Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One more batch for Vera

I'm moving house this weekend, having finally managed to purchase a place of my own. I'll miss the cosy little flat I've lived in for the past seven years, though I'm looking forward to having a larger kitchen!

Another thing I'll miss is my lovely neighbour Vera. I've often made scones for her as a thank-you for looking after Moby when I've been away. So I decided it'd be nice to make one more batch for her before I leave. Vera claims that she's no good at making scones herself, though I've always made Edmonds scones (p32) and found they  work every time.

Scones seem to be my default setting - I reverted to scones after each of the major earthquakes we've had since last September, and it seems quite appropriate to be marking a major change in my life with a batch of scones - my last Edmonds dish before becoming a homeowner!

Probably the reason I fall back on scones so often is that they are so quick and easy to make. You just sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, rub in butter and mix with milk. When you've got a nice firm dough, knead it very briefly, then shape and cut into scones. Lastly, just brush them with milk and bung them in the oven for ten minutes.

You can have hot, fresh scones on the table about 15-20 minutes after first opening your Edmonds book: it's that quick. This particular batch came out very well - soft and fluffy, with no trace of the dense centre that you sometimes get if the scones are slightly underdone. I took them over to Vera, who was delighted to be presented with a batch of scones totally out of the blue.

So over the next week or so I'll be shifting. The next entry you see will be a dish made in my new red kitchen, in my very own house! I only hope my new neighbours are as nice as Vera!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Insipid curry

Today's pouring rain and chilly Southerly was wintery enough to make me choose something warm and filling for dinner - like a chicken curry (p137).

This recipe probably dates from a time before homemade or pre-packaged curry pastes were widespread in New Zealand: no carefully balanced spices here, just good old-fashioned curry powder. For this reason, I wasn't expecting anything spectacular, just a basic homely meal - and there's nothing wrong with that.

I started by cooking onion, garlic, and crushed ginger in a little oil. Since I wanted to add more veges if possible, I also chopped up some celery and added this to the onion. I let this mixture soften over a low heat until the onion was cooked, then I stirred through curry powder, then added chicken stock and chopped chicken breast.

I needed to bring the curry to the boil, but there didn't seem to be much liquid for the amount of chicken. I sloshed a bit more stock in and turned the heat up. Once I had it boiling, I turned it down again and let the curry simmer for half an hour while I sorted out some rice and veges.

At the end of this cooking time, the curry wasn't looking too appealing. The sauce was thin, watery (more so than could be explained by that small amount of extra stock) and sort of split and curdled-looking. I figured I'd missed something in the recipe, since I'd been participating in a pointless telephone survey while I was adding the final ingredients - perhaps I was supposed to stir flour through with the curry powder to thicken the sauce? But no, there's nothing in this curry for thickening. For once, I hadn't missed anything in the recipe.

I gamely spooned some of my curry over rice and had a taste. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those times when something looks bad but tastes good. It looked bad and didn't taste very good either. The chicken was dry and overcooked, and the only flavour in the sauce was very obviously of curry powder and not much else. Actually, I couldn't even finish it.

It's probably possible to make a decent meal with this recipe as a base. Not an authentic curry, but a basic old-school version. You'd want to add something to thicken the sauce, and either cook it less or use a cut of chicken less prone to drying out. Careful seasoning might improve the flavour, and additional veges would make it both healthier and more appealing. So really, if you're going to use this recipe, I'm actually recommending you practically rewrite it. Will I be bothering to try this one again? In a word: nope.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Family dinner

I've just returned from a family trip to Queenstown. With five of us there, I decided it would be a good chance to make one of the dishes that are less suitable for a single person: apricot-stuffed forequarter (p123). So I stayed behind last night as the others went off for a swim, working in the kitchen to have dinner ready when they got back.

I didn't actually use forequarter; since I didn't know of a butcher in Queenstown, I had to rely on what was available in the local New World. There were no boned lamb forequarters, so I ended up with a couple of boned shoulder roasts instead.

The unit we were staying in in Frankton is well-supplied with basic kitchen utensils, but I guess they don't anticipate that you'll be cooking big roast dinners while you're on holiday, so I didn't have all the equipment I'd have had at home.

This didn't present any major difficulties, though. I prepared some veges, placed them in an assortment of dishes, and got them into the oven to begin roasting. This done, I turned to the apricot stuffing.

It's a very simple stuffing - just breadcrumbs, chopped dried apricots and a little grated ginger. It would have taken only a few moments if I'd had my food processor, but even using a grater for the breadcrumbs and chopping the apricots with kitchen scissors, it didn't take too long to mix up.

