Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Variety is the Spice of Life...

A good comment from Sarina re buying the cheaper cuts of meat.  Haven't yet myself tried eating goat's meat, but am hoping our local butcher can get me some.  The perfect meat for curries and North African dishes.

'Variety meats' are what I believe our offal is called in the US (I could be wrong), and there is quite a variety.  Most of us eat liver and kidneys, some eat sweetbreads, and others - more adventurous than me - eat hearts and brains.  Those most often bought will be always the most expensive of these cheaper cuts (but still don't cost a lot).  Tripe is probably an acquired taste, and I know some people really love Tripe and Onions, but again - myself have never been inspired to cook tripe of any sort.  Perhaps time now to change my ways and begin cooking some of the above offal that has not yet crossed the threshold of my kitchen.

There was a programme on a few hours ago with Jimmy Doherty - something to do with the rising cost of food prices, and why.  It certainly is true that a lot of the foods we buy in packets, especially sweets, and crisps, now weigh a lot less, but without a reduction in price.  In the light of the nation's obesity, perhaps good that this perhaps helps to cut down our intake of sugar/fat, but it is getting to the point that with almost anything we now don't feel we are getting our money's worth.

Even with fruit/vegetables, have you noticed how many of these now come pre-packed at the set price of £1 (or 99p - almost the same thing)?  Do we ever check whether we would get more for our money if we bought them loose?  Or for that matter (carrots etc) whether we get a whole lot more if we bought them in 1.5kg bags? 

This week I asked B to bring in a couple of avocados (the last ones were lovely), and he brought back a pack of four because there were no loose ones then on sale.  Actually this turned out quite well as they were 99p for four, which is cheaper (per avocado) than if they had been bought loose.
The best way to store avocados is in the fridge - this slows down the ripening time, so two have been left at room temperature, the other two being chilled so they can be eaten several days later.

As this seems to be the week where I'm giving meat-less recipes, here are a few more.  The first is a simple salad with blue cheese and walnuts, but as this cheese and the walnuts also go well with pears, no reason why cooked/canned pears couldn't be included in the salad.
Crème fraiche is used in the recipe below, this being similar to a cream cheese that has been blended with a little Greek yogurt.  We can also make our own crème fraiche by mixing equal quantities of double cream with yogurt, then leaving it to stand overnight.
At a pinch I would stir a bit of lemon juice into some double cream and use that as a substitute for the above.

Although spinach is the chosen salad leaf in this dish, no reason why we can't use other salad leaves, my preference would be a mixture of baby spinach with rocket and watercress, or a good handful of home-grown mixed salad leaves.
As to blue cheese.  Myself feel Stilton is a bit too strong, and would probably use St. Agur, or Gorgonzola - but, as ever, use what we have (which is usually what we prefer).
The last time I bought walnuts, the walnut halves were cheaper (by weight) than the walnut pieces, to me that didn't make sense, but worth checking - we can always chop the halves down if that's what we need.

 Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad: serves 4
3 oz (75g) blue cheese (see above)
4 tlblsp crème fraiche
salt and pepper
approx. 2 fl oz (50ml) water
4 oz (100g) baby leaf spinach
2 oz (50g) walnut pieces, roughly chopped
Put the cheese and crème fraiche into a bowl and mash together, with enough water to turn it into a thick pouring consistency, adding seasoning to taste.  This will then be used as the salad dressing.
Put the spinach into a shallow bowl, scattering over the walnuts, then drizzle over the cream cheese dressing.  

Just to show there's more than one way to skin a cat, here is a recipe again using cheese, spinach (this time it can be adult, not baby) and walnuts, this time with a few more ingredients, turning it into a warming supper dish that has leanings towards Mac 'n Cheese, but more than...  As an added bonus, this one of those meals that can be frozen to eat later, hence the ingredients serving a larger number than normal.
As ever, all pasta shapes work, it doesn't have to be penne, and if you have odds and ends of several shapes, then a good way to use them up.  Instead of leeks, use onions, and any bread you wish to use up (not necessarily French!).  Also a good way to use up odds and ends of hard cheese, just grate them up together and use the lot (or freeze the surplus).

Cheese and Spinach Crumble: serves 8
l x 500g pack pasta penne (see above)
2 large leeks, sliced
3 oz (75g) butter
3 oz (75g) plain flour
2 tsp English mustard
freshly grated nutmeg
1.75 pts (1ltr) milk
salt and pepper
11 oz (300g) grated Cheddar cheese
4 slices French bread, diced
3 oz (75g) walnut pieces
1 x 400g bag spinach (see above)
Boil the pasta with the leeks for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, put the butter, flour, mustard, nutmeg and milk into a large pan with seasoning to taste.
Heat gently, whisking all the time, until it begins to thicken. Carry on stirring while it simmers for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in half the cheese.
Put the cubes of bread, the walnuts and the remaining cheese into a bowl and toss together.
Either cook the spinach in the microwave, or put into a bowl and pour boiling water over it so that it wilts, then drain and squeeze out the excess water.  Stir the spinach into the white sauce, adding the pasta and leeks, and more seasoning. 
Divide the mixture between two ovenproof dishes (or individual ones), scattering the bread mixture over the top.
If wishing to cook immediately, bake for 40 minutes at 180C, gas 4 or until golden and bubbling (individual dishes make take less time).
If wishing to freeze, cool once the meal has been assembled in the dishes, then cover with cling film, then foil, and freeze for up to 3 months.  Thaw in the fridge overnight, then bake as above.

Final recipe today is so very simple it almost cries out for something else to be added - this leaving plenty to our imagination (use what we need to use up comes immediately to mind).  Meat eaters could add crispy bacon,  vegetarians may prefer to add sun-dried tomatoes or roasted peppers.  We can use a different flavoured cheese, other varieties of beans, maybe even spice it up a bit.

When we have a spare slice of buttered bread, or even an uneaten cheese sarnie, then why not chop these up in a food processor until crumbed, then freeze to use as a topping for a dish such as the one below (you won't then need to drizzle any oil over as the bread has already been buttered).

Butter Bean with a Crispy Topping: serves 4
2 x 400g cans butter beans, drained and rinsed
4 oz (100g) soft cream cheese with garlic/herbs
2 tblsp chopped chives
4 tblsp breadcrumbs
1 tsp sunflower oil
Heat the butter beans for a few minutes in a small pan, then remove a third of them into a separate bowl and mash with a fork until smooth and creamy.  Tip this back into the pan, adding the cream cheese and chives.  Stir together over a low heat until warmed through, then spoon into a small baking dish and cover the surface with the breadcrumbs.  Drizzle over the oil then place under a pre-heated grill for a couple of minutes until golden and crispy.

A few comments today from either Anons or a new name, but as sent via the comment boxes in much earlier blogs, they won't be visible to those who read only the comments sent using the most recent blog.  Nothing that needed replying to anyway.  The one from Sarina (mentioned at the start of today's blog) and one from Les who has sent details of a TV prog when Jack Monroe will be appearing.  So thank you for those.

Again today (when I began this blog) has now moved into tomorrow, it feels so strange when this happens, as I've always wanted to live in 'a tomorrow' but of course tomorrow never comes, as it's always 'today'.  How annoying is that?  I'm sure I'll get used to it.  Must stop rambling, otherwise I'll end up going to bed when it is time to get up.  Hope to meet up with you again within a few hours. If so - see you then.