Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The pros and cons of spontaneous silverside

I pulled out an old favourite last night: corned beef (p124). Since I've only ever cooked silverside in my crockpot, I was interested to see how the stovetop recipe described in my Edmonds book would compare.

The benefit of this version is that there's no pre-planning required. I decided to cook it yesterday afternoon, got it on the stove immediately and had it cooked in time for dinner. If I use the crockpot, I have to get it ready in advance.

The method is pretty much the same, though: when you've got the silverside in a pot, add a bay leaf, peppercorns and golden syrup, and just cover with water. This recipe also includes parsely and a strip of orange rind - things I don't usually include.

The pot I chose was a bit small, really. When I'd added the water, it nearly reached the top of the pot. I'd chosen the smallest piece of silverside from what was available, but it was still slightly larger than the 1kg silverside indicated in the recipe, meaning I'd have to cook it slightly longer.

Anyway, I brought the water to the boil, and left the corned beef to simmer for a bit over an hour. As I approached the end of this time, I made a start on that most vital accompaniment, mustard sauce (p187). This simple condiment is the real reason why everyone loves corned beef. Who eats corned beef without mustard sauce?

You'd have to be pretty lazy not to bother with the sauce: it takes about 30 seconds to combine the egg, sugar, flour and mustard, then maybe another five minutes to gradually add the liquids, (vinegar and cooking liquid from the beef) and heat it until thick. Dead easy, very quick, and such a yummy addition to the beef.

The beef itself was fairly disappointing.  I found the stovetop version is quite tough, compared to the tender, falling-apart results I get from my crockpot (Mum gets hers even better than mine; I don't know how, since we do it exactly the same way). It's still got that great corned beef flavour, though, and you can't fault the mustard sauce.

So while cooking your corned beef on the stovetop is quicker, and requires less planning, I'd still recommend using a crockpot. The good news is, there's no reason why you can't use this very Edmonds recipe in a crockpot - just leave it in for 8-10 hours instead of one. But however you cook it, never go without the mustard sauce!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Worth the wait

Well aware that I've been a bit lax in my blogging lately, I dragged out my Edmonds book at work today to plan some meals for this week. I ummed and ahhed and finally settled on having steak this evening: while the steak itself isn't an Edmonds recipe, it's a good excuse to make mushroom sauce (p186).

You couldn't have paid me to eat mushroom sauce 10 years ago, but tastes change - I quite like mushrooms these days. And since I hadn't cooked much with mushrooms before this year, each mushroom dish I come across is new and interesting.

Just steak and mushroom sauce by itself is not a meal - I needed veges. There's plenty of quick and easy vege in my freezer, but why not take the opportunity to knock off a recipe from the vegetable chapter as well? After some perusal, I decided to have a go at cooking beetroot (p158).

With a couple of stops on the way home, I supplied myself with the necessary beetroot, mushrooms and a piece of porterhouse. Of course, by the time I'd got home, put away the groceries, watched Masterchef and gone for a decent walk, it was nearing 7pm before I could even make a start on my dinner.

Which wasn't the best, considering I was cooking beetroot: they take 30-60 minutes to cook, and I had to get this done before I could make a start on my steak. Having cleaned the beetroot and put them on to boil, I pacified my complaining stomach by feeding it an early dessert - a little Greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts.

The beetroot were on the stove for 50 minutes before I was convinced they were properly cooked - since this is the first time I'd cooked beetroot by boiling them, I wasn't certain what they were supposed to look like when they were done. The next step was to rinse the beetroot under cold water, then "slip the skins off". Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? So I thought until I found the skin flaking under my fingertips, the beetroot slipping around and splattering bright red juice all over the kitchen..

Eventually I had the skins off, and sliced the beetroot, placing the slices in a dish. I then mixed up the dressing: sugar dissolved in boiling water, mixed with vinegar and seasoning. When I'd poured the dressing over, I put the dish into the fridge to cool, and made a start on the mushroom sauce.

The sauce was very straightforward: cook sliced mushrooms in melted butter, then the now-familiar process of stirring in flour and gradually adding milk to make a thick sauce.

