Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A use for plum sauce

I noticed a recipe in the poultry chapter the other day that had plum sauce as an ingredient: sesame chicken (p142). I'd made five bottles of plum sauce a couple of months ago, but hadn't used any yet. This looked like a good chance to try it out.

The recipe uses four chicken breasts, but I made my usual half-recipe with two. The plum sauce is mixed with crushed garlic and cooking oil, then brushed on to the chicken breasts. When the chicken is coated in the sauce mixture, you roll each breast in sesame seeds and put them in an oven dish to bake.

The cooking time was surprisingly short, only 15 minutes: just enough time to throw together some stir-fried veges with noodles and a bit more plum sauce. When the timer went off, the chicken hadn't gone 'golden' as described in the recipe, so I put it back in for another few minutes.

Five minutes later, and the chicken breasts were still looking kind of anaemic. Piercing the breasts with the tip of a knife yielded only clear juices, though, so clearly they were cooked through. I didn't want to dry out the chicken, so I decided to leave it the way it was.

The chicken was nicely cooked, and I liked the texture of the sesame seeds on the outside. Unfortunately there wasn't much flavour from the plum sauce, and the chicken was quite bland on the whole. On the other hand, the sauce gave a nice tang to the stirfry, so that's one successful way of using it, at least!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sugarfree pudding

Since the banana pancakes only used one cup of pancake and pikelet mix, I still had more than half a box left. Luckily, there are some other recipes that use it as an ingredient, so tonight I decided to make myself a lemon coconut pudding (p217).

It was fairly simple: just beat some pancake mix with butter, eggs, milk, sugar, coconut and lemon zest, pour into a shallow oven dish, and bake. So simple in fact that I didn't bother to read the recipe carefully and missed out the sugar.

(If you've been reading this blog for a while, there'll be something familiar about the scenario described above)

Of course, I didn't notice at the time that the sugar was missing. The pudding baked beautifully, and came out appetisingly golden and smelling delicious. I scooped out a generous portion, added some greek yoghurt, and sat down to try it.

Bear in mind that I still hadn't realised that the sugar was missing. And as such I wasn't impressed with the recipe at all. It tasted more eggy than anything, and was kind of rubbery in texture. I managed to finish what was in my bowl, but don't think I'll be going back for seconds.

Having now worked out that there should have been sugar in it, I can see that the pudding ought to have tasted different - sweeter, certainly, though I can't see that a bit of sugar would entirely cancel out the egginess. And any improvement to the texture would surely be minimal. Having followed this recipe incorrectly, I'm not actually in a position to offer a valid opinion on the pudding, but I don't believe it'd be worthwhile trying it again.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dessert - or brunch

There's a recipe for banana pancakes (p215) in the 'desserts with Edmonds' chapter. While I'm sure it would make a good dessert, it also sounded like an excellent Saturday morning brunch. So this morning I rolled up my sleeves, got out the Edmonds pancake and pikelet mix, and went to work.

The instruction in the recipe is to 'make pancake mix according to packet directions'. Fair enough, except the packet indicates an egg and the recipe does not. I decided to stick with the ingredients in the recipe and leave the egg out. So really, it was just a matter of mixing the pancake mix with some milk. There were a lot of lumps in the resulting mixture - I think I should have sifted the pancake mix first.

When I had beaten out as many of the lumps as I could, I added the extra ingredients - mashed banana, finely chopped walnuts and nutmeg. The mixture was very thick but looked and smelled quite tasty.

Next, I had to cook the pancakes, again 'according to packet directions'. Well, the packet said to use 2-3 tablespoons of batter, and 'tilt the pan to cover the base with a thin layer'. I had my doubts about this - would such a thick batter spread neatly around the pan? Answer: nope. I spread it around as best I could with the back of my spoon, but the result was lumpy-looking and not terribly appealing.

