Absolutely freezing fabulous!

Oh alright, I admit it, I am a bit of a freezing fan! It’s such a great way to preserve and store food, plus it’s easy to do. It cuts down on waste as you can freeze gluts and leftovers so it can be a real money-saver. I have a range of foods that I always freeze, but I’ve recently come across some other ideas that were new to me. See what you think of this selection:

1. Nuts
Freezing nuts makes them last longer as it keeps the oils in them from going rancid. Simply remove some when you need them and leave them to defrost on your kitchen worktop.

2. Ripe bananas
Freezing ripe bananas is brilliant for all your last minute banana baked goods needs. They’re also terrific for adding to smoothies since it makes them creamier and you can use less ice and mixing frozen bananas with fresh or frozen strawberries makes amazing ice cream – yum!

3. Cooked rice
Cooked too much rice? Store it in a freezer-proof container and store it in the freezer until you need it. When you’re ready to eat it, add the amount you want to a microwave-safe bowl or saucepan with a few tablespoons of water to warm it back up – just make sure it’s properly hot before serving.

4. Grated cheese
Grated cheese freezes really well and is a great time saver. If you’re cooking lasagna, enchiladas, or anything cheesy, just thaw and use. Great sprinkled over the potato topping of shepherd’s pie too! No more abandoned lumps of cheese wasted or going mouldy in the fridge!

5. Wine
Now I realise this is unlikely… but if you ever have some wine left in a bottle after dinner, pour it into an ice cube tray! Just add a cube into the casserole the next time your recipe calls for some wine.

6. Champagne

Like wine, you can freeze bubbly in an ice cube tray and put one (or two or three) cubes into a glass of orange juice for an instant Buck’s Fizz! I regret I can’t ever see that happening in this house… left over Champagne? I don’t think so!

7. Uncooked bacon
Wrap three to four slices of bacon side by side in parchment paper before putting in a freezer-proof bag. Bacon thaws really quickly at room temperature – and you can grill, fry or just place on kitchen paper in the microwave.

8. Butter
Frozen butter is a baker’s secret weapon. Grate frozen butter into dough for really light piecrusts and biscuits. Freeze the butter in its original wrapping inside an airtight bag or tightly wrapped in foil.

9. Egg yolks and whites
Like wine and herbs, egg yolks and whites work well in ice cube trays too. You will have to thaw the cubes completely if you are using them to bake, but the whites can be apparently be defrosted right in the pan for omelettes – I haven’t tried that yet!

10. Fresh herbs
And finally… this isn’t actually a new one for me (It’s something I do regularly) but in case you didn’t know this excellent tip – chop herbs finely and place them in an ice cube tray covered with water. Then you can add a herb cube directly into your pan to liven up sauces or stews.

If you’ve got any freezer tips you can recommend – please share!

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‘Pop’ goes Prosecco!

It’s fun, it’s fizzy and just about everyone seems to be drinking it – Prosecco has taken the country by storm! This Italian sparkler has made celebrating a whole lot more affordable, so much so that now, you don’t even need an excuse to raise a glass a glass of fizz! People head off for ‘Fizz on Fridays’ in their local wine bars and pubs and, opening a bottle at your BBQ is no longer seen as decadent.

I’m not entirely sure why Champagne was always seen as the ultimate celebratory drink, perhaps it is nothing more than a kind of snob value – as the top brands are expensive it must, therefore, be ‘good’. A wine merchant friend told me years ago that a good bottle of Cava (the Spanish equivalent of Prosecco), was really just as good as Champagne – and how right she was!

For some reason, Prosecco has become the most popular fizz out there (perhaps the name sounds more fun than Cava?) and now, we can’t get enough of it. It’s relatively cheap and, served chilled, it slips down very easily.

In the 1960s, Asti Spumante was the popular Italian sparkling wine but that was sweet, a bit like the dreaded Babycham, the blight of many a teenage party! Since then, production techniques have improved, leading to the high-quality dry Prosecco we enjoy today.

The most exciting development I have come across is the arrival of – wait for it – Skinny Prosecco! Yes, seriously folks! I recently came across this description on a pub’s wine list:

“A low calorie, vegan, organic, delicious wine that captures all the taste of normal Prosecco but with around half the sugar content. At about 65 calories per glass – less than a normal sized apple – this could be a cheeky alternative to one of your five a day!”

I confess I do love Prosecco as a very cold summer drink, the bubbles are somehow uplifting! It also works well in a Bellini cocktail and, of course, mixed with orange juice can make a very acceptable Bucks Fizz. Oh hang on, if you add orange juice, does that make it TWO of your five a day? It’s getting better all the time – cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Elderflower and strawberry jam

Making your own preserves is a very satisfying thing to do. Those pretty rows of little jars full of homemade goodness make me feel very pleased with myself! It’s always good to try and ring the changes and, although strawberry jam is a huge family favourite, I thought the addition of elderflower sounded fun.