While the sauce was cooking and the beetroot chilling, I saw to the steak - a process I don't excel at, but am able to produce a result satisfactory to my own undemanding tastes. I let the steak rest while I cooked up some beans from the freezer, then - finally, at 8.25pm, I had my dinner ready.

I was pleasantly surprised at the beetroot - it had a mild sweet and sour tang to it, and more texture than the canned beetroot we're all familiar with. True, it's probably not the best to be pouring a sugary syrup over your veges, but the beetroot itself has got to be pretty healthy - packed with antioxidants if that rich, dark colour is anything to go by.

Hang on, I'll check Google ... yep, antioxidants for Africa. And other stuff, but you can do your own Googling if you're interested. Health benefits or otherwise, it was tasty, and I'll probably make it again.

As for the mushroom sauce, it was deliciously creamy, very filling, and went well with the steak. I'd usually be just as happy to eat the steak by itself, but I quite enjoyed the variety of a sauce. It's easy to make - have a go sometime.

So here I sit, pleasantly full of steak, mushrooms and beetroot, but well aware that as soon as I finish this blog entry, there's a kitchen full of dishes awaiting me. Never mind, it was worth it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sultana cake: take 2

During the six-odd months I've been doing this challenge, there have been a few dishes that were absolute disasters. With most of these, the recipe wasn't at fault: it's just that sometimes I'm a total muppet.

A standout example of the muppet phenomenon is my attempt at sultana cake (p59). It's a very straightforward recipe - assuming you remember to put in the baking powder.

On my list of disasters and could-be-betters, there are a handful that I am determined to have another go at. These are the ones where I have a clear understanding of where I went wrong, or I have a theory of how the recipe could be improved. So, from time to time, I'll put up a 'take 2' of a recipe I've already done.

For my first 'take 2', I selected one of my most obvious blunders: the sultana cake incident described above. My original intention in making this cake was to compare the result with my Oma's sultana cake recipe - a particular favourite of mine. When compared to the gluggy horror I produced, Oma's recipe was the clear winner. But what about if I did it properly?

The two recipes are fairly similar, with only a few proportional differences in ingredients. Also, Oma's recipe uses both lemon and almond essence, whereas the Edmonds version specifies either one or the other.

As with Oma's recipe, I began by boiling the sultanas in water, then (having drained the water off) adding butter. I used canola spread in place of butter here - I've recently formed a theory that spread works even better than butter in some cake recipes. Anyway, I'd run out of butter, so I had to hope that this recipe was one of them. My quantities for the spread were approximate, to say the least: I still haven't replaced my kitchen scales, and a tub of canola spread doesn't have convenient cutting marks on it like a block of butter!

While the 'butter' was melting in with the sultanas, I beat up the eggs and sugar. This done, I tipped the contents of the sultana pot into the egg mixture, along with the almond essence. Then, the dry ingredients: crucially, I remembered to put in the baking powder. Once these were mixed through, it was time to get it into the oven.

The cooking time given is 1 - 1 1/4 hours. I checked the cake after one hour, and found that, while the top was unusually firm and crisp, the centre appeared completely uncooked. I put the cake back in for another 1/4 hour, but the centre was still gooey when I checked it. In the end, the cake had baked for a full 1 1/2 hours before I was satisfied. Naturally, Oma's recipe says an hour and a half!

Having let the cake cool down, I cut into it and had a taste. So how does it compare with Oma's version? Not favourably. The texture is crumbly, but I admit that this might be the result of my canola spread substitution. Even if you set that issue aside, it's also a bit lacking in flavour, and just isn't as packed full of sultanas. It's not quite a case of "you have to take a bicycle to get from one sultana to the next" (a delightful Dutch saying of Oma's) but they're more sparse than I'd like.

