Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The same but different

I've had stuffed lamb cutlets (p131) on the 'to do' list for several months - ever since I bought a pack of three cutlets on special one day and stuck them in the freezer.

These are lamb cutlets, slit through the middle, stuffed with ham and cheese, then coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Very similar, in fact, to the cordon bleu I made a week or so back, just with lamb instead of beef. To my mind, this is a terrible thing to do to a beautiful (and expensive) little cut of lamb. Then again, those lamb cutlets weren't looking all that beautiful after a couple of months in the freezer: they were starting to get a bit freezer-burnt around the edges, so I figured I'd better get this recipe out of the way before the cutlets became totally unusable.

The recipe is for six large cutlets; I was using three small ones, but the recipe would adjust to any quantity quite easily. I cut each cutlet through horizontally, then opened them out to place a small piece of ham, and a tiny handful of grated cheese in each, before closing each one over the filling.

I didn't expect the stuffed cutlets to hold together very well - after all, they were so tiny there wasn't much lamb to press together around the edges of the filling - but to my surprise, they showed no tendency to fall apart. Once dusted in seasoned flour, dipped in egg, then coated in breadcrumbs, it was not even that obvious that they'd been cut open.

I heated some oil in a pan and fried them for a few minutes on each side while I organised some vege to go with it. Before long I was sitting at the table with a decent-looking plate of food in front of me.

Warning: take care when eating these. Biting straight into one can result in greasy juices squirting out all over the place. I've never claimed to be an elegant eater, but I can't remember another occasion when I've had to sponge off the wall and curtains after finishing my meal!

I'll happily say that the stuffed lamb cutlets were really nice. You can't really go wrong stuffing a bit of meat with ham and cheese, I guess. Then again, they did not taste all that different from the aforementioned cordon bleu, since the flavour of the meat tends to take a back seat to the ham and cheese. I reckon if I'm going to treat myself to lamb cutlets, I want to cook them in a way that enhances the lamb flavour instead of disguising it. My advice: if you're going to do the ham/cheese/breadcrumb thing, just use schnitzel. It's just as tasty and a fair bit cheaper.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fruity meal (for a couple of nuts)

Nat's in Christchurch for a couple of weeks, so I invited her around for dinner and a catchup. After some deliberation, I chose my menu: apricot chicken (p134), and almond rice (p105) for a main, then baked apple dumplings (p206) for pudding.

I started with the apple dumplings, reasoning that having them ready to go would minimise kitchen faffing time later in the evening. The apples are wrapped in a simple dough made from flour, baking powder, butter and milk. You roll out a 20cm 'square' for each apple (only 2 in the case of my half-recipe) and place a peeled and cored apple in the centre of each.  Sprinkle on a bit of sugar, fold the dough up around the apple, and you've got your dumplings.

The other element of the dumpling recipe is a sugar syrup. I dissolved the remaining sugar in water, and set the syrup aside in a jug, to go over the dumplings before I put them in the oven.

When I got a text saying Nat wasn't far away, I got my almond rice on, cooking onion and garlic in a saucepan, then adding raisins and chicken stock. When I'd brought this to the boil, I added the rice, reduced the heat and left it to absorb for 15 minutes or so.

Next, I made a start on the apricot sauce. The recipe doesn't specify either apricots in syrup or in juice, so I got ones in syrup, figuring that when my book was printed, that would be the standard. It was only later that I noticed the instruction "puree apricots and juice". Looks like I should have got them in juice. Oh well, I just put in the syrup instead.

Into the pureed apricots went lemon zest and juice, some ginger and a couple of tablespoons of cornflour. It would have been a better idea to mix the cornflour with something before stirring it in, because Nat arrived to find me madly stirring the sauce in an attempt to get the lumps out. I don't recall the finished sauce being lumpy though, so I must have succeeded.

With both rice and sauce underway, the only thing remaining was to cook the chicken. The recipe actually uses chicken pieces, but I had a couple of chicken breasts in the freezer I wanted to use. Anyway, I dislike eating bone-in chicken unless it's possible to pick it up with your fingers - not really an option when you're eating it with a sauce. 

I'd realised at some stage that a meal of chicken and rice was lacking in vegetable components, so I quickly threw together some broccoli and almonds (also an Edmonds recipe, but one I've already completed). Purely as a result of rushing in the supermarket and picking up the wrong thing, I made it with lime juice instead of lemon this time: just as nice.

