6 August 2015

Tips, Hints, so you can save time and money (oh yeah, & some crafts)!

After a while you begin to pick things up as you go along in life – some come to you only years after you’ve been doing the same thing day in and day out.  Others you find in your travels – either watching some program on telly, surfing the web for that all important detail, reading it in a cookbook, etc.

Here I’ll try and put some of my best tips that have been honed over time and help me in doing what I want – cook but also not spend so long in the kitchen.  I like it but hey – we have to have a life right?!?
First tip – when making your own pasta there are some rules I adhere to.  First I let the pasta rest for at least 30 minutes before working with it.  This gives it time to form the all-important gluten within the flour/semolina.  I use Jamie’s recipe of 100gms of flour to 1 large egg.  I tend to do a 50-50 ratio of pasta flour to semolina and you can do as you like but I’m not keen on 100% semolina.  Then when I’m working with it initially in the pasta machine I use corn flour (corn starch on the other side of the pond) to keep the pasta from sticking to the rollers.  I don’t heap it on but just dust lightly as I go – you won’t need too much.  Then when I’ve got my finished product be it noodles or pierogi I dust them again with a liberal amount of corn flour.  This keeps the past from absorbing any more moisture and they do not stick together.  I usually set it onto a cookie sheet for this purpose – it’s easy to wrap all up with cling film when done and it’s ideal if you want to freeze them this way.

This is apparently a Chinese technique to keep wonton wrappers from sticking together – well it works great and allows me to make my pasta noodles in the morning and not cook them until later in the day – time saver!  I’ve also read that you can make your wrappers and put corn flour in between and then freeze for later use.  Not tried that as yet…still have not gotten around to make my dumplings (or Dim Sum)…but soon!

My second tip is save your bones for soup.  This sounds a bit odd but it does work.  If I have a whole chicken I roast it for dinner, usually we have the legs and then the white meat is left.  I will use this to make what I call Mystic Chicken.  This is usually just some sauce I’ve made with the chicken and served with rice.  I add whatever is in the fridge that needs using up.  I save the bones and any pan scrapings (I usually add water to the pan and scrape up and save with the bones – this is where all your flavour is!) to make stock.
I then can use this stock for risotto, doodle-noodle soup (my version of cup a noodles but way better!) or whatever I need stock for in the week.  I never, ever throw out bones without doing this.  Save them in a container in the freeze until you have a healthy supply and voilà instant stock!  I also use them for my garbage soup – this is what I make when I’m at the last of everything in the fridge – that lonely carrot, stalk of celery, last onion, bits of parmesan rinds (again kept in the freeze until needed) and some beans from a tin all make a hearty warm soup.  There is no recipe for this – it’s just thrown together and gives me enough meals for the week.

My third tip is save the parmesan rinds – I put these into soups (mentioned above) but I also add to risotto if I want an extra kick.  They never go off in the freeze and I usually get quite a collection of them so have them to hand.  I leave whole so I can fish out later but J loves them as they are chewy and full of that umami flavour. 

My fourth tip is freezing herbs.  I’m all for fresh herbs when you need them but I tend to freeze mine as I find them reduced all the time.  I have successfully frozen parsley, coriander, thyme, lemon grass –whole and chives.  Rosemary does well if you chop it up and have a small amount – otherwise leave the leaf whole and chop when you’re ready to use.  I’ve found mint doesn’t work well – it loses its oomph.  Chillies are the same – they lose their intensity.  This is OK if that’s what you want but this is what I’ve found.  I never use garlic or onions frozen – they aren’t that difficult to do yourself and never taste the same at least I find.

My fifth tip is make your own sauces for pasta when serving as a side dish.  There’s a famous brand here in the UK which I tried but it was way too salty for my taste but also it really wasn’t nice.  So I now make pasta, save some water that it boiled in and add my own flavourings.  This depends really on what I have in the fridge that need using up.  Sometimes I have some cream cheese left over, some single or double cream so in that will go or a knob of cheese and then some herbs – use the pasta water to thin or bring it together.  Voilà a sauce that’s 100 times better than any packet.  I also use lemon juice, garlic, and butter as another.  I’ve tried a bit of tomato puree and some cream with parmesan again lovely.  Do not limit yourself – I’ve put in veggies like peas, courgettes, green beans chopped up in small bits, just about anything I can find goes in.  These are the bases I use and really you can alter them as much or as little as you like to your tasting. 

