Monday, May 31, 2010

Um.. is it supposed to do that?

I thought I'd have a go at rice pudding (p213) last night. It's one of those old-fashioned puddings that everyone's heard of, but I'd never tried to make it before. The recipe seemed quite straightforward, though, so I figured there was nothing much that could go wrong.

The instructions are to put some short-grain rice, sugar, milk and vanilla essence in an oven dish, sprinkle over some nutmeg, and bake it at 150 degrees for 2 hours, stirring a few times in the first hour. Sounds pretty simple, right?

The thing is, I didn't really want to have my oven on for 2 hours, just for a little dish of rice - especially since I was only cooking a half-mix. I decided to try it in my benchtop oven. It has a baking function, and as long as you keep turning your dish around, you can bake quite successfully in it. I usually have no trouble adapting familiar recipes for my "little oven", but an unfamiliar one presented a bit more of a challenge.

The recipe didn't say that the dish should be covered during cooking. I was very tempted to put the lid on anyway, since anything cooked in the little oven is very close to the top element, and has a tendency to burn. This was my reasoning when I put a lid on my baked apples a few weeks ago - and they did not come out the way they should have. So I decided to follow the recipe and leave the lid off.

After about 10 minutes cooking, I took the pudding out to stir it. Surprisingly, the rice was already showing signs of cooking, and there was a skin forming on the surface. I vigourously applied my whisk until the skin was gone. And back into the oven.

The next two times I stirred  the pudding were a repetition of the first. Each time I whisked up the mixture to get rid of the skin, and each time the rice looked more cooked. I knew it wasn't going to take the full 2 hours to cook.

I wasn't supposed to stir it after the first few times, but I still had to keep turning the dish to stop it from burning. The next time I checked it, there was a skin on it again - which had puffed up so high it was being scorched by the top element! It was at this point I started to suspect that I wasn't going to get the best result from my little oven.

I popped the skin with the point of a knife and it deflated itself. In another 10 minutes, it was back up again, and looking decidedly scorched. I figured it might be time to call "game over". I pulled out the pudding, and peeled away the weird scorched bubble from the top. To my astonishment, the pudding underneath looked quite good! A bit overdone perhaps, but certainly not as bad as I'd expected.

The pudding tasted pretty good - a little bland, but I guess that's probably the nature of rice puddings. I stirred through some frozen yoghurt, which improved the flavour. I've got no idea whether the big bubble on top is normal for a rice pudding, but I suspect not. All things considered, I probably should have used my main oven.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Not just for hippies

It's still raining. And in this horrible weather I haven't felt like doing anything except curling up with a book and a Milo. I briefly considered doing some cooking last night, but the rainy-day apathy overcame me, so I got some fish n chips on the way home, and Moby and I spent the evening cocooned in my duvet. 

Today I was slightly more productive, turning my bedroom into a  steamy drying room for a week's worth of laundry. This took up most of my morning, but eventually my thoughts turned to what I was going to eat tonight. Soup seemed like a good idea, being cheap, easy, and weather-appropriate. I flicked through the soup chapter and decided on spicy lentil soup (p90).

That's right: lentils. Before any male readers' eyes glaze over, I should point out that there are also bacon bones and beef stock in the soup: just because it's got lentils in it doesn't mean it's a silly hippie dish. Stick some extra chopped bacon in it if you feel the need to make it more manly. Ok? Moving on...

I popped up to the supermarket for some celery, beef stock, bacon bones and lentils. Of course, since good old Countdown decided to do away with their bulk bins, I couldn't get any brown lentils. I wasn't prepared to settle for red, the only kind they had, so I stopped by Bin Inn on the way home.

Now I had all the ingredients, it was a simple matter of chopping up the celery, carrot and onion, and frying them with some garlic. I used pre-crushed garlic from a jar, mostly because it's easier when you don't own a garlic crusher, but also because I read in an Alison Holst book that the pre-crushed kind gives a better flavour in soups.

When the onion was cooked, I added the curry powder and stirred that through. Then the tomatoes, lentils, beef stock and bacon bones. Bring it all to the boil and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. What could be easier?

