Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Big and strong like Popeye

Did anyone ever actually believe that? I can't imagine there were many kids who went running to their Mothers, going "Mum, Mum, can we have spinach for tea so I can be like Popeye?" Kids can be pretty gullible sometimes, but they're not stupid.

Spinach may not give you massive Popeye-like muscles the moment you eat it, but there's no doubt it's good for you. So, when I was looking for some foliage to serve on the side of a reheated beef olive, I decided on spinach salad (p179).

I should have looked more closely at the recipe, because it's really a light meal rather than a side salad. As well as the spinach, this salad includes mushrooms, spring onion, orange, bacon, hard-boiled egg and flaked almonds. Though the recipe uses a bunch of normal spinach, I opted for baby spinach as being nicer for salad, and also available from the bulk salad bins so I could buy only as much as I needed.

The other ingredient in the salad is french dressing (p183). It's really a standard vinaigrette, which means it's 75% oil. Since I'm not keen on oily dressings, I altered the proprotions of oil and vinegar to 50/50. It was quite nice, but I'd still be just as happy with my low-fat shop-bought dressing. That, however, is merely a personal preference.

Of course, the oil in the dressing is monounsaturated, which means it's a 'good fat'. That's one argument for keeping the vinaigrette. On the other hand, I take the view that, while heart-healthy fats are to be preferred, it's best to try and keep the total fat content down. Just because it's 'good fat' doesn't mean you should eat lots of it - it's still fat! Remember the food pyramid? No? Check your Edmonds book.

The basic assembly of the salad is as follows: throw your spinach, chopped mushrooms, sliced spring oinions, segmented orange and cooked bacon together in a bowl (You're supposed to chill it at this point, but I didn't, and it was fine). Shake up the dressing ingredients in a jar, and toss through your salad. Then garnish with chopped hard-boiled eggs and toasted almonds.

Two pieces of advice: boil your egg(s) first. Don't get to the end and realise you still need cold hard-boiled egg. Also, don't get an egg out of the fridge and just set it down on the bench while the water is heating: The egg will roll and smash in the sink. Trust me on this.

Also, unless you have bought ready toasted almonds, you'll need to toast them in a frypan. It doesn't take long, and makes them nice and crunchy.

Absolutely try this salad: It's really good. With the bacon, egg and oily dressing, it may have more fat in it than the average green salad, but if you are eating it as a meal it's not bad really. Eggs are actually good for you, and a small amount of bacon goes a long way in a salad.  If you stick to lean bacon and low-fat dressing, it makes for quite a healthy meal.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Playing with leftovers

You may remember that when I made my jam tart in the weekend, I found myself with some leftover pastry. Since the pastry recipe requires a yolk only, I also had an egg white in the fridge. I went looking for a recipe which would use up my bits and pieces.

I was not successful in finding a single recipe which would use up both the egg white and the pastry. I know what you're thinking: Lemon meringue pie. But the filling uses the yolks, so it wasn't a suitable recipe for using up a single white.

In the end, I decided on custard tart (p208) as a way of using up my pastry. Since the recipe actually uses 200g of pastry, and I only had 100g, I made a half-mix of the filling and made tartlets in my patty tins.

The first step was to roll and cut the pastry to line the patty tins. Then they had to be baked blind, so I filled them up with some dried haricot beans and bunged them in the oven. I had to be pretty careful with my cooking times - the timings given in the recipe were for a tart 20cm in diameter: Mine were more like 5 or 6cm. So 15 minutes blind baking became 5.

After taking the blind-baked shells out of the oven, I was forced to do a little multi-tasking. I had to remove the blind and put the shells back in briefly to dry out. At the same time, I was cooking my custard filling, which at theat stage required constant stirring. Since I wanted my shells ready at the same time as my custard, I found myself stirring with my right hand while I clumsily picked beans out of the pastry shells with my left.

But eventually they were ready, as was the custard. I poured in the filling, sprinkled the tartlets with nutmeg, and stuck them back in the oven. Before long, I had some cute little custard tarts: very sweet and a little eggy. The pastry was lovely, much less crunchy than on the jam tart. Perhaps the extra chilling time helped, or maybe it's just that the jam tart was cooked for longer.

And what happened to the egg white? Well, what else do you do with egg whites? There is actually a list of suggestions for using up egg whites and yolks on p98, but I chose the obvious route and made meringues (p64). Incidentally, the meringue recipe is found in the "slices and squares" section of the Edmonds book. Why?