Once the pancake was cooked, I found that appearances aren't everything. The pancake had a pleasant banana flavour and interesting texture from the walnuts. The recipe says to serve them with cream, but instead I used Greek yoghurt and a little bit of my lime honey. Yum.

I like the addition of banana, walnut and nutmeg to the pancakes, but the thick batter made them oddly lumpy and hard to spread around the pan. I'd definitely recommend thinning down that batter a bit if you're going to try out this one.

Friday, March 25, 2011


I arrived home from work a week or two ago with half a dozen limes in my bag. A large box of them had appeared in the office - I gather they were brought from Auckland by a visiting colleague who has a lime tree at home. I was instructed to take some limes and turn them into something tasty to bring for morning tea. This I completely failed to do, and the limes just sat in my fruit bowl day after day.

There are no lime-based recipes in the Edmonds book. There are a couple of places (salad dressings etc) where either lemon or lime juice can be used, but there's nothing where lime is the star of the show. I started thinking I could substitute limes for the lemons in a lemon-based recipe. But which recipe? Perhaps I could make a lime meringue pie?

This evening, I finally got around to doing something with the limes: lemon honey (p226) or, more accurately, lime honey. As I already have plenty of shop-bought lemon honey in the cupboard, I thought it would be interesting to see how a lime one would taste.

The limes were of course smaller than most lemons, and I decided that my six limes would yield a suitable amount for a half-recipe. The first task was to grate the rind off the limes, then squeeze out the juice and strain it. When I had the juice and rind ready to go, I melted some butter in a bowl over boiling water, added sugar and the lime juice.

After a few minutes stirring, the sugar had dissolved and the mixture was ready for the next step. I added the rind and a beaten egg. It was soon apparent to me that I hadn't beaten the egg well enough, as stringy bits of white and yolk stared cooking in the hot liquid. I scooped out the worst bits, and hurriedly grabbed a whisk to make sure the rest of the egg was well combined.

All that was left was to stand and stir until the mixture thickened. It didn't seem to be thickening much though, and, glancing at the recipe again, I suddenly realised why: Thinking there were two eggs in the full recipe, I had only put one in. Actually, the full recipe had four eggs, and two was how many I needed for the half.

I got another egg from the fridge and quickly cracked it into a bowl, scattering pieces of shell through the egg, which I then had to pick out. I whisked this one a lot more thoroughly, and when it went into the lime honey mixture, there was no sign of eggy strings.

Now, with the correct number of eggs, it was only a matter of time before the lime honey thickened. For some reason  I expected it to thicken up quite suddenly, like custard, but instead it was so gradual that I could hardly convince myself that it was thickening at all. It got to be a fairly thick liquid, but refused to thicken any further, no matter how long I kept it on the heat. I decided to pour it into the jars, and hoped it would thicken a little as it cooled.

I only got 1 1/2 jars out of my half-recipe, and I don't think I'll have any trouble using them. My lime honey is so tasty! Oddly enough, it doesn't obviously taste like lime as opposed to lemon. It's just tart and citrusy and delicious. I couldn't resist opening one jar immediately and having some lime honey on a piece of toast. I'll have to be careful how much I eat, though - with butter as well as sugar, it's even more fattening than jam!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Still not convinced

Of all the chapters in the Edmonds book, the ones I'm having the most trouble getting through are the  'baking with Edmonds' and 'desserts with Edmonds' chapters. Baking with packet mixes doesn't come naturally to me, and instead of just using ingredients I have in the cupboard, I have to specifically go buy the mix.

Recently I've made a point of buying cake mixes when they're on special, so I have them when I want them, which meant that I was able to choose black and tan square (p70) when I was looking for something to bake last night.

Since there's no recipe in the Edmonds book for traditional tan square, (an odd omission, don't you think?) I expected this to be a similar sort of thing. After all, it did have a condensed milk-based caramel filling like a standard tan square.

Using cake mixes does shorten the time required to mix up a cake... slightly. Used to the usual 'cream butter and sugar, etc, etc' method, I found it slightly odd to simply tip the packet mix into a mixer, add water and eggs, and beat. Then you just mix in some melted butter and the mixture is ready to use.

