28 December 2010

Flour Tortillas and quick meals...

I had these pictures from a while ago that I did and as you can see I'm only now getting around to blogging about it. I try to make most things that we eat - yes, sometimes I go overboard but that is what makes life interesting. There are also times when life is short and you don't want to spend all day in the kitchen. I have my cheat meals as I call them who doesn't? But on the weekends I try to prepare everything I can to control what goes into our food.

This night I made my own flour tortillas. Yes, they come all prepared for you but have you had a look at the ingredients list? They are full of things I cannot pronounce - much less spell! This simple recipe is what I'm sure they should be like. I've come a long way in making these - in that I've at least gotten better at rolling them out and not inventing new swear words when they won't come off the counter! I then had what I call a brain fart - yes, funny. Brain fart = practical idea that should have occurred to me but hadn't because I was so intent on getting done what I was doing in the first place.

I cannot remember where I found this recipe but for me it seems to work and trust me once you have them you'll know why you make them and don't buy them! I admit I still buy the prepared kind but I usually only have one pack handy for week day cooking emergencies. J far prefers the home made kind and once you get over the idea of what the other prepared variety tastes like (rather the same as adjusting to your own home made bread) you'll dream of these!

Flour Tortillas
3 cups of flour (all-purpose)
2 teaspoons baking powder (US kind)
1 teaspoon salt (I cut this to 1/2 as I use sea salt)
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons vegetable lard

In a food processor or bowl add the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut or process the vegetable lard into the flour. Once incorporated (you shouldn't see the lard like you do when make pie dough) you can add the warm water to the mixture and mix until it all comes together. It should be a smooth ball of dough - similar to the smoothness that you get when kneading bread. Divide into 8 even portions of dough and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes covered.
I roll them into balls and I use two flexible cutting mats and begin to roll it out with a rolling pin. I usually begin with the dough on one side of the mat - making it as flat as I can with my fingers and the top the other mat. I then use the rolling pin to flatten it out more and turn the mat around to keep it as round as I can. Don't worry if it's all out of whack - no one is going to be marking your dinner!
I then have a cast iron pan that I found at a boot sale that while not something I can cook on or in (as there's no lip to the pan) I remove the top flexible mat from the tortilla and then slowly peel the tortilla away from the other mat. Granted this takes some work and trust me you get used to it but if you rip it you can always begin again and if it goes all misshaped well that's just how it goes! Remember no grading!Put on the pan that's been heated thoroughly - you don't want to begin this on a cold pan! Using a spatula (I use one that used to decorate cakes but now does duty as tortilla/crepe turner) and flip it over after about 1-2 minutes - the hotter the pan the shorter time it will be on there.
As you can see the tortilla gets small brown spots - this is how it should be. It will also be much more dense than the kinds that are pre-packaged. For two of us we each have two tortillas and I cook the others up and use parchment paper to keep them free of each other (those parchment circles work great!) and wrap in foil. They keep for about 3-4 days in the fridge and I then just microwave them for 30-45 seconds on high and fill them with whatever I have left over. Usually I make enough fajitas filling for two meals so that I have a quick dinner on a working night.

Do give them a try - they really are great and so easy to make. Enjoy!

27 December 2010

Christmas on a budget...

Well again more delays in not posting but honestly life is to be lived and time for posting is all but gone when I am working. I have a number of projects which are taking up my time and that leaves me with little time to go on the computer much less document it with pictures. I see so many great blogs that I figure one more won't make or break life one tiny bit.

First, I'll include a picture or two of our snowy day about one week ago - naturally all BEFORE Christmas! The first picture is from our living room that over looks the main drag here in Southend - the dreaded A13! This photo was snapped after about 1/2 an hour of the white stuff beginning - you can see it just came down!

This next photo is from the kitchen over looking the roundabout. Normally you can see to the pier and beyond (which is Kent) but not this day! The drops on the window I hadn't noticed until I looked at the photos but it's a good contrast considering this is my mobile phone doing the pictures! I am working on getting a better camera to have better pictures...so as they say watch this space!

Sadly we are now without the snow - it melted within about a week. We've had a few days of flurries but nothing that stuck. The temperatures however, have been quite low and I'm sure the rest of England is still digging out. News reports now show the Eastern Seaboard of the US is getting hammered. No rest for the wicked!

Now, onto some cooking. Every year for Christmas we have our annual 'hunt' for dinner. I say hunt but do not mean literally I go out hunting with a gun but rather my credit card! Each year since I have moved here I go out to the stores on Christmas Eve to find something for Christmas Day dinner.

In years past we have had just about everything you can imagine from ham to duck. One year I got an organic/free-range goose and when preparing it found all this fat in the cavity. I didn't know what to do with it - well thankfully Julia Child had covered this in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking - which I did have. I rendered all the fat down (and trust me there was plenty!) that I had enough fat for the whole year for my roasties!

