29 May 2011

I feel like chicken tonight....

OK – that’s a bit of a play on a commercial but I must admit probably my favourite for meat – the first being lamb – something I never tried until I moved to England – how sad is that?! I found out at the store that whole free-range chicken was on offer. It is far cheaper per pound to buy a whole chicken and cut it up or roast it whole (and get a second/third) dinner from it than just buying already cut pieces. Don’t believe me? Compare the price per kilo. It does work out to be far cheaper and more economical. What is really the hard part is insisting that you use everything you have to make it go further.

So this posting will be about my initial dinner – roast chicken. I’ll chronicle only roasting the chicken and then I’ll chronicle the second and if I’m lucky third meal about it. With a whole chicken it depends on the time and my mood as to what I’ll do with it. I make this spicy blend (I had bought something similar to it originally but it was too salty so I looked at what was in it and then made my own – of course!) that I often just rub on the whole chicken and roast it just like that. Or I’ll soften some butter and add a bunch of herbs and spices and place that under the skin and let it roast. Sometimes I will put lemons in the cavity or there is always the plain but simply delicious option of salt, pepper and that’s it! If I’m feeling really decadent I’ll brine the chicken but because I stick to free-range or organic chicken that’s really not necessary (turkey is another matter!).

Today’s chicken I’ve decided to roast with my special spice rub. I like how it crisps the skin and also adds flavour to the stock that I make afterwards. I did this previously and it came out so good. I always wash it inside and out before I prep it. I pat it dry so that the spice rub adheres to the skin. I will even rub a bit on the inside of the bird as well – it seasons the underside of the meat. This is what the chicken looked like before I roasted it. I put a bit of oil on the bottom of the pan to keep the chicken from sticking while cooking.

The recipe I use for the rub is as follows;

Spice Rub (can be used on chicken, turkey or pork)

Equal quantities of each;

Paprika (sweet –not the hot kind), coriander, chilli pepper (I usually cut this to half as I’m not too keen on it being HOT), onion, garlic, nutmeg (again about the same as chilli pepper), salt and finally black pepper.

All spices are ground to begin with but lately I've been roasting them whole and then I put in a mortar and pestle to give them a extra grind but then add the other ingredients to combine and thoroughly mix. I then add some parsley flakes to the mixture and a bit of mixed Italian herbs once I’ve decanted it to a jar. I then have it ready for whatever meal I wish to use it for.

I roast the chicken at a higher temperature – about 220 degrees Celsius for about an hour or so until I know it’s done (and depending on the weight of the chicken). This is the chicken after I roasted it. Yummy!

I once saw a program about cheap chicken and how Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was trying to get everyone to switch from the cheap chickens to at least free-range or organic ones. To me he was preaching to the converted – I already do that. What I found shocking was those people who simply bought a cheap chicken – ate what they wanted and tossed the rest. This is why people and this planet are in trouble! We have to use everything that we have. Some of those old war mottos are right!
So come back next week to see what my meal number two is out of this fantastic roast chicken feast. I hope you’ll find something that appeals to you and that you try – that’s what this is all about – trying. Enjoy!

23 May 2011

Toaster Delight!

Well I’ve finally gone and done it. I have gotten the toaster of my dreams. Long before I moved to England I knew of Dualit toasters – they are famous! I have wanted one for absolutely ages and have fondled them more than I care to mention in the stores. I just could never justify the outlay. Recently though our toaster has been making protests and doing very odd things so again we’ve been eyeing the Dualit’s.

I have been seriously thinking we just need to ‘Nike’ it (means – just do it!). But then while at work I was posting some items to our notice board (electronic version) of events at the library and saw a notice about a Dualit toaster. Not one to let this slide I had to investigate.

Peeking inside the advert was a For Sale advert of now one disused Dualit toaster that was a three-slot toaster. What luck! All for the incredible price of under £50! I couldn’t believe it. But alas the advert was now about 3-4 days old and I was sure it was gone. I mean they are expensive and any other time I’ve replied to one of these adverts the item is gone. So I e-mailed the person and got a reply back that it was still available!

I swear I didn’t even think of J and what he would say but just said ‘I’ll take it!’ I know brave or what? Usually we always talk about our purchases to death to make sure it’s what we want; will we be happy, etc. But I knew I wanted it – just like a purse and I was going to have it regardless!

I looked at it and was happy it was an original and everything I wanted. It came home last week and it really is lovely. It took some figuring out with all the buttons and dials but really it keeps the toast warm and allows you to go at your pace rather than having to do things double-quick!

So now another want has been fulfilled and I’ve kept to a few principles;

  • I helped recycled an older appliance that still has loads of life left in it
  • I got an impressive bargain yet again!
  • It does double duty as a toaster but also the third slot does toasted sandwiches

So go out and find your bargain – you never know it could be something you’ve always dreamed of owning but never thought you’d get the chance to! Enjoy!

21 May 2011

Plate O’Salad....

