Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Theoretically for donors

I'm sure I'll have cause to regret establishing the custom of bringing in baking every time the blood drive comes to Hornby. That is, I'll regret it one day, but not as long as I still need excuses to bake Edmonds cakes. This time, it was loch katrine cake (p50).

This cake (which is actually more of a slice) has several different layers. You start with a very plain dough, made by rubbing butter into flour and baking powder, with a little milk to bind. This is rolled out and used to line a sponge roll tin. As always, it took a bit of patchwork to line the bottom of the tin evenly, but eventually I had it all covered.

On the base I spread a thin layer of raspberry jam and topped that with evenly sprinkled currants. The next step was to make the 'sponge': I creamed butter and sugar, then alternately mixed in dry ingredients and beaten eggs. Finally, I stirred through enough milk to make the mixture smooth, and spread it on top of the currant layer.

After half an hour or so in the oven, the cake came out looking beautiful. I let it cool before mixing up a quick lemon icing and spreading that on, with a generous scattering of chopped nuts on top.

As it happened, we didn't have all that many people available to donate blood today. For various reasons, only three people made it across to the blood drive - and I don't think any of them actually got a piece of cake. I did get to try it - luckily, or I wouldn't be able to tell you all how it tastes!

Loch katrine cake is quite tasty. Those different layers add pleasantly contrasting textures, and though the cake itself is fairly plain, plenty of flavour comes through from the jam, currants and icing. Quite a pleasant little mouthful, really.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A waste of wine?

As a simple means of ticking off another recipe last night, I whipped up a white wine marinade (p190). This marinade is described as suitable for fish or chicken, so I thought I'd try it on a fillet of tarakihi.

The recipe doesn't actually tell you how much fish or chicken you're supposed to be able to marinate with it, but since most recipes feed four, I figured a quarter-recipe would be more than enough for my single fillet.

The marinade combines finely chopped onion with white wine, lemon rind and juice, oil, garlic and parsley. I've just noticed I was supposed to include a bay leaf - oops, too late now! I coated my tarakihi fillet in the marinade: in fact, there was enough marinade there that it was more a matter of arranging the fish so that it was under the surface of the liquid.

I left the fish to marinate for 20 minutes while I got out my bamboo steamer and gathered some veges from the garden. I placed the fish and vege in the steamer and left if to steam for a few minutes. I'd never steamed fish before, and wasn't sure how long it would take. I definitely overestimated the cooking time, and the fish came out a bit dry.

It's hard to know whether the marinade had any tenderising effect on the fish. Fish doesn't usually need tenderising anyway, and he way I'd overcooked it had certainly added a firmness to the texture. I was a bit disappointed at how little flavour the marinade had imparted. There was a slight hint of lemon - and that's all I could taste. Served with plain steamed veges, it made for a remarkably bland plate of food.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Should be good, I reckon

I've had peach chutney (p231) on my 'to-do' list for a couple of weeks now, but somehow I kept not getting around to it. I couldn't wait too long or the peaches would get overripe, so this morning I finally motivated myself to get it done.

It's not like chutney-making is a big job: you just chop up stuff, throw it in a pot with a few other ingredients, and boil it for a while. In this case, the contents of the pot were peaches (peeled, stoned and chopped) onions (chopped), sultanas, crystallised ginger, brown sugar, curry powder, salt, and the ever-present malt vinegar.

I had to reduce the quantities in the recipe to match the amount of peaches I had. I ended up doing a one-third mix, which has the added bonus of not cluttering up my cupboard with too many additional jars. The top shelf of my pantry is already well-populated with Edmonds jams and chutneys - I just make them much faster than I can use them.

While the chutney mixture bubbled away, I dug out jars and got them sterilised ready for filling. It took about 45 minutes for my one-third mix to reach the desired jam-like consistency. I took the pot from the heat and ladled the chutney into the prepared jars.

