Monday, April 30, 2012

Unwarranted dismissal

There's seldom any point in cooking a roast for one - except if you need to tick gravy (p121) and Yorkshire pudding (p132) off a list of completed recipes!

I got a small rolled beef roast and bunged it in the oven with various veges. Meanwhile, I mixed up the batter for the Yorkshire pudding. It's very like a pancake batter: a simple mixture of flour, salt, egg, milk and water. I mixed these to a smooth batter and put it in the fridge to chill.

An hour later, the meat was looking pretty well cooked, but the veges were nowhere near done. I put the meat aside to rest, transferred the veges to a different dish, and placed the roasting dish on top of an element to heat up the fat and meat juices for my gravy.

I also had to make a start on my yorkshire pudding. This was supposed to be made as a single large pudding in the roasting dish, then cut into pieces. As I was already using the dish for gravy, I elected to make individual puddings in muffin trays instead.

I scooped a small amount of dripping into three sections of the muffin tray (half recipe = 3 puddings). The recipe merely states 'fat'; whether this is also supposed to be run off from the roast or not, I'm not sure - I just got a pottle of dripping from the supermarket. It's possible oil would work too.

The muffin tray then went into the oven for the fat to heat up. When the fat was spitting hot, I poured the batter into the trays and bunged it back into the oven.

The roasting dish soon heat up on the element, and I scattered flour around the dish, stirring it to brown over the heat. Unfortunately, all that happened was the flour soaked up the liqud in the dish and became a thick paste. Undaunted, I proceeded to the next step, gradually adding water and stirring frantically to prevent lumps.

The options for liquid in the gravy recipe were water or stock. I'd chosen water, but my gravy seemed to be a bit flavourless, so I bunged in a bit of beef stock powder to help it along. Before long, my gravy was thick enough, so I seasoned it and poured it into a jug. I hadn't managed to avoid the lumps - what with chunky bits from the roasting dish and lumps from the flour, it was probably the lumpiest gravy I'd ever seen! But it tasted ok, and that's the main thing.

By the time the veges and Yorkshire puds came out of the oven, the gravy was done and the meat was well rested. It had, in fact, turned out to be considerably rarer than I realised when I took it out of the oven. Never mind, that's not the recipe I'm writing about here.

The gravy was good, but you need to either use stock or add plenty of seasoning to prevent it being bland. And use whatever trick you can to keep the lumps out - I certainly don't seem to have any luck with that!

As for the Yorkshire puddings, I'm really taken with these. They're light and fluffy, not nearly as greasy as you might expect from being cooked in fat (actually, most of the fat seems to have stayed behind in the bottom of the muffin tins) and absolutely perfect for soaking up gravy - lumpy or otherwise.

I noticed while perusing the most recent Edmonds edition, that Yorkshire pudding is no longer in the book. I have to admit that had I not been doing this challenge, I probably would have lived my life without ever trying a Yorkshire pudding. Now that I have, I can only wonder why, with far more mediocre recipes to choose from, the publishers have chosen to take this one out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A quick post for a quick recipe

I occasionally get tired of my daily porridge, so it's a good idea to have some natural muesli (p156) in the pantry for when I feel like something different.

This muesli could not be easier to make: you just put everything in a bowl, mix it together, and it's ready to eat. The ingredients are rolled oats, bran flakes, coconut, dried fruit, nuts and brown sugar. The result will reflect individual tastes by the choice of fruit and nuts - I went mad at the bulk bins and have a variety of stuff in mine, but good ol' sultanas and walnuts from the pantry would do the job as well.

So that's it - spend a couple of minutes mixing a few basic ingredients together, and you've got yourself a tasty breakfast. Go on, give it a go!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In a pickle

I arrived back from Akaroa last weekend with a bagful of tomatoes from Mum's garden, including a number of green ones suitable for making mustard pickle (p231).

It took me a few days to accumulate the other ingredients, but finally I was ready to make a start. The vegetables for the pickle have to soak in salted water overnight, so I chopped up the tomatoes, and placed them in a bowl along with chopped cucumber, cauliflower florets and pickling onions. The recipe didn't specify that the onions should be chopped, so I just left them whole, and covered the lot with salted water.