My sixth tip is making your own herb-y cream cheese.  I did a posting about this and it’s now a firm favourite in our house.  I add what I like to plain cream cheese and in no time flat (especially if you’ve got them frozen – it’s like seconds into the bowl) you have a delicious treat.  I have also done a cinnamon/nutmeg version for bagels and it’s fantastic as well.  It really kicks up the flavour for cinnamon bagels.

My seventh tip is making croutons!  I never, ever buy them – the mark up on them is extreme.  I always have a bit of bread left over from something and they too make great croutons.  I usually chop into smallish bites and then top with oil and my seasoning's.  This is up to you what you want to add.  I usually go for salt, pepper, garlic powder or onion powder.  I then add some dried herbs such as oregano and some cumin or coriander.  It’s really up to you and what the final salad it to be.  I usually keep for about a week in an air-tight container but usually they don’t last that long.

My eight tip is make your own sushi ginger.  It couldn’t be easier and it absolutely a million times better than the store bought stuff.  I tend to make it in the fall/winter and let it sit in the fridge all this time till I crave it in the summer months.  It’s mellowed and it is lovely.  I re-use some of the old liquid when I make a new one – the old liquid I don’t pour down the drain – oh now.  I use the liquid in my home made salad dressings it gives it a special ginger kick. Yes, I am thrifty to the nth degree!  I also take the peels and make ginger tea - usually adding whatever tea - black or green I have in the house to it and voilà - iced tea!

And my last ninth tip is hard boiled eggs.  Usually when I make a big salad as I call it for dinner – anything that needs to be used goes in.  I always put a few hard boiled eggs on the top and usually buy some small pasta (orzo, stars, etc.) and cook at the same time the eggs come to a boil.  I usually save my eggs that I know will be older and thus easier to peel for this job which is good. 

However, sometimes I am in the mood for potato salad (American kind not the junk I find here) as well as macaroni salad.  Hard boiled eggs are difficult to peel if they are new from the store.  However, read a tip on line to put one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in the water and this will loosen them inside from the white membrane.  Well yes, it does and thank you to the Gods for this tip!  It works so well but can really only be used when you are doing a large portion of eggs or no pasta like I do (which I do to just save on pots). 

Now the crafts – I’ve been making my book roses now for a while and doing the pearls on them.  So had to find something else to try and this is part of the result so far.  I got some watercolour paints and coffee filters and well it just happened!  I saw this link on-line and thought I can do that surely.  I’ve mastered the book paper – how hard can they be?  

Well not hard but they are a bit more time consuming to say nothing about space to dry all of them.  I found them easier to leave whole first, dye in the paint (I even used chalks – they too came out great) and then spiral cut and roll.  I found cutting them made them just too difficult to do the dying and I’m kind of an impatient girl!  In any event, the white filters are obviously better but the natural ones work too.  I found some of the white ones on eBay quite cheap and they were very large - so made a bigger flower than normal.  I found depending on how strongly the watercolour paint is this makes a difference in the final colour.  I used an old plastic tray to keep the paint contained.  I then just littered the window sills with newspaper to dry all the filters on.  I found a sunny day best for this aspect and I did all the dying in one day and did the rolling in another. 

Now onto the best bit - found a load of fruit in the store reduced (as you can see) and made some jam.  I got seven pundits of fruit and this made about 6 jars of jam.  I like it a bit looser than most and also I had about half a kilo more fruit than the sugar which since these were sweet didn't matter.  Lovely!  I sure will enjoy it in the winter months on my toast.  
The total cost for the fruit as well as the jam sugar was the princely sum of £6.22 so it cost me £1.04 per jar to make.  I think it was worth it and to have my fruit whole or nearly is so much better than shredded fruit which is what I seem to get in most jars of the commercial stuff.
And this is J's birthday dinner - yes, he's in love with the sushi!  And at least it was warm this year for us to enjoy it - some years it's not and that's terrible for early August! 
Well that should keep you all going for a bit.  I’ll think of a few more and post later on, yes I cannot stop there as it’s now just a habit that I’ve kept up with.  Come and join me!  Enjoy!

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