Saturday, October 30, 2010

Breakfast for lunch

Croissants are a naughtiness I seldom indulge in. All that buttery deliciousness translates to fat, fat and more fat. You'd think that'd be obvious, but in my time working at Brumby's Hot Bread Shop down at Edgeware (some years ago now) I found that quite often, customers chose croissants thinking they were a healthy option. I didn't correct them, of course: my job was to sell them stuff, not give them nutritional advice!

(Another favourite of mine was the often-asked question "What's in a chocolate croissant?" This absurdity was repeated so frequently that I was soon able to give the answer "chocolate" with a completely straight face.)

I was down at Edgeware this morning, and wandered into Brumby's on impulse. Spotting the croissants in one of the display cabinets, I remembered a recipe for filled croissants (p155) in the 'breakfasts' chapter. I bought myself a croissant and popped over to the Supervalue for the remaining ingredients.

The great thing about the Edmonds book is that it's sold at supermarkets. This means that you can check on the ingredients of any recipe while you're still at the supermarket, instead of hoping you've remembered everything. In this case, I really had no idea what I needed for my croissant filling, but was soon able to refresh my memory.

The standard filling given in the recipe is bacon and avocado. Other suggestions include ham and cheese; camembert; bacon and mushroom or cream cheese and chives. Since I couldn't find a decent avocado, I opted for the bacon and mushroom version and grabbed a handful of mushies instead.

When I got home, it was just after 12.00: too late for breakfast or even brunch. But there's no reason why you can't have a croissant for lunch, even if it's supposed to be a breakfast recipe.  I cut open my croissant and laid it in my benchtop oven at a low heat to warm it up. While the croissant was warming, I fried up my mushrooms and a rasher of bacon.

Within five minutes, my chosen filling was ready. The croissant had warmed through nicely without crisping up, so I added the bacon and piled the mushrooms on top. A quick grind of pepper and my lunch was ready.

Despite the fact that I don't often eat them, I just love croissants. The bacon and mushrooms were a perfect filling for the soft buttery croissant, which I devoured shamefully quickly! A filled croissant makes  a very quick, very tasty meal, but I won't be making a habit of it. Go ahead and try this one out, just be wary of having it too often!

Guessing at method

I find it very surprising that the Edmonds cookbook, a book that describes in detail how to cook rice, or roast a chicken, a book that gives definitions of apparently difficult cooking terms like 'boil' or 'mash', has no specific instructions on exactly how you go about steaming a pudding.

Considering there are eight pudding recipes that indicate steaming as a cooking process, this is a bit of a problem. There are some very clear instructions on how to tie a cover over the bowl of a steamed pud, but clearly they didn't think it was necessary to explain just what "steam for 30 minutes" means. The Christmas pudding recipe does go into specific detail about trivets, saucepans and water 2/3 up the bowl, but since it's quite different from any of the other steamed pud recipes, I wasn't prepared to take these instructions as standard.

This is a dilemma I pondered off and on throughout the winter months. I was willing to give it a go, using the Christmas pudding instructions as a guide, but I also didn't have a bowl the right size, or anything to use as a trivet. In this way, I managed to get myself through the entire winter without making a single one of those eight recipes.

Now summer is on its way and opportunities for warm puddings are fast disappearing. So when yesterday turned out overcast and chilly, I decided it was time to give steamed sponge pudding (p213) a go. I'd had my eye on a stainless steel bowl of approximately the right size, so I popped by the mall after work to get it. I still didn't have a trivet, but when I got home, I found that the bowl was precisely the right size to sit neatly in one of my saucepans without touching the bottom, thus eliminating the need for a trivet - or so I hoped!

The pudding mixture itself is very easy to make: cream butter and sugar, beat through egg and apricot jam, add dry ingredients and milk. I did make one error in that I was supposed to dissolve the baking soda in the milk before adding it to the bowl: instead I just sifted it in with the rest of the dry ingredients. It didn't seem to matter.

