Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tried and tested

It's hard to believe a whole three years have passed since I posted my first entry in this challenge, and even harder to believe I've actually finished! Things here in Christchurch have changed dramatically during this period, but looking at what's already beginning to rise out of the rubble, I can't wait to see what the next few years will bring.

My goals in taking on this challenge were to increase my cooking confidence and repertoire, and I've definitely achieved that. There are so many things I would never otherwise have tried, and I now have a heap of great recipes to call upon at need. I'm not afraid of trying new recipes, and if something goes wrong, well, I never pass up a chance to laugh at myself!

My Edmonds book is now well-thumbed and well-travelled, blotched and scribbled on, and generally looking like a proper Edmonds should. I've acquired a collection of Edmonds books and baking powder tins, as well as a cluttered cupboard full of bakeware. It's odd how many different-sized cake tins are required for the various recipes. You'd think they'd adapt them all to fit a few standard sizes.

So anyway, that's all 576 recipes completed. If it's in there, I've done it. If you find something in your Edmonds book that I haven't done here, then the chances are you've got a different edition than mine; they do vary quite a bit. Sometimes it's just the name of the recipe that's different, so you might find it if you look hard enough.

In some places, I've substituted ingredients, and often I've halved the recipes, but I find they stand up quite well to substitutions and short-cuts. Since Edmonds recipes do tend to err on the side of blandness, don't be afraid of adding extra seasoning or whatever you think a dish needs. Who's eating it, after all?

I need to stress that just because I didn't like something, that doesn't mean that everyone would dislike it. I've had several people defend recipes that I didn't like at all, and that's good evidence that the recipe is not to blame - it's just a matter of personal preference, or merely that I made one of my not-uncommon errors somewhere along the line.

The other side of that coin is, of course, that just because I liked a recipe, it doesn't mean you will. You just have to try them and decide for yourself!

There's no way I could finish up here without some fairly extensive summing-up. I've gone through and made a summary of each section of the book, with reference to the most noteworthy recipes and occasionally pointing out recipes that should be there, but aren't. Just a warning: I'm trying to review three years of cooking here. This is going to take a while.

Breads and Buns

I'm not great at breadmaking, but I've had one or two good outcomes. Chelsea buns are definitely the stand-out recipe in this chapter, and while the no-knead brown bread recipe was slightly ambiguously written, it produced a really nice loaf of bread. One thing I'd like to have seen in this chapter is a recipe for fruit bread.

Scones, Muffins and Loaves

The Edmonds scone recipe - particularly cheese scones - has long been a favourite of mine, though not everyone seems to like it.The wholemeal yoghurt scones were also a surprise success - much lighter than you'd expect from any wholemeal version.

The various muffin recipes are fairly old-fashioned, dating from before muffins became a popular cafe treat. They're smaller, plainer, and meant to be buttered. If you alter your expectations a bit, they're very nice. I like the fruit muffin recipe as a flexible basis for variation.

A well-made loaf with a cuppa is a lovely thing. Unfortunately, when I'm the one making them, they aren't so well-made. They always seem to come out overcooked on top. That said, there were a couple I'd recommend: banana loaf is a much more reliable alternative to the temperamental banana cake recipe, and oat bran date loaf is rich, moist and filling. Fresh lemon loaf is another good option.

Let's not forget pikelets, (because we all love pikelets) gems (an oldie but a goodie) and honey tea buns: (delicious if eaten fresh).

I'd better also mention the glaring omission in this chapter: why does the Edmonds book not have a recipe for that old Kiwi favourite, the sugar bun?


The Edmonds book has a great selection of those classic biscuits we all love: afghans and ANZAC biscuits are always a winner, and there's melting moments or shortbread if you want something a bit more buttery.

There are also a couple of lesser-known biscuits that I liked a lot, particularly honey oat biscuits and nutty golden biscuits.


I have a strong suspicion that the most-used Edmonds cake recipe across New Zealand is the controversial banana cake. I managed to get a decent result from this notorious recipe, but it would be a pity if people were put off by this one and never tried any of the other great cake recipes on offer.

There's the continental apple cake, delicious and moist (just make sure it's cooked in the centre - or use a ring tin) and the odd-looking but delectable lemon sour cream cake. The gingerbread was nice, and the plain-seeming date cake is surprisingly tasty.

Cupcakes are quick, easy and always popular, and the Edmonds book gives us a simple recipe with several variations. I've been in the habit of making smaller, bite-sized ones - if you do this, be very wary of the cupcakes drying out. The standard patty-tin size is much easier to get right. While we're talking about party food, don't forget chocolate bubble cakes - for the big kid in all of us!

There is only one baking recipe in the Edmonds book that can claim gluten-free status: rich chocolate cake, which is made with ground almonds instead of flour. It's nice (and has a liqueur option for the grown-ups) but that's not much to work with if you're stuck with a gluten-free diet, which is more and more common these days. It would be great to see a section somewhere of gluten (and/or dairy) free recipes, or perhaps a page of hints as to how recipes can be converted for special diets.

