Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More basil, less oil

I still had quite a bit of basil left after last week's experiment with the tomato and basil sauce. Since that attempt at making a pasta sauce was fairly unsuccessful, (just cracked myself up with the typo 'unsuccessfoul' which actually describes the dish in question quite well) it made sense to use the remaining basil to make basil and garlic pesto (p99). It would at least give me another chance at making a palatable pasta dish.

Plucking the usable leaves from my now slightly manky basil, I found I had just on one cupful - enough for a half-recipe. It's pretty straightforward, really: you toast some pine nuts, then put them in a food processor with the basil and garlic. Once you've processed these a bit, you start drizzling in the oil.

As it happens, making a half-recipe of pesto is not the best idea, since you really don't have enough ingredients for the size of the food processor bowl. I kept processing as I poured in the oil, but the chopped up basil etc was all plastered to the sides and the oil just sat on the bottom.

Utilising that most versatile of kitchen implements, the rubber scraper, I managed to combine the oil and basily bits, then turned the processor on again to add the remaining oil. I didn't end up putting in as much oil as shown in the recipe, since my pesto was already extremely oily.

You've got to expect pesto to be oily, but this had taken it over the top. It was verging on basil-flavoured oil, as opposed to pesto. When I think about it, the cup of basil leaves I had was very loosely-packed; I probably didn't have the recipe proportions quite right.

After seasoning the pesto, I stirred it through some pasta, added some parmesan, and had a taste. Despite the out of balance basil to oil ratio in my pesto, the pasta tasted pretty good. It wasn't as strongly basil-tasting as I had expected - in fact, if it hadn't been for the parmesan, it might have been a bit bland - but I still liked it. I'll just make sure I have plenty of basil next time.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

It's..uhh.. smokey-flavoured..?

We've had enough cold weather recently that I've started looking at the soups again. There's nothing like soup for lunch on a cold day. I figured I'd have time to make some during the four-day weekend, so I bought the ingredients for old fashioned vegetable soup (p88) on Thursday evening.

I hadn't intended to make it straight away, but on hearing that Mum, Dad and Nana would be dropping in around lunchtime on Good Friday, I figured it would make as good a lunch as any. It was 7pm before I got started; not the best when you're making a soup that has to cook for several hours.

I began by trimming the fat off a kilo of beef bones, then put them in a pot with some split peas, lentils, pearl barley and water. This sat simmering for about 2 1/2 hours, then I took out the beef bones.

I tried to salvage as much meat as possible from the bones, but (unlike bacon bones) there wasn't much there. It didn't take long to pick the bones clean and return the meat scraps to the soup. I also needed to remove as much fat as possible - I decided this would be easiest if I left the soup to cool overnight and allowed the fat to set on the surface.

In the morning, I scooped the layer of fat off the surface and put the pot back on the heat, adding chopped potato, parsnip and carrot. The soup had to cook for another 30-45 minutes - just long enough to cook the veges - so I left it simmering while I busied myself with the simnel cake.

Around the time I was putting the cake in the oven, I became aware of a burning smell in the kitchen. Sticking a wooden spoon in the soup pot, I found a thick layer of pearl barley and potato had burnt to the bottom. Hoping to save the soup, I poured the unscorched soup into another pot and kept cooking, stirring regularly to keep the bottom from burning.

It didn't work. The burnt flavour had permeated the soup to the point where it tasted like I'd poured in the contents of an ashtray. It stunk like smoke and tasted likewise: completely, totally inedible.

We had homemade burgers for lunch.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Apparently an Easter thing

It was some months ago that, in the course of Edmonds-related Googling, I found some information on simnel cake (p69). Simnel cake is a fruit cake with a marzipan layer in the centre, and a second layer on the top. It also has a distinctive decoration of eleven marzipan balls in a ring on the top of the cake.

I was quite surprised to find that simnel cake is a traditional Easter cake. More specifically, it seems to be a British tradition, which might explain why I'd never heard of it. I had wondered why the recipe should particularly specify eleven balls on top, but this is quite readily explained - one for each of Jesus's loyal disciples, i.e no marzipan for Judas.