When the 1 1/2 hours were up, I fished out the bacon bones and removed every scrap of meat from them. It was quite astonishing how much meat I gleaned from three bare-looking bones! Then I went back through my pile of meat scraps, discarding any bits of fat or gristle, and returning the rest to the pot. A little salt and pepper, and the soup was ready.

Spicy lentil soup was definitely the right choice for a day like today. It's hearty, filling and very very tasty. I have no doubt I'll be making this one again. Despite the name, it's not spicy - there's a slight undertone from the curry powder, but most of the flavour comes from the bacon bones. Dare I say it, this soup could even enter the realms of 'man food', assuming the man in question did not know there were lentils in it!

So don't discount lentils. They're very cheap, filling and can be used to bulk out all sorts of meals. They're good for you too - almost no fat; low in calories; high in protein, fibre and iron, as well as folate and vitamin B (I don't actually know this stuff; I've been Googling). So why wouldn't you add some lentils to your diet? Try this soup for starters.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Not a complete nut bar

I'd finally run through all my soggy sultana cake, so I needed something else to put in my lunchbox for morning tea. A quick perusal of the slices and squares chapter found me a recipe I would be able to make without a rush supermarket trip for extra ingredients: Chocolate nut bars (p62).

It's a fairly standard slice recipe: cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs, add dry ingredients. Then you mix in cornflakes, coconut and chopped nuts - which takes a bit of effort, since the mixture is already pretty firm before all this is added. The resulting mixture looks very similar to afghan mix, except for the coconut.

I pressed the mix into a tin and baked it for half an hour. When it came out, I had to let it cool in the tin before doing the icing. There wasn't too much of a delay, though, because it didn't take long to cool down on a stainless-steel bench in my chilly kitchen. 

While I was waiting for the slice to cool, I spent a little time replicating a device I'd used when I worked at Brumby's. An old lid from a Indian takeaway container was about the right thickness, so I took to it with some scissors, and a short time later I had a reasonable approximation of the icing tool I wanted.

I decided to use the sachet of chocolate icing I had in the cupboard - left over from my first purchase of Edmonds Cake mix - instead of making icing from scratch. There's no sense letting it go to waste, after all - and I've already tried two of the three chocolate icing recipes in my Edmonds book. I won't be lacking in opportunities to try out the third one!

I was slightly dubious when I saw that the contents of the icing sachet were an odd grey colour, but mixed with water and margarine, the icing quickly turned a dark and decadent-looking brown. The colour became lighter as I beat the icing according to the instructions, and it wasn't long before it was ready to use.

I spread the icing evenly over the slice, and then had a go at making wavy lines in my icing with my newly-made icing tool. I'm a bit out of practice, so the lines were not very even, but it looked kinda cool anyway.

The thick, creamy icing held my wavy lines quite nicely, but I was worried that, since it was made with marge and not butter, the icing might not set properly and I would have gooey icing to deal with when packing my lunchbox. There was only one way to find out - I stuck the slice in the fridge and left it to see if the icing would set.

One hour later, the icing had shown no signs at all of setting. I gave up and resigned myself to sticky fingers. I went to cut the slice, and was surprised to find that, in contrast to the gooey icing, the slice itself was rock-hard. I'd expected something more cakey. This made it more difficult to cut, but eventually I had the whole slice cut into manageable 'bars'.

Gooey icing aside, this slice is quite tasty. Though I've described it as 'rock-hard' to cut, it's actually only pleasantly crunchy when you're eating it. I'm not sure why they called it 'chocolate nut bars', since the nuts are quite a minor ingredient compared to the coconut and cornflakes. But whatever you call it, it's a nice treat for morning tea. I just wish I'd made my own icing..

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rainy day "quiche"

It's a gloomy, soggy day in Christchurch. I really shouldn't be complaining about this, since other parts of the country are copping it much worse than we are, but it's still far from pleasant here. The thing about cold, rainy days is that you just feel like eating more. I had much the same sort of lunch today as I do every day, but by 3pm I was absolutely starving, and thinking about what I could have for dinner.

