Thursday, 28 October 2010

How to make a corn dolly

You'll need a small sheaf of corn stalks. (A note to my US readers: that's wheat to you. What you call corn, we call sweetcorn. And you can make dollies with them but they're very different.)
If possible, ask permission of the landowner before you gather anything. Always make sure you gather from the edges of the field where the harvester can't reach and the grain will go to waste. Don't take more than you need. A bundle the size of the one in the photo is plenty for three or four dollies. Use your corn fresh. If you let it start to dry out it will be difficult to work and will crack easily.

Gather up a handful of stems. If you want to be proper about it, make sure that you have an odd number. You must have at least 5 stems to weave and you'll find it much easier if you have a further 6-8 to act as the core. If you're superstitious about the number 13 make it 6 or 10! Tie the bundle with pale-coloured cotton or thread near the base of the corn heads. Gently pull on each stem to ensure you have a neat bunch and that there are no straggly ones.

This is the only complicated bit. Honest. Select four sturdy-looking stems and bend each one outwards to form a cross. (Like in the photo. We'll call them A, B, C and D, starting with the one closest to you and working anticlockwise around the bundle.) Then select another stem (we'll call it E) and bend it down to run parallel to A. If you look closely at the photo you'll see there's a fifth stem under my thumb.

OK. Gently take hold of A and fold it over E to lie parallel with B. This will secure E in place. Now take B over A and bend it to lie parallel with C. Continue like that, keeping the basic cross shape of the stems and slowly turning the dolly round as you go. You'll find a woven shell forming around the core. Keep going until the stems are almost used up. You'll find you can put the dolly down without it unravelling as long as you are careful.

If you don't want a very short dolly you'll need some extension stems to continue working with. Cut the heads off a number of stems (an extra 10 or 15 is probably about right. Remember you're working in groups of 5) and keep them handy.

When you need to extend one of the stems slip the thin end of a new stem into the hollow end of the one you've already worked. You might find you need to trim the end of the old stem. If you adjust the joins correctly you'll find that the next bend in the stem will hold the inner piece in place.

Once your dolly is as long as you want it to be you can trim off the excess neatly as shown.

Now you need to form the "handle". If you can plait with five stems use them all to create a "ribbon" emerging from the top of your dolly. If you can only plait with three, that's fine. Just ensure that you include the last stem you bent over so that you lock the others in place.

This is another tricky bit. Bend the ribbon over into a loop and secure it in place by threading the cut ends of the straws through the loops formed by your weaving. You might need to ease some of the loops open slightly to do this.

Then all that's left to do is neaten up any stray bits. Careful when you trim them that you don't accidentally cut any of the weaving. Finish off your dolly by tying a pretty ribbon near the corn heads to cover up the thread you used to tie them together.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Seafood Feast the Auntie Anne way

One thing we love in our house is seafood. One thing we don't like is having to pay a small fortune for seafood platters in a restaurant.
Seafood is easy to prepare - especially if you have a friendly fishmonger!

This weekend we had a bit of a banquet. We went out and bought:
  • Half a dozen small scallops
  • About half a pound of mussels
  • A bag of shell-on prawns
  • 4 raw crevettes
  • A nice, plump,dressed crab
  • Some good crusty bread
  • Some button mushrooms
  • A small pot of single cream
  • A small bottle of cider
  • A large bottle of white wine
  • Parsley
  • Lemons

We already have in the house:

  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Onions
  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Mayonnaise
Begin by placing the dressed crab on a plate and surrounding it with a few lemon wedges.
Give it a bit of fresh black pepper if that's your taste.

Put the prawns into a large bowl.

Wash the mussels, scrape off any barnacles and remove the "beards". That's the hairy bit sticking out from betweeen the shells. Just pull and they'll detach very easily. Discard any mussels that are open at this stage. (Slightly open is OK but fully open isn't.) If you want more help with preparing the mussels see here.

Find a big pan with a lid,
a small saucepan without a lid
a small frying pan.

Chop up a small onion very finely and place it with two sliced cloves of garlic, a good glug of cider and some chopped parsley into the pan with a lid and put it on a low-to-medium heat.

Slice your scallops into 1/2cm thick rounds. Include the orange corals. Put them in the small saucepan with some crushed garlic, sliced mushrooms and a glug of white wine. Don't turn the heat on yet!