I was a bit concerned about where I could get some proper marzipan. The place of marzipan in icing cakes has largely been taken over by the flavoured substitute, almond icing. I hadn't noticed proper marzipan on sale anywhere. Googling "where to buy marzipan" got me no results except other people asking the same question. I was almost certain I'd have to substitute almond icing until I actually went to the supermarket and found marzipan with no trouble at all. Guess I should have tried looking before I started worrying about where to find it!

On the morning of Good Friday, I began by rolling out one-third of my marzipan into a circle the size of my cake tin. This done, I started on the cake: to the usual creamed butter/sugar mixture, I added four eggs, beating them in one by one. Then, in a separate bowl, I sifted the dry ingredients, then added fruit: sultanas, currants, mixed peel and glacé cherries.

Next, I mixed the contents of the two bowls together, and spooned half the resulting mixture into the bottom of a lined cake tin. On top of this, I placed the circle of marzipan, before spooning the rest of the mixture over the top.

The cake was in the oven at 150 degrees for two hours, then another half hour at 130. During this time, I rolled out another circle of marzipan, and used the remainder to fashion the requisite eleven balls for on top. The cooking time I've described was the minimum indicated in the recipe, but the top of the cake was looking quite dark by the time I got it out.

I topped the cake with the marzipan and arranged the balls in a ring around the top. This was more difficult than I expected, as the surface of the cake was not flat, and the balls kept rolling away from where I placed them. When they looked like they were finally going to stay put, I stuck the cake back in for another fifteen minutes. 

The marzipan was supposed to brown a little bit, but when the timer went off, I saw no sign of it. I risked another few minutes in the oven, but no luck. Not wanting to overcook the cake itself, I gave up and took the cake out to cool.

An hour or two later, Mum, Dad and Nana arrived, having detoured to Christchurch on their way to Akaroa, so I offered them a slice of cake with their cuppas. The cake looked quite good when I took it out of the tin, and on the whole, it tasted pretty nice. Unfortunately, it was overcooked, and was quite dry on the bottom and sides.

I was a bit disappointed by the marzipan, really. I quite liked the slightly gooey layer in the middle of the cake, but the bits on top seemed more to serve a decorative purpose than actually add any flavour. I suppose I'm just used to the stronger, artificial flavour of almond icing.

So on the whole, not a bad cake, but not a particularly wonderful one either. If you're going to make this one, take particular care not to overcook it. But in all honesty, unless you have a particular attachment to the Easter tradition of simnel cake, I'd suggest it's not really worth the effort.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Twelve muffins too many

The blood drive was back in Hornby this week, and as usual, I did some baking to make sure everyone had something to eat before donating. Fruit muffins (p28) sounded like a good idea. It's a fairly standard muffin recipe, with various suggestions for what kind of fruit to add. I chose blueberries - one of my favourite fruits, and available frozen all year round.

Like most muffins, these were pretty quick to whip up. You mix up an egg, some oil, sugar and milk in a large bowl, then add the dry ingredients and the fruit, and carefully fold it all together. There's cinnamon in the standard recipe, something you'd expect in an apple muffin perhaps, but I'd never come across a blueberry and cinnamon combination before. I was quite keen to find out how it tasted .

Mine ended up being slightly overmixed, owing to a typical Robyn error - I misread the ingredients and put only one cup of flour in. It was only when I noticed how runny the mixture was that I checked again and realised I'd been reading the flour quantity on a different recipe. I had to add the second cup of flour and mix it again.

The recipe made twelve muffins, which was fine, as I had exactly twelve people booked to donate blood. Since I usually have extras, I'd have to carefully guard my muffins from non-donors so noone missed out. Or so I thought.

On the same day as I brought in my muffins, we were given a whole box of large, tasty Original Foods muffins of various flavours. So as it turned out, the blood donors all got muffins without any effort from me - and so did everyone else.