Meanwhile, I had been meting some butter and condensed milk in a pot with a little golden syrup. This mixture melted and thickened very quickly; in fact I think I overcooked it a little. I spread 2/3 of the cake mixture in a sponge roll tin, then tried to spread the caramel filling over.

It wasn't easy, as the base was soft to the point of almost being runny, and I didn't seem to have nearly enough caramel to cover the whole base. Nevertheless, I managed to spread it in a thin layer, in some places covering the base, but mostly kind of smeared into it. The rest of the cake mixture went on top of the caramel, and the square went into the oven.

After 20 minutes, the slice came out feeling spongy but cooked. As it cooled, I cut a piece and tried it. I have to say it was disappointing - there wasn't nearly enough filling, just a slight swirl of caramel here and there, and the slice itself was more of a flat cake than a slice. It's nice enough, but given the choice, I'd prefer normal tan square.

I can see that cake mixes make a reasonable cake, and perhaps might mean that you can mix up your cake in five minutes rather than ten, but I'd still rather bake from scratch. That's just my own preference though - I know many people choose cake mixes for convenience and reliability, so don't let my prejudices prevent you from doing things whichever way you like!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Don't forget potatoes

I love potatoes. I like them mashed; baked; boiled - pretty much however you choose to cook a potato, I'll like it. So it's really strange that I seldom cook them myself. I don't know why this is: potatoes just don't seem to come to mind when I'm thinking about what I'm going to cook. I always have some spuds in the cupboard, but quite often they'll go wrinkly and grow big long shoots on them before I think about using them.

The other day, I came across the recipe for scalloped potatoes (p162) which was a useful reminder that I had potatoes in the cupboard that needed to be used.

Scalloped potatoes is a pretty simple dish, as long as you allow time for it to cook. All you do is thinly slice your potatoes, chop an onion and grate some cheese. Then make a layer of potatoes in a casserole dish, sprinkle over some onion and cheese, season, and make another layer the same. Keep layering until you've used up all the potato, and finish with a layer of cheese.

The next instruction is something I almost overlooked: you're supposed to pour some milk over the top before you put the casserole dish in the oven. Forgetting this, I just bunged it in as was. Fortunately, I realised my mistake within a couple of minutes, rushed to the oven, pulled out the still-cold casserole and poured the milk over.

Since both the potatoes and onions are raw, this dish takes a while to cook. The recipe indicates 30 minutes covered, then another 10-15 minutes with the lid off. I would tend to leave it in slightly longer: my potatoes, while not raw, could have done with just a little more cooking.

The potatoes looked really good when I first pulled them out of the oven. I was a bit disappointed when I scooped out a serving and saw how much liquid there was in the dish - it was really quite watery-looking, and the milk had created an unpleasant curdling effect around the potatoes.

Despite these unappealing aspects, the potatoes tasted really good: warm, filling and nicely savoury from the cheese and onion. I'm not sure if the wateriness was the result of an error on my part, or whether they always come out like that. In any case, I wouldn't let this description put you off. Have a go at scalloped potatoes yourself, and see if yours come out any better than mine. Even if they don't, they'll taste better than they look!

Monday, March 14, 2011

(Almost) foiled again!

Back in the first weekend of September, I headed to Timaru, intending - among other things - to make some Chelsea buns (p23) for Father's Day. An earthquake interrupted that plan, so as Dad's birthday approached, I considered making a surprise day trip on the weekend before his birthday, bearing freshly made Chelsea buns. Unfortunately, that particular weekend happened to be only a few days after the February quake, and that plan went out the window too.

You may have gathered from the above that Chelsea buns are a favourite of Dad's. I came to the conclusion that there didn't need to be a special occasion for making them, and decided to make some this Saturday before heading to Timaru for Nana's 90th birthday celebration.

