Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Challenge: Gingerbread House

It seems Mum's and I's Christmas Challenge is now an annual thing. (See last year's Buche de Noel).

I rang her up a couple of weeks ago, basically hinting that I'd like to do something other than a buche. When I mentioned a gingerbread house, she said 'I've always wanted to do one of those!', so we settled on it.
I knew it couldn't be that hard, because I made one in Guides when I was about fourteen.

We used the simple gingerbread house recipe from Good Food.

The trouble with this recipe is that the roof is very, very steep. It worked without too much hassle, but I think next time I'd save myself the worry and use one with a shallower roof.

 First of all, we made gingerbread and cut out the pieces to the template. This recipe (I keep calling it a pattern) suggests sticking in almonds as roof tiles. Mum liked the idea, so we did it. I wanted to use Jules Destrooper biscuits for the roof, but in the end, we used them somewhere else. The almonds did fracture in our hands, and it's worth remembering to leave places to handle the gingerbread round the edges.

Then bake, allow to cool slightly and trim the pieces to the template. Slightly's the key. I left it too long and wound up chipping bits of solid gingerbread across the kitchen. Also, at the time, I was all 'if it's not exact it won't fit perfectly!', whereas in reality 'stick some more icing on it!' fixes 100% of all house engineering problems.

The recipe suggests piping long snakes of icing down the sides and then sticking the pieces together. Round about this point, I swore more volubly then I ever have in front of my mother, because I'd forgotten the icing set. I had to send Mum to a neighbour. (Thanks, neighbour!).

The icing (500g sifted icing sugar, two egg whites) is like putty, so rolling snakes and placing everything together would actually have been much easier. And I'm sure you can see my finger-dimples in this photo as I did everything possible to make sure it stayed up. If you're making this yourself, do bear in mind that the icing hardens, so you can cut down on the engineering and just hold-and-wait.

The roof, as I mentioned, is steep, and our gingerbread roofs had flared in the oven, so we had to pad the eaves with icing. A few nervy moments as Mum held the roof and I stuffed icing into every crevice, using a mirror to see under the eaves. That 'snow' across the top of the roof? Just a decorative device and definitely not an integral part of the structure...

The two yellow-ish circles in the pictures are acid drops. I thought they were clearer, so next year I'd use clear boiled sweets or Fox's Glacier Mints. (Or possibly gelatine sheets as used to great effect in Su-Lin's Mies van der Rohe Barcelona pavilion).

The chimney's a Cadbury's mini-roll, sliced and stuck on with icing. Mum and I agreed it's too big for the scale, and can we just not mention it's directly over a door?

Then we decorated with liquorice spogs (apparently, that really is their name!) and gumdrops.

Then we got really silly.

The thing I most enjoyed about doing this house is that it gave us free rein to do what we wanted, to say 'Hey, how about this?'. If we could think of a way of doing it, we did.

We knew we wanted front and back paths. In the sweet shop (Sweet Memories of Twickenham, who were patient with us and let us order 'four of those, six of those'), I'd seen the rainbow strips and decided they'd make a great path, while Mum spotted the Pontefract cakes and suggesting stepping stones. We used the Destrooper biscuits for the doors.

As we were laying out the stepping stones, I said 'why don't we make a river?' I used the chipped-off spare bits of gingerbread as banks (essential because I was using runny icing), coloured some icing blue and trailed it across the corner of our surface. Then we put a 'stepping stone' in it.

Mum's genius idea was a log pile. The recipe suggests using Cadbury's mini-fingers, but Mum bought Elizabeth Shaw Amaretto flutes, which taste and look better. As we were snipping off bits to fit the sides, Mum said 'I see a log pile' and constructed one from off-cuts at the back door.

Then I got carried away and daubed 'snow' absolutely everywhere, running down the roof, forming icicles on the roof, and so on.

I placed it on two sheets of baking paper, to save the tablecloth, and dusted everything with icing sugar. I also put 'ice' (clearish icing) in the river. The baking sheets made the house easy to slide around and work on.

