Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Still not paying enough attention...

I picked up some lamb shoulder chops at Pak N Save meat week, figuring that they'd work quite well with black peppercorn marinade (p190). Despite having this plan in mind, I didn't think to check on the marinade ingredients and get them while I was at Pakkers, so I had to make a dash down to Countdown later that afternoon for lemons and peppercorns.

Having acquired all the ingredients, I set about making my marinade. The recipe required "coarsely crushed" black peppercorns, and I thought my grinder would probably grind them too fine, so I bunged them in the pestle and mortar to bash them up.

To the peppercorns I added lemon juice, chopped parsley and crushed garlic. I mixed them up in the same dish I intended to marinate my chops in, since there wasn't much point dirtying an extra bowl. When the marinade was nicely combined, I coated a couple of chops in the mixture, and left them for an hour or so.

When the marinating time was up, I briefly bunged my chops under the grill for about 6 minutes each side, as the meat section recommends for cooking lamb chops to medium (possibly these grilling times refer to use in a grilling pan, not the oven grill - it's not really clear. In any case, I don't have a grilling pan). I found this resulted in chops that were far too rare for my liking. It's funny that I like beef medium rare, but prefer lamb well-done.

As for the marinade, well, I can't really knock it since it did what marinades are supposed to do - the meat was well tenderised and it certainly added more flavour. My complaint was that it added too much flavour: in fact, you really couldn't taste anything but pepper.

I was all ready to write about how the recipe states you should serve the meat with the peppercorn coating, and that this really doesn't taste too pleasant. Except that when I look again at the recipe, I see it says to cook the meat in the peppercorn coating - it doesn't say to serve it like that! So once again, my not paying attention has led to a less enjoyable meal. I had the second one today - with the marinade scraped off - and it was quite tasty. So as long as you get rid of all those peppercorns once the meat is cooked, this is a pretty good marinade.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Leftover French stick

I think I've been watching too many cooking shows lately - it can sometimes be a bad influence. For instance, while watching Masterchef this evening, I decided I had to make myself some French toast (p156).

This wasn't entirely motivated by my choice of early-evening viewing: I bought a French stick over the weekend and had only managed to devour about two-thirds of it. I knew that the French toast recipe remained uncompleted, and that at the bottom of the page that features this recipe, there's a note that French stick makes great French toast.

Almost every page in the Edmonds book has a note at the bottom - some are just general hints, many are things you know already, but some are hints that pertain to recipes on the same page. Take note of the notes - you might learn something.

I couldn't really have just French toast for tea though, so I decided to make myself a decent plate of salad, by way of soothing my naughty-food conscience. I had enough bits and bobs to make a reasonable salad, but I needed a bit more substance if I was going to have it as a main - why not use some more of the French stick to make some croutons (p93)?

The crouton recipe is featured in the soups chapter, but I haven't got too many soups left that would be suitable for croutons - and we've all had croutons in a salad before, so why not? I sliced my remaining French stick, set some slices aside for later, and chopped the rest up for croutons.

I was surprised to see there was no oil or butter added to the croutons - you just put them in the oven to bake, and shake them up every few minutes until they're crispy. Easy enough.

Meanwhile, I chopped up some bits and pieces for my salad. I probably should have made an Edmonds dressing as well, but I didn't have the ingredients on hand for any of the remaining dressing recipes, so I had to make do with some bought stuff.

The croutons were ready fairly quickly, so I added them to my salad and sat down to eat. Well, it's no accident that these particular croutons are meant to go with soup. They'd be great with soup. In a salad, they're ok, but a bit dry - I think you do need a bit of oiliness in a crouton for a salad. But with soup, the moisture is already there, so just baking them is a simple and low-fat way to do it.

After I'd downed my salad, I returned to the kitchen to make the french toast. I beat an egg with a little milk, and dipped my little slices of French stick in the eggy mixture before frying them in butter. Interestingly, the recipe actually has salt and pepper added to the egg mix, but since I was looking to go sweet with mine, I left that bit out. 

When my bread slices were golden on both sides, I transferred them to a plate and added maple syrup and Greek yoghurt. Yum. Turns out that note at the bottom of the page was right: French stick does make good French toast!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chunky Belguims

It was about time I filled up the biscuit 'tin' again, so I spent the other evening making some belgium biscuits (p35). Belgium biscuits are a favourite of mine, so I'd been looking forward to making my own.

You begin with the usual "cream butter and sugar; beat in eggs" method, though brown sugar is used in this one. Then you sift flour and sugar with cinnamon, mixed spice, cocoa and ginger and combine with the creamed mixture.

