Monday, October 31, 2011

Cheesy courgettes

Since I've never been in the habit of making white sauces, It's hard to know how to use them, and have been racking my brain for ideas on how to complete the several variations on this theme without becoming too repetitive.

The obvious use for cheese sauce (p188) is of course cauliflower cheese, or possibly macaroni cheese. The thing is, both of these are included as separate recipes in the Edmonds book. I had to come up with something else, so when I saw some early courgettes at Riccarton Market the other day, I decided that a cheesy courgette bake might be a good way of ticking off this one.

I started by melting some butter in a saucepan and adding flour. When this had gone 'frothy' (or in reality, had clumped into a big yellow blob) I began adding the milk. I actually didn't do this gradually enough and ended up with slightly lumpy sauce. A brisk whisking eliminated most of the lumps, but some remained in the finished product.

When all the milk had been added and the sauce was reasonably thick, I took it off the heat and added cheese. I didn't have the tasty cheese specified in the recipe, so I used edam and added a little parmesan for extra flavour. A little salt and pepper and my cheese sauce was done.

I'd briefly boiled sliced courgettes and arranged them in a casserole dish. I poured the sauce over, and topped it with a little extra parmesan for good measure. After a few minutes baking, I got impatient and stuck it under the grill. All the components were already cooked, after all - I just wanted a little colour.

My courgette bake was fairly successful. The cheese sauce was tasty, though I'd say the flavour depends a lot on careful seasoning. I think most of us would probably add more cheese than it says in the recipe too - 'cause you can never have too much cheese! All in all, I'm pretty happy with my efforts - which is saying a lot since white sauce of any variation is not really my thing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Greeting Guests

My brother, sister-in-law and nephew arrived in Christchurch on Friday morning, on a visit from Canada. On Thursday night, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to have some baking in the cupboard to offer my weary guests with a cup of coffee.

Since I had a couple of brown bananas in the fruit bowl, it would probably have made sense to make a banana loaf. That didn't occur to me at the time, though, and by making fresh lemon loaf (p27) I was able to tick off another uncompleted recipe.

It's pretty much a standard loaf, with the addition of some lemon zest to the creamed butter and sugar. It also has walnuts in it, but I omitted these on the grounds of a) not having any, and b) my brother not being a big fan of fruit and nuts in baking.

I spooned my mixture into a loaf tin and put it in to bake for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, I prepared the glaze, dissolving sugar in lemon juice and bringing it to the boil. When the loaf came out of the oven, I poured the glaze over, trying to coat the whole loaf evenly, and left it in the tin until the loaf had cooled completely.

Mum, Dad and I went to meet Daz, Esther and baby Isaac at the airport, after which all of us came back to my place for the day. My fresh lemon loaf was enthusiastically received by all - even little Issac had a few bites.

Fresh lemon loaf is nothing fancy: it's just a good honest loaf with a soft texture and a subtle lemony flavour. If you're after something nice and filling with a cuppa, this one's worth your while.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My kitchen: a study in purple

I'd purchased a bag of beetroot at a local vege shop over the weekend, since which time it has sat in my kitchen, mutely reminding me of my intention to make beetroot chutney (p229). By Tuesday night, I figured I'd put it off for long enough.

I began by boiling the beetroot for about half an hour. At the end of this time, the skins should have slipped neatly off in the way they always do for TV chefs. Of course, when I tried it, the skins just came off in bits and pieces, some sticking, some coming away easily. I ended up scraping a lot of it away with a spoon.

This took considerably longer than I'd expected, and by the time I had all the skins off the beetroot I also had purple splatters and bits of beetroot all over my kitchen.

Luckily, the next step did not take long at all, thanks to my trusty food processor: I bunged the beetroot in, along with some onions, and in a few moments I had a food processor full of vibrantly coloured, eye-wateringly oniony, purple mush. That might not sound appealing, but it's exactly what I was aiming for.

Tipping the purple mush into a large saucepan, I added malt vinegar and brought the mixture to the boil, cooking until the onion had softened up a bit. I confess I didn't linger too long on this step; having chopped the onion so finely, I could hardly identify it among the beetroot to decide if it was cooked or not.

The next additions were sugar, salt, pepper, ginger and allspice. Except when I got out the packet of allspice I'd grabbed from the supermarket, I found I'd actually got whole allspice instead of ground. Sighing, I grabbed my pestle and mortar to grind up a small amount.