I think I was the only person to eat one of my blueberry muffins before donating. That's not to say they didn't get eaten, of course - they all disappeared over the course of the next two days. With enthusiasm, too: they were really good muffins. I liked the cinnamon, and the large, juicy blueberries kept them beautifully moist.

This is a great standard muffin recipe - you could make all sorts of variations using this base. For my part, I recommend the blueberry.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I guess it's more of a condiment

As part of my recent attempt to complete more of the sauces, I had a go at tomato and basil sauce (p188) today. Looking at the description and list of ingredients, I figured it would probably go pretty well on pasta. In fact, I sort of wondered why it was in the sauces and marinades chapter, instead of amongst the pasta recipes.

Anyway, the sauce started off easily enough - just cooking some onion and garlic in a pan. The next instruction was to take a can of tomatoes, puree it in a blender and then press it through a sieve. Well, I was pretty hungry, and I had a can of ready-made tomato puree in the cupboard, so I wasn't about to faff about with blenders and sieves.

I opened my top cupboard to get out the puree, completely forgetting that I hadn't looked in there since Saturday night's 5.3 aftershock. Several cans toppled out and more sat teetering on the edge of their shelves. I was only hit by one can, which caught me right on the boob. I suppose at least it was a well-padded part of my anatomy - if it had hit my head I'd have been knocked out cold!

I poured the puree into the pan, then added the next ingredients - cornflour combined with tomato paste. I was starting to get an inkling that this wasn't going to be your typical pasta sauce. It was thick and smooth - more like the standard tomato sauce you might have with hot chips.

I gamely continued, adding fresh basil and (for once) actually remembered to season it. I cooked up some pasta, added sliced chorizo and topped it with the sauce. It didn't look quite right. And it didn't taste right, either. I'd put in at least twice as much basil as stated in the recipe, but I couldn't taste it at all. It was just like eating pasta with a thick coating of tomato sauce. Uugghh.

So that's why it isn't included in the pasta chapter: it's really not a pasta type sauce. It has much the same density and flavour as a tomato sauce you'd buy in a bottle at the supermarket, i.e it would be good with fish and chips or on sausage and bread. Disappointing for my meal tonight, but good to  know if you ever feel like making your own tomato sauce! 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Desserts for the girls

It's Bex's birthday on Monday, so she asked a few friends around on Saturday for an evening of watching chick flicks and gossiping. And naturally, a bunch of girls watching DVDs are going to want some food: at Bex's request, I made some desserts.

Bex had suggested lemon meringue pie (p211), which I was more than happy to go along with - especially since I still had a number of her eggs to use! In addition, I selected pineapple snow, (p204) a dessert based on egg whites and jelly.

I started by making the pastry for the lemon meringue pie. Since making all those fruit mince pies at Christmas, I find sweet short pastry pretty easy to make, and don't bother buying it anymore unless I'm in a hurry. The pastry used one egg yolk, and I set the white aside for the pineapple snow. 

While the pastry was chilling, I made a start on the pineapple snow, draining the juice from a can of pineapple and adding it to a bowl of jelly crystals dissolved in boiling water. The pineapple chunks went directly into the serving dish (in this case, a plain glass bowl, since I don't have any suitable fancy dishes).

I'd actually had a bit of trouble with the jelly crystals - I was supposed to get pineapple flavour, but it doesn't seem to be available anymore (except in Weightwatchers brand, which has 11g packets as opposed to the standard 85g. I wasn't about to buy eight packets). Instead I settled on tropical flavour, which worked fine.

The jelly mixture then had to chill until it reached 'the consistency of raw egg white'. I knew this would take a while, so I turned to my next task: last time I visited Bex and Richard, I made a cheese ball, which Bex enjoyed so much she requested another one. It didn't take me long to whip up the cheese ball, and the pineapple mixture still had not begun to set. In fact, it had hardly cooled. Instead of putting it back in the fridge, I stuck it in the freezer.