The following evening, I put some jars in the oven to sterilise, drained the water off the veges, and got a large saucepan out to finish the pickle. Into the pan went flour, mustard powder, turmeric, cayenne pepper and sugar, along with enough malt vinegar to make a paste. When I had a smooth paste I gradually added more vinegar, and put the pan on the heat.

When the mustardy mixture had boiled and thickened, I added the vegetables (I'd changed my mind and chopped the onions into quarters - the whole ones were just too big), and allowed the pickle to boil until the veges were heated through. When this was done, I packed the pickle into some of my prepared jars, and sealed them. I'd only made one-quarter of the full recipe, but the two largish jars this made will be more than enough for my needs.

The pickle has a fairly strong flavour - tangy, but with a slight spicy kick. You wouldn't want to eat too much of it in one sitting, perhaps: a small amount goes a long way. I also think it might work well added to casseroles and the like for extra flavour.

Compared to the various other chutneys and relishes I've made, mustard pickle was almost ridiculously easy. It doesn't require long boiling, just enough to heat through. Mine was very chunky, but I quite like it like that. If you don't want it so chunky, just chop the veges smaller.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Getting creative

Earlier in this challenge, I managed to tick off quite a few pastry recipes by using them as required in other Edmonds recipes. With fewer to choose from now, it's not as easy to do it that way - I have to come up with my own uses for the remaining pastry recipes.

With this in mind, I decided to get a little creative last night and tidy up a few extraneous recipes. I figured I could make some mini quiche type things with a base of cheese pastry (p79), topped with sliced courgette and white sauce (p188).

To make the pastry, I sifted together flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne pepper, rubbed in butter and stirred through cheese. I carefully measured most of these ingredients for a half recipe, but when it came to the cheese, I just grated some over the bowl. It's quite deceptive how much you're grating, and I definitely added too much.

Adding just enough milk to mix, I attempted to combine the crumbly mixture into a dough. It took a bit of kneading and about twice the suggested amount of milk, but that was probably the result of the additional cheese. Once I had the dough in a smooth-looking ball, I started rolling it out. It did not roll very easily, but eventually I had three tart dishes lined and a small amount of leftover pastry cut into strips to make cheese sticks.

While my pastry bases were baking blind, I prepared some cheesy stuffed tomatoes (p165) to eat with the quiches. I scooped out the innards of some tomatoes, and combined the flesh with chopped spring onion, soft breadcrumbs, basil, cheese and seasoning. This mixture I then spooned back into the tomato shells, ready for baking.

When the pastry had blind baked, I allowed it to cool slightly, then topped each pastry base with slices of courgette. Next, I made up a white sauce, combining flour with melted butter in a saucepan, and slowly adding milk. A bit of seasoning, and my white sauce was ready to pour over the courgette.

The tomatoes and mini quiches were in the oven for about 12 minutes. After I'd taken the tomatoes out, I stuck the quiches under the grill for a couple of minutes to brown the topping a bit. With a handful of green beans gathered from the garden and briefly steamed, my meal was ready.

My little quichey thingies were reasonably successful. The pastry was crisp and deliciously cheesy: you'd hardly believe that I hadn't put any cheese in the filling. The white sauce worked quite well to bond everything together, though I think I could have done with putting slightly less in. As for the tomatoes, they were nice too - the filling was a bit soggy, but very tasty.

So all in all, a good evening's work. A tasty meal; enough leftovers for today's lunch, and best of all, three more recipes ticked off the list!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Not-so-dodgy scones

I was heading over to Akaroa on Sunday, to spend the day with Mum, Dad and Nana, who are staying there for the week. I figured I had time to throw together some wholemeal yoghurt scones (p33) before I went.

Like most scones, they only take a few minutes to make - just sift together dry ingredients (including the wholemeal flour - then you tip the husks back in afterwards) then rub in butter, stir through sugar and fruit yoghurt, and add enough milk to make a dough.

I actually got a bit overenthusiastic and added too much milk. The dough was quite sticky, and I added another handful of flour to make it workable, but it still seemed a bit gooey as I shaped it into a round and marked it into wedges.

The cooking time was 10 minutes, but I baked them a little longer to make sure that wet mixture was baked through. Even so, they looked a bit dense as I packed them into a container to take to Akaroa.