I can think of only one occasion when I have previously tried to make meringues. They were from a microwave cookbook (?!) and I was probably about 10 at the time. I baked a lot back then, and I knew I liked meringues, so I didn't think I would have any difficulty in making them. What I didn't know is just how much you have to beat the egg whites to make them meringuey. The result was a number of flat sugary blobs. Mum must have been delighted when she found I'd used up several egg whites to make them!

This time, I had a better idea of what is required. I've made pav, of course, and meringues are just mini pavs really. The problem was, since I only had one egg white, I was making a half recipe. And one egg white is not really enough for my big mixer. Well, I needed an arm workout anyway. Out came the eggbeater.

I was surprised. Once I'd found the optimum angle for using an eggbeater on a single egg white, it took no time at all. Less time, in fact, than it usually takes me to whip cream for a pav. I added the sugar in two lots, kept beating, and before I knew it, I had a glossy meringue mixture.

I tried using my piping bag to make them into pretty shapes, but the mixture wasn't stiff enough to take the shape. And, being out of practice with my piping skills, I managed to let meringue dribble out of the bottom of the bag all over the place while I struggled to scoop the rest into the top.

No matter. I got 6 fairly regular-sized meringues (well, actually 5, plus one misfit) into the oven, before cleaning up the sticky mess all over the bench. I left them in for an hour only, though the recipe says 1 - 1 1/2 hours. This way there's still a slight chewiness in the middle. Yuuummm.

So don't let your leftovers get the best of you: there's always something you can make. And if what you have left over happens to be egg white, I do recommend meringues. They're much easier than you think!

Leftover pastry is a less common problem, but if you like eggy custard, custard tart (or tartlets like mine) are really easy to make. Of course, no-one's saying you have to wait for leftovers if you want to make either of these recipes!

To see an even more successful attempt at meringues, click here

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Just stir it, Una!"

Well, actually my gravy did need sieving. But I'm getting ahead of myself here...

This particular journey began - as so many do - with "mystery freezer meat", a packet of meat that was roughly recognisable as beef schnitzel, but only because it said so on the packet. It'd been in my freezer for a long time, and since it's not the sort of thing I generally buy, I don't really know how it got there.

Luckily, my Edmonds cookbook provided me with a chance to get rid of it. Beef olives (p124) are little packages of beef schnitzel, rolled up around stuffing and then cooked in gravy. Sounds like fun.

I had been led to believe that making the beef olives would be fiddly. Actually, that part only took me a few minutes. I whizzed up the stuffing ingredients in the food processor - a few moments and I had my stuffing ready to go. Then I spread it on the schnitzel, rolled them up and  fastened them together with toothpicks.

That bit was easy. It's from this point on that it all turned to custard. Or to horribly lumpy gravy, to be more precise. You see, I'm not an habitual gravy eater. If ever I did make gravy, it'd probably be from a packet, but here I'm obliged to stick to the recipe.

And according to the recipe, I should heat some oil in a frypan, and brown my beef olives. So far, so good. Then, move them into a casserole dish, and begin the gravy: "Stir flour into frying pan and cook for one minute. Gradually add stock, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil. Add soy sauce". Ok, that doesn't sound too difficult. Except that the moment I put the flour in, it turned into big yellow lumps.

I stood, adding stock, stirring and trying to mush out the lumps, for what seemed like an absolute age. The lumps refused to disappear, and all I could think of was that line from Bridget Jones' Diary: "I think the gravy's going to need sieving". Meanwhile, my beef olives were sitting in their casserole dish on the benchtop, getting cold and attracting flies. Eventually I decided to go by my movie-acquired theory and sieve the gravy.

Well, it got the lumps out. A tricky business, though, holding the sieve over the beef olives with one hand and trying to pour my (by now ultra-thick and very lumpy) gravy from the frying pan with my other hand -  a third hand would have been very useful for scraping out the frying pan. The result was not wonderful. A very thick, very salty (two tablespoons of soy sauce? One would be plenty) ultra-concentrated dribble of gravy on each beef olive. I deviated from the recipe here, and poured some water into the frying pan to collect the remainder of the sauce. Having achieved this, I poured my diluted gravy over and finally put my beef olives, now swimming in watery gravy, into the oven.

40 minutes later, when pulling out my beef olives, I used a teatowel as an oven mitt, which I then placed on an element which was still on from cooking the veges. Luckily I noticed before the smoke alarm went off and/or the house burnt down. The teatowel's ruined though.

