Monday, March 26, 2012

Nice.. but at that price?

I started this blog in March 2010, which means we're currently in the third Bluff oyster season since the Edmonds Challenge began. During each of these I've thought to myself, week after week, "I must get some oysters before the season is over". But somehow I'd forget, or they didn't fit in the grocery budget, and before I knew it, the season would be over.

Now, I could have got different oysters, and did so for the one oyster recipe I have so far completed. But for fried oysters (p114), I really had to get the real deal: Bluff oysters, often touted as the best in the world. I have no idea whether that's true or not, but they're certainly in high demand.

So much so, in fact, that you're supposed to pay for them before the supermarket seafood counter will actually hand them over. Apparently there's been a bit of trouble with thieving. I must have an honest face, however, because they let me have mine straight off.

The recipe is for oysters coated in breadcrumbs and shallow-fried, though there's also a suggestion that battering and deep-frying would work (for those of us who are not hard-core raw oyster eaters). I drained the liquid from the oysters, and prepared three bowls - one of seasoned flour, one with a beaten egg, and a third with soft breadcrumbs.

While the oil was heating, I dipped the oysters in each of these bowls in turn, and as soon as the oil was hot enough, I dropped them in the pan, half a dozen at once. I'd estimate that it took about 30 seconds on each side for the crumb to go golden-brown, at which point I scooped them out and paced them on some kitchen towel to drain.

One dozen oysters didn't seem like much when they were packed into that little pottle. Once they were fried and piled on my plate, it suddenly seemed like an awful lot. They weren't likely to bear reheating, though, so I had no choice but to eat my way through them all.

I'm no oyster fan, but I have to say I enjoyed these, biting through the crunchy shell to the smooth, creamy oyster beneath (except for that rubbery bit. Are you supposed to cut that off? I wouldn't know). For those of you horrified at the sacrilege of frying oysters, the frying seemed to have served mostly to cook the outer crumb, and to warm the oysters through, without actually cooking them.

By the time I'd eaten about eight or so, the appeal had worn off. I've heard of people scoffing dozens of oysters at a sitting, but I think I'd have enjoyed my dozen oysters more if I'd split them into two meals. I'd say I'll do this next time, but I don't see myself frying oysters again in a hurry. They're really nice - it's just I'm not so enamoured of them that I'll be prepared to pay another $26 to get more.

Any of my readers who are prepared to pay that sort of price for a dozen oysters almost certainly already have their preferred way of eating them, so I don't expect too many people will be rushing to try this recipe as a result of my blog entry. On the other hand, if you happen to have acquired some oysters (Bluff or otherwise) and don't know what to do with them, I can recommend this as a very quick, easy and tasty option.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A loaf of 'bread'?

It's about time I got another 'scones, muffins and loaves' recipe done. With that in mind, I headed into the kitchen this afternoon to make a cheesy oat loaf (p26).

It's a high-fibre sort of thing: after beating together eggs, milk and oil, you add bran flakes, wholemeal flour, and rolled oats, along with cheese, a little sugar and salt, and baking powder sifted with white flour.You mix these ingredients together, spoon them into a loaf tin, put it in the oven, and forget about it for 50 minutes. Easy.

When the loaf came out of the oven, and had had 10 minutes sitting in the tin, I turned it out and cut myself a slice. Like most things, it tasted nicer warm than when it cooled. That's not to say it was bad, just a little bland. It wasn't exactly cheesy, either - but then again, I did use Edam instead of tasty cheese.

This is a loaf that's not meant to be eaten on its own: it's more like a thick, hearty bread. It'd be great with chutney and a slice of cheese (sounds like my lunch tomorrow is sorted) or used to wipe up the last drizzle of stew in your bowl.

So, like many things, it depends how you look at it. On its own, cheesy oat loaf is a bit boring. Use it as an accompaniment, and it's not only tasty, but satisfying and pretty good for you too.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Better luck next time

One night last week, (having acquired some extra eggs during a visit to Bex on the weekend) I turned to the eggs section of my Edmonds book. There were not many recipes left to choose from, so curried eggs (p95) was an easy selection.