This mixture bubbled away on the stove as I prepared jars and attempted to clean up the beetroot splatter from my benchtops, walls, floor, cupboards and dishrack. Finally, I mixed up a paste of flour and malt vinegar, and stirred it through the chutney mixture.

I was supposed to boil the chutney for a full five minutes after adding the paste, but when I discovered a small patch in the bottom of the pan where it was beginning to burn, I took it off immediately. With the memory of my burnt tamarillo jam still fresh in my mind, I wasn't going to risk doing that again.

Carefully avoiding any that may have come into contact with the burnt area, I ladled the chutney into my prepared jars. My half-recipe of the chutney filled three jars: more than enough for my purposes. I'll have to leave it for a while before trying it out - at present it mostly tastes of vinegar, but the flavour ought to develop after a few weeks.

So that's another chutney crossed off my list. I'm going to have a cupboard full of the stuff before I'm done!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No more eggplant guilt

Lately, whenever I see an eggplant at the supermarket or vege shop, I feel a little guilty. The thing is, I've had moussaka (p151) on my 'to do' list for weeks. Months before that, I'd promised to try it soon after having Lauren recommend the recipe to me. Yet every week I'd look at those eggplants and find a reason not to buy one.

Well, this week I actually bought one, along with the rest of the necessary ingredients. And last night, I finally rolled my sleeves up and got that moussaka made.

A word of warning: if you're planning to make this dish, allow yourself plenty of time. Not anticipating how long it would take, I didn't make a start on my moussaka until 6.30pm yesterday. It was around 8.30pm by the time I was able to sit down and eat it.

First things first: the recipe requires cooked lamb mince, so I started by cooking up my mince and setting it aside. Next I chopped up onion and garlic, and got that on while I tended to the eggplant. I haven't used eggplant much, but I gather it needs salting to remove the bitterness. So I sliced up my eggplant, sprinkled salt on either side of each slice, and laid them out on trays to sit for half an hour.

When the onions were cooked, I started adding further ingredients. The mince went back in, along with some tomato puree and chicken stock. One slightly tricky addition was the blanched, skinned and chopped tomatoes. I didn't get these done in advance, and was having trouble getting the skins to come off. After slicing into one finger in my haste, I decided to flag it and bunged the tomatoes in skin and all. Another time, I wouldn't bother with all this: I'd just substitute a can of tomatoes, leaving out both the fresh tomatoes and the puree.

The mince mixture now had to cook down for half an hour. Towards the end of this time, I began assembling the rest of my ingredients, rinsing and frying my eggplant slices, and beating up the egg yolks, flour and yoghurt which would make the topping.

With all elements ready, I layered eggplant with the mince mixture in a casserole dish. There really didn't seem to be enough eggplant - I now have a vague recollection of Lauren telling me to use two eggplants, not one, all those months ago. I might be imagining that, but it's definitely what I'd do next time. On top of the final eggplant layer, I poured the yoghurt mixture, spreading it out to cover the whole dish.

It was only this morning, when describing my efforts to a workmate, that I realised I had missed something at this point. After adding the yoghurt mixture, I should have scattered parmesan cheese over the top. And I completely forgot; I just put the dish in the oven and sat down to wait for 40 minutes until it was cooked.

Even without the parmesan, the moussaka was really tasty. I loved the smooth silky texture of the eggplant, and am quite determined to try using it more in the future. Was it worth the time taken, the large number of dirty dishes, and an irritating cut in the tip of my finger? Probably not. But next time I think I'd simplify it a bit, substituting canned tomatoes as I've suggested above, and possibly leaving out the chicken stock so as not to have so much liquid to reduce down. I'd even like to experiment with different ways of cooking those eggplant slices (perhaps just spray them with oil and then bake them?) as frying them makes the entire moussaka a little oily.

There's plenty of room for experimentation here. I can vouch for the recipe being tasty as it is (or even if you forget the parmesan) but if you don't have a couple of hours up your sleeve, it might be necessary to cut a few corners.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stunted cake

As often happens in the leadup to a long weekend, we've had a hectic week at work. Hectic enough that I decided we deserved chocolate cake for our Friday morning tea.

Specifically, one-egg chocolate cake (p51), a recipe that has a reputation for being quick, easy and reliable. I hadn't made it before, but I've eaten it, and it's nice. I just had to see if mine would measure up!

