Monday, 28 December 2009

An Explanation

Despite my best intentions, I haven't been blogging nearly as frequently as I'd like in the past couple of months. Part of this is due to poor light for photos and lack of interesting dinners, but the main reason has been this:


I was made redundant in the summer, annoyingly at an early enough point in my contract to not qualify for any payoff. As Edinburgh is a financial centre, the labour market here is flooded with unemployed bank staff with a several years experience under their belt. No one wanted a recent graduate with only a year or so of temping, when they could get someone more experienced for the same price. At the other end of the scale, minimum wage jobs weren't interested as I was obviously overqualified. So, seeing as no one else would employ me, I decided to employ myself.

I've spent the last few months endlessly steaming Christmas Puddings, taking food hygiene exams (credit pass - check out my cleanliness!), testing recipes and buying wholesale packaging. The first market I signed up to do lost its street closure licence, and the second market didn't manage to get a food licence granted. I looked in to the Edinburgh Farmers' Market, but the waiting list is long, its not really a feasible option for someone just starting out.

Eventually I found a Christmas market in the Grassmarket, and booked a stall. 10 hour baking sessions were followed by an early morning taxi the next day. I had too much stuff to carry myself, so the journey to the market also had to be incorporated in to T's journey to work. So I got to sit in a freezing marquee for 3 hours waiting for the market to open. On the third day I let someone watch my stuff while I repaired to Peter's Yard for some serious carbs.

Carrot Cake - The best seller.

Anyway, despite the cold and lack of sleep, I really enjoyed it all! The first day, I just brought my favourite cakes. It was interesting to see which ones sold and which ones didn't. A version of Korova cookies went down well, as did a carrot cake with mascarpone and pecan icing, and salted caramel shortbread. Red velvet cake attracted a lot of attention, but didn't really sell. Cupcakes and Christmas puddings were Marmitey - people seemed to love them or hate them, but people who did love them were happy to buy them.

Chocolate cupcakes with ganache and vanilla buttercream.

The Sunday was quite busy, and I sold out with just a few minutes left before the doors closed. I'd had a lot of requests for gluten free items, so I made 2 banana breads, which sold so quickly. Peanut blondies went ok, but weren't as popular as I'd hoped.

Cardamom shortbread with Pistachios

On the final day, I mixed it up and took cardamom shortbread and gluten free lemon drizzle, as well as the past favourites of the salted caramel, carrot cake and banana bread. I almost sold out, so gave away the last few remaining bits to the other stall holders, rather than take them home.

The feedback was really positive, something I really needed as I haven't had much confidence in my cooking lately. I handed out lots of cards with my name and number, so hopefully I might get some commissions in the new year.

So that's my excuse for being a bad blogger...

Monday, 14 December 2009

21212 - 3 Royal Terrace

How did that happen? It's been 11 days since my last post!

I have had a busy couple of weeks. T was ill, I got up at 5am to fly to Birmingham for a job interview, my mum came up to visit, and I was offered the job! It's also my birthday soon, so we had decided to go to 21212 for dinner to celebrate.

We arrived a little early, and started off with Bellinis in the upstairs drawing room. The decor was reminiscent of a neo-gothic or regency interior, and the thick fog outside made it all feel very old fashioned. As well as our drinks, we had some fat olives and some crisps - bizarrely they were cheese & onion or barbecue flavour. It wasn't clear whether they were homemade or if they'd just got a good deal on Kettle Chips.

The Dining Room (from the 21212 website.)

Moving downstairs, we we seated in the middle of the dining room, and we had a great view of the kitchen. My only knowledge of professional kitchens is from the TV. Instead of the sweary chaos that usually seems to reign, here it was quiet and controlled, although as the evening wore on we noticed the chefs crowding round the central prep table, all desperate to add the finishing touch to each dish. We were intrigued by the equipment hanging from the ceiling, as alongside the serving spoons and whisks there was a large triangle. What was it for? Some elaborate mould for plating something? It turned out to be a trivet.

21212 is so named to reflect the menu. There are 2 starters, 1 soup, 2 main courses, 1 cheeseboard and 2 desserts. As there were three of us at dinner, it was perfectly possible that we could order everything on the menu. My mum and T decided they would go for the same starters and main courses, so I was sorely tempted to order the other options just to try everything, but instead I went for what sounded tastier. We were offered some bread to nibble on while waiting for the food. It was airy and spicy, and reminiscent of savoury pannatone. The combination of spices was quite old fashioned and medieval tasting.

The first course was Xmas Best - a version of an all day breakfast. It contained black pudding, mushroom, a giant cornflake, sausage, bacon, parma ham and a porridge and butter sauce. There was also some pureed tomato at the bottom, and a weird black piece of skin on top, which turned out to be mushroom parchment. While this was an interesting dish, it wasn't as exciting as I was expecting. None of the flavours really stood out, and I did slightly regret not ordering the smoked salmon with chestnuts, prunes, asparagus and confit banana...

Next up was billed as "Traditional Winter Scottish Vegetable Soup". This was actually a celeriac puree, with an onion foam on top. In the middle there was a chunk of fig and some mange tout pieces. While I don't think mange tout or figs can even grow in Scotland, this was an absolutely stunning dish. I would happily have eaten another portion, and I would go back to 21212 for this alone.

For our main course, we all ordered the slow-cooked beef fillet with "Classic Duos". The beef was still pink, and had the smooth, soft texture of rare meat. We couldn't decide if it had been slow baked or been done sous-vide and seared. We asked the waiter who said he thought it had been baked, but he wasn't sure. Anyway, it was a really good piece of meat, and my mum and T, neither of whom like rare meat, enjoyed it too. Accompanying the beef were some cheesy onions, a lemon pancake, brazil nuts and dates, and a horseradish and watercress sauce. I really liked the dates and the horseradish sauce, but I wasn't swept away by the nuts or the pancake. There was also the slightly random addition of a lump of feta and what tasted like uncooked dough. The feta was very creamy and firm, but the saltiness overwhelmed the other ingredients. The women on the table next to us also ordered the beef, and they sent it back for being undercooked - they should have been a bit more adventurous I think. The other main course option was halibut with neeps, rice, sultanas and walnuts, with yeast cream.

Next up was the cheese course. 3 of the cheeses were nice, but the 4th one was very pungent. I've only recently started eating cheese, so although I tried the pungent one, I wasn't really a fan. There were two soft brie like cheeses (one Scottish, one French) and a hard Scottish cheese from Mull that was similar to edam. The cheese was served with some thick oatcakes, and some spicy crispbreads. There was even a little bowl of grapes.

Before pudding, there was a surprise palette cleanser course of coconut porridge milk. This was served in a paper shot glass, and poured from a jug that looked like a cow. The liquid was smooth and thin, and had just a hint of an oat taste. This was very moreish, and I was pleased that the waitress left the jug for us to finish every drop.

At dessert, we did vary things a little. Mum and I had bread and butter pudding, with cinnamon creme Anglaise. This was again very medieval tasting, with heavy spicing and lots of dried fruit. The bread pudding was delicious, but the spices were not ground down, so the sauce was a little grainy. T went for a trifle with sponge, bananas and chocolate, but again it was a little too heavy on the spices, nuts and dried fruit.

