Monday, February 27, 2012

After The Event

Sorry to delay my return, needed a couple of days to get back into the old routine. Think my adrenaline was flowing most of last week and shut itself down once the party was over. For two days didn't feel like doing anything at all. Not even sure what day it is today, but hoping it is Monday.

My Beloved's 80th birthday bash went very well. It was good to have some of the family together as this doesn't happen very often. Two live abroad so not able to come, but they were in contact by phone to send greetings.
As Eileen's foot was less painful she was also able to join us, she and I didn't do much more than sit, chat, eat, and drink, but nevertheless hope she enjoyed herself.

I'd taken several photos of my 'activities' during the week, and discovered when loading them onto the comp. today that there were 15 shots in all, so think I'll spread these over this coming week and deal with one topic at a time.
Also the trade mag (arrived Saturday) so will pass on 'trade secrets' also later this week, other than one which I feel is the most important so am giving it now: Morrison's this week are giving vouchers for 15p off a litre of fuel, but to get this you need to spend £60 in store. This it is a very good offer, much better than other stores 'fuel vouchers'. Presumably has to be spent at one of the petrol stations at a Morrison's.
Not sure how long these vouchers will run for, but if you are interested, better start stocking up your shelves (again!) to take advantage.

I'd sent in an order to Lakeland for some of their products and these also arrived early last week. Got some more of those mini-loaf cases and baked more mini-loaves (photos of these will appear later this week). Also treated myself to a flat digital scale that shows imperial (oz) and metric (gr) weights and also fl oz. The scales can be reset to zero so that more foods can weighed while others are already in the bowl.
Did I really need new scales? Have to say that as I've managed for more than half a century without using modern electronic scales, but now we've gone metric, and it is almost impossible to weigh very small amounts on my other scales, so (for a cook) suppose it is 'allowable'. The model I chose was very much cheaper than others that did the same thing but as these had 'extras' such as clocks, room temp. gauge, felt that as these were not an essential part of weighing, so why spend more?

Also bought B a small wok that he had been asking for (the one thing he loves to cook himself is a stir-fry). We had a huge wok before, and as this was too large when cooking for one (or even two), this was given away when we moved. The baby wok was only part of his present as the decision was made that for his 'real' present I would buy him lots of good meat from Donald Russell, all for B to eat, such as Chateaubriand, fillet and rump steaks etc. Something I wouldn't normally have spent money on, but as it was his special birthday and anyway it is food - at least his present serves a purpose.
Fortunately, all B's choice of meat cuts are on offer at the moment from D.R. so an order will be placed this week and from then on B will be able to enjoy the 'Good Life' for a few weeks/months.

The Croquembouche mould also came from Lakeland. It was in three parts, a metal base and metal top 'hat', and a flat sheet of non-stick material that needed to be folded with lots of little flaps on one side that needed tucking into holes on the other side. A bit fiddling to assemble, but once I'd followed the instructions (properly) it was easily done and once the 'material' cone was set on the base and the top held with the 'hat' it was pretty solid.

As the mould was not catering size (these are huge with the profiteroles placed inside the cone then the cone lifted off once the caramel has set), the one I bought was for domestic use and would hold up to 60 profiteroles placed around the outside. As I needed at least 80 (one for each year of B's life plus extra), it wasn't really big enough, so made it deeper by sellotaping the base part of the original 'kit' onto an upturned flat-based metal mixing bowl I had, then sellotaped ths onto a wider plate so the bottom profs has something to 'sit' on, and this worked very well, so in the photo below you can see the mould as assembled ready for me to start sticking on the profiteroles.
During the week I'd made about 100 profiteroles in four batches of 25. Once made these were filled with whipped and sweetened cream and then frozen. It is easier to handle frozen profs. when dipping in caramel.
Even though I'd made half as much again of caramel as the recipe stated, still found I ran out (it began to set before all used up and I couldn't soften it again in time, so made another couple of much smaller amounts. Making caramel was probably the only difficult part as the temperature needed to be very exact, but luckily did have a sugar thermometer.
Once the bottom of the profs had been dipped in the caramel and then turned slightly then immediately placed on and next to another, they were 'glued' together.

Above you can see the Croquembouche once it was assembled and although it doesn't look as though it has that many, there were at least 80 profiteroles surrounding it. Surprisingly the whole arrangement was very stable, and there was no danger of it collapsing or breaking up when taken (in a box) to the venue.
The way to fill profiteroles correctly is make a hole in the base once they are cooked to let out the steam and then put them back in the oven to dry out, then the cream is piped in through the hole, but I've always slit the profs. close to the base as this makes it easier for me to fill.