Having Nat there while I tried to get the meal together was quite entertaining - we hadn't seen each other for quite a while, so the final stages of cooking and serving my meal were punctuated with absent-minded comments and disorganised fumbling as I found myself distracted by the conversation.

When the chicken was cooked, I got it all onto a platter and poured the sauce over. There was plenty of sauce: it was threatening to overflow the dish, but I managed to keep it all in there as I placed it on the table with the broccoli. I just had to finish off the rice, stirring through spiced vinegar, seasoning and toasted almonds.

Just before we sat down to eat, I took my apple dumplings out of the fridge, poured over the syrup, and placed them in the oven. 

The apricot chicken was pretty good. Really, it tasted like what it was - chicken in an apricot sauce. More interesting was the almond rice. I'd never really looked at this recipe in depth, thinking it was just rice with almonds in it. Actually, it has a lot of flavour, and with the nuts and raisins, kind of a Middle-Eastern feel about it. Very tasty. 

When the dumplings came out of the oven, the syrup had thickened into a kind of toffee, and the dough around the apple had gone a delicious-looking golden brown. I wasted no time in serving us up one each with a bit of hokey pokey ice cream, and we set about finding out whether they tasted as delicious as they looked. 

They did. If you're tempted to make this one, definitely do it - it's the perfect pud for the chilly winter's evening. One dumpling makes for a good-sized serving, though: having already eaten a good meal, we were both struggling to get through the last few mouthfuls. 

I think next time I make this I'll experiment with taking it out once or twice and basting the dumplings with the syrup. It's almost a waste that the toffeeish results of the  syrup end up sitting in the bottom of the dish, while the dough itself is quite dry in appearance. It would be good to get a nice sticky glaze on that dumpling, but I'll have to experiment to see if it'd work. Until then, I fully recommend this recipe the way it is. In fact, all three dishes are worth doing - get out your Edmonds book and have a go.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Weekend well-spent

Generally, I spend my weekends pottering around the house - doing a bit of housework, reading a book, just making the most of not being at work. This weekend was an unusually busy one, but I still managed to fit in a couple of Edmonds recipes.

I'd hoped to have some baking ready when my brother Anthony arrived from Blenheim on Saturday, but the morning ran away from me and I didn't manage to greet him with anything other than a cup of tea. Later that day, however, I got myself into the kitchen to prepare a Greek Salad (p150) to take to Leah's Mid-Winter Christmas dinner.

My mental image of a Greek salad is just tomatoes, cucumber, olives and feta. The Edmonds version has quite a few more ingredients, including a whole lettuce, a green capsicum, an onion, and some celery. By the time you've got all these ingredients together, it makes quite a big salad! Even before I'd added the feta and olives, I had my biggest mixing bowl two-thirds full.

I mixed up the dressing of oil, spiced vinegar, garlic and sugar, and tossed it through my salad. I would have preferred to dress the salad just before eating,a but since I was taking it with me, I couldn't add the olive and feta on top before I'd dressed it.

I reckon there was about twice as much dressing as it really needed - some of it remained in the bottom of the mixing bowl when I transferred the salad into something more suitable for serving, but the salad itself still seemed to be swimming in dressing. I added the feta and olives, packed it up and headed off to Leah's.

The Greek salad supposedly serves four: well, there were at least a dozen people eating at Leah's, and I still came home with the bowl more than half full (admittedly there was plenty to choose from, so noone would have taken a huge serving). It was a perfectly good salad, but I'd definitely reduce the dressing next time.

On Sunday morning, I managed to do what I hadn't managed on Saturday, and got into the kitchen in time to throw together some apricot muffins (p30) before Mum and Dad arrived from Timaru for the day. This is another variation of the plain muffin recipe - you just add chopped apricot to the mix. I have to admit to a little cheating at this stage: I didn't have enough dried apricot to make up the full 1/2 cup I needed, so I topped it up with apricot jam, and slightly reduced the liquid to make up for it.

It seemed to work - the muffins came out ok, and we increased the apricotty flavour by spreading them with apricot jam as well. They're a very basic little muffin, but that doesn't mean they're not a tasty little accompaniment to a cuppa.

