Friday, April 30, 2010

It just seems like cheating..

I've never seen the point of cake mixes. How hard is it to sift a few dry ingredients into a bowl? I never thought I'd find myself adding cake mix to my supermarket trolley, but the Edmonds book actually has two whole chapters devoted to recipes based on their cake mixes: 'Baking with Edmonds' and 'Desserts with Edmonds'.

With this in mind, I've been keeping an eye on the cake mix section, and a few weeks ago took advantage of a special and bought a chocolate cake mix. It cost me about $3.50 on special, but I was horrified to see the usual price was $5.65! For what? A bit of flour, sugar, baking powder and cocoa? I've since realised that the one I bought was a sort of deluxe version that also includes a sachet of icing mix. The plain one is a bit cheaper.

The mix sat in my cupboard for several weeks, until yesterday I finally decided to use it for some date caramel bars (p71) last night. I liked the look of the recipe because it seemed rich and decadent: a date and chocolate base iced with caramel icing.

You start by putting the chopped dates in a saucepan with some butter and water. Once the butter has melted, you take it off the heat, let it cool, then add the cake mix and eggs. The result was quite a stiff mixture, but it looked ok once I'd smoothed it into the tin and put it on to bake. Despite my reservations as to the mix, it came out looking and smelling lovely.

Once the base had cooled, I started on the icing. It's quite astonishingly sugary - the main ingredients are 1 cup each of brown sugar and icing sugar. You start by heating the brown sugar in a pan with some butter and a couple of tablespoons of milk. Once the sugar has dissolved, then you take it off the heat, and mix in the icing sugar.

The icing was also pretty thick - it was actually setting as I spread it on the slice. It ended up looking a bit patchy, especially around the edges. But never mind, that doesn't affect the taste! As per the recipe, I cut the slice when the icing was "almost set" i.e immediately. The recipe is supposed to make 16 'bars', but I cut mine into 20 squares, and even then I felt they were bigger than they needed to be - I'd hate to try and get through a full-size bar!

Once again spreading the calories around the office, I took the tidiest pieces into work this morning. The slice had dried out a bit since my 'quality control' tests last night, but it was still quite well received - as a free morning tea usually is!

I'm afraid this slice has not converted me to cake mix. It was nice, but I wouldn't be rushing to make it again. I think I could make a better one from scratch. The icing was very sweet, a bit too much for some people. In contrast, the cake itself is not at all sweet: it has quite a nice cocoa flavour really, but the texture is quite dense (possibly from having the wrong size box of cake mix, but the recipe was unclear about that), and the flavour of the dates is all but lost in the chocolate. Also, it doesn't look like it's going to keep very well - not a plus for a single like me.

There are plenty more cake-mix recipes to try, but they'll have to be a lot more impressive than this one to convince me that cake mixes are worth buying.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Scrumptious salmon

I finally selected a recipe which would use up some of my leftover mayonnaise: salmon steaks with mustard and dill (p117). It's basically grilled salmon with a sauce made of mustard and dill mixed with mayo.

I chose to use a salmon fillet instead of a salmon steak, merely because the fillets were on special and the steaks weren't. I like the fillets better anyway. I'd purchased the salmon and got home before I thought about what veges I could have with it. Usually I'd eat salad with salmon, but I didn't have much in the way of salad makings in my fridge.

At this point I remembered the green beans I'd forgotten to put in the minestrone. They needed using, and there's a recipe for Italian green beans (p161) in the vegetable chapter. That gave me at least something green on my plate.

Italian green beans are cooked in tomato and garlic. The recipe is for 500g, but I only had a handful, so I kind of made up the quantities as I went along. I found a handful of sorry-looking cherry tomatoes in the fridge, blanched and chopped them, then chopped the beans and put them on to boil. Once they were mostly cooked, they went into a saucepan with the tomatoes, a little garlic, some oil and seasoning. A few more minutes cooking and they were done.

Meanwhile, I had my salmon fillet under the grill, and was making the sauce. Pretty simple really - just mayonnaise mixed with a dollop of mustard and some chopped dill. Some carrot (also unearthed in the vege bin and cooked in the water that was still hot from doing the beans)  and I had a reasonable-looking meal, all in the space of about 15 minutes.