Since there's no egg or anything to bind the stuffing mixture, I wondered how well it would hold together. It seemed ok though, as I opened up the shoulder roasts and spread the apricot mixture over, before rolling the roasts up like a sponge roll and tying them in place with string.

I've never been very good at any kind of cooking that requires you to be tie things up in neat little parcels. I'm not really sure of the proper way to do it, so I just kept adding more string until my roasts looked reasonably tidy and likely to hold together.

I placed each roast in an oven bag, (to avoid dirtying an oven I had no intention of cleaning) and placed them on a tray in the oven, rearranging the various veges to make everything fit, and turning the temperature down to 160 degrees.

The recipe indicates a one-hour cooking time for a 1kg forequarter roast. I had two shoulder roasts, one around 700g, one about 850g. I figured cooking them for an hour would probably be long enough.

By the time my hour was up, everyone was back from the pool and very hungry. I placed the roast vege on the table and began slicing the larger of the two roasts. The end pieces were just slightly pink, and as I cut further into the roast, (completely mutilating it with a crappy knife) the lamb became pinker and pinker. I like a little pink on my lamb, but the centre was still raw. I put this piece aside to go back in the oven.

The second roast was edible right through - though a bit pink for Dad's liking - so only the very centre of the larger roast went back in the oven. The rest I sawed into rough pieces as best I could and piled it onto a plate for everyone to help themselves.

My dinner was a mixed success really. Everyone was happy enough with their meal, but the vegetables were not particularly successful, having been cooked at a much lower heat than usual, and the potatoes in particular were very dry. As for the meat: pieces of it were very good, but not all of it. The cut I got seemed to be a bit gristly, so some of what was on my plate wasn't that pleasant. Any pieces without the gristle were moist and delicious, and the apricot stuffing was very tasty.

If you're going to have a go at this one, get the right cut of meat (you might have to go to the butcher for it). The rarer pieces of meat were nicest, in my opinion, but that's a matter of taste, so adjust the cooking time to suit what you like. Mine was well-done on the outside and underdone in the middle - I suppose at least that way you can accommodate everyone's preferences!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nutty golden tastiness

Time to fill the biscuit tins again - this time it's nutty golden cookies (p42).

You start by melting butter and golden syrup in a saucepan (or bowl in the microwave, if you prefer), then adding sugar and vanilla. When this mixture has cooled down a bit, stir in beaten egg.

The next step is to sift flour, baking powder and custard powder into a separate bowl, and add it to the melted butter mixture alternately with the nuts. You could chop up your own nuts for this, but I just used a couple of 70g packets of pre-chopped nuts. They're cheap as chips and are definitely easier to use. Of course, if you want larger chunks of peanuts in your biscuits, you might have to chop your own.

When the dry ingredients and all the nuts are mixed in, the resulting soft, sticky dough is so tasty that I couldn't stop myself from sampling the odd bit as I was rolling the mixture into balls and pressing them down with a fork. For a change, this recipe actually made exactly as many biscuits as the recipe stated - I must have made them exactly the right size.

The biscuits came out golden and extremely appetising. They're surprisingly soft in texture, with crunchy pieces of nut scattered throughout. Very tasty hot from the oven, and just as nice once they've cooled down. Simple, tasty and fast to make: have a go at this one next time your biscuit tin is empty.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

From two eggs

I had a barbecue to go to on Saturday evening, and decided that instead of bringing a salad - which was my first idea - it might be a good idea to take a dessert. Choosing citrus bavarian cream (p202) meant that I'd have a couple of egg whites left over. My knee-jerk response in this situation is to make meringues, but after a quick flick through the pastry chapter, I found another option: coconut macaroons, (p82) a recipe which conveniently requires two egg whites.

I decided to get the macaroons out of the way first. Taking out a sheet of flaky puff pastry, I cut out 6cm rounds and placed them in greased patty tins. Onto each pastry round I spooned a small amount of raspberry jam (the last of my home-made Edmonds raspberry! It's been so useful, I'll have to make some more!) before preparing the meringue topping.

I separated my eggs, setting the yolks aside for the bavarian cream. The whites I beat to soft peaks before folding in coconut, sugar and almond essence. I spooned the egg white mixture into the patty tins, and got them into the oven.

While the macaroons were cooking, I made a start on the bavarian cream, beating the yolks with sugar, and stirring in milk. This mixture I placed over a pot of water in 'double boiler' style, and stood stirring until the mixture thickened.