I started by melting some butter and golden syrup in a small saucepan. There's no reason why this can't be done in the microwave - in fact, all you're doing is dirtying a pan which is then immediately emptied into a bowl. But anyway, I followed the instructions and used the saucepan.

To the bowl of melted butter and syrup, I then added an egg and some sugar, beating well. Sifted flour, sugar and baking powder followed, which, when folded in, made a very stiff mixture. The final addition is milk with baking soda dissolved in it, along with a few drops of vanilla. You're supposed to fold the milk in, but folding a liquid through a dough thick enough to make biscuits out of is not the easiest.

I ended up stirring, rather than folding. I didn't allow myself to mix as thoroughly as I wanted to, as an overmixed cake will crack across the top. So the mixture I poured into the sponge sandwich tins still had lumps of the original heavy dough throughout. I had to put it in the oven and hope it would all work out in the baking.

20 minutes into the half-hour cooking time, I checked my cakes. Both were going dark on top and were firm enough to bounce back even in the middle, so I decided no further cooking was necessary. I let them sit in the tin for five minutes before taking them out to cool on a rack.

The two halves of my cake were worryingly thin. I had to wonder to what purpose I'd added both baking powder and baking soda, as the cakes had hardly risen at all. Luckily, I'd prepared a nice thick filling to sandwich between the two, which would disguise the thinness of the cake itself.

I'd played around with the mock cream recipe while the cake was baking. It was successful when I used it in a sponge cake, so I decided to try doing a chocolate version. I whipped up softened butter with icing sugar and cocoa until it was thick and fluffy. At the last minute I realised there was supposed to be milk in there too: when I beat it in, it improved the texture of my 'cream' quite a lot.

There was more than enough 'cream' to sandwich the cakes together, so I used half in the centre and half to ice the top. Just the filling would be enough for me, but people have this thing about icing... and anyway, what would I do with the leftovers otherwise?

Even with two thick layers of chocolate filling, my cake looked oddly stunted, like I'd forgotten to put the third layer on. Never mind: I took it to work anyway. No-one seemed to care about the lack of height on the cake, but several people thought the light-coloured icing made it look like coffee cake. There's just no pleasing some people!

Appearance aside, it  actually tasted pretty good. The cake was soft and fluffy - apart from a few thin spots around the edges where it was a little overdone, and the filling made up for the dryness there. It's a pity I didn't think of spreading a little jam on the bottom layer before adding the filling, because that would have been a nice addition.

My one-egg chocolate cake may not have looked quite right, but I came home with an empty plate: evidence enough that it tasted better than it looked!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An old favourite

When I was struck with a hankering for something sweet after dinner this evening, I mentally ran through the list of desserts and puddings I have yet to make. I wasn't about to attempt anything time-consuming, and it had to be something I could make out of stuff I had in the cupboard.

So what about one of the crumble recipes? There are four variations, and I'd only made two so far. Wholegrain oat crumble (p209) is the version I generally used before beginning my Edmonds challenge, as I prefer crumbles that have oats in them. It's a rare treat to cook an Edmonds recipe that's actually familiar. Mostly, I'm making stuff I'd never even thought about making before.

I peeled and chopped an apple and a pear, and put them on to stew with a bit of cinnamon and ground cloves. I only wanted a single serving, (a generous single serving, of course) so I halved the crumble recipe. It's quick to make - just rub butter into sifted sugar and baking powder, then stir through sugar and oats.
I didn't want the fruit to be cooked too thoroughly: I prefer a slight bite to the apple, instead of it being just mush. Perhaps this wouldn't suit everyone, but since I'm only cooking for myself, I can do what I want! I spooned the apple and pear mixture into a small dish, sprinkled  some brown sugar over the fruit, and topped it with a nice thick coating of the crumble mixture. I didn't need all the crumble mixture - I'll have to make something with the leftover crumble tomorrow.
The cooking time given in the recipe is 30 minutes; after 25, my smaller version was looking about right. I'm digging into it as I write, enjoying the sugary crunch of the oat topping and the juicy apple and pear underneath: delicious. Never underestimate a good old-fashioned crumble - it's a favourite with just about everyone!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Speedy slice

This afternoon I suddenly realised I hadn't made anything Edmonds for quite a few days. Along with this came the realisation that I didn't have anything to pack in my lunch for tomorrow's morning tea. Obviously, it's time to do some baking!