For a  start it looks like it's not going to combine, but if you keep at it, you'll wind up with a fairly stiff dough suitable for rolling. I was quite pleased with the texture of my dough the first time I rolled it out, but be wary of rolling and cutting too many times - after the first couple of rolls, the dough gets dryer and much harder to work with.

I didn't realise it at the time, but I wasn't rolling the dough quite thin enough. The rounds I cut out were quite chunky, but I decided to go with it instead of re-rolling.

Once the biscuits were baked and cooled, they had to be iced and filled. The kind of belgium biscuits you see in a bakery or cafe generally have white icing with pink sprinkles - these just have the icing coloured pink instead.

I mixed icing sugar with vanilla, water, and a couple of drops of red food colouring. Instead of the pale pastel I was expecting, my icing wound up a mildly disturbing hot pink. Never mind: I spread half of my biscuits with icing, the other half with raspberry jam, and sandwiched them together.

Since my individual biscuits were cut too thick, the sandwiched pairs are considerably fatter than I'd usually expect from a belgium biscuit. They still taste good, though. Next time I'll just be careful to roll a little thinner!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lemon delicious

I had a couple of lemons sitting in the fruit bowl, and a pottle of sour cream in the fridge. Sounds like it might be time to make a lemon sour cream cake (p49)!

Most cake recipes have you cream the butter and sugar first, then add eggs one at a time, and so on. Interestingly, for this one you just bung the butter, eggs, sugar and lemon zest in a bowl together and beat it all up. I'm all for shortcuts - when they work - but unfortunately I hadn't softened my butter enough, so I wound up with a sugary, eggy mixture with big lumps of butter in it.

To remedy this situation, I bunged the whole bowl in the microwave for just long enough to soften that butter, then got the beaters back into the mixture again. All this extra beating made the creamed mixture very light and fluffy. I was quite pleased with it.

Until I started folding in the sour cream and dry ingredients, that is! I scooped the sour cream straight into the cake mixture from the pottle, when really I should have stirred it up a little first. This would have helped the mixture to combine, instead of just floating around the mixture in big lumps.

I eventually got the dry ingredients and all the sour cream mixed in to my satisfaction. I was sure I'd overmixed it, but otherwise it looked pretty good. I poured the mixture into a greased and lined springform tin, and put it in the oven for 45 minutes.

The cake baked a little oddly, with a raised rim around the edge that baked darker than the rest, while the centre rose only slightly. When I took the cake out, the raised centre sank back down until the top of the cake was almost flat. The skewer test indicated the cake was cooked, though, so I figured maybe it was supposed to be like that.

I took my lemon sour cream cake to work this morning to feed the hungry workmates. This one disappeared much faster than most of the things I bring in, partly because Sue cut it into fairly generous slices, but mostly because it was really tasty - I'd worried it would be a bit dense and soggy, but actually it was moist and deliciously lemony. I'm not sure if the appearance of the cake was what it should have been, but certainly the flavour was spot on.

Make a note of this cake. It's definitely worth a go. Two recommendations: make sure your butter is nice and soft before you start, and give your sour cream a bit of a stir before you add it, so you're not plonking in lumps of the stuff.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Since I've got the frypan out

Rustling around in the freezer the other day, I found I still had schnitzel left over from making cordon bleu a few weeks back. My intention at the time was to use these for wiener schnitzel (p132), but instead, they got bunged in the freezer and forgotten.

Time to take up that idea again - I got the schnitzel out to thaw, and had a quick look through my Edmonds book to see if there were any suitable vege recipes I could make to have with it. There wasn't anything that seemed like a particularly good match, but I decided since I'd be frying the schnitzel anyway, I may as well fry up some vegetable fritters(p167) while I was at it.

The fritters required marginally more effort than the schnitzel, so I started with those, sifting flour, salt, baking powder and curry powder into a bowl, then adding grated onion (why grated? it just turns to mush) before gradually adding milk to make a smooth paste.

The next ingredient was the grated veges - there are several suggested vegetables, but I just used good old potato and carrot, since that's what I happened to have. Finally, I beat an egg white until stiff, and folded that carefully through the mixture. I was sceptical about how effective this would be, but it actually made the batter quite a bit lighter and less gluggy.

Before heating my frying pan, I quickly prepared the schnitzel, dipping each piece in beaten egg, then coating in breadcrumbs. I did have a collection of odd-sized pieces, since the package I'd happened to thaw was made up of offcuts that resulted from trying to get nicely-shaped, nicely-matched pieces for my cordon bleu.

I heated oil in the frypan and dropped in spoonfuls of the fritter mix. They cooked quite nicely, but I had trouble determining the correct amount of oil to have in the pan - there was definitely too much in there when I cooked my first batch, and the next batch went too dark because there wasn't enough.

