Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bread and jam

I haven't yet made many of the jam recipes in the Edmonds book, or the chutneys and relishes. I'll have to make them more often if I don't want to end up with a big list of chutneys and jams to make when I near the end of this challenge!

With this in mind, I turned to the jams and jellies chapter yesterday. Having noted that kiwifruit are quite cheap at the moment, I decided to make some kiwifruit jam (p226). On my way home from work, I stopped at Pak N Save for 500g kiwifruit - enough to make a half-recipe. I had to pick through the kiwifruit to find firm ones - most of those on offer were very ripe (ironically, whenever I want to buy kiwifruit for eating, they only have firm underripe ones).

I got home and began the jam: peel and chop kiwifruit, place in pot with orange juice and water, then boil until soft. I suspect I should have spent a few more minutes at this stage - the kiwifruit seemed quite soft, but later on, I found there were still a number of quite firm chunks in the mixture, which I ended up squashing against the side of the pot.

The next step is to add the sugar, and boil until setting point is reached. I pottered around, sterilizing jars and doing dishes, occasionally stirring the jam mixture and checking if it was ready to set. I should perhaps have been paying more attention, because eventually, while I was preoccupied with scrubbing a particularly stubborn dish, The jam at the bottom of the pot started to burn slightly.

When the smell of scorching reached my nostrils, I ran to the stove and took the pot off the heat immediately. Stirring the jam to stop the scorching merely spread the bunt parts through the rest of the jam. I was pretty convinced that the jam was ruined, but decided to plug on with it anyway. It had certainly reached setting point, so I poured the mixture into a couple of sterilised jars and hoped for the best.

This morning, I decided to attempt a bread to eat with my jam. Apple bread (p22) is the first recipe in the Edmonds book, and one I have had my eye on for months. I was really interested to try a bread recipe that doesn't doesn't have any yeast in it, thus eliminating any messing about with kneading and waiting for dough to rise.

Apple bread is made by simply mixing grated apple and milk into a mixture of flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. The resulting dough is then baked in a  loaf tin. Sounds enticingly easy, doesn't it? And for once, it was almost as easy as it sounds. I was more successful in grating my hand than my apple, but it still didn't take very long to get the 1/2 cup of apple required. I left the skin on, thinking that flakes of red apple skin would make an interestng texture to the bread.

The only issue arose when I went to add the milk: you're supposed to add "enough milk to make a firm, smooth dough". The recipe states 1-1 1/2 cups, approximately, so I started with 1 cup and found it was more than enough. I added a little more flour, but didn't want to alter the proprtions of the recpe too much, so the dough was still quite sticky when I smoothed it into the loaf tin and put it in the oven.

It wasn't until I was writing the above that I had a sudden suspicion as to the cause of the problem. With horror, I remembered selecting my half-cup measure to scoop out the 3 cups of flour, since it's easier to manoevure in my flour bin than the full cup. That would have been fine, if I'd remembered to put in 6 scoops. But I didn't - I'd only put 3. No wonder 1 cup of milk was too much, since I'd only put in half the flour!

Determined not to be outdone by a loaf of bread, I immediately mixed up another dough, this time remembering to put in the full amout of flour. The difference was immedately apparent when I put the milk in. The dough mixed to precisely the "soft, firm dough" described in the recipe, though I had to do some slight kneading to get all the flour to mix in. Since kneading wasn't specipified in the recipe, I hoped it hadn't made the dough too tough from overworking it.

Meanwhile, I'd let the first loaf bake for around 45 mintes, then taken it out. It seemed well enough cooked, if oddly shaped and slightly stunted. I put it aside for later comparison with the correctly made loaf, rinsed out the loaf tin, placed the new dough in and put it in the oven.

One hour later, my loaf of apple bread was ready. Compared to the first attempt, it looked pretty impressive. I'm glad I twigged to my error and had another go: if the first loaf was the only result I had, I might have written apple loaf off as a bad recipe.

I was eager to taste my apple bread, so I cut some slices almost immediately, spreading them with kiwifruit jam. Since the bread was still hot, it was slightly doughy inside its very crusty shell, but I think this will improve once it's cooled down. It was slightly odd to eat bread - especially homemade - without the underlying flavour and smell of yeast. It was, in fact, a bit tasteless. But that's not a problem if you put something tasty on it, right?