I was quite pleased that I'd managed  to knock off some more recipes, despite having to squeeze them into the busy weekend. I even managed to feed most of the leftover salad to the visiting family - starting to get a bit on the soggy side by this time, but still crunchy enough to be edible. It's always a pleasure to feed family, but even more when they're helping consume something that might otherwise be thrown out!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Saucepans don't make a Saucier

I'd bought myself a set of new, decent quality saucepans with vouchers I got for my birthday - no more mismatched, thin-based relics from my flatting days! I'd been thinking about what Edmonds recipe I could make using a new saucepan, when I received a gift from my brother and sister-in-law: meat thermometers!

Well then, clearly I had to cook some meat to try these out, so I went home via the supermarket and treated myself to some Angus rib-eye. That's not the Edmonds recipe though - I planned to make a béarnaise sauce (p185) to go with it.

I didn't want to be rushed while making my sauce, so I decided to get that underway first, boiling peppercorns, bay leaf and chopped onion in a small amount of vinegar until the liquid had reduced my half. I then strained off the liquid and added it to a 'double boiler' (in my case, bowl over pot of water) with an egg yolk (the full recipe uses 2, but I was halving it).

I began adding small amounts of butter as I whisked the egg yolk and vinegar. Either I was too slow in doing this, or the bowl was too hot, because the egg cooked and clumped up around the whisk. It wasn't salvageable - start again.

This time, I used a shallower bowl so the sauce mixture wasn't as close to the water, and added the butter a bit more quickly. It seemed to work quite well, because I soon had a fairly thick yellow sauce, which I took off the heat and finished off with some seasoning and a bit of chopped parsley.

I'd been concentrating a bit much on the sauce, and hadn't really got the steak organised. The pan was heating up on the stove, but I had my sauce finished when the steak still had to be cooked and rested. Never mind, just get the steak on. I stuck in one of my new thermometers, and cooked it till the little dial was sitting around medium rare.

While the steak was cooking and resting, I sorted out some mashed spuds and salad, and took another look at the sauce. I'd tried to keep it warm, but it had kinda congealed and wasn't looking too pretty. I decided to risk reheating it slightly, with a bit of extra butter to thin it down and keep it from overcooking like my first attempt.

At first, it seemed to work. The sauce thinned down again and still looked pretty good. But as soon as I stopped whisking, it seemed on the verge of splitting. Just the reheating, or too much butter? I didn't know, but I slapped the steak on the plate and poured over the sauce. Too late: it was totally split. Oh well, it was on the steak now - I'd have to eat it.

Actually, considering it looked quite awful, it didn't taste bad at all. The creamy, buttery, but slightly tangy sauce would have been perfect with that lovely steak (delicious, by the way) if I'd only got it right. It was really a matter of timing - my decision to do the sauce first was a poor one. If I'd cooked the steak first and done the sauce while it was resting, it would all have worked out fine. You live and learn, right?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A friend for dinner

I had Leah coming over for dinner on Friday night, so I needed a recipe I could quickly make after work. Veal cordon bleu (p154), along with some salad and spuds, seemed to fit the bill.

I also looked for a suitable pudding - luckily, I still had one crumble recipe to do, and a couple of apples in the fruit bowl. I chopped up my apples and, since that wasn't really enough, added a pear to the mix, then put them in a saucepan on a low heat to stew.

Meanwhile, I mixed up my fruit crumble (p209). This one doesn't have any oats in it, so it's just flour and baking powder, with butter rubbed into it and sugar stirred through. When I went to assemble the pudding, I realised I didn't have nearly enough fruit for all the topping I'd made, or even to fill the dish I'd planned to use. Instead, I used a large ramekin, filling it with fruit and sprinkling over first brown sugar, then as much of the crumble topping as I could.

I set the crumble aside and started work on my cordon bleu, selecting four pieces of schnitzel, covering them with plastic wrap and rolling them thin. Since the recipe uses beef schnitzel, I'm not sure why it's called 'veal' cordon bleu - is schnitzel perhaps made from a young enough animal that it can be considered veal, or is the recipe just named a bit inaccurately? 

On two of the pieces of schnitzel, I laid ham, then cheese, before placing the other pieces of schnitzel over the top and pressing the edges together. Next, I coated each of my sandwiched schnitzel parcels in seasoned flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, then repeated the egg and breadcrumbs again. 

My cordon bleu was ready to cook, but my guest wasn't there yet, so I pottered around cleaning up and throwing together a salad. As soon as Leah arrived, I melted butter in a pan and added a little oil, then cooked my schnitzels for five minutes on each side.