Put heat under the small frying pan and add a crushed garlic clove and some olive oil. Now add the crevettes, then listen for them beginning to sizzle.

Put heat under the scallops and get the white wine simmering.

Sling your cleaned mussels into the lidded pan and put the lid back on.

Turn over your sizzling crevettes to cook the other side.

Take your scallops off the heat and let them cool slightly.

Pick up the lidded pan and give it a good shake. Lift the lid. The mussels should be nicely open by now. Pour the whole lot into a big bowl.

Your crevettes should now be nicely pink. Tip them onto a plate. (If they're still a bit blue give them a minute longer while you finish off the scallops.)

Add a generous helping of single cream to the scallops and tip the mixture into a bowl.
Serve all of it with good bread and butter. Black pepper to taste. Bowl of mayonnaise to dip the prawns in.
Don't forget plenty of napkins, a big empty bowl for the wreckage and some REALLY nice, dry white wine. Chilled mineral water helps too.

What can I do with the leftovers?
When you're done you'll probably find there's plenty of mussel juice left and quite a bit of the cream sauce from the scallops. Do not throw them away! Mix together and refrigerate then serve as soup the following day.
Leftover prawns will make sandwiches, prawn cocktail or even go into a fish pie if you have any "fishy" fish available. Or mix them with scrambled egg for breakfast.
Leftover mussels can be frozen and kept for fish pie. (They've been cooked so it's OK.)
Leftover crab can be turned into crab cakes. Just mix it with bread crumbs and any seasoning you like. Thai sauce and coriander; Worcester sauce; mustard; lemon juice and thyme; curry powder; whatever you like. Add a bit of mayonnaise or some olive oil if the mixture is a little dry.  Shape into rounds, flour lightly and then shallow fry in a little groundnut oil.

Friday, 1 October 2010

How to make the most of a chicken

TV seems to be full of advice at the moment on how to avoid wasting food but there never seems to be a FULL story about anything. The other night I saw something about using up leftover chicken. But if you follow the Auntie Anne way you won't have any leftovers in the first place - because you'll have a plan for everything you've cooked - including the bones!

How to make the most of a chicken

Let's start with a little discussion on the type of chicken you buy. Do you think you save money by getting a cheap, battery-bred one? Well you don't. Quite apart from how cruel battery pens are to chickens, they create tasteless, spongy meat. So BUY FREE RANGE! You WILL be able to tell the difference and you will get more out of it in the long run.

So let's start cooking....

First roast your chicken. You might think you know how to do that but - a little care at this stage will pay dividends later. Unwrap the bird and take off any string or bands that are holding it trussed up. Pull on its legs and wings a bit to spread it out. That way the heat can get round it and it'll cook more evenly.

Make sure you roast your bird on a trivet. (That's a metal rack that holds the meat away from the pan bottom.) Place it on the trivet and have a look at the body cavity at the parson's noe end. Just inside the skin flaps you'll find pads of fat. Pull these out and place them on the top of the bird. (Actually it's lying on its back so the "top" is really the bottom - but you know what I mean) The fat will melt during cooking and baste the meat automatically.

Now - for a bit of added flavour, place any or all of the following into the body cavity through the hole where you found the fat: garlic cloves, a whole lemon that's been stabbed with a fork a few times, some fresh herbs, some onion wedges. Put your chicken into a pre-heated oven at about 190 - 200 C. Roast it till it's done. It'll look golden brown and will smell gorgeous. If you are in any doubt, stab it on the inside of its thigh to make sure the juices run clear. If there's any blood, put the bird back in the oven for 10 minutes then try again.

Once it's done, take it out of the oven and let it cool for a while on the trivet. Don't let it go cold or it'll be VERY difficult to portion out.

Dividing it up

You will need:
Your cooked chicken
A large pan that has a lid
A small bowl (cereal bowl or that kind of size)
A larger bowl or plate
A small, sharp knife

Cut the skin along the breast bone. Cut the skin around each of the thighs. Continue the cuts right around the leg and on towards the parson's nose.

Use the back of the knife to ease one of the breasts away from the breastbone and the ribs. Keep easing it until you reach the wishbone. If you cut carefully around the wishbone you should be able to pull it out whole. If there's any meat still attached, remove it and put the meat into the small bowl. Make your wish with the bone - then put it into the pan.  Ease both of the breasts away from the carcass and put them onto the larger bowl/plate, keeping the skin in place.

