Retro wraps

Way back in those Babby Belling days (passim) someone hit on the idea of adding curry powder to baked beans: it gave a whole new life to end-of-the-month beans on toast. Then Heinz got clever and started doing them in the can, but they added raisins too, a truly terrible idea that I hope has died along with Vesta curries. Still, it gave me an idea for a quick – don’t mess up the kitchen ‘cos we are ‘open house’ – supper.
Take can of beans (yes, low sugar and salt is fine) add loads of hot stuff (Tabasco, chilli sauce etc and a fresh chilli or two), chop spring onions for crunch, and loads of small cubes of the home cooked ham.
Stuff four wraps and place in an oiled dish, cover with grated cheese, bake and eat.
Posh it ain’t, but retro wraps were not bad at all.


Stocking up makes sense

There’s been much about this week on how much food goes to waste, and our own experience is that far too much languishes at the back of the fridge when the weekly restock happens. Today it was clear that with what was leftovers, and not likely to be used, there was plenty to start a fine vegetable stock.
Leftovers yielded a third of a swede, some sad but fine once peeled carrots, half a lost onion and a chunk of courgette – where did the rest go? Into the stock pot.
Incoming from the shop went the leek tops – does anyone get dirty leeks these days? – the tops of the spring onions that were already a bit limp, quite a chunk of parsley stalks and some lemon thyme. Bay leaves and marjoram, home dried, and some juniper berries and pepper corns introduced some flavour. Oh, and a couple of garlics and a chunk of ginger. All ready to hubble and bubble and do magic for tomorrow’s soup.
Except, along comes himself wanting know what’s happening to the piece of ham that’s been waiting to be cooked for a week. So that goes in too.
Result after 90 minutes? One ham with much more flavour than it might have had otherwise and ready to be chilled down.
And the stock, strained it went back on the heat to reduce and when tested it had a fine flavour that would have made an excellent broth on its own: in the restaurant we used to take very, very hot soups bowls, put in a scant handful of julienned vegetables and pour on boiling stock like this. Just a tablespoon of dry sherry on top. Very grand, but it’s the stock what does it.
Or you could convert into Tom Yam: never be without a jar of this wonderful paste. If doing for one, similar process – in a hot bowl just slice some mushrooms, or chicken or a mix, add a teaspoon – to taste – of paste and boiling stock. Stir and eat.
In the end though the stock was used to help with the left-overs mountain: sweated leeks, carrots, garlic, ginger, a chilli and half a squash soon started to smell delicious. Half the stock went in together with a handful of chopped parsley. When cooked the rest of the stock was added for a quick cool down so the vegetables could be liquidised in the pan. Checked for seasoning, but it didn’t need ‘owt. A handful or more of red lentils to give a bit of substance and bite and there we have it, sense of stock and leftovers.

Comfort pie and no work

It’s been a theme of the week, raiding the freezer, but then that’s what advance cooking and planning is all about.
So after a truly hectic day – all morning fighting a licensing application as the standard bearer for hundreds of residents opposing a 120 hour a week ‘social club’ extension, followed by a long telephone conference, a recording for a 30 sound bite for tv news, and then live radio for the drive home … phew I needed easy.
And I didn’t have to do anything, for which I was really pleased. The fish pie (previous appearance here) had defrosted overnight and was accompanied with steamed carrots and beans. And brown sauce of course.
Even the fruit salad was there, ready to eat. Perfect Friday. Plenty of time to think about cooking again at the weekend.

Wrapping it easy

Turns out today was a double leftovers, so not much cooking involved, but non the less memorable for that.
We don’t normally do lunches together when I’m working – the office is just five minutes walk – as our body clocks don’t seem to say ‘food’ at the same times during the day. So my eye was caught by the two left over chapatis and the knowledge that there was leftover vegetable curry from last night. Wrap the two up and zap – scrummy indeed.
Supper, pasta and salad. Lazy is good.

