Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More Party Desserts

Today am describing how to make/assemble the Sicilian Cassata. No reason why it couldn't be made in a cling-film lined loose-bottomed square or round cake tin, I uses a 2lb loaf tin as it is easier to slice (and a more traditional shape), and this will serve 8 - 10.

This is an easy dessert to prepare, but needs to be assembled at least a day before serving. After pressure, it can also be frozen to thaw and eat later.

The first picture shows the loaf tin, lined with cling-film (with plenty of overlap) and the bottom covered with halved trifle sponges, sugar side down. I drizzled over a little Cointreau, but it could be just a little orange juice (or maybe even Limoncello).

Then I made the filling by blending together a tub of ricotta cheese and a tub of cream cheese, then beat in half a pint of double cream until thick (you could use all ricotta cheese, or all cream cheese, or even curd cheese if you wish) with a tablespoon of icing sugar and a tablespoon of Cointreau (the liqueur is optional). Ricotta is the 'traditional' cheese to use.
To the thick creamy mixture, then folded in half a tub of candied peel and about four heaped tablespoons of finely grated chocolate. Add more of both if you wish. Half this mixture was spooned and spread on top of the sponges in the loaf tin. You can see this below.

On top of the filling was placed another layer of sponge, this time the bottom half of the trifle sponges (without the sugary coating), a couple and a bit more needed this time due to the loaf tin widening towards the top. The picture below shows how I placed them. Add another drizzle of Cointreau if you wish.
On top of these was spread the last of the filling (below)

The final layer of halved sponges placed on the top, sugar side up, eight needed plus a thin slice to cover the top. Then folded the surplus clingfilm back over to cover and placed a piece of card cut to size on top. With the Cassata now assembled, all that was needed was to put weights on top of the protecting card to compress the 'cake', this you can see below. Then it was placed in the fridge to chill for 24 hours (or up to 48 hours).
When ready to plate up, remove weights, fold back clingfilm and upturn onto a plate, the bottom then becomes the top. Unfortunately forgot to take a photo of it once ready to serve, but think you can get a good idea of what it would look like. The traditional Cassata has an extra addition, the top and sides then spread with chocolate ganache (or you could use Nutella), but as it is already so rich, I omit this as I feel the addition of chocolate 'icing' over-eggs the pudding so to speak.

The reason behind compressing the dessert with weights is two-fold. Firstly the creamy filling is so squidgy it would be difficult to serve in neat slices. Also the sponges soak up any 'liquid' that is in the filling and then become moist rather than stay dry, making them more delicious to eat. This also helps to firm up the filling.

Did not take photos of the Tiramisu as am assuming most people know how to make this. In a way it is very similar to the Cassata, but this time sponge fingers are used, the underside of each dipped in strong coffee then placed on the base of the container (sugar side down). The 'filling' is much the same as the Cassata, but this time made with marscapone cheese. Rum is sprinkled over the sponge, and also added to the filling. Traditionally raw egg is beaten into the cheese, but I beat in either cold custard or a lemon yogurt. Again it can be made using cream cheese (or even thick Greek yogurt if you wish or a mixture of marscapone, cream cheese and yogurt).
Cover the base layer of sponge with half the filling, cover with more coffee dipped sponge fingers, then add the final layer of filling, but this time NOT topped with sponge. Give the top a covering of sifted cocoa then leave in the fridge to chill for at least an hour before serving (although it can be made a day in advance).

Uncertain as to what mould to use for the party Tiramisu, discovered that the white plastic containers that normally hold my Value Pack of mushrooms (from Tesco) were perfect as these have ridges on the base exactly the size for holding the sponge fingers. I always save these boxes, so had plenty, each holding enough to serve 8 - 10. The mushrooms now seem to come in similar boxes but these are now dark brown in colour, but could also be used. I also line these with clingfilm before using (or you could line with baking parchment).

Time now for me to give a mention to the 'trade news'. See now that the 15p off a litre of petrol or diesel offered by Morrison's is due to run until the 11th March, so you have just under two weeks to take advantage of this really good 'Fuel Brittania' campaign.

