Monday, December 31, 2012

Enough lazing about

I've had a lazy few days since Christmas, lying around the house, reading and chowing down Christmas leftovers. Suddenly, New Year's is here and I have done almost nothing on my 'to do' list. I've still got another week before I have to go back to work, but that'll be gone before I know it - so it's time I put the book down and started getting some stuff done.

The Christmas leftovers are far from finished. There's only little old me to get them eaten! I had some of the Jersey Bennes I hadn't cooked up on Christmas Day - more than enough to make a potato salad, with uncooked (condensed milk) salad dressing (p184).

I've come across this salad dressing before, usually at 'bring a plate' type events. I can't say it's ever been a favourite of mine, but I figured it should go alright in a potato salad. The potatoes were cooked and almost cold when I started to put together my dressing. It's very simple to make: you just mix together condensed milk, malt vinegar, salt and dry mustard. And that's that.

I left the dressing to thicken while I added a few extras to my potatoes, including, of course, some chunks of the ubiquitous leftover Christmas ham. By the time I had that done, the dressing was too thick to pour, and had to be spooned into the salad.

I've already said this dressing is not a favourite of mine. It's too sweet and cloying. The vinegar gives it enough tang to make it palatable, but personally I'd prefer a mayonnaise. That's just my opinion, though - I know this sort of dressing to be very popular, possibly because of how quickly and easily you can throw it together.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas for two

I've just got back from spending Christmas in Timaru with Nana, so I guess the thing to do now is type up an account of how many Edmonds recipes I managed to squeeze into Christmas Day.

I'd planned a plate of nibbles to have while we were opening presents, and including ckicken liver pâté (p192) and cheese straws (p192). I made the pâté on Sunday evening. It's a fairly simple process of cooking onion in butter, then the chicken livers, and blitzing it all up in the food processor. Add some brandy, sage and more butter - after that it's just a matter of adjusting the seasoning to taste, spooning it into a bowl and pouring melted clarified butter over the top.

I'm not really clear on the purpose of the clarified butter. I assumed this would make a similar gelatinous topping to the ones you get on bought pâté, but actually it set hard and buttery, and had to be scraped off before serving. I guess it's for sealing off the pâté?

One thing I will say about this recipe: it makes heaps. I made the full recipe, because I couldn't get a smaller package of chicken livers at the supermarket - this filled one medium-sized bowl, then a smaller one as well. What am I going to do with all that pâté? 

On Christmas Eve, I whipped up a batch of cheese straws, which are made from a simple flour, baking powder and egg dough with cheese and spices for flavour. I rolled it out and cut it into sticks, baked them for 12 minutes and they were ready.

Both the pâté and the cheese straws looked good on my nibble platter, but I have to admit, with only the two of us, there was plenty left over.

For our Christmas lunch, I'd planned a simple meal of ham, new potatoes and salad. Where's the Edmonds in that? It's in the sauces. The salad was a fairly simple smoked chicken, baby spinach, cucumber and blueberry combination, to which I chose to add avocado dressing (p183).

The dressing is made by blending together avocado, lime juice, oil and sugar, then adding seasoning. I couldn't be bothered digging out Mum's food processor, so I decided to try it by hand. The result was not wonderful - I'd definitely use a processor if I were making this again. The avocado was lumpy and the oil did not blend well, so the dressing looked kind of split and unappealing on the salad. It tasted good, though, and that's what matters.

To go with the ham, I made a cumberland sauce (p185). It's based on redcurrant jelly, which turns to liquid as you heat it. When it's hot, you add finely chopped onion, lemon and orange juice, port, and blanched shredded orange rind.

I didn't know what shredded orange rind was the first time I came across it in a marmalade recipe, and I'm none the wiser now. I cut a few strips of rind and made an attempt to tear them up. This was not at all successful, so I just cut it into little pieces instead, and blanched them by pouring boiled water over them in a sieve.

There's nothing in the cumberland sauce recipe that tells you when it's ready. I'd hoped it would thicken up a bit, but there was no sign of that. I assumed it was supposed to be served hot, but the recipe held no clues to that one either. It was a delicious tangy sauce to have with our ham, even though it was a but runny. It's firmed up again in the fridge overnight, so I'll be able to sample it cold and decide which is best.