The salmon was absolutely lovely with the mustard and dill sauce. The fillet I had was quite large, but it was so good I could have eaten twice as much. I also quite enjoyed the beans. It's a bit different to have them cooked with tomato, but it's nice as a change from plain boiled beans!

Salmon can be pretty expensive, and unless you have some in the garden, the dill's a bit of a waste of money too - you have to buy a whole packet in order to use half a teaspoon of it. Even so, I'd absolutely recommend trying this - especially if you already eat salmon occasionally. Of course, with all that mayo, it's not the healthiest salmon dish you could make, but you've got to treat yourself occasionally!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Persistence pays

Last week, after my fairly unsuccessful attempt at apricot marshmallow (p198), I conjectured that adding the sugar before the gelatine might make a difference by stopping the marshmallow from setting before I could fold the apricot through.

There’s a variation of this recipe which uses banana instead of apricot. I had an egg white left over from making mayonnaise, and there were some brown bananas in the fruit bowl that needed using. I decided to have another go.

I once again got out my eggbeater, but this time I had a lot of trouble getting the egg white even frothy, let alone to the “stiff peaks” stage. I'm pretty sure this was because I had to use a much bigger bowl, since my small one was in the fridge, full of mayonnaise.

I persisted with the beating, (feeling slightly guilty about the amount of noise I was making for the neighbours through the wall) to no avail. I got the whites a bit frothy, but that was all.

Eventually I emptied the mayonnaise out of the smaller bowl, washed it carefully so as not to get any greasy traces in my egg whites, and transferred them through. This was slightly more successful, but I still never got them very stiff.

After what seemed like hours of beating, I gave up and decided to start adding the sugar. This beat in quite easily, so I went on to the gelatine. I beat it through quite quickly, and tried to add the banana before the marshmallow set. Even then, it was too late: when I tried to fold the banana through, all I got was big lumps of marshmallow through the banana.

Figuring I’d probably ruined it anyway with my underbeaten eggs, I thought “oh well”, and beat the banana in with my eggbeater. I got a smooth mixture out of this, but it didn’t make nearly as much as it should have – my half mix should have got me two dessert glasses full; in reality I barely had enough for one. This was of course the result of not beating my eggs enough – the amount of marshmallow I had was quite out of proportion to the amount of banana I added. Beating the banana in probably removed a bit of air out of the mixture as well.

I gamely placed my banana-heavy mixture in the fridge to see if it would actually set. About an hour later, I found it actually had! And you know what? It was delicious! I’m absolutely sure that my version of banana marshmallow was nothing like it was supposed to be, but I don’t care: at least all that beating got me a tasty dessert in the end.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Making mayo

I absolutely love mayonnaise: It must be the Dutch influence in my upbringing (yes, Mum, it's your fault). I use mayonnaise the way other people use tomato sauce - in particular, I always dip my fish and chips in mayo instead of tomato sauce. But it's one of those things you just buy at the supermarket, without even considering the possibility of making your own. It'd never have occurred to me to make my own mayonnaise, had I not been doing this challenge.

I had to make mayonnaise (p184) at some stage, so when I decided to use my last remaining Granny Smith for a waldorf salad (p180), it seemed like a good time to have a go at the mayo as well.

Mayonnaise is not difficult to make, (if you remove the difficulties of trying to take a photo of yourself pouring oil into a bowl, subsequently spilling it all over the bench and floor, because you're twisting your hand at an awkward angle) it just takes a bit of whisking. Basically you start with an egg yolk, a little mustard powder and cayenne pepper, and some vinegar. Then you add the oil gradually, keep whisking, and eventually it thickens.

The finished product doesn't look like bought mayonnaise. It's yellowish rather than white. Well, mine was! I assume it looked like it was supposed to, because it tasted ok. The taste was a bit different to the bought stuff as well, but I liked it - surprisingly, since I'm a bit picky about my mayo. Bear in mind that it's about 95% oil, though: the bonus about bought mayo is that you can get low-fat versions.

