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).

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Hot Stuff

What Government organisation interacts with just about every disabled person in the country and should be leading the field on accessibility etc?

Give up? It is our National Health Service and you may already have heard the reports that disabled people are disproportionately dying from Covid.  Set aside the arguments about priorities for vaccinations and just consider the mechanics of actually getting one.  For me, our glorious NHS stumbled at the first fence: is there any point sending a printed letter to a blind person?  Years ago, I’d done as requested and told them how I need information but it was clearly barking at the moon.  I realise that I could have waited for contact from my GP but hadn’t had a peep after four days.

Luckily, I had someone around who I could trust to read my mail, take me to the appointment, guide me through the various stages and get me back.  But I suspect that there are many others who don’t even know that they’ve been counted towards the target as having been “offered” a vaccination, let alone been able to get it. OK: rant over.

These samosas filled with lightly-curried vegetables follow the theme of eating lots of different plant-based foods – and are also a good way of using anything left over at the end of the week.

 

1 tablespoon oil.

1 onion, peeled and diced.

2 portions GGG.

2 rounded teaspoons garam masala.

1 teaspoon each cumin and coriander powder.

Half a teaspoon each of turmeric, chilli and paprika powders.

A mix of vegetables cut according to their hardness – carrots small, mushrooms larger.

About 6 tablespoons water

2 rounded soup spoons coconut powder.

12 sheets filo pastry, cut in half lengthwise.

Oil for brushing/spraying.

Sesame seeds to finish.

 

Gently sauté the onion and GGG in the oil until softened.

Add the curry powders and heat until they smell spicy.

Add the hardest vegetables, followed by the remainder after a minute or two.

Add the water and stir to remove any of the curry powder on the bottom of the pan.

Cover and cook over a gentle heat:  the vegetables on the base will be heated while the remainder steam.

When the vegetables are just softened, stir in the coconut powder and remove from the heat.  Replace the lid and allow to cool (perhaps overnight in the fridge).

Cut the filo pastry in half lengthwise and keep covered with a damp tea towel while making up the samosas.

Brush a strip of filo with a little oil.

Place a spoonful of the vegetable mix at one end of the strip – in a little and on the right-hand side.  Fold the left-hand corner over the filling to create the basic triangle shape.

Fold the triangle away from you, then to the left, away from you again.

You will probably have got nearly to the end of the filo strip so fold over the last pieces, brush with a little oil and dip one side in sesame seeds before placing on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Cook for 10 minutes Gas 4 and then turn over to crisp the underside.

 

If you don’t have a whole range of ground spices, just the garam masala or a curry paste/mix will do as well.

I used: 2 carrots, 1 sweet potato, 12 French beans, 12 sugar snap peas, 1 red pepper, thinly-sliced broccoli stalks, 2 tomatoes, 5 mushrooms, 1 courgette – whatever you have available – and had some filling left-over.

GGG is ginger, garlic and green chillies (de-seeded) in weight proportions of 8:4:2.  Roughly chop and then reduce to a rough paste in a food processor.  Divide into teaspoon portions and freeze ready for future curries (Indian, Thai, Sri Lankan etc).

These are quite fragile crisp hot parcels with a moist but not runny filling.  They need something “wetter” served with them – perhaps a yoghurt raita or we have delicious home-made and home-grown tomato chilli jam.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/baking-with-penny-for-visually-impaired-blind-people-tickets-141946530895?ref=eios

 

Desserts from leftovers

 

Another week of culinary experiments – it is good to have the leisure with lock-down.

Firstly, I’m proud to report that the sous chef’s panettoni was magnificent on the second try and made full use of the faffing candied Seville orange peel from a few weeks ago.

 

But it did produce spare egg whites and I’d already done macaroons last time.  I made up this chocolate mousse dessert with what was to hand including some rather mature 70% cocoa solids chocolate that had developed a bloom (not mould but just the surface discolouring).  I used cream to replace the egg yolks and, only having single cream, three threw in some milk powder.  Thanks to a super American cup measure, it is easy for me to put the ingredients together when using American measures in recipes:

 

200g dark chocolate.

1 cup single cream.

1/3 cup milk powder.

3 egg whites.

 

Very gently heat the chocolate, cream and milk powder in a pan until the chocolate has melted and all the ingredients can be mixed together.  Allow to cool.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peak.

Place a quarter of the egg whites in a bowl and fold in the chocolate mix.

Add a further quarter of the egg whites and fold in.  Repeat twice.

Place the mousse mix in containers and chill for at least 12 hours.

I made four huge servings – these amounts would really do 6-8 of normal size.

 

I wanted to use more of the spare single cream so knocked up some very simple egg custards to turn in to crème brulée using the trusty sous-vide.

 

2 eggs.

¼ cup sugar.

1 cup single cream.

1/3 cup milk powder.

½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste.

Small pinch salt.

 

 

Place all the ingredients in a jug and whizz with a wand-blender for one minute.

Pour the mix in to bottling jars (the sort with rubber seals and clips or screw tops).

Place in a sous-vide water bath, covered with water and cook at 81.5C for an hour.

Chill and turn out on to a plate.

Top with a little caster sugar and caramelise with a blowtorch (others with no sight like me may care to entrust this bit to the sous chef).

Serve with some fresh fruit to pretend it is healthy.

These quantities made 4 servings (normal size!) but we ate them before remembering to take a picture.