Monday, June 04, 2012

Almost Back to Normal

The last few days have been nothing but cooking, cooking, cooking. Not sure why, but this time it seemed far harder work than was the Indianfest, but admittedly quite a bit of that was able to prepared well in advance, so could pace myself more. When it comes to cakes, scones, quiches etc, these are always best made as close to the time of eating as possible.

Once I'd got our daughter's 'party needs' done and delivered, could then concentrate on the sailing club's Jubilee party. Made lots and lots and lots of cupcakes (well at least 40 but it seemed more), these took more time to decorate later than to make and bake.

The quiches turned out well as I've now found on the best way to make them. You might like to give it a go.
What I first do is roll out the short pastry fairly thinly, line the tin(s) and leave an overlap of pastry hanging over the edges (this prevents it shrinking back when baking) and bake 'blind' for about 10 -15 minutes (180 - 200C). Then remove the baking beans and paper and return the case to the oven for the base to 'dry out' a bit more. Only then can I be sure the base stays crisp (preferably to soggy bases) once filled.
However, the base can still bubble up a bit once the paper has been removed, so now I prevent this by first pricking the base with a fork (or tip of knife) before blind baking. Problem with this is that the holes may open out as the pastry bakes and even a tiny hole can cause filling to seep through and under the pastry, worse if baked in loose bottomed tins as it can then keep oozing out leaving very little filling at all.

To make doubly sure there would be no leakage, once the pastry shell was blind baked, even if no holes can be seen, now always brush a thin layer of beaten egg over the base and partly up the sides of the case whilst it is still very hot. This then sets the egg instantly into a glaze that filled any tiny holes that might have been there, if there are any tiny holes, give a double or triple 'glaze' over that spot. Any left-over egg can be added to the other eggs used in the filling. I tend to use at least 1 large egg per quarter pint of milk/cream or whatever. Preferable 5 - 6 eggs to a pint (if using medium eggs worth adding an extra one).

The fillings for a quiche can be varied, normally just eggs and cream (or milk) but now prefer to beat eggs with cream cheese or creme fraiche, adding seasoning to taste. If too thick, can always beat in a little cream to slacken it. This gives a more 'solid' filling with a good texture.

Halfway through my 'quiche making' the phone rang and it was the club organiser to say the number of guests had risen by ten (she originally had told me 12, then a few days later said 30 max - this the fnal number I was working to), so she needed more food! So then needed to make/bake 'back-up foods', this being forty mini vol-au-vents, 18 mini-sausage rolls and an extra quiche. Oh yes, they were a bit short on salads so I offered to make a big bowl of potato salad (well, it was a good way to use up all the spuds that were beginning to sprout). All gratefully accepted.

The spuds were peeled, then cut into even sized chunks (large dice), boiled until just tender, then drained and left them in their own steam whilst a couple of large red onions were finely chopped. Also finely sliced a dozen radishes. Then mixed some mayonnaise with some double cream, adding seasoning, then folded in the onions and the still warm potatoes into this 'dressing' (needs to be done whilst the spuds are warm then they absorb the flavours better), carefully folding the lot together, then scattered the sliced radish on top. Covered the bowl with clingfilm and left in the fridge overnight.

As to the quiches. One was Asparagus. Using a can of green asparagus, removed the top third of each spear and set aside, beat the stalks with the egg and some cream fraiche, then filled the pastry case with that, arranging the tips on the top.
Made a 'Chorizo and Mediterranean veg. Quiche' - this being diced chorizo fried with finely diced onion and diced red, yellow and green bell peppers, folded into the eggs that had been beaten with cream fraiche, added seasonings, then poured into the case.

A third quiche was wild (canned) salmon, drained and flaked, together with finely chopped smoked salmon, plenty of black pepper and the grated zest of a lemon. Eggs beaten into (this time) cream cheese, the salmon mixture folded into this and poured into the pastry case.

Fourth (and largest) quiche was lightly fried diced bacon on the base of the quiche, covered with by lots of grated cheese , seasoned eggs/cream poured over. Sliced tomatoes on top.

Each quiche was made and baked separately and each tin put on to a larger metal baking sheet as this makes it easier to put into and remove from the oven (at least my oven as it is rather high). Temperature reduced to 160C to cook the quiches - this way the filling cooks to golden and stays 'flat', too high a temperature and the filling will 'souffle' and rise, which then tends to sink in the middle as it cools and although tastes fine does not look so attractive.
As the quiches were different shapes and sizes, the timing depended upon when the filling was set in the centre, half an hour is about right for an average size. When cooked, removed and cooled in their tins the overhanging bits of pastry finally shaved off to give a neat edge.