Having made the mayonnaise, I needed a salad to use it in. Waldorf salad consists of chopped apple, orange, celery and walnut, tossed in mayonnaise or a similar dressing. It's nice and and crunchy, and very fresh-tasting. If you don't like celery, stay away from this one, but otherwise I'd recommend it. The only negative was that there was a bit too much dressing - the salad was sort of swimming in it. But that's probably my own fault: I got a bit excited using my homemade mayo..

Despite the overdressing, the leftover salad was still perfectly edible for dinner the next night. That's not something you could say about most salads, especially once the dressing has gone on. So it's a really good one for any barbeques or similar when you're asked to bring a salad - you want something that won't be limp and grotty by the time you get there.

So that's some of my homemade mayonnaise used. Luckily there are plenty of other recipes with mayo in them, so I'll be able to use up the rest! I've got no idea how long it'll keep, but I bet it's not as long as the bought stuff!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meal in a bowl

I arrived home from Dawn Service on Sunday morning, (after a Honeypot breakfast: mmm) and found it was still only 9am. Unlike most Sundays when I lie in bed reading before dragging myself into the shower around 11, I was up and about and had the whole day ahead of me. I decided to make the soup I'd planned for dinner my lunch instead.

Minestrone (p87) has one ingredient that requires  a little advance organisation. The dried haricot beans need to be soaked overnight before cooking. Luckily, I'd noticed this in the recipe and set some to soak on Saturday night. As long as you're organised about it, using dried beans and lentils is pretty easy - and very very cheap.

Making the rest of the soup was put on hold, however, when I found that my camera battery was flat: I bet that's not a common interruption in most kitchens! I had a lot of chopping up do do, though, so I neatly prepared all my veges while I waited for the battery to charge. It helped a lot to have everything ready for the pot. I should try to make a habit of it: usually I'm still frantically chopping one ingredient while another is already burning.

By the time I'd finished with my chopping, the battery had charged enough to take a few of the obligatory photos. Then it was on with the soup: fry he onions, then add the rest of the veges and cook for 8 minutes. After that, add the tomatoes and stock, season, bring it all to the boil and simmer for an hour and a half. It seems like a long time, but you can make some ANZAC biscuits while you're waiting!

I was slightly disappointed in the texture of the soup. The recipe said it would thicken, but it didn't. And when I thought about it, there's no thickening agent of any kind in it, so I can't see why it would thicken. Apart from that, it was pretty good. With all the veges, a bowl of this is quite filling - certainly enough for a meal for me! It's an absolutely perfect winter warmer on a chilly day like today.

The afternoon, while visiting my Nana,  I was describing for her the things I'd cooked lately. I suddenly realised I'd missed an ingredient in my minestrone. Nothing hugely important, just a handful of green beans that should have gone in with the rest. I'd bought them specially, but couldn't remember seeing them in the recipe when I was making the soup. I asked to see Nana's Edmonds book so I could double-check that I'd made a mistake.

Nana went to her recipe-book drawer to look for her Edmonds book. There we unearthed a facinating collection of old cookbooks which we spent the rest of the afternoon looking through. We never did find an Edmonds book, but that idea was fogotten amidst the perusal of an old Aunt Daisy cookbook, various fundraiser cookbooks and Nana's notebook of hand-written recipes dating from 1940.

Later in the afternoon, I arrived home (bearing Nana's Aunt Daisy Cookbook for further reading) and checked the recipe in my Edmonds. Yup, should have had green beans. Oh well - it can't have made much difference to the result. Now I just need to use up those beans I bought... Where's my Edmonds Book?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

ANZAC snack

I'd happily eat ANZAC biscuits (p34) any day of the year, but if there's one day that it's particularly appropriate to make them, it's today.

There's so much to like about these biscuits. Not only do they taste great - crunchy outside, chewy centre.. overall just very tasty and dangerously moreish - but they're also very cheap, quick and easy to make.

It took me about 5 minutes to get them in the oven. Flour, sugar, coconut and rolled oats in a bowl, then add the liquids: butter and golden syrup melted together, and mixed with baking soda dissolived in hot water. Roll the dough into balls, place on a tray and squish slightly. 10-15 minutes later, you've got ANZAC biscuits.