With the growing use of buying food on-line (said to rise a third by 2016), the supermarkets are expected to reduce their large displays of 'ambient goods', with a report suggesting that the extra gained floorspace would be opened up to other businesses such as gyms as a way of attracting more shoppers.

The report also predicted a race to develop technology that would allow customers to dock smartphones into trolleys, so they could navigate stores and access individualised promotions by communicating with technology on packs and shelves.

All I can say is - whatever next?

A full page feature covers the current problem with farming.. "it's been the worst drought for a generation, with few counties from the Midlands down to Kent escaping unscathed. The situation is so severe that a 'drought summit' was hastily arranged, bringing together farmers, water companies, the Environment Agency and Defra to discuss what's being done to tackle the issue.

Following the summit, the environment minister called on the whole country to find ways to save water, "It is not just the responsibility of government, water companies and businesses to act. We are asking for the help of everyone by urging them to use less water, and to start now".

Remembering that half a century ago it was normal for folk to have a 'bath night' once a week, the rest of the time washing daily at the bathroom basin. This still meant we were perfectly clean. Today it seems that people must stink to high heaven if they need to have a shower each and every day. Or is it more likely they find it a pleasurable way to wash (which it is)? Time perhaps to have a rethink and shower less frequently and go back to filling the wash-basin with water and make do with that. At least until it rains in any amount again.

Some farmers have switched to shorter season crops, and others have reduced the amount they plant - one telling the NFU he was going to plant 20% fewer root and vegetable crops this year. Some farmers are saying "if I haven't got water, there's no point in planting".

As a consumer I can see what will then happen. What local veggies are able to be grown will undoubtedly be in short supply so the prices will rocket. Even though we can import, these will almost certainly be sold at a higher price just because of our 'shortage'. So it does make sense to use as little domestic water as we can in the hope that if we all do this we can then prevent at least some price rises. Which would you prefer, to shower every day and pay £££s more for food, or wash in a basin and keep your costs down?

We had to reduce our water consumption in war-time, so if we could do it then, we can do it now.

Anyone interested in the wholesale prices of fish and seafood will be pleased to know that farmed salmon is now 40% cheaper than last year, and haddock also seems to have gone down in price. On the other hand coldwater prawns - due to high demand sending prices soaring - are currently 63.3% more expensive than this time last year, with prices continuing to rise. On the other hand the price of warmwater prawns (which account for about 85% eaten worldwide) have stabilised over the past month. From a list given, plaice, hake, pollack, cod, salmon, and haddock are all cheaper than they were last year.

Funny how different countries view the same foods. An interesting article gave an insight on to the American way of advertising the dangers. In Wisconsin they had a an ad with the grim reaper, scythe in hand warning of the dangers of cheese!!.... "Cheese Can Sack Your Health. Fat. Cholesterol. Sodium."

In Albany, New York they have a poster showing a plump lady's leg with the slogan "your thighs on cheese", another with a man's belly with "your abs on cheese". As the article says, bad adverts based on bad science. "The fact is that consumers world wide make a connection between dairy products, calcium content and bone strength. Cheese is, in nutritional parlance, a 'good source' of calcium and eight other essential nutrients.

Science doesn't support the demonisation of dairy. Findings have shown that for every additional dairy serving consumers ate, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes fell by 6%. Cheese has its place on the 'eat well' plate.

In moderation, cheese is a positive addition to the healthy diet. Why not demonise Cracker Jack, nachos, pretzels or Hershey bars instead?"

Obviously we shouldn't eat too much cheese as it is 'calorie dense', but far better to cut out the junk foods that so many children wish to eat and instead replace with cheese. Myself love to eat salad leaves, first sprinkled with a little dressing then tossed with grated cheese. The cheese sticks to the leaves so each mouthful is full of flavour, and not as much used (in other words less calories) than if the cheese was eaten in chunks.

We - as consumers - need to realise that when we change our life-style, then the manufacturers will come up with something new to 'help us do this'. Now that 'home-cooking' is taking over from the ready-meals, to save us cooking from scratch we will continue to see new 'meal kits' on the supermarket shelves.

