Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Leftovers for lunch

I haven't been doing much cooking lately - mostly I throw together a salad when dinner time rolls around, which is fine, but doesn't make for much in the way of leftovers, and I've always been in the habit of taking leftovers to work for lunch. Result: I've been buying lunch far too often.

It even got to the point where I'd actually written "make something for dinner which will have leftovers" on Sunday's 'to do' list. Of course, since I didn't actually refer to the list during the day, merely checking it that night to see how much I could cross off, nothing ever got made.

Finally, I got out my Edmonds book at work yesterday, selected a fairly easy-looking recipe - ginger beef stir-fry (p149), and headed to Pak N Save on my way home to pick up the ingredients.

This stir fry uses skirt steak, a cut I haven't bought before, but actually seems ideal for stir-frying. It's a cheaper cut, and you'll find that the pack recommends slow cooking, but since you're slicing it thinly across the grain, it really does not have the chewiness that you'd expect from a cheap cut of meat.

Those thin strips of skirt steak go in a bowl to marinate in a little oil, soy sauce and grated ginger. This takes about half an hour, during which I chopped up my peppers and spring onions, and stirred together a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, cornflour, sugar and beef stock to make a sauce.

I admit I skimped on the marinating time a bit - I was hungry, so I only gave it about 20 minutes before pulling the meat out of the fridge, and stir-frying it in two batches. Setting the meat aside, I added my veges to the pan, and briefly stir-fried those before pouring in my sauce mixture. After a minute or two, the sauce began to thicken, so I added the meat back in, stirred it through, and the stir-fry was done.

The recipe doesn't include rice or noodles, but I cooked up some egg noodles and added those as well.  So with very little time or effort, I now had a decent meal on my hands, and - importantly - more than enough to provide me with leftovers for lunch.

Stir-fries are a basic component of most people's cooking repertoires these days - with good reason. They're quick and easy, and you can stretch a small amount of meat quite a long way by slicing it thinly. I admit I have never been good at just throwing them together, though, and this recipe would be useful for those like me who prefer to use something as a guide.

It's a pretty good stir-fry: the meat is beautifully tender, and the sauce has just the right quantity and consistency to coat the veges (and my added noodles) without actually drowning everything. I'll be making this one again.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

And no burnt bottom!

It must be a pretty good year for apricots. Last Summer, apricot prices never got very low, and those that were available were of quite a low standard. This year, there's a lot of nice-looking apricots around, and, while supermarket prices haven't dropped much at this stage, I've seen them priced below $2/kilo in several fruit and vege shops.

As you may have guessed, the reason I was keeping such a close eye on apricot prices is that I had apricot jam (p225) to make. The full recipe requires 2.75kg of apricots, and while I only ever intended to make a half-mix, it was still going to be a bit costly unless the prices came down.

Anyway, I stopped at one of the aforementioned fruit and vege shops last weekend and got a couple of kilo of apricots. They were quite under-ripe at the time, so I decided to leave my jam-making for a few days. As it turned out, I had quite a crazy week, and didn't get around to making jam until yesterday.

The apricots had matured nicely during the week; some had even grown up so much they were sprouting beards. I didn't need all 2kg though, and once I'd biffed out all the nasty ones, I had exactly the right amount for my half-recipe.

Having halved and stoned the apricots, I grabbed my hammer and broke open half a dozen of the stones. This bit was quite fun, but some of the stones stubbornly resisted my hammer and others sent shards flying all over the kitchen. In the end, though, I had the apricot kernels I needed.

I transferred the apricots to a large pot with some water and the apricot kernels, then placed it over a low heat until the apricots got pulpy. At this stage I added a huge amount of sugar, (the full recipe has twelve cups of sugar. Twelve!!) stirred it through the apricot pulp, and gradually brought the jam to the boil.

For the next half an hour, I allowed the jam to boil (checking frequently that it wasn't burning on the bottom, previous jam-making experience having made me somewhat paranoid) while I cleaned and sterilised some jars.

After 30 minutes, I tested the jam for setting point, and it looked like it'd be ok. I hadn't had a chance to let the jars cool down before filling them, though, and the jam sizzled and fizzed as I ladelled it into the hot jars, only just remembering to remove the apricot kernels before they got bottled with the jam.

I had some of my jam on toast this afternoon, and I'm quite pleased with it. It's a bit runny, perhaps - I've never quite got the hang of judging setting point - but it has such a beautifully rich apricot flavour: better than the average bought jam, that's for sure!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

One Summer Saturday

For several years now, Lauren and I have been planning to go berry picking one weekend. The problem is that berry picking is only an available activity for a few short weeks during the Summer, and generally these pass us by before we've even thought of going.