I think I'm going to like this one. It's rich and fruity, with a fairly spicy kick. Many chutneys are overpoweringly vinegary when they're first cooked, and take a few weeks in the cupboard to mellow out a bit. This one has a pungency of its own, but it's not all due to the vinegar. If it tastes this good now, I reckon it's going to be really tasty in a month or two.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The no-stir stir-fry

I decided to make chinese lemon chicken (p139) last night, and serve it with vegetable stir-fry (p167). I was uncharacteristically organised, preparing my chicken and vegetables in advance, and working out the best order in which to make each element of the dish.

When all the veges were chopped and ready, and the deep-frying oil was heating on the stove, I quickly mixed together the ingredients for the lemon sauce: lemon rind and juice, grated ginger, chicken stock powder, brown sugar and water. I stirred this combination over a low heat, until it boiled and thickened. I turned the element off but left the pan sitting on it to keep warm.

By this time, the oil was hot and ready for the chicken. I'd chopped my chicken breast into bite-sized pieces, and coated them in cornflour. I dipped each piece in lightly beaten egg white before dropping it into the oil. They took a while to turn golden, so I made a start on the stir-fry in the meantime.

Despite the name, this dish doesn't really seem to be stir-fried as such. You start by heating oil in a pan, then add garlic, ginger and onions. After cooking these for one minute, you add the rest of the veges, along with a slosh of hot stock, then put a lid on and leave it to cook for three minutes. It doesn't really sound like stir-frying to me, but whatever.

The veges in the stir-fry include bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn, spinach, cauliflower and broccoli. I put in everything except the broccoli, instead substituting some courgette and beans from the garden. We've all made stir-fries before, and it doesn't matter much what you put in it - just use what you've got. The bamboo, chestnuts and corn are available canned, and make an interesting addition.

The most time-consuming aspect of this meal was definitely the preparation - and it didn't really take that long to chop some veges and open a few cans - because the cooking time is really short. Deep-frying is always quick, and the stir fry is done in under five minutes.

I was quite pleased with the resulting meal. I spooned the veges onto a platter, piled the chicken bites on top, poured over the lemon sauce, and garnished with chopped spring onions. The platter looked very yellow (the broccoli would have added some extra green) but on the whole, quite appealing.

It was tasty, too. The egg-white batter on the chicken had a deliciously light crunch, and the sauce was tangy and gingery. Though I'd had my doubts about the 'stir-fry' method, the flavour was pretty good, and the veges were cooked through but still retained a variety of textures. On the whole, it's not too different from a lemon chicken you might buy from the local takeaway - just fresher and better.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tastes like Summer

On Sunday afternoon, Lauren and I went out to Berryfields to pick raspberries again. When we went last year, I used the raspberries to make ice cream, and this year I decided I'd make sorbet (from my fruity gleanings.

Berry picking is a pleasant activity for a Summer afternoon; we were especially entertained by the conversation of the kids picking in the next row over:
"Look over here! It's literally raspberry heaven!" (from the younger sister)
"If it was raspberry heaven, all the raspberries would be dead" (response in scathing elder-brother tones)
Interchanges such as these sent me into carefully smothered fits of giggles, as Lauren and I plucked away at our own sections of "raspberry heaven".

It's easy to get into a rhythm of picking, and I wound up with far more than I needed for the sorbet. Still, it'd be criminal if I didn't have some left over for eating, right? When I got my raspberries home, I was dismayed to see that there was a hole in the corner of the bag - a raspberry had just fallen out and into the cat food as I plonked the bag on the bench. I wandered back down to the garage to see if any had fallen out in the car. Nope. But some smaller bits of disintegrated berry had fallen out onto the hall carpet - and I'd just smooshed them in by walking over them as I went to the garage.

After I'd cleaned up the carpet, I actually made a start on the sorbet. I needed 500g of fruit, pureed and strained. Since raspberries have more seeds than most of the fruits suggested in the recipe, I added a bit more than 500g to make up for what I was going to lose in straining them out. I separated out the most squished ones (from the bottom of the bag) for use in the puree, and left the better ones for eating.

