Wednesday, 13 July 2011

(Healthy-ish) cheesecake

The Auntie Anne household is exclusively diabetic so we're always on the hunt for sugar-free treats. (To cut a long story short we have to watch our cholesterol too, but this isn't a medical blog so go elsewhere if you want to know more about that bit.....)

So we bought some sugar-free ginger biscuits at a food fair and- to be honest - they were awful! We thought about pouring custard over them but that seemed a bit feeble so here's what happened:

Bash the biscuits into crumbs. (Stick them in a plastic bag and hit them with a rolling pin). Melt about an ounce of butter. Yes, it has to be butter. Low-fat spreads don't hold their shape. This is the only naughty bit in the whole process! Add the crumbs and stir around until they are well covered, then press them into the bottom of a serving dish.

 I also put a collar of greaseproof round it because this dish is quite shallow.  If you want to turn out your cheesecake at the end, use a loose-bottomed dish. Pop it in the fridge to set while you make the topping.
Next mix a 250g pot of light cream cheese with a good dollop of natural yoghurt. The exact amount you need will vary with how thick it is. If it's too runny you don't need so much. But look at the picture for a rough guide.  Also add a couple of tablespoons of artifical sweetener. (If you're not diabetic you can use icing sugar.)

Split a vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the cheese mixture. DO NOT DISCARD THE POD. There are things you can still do with it!

Give the cheese mixture a really good stir then pour it onto the biscuit base.  Put it back in the fridge to set, preferably overnight. Make a nice pattern on it if you like or you can just spread it thusly:


Sunday, 10 July 2011

Paella - how to make use of great seafood

It's seafood season - the mussels and clams are excellent right now and so we made use of some of them this week.

For two people you are going to need:

About half to three quarters of a pound of mixed mussels and clams (see below for preparation)
8 prawns
About two thumbs' worth of chorizo (chopped)
Some bits of cooked chicken
Onion (finely chopped)
Bell pepper - any colour you like (finely chopped)
A pinch of saffron
Olive oil and cooking oil (about a tablespoon altogether)
A couple of tomatoes (chopped)
250g (6oz) of paella rice (or any other kind except basmati really)
A good glug of white wine
Half a pint of chicken stock
Lots more water
Chopped flat-leaved parsley
Some lemon wedges for garnish

A big, heavy-based frying pan & a large pan with a lid.

Mise en place
Start by doing all your preparation. Trust me, it'll make life easier. Chefs call it 'mise on place' but don't let that put you off.  Having everything handy makes for a better dish because you don't stress out midway.

Chop up your onions and peppers and tomatoes and parsley first. Put your lidded pan on the stove with a glug of white wine and a small amount of chopped onion and some chopped parsley and a bit of cooking oil in it.  Put the frying pan on a bigger stove-ring and add the oils.

Prepare your prawns: take the heads off and peel off the main part of the body skin and legs. You can leave the tail bit on if you want to be cheffy but it doesn't matter. DO NOT THROW AWAY THE SHELLS! See below for what to do with them.

Prepare your clams and mussels. (see below)

When you've chopped and peeled and prepared you can turn on the heat under the frying pan and add the onions and pepper and saffron and tomato. Fry gently until the onions soften. Add the rice and fry for a little longer until it starts to look translucent. At this point you can put the heat on under the other pan. Then you can add the chorizo and the chicken to the frying pan.

Two quick stirs and then add the wine. When it starts to bubble start to add thestock. Put it in a little at a time and stir it all round until it begins to absorb into the rice. Keep adding and, when you run out of stock, add water. Keep it bubbling until the rice is soft and edible. (try a single grain from time to time to check)

Meanwhile, add your prepared clams and mussels to the lidded pan and turn up the heat. About 30 seconds later give the pan a good shake and lift the lid up. The shells should be starting to open. Give it another 30 seconds and try again. Do not cook for more than 2  minutes! Take it off the heat as soon as they're open. Discard any that don't open.
Cooked mussels and clams
Add the peeled prawns and stir the mixture till they start to turn pink. If your rice isn't cooked yet you can add the mussel and clam juice.
Add the prawns

Once the rice is softened, add the cooked clams and mussels to the pan. Stir in the rest of the chopped parsley. Decorate with lemon wedges and serve immediately.

Buy live prawns and clams from your fishmonger. If you are sold them in a plastic bag, put a hole in it to ensure an oxygen supply. Keep them as cool as possible on your journey home. As soon as you get home throw them into a large bowl or bucket of water with some salt added and a teaspoon or so of flour.
When you need to prepare them, you don't need to do much to clams other than rinse them and throw out any that aren't closed. Give them a good shake. If any of them remain open when you give them a hard rap with your knuckles, throw them away. Use a sharp knife to scrape off any barnacles from the mussels. The mussels have a furry bit that sticks out from the inner curve of the shell. It's called a beard. Use your knife to pull this away.

As soon as you've scraped and beard-pulled they're ready to use.

Put any peelings and heads into a small pan with a good grinding of black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, a hefty glug of white wine and some water. Boil them for about 10 minutes. Let it cool and then bash the shells up with a potato masher to extract all the flavour. Strain it into a jug and let it cool completely and then freeze it for use later.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Start collecting now to save money later

For the next few weeks start collecting used jars and bottles. Don't put them in the recycling. Find a corner in your kitchen (mine's in the cupboard under the sink) to stash them away. Make sure their lids fit and then put them (unlidded) into a lot of cold water so that the labels soften and can be peeled off. Take the labels off, put their lids back on, then store them away.(If any of the labels fight with you, don't waste too much energy. Put that one in the recycling and go on to the next jar.)

The next few weeks- up till about the end of October - will bring a glut of things that can be turned into jam, pickle and interesting alcoholic drinks. Buying new glassware costs a fortune. A decent sized jam jar will knock you back a couple of quid from that fancy shop in the High Street (yes - THAT one.)
If you're the kind of person who likes those fancy hats on your home-made jam you might like to start looking out for a yard or so of cotton cloth at your local market too.

Every time you go shopping for the next few weeks buy one of the following: sugar (for jams and chutneys), white wine vinegar or cider vinegar (for pickles and chutneys) and half bottles of cheap gin or vodka (for sloe gin and bramble vodka)

Recipes will follow as the seasons progress.