Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bake with potential

I went into the kitchen this evening with the intention of making tuna rice bake (p107). It's the sort of recipe that's designed for using up leftover rice: except that since I seldom have leftover rice, I had to begin by cooking some up specially.

That step was accomplished without difficulty; the next proved difficult when I realised I didn't have any onions. I'd checked the recipe when I went to the supermarket to get the tuna, but overlooked the fact that I'd used up all my onions making soup the other day. Sigh.. well, it won't be much good without onion: wrap up; get in car; drive to supermarket for 30c onion purchase; return to kitchen.

With all ingredients now on hand, I could make a start on the sauce, cooking onion, celery and garlic in a pan before stirring in flour and gradually adding milk. When the sauce thickened, I took the pan off the heat and beat in egg and grated cheese. The white sauce turned yellow from the yolk and became almost like an omelet in appearance.

The next step was to season, and then add tuna. The recipe indicates a 425g can, which seems like an awfully large can of tuna to me. I used a standard 190g can for my half-recipe, and that was plenty.

Finally, I stirred in the rice and spooned the mixture into an oven dish. After 20 minutes in the oven, the tuna rice bake had gone golden on top, and was ready to eat. (Well, ok: I was also supposed to garnish the top with parsley, but couldn't be bothered going out to the garden in the cold just for a garnish).

Tuna rice bake might not be the most spectacular meal you'll ever eat - it's pretty ordinary sort of fare. Still, it's has quite a pleasant savoury flavour - and it's not too fishy. If you added some extra vege you'd have a more balanced meal. In fact, I think this recipe could be quite versatile as a 'throw in whatever you've got' kind of meal. Especially if what you've got happens to include leftover rice!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Snow day

This morning I awoke to find it had been snowing overnight. Since snow seldom stays around long in Christchurch (when it falls at all) I got ready for work as usual, climbed in the car and inched my way through the snowy, slippery streets to work.

The snow didn't melt away as I'd expected. Instead, it continued to fall thick and fast. Few people had made it to work and since we weren't going to be able to do much anyway, I ended up heading home again.

For anyone reading this who isn't familiar with the weather in New Zealand, and particularly Christchurch, the thing you need to understand is that we're not well-equipped to deal with snow. What in many countries would be considered a light dusting of snow can bring the whole city to a standstill. 

In weather like this, a bowl of soup seems like an ideal meal. Good thing I'd made some meat stock (p85) over the weekend, then! 

Stock takes time to make, but very little effort. I got some beef bones from a local butcher, trimmed off any obvious fat, and put them into a stock pot with two litres of water. When the water started boiling, there was a dirty-looking scum on the surface, so I followed the recipe, which stated that if this was the case, I should drain the water, rinse the bones and start again with fresh water.

When I had the fresh lot of water boiling, I added a carrot and a couple of celery sticks, along with some peppercorns and a bouquet garni made of parsley and a bay leaf. It was supposed to have a sprig of thyme in it too, but I couldn't get any. Instead I sprinkled a little dried thyme in the water and hoped for the best.

That's pretty much the sum total of effort involved in preparing the stock. After this, you just let it simmer for six hours, then strain it through a sieve and leave it cool before refrigerating.

I got my big bowl of stock out today to make some french onion soup (p86). I already had some thinly sliced onions cooking in butter over a low heat, so while that was happening, I skimmed the layer of fat off the top of my stock. With the fat gone, the stock had a weird jellyish consistency, but it melted down into a liquid almost immediately when I added it to the pan with the onions.

The soup had to simmer for 15 minutes, so in the meantime, I sorted out the cheese on toast which apparently goes with french onion soup. It probably would have looked prettier if I'd used dainty little slices of french bread, but I didn't have any (and wasn't going out in the snow to get some!) and anyway, the recipe seemed to indicate normal toast bread. Probably grainy bread isn't exactly traditional, but never mind, it's all I had.

