Easy recipes for the newbie cook, the beginner in the kitchen, the nervous novice: we all had to start somewhere, and you can start right here.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Easy White Sauce and Béchamel Sauce

As mentioned in my last blog, while I am not a fan of microwaves, there are a couple of good uses for the nasty beasts, and this is one of them: I will also give the conventional method for the stove top.  Many people consider that the terms “white sauce” and “béchamel” are interchangeable, but there is a difference, and I will show you how to do both.

Multiply the quantities as you need, and allow slightly longer cooking times if necessary.


One pint of whole milk.

For a pouring consistency:
Three quarters of an ounce/20 grams plain white flour
Three quarters of an ounce/20 grams butter

For a coating consistency:
One and a half ounces/40 grams plain white flour
One and a half ounces/40 grams butter

Microwave method: 

Put butter and flour in a bowl, and microwave on full power for approximately one minute, depending on the wattage of your machine.  Stir thoroughly, then microwave again for a further minute.  Stir again, then add approximately one third of the milk.
Microwave on full power for one to two minutes.  Whisk in the rest of the milk, and microwave on full power for ten minutes.  Whisk thoroughly again, microwave for another ten minutes on medium power.  Whisk again.

Stove top method:

Use a heavy bottomed non-stick pan, or a double boiler (where a smaller pan or bowl is suspended in another pan of simmering water).

Melt the butter and flour together on a very low heat, stirring all the while, and allow to cook out for a minute or two – the mixture will look quite dry and  “grainy”.  Add the milk, in five or six stages, whisking thoroughly each time, and continuing to whisk as the sauce cooks.  Once all the milk is in, bring to boil, then immediately turn down and simmer on the lowest possible heat (use a heat diffusing mat if you have one) for a further ten to twenty minutes, whisking occasionally, and taking care that the sauce does not “catch” or burn at the bottom – unlikely in a double boiler (or microwave) but quite likely in a single pan.  Slowly but surely, the mixture will thicken to the desired consistency.

Both methods: when you feel the sauce is ready, taste a little.  There should be no flavour of raw flour: if there is, cook for a few minutes more until it disappears.  It can take twenty minutes or longer for flour to be fully cooked out.  Yes, really.

Season with salt and ground white pepper, taste again, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

If your sauce is too thick, add a little milk and heat through for a few minutes.  If your sauce is too thin, let it simmer until it reduces to the desired consistency.  You could instead whisk in a bit of beurre manié (equal quantities of butter and flour mixed to a paste) to thicken it, but you will then need to cook out fully until the raw flour taste is gone.

The true béchamel is not much more complicated.  In addition to the above quantities of flour, butter and milk, for either pouring or coating consistency, you will also need the following aromatics and flavourings.

4-6 black peppercorns
1-2 bay leaves
A slice or two of onion
Blade of mace, or a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3-4 fresh parsley stalks

Add the aromatics to the milk: bring it to a simmer, and let the flavours infuse for around ten minutes on the lowest possible heat.  Strain the milk, then use as in the above recipes.  Adjust seasoning as necessary once the sauce is finished.

Uses: only limited by your imagination.  Try the plain pouring sauce or béchamel over chicken or vegetables, or add finely chopped herbs, such as parsley, to use with salmon, other fish, or gammon.   Or how about using it as the base for a simple chowder?  Add grated cheese to your coating sauce: use for lasagne, macaroni cheese, cauliflower cheese etc, or for any recipe that calls for Mornay sauce.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Microwave: Tool of the Devil?

A chef acquaintance once said to me “You don’t cook in a microwave, you heat things up,” summing up my feelings exactly in one pithy phrase.  I have never bought a microwave, although I’ve owned or had the use of several: one given to me, one left behind in a house by the previous tenant, one owned by a flatmate.

I have one now: it sits in its corner, glowering at me, and taking up far too much space on the worktop for the use it gets.  I would get rid of it, except for one thing: I use it to heat stuff up.

What things are they?  Well, foods that I have prepared myself in quantity, and frozen down; curries, casseroles, stocks and sauces, perhaps the odd portion of mashed potato.  Quick meals for when I’m busy, or home late, or haven’t been food shopping.  Never, ever, though, for bought-in pre-prepared meals.  And in this last lies my main objection.  It ain’t cooking.  For far too many people, cooking is something that goes “ping”.  Nope, that’s heating.