It didn't take me long to select afghan slice (p34), a recipe I've been intending to try for quite a while. It's simply the same recipe as you use for afghan biscuits, pressed into a sponge roll tin instead of being made into biscuits.

So really, it's even easier than making afghans, because you don't have to faff about forming your mixture into balls. You just cream butter and sugar, sift in flour and cocoa, then 'fold' through cornflakes and press it into the tin. That's about five minutes work.

After 20-odd minutes in the oven (25 in the recipe, but my oven often seems to cook things more quickly), the slice is done. All that's left is to let it cool down a bit before adding the icing.

But not too much - I decided the icing might go on more smoothly if the slice was still a bit warm. This was just an excuse, really. I wanted to get it done before the rugby started. (I know: Robyn watching rugby! What's the world coming to?) As it happens, I didn't actually succeed in finishing it in time, which is why I'm writing this at half-time.

I mixed up a quick and not very successful chocolate icing, spread it on the slice with the help of a spoon dipped in hot water, and scattered over a good handful of roughly-chopped walnuts.

When the icing had set, I cut the slice into pieces and had a taste. Interestingly, though the recipe is exactly the same as for afghan biscuits, it doesn't taste quite the same. The slice is thinner and crisper than your average afghan biscuit, and you get more icing for each mouthful with the slice (since my icing was quite sugary and horrid, this was not much of an advantage. But it would be if you did a decent chocolate icing).

I think I probably prefer the biscuits, but the slice is quicker to make - try it yourself and see which one you like best.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

'Tis the season

Lots of people get excited about whitebait season, but I have to admit I'm not one of them. Any whitebait lovers not prepared to traipse out to a river somewhere and catch their own have got to buy it instead - and with whitebait numbers declining, the price increases every year. While I don't dislike whitebait, I have no great liking for it either, so I'm not prepared to pay through the nose for it.

Still, whitebait fritters (p119) are in the Edmonds book, which means they are also on the menu. I got myself a small pottle, enough to make a couple of fritters for myself. Interestingly, the recipe also suggests thin strips of firm white fish as a possible whitebait substitute. So if you're budget-challenged but still love a whitebait fritter, give that a go.

I mixed up the batter while the whitebait was draining: a simple mixture of flour, baking powder, salt, egg and milk. With the addition of the whitebait, the batter was ready to go. I'd heated some oil in a frying pan, and dropped spoonfuls of the whitebait mixture into the pan, where they cooked through in a couple of minutes.

I allowed the fritters to drain on a paper towel for a few minutes before serving them up with a wedge or two of lemon. It had probably taken me about ten minutes to get the whitebait from pottle to plate: fast food at home!

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the fritters. It's been years since I had one, and I hadn't expected to think much of it at all. The thing is, I think I enjoyed the nice crisp batter more than I enjoyed the whitebait itself. In fact, I'm finding it hard to recall what the whitebait even tasted like.

Perhaps it's a sad waste of whitebait to feed it to someone like me, who doesn't appreciate it properly. I think it's best left to those who really love the stuff. Because really, I'd probably be just as happy with the 'mock' version mentioned above.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

For better presentation

Often, when I take photos of cold desserts like flummery or pineapple snow, they don't look that appealing. Since people are more drawn to recipes that have a tasty-looking picture, (hence the current trend for overly large, overly expensive cookbooks with more photos than recipes) I get annoyed when I can't portray a dish in such a way as to make people want to try it.

Part of the reason why my dessert pictures have been so boring is that generally, I had to present them in plain glass mixing bowls, since I had nothing else suitable to put them in. So yesterday, when wandering around the annual Vintage Car Club swapmeet, Mum and I honed in on glass and crystal serving dishes. There were plenty available, as not many people are wanting that sort of thing these days. I ended up with two bowls, both of which would be suitable for flashing up my puddings a bit.

Naturally, I had to make use of at least one of them immediately. I had some cream left over from my green peppercorn sauce: exactly enough to make a half-recipe of easy chocolate mousse (p201).

I'd already made the liqueur variation, and I'd noted at the time that more chocolate would be an improvement. So I upped the quantity a bit as I placed the chocolate in a bowl over some boiling water to melt. When the chocolate had melted, I removed it from the heat and stirred in some egg yolks. This seemed to stiffen the consistency of the chocolate, but I hoped it would be ok as I beat it smooth in accordance with the instructions.

