Good food can make life so much better.

 

Too much time with lawyers this week trying to capture the consequences of the accident that took place about three and a half years ago – it’s no fun going over all the continuing miseries.  But life improved with celebrating the first meal in a restaurant (Lauro’s in the High Street, Fareham) for over a year.  Strange to be in an enclosed space with other people but good distancing, masks, excellent ventilation and a bottle of wine made all the difference.  Good food as always: I’m inspired to try making my own confit duck.  The homemade chocolate ice-cream was superb but I’ll try to resist.

It must be well over 10 years since I bought 24 little silicone pots with lids in France.  They were sold for “oeufs en cocotte” (the posh French version of coddled eggs) but, in those days, I was making lots of my own ice-creams, so they were perfect for freezing individual portions – and were in the Sale too.

Good kitchen kit has multiple functions and not always their original.  Last week I was using one asparagus pan for blitzing chicken liver parfait, another one is used to store individual flan tins and I cook the asparagus in the microwave.  In place of the cocottes, small ramekins with a lid of kitchen foil would work too.

When the heat’s on, no-one wants to spend much time in the kitchen.  Here’s the simplest little lunch/supper or even a starter.

Per cocotte:

tiny knob of butter.

half slice of ham.

1 egg.

1 teaspoon cream.

Pepper.

3-4 spears asparagus, trimmed.

knob of butter to serve.

 

Rub the butter around the cocotte and leave a tiny piece in the bottom.

Thinly slice the ham and put half in the bottom of the cocotte.

Break the egg on to the ham and top with the remaining ham.

Add the teaspoon of cream and a grind of pepper.

Place on the lid and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200C, Gas 6 for 12 minutes.

While the egg is cooking, rinse the asparagus and place on a plate.

Microwave on Medium power for 3-5 minutes until cooked.  Serve with another knob of butter and the egg in its cocotte.

 

Cooking times may depend on your oven, the shelf position and whether you put the cocotte on a baking tray.  It may take a little experimenting to get the egg cooked just as you want it.

 

Don’t forget the shortbread virtual baking session on Monday 14 June at 1030 (see previous post).

 

You don’t have to be blind …

I’m running a series of virtual live bake-ins with the help of Open Sight of Hampshire.  We’ll be making classic shortbread on 14 June (1030 London time) with millionaire and strawberry variations.

It’s all free and we use EventBright to keep us safe on-line.  Eventbrite link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/baking-session-for-visually-impaired-people-shortbread-with-penny-tickets-156533015463

Each month, visually impaired people from across the UK and overseas have created delicious teatime treats with various levels of success. https://youtu.be/YTaIvvtNwrk

One enthusiast’s ginger biscuits spread to about treble size – although using tracing rather than baking paper may not have helped. The World Baking Day pork pies were delicious but moulding the hot water pastry was like using playdough.  Not many had attempted bread before but our version using just self-raising flour, yoghurt and a little salt proved (pun) that anyone can make this loaf in 30 minutes.

Baking together relies on touch, smell, hearing and taste – you don’t have to be blind, but it helps!

Catch up with our bake-ins on the Open Sight YouTube channel:

Ginger biscuits:

https://youtu.be/4lkmaV_8Yx0

Try replacing the ginger with coffee and walnuts.

Soda bread:

https://youtu.be/d2OfawOg-uk

I’ve discovered wholemeal self-raising flour which works just as well.

Lemon Victoria sponge:

https://youtu.be/AeHMSdVDLzU

The variations are nearly endless – I’ve even used coriander and chilli instead of lemon!

Pork pies:

https://youtu.be/s55WD5Ph-G4

This is the basis of classic game pies and cooked vegetables also make a different filling.

There’s more over coming months and your recipe requests are much welcomed.

 

Summer starter.

With the better weather and less Covid restrictions, we can all do a bit more entertaining: the joy of seeing friends and family, sharing a meal together and catching up on months of news.

I was eating with friends a week ago: sitting on their terrace, overlooking the boats skimming along the Solent with a hazy Isle of Wight in the background.  It was so much better than those rather disjointed on-line conversations: topping up the tan, chatting over a glass or two, succulent steaks of swordfish and, for dessert, the new season’s rhubarb.

My offering was a chicken liver parfait starter with home-made bread and chutney (well, in reality, the sous-chef had done all the work and I’d done all the directing):

half an onion, diced.

small knob of butter.

splash of brandy and/or port.

500g chicken livers, drained.

250g butter, melted.

salt and pepper.

a little more melted butter to top the parfait.

 

Sauté the onion in the knob of butter until softened.

Add the port and/brandy and cook until nearly all the liquid has evaporated.

Add the chicken livers and cook over a medium to high heat for five minutes.  The outsides should have become brown while there is still some pink in the centres.

Season and place in a food processor with the melted butter.  Whizz until smooth.