So on Saturday morning, I scattered yeast over some warm water, let it go fluffy, then mixed it with flour, salt, sugar, melted butter and warm milk to make a dough. After a bit of kneading, I placed the dough in an oiled bowl and left it to rise.

During this time, I'd become aware of the cat behaving strangely. As I watched her repeatedly go back and forth to her litter box, I started to suspect a problem and rang the vet for an appointment. Since Moby's usually a very healthy cat, I haven't had reason to take her to the vet for years: I didn't have a cat carrier. Abandoning my slowly rising dough, I made a rush trip to the crowded shops of Northlands Mall, where I found no cat carriers to be had. Eventually I found a pet shop down the road from the mall, bought a cat carrier and rushed home.

With an hour to spare before the appointment, I had time to bake my buns. The dough had risen nicely in my absence, so I punched it down and gave it a quick knead before rolling it out to a rough rectangle. This I spread with a filling made of brown sugar, mixed fruit, cinnamon, mixed spice and butter (actually low-fat canola spread, in deference to Dad's cholesterol levels). With the filling on, I rolled up the dough, cut it carefully into 12 pieces, and placed them in a sponge roll tin to bake.

The given baking time was 25 minutes, so I set the timer for 20. Even before the 20-minute mark, the buns were looking risen and golden, so I started work on the glaze, a mixture of water, gelatine and sugar, heated until the sugar and gelatine dissolve. This was ready quite quickly, so I was able to glaze the buns the moment they came out of the oven.

With the buns baked and cooling, I turned to the tricky task of getting cat into carrier. She'd retreated into the couch, her favourite hidey-hole, and I had to pull it half to bits to get her out. Even when I managed to grab her, getting those flailing claws into the carrier was a mammoth episode. Still, I eventually got her to the vet, where she received an unalarming verdict of stress-induced bladder infection.

Since I had to try and de-stress the cat, get her to eat something then take her medicine, and find a way to induce her to drink more, heading to Timaru overnight was not really on the cards. So, once again, no freshly-made Chelsea buns for Dad. Of course, I was still making the day trip for Nana's birthday lunch on Sunday, so I packed up the buns and took them down with me.

When the buns were warm from the oven, they were delicious: soft, fruity and spicy. Certainly the biggest success I've had from the 'breads and buns' chapter, though considering my history with yeast-based recipes, that's not saying much! By the time they got to Dad, they were a day old and really needed a zap in the microwave before eating, but he seemed perfectly happy with them. At least, despite two earthquakes and one sick cat, he got his Chelsea buns in the end.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cupcake encore

I was browsing the shelves at Pak N Save yesterday afternoon when my cellphone rang:
"Hello? Robyn? Hey, was it you I saw waving to me from a car on Moorhouse Ave today?"

I wasn't sure who it was, but since I haven't been near Moorhouse Ave in weeks, I denied having been the waver. At some point during this interchange I gathered it was Tom I was talking to. We established a theory of my having a double, whose dedicated doppelgangery extended to the point of acquiring a car that looks like mine, then Tom got around to mentioning the reason for his call: to invite me to a barbecue that evening, in celebration of Lauren's birthday.

Tom reckoned he didn't need me to bring anything, but as I ended the call, I walked past the birthday candles and immediately thought, "ooh, do I have time to make a cake?". It was 5.20pm and the barbecue was at 7.00 ... but I always enjoy a challenge. I grabbed some "happy birthday" candles and  rushed back to my car. Having not been organised or inspired enough to purchase a birthday present, I detoured past a florist on my way home. Ok, flowers for Lauren; now, what kind of cake?

It was 5.45pm by the time I got home. The short timeframe eliminated any possibility of baking a cake, allowing it to cool and then icing it. Suddenly I had an inspiration: cupcakes! They're always popular, and only take a few minutes to cook. It's true I already made the plain cupcake recipe last week, and the cupcake recipes I haven't done required ingredients I didn't have. Well, I'd just have to use the same recipe again.