I deliberately undercooked mine slightly, because I like them chewy. My second tray was cooked a bit longer, and the biscuits were crunchier. While they're still good, I like them less than the chewy ones. This, of course, is merely a matter of personal taste.

Got 20 minutes up your sleeve and some rolled oats in the cupboard? Go on, make some ANZAC bikkies - you know you want to.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Apple Explosion

I've had three Granny Smiths sitting in my fruit bowl ever since I bought far more than I needed for the blueberry jam I made about a month ago. Luckily, they keep quite well, but I've been meaning to use them for something.

Last night seemed like a good time to make baked apples (p207), or, more accurately, a baked apple, since I only made one. Pretty simple really - peel one-third of the apple, core it, and fill it with a mixture of brown sugar, butter (or in this case, canola spread) and sultanas.

In hindsight, the next instruction is a little odd, but it didn't strike me so at the time: "Place apples in an ovenproof dish. Add enough water to come 2cm up dish." I think the last time I baked an apple was probably in manual cooking class back in primary school, but I'm pretty sure they weren't soaking in water at the time. However, I put the water in as per the recipe and put the dish into my little toaster oven to bake.

30 minutes later, I took the lid off and was surprised at the result. The skin had come away from the flesh of the apple, which had sort of exploded from the inside, at least as much as was possible in the enclosed oven dish. I ate it anyway, and it was ok: the flesh of the apple was nice enough, but the filling didn't have much flavour, since the sugar and 'butter' had all leaked out into the water.

I mused over this result for a time and decided that while the instructions don't actually read that way, it's possible that the oven dish containing the apple(s) is supposed to be in a second container, which is where the water goes. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I wonder if there's a missing clause in that particular recipe. It's certainly ambiguous as it stands.

With this theory in mind, and still 2 more Granny Smiths in the fruit bowl, I made another attempt. This time I placed my oven dish in a waterbath instead of putting the water directly into the dish with the apple. And the result? A baked apple as opposed to a poached one. Mine was slightly underdone, but it was still lovely: soft flesh and sweet fruity filling. I'd say that the waterbath is definitely intended, it's just not very clear in the recipe.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Good ol' spag bol

There are lots of reasons why just about everyone has bolognese sauce with spaghetti (p100) in their repertoire. It's cheap, easy and you nearly always have mince in the freezer and a can of tomatoes in the cupboard (unless you're a mad tomato-hater like some people I could mention). I would also have said that it's quite a quick meal - certainly it is the way I'd normally make it - but The Edmonds recipe actually takes a while.

The recipe begins in the usual way - frying the onion and browning the mince. Then you add herbs, tomato paste and canned tomatoes. It says to put the tomatoes through a seive. I had a go at this, but I don't recommend it - it's a bit of a mission and, since the flesh won't go through, only the juice, you end up wasting a fair bit of tomato. I'd just use a can of chopped tomatoes. Or, if you prefer a smooth texture, blitz them in a blender/food processor, or get a jar of tomato passata.

The part I found weird was that after adding all the above, you also pour in a whole heap of water (4 cups for the full recipe; 2 for me with my usual half). Then the sauce needs to be brought to the boil and simmered for 45 minutes. I'm not sure what the point of this is. It seems quite silly to put a lot of water in, only to reduce it back out again. How would that add to the flavour of the sauce?

I wouldn't normally add water; just reduce it for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened a bit. However, this time I was following the recipe, so I put in the water, set the sauce to simmer and went to do some pilates.

Don't worry: I kept an eye on the stove. Periodically pausing the DVD and running into the kitchen to check and stir the sauce probably wasn't the best for my pilates session, but at least I didn't set fire to my kitchen (though it's actually quite hard to imagine anything less flammable than a pan of tomatoey water with  bit of mince and stuff floating in it).