Finally, it's got to deserve a mention: where's the lolly cake? How can this oh-so-Kiwi recipe be omitted? Actually, I have a very good idea why, (it uses packet products not produced by Edmonds) but it's a great pity, all the same.

Fruit Cakes

Not everyone likes fruit cakes. I do, but some are definitely better than others. The best Edmonds ones are fruit cake and tennis cake, and the ginger ale fruit cake is pretty good too. There's also a sultana cake recipe that bears a strong resemblance to my Oma's delectable version - if you take my advice and up the essences a bit, you'll find this one just as good.

Slices and Squares

Slices and squares are probably my favourite kind of baking. They generally keep longer than cakes, and are quicker to make than biscuits.

One old favourite of mine is albert squares, mostly for nostalgic reasons - I used to make it as a kid. Apple shortcake is deservedly popular, and ginger crunch needs no introduction. Also worth a mention is the refrigerated apricot and lemon slice, an easy, no-bake recipe which would make a great base for experimentation.

Brownies in the american style have become extremely popular in recent years, but there's huge variation of tastes and textures out there. My preference is for a brownie that has a slight crust but is soft and slightly chewy on the inside. By these standards, the Edmonds chocolate brownie has the right texture, but would need some added cocoa to get enough chocolaty flavour. Personally, I think the coconut chocolate brownie is better.

The stand-out omission here is tan square. You find it in every bakery and cafe - why not the Edmonds book?


We all know I'm not great at sponges. I've improved slightly since my early attempts, but there still remain several recipes I wouldn't try again! On the other hand, there's  one that I have found to be extremely reliable, even to someone as sponge-challenged as myself.

That recipe is the three-minute sponge. It's as simple as a sponge can possibly get, and even I get good results out of it. There's a couple of variations as well, which is why I know it comes out great every time (assuming you bake it for long enough).

A second sponge that came out not too bad is the plain sponge cake recipe - it wasn't all that high, but was good enough to make some very successful lamingtons!

Baking with Edmonds

I'm not much of a fan of these cake-mix recipes. Don't get me wrong - cake mixes make reliably delectable cakes, and they're a good option when you don't have time for things to go wrong. What I dislike is these contrived recipes designed to make you buy a product. In most cases the recipes have a much less appealing result than if you'd just used the cake mix for its intended purpose.

This is not true of all the 'Baking with Edmonds' recipes - both the jaffa cupcakes and the strawberry butterfly cakes were delicious. Cake mixes definitely make even better, moister cupcakes than the basic 'from scratch' Edmonds cupcake recipe.

Fillings and Icings

I'm not much in the habit of icing things - so many icings are sickly and sugary, and do nothing but add fat and sugar to what you're eating. Of course, I don't think I'm in the majority here - for many people, the icing is pretty much the whole point. Anyway, some things just aren't complete without it.

There's a basic white icing in the Edmonds book that has a number of flavour variations. Mostly I tend to avoid this very sweet version, but on some things it's ideal. Butter icing is more my sort of thing, and I tend to use this for cupcakes and similar. Melted chocolate icing is an absolute winner, and there's a pretty good cream cheese icing in there too.

As for fillings - the only one in there I'd recommend is mock cream. It sounds revolting, but is actually a fairly pleasant butter-based filling - certainly nothing like the tasteless artificial stuff you get in supermarket sponge cakes.


Pastry is one of those things I'd always just bought as needed, without ever considering making my own. Even now, I'd turn to the supermarket for flaky or puff pastry, because it's such an effort to make, and my results were never very good.

Sweet short pastry, on the other hand, is dead easy to make and comes out almost exactly like the bought stuff. Choux pastry is another good one - it takes a lot of mixing, but it's not difficult, and then you can wow people with your chocolate eclairs and cream puffs.

If you're making something savoury, food processor pastry is a good option: it's a variation of the plain short pastry, but comes together much more easily in the processor.

Along with the recipes for making pastry, there are some that give you examples of what you can do with it. I make Christmas mince pies to these basic instructions every year, and coconut macaroons are among my all-time favourite Edmonds recipes.

It would be cool to see some filo recipes in future editions - perhaps not the pastry itself, but recipes using it. Baklava anyone?


The soups chapter opens with a selection of stock recipes. They all work well enough, but if you have trouble getting flavour into a stock, I recommend browning the bones first, as with brown meat stock - I tried it with chicken bones, and it made a much more flavoursome stock.

There are a few soup recipes I really like: mushroom soup is very quick and tasty, and I make pea and ham soup every year from my Christmas ham bone. One of my top recommendations is spicy lentil soup - just make sure you get good bacon bones.

I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin soup - I'll eat it, but it's not a favourite. I seem to be in the minority here, because my entry on pumpkin soup has had hundreds more views than any other. I guess a lot of people go looking for that recipe, so it must be a good one.

One thing I do wonder is why there's no chicken soup recipe. There's chicken stock, sure, but no chicken soup. It's one of those traditional homely soups, considered a remedy as well as a meal, so why isn't it there? If there's room for half a dozen boring cream soups, there's definitely room for chicken!