In about five minutes, I'd whipped up the cupcake batter, got them into the oven, and was changing out of my work clothes while they baked. Since they were quite small cupcakes, I had them out cooling on a rack only 10 minutes after putting them in the oven. While the cupcakes cooled, I whipped up the icing. I used butter icing again,making it purple this time. By the time the icing was ready, the cupcakes were almost cool.

Piping the icing on top of the cupcakes was the work of a few short minutes, then I arranged them on a plate, scattered over a few silver decorating balls, and stuck in the candles. They looked pretty good for half an hour's work! I must remember this one as a useful recipe for when you need something in a hurry.

The cupcakes were, once again, very popular. I'm told that at least one person thought I was passing off bought cupcakes as my own, which is not very complimentary to me, but it's quite a thumbs-up for the cupcakes! The others were quite amazed that I'd whipped them up in such a short timeframe, but  I was actually far more proud that I'd managed to drive across town on Christchurch's bumpy roads without knocking over a single cupcake: now, that's an achievement.

Passion in a jar

On the evening before the earthquake hit, I popped into a supermarket and bought, among other things, a bag of passionfruit. I'd been looking for some at a decent price, in order to preserve some passionfruit pulp(p238). They're usually quite expensive, so I was pleased to find a bag at a reduced price.

I'd intended to spend the evening of 22 Feb preserving passionfruit pulp, but as you know, things took a slightly different turn that day and I forgot all about it. Two weeks later, I picked up the bag of passionfruit, expecting that they would need to be thrown out. I couldn't tell from the outside, so I cut into one. Oddly enough, even two weeks after I'd bought them (reduced, too) the pulp still looked and tasted fine.

The combined pulp gleaned from the whole bag (or most of it - one or two were no good) amounted to just under 1/3 cup. I got this in a saucepan with some sugar and heated it to dissolve the sugar.

Meanwhile, I was trying to sterilise a jar to preserve the pulp in. It takes a while, and by the time the jar was ready, the pulp had thickened and gone quite sticky in the pot. Since it still had to go into a waterbath, I don't think it was really supposed to cook for so long in the saucepan, but oh well..

There wasn't quite enough pulp to fill the jar, which was the smallest one I could find. Never mind - I put the lid on and placed the jar in a waterbath for five minutes. I'm not really sure what the waterbath was supposed to achieve, since the pulp had already cooked into jammy consistency in the saucepan.

Some time after I removed the jar from the waterbath, the lid popped down, sealing the jar. Still, since it wasn't a full jar, I don't think I can rely on it keeping too long. I'll have to find a use for it soon!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mixed vege

Armed with more courgettes from Lauren and Tom's garden, I went to my Emdonds book for a recipe. The one I ended up choosing was ratatouille (p162), a dish consisting of eggplant, courgette, green pepper, onion and garlic in a tomato sauce.

The first thing to do was blanch, skin and chop the tomatoes. Remembering this time to dunk the tomatoes in cold water directly after the hot water made a considerable difference, and the skins came off quite easily (If you don't fancy blanching tomatoes, you could easily use canned ones instead). I chopped up the tomatoes and put them into a small pot with some olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar.

While the tomatoes were cooking into a pulpy sauce, I prepared the other veges, first cooking some onion and garlic, then adding sliced courgette and pepper, along with chopped eggplant. Then I put a lid on the frypan and turned down the heat.

By the time the vegetables had softened up, the tomato sauce was ready. I stirred the sauce through the veges, added a little extra seasoning, and my ratatouille was ready. It's really a side dish, but I couldn't be bothered cooking anything else, so I just had a decent serving of ratatouille.

It tastes like what it is, really: a mixture of vegetables in a tomato sauce. The courgettes were a bit soggy for my taste, but the eggplant still had enough firmness to give the dish a little texture. The truth is, I don't really know what the texture of cooked eggplant should be like, so it's possible that I undercooked it. Anyway, it's a perfectly good vegetable dish, but it would be better on the side of a main. It's a bit bland all on its own!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Canterbury cupcakes

Yesterday was 'red and black' day - when people all over New Zealand donned Canterbury colours in support of quake-hit Canterbury residents. Our company was solidly supporting this initiative: our sites in various parts of the country had various fundraisers planned for the occasion.