When the 15 minutes was up. I removed the pan from the heat and added a little sherry and some seasoning, then served myself a bowl of soup topped with the cheesy toast.

The french onion soup had a far more mellow flavour than I expected from all those onions, and while I found the soggy, cheesy bread an odd addition, it tasted ok. I think my beef stock was a little lacking in flavour, and I had to add quite a lot of salt to prevent the soup from being bland. Still, it was a warming, pleasant meal - just the thing on a snowy day!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

When was the last time you had a banana split?

What with the chilly weather predicted for this weekend, and a sore throat/runny nose on the verge of becoming a cold, I decided it might be best to spend the weekend hibernating. In furtherance of this goal, I stayed in bed until well into the morning, and this afternoon wrapped myself in a duvet and settled on the couch to watch my way through The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Halfway through The Two Towers, I found myself wanting chocolate. Well, I didn't have any chocolate in the house and going out to get some doesn't really fit with the hibernation thing, so I had to think outside the box a bit. Chocolate sauce (p189) would do the trick, but I had to come up with something to have it with. My eyes strayed to the fruit bowl and I thought of something I hadn't eaten in years: a banana split.

The sauce took no time at all to make. You just mix cocoa with cornflour and a little milk, add butter, sugar and the rest of the milk, then stir it over a low heat for a few minutes until it thickens. Easy.

While the sauce was cooking, I cut a banana in half and scooped out a couple of balls of ice cream. When the sauce was ready, I poured it straight over the ice cream and sprinkled over some chopped nuts. The hot sauce melted the ice cream almost immediately, but it still tasted great.

The sauce itself was perhaps a little disappointing in terms of chocolate flavour - it mostly tasted of cocoa. But the combination of the sauce with creamy vanilla ice cream, banana and nuts was actually fantastic. I couldn't believe I'd gone so long without eating one of these. Well, it won't be years before I have another one!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Forced compromise

I can understand why Edmonds would want to have a section in their cookbook promoting recipes which use their cake mixes. What is less easy to understand is why they would subsequently stop making the products required in some of these recipes.

Muffin cake (p75) is one such: the recipe lists Edmonds Apple and Sultana Muffin Mix as an ingredient. Sounds good - except that the only muffin mix Edmonds make these days (as far as I can discover) is a chocolate one. And that wouldn't really work in the recipe. So I'm sorry to say I was forced to purchase the most similar product I could find: Betty Crocker's Mixed Berry muffin mix. Forcing me to use a competitor's product kind of defeats the purpose of plugging your products in recipe-form, doesn't it?

When I got my muffin mix home, I turned to the muffin cake recipe, only to find a second non-existent product listed in the recipe: Fleming's Vita-Crunch. As far as Google was able to tell me, Vita-Crunch was some kind of toasted oaty muesli type stuff. As a substitute, I toasted up some rolled oats, and added a handful of crushed cornflakes and some chopped nuts, crossing my fingers that it would do the trick.

The cake itself was very easy to make. I combined the dry ingredients with come cinnamon, before adding the contents of the berry sachet, along with an egg, some oil and a bit of water. I briefly considered switching the berries with some apple and sultanas, in an attempt to more closely replicate the original recipe, but decided not to bother.

The cake was supposed to be made in a ring tin. I don't have one, so just placed a small drinking glass in the centre of my 20cm round tin. I spooned in the cake batter, scattered my substitute "Vita-Crunch" over the top, chucked it all in the oven and hoped for the best.

I wasn't feeling too optimistic when I got the cake out of the oven. It seemed to have cooked through just fine, but I wasn't sure how it would taste. I brought it to work today to feed to my fellow blood-donors, warning them all that the cake was a bit experimental and that might taste a bit weird.