Eventually the sauce had reduced down suitably and I put on a pot of spaghetti. Some seasoning and a few shavings of parmesan and I had my plate of spag bol. It was quite yummy, but I found it slightly bland. I'd cooked out the water, but the tomato flavour still seemed a bit watered down. I prefer my usual method, which consists of much the same ingredients and method - all except the water. It's much quicker, and in my opinion, tastier as well.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I really must buy an electric beater

I'd had my eye on apricot marshmellow (p198) for quite a while. It was one of the recipes I considered when I was trying to use up leftover egg white some weeks ago. However, I didn't have a can of apricots in the cupboard at the time, so I ended up making meringues instead.

I bought some canned apricots shortly after that, and since then I have been meaning to have a go at this one. Last night I finally got around to it. I only wanted enough for myself, so once again, I decided on a half mix.

This meant trying to beat a single egg white to stiff peaks. Deciding that one egg white would not be enough for my big mixer, I once again got out the eggbeater to do it by hand. In a short while, I had nice stiff egg whites, and was able to add the gelatine, which I'd had dissolving in water while I beat the eggs. I added the gelatine gradually as per the recipe, and very soon had a smooth, thick marshmallowy mixture.

At this point I started adding the sugar. This is where I ran into touble. I'd beaten the mixture "until very stiff" after adding the gelatine, just like it said in the recipe. But I found that it was so stiff - in fact almost set - that I couldn't beat in the sugar. The mixture kept clumping around my beater and jamming it up.

Eventually I discarded the beater and stirred the sugar in by hand. Then I tried to fold through my pureed apricots, but did not really achieve the desired result. The mixture was lumpy as a result of partially setting before the addition of sugar, and the apricot puree wouldn't combine with it to make a smooth mixture.

In an attempt to get a smoother texture, I gave up on folding and simply stirred the apricots through. This removed some of the lumps, and mixed the apricot in more thoroughly, but took a bit of the air out of the mixture. When I finally poured the mixture into dessert glasses to set, it still looked lumpy and odd: not what I'd pictured at all.

The marshmallow never set properly. It kind of firmed up, but not the way it should have. It actually tasted really nice, but the texture was distinctly weird.

I have a theory that if I'd had a hand-held electric beater, I could have got everything mixed through properly before it started setting. One of these days I'll buy one, but in the meantime, I'm considering another attempt with the eggbeater - this time adding the sugar before the gelatine. It might just make the difference.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Awesome sauce and average fish

Conscious that I had not yet made any fish recipes, I was flicking through the fish chapter, trying to decide what I could make. Sweet and sour fish (p119) jumped out at me because the list of ingredients read like an inventory of my fridge and cupboards. The only thing I needed was some fish.

The recipe suggests several possible types of firm white fish - snapper; trevally; tarakihi or orange roughy. When I reached the Pak N Save fish counter, however, none of the above was available. At the suggestion of a friendly fish counter man, I got some monkfish instead.

The recipe is, as the name suggests, basically fish in a sweet and sour sauce. Firstly you put the fish in an oven dish, season and set it aside while you make the sauce: fry up an onion with some green pepper, then mix up the following and add it to the pan: pineapple juice; grated root ginger; brown sugar; soy sauce; spiced vinegar and some cornflour to thicken.

The sauce thickens quite quickly, and you then pour it over the fish, cover and bung it in the oven for 25 minutes. The sauce was very thick to begin with, but by the time it was cooked, quite a lot of liquid had come out of the fish, so the sauce had a better consistency.

After cooking, you stir through chunks of pineapple and cucumber - a bit tricky without flaking up all the fish pieces - and serve on rice.

The sweet and sour sauce was really really good. I think perhaps it was my home-made spiced vinegar that gave it such a nice tangy taste, but it would probably still be good with the bought stuff. In contrast, I found that the fish itself was decidedly average. I don't think monkfish was the best choice for this recipe - given the option I'd choose tarakihi instead - but really I'm not entirely sure that sweet and sour sauce is a good match for any kind of fish.

I see that at some point I will be making sweet and sour pork. The sauce in the pork recipe looks similar, but not quite the same. It'll be interesting to see how it measures up.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lessons from a banana cake guru

I've never had much luck with banana cakes. They always seem to come out overcooked on top and gooey in the centre. Yet I still make one whenever I find myself with a couple of dodgy brown bananas. The only recipe I've ever used is the Edmonds one - a recipe that is somewhat notorious for coming out badly. So there was a definite tendency to blame the recipe.