They looked golden and delicious as I took them out of the pan, and when we sat down to eat we found they tasted great too, the crunchy crumb giving way to a the savoury meat and cheese filling. These are not actually as fiddly to make as you might think, (though the flour and breadcrumb dipping can make a mess) so if you like the sound of it, have a go sometime.

I put my crumble in the oven when we finished eating. I checked it periodically after that, but it didn't seem to be browning. It was a good half-hour later that I realised I hadn't actually switched the oven onto 'bake' from 'keep warm'. That'd do it! I switched it on properly, and ten minutes later we were partaking of apple crumble and hokey pokey ice cream. 

The crumble was nice enough - a hot fruit crumble is never a bad thing on a cool winter's evening - but I still think that a crumble without oats is not quite as good. It just doesn't have the same texture. That's just my opinion though - your Edmonds book has several different crumble variations to choose from, so pick the one you like the sound of, or, even better, try them all!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Birthday = excuse for Edmonds

It was my birthday yesterday, so naturally I'd spent some time putting together a morning tea shout, taking advantage of the excuse to knock off as many recipes as possible.

Some months ago, I was given a three-tiered cake stand for a housewarming gift, and though I usually use it instead of a fruit bowl, I had never actually served anything on it. I decided to make enough to fill the cake stand, and just for the sake of completing another recipe, I figured I'd do a cake for my cake pedestal as well.

I made a start on Monday night, making some sweets for the top tier. I began with marshmallows (p220), dissolving sugar in water, then adding dissolved gelatine and bringing to the boil. This mixture had to boil for 15 minutes, so I made a start on my florentine caramels (p220) while it bubbled away.

Florentine caramels are sort of like a ginger fudge. You start with sugar, coconut, and ground ginger in a saucepan, then add golden syrup, butter and milk, and heat until the sugar dissolves. That bit probably takes the longest - it really doesn't take too much boiling to get it to the 'soft ball' stage, after which it's just a matter of beating until thick and pouring into a greased and lined tin.

Meanwhile, the marshmallow mixture had finished boiling and had been sitting aside to cool down. When it was lukewarm, I got the beater into it until it had gone thick and white. At this stage, I had the option of adding either vanilla or peppermint essence. I decided to go with peppermint, but a whole teaspoon's-worth made for a pretty strong flavour. Never mind: I poured it into a lined cake tin and stuck it in the fridge.

The next recipe I wanted to make was custard squares (p82). I thought I'd get the pastry sheets ready on Monday night, so I'd only have to add the custard on Tuesday. I used bought flaky pastry - the kind in a roll. Cut in half, the roll made two reasonable-sized rectangles of pastry. There were a couple of cracks from when I tried to unroll it before it was properly defrosted, so I sort of mushed it together and hoped for the best.

The pastry had been cooking for several minutes when I realised I should have pricked it first, to prevent it from puffing up too much. I yanked it out and took to the partially-puffed pastry with a fork. It was too late to entirely prevent the puffiness, but it kept the layers reasonably flat while it finished baking.

The florentine caramels set very quickly, so it wasn't long before I had those cut into squares and packed away in an airtight container. The marshmallow was another matter. It was still quite sticky, and I suddenly realised I should have wet the baking paper before I poured the marshmallow in. I chucked it back in the fridge and decided to worry about it later.

After work on Tuesday, I went straight into the kitchen to make the custard for my custard squares. It was dead easy - just mix custard powder, sugar and a bit of the milk to a paste in a saucepan, then add the rest of the milk, some butter, and a beaten egg.

While my custard was heating gently on the stove, I got out my mixer and threw in the ingredients for mocha torte (p75). It's a cake-mix recipe, so all I had to do was throw in the contents of the sachet, along with eggs, water and softened butter - easy enough to do while I was still keeping one eye (and hand) on stirring my custard.

When the custard thickened, I poured it into a cool bowl, then pressed plastic wrap on to the surface of the custard to keep a skin from forming as the custard cooled. Then I divided my cake mixture into two sponge sandwich tins, and got those in the oven while I dealt with that marshmallow.

It hadn't got any less sticky overnight. I didn't think I was going to get the baking paper off, but eventually it peeled away, albeit quite messily. I smothered the sticky stuff in icing sugar, and it cut into surprisingly tidy squares.

The mocha torte is pretty much just a chocolate cake with a coffee icing. When the cake was cool, I mixed up a batch of the icing, and attempted to sandwich the two halves together with one-quarter of the icing, as per the recipe. I found it wasn't anything like enough, so I used all the icing I'd made to sandwich the cake together, then mixed up another batch to ice the top and sides of the cake. Once I'd finished icing and adding walnuts for decoration, the mocha torte actually looked quite impressive.