Here's one reason why I love my Edmonds book: what other cookbook would give you detailed instructions on how to boil, poach or scramble eggs? The Edmonds book does not assume that you know anything.

There are also some really good egg-based recipes: favourites like bacon and egg piequiche  or eggs benedict.

I can't count how many times I've made meringues since I started this challenge - they're just such a good way to use up egg whites. Oddly, an identical meringue recipe is also listed under 'slices and squares', and I see in the latest version, the one in the eggs chapter is gone. I would have thought it belonged more with eggs than slices and squares, but as long as it's there, what does it matter?

Pasta and Rice

The pasta  recipes in this chapter read like the weekly menu of the average student flat: spag bol, lasagne, macaroni cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, carbonara.. these are well-known dishes, and the Edmonds recipe might not always be the best version out there, but they're always readily at hand, and open to your own adjustments, substitutions and short cuts.

If you're bored with plain rice on your dinner table, there are plenty of simple options in the rice section. Try almond, lemon, or coconut chilli rice, or perhaps make a pilaf to go with your main.

Let's not forget that pasta and rice are great bases for budget-friendly dishes: savoury brown rice casserole, tuna sauce for pasta and tuna rice bake are all simple, tasty meals that can be thrown together at minimal expense.

Quick and Easy with Rice

There are actually only three of these recipes based around packet Rice Risotto, and although I enjoyed the leek and sausage risotto, my favourite was yoghurt lamb rice. Actually, it was the lamb I liked - you could serve it with all sorts of things, so the accompanying risotto was hardly relevant.


One thing this challenge has done is force me to eat more fish. I don't dislike fish, but I seldom used to  cook it, since I didn't really know what to do with it. The Edmonds fish chapter has plenty of suggestions, however.

If you like a plain old battered fish, there are different batters to choose from: faithful old beer batter, crisp batter, or crispy Chinese batter. If you prefer your fish crumbed, try pan-fried fish.

The newest version of the Edmonds book has renamed this chapter 'seafood', which makes sense, because it's not just fish. If you're into whitebait or oysters, there's a recipe there for you. Even mussels and scallops are represented.

There are some great recipes here: there's the old favourite fish pie; salmon with mustard and dill is a good one, and the squid rings were delicious. Barbecued fish looks like something you'd see in a fancy cookbook, but it's dead easy and very tasty.

Of course, if you happen to have a can of salmon in the cupboard, salmon rissoles make a quick budget meal. Or try lattice pie - a cheap, easy, and surprisingly tasty recipe I've made more than once since I first discovered it.


So many great recipes are included in the meat chapter that I was hard put not to list almost all of them here. All the popular ones are there: meatloaf, mince pie, shepherd's pie, curried sausages.. and if you're looking to make meat patties, they're called hamburger steaks in here for some reason.

The Chinese-style pork fillet stands out in my memory - it's just so moist and tender, and really not difficult to make. Throw together a stir-fry to have with it, and you're sorted.

The beef casserole recipe is a particularly useful one for a hearty winter meal. It's more of a stew than a casserole, certainly more stew-like than the Irish stew! There are several suggested variations, but I suggest you just throw in what you have. Don't forget the dumplings!

If you're a fan of offal, then you might be keen on steak and kidney pie or pudding, or perhaps liver and bacon. I'm not too keen on liver or kidney myself, but with the pie and pudding at least, you can just leave the kidney out if you want.


Sometimes I wonder how thoroughly these books are edited between editions. It's probably around 10 years since chickens stopped being sized as No.8, No.9 etc, instead being described as Size 14, Size 16 etc. The 2012 printing I have here still lists the old chicken sizes at the front of the poultry chapter, and of the three recipes that require a full chicken, one still lists a No.8, and the other two have been semi-amended, now somewhat ambiguously requiring a "No.14".

There are quite a number of poultry recipes,  but family chicken pie is definitely my favourite - it's a great base recipe that you can use to make large or individual pies, adding whatever you happen to have handy.

Other chicken recipes I particularly liked were marinated chicken wings, pot-roast chicken, tarragon chicken, chicken paprika, Chinese lemon chicken, and the first recipe I ever completed for this challenge: chicken delicious.

International Dishes

The chapter on international dishes is an interesting one. It's here that you'll find slightly more authentic flavours than the Kiwi-ised versions in other chapters, but they don't go overboard with exotic ingredients.

I really liked the richness of the French recipes boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin. A couple of the Mexican ones were  delicious as well: I've always loved chilli con carne, but tostadas were a new delight. The chicken enchiladas are great, but you really have to double the filling to make it work. The Chinese ginger beef stir-fry is a recipe I've used several times. It's a great basic stir-fry - I just use whatever veges I happen to have on hand.

My favourite in this chapter is the lamb curry. I'm not in general a curry person - it's ok, but I don't usually go out of my way to eat it - but I love this one. It's not spicy, just earthy and delicious. You don't have to have it with lamb - it works with beef and chicken too.