We are already familiar with the El Paso Mexican kits, and now Sharwoods will be doing something similar. From next month we will be able to buy four Indian and two Chinese wrap meal kits in tikka, balti, jalfrezi, masala, sweet chilli and hoi sin flavours. The products contain wraps or chapattis, a sachet of spices and a sauce. The rsp. is £3.29 although not sure how many the kits will serve. Could be for just one for all I know.

The 'trade' believes "that meal kits were a huge opportunity as it was the fastest-growing part of the cooking sauces and accompaniments market - up 8.7% y.o.y."

A food analyst said about a third of British consumers used meal kits, but warned that families with children might be put off kits if they were too spicy.

Have I ever used a meal-kit? In all honesty have, but only a very few times. The most recent purchase was an El Paso one by B's request as he wanted to have a go at making it himself, but in the end left me to do it. As I had still to buy the main ingredients, it would have been cheaper to buy the tacos etc separately.

The one time I bought a complete Indian 'banquet' was quite amusing. The package (almost a carrier bag full) contained several different curries (each packed in small containers), a pack of rice, chapattis etc. The chapattis had to be heated in the oven while the curries were - each individually - heated in the microwave, then the rice had to be heated in the microwave, all taking different times, and as it took a good 45 minutes to heat up everything, by then most had gone cold so when plated up this then had to go back into the microwave. I worked out that I could have made a chicken curry (in three curry flavours) plus cooking rice from scratch and heating up chappatis/naan, AND making a Raita, in just half an hour. Proving that a ready-meal really isn't that 'ready' after all.

Moving to the home-baking scene we would expect the 'basics' (flour, sugar etc) to be left well alone, but not so. There is a new retail sugar brand "designed to take the hassle out of home baking". "How can it do that?" I ask myself so I read and see that we will now be able to buy 'fine caster', 'superfine icing sugar', fine Demerara, crunchy Demerara, light soft brown sugar, selling in weights from 350g to 600g that carry an rsp of £1.50p.

These will be packed in resealable pouches that can stand on their own. Research had highlighted that spillage and waste from split packs was the biggest gripe for consumers, and the new pouches would redress these concerns so "while the sugars would sell at a slight premium compared with other packs on the market, shoppers would be willing to pay extra for the added convenience" says the marketing director.

Get this Mr Marketing. If I want finer sugar I just grind down the coarse in my liquidiser/blender, or just make do with what is already on sale. Am perfectly happy with the paper bags the sugar is sold in (also those with plastic wrappings). The trade says "packaging is a big issue for shoppers but there's been little innovation in the retail sugar market for a number of years...AND...Home-baking has seen incredible growth over the past few years...and this is the first stage in the revitalisation of sugar". So we can see where it all will lead.

It doesn't seem to matter that for generations (centuries in fact) we have been successfully baking cakes, biscuits, pastry etc to a very high standard using what we call 'basic' ingredients, there is always someone who comes along believing they can make things even better for us. All I can say is we don't need all this 'new stuff', and we shouldn't waste our money on it, even though the 'new pouches' will stand up on their own. Myself lay the bags of sugar on their side and they are then perfectly stable, also can stack one on top of the other until they reach the ceiling (if I had enough). You can't do that with 'pouches'.

Sainsbury's will be re-launching its ready-meal range next month in four varients: Chicken Thai Green Curry with Bamboo Shoots, King Prawn and Chorizo Paella, Makhani Chicken Tikka Masala, and Tagliatelle Pistachio Pesto and Cherry Tomatoes. The rsp of the products has been reduced from £4.99 to £3.99.

Far be it from me to suggest buying a ready meal ever, but have to say the names alone make my mouth water, and possibly might give us enough inspiration to have a go at making something similar from scratch ourselves.