We went back to the drawing room for chocolate truffles with tea and coffee. While the tea came in an enormous tea pot, the coffee came in paper cups, supposedly as they keep the coffee warmer than ceramics. I'm in two minds about this. Part of me thinks it is a bit petty, but on the other hand, the whole point of 21212 is that you submit to the chef's whims rather than vice versa.

Overall, I really enjoyed the evening. The food was generally very good, and the staff were very friendly, although they could have been a bit more knowledgeable about the food. However, the concept is king (Raymond Blanc would bloody love it), so it wasn't the most accommodating of experiences. Certainly I wouldn't attempt to go there with anyone fussy or with multiple food allergies. For that reason, I don't know if I'd go back in a hurry. It was an academic meal, one to be pondered, with every detail mattering. Even the cutlery had been specially chosen for each course. It was fun, but heavy going. You couldn't take people who aren't interested - it would be like making them sit through an OU documentary on particle physics.

Restaurant 21212 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Chestnut And Ricotta Pancakes

This post marks the first birthday of this blog! It's been a bit of an up and down year for me, and I guess this is reflected in the blog a bit. There was the bit in early 2009 where I barely posted at all, as I struggled to recover from a respiratory infection and rushed to complete my final year project. I did quite well on the posting in summer, where there were plenty of friends and flatmates around to eat what I made. Now I only have one flatmate, who doesn't like cake, and it's too dark to take proper photos. Perhaps that is why I haven't posted as frequently as I would have liked recently.

Anyway.

Last night there were chestnuts and ricotta in the fridge. I was planning to make something savoury, but they weren't inspiring me. Jess on Twitter suggested blending it with honey to make a spread. This sounded vaguely more promising.

Chestnut and Ricotta Pancakes

The first lesson I learned was that my 4 year old, £15-from-Argos-Blender is a bit crap. It utterly failed at blending, and instead created some watery chestnut honey paste surrounded by whole chestnuts and lumps of ricotta. It does rule at banana and peanut butter smoothies though.

The second lesson was that chestnuts are massively enhanced by honey. I still don't get ricotta though, I don't like the blandness nor the texture.

I made some pancakes for lunch today, and decided that chestnut ricotta honey mish mash would be the perfect filling.

Chestnut + Honey + Ricotta = Tasty

To make the pancakes, I whisked 120g plain flour with an egg and 100ml milk. Once this was a smooth paste, I added another 200ml milk and a small spoonful of sugar. It would have been a good idea to add some vanilla essence as well, but I couldn't be bothered to get it out of the cupboard. Oh well.

After I'd fried off a couple of successful pancakes (why does the first one always fail?), I filled them with the ricotta and chestnut mix, and dusted with icing sugar.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Pork Hock and Haricot Stew

The borscht I made a few weeks ago needed a bit of pork hock in it. I wasn't going to bother, but it was surprisingly cheap for such a massive hunk of meat. After putting a little of it in the soup, the rest went in the freezer for another time.

Every so often I have to have a freezer purge to get eat up some of the stuff in there, as well as saving some cash. So this week I defrosted the pork hock, and set about finding a recipe to use it in. I came across this Pork Hock and Butterbean Stew on Dinner Diary, and decided to give it a go.

I replaced the butterbeans for haricots, as I had some in the cupboard, and the whole point of freezer left over day is to not spend money! I also used white wine instead of sherry. The rest of the dish was very easy to make, and although it took a few hours, most of that was spent watching "Eggheads" while the stew bubbled away. The hardest part was getting the meat off the bone as it was too hot to get a proper grip on it.

The stew was delicious, and the paprika did give it a Spanish feel. A bit of chorizo in there would have been excellent, but it was still tasty. I served it with some brown rice and some crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

Pork Hock and Haricot Stew

There was enough of this for some of it to go back in the freezer as a left over portion, and if I hadn't used some in the borscht it would have made two portions to freeze. I was really impressed with the pork hock, which was incredibly tender by the end of the cooking. There were some sinews and fatty bits left, but I managed to get most of these out when shredding the meat. Definitely a store cupboard triumph!

PS - I did the guest round up at Nora The Kitchen 'Splorer this week, check it out!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Orange and Rosemary Shortbread

It's taken me ages to write this post, just because there has been absolutely zero daylight in Edinburgh to take pictures with. It's so depressing that there is still a month left where it will just get darker. The curtains are shut and the lights are on by about 3pm most days. So, prepare yourself for some very dodgy photos in the coming months, and I apologise for my shaky-cam poor lighting. Brace yourselves for winter.

Anyway.

I've been thinking about the Lemon Thyme biscuits I made earlier in the year a lot lately. I wanted to make them again, but they didn't seem suitable given the cold and dark. Christmas doesn't seem like a lemon time of year. Oranges and clementines are more festive feeling to me.

Orange and Rosemary Shortbread

I swapped out the lemon zest for orange, and finely chopped a couple of sprigs of rosemary. I rolled the dough thicker than I would normally. It seems more appropriate to have a massive hunk of shortbread rather than a daintily thin slice. For some of the larger biscuits, I made a hole in the top so it could be used as a tree decoration.

Orange and Rosemary Shortbread Tree Decorations

The shortbread was crumbly and buttery, and the orange flavour shone through. The rosemary wasn't very strong, so added a pleasant herby aftertaste rather than a massive kick. I decorated the biscuits with an egg white wash and a sprinkle of granulated sugar, to create a frosty effect. Without the sugar topping, it was a quite grown up, but the extra sweetness made the appeal more universal, so perhaps more suitable for feeding to less refined palates! They are incredibly moreish though, so watch out...

Orange Shortbread with Rosemary
Makes lots

225g unsalted butter, softened
150g granulated sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 tsp salt
2 tsps finely chopped rosemary
1 egg, separated (save the white for the glaze)
275g plain flour
2 tbsps orange juice

GLAZE
Granulated sugar

1) Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
2) Add in the orange zest, salt and rosemary, combine thoroughly.
3) Separate the egg, saving the white for glazing. Add the yolk into the biscuit dough mix.
4) Add the flour and orange juice. Once a dough starts forming, knead gently on a floured surface.
5) If the dough is sticky at this point, add more flour, a sprinkle at a time.Wrap the dough in clingfilm, and chill for at least an hour.
6) Preheat the oven to 180C, and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.Roll the dough out to 5mm thick, and cut circles out (I used a 2 inch diameter cutter). Keep gathering the scraps and re-rolling until you have about 40 biscuits.
7) Brush the biscuits with egg white, and then sprinkle with granulated sugar.
8) Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the biscuits are just turning golden brown at the edges.Cool on the tray for 1 minute, then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Madeleines

Last Christmas, I got a madeleine tin. I was excited to have such a one-purpose piece of kitchenalia, but there was a problem. The problem was, I had never really "got" madeleines.

Everyone else seems to be a madeleine fan, judging by how often I see them perched by tills in cafes, and they've cropped up at numerous markets I've been to lately. It's not that I didn't like them, but they always seemed a bit bland and lacking. I did take some comfort that Proust had to dip his in tea to get excited about them (and he wasn't really even getting excited about the madeleine itself, it was the memories it brought back. To me, madeleines remind me of going to my friend's house after school and having to feed her cats as she didn't like the smell of tuna.)