There's definitely scope for some new additions in this chapter. It's entirely normal to cook meals from a variety of cultures these days, and some of the most popular ones are not mentioned here. I'm sure a recipe for Thai green curry, or Pad Thai would see a lot of use. I'd definitely try making Chinese style dumplings, or steamed pork buns, if the recipe was there. Some basic sushi-making instructions, with a list of possible fillings, might be a good idea. A recipe for a proper Italian risotto wouldn't go astray, either.


The 'breakfasts' chapter comprises only a couple of pages, but there's still some good stuff in there. There's some tasty suggestions for English muffin toppings and croissant fillings, and you can't go past a nice bit of French toast.

If you're a muesli eater, there are two good options to choose from: toasted or natural. As so often happens, the less healthy toasted one is tastier, but the natural muesli is still very nice, with the bonus of being lower in fat and sugar.

My edition of the Edmonds book is old enough to still have Creamoata as a recipe. In more recent editions, the exact same recipe is given for ordinary porridge, though I find it comes out revoltingly watery. My Creamoata entry draws frequent views from those nostalgically Googling this much-loved product that is now out of production, and my negative comments have given rise to wild rage in at least one reader. I never thought anyone could get so wound up about porridge.


The Edmonds book has a great section listing vegetables with suitable cooking methods and serving suggestions. If you're looking to do something a bit beyond these basics, there's a heap of vegetable-based recipes as well.

Recipes like Broccoli with almonds, honey-glazed carrots and parsnips, and orange and ginger carrots, are a great way to jazz up ordinary veges. Classic vege dishes like cauliflower cheese and corn fritters are also represented.

Stuffed mushrooms are a favourite quick meal of mine, and for all you potato-lovers, there's stuffed baked potatoes or potato skins (I'd call them wedges) as well.

Salads and Dressings

There's an interesting selection in the salad recipes. The usual suspects are represented, but there's some more uncommon combinations as well. I loved the colour and texture in beetroot salad, and the combination of carrot, peanut and yoghurt was surprisingly pleasant.

I love the kind of salad that is substantial enough to double as a light meal: smoked salmon salad was a good one, but spinach salad, with its bacon and egg, mushroom and orange is the winning salad/meal in my book.

I was fascinated to find a coleslaw that didn't have carrot or cheese in it, though these are listed among the optional additions - almost all the salads have suggestions for added extras or substitutions, so all sorts of variation is possible.

There's a good selection of dressings, but the most useful are the French vinaigrette and its mustard variation. Since I'm a major mayo fan, I really enjoyed making my own mayonnaise, and it's not as tricky as you might think. If you're short on time, you could try quick blender mayonnaise instead, or yoghurt dressing, for a low-fat alternative.

Sauces and Marinades

I have to admit that getting through the sauces and marinades was a bit of an effort. Just about every sauce you can think of is represented in your Edmonds book. There’s apple sauce if you’re having pork, mint for lamb, tartare for fish, or mushroom’s good on a nice bit of steak. You can’t possibly eat corned beef without mustard sauce, and there's an easy, creamy satay I'd recommend.

My biggest headache was completing the seemingly endless variations of white sauce. That’s the thing about white sauce – it’s a simple method that forms the basis of any number of sauces and other dishes. I feel like I've done this a million times since starting this challenge. I never really made a white sauce before this, but I ought to know how to do it now!

There’s a selection of sweet sauces to go with puddings; mostly variations on the custard theme (brandy sauce, vanilla custard etc) but there’s also a caramel sauce that is quite tasty.

Finally, there’s a handful of marinades as well. Barbecue and Chinese marinade would be my picks from this bunch.

Party Finger Food

This chapter is my first place to look if I'm going somewhere and want to bring a plate of nibbles. Some of the recipes are a bit dated, but that doesn't mean they don't taste good. Try devils on horseback or stuffed eggs, for example. Similarly, a cheese ball might be a bit retro, but they're quick to throw together and everyone loves them. If you're keen on warm savouries, I definitely recommend sausage rolls and savoury tartlets. Edmonds even have their own version of the Kiwi party staple, onion dip.

Cold Desserts

We're getting to the dangerous end of the book - that is, if you have a sweet tooth like me. I have such a long list of desserts and puddings to to recommend - it's no wonder I've packed on a few kilos!

I loved the Edmonds cheesecake and chocolate mousse. Flummery has always been a favourite of mine, and there's a tasty yoghurt variation as well. Try making your own ice cream, or sorbet - then maybe eat them with marinated strawberries. Even those fancy-looking fruit flans you see in bakeries are quite easy to make at home. 

I mustn't forget to mention those well loved-classics: if you need to follow a recipe to make trifle, there's one here - and while many of us have our preferred versions of pavlova, the Edmonds one is a perfectly good recipe for anyone who doesn't.


Puddings have an aura of Wintertime about them - warm comfort food like bread and butter pudding, upside-down or chocolate self-saucing pudding, and don't forget all those steamed puddings! Considering the detailed instructions on almost all basic cooking techniques, it's a surprise that there's not much in the way of instruction on how to steam a pudding. I picked up hints here and there, and made it up as I went along - they generally turned out ok.