I poured the pudding mixture into my new bowl, and set about covering it as per the instructions in the glossary. I made a pleat across a sheet of tinfoil, covered the bowl and tied it in place with string. Then I used a second piece of string to create a handle for taking the bowl in and out of the saucepan. This was useful, even if I made the handle far too long!

Having poured enough boiling water into the saucepan to come 2/3 of the way up the bowl, I lowered the pudding bowl into the pan. At this point, I was undecided as to whether I should then put the lid on the pot. I assumed the steaming process was going to make the tinfoil cover rise a bit - hence the pleat - and I didn't want to impede that by putting a lid directly over it. On the other hand, would it steam properly without that second layer of insulation?

In the end, I left the lid off. I left the pot to simmer for half an hour, and sat in the next room reading. I could hear sounds coming from the direction of the kitchen: a continuous sort of low popping noise, like apathetic popcorn. It didn't seem to be boiling over or anything, though, so I didn't interfere with it.

When the buzzer went off, I lifted out the pudding and took a careful peek inside. It had risen, but wasn't completely cooked yet. That was ok, though, because I still wanted to make some custard sauce (p189) to go with it. I put the pudding back in the pot to steam some more, and made a start on the custard sauce.

The custard sauce recipe is remarkably similar to that of Edmonds velvet custard on p209. The only difference is that it has one teaspoon of sugar, not two, and is printed in a different chapter. No matter, I'll have plenty enough puddings to make that I can easily manage all the different custard recipes in accompaniment!

The custard sauce was a breeze to throw together, so it was only about 10 minutes later that I put the completed custard aside and checked the pudding again. It looked quite good from the peek I had at the side, so I took the string right off and pulled the tinfoil off completely... to see that the middle of the pudding was still completely gooey.

Right. Seems I should have put the lid on after all. I replaced the tinfoil and string (not without difficulty), topped up the boiling water in the pot, and lowered the bowl in again. This time I put the saucepan lid on over the top of the tinfoil.

The lid really made a difference. Whereas the tinfoil cover hadn't puffed up at all during my previous steaming attempts, it did so almost immediately after I put the lid on. After another 15 minutes steaming, I checked the pud again. Finally, it was cooked through. Next time, I'll definitely put that lid on right from the start!

I retired to the couch with a well-earned bowl of warm steamed sponge pudding and custard: just the right kind of dish for a chilly evening. The pudding was nicely spongy, if slightly bland, but warming and filling. It'll be interesting to try the flavoured variations. I was glad I'd made the custard sauce, because it would have been slightly dry and considerably blander without it. You definitely need to serve a sponge pudding with custard, ice cream or similar.

All in all, I was quite happy with the results of my steam pudding experimentation. I've learned a few things that I'll be able to use for the rest of the steamed recipes. Now I have a better idea of what I'm doing, (and a suitable bowl) I won' have any reason to put off doing them. Except for that hot summer weather, of course!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No more excuses

Raspberry jam (p228) has been at the top of my 'jams to make' list for months. You see, there are about a dozen recipes in other parts of the book that have raspberry jam as an ingredient, and I'm not about to go buying raspberry jam when I have to make some anyway.

This meant that I couldn't make any of these recipes until I'd got around to doing the jam. And for various reasons, I just kept not getting around to it: I'd forget to buy the (frozen) raspberries, or they were too expensive to fit into the grocery budget. Once, I went to Pak N Save specifically for raspberries, only to find that they'd sold out. Another time, I'd been out for a walk and wound up at Merivale, where I noticed frozen raspberries on special. I grabbed some and was nearly at the checkout before I realised I didn't have my wallet with me!

This evening, I finally got a packet of frozen raspberries, and came home with the intention of finally getting this jam out of the way. My determination briefly wavered after a quick walk to the library - I was quite tempted to leave the jam for another night and sit down with one of my books. But I couldn't give into this temptation without making a liar out of myself: I'd announced at work that I was going home to make jam (this in response to a belligerent demand for baking. It wasn't a great comeback, since it immediately elicited the response "oh good, you can bring some scones to go with it").