I felt bad about the pan though. It lived in a dresser with some wrapping paper and spare toiletries, before being upgraded to the middle shelf of the baking cupboard, albeit at the back. So, after making the Korova cookies the other day, I flipped forward a few pages in "Paris Sweets" and made some madeleines.

The recipe itself is fairly simple, and I upped the vanilla and lemon to squeeze a bit more flavour in to the madeleines. After resting the batter in the fridge, I carefully spooned 12 dollops of batter in to the shell holes on the tray, and put it in the oven for 12 minutes.

Fresh Madeleines

I was surprised at how high the madeleines rose (the left over batter, which I baked 2 days later, rose even higher. It was almost obscene). The rise was just enough to mirror the scalloping on the other side, so the madeleines were nicely symmetrical.

So now for the tasting. Had I just been eating bad madeleines all these years?

Well, yes and no. Madeleines straight out of the oven were a revelation. The inside was still soft, cakey, and a tad bland, but now it was paired with a crispy crust that was utterly moreish. The ones that managed to survive until the next day were not so great, with the crispy crust now replaced by a slightly chewier bit of bland cakeyness.

As the batter can last for several days in the fridge, I think from now on I'll be baking small batches to eat immediately. The recipe also has a couple of suggestions for different flavours, the Earl Gray variation certainly sounds intriguing!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Borscht

After my recent trip to Russia, I have been craving borscht. I've made it once before a few years ago (and stained practically everything I owned red in the process) but it wasn't as good as the stuff I had in Russia.

After reading multiple recipes, and even tweeting about it, I picked the Valentine Warner recipe from "What to Eat Now". It was in two stages, firstly making a meat broth from vegetables, stewing beef and ham hock, and then adding in roast beetroots, parsnips and apples.

Borscht with Sour Cream

The soup should take about 3 hours to make, as the broth and the roasted beetroots both took 2 hours of slow cooking. However, I ended up taking more like 5 hours, as about 2.5 hours in, there was a power cut. Not only did all the lights in the houses go out, the street lights and traffic lights also went out. It was really strange to look out in to the street and see complete black. A couple of stairwells had emergency lighting, but apart from that the only lights I could see were flickering candles or torches. As both the hob and the oven are electric, I just had to abandon the borscht until the power came back on an hour or so later.

I'm not sure if it was this enforced hiatus or the recipe that meant the soup was a little lacking. The initial stages of frying off onions and garlic with dill smelt fantastic, as did the roasted beetroot and adding the meat. I was less convinced about the apples and parsnip and I would skip this if I was making the soup again. Krysia Boo suggested on Twitter to add the juice from re-hydrating dried mushrooms, which I didn't get the chance to this time but will definitely bear in mind in future. I also think next time I would grate the beetroot instead of cubing it, as I didn't like the thin broth with massive chunks in. I prefer my borscht more texturally homogeneous.

Not Quite Up To Russian Standard

I won't bother posting the recipe, as it needs a lot of work before I'm happy with it. I think next time I'll make the meat stock as a stock rather than a broth, and add the dill and onions later on. However, the soup did tick a lot of boxes, and I enjoyed it for my lunch with a good piece of bread and loads of sour cream. It didn't have an overly earthy flavour, and the sweetness of the beetroot was highlighted. A definite starting point for further adventures in borscht.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Italian Bread

After taking T's brother and his girlfriend to a couple of restaurants over the long weekend, we decided that Saturday night should be a bit quieter (and cheaper!). We decided on a games night, with pizzas, beers, and perhaps even a bit of X-Factor thrown in.

I wanted to make something for people to nibble on, that was a bit more interesting than a bowl of crisps or nuts. Riffling through Leith's, I found a recipe for "Italian Bread". I'd also seen this post on Wild Yeast, which made me really want focaccia.

Italian Bread served with olive oil

The recipe itself is pretty quick to pull together, although the kneading time of 8 minutes is a bit of a killer if you are lacking in upper body strength. I mixed in a handful of chopped sun-dried tomatoes and some fresh basil, but rosemary, cheese or olives would also be tasty.

My two food fears are baking with yeast and deep-frying. Luckily this recipe didn't involve deep frying, but it did involve yeast. The last few times I've used yeast, I've seemed unable to get any rise out of it. However, on this occasion, an hour in a previously warmed oven seemed to do the trick.

Italian Bread flavoured with Sundried Tomatoes and Basil

I was initially a bit disappointed, as the bread was quite hard and crusty. It was still tasty, but it wasn't as soft as I was expecting. Left overnight, it softened up a bit, but still was a bit too tough and crusty for my liking.

Slightly too crusty.

I think if I was to make this again, I'd give the Wild Yeast recipe a go instead. It's fairly similar to the Leith's one, but the photos look less crusty so the small tweaks obviously make a difference.

Italian Bread (Leiths Cookery Bible)
Makes 1 large loaf

30g fresh yeast (I used a 7g sachet of quick yeast)
225ml warm water
450g strong flour
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil
coarse salt to sprinkle over the top

1) Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
2) Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Mix in 2tbsp of the oil and the yeast mixture.
3) Once a dough in formed, knead well for 8 minutes. (After kneading, I added a handful of sundried tomatoes and some chopped basil.)
4) Roll the dough out until it is about 2cm thick. Place on to a greased baking sheet and cover with greased clingfilm.
5) Leave the dough to rise in a warm place until it is soft and fluffy looking. Preheat the oven to 200C
6) Make some indentations in the dough with your finger, and drizzle over the last 2tbsp of oil. Sprinkle over coarse salt, or you could use woody herbs like rosemary.
7) Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the tray and bake directly on the oven rack for a further 10 minutes.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Korova Cookies

This is a bit of a landmark here - my 100th post! Although really two of them don't count as the introduction and links should be on pages rather than posts... but anyway. I have filled this blogger text box out 100 times. Who knew I was that dedicated!?

T's brother and his girlfriend are visiting us this weekend. I have a bit of a reputation amongst T's family for being a baker, so I knew I had to make something to welcome them, but at the same time I didn't want to do anything too crazy that they would feel obliged to eat. I settled on Dorie Greenspan's Korova cookies (sometimes also known as "world peace" cookies - the idea being that if these were handed out there would be no more need for war). How could anyone resist buttery chocolate biscuits studded with chunks of dark chocolate?

Korova Cookies

I made the dough for these the night before, and left it to rest overnight. It was hard to resist baking some of them straight away for a midnight snack. In between cleaning the flat, I sliced off 12 rounds and baked them. Within minutes, the flat smelt like melting chocolate. Obviously I had to check they were ok, and had eaten 2 while they were still warm. By the time T had picked up his brother from the station, I'd eaten 7 of the of the 12 I'd baked. In the introduction, Dorie warns you not to make them when you are alone, and she is right. They are dangerously addictive.