That was until Steve, who sits at the desk next to mine, brought in a home-baked banana cake for his birthday morning-tea shout: the lightest, fluffiest and  most generally delicious banana cake I've ever tried. And what recipe did he use? Edmonds, of course!

There was some discussion about this, and Steve, glancing at the banana cake recipe in my book, said he thought his recipe (in an old-school Edmonds book) was different, so he brought it in to compare. We found that while the recipes don't look the same at first glance, the only real differences are in metric vs imperial measurements.

Determined to produce a decent  banana cake, I quizzed Steve for hints, and decided to bring in my own cake for comparison on Monday.

His first piece of advice was to use high-grade flour, instead of plain flour. This surprised me, as high-grade is generally only used for breadmaking and heavy fruit cakes. But when you think about it, a banana cake is quite a heavy cake..and it has fruit in it. A stretch, but Steve reckoned he'd read it on a flour packet somewhere - and it works for him, so I tried it.

Remembering that Steve had mentioned using his mixer, I dragged mine out as well. I used this to cream the butter and sugar, as well as the rest of the liquidy stuff - eggs, banana and baking soda dissolved in hot milk. I wasn't really impressed with the result, since the paddle kept leaving lumps of unmixed butter on the bottom. I suspect the whisk attachment might have done a better job.  In the end it was all mixed together and ready for the dry ingredients.

In an attempt to get extra air into the mixture, I double-sifted the flour and baking powder. Steve's recipe had specified that these should be "previously mixed" before adding, and while this instruction wasn't in my version, I decided it was worth a try.

Not wanting to over-mix the cake batter, I folded the dry ingredients in carefully using a slotted spoon - a technique gleaned from the "Hints on cake baking" section at the beginning of the chapter. This done, I poured the mixture into a lined tin, and stuck it low in the oven (another Steve tip).

The cooking time given in the recipe is 50 minutes. Steve was quite shocked at this, since he only cooks his for about half that time. The cooking time in the old recipe is 20 minutes, but that's understandable, since in that version, the batter is cooked in two sandwich tins then filled with whipped cream and sliced banana. Two half-sized cakes would naturally take less time to cook.

Not wanting my cake to be underdone, I decided to set the timer for 40 minutes, but by the time 30 were up, the cake was looking worryingly brown on top. I put some baking paper over it and left it for another 5 minutes, but at that point I decided to take it out. The cake passed all the usual tests - top bounces back, skewer comes out clean, coming away from the side of the tin - so I left it to cool and went out to get some groceries.

Coming back an hour or two later, I went to make the icing ... and found I didn't have enough icing sugar. Smart of me not to check that before I went to the supermarket! I put my shoes back on and wandered down to the local Supervalue.

I'd decided to make lemon icing for my cake, firstly to make it slightly different from Steve's one, but also because that would cross off another recipe - I'd already made chocolate icing for my afghans. I personally quite like lemon icing on banana cake - I've never quite understood why people usually use chocolate.

As usual, I made my icing too runny, worrying it wouldn't spread evenly. It spread quite nicely for a start, but once it started dribbling down the sides, I was fighting a losing battle to stop it from oozing all over the plate. In the end I gave up and left the icing to set in a little skirt all the way around the cake.

So this morning I arrived at work bearing cake. Someone else in the office had also randomly brought in baking for no reason, and with both our offerings sitting around, everyone was confusedly wondering whose birthday it was.

Come morning tea time, I cut into the cake, holding my breath - and it looked beautiful! No glugginess in the centre, just smooth fluffy cake. It was generally agreed that my cake, while not quite as good as Steve's, was pretty damn good, though opinions were divided on the lemon icing. It was slightly dry around the edges - I definitely should have taken it out at the 30-minute mark. I think next time I'll set the timer for 25 minutes and then keep an eye on it.