As for the beef olives: Yet another reasonably good result, despite my making a  complete mess of the recipe. I have to say Edmonds recipes are very forgiving. I found the sweet prune stuffing slightly odd in contrast with the salty gravy, but if you reduce the soy sauce, that would be less of a problem. The watery gravy had thickened up and even my old freezer-meat wasn't tough and chewy like I expected - though of course it'd still be better to use fresh schnitzel.

If you have the knack of making gravy without lumps, go ahead and try this recipe.  Go easy on the soy sauce and you'll have a decent result. If you don't like prunes, do a different stuffing of your choice; and if I've put you off with the gravy nightmare, there's no reason why you couldn't use packet gravy instead.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"From scratch" part 2: Success!

Despite last week's fiasco with the flaky pastry, I was feeling confident as I began my attempt at sweet shortcrust pastry (p81). I learned a couple of things from the flaky pastry. One: Read the recipe - carefully! And two: Pastry is more forgiving than TV chefs would have you believe. Or at least I'm less fussy than they are!

Even so, I was quite surprised at just how easy sweet shortcrust pastry is to make. Cut the butter into the flour (or in my case rub it in - I just can't get the knack of cutting in butter), add sugar, a small amount of water and an egg yolk, and mix. That's it. No messing about with rolling, layering, kneading..

I thought it'd be quite difficult to mix - one egg yolk and one tablespoon of water does not seem like a lot of liquid, but I guess the high butter content helps, as it mixed up beautifully in quite a short time. About 10 minutes after making a start on the pastry, I was putting the finished product in the fridge to chill.

Half an hour later, I took out the pastry to begin my jam tart (p210). This recipe required only 200g of my pastry,  (interestingly, I got only 300g from a pastry recipe that supposedly makes around 400g. Can't think how that happened) so I have 100g left over to make something else. You start by splitting off 1/4 of your 200g pastry and setting it aside. The other 3/4 is for the base of the tart.

I was quite pleased with my pastry in that it handled exactly like the bought stuff (Yes, I know I said homemade is better, but when it comes to pastry, I'll need a bit more practice before that's true). The only difference was in the texture - It seemed a little gritty from the sugar. I think I might try caster sugar next time.

You don't need a pie plate or flan ring to make this tart - just roll it into a rectangle 25x15cm and put it on a baking tray. Then spread jam on it, leaving a gap at the edge. Then you roll the edges up, and make the remaining 1/4 of the pastry into strips to place on top. Brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar, and put into the oven.

15 minutes later, you have a yummy jam tart. The pastry was slightly crunchier than the bought stuff I'm used to using, but still pretty good! The tart's best hot from the oven - with icecream - but of course I wasn't about to eat the whole thing in one sitting. It's not a large tart, but you'd still get four reasonable servings from it. I've actually cut mine into smaller pieces to put in my lunchbox this week.

The whole thing was really exceptionally easy. If you used bought pastry and jam, you could have it on the table in 30 minutes - that includes the cooking time. Make your own pastry and it'd still be less than an hour. Make your own jam, and.. well, it takes considerably longer. Trust me on this one. While I do reccommend you try jam making, it's probably not best to make it specially for the tart!

This is not an everyday dish though - it's a complete sugarfest really. Sugar in the jam; sugar in the pastry; sugar on top...then add some icecream! I'd hate to think of the calorie count! But that doesn't mean you shouldn't treat yourself occasionally.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

"From scratch" part 1: Floor jam

You see, I had this great idea. The plan was to make jam tart (p210) entirely from scratch, i.e. making both the jam and the pastry myself. It was going to be a single blog entry encompassing three recipes, and astounding you all with my culinary excellence.

However, I've only made the jam so far, (yes, jam: It's that fruity stuff you buy in jars from the supermarket. You can actually make it yourself) an experience which has provided me with more than enough material for one entry. I haven't made my pastry yet, but when you consider how my last attempt played out, I'm guessing there'll be plenty to say about that too. So I decided it'd be best to make two entries of readable length, rather than expecting people to read a novel-length entry.

Since I had a large bag of blueberries in my freezer, I decided to make blueberry jam (p225) for my tart. It's really just a matter of cooking up blueberries with some grated apple, lemon juice and lots and lots  of sugar. Don't go imagining that jam is good for you - theoretically I knew that jam is high in sugar, but now I've actually seen just how high.