Even my dad got involved. As we were all sitting around after the Christmas meal, he got his (clean!) knife, and drew ski-tracks and the marks of a snowplough stop, which you can just see at bottom right in this pic.

We're already brainstorming all sorts of ludicrous things for next year. My brother wants a yeti, so a yeti he shall have!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Picture special

I am quite, quite lousy at posting.
This has become embarrassing after meeting a lot of other food bloggers and definitely joining the food Tweetosphere (that really shouldn't be a word).
I cook quite a lot of interesting recipes, but I often don't write about them, or finish writing about them.
As I was looking for good photos on my camera to be the backdrop to the blog, I realised I had lots of rather nice looking photos but often no posts to go with them.
So this is a picture special.

This is a lemon meringue pie from, oops, LAST Thanksgiving. No view of the lemon, but this is the meringue before (top) and after (bottom) baking. I didn't make an extra pie this year (you have to have pumpkin obviously), because we were so bloody full last year.

This is a mint creme thing from, I think, the front of a Sainsbury's mag. One of the reasons it wasn't written about was the cream essentially turned to butter as we churned it. 

Pie! Quite proud of making pie. Steak and ale recipe from Delicious.

I went through a crumpet phase, starting with pikelets (top), which were way too small to be any use, graduating up to crumpets in my cookie cutters. It is ridiculously easy, but they always tasted a little 'short' to me, and the different ring sizes was a bit awkward. 

Wholemeal rolls. Probably Joy of Cooking. (Recipe not online)

Baguette. Again, almost certainly Joy of Cooking, because if you do everything it says, it will work. 

Must've burnt this one. The stuff that looks like kibble at top left is toffee chunks for toffee apple ice cream from BBC Food (which is highly recommended),

That's more like it. 

So, there's your picture special. No one say anything about 'making a virtue out of a necessity', ok?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

French Launderette Supper Club

It turns out there's a different etiquette when you sit down with food bloggers. Not only do you wait for everyone to be served, you wait for everyone to take a photo. Also, picking up bones and chewing is absolutely de rigeur.

I never intended to do restaurant reviews on this blog, but it seems criminal not to write about October's (second-)hottest ticket, seeing as I snagged a spot.

Sabrina Ghayour decided to spoof Thomas Keller's French Laundry pop-up at Harrod's, which comes in at £250, and asked on Twitter if anyone would be interested in a £2.50 pop-up. 'At last!' I thought 'A supper club I can afford', so I instantly said yes.

I've been slapping myself on the back for that decision ever since.

The canape was a salmon tartar cornet, with a sweet red onion creme fraiche. This was a Keller homage. I didn't pick up much red onion, but I did get a lot of lemon in the creme fraiche which I loved.

The cauliflower soup with Dorset black summer truffle was served in espresso cups, and was very thick. The spicing was spot-on, so that the cauliflower came through as a flavour of interest rather than a foul vegetable one gives away to one's boyfriend.
Etiquette problem though - how to eat it with no spoon and without dressing my nose in soup. I'm very grateful to Cookwitch, who went 'Bread!' and started us all mopping it up with the gorgeous bread.

For me, the starter was absolutely the stand-out course. I suspected I would like 'rolled loin of Gloucester Old Spot pork with wild mushroom stuffing, wrapped in pancetta and served with a tarragon sauce vierge', but when it turned up. Oh! It looked beautiful, naturally. The pork was probably the softest I've ever tasted, and when I read the Skinny Bib's review he said 'It was as if the pork was massaging my tongue'. 'Yes!' I thought, 'That's exactly it!' But that's not why it was beautiful. It helped, but the real beauty was the way the sauce cut through the richness of the pork. The olive oil was unbelievably good, I can still taste it now, fresh and cold. (Frankly, it deserves a plug: @nudoitalia)

The main was hogget. I've heard a certain amount about hogget, which is a sheep from 1-2 years old. (Lamb is 0-1). It's one of these cuts that's coming back into fashion. I don't like lamb much, but I did really like hogget. The flavour seemed to me much more subtle. As it was rack of hogget, this is where all the bone-chewing came in.