I quickly mashed the raspberries with a potato masher, then started forcing them through a sieve. This part of the recipe was certainly the most time-consuming. It took quite a while to press and scrape all the moisture from around those berry seeds, though it would be easier with some of the other fruits suggested. I was quite surprised at how little was left in  the sieve when I finally got all the juice out - I probably didn't need to add those extra berries after all.

The next step was to make a syrup by heating sugar and water, stirring until all the water is dissolved. After allowing the syrup to cool slightly, I added it to the fruit puree with some lemon juice, and poured the whole concoction into a shallow container (an Edmonds puff pastry container, as it happens). The container then went into the freezer, to cool until the surface started freezing.

It took a couple of hours before I could really say the surface was freezing over. When I got it out, I found it had actually frozen through around the edges  but was still liquid in the centre. Unsurprising, when you think about it, but not what the recipe had led me to expect.

I transferred the sorbet mixture into a bowl, added a couple of egg whites and beat the mixture up. It was hard to know when the egg whites were combined with the fruit mixture, so I just kept the beater going for a couple of minutes. Then I poured it all back into the container and put it back into the freezer.

Several hours later, I decided the sorbet had frozen enough, and scooped out a serving, added a handful of raspberries and a little mint to garnish.

The texture of the sorbet was not as consistent as a shop-bought version, being firmly frozen in places but still fairly slushy in others. I didn't really care, because it tasted fantastic. It has a concentrated raspberry flavour, balanced between sweet and tart by the added sugar and lemon. I definitely recommend this one if you have excess fruit that needs using.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Undercooked chicken, with a side of banana mush

So, chicken maryland (p138) is a weird sort of recipe. It's essentially fried chicken, served with fried bananas and pineapple rings. That's a lot of 'fried', but apparently it's the whole meal.

I've never been that keen on deep frying at home - not really for the unhealthiness of it (because, after all, I still visit the local chippie from time to time) but just because it's a messy, tricky way to cook things, especially if you don't have a proper deep fryer.

Never mind, it had to be done. I half-filled a saucepan with oil, and turned it on to heat. There's no particular temperature given in the recipe - not that it would be much good to me if there was - but it does say not to have the oil too hot, or the chicken will be brown on the outside and undercooked in the middle. Well, I didn't want that to happen. I set the element quite low, and hoped for the best.

While the oil was heating, I prepared the chicken, dusting it in flour, then dipping in beaten egg and coating in breadcrumbs. You use whole chicken legs (which some people, particularly on Aussie cooking shows, seem to call 'marylands'. I guess there's some connection with the name of this recipe). The recipe is for four, but I just did the one.

I got the chicken into the oil, where it bubbled merrily away without browning too quickly. I figured I must have got the temperature about right. While that was cooking, I finished preparing the pineapple rings and bananas.

The bananas were easy enough to flour, egg and crumb in the same way as the chicken, but the pineapple rings, despite being drained, still had too much moisture and turned the flour into a soggy paste. I had to scrape off the paste and dust again. This time it was a bit better, but still slightly soggy.

After ten minutes, I got the chicken out and pierced the fattest parts with a skewer. No blood ran out, so I figured it was cooked. I bunged the bananas and pineapple in, but they didn't seem to be cooking very well, so I turned the heat up a bit. They'd been in the oil for a while before I decided they were golden enough.

I scattered a bit of lettuce on the plate, not because it was in the recipe, but I felt the need for something green. When the worst of the oil had been drained and blotted away, I piled on the chicken, pineapple rings and banana.

The coating on the chicken was pleasantly crunchy, but bland. I looked back at the recipe to see if I'd forgotten the seasoning again, but there's actually no seasoning in the recipe at all. When I cut further into the chicken, I found something worse: it was red and bloody close to the bone. I gingerly ate a few more mouthfuls from the other (thinner, and properly cooked) side of the leg, but unfortunately,  most of it wound up in the bin.