Pour into serving dishes and top each with a little more melted butter to keep out the air.

Chill for several hours or overnight.

(He put the mix into a tall asparagus pan (doesn’t everyone have one?) and whizzed with the wand-blender to make 8 portions – not too big as it is so rich!)

 

 

 

World Baking Day

I expect that there will be cakes galore out there but here’s something different: a pastry that anyone can make.

I’ve been celebrating this special Baking Day with a virtual on-line live bake-in with blind and visually impaired people – and there will be a video published soon too.  It is part of our series of bakes to create a special tea for family and friends as the Covid lock-down eases.  So far, we’ve made ginger biscuits, soda bread, lemon Victoria sponges and, today, individual pork pies.

I’ve heard from so many people that they are no good at making pastry, their hands are too hot/cold/rough or whatever.  Hot water pastry is like play-dough: beautifully malleable and forgiving. Left-overs can be stored in the fridge or freezer for another day.  Pork pies and raised game pies are the traditional uses but I’ve made open tartlets and even used a vegetable filling.

We have been experimenting with different fats for those who don’t want to use lard.  Trex is based on oil and is one possibility and those who feel self-indulgent could use all-butter.

One of the plus points with this pastry is that it can be moulded very thin – not like those wedges of dough in shop-bought pies.  You can therefore pretend that it is nearly good for you.

The beaten egg brushed over the pastry is primarily for those who eat with their eyes – it makes no difference to the taste.

 

Hot water pastry:

100ml water.

90g lard.

200g plain flour.

50g strong white bread flour.

Flat teaspoon ground mace (optional).

Flat teaspoon salt.

50g butter.

 

Filling:

About 300g sausage meat.

Ground black pepper.

Fresh thyme leaves.

1 lemon, zest only.

1 egg, beaten.

 

Preheat oven to 200C, Gas 6.

Place the water and lard in a pan and heat gently until the lard has just melted.

Meanwhile, mix the flours, salt and mace (if using) in a bowl.

Rub in the butter.

Pour in the water and lard and stir with a wooden spoon.

Use your hands to make a dough ball and allow it to cool (press out and put on a cold plate in the fridge).

Mix black pepper, the herbs and lemon zest into the sausage meat.

Line the pie tins with the pastry (either roll out or mould with your hands).

Fill with sausage meat and press out a lid and mould over the pies.

Make a hole in each pie top to let steam escape, brush with the beaten egg.

Place on a tray in the oven for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to 140C, Gas 2 for 20 minutes.  If you have a probe thermometer, check that the filling has reached 70C.  Cover with a loose double layer of foil to stop the pastry over-cooking if necessary.

 

My Tips:

I will use a bun tin with loose bottoms or small foil containers with high sides.

It is difficult to be accurate about the amount of filling you will need as it depends on the size of your pie tins, how thin you get the pastry etc.  The above quantities made three generous individual pork pies.

Trex or butter might replace the lard although I haven’t tried it.

If I was experimenting with a wheat-free flour, I’d try adding about a teaspoon of xanthium gum to the flour – but no guarantees!

Vegetable fillings are equally possible but will need part-cooking beforehand so that the mix has cooled.  I’ve used: sautéed onion, mushroom, courgette, potato, fresh thyme, seasoning.

If you want to chill the pies, you might consider adding some “jelly”: a stock pot/cube, a little water and some gelatine to make the jelly that is poured into the steam hole.  Good to do this while the pie is still warm and it will spread through the pie.

 

 

Awning gap.

Nightmare as making preparations for the first outdoor entertaining: day before, tested the electric awning over the terrace.  Went out beautifully; retracted perfectly. Then, entirely of its own volition, extended again and promptly stopped, refusing to respond to frantic presses on the remote control.

All would have been well other than for the gale force winds and rain that then ensued.  Result: one dramatically flagging large awning, dipping down to about a foot off the ground, filling with water and banging on the house.  Too risky for the sous-chef to resolve without another pair of eyes to monitor troubleshooting in such a hazardous situation.  Fortunately, located a couple of experts who cut out the canvas and tied up the frame – electrics and motor burned out.

But I did manage to feed the visitors despite the chaos and finished with an experimental chocolate cake.  I’m convinced that most people rely on their eyes to taste the chocolate so, if its brown with cocoa powder, it’s OK – but not so for us who can’t see it.

Here’s a better version based on the famous Viennese Sachertorte:

 

150g plain chocolate, melted and cooling.

6 eggs, separated.

150g butter.

100g castor sugar.

Half teaspoon vanilla extract.

55g plain flour.

100g ground almonds.

1 heaped tablespoon cocoa powder.

 

Whisk the egg whites to soft peak stage.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the chocolate and vanilla. Followed by the egg yolks (one at a time) on full speed.