Anyway, as soon as I got home, I headed into the kitchen to get the job done. Luckily, it's a remarkably simple recipe, with only two ingredients: raspberries and sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. I began by putting three cups of raspberries in a pan, heating them until they defrosted and the juices began to run out. This took a few minutes, so I got some jars sterilising in the oven while I waited.

When the raspberries were appropriately juicy, I added the sugar, which briefly swamped the raspberries to the point where it seemed like I was going to be dealing with a thick, pink sugar paste. To my relief, this soon transformed into a nice jammy-looking mixture, so all I had to do was stand there stirring until the sugar dissolved - oh good, my favourite pastime.

It didn't take all that long though, and once it was thoroughly dissolved, I just had to let it boil for a few minutes - no faffing about with setting point tests or anything, the thing about this jam is that it's still runny when you put it in the jar, but it's supposed to firm up after a few days' storage.

After four minutes on the boil, I took the jam off the heat and transferred it to the prepared jars. Since I have not yet acquired a jam funnel, I poured the jam first into a large jug, and then into the jars. I really should have learned by now to take the jars out a little earlier and let them cool down slightly - the jam was boiling in the jars as I poured it in.

It now remains to be seen whether the jam will firm up nicely or not. I'll check it in a few days, and I'll be able to find out what it tastes like. I'm not too optimistic - I think it'll be very sweet. The mixture was still slightly tart when I was dissolving the sugar, but during the boiling process it seems to have turned into something horribly sickly, judging by the brief taste I had before washing out the jug. I'll just have to wait and see!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Band Together

Saturday was the day of the Band Together concert in Hagley Park, a massive free outdoor concert organised in the wake of the earthquake. Since it's inconceivable to go to any Hagley Park event without a surfeit of food, I had to make something suitable for taking on a picnic.

Frittata (p149) seemed to fit the bill nicely. I'd managed to get the ingredients together in a lunchtime supermarket mission on Friday, and got up early(ish) on Saturday morning in order to have it made, cooled and packed ready to go in time for the concert.

The first thing to do was to chop the onions and grate the other veges. I used my food processor for both, figuring it would be the quickest and least messy way to get it done. The recipe gives several suggestions of what kind of vegetable to use; I chose potato and courgette - stupidly expensive at this time of year, but I thought it would be the most tasty combination.

As it happens, I wound up with way too much grated vegetable - I only needed three cups but had about five. I set the excess aside with the intention of turning it into potato fritters on Sunday, but when I checked the bowl later, the contents had turned almost black - I didn't fancy making black vege fritters, so my extra courgette and potato went to waste in the end.

Having chopped, grated and measured out the required vegetables, I set about turning them into a frittata, cooking first the onions, then adding the grated veges to the frying pan. By the time these were cooked, I all I had was a panful of green mush. Not too appetising so far! Still, I persevered, pouring over a beaten mixture of eggs, water, cheese and seasoning.

Having made sure the egg mixture was evenly distributed around the pan, I left the frittata to cook through. This took considerably longer than I had anticipated, and it was at least half an hour before I felt it was starting to set. When I was convinced that the egg was cooked through, I sprinkled parmesan on top of the frittata and put it briefly under the grill.

A few short minutes later, the top was nicely golden, and my frittata was done. I took it out and left it to cool. When it was completely cool, I cut the frittata up, and packed it into a chilly bag with my leftover Russian fudge, a small container with leftover apricot and lemon slice, and other bits and bobs necessary for eight hours worth of picnicking.

We arrived at the concert shortly after noon, found a spare patch of grass and set up our picnic blankets. After the long walk from our cars carrying heavy bags and chilly bins, we were all hungry and thirsty, so the food came out almost immediately. And there was a lot of it! I wasn't the only one who'd been busy in the kitchen: Lauren had made a yummy asparagus slice, and Tom had found time to bake some bread. Lauren's Mum produced chicken nibbles and a number of bakery goodies.