I got the pastry out of the fridge, rolled it out and lined a pie dish. I lined the pastry with tinfoil (usually I'd use baking paper, but I'd run out) and added some baking blind. By the time I got the pie dish in the oven, the pineapple mixture was finally starting to show signs of setting.

The jelly/pineapple mixture had to be folded through beaten egg whites, so I left the bowl in the freezer just long enough to get the egg whites beaten and ready. When they were done, I removed the bowl from the freezer, added the egg whites, and began to fold.

The jelly, despite having reached raw-egg white consistency (in my opinion, at least. I mean, raw egg whites are pretty runny) was difficult to fold through the egg white. Most of the air in the egg white was gone by the time I had them mixed together. That didn't matter though, since the next instruction was to beat the combined mixture until thick. Well, it didn't really thicken up as much as aerate, but in the end I figured I'd probably reached the desired result, poured the mixture over the chunks of pineapple, and put the dish into the fridge to set.

Now, time to sort out the filling for the lemon meringue. It was pretty easy, just combine lemon rind and juice with water and cornflour, then heat until it thickens. It looks a bit watery and unappealing until you add the egg yolks and a bit of butter, and it turns a nice yellow colour. It was ready at about the same time as I finished baking the base. I poured the filling into the base, and made a start on the meringue.

I had just begun beating the egg whites when I noticed I was supposed to use three eggs, rather than the two I was currently using. I added another egg white, but it did mean the filling was short a yolk. Oh well: it didn't seem to affect the taste. A little caster sugar, gradually added to the egg, and a drop of vanilla essence, completed the meringue. I smoothed it over the filling and plonked the pie back in the oven.

The meringue went beautiful and golden well before the ten minutes suggested in the recipe. And the pie looked absolutely gorgeous. I still had an hour or two before I had to leave for Rakaia, which allowed me enough time to take a short walk, during which I got snarked at by a random old lady, who apparently took offense at me politely standing aside to let her pass. I wonder how she would have reacted if I'd rudely barged on through?

Shortly before 2pm, I packed up my pie, pudding and cheese ball, and headed off to Rakaia, making a slight detour to pick up Kaye on my way. On arriving at Bex and Richard's, I added my contributions to the array of food already laid out, and we arranged ourselves comfortably around the coffee table.

While it's handy having your nibbles laid out on the coffee table, the downside is that they are also within reach of a passing toddler. This provided us with much entertainment, however - especially when little Tyler reached out and took a fistful of cheese ball on one of his forays at the table. It occurs to me that my helpless laughter in the background probably rendered Bex's scolding less than effective. How parents manage to keep a straight face in these situations, I'll never know.

Despite nibbling all afternoon, we did manage to have an actual meal as well: Bex's tasty homemade pizzas followed by the lemon meringue pie, pineapple snow and a lovely cheesecake (also of Bex's making). The lemon meringue pie was pretty awesome, if I say so myself. Nice, fluffy meringue, thick lemony filling, and a thin crust of pastry. Thumbs up for this recipe!

I was also quite impressed with the pineapple snow. All that beating had resulted in a light, airy texture, and the fresh pineapple flavour was quite refreshing, especially seen against the richness of the lemon meringue and the cheesecake. It's the sort of thing you can eat even if you're feeling full. I couldn't stomach a second helping of pie or cheesecake, but I had another bowl of this!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Well, that's one down...

I've been falling behind a bit with the sauces and marinades. There are 33 recipes in the chapter, and I've done seven. One major hurdle is the white sauce recipe and its seven variations. I'm definitely not in the habit of using white sauces, and while there are a number of recipes elsewhere in the book that have a white sauce component, it's always made as a part of the recipe. That means I have to consider white sauce a separate recipe, and come up with uses for all the variations.

I've had some trouble trying to work out what to serve various sauces with. Some of the sauces are ones I've heard of but still have no idea what they're usually eaten with. A few days ago, I came up with the idea of Googling "cumberland sauce with" or "béarnaise sauce with" and getting serving ideas from the results. When I Googled "béchamel sauce with", I got a number of recipes for lasagne and other baked pasta dishes, so I figured that was the best way to use the béchamel sauce (p188) variation of the white sauce recipe.