Because I don't have a lot of spare jars, and because my largest pot is really not that huge, I decided to make a 2/3 mix. Why two-thirds? Well, since the full recipe had three cups of blueberries and three apples, I decided 2/3 would be easier than halving. A bit tricky to figure out 2/3 of 1/4 cup of lemon juice, but never mind.

I peeled and cored my Granny Smiths, and grated them in my food processor. So far, so good. Into the pot with the lemon juice. Now for the blueberries. I got the bag out of the freezer, set it on my pull-out chopping board, opened it up and turned to get my cup measure. The next thing I heard was the patter of hundreds of frozen berries cascading onto my kitchen floor.

I grabbed the bag and closed it, but most of the berries were already on the floor. Some people would be dismayed by this, but when you're as consistently clumsy as I am, you begin to see these things as par for the course. I tucked my skirt up in my apron to avoid staining, got down on my hands and knees and picked them all up one by one.

When I had them all - or at least most of them: I'll probably be finidng stray berries for months - I piled them all in the sink and put the jam-making on hold for a few minutes while I ran a mop over my purple-splattered kitchen floor. Once that was done, I set about rinsing all the fluff and grit off my berries. I had the 2 cups I needed for the jam very quicky, so I put the fruit on to soften while I finished rinsing the rest.

And there were a lot of them. Once they were thoroughly rinsed, I spread the blueberries out on 3 trays and put them back in the freezer in an attempt to freeflow freeze them. By the time I'd finished this, the fruit I was cooking for the jam had softened.

At this point you add the sugar. With all the distractions, I very nearly forgot I was doing a 2/3 mix and added the full 4 cups of sugar. Luckily I remembered just in time. Measuring out 2.6666666 cups of sugar wasn't really possible (can't imagine why there isn't a 2.6666666 cup mark on my measuring jug) so I had to estimate.

From there it was just a matter of dissolving the sugar, then boiling the whole mixture for 20 minutes. While this was happening, I also had my jars and lids sterilizing in the oven. As I approached the 20-minute mark, I began testing the jam to see if it had reached 'setting point'. I think perhaps I let it boil a little too long, but I wanted to be sure that the jam would set.

Once I'd reached setting point, I took the jam off the heat, got my jars from the oven, and began spooning the mixture in. I was careful to put slightly too much in each jar - an overflow ensures there is no air in the top of the jar. I'd closed all the lids when I realised all three jars had air bubbles around the top. So I had to open them again and get the bubbles out. Once this was done, I reheated myself some grotty tomato casserole (slightly improved, by the way, by the addition of a little beef stock before reheating), poured a glass of wine and sat down to await the 'pop' of the jar lids sealing.

They didn't pop. With some phone encouragement from Mum, I ascertained that the lids seemed to have sealed - the depressions on the lid don't have any give in them - so I'm happy enough that the jars did actually seal, even though they hadn't made that satisfying 'pop'. Unfortunately, when I was cleaning the overflowed/spilled jam off the outside of the jars, I found that there were air bubbles in each jar that I had missed. That means that the jam won't keep as long as it should. Something to look out for next time.

Yep, next time: there are 14 more jam recipes in my Edmonds book. Then there are the preserves, pickles, chutneys and sauces. So by the end of it, I should be an expert at bottling stuff. But I think I did ok for my first attempt at jam. It's not really difficult: All the info you need about jam making is there in the Edmonds book. Of course, they did miss out the step where you drop all the berries on the floor, but I suggest you skip that one too.

Meanwhile, I'll be making my sweet shortcrust pastry (p81) today to finish my jam tart. I'll let you know tomorrow how I get on.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Budget-friendly, but...

I really had no intention of doing any Edmonds cooking last night. But I still had to eat, and, having no other inspiration for a meal, I turned once again to my Edmonds Book. I was quite interested in the tomato rice casserole (p107). Pasta bakes are a familiar idea, but you don't usually think of baking rice in the oven. Or I don't, anyway. Of course, my main reason for choosing this recipe was simply that I had all the ingredients in the cupboard.

All you do is throw rice, chopped onion, garlic, a can of tomatoes and some tomato paste in a casserole dish with some seasoning, mix it all up, add a few cubes of butter and bake it in the oven for 40 minutes. Very cheap and very easy.

It's a bit hard to know if this is supposed to be a main or a side dish. There's no protein in the recipe, but I can't think what you would serve it up with. Chicken maybe? I figured if the basic recipe turned out ok, I could add some meat next time.