All this, along with the usual chips and lollies, was more than enough for our small group! Even the appearance of a flatful of starving students later in the day did not make much more than a slight dent in our generous supplies.

But of course, the food was all part of what made Saturday a great day: lying in the sun, listening to the performances of a broad selection of Kiwi artists, reading a book, and constantly nibbling. Very relaxing - and the people of Canterbury were in dire need of a chance to kick back and relax.

Towards the end of the concert, a good number of the people sitting nearby had already headed home, leaving an open space which was then commandeered by crazy unicycle man (Christchurch readers will probably know the guy I mean; for anyone else, see photo) whose jugging immediately attracted a huge crowd of children to the space immediately in front of us.

Inevitably we were drawn into the game, and spent the final hour of the concert keeping an eye out for flying juggling balls, while simultaneously trying to sing along to Dave Dobbyn or The Exponents. Hilarious. Even my little bowl of Russian fudge managed to catch a rogue ball at one point, but its abilities didn't stretch as far as throwing it back!

Oh, yes, the frittata. It was pretty good, though the piece I had while it was still warm was better than the ones I had cold. It was a little dark on the bottom, though no doubt if you had a heavier-bottomed frypan than I do, it wouldn't darken up the same. Overall, not a bad recipe - and a decent option for a picnic in the sun.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Canapés for ducks

Bex and Richard had invited a few people around on Friday night for a barbecue, after which the boys were to go out and do some manly rabbit-shooting, while the girls stayed behind to watch DVDs. The combined barbecue/DVD scenario required both a contribution to the barbie dinner, and some nibbles for eating while watching the movie - a perfect opportunity to knock off a few more recipes.

The first thing I made came under the 'movie nibbles' category. I still had condensed milk left over from the apricot slice and the choc chippie biscuits - enough for a half-recipe of Russian fudge (p221). We all know that sweet-making is not really my forte, but I have to do them all sometime, and this way I wouldn't be eating it all myself!

Russian fudge is made by heating sugar milk in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. I used caster sugar instead of the plain sugar specified in the recipe, in the hope that it would dissolve more quickly. Once it has dissolved, you add the condensed milk, along with butter , salt and golden syrup.

This mixture is then boiled to the 'soft ball' stage, before being beaten until thick and poured into a buttered tin to set. I tested the fudge mixture quite conscientiously, and removed it from the heat when I felt 'soft ball' had been reached, but, on seeing the finished product, felt that I should have boiled it for longer: it was very pale in colour, and didn't have the slight caramelisation I expect in Russian fudge. Still, it was smooth-textured, and tasted quite nice, so I guess it didn't matter.

I should have lined the tin, too - I had huge trouble getting the fudge out of the tin once set - it's so soft it just smears and squashes instead of coming out. Once I had the first few bits out, I was able to slide a fish slice under the rest, and got most of the pieces out whole.

I also wanted to provide some savoury nibbles. Rembering Bex's partiality for blue cheese, I chose blue cheese spread (p191),  a spread designed to be paired with the canape bases on the same page. The recipe stated that the spread should be piped onto the canape bases and garnished with almonds. Since the barbecue was happening on a weeknight, I had no time for fiddly stuff, so I decided just to make the spread and bases separately and provide a knife for people to spread their own.

The blue cheese spread took no time at all to make - just bung all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until reasonably smooth. The main ingredients are blue cheese, cream cheese and onion, but there's a few more bits and pieces for flavour. I personally found the result quite ghastly - it tasted very strongly of blue cheese and raw onion. I usually don't mind blue cheese in small doses, but this was too much for me. I decided to take it anyway - Bex might like it at any rate!

I next turned my attention to the canapé bases - if you like to give them so grand a name; they're really just little bits of toast! The recipe didn't indicate what kind of bread to use. I assume white is the norm, but decided grainy bread would make them more interesting.