The next step was to whip the cream. I transferred the beaters directly from the chocolate to the cream, figuring that since they were going to be combined anyway, it wouldn't matter if a bit of chocolate got in the cream. Before long, the cream was whipped and I added the chocolate. It had stiffened up even more while I whipped the cream, and it didn't fold in very smoothly. The two mixtures combined eventually, but the mixture was still flecked with bits of chocolate that wouldn't combine.

 There was nothing much I could do about that. I moved onto the final step, beating some egg whites until stiff, then adding just enough sugar to make it glossy. I folded this into the chocolate mixture, and poured the mousse into one of my new serving dishes. As a final touch, I scattered grated chocolate over the top, and left it in the fridge to set.

Chocolate mousse is one of my favourite desserts, and this recipe doesn't disappoint. It's light and creamy, and chocolaty enough without being too rich. It's not a difficult dessert to make; all you need is an electric beater and a few bowls. And this time, I managed to make it look pretty too!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Very odd kisses

My baking container has been looking sadly empty since I finished the last of my tennis cake, so tonight I took the opportunity to refill it. It's been a while since I made any biscuits, so I decided to make some kisses (p41), one of several recipes that sandwich two shortbreadish biscuits together to make a whole.

The biscuits are made by creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs, then sifted flour, cornflour and baking powder. The recipe then instructs us to "drop small spoonfuls onto greased oven tray". Looking at my firm, sticky dough, I didn't think that was going to work. Anyway, I wanted my biscuits to be evenly-sized, so I decided to roll them into balls instead.

This turned out to be a bad idea. They didn't spread out at all in the cooking - they just swelled into little round puffballs, each with a slightly overcooked edge ringing each one. I think had I squashed the balls down they would have been fine, but I didn't want to make them too flat. Turns out I definitely had no need to worry on that score!

When the biscuits had cooled, I found that the little edges crumbled away easily and reasonably neatly. So I tidied up the edges of each biscuit and joined them in pairs with some of my homemade raspberry jam. The resulting 'kisses' were about the size (and not to dissimilar in shape) of a large egg.

So they look weird, but what do they taste like? Nice enough, but there's too much biscuit for the amount of jam. In fact, having puffed up so much, the double-barrelled biscuit is quite a lot to eat, and just ends up making your mouth feel dry.

If I made these again, I'd do a couple of things differently. Firstly, I'd make them smaller. Secondly, I'd make them flatter. Two little things, and it'd be a completely different biscuit.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Research before cooking

Green peppercorns: I'd never heard of them before coming across the Edmonds recipe for green peppercorn sauce (p186). Things like this are a worry to me, since if I haven't heard of them, I don't know where to shop for them. Do you get them dried, or fresh, or what?

On a recent visit to Bin Inn, I checked the peppercorns and found that while there was no separate bin for green peppercorns, there were green ones amongst the 'gourmet' peppercorn mix. I decided these must be the ones I was looking for, and stood there for quite a while, carefully picking out a tablespoon's-worth. Of course, when I took my purchases up to pay, the owner told me she actually has separate bags of green and red peppercorns behind the counter. Oh well.

This evening, having gathered the rest of the ingredients, I tried out the recipe. You start by melting butter, then add the peppercorns, along with cream, lemon juice, egg yolks, sour cream and mustard. I've just noticed that the recipe actually says 'prepared mustard'; I must have misread this, as I actually used mustard powder. Oops.

I let this mixture heat gently as I cooked my steak and sorted some veges and oven fries. The sauce thickened just as it was threatening to start boiling, so I took it off the heat while I finished the rest of my meal.

The sauce was creamy and tangy; on the whole quite tasty. It went well with the steak and was great for dipping chips in. The only thing about the sauce that didn't really work was the main ingredient, i.e. the peppercorns. I'd assumed they would soften up in the sauce, but really they were just fiery, peppery lumps in an otherwise nice sauce. I started to suspect that dried peppercorns, even if they are green in colour, are not what is intended for this recipe.

So I went to Google images and searched 'green peppercorns'. There were some dried green ones amongst the pictures, sure. But most of them looked like this:

That's right, I'm a muppet: seems I should have been looking for peppercorns bottled in brine. I guess I really should have consulted Google before heading to the shops. Lesson learnt? Who am I kidding: probably not!

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