Nana and I took our lunch outside to enjoy the sunshine while we ate. It was a simple meal, but a very successful way to feed the two of us for Christmas. Neither of us became overfull, and we still had room for dessert later - trifle and fruit salad supplied by Nana, along with some meringues I'd made a few days back when I found myself with a leftover egg white.

Though there were only two of us this year, Nana and I had a lovely Christmas. I hope you all did as well. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas with friends

There was one Christmas recipe I hadn't managed to cross off my list in previous years: I really had no choice but to make Christmas pudding (p208) this year. The problem with that is it's just Nana and me for Christmas, since Mum and Dad are away. A whole Christmas pudding for the two of us would be a bit ridiculous.

I started turning over other possibilities in my mind. What if I asked a few friends around for a Christmassy meal? That way I'd be able to tick off Christmas pudding and a few other things as well. Lauren, Tom and Leah all accepted my invitation, and I found myself with a dinner for four to plan.

The pudding has to steam for several hours, so I made that on Thursday night. You start by mixing together the usual Christmas fruit and nuts - sultanas, raisins, currants, mixed peel, almonds - then stir through some suet. The next step is to sift in flour, baking powder and spices, mix that through, then add some soft breadcrumbs as well.

Finally, you beat egg with brown sugar, milk and lemon rind, and stir it through the fruit mixture. You're supposed to add a little brandy at this point, but I forgot. With the mixture made, you spoon it into a greased pudding basin, cover and steam. The full recipe uses an eight-to-ten-cup-capacity basin and steams for five hours. That would be a massive pudding and far more than I needed to feed the four of us. I made a half-recipe, used my normal pudding basin and halved the steaming time.

While my pudding was steaming away, I turned to the next item on my list. I'd decided to do some vol au vents (p84) for a starter, utilising puff pastry (p80). I figured I could get these done in advance. I made up the pastry dough with flour, salt and a small amount of water. I used as little water as possible, but it still took twice as much as it said in the recipe to get the dough to stick together.

I rolled out the dough and began 'spotting' butter over two-thirds of the pastry. Actually, I utilised my grater instead of 'spotting'. When I had the butter on, I folded in first one side, then the other, and rolled it out again. Puff pastry is a variation of the flaky pastry recipe - it just uses more butter and you fold it more times.

It was quite warm in the kitchen, so I had to chill the pastry and butter between each rolling and folding. It didn't make much difference though: there was still butter oozing out from the pastry at every turn by the time I'd finished. I held it together as best I could and chilled it for a bit longer before I rolled it out to make my vol au vents.

These are, on the face of it, quite easy to make. You roll the pastry to 1.5cm thickness, and cut rounds from it, then use a smaller cutter to cut halfway through the pastry in the centre of each round. Once they're puffed up and cooked, you cut off the 'lid' formed by the ring in the centre, and you have a nice hollow centre for your filling.

It didn't really turn out like that, to be honest. my first rolling produced six rounds, but I wanted at least eight. I tried to patch the pastry scraps together in such a way as not to upset the layers, and cut a couple more. I kept a close eye on how they were doing while they were cooking, but the puff pastry never lived up to its name. They came out like little rocks. Sighing, I set them aside and decided to get some bought pastry and have another go.

After work yesterday, I came home and went immediately into the kitchen. Rolling and cutting the bought pastry into vol au vents was a piece of ease, and they puffed up beautifully in the oven. I'm glad I never have to make a puff or flaky pastry again. Why would I, when there's a quicker and far more reliable option available?

I set the vol au vents aside to cool while I mixed up the ingredients for my sausagemeat stuffing. I was roasting a chicken, but had decided to do the stuffing separately. This stuffing is based on the basic stuffing recipe - you make a half-mix of that, then add some sausagemeat. So basically, it's breadcrumbs, onion, sage and sausagemeat, with butter, egg and a bit of seasoning. Mix it up in a bowl and it's ready to go. I rolled it into a tidy little tinfoil package and set it aside in the fridge.

The next half hour or so was filled with other preparations - preparing new potatoes and making a salad. I went off on a slight tangent when I realised I had some leftover pastry, a spare egg white from making the egg wash, and a hot oven currently not in use. It took me ten minutes to throw together some coconut macaroons - totally unconnected to the task at hand, and admittedly not the best ones I've ever made, but at least the pastry and egg whites didn't go to waste. 