After 40 minutes, the rice wasn't cooked yet. I suspect basmati wasn't the best rice to use, but it was the only long grain I had. I added a bit of water to stop it drying out, and put it back in for another 10 minutes.

To be honest, it's not a great recipe. The predominant flavour is very very strong tomato - 135g of tomato paste is a little excessive in a dish this size. Once again, the onions weren't completely cooked - I think I need to start chopping my onions up finer so they cook properly in these recipes. The seasoning of salt, sugar and curry powder just isn't stong enough to make a dent in the overpowering tomato/uncooked onion flavour. It's really a bit like eating tomato paste mixed with rice and raw onion.

I think if I made this again - which, let's face it, is not likely - I'd use less tomato paste,or even dispense with it altogether in favour of a bit more liquid - stock probably. I'd also incorporate meat, some more vege, and some mixed herbs or something instead of the curry powder. I'm not convinced that the butter is necessary either - it smelt lovely in the cooking, but added nothing to the flavour as far as I could tell.

In short: Unless you're keen to get creative as per my suggestions above, don't bother with this one.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Going Ginga

Ginger crunch (p63) - it's another Kiwi favourite, but as it happens, I'd never made it before. Any ginger crunch I've had in recent years has been of the Couplands variety, which I never liked that much. I'm not sure why, but I find the icing tastes like baking soda.

I was flicking through my Edmonds book at work yesterday, (yes, I have been taking my Edmonds book with me just about everywhere. It's a worry) looking for some baking I could do using only ingredients I already had at home - with just $2.80 remaining of this week's budget, I didn't have the luxury of purchasing extra ingredients.

I spotted the ginger crunch recipe, which doesn't require anything exotic, just the usual butter, sugar etc, plus a bit of ground ginger and golden syrup. Just what I was looking for. Thinking aloud, I said, "I might make ginger cunch tonight", a statement which was met with much approval - but only if I brought some in to share with everybody.

Reflecting that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to eat all of it myself, I took this suggestion on board. After clearing up the dishes from the previous day's pot roast, I made a start on the ginger crunch. Like most Edmonds recipes, it was very straightforward: make the base, press it into a tin, then make the icing while the base is cooking.

I did find that the base mixture was very crumbly. This was a little worrying as you're supposed to knead the dough before putting it into the tin. I had a go at kneading, but it just kept falling to pieces, so I gave up and pressed it into the tin. Using the back of a spoon to spread and press it, I found that the crumbly mixture eventually became smooth and even.

When I had the base in the oven, I got out a saucepan to make the icing. It doesn't take the full baking time to melt the butter, golden syrup, ginger and icing sugar into an icing - I started mine too early and then spent about 10 minutes just trying to keep it warm without ruining it.

Handy hint: If you have sensitive teeth, do not put a fingerful of hot ginger icing in your mouth: Ouch.

The icing goes on warm as soon as the base comes out of the oven. This is a bit unusual, but means the icing is easy to spread. It's also easy to see where the icing is too thin, because it's quite transparent where it's not thick enough. Once you've got the icing looking even, cut the slice while it's still hot - again unusual, but it seems to work.

As promised, I turned up this morning with a plate of ginger crunch. Unsurprisingly, it's been well received. There's no better way to ensure workplace popularity than by bringing in baking. And if I do say so myself, it's really good ginger crunch: way better than the bought stuff. Remember how ads used to say "just like homemade"? These days people make stuff and say "just like a bought one". No way! Homemade is so much better!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I've had one or two people mention that they want to write comments but have been unable to work out how to do it.

It's because of the default comment settings - you had to have a google account or something similar to be able to comment. I've changed this so now anyone who wants to can comment under 'anonymous'. But put your name so I know who you are!

Pot of gold

I never really understood what a pot roast was. I'd heard of them, of course, mostly on American TV programmes and movies, so I'd always considered pot roast "an American thing". It was quite a surprise to find beef pot roast (p124) in my oh-so-Kiwi Edmonds Cookbook, but naturally I was keen to give it a go.

The process is pretty basic: get a chunk of topside, brown it, and pour over a mixture of beef stock and onion soup mix. Bring it to the boil, and let it simmer gently for 3 hours. Then remove the meat and thicken up the gravy.

I'd bought a smaller piece of topside than the 1kg specified, and expected it would take less time to cook. Even so, I was expecting cooking time to be at least 2 hours, so it was probably not a good idea to start cooking at 6.30pm on a Tuesday night. I'd been out walking and got home later than I intended. Oh well: I put the pot roast on, thinking I'd be eating around 8.30pm.