We put the jug on to have a cuppa and scones as soon as I arrived. I warned the others that the scones were likely a bit dodgy, but actually, they were quite good! Surprisingly light - especially since wholemeal recipes often tend towards denseness. So I guess I overestimated the result of a little extra milk.

I'd have to recommend this recipe. Any recipe that manages to make wholemeal light and fluffy is worth making a note of. If you can have that extra fibre without losing out on texture, why wouldn't you?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

More than just stir-fries and salads

Mum and Dad were in Christchurch the other day, and kindly brought me some fruit and vege from their garden. Among these were a number of green peppers, which made me laugh, since my own capsicum plant is doing very well.

With a surfeit of green peppers to deal with, I ate a number of stir-fries and similar, before remembering an Edmonds recipe that would take care of the final remaining pepper: beef and pepper casserole (p123). This was the only variation of the standard beef casserole recipe that remained uncompleted.

I took some chuck steak out of the freezer the following morning, and when I got home from work, set about chopping it into cubes, and dusting with flour. Then I got the onions cooking while I chopped the pepper and added it to the pan.

An added bonus of choosing this recipe is that I got to use the cast-iron casserole dish that was a Christmas present from my parents. Since my Summer eating consists of salads and other light meals, the dish has been waiting patiently in the cupboard for the weather to cool down. I expect I'll use it a lot during the winter.

I transferred the onions and capsicums from the frying pan to the casserole dish, and began browning the meat. I'd made my usual mistake of flouring the meat too early and allowing it to get gooey. It was messy trying to separate the pieces as I scooped them into the frying pan, where they started to brown alarmingly fast.

Here I discovered the cause of  my milk scorching the night before. Of the large elements on my stove, I don't generally use the right-hand one, the left being handier to the bench. I'd switched while cooking the onions, because the left-hand element does not sit quite flat, and food doesn't cook evenly. It was only when I put the meat in that I realised the element was red-hot, despite a medium-low heat setting.

So that explains the burnt milk, and now I have the delight of selecting either an uneven element, or one with dodgy temperature control, whenever I'm cooking in a decent-sized pan. Meanwhile, I persevered with the scarily hot element long enough to brown the meat, and placed it in the casserole dish on top of the onions and peppers.

I was quite surprised to see that the next step involved heating stock in a separate saucepan, then adding carrots, seasoning and a bouquet garni, before transferring the stock to the casserole dish. I don't recall this step in the previous variations of this recipe I completed, so either I've forgotten or I missed that instruction previously. Well, I was making my stock up from powder and boiling water, so that didn't need heating, and I wasn't about to dirty a pot for no reason. I ignored the instruction and added everything straight into the casserole dish.

The casserole had been in the oven a bit over an hour when I went back into the kitchen to mix up some dumplings. I took the casserole out of the oven, plonked in a few dumplings, and put it back. In another 15 minutes or so, I was ladelling out a bowlful of casserole and dumplings.

Beef and pepper casserole does not differ greatly from the other variations I've tried - they're all nice, though I still maintain this recipe is more of a stew than a casserole. The only difference was, of course, the green peppers, which were a far more successful addition than I anticipated. I usually have them raw in salads or lightly stir-fried to keep the crunch. Casseroled, they are not crunchy, but instead have a lovely silken texture. So bear that in mind if you're ever inundated with capsicums - there's nothing wrong with a good stir-fry, but it's not your only option.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A chill in the air

I can hardly complain that after the scorching summer-like weather we had over Easter, yesterday was a bit chilly and wet. Especially since it gave me an excuse to make a harlequin pudding (p210) - after all, there's nothing like a good steamed pud on a cold day, right?

After creaming butter and sugar, I beat in an egg, then went to sift the dry ingredients, at which point I realised my custard powder container was empty. Typical - and annoying, since I'd made a special trip to the supermarket on the way home for raisins. I could have got custard powder if I'd realised I was out!

I briefly considered walking down to the supermarket to get some, but with a glance at the chilly weather outside, I decided instead to substitute cornflour. Custard powder seems to add a vanilla-ish flavour too, I find - so I added a drop or two of vanilla essence, and crossed my fingers for a decent result.

