Wednesday, 25 July 2012

In an English Country Garden

Summer has finally arrived in the UK!
Perfect timing too- start of the holidays and the Olympics.

Nobody wants to be indoors- every outside table at cafes and pubs is taken, barbecues are lit and garden furniture sheds its plastic shrouds ready for garden parties and lunches al fresco. Everybody smiles at their neighbours- and invitations to meet for a drink or come for lunch begin to flow thick and fast.

We went to lunch yesterday with some friends who have a beautiful old  cottage in deepest Sussex. The house and gardens are well worth some pictures :

 This admirable couple not only have a prize winning flower garden - but they grow all their own vegetables, raise chickens for eggs and make all their own jams and chutneys. Everything at the lunch was homegrown and made too: the mackerel for the pate starter had been home smoked in their smokery and the lavender and eggs for the dessert were all from the garden:

When I make a smoked mackerel pate, I blitz 2 smoked mackerel fillets with 1\2 tub cream cheese, 2 finely chopped spring onions and the juice of half a lemon together. Season well with ground pepper ( you can add soft green peppercorns to the blender if you like a peppery taste) and serve with melba toast and (as here) with a horseradish creme fraiche sauce (3 tsp horseradish sauce -or a scant tsp grated fresh horseradish mixed into 1/2 pot creme fraiche).

For dessert we had lavender ice cream with shortbread:

To make this- add dried edible lavender flowers (or edible lavender essential oil) to your custard mix
 ( freshly made with eggs or cheated, as mine usually is, with a bought custard or creme anglaise), chill really well and then churn in your ice cream maker. My hostess recommended putting the custard mixture in the freezer until almost frozen before churning to get a really smooth ice cream with no ice crystals.

To make the shortbread - use the 3-2-1 ratio of flour (or flour/cornflour mix), butter and caster sugar.You can do this simply in the food processor - or rub in by hand as in the recipe I show below from my school cookery notebook from 1969! Glad to see I got a tick for it!

Enjoy the sun wherever you are!

Friday, 20 July 2012

The other half of the egg

Just a quick post to share some baking ideas- as I was making cakes and puddings for a family get-together at the weekend.
One of my recipes called for an egg yolk (to make a sweet shortcrust pastry)- the other called for 2 egg whites. A near perfect symbiosis you might think- not much waste there.

Sometimes though you make a dish which requires more egg yolks than whites- for example, fresh egg pasta.

The recipe I use requires 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks (blitzed in the food processor with 250g plain flour, some salt and 2tsp of olive oil.) This pasta recipe is foolproof- and makes wonderful ravioli- but that's a blog post for another time.

What about those egg whites?

If you're not in the mood to make a pavlova there and then, I'm sure the temptation is just to let those egg whites slide away down the sink. Stop right there!

Egg whites freeze perfectly- put them in small containers in the freezer (I use pate containers, as they are nice and small with good lids). You can defrost them in an hour or so, whenever you need to do some baking.

I used the egg white leftover from the pastry (which made this lovely lemon tart incidentally) along with one other from the freezer to make a Moelleux au Chocolat- a dense French chocolate cake not unlike a chocolate brownie- but so delicious and simple:
You need
 200g of dark chocolate
150 g soft butter
100g sugar
50 g self raising flour
2 whole eggs and 2 egg whites

Beat the egg whites until just forming soft peaks, beat the butter with the sugar and then add the whole eggs one by one. Melt the chocolate in the microwave with a splash of water for 1 minute. Mix it into the eggs and butter, then add the flour. Carefully slide in the egg whites, folding them into the mixture rather than stirring them in. Pour into a greased cake tin and bake at 150 degrees for 25-30 minutes- crucially, until the top is firm but a cocktail stick inserted into the very centre still comes out with some gooey mixture on it. That way you have a chocolate cake with a squidgy centre which is the key to it success.

Unbelievably nice- and keeps well in the fridge for a few days too.

If you build up a stash of egg whites in the freezer however then it might be a good idea (joking apart) to use them up on a pavlova every once in a while.

This recipe has always worked for me:

And as for leftover egg yolks? You can freeze these too- but they do not freeze well whole. You need to beat them with a 1/8 tsp salt or 1 tsp sugar and then freeze the mixture in a small container. Be sure to label the container 'Sweet Egg' or 'Savoury Egg' so you know which is best for your recipe.

Usually though, I just whip them with a bit of milk and have them scrambled on toast for a snack.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Nibbles from nothing

It's nearly the end of term and school holidays here in England- hurrah!

(If you have the misfortune to work in education, as I do, then you never quite lose that childish end-of-term euphoria .)
 I suppose every cloud has a silver lining. Even teaching.

End-of-term also brings a host of buffets, nibbles and sherry parties, retirement do's and shared lunches. So, a good opportunity for me to think about frugal finger food, canny canapes and nibbles from nothing.

Before I start, taking a quick look at my notes I see that a lot of my canape ideas are bread related: using up leftover tortilla wraps, naan or pitta bread, baguette or sandwich loaf.
 I'm reminded of a radio interview I heard recently with the food writer Marguerite Patten who was an advisor to the Ministry of Food in the Second World War. She recounted how a woman had been fined and ostracised by her community for throwing away slices of stale bread. This was considered both wasteful and shameful.