The recipe states that you should check the roast from time to time, adding water if the liquid level gets too low. Concerned about not knowing how long my smaller piece would take to cook, I checked it about every 10-15 minutes. In hindsight, this was probably an error, considering I let out quite a lot of steam every time I lifted the lid, and I suspect the steam has a lot to do with cooking the meat properly.

Come 8.30pm, my meat was still looking quite tough. So I kept cooking, waiting for it to become 'tender' like in the recipe. At 9.15 I had my veges ready and was too hungry to wait any longer. When I sliced the meat, I found it quite dry - but I don't know whether I overcooked or undercooked it! It didn't matter: once I had the gravy on it was very tasty. Leftovers for lunch today: double tasty.

Despite the fact that mine wasn't absolutely perfect, I'd recommend this recipe. I think I'll use my crock pot next time though, and I'll leave it alone while it's cooking! The gravy, though delicious (and that means a lot, coming from me - I'm not a big gravy person) was really quite salty. I expect this is due to the packet of onion soup mix - I'm only going to use half a packet next time. If you like salty, go ahead and put the lot in.

Now I just have to do those dishes I couldn't face last night...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cheap, cheerful tuna

Tuna sauce (p103) on pasta. It wasn't the most spectacular meal I've ever had, but it was on the table in 10 minutes - and costs less than $10 for the ingredients. And, while it wasn't mind-blowingly delicious, there was nothing wrong with it. Sometimes that's all you want.

In fact, since I made a half recipe, and still had some of Mum's home-grown peppers, it cost me only $3.80 - and it'll feed me for more than one meal. This is an excellent recipe for halving, since the full recipe requires 2 cans of tuna and a 250g pottle of sour cream. A single can of tuna and a 125g  pottle of sour cream make a half mix without any mental arithmetic or egg-splitting.

Basically you fry up some chopped onion, bung in your sour cream and tuna, heat it through, then stir in the chopped peppers. Season, and serve over pasta. Dead easy.

So if your priorities are "quick and cheap", try this tuna sauce. Make sure you season it well, or you run the risk of blandness. It might also be worthwhile experimenting with flavoured tuna or different veges.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Not Chinese, and not chewy

So why call them Chinese chews (p61)? I suspect the name was chosen more for pleasant alliterative effect than as an actual description of the slice. But when I saw the name and the list of ingredients, I couldn't wait to make it.

I didn't expect there to be anything Chinese about it, but I pictured a chewy, almost muesli-barish slice comprised of some of my favourite ingredients: crystalised ginger, dates, walnuts and rolled oats, all glued together with a small amount of dough.

I did have one slight hiccup when making the mixture, in that I only had 3/4 cup of brown sugar, so I had to top it up with white. Apart from that, I had no problems with the recipe - it was very quick and easy.

The slice is supposed to be made in a 23cm square tin. Since I don't have one of these, I once again pulled out my adjustable tin (with a certain amount of trepidation and a couple of layers of baking paper) and worked out a size that would have a similar area to a  23x23cm tin.

Actually the adjustable tin was very useful when it came to a common slice-making problem: trying to spread the mixture out so it reaches the edges of the tin. I always have trouble stretching out the mix so it evenly fills the tin. This time, I was able to do the opposite and fit the tin to the mixture. Sweet!

The stated cooking time is 30-35 minutes. I took mine out before the 30-minute mark, as it was looking quite brown on top and I decided it was done.

You cut the slice while it's hot, supposedly into 30 squares.  I cut mine into quite small fingers and only got 24. I think 30 is pushing it, but then my tin was a different size and shape to the one recommended.

When you consider my expectations of this slice, the result was a bit disappointing. It's basically a fairly bland cakey slice with dates, ginger and walnut in it. To be fair, my substitution of plain sugar for some of the brown would not have helped the blandness, and my use of quick-cook oats instead of whole ones would make for a less chewy texture.

It's quite dry too: I'm convinced it's overcooked, even though I baked it for less time than it said in the recipe. It's not the first time this has happened - perhaps I just have a hot oven. I'll have to keep an eye on that.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What becomes of the leftover bacon?