It's really just hard-boiled eggs in a curry sauce, so I began by putting on some eggs to boil, while I made a start on chopping and cooking onions for the sauce. When the eggs were cooked, (in fact, a bit overcooked, as I discovered later) I set them aside to cool a bit so I could shell them without burning my hands.

The curry sauce is a basic white sauce with onions and curry added - you cook the onions first, then stir through curry powder, before the addition of flour and then milk, to make a sauce.

I accidentally allowed my sauce to thicken up a bit much - I was concentrating on getting the eggs shelled, halved and laid out in a dish. By the time the eggs were ready, the sauce was very thick and sort of went lumpy when I stirred it.

I attempted to pour my lumpy sauce over the eggs, but it was so thick I ended up kind of spooning it onto each of the eggs.

The result was extremely unappetising. I tried to think of something I could do to make my curried eggs a bit more appealing, and decided that serving them on a salad would improve both the appeal and the nutritional content of the meal.

It only took one taste for me to realise I'd forgotten to season the sauce. Considering it had a whole teaspoon of curry powder in it, the sauce was remarkably bland. I sprinkled extra salt and pepper on top of the eggs instead, achieving a considerable improvement in the flavour.

That's not to say it was a particularly enjoyable meal. If you took a mouthful that was mostly egg and salad, with only a bit of sauce, it was pleasant enough. I have to say that any enjoyment I got out of that meal was in spite of the sauce, not because of it.

It may be a bit unfair for me to criticise a recipe that was in many ways unsuccessful due to my own slip-ups. But even if I had made the sauce to a decent consistency, and had remembered to put seasoning in the sauce instead of on top of it, I still don't think I'd have liked it. Well, at least this recipe is going to have another chance to prove itself. The variation 'salmon curried eggs' is still on my 'to do' list. Let's hope I'm more successful with that one!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

All-Edmonds entertaining

I've never been in the habit of asking friends around for dinner - at my tiny little flat, it didn't seem very practical. Now that I have a dining table and a decent-sized living area, I can finally offer a meal to friends like Lauren and Tom, who have had me around for dinner more times than I can count.

Cooking for one has its benefits, but it does give me a tendency to flounder a bit when I'm providing a meal for others. I didn't want to be stressed out making what was supposed to be a casual dinner, so I selected my recipes carefully, and (most unusually) examined them carefully in advance, planning out the best way to get it all done.

The dishes I chose were pork fillet, Chinese style (p129) and Chinese stir-fry vegetables (p159) for a main, and fruit flan (p203) for dessert. I'd gone out and got the necessary ingredients in my lunch break, so I was in the kitchen as soon as I got home, making a start on the flan.

Ordinarily I'd make sweet short pastry myself, but I figured I had enough on my plate, so I just used the bought kind. The recipe is for a single 20cm round flan, but there's also a picture in the book of little mini ones made in patty tins. I decided to make a size somewhere between, lining four medium-sized tart tins with pastry and blind-baking them for about 15 minutes.

 While my flan bases were in the oven, I mixed up the marinade for my pork fillets, combining soy sauce, honey, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, spring onion, and red food colouring in a shollow dish. Then I just coated the fillets in this mixture, and placed the dish in the fridge.

The flan bases had come out of the oven looking golden-brown and tasty, so I put these on a wire rack to cool while I made up the custard filling, stirring a combination of milk, egg yolk, sugar and custard powder over a low heat until it thickened.

I wanted to get the flans out of the way, so I sat the saucepan full of custard in the sink, and surrounded it with cold water to cool the custard down more quickly. Meanwhile, I sorted out the glaze. This required a couple of spoonfuls of apricot jam, and a small amount of water, heated together and strained. I decided to use muslin to strain it, thinking this would save the hassle of cleaning a sticky sieve. The muslin, however, presented problems of its own,and I had jam all over the place before I was done. My advice: don't bother straining the glaze. It doesn't make enough difference to be worth the hassle.