As all but one were baked in loose-bottomed tins, once cooled was able to removed the outer rim and slice the quiches into portions (by request), then replace them back into the rim for packing and delivery. The largest (round) quiche I made an extra portion by cutting a circle in the centre using a scone cutter, then cutting portions round the sides - these then being wedgeshaped).
Incidentally, it is always best to use a deepish flan/quiche tin as the pastry does take up some 'base-space', and a quiche with a shallow filling really isn't worth eating. Leaving the pastry to overlap the sides of the tin also allows a little more height for the filling to rise as it cooks, so gaining a bit more depth that way.

The above quiches were probably the best I've ever made (not that I tasted any but B came home saying that they were good, and they certainly looked good). My real pleasure came from the scones. You may remember previously I've never before quite got them right, and yesterday they still didn't 'rise to the occasion' in that they did not end up with straight sides and flat tops but they certainly were light and B said 'wonderful', and that's really all that matters.

Saturday I baked solidly from 8.00am until 4.30pm, had a short sit-down and then started again during the evening whilst the footie match was on. Nearly decided to leave the rest until the next day, but thought better of it and managed to have the strength left to put 'the makings' together for the scones (flour and sugar in the bowl, butter diced and left to get to room temperature, dried fruit weighed, and eggs and milk on the table. Also rolled out puff pastry and cut out and also baked the mini vol-au-vent cases. Made the filling for those (condensed mushroom soup with finely diced mushrooms added, then covered and chilled to fill the cases next day)

For the 'vols' decided to cut the pastry into squares not rounds, this way no wasted pastry scraps and I ended up with more cases because of this. It is surprising how thinly the (bought) puff pastry can be rolled as it will rise dramatically when baked. Carefully cut the 'lid' on each case (nearly but not quite through to the base) and these were removed (with any soft internal pastry) once cooked.

Although using a classic recipe for the scones, as I needed to 'times three' the ingredients could spare only 2 medium eggs (instead of three large), added a teaspoon of baking powder (not included in the recipe), and soaked the fruit overnight in a couple of tblsp water (used this water as part of the liquid needed), also diced the butter ready to rub in, and measured out some milk.

When the dough was made, rolled and cut, baked the scones at 220C for slightly less than the recommended time (as they were risen and brown enough). After cooling packed them in a cardboard box (not polybags) whilst they were still very slightly warm. Am sure this helped to keep them soft and 'fresh' until eaten at lunch time.
I tried the 'testers' later (the last little ones of each batch one made from the last scraps of dough- definitely a 'mis-shape') and these certainly were really light without any taste of the extra raising agent. Needed to bake the scones in three batches (made 40 total), so as I also had to fill the vol au vents before B left, needed to make an early start.

As B needed to be off before 8.00 due to sailing starting at 9.00am, this meant a very early baking of the scones, so in the end I stayed up all night (nodding off in my chair in the living room) and began rubbing the butter into the flour at 4.30am on the Sunday. Just managed to get all the scones baked, cooled, packed, vol-au-vents filled, plus baking the sausage rolls by 7.30am. Leaving me just enough time to finish the packing.

Of course Sunday turned out to be a miserable day as regards weather (our daughters community street party held on the previous day fortunatley had much better weather). It was raining hard and quite windy when B left, and he phoned me at 9.00am to say no sailing due to the wind and one two had turned up anyway, also the street party was 'off' so they would be eating in the club house.
Then what did we see on the local news that evening - Morecambe had one of the longest street parties in the country, with photos to show everyone sitting there eating. It had stopped raining by mid-morning, but when the club checked, there was no sign of any activity, so perhaps the party was held later in the afternoon. A great pity the club couldn't join in, but at least they had a good time, and in a warm room rather than sitting in a cold wind.

Myself had a very pleasant day watching the Jubilee celebrations on the Thames. This was on from 1.30 - 6.00 and shown all over the world so I hope some of our American/Canadian and readers from other countries managed to watch it as it really was a sight to behold, despite the rain falling towards the end. Typical English weather - well, we do go on about it don't we? Today it is glorious sunshine with not a cloud in the sky, and hope there will still be street parties and events that can take place today. Tomorrow (also a Bank Holiday), the rain is forecast to return. Certainly yesterday was so cold the central heating was put back on!

Yesterday evening watched a programme called 'All the Queen's Horses' (filmed earlier), and this was held in an arena in Windsor Great Park where horses and displays of riding/dancing were from the Commonwealth and think also other countries. The horses and their riders were doing incredible feats, and the traditional dancing was wonderful to see.
Although I've not been involved in any Jubilee celebrations (other than behind the scenes) have certainly felt the 'jubilant' atmosphere, and it is a delight to see (on TV) how so many people are having a thoroughly good time (despite the weather) and how much they love our Queen.

My spirits were dampened slightly when I read in the newspaper how our frugal guru - the great Martin Lewis of - has just sold his non-profit making web-site for millions and MILLIONS of ££££s. So he was in it for the money after all. Or so it looks to me.