If you haven't tried Oma's version, you'll probably like this one well enough. But if you're going to make it, I'd recommend that instead of the 1/2 teaspoon of almond or lemon essence, use both. And while you're at it, up the quantity: Oma's recipe has 2 teaspoons of almond essence, plus a teaspoon each of lemon and vanilla. It may seem like a lot, but trust me: Oma definitely knew what she was doing!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deep-fried and dangerous

On Sunday afternoon, I still had a large amount of leftover chicken that needed using. I knew of one recipe in the Edmonds book that required cooked chicken: chicken croquettes (p136). I hadn't been overly eager to do this one, as I'm not terribly keen on deep frying. However, there are a few deep-fried dishes in the book, and they all have to be done sometime.

The first thing to do was chop up the chicken in the food processor with some onion and garlic. Then, I made a white sauce base and added a bit of chicken stock, as well as some lemon juice, parsley, and an egg yolk. The chopped chicken mixture went in last, with a bit of seasoning.

I was supposed to spread this mixture in a separate dish and leave it until it went cold, but I wasn't about to dirty another dish for no reason, and the mix cooled down very quickly in the pan I was using. By the time I'd tidied a few things away and wiped down the bench, it was ready to use.

I put a pot of oil on to heat and began to shape my croquettes. The mixture was very soft and difficult to work with, but eventually I had eight reasonably neat cylinders ready to go. These needed to be dipped in beaten egg white and rolled in breadcrumbs, a fiddly little task that resulted in my croquettes being considerably more misshapen than before.

I managed to tidy them up, however, and was soon ready to begin frying. The oil had been heating for some time, so I was pretty sure it would be hot enough. When I lowered my first batch into the oil, I found that it was actually too hot - after the initial bubbling had died down, the croquettes had already turned dark brown and burnt-looking, despite the fact that they hadn't been in the oil for anything like the 5 minutes' specified cooking time.

I left them in for a little longer to make sure the chicken was heated through, then fished them out and set them in a paper-towel-lined colander to drain. I'd turned down the heat, so the second batch of croquettes looked a lot better than the first.

I threw together a salad while the croquettes were draining, and served myself a couple from the good batch, and one from the slightly overdone batch.

They were quite tasty (especially the ones that weren't overdone): nice and crisp on the outside and sort of hot and melty in the middle. I don't think I'd bother making them again, though. Setting aside the fact that deep frying is possibly the unhealthiest way of cooking anything, it's just not worth the effort and the mess! My kitchen was covered in dribbles and splatters of oil, and there were breadcrumbs, flour and smears of egg white and chicken mixture everywhere.

I wouldn't want to discourage you from trying these if you want to have a go - like I said, they're quite tasty, and they're a good way of using up leftover chicken. It would be easier (and perhaps less messy) if you happened to have a proper deep-fryer. Just bear your arteries in mind and don't eat too many!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Better than banana cake

I'm not usually obliged to come into work on a Saturday, but post-quake, routine has temporarily gone out the window: stock was moving on Saturday, so I had to be there to produce the appropriate bits of paper.

I knew there'd be a handful of other staff on site, so when I came home on Friday night and spotted a couple of browning bananas in the fruit bowl, it occurred to me that a banana loaf might go some way towards brightening the day of my fellow Saturday workers.

Plus, I needed to use those bananas.

In the past, I've always used the banana cake recipe when I wanted to use up bananas. I'd never tried the banana loaf before, but I figured it'd be pretty much the same, just baked in a loaf tin instead of a cake tin.

Actually, the method for banana loaf is quite different: instead of the usual "cream butter and sugar; beat in eggs; add dry ingredients" of a cake recipe, the method is more like a muffin mix: you combine dry ingredients in one bowl, the liquids in another. Then you add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix until "just combined".

I wasn't sure what the effect of these differences would be, but I was happy enough to forego creaming the butter and sugar. The loaf took about 10 minutes to mix up, but would have to cook for 45 to 50 minutes.

I set the timer for 40 minutes, ever wary of over-baking. When I took it out, I was uncertain whether it was cooked or not. My skewers were coming out clean, but slightly moist, and the loaf seemed to be very soft to the touch. Worried about the glugginess that always dogs my banana cakes, I put the loaf back in for a short time.

I still wasn't sure whether the loaf was cooked or not, but took it out of the loaf tin and let it cool overnight. It was only in the morning that I cut open the loaf and found it was absolutely perfect - not a sign of glugginess anywhere!