 Leah arrived while I was cutting the lids off the vol au vents. These didn't come off as well as I'd hoped, in fact they sort of fell to bits. You also have to scrape out the doughy bits in the middle, which can be a tricky to do without letting the whole thing fall apart.

I started preparing the filling once that was done - its pretty much a simple white sauce, with onions and whatever else you choose to put in. I'd selected mushrooms and cheese from the various options listed. The vol au vents are quite small though, so the sauce recipe makes more than you really need to fill them.

When Lauren and Tom turned up, the vol au vents were nearly ready. I couldn't put the 'lids' back on, but they looked alright the way they were. They didn't taste too bad either - I felt they needed more seasoning, but that's easily added at the table.

It turned out I'd timed my chicken roasting badly and we had to wait 40 minutes or so until it was ready. When the timer finally went, I pottered around getting potatoes and salad on the table, carving the chicken and slicing up the stuffing. I even managed to throw together a passable gravy from the roasting juices.

There was quite a bit of food there once I'd got it all on the table - and surprisingly, only one item was actually an Edmonds recipe. The sausagemeat stuffing was quite successful - it holds together much better than ordinary stuffing, and has a nice savoury flavour. On the other hand, you don't really feel like you need a big slice of what is essentially sausage, when you've already got a serving of chicken on your plate.

We were getting pretty full by this stage, but I wasn't done yet. I'd been steaming my pudding for a final hour while we were eating. It was warmed through and ready to go - I just had to make a brandy custard (p189) to go with it.

I mixed custard powder and sugar in a saucepan with a small amount of milk. When all the lumps were gone, I added the rest of the milk and stood stirring until it boiled and thickened slightly. I couldn't get it to thicken beyond a sort of sauce consistency, though that could have been impatience at work.

I mixed in a bit of butter and some nutmeg, then set some of the custard aside as a non-brandy option before stirring a couple of tablespoons of brandy into the rest. I turned out the pudding onto a plate - sadly, some of the pudding stuck to the bottom of the bowl, but I scooped it out and pressed it into place. It might not look as good, but it tastes the same. 

Because we'd eaten so much already, I didn't want to force anyone to eat more than they wanted. I set out the pudding, custard, and some ice cream on the side bench and let everyone serve themselves. I was quite pleased with the pudding: I'd worried it would be stodgy or dry, but actually it was fruity, moist and very tasty - what little I could eat of it! 

We rounded off the evening by opening presents and playing a few rounds of a word game Lauren and Tom had given me. All in all, we had a pretty good evening - entirely thanks to the fact that I needed an excuse to make Christmas pudding!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Been busy baking

You've probably noticed I haven't written anything for a few days. I had a busy weekend, really: checking out the Re:Start night market on Friday,  lending Bex a hand with her Christmas baking on Saturday, and finally, spending pretty much all day Sunday doing my own.

I had intended to be a bit more organised and do more of this in the evenings last week. Somehow, that didn't happen, but I'd decided today was the day I'd be bringing my annual trays of Christmas baking to work, so I had to spend Sunday getting it all done.

The first recipe I tackled was orange biscuits (p35). This was the final remaining variation of those basic biscuits I made the other day. They're made in exactly the same way, except you add a bit of orange zest. I once again ignored the instruction to shape the dough into balls, instead rolling it out and cutting into cute little Christmas trees.

Since my Christmas tree cutter is very small, it made lots - far more than I needed. It took quite a while to get them all cut, baked and cooled, but once they had, I laid them all out close together on the benchtop and drizzled an orange icing back and forth over them all (a conveniently quick way of icing a lot of biscuits at once). I should perhaps have added some colour to the icing so it stood out more, but at least it offset the faint orangey flavour of the biscuit.

Next, I made the fruit squares (p83). This is a recipe from the pastry chapter, but since I was using flaky pastry from the supermarket, it wasn't particularly difficult. I halved my roll of pastry and spread it with a fruit mixture comprised of raisins, sultanas, currants, apples, lemon rind and juce, along with a bit of butter, brown sugar, mixed spice and cinnamon.

I placed the remaining pastry on top and pressed the edges together with a fork. The recipe didn't say to brush anything over the pastry, but it looked so dry without an egg wash or something. I decided to brush over a little of the juice left in the bowl I'd used to mix the filling.