And did my jam fit this description? Well, the burnt flavour was not readily apparent; it's perfectly edible, though I still think it would be better if I hadn't overcooked it.  It has set so solidly it's a bit difficult to spread, but on the whole, it's not too bad. If you're thinking about making some yourself, just keep a closer eye on it than I did and you'll be fine!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How to spot a good recipe

I arrived home last night feeling unusually weary. Luckily, I'd already decided what to have for dinner - opening my Edmonds book almost at random before I left work, I immediately found a recipe that didn't require any ingredients other than those I already had at home: spaghetti and meatballs (p102).

Spaghetti and meatballs is a favourite in many households, but it's not something I'm in the habit of making. I always find that the meatballs fall apart when I'm trying to brown them in the frypan. I was pleased to see that this recipe called for the meatballs to be baked in the oven instead, so that was one problem eliminated.

I hadn't anticipated that the recipe would call for all three parts of the dish (meatballs, sauce and pasta) to be prepared pretty much at the same time. I was in no mood for multi-tasking, so instead prepared the meatballs first before embarking on the sauce.

I'd grabbed some mince out of the freezer when I got home, and carefully defrosted it in the microwave before adding the rest of the ingredients: finely chopped onion, tomato sauce, garlic, curry powder and breadcrumbs. Interestingly, there was no egg in the mix. I wondered how well the mixture would hold together without egg to bind.

When I started shaping the meatballs, I realised that I really hadn't chopped the onion finely enough. Oh well: I couldn't do anything about it at that point, other than cook the meatballs for a little longer than instructed in the recipe.

Once the meatballs were in the oven, I made a start on the sauce, sauteing onion and garlic before adding canned chopped tomatoes. The recipe stated that the tomatoes should be pureed first, but I wasn't about to drag out my food processor just for a smooth meatball sauce: a chunky sauce is just fine by me! When the tomato mixture started boiling, I added the tomato paste and set the pan to simmer.

Meanwhile, the meatballs had been cooking for the 8-10 minutes specified in the recipe, so I pulled them out and had a look at the onion: still quite raw. I put them back in for another 10 minutes and put the spaghetti on to cook.

By the time the spaghetti was cooked, the sauce was ready to go and the meatballs just about done too. I stuck some spaghetti on a plate, added the meatballs to the sauce, and bunged the meatballs on top of my spaghetti.

It was only when I went to turn off the oven that I realised it was set to grill, not bake. Oops! Never mind, it seemed to have cooked the meatballs ok!

I was eating my spaghetti and meatballs, musing on the blandness of the sauce, when I realised I'd once again forgotten to put in any seasoning. A little salt and pepper helped the flavour a lot. I'd still be tempted to add some basil or something to the sauce next time - the plain tomato recipe is a bit boring for me, but it'd be a good base for experimentation.

In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to dig out my food processor for this recipe - not only could I have pureed the tomatoes as instructed, but I could also have chopped my onions more finely, and made my breadcrumbs far more easily than doing it by hand. Sometimes I make more work for myself by being lazy.

In making this recipe, I took several shortcuts and made a couple of errors, yet the result was still a perfectly edible meal. And if it comes out tasting good even when you make a mess of it, it's got to be a good recipe, I reckon!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Business as usual

It's time to get out of 'holiday mode' and back into my usual routine: that means making something for my lunches this week. I had some potatoes that had started growing eyes while I was away in Canada, so I decided that a pot of leek and potato soup (p87) was in order.

I don't recall ever eating leek and potato soup before, much less making it, and a soup recipe that includes a whole pot of mashed potato seemed a little odd to me. Still, the concept did seem to indicate a nice, thick soup: sounds ideal for a winter lunch!

The first step is to peel and chop all the potatoes, and get them on to boil. Once they're simmering away nicely, you start sauteing the leeks with garlic and chopped bacon. When the leeks are tender, add 6 cups of chicken stock, with a bay leaf and a sprig of parsley (of course, I'd forgotten to get any parsley, so I had to do without).

This mixture is simmered for 20 minutes, after which you stir in the mashed potatoes. It was quite interesting to see the potato dissolve in the stock - I expected it to thicken up the soup, but it just sort of disappeared. Bring this to the boil and simmer some more, then, finally, add some milk and chopped parsley.