So what made the difference? Which of the many things I did differently worked the magic and produced a decent cake? Was it the high-grade flour? Using the mixer? Was it double-sifting the dry ingredients, and folding them in with a slotted spoon?

Another possibility occurred to me late last night: While my recipe states 2 cups of mashed banana, Steve's merely said 2 bananas. At the time, I figured it amounted to about the same thing, but when I did my bananas, I simply mashed up two without thinking about it. I never measured it, but I don't think my two bananas yielded a full 2 cups - more like 1 1/2. Did my banana cake succeed through accidentally putting in less banana?

I really don't know what made the difference in this cake. What I do know is that in future I will definitely be sticking with the high-grade flour and the shorter cooking time. I'll probably stay with the "two bananas", simply because it's more straightforward than "two cups of of mashed banana". I've also been told that double-sifting is a good idea for any baking you want to keep light and fluffy, so I might make a habit of that too.

 So don't give up on the Edmond's banana cake. It is possible to produce a fantastic cake from this recipe - it just needs a little tweaking.

Simple Sunday lunch

Sunday afternoon: I'm in the middle of baking a cake, and I realise that at 1pm it's probably time I ate something. Glancing down at the bench, I notice an open egg carton with a single egg in it.

The thing I love aboout the Edmonds cookbook is they don't assume you know anything about cooking: If you don't know how to cook an egg, you'll find instructions in your Edmonds book. I chose scrambled egg (p97), firstly because it's my favourite way to have eggs, but also because I only had one egg left and a lot of the other egg recipes required two.

If you've never scrambled an egg, it's very easy and very fast. Just beat the egg with a bit of milk, add salt and pepper, then put it in a frypan and push the mixture from the outside to the centre as it cooks. Bung some bread in the toaster while you're cooking, and 30 seconds later, you have a light meal or snack.

I stirred chopped parsley through mine as per the recipe, which I'd never done before, and it was very tasty. There are other variations suggested if plain parsely sounds too boring for you. A few of the leftover cherry tomatoes from my antipasto, a little pepper, and my lunch was ready: quick, nutritious and delicious.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Filling the biscuit tin

Actually, it's a plastic snaplock container, not a tin, but "biscuit tin" just sounds better, don't you think? I like to have a couple of biscuits in my lunchbox for morning tea - I used to just buy packet biscuits, but lately I've crossed biscuits off my shopping list and made my own instead.

This time I chose Afghans (p34), another Kiwi favourite, but one I haven't made in quite a while. I didn't have the cornflakes I needed for the recipe, but I did have $1.20 remaining in my weekly budget, which, with the help of my friendly local Bin Inn, I was able to convert to more than enough cornflakes for a batch of afghans.

It can be a bit tricky mixing the ingredients for afghans, since there aren't any liquids in the recipe - all the dry ingredients are mixed into the creamed butter and sugar, then you have to try and fold the cornflakes through the resulting crumbly mix. A mixer would probably make the job easier (I didn't think to get mine out), but if you don't have one, just persevere and it will all mix in eventually. Get in there and mix it with your hands if you have to.

The next bit is to spoon mounds of the mixure onto the tray, squeezing it together with your fingers so it doesn't crumble. These afghans don't have any raising agent in them, so they will remain about the same size and shape as they bake. If you prefer flat afghans, squash them down before baking, but I quite like them as little mounds as per the recipe.

Once the afghans are cooked, and cooled, add chocolate icing and walnut. I used the chocolate version of white icing (p77), which is just a very basic icing sugar/water type of icing. I'm quite happy with the result, but if you prefer a richer alternative, you could try chocolate butter icing or melted chocolate icing (p76-77)

I'm absolutely delighted with the results I got from this recipe. I have used it before, but not for ages: I'd forgotten how good they are! They've come out fairly small, which, as far as portion-control goes, is a good thing. They may be small, but they're plenty enough for a bite to go with a cuppa. The texture is lovely and soft, with a bit of crunch from the cornflakes. Bought afghans are often quite dry - and so large that by the time you finish one, your mouth's all dried out. These are not like that at all.

You know you love afghans, and I can vouch for this particular recipe. Get out your cornflakes and cocoa and make yourself some.

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