With such low expectations, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the cake was in fact very tasty. The "Vita-Crunch" topping was entirely unnecessary, since it didn't add much to either the flavour or texture, and also since most of it fell off as we attempted to eat it. Probably the original Vita-Crunch was more successful.
The cake itself, however, was really very nice: it had a nice moist muffiny texture and the berry and cinnamon combination actually worked really well.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Muffin-shaped scones

I've never had much of a knack with savoury muffins. Sweet ones: no problem, but as soon as I try my hand at savoury, they come out lumpy and hard. Still, I wasn't going to let that get in the way of attempting savoury cheese muffins (p32).

The savoury additions to these muffins are cheese, celery and capsicum. You're only supposed to put in one tablespoon each of the celery and capsicum, but that didn't seem like much to me, (especially as I'd gone for a special walk to the supermarket just to get a single $4.99 capsicum) so I added a bit more.

Into the bowl with the cheese, celery and capsicum, I sifted flour, baking powder, cayenne pepper and salt. In a separate bowl I mixed melted butter with milk and beaten egg, before carefully combining the dry ingredients and liquids.

There didn't seem to be enough liquid: the muffin mixture was more like scone dough than anything else. I could have added more milk, but then it'd be overmixed. I decided I'd better leave it the way it was. Dividing the dough into 12 lumps, I filled up my muffin pans, put them in the oven and hoped for the best.

My savoury muffins didn't look that great when I took them out of the oven - kinda lumpy and odd-looking. Mum, Dad and I gamely had a try of them though, and to my surprise, they tasted quite good. The texture was quite heavy - more like a scone than a muffin, but not at all unpleasant. And though the savoury mixture of celery and capsicum may seem overly simple, it was surprisingly tasty. As an added bonus, they were really good dipped in the leftover tomato soup I had for dinner!

I'd make these again, but probably wouldn't bother pretending they were muffins: I'd just shape them into scones, because that's clearly what the dough is best suited for.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fresh doesn't have to be best

I have to confess to a little substitution in my completion of the tomato soup recipe (p90). With tomatoes out of season and ridiculously expensive, there was no way I was going to buy fresh ones, just so I could blanch, skin, chop and cook them into soup. Nope, canned tomatoes are a fraction of the cost, and are pretty much the same as blanched and skinned ones.

With a can of tomatoes at the ready, I began my soup, beginning by frying up some chopped onion and celery, then adding the chopped tomatoes along with tomato paste, chicken stock and seasoning. When this mixture was close to boiling, I took it off the heat and blitzed it in the food processor.

And that's that: soup done. I ladled myself out a bowl, added a dollop of sour cream, and sat down to eat it. I clearly hadn't processed the soup for long enough, because it was still quite lumpy (I've since returned the remaining soup to the processor and given it a more thorough blitzing). Also, the sour cream, instead of melting and adding creaminess, seemed to separate into clumps resembling cottage cheese as I stirred it through the soup.

Despite these minor negatives, the tomato soup tasted alright. A bit salty perhaps - I should have seasoned to taste instead of simply following the quantities in the recipe - but otherwise, a perfectly good, quick and easy winter soup.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The cake that killed a rolling pin

Having baked my apple pie on Saturday, I washed my rolling pin and set it in the still-warm oven to dry out. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten about it by Sunday night, when I turned the oven on to make a ladysmith cake (p49). Of course, I would have found the rolling pin before long had it not been for one thing:

On perusing the recipe more carefully, I decided it looked like way too much faff for a Sunday night, elected to do it Monday instead, and went back to my room to watch TV. Some hours later, I wandered out into the lounge and wondered, "why does it smell like sawdust in here?" Actually, it doesn't smell like sawdust; it smells like burning rolling pin.

So clearly, it's the complicated recipe that was at fault, and not my own stupid carelessness, right? (Oh, come on - it was worth a shot!)

This evening I had a chance to find out just how tricky the ladysmith cake was. Answer: not very. It just requires a few different bowls and a few different layers. First, you cream butter and sugar in one bowl, and beat eggs in another. In a third bowl, sift flour and baking powder, then add the eggs and dry ingredients alternately to the creamed mixture.