A few pricks of a fork and the pastry was in the oven. it cooked in well under the suggested cooking time, and came out puffy and golden. I cut it up while hot, and set it aside to cool.

Butterscotch (p219) was next on the list. I've got a lot more relaxed about sweet making since the first toffee horror when I stood over the pot for what seemed like hours. I dissolved sugar and cram of tartar in water and added some prepared gelatine. After that, I brought the mixture to the boil, added some butter and let it bubble away while I cleaned up the kitchen, keeping one eye on the pot and occasionally checking for setting point.

Once the mixture looked like it had reached 'soft crack' (I definitely should have bought a sugar thermometer when I started this challenge. It would have saved some headaches) I poured it into a tin and put it in the fridge to set.

As the butterscotch set, an unappetising buttery fluid began to ooze out. I suspect that this might indicate I didn't judge the boiling time right by the time it had fully set and I was breaking it into pieces, there was a lot of this goo on it. It tasted pretty good though - chewy, but tasty. I scraped the buttery stuff off and hoped for the best.

Next, I had to tackle a recipe that's been on my mind for a while. After all, what possible excuse could I have to make toffee apples (p221)? After a bit of discussion with some workmates, I decided that substituting cherries for the apples might make for a more user-friendly, bite size result.

The toffee was surprisingly easy to make. I pute some sugar in a saucepan with vinegar, butter and water. When the sugar had dissolved, I added cream of tartar and a drop of red food colouring. The mixture then needed to boil until it reached 'hard crack' so I left it alone for a bit.

But not too long - the toffee reached 'hard crack' much more quickly than I had expected. I was soon dipping cherries (and one apple, just so I can say I've done it) in the toffee mixture and leaving them to set on a piece of baking paper. I did have to reheat the toffee slightly when it started to thicken, but other than that, it was easy - and my little toffee-coated cherries looked delicious!

Finally, I had to make something to go in those little tart cases I'd made from basic biscuit dough the other day. For this, I intended to make pineapple filling (p78). I have to say this filling was not quite what I'd pictured: it's merely crushed pineapple with a bit of sugar, water and gelatine to make it set. It was pretty easy to make though, and I soon had a tray of little pineapple-filled tarts chilling in the fridge.

It took me all day, but I finally had everything done. I put the butterscotch and cherries in the fridge, since they seemed to be melting in the heat, and packed everything else away in the pantry.

This morning, I got up early to put together my goodie trays. I was dismayed when I opened the fridge and found that my gorgeous cherries had gone all sugary and melty overnight. Added to that, the butterscotch had fused into a single sticky lump, and I had to lever the pieces apart with a knife.

I piled everything on the plate anyway, amazed (as usual) by how much stuff I'd actually made. The individual components might not have all been top notch, but it all looked quite good stacked together on a plate. It cant have tasted that bad though, since almost all of it got eaten - at least from the platter we had in our office. I don't know about the other two.

So that's Christmas baking done for another year. This time next year, I'll be able to make whatever I want - I wonder if some Edmonds recipes will sneak in there anyway?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Amazing what you can do with the basics

At this time of year I generally do a fair bit of Christmas baking. Of course, I've already done the more obvious Christmas recipes in previous years, (and most of the non-Christmas baking, too) so I have to get a bit crafty with the few recipes that are left. One of the less appealing ones that remained was basic biscuits (p35).

I don't really think this recipe is intended for use as is; it includes a whole list of variations that flavour it in different ways. Without any of these additions it's got to be a pretty flavourless sort of recipe. It's still on my list though, so couldn't avoid it. However, after a little thought, I came up with some ideas to jazz the boring biscuits up a bit

I couldn't add anything to the actual biscuit mixture, because that would defeat the purpose. My plans did not alter the fundamental recipe - except in one way. The recipe calls for the mixture to be formed into balls, pressed down with a fork, and baked. When making some of the variations, I'd found that rolling the dough out and cutting shapes made for crisper, tastier biscuits - and more of them. So naturally, I planned to do this again.

The mixture is made in the standard "cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs, add sifted dry ingredients" way. It wasn't long before I had a soft, pliable dough. I separated off a chunk, rolled it out and began my first experiment. I cut rounds of the dough and used them to line mini muffin tins in much the same way as I'd normally use pastry. The dough was a bit tricky to work with, but I managed to get two tins worth of little biscuit cases into the oven.