When the weather gets warmer I always dream of salads. I love to have them at least twice a week if possible. They allow you to have more than your five a day that you are supposed to have and they really are so cooling, especially on those really hot, summer days. Not that we have them often mind you here in England but one can remember! Last week it was one of those days where I had croutons to use up, sour cream that also needed to be used. So those ingredients immediately made me think of salad and blue cheese dressing.

I never was much of a dressing person. I used to only have the basic Italian at home in the US and even then I used it sparingly. But a friend of mine sent me this small cookbook which had a number of salad dressings in there. They didn’t contain any dreaded mustard (cannot stand that!) so this peaked my curiosity. J loves just about any dressing but English dressings are really strange. Very mayonnaise like and most we tried were bland or frighteningly too much vinegar. I think for the first few years here I ate my salad plain without dressing. I know what sadness!

So we tried a few of the recipes and as you could guess they have now become part of my staple of dressings that I keep handy for these quick warm days that we get. They are really so easy to make and they do keep. I think all but the blue cheese one will keep for at least 3-4 weeks in the fridge. I especially have kept the Soy Maple dressing for longer without any noticeable difference in taste from freshly made.

For me salad isn’t limited to the usual ingredients – I use whatever I have in the fridge. It all goes in and the more varied the better. I’ve grilled all manner of vegetables, steamed or stir-fried if that was what I felt like. I put in the usual items lettuce, tomato, cucumber, olives, small pasta, egg, apple, pear, grapes, etc. It’s anything you want and nothing you don’t want.

So go on – try making a dressing for yourself or your family – you might find something that really appeals to you and once you start.... Enjoy!

14 May 2011

It’s all in the mix...

It’s no secret that I like to make just about all that I possibly can and while I am lucky that I can make most things I do have my ‘cheat’ meals for when I’ve worked a long day and the last thing I want to do is come home and make a meal from scratch.

This is where leftovers come in for me. At the weekend I try to make meals that will leave me leftovers for another meal during the week. Today I made fajitas which is really a good meal for during the week as the most complicated thing is making your own flour tortillas. I’ve posted about them before – but honestly do you think they take that much time? If you have a food processor – it takes a few minutes. If you have to cut the vegetable fat into the flour – it might take you about 4-5 minutes but mixing the water in is just a minute – by hand or processor.

But the actual filling takes you just a few minutes. I keep sliced peppers in the freeze for just this meal (or pizza!) which I toss into the pan frozen – they thaw/cook with the onions and I leave that for a bit. I often add other veggies that I find interesting. Sometimes it’s a tomato or a courgette (as I don’t like peppers that much). Once that is cooked and I don’t mean over done but slightly under I remove to a bowl. I then toss in some chicken or turkey that I’ve put my own fajita mix on. Yes, you don’t have to resort to a packet for this meal. And the mix does double duty as a taco/nacho season mix. How can you get better than that?

So what is in this mix you ask? My own sort of concoction from various recipes that I saw on-line, feel free to omit or change it as you like.

Fajita recipe

Mix equal quantities of the following:

Chilli powder, oregano, paprika, ground cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, optional corn flour or corn starch.

I usually do about 2 tablespoons of each which gives me enough to make about 5-6 meals. I usually use about 1-2 teaspoons per meal. I read some recipes that used corn flour (corn starch on the other side of the pond) to the mixture to keep it from clumping together. I never had this problem and I think the only purpose it serves is to thicken the sauce for when making tacos or nachos. I just add that to my taco mixture when I make them. I did make this one with the corn flour as we are coming up to summer and I make this dish a lot as it's quick and easy. Also because the courgette adds a bit of water which with the corn flour makes a sauce of sorts.

At the end of the day I see a recipe as a possibility of what it can be – it is up to me to make it something that I like. I use them as a template and improve as I go along. Find your template and improve it until you have exactly what you want. Enjoy!

8 May 2011

More dinners on a budget....

OK – bargain should probably be my middle name and at times I really just live right. I’m at the right place at the right time. I’ve gotten fresh organic buffalo mozzarella for £0.10p, tons of blueberries for the same price, and the list could go on. This isn’t to say I lead a charmed life. I get my fair share of bad luck as well but that’s part of life – take the good with the bad – just make the bad something better!

So the other day we were out getting some flour as it was on offer at one of the stores. We also as usual looked for any reduced that we might want. We got some lovely Sockeye Salmon which was expensive by my usual standards but not something I come across every day so it was our treat at £3.99 for two fillets. So that was our dinner that night.