So before I left work, I flicked through my Edmonds book for something that would be quick and yet satisfying for my rainy-day stomach. Quick quiche (p97) seemed to fit the bill. It's a quiche which uses an Edmonds pancake and pikelet mix as the base. I popped into Pak N Save on my way home for some eggs, bacon, and the pancake and pikelet mix.

All was going well until I realised I'd also need some parsley, and had to negotiate my way back to the produce section, where I ran headlong into the first rush of after-work shoppers, and even then couldn't find any parsley except for the 'living herb' kind which always has way more than you need. Oh well.

I drove home through the downpour, and parked my car in the carport. Groceries in hand, I managed to jump from the driver's door right over the huge puddle that always fills up the carport in heavy rain - without dropping the eggs and/or falling and landing on my face, scenarios which my imagination handily supplied when I was poised to make the leap.

Anyway, I made it to dry land, and headed inside to make my quiche. You basically mix the eggs, milk and parsley with the pancake mix and cheese, then fry up the bacon and onion. The bacon and onion goes into the bottom of the dish, and you pour the egg mixture on top. Quite easy really, though it then has to cook for 40 minutes, which hardly fits the description of "quick".

I was annoyed to find that I had again been duped into buying a packet mix which is more expensive because it includes a packet of maple (flavoured) syrup - so useful for my quiche! I suppose you can get the mix without the syrup, but this was the only one they had at Pakkers. I must remember to look at Countdown when I'm buying these packet mixes.

Anyway, the quiche is in the oven now: I won't go as far as saying I'm feeling optimistic about it, but it was looking quite good last time I checked it. I'll find out very soon how it's come out.

- 30 minutes later -

It's hard to say whether I can call this a success or not: 
Has it risen? Yes.
Is it cooked through? Yes.
Did I follow the recipe correctly? Yes.
Would I call it a quiche? Absolutely not. 
I'd call it a weird sort of savoury cake, with a slightly soggy bacon and onion layer on the bottom.

It doesn't taste bad. You could liken it to those cheesy specialty breads you get with bits of onion and stuff in them - except that the texture is very much that of a cake. It's just odd. And now I have a whole dish of the stuff to get through.

I did think it was strange using a flour-based cake mix for a quiche, but was willing to give it a try. I won't be making it again though - by the time you've bought the pancake mix, bacon, eggs and cheese, it becomes quite expensive. And anyway, it's just weird. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

New take on fish pie

Owing to the generosity of one of my customers, I often find myself with a number of cans of salmon in the cupboard. It can get quite tricky knowing how to use it all - while I have nothing against a good old fish pie, it's not the sort of thing you can eat every day.

Looking through my Edmonds book, I hit upon a different kind of fish pie: lattice pie (p115) Technically, this recipe uses canned smoked fish, but I wasn't about to go buying canned fish when I already had a heap of it in my cupboard. I decided to give it a go with ordinary canned salmon.

It's a very simple recipe: all you need is a can of fish (the recipe says 310g, but since the standard size tin of fish is 210g, I went with that - and it made plenty. An extra 100g would make too much filling: I suspect a typo), two sheets of bought pre-rolled flaky puff pastry, an onion and some odd bits from the cupboard and fridge.

You begin by frying the onion, somewhat naughtily, in butter. I considered substituting oil here, but wasn't sure how it would impact on the recipe. Having now tasted the end result, I think the butter is important to the flavour. Once that's cooked, you stir through a bit of curry powder, and then some flour. Since I'd acquired a swish red rubber-coated whisk (for the princely sum of $2 from 'The house of W'), I was able to achieve this without any lumps in the mixture, or scratches on the pan.

Next I gradually added milk, stirring with my whisk, which resulted in a thick yellowy paste. At this point I took the pan off the heat, flaked in the drained salmon, added a bit of pepper, and stirred it through. I deviated slightly from the recipe here: since I wasn't using smoked fish, I also grated in a little parmesan for flavour.

While the filling was cooling, I prepared the pastry. One sheet was just laid flat on a greased baking tray, the other I folded in half to cut slits from the fold to 2cm from the edge.