The vast majority of ready-meals are, frankly, nasty, made with cheap and low quality ingredients, and filled with additives, chemicals, and far too much salt and sugar just to make it taste of something.  Imagine lining up all those additives on a plate: would you eat them, would they seem appetising?  I doubt it.

The same is true, of course, for all kinds of processed foods, not just for ready-meals for the microwave: biscuits, cakes, jars of pasta sauces etc, etc.  But the microwave, to me, is an evil influence because it implies that there is no need to develop real cooking skills – you can feed yourself and your family in one quick step from the supermarket chill cabinet to the humming monster in the corner.

Much better, I believe, to cook in quantity (and quality) whenever you have the time and the inclination, and freeze down portions for later use, as I have suggested above: here, your food has been made with love and care, and you are being a frugal and canny cook.   In these cases, the microwave is useful, usually quicker than defrosting and re-heating in the oven or on the hob, but I could still do without one just for the few minutes it saves.

I have friends who swear that vegetables cooked in the microwave with a splash of water are perfect: crisp, tasty, and losing none of their goodness.  I remain to be convinced, as whenever I try it I find it difficult to get a consistent cooking; one end of a french bean will be overcooked and soggy, while the other remains raw.  Much better, and just as quick to steam or boil on the hob, and much more controllable.

However, to be fair, here’s a couple of jobs that I do use the microwave for.

If you’ve forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge, a few seconds’ blast makes it spreadable.  The microwave is a quick, easy and efficient way of sterilising bottles and jars for home preserves.  As well as reheating a frozen home-made meal, I do use the infernal machine to defrost things from frozen, usually meaty things such as a chop, a chicken breast or a couple of sausages, that I then go on to cook conventionally.

If I’ve got a busy bit of cooking for a meal where everything needs attention all at once at the end, I’ll cook off the vegetables to perfection earlier, “refresh” them by running under cold water to stop further cooking, then nuke ‘em at the last minute while I’m bringing everything else together.  This is how it’s done in many restaurants: the veggies cooked off earlier in quantity, refreshed, portioned, then zapped while the chef plates up your freshly cooked steak, fish or whatever.

And you can make a good white sauce in a microwave: traditionally, you’d do this on the hob, where there is always a risk of catching the bottom of the pan, however careful you are, or in a double-boiler, which takes forever.  The microwave method is easy, and works very well.  I’ll give the recipe in the next blog, along with the traditional version.

My original dislike of microwaves was on safety issues: there were dire warnings that foods continued to “cook” for some time after they were taken out of the machine.  I am yet to hear that anyone has managed to bake their stomach linings in such a fashion, and as long as we observe the minute or so “resting time”, we’re probably safe there.

I’m less sure about the leaking radiation: again, though,  I haven’t heard any real horror stories, which, after the decades that microwaves have been in use implies that there is no real problem, but I’m still uneasy.  However, I would probably be rather hypocritical to single out the microwave here, as I am a frequent and dedicated user of computer scenes (sitting much closer than I do to the “Thing that goes Ping”), mobile phones, televisions etc.

No, my true dislike of the microwave, and my question as to whether it is a tool of the Devil, is that it tricks us into not cooking.  But I wonder if we all know, perhaps subconsciously, that microwaving is not “proper” cooking and that we could do better: consider the rather contemptuous terminology we use, both at home and in professional kitchens – “Nuke it,” “Give it some Radar Love,” “Shove it in the Telly”…

Not, perhaps, an object of love to any of us.  Now, draw up a chair, and let’s all sit round the microwave while Grandpappy tells us a story…

Friday, 19 November 2010

The first Christmas Pudding

It’s getting towards that time of year, and it’s still not too late to make your very own Christmas Pudding.  Some people make them months, even a year, in advance, but don’t worry too much about the so-called “maturing time”: I have made this pud just a few days before Christmas and it has turned out fine.

When I first got this recipe, I was told that this was the first Christmas pudding, served to King George 1 in 1714, and that the recipe is supposed to be authentic.  Since then, I have found several recipes for the “original”, and they all differ!  This recipe will give you a great pudding: it omits the breadcrumbs found in many recipes, and the result is not as heavy as some.

The mixture is enough to fill two three-pint (1.5 litre) pudding basins – you could make one vast pudding, but only if you have an absolutely huge pan to steam it in.  If you don’t need two puds, you could, of course, halve the ingredients and just make one.  Or make the two, and keep one for next year: as long as you don’t break the seal, it will be fine in a cool cupboard, or you can freeze it, defrosting overnight before you give it the final steam.