Crumbly and crispy

So I baked another batch, and it came out of the oven just as T and his brother came through the door. They are crispy and just chewy when cool, but when they are warm, the crumbly biscuit and the gooey chocolate are sublime. The hint of salt and the dark chocolate also make them a little more grown up than your average cookie.

If you like the sound of these, Deb of Smitten Kitchen has already typed the recipe up rather well.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Cappuccino Cupcakes

I decided that making the millionaire shortbread from "Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache" was not a good test of the book, as it is about the only recipe in there that doesn't use some kind of vegetable in place of butter. The anthropomorphic descriptions in the book are not particularly useful, so it took me a while to decide on the cappuccino cupcakes with sweet potato.

Cappuccino Cupcakes (with Sweet Potato)

After creaming eggs and sugar, finely grated sweet potato is mixed in. The other main difference between this recipe and a standard cake is that the flour is replaced by rice flour and ground almonds, making this gluten free as well as fat free (I know there are fats in nuts, eggs and sugar, but there isn't the massive hunk of butter that starts off most cake recipes).

Before baking, the batter tasted more like carrot cake than coffee cake. Even though I'd added more coffee essence than the recipe suggested, the flavour was quite weak. After baking, I tried one of the cakes without any icing. Although the coffee flavour was still weak, the cake was moist and fluffy, and the sweet potato had melted away. I was quite impressed that such a healthy set of ingredients could produce such a good example of cake.

The suggested icing was a modified buttercream - 1 part butter, 1 part mascarpone and 4 parts icing sugar. Again I put in a bit more coffee essence than recommended to ensure that the icing made up for the lack of coffee flavour in the cake. While I like the creamier texture that mascarpone adds, I find that it produces quite a loose icing, which doesn't pipe as well as plain buttercream. I tried to practice icing roses on the top of these cakes, but as the mixture wasn't stiff enough they collapsed a little. I think my technique is improving though.

Cappuccino Cupcake with "Rose" Icing Pattern

I am generally not a fan of "fun-free" food, but these were quite impressive. I don't think I'd make them regularly for myself, but as I know a few people who are watching their weight or gluten intolerant, it's good to have a recipe to suit them too.

Cappuccino Cupcakes (Harry Eastwood - Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache)
Makes 12

2 eggs
160g caster sugar
200g peeled and grated sweet potato
100g rice flour
100g ground almonds
2tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3tbsp coffee essence

Icing
50g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar
50g mascarpone
2tsp coffee essence

1) Preheat the oven to 180C, and line the muffin tray with paper cases.
2) Whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy. Whisk in the sweet potato, followed by the rice flour, grated almonds, baking powder and salt. Finally stir through the coffee essence.
3) Fill the cases and bake for 20 minutes. The cakes may look a bit like muffins at this point but don't worry.
4) While the cakes cool, whisk the butter for the icing until it is smooth. Then add 100g of the icing sugar and beat in to the butter to form a thick paste. Whisk for longer than you think you need as it is vital the butter and sugar are properly combined.
5) Add the mascarpone, coffee essence and remaining 100g of icing sugar. Mix with a spoon until you get a smooth icing (don't use the electric whisk here, it'll destroy the texture of the mascarpone.) Keep the icing in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
6) Once the cakes are cool, top them with the icing.

I'm keeping my cakes in the fridge, as the mascarpone won't survive at room temperature very long. However, if you plan to eat these within a day or so, they should be fine to store in a normal cake box.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Daring Baker's October - Macarons

I first discovered the macaron in March 2008, when I went to to visit H, who was doing her year abroad in Paris. We went to all the usual places, and eventually ended up in Fauchon. H told me I should get the lemon macaron. I did. It was yummy. I've considered making them at home a few times, but every time I searched for a recipe I was put off by how many results I got saying that they were tricky.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. So now I couldn't put off macarons any longer.

My first attempt failed miserably. I overwhipped the batter and it was too runny to form any kind of shape. It was still tasty though.

The second attempt was a little better. I had some freeze dried raspberries after my mum found somewhere online that sold "home-sized" portions instead of wholesale. I crushed these up to make a powder, and mixed this in to the batter. It was a lovely creamy white with flecks of raspberry powder in it, and piped easily in to rounds. I dried the rounds in a low oven as suggested, and was pleased to see the beginnings of some feet on my macarons!

However, I found the 7 minutes cooking time suggested in the recipe to be too long, and my macarons went too brown. I sandwiched them with raspberry buttercream (also made with powdered raspberry). While these macarons had the chewiness of a proper macaron, they didn't have the smooth, crisp shell.

Raspberry Macarons with a tiny foot!

So on to the third attempt! This time I used lime zest, and a drop of green gel colouring. I sieved the almonds and sugar twice to make sure it was superfine (although I think if I had a food processor and could have ground the nuts even more it would have been better) and folded the mixture carefully. I watched the macarons like a hawk to ensure they didn't brown (although a couple at the back of the oven still did a little).

Lime Macarons and Fauchon Mug

As it was late, and I didn't have enough time to cool and reheat the oven for drying the second batch, I experimented a little. I left the tray of piped macarons in the oven overnight, once the temperature had dropped below 90c, then baked them this morning for 5 minutes. These ones are the smoothest, but they don't have a foot or a crispy shell! Curses!

What they lack in aesthetics they somewhat make up for in taste.

I sandwiched these with lemon curd, which gives them a good citrus hit. They taste ok, but they need a lot more work. However, the process was easy enough that I'll give macarons another go sometime soon.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Lemon Sundae

Generally I am fairly organised in the kitchen, and like to have all my ingredients and equipment out before I begin. I found some lemons in the cupboard that were on their last legs, so I decided to give a recipe for lemon biscuits a go. As I'd never tried this recipe before, and it looked a bit tricky, I went super-overboard on the mise-en-place. As well as getting my ingredients out, I pre-weighed them all, and left them out for a couple of hours to reach room temperature.

To cut a long story short, despite the extreme prep, it was an unmitigated disaster. What were meant to be crunchy little lemony biscuits turned into a big old cakey mess that was stuck to the baking tray. My first thought was to bin the whole thing, but it seemed such a waste. When I was a child, any leftovers were greeted with a remark about starving Africans, so throwing food away just makes me feel guilty. Instead, I chipped it off the baking tray and made the rest of the lemons in to some yummy lemon curd.


Lemon Sundae

It might not be very sophisticated, but the cake/biscuit fail crumbs, mixed with the fresh lemon curd and some plain yoghurt was delicious. The thing I really like about cooking is that you can be creative. As well as trying out different flavours and presentations, if something goes wrong it's usually salvageable if you are a bit creative. In this case, I liked the way the sweet biscuit, the sweetly tart curd and the plain yoghurt balanced each other out. The biscuits on their own were a bit tooth-hurtingly sweet anyway.


I love lemon curd

I might give the biscuits another go, or I might just content myself with eating this for breakfast for the next few days. Who needs a balanced diet when you can have cake sundaes?

PS - Check out the ridiculously loud coasters I bought in Russia!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

St Petersburg

It's been quiet around here as I had a fun weekend in St Petersburg. The city was founded in 1703, but already it's racked up quite a bit of history. We saw the palace where Rasputin was murdered, the graves of the last Romanovs, and the battleship that fired the first shots of the Russian revolution.

