Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Stock post

Oh, celery, how much do I love thee? Let me count the ways... chopped, shredded, boiled... well, three ways then.

Making stock is an excellent use for all leftover vegetables, whether they're whole and unused or trimmings from some other recipe. I've taken to an anachronism of late, freezing the results rather than keeping a stock pot going, despite nobody - almost literally - owning a deep freeze in the 1940s in the UK. But it is possible to keep a stock pot running without the freezer.

The essence of a stock is basically just raw stuff boiled. It's probably easier to use cubes, but they're usually more salt than anything else. Homemade stock doesn't need salt in advance, allowing you to regulate the amount in the cooking itself. CJBS, at 58, watches his salt intake like it may turn on him at any time, despite having normal levels of cholesterol in his system. At 35, I'm less good at this, despite having hypertension and swallowing bucketloads of statins every day (oh, the joy of having a thyroid gland that no longer works).

A "live" stock pot, with no freezing, needs managing. You start it off with the trimmings of any root vegetables you've got, including the skins. Onion skins are brilliant here, giving the stock a lovely golden colour. Put the trimmings in a big pot, pour on boiling water to cover and bring back to the boil with the lid on. If you bring this back to the boil - vigorously - every day, you can keep adding vegetable matter to it and topping it up with more water each time you use it. The Ministry of Food encourage everybody to do this during the war. In theory, you can get a month out of this before it starts to go bad despite the boiling (it starts to smell sweet, and as soon as this happens, throw the entire lot away and throughly wash the stock pot). I've found that actually three weeks is more likely than a month.

If you add green vegetables, reduce the amount it will last by more than a half. It'll taste even better with green or leafy vegetables, but it simply won't survive as well.

Adding the bones of any meat you've had also reduces the amount it lasts, and adds the issue of the unattractive globs of fat on the surface. There are three ways to deal with this: don't get them in the ladle when you decant the stock; warm the stock and attempt to dab the top with strong kitchen paper (this never works very well), or decant the stock into a bowl through a muslin towel (this is more trouble than it's worth).

A stronger stock is got by the repeat-boiling method, and if you're using the deep freeze, it's still worth keeping the pot going for a couple of days at least before decanting it. I label up the stock with the dominant ingredient (judged by smell) and freeze it in useful-sized amounts. The results go into soups, stews, curries, gravy - anything that I'd put a stock cube into if they were freely available to me (they're a points item, so I need to be careful with them).

If you're waste-neutral, the multi-boiled trimmings at the end compost very very well. Any red meat bones you may have will also go very well with your own or a local dog, judging by our two. Poultry bones can't go to dogs, but a cat will secretly plan to murder you in the night to get hold of them, if our late, but uniquely wonderful, cat Freddie was anything to go by.

Having got hold of some (not very fresh) celery at my not-very-local Co-op branch (I had £12 in dividend to spend, making it worth the train trip) I used plenty in recipes and chucked the rest into my latest stock pot. It's just had its second of three boils, then I'll freeze it against the day when the local supermarket goes back to selling higher-margin celery flown in from Spain, Morocco and Egypt.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Buttering up

Morrison's do a range of "fresh" pies that I never buy. On a stand by the deli, they sit in rustic-style paper bags. It's the general stodge - meat and potato, chicken and mushroom, cheese and onion. For all of the mentions of "fresh", they're mass produced slop that is delivered every other day and cooked on site in industrial ovens. As I say, I never buy them.

At the store the other day I saw something called "butter pies". There was a small gaggle of little old ladies (LOLs) gathered around, speculating on what these could be. They called over to a staff member behind the deli. This being Morrison's, he pretended not to hear them, then when that wore thin, pretended to be too busy to help. Eventually, his customer service training compelled him to  v e r y  s l o w l y  trudge over and see what the damn pests wanted.

To be honest, I was enjoying this display of customer service #fail, so I continued to eavesdrop on the off chance he'd swear at them and be sacked (or promoted). It was worth it. The LOLs asked about the pies and he explained in the strange, faltering "English" that young people talk in these days. "They're, like, potato pies, like, we only calls them butter pies coz it sounds better than potato pies, like, coz that's like boring, innit, it's a war thing that they had in the old days, like, in the war, so it's just potato and nothing else like."