If I'd done it the correct way the choux pastry tower would have looked more impressive with no cream showing (other than occasional rosettes of cream tucked into gaps), and for you to see how it should have looked took a pic of the photo that came with the kit. You can see this below.

Even though my first effort wasn't that good, it certainly looked impressive (well at least I was reasonably pleased and for me that is saying something), B was over the moon when he saw it. The good news to anyone who is thinking of making one themselves is that the completed display as made worked out (mainly because the cream was on offer) to just £5!!!! So think that this HAS to be the cheapest 'dinner party extravaganza' ever.

The mounds of cupcakes that were the 'new kid on the block' when it came to 'wedding cakes', will soon be 'old hat', to be replaced by something else, and doubt that royal icing will make a come-bake, so possibly the Croqembouche will be the next favourite choice. After all it is and has always been served at French weddings, so why not?

Certainly if counting pennies, what better 'wedding cake' could we make? Never mind the low cost, the end result could look magnificent, especially if swathed with strands of sugar syrup (a few were on mine but not seen in the photo).

There are many recipes for making choux pastry, no two seem exactly the same, and most of those using imperial measurements use fractions when it comes to weights. As I said before I cannot weight out tiny amounts (half an ounce) etc on normal scales, and when I came across a very easy-to-remember recipe (everything is in 'fours') for choux pastry from a chef's instruction book, so had a go and it worked! So I give it to those of you who still prefer (like me) to use the 'imperials'.

Strong plain (bread) flour works better than ordinary plain as it has a stronger gluten content which makes the profs hold their shape, but ordinary flour can be used. The milk makes a softer pastry which is preferred when making profiteroles, using all water they can be a bit 'crustier', but again it doesn't really matter which you choose.

Was once told by a chef (who knew the scientific reason behind this - which I have now forgotten), that the best choux pastry is make using strong flour, and the fats used should not be all butter but half butter and half hard margarine (like the blocks of solid Stork, not the soft marg that is more normally bought these days). Using some cheaper marg would make the choux pastry even cheaper to make.

The amount of eggs can vary. I find four eggs (medium to large) exactly right, larger eggs might be too much. Although the eggs can be broken into the mixture and beaten in singly, best to beat the last egg before beating in only enough for the mixture to just drop from the spoon or beater.

Choux Pastry: makes 25 - 30 profiteroles

4 fl. oz milk

4 fl. oz water

4 oz butter

4 oz strong plain flour, sifted

4 eggs

Put the milk and water into a saucepan with the butter and heat until the butter has melted. Bring to the boil then tip in all the flour in one go. Immediately start beating with a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes then remove from heat and beat well with the spoon until the mixture comes clean from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Place this into a bowl and leave to cool for 5 - 10 minutes, then beat in the eggs one at a time (using either the wooden spoon or an electric whisk at slow speed). The mixture should be thick but soft enough to slowly fall from the spoon.

Spoon the choux dough into a piping bag and pipe small blobs (about the size of a 2p piece - or even smaller - they will grow enormously) onto baking trays that have been covered with a sheet of baking parchment, leaving space between each for them to spread, place in a 200C (400F) gas 6 oven and bake for 5 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 180F etc and carry on baking for a further 15 minutes. Do not open the door!

By this time the profiteroles will have risen into golden balls. Remove from oven and quickly make a slit near the base in each and then return to the oven for a further five minutes to allow the steam to escape and the profiteroles to dry out. If your oven has a drop down door, then open it slightly and tuck in an oven glove or wooden spoon handle to keep it very slightly ajar - this helps the steam to leave the oven. Do not reduce the oven temperature during this time.

Place the profiteroles on a cake airer to get cold. They can be frozen as-is (but be careful not to squash them) or (as I do) fill each with whipped cream before freezing. I then put them either on a shallow baking sheet and open-freeze, then box them up when solid, or put them in smaller containers in a single layer, place on lid and freeze.

Once removed from the freezer they thaw out fairly rapidly so if dipping in caramel or chocolate, to make them easier to handle, remove only a few from the freezer at any one time.

Apart from the cooking, I did a lot of clearing out of cupboards purely because the spring cleaning instinct has now kicked in. The weather has been very mild recently, with lots of bird activity in the garden (blue-tits taking up residence in our nest boxes etc).
In some parts of the UK the weather has been the warmest in February since the late 1800's, and it is good to see the spring flowers now in the garden, the 'Lenten Lily' (Hellebore), snowdrops, crocus etc. even a daffodil or two in a sheltered spot. Feel like winter has now gone and even though we have had several very cold days, it hasn't really felt like winter as we have not seen any snow in Morecambe other than the odd flake one day.