The pudding has three layers: first, a generous helping of raisins in the bottom of the pudding basin, then half the pudding mixture. The second half of the mixture is first coloured brown with cocoa, then spooned on top of the plain layer.

You're given two options for the pleated cover of your pudding: tinfoil or baking paper. I usually use tinfoil, as it's easier to work with while you're tying it in place. I chose baking paper this time because it's easier to tell if the pudding's cooked. Placing an upturned plate or bowl on top of the baking paper helps hold it in place as you tie it to the pudding basin.

One of these days I'll get around to finding a suitable trivet that will allow me to steam puddings properly in a large pot. As I haven't yet, I used my usual saucepan technique, which works but seems to cook the puddings a bit more slowly.

While the pudding was steaming, I went to make a brandy sauce (p189) to go with it (It's actually 'brandy or rum sauce' but I was using brandy). It seemed pretty simple: just combine cornflour, sugar and milk, heat till thick, then add brandy, butter and nutmeg.

Unfortunately, it all went wrong when I was heating the milk mixture. I didn't have the element up very high, but it was clearly too high for the purpose - noticed a scorchy smell, and had a look at the base of the pan: no sign of burning. Figuring something must have dripped on to a hot element, I put the sauce back on the heat.

Before long, I realised I'd been wrong. The bottom of the pan still didn't look dark, but the smell was definitely coming from my saucepan. I took it off the heat - and within moments, the base of the pan had a thick, dark coating of scorched milk. Is it usual for milk scorched milk to only become visible as it cools?

Whatever the case, there was no way I could make my sauce from that burnt milk. I tipped it out and began again. This time, I used a lower heat, but still caught a whiff of scorch just as the sauce was thickening. I didn't want that burnt flavour to ruin my second attempt, so I immediately poured the sauce into a handy jug. Sure enough, though there wasn't initially any sign of scorching, a dark coating (not as bad, but still there) appeared as the pan cooled down.

When the pudding was finished steaming, I tipped it out onto a plate and briefly admired the effect of the layered pudding before scooping myself out a portion to try.

Harlequin pudding looks kinda cool, but it's a fairly standard steamed pud as far as flavour goes. Though the cocoa doesn't add any noticeable flavour, every mouthful is punctuated with juicy bursts of raisin, which prevent the pud from being too dry. The brandy sauce is quite potent, but tasty and very warming - a perfect accompaniment to any steamed pudding.

Monday, April 9, 2012

...and the Worst

Making up a list of the bottom 10 recipes is in some ways even harder than the top 10 - this time it wasn't that I had too many to choose from: in fact, I had the opposite problem.

Not every recipe I have done out of the Edmonds book has been a spectacular success. Quite a few have been extremely ordinary, and a number have been a bit disastrous. The difficulty is, in which cases can I blame the recipe for the poor result, and in which can the blame be laid entirely at my own feet? I hesitate to roundly condemn a recipe if it only came out badly because I didn't follow the recipe correctly.

Nevertheless, I have compiled the below list. Some were truly terrible, others just disappointing, difficult or overly bland. Let's not forget that this is a list reflecting only my opinion and tastes - some of the recipes listed below might even be favourites for some people. Then again, 'some people' aren't writing this list; I am. So here it is:

I have no qualms in including this recipe in my current list, even though it was already listed in my previous 'worst recipe' list. I am certain I followed the recipe precisely, but it came out like raw onion and rice stirred through straight tomato paste.

Interestingly, I've come across at least one person willing to hotly defend this recipe. The argument centred on tomato paste vs tomato puree. Using tomato puree would certainly improve the sharp, overwhelmingly tomatoey flavour, but the recipe says paste. I even checked my older Edmonds books (I'm getting quite a collection) in case the paste was a misprint, but this recipe doesn't seem to feature in any of them.

In short, when I made it (adhering strictly to the recipe) it came out dreadful. I'm not really prepared to try for a better result - why don't you give it a go and prove me wrong?

It seems I'm not the only one to be disappointed in this recipe. It sounds so good, doesn't it: A hokey pokey flavoured biscuit. In reality, they're very bland, and there's not much hint of hokey pokey flavour.