I didn't want to use the sauce in a lasagne, since I still have the official lasagne recipe to make. Instead I decided to try making some cannelloni. Of course, I've never cooked (or, as far as I can recall, eaten) cannelloni in my life, but that's no reason not to give it a go.

To make béchamel sauce, the instruction is to stud an onion with six cloves, then add it to the saucepan in which you're heating the milk. When I put the onion in the milk, the cloves were well above the level of the milk, and seemed rather pointless. I tipped the onion on its side, which at least meant that two of the cloves were in the milk, but I don't think it really achieved much in the way of flavour.

While the milk was heating, I threw together a cannelloni filling of chicken, spinach and cottage cheese. The cannelloni tubes were smaller than I expected: too small to spoon the filling in, even with a teaspoon. I wound up stuffing the filling into the tubes with my fingers.

When the milk was nearly boiled, I took it off the heat and strained it for use in the sauce. I rinsed out the pot and made a start with the familiar melted butter and flour mixture, adding the prepared milk gradually to form a sauce.

As I poured the finished sauce over my filled cannelloni, I realised I had (yet again) forgotten the seasoning. I couldn't season the sauce now, so I compromised by scattering a small amount of salt and pepper over the top. I plonked my cannelloni in the oven, set the timer for 25 minutes, and waited.

I had no idea if my cannelloni with béchamel sauce was going to work, or whether it was a valid way of using a) béchamel  sauce and b) cannelloni. I had almost convinced myself it would be a complete disaster by the time I got the cannelloni out of the oven.

They looked pretty good, actually. The top had gone nice and golden, and the pasta had successfully softened in the sauce. They didn't taste bad, either. A bit bland - both the sauce and filling could have done with more seasoning, but that's my own fault, not the recipe's.

I couldn't say whether the whole onion/clove thing added anything extra to the sauce. If it did, it was very subtle, because it mostly just tasted like a plain white sauce. I may well play around with cannelloni again sometime (especially since I have half a box left) but I don't think I'll bother with béchamel sauce again.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Excess eggs

Last weekend when I visited Rakaia, I came away with a dozen lovely fresh eggs from Bex and Richard's chickens, and an instruction from Bex to do something Edmonds with them. When I got home, I realised I still had a half-dozen older, supermarket-bought eggs to use up before I could look at using any of the fresh ones.

The week's baking used up most of the older eggs, but it wasn't until this Sunday that I was able to get into the new ones. Not ultra-fresh anymore, of course, but still perfectly good. So what was I going to do with them? The obvious egg dish is an omelet, and since I hadn't yet made the puffy omelet (p96) I decided to have a go at that.

I'd never used the Edmond's puffy omelet recipe, but there's a similar one that I used to make a lot, so I approached this recipe with a reasonable amount of confidence. A normal omelet uses whole, beaten eggs, but for a puffy omelet, you have to separate the eggs, beat the whites until stiff, then fold the yolks (also lightly beaten and seasoned to taste) into the whites.

The whites didn't froth up as well as I'd like; perhaps there was a dash of yolk in there, or traces of grease in the bowl. My own theory is that I was using too large a bowl. I've found that egg whites froth up faster and better in smaller bowls.

Anyway, I got the egg whites as stiff as I could, then folded through the yolks. It wasn't very successful - the volume immediately disappeared and the yolks didn't combine very well. Not wanting to loose what little puffiness I had, I poured the mixture into the pan. The uncombined yolk oozed around the edges and cooked immediately. It was a bit longer before I felt that the rest of the omelet was cooked on the underside. When it was, I popped it under the grill.

A few minutes later, when my omelet came out of the oven, it really didn't fit the description 'puffy': it was very flat. Never mind; I added a filling of bacon, mushrooms, silverbeet and cheese, folded the omelet over and had it for lunch. Ok, so the texture wasn't what it should be, but it was still tasty. And I know from experience that puffy omelets can come out way nicer than that. Don't let my mishap with the egg whites put you off making one yourself!