We ate quite a lot of Russian food, with the highlight of the trip actually being a Georgian meal. It's more Mediterranean than you'd expect, with a starter of cheese flatbread, trout tartare and ratatouille style vegetables. For the main course I ended up with more trout, this time with delicious fried potatoes and a herby salad. I had ordered chicken kebabs, but the linguistic barrier got in the way!

Borscht

However, the real revelation was the borscht. While I've had it often at home, the Russian version was milder and often contained bits of meat too (Russian cuisine is NOT vegetarian friendly at all). I need to find this recipe as I could eat this all day! Practically every meal was served with soured cream, which was fine by me.

Normal service will return soon!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Scotch Eggs

A while back, my dad spent quite a while telling me that the perfect boiled egg was all about heating the white to a certain temperature, and that if you kept it at that temperature, it would never over-cook. As I've been reading more about the science of cookery, I've found that my dad was correct - an egg cooked at 65C will have a set white and a creamy yolk.

I've also been intrigued by the rise of the scotch egg from Greg's abomination to acceptable gastro-pub fare. They always seem to have a runny yolk, so maybe it was time to apply science to snacking.

Here comes the science bit!

Egg Number 1
Initially I thought the easiest way to keep an egg at 65C without using a fancy-pants waterbath (I don't even have enough worktop space to justify a stand mixer, let alone an water circulator) was in the oven. Although the oven was labeled 60C, it didn't seem particularly hot in there. I could comfortably put my hand in the oven and move the racks around without it burning. The oven thermometer starts at 100C, and the needle was hovering just under this, so I left an egg in there for about 45 minutes.

After the egg had cooled down a bit, I cracked it open. It wasn't firm enough to peel and so in that respect was an epic fail. However, I scooped the egg out of the shell and ate it, and it was amazingly delicious. The yolk was runny and rich, and the white was cooked but still creamy and soft. The only way it could have been better was if there had been some buttered soldiers to dip in it.

Egg Number 2
Next up I decided to try a water bath. Using a sugar thermometer, I heated a saucepan of water to 65C. I was surprised to find that by putting my hob on the lowest setting, that I could maintain this temperature very easily. I occasionally added a little cold water if the temperature started rising, but I only had to do this about twice in the hour or so that I cooked the egg for.

I cracked it open, and initially was quite pleased - the white was set enough to be able to peel the egg, but still wobbly enough to suggest that the yolk would be runny. However, as I continued peeling, it became obvious that the egg was far too fragile to put in to a scotch egg. As I took off the last pieces of shell, the egg collapsed completely.

By some fluke of science, I'd created an inverted egg. The yolk was completely set, and was like a little orange pebble in a pile of white gooey jelly. I ate this egg too. It wasn't as tasty as the first one, but the yolk, while set, was still moist. I'd be quite interested in using this method again to create set yolks that could be used as a garnish or as a component in a dish.

What had happened was that the yolk proteins had set at 65C, as had some of the white proteins. However, one of the proteins in the yolk doesn't set until 80C, so this egg obviously had a higher ratio of this high temperature protein and thus the white was still quite runny.

Egg Number 3
By this point, the leftover sausages that I was planning to use for the scotch eggs were dangerously close to their use-by date. So I wimped out and put two eggs in a cold pan of water, brought them to the boil, and simmered for 8 minutes. They were pretty standard hardboiled eggs.

In future, I think I'd go for a two stage process to find the perfect peelable boiled egg. First a lovely bath at 63-64C, to firm up the white, but keep the yolk runny. Then a quick dip (1-2 minutes) in a 90C bath to firm out the outer layer of the white, so it's possible to peel it without it falling apart. Then maybe a quick shock in iced water to ensure they don't over cook. Hmmm, several different baths and a peel, sounds like a day at a spa hotel.

Baked Scotch Egg

The actual scotch eggs were fairly simple to make - mash up a load of sausage meat (about 2 sausages per egg) and wrap this around the boiled egg. Then roll the egg in some seasoned flour, some beaten egg, and then breadcrumbs. I seasoned the breadcrumbs with a little cayenne pepper to give them a bit of a kick. As you can see from the photos, my wrapping wasn't entirely even, but that wasn't too much of a problem.

Uneven but tasty

As with most Scottish items, a proper Scotch Egg is deep fried. I didn't really want to do this, so I baked them at 200C for 30 minutes, and finished them off in the frying pan to get the breadcrumbs crispy. I think the sausage meat insulates the egg quite well, as when I finally got to scoff the eggs they yolk was still quite moist and not overcooked. They were also delicious later on when they'd been chilled for a while. Even though I'd baked them, you could feel the cholesterol destroying your arteries as you chewed. Perhaps this is not the recipe to repeat until I perfect it...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Millionaire Shortbread with Salted Caramel

When I was at primary school, my class was selected for an academic survey. We had to fill out a questionnaire detailing our parents' level of education and various other lifestyle questions. I guess this was then correlated with our academic achievement to see if certain households were more likely to produce academically successful children than others. The reason I still remember this is that we had to write down how many books were in our house. I lost count after about 250.

My mum loves books, and sometimes buys random books just because she likes the look of them. She also has a magic ability to find books on special offer or discounted, and she recently sent me Harry Eastwood's "Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache" as she was concerned that I eat too much cake!

Chocolate And Salted Caramel Squillionaire

There were quite a few recipes that appealed, but as I had a tub of caramel sitting in the fridge already, I decided to make the "Chocolate and Salted Caramel Squillionaire", which I then realised was the only recipe in the book that didn't contain vegetables. Oh well.

The addition of golden syrup to the biscuit base gave it a nice toffee flavour, and baking the base before adding the caramel and chocolate made it super crispy. I did think there was a bit too much biscuit base though, next time I would probably only use 250g instead of 300g of digestives.

I also liked using the salted caramel and really dark chocolate topping, as it counteracted the sweetness of the caramel and the base. They're a little bit more grown up than the usual millionaire's shortbread. Although the recipe says it makes 12, I cut mine in to 16 and they are still a decent size.

So yummy they make me lose focus...

I'm really excited to try some of the other recipes, although I agree with this review that the descriptions of the recipes can be rather annoyingly cutesy...