This weekend we'd finally made plans to go. The weather was looking dodgily changeable, but we decided that if we put it off, we'd never end up going. As luck would have it, the weather made its mind up and came out sunny, at least long enough for us to do our raspberry picking and follow it up with a cuppa and cake.

I'd already decided to use some of my berries for another activity I'd mentally set aside for a nice Summer's day: making ice cream. The Edmonds recipe is for a plain ice cream, but there is a list of suggestions for flavouring, among which is the addition of pureed berries.

Ice cream is actually pretty simple - all you need is a good electric beater. I started mine off in my large mixer, but since I had to beat several things in separate bowls, I ended up using my hand-held beater. Another time I'd just use the beater for everything.

The first step is to beat the egg whites until stiff, then gradually add in castor sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Next, beat the egg yolks - also with castor sugar - until thick and pale, then fold into the egg whites. The mixture already looks (and tastes) really nice at this stage, but there's one more thing to add: cream, beaten until thick and folded through the egg mixture.

This is the basic ice cream recipe, but I wanted to make use of some of my berries. I measured out a generous cupful, then squished them up with a potato masher and folded the puree through my ice cream.

My mouth was already watering and I hadn't even frozen it down yet! I poured my not-yet-ice cream into a shallow dish and placed it in the freezer. The freezing-down time is two hours, but when I checked it at this point, only the surface had frozen. After about three or four, it was firmer, but still quite gooey in the centre.

I didn't want to wait any longer, so I scooped out a serving, added a generous handful of fresh berries, and had a taste. It was delicious: sweet, creamy and subtly fruity. There was a hint of iciness around any larger chunks of berry, but overall, it was very, very tasty.

Overnight, the ice cream froze down completely, and I'm sorry to say it's become very icy, much like bought ice cream that has been partially defrosted, then refrozen. It's not the end of the world, of course: I'll just have to partially defrost each serving to that gooey, creamy stage before I eat it.

Perhaps that's the reason why the freezing-down time was only two hours in the recipe - maybe it's not supposed to get to that firm texture of bought ice cream. Don't let this put you off making this recipe, because it really is delicious. I'd just recommend putting it in the freezer about three or four hours before you intend to serve it - and don't be surprised if the leftovers end up going a bit icy.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Not the 1998 way

In the midst of yesterday's howling Nor'Wester, I barricaded myself inside and headed into the kitchen to whip up a refreshing summer dessert: orange and lemon pudding (p204).

I began by mixing the gelatine with a little water, and leaving it to swell while I separated some eggs and beat the yolks with lemon and orange juice, and a little sugar. By the time I'd done this, the gelatine had swelled, and I dissolved the rest of the gelatine in boiling water, and added this to the yolk and juice mixture.

Next, I beat egg whites until stiff, and attempted to fold the whites into the yolk mixture. I ran across two problems here: firstly, with my usual lack of forethought, I'd used my smallest bowl for the yolks, not realising that the entire mixture would end up in there as well - it was full enough to make folding difficult.

My second problem had to do with the consistency of the mixtures. With the addition of a full cup of water (albeit gelatine-enriched) to a mixture that was already predominantly juice, the yolk mixture was extremely runny - like water in fact. How you're supposed to fold a water-thin liquid through egg whites is a bit of a mystery.

I had a go anyway, succeeding in turning the egg-whites a sort of yellowy colour, but not in actually combining the two mixtures. Glancing over the recipe again, I noted that the 'fold-in' instruction was followed by a seemingly contradictory direction to 'mix well'. Hmm. Well, folding hadn't done any good. I got out a wooden spoon and beat as hard as I could, but to no avail. Finally, I got my electric beater out again, and applied it to the stubbornly split mixture.

With this, I was able to briefly combine the two mixtures, but as soon as I poured it into a bowl, the liquid sank to the bottom again, leaving a furry-looking layer of egg-white on the top. Sighing, I placed the bowl in the fridge to set, figuring maybe it was supposed to be in two layers like that.

A couple of hours later, I spooned some out and had a taste (you're actually supposed to set it in a mould, but I don't have one, and anyway the soft fluffy stuff would get squished when I turned it out). The bottom layer was like very thick, very strongly citrus-flavoured jelly. The fluffy bit tasted like nothing at all. It wasn't exactly unpleasant, but then again, it wasn't terribly pleasant either.

I'm sure that something went wrong with this pudding, but I've read the recipe several times, and I know I followed it correctly. Perhaps there's an instruction missing somewhere - often this sort of pudding requires that you partially set the gelatine mixture before beating it up and folding it into the egg whites, but this one did not have this step.