When I finished my fritters, I added a bit more oil and plonked the schnitzel in. I have to say I didn't do a very good job of cooking these - I wanted to get a nice even crisping on the crumb, but some parts were overcooked while others had hardly browned up at all. I don't think I had enough oil in the pan.

They still tasted good, though. The fritters weren't exactly an ideal accompaniment - they are really more suitable for a light meal than a side dish - but at least it ticked off another recipe. The fritter I snuck while I was still cooking was delicious - straight from the pan, they're crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. By the time I'd cooked the schnitzel and taken a few photos, they'd cooled down a lot and weren't nearly as nice.

So if you're going to make vege fritters, (and by all means give them a try - they're cheap, simple and tasty) just make sure you eat them piping hot from the pan. As for the schintzel: it's pretty easy to whack on a crumb coating, which gives an otherwise boring piece of meat a bit of crunch. Just try to fry yours a bit more evenly than I did mine!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Simple scones

I knew Mum and Dad would be popping by mid-morning on Saturday - excuse enough to make a batch of sultana scones (p32) don't you think?

This is yet another variation on the plain scone recipe, (in fact, I think the plain one is the only variation I haven't done yet) only you add sultanas to the flour. The recipe is very basic - just rub  butter (or in my case, canola spread) into sifted flour and baking powder. Stir through the sultanas, then add enough milk to mix to a firm dough. I'd noted next to this recipe to try half milk, half water (a tip from my Great-Aunt) and though I think I've tried it at least once before, I thought I'd to it that way again.

It took about five minutes to get the dough mixed up, shaped into scones and into the oven. Another ten minutes later, they came out baked through and looking pretty good.

I was quite pleased with the result, as I usually have difficulties with fruit scones, even though I've used the same recipe for years to make perfectly good cheese scones. Perhaps it's just date scones I have trouble with, because these ones were alright.

Scones are so quick and easy to make, and you've just about always got the ingredients on hand. Who doesn't love a good scone? Go on: get out your Edmonds book and make a batch!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

It started off being about onions...

..but ended up being about pastry. Well, about pastry and onions, I suppose.

You see, I had this bag of red onions that needed using. It's become instinctive to immediately open my Edmonds book in times like these, so I went looking for a suitable recipe. There's nothing in there specifically for red onions, and any that use onion in general as a major ingredient had already been completed.

Time to think outside the box (or outside the book, actually): turning over ideas in my head, it occurred to me that I'd often seen caramelised red onion tarts done on various cooking shows. And while there's no recipe for that in the Edmonds book, I still had one or two pastries to do.

With the aid of my good friend Google, I located a simple rustic-looking red onion tart recipe, and using that as a guide, proceeded to give it a go. I got my onions on first, since they needed an hour or so to cook down. Once they were cooking, I mixed up a short pastry (p80). I've made the sweet short pastry any number of times without difficulty, and I've even done the food processor version of this same recipe. I didn't expect to have any problems.

This recipe actually has only four ingredients. I started by rubbing butter into salted flour, until it reached a breadcrumb-like consistency. Then I cautiously mixed in cold water, trying to avoid my usual mistake of adding too much liquid.

As it happens, I made the opposite mistake. The recipe demands that you judge for yourself how much liquid is needed - and I underestimated how much I would need. The pastry came together, but it was dry-looking,   and by that stage, I couldn't see how I could really improve it. Hoping it would work anyway, I put it in the fridge to chill while the onions finished cooking.

When the onions were nearly ready, I chopped off a chunk of the pastry, and rolled it out into a (very) rough circle. It didn't roll too easily, and was a bit dry around the edges, but other than that it seemed to be ok. I piled the onions in the middle, folded the pastry up around the edges, grated over a small amount of cheese, and bunged it in the oven.

The tart took about half an hour to cook, by which time I was absolutely starving and nearly ate the whole thing. It was tasty, too - the onions were soft and sweet, and though the pastry was noticeably drier than it should be, it was still buttery and crisp.

The following night I spent an hour hungrily watching the Masterchef contestants make quiches, then immediately retired to my own kitchen to use up the remaining pastry (and more of those onions) on some mini quiches. I doubt that mine would have passed muster in the Masterchef kitchen, but I liked them well enough.

This is not the best pastry I've ever made, but that shouldn't be blamed on the recipe. It's more of an error in judgment - I restrained myself from adding more water when I should have gone with my instinct that there wasn't enough in there. Another time, I'll do a better job - maybe the next time I have onions to use.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A more tolerable Monday

It occurred to me at about 9pm last night that I had let yet another weekend go by without completing any Edmonds recipes. Deciding that was unacceptable, I put down my book and ran into the kitchen to throw something together for morning tea tomorrow.