Fold in the flour, ground almonds and cocoa powder.

Fold in one third of the egg whites and then the remainder, gently.

Pour in to 23cm tin (buttered and base lined with parchment paper) in one go and level gently.

Cook in pre-heated oven at 180C or Gas 4 for 45-50 minutes.

To finish the cooled cake (optional), brush with warmed apricot jam and cover with a chocolate icing made of 200ml double cream heated and poured over at least 115g plain chocolate -cool before covering cake.

(I made two smaller cakes and cooked for about 20 minutes by when the internal temperature had reached over 95C.  The finished cake keeps well and retains its moistness for at least a week – there was only this scrap left by then).

 

 

 

 

Exclusive: World Baking Day live online bake-in for blind people

 

17 May at 1030 (London time).

Free cook-along as we celebrate World Baking Day on 17 May.

We will be making the simplest and most forgiving hot water pastry and producing wonderful melt-in-the mouth pork pies.

Virtually no skill or experience required but you will need:

100ml water.

90g lard.

200g plain flour.

50g strong white bread flour.

Flat teaspoon ground mace (optional).

Flat teaspoon salt.

50g butter.

Filling:

About 300g sausage meat.

Ground black pepper.

Fresh thyme leaves.

1 lemon, zest only.

A metal or silicon bun tin or individual foil cases with 1-inch sides, a plate, a bowl, saucepan, wooden spoon.  Oven set to 200C, Gas 6.

(some people are going to use Trex, or all butter rather than the lard and pre-cooked vegetables can be used in place of the sausage meat)

Thanks to Open Sight from Hampshire UK, you can avoid on-line “trolls” by signing up through this link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/x/exclusive-baking-session-with-penny-for-visually-impaired-blind-people-tickets-151057187113

 

See you on the day.

Free concert 29 April at 1900 (London time).

Here’s a chance to hear some of the finest church organs in the world accompanying a virtual choir thundering out a selection of the most stirring  hymns that we all belted out in our school days.

There are introductions by various luminaries such as Stephen Fry and a choir of about 1,000 singers from around the world who took part in on-line rehearsals and sent in their individual recordings for melding into the finished piece by the sound technicians.

I know all of this as the sous chef took part.

The link for the Concert Performance Premiere on Thursday 29th April at 19:00 UK time is here:
https://youtu.be/VqKY6RIqg7I

You can watch it later if you wish.

More details on the poster:

https://www.theselfisolationchoir.com/s/Hymns-Concert-Performance-Poster.pdf

Please share with everyone you know.

Missed the boat

 

Just when “substantial meals” are no longer required, I’ve got around to making Scotch eggs.

The hand fracture is doing well and I’m starting on the exercises to re-build strength – how am I going to grapple ingredients to the chopping board with limp wrists and weak digits?

I’m back on RNIB Connect radio (Read On programme) this week (Friday at 1300 – available on-line and via Alexa) with more book reviews.  This time I’m talking about Len Deighton, one of my all-time favourites since the 1970s and I must have re-read his books at least every 5 years.      My weekly book rate is at least three detective/thriller/Scandinavian noir books – just light reading for relaxation – but there’s the occasional classic thrown in for when I’m feeling more intelligent.  The joy of audio books is that I can read them anywhere (cooking, swimming, trying to sleep) and they bring the writing alive – it is amazing to discover Trollope’s humour (Anthony rather than Joanna).

A note for diaries: World Baking Day on 17 May and another Exclusive for Visually Impaired People live on-line bake-in.  We have had people from all over the world signing up – it’s free and fun.  This time I’ll be featuring hot water pastry in some dead simple pork pies.    Get your ticket here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/x/exclusive-baking-session-with-penny-for-visually-impaired-blind-people-tickets-51057187113

(Don’t worry about signing –up – it’s a way to avoid any of us getting trolled)

Meanwhile, these Scotch eggs are quick and easy, perfect for a picnic now that we can all roam a little further and the weather is better:

2 eggs.

350g sausage meat.

Breadcrumbs.

Spray oil.

Prick the ends of the eggs and cook in boiling water for 4 minutes.  Remove and place in cold water.

When cool enough to handle, remove the shells and pat dry.

Season/flavour the sausage meat as you prefer: pepper, garlic powder, chopped herbs, chilli – all, none or whatever tantalises your taste buds.

Divide the sausage meat in half and press out as thin as possible without it breaking up.     Wrap the meat around each egg, pinching together the joins.

Roll the covered egg in the breadcrumbs and spray with oil.

Place on an oiled baking sheet and cook for 35 minutes, turning half way, at 180C, Gas 4, 350F.

Serve with the chutney of your choice – ours is apple, date and walnut.

 

 

 

 

Back to basics

I’ve been doing a series of on-line live bake-ins exclusively for visually impaired people – and even getting bakers taking part from different parts of the world.