Well, there's an obvious answer to that question. And, much as I hate to be predictable, I had to make bacon and egg pie (p94) sometime. This recipe differs substantially from the way I usually make bacon and egg pie, which is to mix together lots of bacon, cheese and eggs, and pour the mixture into a pie dish lined with bought pastry. This works fine; in fact it's really tasty, but that's because it's a solid block of fat+protein+more fat. The Edmonds recipe at least has some veges in it, and no cheese.

In the interest of killing two recipes with one meal, I decided to make the flaky pastry (p80) myself. Looking at the recipe, I thought "holy crap, that's got a whole block of butter in it", but, other than deciding I better not make a habit of home-made pastry, I didn't think much more of it. I simply picked up a block of butter on my way home from work, and set out to make pastry for the first time.

Which was a mildly tramatic experience. In fact, the whole pie was a bit of a nightmare. What was it I said yesterday about being ok if I follow a recipe? Well, I'm glad I put in that qualifier: except for the 'Robyn moments'. Read on and you'll see what I mean.

To make the pastry, I split the butter into 4 equal parts. The first quarter was to be cut into the flour with a  knife, something I made a fair attempt at doing, but finally gave up, went old-school and rubbed it in with my fingers. Does anyone know if there's actually any difference in the result? As far as I know, it's just a hygiene thing, but when you consider it's going in an oven at 200 degrees, I figure any greeblies from my hands aren't going to survive.

When the butter was rubbed in, I added water, rolled it out, and began the next step: "dotting" another quarter of the butter over two-thirds of the pastry, then folding it over and rolling it flat again. This is where I found I had way too much butter. I'd dotted the butter pretty thickly and still had a heap of my quarter block left. Eventually I decided just to use less butter than the recipe - I couldn't see how you could use more.

Fold, roll, dot more butter... it was as I finished the second lot of dotted butter that I had a disturbing realisation. The kind that makes you want to slap yourself for being such an idiot: I'd read 200g butter and for some reason thought that was a full block. Uh, Robyn? A full block is 500g. No wonder I'd been having trouble finding room to dot it all on.

I grabbed my scales and weighed the remaining butter to see just how much more than 200g I'd used. Amazingly, there was exactly 300g left. So I did use only 200g, just not in quite the way I was supposed to.

Bypassing 'Robyn moment' #1 with a shrug, I rolled out my pastry to line the tin. The recipe states a 20cm tin, so I used my adjustable tin, which is 20cm wide, and adjusted it to a square. No worries. I greased the tin and lined it with the first layer of pastry. The filling was fairly simple: onion, mixed vege, bacon and eggs. There was supposed to be chutney too, but in 'Robyn moment' #2 I forgot about it until the top layer of pastry was on. Oh well.

Despite these hiccups, I was quite pleased with myself as I plonked the pie in the oven. I was cleaning up the kitchen when the realisation of 'Robyn moment' #3 came upon me. There was an odd hissing from the oven. I went to look and saw large blobs of egg dribbling from the bottom of the tin into a smoking pile in the bottom of the oven. A vague memory of the day I bought the tin drifted across my mind: I was with Mum at a car boot sale and I suspect she may have warned me about exactly this problem with adjustable tins. Note to self: Listen to my Mother.

I reached into the oven and pulled out the tinfoil I had lining the bottom of the oven, burning myself in the process. Luckily there was another sheet of foil in there, since, even after the egg was too solid to leak out, a steady drip of melted butter continued to escape from the bottom of the tin while the pie was cooking, smoking up the oven/kitchen/house and setting off the smoke alarm.

But after 40 minutes my pie was finally cooked. And, astonishingly, it looked good and was perfectly edible. The pastry was very rich and buttery, and nice and crispy on the top, if a little soggy on the bottom. I found the onion was a bit crunchy still; if I make this again, I'll probably cook the onions a little before putting them in. I had a second piece of pie for lunch today, and it was even nicer cold than hot out of the oven.

Cleanup was interesting: the dribbled butter had got into the warming drawer and all over my muffin pans, plus, in 'Robyn moment' #4, I'd taken my butter-dribbly tin out of the oven and put it on the stovetop. Meaning that I had butter all over one of my elements, which is less than ideal. Then there was the tin itself: When the pie had cooled, I removed it from the tin - and discovered the two halves of my tin were glued together with cooked egg and conjealed butter. Separating them was a bit of a mission but I got it done eventually.

