Ginger biscuits go global.

Well, not quite, but I couldn’t resist the alliteration!  In fact, I’ve been doing live on-line bake-ins for blind students in both Hertfordshire and San Francisco this week.

The Brits wanted some tips about baking so I explained my only two items of “blind” equipment: talking scales and thermometer.  For any of these talking items, I strongly recommend auditioning them before buying because some of the voices are distinctly slurred, rather transatlantic and somewhat abrupt.  My oldest scales are my favourite: he says “Hello” when turned on and “Goodbye” when his button’s pressed.

The san Francisco group liked the recipe too but I had to explain our golden syrup – it is not so easily available over there and our British self-raising flour becomes their all-purpose version with some baking soda.  They wanted to know more about my time in the Navy and why I joined.  And they seemed to like the tales of derring-do from the global cooking tour too.  It was another chance to promote all my hundreds of Baking Blind videos https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWTJYx7jGA3xaR4830wJSRg?view_as=subscriber

In turn, they gave me a sense of what life is like in California in the midst of the Covid pandemic.  It sounds very similar to here: lots of confusing messages from governments, lives limited by lockdowns and the particular problems of blind people who might often rely on someone else to guide them.  It is impossible to maintain social distancing when you need to hold someone’s arm or can’t see the one-way signs or floor markings when out either.

These Covid challenges were also part of the discussion during an interview  I did with RNIB Connect radio (broadcast on 8 July at 1100 – but there’s catch-up too: http://www.rnibconnectradio.org.uk/> Twitter @RNIB Radio).  The pandemic is creating some extra challenges for disabled people as we try to navigate our way through Government guidelines  so please give us a bit of leeway.

Here’s the ginger biscuit recipe in case you missed it last time:

50g butter.

50g sugar (white, golden or brown).

50g golden syrup or honey.

100g self-raising flour (or 100g all-purpose flour plus half a teaspoon baking soda).

1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger (about 5g).

Heat the oven to Gas 4, 350F, 175C

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan, stirring to check the sugar has dissolved.  Allow to cool.

Put the flour and ginger in a bowl and pour in the butter and sugar mix, scraping the pan clean and using the scraper to start mixing the dough.

Finish the dough with your hands,  forming  it into 10 small balls, rolling them between your palms.

Line a baking tin with baking parchment and place the balls on it about 2 inches apart, gently pressing down each ball a little.

Cook for 12-15 minutes.  The biscuits should feel firm to touch and will crisp further as they cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot hot-water pastry

You probably know this pastry from pork pies or those gala pies  with an egg in the middle: served cold straight from the fridge or lukewarm in a picnic.  Can I strongly commend this pastry when it is still fresh and succulent from the oven?

Straightforward to make and like Play Dough to handle, you can use nearly any ovenproof container to  give your pie individuality and style.  Mine uses one of those unbelievably expensive classic pointed oval  tins – only thanks to a joint Christmas present from lavishly generous friends.

First, place 185g lard in 200g water in a pan and heat just enough to dissolve the fat.

While it cools, mix 100g strong bread flour with 400g plain flour plus a flat teaspoonful each of salt and ground mace.  Rub in 100g butter.

Pour in the lard and water and mix with your hands.  It takes about a minute or so.  Now you have an oozing, warm concentration of calories ready to be moulded into your tin, silicone or other vessel of choice.  Put aside a handful for the lid and take another and press on to the base, making  it as thin as possible, adding more to press up the sides – it joins and welds together with no problem.  It will become firmer as it cools which is helpful if the sides tend to sag a bit.

Now you are ready for the filling of your choice: slices of ham, turkey, chicken, pheasant, partridge, venison or whatever takes your fancy.  Some minced pork or sausage-meat is worth including as the fat keeps your other fillings moist – and some boiled eggs too if you like.  Quantities are difficult to give as it depends on the size of your container – but left-overs of both pastry and filling can make extra mini pies.