At any other event, anyone feeding me six wafer-thin slices of potato as a 'galette' would be in serious trouble. I'll let them off.

Dessert was a black fig and pistachio frangipane, made by Bruno Breillet. I'm going to big up Bruno here, because I follow him on Twitter, and there's something amazing about getting a blast of delicious-looking patisserie in my timeline. Imagine how embarrassing it would be if I'd eaten his food and it wasn't any good. It was gorgeous. Light, soft, with a complex marriage of fig and blended pistachios. (Oh, go on, stick me in Pseud's Corner).

Cheese. CHEESE. All British, naturally, and from a shop that turns out to be in Hampton, very close to where I grew up. Nuns of Caen, a sheep's cheese, was my favourite. The other one I'd go straight for in a shop again was Dirty Vicar (fnar!). Norbury Blue and one-that-unfortunately-I've-forgotten rounded it off. The chutney was unbelievable, the other thing I went away from the event tasting.

I have to mention the other major plus of the event, and I'm sorry if this sounds like sucking up, but I had a fantastic time talking about food-and-other-things with all my tablemates. Not a bad apple in the bunch.
They are: @theskinnybib, @sulineats, @cookwitch, @ailbhetweets plus husband, @goodshoeday and @goingwithmygut plus husband Babs. Also, Sabrina and her team clearly absolutely worked their arses off, and it was a roaring success.

Another bonus? I put in for the raffle, and won a cookery demonstration for two from Henry Harris of Racine, doing steak tartare, lapin a la moutarde, steak au poivre and petit pot au chocolat. A quick stress because it was on Thanksgiving, when Mum and I sing in the big American service at St Paul's, but it's in the evening, so I think we're going to have a fun girlie day out.

Su-Lin was kind enough to let me link to her Flickr photos, so you can see all that lovely food.

And @goingwithmygut runs Edible Experiences, which lists and reviews different food experiences - restaurants, cooking schools, supper clubs and so on - on which this blogpost is now linked.

Edible Experiences

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chicken with Comte

So, I did get around to making this chicken with Comte.
I loved it; I knew from the first bite I adored it.

Good dishes, I think, are more than the sum of their parts. This one is simply a chicken, mustard, white wine and cheese. Take it in a slightly different direction and it would be my mum's chicken Dijon. But with the hard cheese over the crispy chicken skin, this is the stuff of cravings.

You just bake the chicken (or chicken pieces) with white wine and mustard, then sprinkle the Comte over the top for the last five minutes.

The other great thing about it is, apart from the Comte, which you could pick up on the way home, it's all storecupboard stuff.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Five-spice chicken drumsticks

Quite often, I don't label the stuff in my freezer. I'm getting better at it, but sometimes I take something out and squint at going 'Chicken? Pork?'
I'd forgotten I'd thrown in some dark chicken (I thought it was a mix of drumstick and thigh, but it turned out to be thighs). I used to not like dark meat at all when I was a kid – fiddly, greasier, and way too obviously full of veins. Now, I don't really care, but I do want something with lots of flavour.
I wound up on BBC Food, and came across the five-spice drumsticks by Ching-He Huang.
I loved it; incredibly easy as long as you have five-spice. As usual with marinade, whip it up, stick it on and wait.
Definitely tasty and worth remembering as a store-cupboard favourite.
No pics. I was hungry!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pork belly with coriander and fennel seeds