I spread the filling on the base sheet of pastry, leaving a 2cm space around the edge. This edge got dampened a bit with a pastry brush, then I carefully lifted the top sheet on and pressed the edges together. There was a little bit of careful arranging to make the latticey bit straight and untangled, but soon it was on and all that was left was to brush the pastry with a little beaten egg yolk, and put the pie in the oven.

The recipe indicates 220 degrees for 20 minutes; I felt the pie was cooked after 15, but left it in for a few more minutes just in case. The cooking time was still short of 20 minutes when I decided to take it out. I'd say set the timer for 15 minutes, and judge for yourself beyond that. It really did look quite impressive coming out of the oven, considering how little effort had gone into it.

For a fairly simple dish consisting of cheap, everyday ingredients, Lattice pie is really very yummy. With a few veges on the side it was a very satisfying meal. The plain salmon worked just fine with the addition of a little parmesan, but I'd like to try it with the smoked fish sometime too. Of course, what with the pastry and the butter, it's not exactly health food, but it could be worse. Perhaps I will try substituting oil sometime and see how it comes out.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Something for Nana

Since I was planning on dropping in to see Nana on Saturday afternoon, I decided it would be nice to bring her something freshly baked - like muffins (p30). I spent my morning tidying up, doing laundry and watching a DVD that was due back at 1pm. By the time I'd dropped the DVD back, it was just before 1 o'clock, which was when I'd intended to head off to Nana's. I very nearly decided I didn't have time for baking, but in the end I figured a batch of muffins wouldn't take long.

And it didn't. A simple matter of creaming butter and sugar, adding an egg, and mixing in the dry ingredients - including both plain and wholemeal flour, and let's not forget the baking powder! Add some baking soda dissolved in milk and fold in carefully: the big thing with muffins is not to overmix.

Into the muffin pans and bake. The recipe says 12-15 minutes, but they really needed all of 15, plus a couple more. Even so, the muffins were ready in a remarkably short time - about 20-25 minutes from when I started.

If you're into muffin-making, by the way, I recommend getting some teflon muffin pan liners - your muffins come out of the pans really really easily, you don't have to scrub away for ages trying to get the muffin pans clean, and there's no trying to eat around a paper muffin case.

The resulting muffins might seem slightly disappointing compared to the kind we're used to seeing these days. These are plain muffins of the old school, before they became trendy and were available everywhere in a huge range of interesting flavours. They're very plain: the intention presumably being that you put butter and/or jam in them. And they're small. They barely rose to the top of the muffin tins, but that's the old fashioned thing again - people used to have things in more appropriate portions.

It's easy to overlook plain muffins. It's a bit like standing in front of an ice cream counter at the local dairy - there's so many flavours to choose from, so why would you get vanilla? Yet if you do get vanilla, you find yourself quite surprised at how nice it is. Plain muffins are the same - you can dress them up or eat them as is, and it's surprising how pleasant they taste - especially straight out of the oven!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Corrective custard

I'm sure you all remember my sultana cake from a few days ago - that shining example of what happens when you don't pay attention to a recipe. The cake wasn't too bad around the edges, but the further I got into the centre of it, the soggier it got.

I had a certain amount of success with zapping each piece in the microwave before I ate it. This cooked the cake but tended to dry it out a bit. Luckily, the dryness can be combated with a liberal application of custard, turning weird soggy sultana cake into a tasty pudding.

There are several custard recipes in the Edmonds book - I decided to make Edmonds velvet custard (p209). Usually I make custard in the microwave, but this one was on the stovetop. It's very easy - just stir together an egg, some milk, custard powder and sugar until it thickens. That's it.

I quite like using the stovetop instead of the microwave, since you can stir continuously, whereas if you have it in the microwave, you have to keep taking it out to stir. The result is lovely and smooth, as you would expect from a recipe entitled 'velvet custard'.  I cut a chunk of sultana cake into bits and zapped it in the microwave, and my pudding was ready.

I found the custard slightly bland - I'd be tempted to add a larger amount of custard powder next time. On the whole, though, it was pretty tasty - it certainly improved the sultana cake!