We also came across some ricotta reduced. One was normal ricotta (organic) at £1.75 and the other was buffalo ricotta at £1.19. It’s a shame I didn’t get two of the buffalo because I could tell from the carton it was going to be good. It was not a ‘wet’ as the normal kind you find here in England. So figured I had a bunch of eggs at home along with some pasta flour that needed using. Instant dinner of cannelloni was on the menu for the next night. I also found some organic mushrooms for £1.39 so decided it would be a twist in the mix with the mushrooms being in the sauce. I normally don’t make sauce from scratch when doing say cannelloni or lasagne as that’s just too much fuss for me.But I will make the pasta now – I never used the dried kind that’s reconstituted but in days of old I did use the dried/cooked variety. It really just is so much better and so worth the effort.
Now to making the pasta, I have found that Jamie Oliver’s recipe of 100 grams of pasta flour to 1 large egg is perfect. I used to make my own pasta before but from a recipe my aunt gave me which is perfectly good but was variable in its water as often flour takes different amounts due to humidity, etc. This recipe works for me and always has done. If all I have is say medium eggs I will weigh the eggs so that I get the same weight as a large one. This often means having to make more pasta than I want for the dish but I can save it and use another day. I’m sure there is some technical reason why it discolours (it turns a weird grey/brown colour) but underneath it’s the normal yellow colour and cooks up just fine. I’ve left it up to a week in the fridge without a problem. This time however, I added a few cloves of garlic to the pasta – which I love. It isn’t over powering and gives the pasta just a hint of the taste. I've added all manner of herbs to the pasta as well which come out so pretty when flattened by the pasta press - it's not an everyday thing with me but when you want something different throw something new in there for variety.
I also use the food processor and not by hand – it just goes faster and isn’t that what this is all about? Dinner in a hurry and fast!
I pulse it until it comes somewhat together like this. If it begins to gather into a ball you have too much liquid and it will be sticky. I then wrap it in cling film and let sit out for at least 30-45 minutes before I roll it out on the pasta machine.
I then prepare my sauce which this time was dry frying the mushrooms until each side has some colour and I threw in a chopped onion. I sauted for about another minute or two and then added a tin of chopped tomatoes and the jar of pasta sauce.
I then mix up the filling which is the ricotta, some chopped spinach (I used some frozen kind I had in the freeze), and shredded mozzarella, salt, pepper, dried oregano, coriander, cumin and an egg to bind it all.
I then move on to rolling out the pasta into sheets and then cooking them for 1 minute in boiling water and then rolling them up with the filling and into a pan. Often I have some extra sheets so I layer some on the bottom and top of the dish. I then top it with the sauce and some more mozzarella.
Into the oven which is about 180-190 degrees Celsius and it cooks for about 45 minutes.
I also made a salad to go with the dinner which included the home-made croutons (recipe below).
All in all this meal cost me about £10.00 or so for the ingredients (that’s everything – including the salad fixings). I’ll get three meals out of the main dish which makes that about £3.33 per meal for two (or £1.67 each). I don’t know what ready-made meals cost these days but I am sure that this is much cheaper for two people than any ready-made meals would cost – and taste would certainly surpass that by a mile. Enjoy!

1 May 2011

Wonderful after thoughts....

I was going to have a piece of toast with my breakfast but alas the bread by now has gone a bit *hard*. So I decided I had enough bread crumbs and would make instead some croutons for the coming summer salads.

There is no hard and fast rule for me with croutons other than they need to be crunchy. I am all into the crunchy! Anyway, I usually just stick to the basics which might look a bit weird but trust me – you’ll never, EVER, buy anything in the store again once you have had these! And have you checked out how much they cost in the store? There is some serious mark-up on these (think about it - they cost more than a whole loaf of bread!) when really everyone can make them in less than 5 minutes prep time and about 10 minutes cooking. It really is so simple and delicious!

So I cube the bread and put onto a baking tray (cookie sheet for those on the other side of the pond). I have a really sort of basic pan here that I use for anything oily/messy. I find it keeps my good pans in great shape and this one well I don’t care about it so it can get as messy as I like.

I then assemble my flavour enhancers as I call them, things like salt, pepper (always a must!) and a few other spices – namely oregano, ground coriander (I did this myself with my mortar and pestle – I just kept it in the same jar with a card that tells me what it is – I usually use the carton), ground cumin, garlic/onion granules and a good amount of olive oil. If you want them spicy - use some cayenne pepper or how about some sweet paprika? Anything goes in this - just don't use too much and keep it to about 3-4 herbs/spices. Each time I make them I try something different but the basic salt/pepper/garlic is always a pleaser if you just want to keep them plain for your use.

I put on as much pepper as I like, and about a ½ teaspoon of the other spices. I used only a pinch or two of cumin but more coriander as I like this spice. I then added about two to three good pinches of salt. I then add about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and stir this all up on the sheet. You could do this in a bowl but I like less clean-up. I add more oil if needed – sometimes the bread dictates how much is used but never more than another tablespoon or so. As I said – hard to say exactly how much as I just sprinkle or do it till I think – yeah that’s enough.I then put into a pre-heated oven at about 190 degrees Celsius or about 375 degrees Fahrenheit depending on which side you live. I leave this until I begin to smell it – about 10-15 minutes and they come out all toasty and crunchy. I leave to cool and put them into a zip lock baggie for storage until they are needed. The bottom picture is me trying to use the macro setting on the new camera - not bad for a first attempt... =)They keep for about a week at room temperature. They are great for salads and I love how the bread crumbs from the cutting board soak up the spices – I used it all. They are especially great with my blue cheese dressing (recipe given previously). I have done this with store bought bread but usually with my own. It ensures that everything is used and nothing goes to waste. As it ought to be! Enjoy...

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