Just a Few Days More...
Recently I've been reading (again) some of my favourite books written by cooks, maids, servants - all about life below stairs. How different things were then for both upper and lower classes, but what did come across was how the lower classes managed to enjoy the little they had (say) at Christmas. It didn't seem to matter how poor they were, Christmas was more about being with the family and having fun. Gifts were generally home-made (as were decorations - and this also gave a lot of pleasure in the making), and food always home-cooked. Goose (as traditionally served then) was beyond the means of the working classes, as was turkey when it eventually became popular, but a chicken was highly prized (even in my youth a chicken was so 'special' that it was only eaten occasionally, to celebrate something, chickens being kept for eggs, not for eating. The older chickens that had stopped laying were then killed and eaten, but usually by then called 'old boilers', very tough and had to be boiled (hence the name) to make stock and then use the meat in a casserole or something.
Anyone who is able to watch a lot of TV, and lives alone, will probably not even need to bother about buying anything extra for a Christmas dinner, we keep seeing so much festive food in the ads and with the cookery progs, that it's almost as though we eaten it already and had enough. Even I can't face having a plateful (but as we're having our Christmas lunch out on Monday I don't have to eat the traditional meal, and only as much as I wish). Do other readers find all these ads offputting? They certainly don't encourage me to purchase much.
If I was throwing a large party I would be very tempted to wander around Iceland, but - being me - would then return and attempt to make what I've seen. I'd need to be fairly wealthy to begin buying the ready-prepared. Having said that, I recently bought a packet of mini mince pies to offer to visitors (because I never found time to make my own - yet!). They were supposed to be top quality, but having sampled one (actually three), found the pastry very dry and not a lot of mincemeat in them. Not at all worth the money. That'll teach me.
Read somewhere that it is expected while the price of almost all food keeps rising, chickens are supposed to become lower in price. With that in mind today am giving some recipes using this bird, but of course we could substitute cooked turkey (or even raw turkey). A turkey can often be too large to be eaten up in one sitting, so we tend then to eat the rest of the meat cold. No reason why we can't cut a (fresh) bird in half down the spine, cook one half and freeze the other. Or take off the raw meat from one half and freeze that separately, using the carcase bones to make stock/gravy when roasting the other.
Do remember one Christmas when I bought a reduced price frozen turkey, quite a reasonable size to feed six (as at that time). It was put into our cold porch for a couple or so days to thaw out completely, and when I went to fetch it in it had shrunk so much that there seemed barely enough meat on it to feed two. The amount of added water that had leached out when thawed out was at least a pint, probably more (I didn't measure it exactly. When the bird was cooked it was also very dry. So beware of any birds sold 'on offer'. Make sure the label doesn't say 'added water'.
Why are chickens and turkeys now sold without giblets. In the old days they always came complete, usually with the giblets in a little bag stuffed inside the carcase. Even now I always check to see if I've been lucky and they are there again. What happens to the giblets? Do they get sold to be made into pet food?
This first recipe has a bit of history attached to it, and this could make this dish even more interesting when served with this true story:
"After the Battle of Marengo, which was a victory for the French army, Napoleon asked his chef, Dumand, to prepare a special dinner. Food was in short supply but, with a great chef's ingenuity, Dumand prepared a dish with all the ingredients he had to hand. Tradition has it that the dish was garnished with crayfish, but mushrooms are used in this recipe, closely associated with the original.
This dish was such a success that Napoleon named it after the battle, and it is now part of classic French cuisine."
As with any recipe, we can cut this according to our cloth, so if we are missing an ingredient (but of course not chicken, and at a pinch we don't really NEED the eggs, or for that matter the croutons, both are a 'garnish', but if you wish the dish to be as authentic as possible...) it should still end up a very tasty dish.
Chicken Marengo: serves 6
1 large chicken, cut into six serving pieces
1 teaspoon salt
half teaspoon black pepper
3 tblsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 tsp tomato puree
4 fl oz brandy
2 tblsp butter
20 button mushrooms, stems removed
fried croutons (for garnish),
6 fried eggs (also for garnish)
Season the chicken with the salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over moderate heat then fry the chicken pieces for 5 - 7 minutes on each side. When deep golden in colour, reduce the heat to low and stir in the garlic. Cover the pan and continue to cook for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is tender, turning the chicken at least once during the cooking time. Transfer the chicken to a warmed serving dish, cover with foil and keep warm.
Pour off as much oil as possible from the pan, leaving about 3 tblsp of the sediment (pan juices). Add the tomatoes and tomato puree to the pan, giving it a good stir, then add the brandy. Cook over very low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring until blended and the mixture has reduced to a thickened sauce. Pour this over the chicken.