The recipe isn't huge, (which is good from my point of view) but I did have some left over, so I took a chunk of cake to work with a little container of custard. I got a few odd looks from the workmates when I heated up a bowl of custard and cake for morning tea, but it was definitely more satisfying than coffee and a biscuit!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Great lamb - with or without the risotto

Did you know that there's a whole chapter in your Edmonds book dedicated to recipes based on Rice Risotto? Well, that's overstating it a bit, since the entire "Quick and Easy with Rice" chapter consists of three recipes that take up a single page.

Even so, I never realised they were in there until I started looking more closely at my Edmonds book . The yoghurt lamb rice recipe (p108) caught my eye very early on, as something a little different. Of course, when you look closely, it's not exactly a Rice Risotto recipe, more a marinade for lamb which is then sautéed and served on top of a 'creamy tandoori' flavour Rice Risotto. Sounds good though, doesn't it?

The main ingredients are lamb leg steaks, natural yoghurt, and the packet of rice risotto. I had no trouble with the first two, but my local Pak N Save didn't have Rice Risotto in 'creamy tandoori' flavour. Since Pak N Save is not well known for variety, it's very possible that it is available at other supermarkets. Then again, it's also possible that they no longer make creamy tandoori flavour, or have simply renamed it 'Indian' flavour.

I found myself in a quandary: Make do with Indian flavour, or do the rounds of various supermarkets looking for the creamy tandoori? In the end I chose the easiest option and ran with the Indian flavour.

This is a very easy meal  - though perhaps not a good one for those times when you arrive home hungry and want to eat immediately, since the lamb has to marinate for an hour. But the marinade takes no time at all to prepare; just mix yoghurt with coriander and curry powder, cut your lamb into strips and stir it all together. The trick is to remember to do this over an hour before you want to eat.

Towards the end of the marinade time, start cooking the Rice Risotto as per the directions on the packet, and when that has about 10 minutes to go, heat some oil in a frying pan and sauté the strips of lamb - briefly, so they're still juicy and tender. When it's all done, serve the lamb on top of the rice.

It makes for a pretty tasty meal, really - but seriously lacking in vege. You'd want to serve it with a salad or maybe add some veges to the rice (the odd pathetic rehydrated pea or fleck of chilli included in the Rice Risotto doesn't count).

The lamb is absolutely delicious, and it goes quite nicely with the rice, but really, it's not the Rice Risotto that makes the meal. You could cook lamb like this and eat it with anything you want - it'd still be delicious.

I love lamb, but I hardly ever cook it. Lamb can be quite expensive compared to beef or chicken, especially cuts like leg steaks - but trying out this recipe has made me think that it might be worthwhile to get myself some from time to time as a treat.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


You'll be wondering about the title of this entry. Well, it's the random letters I accidentally pressed when I was trying to brush flour off my keyboard. I liked the way it looked, so I kept it. And why do I have flour on my keyboard? Read on and I'll explain:

There's a whole chapter of fruit cakes I hadn't yet made a foray into. I was itching to get into it, but most of the recipes specify a 23cm round or 23cm square tin, neither of which I have. I've done the rounds of the shops, and found that while 23cm round tins are available, you can't get square ones larger than 20cm, and none of the tins you get are very deep. So I think I'm looking at a second-hand shop mission here.

Meanwhile, I found a fruit cake recipe that required only a 20cm square tin: sultana cake (p59). I was keen to try this, as I occasionally make sultana cake using my Oma's recipe, which is similar but not quite the same. I wondered how the Edmonds version would measure up.

The recipe begins in the same way as Oma's: put the sultanas in a pot with some water, and bring them to the boil. I had to simmer this for 15 minutes, so in the meantime I chopped up the butter (250g! That's half a block!) and pottered around getting a few other things ready. I popped into the spare room to turn on my computer, thinking that once the cake was in the oven, I could get on with writing about my Scotch eggs. As soon as the computer was on, however, a call came through on Skype: Bryn calling from Japan!

I was sitting there, happily chatting, when I heard the oven timer go bing! from the kitchen. Leaving Bryn hanging (not a problem, because I believe at the time he had his head in the fridge anyway) I ran to the kitchen, drained the sultanas and bunged the butter in the pot. Then I returned to the computer carrying the pot, and sat chatting while I stirred the melting butter through the sultanas.