Ingredients:

  • 2kg (4lbs) strawberries
  • 2kg (4lbs) preserving sugar
  • Juice from three lemons
  • 8 large elderflower heads

Method:

Prepare some sterilised jam jars, either in the oven, or in a dishwasher, or you can microwave a jar (leave slightly damp) for about 45 seconds. I always buy new lids and greaseproof covers as that way I am sure they are bacteria free. Also, put an ordinary saucer in the freezer so that it’s ready to use for jam testing later in the cooking process.

Prepare some sterilised jam jars, either in the oven, or in a dishwasher, or you can microwave a jar (leave slightly damp) for about 45 seconds. I always buy new lids and greaseproof covers as that way I am sure they are bacteria free. Also, put an ordinary saucer in the freezer so that it’s ready to use for jam testing later in the cooking process.

To intensify the strawberry flavour, prepare the berries and put them in your preserving pan (or large saucepan) add the sugar and lemon juice and leave (covered) overnight.

Now start to heat them slowly and add the elderflowers. This should be done by first shaking the flowers (adding creepy crawlies to jam really isn’t a good thing) and then picking off the flowers and add to the strawberry mix.

Stir well and bring to the boil for about 5 minutes. Skim off the scum that may form on the surface.

If you have a sugar thermometer then boil until it reaches 105ºC and then test a small spoonful on the cold saucer. Place the test spoonful and saucer in the fridge and within 5 minutes it should have formed a skin that wrinkles when you push it. If this doesn’t happen then boil again for another couple of minutes and try again.

Once you are happy that it has reaching the setting point, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes and fill the sterilised jars.

This is particularly nice with scones and Devon clotted cream – me biased, not a chance!

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James Wong – what a great writer!

James Wong – what a great writer! Just occasionally I come across a writer or a new book that really grabs me and this was the case with James.

The first book I bought was ‘How to Eat Better’ which I saw mentioned in Good Food magazine. It’s really fascinating and has masses of facts that made me exclaim out loud as I read through… possibly a little annoying for Richard! Did you know smaller (and therefore cheaper) blueberries are better for you than the big ones – green asparagus is much better for you than white? Lazy people rejoice as apparently the vac packed and cooked beetroot has as many good things going for it than boiling and peeling your own… and so the list went on.

I felt sorry for Richard listening to my reading out paragraphs aloud and so bought him (and his brother) a copy of James Wong’s ‘Grow for Flavour’ which has so many tips and tricks that help in the garden. For example – watering tomatoes with seawater gives them a much better taste – giving hard to germinate seeds like parsley a quick dose of soluble aspirin helps them along – and yes you guessed, Richard is now reading out bits to me from his book!

Finally, having been so interested in his other books I treated both myself and my sister (I love giving books) to ‘Grow your own Drugs‘ – Kate was a little worried as it had to get through the mail and therefore the Jersey Customs department but, so far it all seems to have gone swimmingly! As I have a summer cold at the moment I was very taken with the recipe intended to help colds and flu – Echinacea Ice Lollies. This contains 80ml of vodka and that alone has to cheer things up! But there are plenty of other ingredients that should ease the throat. Disappointingly, the vodka is to soak the Echinacea root and doesn’t actually make an appearance in the finished lolly – hmm, sad.

Just thought I would share these titles with you – I love books with useful hints and tips and James is certainly an author I will look out for him in future programmes – he has shared a TV series with another person I admire – Dr Michael Moseley and has covered the Chelsea Flower show with the BBC team … I will be keeping an eye out!

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Crunchy Chocolate and Peanut cupcakes

Here’s a delicious recipe for crunchy chocolate and peanut cupcakes. Our wonderful baking bookkeeper, Jo B, produced these cracking cupcakes for our member of staff Maggie, who was celebrating her birthday!

Makes 12

For the cakes:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 125g of self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 75g milk chocolate chips

For the frosting:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 160g smooth peanut butter (nice with almond butter too)
  • 60g icing sugar, sifted
  • 21/2 tbsp milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C/150˚C fan /gas mark 3 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. For the cakes, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs then beat well until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and milk and mix until smooth and fully incorporated.
  2. Fold the chocolate chips into the cake mixture then divide equally between the paper cases. Bake for 18-20 mins or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the tins and place on a wire rack to cool.
  3. For the frosting, beat the butter and peanut butter together until smooth and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and milk and beat together slowly until combined then beat a little faster until soft
  4. Now make the honeycomb which, by the way, could be used in ice cream or just gobbled by grandchildren!
  5. 200g caster sugar, 4 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda and chocolate to melt (optional)
  6. Put sugar and syrup into a pan and bring to the boil. Then gently simmer for 6 minutes. Add the bicarb and mix around quickly because it will immediately begin to fizz.
  7. Pour into a greased tray (the butter wrapper works well if you have one) and leave for 5 minutes, then gently begin prising from the tin. Leave for another 5 minutes and completely remove from tin. Break into pieces and keep in an airtight container.
  8. To clean the pan, add water and bring to the boil and just use the spoon to scrape.
  9. You can then half dip pieces of the honeycomb in chocolate if you wish – indeed I suspect serving just the honeycomb dipped in chocolate could get great granny points for me!

 

 

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