So anyway, back to my Christmas hunt. We went out on the 23rd and bought our 'just in case' dinner (meaning if we found nothing this would be our main course). In addition to that we found our Christmas Eve dinner which really wasn't cooked by my standards but ended up being quick and as always thrifty!
So the store Gods left me some salmon fish cakes, some courgettes, which I just plainly grilled in the grill pan and I made my sour cream and lemon pasta (basically pasta with sour cream added and some lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper to make a cream sauce for the pasta).
As you can see - the fish cakes cost me £0.69p and the courgettes cost me £1.09 but they were organic and I had already used one of them for a previous meal (coincidently on that day they had normal courgettes reduced too - same price so I opted for the organic kind as always) . The pasta I already had but it's just the quill kind so was about £0.25p for the 500 gram bag of which I only cooked 125 grams for our dinner. The sour cream/fresh lemon I already had and always have this stuff on hand so minimal amount of money. If you want to even count in the cost of fuel to cook the dinner, etc. we could go as high as £4.00 for the whole meal for us two. I dare say that for us is about our usual in cost as I'm very fond of going to the store two to three times a week just to get my veg and find the reduced bargains.

I also found some organic chicken livers reduced from £2.99 to £0.99p. Now I'm not a pate kind of gal but J loves the stuff so I got the livers for him and put aside some to put in my roast chickens but the rest I decided to make him some pate. I've never made it and didn't have any recipe to hand but just made something up which I thought sounded good.

I took an onion and which I fried in a pan with some olive oil. They got a bit of colour on them (not much) and I then added the chicken livers and seasoned with some salt and pepper. I cooked them until just pinky inside and added a clove of garlic (minced) and cooked for about another minute. I then added some brandy which made a nice sauce and continued for about another minute. I then put it all in the food processor and whizzed up until it looked like pate. Decanted into a jar I had saved and topped it off with some ghee that I melted. This picture I took when I had put it into the fridge and the ghee stuck to the top of the lid so I did a repair job on it but it was probably just too full to begin with. Anyway, verdict is that it's pretty good for a first time at pate!
OK - so now for the final Christmas dinner - what did we have? Well normally we go to two or even three different stores it really just depends on my mood and if we find anything. This year we went to the Co-op which is literally just around the corner from the flat. We went just shortly after 4pm as we've learned from past experience - don't leave it too late or you'll end up with nothing.

So we arrived there and began to scope it out. We found our favourite custard there reduced which I had nothing made to go with it but got because it's the only one I'll eat and just couldn't resist it. Continuing down we found some yoghurt reduced - nothing to rock your world but for us yoghurt is a dessert in this house.

Then we rounded the next aisle where the meat was and as luck would have it - it was full of those lovely orange reduced stickers. It is amazing how you can train your eye for these stickers. Each store has their own colour so in the Co-op it's orange, Sainsbury's and Tesco it is yellow/white, Morrison's it is yellow, and Waitrose it is red. I'm like a tuning fork - I hum these frequencies!

I know if we hadn't gotten anything the previous day for our dinner we would have been hard pressed to find anything so of course now that we were prepared it was a feast before us! All manner of roasts were reduced, pork roasts from £1.50, turkey crowns from £3.00 and lamb from £7.50. After evaluating what we already had at home and what was on offer that we would like to eat we decided to get the leg of lamb. Mainly because we already had some ham at home for our 'planned' dinner and we love our lamb! I also got some wild Alaskan salmon fillets for £1.50 for another meal - those went into the freeze.

So lamb it was - normally it was £15.00 but we got it for just slightly over £7.00 for 1.5 kgs! I already had potatoes at home so that would work, and we had peas in the freeze so that was our veg done. So there was my dinner and then some because it was big enough for left-overs for at least one other meal if not two.

So how did I prepare this lamb? Well I kept it in the container it was sold in and added some freshly squeezed lemon juice (about two lemons) with some olive oil and loads of minced garlic. I let it set out for about 2-3 hours marinating in this concoction and every time I was in the kitchen I just turned the leg over to get all the juices into the meat.

I then pan roasted some herbs de Provence, coriander seeds. When fragrant I put them into my mortar and pestle and added pepper and salt and ground them up with a few kaffir lime leaves. I then plastered this all over the leg of lamb and added some more garlic to give it a nice coating.
Into the oven for an hour to roast at which point I took it out and added some cut up potatoes which I then doused in olive oil, some more lemon juice and salt and pepper. Back into the oven for another hour or so until done.
No, those potatoes are not rotten - they are some of the leftovers from yet another reduced purchase earlier in the month that I got - purple potatoes. They were just lovely and the colour - well I don't know how to say this but the colour was all the way through and it really did make you do a double-take on what you were eating. Here is the final picture of the roast as it came out of the oven.
And then here is the plate of it along with my annual egg nog that I make each year but I do vary the recipe in as much as I don't use the alcohol called for but use dark rum instead. I'm not sure why I prefer it to the others which I have tried - it's just how I like it.
So there you have it - dinner on a budget but really it wasn't difficult nor did it break the bank. I used the left overs on Boxing day. All I did was cut up an onion and add some olive oil. I sautéed that for about a minute then added the potatoes chopped up into cubes. I left that to cook for a few minutes while I chopped up the meat and again added that. Cooked it until warmed through and that with some glazed carrots was another meal. I still had enough to make a lunch meal and saved the bone to throw into a thing I call garbage soup...yet another posting as this one is so long! So do stop by for another adventure in culinary dining on a budget!

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