Fruit crumble is a subject of much debate - I prefer mine with oats, but some people see that as sacrilege. There are several different Edmonds versions to try - fruit betty is an interesting twist if you want to try something slightly different.

Then there's the pies: pecan, lemon meringue and apple pie are all delicious in their own way - and while we're on the subject of apples, apple dumplings are definitely worth the effort.

There are some accompaniments to choose from too: a couple of different custards, and a yoghurt cream. If none of these appeal to you, don't forget there's some more options back with the sauces.

Desserts with Edmonds

We're back to those packet-mix recipes again - but there were actually several really good ones. Apple coconut flan was unexpectedly delicious, and Dutch layered pancakes are a definite winner.

Black Forest cheesecake is an interesting (and tasty) adaptation of a packet of cheesecake mix - I'm very keen to attempt similar adaptations to the plain cheesecake recipe to see if this can be done from scratch.


I'm certainly not much of a sweet maker. It really would have made my life easier if I'd purchased a sugar thermometer early on: I would have had something more reliable than 'soft crack/hard crack' type guidelines to help me get it right.

I guess that's why I preferred the non-boil recipes: chocolate truffles, brandy balls, and apricot balls. No waiting for sugar to dissolve, or trying to determine if you've got 'hard crack' yet!

Still, you can still get reasonable results without a thermometer. Often, when I thought I'd done a terrible job, the people eating it (usually the workmates) were delighted with it. My nut toffee, toffee and butterscotch were like that. It was a similar story with the fudges. I've never been much of a fudge fan, but everyone else loved my chocolate and Russian fudge!

Jams and Jellies

Jam-making is something I never would have bothered with, had it not been for this challenge. My first attempt was a bit of an ordeal, but I've a better handle on it these days.

My favourite jams are apricot, and the raspberry jam recipe that will also work for boysenberries or loganberries. The apricot just has such a beautiful rich flavour, and the raspberry one is so simple anyone could do it - it eliminates testing for setting point, which is my least favourite part of jam-making.

Also worth mentioning are cape gooseberry jam - lovely if you can find the gooseberries - and lemon honey, a creamy, tangy way to use up any random lemons (or limes) you happen to have lying around.

Pickles, Chutneys and Sauces

This was also a new area for me: I'd never made chutney before. Well, I've made a few now! To be perfectly honest, most of the chutney recipes in the Edmonds book taste fairly similar. Just choose the one that best suits the fruit you want to use. Peach chutney is probably my pick, but they all come out decent if you allow them a month or two to mellow out.

Incidentally, if you happen to have a plum tree in the back yard, I use my homemade plum sauce a lot in marinades and stir-fries.

Also in this chapter are the pickled onions and gherkins, which are quite fun to make yourself. Also, I love the flavour of homemade spiced vinegar, though if you don't like that vinegary smell (I happen to love it) you won't want to have this hanging around your kitchen for a couple of days.


The chapter on preserving mostly consists of instructions for various ways you can preserve food. It's pretty handy to have that information if you need it, but there's nothing much interesting in the few recipes there. I guess rumpot probably deserves a mention, as the longest-running recipe - it took me a whole Summer to complete that one.

So that's it: the Edmonds Cookery Book, in a nutshell. Quite a big nutshell, actually: I've written more than I expected, but I guess you can't summarise three years of cooking in a couple of paragraphs.

Now it's time for me to find something else to do with my time. It will be weird to be able to cook whatever I want, and not have to write about it. I'll have to suppress the urge to take photos of everything I'm doing, too!

Thank you to everyone who has been reading right from the start - and those who picked me up somewhere along the way. I hope you've enjoyed my haphazard Edmonds journey as much as I did.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The best for last?

Everyone who hears about my Edmonds Challenge tells me their favourite recipes. It's always interesting to hear which ones people like and don't like, and wouldn't you know it? The same recipes come up time and time again.

By far the most commonly-mentioned recipe is macaroni cheese (p101). I had so many people asking if I'd done it yet, that I impishly decided, very early on, that I would leave this one till last. I'm probably the only one who will find it amusing, but I always enjoyed the fact that there was one Edmonds recipe most people were familiar with that I'd never attempted.

That's right: I've never made macaroni cheese before tonight. It's just not a dish that ever appealed to me much, but after hearing so much about how easy and versatile it is, I've been looking forward to trying it.

I cooked up some macaroni before starting on the sauce, preparing the rest of the ingredients while I waited. Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I made a start on the sauce, cooking onion in butter until clear. Then, using the now-familiar white sauce method, I stirred in flour, adding mustard powder as well. Next, I began gradually adding milk, stirring as the floury mixture slowly became a sauce.

When the sauce boiled and thickened, I took it off the heat and added seasoning. Seasoning is vital in any kind of white sauce mixture, or you've got something revoltingly bland on your hands. When I was happy with the seasoning, I turned to the main addition - cheese!

I'd grated a couple of cups' worth of cheese, and threw about half of it into the sauce. There's a optional suggestion of adding ham or bacon, so I'd got a couple of ham steaks at the supermarket on my way home. This turned out to be far too much (one would have been plenty) and I ended up not putting all of it in.