They came out looking beautiful - much firmer than pastry cases, but easier to get out of the tin. They did tend to have a bit of a hollow where air was trapped in the bottom, but other than that, I think my little biscuit-case experiment was quite successful. (You'll see what I'm doing with these later on.)

Next, I rolled out a bit more of the dough and cut simple star-shapes out of it. These baked off nicely, and when they were cooled, I mixed up a caramel icing (p76) and sandwiched them together. Why caramel? Because it was the only icing I had left to do. It only took a few minutes to make - I melted butter and brown sugar together with a little milk, then stirred in icing sugar. The biggest difficulty I had was in the icing setting too quickly while I was trying to use it on my biscuits. I ended up sitting the saucepan over a very low heat to stop the icing from setting.

Finally, I rolled out the last of my dough, and cut rounds out of it. From half the rounds, I cut a small circle in the centre to create a ring. Then I pressed a ring onto the top of each full round, and filled the hollow in the centre with raspberry jam, before putting them into the oven. 

When I'd finished baking, I had 24 little biscuit cases, 17 sandwiched star biscuits, and 14 jam-centred biscuits. They all looked different, and not un-Christmassy. Not bad for a single batch of basic biscuits, eh?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

That'll do for Christmas

You can't not have Christmas cake at Christmas time, or at least a fruit cake of some description (I know all you fruit cake haters are violently disagreeing as you read this. You don't know what you're missing). I'd already done the actual Christmas cake recipe, but I still had fruit cake (p57) to make, which I'm hoping will work well enough in place of a Christmas cake.

Perusing the recipe before I left work yesterday, I noticed this cake is made in a deep 20cm tin - to my annoyance, since the only 20cm tin I have is quite shallow. I'd looked at one about the right size and shape at the market on Sunday, and told myself I didn't need it. Always the way, isn't it? When I popped by the 'House of W' on my way home, I found they conveniently had 40% off bakeware, so I purchased a suitable tin.

The first step in making this cake is to combine fruit mix with mixed peel and dust flour over it. I'm not sure what this is supposed to achieve, aside from perhaps making it less sticky and liable to clump. In a second bowl, I creamed butter, brown sugar and golden syrup. In yet another bowl, I beat five eggs until thick. Finally (and I was running out of bowls at this stage) I sifted together flour, baking powder, mixed spice and nutmeg.

Adding the dry ingredients and egg alternately to the creamed mixture, I slowly combined the contents of three of my bowls. By the time I added the fruit mixture, the bowl was quite full. I should have used my big-big bowl for this one. I managed to mix the fruit in though, and turned to lining the cake tin.

The cake tin had to be lined with two layers of brown paper and one of baking paper. I'm terrible at this - not because it's particularly difficult, but because I'm too impatient and tend to take a "she'll be right" attitude about it. After a bit of paper-wrangling and muttering, I considered the tin suitably lined.

I spooned the cake mixture into the tin and smoothed it over. It did fill the tin quite well - my shallower 20cm tin would never have worked. I placed it in the oven at 150 and left it to bake.

For the next 2 hours, the delicious smell of baking fruit cake wafted through the house. The given cooking time is 2 - 2 1/2 hours, but it seemed to be perfectly cooked at the two-hour mark. It's since been cooling in the tin, and I haven't taken it out yet, so I can't tell what it's going to taste like. It looks good; it smells good; let's just hope it tastes good as well!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A day with Nana

I decided to make a day trip to Timaru on Saturday, to spend the day with Nana. She's never adverse to a bit of cake, so I decided to make some strawberry butterfly cakes (p75) to take with me.

Strawberry butterfly cakes are simple cupcakes, filled with cream and decorated with strawberries. They're also made with an Edmonds buttercake mix, meaning they're very quick (not that cupcakes can't be made quickly from scratch) and easy to make - perfect for throwing together first thing on a Saturday morning before setting out to Timaru.

I still had half a packet of buttercake mix in the cupboard, left over from my half-recipe of apple coconut flan a few weeks back. A half recipe of the butterfly cakes would make more than enough for Nana and me.

I emptied the packet into a bowl, and added an egg, some water and softened butter. The instructions are to use a mixer, but I couldn't be bothered lugging out my big mixer for this one - I just beat the mixture up with a hand-held electric beater instead. The result is the same, after all.