Albert Bartlett 'Rooster' potatoes are a favourite of mine as they do seem to have more flavour than most spuds on sale, and now read that A.B. is now to sell American Style Russet Potatoes. These Russet potatoes have a creamy yellow flesh and a dry texture and are America's favourite potatoes, grown in Ohio and enjoy protected status. The ads for this spud will tie-in with National Chip week - in which it claims that the (russet) potatoes 'put US diner chips on the UK dinner plate'. These 'russets' are available in selected Asda, Booths, Lidl and Orcado stores with the rsp £1.59 for a 1.75g pack.

You see, this is another thing. We are now persuaded to try another new-to-us variety of potato. Me, I'm happy with King Edwards, Maris Piper for the roasting/chipping or jackets/mashing, and Charlotte or 'baby new' for the salads and skin-on boiled. Sometimes I buy the Rooster, and (in season) Jersey Royals, and other varieties if the price is less than my chosen selection, but to pay more just because it is America's favourite.

At one time believed America's very best potatoes were grown in Idaho (the potato state) so perhaps the 'russets' are different in flavour due to the difference in the Ohio soil perhaps.

Vegans may be interested to know that the world's first fryable vegan egg could be on the market as early as next year if a US inventor (who has already created a vegan egg yolk) has his way.

The vegan egg yolk (called the VEGG) is made from a blend of yeast flakes, sodium alginate, kala namak and beta-carotene and these take on a yolk shape after a 'molecular gastronomic technique', and this will be launched in the UK in mid-March of this year.

Its creator is now working on a whole egg - complete with faux egg white - to be sold as a pre-formed whole fryable egg in supermarket fridges.

All I can say is 'thank goodness I remain an omnivore and can eat real eggs and not have to 'make do'. Can never understand why people who refrain from eating any animal products still wish to pretend they are still eating them.

The main feature in this week's trad mag is to do with changing the way we get our protein, and however horrific this may sound, it does seem that it will happen sooner rather than later, for we have already made a start with what we consider (in the UK) to be a bit 'yukky'. The French enjoy eating snails, the Japanese love the scavenging eel, the Chinese delight in the 'sea cucumber' (aka sea slug), and in Thailand they enjoy locust kebabs.

We have to remember that the prawns we enjoy are basically 'locusts of the sea'. But will be go that one step further and add to our diet insects? Insect eating has been common in Asia, South America and Africa for millenia, with 80% of the world happily consuming about 1,400 insect species each day.

It has to be said that most of us would eat almost anything that is edible if there was nothing else to eat, so perhaps we shouldn't be too picky, for with the world population increasing by the second and the food grown decreasing almost as rapidly, then raising insects for food makes a lot of sense. They require very little space per pound of protein produced, have a better feed-to-meat ratio than any other animal, more of their body mass is edible and they reproduce very quickly. With no added hormones they are also good for us with their high protein and calcium densities.

Being incredibly versatile (insects can be toasted, fried, roasted and chocolate covered - these the most popular way to eat them at the moment) we could soon be seeing 'insect burgers on sale.

We mustn't forget that much of what we eat is to do with fashion (and price). What was once 'poor man's food' (offal, brains, sweetbreads, tongue) is now considered almost gourmet fare, and when chefs start to demonstrate (and serve in their restaurants) dishes made using insects as an ingredient, the sooner we will learn to begin enjoying them.

If you care to hunt around (and even give it a try) you will find there are some insects-to-eat already on sale and a brave person who sampled all of these so that he could give a write-up for the mag. This is what he says:

The flavour of the Cheddar Cheese Grubs is not too bad at all. They are like emaciated Wotsits (cheesey and tooth coating). Rated them five stars.

The Toasted Weaver Ants were Thai green curry flavoured and like the crumbs left in a bag of pork scratchings. They have the texture of one of those not-quite-cooked scratchings. Rated 3.

The BBQ flavoured Flying Grasshoppers looked liked terrestrial prawns, but don't taste of anything. Texture is horrible and the wings stick in your throat. Rating 2.

The Thai green curry flavoured Toasted Silkworm Pupae look awful, but the fact is the flavour isn't too bad at all. A bit like a crunchy curry that could catch on. Rating 4.

