Saturday, 31 January 2015

Croutons!

Every once in a while, Andy will ask me to make something specific for lunch. He's easy to please and generally leaves the menu to me but today he asked for croutons and salad.  Notice, croutons came first in that request. 



It's a funny how a few croutons can make a simple dish of salad or soup seem a little bit special. They are so easy to make and a great way to use up those bits of bread that are past their best. I think the heel ends make the best croutons. 



So start heating the oven, it needs to be really hot 450F/225C, and  I'll tell you how to have crunchy croutons ready before you can finish tossing the salad.



I like to cut 3/4 inch thick slices of bread, but if you have sliced bread that will do.  Liberally butter the bread slices.  I like to sprinkle over some garlic powder, but you can add a little grated cheese or just stick with salted butter.  



Cut the bread into cubes and place them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.  Make sure the bread cubes are in a single layer so they crisp up nicely.



Bake the croutons for about 10 minutes, giving them a good shake or stir after five minutes to assure they brown evenly on all sides.  Let the croutons cool a bit before adding them to salads, floating them on soup, or just munching them as a tasty treat.   One more thing, make lots more than you think you will need...I promise you will be munching away on croutons before lunch makes it to the table!


Thursday, 29 January 2015

Half Batch Brownies

We are a small family, two adults and a cat, so I frequently divide recipes in half.  We could eat that cake that serves twelve but we know we shouldn't.  As for brownies, devouring a whole batch is easy to do...naughty, but easy!


If we are sharing with friends and family, a whole batch of brownies is fine.  For a weekend treat for two, half a batch is better.  Here's my half-size brownie recipe complete with full size flavour:

Half Batch Brownies

1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil - I use canola
1 cup (caster) sugar
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat the oven to 350F/180C.  Grease a square baking tin and line the bottom with baking paper.

In a large mixing bowl using a spoon,  stir together the oil and sugar.  Add the eggs and mix until well combined.  Stir in the salt, vanilla, and baking powder. 


Beat in the cocoa powder, making sure there are no lumps, then stir in the flour.  


Pour the batter into the prepared pan, gently thump the tin on the work surface to settle any bubbles in the batter.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Check the brownies after about 20 minutes.  You DO NOT want to over bake them. Brownies should be fudgy in the center.  


Once baked, allow the brownies to cool before cutting into nine generous squares.  This is where I get into trouble.  It's nearly impossible not to eat a warm brownie but do try to hold off for as long as possible.  Keep your half batch fresh by storing them in an airtight container.  These will be gone long before the weekend is over! 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Camellia

The camellia bush is in full bloom and as fate would have it, we are in for a winter storm.  By tomorrow the delicate blossoms may be beaten to bits.  We'd better enjoy them while we can. 



Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Chunky Vegetable Soup

Some days are just soup days, don't you think?  Well, this is one of those days so I went kitchen foraging and found everything I needed to make a satisfying pot of chunky vegetable soup. 


My granny used to make wonderful vegetable soup but there was always something exotic in it like ox tail and it had to simmer for hours and hours.  My soup is much quicker to make and not an ox tail in sight. I like my soup to be thick and satisfying... almost like a veggie stew.


I had a quick rummage in the kitchen and found the following ingredients:

1 can chopped tomatoes
1 onion - chopped
2 carrots - peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic - crushed
1 potato - peeled and cut into small-ish cubes
1/3 cup frozen sweet corn
1/3 cup frozen beans - use the kind you like or even peas
1 stock cube - I used Knorr vegetable stock 
1 tablespoon canola oil 
1 teaspoon home made chili seasoning*
1 big pinch dried thyme 

In a large sauce pot, place the oil, onions, and carrots. Cook over a low flame for a few minutes to soften the onion.  Add the tinned tomatoes, potato, stock cube, and thyme.  You may need to add a splash of water to just cover the vegetables. Simmer for a few minutes so the root vegetables begin to soften.  
 

When the carrots and potato cubes are nearly soft, add the corn, beans, and one teaspoon of HOME MADE CHILI SEASONING MIX.  Stir well to combine and simmer until the soup has thicken slightly and all the vegetables are cooked. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning.  You may like a dash of salt or a bit of pepper.  
 

Serve piping hot with a thick slice of bread and butter or my favourite, CORNMEAL SCONES

Click on the these links to find the recipes for CORNMEAL SCONES  and HOMEMADE CHILI SEASONING MIX... enjoy!  

Friday, 23 January 2015

American Style Breakfast Sausage

I am 97 per cent vegetarian.  That means that 3 per cent of me craves bacon, pepperoni pizza, and occasionally, Southern biscuits and sausage gravy.  It doesn't happen very often but when it does I fall off the vegetarian waggon and indulge.  There, I said it!  This brings me to American style breakfast sausage. 


I haven't found anything that resembles American sausage patties anywhere here in the U.K.  so I did some research and found three recipes that will help to fill that sausage-shaped void. Making your own breakfast sausage is easy to do, only takes a few store cupboard ingredients and some ground pork (minced pork as the Brits say).  Best of all there are no mysterious additives in the home made version. 

Here is Sausage Recipe I 

16 ounces ground pork 
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Place all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together.  Form into patties and fry over medium heat until the meat is completed cooked through. 



Sausage Recipe II

2 pounds ground pork
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 pinch of cloves.

Combine pork and spices, form into patties, follow the cooking instructions above.


Sausage Recipe III

16 ounces ground pork
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix together ground pork and spices...  you know the rest. 

These recipes are all similar but a little different.  No matter which one you choose to make, always do a taste test.  Fry a tiny bit of meat and try it.  Then adjust the seasoning to suit your taste. You can make it hotter, add more herbs, or leave out the bits you don't like.  It's all up to you.

Of course,  breakfast sausage is also delicious on pizzas, made into meatballs for pasta,  added to quiches... but we will save those recipes for another day.  

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Slashing! Or How to Score a Loaf

Here's a question for you bread bakers. Do you slash the top of your loaf before baking?  Sometimes I do but I am never sure where or how to slash. Here's a handy little chart that answers all those slashing queries.  


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Wooden Spoon Butter

I love wooden kitchen tools.  I have several wooden cutting boards and a mountain of wooden spoons.  After a while and some hard use, these kitchen work horses need some tender loving care.  That's where 'Spoon Butter' comes into play. 



Spoon butter is an old fashion beeswax polish, the sort that would nourish any natural wood surface.  Made from only two ingredients, beeswax and vegetable oil, it is safe for cutting boards, wooden spoons, and that wooden salad set you probably have tucked in the back of the pantry. 

If you have some wood that needs feeding, CLICK HERE FOR THE RECIPE for Spoon Butter.   Wait 'til you see how beautiful your cutting board is going to be!