Take hold of one of the drumsticks and bend the "extra" bit of the leg backwards until it breaks away from the main bird. Put the spare piece in the pan. Repeat with the other leg. Now - take hold of the thigh in one hand and the main carcass in the other hand and twist the leg backwards. It will come away in one piece, breaking away at the hip joint. Repeat on the other side. Put the leg portions on the plate with the breasts.

Now pull off the wings and take as much meat as possible off them. Put the meat into the small bowl and all the bones, skin and sinewy bits into the pan.
Strip any obvious bits of meat off the top of the carcass and add them to the small bowl.

By now your chicken is looking pretty badly battered!

Turn it over to find some of the best bits of meat on a chicken. Strip off the skin and add it to the pan. Identify two long bones that are the equivalent of shoulder blades. Underneath those two bones are pieces of juicy meat. Strip off the meat and add it to the small bowl. Put the bones in the pan. At the end of those two bones you'll find two small, round bits of meat (sort of like chicken nuggets) that are called the oysters. Remove them and add them to the small bowl.

You will also find meat along each side of the chicken's backbone at the neck end and by the parson's nose. Add all of that to the small bowl, which by now should have a reasonable amount of chicken in it.

Chicken stock (you might need to read the bit before this as well)
Take a last look over the carcass and make sure you haven't missed any obvious bits of meat. If you're happy with your gathering, put the rest of the carcass, including any of the additions like garlic, onion, lemon etc from the inside, into the pan.

Now boil a kettle. Pour some boiling water into the roasting pan and stir round to pick up the cooking juices from the bottom. Add the water and juices to the pan with the bones. Add as many as posible of the following to the bones pan: chopped onion, garlic, whole black peppercorns, herbs, a chopped carrot, a chopped stick of celery, slosh of white wine. Top up with water and put the lid on. Bring it to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Leave it simmering, with teh lid on, for about an hour. Keep an eye on it to make sure it isn't drying up. Add water if you think it needs it. Drain the stock into a large jug and throw out the boiled bones.

Now what are you going to do with the bits?

Breast portions.
Treat these exactly like you would roast chicken.
  1. Cold with mayonnaise and a salad.
  2. Roast some vegetables by cutting a selection of the following into large chunks: carrots, onions, mushrooms, garlic cloves, tomatoes (score the tops), parsnips, swede, par-boiled potatoes, cauliflower florets, turnips, anything you like. Put them in a roasting tim and sprinkle with cooking oil. Add salt and pepper and put in a few fresh herbs. Roast at about 200C for 45-50 minutes. Put the chicken breasts on top (with the skin on) for the last 10 minutes to warm them through.
  3. Serve with pasta and a cream sauce.
  4. Slice thickly and make a yummy sandwich.

Leg portions.
You can use these in similar ways to the beast portions but I like them barbecued. Make a sauce by mixing some or all of the following: mustard, tomato puree, ground garlic, honey or brown sugar, brown sauce or Worcester sauce, white wine vinegar, olive oil. Smear it over the chicken and bake the portions for about 25 mins at 200 C until they're thoroughly warmed. Serve with chips and a vegetable.

The bits.
The world's your oyster with these.
  1. Make sandwiches.
  2. Mix with cooked bacon and button mushrooms, Cover in a white sauce and add a pastry lid - instant chicken and ham pie.
  3. Add to stir fried vegetables and serve over noodles.
  4. Cook some long grain rice. Fry an onion and garlic and add the cooked rice, chicken pieces and leftover cooked vegetables to make a risotto.  (If you add seafood it's a paella)
  5. Mix with mayo, curry powder, chopped spring onions (scallions) and a spoon of mango chutney to make coronation chicken. Serve in sandwiches or over baked potatoes.
  6. Chop finely and mix into cooked rice with herbs. Bind with a beaten egg and shallow-fry spoonfuls of the mixture as rissoles. Serve with salad.

An introduction


I'm Auntie Anne. Also known as lots of other things but for the purposes of this blog I'm Auntie Anne.

People tell me that I know lots of useful stuff and they are always asking for my help with things. How to save money, where to find information, what to do with unwanted items, reuse, recycling, all sorts of stuff.

So I shall gather answers here. Hope you find it useful!