The custard took a long time to cool, but finally I deemed it cold enough to sandwich the pastry sheets together. After a bit more chilling, I dusted over some icing sugar, and carefully cut my custard squares. They weren't that beautiful, and there was oozed custard everywhere, but they were done!

There was one more 'recipe' to do: back when I counted up the number of recipes I wanted to cover, I accidentally included sandwich fillings (p194), which is more a list of filling ideas than an actual recipe. I'd counted it, however, so I had to do it. I planned to make the sandwiches in the morning, so I pottered around before I went to bed, preparing ingredients like grated cheese and boiled egg.

At 6am yesterday morning, I was back in the kitchen, making a selection of the sandwich fillings. I tried egg, cheese and parsley; egg and spring onion; carrot and parsley; cheese and pineapple; pineapple and mint, and date and lemon. Some held together better than others, and they didn't stack on the stand as tidily as I'd hoped. It didn't matter; the stand was full. It was only at this point that I realised my display was sadly lacking in colour, in fact everything I'd made was in various shades of beige, white or yellow. Never mind, I knew it'd taste ok.

No one else seemed to think there was anything wrong with my presentation - generally the workmates were quite impressed, if only with the amount of food I'd provided. There was plenty there, but we still managed to eat most of it. Tai, a newcomer to our office, has proved himself very useful in the area of food disposal.

I thought all the sandwich flavours were pretty good - my favourite was the date and lemon, though it wasn't too popular with the others. The cake was nice, though my doubling up of the icing tipped the scales to the sickly side - maybe do a 1 1/2 mix if you're making this one.

The custard squares were messy but tasty - not quite the same as a bakery-bought custard square, but nice in their own way. The marshmallow was horribly sweet from all the icing sugar I used (coconut is the other option - perhaps I should have used that) and the florentine caramels were nice, but a bit sickly in the way homemade sweets often are. I should have cut them into smaller squares.

So that's that: another birthday gone by, and another five recipes ticked off the list!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Lunchtime artery-clogging

There was quite a lot of mayonnaise left over after I'd made my tasty croutes. Since it needed using within a few days, I took the opportunity to make some tartare sauce (p188) with it. Of course, tartare sauce goes with fish, so I got myself a couple of fillets of tarakihi to coat in crisp batter (p112) and have with my sauce.

I made the sauce first, simply stirring finely chopped parsley, capers, gherkins and onion through the mayonnaise. The recipe actually states gherkins or capers, but I decided to throw both in. I didn't pay much attention to the quantities either - my tartare sauce ended up with much more than the specified one tablespoon of chopped gherkin, but it didn't seem to matter.

Next, I heated some oil for deep frying while I prepared my crisp batter, mixing cornflour, flour, salt and baking powder, then adding enough milk to make a smooth batter. I was in a bit of a hurry, since the oil was heating rapidly, and the result was quite lumpy until I took a whisk to it and smoothed the batter out a bit. I'd also say I used probably twice the suggested amount of milk - it did need more than the recipe, but perhaps not as much as I accidentally slopped in. Well, I had a reasonable batter by the end of it, anyway.

I chopped my tarakihi fillets into small pieces, then dipped and fried them one by one. The batter turned a smooth golden brown very quickly, and I was worried that the fish inside wouldn't be cooked through. The fillets were quite thin, however, and a bite through the crispy coating of my first piece revealed fish that was cooked through to a melty softness.

I'd done some chips in the oven, since I knew I wouldn't use up all the tartare sauce with just the fish. It made for a fairly hefty lunch, though - I probably should have made a salad instead.

As I've already mentioned, the fish was delicious. The battered shell was not as crisp and crunchy as you might expect from the name. Instead, it was crisp but light, with a sort of softness that melted in the mouth - as did the fish inside. Perhaps I might have had a different result if I had put less milk in the batter, but it was very tasty the way it was.

My tartare sauce was, as expected, a tasty accompaniment to the fried fish. Owing to the colour of my homemade mayonnaise, it was much yellower than any tartare sauce I've seen before, but it tasted much the same. Even the raw onion (which I had my doubts about, suspecting it might overpower the other flavours) blended in nicely. So if you're a fan of tartare sauce, try making your own sometime - it's very easy.

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