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).

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Over-confident

No cooking this time: last week’s injury has turned into this week’s spiral fracture of the fifth metacarpal in my right hand which is now encased in a splint for the next month.

It has massive impact: can’t use my white cane so difficult getting out; can’t guide myself around indoors; difficult to eat other than with a spoon and not good at finding my mouth with it in my left hand – more clothes in the wash; laptop keyboard almost impossible as two-finger typing only works when you can see the keys!  Resorting to incomprehensible dictation on my phone.

Thank goodness for a well-stocked freezer and a well-trained sous chef!

All due to over-confidence: moving too fast and missed the wall.

Was glad of the help of the Gosport (death) hospital for x-ray, first splint and discreet check that the injury wasn’t the result of domestic abuse.  First splint was like two conjoined finger puppets.  But would have welcomed a bit more empathy from the follow-up phone call.  No further treatment but another bigger splint in the post and that’s the end of their interest.

Still going ahead with the 12 April live bake-in and did a short interview with RNIB radio https://audioboom.com/posts/7835352-join-this-virtual-bake-in-event-for-visually-impaired-people.

The sous chef will be doing all the grunt work for the lemon Victoria sponges.

 

Not Cheese Straws

 

I keep forgetting that being over-confident often ends up in tears.

Starting to feel miles better as the fatigue and physio therapies progress, I was moving much more quickly.  Consequence: misjudged where the wall was, smacked my hand on it and heard two awful cracking noises.  I can still move my fingers and hand but have probably torn something or similar.  Lots of ice packs and painkillers later, it is just about useable again.  And, you guessed, my right hand with all the complications that follow when it is out of action.

Being blind, small injuries are part of life: the bruises, the sore spots, the cuts and burns, the lumps on your head.  Usually, I don’t even remember how I got the injury but this one had rather more impact:  using a keyboard with dud fingers isn’t very comfortable.

I’ve been feeling rather guilty too: there was a request after one of the on-line baking sessions for me to do cheese straws.  The problem is that I utterly loathe cheese: the smell, taste and texture and, if I eat it, I get migraines.

Instead, I’ve adapted a recipe to make Not Cheese Straws – replacing the offending articles with walnuts and herbs.  The added bonus is the end product has far less fat – as if you care about calories when being tempted by warm, savoury slivers of deliciousness!  For those who prefer the authentic version, I’ve given the cheese proportions.

 

185g plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt.

¼  teaspoon English mustard powder.

Tip of teaspoon paprika or chilli powder.

110g butter, cubed.

100g walnuts, chopped and a generous tablespoon rosemary and thyme leaves, chopped (or 75g Cheddar cheese and 25g Parmesan cheeses)

1 egg (or 1 egg yolk and about 2 tablespoons water).

Place the flour, salt, mustard and chilli in a bowl and rub in the butter.

Mix in the nuts and herbs (or cheeses).

Bring together using the egg (or egg yolk and water).  The result will be a soft sticky dough.

Chill for at least 30 minutes.

On a floured surface, roll or press out the dough to a thickness of about 1 cm.

Cut into 1 cm wide strips and place on a baking tray lined with parchment.

Chill thoroughly (I left the tray in the fridge overnight).

Pre-heat oven to Gas 4, 180C, 350F then cook for for 15-20 minutes.  I could hear them sizzling on the tray.

(If you are using cheese, the recipe suggested rolling the dough to the thickness of a £2 coin – whatever that is – and cooking at Gas 5, 190C, 374F for 10-15 minutes)

Leave to cool on the tray as they are quite fragile.

 

I’m very pleased with the end result which will be good with a glass of wine or similar – don’t be mean with the salt, mustard or chilli.  Next, I’m thinking of a sweet version to serve with desserts.

Don’t forget: there’s another live baking session on 12 April: lemon Victoria sponges.

 

 

 

 

Embarrassingly easy bread

I was Celebrating International women’s Day on 8 March with a bread anyone can make (5 minutes mixing plus 30 in the oven).

Ideal for women (and men) who want something simple and homemade after a day at work , caring or home-schooling.  It is perfect with a bowl of comforting soup for supper.

I first learned soda bread with Wendy in Virginia Beach, USA.  Being Irish herself, she was proud to teach me one of the classics from that country.  Like any bread, it has three key ingredients: flour, a rising agent, liquid.  Wendy used a wholewheat-type bread flour, baking soda and buttermilk.  But there are many variations:

  • For the flour: white, brown, wholemeal or other bread flours will work as does plain (all-purpose) flour.
  • For the rising agent: baking soda, bicarbonate of soda or baking powder will all work.
  • For the liquid: if you can’t find buttermilk, ordinary milk with the juice of half a lemon and a slug of vinegar will work; alternatively try plain natural yoghurt or, if you make your own, the liquid left-over when the yoghurt is strained.

I’ve previously blogged this recipe using the strainings from making yoghurt plus self-raising flour – as it says in the name, flour and rising agent combined.  On that Monday, I and a group of other visually impaired people from all over the UK, America and Australia tested a new version using plain natural yoghurt as being easier to find than buttermilk and less faff than adding lemon and vinegar.  You can see our on-line live bread bake-in and the end results:

https://youtu.be/d2OfawOg-uk

One of the Americans with an Irish background wrote: “I had never heard of adding yogurt to soda bread before, but when you explained it as a buttermilk substitute it made perfect sense. The bread came out delicious and with a level of moisture I‘ve never had before making soda bread, as you know it’s a dryer type of bread traditionally. “Phew! I’d survived the test.

250g self-raising flour.

200g plain natural yoghurt.

1 level teaspoon salt.

Pre-heat the oven to Gas 6, 200C.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil.

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together with your hand to create a soft dough that can be formed in to a ball, leaving the bowl clean.

Place the ball on the baking sheet, cut a cross in the top and bake for 25 minutes and then turn the loaf over and cook for a further 5 minutes.

The loaf will sound hollow when you knock the baked bottom; the crust will be rough, craggy and crisp; the internal temperature will have reached at least 85C.

This bread is best eaten fresh and warm but, if you have any left over, slice and store in a bag for later today/breakfast toast.

You could add herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and other flavourings to ring the changes.

We will be making lemon Victoria sponges at our next Exclusive Baking Blind event on 12 April – you are welcome to join us.