Having done the omelet, I still had ten eggs left to use. What else could I make? One dish that sprang to mind was soufflé. The only soufflé recipes in the Edmonds book are sweet ones, so I decided to use some of the remaining eggs for a chocolate soufflé (p211).

Since it's no good trying to keep leftover soufflé (or so I gather. I've never tried), I made only a half recipe - more than enough to eat all by myself! You start by melting butter in a double boiler, then take it off the heat and stir in some flour. The next step is to add milk, which is a bit worrying since it immediately starts curdling in the hot butter. But back on the heat, with persistent stirring, it soon combines smoothly and starts to thicken.

When the butter mixture has thickened up a bit, you stir in sugar and grated chocolate (well, since I was using chocolate buttons, I couldn't really grate them, so I settled for chopping them finely). The sugar and chocolate melted into the mixture very quickly, after which I took it off the heat and turned my attention to the eggs.

I began with the yolks, beating them until thick and pale before stirring them into the chocolate mixture. Then, having carefully washed and dried my beaters, I started beating the egg whites. This time I used a much smaller bowl, and with much greater success.

Holding my breath, I folded the whites into the chocolate mixture. It seemed to work: the volume of the whites didn't diminish as it had with the omelet, and all the chocolate seemed to be mixed through. Now to get it into the oven: I didn't have a soufflé dish (whatever that is), so just used a smallish casserole dish, hastily spraying it with oil instead of greasing it with the more tradtional butter.

The full-recipe soufflé is supposed to cook for 40 minutes. I wasn't sure how long my half-recipe would take, but ended up taking it out shortly before the half-hour mark. It had risen in a round bun-shape, not at all like the soufflés you generally see on TV. I wasn't sure if it was completely cooked through, but the top was firm and I didn't want to overcook it.

I was pleased that my soufflé didn't collapse the moment it came out of the oven. I don't think it was supposed to rise in quite the way it did though: perhaps I should have greased the dish with butter instead of oil. Never mind, it's not like I'm trying to win Masterchef here! The soufflé was quite light in texture, but I still suspect I should have left it baking for longer. As for taste, it was chocolaty, but also a little eggy. I ate it by itself, but I expect there should have been cream or ice cream with it. That would have been an improvement.

So while my soufflé was a bigger success than my omelet, it still wasn't perfect. I'm happy to say that each of these recipes have another variation still to be done, so perhaps I'll do a better job on those. As for the eggs, well, I still have eight to use. Guess I better get looking for more recipes!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Déjà vu

If you've sneakily scrolled ahead and glanced at the pictures on this post, you might be a little confused. After all, I've already done afghans and banana cake, haven't I? Well, what you might not know is that there are in fact two afghan and two banana cake recipes in the Edmonds book. The ones I have already done are the 'from scratch' versions. The alternative is to make them using Edmonds cake mixes, following the recipes in the 'baking with Edmonds' chapter.

I'd planned to make the afghans (p70) as a lunchbox item, but when I saw I had some bananas that really needed using, I decided to make the banana cake (p70) as well.

I began with the afghans, mixing chocolate cake mix with melted butter, eggs, cornflakes and a little water. These ingredients ought to combine to make a stiff dough, something I doubted for a while, but eventually (after discarding the wooden spoon and getting my hands into the dough) I got it all mixed in. Oddly, once it was finally combined, the mixture actually became quite sticky. As such, it was difficult to work with and I had a bit of trouble getting it into nice tidy lumps on the trays.

When I'd finished wrangling with the afghan dough (and had washed my hands) I got the trays into the oven and made a start on mixing the banana cake. I got my cake mixer out for this one, adding water, milk, eggs, butter and of course mashed banana to the butter cake mix. A couple of minutes on a medium speed and I had a cake ready to go in the oven.