I decided to go back to my recipe books. I do own several, other than the Joy of Cooking, and got two for my birthday - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingshall's River Cottage Everyday and The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit.
I flicked through RCE, lusted after a few cuts of meat, and turned to The Flavour Theasaurus' chicken section. I was intrigued by the Chicken and Hard Cheese section. Segnit is a bit disparaging about Chicken Cordon Bleu, which I happen to love, but I was totally captured by the idea of Chicken Comte - essentially browned chicken in a wine and mustard sauce, sprinkled with Comte cheese.
Why aren't you reading about that?
Quite simple, Sainsbury's had pork belly at half-price, and I'd been eyeing up HFW's coriander and fennel pork with crackling, wishing I could afford a joint that big. The memory of that crackling from the other week also lived in my memory. I swooped on it, grabbed the other essentials and went home.
The recipe's incredibly simple - score the meat, put slightly crushed coriander and fennel seeds in to the slits and cover in sea salt and pepper. It also suggests sprinkling half of the spices in the bottom of the roasting pan, which seemed rather odd.
It was worthwhile, but it did seem a bit bland and a bit tough. I didn't notice the spices underneath making any difference. However, when I used the pork in a stirfry the following day, it was really tasty to have bits of coriander and fennel seed dropping into my dinner.
I think I'll keep searching for a favourite pork belly recipe.
There are pics, but we were so keen on eating, we didn't actually take any of it cooked...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Quick caramel cake and icing

We take it in turns to bake cakes for my choir, so we have something to eat in the break. We're supposed to bake about 30 pieces, so I usually do two.
I made Andy's birthday cake as the dairy-free chocolate one from the Joy of Cooking, just because it is so easy. It's also forgiving when transported and easy to cut into 16ths.
I decided to make that as the first one.
While looking at that recipe, my eye had been drawn to the words 'quick' and 'one-bowl' on the other side. I couldn't make another chocolate cake, and the suggested topping for the plain cake, of icing sugar and seeds, would probably lead to so much debris on the church carpet, we'd be kicked out of our rehearsal space.
So I decided to try the caramel cake. It's not on the web, unfortunately, and I'm not about to infringe Joy's copyright by reproducing it here. In essence, you replace the white sugar in a fairly normal cake with brown sugar.
The recipe doesn't specify which brown sugar. I used light. In retrospect, I should have either rung up Mum and asked for a line on which British sugar was closest to American, or used dark.
The cake's quite plain, and rather thin. Its 13in by 9in body also shows that my oven is now really uneven. To disguise all these facts, I decided to ice it. The Joy of Cooking touts a 'quick caramel frosting' (ie icing) on p792, but when you get there, there is no quick frosting, just the main one which involves The Stages of Sugar. Yeah.
So I turned to the internet and found one on Southern Living that seemed to fit the bill. It was much easier than I thought, and not panic-inducing which is always good around sugar. It made a thick, very sweet caramel-like icing which we slathered on top of the cake.
I'll let you know how it tastes.
I'm glad I iced it; it would have been too plain without. And the caramel frosting was very sugary, with just a hint of that dark caramel flavour. Again, I think I'd go with all brown sugar to deepen that taste.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Roasted garlic and tomato pasta

It's Kitchen Daily's fault. I follow them on Twitter, which meant this popped up in my timeline: 'What's for dinner tonight: Roasted Garlic and Herb Shrimp with Spaghetti'.
Ooh, I thought, but when I clicked on the link, it involved prepared sauce. I'm not bothered about prepared sauce, to be honest, because I can probably replicate it cheaper and, anyway, this was a US-only brand. 
My brain kept circling back to the roasted garlic. I finally resolved to roast some garlic and just mash it in a simple tomato sauce.
It's cooking right now, but I may have ruined it by throwing in too much balsamic vinegar. (I don't have any wine open). I must learn to pour things in with my dominant hand.  I do this quite a lot, so I've gone heavy on the pepper and really mashed the garlic, and it appears I may have got away with it.
Also, in an exciting move, I opened a new shape of pasta. I was actually, properly excited, which clearly indicates that I need to get out more. It's gigli, which the packet says 'goes well with a cheese sauce'. I would imagine it does, because I can imagine the cheese just lying heavily on the curlices. But the pasta thesaurus says 'hearty sauces', so I think I'm covered. By the way, gigli means 'lily', which I think is rather nice. 