As for the sides, the pineapple slices were passable, but still a bit soggy. The banana was so soft as to be almost mush. Mush that oozes oil. Not nice. I ate one half of the banana, and chucked the rest. I did use a reasonably ripe banana, which might have something to do with it. Mostly, I think the oil wasn't hot enough, which holds true for the undercooked chicken as well.

Oddly enough, I ate all the lettuce. It was actually the nicest thing on the plate!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Next time, substitute couscous

I'd been looking for burghul to make tabbouleh (p179). This is also described as 'cracked wheat' in the recipe, and I gather from Google that it's also known as bulgur wheat. The thing is, I hadn't been able to find any. When I was at Bin Inn the other day, I got some buckwheat in the hope that this was just another name for the same thing.

It isn't. Happily, a little Googling informed me that buckwheat is a suitable substitute for bulgur wheat, the cooking methods even being the same. Sweet.

Stupidly, I didn't actually read what those cooking methods were. The tabbouleh recipe just instructs you to cover the burghul with boiling water and leave it for 30 minutes. I hoped this would work for the buckwheat too.

I poured my water over and left it. Half an hour later, most of the water had been absorbed, and I drained off the rest. There seemed to be a bit of sediment in the liquid, so I gave it a quick rinse too. After that, I just needed to add a few things: tomatoes, mint and parsley (quite a lot of parsley) from the garden, then lemon juice, oil and seasoning.

I put the tabbouleh in the fridge to chill while I bunged some frozen fish fillets in the oven.  A short time later the fish was ready and I was trying my tabbouleh.

The flavours were good, though perhaps a bit heavy on the parsley. It was the texture of the buckwheat that was the real problem. Some of the grains were soft right through, others weren't. On top of that, the combination of oil and lemon juice with the buckwheat created a sort of unappealing gluey consistency in the dressing.

I can't speak for what this recipe would be like if you actually used burghul,  but I can say that substituting buckwheat is not that successful. One other substitute I considered before buying the buckwheat was couscous. It's easy to make, easy to find, and I think it would work quite well in this recipe. If you can't find burghul, try couscous. That's what I would do.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The eighth variation

I'm starting to get a bit of vege from the garden, which is pretty exciting for a newbie gardener. I've even been able to make a salad using only ingredients I've grown myself! The only downside is, with only 45 recipes to go, it's getting harder to find uncompleted Edmonds recipes in which to use my freshly-picked produce.

There were some courgettes and beans that needed using, (I'll be knee-deep in beans before long; I definitely planted too many) so I thought I might have them with a parsley sauce (p188) the last uncompleted version of the eight white sauce variations. These have been a bit of a trial to me as I've never been in the habit of using white sauces. I found a use for them all, however - and generally they're quite yummy (if properly seasoned).

Veges alone doesn't make a meal. I mentally revised the remaining recipes and decided to make chicken cordon bleu (p154) as well. This is a variation on the standard cordon bleu recipe, which sandwiches cheese and ham between pieces of beef schnitzel. This one is the same, but with chicken breast.

The recipe tells us to use single boneless chicken breasts, rolled thinly. Ok, fair enough, but a chicken breast is a whole lot fatter than a piece of schnitzel. I decided to slice it into two, then roll it out. This did not have a particularly tidy result, but I can't imagine I would have got the breast rolled thin enough if I'd left it whole. even sliced in two, it took a lot of rolling and pounding to get it passably thin.

This would have made a massive cordon bleu, so I cut each flattened piece of chicken in half. On two of my pieces I laid ham and cheese, then topped them with the remaining chicken. Though I'd tried to keep the shapes reasonably regular, they didn't match up too well - I wound up with two messy little packages that did not seal up on the edges properly. Oh well. On to the next step!

I coated the cordon bleus in seasoned flour, then dipped each one in beaten egg and rolled it in breadcrumbs. They held together better than I anticipated, but I still had to handle them carefully. Finally, I melted butter in a pan with oil, and put my cordon bleus in to fry for 5 minutes either side.