I took a plate of the loaf into work with me and offered my banana loaf to any who happened to cross my path during the course of the day. Thus a large chunk of my banana loaf was disposed of, and I managed to generate a few smiles, at least!

If I have bananas to use up in the future, I'll almost certainly use this recipe instead of making banana cake. While I did manage a creditable job of the cake last time I made it, I'm not confident that I can get good results every time I make it. The banana loaf is quick, effortless and has a lighter, moister result: I think I'll stick with this one!

Friday, September 17, 2010


I haven't used my crockpot much this year, since there aren't any crockpot recipes in the Edmonds book. But the other day I got a chicken out of the freezer, and, after considering a few alternatives, decided to cook it as pot-roast chicken (p142). Since I didn't have a casserole dish large enough to take a whole chicken, I decided to use my crockpot instead.

The best part of crockpot cooking is knowing that dinner will be waiting when you get home from work. The downside is that you have to find time to set it all up before you leave in the morning. The preparation in this case was to brown the whole chicken in butter, before adding it to the crockpot with some herbs, an onion, and a little water. Technically I was supposed to truss the chicken too, but I wasn't sure it'd fit into the crockpot that way.

I got up 15 minutes early to do this. I'd planned half an hour but had a little trouble dragging myself out of bed. So, by the time I had the chicken browned and into the crockpot, I was already running 5 minutes late for work. With no time to make my usual porridge, I chucked some cornflakes in a bowl, and took it with me and had breakfast at my desk.

All day, I was looking forward to my pot-roast chicken. When I arrived home, the house was filled with the enticing smell of cooking chicken. I turned the crockpot onto 'keep warm' while I arranged some veges.

I went to take the chicken out of the crockpot using a pair of tongs, but it was so tender that the whole chicken just fell to pieces as I picked it up. It was a bit messy to fish out all the pieces individually, but it saved me the trouble of carving it!

The chicken was lovely and tender, though the breast meat was just slightly dry - I think it was in the crockpot a couple of hours too long. It's still usable though, and the meat from the rest of the chicken was beautiful. Plus, there's enough there to feed me for several days at least!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cream of chicken stock powder

I had a few carrots sitting in the fridge, and I figured it would be a good idea to use them up by ticking off another of the cream soup recipes: cream of carrot soup (p86). The base is the same as the cream of cauliflower soup I made a few weeks ago; the only difference is that the vegetable added is pureed carrot and celery, and also the addition of thyme and chicken stock powder.

I was determined to retain as much flavour as I could, so instead of boiling the vegetables, I grated the carrot and thinly sliced the celery, leaving them to sweat over a low heat until they were soft.

I'd disliked the lumps of onion in the otherwise smooth texture of my last cream soup, so this time I blitzed the onion in the food processor before cooking it. The result was more like pulp than finely chopped onion, but I hoped it would make for a smoother result.

I began the soup base, beginning with butter and onions, adding flour and finally the liquid. I don't think I added the water and milk gradually enough, since the flour merely formed in lumps around pieces of onion and remained that way, no matter how hard I whisked.

When the mixture had boiled and thickened, I added the pureed carrot and celery, immediately turning the soup an unusual, but not unappealing, pale orange colour. I still had to add chicken stock, thyme and seasoning, and while I was hastily raiding my spice drawer to find these vital ingredients my soup very quickly returned to boiling temperature.

As a result, I had a thick gloopy substance bubbling and spluttering in a fashion strongly reminiscent of touristy shots of Rotorua. There were orange splatters all over the stove by the time I got the bubbling to stop.                                                                                   

I added my thyme and chicken stock, doubling the stated doses of 1/4 teaspoon each. Even then, the soup was remarkably bland. It didn't taste like carrot, or even celery: it tasted like floury milk. I added a considerable amount of salt and a bit of pepper: a slight improvement. Now it tasted like salty floury milk. In a last-ditch attempt at flavour, I added another 1/2 teaspoon of chicken stock.