So the cupcake mixture was ready in a few short minutes, and I spooned it into cupcake cases and got them into the oven. The full recipe apparently makes 16 cupcakes - in the full patty-tin size that I was making - so I only expected to get 8 from my half-recipe. In fact, I filled 12 cases with enough mixture that most of the cupcakes overflowed their cases as they rose.

While the cupcakes were cooling, I popped down to the supermarket for some cream and strawberries. I'd hoped to use strawberries from my own garden, but didn't have any that were ripe enough. I opted for a slight cheat on the cream and bought the canned dairy whip stuff. No, it's not as nice as fresh cream, but it was far more convenient for the situation.

I packed up the cupcakes, cream and strawberries, and headed off to Timaru. When I arrived, I put the jug on and set about preparing a couple of the butterfly cakes. I sliced the tops off, and cut the slices in half to make 'wings'. Then I filled each cupcake with cream, placing the 'wings' on top of the cream and arranging slivers of strawberry between the wings.

The cake mix made lovely light, spongy cupcakes, and strawberries and cream is always a good match with sponge cake. Nana was so impressed with them, that on hearing they were made from a cake mix, she insisted on buying some when we went to the supermarket later that day.

I made us another butterfly cake each at afternoon tea time (though this time I didn't bother cutting out the 'wings', I just squirted the cream on top and added some sliced strawberry. This actually looked prettier than the proper version). Shortly after that, I left for Christchurch, leaving the remaining cakes, strawberries and cream in Nana's possession. I have no doubt she'll make good use of them.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Not precisely as per recipe...

I've been trying to prevent myself from getting near the end of the challenge and finding I have a whole pile of awkward recipes (e.g. chutneys, sauces, sweets and similar) left to do. I've been so successful in this, that when I  recently grouped the remaining recipes into categories, I found that in fact, by far the biggest category was those recipes that could be used in everyday meals - meals like chicken and orange casserole (p136).

This casserole uses chicken pieces, by which I assume bone-in is meant. I hadn't really noticed before, but the supermarket chicken section is a bit thin on the bone-in pieces these days. I ended up just getting some drums.

I started the casserole by browning the drums - this took longer than the 'quickly brown all over' in the recipe indicated, but when they finally had a bit of colour on them, I took them out and set them aside. I hit a hurdle at the next step: what's the first thing you put in a casserole? Onion. Now, name something that Robyn thought she had in her pantry but didn't...

If you guessed 'onion', you're right. I contemplated the situation for a moment, then took the slightly eccentric step of substituting fresh onion for pickled. I chopped a couple of these up and added them to the pan with some chopped celery.

Since I couldn't really cook 'until onion is clear', I just left it on the heat, stirring occasionally, while I prepared the remaining ingredients. When the celery looked like it had lost some of its crunch, I added orange juice and rind, chicken stock, cinnamon and allspice. Since I still haven't got around to getting any ground allspice, I just bunged a whole one in and picked it out later.

With these ingredients combined in the pan, I put the chicken back in, stuck a lid on, and let it cook over a low heat for half an hour or so while I tidied up the kitchen. After about 20 minutes, most of the liquid had cooked out and the chicken was surrounded by a sort of brown paste with chunks of celery in it. Hmm. I put a little more stock in and left it for the rest of the cooking time.

I figured this was the kind of dish you eat with rice, but I couldn't really be bothered cooking any. Instead, I heated some of the leftover chicken stock and made couscous. Then, feeling like I didn't have enough greens on the plate, I stirred some salad mix through it. When I added the chicken, with its accompanying celery-dominant gloop, to the plate, it really wasn't a good match with the couscous.

Never mind: I tucked into the chicken, which was (for once) cooked through, well flavoured and surprisingly moist. The 'sauce', on the other hand, was a bit disappointing. It had a reasonable flavour from the spices (though it did not taste markedly like orange) but there was too much of that sad, soggy celery and not enough of anything else. 