We all know that what starts in America usually ends up here, and when I read that a Brooklyn entomologist has been hosting 'insect-based dinner parties' for the past few years, and is now hoping to make cricket flour and create a new line in insect snacks (such as Hoppin' Good bars, with crickets, oats, grains and nuts - triple the protein with zero fat content), then quite possibly we will be seeing the same here, but hopefully not in my lifetime.

However, when we think back at Jamie Oliver's demonstration as to how chicken nuggets et al are made from 'pre-formed' meat, and even knowing now what that 'meat' consists of, how we still serve products made of this to our children and maybe even eat it ourselves (out of sight, out of mind, or what the eye doesn't see etc), then feel that 'pre-forming' insect meat will not be too far in the future. At least it would be one way that we might consider eating this particular form of protein.

Another article in the trade mag is again to do with ready-meals. What concerns the manufacturers is that TV dinners are not winners for everyone. Last year's big ready-meal success story (not sure what that was) has fallen out of favour with consumers, to be replaced at the top by Italian. The problem, the experts say, is that English food is seen as easier and cheaper to cook from scratch than other cuisines.

The danger is (here I am speaking as a consumer) is that English food is perceived by the manufacturers and retailers "to be less exciting" - and this could play into the hands of nternational cuisines this year, and not just Italian.

As a chief executive says "It's cyclical. We've been bombarded with messages over the past few years about buying British and now people are saying we've tried that, let's have something new and flamboyant. Mexican and Spanish will do well this year."

This week, last week, and in previous weeks there have been new 'ethnic' products on the market given a mention, and as the article goes on to say "even in straightened economic times, consumers are prepared to fork out if the quality of the ingredients justifies it. Premium sales are doing well, and that helps us".

"There is, however, a limit to what people will spend on dining in. 'Our £10 price for a whole aromatic duck was too high in a recession', admits a supplier of a meal range. 'We brought out more ranges at lower prices and are now starting to see a recovery. A new Simply Duck range this September with an entry point of £3 should also help".

"In short, the price has to be right - and, at the more value end of the spectrum, that means low. The reality is that many ready-meals consumers only buy on promotion".

As we 'home-cooks' are now turning away from the 'readies' and (for both economy and pleasure) beginning to cook a full meal 'from scratch', the manufacturers and retailers have to find another audience to target. and I read that "chilled meat snack producers are repositioning their offers as ready meals for younger consumers....and 'we are doing very well with young lads. With high youth employment and high college costs, more are staying at home. Our snacks are helping mums feed them but we want more impulsive buys".

There is the usual small advertising column showing a few 'ready snacks' that these young lads would enjoy. We have 'The Skinny One' - 350cal microwavable pot meals that include Mediterranean prawns with orzo pasta, Bombay spiced chicken, and Thai spiced chicken. "A welcome relief from the usual January cardboard diets" says the manufacturers. The range retails in Tesco at £3. You could make a meal for four (or more) for that money.

For something cheaper there is a microwavable bowl range that includes Meat Chillibowl and Bean and Vegetable Chillibowl aimed at the older, more affluent customers, as well as young professionals, who are looking for a convenient and tasty lunch. Rsp is £1.99p.

If eating 'a deux', then we could consider choosing one of the nine new chilled ranges from Charlie Bingham's. "Satisfyingly succulent" salmon en croute and "classic creamy' carbonara al forno head the range "to excite twosomes". The other choices are red Thai chicken curry, Chicken and Ham pies, Chicken en croute, Chicken in prosciutto, Chicken Kiev, Bolognese al forno, and Shepherd's Pie. All priced at £5.99 except the Chicken and Ham Pie - this being £6.99p.

Again this 99p added to the ££s. Make it sound so much cheaper than £6 and £7 which is the true prices (less the 1p). This then gives us an idea of how much cheaper it would be to make any of the above ourselves, from scratch (to feed two and bet the portions are not THAT large).

As with anything already partly or wholly prepared, we pay lots more for the convenience, and in the hard times surely we can find time to do most or all of this ourselves. Just think of how much we can save by doing so?