8oz/225g cut mixed peel
8oz/225g stoned prunes, chopped
8oz/225g seedless raisins
8oz/225g sultanas
8oz/225g currants
8oz/225g glace cherries, whole, or cut into smaller pieces, as you prefer
8oz/225g plain flour
8oz/225g muscovado sugar
4oz/100g chopped dates
2 teaspoons mixed spice
Half a grated nutmeg
6 eggs, beaten
Quarter pint/150ml whole milk
Juice of a lemon
Glass of brandy (it doesn’t specify how big a glass, so I usually use about a tumbler full)
A little soft butter for greasing the basins

Method – (you will need a very large mixing bowl!)

Mix the dry ingredients together. Add beaten eggs and milk and stir well.  Whisk brandy and lemon juice together and add to the other ingredients, stirring all very thoroughly.

Grease your pudding basins and fill with the mixture: leave a little room at the top for expansion; half an inch will do it.  Cover the tops with a double layer of kitchen foil, pleated, again to allow for expansion, and tie firmly with kitchen string.  Tie a cloth round the bowl, to stop it knocking against the side of the boiling pan: you can also leave a “loop” of the cloth and/or string to make handling/lifting the hot pudding easier.

First Cooking:  on the day you make it.  Carefully lower the puddings into pans of boiling water, making sure the water doesn’t come more than halfway up the basins.  Put lids on the pans, and cook at the slowest possible simmer for five-six hours.  Check the water level from time to time to make sure it isn’t boiling dry, and top up if necessary.  Once cooked, allow to cool, then put them somewhere safe until needed.

Second Cooking: on Christmas Day, or whenever you are to serve it, repeat the simmering process as above, but you only need to cook this time for around three hours.  Space on the cooker is usually at a premium on Christmas Day, so you can time your cooking to end around an hour before your meal: the pudding will stay perfectly hot until you need it, especially if covered with a towel or thick cloth.

Traditionally, you “flame” the pudding at the table before serving.  The safest way to do this is to gently warm a small measure of brandy (or rum) in a pan – don’t get it too hot, or the flammable alcohol will boil off.  Take pud, tipped from the bowl onto a suitable dish, to the table, pour over the warmed spirit, and light immediately.  Wait for the “oohs and aahs” (and the flames) to subside, then serve with cream, custard or brandy butter.

Any leftovers keep well, and can be simply reheated in the oven, microwave, or, traditionally, gently fried in a little butter.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Cider: the Donkey-Dung Method

Having a pint or two in my local pub the other night, I got talking to a man who makes cider, on a small scale, in the traditional way.  I live in Devon,  part of the Southwestern counties of England long associated with apple growing and cider production, so perhaps this should not have been such an unusual meeting.  However, the cider market had been in a long decline until relatively recently, and the upsurge over the last few years has been mainly due to mass-marketed, factory made sweet and unchallenging ciders, ruthlessly targeted at a young demographic.

As someone with a love and passion for “real” food and drink, I do often wince to see a brand with a cod-Irish branding, doubtless invented in an advertising agency in central London, put together in a vast vat with apple juice and industrial alcohol (and served OVER ICE, for goodness sake) selling well in the heart of one of the areas where the traditional ciders originate, and are now little but a niche market.

My new chum, Mike, though, pointed out that the sales of all ciders, including the traditional ones, is on the up as a consequence of all that marketing, so I suppose it’s a good thing, ultimately, that the smaller guys can catch a ride on the coat tails of the giants.

Mike is not, by trade, a cider maker, but he had a little land, a disused stable, perhaps more importantly some apple trees, and he and his family like cider.  Somehow he acquired an elderly retired cider press, did a bit of inspired engineering with a couple of hydraulic jacks, and squeezed out fifty gallons of apple juice.  After asking around, and taking the advice of an equally elderly and retired cider maker from the vicinity, he added some yeast, stood back, and got himself fifty gallons of cider.  Very good cider too, it turns out, popular with family and friends, and strong.

This was around five years ago, and inspired by his initial success, his cider making has begun to steadily grow from a hobby into a small but expanding operation.  He has marketed his cider on a small scale so far; to a couple of local pubs, at food and farmers’ markets, and has recently organised bottling so that it can be sold retail directly to the consumer.