I was supposed to either cut the bread into rounds with a 2.5cm cookie cutter (who has a cookie cutter that small?) or cut them into squares. I intended to opt for the squares, but found that when the crusts were cut off, the bread was neither the right shape or size to cut neat squares from. In the end I cut each piece diagonally and left it at that.

I arranged the bread triangles on a tray and put them in the oven at 150 degrees. The recipe said 10 minutes for sandwich bread and 20 for toast. Mine was sandwich, but with the grains in it, it took 20 before I felt they were nicely crisped up. I left them to cool on a tray and packed them in an airtight container.

The last item I'd decided to make was marinated chicken wings (p141) for the barbecue. I hadn't been able to get chicken wings, though, so they wound up being marinated chicken nibbles. I didn't want to put them in the marinade too early, though, so I mixed up the marinade (garlic, soy sauce, honey, tomato sauce and ginger) on Thursday night, and only added it to the chicken before leaving for work on Friday morning.

On Friday afternoon, I headed off to Rakaia straight after work. I was a bit uneasy about the canapé bases, as I'd opened the container at lunchtime and found that they had gone a bit soft. I figured I could crisp them up in Bex's oven when I got there.

As I arrived at Bex and Richard's place, Bex was just driving out the gate, taking a carful of guests down to watch the milking. I chose not to join them, instead making myself at home in Bex's kitchen, and nearly smoking the house out when I used the oven to crisp up the canapé bases - Bex had been baking earlier in the day and a little cake batter had dribbled onto the bottom of the oven.

I'd cleaned up the charcoalish remnants in the bottom of the oven, cleared the smoke by use of the rangehood fan, and was just taking out my canapé bases when Bex and the others arrived back. As they cooled, I stacked them on a platter around the spread. On trying one, however, I nearly broke my teeth: the second baking had made them go REALLY hard. On the upside, Bex and Leah both claimed they actually liked my ghastly blue cheese spread.

After an hour or two of chatting, nibbling, and entertaining the kids, Bex stoked up the barbecue and dealt to my chicken nibbles, along with an array of saussies, meat patties and chicken kebabs. The nibbles came out great - certainly they were they only item I'd brought to the barbecue that I was completely satisfied with. I'd definitely recommend this one.

As for the rest: well, as often happens, there was far more food than we needed, and by the time we got rid of the boys and sat down to watch the DVD, we didn't do much more than pick at the nibbles. It's hardly surprising that I ended up taking most of my offerings home.

I had no interest in keeping the blue cheese spread - it got biffed. The remaining fudge I set aside to take to the concert in Hagley Park on Saturday. As for the canapé bases, well, I collected them all up in a bag with the crusts I'd originally cut off them, and wandered down to the Avon to find some ducks.

Naturally, I couldn't expect the ducks to eat them in their concrete-like state, so I poured a fair bit of water into the bread bag before I left, hoping to soften up the contents before I got to the river. When I arrived on the riverbank, the Avon appeared to be -most unusually - 100% duck-free. Eventually, further along the river, I found three ducks and began throwing bread to them, hoping to attract some more.

I did eventually have a group of half a dozen ducks - there would have been more, but there was one particularly feisty individual who chased off any newcomers. Not many of the canapés had softened up sufficiently, so I had to throw them into the water to let them soak - if the ducks tried to eat them straight away, they couldn't break mouthfuls off them!

So here's the final breakdown:
Marinated chicken wings: very tasty. Works well on a barbecue.
Russian fudge: pretty good, but I think I should've boiled it for longer.
Blue cheese spread: make this only if you are a major blue cheese fan and and don't mind raw onion.
Canapé bases: use white bread or you'll wind up with something even ducks can't eat!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blood donor boost

Every three months or so, a handful of brave Versacoldians traipse over to the Hornby blood drive. Since it's important to have plenty to eat and drink before giving blood, I usually bring in some baking to ensure no one's donating on an empty stomach.