They don't last long.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Squillionaire (Harry Eastwood - Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache)
Serves 12

397g tin of condensed milk
100g unsalted butter (melted)
3 tbsp golden syrup
300g digestive biscuits
pinch of sea salt
150g very dark chocolate

1) Preheat the oven to 180C, and line a 22cm square brownie tin with baking paper.
2) In a large and sturdy pan, put the (unopened) can of condensed milk. Fill the pan with boiling water so the tin is completely covered. Boil for one hour, topping up the water as needed.
3) Meanwhile, put the melted butter and golden syrup in a bowl, and put it in the oven or in the microwave to melt the syrup and butter together. (Make sure the bowl is oven/microwave proof!) It won't take long, 5 minutes in the oven or 1 minute in the microwave.
4) Crush the biscuits, either with a food processor or by putting them in a plastic bag and whacking it with a rolling pin. Get them really crushed, so the mixture looks like fine sand.
5) Mix in the hot butter and syrup with the biscuits. It should now look like wet sand!
6) Push the biscuit mixture in to the tin, squashing it down with your hand or the back of a spoon. Prick the surface with a fork to let out any air bubbles, and then bake for 20 minutes until golden. Leave it to cool while the caramel finishes it's bath.
7) Carefully remove the tin from the boiling water, and open it. Mix in a pinch of salt, and then pour it over the biscuit base, making sure it spreads out to cover the whole base. Put it in the freezer to cool down for at least 20 minutes as you need the caramel to be set when you pour the chocolate over.
8) Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Once it is thoroughly melted, pour it over the frozen caramel and biscuit base. Put it in the fridge to chill.
9) After the chocolate has hardened, cut in to portions and serve!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Afternoon Tea at the Underground Restaurant

I've been following Miss Marmite Lover's blog on hosting an illegal restaurant in her living room for some while, and had wanted to pay a visit for some time. Fate seemed to conspire against me, and although I made it to London a couple of times, other plans always got in the way.

Last weekend the Domestic Sluts were hosting a tea party at the Underground Restaurant. Last weekend I was free in the afternoon. I bought a ticket online, spent an hour on the TFL website trying to work out the best way to Kilburn without using the tube or overland (both of which were shut), put on my best tea dress and headed "underground"...

Like all good parties, as I approached the front door I could hear chatter and the clinking of bottles. I was a little nervous that I might be gatecrashing some random gathering, but it seemed I'd found the right flat after all.

Inside the flat, I settled on the balcony with a glass of kir royale. I got talking with some of the other guests, one of whom wondered why restaurants such as this were illegal. Thinking about it, running a home restaurant seems to be quite a bureaucratic crime - you'll get prosecuted for failure to pay business rates or submit to a hygiene inspection (but as guests are welcome in the kitchen once the food is done, the food hygiene standards are more transparent than most legal restaurants).

Some of the Domestic Sluts

After a suitable amount of mingling time, we settled at the tables for tea. We helped ourselves to a plate on sandwiches already on the table. There were Marmite sandwiches, and I'd never tried Marmite, so I went for one of them straight away. I'd been put off by the smell in the past, and was expecting to fall in the "hate it" camp. Surprisingly, I found Marmite completely inoffensive, and was totally ambivalent about it. I must be the exception that proves the rule.

Also on the table already was a big old plate of homemade scones and jam (no cream - this came later by which point I'd eaten all the scones. Oops.) which did not last long. We also had aga meringues which were shatteringly crisp on the outside, but ridiculously chewy on the inside. I used the cream to sandwich bits of meringue together, it was very good.

Full marks to all the waiting crew, who furnished us with almost endless pots of tea. They also brought round sundried tomato and anchovy tartlets, squash and feta parcels, hot buttered crumpets, carrot cupcakes, rum and ginger cupcakes (awesome) and orange biscuits. There were also chocolate macarons, which were absolutely delicious.

Kitchen Porn

All the food was homemade, and I went to the kitchen when things started winding down to have a nose around and meet Miss MarmiteLover herself. The kitchen wasn't overly big (which made the quantity of food that came out of it even more impressive), but it was a cook's kitchen. Here the Madeleine tin gets to sit brazenly on a shelf, while in my kitchen it's languishing at the back of a cupboard. I was seriously coveting this kitchen. I loved it even more as it featured my new favourite kitchen gadget - the Ikea steppy stool to allow short people to reach high cupboards! (Worryingly, it's advertised as a kid's item.)

The Steppy Stool

I wouldn't review the Underground Restaurant in exactly the same way I would a normal restaurant, as it's a completely different concept. I didn't mind not getting a choice of food, and I really liked talking to the random people on my table. Where else do you get to discuss American health care policy, Vivienne Westwood shoes and a dodgy Turkish boyfriend with strangers? It's much closer to a dinner party, and quite a civilised one at that.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Hawksmoor - Beyond the Hype?

In a fortuitous and unlikely chain of events, I found myself at Hawksmoor with a group of Qypers. I've only been on Qype a while, and hadn't even heard this event was happening, but Jess managed to wangle me a ticket after someone else pulled out at the last minute.

I've read lots about Hawksmoor on various blogs, and was excited to finally have an excuse the visit there. Someone lovely at Qype had also arranged for us to have free wine and cocktails, which is always a plus.

I'm going to come out and say it - Hawksmoor really didn't impress me at all. The waiter who met us at the door seemed surprised to see us, and struggled to find our reservation on the system (I could see it, it was right in the middle of the screen!). The waitress didn't see particularly interested in taking our drinks orders, and it took 5 of us surrounding her before she finally wrote them down. Although she was able to give us some recommendations of cocktails, it was a good 20 minutes before they turned up - apparently the bar was busy. The cocktails weren't that great either, and lacked some of the subtlety I've seen in other cocktail bars. The Hawksmoor Fizz was quite nice though, although the one I ordered for myself never turned up.

We ordered our meals just before 8. The starters turned up about 8.30, which given that most of them were cold (with the exception of the belly ribs) was a bit too long to wait. The waitress left after she'd delivered our starters, leaving us to fetch our own wine from the cooler. My crab was uninspiring, and accompanied by a rather paltry slice of overly chewy bread and a tiny cup of mayonnaise. It was also described as "dressed" on the menu, but in reality this just meant that there was some mayonnaise already mixed in with the crab meat, but no noticeable egg or seasoning. While the belly ribs seemed to go down well, the oysters and smoked salmon ordered by Tim and Judith either side of me also failed to go beyond the norm.

Crab and not much bread

The main courses arrived just after 9pm, by which point Jess and I had been in the restaurant for over 2 hours. Admittedly we were a bit early, but I was ravenous by now. I'd ordered a share of an enormous porterhouse, which fortunately arrived ready sliced. However, I was initially given someone else's ribeye, although I hadn't started eating it by the time the waitress realised the mistake. We had a large selection of sides, of which the triple cooked chips were the only ones that were above average. The potato gratin and the macaroni cheese were a little underseasoned, and tomato salad was overwhelmed by a pungent mint dressing.

900g of Porterhouse perfection

The steak was very very good though. It had a lovely chargrilled crust, but was still pink and melting inside. It was the best steak I've had in a long time, possibly ever. This is the sort of meat that you still think about months later. We'd been warned about the bone, but not about the fat. Although fat and bone make meat taste better, we wanted a rare steak so the fat isn't really needed to baste the meat, as for longer cooked cuts. It seemed a bit cheap to include a massive fatty rind on our steak when they were charging by the gram. Trimming the fat down wouldn't have altered the taste or texture, but would have saved us a bit of money. We weren't offered sauces for the steaks either, only tiny cups of ketchup and herb mayonnaise that came with the chips. The steaks didn't particularly need sauce, but the choice would have been nice.

By the time we got on to pudding, it was 10.30. It took us a while to get through the 3.5kgs of meat on the table, but it also took the waitress a while to clear our plates and bring us the dessert menu. I had a gin and lemon sorbet, which was refreshing but not that memorable. I also ate quite a bit of Jess's chocolate fudge sundae, complete with brownie bits. Again, it was decent but not worth trekking across London for.