Finally, I stirred in the cooked macaroni, and transferred it all into the dish. I grabbed the remaining cheese, which was still sitting inside the grater, to scatter on top. I soon saw that I'd underestimated when I thought I'd put half in the sauce. There was much more left than there should have been. I scattered it on anyway and put it in the oven.

It was apparent when I took the dish out 20 minutes later that I really did have too much cheese on top - it had only partially melted, and wasn't close to looking 'golden' like the description in the recipe. I gave it a few more minutes, and finally resorted to turning on the grill for a minute or two to get a nice golden colour.

Now I've tasted the famous Edmonds macaroni cheese, I can understand why everyone seems to like it. It's nothing fancy, just cheesy, moreish comfort food. There's not enough vege in the standard recipe to make a full meal (I had mine with salad) but I can see how you could easily bung in leftovers or whatever you had lying around. I was actually quite tempted to grate in some of my endless supply of courgette, but figured I'd better stick to the recipe - this time at least.

So it's a good feed, but is it the best recipe? I wouldn't say so - not that I can really identify a single stand-out recipe, anyway. There's so many great ones in there, and after 576 recipes, and three years of cooking, selecting one favourite, or even a top ten, is too much of an ask. Of course, I do have some last things to say and recommendations to make. That's a job for tomorrow - and a big job, at that!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

One last feed for the undeserving

Very early in this challenge, my father dubbed my colleagues "the undeserving workmates" in protest that they got to eat more of my baking than he did. Whether they are undeserving is a matter of opinion; but they have certainly proven themselves useful in disposing of a fair number of Edmonds creations.

Naturally I had to bring them one last morning tea. I'd set aside chocolate log (p66) for this occasion, and with the deadline looming, I couldn't put it off, but I wasn't quite recovered from my cold - I didn't want to pass on my germs. I grabbed a mask from my emergency kit, sanitised my hands, and went to the kitchen.

Before I started cooking, I had to make sure I got a photo of myself in this ridiculous getup, which proved quite difficult. Seems that if you smile when your mouth is covered, you just look really intensely psycho. Finally, I managed one that looked only mildly psycho, decided I was satisfied, and turned to the actual baking.

This is really just a chocolate-flavoured sponge roll. That wasn't necessarily reassuring, considering my history with sponges, but I gamely forged ahead, confident of a decent result. If I haven't learnt to make a sponge by now, I never will.

I beat eggs, sugar and vanilla until thick, added melted butter and a little water, then the sifted dry ingredients: cocoa, flour and baking powder. I was worried about how much volume was lost by the time all the ingredients were combined.

My sponge roll tin is not really usable anymore, as the non-stick coating is peeling off every which way. I've been using my adjustable tin instead, but once you pull it out to sponge roll size, it a bit flimsy in the middle. I had to put it on a tray to keep it flat, and even then, some of the mix oozed under the lining paper at the join as I moved it.

After 12 minutes in the oven, the sponge was cooked. It was a bit low at the sides, and had a noticeable hollow in the centre where the tin joined. As I tried to flip it on to a sheet of baking paper I'd prepared with a dusting of icing sugar, the sponge cracked straight down the centre and flopped onto the bench in two separate pieces.

Well, there's nothing I could do to fix it. Luckily, the crack was straight and even, so I supposed I'd have to make two smaller chocolate logs instead. I spread each piece of sponge with jam, and rolled them up in the baking paper to cool.

While the sponges were cooling, I made up a chocolate butter icing, and whipped some cream. When I unrolled the cooled sponges, I spread them with cream and rolled them up again. The final step was to pipe the icing on "with a shell pattern icing tube to resemble a log".

Okay, well I didn't have a shell pattern one in my standard set, but among the nozzles that come with the disposable piping bags was one that might do. Icing and decorating has never been my strong suit, so I did my best, but it's a bit sad-looking. It would have been easier (and probably more effective) if I'd just spread the icing on and run a fork over it afterwards.

So that's morning tea tomorrow - one last Edmonds offering for the workmates, and I've only got one more recipe to go. Anyone picked what it is?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

That plan's out the window..

By the time I'd got to the last dozen or so recipes, I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to make and when. This weekend, I intended to head down to Timaru and help Mum and Dad move house, inevitably proffering some Edmonds baking, namely a ginger cake (p48).

Sadly, I caught a head cold that's been doing the rounds at work, and despite repeated doses of hot blackcurrant and extra sleep, I haven't managed to get rid of it yet. While I'm not actually incapacitated, it would be a very bad idea to take my germs to Timaru, where Mum and Dad, worn out from weeks of packing and house-moving stress, would fall easy prey to my greeblies.

So I'm stuck at home, but still had to make the cake. I guess I'll just have to eat it myself.

I started by creaming butter, sugar and golden syrup. The next step is to sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon and mixed spice into a separate bowl, and beat eggs in yet another. Then you add the dry ingredients and the eggs alternately to the bowl, and mix that all in.

This makes a fairly stiff dough, and you have to mix it quite a lot to get it all combined. The next additions of walnuts and crystallised ginger are supposed to be stirred in as well, but I figured that could wait until I'd made the final addition - baking soda dissolved in milk.