Ok, so you have to dirty a few bowls, but it's really quite simple, as is the next bit - separating out one-third of the mixture and adding cinnamon. Actually, my split ended up more like half/half, because I accidentally got some of the cinnamon in the main bowl and had to scoop out more of the mixture, but it still worked ok.

The next step is to spoon the cinnamon mixture into the bottom of a cake tin. On top of this I spread some raspberry jam (slightly heated, to spread more easily) before adding the plain cake batter and topping it all with a sprinkling of chopped nuts.

After 50 minutes in the oven, the ladysmith cake came out looking and smelling delicious. As soon as I got it out of the tin, I cut a piece and had a taste. It was just as delicious as it smelled: light and fluffy, with a pleasant nutty crunch and a cinnamon and jam flavour almost reminiscent of belgian biscuits.

This recipe is certainly not as involved as it first appears, and the result is definitely worth dirtying a couple of bowls. I really have to concede that the effort required does not in any way justify a delay which in turn results in the sacrifice of a certain kitchen implement. Guess I'll have to take the blame after all.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to avoid a soggy bottom

I went down to Rakaia last night for dinner at Bex and Richard's. As usual, I supplied a dessert: apple pie (p206) at Bex's specific request.

When I first looked at the apple pie recipe, I got a bit confused. There were clear instructions relating to the pastry on the top and sides of the pie, but I couldn't see anything about the bottom. I couldn't decide whether lining the pie dish was just taken for granted, or whether it was supposed to be top and sides only.

I discussed this point at length with Mum, and we decided that if there was supposed to be a base to the pie, it would be in the recipe. And if you think about it, it makes sense: apple gets very juicy when it's cooked, and it's difficult to make anything with apple on a pastry base without the pastry going soggy. So what can you do to prevent the bottom going soggy? Don't have one!

Having cleared up this minor mystery, I whipped up yet another batch of sweet short pastry. This one didn't come out as well as previous attempts - I think perhaps I rushed it a little and didn't combine my ingredients well enough.

While the pastry was chilling in the fridge, I made a start on the apple filling. The recipe listed 4-6 Granny Smiths; I peeled, cored and sliced five apples of moderate size, thinking I could always add a sixth if need be. As it happened, four would have been more than enough.. but I'll get to that.

When I had my bowl full of sliced apple pieces, I mixed together some sugar, melted butter, flour and ground cloves, added it to the apples, and stirred them around with my hands until they were all nicely coated in the sugary mixture.

I needed to roll out the pastry enough to cut a 20cm circle for the pie lid, and also have two 2.5cm wide strips long enough to line the sides of the dish. I ended up cutting the circle first, then rolling and cutting the remaining pastry for the strips. With a few patchworking manoeuvres, I got the sides of the dish lined and started adding the filling.

There was way too much filling for the pie dish. At first I thought I'd only get about half in, but then I started thinking, "well, the apples are going to break down a bit when they cook, right? So I can get away with piling it up a bit". And pile it I did! In the end I actually got all the filling on there. I say 'on', rather than 'in', because there was probably more filling in the mound above the edges of the pie dish than in the dish itself.

I placed my slightly dodgy pastry on top and sealed the edges with water. A few steam holes in the centre, and my mountainous, lumpy-looking pie was ready to go in the oven.

I was a bit worried as I watched the progress of the pie. The pastry had an odd texture to it, and instead of becoming a little less mounded and lumpy as the apples cooked down, it simply baked into the exact knobbly shape it started in. So much for that theory.

When the pie came out of the oven, it may have looked a little odd, but it seemed to have cooked through ok, so I wrapped it in a teatowel and headed off to Rakaia.

Following another of Bex's lovely roast dinners, we cracked into the pie. I was a bit put off by the slightly greyish colour of the apple filling, but perhaps it wouldn't have been that colour straight out of the oven. And, despite appearances: despite weird, lumpy pastry and grey filling, it actually tasted really good - and at least it didn't have a soggy bottom!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

To go with chicken

I cooked up a chicken in the crockpot earlier this week, and I've pretty much been eating it ever since. But you can't live on just chicken - tonight when I got home I decided to look for something Edmonds to eat with my leftovers.