I'd chosen to make refrigerated apricot and lemon slice (p65) a simple recipe with similar method and ingredients to lolly cake, using crushed malt biscuits, melted butter, condensed milk and coconut. The difference is mostly in the addition of chopped apricots and lemon zest - plus the icing, of course.

You start by melting butter and condensed milk together in a saucepan. While the butter is melting, get the food processor out, and crush up those malt biscuits. Tip the crumbs in a bowl, and, since you've already got the food processor out, use it to chop the apricots as well. I initially thought this wasn't going to work, but with persistent pulsing, the thunk-thunk of whole apricots spinning around the bowl lessened, and I had nice, finely chopped apricot.

Add the apricot to the crushed malt biscuits, then throw in some lemon zest and a cup of coconut. By the time you've got this done, the butter/condensed milk mixture (which you have carefully been keeping an eye on throughout, of course..) should be ready. Pour it into the bowl with the dry ingredients, and combine.

The resulting mixture is almost identical to that of lolly cake - just with apricot instead of lollies. Press it into a tin, and stick it in the fridge to set. The whole process up till this point takes about 10 minutes - I even managed to get it done before Masterchef came on!

An hour or two later, I took the slice out to ice. I'd made up some lemon icing (p77), this time being very careful not to make it too runny - my usual error with icing. As it happens, I'd actually made it too thick: when I tipped the icing on top of the slice, it looked like there was nothing like enough to spread over the whole slice. With considerable persistence, and a spoon dipped in boiling water, I eventually managed to stretch the icing across the whole slice, albeit a bit thinly in places. A handful of coconut scattered over the top, and back into the fridge to set the icing.

Just before I went to bed, I realised I hadn't actually cut up the slice yet. It had been in the fridge for several hours, so I had a job cutting through it! I got it into reasonably neat slices in the end though, and prepared a platter to take to work in the morning. Naturally I had to test it (quality control, you know) and found the taste very familiar. The Edmonds apricot and lemon slice is very very similar to the citrus slice you'd find in many bakeries and cafes. That's not in any way a bad thing - it's one of my favourite bakery items!

I left the slice sitting on my desk until after lunch, as the first blood drive appointment was at 1.40pm. It was difficult not to sneak a piece, but I managed it. The slice was received very enthusiastically by my fellow blood donors, and I have to say I enjoyed my piece as well.

I'd recommend this slice as quick, easy and yummy. Since there's no cooking required, it's probably good one for kids to have a go at too. Basically, if you can make lolly cake (and who can't?) you can make this. Why not give it a go?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chop-chop chicken

I'd decided to make chicken stir-fry with cashews (p139) for dinner on Monday night. I made my shopping list at work, sitting at my desk with my Edmonds book. I was pretty sure I had a couple of chicken breasts in my freezer at home, so I didn't bother putting that on the list.

When I got home, I found I didn't have any chicken breast after all. Luckily I had a few thighs that I could substitute. I prefer thighs anyway - they might not be as easy to chop up into neat pieces, but they are usually tenderer than breast meat.

I was quite late getting started on my stir fry - it was just before 8pm when I started chopping up the chicken. I wasn't worried, thinking a stir fry wouldn't take very long to make. Actually, it took longer than I thought..

Having chopped up my chicken, I plonked the pieces in a bowl with some cornflour. I'd expected it to coat the chicken nicely (a bit like coating stewing beef with flour) but instead it turned into a gooey paste. Thinking there wasn't enough cornflour for the amount of chicken, I added more - and that only made it thicker and more gooey.

The next step was to briefly dip the chicken pieces in beaten egg white then fry them in oil until crispy. The first batch I did was absolutely dripping with egg white and came up fairly crispy; the second batch had considerably less egg white and actually seemed crispier. By the time I got to the final - and biggest - batch, there was almost no egg white left, and the pieces were not even remotely crispy.