As do many enthusiasts, he has immersed himself in the lore, history and arcana of his subject; if you have found yourself in conversation with one such, you know that it can be excruciatingly boring, with your eyes beginning to glaze over in minutes, or it can be hugely interesting and entertaining.  This was the latter.

Within days of starting his brew, the exposed oak beams of his stable were coated with white yeast, spontaneously generating there.  In the real old days, cider makers would rely on these wild yeasts, as you do in the making of sourdough bread, but this can be a risky business – it’s all too easy to end up with a tub of rancid apple juice, or a very expensive barrel of vinegar.  So Mike, following more expert advice, uses Champagne yeast, a common ruse, thus getting a reliable fermentation, and seeing off the nastier of the wilder strains at the same time.

It takes a lot of pressure to squeeze the juice out of a vast quantity of apples, leaving just the dry cake.  Often, a donkey would be used, haltered to a windlass, going round and round in circles all day.  Donkeys make droppings frequently, and some of these droppings would end up in the juice (and I can easily see a bored and somewhat dizzy donkey deliberately kicking some into the vat).  This is a bad thing, one would think: not an addition most people would like in their tipple.  It turns out that the digestion system of a donkey, while it destroys most things, does not destroy the “good” wild cider yeasts, so a bit of donkey dung in the brew would ensure a good fermentation.

Happily, Mike, while a traditionalist at heart,  is sticking with the Champagne yeast, at least for now.

His cider uses a blend of forty apple varieties.  Due to the decline in local traditional cider making, he seems to have little trouble finding these, and has located many orchards where, if he did not collect them, the apples would just rot into the ground.  Whether he pays cash to the landowners for the apples, or does a deal with another liquid asset, I could not say.

He matures his cider in old whisky barrels; he would like to use rum or brandy barrels, but these are difficult to source.  The maturation is around seven months, a significant investment in time.  This autumns apples will be next year’s cider.

You may wonder why I’m not naming his brand: I do know the name (it is a pun on his surname), but my lips are sealed at the moment.  It is still a very small operation, with a few hundred gallons a year, and I doubt he is geared up for a flood of enquiries: he doesn’t yet even have a website.  But the main reason I am not naming it here is that I have not yet tasted it: it is unlikely to be available any time soon in my local due to the Byzantine rules of tied beer and cider sales in pubs (you just knew I was going to get The Cider House Rules in here somewhere, didn’t you?)  I will seek it out, though, at soonest opportunity, and give you a review.  Even so, I wish Mike all success in his enterprise, and to all the artisan food and drink producers everywhere.  Long may you all continue.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Full of Beans

Generations of kids in Britain have been brought up on beans on toast; the beans, in a sweet tomato sauce, coming from the famous blue tin and heated up in less time than it takes to make the toast.  Most cooks will, at one time or another, have used a tin of red kidney beans to tip into a chilli con carne, but for many, that is the beginning and end of their relationship with beans.

The same is not true of other cuisines around the world: Mexican cooks use beans in the aforementioned chilli con carne, refried beans and many other dishes.  Beans, along with pulses and other legumes are used prolifically in Indian cookery, and, in a completely different fashion, in the French kitchen.

I think it’s time the rest of us followed suit: beans are filling, nutritious, versatile, tasty and very good value for money.  They are cheap, in the “wow, that’s a bargain” sense of the word.

You can use tinned beans, of course. I usually have several tins in my cupboard: mixed beans, kidney beans, chick peas (not really beans) and, yes, the ubiquitous blue tins as mentioned in the first paragraph: childhood tastes often stay with us for life.

But, if you only use beans from tins, you are missing a trick.  Dried beans are much better value, and have a better taste and texture.  The preparation of them seems to be a bit of a fiddle, which puts many off, but it doesn’t have to be so.  The trick is to cook off lots at one go, freeze the ones you are not going to use right away, or freeze down the dishes you have made with them.

The most important thing to know about dried beans is that some (particularly kidney and soya) contain a toxin, which has to be removed by soaking and boiling.  You can get a bad tummy ache, or worse, if you neglect these steps.  But, hey, many foods can do you a mischief if they are not cooked properly, and you probably use these on a weekly basis; pork and chicken, for example.

So, go out and buy a pack of dried beans: a single variety, such as haricot,  cannellino, black-eye beans, for example, or dive right in and get mixed beans, which will be useful for the recipe given toward the end of this piece.