This was soon achieved, and I made another rush trip to the kitchen, this time bringing back some flour, almond essence, and a bowl in which I had beaten up the eggs and sugar. The sultana mixture went in with the eggs and sugar, along with the almond essence. All this, by the way, happening under Bryn's interested gaze at my computer desk.

Next the flour went in. It was at this point that I held something up to show Bryn and got flour all over my keyboard. Never mind: keyboards are far more resilient than people give them credit for (my last one survived being thrown up on by the cat. FYI: not fun to clean up) so I just set my keyboard aside and continued mixing - carefully. The bowl was really quite full and I had my doubts as to whether the mix would fit in the tin.

It did fit, though, as I found in my next hurried visit to the kitchen, pouring the mixture into my ready-lined tin, and getting it into the oven. Now I could relax, and sit talking and vindictively licking the wooden spoon in front of an envious Bryn.

It wasn't till I got off Skype and glanced at the recipe again, that I re-read the bit about adding the dry ingredients. "Oops", I thought, "I should have sifted that flour. Why does it say 'dry ingredients'? It was only flo- Oh. Shit. Baking. Powder."

Despite the lack of baking powder, the cake was looking surprisingly good. It had risen pretty well - I guess the 3 eggs had a bit to do with that - and on the whole, was not looking like you'd expect a cake without baking powder to look. The cooking time was 1 - 1 1/4 hours, and after 1 hour 10 minutes, I decided it seemed cooked through.

Ten minutes later, when I took the cake out of the tin, it had a slightly damp-looking patch on the bottom, but otherwise seemed just fine. When it had cooled, I cut into it, and was surprised to find that it looked like a perfectly normal sultana cake. Another couple of slices into the cake, though, and it started to look a bit soggy and dense. In fact the whole center of the cake has a very moist, dense texture. Possibly it would have been better had I cooked the cake a little longer, but I suspect the main culprit to be the missing baking powder.

Even so, it's actually edible (though perhaps best served hot as a pudding with custard or something) which is more than you could really expect from a cake without any baking powder in it. I might have to have another go at this one, because it's hardly fair at this juncture to be comparing it with Oma's recipe!

One lesson that I really should have learnt by now: Pay attention, Robyn! More specifically: when you're cooking, don't let yourself get distracted by someone on the other side of the world.

Click here to see a second attempt at this recipe.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sausage and Egg

I had half a tube of sausage meat sitting in my fridge all week, after making the sausage rolls for Mothers' Day. Just the perfect amount to make a couple of Scotch eggs (p97). If you've never had a Scotch egg, it's a boiled egg with a casing of sausage meat.

I wanted my Scotch eggs for lunch on Sunday, and (unusually) was organised enough to boil the eggs the night before. One of the eggs cracked as I lowered it into the water, but it boiled ok without totally exploding. I dropped the other one on the floor as I was putting them into the fridge - luckily it was hard-boiled at the time and didn't make a mess.

On Sunday, I grabbed out the sausage meat, and went to mix it with onion and tomato sauce to make the casing for the eggs. There was one small hiccup in this plan, that being when I went to get an onion, I found I didn't have any. So the casing just ended up being sausage meat with a little tomato sauce.

I peeled the eggs, and surrounded each with a handful of the sausage mixture. Then I rolled them in breadcrumbs, and they were ready to cook. The recipe says to deep-fry them, but I really didn't want to faff about with hot oil, and in any case, sausage meat has enough fat in it without deep frying it as well.

So I drew on my extensive previous experience in making Scotch eggs, i.e. one cooking class in primary school, in which we definitely did not play around with boiling oil. We'd baked ours in the oven, and I decided to do the same with mine. Half an hour in the oven is not nearly as quick as a few minutes in hot oil, but it's healthier. It also gave me time to throw together a salad to go with it.

The Scotch egg was a perfect lunch for a dreary grey Sunday - warm and very filling. If I happen to have some extra sausage meat to use up sometime, I'll make these again. On the other hand, I don't think I'd bother buying sausage meat especially to make them. They're nice, but not so special I'd go out of my way to have them again.

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