Archive for October, 2010

Wok about this, then?

October 27, 2010

20p cabbage, free wok...

For some time I have been stashing oddments of kitchenware in my porch; I knew that as the Offspring started to wander off, they’d need bits n’bobs and it seems daft to buy new, cheap stuff that will fall apart & need replacing in no length of time, when they could have decent cookware to experiment with that’s actually cost even less, it’s just not brand new. Two of them have flown the nest lately and both have taken some of the stash off to their student kitchens. In fact, they’re not the first to do so; a couple of friends have raided the stash in times of dire need in the past, too, so I’m glad I’ve had the space free to store it.

Needless to say, virtually all of the items in it have been unwanted & unloved by their previous owners. It includes Le Creuset & Cousances cast-iron casseroles, frying pans and saucepans, stainless steel saucepans, a stainless steel pressure cooker, Pyrex bowls & dishes, Sabatier knives, a Spong mincer and goodness knows how many other things that originally cost a fortune, as well as things that haven’t cost so much but are still very usable, useful and hard to track down like glass lemonsqueezers. Today, the stash currently being devoid of woks, I rescued a virtually brand-new Ken Hom carbon-steel wok from the arms of its previous owner. “I’m afraid it’s no use now, ” she said sadly. “My daughter’s burnt the non-stick coating and it started to come off when we tried to clean it…”

Hmmm – a good soak in bicarb soon loosened the rest of the burnt food, then I’m afraid I set about it with wire wool! I don’t like Teflon-coated cookware & it doesn’t like me, either; the non-stick coating has been known to peel off on the way home from the shop. I think it knows what I have in store for it… Anyway, I scrubbed away as much as I could, washed it all off thoroughly and wiped the wok with clean cooking oil, which I carefully & gently burnt on over half an hour or so, then cooled it and repeated the process a couple more times. This produces a natural non-stick coating which will develop as the wok is used, provided you don’t wash it with detergent; a scrub with a dishcloth in steaming hot water is all that’s required.

I also rescued from the same lady an armful of biscuit tins. Every time we visit one or other of our students, they politely ask whether we might happen to be able to supply some of their sister’s famed Chocolate Fudge Brownies. So we do, gladly – but we never seem to get the tins back! I think we’ll have to institute a tin-return scheme. But at least we’ve got some in reserve now.

Then on a quick trip up to town today, we happened to hit the moment when one of the supermarkets had just massively reduced all of its on-the-sell-by produce. So into the new wok went a 20p cabbage & 10p worth of spring onions, along with a little fresh kale left over from the weekend. 40p worth of new potatos in herb butter and a pack of very-tasty giant sausages that cost just £1.25 completed a satisfyingly inexpensive meal.

My older daughter has just challenged me to feed the family (currently numbering 5, all of adult size, give or take a couple on any given night) for a week on £50. I might just take her up on that…

How long can a girl resist…

October 14, 2010

… trees full of ripe fresh free fruit? I know I still have plenty of fruit in my own garden to pick & preserve, but still…

In the middle of our little town there’s a peaceful little garden, open to the public, opposite the Library and running down to the bank of the millstream. It was once a kitchen garden and still has two big fruiting trees, an apple and a pear, hanging over the street, as well as a bay tree, herbs and various other edible plants, all well overgrown now. It belongs to Salamanders, the “Good Cook’s Shop” but none of our local good cooks seemed to have thought to actually use this fruit, which has been falling for a while and generally messing up the pavements underneath.

So today a friend and I took our two applepickers and a shopping trolley and went and asked permission to pick some of the fruit. This was duly given, and we spent an hour or so of total frustration waving our pickers madly at the gigantic pears hanging mostly just out of reach. Most of which are still there, but we did get a trolley-load of lovely free fruit, some of which is bubbling gently away on my cooker even as I type, gently sweetened & spiced. But we also got some very funny & suspicious looks! One lady commented sadly that we should leave it all for the squirrels; all I can say is that there probably aren’t that many squirrels in the whole of Dorset, that they could eat it all before it goes off! And as for the gang of kids who were falling over laughing at our antics – who gets the last laugh? The people who think it’s funny to expend any effort to get good food when you could just go & buy it, or the people who can think of better uses for their money?

But there were some delightful moments too; the Polish gentleman with his pretty little daughter who couldn’t resist having a go with the picker, and simply beamed when we handed him the giant pear he’d snared. The many people who stopped & said, “Well, thank heavens they’re not all going to go to waste!” The children who were so thrilled to be given a juicy pear fresh from the tree, and the people who were impressed with our assorted plans for our foraged goodies. Not to mention those who told of us of other fruit that’s just going to waste or even becoming a nuisance, dropping onto pavements and being left to rot.

Next year, we’ll get in earlier. And be more organised – and have even more jamjars and preserving jars ready for our scrumped & scrumptious harvest!

Quince marmelade…

October 8, 2010

…why didn’t anyone tell me….? *** Wow…! ***

My 2 young Cydonia quince trees are giving a bigger crop each year, and I was given 2lb of Japonica (Chaenomeles) quinces too. I kind of knew that the original marmelade was made with quinces, so I consulted some of my venerable rescued recipe books, had a go, and now I’m wondering why on Earth I spend so much on Seville oranges every year! I mixed recipes a bit, but have ended up with something I want to repeat, which is just as well, because I knocked on a neighbour’s door this afternoon & came away with another 4lb of Japonicas…

Basically I cut the 2lb of Japonicas in half & stewed them gently in 3 pints of water until they were very soft, then mashed them a bit. I poured the resulting brew into a muslin cloth over a sieve on a saucepan and waited until the dripping had subsided. As I wasn’t going for a clear jelly, I also gave it a gentle squeeze.  Then I added a shake of cinnamon, the juice & zest of 2 lemons and 3 lbs of sugar, heated gently & stirred occasionally whilst the sugar dissolved. In the meantime I grated 1lb of the Cydonia quinces, co-incidentally using up all the slightly-damaged ones that wouldn’t keep. (If you’re after jelly, or just don’t have any tree quinces, you can skip this step and just use the same weight of sugar that you have of quinces.) I added the gratings to the syrup and let it simmer gently until the grated quinces became translucent. Then up went the heat until it reached a rolling boil, into the oven went the clean wet recycled  jars & lids to scald, and about 20 minutes later it reached setting point. I waited a bit until it had started to congeal, then stirred well to redistribute the quince shreds, then into the hot jars it went.

When I poured it into the jars I couldn’t believe what a beautiful red-gold colour it had gone; both kinds of quince have yellow skin, with flesh best described as dark cream. There was only a tiny shake of cinnamon, and I used plain ordinary cheap white sugar; where did that glorious colour come from? It’s clear  like marmelade, and tastes even better; tangy, clear, sharp & sweet at the same time, a real wake-me-up taste. Can’t wait for breakfast time tomorrow!