Step one: rinse the beans in cold water, put into a large bowl or pot, cover with at least twice their depth of cold water, and leave to soak overnight, or for at least 12 hours.   Leaving them longer won’t hurt them if it suits your schedule.

Step two: once they have had their soak, drain and rinse again, put into a large saucepan, cover with fresh water, again to at least twice their depth, and bring to the boil.  Add no salt at this stage: salt toughens the beans.  Boil hard for at least ten minutes, skim off any scum that has risen to the surface, then simmer on a low heat for at least an hour, until tender, but still slightly firm.  Older beans will take longer, so the timing may vary.  After an hour, fish out a bean or two and give it the bite test; they should be “al dente”, like properly cooked pasta.  You are looking for them to be tender, but still slightly firm and not cooked to a mush.

You can leave the beans to cool, or refresh them immediately under cold running water to stop them cooking any further.  Now, you can portion up your beans in convenient batches for your freezer, or use them right away in a dish.

There are many recipes for beans, from the French cassoulet to Boston baked beans, but once you have prepared them as above, try experimenting.  Toss a couple of handfuls into a stew or casserole, blitz some in a food processor with olive oil, herbs and lemon juice for a hummus-like dip, add cold to a salad, use plain as an accompaniment to an oily fish, such as tuna or mackerel.  You can add salt now; beans will take a lot of it, and whatever other seasonings and flavourings you like.

Or try this recipe; absolutely delicious with sausages or any pork.   Quantities are only a rough guide: after all, how big is a “large” onion, and what size are your wine glasses?  Play with it, and use your discretion.  Use small quantities of sugar, salt and pepper at first; you can always adjust the seasoning as you go along.

Mixed Bean Casserole

1 lb (425 grams) mixed beans, cooked as above.
One large onion, peeled and sliced finely
3-4 plump garlic cloves, crushed or minced finely
2 tablespoons tomato puree
A good pinch of sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste
2 bay leaves
A good sized sprig of thyme
2 large glasses of red wine, or around half a bottle
1 – 2 teaspoons of soft butter, mixed with an equal quantity of plain flour
A little olive oil for cooking

Gently cook (sweat) the onion and garlic for around ten minutes in the olive oil – you want them to soften and take on a little golden colouring, but not brown.

Add the wine and beans, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Add all the other ingredients except the butter/flour mixture, stir frequently, and cook until the beans are really tender – probably at least half an hour to forty minutes.  You are looking for a loose, moist result, not a sloppy soup.  If it begins to dry out too much during the cooking, add a little boiling water.

Now stir in the butter/flour.  After a further ten minutes or so, the sauce should be thick, glossy and shiny, but check there is no taste of raw flour.  If there is, give it a few more minutes.

This can be served right away, but you can let it go cold and reheat it when you need it.  It also freezes well.  If you like a bit of a mouth tingle, add a chopped chilli or two when you are sweating the onions and garlic – beans and chilli is a great combination.

The alcohol in the wine will cook out, leaving just a depth of flavour, but if you prefer not to use it, substitute stock, (maybe the chicken stock you made from the last recipe) or a good vegetable stock to keep the whole thing strictly vegetarian.

In fact, this recipe is very adaptable: add whatever flavourings and aromatics you like, and leave out what you don’t.  I suggested serving this with pork of some kind, but it is a perfectly good meal on its own, perhaps with some nice crusty bread to mop up the juices, and maybe a bit of salad on the side.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Mugged by chicken, and a good chicken stock

I was talking about cheap food in my last post, and how cheap isn’t necessarily a good deal.  There are two meanings of the word “cheap”, aren’t there?  One is “wow, that’s a bargain” and the other is “cheap and nasty.”  Pardon the pun, but nothing goes “cheap, cheap, cheap” like a low-price chicken, and, sadly, it is often cheap and very nasty.

Not that long ago, less than a generation, chicken was not a cheap meal; for many families, it was a luxury.  It was probably at least three times the price of today’s bargain basement birds in real terms, but, by goodness, it tasted great.  In the interim, food factories (I hesitate to call them farmers) learned to produce eggs by the battery cage system, and unsurprisingly realised that they could use similar methods to turn their poultry into meat producing, as well as egg producing, machines.  Enter the intensively-reared chicken.