Meanwhile, in a small pan set over moderate heat, melt the butter and add the mushrooms. Saute them for 4 - 5 minutes, shaking the pan from time to time. Spoon these over the chicken/sauce as a garnish, and serve surrounded by croutons and fried eggs.
Here is a chicken dish that is more 'farmhouse' style, and a lot more than just a 'soup'. More like a stew. The recipe is very similar to that used to make chicken stock. So to keep costs down we could rewrite the recipe and first make the stock by using just the chicken carcase (as we do), and add the chicken scraps that are still attached to the bones (that I laboriously always pick off - and usually there will be at least 8 oz cooked meat). We can then cook more veggies in the stock and add the dumplings. Granny G. recently asked about using celery leaves - well they are used in this dish.
Here is the original recipe, then you can choose the way that suits you best. Myself would add 2 oz suet and a good pinch of dried mixed herbs to the dumpling ingredients, and make up with water, not egg and milk.
Chicken Soup with Dumplings: serves 4
3.5 pints (2 ltrs) water
2 onion, quartered
2 large carrots, chopped
4 celery ribs, with leaves, cut in halves
salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
1 small chicken (or four joints)
(2 extra carrots, cut into matchsticks)
4 oz (100g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
half tsp salt
half egg, lightly beaten (see above)
2 fl oz milk (see above)
To make the soup, put all the ingredients except the extra carrots into a large pan. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 2 hours (if using a whole chicken) or about an hour if using chicken joints
When ready, removed pan from the heat and strain the soup into another large pan (discarding the vegetables and bay leaves - although I usually would use them in the soup). Strip the chicken meat from the bones and chop the flesh into bite sized pieces.
Put the pan of stock over a high heat and bring to the boil, add the matchstick carrots and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the carrots are tender.
Meanwhile, make the dumplings. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Mix together the egg and milk and stir this into the flour. Add only enough liquid to make a soft but not sticky dough, it should not be too wet. Dust hands well with flour and form the dough into small balls about the size of walnuts.
When the carrots are cooked, increase the heat under the pan to high, and drop in the dough-balls. cook for 4 - 5 minutes or until the dumplings are fluffy and have risen to the top of the soup. Don't overcook or they will end up heavy.
Stir in the reserved chicken pieces and simmer for 1 minute before serving in individual bowls.
Final recipe today is for a Chicken Mousse (but can also be made with turkey). Considering it makes enough for 8 - 12 servings using 1lb cooked chicken, well worth considering as a buffet dish for any parties held over the festive season. Now, this recipe uses aspic (not one of my favourite additions), and although I give the original recipe, I'd be more inclined to line a loaf tin with cling film (to make it easy to turn out the mousse), and omit the aspic glaze. We can still garnish the mousse in the way suggested (or any other way we like). We could also make individual mousses using cling-film lined muffin tins or any little moulds we have, then turn them out onto sauces, adding garnish.
Chicken Mousse: serves 8 - 12
1 lb (450g) cooked chicken meat, cold
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
1 lb (450g) béchamel sauce, cold
half ounce (12g) gelatine
2 tblsp warm water
salt and pepper to taste
quarter tsp cayenne pepper
4 tblsp double cream, lightly whipped
4 fl oz (100g) aspic jelly, cooled but not set
quarter of a cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
Mince the chicken twice and place in a medium sized bowl. Using a wooden spoon, beat the butter into the chicken, then gradually beat in the béchamel sauce until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Sprinkle the gelatine over the warm water and leave to stand for a couple of minutes, then stir until dissolved. Fold this into the chicken mixture with the salt and pepper, and cayenne, then gently fold in the cream. Using cold water, rinse out a 2 pint soufflé dish and spoon in the chicken mixture, smoothing the top with a knife, and cover with half the aspic jelly (if using). Leave until set, then arrange the sliced cucumber on top of the mousse and cover with remaining aspic. Place in the fridge to chill. Serve when the aspic is completely set.
Pleased to hear that this year you will be putting your feet up and letting someone else cook your Christmas Dinner Granny G. Know what you mean about husbands. All to do with the generation gap. Older folk are used to wives doing all the housework, the men being the breadwinners. This worked well until women than went out to work and still had to do it all. Only recently have young men taken their full share of domestic duties (and probably some still not doing as much as they should).
Have things to do, but hope to be back blogging tomorrow (although not sure what time). Don't expect anyone will find time to 'have a read' over the next few days, but hope you will find time to catch up before blogger delete the earlier blogs. TTFN.