It turned that, yes, the balsamic was over-powering, but the roasted garlic was good, so I'll make it again and try not to stuff it up this time. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pork with shallots, fennel seeds and sage

I'm on a huge economy drive right now, and trying to pick up relatively cheap bits of meat (that then don't cost me that much in electricity to cook).
I saw a pork loin that would feed Andy and me for £1.64, so I picked it up, and went looking for a good recipe.
The one I found was essentially very simple - chop shallots and sage, combine them with fennel seeds and butter and stuff the joint with them.
One of the essential things I learnt was 'supervise your sous chef'. I had just popped into the living room, mostly to reassure myself on where to cut the cavity, when Andy cut the cavity in the bottom.
This is not ideal when a major constituent of your stuffing is butter. I could envisage it all dribbling out and frizzling on the bottom of the pan.
Also, I don't own any string. I'm an ex-Scout leader, and I don't own any string. We might have succeeded in re-rolling the joint if we'd had lots of string. In the end we used barbecue skewers, so the joint had more pikes than the Battle of Bosworth Field, and put it skin side down.
Then we detached the crackling and left that in the oven, while we ate the joint.
I don't know if it was the butter dribbling into the joint, or we just hit the exact point at which it was juiciest, but the joint was lovely and soft, and the stuffing quite subtle but tasty.
The other thing I really like about this is its full of things you probably have round the house, rather than say, sausagemeat, which I never do.
So, it's 'in the repertoire'.

Monday, April 18, 2011


I wanted an easy dinner, but somehow, if I get the bug, it doesn't matter any more.
I was blithely defrosting some tomato sauce when I became worried some of the bag had got stuck and melted into it.
About the only thing I could make dinner with was chickpeas, but I didn't just want falafel, as the recipe I use is pretty dry.
On a whim, I googled flatbread, thinking 'they'll all have yoghurt in and I'll have to eat dried falafel'.
I would love to keep yoghurt in, but it goes off faster than I can use it.

The first result was 'Navajo flatbread'.
I've heard of Navajo fry-bread, mostly because Tony Hillerman, author of murder mysteries set on the huge Navajo reservation in Arizona/New Mexico, is a favourite of mine. (Aside: I'm so glad they named a library after him.)
I've also had fry-bread, when my family had our annual get-together at Warm Springs. It's good, but it's so greasy you can feel oil coming out of your scalp.

Navajo flatbread was a new one on me, and to several of the commenters, who mention fry-bread.
Imagine my surprise when I finally looked at the head of the page - I'd been focused on 'do I have everything?' and 'is it fast enough?' - and it was Jamie Oliver. I'd assumed it was an American hobby-blogger. Score one for his conversational style, I suppose.

So, I'm currently halfway through making them.
At first I thought 'this dough is never going to combine', it was very stiff, very dry, and I think closer to 250ml of water probably went in.
I think every dough recipe I try I begin thinking 'this is never going to work, this is never going to work', and then it began to take on a consistency like a stiff shortbread. Later on, I began to feel the oil coming to the surface.

The recipe says 'set it aside to relax', and that's the stage I'm currently at. 'Relax' though? Does that mean the usual one-and-a-half-hours-to-let-it-double-thing, or just a quick set-aside? I'm going for the latter, because I hope Jamie would have specified, and I want my dinner.

Obviously, I have ten minutes to think while I'm kneading, which I can't fill with Twitter or other mindless internet things, so I spent it getting on my hobbyhorse. I do think unspecific information like that - and I'm not singling out Jamie, I don't like it wherever it appears - scares off cooking newbies. They think 'what's that? How do I do that?' and it becomes this mysterious art full of special words.

I think that's probably why Delia's recipes are so long. They tell you what to expect and what it will look like. There's still that leap of faith - 'is this frothy? is it frothy now?' but it's not as bad. Joy of Cooking is similarly specific about what exactly you must do. I believe that's why they're such household standbys in their respective markets.

Hobbyhorse set down for a moment, while I go see if my dough has chilled out, and get cracking on the falafel.

Well, I've had them. The dough had physically relaxed, so I proceeded...
It was obvious that 1cm thick would be asking too much, so they were about 5mm thick, and they did puff. However, given that they didn't puff much and tasted rather biscuity, I think I really need to heap the tablespoons of baking powder and 'relax' them a bit longer.
I surprised my uncoordinated self by having no trouble at all bashing them out into a circle.