While my cordon bleus were cooking, I got the beans and courgettes cooking, and made the parsley sauce. It's a simple white sauce, with a bit of parsley added at the end. I stirred flour into melted butter, let that cook 'until frothy', then gradually added milk. I thought I was going to run out of milk before the sauce was ready, and watered down the last little bit. This was not a good idea - it made the sauce a bit runny.

I have to admit that I wasn't really concentrating on the parsley sauce, being distracted with the other elements of the meal. It showed in the final result - the parsley sauce was definitely a bit thin and lumpy, and I had it on the plate before I realised I'd forgotten the seasoning. Again. I sprinkled salt and pepper over the top instead.

The parsley sauce was pretty much as I expected: a thin (my fault), lumpy (my fault) and underseasoned (my fault again) white sauce with parsley through it. It could be a perfectly good sauce - I just didn't do a good job of it this time.

The chicken cordon bleu was good, though. It looks a bit overdone in the picture, but it tasted fine. You can't really go wrong with the formula meat+ham+cheese+breadcrumbs+fry in butter. It's a winning combination: not a healthy one, but definitely tasty!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Instructions incomplete

I was at a loose end this afternoon, so after killing time in the most pointless ways (e.g. turning on the TV at random and watching a whole episode of Doctor Who, even though I haven't watched it since the 80s, and didn't have a clue what was going on) I decided it might be a better idea to do some breadmaking.

Brown bread (no knead) (p22) is the last of the bread recipes. I'd had to wait until I could get my hands on some kibbled wheat, but as chance would have it, I made a mission to Bin Inn yesterday for this and one or two other hard-to-find ingredients. Bin Inn is definitely the place to look for a lot of things you can't get in the supermarket.

The first step in the recipe is to place the kibbled wheat in a a bowl with some boiling water, and leave it to stand for 20 minutes. I poured the hot water over the kibbled wheat and turned back to the recipe, trying to establish whether I could continue with any other parts of the recipe while I was waiting for the 20 minutes to pass.

As I read through the recipe, something struck me as odd. I read it again, and again. No, I wasn't missing anything. The recipe begins with the instruction "Combine kibbled wheat and water. Set aside for 20 minutes." After that, the kibbled wheat is not mentioned again. It goes on to describe the use of flour, yeast etc, but it never tells you what to do with that soaked kibbled wheat.

I was tempted to follow the recipe to the letter, and end with a photo of the completed bread sitting next to the jug of abandoned kibbled wheat. I decided not to go ahead with this, as the kibbled wheat would be wasted. Common sense would dictate that it had to be added to the dough at some stage (though I was unsure of whether it should be drained, or the excess water included, or whether I should expect all the water to be absorbed) so I figured I'd just throw it in at some point.

I started by combining wholemeal flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of my mixer. The recipe doesn't mention a mixer at this point, but it does indicate an electric mixer later on, and I didn't see any reason to do the early mixing in a different bowl. I spent a little time trying to work out how much yeast to add; I had sachet yeast where the recipe indicated surebake. There's conversion information at the beginning of the breads and buns recipes, but after trying to force my slow-moving Sunday brain to work out the right quantity, I ended up just shrugging and tipping in one sachet.

Next into the bowl were a cup of cold water, some golden syrup, and a cup of boiling water. I guess the idea is the cold water prevents the hot water from killing the yeast. This mixture was left to stand for a few minutes, after which I stirred in an egg, and began adding the white flour. After two of the three cups of flour were in, the miture was starting to get a bit stiff, so I tipped in the kibbled wheat, excess water and all, before stirring in the final cup of flour.

This is where the mixer comes in. I attached the bowl back on the mixer, and set it on low for a couple of minutes. I decided to use the bread hook attachment, (because it seemed appropriate) but the ordinary paddle would have worked fine.

I was pleased to see that the mixture resembled the "thick batter...not quite as thick as a dough" described in the recipe. Maybe I'd got the kibbled wheat bit right. I divided the mixture into two greased loaf tins and set them in the pantry for the dough to rise.