I used turkey moistened with lemon juice, pork mince with lots of ground pepper and thyme plus Spanish dried ham – all in the classic layers.  The pastry reserved for the lid can simply be patted out to shape and the right thickness on your hand or rolled out if you want the extra washing up.  Pop it on top of the pie and make good joins all around the edge before making at least one hole to let out steam.

Bake on an oven tray for 30 minutes at Gas 6, then one hour at Gas 2  and a further 30 minutes covered with foil at Gas 2.

If you want to eat cold, you might add some jellified stock: soak 2 leaves of gelatine in cold water before squeezing out the liquid.  Add a  stock cube or similar to half a pint of hot water and dissolve; add the gelatine and stir until dissolved, heating on medium heat in the microwave if needed.  Use a funnel to pour into the steam hole in the pastry lid – it may take several hours to add a little and have it absorbed before adding some more.

Mini individual pies only need about 10 minutes at Gas 6  before the slower cooking at Gas 2  – and are difficult to resist: hot out of the oven!

 

Cherry ripe

 

Actually, they weren’t until spread out in the sun for a day.  These aren’t any old cherries but the sour Morello variety from the historic Porter’s Lodge garden www.portersgarden.org  in Portsmouth Naval Base.

My great friend, Joan, is a volunteer gardener in this special garden where much of the planting is authentic to its origins in 1754.  None of those modern upstart hybrids permitted.  Each year the volunteers pick these wonderful cherries and I’m often lucky enough to be spared some for jam.  This year I’m trying different ways of preserving them: bottled; dried in the dehydrator for use in cakes and homemade granola.  If I get more, perhaps homemade glace cherries might be possible

I have a very nifty German-made cherry stoner: the fruit gently rolls from the hopper on to a small piece of rubber.  Pushing down the plunger presses out the stone, through the hole in the rubber and into the collecting box.  Meanwhile, the rubber has sprung back and ejected the cherry – very simple and effective if you have a large amount of fruit to handle.  But still worth checking for any missed stones – no-one wants to lose a tooth.

Once stoned, the cherries are washed in very hot/boiling water and then packed in Kilner-style jars (with a rubber seal and metal clip).  I add a dash of kirsch to each jar and then top up with a sugar syrup.  I made the syrup by adding enough water to the juice I’d saved to make 360g and then added 120g of white sugar.  The syrup is heated in a pan until the sugar dissolves and poured into the jars to cover the fruit.  With the seals in place (best done before filling the jars) and lids securely clipped closed, the jars are placed in pans and covered with hot water.  Once the water is boiling in the pans, reduce to a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes.  Air trapped in the bottles will expand and be forced out past the rubber seals.  Allow the jars to cool and then test for a safe seal: undo the clip and try to lift off thelid. If it stays put, they are safe to store – if not, eat them soon.

The Porter’s Garden in the Naval Base is a special location for me: I walked past it every day when I was working in the Old Naval Academy and had to travel by train as  my sight had got too poor for driving.  Little did I know that, over 20 years later, I’d be cooking the produce from that garden.  I have many happy memories of that Naval Base – visitors see it as a historic site; for me, it was my familiar workplace that felt like home.

 

 

 

One orange:two recipes

You probably won’t want to serve both at the same meal, especially as the strawberries need some time to macerate, but a little morning prep gives you the basis for lunch and supper.

2 carrots, peeled and grated

1 orange, grated zest of half

1 handful sultanas

1 handful of nuts or seeds

1-2 tablespoons of vinaigrette dressing.

I have a handy grater that attaches to its own bowl so that I can grate the carrots and orange straight into it.

My current favourite version uses pumpkin seeds heated in a dry frying pan until they are popping but walnut pieces work well too.

Add the sultanas, vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.

Keep in the fridge for an hour or so while the sultanas plump up a little with the juice from the carrots.

With the rest of the orange:

1 orange, grated zest of half and the juice

1 punnet strawberries, hulled and quartered

A splash of an orange liqueur

1 teaspoon sugar.

 

Simply mix everything and keep in the fridge for an hour or more until serving.

Delicious dishes that let simple ingredients shine through.