Well, I was doing without the parsley, and when I went to get some milk I discovered I had only the merest dribble in the bottom of the bottle. I had to make some up from milk powder and water. It didn't look quite right, but it was all I had - in it went.

After careful seasoning, I ladled myself a bowlful, garnished with grated cheese as per the recipe, and sat down to eat. The soup did have a reasonably pleasant flavour, but it was hard to get past the unappealing grey colour, and very watery texture. I'm sure it shouldn't be like that, so either I've made a mistake somewhere, or there's too much liquid in the recipe. The large pot of mashed potato I'd added had thickened only the last few spoonfuls at the bottom of the bowl.

I think if I were to make this again, I'd put in only 1 litre of stock, not 1.5 - that would make it more palatable to me, because I prefer a thick soup. Can anyone tell me what the texture of a leek and potato soup is supposed to be like? Surely it's not supposed to be thin and watery!

When I'd had my soup, I also had another task ahead of me: something to have for my morning teas this week. I went back in the kitchen to make some chocolate fruit fingers (p62). It's a pretty straightforward recipe - you start by rubbing the butter into the flour and baking powder, then add brown sugar, cocoa, plus chopped dates and walnuts. Lastly you mix through a beaten egg to make a stiff dough, press it into a sponge roll tin, and bake.

The slice came out looking just fine. I left it to cool for an hour or two, then went back to ice it later in the evening. I planned to try chocolate butter icing (p76) on this slice, the third and final chocolate icing in the Edmonds book. I was, however, brought to a halt by the fact that I didn't have enough icing sugar. I wasn't about to go out and get some at that time of the evening, so I had to put off icing the slice.

Today, after work, I walked up to the supermarket for some icing sugar (and milk!). On my return I attempted chocolate butter icing. It sounds quite simple: just beat the butter, then add vanilla, cocoa, and beat the icing sugar in gradually, adding hot water as necessary. I tried to make it by hand, mostly succeeding in getting cocoa and icing sugar all over myself and the kitchen. I should have dug out my mixer for this recipe: it would have been much easier.

While I was still beating in the first cup of sugar, the icing had a nice dark colour and a rich chocolate taste. But by the time the last of the sugar was stirred through, the icing was hardly chocolatey at all: it had a nice buttery texture, but mostly just tasted of icing sugar. I added another 1/2 tablespoon of cocoa, but I think I should have put in more. The icing still came out a sickly light brown colour without a noticeable chocolate flavour. I think this one could use some experimentation.

Finally, I smoothed the icing onto the slice, and sprinkled it with chopped walnuts before putting it in the fridge to set. And a little while later, my chocolate fruit fingers were ready to taste: they weren't bad, but certainly weren't wonderful either. The slice itself would be extremely ordinary without the icing - there's not enough cocoa, or enough fruit in it to justify the name "chocolate fruit fingers" - and the icing itself is far too thick and very very sweet.

So on the whole, slightly disappointing results for my first Edmonds attempts since returning from Canada. I could try and blame it on lingering jet lag, but who would I be kidding? Forgetting ingredients, last minute dashes to the supermarket, making a mess of the kitchen (and my clothes).. it's definitely business as usual!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cooking with gas

One of the recipes that had occurred to me as being particularly appropriate for Canada was pancakes, (p212) not because Canada is particularly famous for pancakes, but because we could then eat them with some proper Canadian maple syrup.

I'd mentioned this idea, but it never came to fruition until our final night in the camper, when I was reminded of my pancake intentions. We'd already had a big meal - a slight malfunction in the camper's freezer had caused all our mince to thaw out, so Jos and Mum had cooked up a massive pot of it for dinner.

Even so, everyone seemed keen enough to have pancakes for dessert - appropriately delayed to allow for digestion, of course! Since the recipe calls for the batter to spend an hour chilling, I mixed it up straight after we'd finished eating. As I've found before with this recipe, the batter was far too thick, even before chilling. I stirred through some water and set it to chill.

I wasn't very optimistic about the results. I've used the Edmonds pancake recipe before, and while it usually results in passable pancakes, I actually have another one I prefer to use. In addition, the recipe called for plain flour, (with no raising agent) but we only had self-raising. I wasn't too worried on this point - my usual recipe has both baking powder and baking soda in it, and makes nice puffy pancakes. I wondered if the self-raising flour might actually improve the result.