Since a couple of people commented that they remembered these biscuits being much nicer, I checked the recipe against an older version. Oddly enough, my 1998 version has double the sugar of the 1976 recipe. I would have expected that if the older version was nicer and more 'hokey-pokeyish', that would be the one with more sugar. So maybe these lovely hokey pokey biscuits everyone remembers were not made to the Edmonds recipe? Who knows. All I know is these ones are not much good.

This one is definitely a personal dislike, so don't take offence if you happen to like cream soups. So far, I've only made two of the five different cream soups in the Edmonds book, mostly because I've yet to convince myself to try another one. The versions still to be completed show no promise of being any less bland than those I've already done.

The problem is, I think of a soup as a meal. A big bowl of thick, chunky soup is something I really love on a cool evening. I suspect these mild, textureless cream soups are more meant as a starter, so you only have a small bowl of it before you get to the actual meal. Starters are not something you generally have when you're cooking for one, but maybe I'll have to start if I want to get the rest of these cream soups under my belt.

Here's an example of a recipe that's outlived its relevance. I'm certain that once upon a time, tinned apricots (and fresh) used to be bigger than the ones we get today. This theory is borne out by the apricot islands recipe, which charges you to "spoon a tablespoonful of mixture into the cavity of each apricot". Since the apricots in my can had a diameter not much larger than a $2 coin, even a teaspoon of mixture overflowed the cavity. A tablespoon? Not likely.

Setting apricot sizes aside, it wasn't a very good dish anyway - the 'islands' were just soggy little blobs with  almond on them. They didn't taste that bad, but texture and appearance-wise, not good at all.

The other thing I take exception to is that it's one of these 'buy our cake mixes and make this dish' recipes. As you know, I don't like using cake mixes, but this recipe adds insult to injury by using only a few spoonfuls of it in the actual dish, then airily telling you to use the leftover mixture to make cup cakes. So I guess you've got no choice but to make cupcakes, even if you don't want to.

Here's another survivor from the original bottom five - and another quirky result of Edmonds trying to make us buy their cake mixes. In this case it's supposedly a 'quiche' made with the usual eggs and whatnot - and with pancake mix.

At first glance, there doesn't seem anything wrong with that, until you realise that what you are actually making is a savoury cake. Not a quiche, a cheese, bacon and onion flavoured cake. And while it doesn't actually taste too bad, it's just a very odd sensation to be eating something with the flavours of a quiche, but the appearance and texture of a cake.

I mentioned in my top 10 list that I hadn't expected a decent curry from the Edmonds book. What I did expect was something like this. A watery, bland sort of curry, containing dry chunks of chicken breast, curry powder, and not much else. I was only surprised it didn't have sultanas in it.

As it happens, I don't actually mind an old-school curry-powder-and-sultanas kind of curry. If it's done right, it can be quite nice. Unfortunately, this one doesn't come anywhere near that standard, instead being insipid, flavourless and entirely unappealing.

I've had a disastrous history with sponges, so I really had to include at least one sponge recipe on this list. Then again, being well aware of my lack of sponge ability, you'll take my denouncement of this recipe with a grain of salt.

This one is perhaps the most technical of the sponge recipes I have tried. All sponge recipes are based on beaten eggs to some extent, but this one achieves its 'light as air' status by relying on a meringue-like egg white and sugar mixture. Needless to say, mine was not light as air. I had difficulty folding further ingredients through the meringuey mixture without losing any air, and the resulting sponge was shrivelled and had lumps in the bottom.

I'm not saying "this is a terrible recipe, don't make it". I'm saying I don't think it's an easy one to get right. If you're new to sponge making, try a three-minute sponge instead.

I don't have a problem with blue cheese. Actually, it's quite tasty, but I prefer it crumbled and scattered throughout a salad or something. On its own, blue cheese can be a bit overpowering.

Such is the case with this spread. It has a very strong flavour, not only of blue cheese but of raw onion as well. It should be noted that the big blue cheese fans in our gathering felt it was ok, but I found it pretty much inedible.

If you're majorly into blue cheese, don't mind raw onion, and if whoever you share a bed with is not going to kill you for having that on the breath, by all means have a go at this one. Otherwise, steer well clear.

Yet another survivor from my first bottom five, the tasty-sounding oaty apple loaf that should really be renamed soggy apple loaf. Possibly, different sizes of apple might result in a certain amount of extra liquid in the recipe, but so much that the loaf is still wet through well beyond the designated cooking time? I don't think so.