After half ah our or so, the dough was threatening to overflow both loaf tins. I transferred them from pantry to oven and crossed my fingers that they would bake ok. 35 minutes later, the loaves came out looking beautiful. I tipped them out onto a rack and let them cool for a while before cutting myself a slice.

This bread was actually quite successful, despite my confusion over the recipe. It's soft and unusually moist, which I hope means it won't go stale as quickly. I always prefer a grainy bread, so the chunks of kibbled wheat throughout are definitely to my liking, and somehow it's avoided forming that massively thick crust that I always seem to get with homemade bread.

I'm not delighted with the way this particular recipe has been written: it's wordy but not all that clear. There's certainly an instruction missing about the kibbled wheat. Still, if you use your common sense and bung it in somewhere, you do end up with two very nice loaves of bread.

Friday, January 11, 2013

An improved sponge roll

It's well established that whenever I can't think of a good reason to do an Edmonds recipe, I just bake something and bring it in to feed the hungry workmates. Something like small swiss rolls (p69) perhaps?

It's actually quite laughable to consider this a separate recipe from the main sponge roll recipe, since the ingredients and baking of the sponge are identical. The only difference is that you roll it up from the long side instead of the short side. Still, according to my long-established rules, any variation that has a different name from the main recipe is considered a separate recipe.

That said, it's actually quite good to have an opportunity to revisit this recipe. My first attempt was mildly traumatic and laid the groundwork for my ongoing belief that I just don't have the knack of sponges. I've had slightly better luck with sponges in recent months though, so I began this one more with interest than dread.

I was keen to see if I could improve on my first swiss roll, so I took great care to beat the eggs and sugar well, then carefully measured and sifted together the baking powder and flour before adding it to the eggs. Finally, I folded in the melted butter. I think the problems I had last time stemmed from being too timid with my folding and not combining the mixture properly. This time I worried less about losing volume from overmixing, and more about just getting it all combined.

The mixture looked pretty good when I poured it into the tin, and even better when I took it out 10 minutes later. I turned it out onto a teatowel dusted with icing sugar, and rolled it up from the long side while it was still warm. I left it rolled up overnight, only opening it up again to fill it in the morning.

I spread a generous layer of my 'loganberry' jam over the sponge, then topped it with cream. It rolled up easily into a tidy log, which I then cut into three equal pieces. I'm not sure why the recipe says to do this, since you're going to end up slicing it up to serve it anyway, but I guess they look quite cute that way.

The small swiss rolls proved popular, though most of the comments were on the tastiness of the jam, rather than the sponge. I must admit, it is a tasty jam, and the fruity flavour far overwhelms that of the sponge. That's ok, because the flavour of sponge+jam+cream is actually the whole point. Combined, it's delicious.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A light supper

I've been back at work since Monday, but I have to admit I'm finding it hard to get out of 'holiday mode'. Motivating myself to open up my Edmonds book and complete a few more recipes has been harder than usual - especially since I had all that lasagne to keep myself fed!

This evening I was idly browsing recipes, trying to find something I felt like eating. It was hot and windy, and I'd had a big lunch. I really didn't feel like eating much. Finally, I came across seafood cocktail (p118), which I think is generally intended as a starter, but also seemed the ideal light meal for a hot evening.

I had to pop down to the supermarket for a few ingredients. The recipe indicates mixed seafood - shrimps, oysters, crab, prawns, crayfish - so I was hoping to get some kind of seafood mix from the deli section. Unfortunately, they were closing up as I got there, so the best I could manage was a handful of surimi mix, which makes for a much less interesting but considerably cheaper cocktail.

When I got home, I set the surimi aside while I mixed up the sauce, beating cream until slightly thickened, then mixing in tomato sauce, lemon juice and white pepper. That's really all there is to it - after that, you just need to place lettuce in a serving dish, arrange your seafood on it, and spoon the sauce over the top. I was making only one cocktail, so I quartered the sauce recipe. This still made twice the amount I really needed. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the leftover sauce.