The batter ended up chilling for longer than I'd intended: I was occupied with the time-consuming task of making sure we all had copies of each other's photos. As the evening wore on, I was eventually forced to put down the laptop and start making pancakes.

The hobs in the campervan are gas, something I've had very little experience with. I wasn't concerned, though, and turned the hob on to a medium heat, and melted some butter (with a few drops of oil in it to stop it burning - Mum's tip).

I spooned the first measure of batter into the pan. It seemed to be cooking nicely, until I turned the pancake over and found it was black on the bottom. I turned the heat down a little. The first pancake went onto a plate, and despite the charring, Uncle Trev attacked it enthusiastically.

I melted a bit more butter for the second pancake. In hindsight, I should probably have washed or wiped out the pan - the butter turned black as it melted among the sooty remains of the first pancake. Oh well. Another measure of pancake batter into the pan: before long, it was smoking. I turned the hob down again.

Several minutes later, I couldn't work out why the pancake didn't seem to be cooking. Checking the hob again, I found that when I'd turned the gas down, it'd actually gone out, even though it was nowhere near the 'off'' setting.

Relighting the gas, I was forced to keep to my original, far too hot temperature, for fear that the flames would die out again if I turned it down. Smoke filled the campervan as one scorched pancake after another joined its fellows. The extractor fan above the stovetop did not appear to be sucking out much smoke, and what it did remove seemed to be coming straight back in the open door. We shut the door and turned on the extractor fan in the bathroom - with much better results. As the smoke cleared, I finished the last pancake, and sat down to taste one.

I'd put out not only the maple syrup, but also some maple butter that I'd bought as a souvenir and then decided would probably be confiscated at NZ customs. I tried some of the maple butter on one of the worst pancakes.

It was surprisingly good - of course, if I focused on the pancake itself, it was definitely not great, but the maple butter was the dominant flavour, and it was very very tasty. I almost regret not trying to bring some home! The others downed their portions as well, kindly trying to convince me that the pancakes were perfectly fine.

A lot of people prefer to cook on gas hobs: I can't imagine why. I suppose that the hobs in our camper are perhaps not the best example of how wonderful gas can be, but I've heard it said that it's really fantastic how fast they heat up. Fantastic? In my experience, all it means is that you burn your pancakes!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Edmonds comes to Canada

As you know, I took my Edmonds book with me to Canada, in the hope that I might be able to tick off a couple more recipes while I was there. And I'm pleased to say that although we were mostly exceptionally well catered for, I did manage to slip in a couple of Edmonds recipes.

We spent the first few days of our holiday in Whistler. Since the rest of our holiday would be spent in a campervan, I decided to take the opportunity of using a proper kitchen while one was available. I spent some time pouring over my Edmonds book, looking for a suitable recipe. I had to find something that required minimal ingredients, and preferably wouldn't take too long to make.

I selected a dessert without any difficulty: I'd been absolutely delighted with the abundance of berry fruit available - quite a novelty to me in July! Marinated strawberries (p203) seemed like an excellent light dessert for a summer evening.

Choosing a main course was a little more difficult. After considering several options, I selected the easiest one I could find: tacos (p153). These would be quick to make and would use up some of the large bag of lettuce we had in the fridge.

I'd expected to do my cooking at the cabin where we were staying, but ended up using the kitchen at Daz's - useful, since I was able to use various items like chilli powder and flour from his pantry instead of buying them.

While Mum and I perused the local supermarket for ingredients, the boys dropped into the bottle store next door for the orange liqueur. Once all ingredients were acquired, we headed to Daz's for dinner.

I started by preparing the strawberries: I hulled and sliced them, then sprinkled them with icing sugar and orange rind. I poured over the liqueur and orange juice, and stirred it all through. Then it was into the fridge to marinate - as easy as that!

Next I started on the tacos. It was a pretty basic mince mixture really - cook garlic and onion, add mince and brown, stir in chilli powder and flour, then add tomato paste and stock. Once again, I found it interesting that there were no actual tomatoes used - I'd always put a can of tomatoes in a mixture of this sort.