 


.Perfect with Tempura King Prawns and home-grown tomatoes!

Too tempting to make many!

 

I’ve been looking for something very simple, quick and easy to make to serve with desserts: to add texture, crunch and spice.

These ginger biscuits fit the bill and a tray of 12 is more than enough sugary temptation to have around:

70g butter

70g caster sugar

70g golden syrup

4g ground ginger

140g self-raising flour

6 pieces crystallised ginger, chopped or sliced.

 

Put the oven on to Gas 4.

Just melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan and leave to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Use a 12-hole silicone muffin tray on top of a metal baking tray and place some of the crystallised ginger in each hole.

Pour the butter mix into a bowl containing the flour and ginger.

Mix thoroughly (I used my hands) and check the flavour depending on the strength of your ground ginger adding more if necessary.

Portion out a small ball into each hole and lightly press down.

Cook for 18 minutes.

Cool in the silicone pan for about 30 minutes and then turn out on to parchment paper to fully cool.

 

The biscuits have crunchy edges and chewy centres – very more-ish.

They will be good with a hot fruit salad, a rhubarb and ginger crumble or just a cup of coffee.

Hardly any washing-up to do and the silicon mould makes biscuits possible for any blind person to handle.

 

More paving than Pavlova

Pavlova, meringue, Christmas pudding, bee hive, British Bee Keeping Association, BBKA disastrous day in the kitchen: meringue melt-down and pudding pot welded to pan.

I was experimenting with the new food processor and its special beating blade.  The goal was a Pavlova meringue: crisp on the outside and softly marshmallow beneath.  The first problem was a dreadful clattering from the bowl.  I wasn’t sure if the blade had broken or the whole structure had come apart.  The sugar and egg whites had already become a soft billow but I had to delve to the bottom to recover a mysterious teaspoon that had been rattling around with the beater.  Gently spooning the final mix on to the baking sheet, I discovered that the hoped-for billowing mound was piled over an errant spatula.  Digging that out reduced the whole confection in to a sticky spreading mess.  Nothing could rescue it from spreading in to a puddle in the oven.

Meanwhile, I’d been steaming the 11th remaining reserve mini Christmas pudding for lunch.  With all the disasters, the water had evaporated and the pudding bowl welded itself to the base.  The pudding was still edible but the bowl has gone to that place where redundant cooking equipment is buried.

Thank heavens there are still another 10 puddings to sustain us for the next few months.

The great news of the day was that one of the local beekeepers delivered a swarm to the new hive in the garden: there should be honey for tea in a year’s time, barring more disasters!

 

 

 

 

 

Solutions galore!

Huge thanks to everyone who responded to my “opening” dilemma.  Your solutions worked and the key was to ensure that my wonderful assistant  read the packaging.  To be fair to him, the words “Peel to open” were quite small and not obvious but we got there on the next attempt!

Highly Dangerous Comestible

                                                      Highly dangerous comestible.

To whom it may concern,

I wish to raise a formal complaint.

At Christmas 2019 I was the recipient of many magnificent gifts from my long-term and much esteemed friend, Maggie.  Amongst this treasure trove of delicacies was a container of Gentlemen’s Relish (one of my favourite comestibles).
I had investigated this precious gift on frequent previous occasions but could not discover any method of opening the receptacle.  Last night, in the midst of the Corona Crisis and without any other possible sustenance, I once again endeavoured to lay siege  to the container.
I commenced with a sharp knife and only managed to chip the exterior so desisted from fear of damage and injury to my person.  Despite its construction in very heavy duty plastic, I next tried a tin opener (several times) with no better success.  Eventually I resorted to a pair of sturdy kitchen shears.  The result was more heartening with plastic fragmentation  possible at each determined cut.  Although I’m blind and so could not see the progress, I could hear it as the pieces of plastic rebounded around the kitchen with considerable velocity.
I was eventually able to partially open the indestructible container and excavate some of the contents.  These proved satisfyingly delicious but dissatisfyingly insufficient in offsetting the considerable energy expended in gaining access and subsequently vacuuming the kitchen to recover the plastic shards.
I appreciate that this may all be part of a calorie controlled diet: namely, it takes more energy to access the food than it provides when digested.  Notwithstanding which, I raise this complaint as there were no markings on the culpable container to designate it as inaccessible for a disabled consumer or any other person of right mind!
I attach an image which may be used in evidence.
The safer alternative is to drain a tin of anchovies, add a knob of butter and the juice of half a lemon plus a good grind of black pepper.  Whiz the mix to a paste and spread on hot toast – delicious!