I've just checked an older version of this recipe (1976 edition, purchased at Riccarton Market last Sunday) which doesn't have the above step either, but seems to have considerably less liquid. So if you want to try making an orange and lemon pudding, maybe try it the 1976 way!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Getting around to it

You'll have noticed that I haven't been very conscientious in pursuing my Edmonds Challenge over the past few weeks. Ever since I shifted into my new house, there haven't been enough hours in the day to get everything done. I expect this will settle down somewhat once I've finally got everything unpacked and organised to my satisfaction, so just bear with me in the meantime.

It was actually several days ago that I found spare half hour to make some sultana biscuits (p35), but I've been so busy since, that this is the first chance I've had to write it up. Well, perhaps I might have found the time, but my current computer setup is a low deck chair in front of an old coffee table. It's quite uncomfortable, so the idea of sitting here long enough to write a blog entry is not terribly appealing. 'Computer desk' is quite high on my list of required furniture.

Sultana biscuits are a variation of the basic biscuit recipe. It's very easy - the biscuits are made with the same old 'cream butter and sugar; beat in eggs then add dry ingredients' method. All you do is add sultanas into the creamed mixture.

For some variations of the basic biscuits, I've recommended rolling the dough and using a cookie cutter, but this isn't really going to work for sultana biscuits. For these, I went with what it actually says in the recipe, i.e. roll into balls and press with a floured fork.

The recipe has a cooking time of 12 minutes. I checked mine after 10, and they were already golden-brown - in fact, a little overdone. I put the next tray in for 9 minutes, and turned the heat down slightly. These came out only slightly golden, which is what I was looking for.

This recipe tastes pretty much as you would expect: it's a pleasant sweet biscuit with sultanas in it. It's not fancy, but it's easy to make, doesn't take very long, and is comprised of ingredients you'd likely already have in the pantry. In my book, that adds up to a pretty good recipe.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Salad in a hurry

I've had a busy time this weekend; Mum and Dad have been visiting to get a bit more work done on the house. I knew I had a barbecue to go to today, but somehow it crept up on me anyway. I found myself rushing to the supermarket this morning, to get what I needed for a carrot salad (p176), which I had just enough time to throw together before heading down to Rakaia for Richard's birthday barbecue.

There aren't many recipes left to do in the salad chapter. I'd been putting off making carrot salad, because for some reason it never seemed that appealing. Still, since Bex had specified "not potato or green salad", this seemed just the thing.

It only took a few minutes to put the salad together. It would be slower if you didn't have a food processor, which sped up the grating of carrot and cheese considerably. The salad is just a mixture of grated carrot, cheese, sultanas, roasted peanuts, and plain unsweetened yoghurt. You just mix that all up and chill it for a while.

Of course, mine didn't get much chilling down time, as I very soon departed for Rakaia, leaving my hard-working parents busily sanding and painting in my absence.

Though I didn't originally like the idea of this salad, I found it very tasty when I actually tried it. The peanuts are great for both flavour and texture, and the yoghurt and sultanas prevent the cheese/carrot mixture from being too similar to a basic coleslaw. I suppose a lot of people wouldn't like the sultanas, but I found the odd burst of sweetness quite pleasant. If you don't like them, just leave them out.

Owing to the usual oversupply of food at Richard's birthday lunch, I wound up taking home about half my salad. That was ok, though, because Mum, Dad and I ate the rest with our dinner this evening.

From not liking the concept of this salad at all, I've gone to thinking of it as something tasty and different I might make from time to time. So I guess the moral of this story is 'don't knock it till you've tried it'.

Monday, January 2, 2012

'Chinese' New Year

I had a barbecue to go to on New Year's Eve, so I had to think of something Edmonds to bring. There really aren't any recipes left in the meat or poultry sections that would be suitable for a barbecue, so I decided it would be a good chance to tick off one of the marinades.

So I went to the supermarket in search of meat to marinade, and ended up bringing home a large pack of chicken nibbles: the marinade I'd selected was Chinese marinade (p190), a honey/soy type of thing that I thought would go quite well with the chicken.

An hour or two before heading away to the barbecue, I combined sherry, honey, soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a ziplock bag (it says to use a bowl in the recipe, but I find a bag is easier and less messy) added the chicken nibbles and closed the bag up, moving the contents around until all the chicken nibbles were coated with marinade.

The best thing about bringing meat to someone else's barbecue is that you seldom have to cook it yourself. Nick took charge of the barbie, and, on top of cooking all the rest of the meat beautifully, did an excellent job of getting my nibbles to the point of golden, sticky deliciousness.

Naturally, the barbecue cooking had a lot to do with making the nibbles so tasty - you can't duplicate that flavour in an oven - but the marinade seemed to have done the job quite well too. The soy and ginger flavour was there, but not overpowering. I think this is a good one to use on chicken, especially if you're going to barbecue it.

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