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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Too many cooks?

 

No, it was super to be doing another on-line cook-in  this week  https://youtu.be/4lkmaV_8Yx0 -mainly people from Hampshire but also drop-ins from India and Holland.

We were doing the excellent ginger biscuits which seemed to work for most people but one thought there was too much spice.  Another had probably got the proportions a bit awry and ended up with rather a sticky mix and enormous biscuits (more like brandy snaps).  Hopefully, we will be doing some more sessions in the future.

Yes, there were too many cooks a little later as I started on the washing -up: good squeeze of Fairy and hot water pouring in only to discover that the sous-chef had already filled the bowl with spinach leaves for lunch!  It took a lot of rinses to remove the lingering lemon fragrance and bubbles – one way of making sure that the Covid virus hadn’t strayed in!

We’ve been counting how many different plant foods we eat after hearing Professor Tim Spector on the radio (The Spark on BBC R4 29 January for those using BBC Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000rlpz ).  He’s a whizz on gut flora and fauna: the basis of good health, diet and weight-loss.  Thirty different plant-based foods a week sounds a lot until you count garlic, herbs, rice and more.    Yesterday, we gleefully achieved 30 in one day, thanks to simple roast vegetables (and feel so much better and virtuous for doing so).

 

Hard vegetables: all peeled and chopped.

2 potatoes.

1 swede.

2 parsnips.

1 turnip.

4 carrots.

 

Softer vegetables:

2 onions, peeled and diced.

3 tomatoes, quartered.

A handful of dried tomatoes, chopped and soaked in a little water.

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped.

3 sticks celery, peeled and chopped.

3 peppers, de-seeded and chopped.

1 bulb fennel, chopped.

1 butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and chopped.

1 heaped tablespoon thyme leaves.

1 heaped tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves.

Olive oil.

Salt and pepper.

 

Cut the vegetables to about fork-size – not tiny pieces nor great lumps!

Put the peeled hard vegetables in a pan, just covered in cold water, and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Drain.

Meanwhile, line a deep roasting tin with foil (to save on washing up) and mix in all the softer prepared vegetables with a tablespoon or so of oil, herbs and a good seasoning of salt and pepper.

Mix the parboiled vegetables and place on top of the roasting pan, seasoning again.

Drizzle over with a little more olive oil.

Cook Gas 4/180 C  for about 45 minutes before mixing again and returning to the oven for about 30 minutes.

Cooking times are flexible as it depends on the size of the pieces– test them with a knife.

By my reckoning this would give you about  half the different plant foods you need a week in one dish so some greens on other days plus fruit should about meet the target.  Freeze portions of the roast veg for future weeks so they are half done too!  You can vary the herbs and vegetables  according to season and to ring the changes.


Sticky to my elbows

 

Part of the fatigue management programme (see last posting) is about doing something each day just for fun and pleasure.

This week, it has been candied peel for the sous chef who has been making panettone, that tall Italian brioche-like bread.  Of course, being a man, he has to have all the right accoutrements down to the fancy cardboard case for the final rise and baking – with bamboo skewers inserted so that the edifice can be suspended upside down when it cools (avoids the soft creation collapsing).

Anyway, he wanted proper candied peel and, with Seville orange season upon us, I obliged and now have a stock for fruit cakes, Christmas puddings and gifts.

The actual work of this recipe is dead easy, doesn’t take much time but is spread out over about a week.  The really messy bit is taking the peel off the parchment paper, rolling in caster sugar and storing in boxes.  Even with several hand-washes, I was sticky everywhere and the floor needed a good mop through.  But the result was worth it all.

 

3 lb Seville oranges (or any citrus fruit)

1500g granulated sugar

Caster sugar for storing.

 

Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out all the juice.    I have a whizzy electric “lemon squeezer” which makes this very easy.  I used the juice in marmalade.

Remove any remnants of the flesh, pips etc. from the fruit halves.

Place the fruit halves in a pan, covered with water (weighed down with a plate if necessary).  Don’t use more water than needed.

Simmer for 1-2 hours until the peel is soft but not falling apart.

Add 500g sugar and stir gently over a low heat so that it dissolves without breaking up the peel.  Once dissolved, boil rapidly for 30 minutes.  Leave the peel in the syrup for 24 hours.