By the time I'd cleaned up the apricotty spillage, both custard and bases were cooled and I was able to construct my flans. I filled each tart with custard, then arranged canned peach slices and grapes on top. Finally, I brushed the fruit and the edges of the pastry with my apricot glaze.

The finished flans were looking quite impressively delectable. Hoping that I would have equal success with my main, I turned my attention to the vegetables. I didn't intend to begin stir-frying until the meat was in the oven, but there was a lot to chop up, and I didn't want to be doing it last-minute. Chopping and slicing through the long list of vegetables, I separated the prepared vege into bowls, depending on which stage of the stir-frying they were to be added.

The first bowl had onions, carrots and cauliflower. The second: capsicum, courgette, beans and celery. A third bowl contained cabbage and bean sprouts for adding at the last minute.

The meat had been marinating for a couple of hours, so I drained off the marinade and placed the pork fillets on a tray over a roasting dish, ready to go in the oven. With all my preparations made, I had time to get a few dishes out of the way and tidy up the kitchen.

As soon as I received Lauren's text letting me know she and Tom were on their way, I got the meat in the oven and started heating oil in a large wok-style frying pan. I added the first bowl of veges along with a generous dollop of ginger (cheating with ginger from a jar again), and stirred to coat the veges in oil, before pouring in chicken stock and bringing to the boil.

After a few minutes, I added the next bowl of veges, and attempted to mix it through. The pork was looking better and better each time I took it out to baste, and the meal was almost ready by the time Lauren and Tom arrived. I just had to add the cabbage and sprouts - an addition which filled my pan almost to overflowing, and in taking too long carefully mixing it through the other ingredients, I slightly overcooked the cabbage.

The final addition to my stir-fry was a sprinkling of chicken stock powder and a dash of soy sauce, plus a garnish of chopped spring onions. I filled my serving bowl to the brim, and still had more left in the fry pan.

As I sliced the pork fillets, I realised why it's described as 'Chinese style': it looks exactly like the red-edged pork you get from a Chinese takeaway. In fact, the whole meal looked a bit like I'd picked it up at the local takeaway on the way home! Lauren and Tom were quite disappointed to find out that the mysterious redness of the marinade was created by something as banal as food colouring - they'd anticipated a more exotic ingredient.

The pork may have looked like a cheap takeaway, but it tasted a hundred times better. I couldn't get over how tender the meat was, and the marinade was full of flavour. The veges were pretty much your standard stir-fry, though I noticed the chicken stock (both powder and liquid) had added extra flavour, particularly to the otherwise bland cauliflower.

My pretty little flans were received with appreciative comments, and tasted as good as they looked. The pastry had somehow acquired a slight caramelised flavour, complementing the custard, which in turn contrasted nicely with the tang of the fruit topping. The only difficulty was that they were hard to eat with a cake fork - we ended up eating with our fingers.

I would definitely recommend you try the pork fillet, and though it's nothing spectacular, the stir-fry goes well with it, and is easily made in the 20 minutes it takes to cook the pork (assuming you've chopped your veges in advance). One word of warning: both recipes state that they feed 4-6. I think the pork would feed four comfortably, but not more, while the stir-fry vege recipe could more accurately read 'feeds 6-8'. Certainly the three of us didn't make much of a dent in it!

Fruit flans are another winner. Make one big one, several small ones, or a heap of bite-sized ones - any of these would be great. It's not difficult to do, and the result is quite impressive - just make sure you have a little time up your sleeve. If you wanted to speed up the process, pre-made tart shells would be a good way to go.

So that's one very successful dinner made entirely out of the Edmonds book. I wonder what I can make next time?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Showing off for the neighbour

Or ex-neighbour, actually: today my old neighbour Vera came to have a look around my new place. Since I love showing off my little house, I was more than happy to welcome her visit - and as an added bonus, it gave me an excuse to bake a cake for afternoon tea.