That's all the trade mag has of interest (at least to me) this week. Have heard on the news that we are now moving away from eating the plainer (digestive) biscuits to wishing for something more exciting, like chocolate coated ones. Seems that the recession is making some of us 'eat for comfort' so no doubt the manufacturers are thrilled to bits as they can see they have another way to get us to open our purses. Supply us with more and more new 'comfort foods'.

Am surprised someone hasn't yet come up with toffees that are able to be eaten easily by those wearing dentures. Or perhaps they already have. Is it called 'fudge'?

Thanks for the comments. Will take a photo of B for you Susan G. Maybe wearing his birthday hat.

Good of you Eileen to be kind about my desserts, am sure they were not that good. But as I didn't eat any (except a profiterole - and that was OK), can only hope they were as good as those previously made and sampled by me.

Wonder if the whole word is getting unseasonable weather. Maybe because we are on (almost) the same latitude, certainly in the Norther hemisphere where Margie lives (Toronto, Canada) and the UK are both having milder weather than is right for this time of year. In Scotland today it is forecast to be 17C! What is it like in Missouri, Lisa?

Do have a go at making Choux pastry Margie, it really is easy. Much easier making the 'paste' than making short pastry. Just dump the flour into the boiling liquid (water, melted butter) then beat with a wooden spoon. Originally eggs were beaten in by hand and this can be hard work, but using an electric whisk makes it a doddle.

Probably the only problems would be when baking, don't remove too soon or the profiteroles will collapse, and they do need piercing with a knife and returning to the oven to dry out or their 'innards' stay soggy. It comes with practice, and - if using the recipe given yesterday - it is easy to use only one ounce of everything plus one egg and make just a small amount as a trial batch.

A bit puzzled as to why you need to be so exact when measuring amounts for your bread machine Alison as an ounce or two more (or less) of flour should not make too much difference, you can even add half as much flour again and there will be enough yeast to make the dough rise (although it may take longer). Sometimes we can improvise by balancing something long and solid over a rolling pin (making sure the centre is placed on the pin) , then put a weight on one end (this could be a can of beans, the weight is on the label), then fill a plastic bag with enough of whatever to place on the other end so that the 'support/plank' ends up level and balanced.

Next time it might be cheaper to buy a loaf of bread and order inexpensive scales from Lakeland for even if paying for next-day delivery it would still be cheaper than what your scales cost.

Am hoping that anyone with an 'electronic' something checks first it doesn't need a new battery (or fuse in the plug if it has one) before buying new. It is surprising how many times I've been ready to ditch something and then B found the problems was I replaced with already used batteries, or the fuse has gone.

Thanks also to Gillibob for her comment, but not sure what to make of Michelle's. Did she type out sense but hit all the wrong keys? Or is she trying to say something unpleasant in a language only she understands? Perhaps in some way I'd rattled her cage and she wishes to annoy me. Well she didn't, I was at first puzzled, then amused and ended up (because there was no sense there) feeling sorry for her.

Have to admit that yesterday I did eat that last piece of chocolate cake. But nothing else until supper time when I had a bowlful of chilli con carne for my supper. B also ate chilli, in fact he liked it so much he went and had another big helping. Barely enough left (from a huge panful) to even bother to freeze, so I ate that myself later after B had gone to bed, then washed my dish so he didn't find out!

Not sure today what I'll be making for supper. Every time I open the fridge door I feel slightly alarmed as there is one completely empty shelf (this was cleared for the party desserts) and one almost empty. Of the four drawers in the little freezer, two are now empty (these held boxes and boxes and boxes of all the profiteroles made).

Probably will make that vegetable soup that I intended to make yesterday. But then will probably change my mind.

The last of this series of Superscrimpers was on yesterday evening, but missed seeing it due to B wishing to watch something else. Can always see it repeated on ITV Player, but doubt I will. Always get the 'been there, done that' feeling when I watch it.

Please join me again tomorrow, and keep those (sensible) comments coming. Have more photos to show you so hope you will be logging on. See you then.