That was the plan, anyway. I'd hoped to have the custard mixture cooling in the fridge by the time the macaroons came out of the oven. As it happened, the macaroons took only about 20 minutes to cook, as opposed to the 35 indicated in the recipe, so I found myself simultaneously attempting to pry stuck-on macaroons out of patty tins with a spoon while at the same time keeping an eye on the custard.

It took a while to get the macaroons out, but the custard still hadn't thickened by the time I had finished. I stood stirring for a while longer before finally deciding it was probably about as thick as it was going to get. During this time, I'd also had some gelatine swelling in water on the bench. I placed this bowl over some hot water to dissolve the gelatine, then combined it with the custard mixture.

The custard mixture was in the fridge for around an hour before I considered it to have the desired 'egg-white consistency' and moved on to the next step. I beat some cream and added grated orange zest. then I added the custard mixture and folded it through. I was actually supposed to do this the other way around - folding the cream into the custard - but the cream was in a bigger bowl.

I poured the resulting creamy mixture into a serving bowl and put it into the fridge to set, crossing my fingers that it would work ok. Meanwhile, I cut up the oranges I'd used for zest into segments. A few hours later, when the bavarian cream was looking a bit more solid, I used the orange segments to decorate the top.

My desserts went down very well with those assembled for the barbecue. Despite eating largely from the usual surfeit of food that attends these occasions, everyone still had room for a bit of citrus bavarian cream and a macaroon, before we headed down to the beach to watch the fireworks.

The macaroons were an undoubted success. They're very light, but have a surprising sort of chewyness which is very appealing, and the fruity jam keeps the coconut meringue from being too sickly. These are well worth the minimal effort of making them, and I'll definitely be making more next time I have some excess egg whites. Just make sure you grease those patty tins thoroughly, because the only difficulty with making these is getting them out of the tin!

I was less satisfied with my citrus bavarian cream. It tasted nice - sort of creamy and orangey, as you would expect - but the custard and the cream had not combined properly. Mostly, the custard had settled to the bottom of the dish, meaning you get a mouthful of orange-flavoured cream with the odd lump of custard in it. Taste-wise, it was ok, but texturally, not awesome. Perhaps I should have been more patient at the double-boiler stage.

I doubt anyone but myself had any complaints about the bavarian cream though - both desserts seemed to be enjoyed by all - and that's all that matters!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Blood drive rolls around again

There was another blood drive in Hornby today, and as usual, I took some baking in to make sure my workmates had something to eat before donating. This time I chose to make jaffa cupcakes (p72).

These cupcakes are from the 'baking with Edmonds' section, i.e they're a sort of cheats' version using an Edmonds chocolate cake mix. I decided to take that 'cheat' one step further and use a cake mix that also had an icing sachet, meaning I wouldn't have to make my own icing either.

To make the cupcakes, I put the cake mix in my mixer with some orange zest, butter, water and eggs. After a couple of minutes' beating, I was ready to start filling up my cupcake cases. The previous cupcakes I've made very small, because I like things bite-size. This time I decided to go for a more standard patty-tin size, slightly smaller than a medium-sized muffin. The cake mix made a full 30 cupcakes of this size, instead of the 16 indicated, so clearly you're supposed to use even larger cases.

I put my 30 cupcakes on a rack to cool while I sorted out my icing. It turned out the icing sachet didn't really make all that much, so I padded it out a bit with extra icing sugar and cocoa. Even then, I didn't have much icing to work with, and having used up the last cup or so of icing sugar, I couldn't make any more.
I definitely didn't have enough to pipe icing on to all those cupcakes. Anyway, I'd run out of piping bags, so I ended up topping each cupcake with about a teaspoon-worth of icing, which when spread around, was sufficient. There wasn't quite enough to ice all of them though - about 6 were left over.
I'd decided it would look quite cool if I decorated my cupcakes with broken jaffas, (not my own idea; something I'd seen at a cupcake shop somewhere) so I opened up a packet and smashed them up a handful at a time in the pestle and mortar. Sprinkled on top of the icing, the jaffas really made the cupcakes look great.
My jaffa cupcakes didn't just look delicious, they tasted great too. I've been a bit harsh about cake mix-based recipes in the past, but in this case I can clearly see that it's worthwhile. My previous cupcakes have been merely a vehicle for the icing, in themselves a bit dry and tasteless. Being made from a cake mix, the jaffa muffins are quite different: moist and tasty even without the icing. There's a subtle jaffa flavour from the orange zest, echoed by those crunchy jaffas on the top.
The success of this recipe has me wanting to find a way of making my cupcakes moist and flavoursome without resorting to packet mixes. Perhaps the trick is to adapt a cake recipe? I'll have to do a bit of experimenting.

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