The goal is to make enough different bakes to create a celebration tea when we are all able to mix again.  So fa, we have achieved ginger biscuits, soda bread and, this week, lemon Victoria sponges.    Our next session will celebrate World Baking Day on 17 May  https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/world-baking-day/ – and we will try hot-water pastry for pork pies.

This week, with the joys of Zoom (and a difficult echo) a whole group creamed, folded and drizzled our delicious individual cakes.  A couple of mine went over the road to cheer-up neighbours  – something as quick and simple as a homebake can bring a smile to faces when we are all feeling a bit glum.

Touch is key for me with this cake: I have to feel when the butter and sugar have become light and fluffy and when the cakes are cooked – that soft sponginess.  But I have also found that a temperature probe reading (literally) 98 degrees Centigrade is also a good test.

The flavour variations are endless as long as you remember that the sponge probably isn’t dense/strong enough to hold up a lot of fruit – who wants sunken cherries?  Ideas might include: basic vanilla; chopped dates and ginger; lemon and orange St Clement’s; mixed spice and a few sultanas; coffee and walnut.

I’ve added a couple of handfuls of fresh raspberries (in China) and chopped coriander and chilli (in Costa Rica) – there’s no end to the madness.

It’s an easy recipe to remember: just weigh the eggs and everything else is the same – so you can make a smaller or bigger cake just as easily.  Here’s my lemon drizzle version:

2 lemons, zest and juice.

1 tablespoon caster sugar.

3 eggs, weighed in their shells.

Same weight butter, softened.

Same weight caster sugar.

Same weight self-raising flour.

Gently heat lemon juice and tablespoon of sugar in microwave until the sugar is dissolving – leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time, each with a teaspoon of flour.

Fold in the remaining flour and lemon zest.

Spoon into a bun tin or two sponge tins or a loaf tin.

Cook for 20 minutes (probably 25 minutes for sponge tins and 30 for loaf tin).

Test cakes are cooked.

While still hot, prick with a cocktail stick (I can’t remember the last time I used one with a cherry) and then spoon the lemon juice syrup over the cakes.

Allow to cool enough to avoid burning your mouth.

 

 

 

.

Here’s one I made earlier.

My hand injury is still recovering so the beekeeping sous chef has been responsible for conjuring up outstanding flapjacks for friends who have dropped in for tea since we could meeting the garden.  Even though most of us have done very little for months, it is amazing how much talking is still needed to bring each other up-to-date.   And how good to hear others laughing.

This is our Easter Spring cake: a cross between a Christmas cum Simnel recipe that I had started at least two months before the injury. Although there are lots of ingredients, it actually takes longer to weigh out than mix.

The dried fruit had been soaking in brandy for a month and the strained residue was later injected into the finished cake (syringe, needle and all).

The sous chef’s home-produced honey replaced the usual sugar, with a little extra flour to offset its 17% water content.  This made a lighter and more flavoursome cake.

To stop the cake drying out, I gave up on the traditional Simnel top layer of marzipan plus 11 apostle balls.  Instead, and completely optional, the cake was covered top-to-toe with more marzipan.  The sous chef made and lovingly applied the final finishing touches of royal icing plus festive birds and bees. (He has to get all the praise as he posts these pieces for me!).  The cake is so unctuous and moist that it nearly needs serving with a spoon.

 

4oz currants

4oz sultanas

8oz raisins

Enough brandy to cover the dried fruit.

8oz butter

8oz honey

4eggs

16oz self-raising flour

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons mixed spice

Half teaspoon salt

2oz candied peel, chopped.

250g glace cherries.

2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.

2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).

2oz dried dates, stoned and chopped.

Zest and juice of 1 orange.

Zest and juice of 1 lemon.

3oz whole almonds chopped

3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.

500g pack marzipan.

 

Soak the currants, raisins and sultanas in brandy – ideally for a month but a week would do.

Drain and set aside the strained brandy.

Cream   the butter and honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in each egg with a teaspoonful of flour.

Fold in the flour and the remaining cake ingredients.

Fill a cake tin halfway and top with a layer of marzipan, pressed out to fit the tin.  Fill the tin on top of the marzipan.

Cook Gas 1, 140C for 2 hours 15 minutes, reduce heat for a further 45 minutes.  Internal cake temperature should reach at least 96C.

This quantity was bigger than my cake tin.  I put the extra into a loaf tin and cooked at the same time on the oven second shelf for 2 hours 15 minutes.

Optional: once cake has cooled and been removed from tin, inject with strained brandy over a week.  Brush with warmed apricot jam and cover with marzipan (around 750g) and allow to dry for a few days.  Cover with royal icing and allow to dry.  Decorate with whatever grabs your imagination.

Please don’t forget the live on-line bake-in on Monday 12 April at 1030.