If it doesn't rain, this country will be experiencing severe drought conditions this coming year. Except for us in the north west who are always getting rain. It is raining as I write. Our many water butts are full to overflowing, and our lawn squelches when we walk on it.

Trouble is with drought conditions this will do harm to crops, so we could see shortages, potatoes being the crop that needs water, so perhaps we should grow at least some in our gardens or tubs this year as all shortages of anything means rising prices.

We also hear that a new virus now affecting sheep will mean less lambs born (so this will mean the price of lamb will also rise).

Watching Countryfile last night there was a mention of another 'health problem' with chicken meat. We all know about salmonella, but there is another that can cause problems, and although (like salmonella) killed off by cooking thoroughly (so no need to be concerned), chicken liver pate when cooked the 'cheffy way' (barely cooked - the chefs like the centre to be still pink), this doesn't always kill the 'nasties' and some people who have eaten the pate at a restaurant have been made ill because of this.

Some many months ago a reader queried why I always make my chicken liver pate by cooking it in the oven for some time when it was easier to fry the livers and then mince/chop them to make the pate. Me, I put the livers into a food processor with other ingredients: bacon, onion, breadcrumbs, butter, brandy...then blitz together before pouring into a greased loaf tin, covering with foil then stand the tin in a 'Bain Marie' and cook at 180C for an hour. Leave to cool slightly then I 'grind' it up in my food mill (Mouli-mill) then mash with a little more butter and then pot up in small containers, pouring a little melted butter over the surface to seal. Then it will keep (seal unbroken) in the fridge for a week, or can be frozen. This makes a soft spreadable pate, rather than the rough type that is often made with the lightly fried chicken livers.

Many thanks to all who sent in comments. Sorry that many of you are having difficulty with the word verification. You shouldn't need to use this if you just want to read the blog, as you can reach this by just typing up the blog name in Google Search (or whatever the one you use). Probably to send a comment you need to go through word verification.

One comment needs a reply, this from Campfire. All the EasyYo's I have bought (from Lakeland) have always been five or six to a box. The price can vary per pack according to the flavours. Sometimes they have these on offer and as I always get sent an advance copy of their latest catalogues, will be able to let you know if any EasyYo are reduced in price (or anything else for that matter).

As to the coconut flavour, am sure it would be possible to make something similar ourselves using half a pack of an unflavoured EasyYo, adding dried coconut powder with the water, alternatively make it up with coconut milk and water. Could also add some desiccated coconut. Maybe someone has already tried this, if so let us know if it works.

During last week also made plenty of Tiramisu and also Sicilian Cassata, but more about these another day.

Saturday was spent clearing up all the kitchen chaos - B kindly cleaning out the caramel crusted pans that fortunately came clean easily. There seemed to be caramel everywhere - the kitchen table had its full share of set 'blobs' dropped when I glued the profs together. But it all got done and quite fun as well.

At least managed to watch the first episode of the new 'Benidorm' courtesy of ITV Player on Saturday. Would hate to have missed that. It was repeated yesterday on one of the Freeview channels, but that was at the same time as Upstairs and Downstairs - another I didn't want to miss (although so far not nearly as good as the original series). See Benidorm is being repeated later in the week on ITV so will probably watch it again.

Have put on so much weight recently due to stuffing myself with 'naughties', will have to be really strict this week to try and get rid of the extra before it stays with me. 'Easy come' weight is 'easy go' as long as it is tackled soon after. By the end of the week hope to be back to where I was before it began to pile back on. Should I just eat less of everything or should I eat more (and only) protein? The latter seems tempting but maybe today will start with just bowls of home-made vegetable soup. Already I am feeling hungry and desperately want another slice of that chocolate cake that our daughter made for B (and me). There is only one slice left, and B doesn't want it (at this moment in time). Can't throw it away can I? I don't do throw away. Help!!!

Better start writing out my DR order and phoning it in, then move into the kitchen to make a big pan of soup, then something for B's supper (probably chilli con carne and suppose I could have some of that with a salad?). Why is it that after months and months of eating small amounts, having now fallen by the wayside and eaten some choccies and other treats, now can't seem to stop eating? Perhaps if I give up all 'good enough to gorge on' food for Lent, that will put me back on track. Let us hope so.

Enough for today. More photos tomorrow (probably of the S.Cassata), and maybe a few trade secrets. Haven't yet decided myself. Am all in a dither at the moment, not sure whether I'm coming or going. Perhaps it is the spring in the air awakening old instincts. Like if only I was young again! I feel young. Trouble is don't look it. At least I can still dream.

Enjoy your day and hope that you can manage to get over the word verification problems and continue sending me comments. Always look forward to these, so keep 'em coming. If you can join me tomorrow, will look forward to 'seeing you' then.