I chose Madeira cake (p51), so-called, I believe, because it is traditionally served with Madeira wine. Well, I didn't have any Madeira on offer: a cuppa would have to do.

Like most cakes, this recipe begins with creaming butter and sugar. Lemon zest is then stirred through the creamed mixture. Normally, you'd start beating in eggs at this point, but for this recipe, you actually beat the eggs in a separate bowl, sift the flour and baking powder in a third bowl, and add the eggs and dry ingredients alternately to the creamed mixture.

I'd prepared a 20cm cake tin, but shortly before spooning the mixture into it, I realised that the recipe actually said a square tin. I considered getting out a square one, but since the round one was right in front of me, I decided to go ahead and use it, placing the cake in the oven for 40 minutes, after which it came out a light golden brown and perfectly cooked.

Vera duly arrived and admired my new abode. We sat down to chat with a cuppa and a slice of Madeira cake each. It's a fairly plain sort of cake, much like a butter cake with a very subtle hint of lemon. It's soft, sweet, and pleasant to eat, but unfortunately quite forgettable.

I now find myself with three-quarters of a cake that will almost certainly dry out before I can eat much of it. I suspect it has custard in its future..

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tomato time

What with the grotty weather we had this Summer, tomatoes never got really cheap. But lately the price has come down enough for me to buy a couple of kilo so I can make tomato sauce (p234) and tomato puree (p233). I had originally planned to do only the sauce, but I figured I might as well get both out of the way at once.

The full tomato sauce recipe uses 3.5kg of tomatoes, along with 1kg of apples and 6 onions. I don't know about you, but I don't have a pot big enough for all that, so I went with a 1/3 recipe. Even then, I had to use my stock pot.

I chopped up the tomatoes, apples and onions, and put them in the pot with sugar, malt vinegar, cayenne pepper, and whole cloves, peppercorns and allspice tied up in a piece of muslin. I was surprised that there was no instruction to blanch and skin the tomatoes, or peel the apples. It meant less work, though, so I wasn't upset about it!

The sauce had to boil for a couple of hours, so while that was bubbling away, I prepared bottles and jars, then got on with the puree.

This time I did have to blanch and skin the tomatoes, before placing them in a pan with a little salt - no liquid. At first it looked like the tomatoes were just going to scorch, but before long, a surprising amount of liquid had seeped out of the tomatoes.

I cooked the tomatoes until they were pulpy, then took them off the heat and pressed the pulp through a sieve. This process was a bit of a faff, but it didn't take as long as I expected. After about ten minutes I had a pot of thin tomatoey liquid, which went back on the stove for another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I decided the sauce had boiled long enough, and began scooping it into a colander and pressing it through. The sieve was also an option in this recipe, but having just used it on the puree, I decided the colander would be easier, and would result in a thicker texture.

The colander picked up all the tomato skins and a few of the firmer bits of onion, leaving a thick brown sauce that I poured back into the pot to boil for a couple more minutes before I poured it into my collection of prepared bottles.

The puree had not noticeably reduced down, but I decided to continue with the recipe anyway, pouring the puree into a couple of jars, sealing the lids tight and processing them in a waterbath.

I'm not at all confident with the use of a waterbath. I'd only attempted it once previous to tonight, at which time I made a total hash of it. I scanned through the waterbath instructions in the preserving chapter, and got on with it. The puree had only filled up two jars, which I placed in a saucepan filled with water. The instructions said the water should cover the jars, but it was too shallow for the taller jar, so I tipped it over and hoped the water wouldn't leak in.

After 15 minutes in the boiling waterbath, I took the jars out. I don't really know how to tell if I've been successful, but they seem to have sealed, which is a good start. Of course, now I'll have to find a use for two jars of watery tomato puree..

As for the sauce: it seemed to be a good consistency, but I'll have to wait a week or two and see how the flavour develops. At present, it's a bit vinegary. I'll let you know how it tastes a few weeks down the track - but for now, I have a tomato-splattered kitchen to clean and a pile of sticky dishes to wash!

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