While the mince was simmering, I went to prepare the rest of the ingredients. Jos was diligently slicing lettuce for me, so I decided to grate some cheese. This was where I discovered a problem: we'd left our cheese in the fridge at our cabin - and Daz didn't have any at his place. Whoever heard of tacos without cheese? But that's what we had to do in the end.

The Edmonds recipe calls for only the mince mixture, the lettuce and the cheese as filling for the tacos, but we had a few other bits and pieces sitting around that needed using, so I sliced up some avocado and some tomato as possible additions. We even included a bit of ham - highly unconventional, but it worked ok!

Soon we had all the ingredients ready, so we gathered around the table and made our tacos. I was contemplating the slightly bland flavour of the mince, when someone said "did you put any salt in this?" Oops: forgot the seasoning. No one was too bothered though, and the tacos disappeared fairly quickly. It wasn't a particularly large meal, but we'd had a late lunch and no one was very hungry.

Tacos are quick, easy and quite nice, if a little difficult to eat - but don't forget to season the mince, and make sure you have some cheese! And don't be afraid to add extra fillings if you have stuff lying around. The avocado, in particular, worked really well.

When the taco dishes had been cleared away, I brought out the marinated strawberries. Served with scoops of ice cream, they were very tasty. I'd really recommend these if you're looking for a summer dessert you can throw together quickly, as long as you allow time to marinate. Marinated strawberries: they're super nice, eh?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Whoever the smartass was who slipped this recipe for "the perfect man" into my Edmonds book, you'll be pleased to know it got all the way to Canada before I found it.

I have some very strong suspicions as to who this was - the big hint being that it's someone who
a) can't spell 'humour' or 'too'
b) believes muscles are more important than brains

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Notice of interruption to regular blogging

As you may know, I'm heading off to Canada this afternoon, so don't be surprised if you don't see any blog updates for a couple of weeks.

I'm taking my Edmonds book with me, and if the occasion arises, I'll attempt to make something. I'm not sure what my chances are: we'll be working with fairly basic supplies most of the time. Even if I do manage to cook something, it's unlikely I will have Internet access, or the time to write up a blog, until I get back to NZ.

So don't worry, I haven't given up; I've just gone on holiday. Catch ya in a couple of weeks.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Snacks for housesitters

Since Lauren and Tom have very kindly agreed to come and look after my spoilt animal while I'm away, I figured the least I could do was to leave them a full biscuit tin. So I took half an hour out of my mad packing, cleaning and organising to make some yoyos (p43)

I chose yoyos because Lauren mentioned to me the other day that she tried the Edmonds yoyo recipe and found the mixture too crumbly to make decent biscuits. I was curious to see if I would have the same problem. It was probably not a good idea to try a reportedly dodgy recipe when I was so short on time, but I was reasonably confident of a good result.

Yoyos are similar to shortbread in that they have a lot of butter, and use icing sugar as opposed to plain sugar. So you begin by creaming together the butter and icing sugar, then add vanilla, and sift in flour and custard powder.

The mixture does seem quite crumbly at first, but I persevered with my mixing and got a fairly stiff dough by the end of it. It rolled into nice smooth little balls which I then squished with a fork before putting them in the oven.

Yoyos have to be sandwiched with butter filling, (to look like a yoyo) so I mixed that up while the biscuits were in the oven. Butter again, with more icing sugar and custard powder. Last time I made butter filling I used the recipe on p76 and had difficulty getting it to mix through. This time was quite easy - probably because the proportions in this version are different.

The yoyos came out looking nicely browned, in fact perhaps slightly overdone, after 15 minutes. The stated baking time was 15-20 minutes, but after 20 they would have been totally burnt. I guess it probably depends on your oven.

While my yoyos were cooling, Mum and Dad dropped by: I had to use one of my last ginger crunchies to persuade Dad not to steal any of my yoyos. By the time Mum and Dad left, my yoyos were cold enough to fill. There was plenty of filling for a mere 20 biscuits, so each of my yoyos had a good thick butter filling.

I had a single smaller biscuit left over - created from the last few crumbs of mixture in the bowl, specifically for use as a taste tester. I gave it a generous dollop of icing and tried it. It was quite nice, the biscuit quite dry and shortbready, and the filling very rich and buttery. I think one yoyo (which, of course, is two biscuits) would make a generous mouthful - you wouldn't want a second one. We'll just have to wait and see if Lauren and Tom like them!

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