Then the bill came. We'd lucked out on having free drinks, but it was still £45 a head for food alone. The steaks were completely worth the £20 or so we paid, but I really questioned whether the rest of the food had been worth £25. I felt we were paying fine dining prices for food that had been mostly average, and some of the slowest service I've seen. The waitress did highlight that the service charge was optional, but as we felt guilty for abusing the free wine somewhat, we paid it anyway. (As a side note, this was one of the most painless bill paying experiences ever. Within minutes of dividing the bill, everyone had handed over their money, taken their change, and there was no quibbling about who ate what! I need to hang out with random people from the internet more often.)

Looking more closely through the other reviews of Hawksmoor, it seems that many other people have noted that the service is painfully slow. I don't see why, when most steaks can be cooked in around 10-15 minutes (especially somewhere that attracts hardcore meat lovers; who are probably more likely to order it rare or medium), and the menu is fairly restricted. You'd also think that they'd make a bit more of an effort for a booking made under the name of a well known review website!

If you love steak, or if you want to love steak, then visit Hawksmoor. You'll be converted to worship at the altar of beef. Just don't bother with much else on the menu.

Hawksmoor on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Palmiers

Although it was fun making the vol-au-vents for the Daring Bakers, using circular cutters meant I had loads of puff pastry scraps. Unlike shortcrust pastry, these can't just be scrunched up and re-rolled. The scraps have to be stacked to preserve the layers, but even then they probably won't be able to achieve the same rise as the original pastry could.

So, having a massive pile of scraps that weren't going to rise properly, it seemed sensible to follow Joy's advice and make palmiers!

I couldn't decide whether to go sweet or savoury. I went with both.

The sweet were dusted with vanilla sugar and mixed spice. The sugar caramelised and made them crunchy and chewy and delicious. The speckles of vanilla and spices mingled to give an appropriately autumnal flavour.

Sweetly Spicy Palmiers

The savoury ones were layered with an extra mature cheddar and cayenne pepper. The cheese is far too strong to eat on it's own, and even T, who loves a good cheddar found it too harsh. However, when baked up, the cheese flavour mellowed out and became more pleasant. The cayenne gave it a bit of a kick and stopped it feeling too fatty.

Cheesy Palmiers

Although I preferred the taste of the sweet palmiers, the cheesy ones would be perfect for a pre-dinner snack, and are a great way to use up any puff-pastry scraps you might have lying about!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Vol-Au-Vents with The Daring Bakers

After many months of umming and ahhing, I finally plucked up the commitment to join the Daring Kitchen, specifically the Daring Bakers. When I saw the challenge, I was nervous but relieved. The first time I attempted puff pastry it was a total disaster, but earlier this year I went to a pastry class and made a more successful attempt.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan. You could choose to make large or small vol-au-vents, and any filling. I followed the recipe exactly, with the only substitution being plain flour instead of cake flour.

Vol-Au-Vents

Initially things went well. The dough "wrapper" came together easily, and the butter was shaped into a square and then chilled. The first two turns of the dough went really well, and the butter didn't leak. Yay! Off I went to watch The Wire for an hour before the next two turns. Gritty urban drama and baking. A perfect match.

Turn 3 went wrong. I'm not sure if the dough was over-chilled, or if I rolled it too thin or roughly. The butter burst through underneath, so when I tried to do the turn, the dough was stuck to the worktop! I completed the turn as best as I could, reasoning that given there would be hundreds of layers by the end of the process, and one or two with a tear wouldn't matter.

The rest of the turns went ok, with lots of flouring to make sure there wasn't any more sticking. I think I might have been a bit over-enthusiastic with rolling out the dough too thinly, which was causing it to be prone to tearing. I made it to 6 turns, and added a 7th as the dough was looking a bit streaky in places.

Lots of Vol-Au-Vents!

Now I just had to think of a filling! Initially I wanted to do something Asian inspired, and was considering something Vietnamese as this would suit the French aspect of the pastry. However, I thought it would be strange to pair rich, buttery pastry with a light Asian filling, and I decided to go for something more traditional and "heavy".

The first attempt was large size vol-au-vents for dinner, filled with chicken, lemon and tarragon stew. Although they were delicious, they weren't lookers. They were also a little undercooked. I decided it was best to try again, and to make smaller ones that would be more manageable.

Next day I was flicking through the Saturday papers, and saw a recipe for coronation chicken. This was traditional and heavy, but also had an Asian influence! I also liked the very retro aspect of the dish. I used this recipe here, which was a big success. It's fruity and creamy, with a good spice blend. The mayonnaise isn't too overwhelming either. In fact, I liked this recipe so much I'm copying out by hand to go in my recipe binder. (That's the rule, if I don't like it enough to be bothered to write out the recipe with a fountain pen, it doesn't make the folder.)

Vol-Au-Vent with Coronation Chicken

As you can see from the photos, I didn't get that much rise from my pastry. I think I rolled it too thin again. It was crispy and flaky though, so not a total disaster. I was also proud of the good glaze I got from the egg wash, it was quite shiny in places!

Even though puff pastry takes a while to make, very little of that time is actually active. There's a lot of waiting around for the pastry to chill and rest. However, once you have got the hang of the "book fold" technique, it's a pretty simple and satisfying process. There's plenty of the pastry left in the freezer, so I shan't be buying any ready made puff pastry anytime soon. Given that the pastry can be easily made over a lazy weekend, I might not buy it ever again, and just have a massive pastry making session every few weeks.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Strawberry Baked Cheesecake

I knew this day would come. "Bake" has finally let me down.

While moving in to the new flat, we somehow acquired a pack of coconut biscuits. As neither T nor I are particular fans, I decided to use the biscuits to make a cheesecake base. I found a recipe in "Bake" for a blueberry cheesecake, and set to work.

The base was easy enough, and was the usual mix of crushed biscuits and melted butter. On to that, I arranged plenty of chopped strawberries, as the blueberries in the shops were ridiculously expensive.

Next up was the cheesecake mix. Cream cheese, vanilla, sugar and eggs were whisked until smooth and creamy. Although I know you are not meant to eat raw eggs I couldn't resist a spoonful of mix, just to test it was alright... As it was delicious I poured the mixture over the strawberries and put it in to the oven.

It might be a tad unfair of me to totally blame Rachel Allen for my cheesecake fail. It was my first time cooking with the new oven, which is a combined oven and grill. I had an oven thermometer in there to see how accurate the oven was. Despite turning the oven up to full blast, it seemed unable to get hotter that 170C. Since the cheesecake wanted to be at 180C, I thought this was close enough and ploughed on regardless. It was only after the top of the cheesecake started burning after 5 minutes that I realised I had set the dial to grill instead of oven. In my defence, both symbols had a fan on them, and the only difference was a slightly thicker black line at the bottom!

I switched it over to oven mode, and kept an eye on the oven thermometer (which E, my old flatmate, once described as "a gadget for calling your oven's bullshit") so the temperature stayed around 180C the whole time. After 40 minutes, the cheesecake was mostly golden (except the burnt patch) and wobbled pleasingly.