Others have written voluminously, and argued persuasively, about the morals of this, and of the animal welfare implications, and I am one of many who are uncomfortable eating a creature that has been treated so badly during its short and unpleasant life.  But I want to look at it from a slightly different angle, which is that whenever you buy one of these beasts, you are being ripped off, not given a bargain.

Why?  Because it’s not chicken, that’s why.  You’re paying for chicken, but you’re not getting chicken, and that is fraud, in my book.  You’re being mugged by a chicken, or at least the chicken producer.

All classic cons work by the mark (that’s you) either thinking they’re getting something free, or at least getting a tremendous bargain.  Many work on greed, but in this case it’s often something simpler and sadder; someone on a limited budget trying to feed themselves and their families.  If you’re strapped for cash, or at least not rolling in the dough, the three dollar/pound/euro bird looks like the answer to a prayer.

But you ain’t getting a chicken.  Oh, ok, it’ll pass a DNA test; its protoplasm is chicken, for sure.  But a defiled, degraded, denatured, de-flavoured bird it is.  In the words of Neil Young, “You pay for this, but they give you that”.  You, with the lowest budget, have just been conned out of your three currency units, and that money could certainly have been better used elsewhere.

Yet you need to feed yourself, and your family: what do you do?  Well, I mentioned in the last blog that if you fancy steak, but don’t have steak money, then find an alternative that fits your budget.  When you want chicken for dinner, wait until you can afford real chicken, not the nasty, tasteless pap that passes for it.  Don’t fall into the trap of giving them your hard-earned and limited wages for something that just isn’t what it promises.  Get something that’s “wow, what a bargain” cheap, and not “cheap and nasty”.

I don’t know why we seem to want food that costs us virtually nothing, without wondering how it got to be that cheap.  We all understand that we may not be able to have that dream holiday, that designer dress, that sports car, or new computer this year, and either wait, save up, or get something within our budget – or we use our credit cards, and eventually find out just what that costs us in the long run.

Yet we don’t question that some foods shouldn’t be a cheap as they are: we are used to everything on demand, right here, right now, and at a price we can afford.  Yes, consumer power is important, and has driven manufacturers and retailers to bring prices down in many cases.  But some things just can’t be too cheap without a drastic reduction in quality.

If I have convinced you to buy only a quality, at least free-range chicken, then I’d better justify myself, and tell you how to get the best out of it.

You probably have your favourite chicken recipes: go ahead and use them and tell me you can’t taste the difference,  I’m going to tell you how to get at least one more meal, and an almost free high quality ingredient out of your chicken, and that is to make a good stock from the remains.

I’m always amazed when even good, experienced cooks think that there is a mystery to making stock, or that it’s too much of a fuss.  At its most simple, all you are doing is covering a chicken carcass with water, simmering it for a few hours, then straining off the liquid.  But here’s a more detailed, but still very simple way to do it.

I’m not going to be specific about quantities: I don’t know how big your pots are, or how big the chicken(s), or whether there are particular flavourings and aromatics you love or loathe – treat the following as a rough guide, and adapt it to your own requirements.


One or more chicken carcasses, broken up a little – grab all the bones off the plates too, they are going to be very well sterilised, so no problem.  Include the skin and any other bits.
One large carrot (or two small, or three tiny etc), peeled, topped, tailed, cut into large chunks.
One medium onion (or two small, etc) peeled, topped, tailed and halved
One or two sticks of celery, cleaned and roughly chopped or broken into bits
Three or four large cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
8-12 whole black peppercorns


Tip the whole lot into your biggest pot, and cover with cold water.  Bring to the boil, then simmer, the heat being correct when it is hardly bubbling.  Skim off any nasty looking scum that rises to the surface.  Keep simmering for at least three hours.

Strain through a fine sieve, preferably lined with muslin or similar.  Don’t worry if you haven’t got any muslin, the results will be fine, just maybe not as crystal clear.

Now, you have two choices.  Use the stock as it is, perhaps to turn into a soup (any left over chicken meat?), or to boil noodles, or to make a risotto or paella…  Or reduce the stock down until it is much stronger, and will set to a jelly when cold.  Reducing is simple, if you don’t know.  Return your stock to the (cleaned) pan, and boil rapidly until the stock is perhaps a quarter of its starting volume.

Either the basic or reduced stock can be used fresh, or can be frozen for later use.  I often freeze it down in pint quantities, but also in ice cube trays – just one or two of these home made, intensively flavoured stock ice-cubes added to a dish beats the shop bought dry “crumbly” ones hands down. 