Repeat the addition of 500g sugar, dissolving, boiling, standing.

Repeat again.  By this time, the cold syrup should have reached the consistency of thick honey.

Gently warm the peel and syrup – just enough so that you can remove the peel from the syrup.

Place the drained peel on baking trays lined with parchment paper and place in the oven on the very lowest heat for 6 hours to dry as much as possible.  Leave in the oven until completely cool.

Put caster sugar into a bowl and roll each piece of peel in the sugar before placing in an airtight storage box, interleaving layers with parchment paper.  Add any remaining caster sugar to the layers to keep the peel separate.

I’ve stored peel like this for at least 12 months.

 

The remaining orange-flavoured sugar syrup and the caster sugar from the boxes can be used in puddings, baking, pannetone and next year’s marmalade.  Nothing wasted!

Winter cheer

The Not Forgotten Association  (www.thenotforgotten.org) Jingle Bells Rock drive-in entertainment and lunch at Southampton Airport was the highlight of this week.  It was covered by ITV local News.

We all sat in our socially-distanced cars with special speakers that blasted out the jollity of popular Christmas songs rendered by a stalwart and talented group of entertainers on the stage, battling the winter chill.  They had to be wildly determined and motivated as the only audience feedback was the hooting of car horns and waving of arms.  We and other veterans with health conditions and injuries from military service were welcomed with beakers of mulled wine (tea or coffee for the drivers) and fed a simple but delicious hog roast lunch.  Songs, dancing and hooting continued for a couple of hours, punctuated by silly games and a raffle.  The synchronised horn hooting to the “12 days of Christmas” was the fantastic finale.

As a blind person, the spectacle wasn’t so obvious but the sheer energy, enjoyment and happiness of the event was wonderful after nine months of hibernation.

For anyone else with little or no sight, there’s a possibility that a mobile phone and artificial intelligence could help you get around. See more on: www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/technology-55178066

Meanwhile, I’ve been re-making this simple lamb tajine https://youtu.be/z5YjvpvwVOg.  It is fragrant with spices, is not too hot and reheats perfectly from the freezer.

2 medium onions peeled and diced.

1 tablespoon oil.

2 portions GGG*.

500 g lamb, diced.

1 teaspoon turmeric.

1 teaspoon ground cumin.

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

1 teaspoon smoked paprika.

1 rounded teaspoon harissa.

500cl water.

1 handful stoned dates, chopped.

7 fresh tomatoes, chopped.

1 rounded tablespoon almonds, ground.

2 chicken stock pots/cubes.

A good squeeze tomato paste.

1 medium tin chick peas (240 gram, drained.

1 orange – zest and juice.

 

Sauté the onions in the oil until softening then add the GGG.

Add the lamb to the pan and sauté.

Add the spices and sauté for a minute or two until their fragrance can be smelled.

Add all remaining ingredients (except the orange juice and zest) and bring the pan to a very gentle simmer.

Cover and continue to cook over a very low heat (over a heat diffuser, in a very low oven, in a slow-cooker) until the lamb is tender and the tajine is unctuous (at least 2 hours and sometimes 5-10 hours depending on how you are cooking it).

Add the orange zest and juice before serving with couscous.

 

*GGG is 4 parts fresh root ginger, 2 parts garlic and 1 part green (or red) chilli.  Peel and de-seed and roughly chop before whizzing in to a rough paste in a food processor.  A portion is one teaspoonful.  I freeze portions in an ice-cube tray and then store in a box in the freezer.  Excellent for all curries too.

 

 

 

 

Goose getting fat?

 

The first two of the Christmas trees are now up and sparkling here, gifts are being wrapped and festive menus planned.  Christmas is just around the corner and let’s hope that the news of the roll-out of a vaccine is a gift for thousands.  It’s time to smile again – even behind your mask.

I’ve been reviving a classic country recipe from the Vendee. I first tasted this recipe in France with friends, Joan and Jeff: simple and hearty for a comforting lunch.  If you are having goose for Christmas, then it is worth saving some of the fat for this dish.  Alternatively, there are jars of both goose and duck fat around for roast potatoes so you could use what’s left-over.

In France, a boudin noir would be steamed on top of the mogettes (white beans).  My UK alternative of black pudding is close enough.