Now, at least, I had some flavour. Sure, it was now chicken stock powder flavoured soup, but it was still an improvement on tasting of nothing. I was able to eat a bowl of it, without particular disgust, but without pleasure either.

My attempts at making a smooth soup were a complete failure. Not only had I failed to make a lump-free soup base, but the carrot and celery had not pureed as smoothly as I'd hoped, either. So, added to the flavourlessness was the added bonus of an unpleasant texture.

I suspect that cream soups are intended more as a traditional pre-main course soup than to be served the way I usually eat soup - a large bowl as a main meal. In smaller portions, I would probably find cream soups less unappealing. Certainly my (inoffensive, but borderline bland) cream of cauliflower soup would work better as a starter. My lumpy orange goop, however, could not be recommended no matter how you served it!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

So as not to arrive empty-handed

I was happy to hear that Renai's baby shower, planned for this weekend, had not been postponed or in any way affected by last week's earthquake. If nothing else, we're all in need of some laughs.

A few of us from work had put together a gift hamper, which Elle had the charge of bringing to the shower. Of course, that left me in the position of turning up empty-handed, which seemed a little rude.

So I decided to ignore Renai's assertion that we didn't need to bring any food, and turned to my Edmonds book for something to make. It didn't take much deliberation to fix on rich chocolate cake (p52): realistically, what could be better for a gathering of giggling women?

First, I needed a few ingredients: ground almonds, cooking chocolate and unsalted butter. I went for a short walk to Bin Inn, there procuring the almonds, before continuing on to New World for the butter and chocolate.

Well, they had the chocolate, but when I went to look at the butter section, I found there was only one brand of unsalted - a full 500g costing over $5.00. Since I only needed 175g, I didn't want a full-sized block, so I decided to continue to Countdown to see if they had anything smaller.

This made for a fairly long walk, and when I got there, the selection was just as small as at New World. Once again, there was only one option for unsalted: the same brand, the same size, at the same price. D'oh.

Eventually I got all my ingredients home, and was able to start the cake. The recipe specified melted chocolate, so the first thing I did was to break the chocolate into pieces and put it in a bowl over some water. While the water was coming to the boil, I started separating my eggs.

I also needed to separate 6 eggs. The practical method is to separate them in smaller bowls, adding each white to a bigger bowl as you go. Of course, I thought to myself "oh, she'll be right" and began separating the eggs over one big bowl.

You can see what's coming, can't you?

All went well until the third egg, at which point I got a small amount of the yolk into the white. Muttering at my own stupidity, I very carefully scooped out the yolk and any surrounding white. When I was satisfied there was no trace of yolk in the white, I grabbed the next egg.

You'd think I would have learnt my lesson from that third egg, and got out a smaller bowl. But no, I went on cracking over the large bowl, and immediately slopped a huge amount of yolk in with the white. There was no chance of scooping it out.

So... omelet (p96) for dinner, then!

I didn't have enough eggs to start the cake over, so I had to go for another walk. I turned off the pot under the chocolate (which still hadn't come anywhere near boiling) and went down to the local fruit and vege shop to grab some eggs.

He'd run out, of course. I did get some mushrooms and parsley for my omelet, but I had to head across to SuperValue for the eggs (yep, that's 3 supermarkets in one day, plus a Bin Inn and a fruit and vege shop.. I should be more organised).

When I got home, I was surprised to see that the leftover heat in my turned off pot of water had melted the chocolate down perfectly. Wow: that's not what usually happens when you turn your back on melting chocolate!

I made another start on the eggs, this time separating them over a separate bowl before adding them to the main one. Naturally, I managed to separate these ones perfectly, without any hint of a split yolk. Always the way, isn't it?

After all this, I finally managed to make a start on the actual cake. I started by creaming the butter with vanilla essence and brown sugar - or, since I didn't have nearly as much brown sugar as I'd thought, it ended up being mostly brown sugar, topped up with a little caster sugar. Well, I wasn't about to go back to the supermarket again, was I?

I then beat in the egg yolks, making a very bright yellow batter, into which the ground almonds and melted chocolate were folded. The next step was to beat up the egg whites and fold them in too, which I was a bit dubious about: the mix was so heavy I was convinced it would be impossible to successfully fold it through the egg whites, but they combined surprisingly easily.