So all in all, a bit disastrous. But I'm a 'glass half-full' person, so I'm counting the silver linings:
  1. My culinary contortions did eventually result in a perfectly good bacon and egg pie.
  2. I now know that my smoke alarm works.
  3. I learnt a valuable lesson about my adjustable tin.
  4. I used up my bacon!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


As epiphanies go, this one isn't terribly exciting. I'm not running naked down the street screaming "eureka!"or anything, (much to the relief of my neighbours, I'm sure) but it's only taken me 5 days of  Edmonds cooking to realise something that should have been obvious:

The reason I do ok at baking, but not so well at cooking, is that when I'm baking, I always use a recipe. Even when I'm messing about inventing my own muffin flavours, I still use a basic recipe as a guide. But when I cook, I very often just throw stuff into a pot or frypan and hope for the best.

When I cook with a recipe, it usually comes out quite well (This excepting standard Robyn behaviour like dropping eggs on the carpet or accidentally unplugging the crockpot). My make-it-up-as-I-go-along meals are usually full of promise in the cooking, but disappointing in the eating.

That's not to say there aren't meals that come out ok: everyone has their old standbys they could do in their sleep. It's when I get creative that it all turns to custard (No, not literally - even I would have trouble doing that). So I figure that I just don't have enough food knowledge to play it by ear. Yet.

Luckily I have a whole cookbook full of recipes ahead of me. With any luck, by the time I've finished, I'll have picked up a few tips and have a better idea of what I'm doing. And if not, at least I'll be in the habit of following a recipe!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Veges and vinegar

Time for me to venture even further into unfamiliar territory: 'pickles, chutneys and sauces'. The recipe for spiced vinegar (p232) caught my eye fairly early in my perusal of this chapter, mostly because I'd noted that one or two recipes in other parts of the book require spiced vinegar as an ingredient.

Also on p232 is a recipe for pickled vegetables, which use spiced vinegar as an ingredient. I had some of Mum's lovely home-grown capsicums, and decided that I could use these as well as my home-made spiced vinegar to make pickled veges.

The first thing to do was to acquire the spices. Whole allspice and crushed nutmeg pieces are something you can't really get at the supermarket. So I had a look at the Asian Food Warehouse, which has heaps of bulk spices, but no whole allspice or nutmeg. They did have mustard seeds, but I didn't really want to buy a whole bag when I only needed a tiny bit.
Next I tried a couple of other ethnic food stores, where I found whole nutmegs, but not crushed ones. And again I would have had to buy a bag of them for about $5, when I really only needed one nutmeg's worth. I finally got myself to Bin Inn, where, to my delight, I got everything I needed for the princely sum of $1.20.

When I say I got everything I needed, I did not in fact get crushed nutmeg pieces. I'm now convinced that you just can't buy nutmeg in pieces, only whole and ground. So I got a whole nutmeg (Yay for Bin Inn! Nutmegs per each!) and bashed it with a hammer. It was really quite satisfying.

From that point on, the process was pretty simple: Pour the vinegar into a pot, bung in all the spices, and boil for 10 minutes. My kitchen smelt absolutely beautiful, but the fumes were pretty pungent when I got my face directly in the steam from the pot - if you've ever breathed in the fumes from a pot of mulled wine, it's a fairly similar experience.

You can use the spiced vinegar immediately, but I left mine to steep for a couple of days, which is recommended for a richer flavour. Meanwhile, I collected up the vege I wanted to pickle.

The veges need to be chopped up, sprinkled with salt and left for 12 hours before blanching and pickling. This meant I had to either salt them in the evening and pickle them in the morning before work, or salt them in the morning and do the pickling in the evening. Faced with these alternatives, I chose to do the less labour-intensive part this morning. I got up at 6am, (that may seem early but it's actually only 20 minutes earlier than usual) to chop and salt the veges before jumping in the shower. Easy.

When I got home from work, I strained my vinegar, rinsed and drained the veges, blanched the beans and cauliflower, and sterilised my jar. I'm still a bit dubious about the jar I chose; the instructions specify a jar with a non-metallic lid, and the only one I had was my old lolly jar from when I was teaching. It's got one of those kind of lever arrangements on it which are supposed to seal it. But I noticed today there's no rubber ring or anything, so I don't think the seal is too great...

Anyway, I'll see how it turns out. My reasoning is I'm not doing the kind of preserving that works by keeping the air out. It's the vinegar that's doing the preserving... I hope.

Once the jar was ready, I piled all the veges into it and poured over the vinegar.  I was expecting a grotty looking brown mess, but I have to admit, it looks pretty cool. I have to wait a minimum of 3 weeks before using them, so only time will tell if my pickled veges are a success!

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