So this is a 'make again with changes' and I'll see if I can get them to puff.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wholemeal bread

Now, being a nice daughter, I left the soda bread at Mum and Dad's. But not without a sense of longing.
I really wanted wholemeal bread. One of the things that's been lucky about the whole 'losing weight' thing is that I actively like brown bread and salad.
So I decided I would use up the wholemeal flour in the cupboard with a loaf. I've decided I need experiment a bit more, branch out, see what works and what doesn't. It can only improve my cooking, right?
I simply decided I'd take my normal bread recipe and make it 50/50 with wholemeal and white, because most recipes for brown bread, I'd noticed, do that.
I also knew (from where? How much of my thinking is influenced by 'something I read somewhere'?) that wholemeal doesn't rise very well, so I upped the yeast from four-and-a-half teaspoons to five, and let it rise for three hours.
By that point it was just level with the top of the pan, so I put it in.
I know I shouldn't cut bread while it's still very hot, as it's not very solid. I DON'T CARE.
It was all right hot, but I noticed a tendency I didn't like when it cooled. It was very dry. Very, very dry, and sometimes most of it just fell right off while I holding it.
I think next time I'll add honey, because 'I'm sure I read that somewhere'.
For whatever reason, it mellowed over the next couple of days, but is still a long way from being the wholemeal recipe.
What are we calling this damn award? Right: 'make again with changes'.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I feel like Superwoman

It doesn't take much.

I have pretty much simultaneously made dinner, soda bread and muffins, and without any of the panicky stress that's usually involved when I try to make more than one thing at once.

Andy was in a grumpy mood when he came home (and I'm afraid I can't say what he then added when I asked him if it was ok if I told the world via this blog). Getting a decision out of him in that state isn't the easiest, and I was rapidly getting hungry. I am not nice when I'm hungry and there comes a point when I become 'dangerous to know'. I wanted to get to Sainsbury's and buy the weekly shop before that happened.

To circumvent this, I wrote different possible main course meats on a piece of paper and told Andy to pick a number. I'd only got as far as five different options when he yelled 'Four!'. Lamb, my least favourite meat, probably. But wrangling over the decision wasn't going to help anything.

So I fired up Good Food and typed in lamb. I found a nice quick recipe. I was seriously glad at how easy it was - crush cumin and coriander seeds, fry them and the garlic, then brown the steaks. Stick over the tomato and leave. Awarded the coveted 'in the repertoire' award.

Soda bread

At this point, I started the soda bread. Dad's Irish, and the day after the lamb was the Ire v Eng rugby match. I always meet my friend Ralph, usually in my home town, to watch this one. So I was having lunch at Mum and Dad's and thought it would be nice to take over some soda bread.

Soda bread is the first bread I ever made, by a long, long way. To get my Baden-Powell Trefoil at Guides, I had to do one of a set of badges, which were all sort of local history/folkways options (the syllabus has changed since my day). Why the heck I was talking to my dad about my Guiding options I don't know, but I got to 'Ulster Folk' badge, and Dad said 'Right, you're doing that one'. And thus, I became probably the only girl in England to hold the Ulster Folk badge.

I still remember the satisfaction I got at making the simple soda bread, and wrapping it in foil to take into Guides.

Well, I think I may be in love with soda bread all over again. While I know the recipe I made for Guides had raisins in it, I wanted a proper old-school recipe and eventually found one on Kitchen Daily for a whole wheat loaf. It is a SERIOUSLY easy recipe. The hardest thing was finding the buttermilk. Now, I'm an evangelist for normal bread, but anything that's 'put all this in a bowl, shape' gets extra points. And tasty, too. The only problem, I guess is having buttermilk hanging around. Awarded 'make again soon. Very soon.' status


Food getting expensive and trying to limit my costs means I hadn't bought any dessert or ice cream. I always seem to need something sweet after a meal, and Andy kind of wanted something too. I needed to find a recipe that would fit with the not-very-much I had in the kitchen.