 

4 large handfuls of dried white haricot beans, soaked in water for at least 24 hours.

2 medium onions, peeled and diced.

2 carrots, peeled and diced.

4 sticks of celery, diced.

6 cloves garlic, peeled and diced.

1 tablespoon goose fat.

2 chicken or vegetable stockpots/cubes.

A good squeeze of tomato puree.

Half a glass of white wine.

2 stems rosemary, leaves removed and chopped.

3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed.

Black pudding

Apple puree.

 

Sauté the onions, celery, carrots and garlic in the goose fat until softening.

Add the drained beans (they will have become about 6 large handfuls).

Add enough water to cover plus the stockpots/cubes, tomato paste, wine and the herb leaves (about a tablespoonful).

Simmer very gently until the beans are soft (about 8 hours) when nearly all the liquid will have been absorbed and check seasoning – perhaps some pepper.

About half an hour before serving, place the black pudding on top of the beans to heat through.

Warm the apple puree in the microwave and place a spoonful on each plate – top with some black pudding.

Serve the beans alongside.

 

I brought the beans to a simmer and then put a heat diffuser between the pan and gas.  They cooked for five hours one day; were switched off overnight and re-simmered the next morning.  A pressure cooker (too terrifying for this blind person) would probably be quicker or, in desperation and at the cost of authenticity, a can of pre-cooked beans (NOT Baked Beans!) might do.

I tossed a diced courgette on top of the beans before the black pudding so I didn’t have to trouble with any more vegetables.

Be aware: this bean dish is long-winded in more than one sense!

 

 

Brightening up dull days

I wanted something warm to match my electric blue Crocks – and this madly exuberant leather and fur cape leapt out of the wardrobe.  It hasn’t seen the light of day for about 15 years since I bought it in Athens with friend and guide, Rosemary from Australia.  I even found matching gloves in one pocket and the original receipt in the other.  I am pleased to report that, even in those days, I’d driven a hard bargain and managed a great reduction!

Comments on the sartorial elegance are not needed please but it amused me and, hopefully, the neighbours.

Now: something very simple and not too calorific so that you can get in shape for those Christmas treats.

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped.

400g mushrooms, sliced.

2 tablespoons olive oil.

Salt and ground black pepper.

Freshly grated parmesan cheese  (optional)

7 handfuls pasta shells.

200g fresh spinach leaves, washed and any hard stalks removed.

 

While the hot water comes to a simmer for the pasta, gently sauté the garlic and mushrooms – season with salt and ground black pepper.

When the water is boiling, add 3 handfuls of pasta shells per person and one for the pot.

Add the spinach to the mushrooms and sauté they start to wilt.

Drain the pasta and return to the pan, adding the mushrooms and spinach.

Mix well and serve in hot bowls with a seasoning of parmesan .

 

This makes an excellent hot lunch for a winter’s day for two people.  I give the parmesan a  miss as cheese gives me migraines  and I can’t bear the smell!  Any pasta will do but shells are good for holding the mushrooms and garlic.  We’d eaten  the lot before we remembered to take a photo!

 

 

 

 

Deck the halls …

Still a bit early but it’s not too soon to practice some Christmas treats.  These mince pies must be nearly calorie-free being so very tiny and encased in just a wisp of pastry.  How could anyone refuse

I’ve been experimenting with a different pastry: sweet and spiced hot water crust.  Usually this is reserved for pork or game pies but I’ve found it very flexible for many different uses.

This quantity made 24 very small pies and even enough to make tops for four.  The rest were given a crumble topping.  I used homemade mincemeat made with our own apples but shop-bought would work just as well – perhaps with some added orange zest, chopped apple and a splash of brandy to make it your own.

Thumbs up for this version: pastry could be pressed very thin to contrast with the succulent filling, crisp with a little bite and easy to extract from the tin.  Ideal pastry for blind people as minimum mess with no floury rolling out – and good for children too.

75g lard

100g water

50g sugar

200g plain flour

50g strong white bread flour

1 rounded teaspoon ground mixed spice

Half teaspoon salt

50g butter.

Melt the lard, water and sugar until everything has dissolved and allow to cool a little.

Meanwhile, rub the butter in to the flours, spices and salt.

Pour the liquid mix in to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well to combine, first with a wooden spoon and then your hands.