I was quite sure that I'd followed the recipe with this one, yet the result was so bad that either I'm wrong about that or the recipe is in some way faulty. As far as I can tell, it's the recipe.

Curried eggs: they don't sound appealing. They don't look appealing. Sadly, they don't taste much good either.

To be fair, I didn't follow the recipe on this one very well. I allowed the sauce to thicken too much, and forgot to season until after I'd sat down to eat it. That said, the sauce was always going to be a bit lumpy, because of the bits of onion in it, and any dish that needs that much salt to make it merely edible is not really a winner.

So that's my bottom 10, at the current count of 400 completed recipes. I wonder what else I'll come across in the remaining 176?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ten of the Best

Back when I'd finished my first 100 recipes, I wrote an entry listing my 'top 10' so far. I'd actually intended to do these at regular intervals, but never got around to it. Then, a few weeks ago, a reader particularly requested an updated top and bottom 10. I decided to wait until I'd reached another nice round number - namely, 400 - and then make my updated list.

My main reason for avoiding those regular top 10 lists is that it's just really difficult. I've now completed 400 Edmonds recipes, and I've got to choose just 10. Recipes I've made recently are fresher in my mind, so it's been quite hard not to overlook earlier ones.

The resulting top 10 list shouldn't necessarily be seen as a list of Edmonds' tastiest recipes - taste is important, but there are other factors as well: I also like a recipe to be reliable, useful and easy. I have not listed these in any particular order, since I found it hard enough to choose 10 from all my favourites - I honestly don't have a no.1 recipe, so you'll have to try them for yourself and choose your own favourite.

I love these - not only are they incredibly tasty, but they're also simple to make, and are a useful way to get rid of leftover egg whites: as long as you have a sheet of flaky pastry in the freezer, and a jar of jam in the cupboard, there's no reason to have extraneous egg whites sitting in the fridge.

The recipe uses raspberry jam, but I've also made them with apricot, which is just as tasty. The trickiest part of this recipe is preventing the macaroons from sticking to the patty tins. Using non-stick muffin pans instead (I also use teflon muffin-liners) makes them much easier to unstick.

I've used this recipe any number of times since I first tried it. The benefit of this recipe lies in its flexibility: it can be used as a guide for just about any kind of pot-pie. You can adjust the ingredients to what you happen to have at the time, and it comes out great whether you make a single large pie or individual ones in ramekins.

One thing to watch out for with this recipe is that the gravy tends to be a bit runny. You can reduce the amount of liquid, or thicken the gravy before spooning it into your pie dish. Either way, there'll still be a bit of liquid - so it's best to serve your pie with some bread for mopping up the gravy left on the plate.

My initial list of 50-odd awesome recipes, which I slowly whittled down to 10, was quite heavy on the desserts and puddings. I didn't want to make my whole list desserts, so I made myself choose just one. (Other contenders included lemon meringue pieupside down pudding, and marinated strawberries.)

I chose the cheesecake because I'm a big cheesecake fan, and I love  anything lemon-flavoured, so this one was right up my alley. Packing the base into the tin is probably the only tricky part; after that, it's dead easy - and very, very tasty.

If you're making up a plate of nibbles for some kind of social gathering, it's hard to go wrong with a cheese ball. It's amazing how a simple combination of ordinary ingredients can make something that everyone (except cheese-haters and the lactose intolerant) enjoys - usually repeatedly, as it's very moreish.

A homemade cheese ball is a bit of a novelty these days, and very well worth the minimal effort required to make it.

This recipe is the only survivor from my original top 10. This is partly because I've come across some even better recipes in the subsequent 300, but mostly because I tried to avoid putting in the same ones - there's no point in repeating myself. I couldn't leave this recipe out of my current list, though, as it's always the first recipe that comes to mind when someone asks me about the best recipes in the Edmonds book.

This is rich, hearty, ideal winter fare, which has the advantage of also being quite cheap to make. Get good quality bacon bones, and when you're picking the meat off, take your time and be careful not to put any gristly bits back in the soup.