While the chicken was cooking, I was trying to get the veges chopped up. This is something I really should have done before I started, because I was a bit frantic trying to do everything at once. I managed it though, so once I'd finished with the chicken, I was immediately able to make a start on stir-frying the celery, spring onions and mushrooms. With the addition of some grated ginger, chicken stock, sherry, and a little more cornflour, a sauce began to take shape around the vegetables.

The sauce thickened up almost immediately, so I returned the chicken to the pan with a generous helping of cashew nuts. After a couple more minutes on the heat, my dinner was finally ready. And it was only 9pm...

Chicken with cashew nuts is such a common dish at Chinese takeaways that you have a certain expectation of what it should taste like. While my version was nice enough, I could easily get a better one at the local takeaway for considerably less effort and not much more expense.

Actually, come to think of it, neither of my local Chinese takeaways were left standing after The Quake. Still, I can't imagine it would be difficult to find another one if I had a particular hankering for chicken with cashew nuts. And who knows? My local takeaway shops may be back yet - some of the other businesses in the area are already rebuilding.

Getting back to my Edmonds version: like I said, it was nice enough. I enjoyed the vegetables, and I love the crunch of the cashews. I would have liked double the amount of veges - the chicken made up about two-thirds of the dish. This was partially my own fault, as I think I ended up using slightly less than I was supposed to have for each of the vegetables.

It was quite heavy on the ginger (admittedly I didn't measure it, so may have put in too much) and otherwise lacking in flavour. What little crispiness I had managed to achieve on my chicken pieces was lost in the sauce, and had gone quite soggy when I heated up the leftovers for lunch.

I have no doubt that with a little practice and experimentation, this recipe could be very tasty. I think the trick is not to do it in a rush, and have all the ingredients (in correct quantities!) chopped and ready. Also a bit of tasting and seasoning would do wonders for the flavour. I may give it another go sometime.

Monday, October 18, 2010

An argument against tidying up

After spending most of the weekend being lazy and unproductive, I finally dragged myself into the kitchen last night to sort out something for morning teas this week. I'd chosen chocolate chip biscuits (p39) as a quick and reasonably familiar recipe.

I'd used this recipe before, mostly as a solution to the eternal post-lolly cake making problem: "what am I going to do with this leftover condensed milk?" I'm not actually a huge fan of condensed-milk based choc chip bikkies, as they tend to be a bit overly sweet.

That's just a personal preference though - there's definitely nothing wrong with the recipe, and most people seem to like it. It's a pretty basic biscuit dough, with a  couple of additions: cream butter and sugar, beat in condensed milk and vanilla, then add dry ingredients and chocolate chips. Hey presto: you've got choc chippie dough.

At this point you roll the mixture into balls and press them down with a fork. The mix does tend towards crumbly, so be careful the balls don't fall apart when you press them down. I have in the past actually rolled this dough out to cut shapes from it - it works quite well if you don't mind taking the extra time, and the results are quite different. Also, you get way more biscuits that way (depending how thin you roll it!)

I wasn't going to bother with all that last night though - I just rolled it all into balls and squished them as per the recipe. Having got the trays in the oven, I set the timer for 20 minutes, and began cleaning up the kitchen.

Halfway through the cooking time, I opened the oven, and switched the top tray and the bottom tray around. The top tray was already looking quite cooked, but the bottom tray was hardly cooked at all. I figured swapping them over would even them out.

I went back to my cleaning, and, busy with the dishes, didn't bother to check the oven until the timer went off 10 minutes later. I should have been keeping a closer eye on the oven - both trays were clearly overdone. Not (quite) burnt, but definitely overbaked. When I tried one this morning, it was rock hard. Still edible, still reasonably tasty, but very difficult to bite into.

I know from experience that these biscuits can come out perfectly fine, so it's entirely my own fault. We all know that recipes often cook quicker or more slowly in different ovens, and I should have been watching out for that. If you're planning to have a go at these, make sure you don't get so involved in your cleanup that you forget to keep an eye on the oven!

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