I'd finished my dinner and was about to tidy away my plate when I realised there was a step to the recipe I'd forgotten. You're supposed to mix vinegar and cornflour and add it to the pan when the chicken's nearly cooked, then heat until this mixture thickens the sauce. Well, my 'sauce' didn't really need thickening - it was almost a paste already. Still, I can't help wondering how this casserole might have tasted if I'd actually got it right!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Plain pudding

 I thought I'd make myself something cool and refreshing for dessert last night. After a quick browse through the remaining cold desserts, I selected ice cream pudding (p203). Just the thing for a hot Summer's evening!

Unfortunately, though you're making a cold dessert, you actually have to stand over the stove for a while. Not ideal, but other than that, it's very straightforward. You cream butter and sugar, stir in flour, then egg. Put the creamed mixture in a pot with milk and heat gently, stirring until the mixture thickens. Once you've taken it off the heat, stir through vanilla, pour into serving dish(es) and chill until set.

This is a recipe of fairly modest proportions - doubly so when you make a half-recipe like I did. I would have made a whole one but didn't have enough milk. Even so, there was still enough to make two reasonable-sized portions.

It didn't take long to set, so within half an hour I was able to try my ice cream pudding. It was sweet and creamy, though very plain. It was pleasant to eat, but by the time I'd finished my serving, I was a bit sick of it. The texture was similar to a custard (in fact, the flavour was not dissimilar either) but was marred by a thick skin on the top. I'd recommend covering the surface with plastic wrap or something to prevent this.

I've since eaten the second portion, much improved by the addition of stewed rhubarb, spooned in a generous layer on top (but didn't take a photo, sorry). The pudding itself remains the same; it's just you get a small amount of tart, acidic rhubarb with each mouthful, which cuts through the creaminess and prevents it from being too cloying.

This is an alright pudding, particularly if you happened to have milk that needed using up or something, but I definitely recommend serving it with rhubarb.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Let-down potatoes

I had a handful of old potatoes in the cupboard, all wrinkly and growing eyes. Convenient, then, that Edmonds have a recipe that specifically calls for "old potatoes"

Hash brown potatoes (p160) is a recipe with only three main ingredients - potatoes, bacon and butter (there are also chives, but that's just a garnish). Funny how three simple ingredients can sound so appealing, isn't it?

Fist you have to deal with the potatoes - first peeling, then boiling and mashing. There's no mystery to that bit. Next, you melt butter in a frypan. I put in less than the recipe said (because I didn't have quite enough potatoes either) but it still seemed like heaps!

I cut my rashers of bacon to manageable sized bits, and placed them in the pan with the butter. It smelled heavenly, but I had some difficulty getting the bacon to go 'crispy' as it said in the recipe. It seemed almost to be poaching in the butter rather than frying. When I was finally satisfied it wasn't going to get any crispier, I fished out the bacon and set it to drain on some paper towels. It wasn't very crispy, but it'd do.

I left all the butter and bacon juices in the bottom of the pan, and scooped in the mashed potato, flattening it down until it filled the whole base of the pan evenly. I'd chosen a small frying pan, because I didn't think I had enough potato to spread over one of my larger ones, but surprisingly, what I had filled the smaller pan quite thickly.

After 25 minutes over a low heat, the potato had a nice golden base on it, and I was preparing to turn the hash brown and cook the other side. Thinking I had hit upon the best way to do this, I turned the hash brown out onto a plate and attempted to slide it into the pan. Disaster: most of it went back into the pan, but not very neatly, and some was smeared down the side and was burning onto the element. It took the highest fan setting on my rangehood and several minutes of frantic cleaning to prevent the smell of scorching potato from filling the house, and the smoke from setting off the alarms.

It doesn't say how long you're supposed to cook the other side for. I just left it until my salad was ready and I was sick of waiting, then I scooped out a portion, and sprinkled over bits of bacon and chopped chives.

I'd really expected this dish to be delicious. All that naughty butter and bacon.. Unfortunately, though I had managed to get a crisp surface on each side, the middle was just plain mashed potato. The bacon, while tasty, was not crispy as described in the recipe. The whole thing was actually fairly boring. A pity, really: if you're going to indulge in a plate of stolid carbohydrate soaked in trans fats, you'd want to hope the flavour is worth it!

Possibly if I'd used my bigger pan after all, and spread the potato further, a thinner hash brown might have been less like plain mash. Also, if you want to get bacon crispy enough to crumble over something as a garnish, grilling seems to work best. You can always tip those delicious bacony juices into the potato pan afterwards.

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