We're all familiar with nachos and enchiladas, but this was a Mexican recipe I hadn't come across before. It's pretty much a tortilla topped with a number of familiar nacho-type ingredients, along with a cumin and lime dressing. It's so easy to throw together, and if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself wanting more of that dressing.

A word of warning: do not do a partial job of this one, leaving out an ingredient or two, because the overall success of the dish depends on all of those flavours combining. I've tried once or twice to make something roughly similar using this recipe merely as a guide, but the results haven't been anything like as good. Follow the recipe.

If you've read much of this blog at all, you'll be shocked to see a sponge recipe on this list, because as we all know, I'm terrible with sponges. The thing is, that's exactly why this one is on here. In spite of my general  inability to produce a decent sponge, I've actually found I get decent results from this uncomplicated recipe.

I've used it three times now: admittedly, I undercooked my lemon sponge version, but the cooked bits were fine, and I had an excellent result when I resorted to this recipe in order to replace my disastrous light-as-air sponge. I've still got the 'orange sponge' variation to go, and (unlike the rest of the 'sponges' chapter) I'm perfectly confident of a good result. If you want to try making a sponge, use this recipe. Just don't underbake it!

I had difficulty choosing between two jams for this list. I settled on apricot because it's my favourite flavour of jam, though actually, I rate raspberry jam just as highly.

I'd never made jam before beginning this challenge, but I now have a whole collection of jams that I've made but never eat. I'm not much of a jam eater by habit, but I had no trouble using up the raspberry (a lot of it was used in various Edmonds recipes that call for raspberry jam) and I'm getting through the apricot alarmingly quickly: its rich, fruity flavour is just irresistible, and I find myself using it for everything from glazes to pastry fillings.

I didn't have high hopes of a decent curry from a cookbook which, for all its good points, tends to be a bit old-fashioned. It was quite a shock to discover the Edmonds lamb curry was richly flavoursome, and absolutely delicious!

Curry recipes often have a list of ingredients as long as your arm; very off-putting to a beginner. The Edmonds version produces a generically authentic result without requiring extensive and/or exotic ingredients.

This is one of my most-used Edmonds recipes. I often whip up a few when I find myself with leftover egg whites - the recipe can be adjusted to however many egg whites you happen to have.

Meringues are very easy to make, keep well, and make a popular and easy dessert. Don't assume you have to eat them with cream - I like mine with a little Greek yoghurt and some passionfruit syrup: Yum.

So that's my current top ten best recipes. Keep an eye out for the bottom 10 - coming soon!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Giant cookie

I found myself with a spare hour or two on Sunday night, so I decided to throw together a tosca cake (p53) to take to work in the morning.

I started by beating together eggs and sugar, then folded in flour, baking powder, melted butter and milk. I poured this mixture into a 25cm round cake tin - the recipe states a flan dish, but I didn't have one that size. It seemed like quite a large tin for the amount of mixture, and I wondered how much it was going to rise.

While the cake was in the oven, I mixed up the topping, combining sliced almonds with sugar, melted butter and milk. After 20 minutes (though the given cooking time was 30), the cake was baked golden brown - even too dark around the edges - so I took it out and poured the topping over.

I'd placed the cake back in the oven and when I glanced over the recipe again for some reason, and realised I'd missed a step. The topping should have been boiled and the sugar dissolved before I poured it over the cake.


Oh well. It was too late to do anything about it, so I just left the cake in the oven until the topping mixture started to bubble. The result was more of a sugary crust than the toffeeish coating it should have been, and by the time I was satisfied with the topping, the edges of the cake were quite overdone.

The cake was very flat - only about 2cm high in the centre, and lower at the edges. A flat cake with a ruined topping? I very nearly decided not to take it in to work.

My coworkers are not notably fussy eaters, however, and I decided to bring it anyway. I was glad I did - my tosca cake was actually very tasty: soft and sweet with a crunchy, sugary almond topping. Even if the cake was described variously as a 'pizza' and a 'giant cookie' by the workmates, everyone agreed that it tasted good.

I gather tosca cake is supposed to be pretty flat - I can't see how it could be otherwise. If I'd used a flan dish instead of a cake tin, it might have looked a little less odd and be less overdone at the edges. And while I liked my sugary version of the topping well enough, I think the toffee-style one would be better. So basically, if you actually follow the recipe, yours will be better than mine!

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