Baked Strawberry Cheesecake

After chilling in the fridge, and topping it off with a strawberry and white wine syrup, it was time to eat. Although the strawberry flavour was good, the texture was a little too eggy in places. Instead of being smooth and custard like, it was granular and coarse. I can't decide if this was my complete inability to work an oven or just the wrong ratio of cream cheese and eggs.

The texture wasn't bad enough to scrap the cheesecake totally, and I've been working my way through it over the past few days. The flavours have matured nicely, and it does seem a little less granular after a few days in the fridge.

Strawberry Cheesecake - slightly granular

Hopefully now I have mastered how the new oven works, I can start making up with "Bake".

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'm still in limbo between flats, and I'd sworn off baking until we reached the new flat. However, with T passed out on the sofa watching Jonathan Ross, and this month's issue of Delicious already read, I was bored and the kitchen was calling.

Raiding the cupboards showed there was some flour, baking powder (no idea how T managed to obtain that, I must have bullied him in to buying it at some point) and a bar of chocolate left over from the chocolate terrine. I didn't have any cake tins or a baking sheet, only a roasting tin, so today was not the occasion to attempt the Daring Baker's back catalogue.

Instead I opted for a classic chocolate chip cookie, with hefty chunks of chopped chocolate. I reappeared from the kitchen 30 minutes later with cups of tea and a couple of freshly baked cookies. Not the most exciting Friday night, but certainly a tasty one.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

You can also save this dough in the fridge for a few days, so I baked up the rest of these this morning for elevenses.

RECIPE
115g softened butter
100g brown sugar
25g caster sugar
1 egg
1tsp vanilla extract
215g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
pinch salt
110g chocolate (cut in to chunks or chips)

Makes 24 cookies

1) Preheat the oven to 190c (Gas Mark 5)
2) Cream the butter and sugar until smooth, then add the egg and vanilla extract.
3) Add in the flour, salt and baking powder and briefly mix to form a dough.
4) Add in the chocolate and mix again to distribute the chips throughout the dough.
5) Divide the dough into 24 balls, and place on a greased baking sheet, lightly pressing each ball to flatten it in to a cookie shape. (At this stage you can store any extra dough in the fridge for a week or the freezer for a month.)
6) Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. Transfer to a wire rack until cool. (If your cooling rack is in a self-storage facility, you can use the rack from a roasting tin that you found at the back of a cupboard)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mexican Style Spinach and Chicken Wraps

Although I've moved out of my student flat, I don't get the keys to my new flat for another week. My worldly possessions (including my beloved Le Creuset casserole dish and all my baking equipment) are currently languishing in a self storage unit on the outskirts of Edinburgh. In an attempt to actually get our deposit back, I spent 3 days cleaning the flat. A lack of equipment, energy, time and a kitchen meant I hadn't eaten properly for several days.

I'm currently camping at T's until we can move in to the new flat together, so I decided I should attempt to get something vaguely healthy inside me and recover from the last few days so that the next move won't be so stressful. I'd been planning on some kind of avocado and chicken salad, but the avocado was a bit brown and over-ripe. Instead I mashed it up with some chilli, lemon juice and garlic to make a sort-of guacamole.

Spinach and Chicken Wraps

I poached half a chicken breast, and then wilted a couple of handfuls of spinach in a dry pan. The shredded chicken was put in a wrap, alongside the spinach, guacamole and a drizzle of yoghurt. I would have liked some fresh tomatoes in there too, but there were none in the fridge.

The guacamole and chicken were delicious, and the varying greens when I cut the wraps open made me think I should call this something like "tortilla fresca", but my knowledge of Mexican cuisine is only marginally better than Jamie Oliver's, so I thought better of it.

Letting the side down was the spinach. It was a bit healthy tasting for my liking. The taste of iron was overwhelming, and masked the flavours of the guacamole and chicken too much. Perhaps using baby spinach with a milder taste would have been a better plan.

Anyway, this was a tasty little lunch time treat, and has 2 of my five-a-day. Hopefully all those vitamins and minerals will have me raring to go for another round of hardcore box moving next week...

Friday, 28 August 2009

Reflections on Communal Eating and Living

This weekend we hand the keys to our flat back to the landlord. This marks the end of my time as a student, and the end of my time living in flats where you get to argue about who left the bathroom in such a mess and who didn't pay their share of the gas bill.

One of the most stressful things I've found with communal living is the upkeep of the kitchen. I never thought I would find this as difficult as I have. Neither of my parents are massively in to cooking, and neither of them are particularly houseproud. I grew up in a house where tidying and cleaning were usually done in a massive hygiene binge the day before visitors were due. We were never candidates for "How Clean is Your House", but at the same time the mantelpiece could have used dusting.

However, the kitchen was always pretty clean. Surfaces were wiped down after dinner, and the washing up done and put away. The fridge was regularly checked for anything that had gone bad, and the bins taken out. My only memory of dirt in the kitchen was the floor, as the kitchen door led out to the back garden, so it would often have muddy footprints or bits of stray grass cuttings here and there. Given that I was quite happy with this approach to cleanliness (surfaces and equipment clean, floor less important), I thought I'd be ok in shared flats.

I was wrong. Over the past 4 years, I lived with people who thought the best place to make their toast was directly on the counter, and then left a pile of crumbs with a smear of butter and jam as a reminder. Or the person who insisted on lining every baking tray with tin foil to minimise washing up, but then tearing the foil and deciding they couldn't be bothered to clear up the layer of grease that stuck the foil to the pan. Even more extreme, there was one person who refused to even use baking trays, reheating their ready meals solely in a tin foil cradle. Which burst all over the floor on several occasions, once infuriating the aforementioned flatmate so much they headbutted the fridge. There are people who use 12 saucepans to make spaghetti bolognese, and those that use wire wool on the non-stick pans. People who leave all their washing up in the sink, and then act surprised that you didn't do it for them. Or wash up under running water, so that when you pull the frying pan out of the cupboard the next day, you notice that while the inside is clean, the outside has half a fried egg stuck to it.

Sometimes the spice rack looks likes this.

Note the broken glass and intended recycling

It's also common for the worktop to look like this.

So close to the sink, yet so far from clean.

I'm looking forward to living somewhere you only have to clean after dinner, not before as well.

I'm also pretty sad to move out. Although some of my past flatmates have been hilariously incompetent in the kitchen, having 3 or 4 other people under the same roof makes for great communal meals. This year alone we've had Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, Anti-Valentines, a mexican night, a tapas night and a chilli cook off. We had a chocolate fondue party, and baked a 2 foot long custard cream. We celebrated Burn's Night with the biggest haggis you've ever seen. There's always willing mouths to tuck in to the latest thing I've baked, usually just because I felt like it.

I've lost count the number of times I've bought too much dinner and managed to offload the leftovers on to one of my flatmates. This year particularly, I've had several texts and calls offering me a communal dinner. There's something great about coming home to a roast dinner and a table populated by some of your best friends, when an hour ago your dinner plans involved a can of baked beans and a serious iPlayer session.

While I won't miss communal cleaning (I've spent the last two days trying to scrape a year's worth of grease out the oven) I will definitely miss the communal eating.