Add the salt you avoided earlier when using the stock in your final recipe.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Cheese Sandwich Concept

Hi, I’m the Guerilla Griller, and welcome to the first of a series on food.  It’s for foodies, anti-foodies, the young, the old, the wealthy, the poor, the vegetarian, the dedicated carnivore – it’s for people who eat, and that’s everyone, right?

REM sang that Everybody Hurts, but I sing Everybody Eats, so let’s get real about what we stuff into our faces.  Let’s make the quickest, simplest meal a pleasure, and the most elaborate a work of love rather than a chore.  Let us zing our palates, satisfy our soul, comfort our tummies, indulge us, energise us, keep us healthy while not neglecting the treats.

Let me introduce you to the Cheese Sandwich Concept, which should pretty much tell you where I’m coming from.  It’s not really a recipe, but, hey, why not follow it if you like: you’ll get a great sandwich.

Scenario One: you go to the supermarket or convenience store.  You pick up a sliced loaf – you know the type, the one that has never been near a nugget of yeast, but has been fluffed up by having air blown through the dough (the Chorleywood Process, fact fans).  I’m talking about your typical, everyday, sliced loaf – millions sold every day.

Then you go to the chill cabinet, buy a pack of sliced cheese.  Make sure it’s cheap, mild and unthreatening.  You can probably find some hothouse tomatoes in the next chiller; grab a pack – they’ll all look exactly the same, and be equal size.

Go home and make your sandwich.

Scenario Two: (you can do this at the supermarket, but why not visit your local baker, greengrocer, deli etc if you have one).  Buy some great bread: it will almost certainly be one you have to cut yourself.  Your choice; white, wholegrain, rye, sourdough, ciabatta, a crusty baguette, whatever tickles your fancy, but above all, make it a loaf with flavour and texture.

Then choose a cheese you like – a really strong, crumbly cheddar, an oozing brie, perhaps something local and regional to you.  Not, though, something that has been made in a huge slab by some hideous industrial process.  Something made by people who actually like cheese.  Now for the tomatoes.  What?  There are only the hothouse ones; it’s out of season.  Then DON’T buy tomatoes; get some pickles instead.  This is an important part of the Cheese Sandwich Concept: it there’s nothing good available, do without.  But, hopefully, and for the purposes of this scenario, there are some lovely, ripe, flavoursome, deep red toms in store, and you get yourself a bunch.

Go home and make your sandwich.

Spot the difference?  One sandwich is made with generic, pretty tasteless ingredients, whose only virtue is that they are cheap, easily available, and always, always the same.  Your second sandwich tastes great, has real texture and deep flavour, will satisfy you, nourish you, and do you good on so many levels.

This is the Cheese Sandwich Concept.  It doesn’t have to be cheese; choose ham, fish, egg, hummus.  It doesn’t even have to be a sandwich: the concept is all.

All very well, I hear you say, but this sandwich costs more than my regular one; maybe twice, three times as much.  Hey, I’m on a low income and I’ve got more than one mouth to feed.  And I say to you, hey back.  If you’ve got a low income, then don’t waste your hard earned and precious money on garbage; low quality, low nutrition, low flavour, low enjoyment mouthfill.  Spend your money instead on something cheap but good.

You’d like a steak, but good steak costs a lot of money, and this week your wallet is hurting.  Ok, buy yourself some good quality chuck steak, skirt or shin beef, cut it into nice cubes if the butcher hasn’t already done it for you, slice up some tasty veggies, add stock, maybe some herbs, put it in a pot and cook it slowly for a couple of hours.  Delicious, simple and easy on the bank balance.

You see, cheap food that is cheap because its of low quality really isn’t cheap at all; they are stealing your money, and giving you something that really isn’t what it says it is.

The Cheese Sandwich Concept says, whatever your budget, buy something GOOD.  Some of the best food you can ever eat will cost you pennies, and in later articles I’ll show you how.  But I’m not anti-luxury; if you’ve saved up, had a windfall, or are just generally financially comfortable, or even downright wealthy, the same rules apply.  I’ll give you some ideas for the posh stuff too; it would be nice to know what to do with the fancy things when you can get them.

You know, I’m going to eat every day, and I expect you are too.  Whatever your budget, eat something good.  What kind of sandwich would you prefer – even if it’s not a sandwich?