Friday, November 15, 2013

Kitchen Chat

A welcome to Floss who is lucky to have a husband that makes 'real' custard (I'm sure mine couldn't make it using Bird's, but then how would I know, he's never even bothered to try - it's easier to open a tub of double cream and pour that.  B loves cream so much I'm surprised he doesn't have it instead of gravy over his savoury meals.  Having said that, cream is added to Strogonoff sauce, and Mac 'n Cheese, and in almost any other savoury sauces that will take it.  All because my Beloved would get withdrawal symptoms if he didn't have cream with something nearly every day.  Surprisingly he doesn't like it in coffee (whereas I love it although stick to using semi-skimmed milk).

Have heard about the Thermomix Joy, sounds as though it can make a lot of things all by itself.  Should I treat myself to one?  Have to have a think about that.

Thanks to Anonymous (no name given) who told us about cooking apples in a slow cooker, first removing the core but no need to peel.  Good idea.  Will give it a try.  Until now usually put apple peelings AND cores into a pan with a little water and simmer until soft (have also done them in the microwave), then pushed them through my mouli-mill as this leaves the skins and pips behind. 
Only learned recently that apple pips contain arsenic, so probably why we core apples before cooking them, although am sure we'd have to eat a huge number of pips before they do us any real harm.

A shorter blog today as having an unexpected visitor, and also have more cooking to do.  As I got up early, have given myself time to include a couple or so recipes to avoid this ending up a bit of a boring blog.

This first recipe is perfect for those who wish to add something a bit different to their Christmas Gift Hampers. Make plenty as they make good nibbles for the family to dunk in their coffee over the festive period.  Although the recipe says these will store for 2 weeks, being a 'twice-baked - therefore dry - 'biscuit', in an airtight container they will keep a week or so longer, but best made nearer the date as the fresher an edible gift, the longer it can be kept.

Christmas Biscotti: makes 30
6 oz (175g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
grated zest of 1 orange
2 oz (50g) plain chocolate, finely chopped
1 oz (25g) whole blanched almonds
2 oz (50g) dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, dates..)
1 large egg plus 1 egg white
Sift the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon together into a large bowl and stir in the sugar, orange zest, chocolate, almonds, and dried fruit.  Beat the whole egg with the white, then add this to the dry mix in the bowl.   Mix together with a wooden spoon, then work it into a stiff but pliable dough using your hands.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and shape it into a thick sausage about10" (25cm) long. Lift it onto a parchment-lined baking tray and flatten the top slightly so it ends up about 1" (2.5cm) high.
Bake at 180C, gas 4 for 25 - 30 minutes or until the dough has risen, is firm but still pale in colour.  Remove from oven but leave on the baking tin to cool for about 15 minutes.   Reduce oven down to 140C, gas 1.
Remove the cooked dough to a pastry board, then - using a bread knife - carefully cut into thin slices (about 1 cm - whatever that is in inches). Place the slices back onto the baking tray and return to the (now cooler) oven and bake for a further 25 or so minutes until very lightly browned.  Remove from oven and leave on the tray to cool, as they do so they will crisp up.
When cold, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

When it comes to vegetables, carrots are probably one of the cheapest on sale.  At least I find them so as a 1.5kg bag of 'value' carrots costs (at the time of writing) just 89p.  Yesterday counted how many carrots in the bag I bought recently and as they came in different sizes (small, medium and a few very large) working by weight, there would be at least 42 portions in the bag - possibly more if some were to be served grated and raw.  That's slightly less than 2p per serving.

Because carrots (also parsnips) are quite sweet, during the last war this vegetable was using to make cakes and puddings (even jam), and these were so good that we still use them them this way.  Carrots and oranges are a marriage made in heaven, so if you want to give your Christmas carrots a bit of a lift, cook them in a little orange juice, or add the zest to the cooking water.

Here is another recipe from The Goode Kitchen, that I've adapted slightly, changing the original grated lemon zest to orange, but you can use lemon if you prefer.  It's a good way to get children to eat this vegetable (most like carrots but some don't).  When cooking carrots for yourself or family, cook extra to make this flan on the following day.
A quick read-down of the ingredient list including a bit of mental arithmetic and I've worked out that this dessert could be made for less than 60p (less if using 'was going to throw them away' slices of stale bread). So if stretching the flan to serve the larger number, that's 10 a portion.  Even if we buy the more expensive carrots, butter, eggs.. (I buy the cheapest for baking),  even doubling the price keeps the cost down to around 20p a slice.  What's not to like about that?

Carrot and Sultana Flan: serves 4 - 6
4 oz (100g) carrots, cooked until very tender
1 oz (25g) butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 tblsp sultanas
2 tblsp breadcrumbs, pref wholewheat
2 tblsp caster sugar
grated zest of 1 orange (see above)
pinch of grated nutmeg
an 8" (20cm) pastry (flan) case, baked blind
flaked almonds (opt)
Sieve the carrots, and mix with the butter and egg (or put these 3 ingredients into a food processor or blender and whizz to a smooth puree.   Add the rest of the ingredients (except the pastry case and almonds). Spread this mixture into the flan case, scattering a few flaked almonds on the top, and bake at 180C, gas 4 for half an hour.

According to research, apparently egg-laying 'battery' birds suffer less stress than those that are free-range, especially now that more is being done to improve the life-style for those birds that never get a chance to move outdoors.  Perhaps it could be true.  After all we humans can be confined to a life indoors, seen by others to be 'deprived', whereas we (the ones stuck inside) see those who have more freedom are the ones that are more stressed. The grass is not always greener the other side of the fence.  Unless it is proved that the research was wrong, for the time being I'm feeling less guilty about buying the cheapest eggs - for cooking purposes.

For my personal 'research' I normally buy the better quality free-range eggs for B and myself to eat poached, in omelettes, fried, hard-boiled, scrambled.  I've tried eggs from many different producers, and recently tried the Aurancuna eggs - these having very pale blue shells (the inside of the shell being slightly darker blue than the outside), costing 38p each. 
For comparison, I would eat two eggs, one a free-range (approx. 33p each) and one of the cheapest  (these were recently 9p each, now 12p) could find no difference in flavour, and hoping that the more I paid the darker the yolk turned out to be another waste of money as some of the cheapest eggs had the deepest coloured yolks.
Another thing - most of the eggs in a tray of 15 (cheapest way to buy) were all good sized and matched (by weight) the 'large' free-range eggs I'd bought.  I'm so interested in getting value for money that I weigh each egg and sometimes even write the weight on the shell.
But whatever - when it comes to food value, weights being equal, nutritionally an egg can be any egg.  Why pay more for something that provides no more?
So, when it comes to buying both eggs and poultry, it is a personal (and moral) choice as to how much we choose to spend. I'm just giving facts for those who may need to feed the family as economically as possible without losing any food value.

A busy day for me today, so now have to love you and leave you.  Hope to return tomorrow, although I sometimes take the whole weekend off blogging.  Depends how I feel come Saturday.  We may meet up then, or it may be Monday before we have our chat.  Do hope the delay won't drive you away to pastures new. 

The weather has turned colder, and next week the forecast is for really chilly weather, snow on high ground in the north (this may mean Scotland), but we've been lucky as we've had a pretty good year compared to several previously, and the warmer weather has lasted longer than usual.  Only a few weeks and it will be our shortest day and then we swing back to shorter nights and longer days, and spring will not seem that far away.  But let's get Christmas over first.  Then celebrate Hogmanay (New Year), followed by Twelfth Night.  Several weeks of fun and games to look forward to before we huddle ourselves down to cope with the rest of the winter.  TTFN.