The great Saturday clear out

The kitchen was a disaster zone, what with re-painting and stuff going on all around. Food planning as you have seen, had fallen off the radar, with meals out, and too often taken on the run. So a look in the ‘fridge revealed any amount of ‘left-overs’ that needed attention and a couple of hours of serious food bashing.
First the chicken left overs: very substantial and a valuable carcass. So, meat stripped and back in the ‘fridge the carcass goes in the stew pot with the ends of leeks, some garlic, a diced chunk of the lurking celeriac, carrots, a nub end of fennel that has been making chunky salads, and a handful of fresh and dried herbs. Now, I’m thinking, if I can just get enough stock for a big vegetable soup and a risotto … Oh, and the French beans, I stick half in a sieve to steam over the stock, ready for a salad: forward planning or what.
There are two approaches I think to veg soup – the refined ‘cream of’ variety, and I had plenty of carrots say to do carrot and coriander, or the chunky, stand up your spoon version, like a minestrone, with or without pasta. I had so many bits and bobs of veg that I decided on the latter.
So I started chopping for sweating leeks, carrots, onion, mushrooms, bits of sundry peppers; then dicing potato, celeriac; shredding some red baggage, and top/tailing the rest of the French beans. Everything in little boxes ready for the stock. Then veg to sweat, added stock and cook a bit more, then add the ‘boiling’ veg such as the potatoes which we don’t want to overcook, and finally the cabbage and beans. I beefed up the stock just a bit with a sprinkle of Marigold meaning I could leave out salt altogether, added lots of pepper and took off the heat the instant the vegetables were nearly cooked. Furthermore, I also plunged the pan into a sinkful of cold water, stirring every now and then to get the heat down as quickly as possible: this is soup for reheating, and we don’t want overcooked mush.
Now, whilst doing all that chopping I also prepped the risotto – the leeks, peppers and a bit of carrot just remained to be sweated off, some chorizo sliced and the rice added and the stirring commenced. I honestly believe that a good risotto simply means hard labour with almost constant stirring (though I use a wooden spatula to lift the rice from the pan, rather than a spoon which bashes it about too much). The home made hot stock works a treat and near the end I add the frozen peas, although baby frozen broad beans are great too, and a quite excessive amount of the left over chicken which has been diced into mouth bite bits. Finally butter, cheese and a five minute rest.
Of course I had sorted out all the other lurking things in the ‘fridge, so a chunky salad went on the table with the chicken dish, the forth in a row this week!

Lip smacking leftovers

We noted earlier that the organic chicken hadn’t lived up to its potential when roasted. It needed a second chance. So yesterday it was stripped from the carcass and every bit of bone and skin went into the stockpot with carrots and onions, bay leaves (home dried), peppercorns and water. Forgotten about on a bubbling boil for a couple of hours it yielded some excellent stock.
Happy Dryw (the dog) got a carrot or two.
In the weekly shop there were four fresh sweetcorns, most surprisingly au naturel and not vacuum packed to within an inch of their lives. The corns were stripped (just use a large, very sharp knife to cut the kernels off the corn) into the stock. I added a couple of teaspoons of Marigold organic vegetable stock for colour and taste. Ten minutes of boiling and I thickened a little with two teaspoons (heaped) of cornflour stirred into half a big tub of yoghourt until smooth. (You could use cream or fromage frais but that diet thing …)
Into the bubbling soup with the chopped chicken – there was quite a lot – and a quick cook through. It needed quite a bit more seasoning.
The result, significantly better than the same dish made with just any old chicken and frozen sweetcorn (something we have done regularly). Goes to show, again, what goes in the pot in terms of quality, comes out.
Big bowls were followed by a small slice of Mediterranean vegetable tart (shop), with plenty in the fridge for later lunches. So, in the end, chicken did good.

The Art of Festering – and nearly instant food

Mentioned this notion before: that some things are best left to their own devices to develop taste and unctuousness by natural processes. This is probably akin to the biological and physical actions called ‘rotting’ in other situations, but let’s not dwell on that.
Supper tonight was a perfect example of many things: the virtue of making a curry from the finest ingredients (in this instance the remains of a leg of lamb that had first been baked on a bed of vegetables to which a can of beer had been added; plenty of herbs and three hours on a very low oven – thank you for the inspiration Rick Stein), not eating it all at once (another virtue indeed), and the festering effect of freezing.
I hope no-one out there’s in the camp that decries microwaves and freezers as devices of the culinary devil. For us they are essential to eating well, cheaply and sometimes fast.
So take the curry: one click top box full of lamb with aubergine and defrost, along with a couple of portions of frozen mixed rice (wild, brown and organic white) cooked to store a week ago. Now, there were last night’s left over potatoes (red salad ones as it happens) and they got diced and thrown into the lamb to reheat.
Now this sort of meal can easily be lacking the fresh veg we need – so I made large bowl of raita: peel and chop half a cucumber; finely chop about a third of a red onion; sprinkle with salt; then fold into thick plain yoghourt. Now you don’t want anything too posh for the yoghourt: it mustn’t have any sense of sweetness for my taste, so the extraordinary River Cottage yoghourt that tastes as though it’s made from double cream is no good. Sprinkle on a quarter teaspoon of garam masala and a pile of chopped coriander and you’re done.
Make sure curry and rice are piping hot. Serve in deep bowls and feast. Chapatis, nan breads et al will bulk out the fibre if you need too …. but they really need to be home made so no time tonight ….