Roll small pieces of the dough in to balls and press in to the tin, over the bottom and up the sides of each hole.

Trim the excess pastry from each pie and reform the scraps to fill every hole, using anything left over to make lids.

Fill the mini-pies with mincemeat – not too much as it may run over in the oven.

Top with lids, re-trimming as necessary, or with a few tablespoons of crumble mix.

Chil the tray in the fridge for an hour or so.

Cook at Gas 4 for 10 minutes and then at Gas 2  for a further 15 minutes.

Dust the lidded pies with a little sugar and allow the whole tray to cool for at least 30 minutes before gently removing the pies.

I always have a bag of my standard crumble mix  in the freezer.  It uses a ratio of 1  each butter; crushed hazelnuts; soft brown sugar to 2 porridge oats.  Excellent   on top of cooking apples and some more of the mincemeat – and no more sugar needed.

 

 

Babies’ Heads

 

One of those pieces of Royal Navy food slang.  Imagine a tray full of individual steak and kidney puddings: rows of glistening and moistly steaming pale domes….

I haven’t made these for probably 40 years but thought a little warming nostalgia would be cheering in these days of isolation.  I hadn’t realised that steamed suet puddings had also recently featured on Bake-Off and that the success rate with the Sussex Pond version was distinctly low – why it’s called a lemon?  But this is a much more fool-proof method more suitable for the rest of us mortals.

This approach takes not too much preparation time spread over a couple of days and produces puddings that can be cooked straight away, from the fridge or even from the freezer in minutes.  The only drawback is that the quantity (driven by the size of the suet box) made exactly seven small individual puddings.  I could have stretched the filling with some carrots and/or leeks but would still have been a bit short on the pastry to make the eighth.

 

For the filling:

3 tablespoons olive oil.

2 large onions peeled and chopped.

500g mushrooms chopped small.

500g stewing beef, cut small.

2 lamb’s kidneys trimmed and chopped.

2 tablespoons plain flour.

Good grinding of black pepper.

1 generous teaspoon mustard powder.

2 beef stockpots/cubes.

6 dashes of Worcestershire sauce.

3 bay leaves, stems removed and torn small.

440ml can of Guinness.

 

For the pastry:

1 pack (240g) suet.

480g self-raising flour.

Grind of black pepper.

Cold water.

Day 1.

Sauté the onions in the oil until becoming transparent and then add the mushrooms.

When the mushrooms are nearly cooked, add the beef, turning to cook all over.

Add the kidney pieces and flour, stirring to mix through.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly as the mixture comes to a gentle simmer.

Cover the pan and place in a low oven (Gas 2) for two hours (or cook on the lowest heat on top of the hob or in a slow cooker).  Add some water if it seems to be reducing too much.

Allow to cool then chill in the fridge overnight.

Day 2.

Rub the suet in to the flour and pepper then mix with the water to a firm dough that leaves the sides of the bowl (around 3 tablespoons or so).

Take pieces of the dough and press flat and thin to line individual 1/3 pint bowls, leaving a lip at the top.

Fill the bowls with the meat mixture.  Keep any gravy to serve with the puddings.

Take more dough and press out into a circle, dampen the edges and press firmly to seal to the pastry lining the bowl.

Trim off any excess pastry.

 

To cook the puddings:

Microwave: suitable for plastic bowls only  (Lakeland)– cover with paper kitchen towel and cook on Medium power for 4-5 minutes (1 bowl) or 7-8 minutes (2 bowls), allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Steam: cover each bowl with a double layer of greaseproof paper plus a layer of foil on top, fold all the layers together in the middle to form a pleat for any expansion, tie the coverings to the bowl with string and trim off any excess.

Place on a saucer or similar in a pan of simmering water (water about half to two thirds up side of bowls), put on a lid and simmer for one hour.

Remove string and coverings and turn upside down on to plates.

The microwave method is much easier for me as I don’t have to fiddle around with the greaseproof, foil and string – not so easy when you can’t see.

This is also a great dish to make beforehand: the puddings can be kept uncooked in the fridge for a day or so or frozen and de-frosted before microwaving.

Wonderful served with mashed potatoes, some of the reserved gravy and green vegetables or even a stir-fry – memories of our youth!