Finally, I was able to get the cake into the oven. It went in at 190 for the first 20 minutes, then baked for another 35 at 150. Plenty of time to throw together an omelet:

Since I had 4 eggs to use up, and the recipe called for only 2, I actually ended up making a double recipe. It was quite odd to me, since I'm far more used to halving recipes than doubling them. And the omlet it made was massive!

If you've never made an omelet, you just whisk up some eggs with milk and seasoning, then pour them into a hot greased pan. As the omelet cooks, you lift up the edges so the uncooked egg can run underneath. There's a bit of a knack to that part, and I'm not very good at it - at times my omelet-making method comes close to scrambling - but I usually manage to produce something edible that roughly resembles an omelet.

In another pan, I'd been cooking up some mushrooms, along with some parsley and a chopped-up rasher of bacon I'd liberated from the freezer.  When the omelet was cooked, I added the mushroom mixture to half the omelet, topped it with a little grated cheese, and folded it over. Slid onto a plate and garnished with parsley, the omelet made a pretty good dinner. It certainly filled me up!

When the cake came out of the oven, I let it cool down in the tin. In fact, I left it in the tin overnight, until about an hour before I left to go to the baby shower.

The recipe said to dust the cake with icing sugar. I wanted to make it look a little fancy, so I tried something I'd seen on TV: I laid some strips of baking paper across the cake in a crisscross pattern, before shaking a good coating of icing sugar over the top. On removing the strips of paper, the cake had a nice crisscross pattern across the top. Easy and effective!

Of course, I was cutting the cake into pieces to take to the shower, and the decoration wasn't nearly as effective on the individual pieces. Never mind. I arranged the slices neatly on my trusty long white platter, and headed off to the shower.

We spent an enjoyable afternoon sitting around playing silly baby shower games and giggling. Our hostess, Renai's sister-in-law Helen, had supplied plenty of food, but still received my offering very cordially, and it seemed to go down alright with the assembled ladies. Coincidentally, one of the girls there had a gluten intolerance, so I was glad that I'd made something gluten-free.

Rich chocolate cake does live up to its name: it's very rich and chocolatey, with the moist, dense texture of many gluten free cakes. You wouldn't want to be making it every day, but it's a good one to keep in mind for a special occasion, especially if you're feeding someone with gluten issues. You couldn't eat much of it at once - in fact, I even wondered if the modest slices I cut for the baby shower were too big.

That being so, I suppose the only way to get rid of the rest of the cake (only half went to the baby shower, and that was plenty) is to take it into work tomorrow. I'll be accused of making people fat if I keep this up!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Resuming normality

It's been a long, tiring week: broken nights and anxious days had me too exhausted to even think of doing any Edmonds cooking. But a diet of fast food and hastily thrown-together meals was not exactly helpful to my energy levels, and I decided it was about time I started cooking proper meals again.

With this in mind, I briefly consulted my Edmonds book before I left work last night. I knew I wouldn't have the energy to cook anything complicated, and quickly chose a recipe that would be quick and simple to make: spinach and bacon with pasta (p103).

When I got home (having dropped by Raeward for spinach on the way) I collapsed onto the couch for a while, watching Masterchef and some of the news before willing myself into the kitchen at the onset of the sports coverage.

The recipe is quite basic: fry onion, garlic and bacon, then add spinach and cook until it's dark green and wilted, then serve over pasta. I recommend washing and chopping the spinach before you begin; I attempted to do this while the onion etc was cooking, but it took longer than I thought. My onions were a bit brown by the time  the spinach was ready to add.

Apart from this, the meal was very quick and easy to make. It seemed a little odd to have pasta with just the spinach and bacon mixture stirred through it  - I'm used to pasta drowning in sauce of one kind or another, in the usual Kiwi fashion, but I understand that pasta in this style is not unusual in Italy.

I wasn't too impressed with my first taste of the pasta. It seemed a bit bland, but as I made my way dilligently through the plateful, I found that the bacony, garlicy juices from the pan had coated the pasta, and the dish was n fact quite tasty. It's only a pity that there weren't enough juices to coat all the pasta.