There's an alternative to the cream mentioned in the recipe - you can also use plain yoghurt if you prefer. Usually I would have taken this option, but I wanted the leftover cream for something else.

The cocktail did make a suitable light meal. I found the creamy sauce a bit cloying though. I think it would be better made with yoghurt or sour cream. On the whole, I prefer the cocktail sauce recipe found amongst the sauces and marinades, which is chunkier and more tangy, being mayonnaise-based instead of cream-based. That's just my opinion, though: you'll have to try them and decide which one's your favourite!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Everyone's favourite

Today was my first day back at work after the New Year's break. Surprisingly enough, I wasn't looking forward to it. I decided it would be a good idea to make something that would see me through several days' worth of lunches, so I wouldn't have to worry about that for the first few days. So what's the perfect recipe for this scenario? Lasagne (p100), that's what.

Lasagne's just one of those dishes: you never meet anyone who doesn't like it. True, everyone has their favourite version, but the basics remain the same. I generally do a sort of cheat's version where you don't bother with the cheese sauce - just layer the meat sauce and pasta, then bung a heap of cheese over the top. It's quicker than a 'proper' lasagne, which may be why I didn't anticipate how long the Edmonds version would take to make.

I was going to a movie yesterday afternoon, and had considered making the meat and cheese sauces in advance, then assembling the lasagne when I got home. I didn't get around to it though, and figured I'd leave my lasagne-making for another day. When I got home at 7.30pm, however, I stupidly decided to make it anyway. I had to make a quick trip down to the supermarket for a few extra items, so it was 8pm before I started cooking.

That was perhaps not the best idea.

I started with the meat sauce, cooking onion and garlic in oil, then adding mince. When that had browned, I put in a couple of cans of chopped tomatoes, some tomato puree, chopped mushrooms, some dried herbs, and a little sugar. There's a lot of liquid in the tomatoes, so the sauce had to cook down for about 40 minutes, something I hadn't really anticipated! I killed some time doing dishes until the sauce was looking a bit thicker, then made a start on the cheese sauce.

I must have discussed this recipe with Steve at some stage, because I'd noted a 'Steve's tip' that the cheese sauce recipe should be increased by half. I decided I'd better try the recipe as is, and it worked ok, but Steve probably has a point here: the sauce was spread pretty thin in places.

This is a fairly standard cheese sauce. You melt butter, then stir in flour and cook that 'until frothy'. My butter/flour mixture went extremely frothy, hissing away as it narrowly avoided scorching on my highly unreliable second element (the one that sometimes decides it has only one temperature, i.e. maximum). I swapped the cheese sauce to the good element and let the meat sauce bubble away on the hot one.

Having the butter/flour mixture very hot seems to work quite well - the sauce thickened up very quickly as I slowly added the milk. In a very short time I had it off the heat, (and the meat sauce back on the good element) and was adding cheese and seasoning.

Shortly after that, the meat sauce was ready. I set it aside with the cheese sauce to cool while I cooked the pasta. This recipe calls for wide lasagne ribbons, though you could use sheets if you prefer. I actually like lasagne made with the ribbons, since it's easier to serve up if you don't have to cut through layers of lasagne sheets. Of course, it doesn't hold together as prettily on the plate, but you can't have everything.

I didn't leave the sauces till they were completely cool - it was 9.30 by this time, and I wanted to eat before bedtime! I started assembling the lasagne, starting with a layer of pasta, over which I spread a layer of meat sauce, then a layer of cheese sauce. Another layer of each and a bit of parmesan grated over the top, and the lasagne was ready to go in the oven.

After 20 minutes in the oven, my lasagne was finally ready to eat. It may have been just because I was hungry, but man, that lasagne tasted so good!

As I've said, you can't really go wrong with lasagne. This is a good basic recipe, and would be easy to tweak to your own preferences. It takes a while to make, but it's worth it. Just don't start cooking it at 8pm!

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