After I'd translated the stream-of-conciousness and screened out the awful, high-pitched Scouse accent, I was very happy with the result. Back when I was planning this project, I thought that shortcrust pies filled only with mashed potato would work very well, providing bulk, using little rations and going well with anything. But I couldn't find any proof that such a thing existed, then or now, and worried if it would be too bland.

But here they were: butter pies, potato pies, which I could buy to try. I did. And it works. You need salt, or gravy, or a sauce of some sorts, but it works! Of course, the mass-produced nature of the pies meant that the pastry was made with hydrogenated fat rather than margarine and water, so it was greasy and unpleasant and my body rebelled against it mightily (I had dry toast for dinner that night as it was all I could face).

My own version was far better. I boiled and mashed (without fat) plenty of potatoes, then made a cold-water shortcrust pastry. This is 2 to 1 flour to fat (I had butter rather than margarine in for this week's fat ration) rubbed together (I did 8oz to 4oz), a pinch of salt and then adding cold water until you get a dough that holds together but isn't wet. Put this in the fridge for 20 minutes to get it cold, then roll it out and line a pie tin with it. If I did it again, I'd save more fat by adding mashed potato instead of half the fat and slightly more water.

Spoon the mashed potato into the tin, then top. I was making two, so I put chopped spring onions on top of one and a crumbled ounce of cheese on the other. Top off with pastry, brush with milk and bake in a moderate oven for half an hour.

The first one I served with onion gravy and steamed vegetables. For the second, I turned an ounce of cheese into a lot of cheese sauce by bulking with single cream and soured cream in addition to some milk and served this on top of the pie and some more steamed vegetables.

Oh, but it was lovely. A proper pie, good cold as well as hot, and very low in fat. It was so good we didn't end up with the planned leftovers - it was very hard to resist going back for seconds.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Royal cooking

In the last few days, it's been a fairly generic salad time here at On The Ration. Salad stuff is plentiful (still no celery, mind) so it makes sense to dive in and get as much fresh, uncooked, leafy vegetable matter into us as possible.

But that's not to say I haven't been able to be a bit chef-fy with the meals. A good mushroom soup made an on-going starter for a few days, whilst a break from salad came with a (comparatively) low fat risotto. This was a filling meal in itself, but even better for CJBS with a topping of poached smoked haddock.

For the risotto, heat some fat in a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Fry off some onion, and when they're half done, chuck in some mushrooms and some crushed or powdered garlic. Once the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are softening, add your rice - two handfuls per person or thereabout, to make plenty. The rice will suck up the remaining oil. When the rice starts to stick, start adding stock.

Two ways of doing this: if you know in your bones how much water the rice will suck up, add that amount, put the lid on and walk away. If you don't, start by adding half a pint, keep stirring and add another half pint when it's gone. Keep doing this until the rice just isn't taking any more up (what's left will boil off anyway if you keep the lid off).

With the stock in, you can now add veggies that you like. Peas are always nice in risotto (cubed spam can go in at this point too). I like tomatoes, so I put quartered ones in. If you like bell peppers, put some in. You get the idea.

When the rice is done, you've got a basic risotto. For a creamy version, stir through low fat soured cream or crème fraiche. For a richer, but fattier, version, add some cubes of butter and let them melt through, assuming you've got the butter. For the traditional Italian flavour, add some hard cheese (Parmesan, ideally), assuming you have cheese. We had butter available, sort of, but no cheese.

For the poached smoked haddock, put a couple of bay leaves, some dill and some raw onion into a saucepan. Put the fish on top, then top with milk. Bring the milk up to the boil, then immediately take it off the heat. It's done, but you can leave it in longer to cook in its own heat if you want it to be flaky. Lift it out with tongs and serve it on top of the risotto.

Reserve the fishy milk: use it the next day to make fantastic (I'm told: I don't eat fish) mashed potatoes.

To explain the missing cheese earlier, I was inspired by this bit of gastropub-ism, and fortified with olive oil on points and some sausages, I decided to make something very very chef-fy for CJBS the next day. I don't have a name for it, but here it is:

Slice some halloumi cheese (the Greek, rubbery one that isn't feta) and scatter it on the bottom of a baking tray. I've got some very nice but hard-to-use bottled peppers in. These are baked or grilled, then preserved in vinegar or oil. The best bit about them is that they're surprisingly mild and beautifully brightly coloured. Lay a pepper slice on each piece of cheese. Add some garlic (powdered, flakes or fresh chopped/crushed) on top, some chopped spring onion and half a dozen thin sausages. A splash of oil, and into the oven until the sausages are cooked (15 mins at 180C, say). Serve with chopped basil leaves on top.