Flicking through the vegetable section, I landed on kumara and orange (p161) as a side to my chicken. I was going to go with just that, but on the spur of the moment, I flicked to the sauces and marinades looking for something that would work with chicken.

Onion sauce (p188) is another of the dreaded white sauce variations. It didn't really scream "have me with chicken" but I didn't see any reason why I shouldn't.

I peeled the kumara and got it on to boil - somewhat of a novelty since I only ever roast it - and started melting the butter for the sauce in another saucepan. I choppped up some onions, added them to the butter and let them cook over a low heat until they went clear.

The kumara cooked very quickly, so I drained off the water and added orange juice and grated rind, brown sugar and a little butter, before putting it back on the heat to create a tasty-looking orange glaze.

Meanwhile, the onions had gone past clear and started to go crispy. I saved them just in time, stirring in some flour and then gradually adding milk to make a thick sauce.

I heated up some leftover chicken and hastily cooked up some beans, so as to have at least a little green on the plate! Having added the kumara and poured onion sauce over my chicken, I sat down to eat.

The kumara was very sweet, with a slight hint of bitterness. I quite liked it, but it wasn't perhaps the best side dish for chicken with onion sauce! It didn't occur to me before I started, but orange and onion don't really go together! I was pleasantly surprised by the onion sauce: it had plenty of flavour and went well with the chicken. I like this one far better than any of the other white sauce variations I've tried so far.

Monday, July 4, 2011

This spinster makes good lamingtons

It's my birthday today: a good excuse to knock off a few recipes in order to feed the hungry workmates, even those undeserving individuals who choose to mock my approaching spinsterhood. Of course, being 31, single and childless does have its good points: for a start, you've got plenty of spare time for things like making lamingtons (p67).

As you know, I'd made my lamington sponge in advance and stuck it in the freezer. Yesterday afternoon, I took it out and allowed it to defrost slightly while I made the second item on my list: coffee cake (p46).

Coffee cake is made from a fairly standard recipe, the main difference being the addition of a little instant coffee (dissolved in boiling water) to the creamed butter and sugar. Other than that, it's pretty much the usual mix, divided into two sponge sandwich tins.

 While the coffee cake was in the oven, I mixed up the coating for the lamingtons, which is really just a runny chocolate icing. This done, I cut my sponge into 16 little squares and began dipping them in the icing mixture and rolling them in coconut.

Having the sponge partially frozen made a huge difference - the lamingtons held their shape better and were easier to handle. I found that it's important not to have too thick a coating on the lamington, or you get a sort of lumpy, oozy result. I actually found that carefully scraping off the excess icing before rolling the lamington in coconut achieved the best results.

Soon I had the lamingtons coated and looking pretty tasty. I set them aside while I got the coffee cake out of the oven and turned to the third recipe I wanted to make: toffee (p221). I had no particular reason for making this; I just decided to take advantage of an opportunity to knock off another sweet recipe.

Having learnt my lesson from last year's nut toffee (also made for a birthday morning tea shout) I used caster sugar instead of the plain white sugar indicated in the recipe. This, along with water, a little butter, and a dash of vinegar, I stirred over a low heat until the sugar had dissolved.

Using caster sugar got me over that particular hurdle fairly easily, the sugar dissolving in minutes. The  most trying part was waiting for the toffee to boil to the 'hard crack' stage, a process which took about half an hour. I might have been able to do it faster, but I wasn't sure how high I ought to turn up the heat, and so left it reasonably low.