Those were the days!

There are so many ways to make use of leftover bread- breadcrumbs, croutons etc- which can all go in the freezer for another day.

Tortilla wraps can be snipped into triangles, tossed in oil, salt and seasoning (chilli flakes or black pepper are good) and baked for 15 minutes until crispy and golden. Much nicer than the ones which come in bags.

The same can be done with leftover naan or pitta bread- whatever type. Here I baked plain naan with some oil, curry powder and salt. Yummy!

What's needed of course are some dips to go with these chips: no need to buy expensive ones in jars. Make your own from ketchup and chilli sauce and finely chopped peppers, soy sauce and finely chopped spring onion, mustard and mayonnaise, plain yogurt and mint or spring onion, hoisin sauce or whatever is leftover in the fridge. Try making your own tartare sauce from mayonnaise, capers and finely chopped gherkins- or try tartare tapenade: olives and capers (and some anchovy paste if you like it) pulsed in the food processor and added to mayonnaise. Sounds weird but is a revelation!

Bruschetta are another great canape- made from thinly sliced leftover baguette or ciabatta, toasted in the oven as above. Top them with anything you might want as a pizza topping: mozzarella, pesto and tomato, ham and pineapple and cheese, peperoni and olives, roasted vegetables, onions and anchovy (like a pissaladiere)- the choice is endless and depends on what you have to hand. Have a look at these for some ideas

When I looked t these little toasts, I suddenly thought- why not make mini toasted sandwiches- like tiny croques monsieur ? So I buttered some slices of sandwich bread cut into tiny sandwich shapes, filled them with cheese and put them in the sandwich toaster for a couple of minutes- wonderful! You could fill them with anything you normally like in a toasted sandwich: beans, cheese, tomato, tuna, whatever.. but they look so cute (and you could cut them into cuter shapes using pastry cutters if you wanted- how about gingerbread men shaped toasties? Not sophisticated- but fun!.)
Mini croques messieurs
Finally, whilst we are on the mini theme: mini chip cornets are a simple  (but very much appreciated) canape.

Make cornets from circles of card - or consider them part of your gym membership perks and see what there is at the water cooler- and fill with chips. Serve with salt and vinegar (as here) or ketchup or mayo- whatever you like with chips.

You could go a step further and pop half a fishfinger, scampi or chicken nugget in there too!

Happy holidays!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Pub Classics

Are you reading this blog from another part of the world? France, Australia, Canada, the US or from Eastern Europe?

Amazingly, it would seem that you are-according to my 'stats' on Blogspot. Who would have thought it?

 Certainly not me. 

Well, obviously the Britishness of the content isn't putting people off and just as well because - today we are heading for the pub!

We are lucky to have so many lovely pubs in Sussex- and some great breweries. The men (and some of the women ) in my family do love their pint of Harveys or Long Man.

I, as you know, rarely tipple anything other than my trusted French Sauvignon- but I still love going to the pub for a good hearty meal.
 I don't want anything gastronomic or too fancy- as pubs rarely do that well- but pub classics are hard to beat when you're in the mood for something simple and tasty.

So, what's on the Specials Board today?

Well, for those who don't know- a 'Ploughmans' is a simple lunch dish of bread, cheese and pickle. There are all sorts of variations- with Brie instead of Cheddar, pickled onions as well as chutney and different cold meats. I like to use leftover cold sausages to go with the Cheddar:

Fish and chips is next on the menu:

 I have to say I don't often cook this at home from scratch- it's one of those things that's worth going out for, as pubs and chip shops have so much better deep fat fryers and can cook the fish at a much higher temperature than I can. If you have a successful fish and chip recipe though, I'd love to hear it. Here's one I ate earlier:

Mushy peas though are a great vegetable to go with fried fish: just cook your peas the way you would normally but blitz them with a stick blender after cooking. It releases so much sweet flavour.

There are two other dishes that I often order in the pub- but they are both very simple to make at home too.

Firstly, liver and bacon with mash and gravy. Now, don't run away...liver is delicious, inexpensive and really good for you so don't be too scared to try it.
To make this dish a success, you need crispy bacon, really well seasoned and creamy mash and a good gravy. I'm assuming you've got the mash, and if you have leftover sauce from a boeuf bourgignon , a lamb casserole or a duck dish (and I hope by now you are keeping even a small jugful of leftover sauce in the fridge or freezer to re-use) then this will fit the bill. If you need to make a good gravy from the start- don't be ashamed to cheat and use onion gravy granules or mix, or a gravy thickener.

For crispy bacon, place your rashers on a baking tray and squash them down with another tray - so they cook through without curling up. Cook in a hot oven for 15 minutes and then remove the top tray and turn off the oven, so they keep warm and continue to crisp.

To prepare the liver- buy fresh lambs liver, thinly sliced by your butcher if you can. Dust with well seasoned flour. Heat a pan with some flavourless oil and fry the liver quickly in the hot pan. It will be cooked on one side when spots appear on the upper side. Turn it over and cook for another few minutes until caramelized.