At ours, we were holding a "guess how many lollies in the jar" raffle, having filled a jar with jaffas and black jelly beans. This was the subject of much debate and many a calculation. As the person who originally counted the lollies, I was the only one not taking a stab (or several stabs) at the total.

We were also putting on a $5 barbecue lunch as a further fundraiser, and everyone was to dress in red and black. In furtherance of the 'red and black' theme, I started turning over various Edmonds recipes in my mind, trying to think of something suitable I could make and bring for morning tea. The most viable option was cupcakes (p47), because after all, you can make the icing any colour you like. I popped by the supermarket on my way home and got the appropriate food colourings.

I made a start on the cupcakes as soon as I got home, creaming the butter and sugar thoroughly to make the batter as light as possible. I also double-sifted the flour to add that little extra bit of air. When it came time to spoon the mixture into cupcake cases, I found that the black ones I'd intended to use were considerably smaller than I'd intended - more truffle-sized than cupcake-sized. The only other cases I had were pink and white: not really right for the occasion. In the end I decided they'd just have to be really small cupcakes.

I spooned the mixture into the cases, probably filling them up quite a bit more than I would have, had I been using larger cases. They only took about eight minutes to cook at this size, though I found that some of them browned on the top quite quickly towards the end of the cooking.

Before long I had 36 tiny little cupcakes cooling on a rack. Some of them were slightly too brown, some oddly shaped, and all a bit higher than a well-proportioned cupcake really should be. Never mind; it's amazing what you can disguise with enough icing!

When I went to turn the oven light off, I noticed that the neighbouring switch was also down: the bake/grill switch was switched to 'grill'. Not again! Looking over at my tray of cupcakes, I contemplated re-doing the whole batch. But they didn't look like anything was wrong with them! I tried a couple: perfectly baked through and only slightly crunchy on top. No do-overs: these were fine. I guess they were just small enough to cook through with the heat generated by the grill before the top got burnt.

I'd chosen butter icing (p76) to decorate the cupcakes with. I had to allow the cupcakes to cool before icing them though, so I just got the butter out to soften, and spent some time painting my finger and toenails bright red for red and black day.

Once I was sure the cupcakes had totally cooled, I whipped up the icing. The important thing here is to have the butter soft. I'd left the butter sitting in a covered jug on top of the still-warm oven, so it was really soft but not melted. At that consistency, it was easy to beat in vanilla and scoop after scoop of icing sugar.

When the icing had reached a suitable piping consistency, I split it into two bowls, colouring one red and one black. Well, I tried to. Food colouring seldom results in vivid colours, and the best I could manage was a sort of dark pink and a charcoalish grey. And that had taken enough food colouring that the extra liquid had noticeably thinned the consistency of the icing. Never mind, it was close enough to get the idea.

Filling two disposable piping bags with the different colours of icing, I iced each cupcake first with a swirl of red, then topped them with a little blob of black. I ran out of icing, so not all the cupcakes got used in the end, but the ones I did use looked pretty cool - especially when they were grouped together on a plate.

Red and black day at work went really well. With the barbecue and lolly raffle we managed to raise about $480 for the Red Cross earthquake fund, and there was an extra (much-needed) cheerfulness to the atmosphere. My cupcakes caused almost as much comment as my red and black feather boa, and were so popular that I wondered afterwards if I should have asked for a 50-cent donation in exchange for each cupcake.

Yesterday was a successful morale-booster for Canterbury. Images of people all over the country demonstrably standing behind us, a wave of red and black, made us stand all the taller. We have the strength to rebuild, but much of that strength comes from knowing we don't stand alone. To everyone who donned their red and black yesterday: Thank you. Your support means more than you can imagine.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

From optimistic beginnings..