As you can tell, my default for such things is Good Food, and so I went over, knowing muffins or cupcakes were probably best for baking-ingredients-heavy but all-other-ingredients-light. Luckily we still had some milk which was basically ok. I found these chocolate muffins.  As commenters said, they're not all that chocolatey, but they hit the spot for our dessert. I underdid them, too; fifteen mins was not enough in my oven. I'd like to try them again, doubling the cocoa powder (which probably makes them even drier) and lengthening the cooking time. Awarded 'make again with changes' status.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Double-dipped Parmesan schnitzel

I've eaten schnitzel in some of the best beerhalls in Munich, and I love it. Just last week, I made my ersatz schnitzel, which is just eggs and flour around pork.

So when Barney Desmazery, the food editor of Good Food, tweeted: 'Double-dipped Parmesan crumbed pork schnitzel on Monday - sometimes you need to start the week as you mean to go on', I replied and asked for the recipe, because it sounded great. 'Watch this space', he said. I thought, 'there's a link coming', but, no, he replied directly to me with: 'make pork schnitzel adding freshly grated Parmasan to the crumbs and do the egg and breadcrumb bit twice.'

I have to make it now, I thought.

Any recipe you can tweet, when you think about it, has to be simple. It really was.

I misjudged the quantities and we had to whip up another egg, and then more breadcrumbs-and-Parmesan. This left Andy's schnitzel much more cheesy than mine, as initially I'd deliberately kept the Parmesan down to make sure it wouldn't over-power things.

I used the coarse grater for the cheese, which I had doubts about as soon as I'd done it, but the coarse-grated cheese and large breadcrumbs gave it a really chunky (beerhall!) feel.

Double-dipping the schnitzel is definitely worth it, and I think I'll introduce this for any schnitzel I do from now on.

It's not schnitzel without potato salad, though, is it?

I'm surprised, but it looks like I've never blogged my views on potato salad. Here they are: what's that mayonnaise doing there? Get it off my salad. In short, if it isn't German-style, and preferably hot, I don't want to know.

Here's the family recipe for potato salad, which I suspect comes from a 50s American cookbook. Boil chopped new potatoes (peeled or unpeeled - peeled's probably better) slightly longer than 20 minutes. Rough them up a bit. Pour over about equal quantities of white wine vinegar and olive oil - perhaps more olive oil. I always do this just by eye. Rough them up a bit more. Add chopped spring onion, and there you are. I believe you can add crispy bits of bacon, but Mum never does that, so of course I don't either.

I had concerns about the vinegariness of the salad and the cheese in the schnitzel. Because my schnitzel wasn't that cheesy, it was difficult to tell if they went ok, but the bite I stole from Andy's was fine, and he also said there wasn't a problem. A success, then. I'm awarding it the status of 'in the repertoire', which has just been launched.

(The photo is by Andy. He's the better photographer, but neither of us will ever shoot the cover of Vogue.)

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Chocolate praline pancake cake

  • further evidence website newsletters work
  • don't let the boyfriend 'just do one thing' while sugar is at crucial stage.

C'mon, this is my second attempt with boiling sugar, I'm allowed to stuff it up.

Saw the chocolate praline pancake cake in a Good Food website newsletter, and it just looked so good, and as you can tell, I really like gooey, chocolatey desserts.

Again, the recipe split quite easily into segments, and I think dishes are easier to do that way. (Especially if you're making braised pork chops at the same time).

First, the praline. It's simply a sugar syrup with blanched almonds and sea salt tipped it. I panicked when after boiling it went completely dry and looked almost like dessicated coconut. But I remind myself that cooking is often a case of holding your nerve, and so eventually, the 'coconut' began to smell like burnt sugar - the good kind.