It was 3/4 cup of milk, which is a fair bit of liquid to try and combine with something of a dough-like consistency. It made for a sloppy, lumpy mixture in the end. I have to say I don't understand the reasoning behind this sort of method. Would it really come out any different if I'd just bunged it all in together and mixed it up? It would dirty fewer bowls, anyway.

I'd been unusually organised and prepared my tin in advance, lining it first with brown paper and then baking paper. I poured my cake mixture in, spread it out as evenly as possible, and placed the cake in the oven.

After 35 minutes, I took the cake out and left it in the tin for another 10, then took it out to cool on a wire rack. I gave the cake a little time to cool before cutting a slice. I was surprised at the soft, light texture; I guess I was expecting something a bit more dense. The ginger flavour is understated, though it's quite pleasant to come across the occasional chunk of crystallised ginger as a little burst of flavour.

So not a bad cake, really. Pity I couldn't share it with Mum and Dad!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rustic decadence

Coq au vin (p148): a French recipe from the collection of international dishes. I gather that this can be roughly translated as 'chicken in wine', a modest but accurate description. It's one of those traditional peasant recipes that are generally described as 'rustic'. To my simple palate, however, there's something quite decadent about a recipe that starts with cooking bacon in butter, and goes on to use brandy and red wine as a cooking liquid.

I used my largest saucepan for this recipe, even though I was only doing a half (or slightly more than half, actually, since the chicken thighs I was using were so massive) recipe. This was only just big enough - you'd want a large flameproof casserole dish or something if you were going to do the full recipe.

As I've said, the recipe begins with cooking bacon in melted butter. Unnecessary saturated fat, perhaps, but it smells so good! I scooped out he bacon and set that aside, then placed my chicken pieces in the butter and let them brown on both sides. Then, the chicken was also removed and set aside while I cooked the onions.

The recipe lists pickling onions, but they didn't have them at Pak N Save when I went to get my ingredients. I substituted shallots, which seemed to work just fine. I cooked these whole until they'd gone golden, then tipped the chicken pieces and bacon back in.

At this stage, I added button mushrooms, then poured in a small amount of brandy. The next additions were garlic, tomato paste, and red wine. Finally, I tied together a bay leaf and a sprig each of thyme and parsley, and bunged that in as well. That was all for the time being - I put the lid on and let it simmer.

After 40 minutes, the chicken was beautifully tender and smelled amazing. I added some seasoning, then scooped out the chicken so I could work on thickening the sauce. The recipe didn't say whether to remove all the other bits (mushrooms, onions etc) as well, but I figured it would be easier if I did.

When all the bits had been scooped out, I had only liquid to work with. I'd prepared a paste of butter and flour, which the recipe tells me is called Beurre maniéI added this paste to the sauce bit by bit, whisking until it was absorbed. This is a pretty clever way of thickening a sauce, because it doesn't seem to create any lumps - the flour just gets absorbed as the butter melts. Of course, what with the garlic and other bits and pieces, the sauce wasn't exactly smooth anyway - I doubt if I would have noticed a lump or two.

I returned the rest of the ingredients to the sauce and served myself up a plateful. It occurred to me that I ought to have bread or something to go with it, but never mind. I was just keen to try this plateful of delicious-smelling chicken. 

It was absolutely as delicious as I'd anticipated. I couldn't get enough of the rich savoury sauce, and the chicken and vegetables just fell apart as I ate. I really could have done with some bread to mop up my plate, and it somehow does need something more to make a complete meal. 

Coq au vin might seem like a lot of work, but while you do seem to spend a bit of time taking stuff in and out of the pan, it's really not difficult. It just takes a few minutes of attention at the beginning and end of the simmering time, and you get a really nice meal out of it. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Forget reputation

Last night I completed the final pudding recipe: lemon soufflé (p211). It's been some time since my partially successful attempt at the chocolate version of this recipe, and in the meantime I've picked up a hint or two.

Some time back, I watched an episode of Masterchef that reviewed the best methods for getting a soufflé to rise properly. Apparently the key is to make sure the sides of your dish are well enough greased that the soufflé doesn't stick to the sides as it rises. I mentally filed this information away for future use, so when it came to making my soufflé last night, I was able to butter and flour chilled ramekins in a clumsy imitation of the demonstrated method.

Once the ramekins were ready, I made a start on the actual soufflé. I melted butter over a pan of boiling water, then removed it from the heat and stirred in lemon rind and juice, and some milk. Naturally the cold milk did not combine with hot butter too well; I was wondering at the obvious flaw in this instruction when I glanced at the recipe again and realised I should have added flour to the butter first, making a smooth paste to which the other ingredients would then be added.

Instead, I had to stir the flour through afterwards, and hope that it would successfully combine as I heated the mixture over the pan of hot water again. I had to make vigorous use of a whisk, and never quite achieved the consistency I'd hoped for, but by the time the mixture had thickened, I was happy enough with it.