 

An alternative tart

 

Whoever named these fish as pollocks did them no favours!  Yet this white sea fish is a good sustainable alternative when our favourite cod and haddock stocks are less plentiful. We bought online a super selection of fish from Sound Seafood in Plymouthhttps://www.soundseafood.co.uk: fish pie mix, kippers, sole and much more.  All arrived safely chilled in a polystyrene insulated box (makes a great filler at the bottom of heavy plant pots).

Amongst these treasures were a pair of smoked pollock fillets.

They made an excellent alternative to the usual smoked salmon or trout that I use in my basic tart. But these two fillets first needed gentle cooking so went into the microwave on Defrost for about five minutes until they felt hot.

I’d already lined a tart tin with pastry (confession: shop-bought puff), pricked the bottom and lined it with foil.  Twelve minutes at Gas 5 and it was ready for the foil to be removed and the base painted with beaten egg.  Another three minutes in the oven for a waterproofed bottom!

The pastry case had rested for an hour before I flaked the fish over the base.  Four eggs, two teaspoons of horseradish sauce, salt and pepper, a tablespoon of fennel fronds from the garden and about 300 ml double cream were whizzed together and poured over the fish.

A final 30 minutes in the oven before resting for a couple of minutes while I knocked up a salad of tomato and avocado dressed with vinaigrette to add freshness and colour to the plate.  Lunch done and a new ingredient discovered.

Next time, perhaps the smoked pollock might be elevated to a kedgeree!

 

Omissions and improvisations

 

Clearing out the freezer and store cupboards brings surprises and challenges.  This week, a pack of Spanish dried ham emerged blinking into the daylight from a Christmas past.

I confess to using de-frosted bought shortcrust pastry to make the tart.  Don’t bother with the palaver of baking paper and beans when baking blind.  Simply fit the pastry to the tin, prick the bottom with a fork and cover all the pastry (edges included) with a sheet of cooking foil.  Press down firmly to both shape the pastry to the tin and provide masking from the heat.  Cook for 10-12 minutes at Gas 6/200C before removing the foil.  My tip for avoiding a soggy bottom is to paint the inside of the tart pastry with beaten egg and then return to the oven for about three minutes.  Then leave the pastry case to rest for an hour or so.  The residue of the original egg plus three others were beaten with cream to add to the tart.

That ancient ham was finely shredded to cover the pastry.  Meanwhile, six younger leeks were very finely sliced and separated into individual rings before being sweated in a little water in the microwave.  Par cooked and cooled, they topped the ham and the tart went in to the oven for half an hour, minus the eggs and cream which this over-enthusiastic blind cook had completely forgotten.  But the end product was still delicious and so much better for one’s waistline.  The languishing egg and cream mix is in the freezer in the hope it will survive for another day – no net gain on freezer space,

Peppers were charred over the gas before cooling in a plastic bag to make removing their blistered skin easier.    De-seeded and very finely sliced, the peppers were doused with vinaigrette ready to serve with the tart.  I wanted to pep up the flavour and searched for mustard seeds amongst the Indian spices.  Even though I tasted the different little round seeds, I managed to use whole coriander by mistake – and the result was even better.

The left-over peppers went into small jars, clamped with rubber seals: covered with water in a pan and gently simmered for 30 minutes.  I’m attempting bottling them for freezer-free storage in case the power goes off!  They will either be a taste of summer or pent-up botulism!  Wish me luck!