Just as it was all becoming caramel, Andy became worried about the sugar round the sides of the pan (probably because he'd have to wash it up) and began asking to push it back down. I knew it was stuck fast, but eventually let him have a go. I wish I hadn't - I knew there wasn't time with melted sugar, and I had to snatch it back pretty quickly. I think the caramel was ok, perhaps a little darker than ideal. There really wasn't much syrup around the nuts, and I think if I was doing this again, I'd perhaps go up to 150g of almonds and 200g of sugar. So there'd be more caramel, and more praline all round. We found it difficult to achieve an even 'blitz' with the food processor, so some of the praline was pulverised and some intact nuts.

Much later, after dinner, we went back to do pancakes and chocolate sauce. Now, after all my experience (and the fact it always seems to me much easier than I had thought it would be when I was younger), I reckon I could make chocolate sauce in my sleep. (How about it, sub-conscious? Slightly less running through rooms and more chocolate sauce?)

I am, for whatever reason, not great at things like omelettes and pancakes. However, Andy displayed a undiscovered talent for making pancakes, though where on earth the '12 pancakes' from this recipe came from I do not know. I think we got seven.

So we layered them up, poured the chocolate sauce over it (I am not a person who believes in moderation in chocolate sauce) and baked it.

It was very pleasant, but didn't quite belie its origins as a pancake dish; the pancakes themselves made it sort of bland. I think I'd make up a set of chocolate sauce and praline and have them on hand for spare pancakes. Or, as I suspect is the idea, to impress friends if I had them over on pancake day.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Buche de Noel

Things I learnt from a buche de Noel:
  • icing hides a multitude of sins
  • the time to learn about hard crack, soft crack and other stages of boiling sugar is not while the sugar is boiling

No one in my family likes Christmas pudding. In years past, my mother would buy a 100g pudding and split it between four of us. Then we'd crack on with the Yule Log.

I signed up to Saveur, an American food magazine that's a little too highbrow for me. They started their New Year's buffet with caviar. That's highbrow.

Anyway, one of their rather-too-gorgeous emails had Christmas-desserts-from-around-the-world. I have a dim memory of some lemon pudding, but the one that stood out was the buche de Noel. That's a Yule Log.

So I emailed Mum and in a moment of madness said 'I'll come over Christmas Eve, and we'll make this'. Mum, in an equal moment of madness, said yes. I figured getting snippy with each other somewhere round about the hour mark was a given, along with possibly a shattered log.

We ditched the meringue mushrooms, as I didn't fancy eating even fake mushrooms on a dessert.

First up was the icing in a double boiler. Then we left it to thicken while we did the Christmas shop. I forgot, however, that my parents' kitchen is about the same temperature as a fridge, and it was solid when we get back.

Then we made the roulade. Perfectly easy, but by this time I was rather fed up of melting chocolate and stirring it.

The filling, which includes a hot sugar syrup poured into egg yolks, was rather more tricky. Mum has a sugar thermometer, but doesn't use it a lot. I haven't ever made jam or candies.

The recipe says the syrup should be 236 degrees, or 'soft crack'. I got a little worried when the boiling syrup began to brown.

Now the great thing about the Joy of Cooking, at least the old edition, is that it contains EVERYTHING. That includes the different stages of sugar syrup, including how to tell without a thermometer. (It also includes how to make a champagne fountain, and, dammit, I'm using that information some day). Some frantic running around later, and a glass of ice water told me what I already knew - the sugar was too far gone.

So, of course, we did it all again. Second time went fine, and, frankly, I was quite pleased to not be dealing with chocolate.

And now the bit I'd been worrying about all along - the rum and roll-up. We'd invested about two hours into this thing, and I really wanted it to work.

The recipe calls for two tablespoons of rum. We were using a pan smaller than the 16inch one the recipe called for, because they appear to be impossible to get here (*scribbles note for next trip to France*). Two tablespoons of rum actually translated to a thin sheen of rum over the entire roulade.

I wouldn't have wanted to roll up the roulade two-handed, and I'm glad we iced it (including the corner that, uh, basically fell off). I even decorated it carefully with a grooved spatula.

Imagine my disappointment when I went on Twitter and writer Charlie Higson had done a much better looking one with his twelve-year-old.

Also, I fear we may have started a tradition, which I'll somehow have to fit around the traditional Christmas Eve pub crawl...