Place in the warm oven with the bacon and make your gravy- deglaze the frying pan with a splash of red wine and boil rapidly to reduce and boil off the alcohol, add the leftover sauce or some meat stock and the chosen gravy thickener.

Serve immediately - mash, then the liver, topped with bacon and the gravy poured around. Fantastic!

Go on! Give it a go!

Anyway, the second dish I order (if there's no liver and bacon on the menu) is a bowl of chips with topping. 

Pubs offer this usually as Cheesy Chips, Chilli Chips, Chilli Cheesy Chips, Cheese and Onion get the picture- but you can top your chips with whatever you feel like or have leftover in the fridge.

The crucial bit- and excuse me for stating the obvious- is the chips.

You can fry your own chips, use oven chips, use Fries-to-go- whatever you fancy. I like a healthier version, made with jacket wedges.

I cook jacket potatoes in the microwave (5 minutes at 650w per potato), then slice them into wedges, toss them in olive oil, salt and seasoning (chilli flakes are good) and bake them again in a hot oven for 10 mins or until they are crispy and golden.

Add your topping- I like to use leftover chile con carne- but you can use anything at all- cheese, ham, eggs,  stew, salsa, anything.

So, what's left on the pub menu?

Cheeseburger perhaps?

I just have to show you this picture - an All Day Breakfast Burger from a pub menu (consumed alarmingly quickly by a  family member!)

I prefer my healthier version of home made burger in  a mushroom cup with salads. (For the recipe, you can click back to February blog 'So here goes..').

And as for the other Specials: lasagne and Fisherman's Pie, you can find the recipes for these two in February's blog 'We'll meat again...' and March 'Fishing for Compliments' respectively.

There are lots more Pub Classics which I could include here- and maybe will do at a later stage. Sausage and mash with onion gravy perhaps, or Steak and Ale Pie.

Do you have a particular favourite that you'd like me to cook for you? (In a virtual way).

In the meantime, it's Cheers! from me, Sante!, Prost!, Noroc! and Slainte Mhor!

Friday, 6 July 2012

All Day Breakfast

There are few things better than the Great British Breakfast (and I include the Great Ulster Fry in this).

All the ingredients are wonderful- bacon, eggs, sausage, mushrooms, black pudding, fried bread.... some like  tomatoes, others baked beans, some prefer toast, others potato cakes (mmm- must come up with a recipe for these. Love them!)

And whilst the GBB/GUF is a work of art in itself- the ingredients can go into all sorts of other recipes too - so breakfast can be reinvented as lunch, dinner or supper.

Here's a few ideas- for supper, an All Day Breakfast Salad (sort of healthy but retaining the quintessential indulgence of the principle ingredients.) I know, I know....the Vogons would have me thrown into the airlock for that! (see Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy).

I used black pudding, bacon, a poached egg and fried bread croutons added to salad leaves.

Reader, I waddled to bed contentedly after that.

Breakfast ingredients go marvellously as pizza topping too- here I've topped my pizza with sliced leftover sausage, peperoni and cheese. Bacon goes well, as do mushrooms and tomatoes of course!

A classic spaghetti carbonara uses breakfast ingredients in a different way. I like mine with mushrooms added- just bacon, mushrooms (and garlic if you like it) fried together, an egg beaten with some cream and all added to piping hot cooked spaghetti.

Jamie Oliver does a great sausage and tomato pasta too-put Pregnant Jools Pasta into Google and you'll find the recipe.

Bacon, eggs and mushrooms go wonderfully in a galette or savoury pancake: make a batter from 50g of buckwheat flour, 25g of plain flour , 2 eggs, a pinch of salt and 300ml of milk. Fry in a really hot frying pan - wiped round with a knob of butter. Make a stack of pancakes, and fill the centres with bacon, cheese, mushrooms, creme fraiche or tomato puree or any filling of your choice. Fold the edges in like an envelope and break an egg into the centre. Flash under a hot grill to set the egg.

And talking of eggs- what about Scotch eggs?

In their simplest form, boiled eggs are wrapped in seasoned sausagemeat, coated first in flour, then beaten egg, then fine toasted breadcrumbs. (By the way, I hope by now you wouldn't dream of buying these. Any leftover bread is made into breadcrumbs in my kitchen- and stored in the freezer. It's worth having two containers of these: one fresh, the other toasted for 15 mins in a hot oven before cooling and freezing.)
The eggs are deep fried in hot oil, drained on kitchen paper and served hot with vegetables or cold as a picnic.

Once you've got the principle of a Scotch egg- the variations are endless. This is a black pudding egg  -well worth trying. Just add some chopped black pudding to the sausagemeat.

You could make a haggis egg in the same way- or a Vegetarian Scotch egg- wrap the egg in mashed potato (not a wet puree but a dry mash) mixed with some grated cheese and a teaspoon of mustard, before the flour, egg, breadcrumb business.

I'd love more breakfast ingredient ideas- especially with potato cakes- which I love (did I mention that?)

Any suggestions?