe uses canned and - like many varieties of beans - one type can be substituted for another (haricot, borlotti, butter beans, cannellini....) or use a mixture if using home-cooked beans from the freezer.
Canned tomatoes are cheap enough, so if you grow your own herbs, and have garlic in your onion basket, then add these to flavour the dish. Otherwise buy canned garlic and herb flavoured chopped tomatoes (but they usually cost more).  As I normally keep (or make) green pesto, I'd have to resort to using this, but the red pesto is better as this won't then change the colour of the dish (does anyone know how to make red pesto? Yes I could look it up on the Internet I suppose, but like to give readers a chance to share their own recipes.

Another cost-cutter is to use left-over cooked pasta (drizzle the cooked and drained pasta with a little oil to prevent it sticking together before saving).  Otherwise use ready-to-use pasta (again more expensive).  An alternative (and possibly cheaper but not necessarily) passata is to tip a can of plum tomatoes into a sieve (standing over a bowl of course), and rub through using a wooden spoon.  You end up with a fairly thick passata leaving seeds and some skin/membranes in the sieve - which you can discard.
Beans 'n Pasta: serves 4
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large apple, cored and chopped
1 x 410 can chopped tomatoes with garlic and herbsj
1 x 300m carton passata (see above)
1 x 290g can borlotti (or other) beans, rinsed
3 tblsp red pesto (see above)
11oz (300g) left-over cooked pasta (see above)
salt and pepper
Put the oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat and fry the onion for 3 - 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the  apple and cook for a further 2 - 3 minutes until softened, then stir in the tomatoes, passata and beans.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, then stir in the pesto and pasta with seasoning to taste.  When the pasta is heated through serve in individual bowls with crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

A favourite dish that I used to make many years ago was Cassoulet.  Perfect for serving to a family, especially on a cold winter's day.  Not at all expensive to make (if you follow my tips), and has the advantage of being able to be made a couple of days ahead (and kept chilled) before cooking, and can also be frozen (uncooked - just defrost prior to finishing the baking).
Traditionally the sausage to use is Toulouse, but I tended to use any well-flavoured sausages, and quite possibly you might find a pack of the Toulouse or Merguez (or similar) on offer or 'reduced' any time of the year, so buy and freeze ready for this dish.  Even though the recipe suggests using 12 sausages, no reason why you can't use 6 or even less.  Use what you have.  One sausage is better than none (you can always chop it up after cooking so everyone has a chunk).

White wine is not cheap, but - over the months - I've managed to collect quite a few cubes of frozen wine (final dregs from each bottle),but chefs sometimes cheat and use white wine vinegar that has had a couple or so teaspoons of sugar dissolved in it.  Not that I would go down that road, but feel free...  Omit the wine and use apple juice or chickens stock if you prefer.
Have to admit to sometimes using bog-standard baked beans instead of the canned haricot as these are the same variety of bean as given,  but packed in their own tomato sauce, so this means I can omit using the fresh tomatoes. Not the French way, but my way. An alternative is to use one can of baked beans and one can of haricot beans.  Or do it properly as per recipe.
Bouquet garni is sometimes sold in bags (like tea-bags), but to make from scratch just make a bundle up of fresh parsley (esp the stalks as these have lots of flavour) thyme and a bay leaf, all tied together with string.
French Cassoulet: serves 4 - 6
2 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tomatoes, chopped (see above)
1 bouquet garni (see above)
salt and pepper
2 x 400g cans haricot beans (see above)
half pint (300ml) white wine (see above)
7 fl oz (200ml) water
12 Toulouse sausages (see above)
4 oz (100g) stale bread, crumbed
Heat 1 tblsp of the oil in a large pan and add the onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes (if using), and bouquet garni, seasoning to taste. Cook over a low heat for 5 minutes, then add the beans, wine, and water.  Bring to the boil and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the remaining oil in a frying pan and fry the sausages until browned all over (they will carry on cooking later.
Pour half the bean mixture into an oven-proof casserole and lay the sausage on top, covering these with the rest of the beans.  This can now be cooled and chilled for up to 2 days or frozen.
To cook:  Cover with foil and cook at 180C, gas 4 for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top.  Bake for a further 20 minutes until the crumbs are golden and crusty.  Serve hot.

The above dish is fairly basic (not quite the classic version) and but myself remember adding all sorts of things when making a Cassoulet and would included a few chicken wings, or a chunk of gammon, probably cooking the dish at a slightly lower temperature and for up to an hour and a half (any meat added must be cooked through).  The longer/slower a Cassoulet cooks, the better the flavour in my opinion.
Also remember after adding and crisping the breadcrumb topping, would break this up to stir this into the casserole and add more crumbs on top to make another crust.  This gave a lovely crunch to the dish.

If I remember correctly, in Larousse Gastronomic there was a mention that a pot of Cassoulet had been made in a rural inn in France, the inn-keepers wife just topping up the pot with more meat, beans and liquid to cook overnight over a log fire, and serving it to customers the next day, and the next.....believe she kept this meal going by just adding to it - for many, many, and MANY years!  Am not suggesting we go down this road, but can imagine how the flavour must have grown and grown and no doubt people would be queuing for a taste after all that time.

These days there is always a shorter method to make a classic dish, so end today by giving a variation on the above.  Not ending up quite as tasty, but well worth making when you wish to keep things simple.  Interestingly it uses my trick of one can unflavoured beans and one can baked beans.
Sausage and Bean Casserole: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
8 pork sausages
1 rib celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 x 400g can butter beans 
1 x 400g can baked beans in tomato sauce
1 tsp thyme leaves
salt and pepper
7 fl oz (200ml) hot chicken or vegetable stock
2 slices white bread, crumbed
Put the oil in a pan and fry the sausages until browned, then remove these from the oil and set aside.  Add the prepared vegetables to the oil in the pan and fry for 10 minutes, then stir in the tomato puree and cook for a further minute before spooning into an oven-proof casserole dish, adding the beans, sausages, thyme, and seasoning to taste. Pour in the stock, bring to the simmer, then remove from the heat.  If you wish the dish can now be cooled and kept chilled for up to 2 days, or frozen. If frozen, defrost completely before reheating.
To finish the dish, sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and bake at 200C gas 6 for 25-30 minutes until the crumbs are golden and the stew is bubbling.

That's it for today.  No blog tomorrow even though I will have an extra hour to play with.  No - tomorrow will be 'housework day', and I'll need to keep myself blinkered and avoid any other distractions.   Back on Monday with more edible 'chat'.  Do hope you'll find time to join me.  If so - see you then.  Have a good weekend.