I have to ask myself, would I sell this (my) site for a million pounds (or even £10,000)? The honest answer is NO! Perhaps because I know money (however much it might be) would never bring me happiness. My B would think differently as would certainly some other members of my family, and who knows, maybe they would persuade me to change my mind, but as the occasion would never arise no point in me even thinking about it.

Whilst on my own yesterday, despite my weariness (and sorry I was too tired even to write my blog), managed to grab a couple of hours later to tidy up the kitchen, do the washing up and (bliss) clear the kitchen table. All I need now is to take a pen and paper into the larder and start making lists of what has been used up . Almost all my self-raising flour has gone, I've just about lived on Spam over the past few days (all that now gone), need more dark chocolate, cocoa powder, icing sugar, dried mixed fruit, mayonnaise...
In the 'chilled section' (fridge) am now low on cream cheese, creme fraiche, butter, hard cheeses, chorizo. Am out of baking potatoes, and need more onions, and - having used over 3 dozen eggs over the last few days (only 2 left) - certainly need at least one dozen (pref two) or I won't feel 'culinary secure'.
Mind you, it's not as though I haven't enough food left to last for many weeks, but seem to have gone through more basic ingredients' these last few days than I can ever remember. None of it really costly, and a lot made from them, but you know me - an empty shelf in the larder/fridge, empty drawer in the freezer, and I feel insecure.

Security to me is a bit like layers of clothing. Starting with the State Pension as my 'smalls', and the food stores being my 'normal clothing', with finally the outer and warmest layer being the house walls within which I live, tightly wrapped around me and fastened with a padlock. Strip all that away and I would be terrified. Not quite sure of what, but don't intend to give any of it up to find out (although do still enjoy the 'challenge' of using up what food I've got before buying more - so really should do the same now shouldn't I?).

Anyway, enough of my 'chat', and will now give my version of the scone recipe. If you wish to make plain scones, leave out the fruit/water, but the soaked fruit helps to keep the scones moister for longer.
Fruit scones: makes a dozen
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
half tsp baking powder
2 tblsp caster sugar
3 oz (75g) butter, cubed
2 oz (50g) dried mixed fruit
2 tblsp water
1 snall - medium egg, beaten
about 2 - 3 tblsp milk
Sift the flour with the baking powder and add the sugar. Rub in the butter until like breadcrumbs. Add the dried fruit and any water remaining, then fold in the beaten egg and enough milk to make a soft - but not sticky - dough (if too dry add a little more milk, if too sticky add a little more flour, although the dough will pick up some from the pastry board).
Tip the dough onto a floured pastry board and knead very gently until smooth, then roll out to half-inch thickness and cut into circles using a 2" (or slightly larger) scone cutter. Gather up the oddments, knead lightly together and roll to cut into more scones.
Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, leaving a gap between each (they do tend to rise better if not spaced too far apart)
Bake at 220C for 12 - 15 minutes (check after 10 minutes if the scones are small) or until well-risen and golden brown, then remove to a cake airer to cool. These are best served as fresh as possible, split and spread with butter. Lovely also with jam and whipped cream.

Another load of emails discovered today, one an invitation to yet another 'press review' party (free food and drinks supplied by a top London restaurant) and interviews with chefs. How I wish I was young enough to toddle off up to London and take up all these 'invites'. Mind you, nothing is 'free'. The train fare alone (and maybe an overnight stay) would take more than a week's pension money.

Three reader's comments. One from an Anonymous who is promoting their own site, but a welcome anyway. One from Sarina that requires only a 'thank you', and one from Catriona who gives an account of the lovely and varied foods 'made from scratch' by her daughter's students. This really is worth a mention because how rarely do youngsters today seem to make anything 'from scratch', and am sure each and everyone involved in the above party will continue cooking because it has proved to be so successful as well as being economical.
In a way, celebrations such as these are like dropping a pebble into a pond, the ripples keep spreading further and further out, and hopefully a lot more people will have discovered that home-cooking is not just good to eat, but can also a lot can be made for quite a small amount of money, and have a go at doing it themselves.
Let's keep up the good work. We still have the Olympics, so maybe a few garden parties, barbecues, indoor buffet parties to celebrate them all....? Am sure we can keep thinking of some reason to throw a party. The eclipse of the moon? Venus passing across the sun? The end of the world in September? It's turning out to be quite a busy year. So let's make the most of it and make it as enjoyable as possible.

For today at least am taking a breather and trying to return to normal, although this might take a day or two. Really should go to the garden centre to get some bedding plants, but at the moment zero temperatures have been forecast in some areas during the night so hardly the best time to plant tender annuals. Will have to take each day as it comes.

Not long now before the longest day, then the nights start drawing in again. Please can we have some summer days before then, as apart from a week at the end of March, and a couple of days the other week, its nothing but cold, windy and in this region wet, all of it worse than most of last winter.

Tomorrow should be back here again chatting more nonsense. Hope you can join me then, above all enjoy these two more days of Bank Holiday....TTFN.