The afghans were out and cooling, so I put the cake in the oven. 40 minutes later I pulled out a lovely golden-looking cake. I was quite pleased with this result until I tried to open the spring-form tin without loosening the sides of the cake first, and made a big crack in the cake. D'oh.

The afghans had cooled by this time, and were ready to ice. I used the icing from the cake mix packet, simply adding a bit more icing sugar until it was a suitable consistency. Actually, I went a bit overboard - the icing was stiff enough that it split a hole in my (disposable) piping bag and oozed everywhere while I was trying to ice the biscuits. Never mind, I got them done in the end (and all the wayward icing cleaned up reasonably quickly).

For the banana cake, I wanted to try something different. As I've mentioned in the past, I just don't grasp the reasoning behind icing banana cakes with chocolate icing. I wasn't going to do that anyway, as I've already completed all the different chocolate icings - and I used lemon last time I made a banana cake. Instead, I opted for something entirely non-Edmonds: in the banana cake icing debate that arose in the office when I made the previous cake, someone recommended passionfruit icing, i.e a simple mixture of passionfruit pulp and icing sugar.

Well, passionfruit pulp is readily available at supermarkets, but you may remember I bottled a small jar of my own a few weeks ago. And what else was I going to use it for? I tipped a generous amount of pulp into a bowl with all the icing sugar I had, adding hot water to make it spreadable. Of course, I put in too much water, and made it runny. Well, there was nothing I could do about it. I poured it on and hoped for the best.

The following morning, my passionfruit iced (well, actually, it was closer to passionfruit-glazed) banana cake was the subject of a number of comments. It was at least something out of the ordinary. When we cut into it, the cake was revealed to be lovely and fluffy, but at the same time deliciously moist. The banana flavour was so subtle as to be barely there, but I did use quite small bananas. I was in two minds about the icing, though. It was sweet and fruity, and complimented the cake well, but I didn't much like the crunchy seeds on top of the cake. Perhaps straining the pulp would give a better taste, though not such a striking appearance.

As for the afghans: well, they're alright - moister than a normal afghan, and, perhaps because of this, the cornflakes are kind of chewy instead of crunchy. I definitely prefer the 'from scratch' version. Comparing the afghans to the banana cake (and with various other 'with Edmonds' recipes in mind), I think that if you use a cake mix simply to make a cake, it comes out absolutely gorgeous. It's when you start trying to use them for other purposes, e.g biscuits, that you don't get such a good result. And why would you anyway? It's not like afghans are hard to make! Keep your cake mixes for making cakes, that's what I reckon.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Homemade takeaways

Back in the September earthquake, four of the five fish and chip shops within walking distance of my house collapsed, or were damaged badly enough to warrant demolition. I didn't particularly notice the sudden dearth of fish and chip shops though, as my preferred chippie was still going strong. But a few days after the February quake, I found my usual place closed and realised there were no longer any in the neighbourhood.

I have hopes that my local chippie will re-open. It's been green-stickered, which is a good sign, though a glance through the window reveals a large amount of partially-cleaned up liquefaction. In the meantime, I have to go further afield for a feed of greasies, or alternatively, make my own.

This evening I chose to combat the fish and chip craving with pan-fried fish (p116) and potato skins with lemon dressing (p162). Close enough.

I started by getting the potato skins (pretty much what I'd usually call wedges) into the oven. The recipe calls for four large potatoes, but since I didn't have any really large ones, I used three comparatively small ones instead. While I was scrubbing and cutting the potatoes, I put the oven on and began heating a little oil in the bottom of the dish I planned to use.

When the oil was hot, I added the potato wedges, tossed them in the hot oil and returned the pan to the oven to cook for half an hour. This done, I turned to the lemon dressing. It was a fairly simple mixture of mayonnaise, lemon zest, garlic and parsley. I contemplated making my own mayo for this, but decided against it and used some bought stuff.