Since I hadn't made the full recipe, working around a single bunch of spinach rather than the 2-3 specified, I may not have had the proportions quite right. The 2 rashers of bacon I used were also quite small (especially once all the fat was trimmed off). I think using a third rasher of bacon, and a larger onion, would have given quite a lot more flavour to the dish.

I think I will make this again, perhaps with the slight alterations mentioned above. It's very quick and easy, and far better for me than any greasy takeaways I might resort to when I'm feeling too tired or unmotivated to spend much time in the kitchen.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The destruction of good intentions (among other things)

As I blithely drove towards Timaru on Friday night, I had no inkling of what was to happen to Christchurch in my absence. My main reason for going to Timaru was so my clever Daddy could fix the brakes on my car, but while I was there, I hoped to cook Mum and Dad dinner on Saturday night (if they would let me get away with it) and also planned to produce some chelsea buns for Fathers' Day on Sunday.

The events of early Saturday morning, however, put paid to my intended cooking, and we headed up to Christchurch as soon as we could, myself to check on my house and cat, my parents to help Nana clean up at her place. Astonishingly, Dad, like the legend he is, still found time to fix my car before we left. Thanks Dad!

As it turned out, I was one of the lucky ones: there was no damage to my house, just a few bits of toppled furniture and fallen plants. Within an hour of returning home, I had the place cleaned up, the cat calmed down, and was snuggled up on the couch - uncomfortably aware that as I sat, warm and safe in my cozy little flat, hundreds of fellow Cantabs were seeking shelter in school halls and similar, their own homes unfit for habitation.

I spent a large part of my Sunday out walking. Distracted by the carnage in my neighbourhood, it was late evening before I considered the possibility of carrying out just one of my original intentions for the weekend.

My neighbour Vera usually looks after Moby whenever I go away. I often bake her some cheese scones (p32) - always using the Edmonds recipe - as a thank-you. This weekend I had even more to thank her for, as she'd been kind enough to check the earthquake damage to my house and report back to me, waiting anxiously but impotently in Timaru.

I'd intended to make the scones this afternoon, and take them over around afternoon tea time. This didn't eventuate, as I ended up unexpectedly going into work - not a disappointment, as I preferred making myself useful to kicking my heels around the house. It did mean, however, that I wasn't able to make the scones until this evening.

Luckily, they're pretty quick to make. I've been using this recipe for years - it's easily my most-used recipe in the Edmonds book, and I always get good results from it. I have heard that other people don't necessarily have much luck with this recipe though, so maybe I just have a knack with scones.

Basically, I follow the recipe, but always use canola spread instead of butter, and I make sure I rub the spread in very thoroughly with my fingertips instead of cutting it through with a knife as per the recipe. I also find that I don't need the full 1 1/2 cups of milk - 1 cup is enough if you mix it carefully. Also, I usually mix the dough with my hands - I have no idea if it improves the scone, it's just a habit of mine.

The recipe indicates twelve scones from this recipe, but I find they come out very small if I make that many. I form my dough into a square and cut it into nine - usually very inconsistent in size since I seem incapable of cutting evenly-sized scones.

Anyway, my scones - the big ones from the centre and the piddly little corner ones - went into the oven, brushed with milk and topped with extra grated cheese. 10 minutes later I had a batch of lovely puffy golden scones. Though the batch was for Vera, I couldn't give them away without a little quality control testing, so I selected one of the corner ones to try.

Light, fluffy, and hot from the oven, the scone I tried was so good I was tempted to keep more of them for myself, but of course I didn't. I popped over to Vera's with plate in hand; unsurprisingly, the scones were well received. Vera was particularly pleased to have the scones: she'd been unable to get any bread at the supermarket today, what with limited supply and people frantically stocking up on essentials. Scones would make a pleasant substitute for the time being.

After a pleasant chat with Vera, I returned home, feeling pleased that the earthquake hadn't swept away all my plans for the weekend - I managed to complete one of my intended recipes, at least!

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