Finally I was satisfied that my toffee had reached 'hard crack' and I poured it into a tin to set. I tried to mark squares in the toffee, but they kept oozing back. I had to wait until the toffee was half-set before I could get the lines to stay properly. Once it had set hard, I attempted to break the toffee along my carefully-inscribed lines but (predictably) it shattered in all directions, spreading spiky little shards of toffee all over myself and my kitchen.

Next, I had to ice the coffee cake. Coffee icing (p77) is a variation on the plain white icing - again, instant coffee dissolved in water is added to create the coffee flavour. For once, I managed to get the icing to a suitable consistency, and it spread quite nicely on the cake. The icing is used both on the top of the cake and to sandwich the two halves together. I prettied it up a little with some chopped walnuts, and the cake was done.

The last thing I did before going to bed last night was to prepare the cream chantilly (p76) for the lamingtons. cream chantilly is a recipe I've had half a dozen opportunities to use and have always forgotten. It's just whipped cream with icing sugar and vanilla essence. Most people add one or the other of these to their cream; this uses both. Also, the sugar and essence are added to the cream after it's whipped - I would have put it in beforehand.

This morning, I dragged myself out of bed a bit earlier than usual, allowing enough time to cream the lamingtons before work. I cut each lamington almost in half, then spread each with a little of my homemade raspberry jam before piping in the cream. Unfortunately, the cream had gone a bit runny overnight - I should have whisked it up again before putting it in the piping bag - and didn't hold its piped shape very well.

But a little underwhipped cream isn't going to put a lamington fan off: they were the most popular item come morning-tea time, and deservingly so, because they were really good! I was quite proud of them, particularly since I'd finally made a decent sponge. I was surprised at how much flavour was in the cream chantilly: somehow it seemed far richer than my usual cream with icing-sugar. I might make a habit of adding vanilla as well.

The coffee cake also had its enthusiasts, though I would personally prefer a cream filling rather than more of that slightly sickly icing. The cake itself tasted quite nice, but wasn't as light and fluffy as I would have liked. On the whole, though, it was tasty enough.

 To my surprise, everyone loved the toffee. I'd only made it as an extra (I even find I've forgotten to take a photo of the final result), and expected that there would be far more than necessary, but the bowl was empty by the end of the day. Clearly I did something right there!

So here I am, another year older, not noticeably wiser but considerably more practised in the kitchen - I'm not claiming great expertise of course, but at least I can make a decent lamington!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Successful sponge!

It's my birthday on Monday, and as such I'll be expected to bring along a morning tea shout. One of the items I've chosen to make is lamingtons, which are always popular, but can be fiddly to make. I'm planning to try out a tip of Mum's to make coating the sponge a little easier: do it with a partially frozen sponge.

Of course, freezing the sponge has other benefits too. It means I can make it in advance, allowing time for a do-over or complete change of plan if I have another sponge disaster.

With this happy thought in mind, I turned to the recipe for sponge cake (p68) and made a start. Unlike the lemon sponge I made earlier in the week, this one doesn't start with creaming butter and sugar. Instead, you beat eggs with salt, then add sugar and beat until thick. After this, you sift in the dry ingredients, and fold in some melted butter. That's it.

The tin specified in the recipe was a 20cm round tin. Well, a round sponge is not much use for lamingtons, is it? Instead I used an 18cm square. I poured the sponge mixture into the greased and lined tin, then put it in the oven for about 25 minutes. Since my oven seems to be a bit hot, I set it lower than indicated, baking at 180 instead of 190.

The sponge looked pretty good when it came out of the oven. I gingerly pressed in the centre, and it bounced back ok, but I was still afraid of having another soggy-centred sponge. However, it didn't collapse like the lemon sponge did, so I'm confident that it's baked through.

The sponge isn't really very high: these are going to be some fairly squat lamingtons. Maybe I'll keep them in proportion and make miniature ones. Other than that, it seems to be a success. Yay - a passable sponge!

I've wrapped the sponge in baking paper and plastic, and bunged it in the freezer for now. I'll drag it out again on Sunday, and we'll see what kind of lamingtons it makes!

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