This was probably a waste of (almost) two people's cheese ration for a week, but CJBS ate it in seconds with a loud "nom nom nom" sound, so it was well worth it.

He also nommed his way through the quick tiramisu I made (I told you I was in chef-fy mood). I'd made some chocolate cupcakes earlier in the week, forgetting I had a rhubarb crumble on the go. The cakes went stale, despite CJBS's heroic efforts to cram them into his mouth. I made a cup of strong coffee, mixed a tablespoon of icing sugar into it and added a big glugg of cheap cooking brandy. While this cooled, I whipped 150ml of single cream and 250g of mascarpone cheese together with 3 tablespoons of icing sugar, some vanilla essence and a smaller glugg of the brandy. Then I sliced up the stale cakes and dipped each one in the coffee mixture for half a minute. These are then layered: cake slices, mascarpone, cake slices, mascarpone until everything's used up. Dust the top with cocoa powder and store in a cool place for as long as possible (it just gets better as it ages).

Now, back to the salads. There was a reason to have so much salad, an excuse that I grabbed at. Jersey Royals,1 the best potatoes ever ever, have a season of about 25 minutes. When they come in, I buy preposterous amounts and shove them in everything I cook. As a "new" potato, they're theoretically best just boiled and served, and that works very well on the side of a salad, hot or cold. But they also make superb potato salad with soured cream or with mayonnaise, in a vinaigrette, or boiled in stock.

But my favourite is to really really make them work for their money. I boil them for 15 minutes, drain, then slice them into thick slabs. Heat some butter in a pan, add some garlic and lightly sauté them batches. I saved my butter ration for this (and the risotto - dry sandwiches and marmite on unbuttered toast are worth it). Put the sautéed Jerseys on a baking tray, then roast them for 20 minutes in a hot oven. These can be served anyway you can think of: with a salad, with grilled meat, with mayonnaise... you name it, they work.

Tonight, I'm making a big bowl of them with some crème fraiche and spring onion on top. In front of the TV, with my feet up and feeling very very relaxed.

1 Yes, I know Jersey was occupied in the war, so this is an anacronism. I don't care.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Bulk handling

CJBS wanted cottage pie. Mainly because I put the idea into his head. £1.32 doesn't get you much beef mince, even the fatty cheap stuff. I bought the expensive lean mince, so my money got me about 8oz - 200g. That's for the entire week, remember, and wasn't even enough for one cottage pie of any size. But wartime rationing involved a lot of bulking out and the tricks become second nature after a while.

The cottage pie got three forms of bulking. First, cook off the mince with some onion until it has browned. Soak up the fat with gravy browning and dilute with stock until there's a useful amount of gravy. To that, add porridge oats, about the same amount as the beef. This swells up with the gravy and has the same texture as the mince - instant doubling of the meat content.

Next, finely dice some mushrooms - about the same amount as of the original mince. Add that and it'll take on the gravy flavour, whilst the texture won't be all that different either. So now the mince has been tripled, and, as a by-product, has got much heathier, with the oats removing much of the cholesterol.

Finally, add a chopped onion, a chopped carrot and a chopped parsnip. These don't turn into anything else, but they add bulk and taste very nice in and of themselves (except the parsnip, obviously). From 8oz of mince to start with, there's now 2lbs or so of the stuff. It'll reduce down somewhat, so perhaps a pound will be left. Mashed potato on top, into the oven and enough food to last three days for one person is ready. I did exactly the same with my vegetarian soya mince, to the same results.

The only flaw is that this all needs slow cooking, both on the stove and in the oven, and much too much stirring as bloody usual. Doesn't half save money, mind. Also, whilst CJBS doesn't mind having the same thing three days running, I start to find it dull. So some vegetable side dishes are recommended.

Enough of my boasting: I'm off to make a cauliflower cheese from a week's worth of cheese ration. Now that will need some bulking...