This is a blog entry I should have written about two weeks ago. It's to do with a recipe I completed the night before I headed to Picton for the wedding. I didn't have time to blog it before I left, and soon after returning to Christchurch, I had bigger things on my mind. So here it is, only two weeks late:

Since there are several tomato-based recipes of the chutney/sauce/preserves variety in the Edmonds book, I'd been keeping an eye on tomato prices. Finally, Raeward had some cheap tomatoes, so I loaded up a bag and brought them home to cross off a few recipes. Initially I was occupied in dealing with the plums I'd also brought, so the tomatoes sat in the fridge for a day or two.

My plans were slightly restricted by the usual lack of appropriate jars: I'd intended to make tomato puree, but ended up filling the jars I'd set aside for this with plum jam (which subsequently fell from my cupboard in the quake and smashed all over the kitchen) so I had to give that idea up. I did, however, still have two large jars in which I intended to preserve some whole tomatoes (p238). It was Wednesday night, and I had to leave for Picton in the morning, but I didn't think it would take too long; it seemed fairly straightforward.

First you blanch the tomatoes and remove the skins. Then you pack the tomatoes into the sterilised jars and 'process in a waterbath' i.e have the jars sitting in boiling water. Except I didn't actually grasp the finer points of said process, which can be summarised as follows: prepare tomatoes while bringing water to just below boiling point and jars are in the oven at about 100 degrees. Why 100? Because you want them to be the same temperature as the water you're putting them in. When tomatoes are ready, remove the jars from the oven, pack the tomatoes in tightly, put the lid on and then place the jar in the waterbath.

You see, I had it all mixed up in my mind. I had the jars far too hot for a start. Early on, I took a jar out of the oven to see how high the water would come up the sides once I put it in the waterbath. Stupid: the jar was hot and the water not yet warm. Crack! So I was down to one jar for my tomatoes. This was when I grasped the point about the temperatures.

A second difficulty came about because I somehow got the idea that the jars were supposed to be in the water when you're packing the tomatoes in. I gamely put the jar in - and it immediately tipped over and sat sideways in the water. I ended up weighing it down with a plate, all the while wondering how on earth I was going to pack the tomatoes in while trying to keep the jar from tipping up.

Blanching the tomatoes and removing the skins was more difficult than I remembered, probably because I forgot the step where you plunge the tomato in cold water after it's been in the boiling water. So that made it far more difficult to get the skin off.

I had managed to skin two or three tomatoes and wrangle them into the jar, holding it precariously in place with a pair of tongs, when I finally lost my grip and the jar went over, filling with water and letting the tomatoes float around the pot. This was when I went back through the instructions and realised it didn't actually say the jar had to be in the waterbath while you're packing it.

I'd spent far more time on this frustrating enterprise than I intended, and the worst part was that all my problems were caused by me misunderstanding the directions. I packed as many tomatoes into the jar as I could (and it didn't fit very many, either. They just didn't want to squish in), put the lid on and stuck it back in the waterbath.

I left it there for the requisite 40 minutes, then removed the jar, emptied the waterbath and forgot about it while I ran around, packing my bag and faffing about with facemasks, nail files and similar, in an attempt to tidy myself up for the weekend's bridesmaid duties. Since everything else had gone wrong with the tomatoes, I was astonished to hear the unmistakable 'pop' of the lid sealing as the jar cooled.

The tomatoes had sort of shrunk down in the preserving process, so there was quite a bit of room in the top of the jar. I should have squished more in. But after all that effort, I was quite proud of my tomatoes. The rest of the tomatoes never got used for anything, but at least I'd managed to preserve one jar!

Or had I? A week later, as I tidied up my post-quake kitchen, I came across the jar of tomatoes again. And there were distinct signs of mould forming on one of the tomatoes. So not a success after all. Oh well: I had a go, and that's what it's all about, right?

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