Nobody likes Mondays much, even though they'r pretty much the same as any other day. It's just that they always arrive so suddenly, before you've even had a chance to enjoy the weekend. One way of making a Monday just a little more tolerable is to provide something nice for morning tea: a chocolate cake (p46) for example.

I quickly softened some butter in the microwave, then added sugar and beat until creamy. Then I beat in three eggs, one by one. Usually I do this process by hand, but using an electric beater makes for a nice light result (if you're prepared to put up with the whole 'clumping up around the beaters' thing).

In a separate bowl, I sifted together flour, baking powder and cocoa, then added the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with milk. I was quite pleased with the light fluffy mixture, and had every hope of it rising to a nice light cake.

After baking for the specified half-hour, I could see at a glance that the cake wasn't cooked - it was still pretty much liquid. I tried again after ten more minutes in the oven, and while the outside edges were cooked, the very centre was still gooey. I didn't want to dry out the edges so I gave the cake another five minutes then left it in the hot tin for another ten minutes. The centre was still looking slightly dodgy at this stage, but I hoped it would continue to cook while sitting in the hot tin.

It seemed to work: the centre looked firm enough when I turned the cake out onto the rack to cool. I covered it over and left it till morning.

I sacrificed my usual morning ritual (the kind in which a 'snooze' button is heavily involved) in order to whip up a quick icing for the cake. I used the chocolate butter icing recipe as a guide, but as I didn't have quite enough icing sugar on hand, it was quite a soft, sticky icing. Nice though!

As usual, the cake was well received, successfully inserting a minor positive into what was otherwise a pretty crazy day. Considering I'd worried it would be heavy and dense in the centre, I was quite surprised to find it reasonably light. It doesn't have a very strong chocolate flavour though, and I was glad I'd added extra cocoa to the icing to emphasise the flavour.

This is a pretty good cake. It might take a bit longer to cook than the recipe says, (or maybe not. That could be my oven - I'm not quite accustomed to its eccentricities yet) but it's easy to make and the result is pretty good. Slap on a nice rich icing (I don't recommend the basic one suggested in the recipe - it's quite sickly) and you've got a successful Monday-improver.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Testing my 'fishiness' tolerance

I've never been much of a fish eater, so it's no surprise that I've fallen behind a bit with the fish recipes. I've had it in mind to catch up in this area, but hadn't got around to it - until I passed the fish counter at Pak N Save yesterday and noticed some smoked mackerel fillets.

I came home with every intention of making kedgeree (p114) for dinner, but my plans ground to a halt when I opened the pantry and found I was out of onions. The supermarket might be just down the road, but having just dried myself off from the walk home, I wasn't about to head back out in the downpour again.

So the kedgeree got put off until this evening. I came home onions in hand, but unfortunately I'd stayed at work later than usual and had to abandon my excellent plan of getting the rice and eggs done before Masterchef came on.

You see, it's one of those dishes designed to use up leftover cooked rice. It's pretty basic, actually: you fry up an onion, add cooked rice and flaked smoked fish, heat through, then add the chopped white of a boiled egg, reserving the yolks for garnish.

Since I didn't have my rice and eggs prepared in advance, I got those on while I flaked up my mackerel and chopped the onion. I've always been terrible at cooking rice, but I must say it's much easier with my new heavy-bottomed saucepans. The rice was actually cooked pretty well - too bad I can't say the same for the eggs.

How hard is it to boil an egg? It's one of the most basic cooking techniques, and yet I get it wrong every single time. This time, though I carefully lowered them into simmering water and left them there for eight minutes, (as per the Edmonds instructions for hard-boiled eggs) the whites were soggy in places and the yolks still partially runny.

Parts of the yolk were firm enough though, so, having cooked my kedgeree and spooned it into a serving dish, I attempted to sieve the yolks for the garnish. Tell me, what exactly is supposed to happen when you sieve an egg yolk? The results of mine certainly weren't decorative: parts of the yolk wound up in globs atop the kedgeree, but most of it remains caked to the ever-awkward-to-clean sieve.

Setting these difficulties aside, how did the kedgeree taste? Surprisingly good, actually. I wasn't particularly expecting to like it - tasting the potently flavoured mackerel as I flaked it had convinced me that I was in for a overpoweringly fishy meal. Luckily, the rice and other additions toned down the fishiness, meaning that while smoked fish is still the dominant flavour, it's mellowed enough to be enjoyable.

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