I separated some eggs, and beat the yolks until pale. These I stirred into the soufflé mixture, before beating up the whites, adding half of them to the main bowl and folding them through before adding the rest. This method seems to work quite well in keeping as much air as possible in the mixture - much less is lost in the second addition than the first.

The soufflé mixture divided neatly into the prepared ramekins - the main recipe is for a single large soufflé, but I'd done the usual half recipe and separated it into two smaller dishes, mostly because they were the most suitable ones I had. The smaller dishes also meant the soufflés cooked much more quickly - I halved the cooking time to 20 minutes, but  even that was slightly too long. Perhaps 18 minutes would have been about right.

I was delighted that my efforts had resulted in soufflés that actually looked like soufflés, instead of the odd rounded version I'd had with the chocolate one. They'd risen quite well, and didn't collapse upon coming out of the oven. They have to be eaten immediately, of course, or even the best-made soufflé will go flat. This meant, sadly, that I was obliged to eat both of them. I couldn't see them go to waste, could I?

Luckily, they were beautifully light and airy, with a pleasant touch of lemon and only a slight hint of egg. That careful pre-coating of the ramekins gave a beautiful butteriness to the soufflé, and the edges had a very slight crust from the flour, which was a pleasant contrast to the light fluffiness of the rest.

Soufflés are supposed to be pretty tricky, but I reckon mine came out well enough. Another example of why you shouldn't be daunted by recipes that have a reputation for being difficult - just give it a go, and decide for yourself!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Not one to hurry

My biggest (or only) remaining conundrum was this: "what excuse can I possibly come up with, for making cheese fondue (p147)?" With time running so short before next week's deadline, I really had only two options: make a small version of the fondue for myself, or go with my favourite standby and feed it to the workmates.

Well, sharing it would be better on the arteries, don't you think? It was going to be a bit tricky, though. Mum had dug out Oma's cool old fondue set for me, but the burner part was missing. On a recent trip to the Eco Shop, I'd selected a saucer to support tea lights, but I didn't think even three tea lights would put out enough heat to melt the cheese properly. I'd have to do it in a saucepan and transfer to the fondue pot for serving.

It was originally my intention to do this tomorrow, rushing home at lunchtime to put the fondue together, then bringing it back to the office. As it turned out, we had a very quiet morning today, and I started to think tomorrow might be madly busy by comparison. On this basis, I decided to get the fondue done today instead.

The glitch in this plan was that I hadn't got my ingredients yet. I rushed over to the supermarket and grabbed gruyère and cheddar cheese, and a baguette. I was halfway home when I stopped dead, realising that my house keys were in the pocket of my jacket - and my jacket was sitting on the back of my chair at work (insert four-letter words here).

It took me another 20 minutes or so to go back and get my keys, then get home. I rushed into the kitchen and grabbed the recipe. I saw immediately that my plan to melt the cheese directly in a saucepan wouldn't work - the recipe specifically advises you either to use a fondue pot or a bowl over a pot of boiling water. I was also wrong in my belief that all I needed to do was melt the cheese and add wine - actually the wine went in first, then the cheese.

I began by running the cheese through the grater blade on my food processor. The recipe is for 250g each of cheddar and gruyère, but as the gruyère seemed to come in 200g packages only, I just got that size (plus 250g tasty cheddar). Let me tell you, 450g is a lot of cheese! It was more than enough.

I got wine and crushed garlic into a bowl and sat that over a saucepan of simmering water. I had to heat the wine to 'almost boiling' but meanwhile, I filled the fondue pot with hot water to warm it (teapot-style) and cut up the baguette.

The wine seemed to take forever to heat; eventually I started chucking handfuls of cheese in and whisking it through. At first, the cheese seemed to be combining quite well, but the more I added, the more I found it was just partially melting and sinking to the bottom. What I had in my bowl was a layer of thin liquid on top, and thick, half-melted lumpy cheese in the bottom.

By this time I was very aware of how long I'd been away from my desk. It was creeping up on 1 1/2 hours, which is an unsuitably long lunch break, even if you are using it to bring back food for everyone. I kept whisking, but the cheese in the bottom of the bowl showed no sign of melting further.

In the end, I gave up trying to make a smooth combined mixture and turned to the final step - adding a little water combined with cornflour. This was, of course, to thicken the fondue, though since half of it was already so thick it clumped around the whisk, I didn't really know what would happen.

Luckily, the cornflour thickened the liquidy layer in my bowl to the point where the thick cheesy stuff would actually combine with it reasonably well. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than I'd been expecting. I poured the cheese mixture into the fondue pot, packed everything up, and headed back to work.

My colleagues gamely gathered around and took turns dunking bits of bread in the fondue pot. It must have tasted ok, because nearly all of it got eaten. Well, I can tell you myself - it was quite nice. Cheese fondue really just tastes like what it is: melted cheese with wine and a bit of garlic. Tasty, and amusingly retro, but probably not worth the artery-clogging.

If you decide to try this one, I have a little advice for you: don't do it in a hurry. Allow yourself plenty of time, because there's something quite stressful about fondue-making with the clock ticking.

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