Next, I started preparing the fish. I'd bought a fillet of tarakihi, and since they tend to be sort of split up the middle anyway, I cut it into two pieces to make it easier to handle. The first step is to coat the fillet in flour seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon zest. Then, you dip it in beaten egg and roll it in fresh breadcrumbs. Easy. Before long I had two crumbed pieces ready to fry.

In a frying pan I melted a small knob of butter along with some oil over a medium heat. I added the crumbed tarakihi fillets, but they didn't seem to be cooking very well, so I turned the heat up a bit. They seemed to cook better on a higher setting.

When the fish were done, I drained them on a paper towel while I threw together a salad, then got the potato skins out of the oven. I'd actually made more than I realised, and wound up with quite a large plate of food. I did manage to eat it all though, because it was pretty yummy.

The fish was soft and delicious, with a crunchy crumb coating, and the potato skins were crisp around the edges, but nice and fluffy inside. As for the dressing, I could take it or leave it really - I'd just as soon have plain mayonnaise.

So next time you feel like having fish and chips, think about making your own. It's still not exactly health food - cooked with oil and butter - but it's gotta be better than deep fried! And it tastes good too. Of course, not having to cook is half the point of fish and chips, so you'll have to pretend you live in Christchurch and can't buy any!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Games night nibbles

On Saturday I drove down to Rakaia to have dinner at Bex and Richard's, followed by board games and nibbles. Bex had asked me to contribute to the nibbles, so I once again turned to the 'party finger food' chapter.

I often bring sweet stuff to this sort of occasion, but this time I thought I'd do something different. There was a corn and tomato salsa (p197), which would go nicely with some corn chips, and a cheese ball (p191) for crackers.

I made the cheese ball first, as it has to have time to firm up. The main ingredients are cream cheese, grated tasty cheese, a chopped pickled onion, a chopped gherkin, and some parsley. To this you add tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco and paprika. Then, just beat everything together, form it into a ball, roll it in chopped walnuts, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate.

Making the cheese ball gave me a chance to try out my home-pickled gherkins and onions. I was quite proud of this, really - the others probably got sick of me going on about it. I did try one of each when I first got the jars down, and while the onions taste pretty much how pickled onions always do, the gherkins are a bit weird. I suppose it's the malt vinegar: I'm used to ordinary dill pickles.

Next I made a start on the salsa. An chopped onion went into a saucepan with a can of chopped tomatoes, some corn and chopped green pepper (there was supposed to be garlic as well, but I remembered just in time that Bex is allergic). Also into the pot went cumin, dried basil, dried rosemary, paprika, chilli powder, chives and salt.

As this mixture simmered on the stovetop for the requisite five minutes, I started to have doubts. How was the onion supposed to cook in such a short time? Or was it supposed to be pretty much raw? A little tasting found that if the onion was supposed to be raw, it was certainly going to dominate the flavour of the salsa. I decided to cook the salsa a little longer and see if it improved.

In the end, I left it simmering for around ten minutes. The onion wasn't completely cooked, but it was a lot less sharp-tasting than previously. I packed up the salsa, the cheese ball and accompanying crackers etc, and headed off to Rakaia.

Bex cooked us a lovely roast dinner, though (in the mildly disturbing way of country people), they did tell us the lamb's name before we ate it. Well, Dora was delicious anyway. After we'd finished eating, we cleared off the table, set up the board game and brought out the nibbles... so we could begin eating again.

The cheese ball was very tasty, and very popular. The only reason it didn't get entirely eaten is that we ran out of crackers on the plate and (considering how much we'd already eaten) it was not deemed a good idea to replenish them. If you have to take some nibbles somewhere, a cheese ball may sound a bit retro, but it's easy to make, and everyone seems to like it.

The salsa, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment. I set it on the table with a warning about the onion, which probably put the others off a bit, but when I had some, it wasn't really oniony: you mostly just tasted the chilli powder.  It wasn't terrible, but not particularly tasty either. It may have been better with the garlic in it, and a bit more salt perhaps, but as it was, not much of it got eaten. I've brought it home again - I'll definitely find some use for it.

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