Friday, December 13, 2013

It Can Happen to Us All...

Thankfully have finished cooking cakes for the Foodbank.   Despite having made gingerbread many times, Brownies many times,  both ended up as a disaster.  Don't know what happened.  At least the ginger traybake 'cake' was successful.  Managed to salvage the Brownies (the 'bake' had sunk in the middle), and it seemed OK once I'd cut away the sides (tasted gorgeous anyway). 

I'd wanted to make a lot of gingerbread men for the children, but could not find my cutters.  I looked EVERYWHERE.   Decided to use my snowman cutter bought at B.Grange last week.  Realised, once I'd made the dough that I'd used self-raising flour instead of plain (adding a little bicarb as the recipe said), so the dough rose slightly when in the oven.  However, I'd rolled it out fairly thinly so it ended up crispy enough.
I then rolled out (again thinly) some white fondant, using the same cutters, and stuck these onto the gingerbread 'snowmen', of course these were then smaller than the original, but only a bit.  Left them at room temp. to dry out overnight (which they did), then painted them yesterday. Today they seem to have softened slightly, but only a bit, and doubt the children will mind.

I did want to make more traybakes, but quite honestly I felt exhausted by the end of yesterday, much of this to do with annoyance that my baking wasn't as good as it should be.  But nobody is perfect.  Even the very best professional chef of the recent series fell at the last hurdle in Masterchef and so lost the chance of winning.

Watched 'Superscrimpers' the other evening and - for once - found it quite good.  Just LOVED the way we can fold the pages of a book to make little 'Christmas trees' to use as decoration.  Problem is, I would never use any book of mine (however old) in this way.  We tend to treat books with great respect (even though a lot of my cookbooks have pages covered with grease spots as they are well used). 
Remembering there were a lot of B's Screwfix, Argos and other catalogues in the conservatory, went and found one that was a couple of years old (we have a more recent one), it has over 700 pages!!!
I removed the sturdier covers and began folding the pages as shown on TV.  So easy and quick to do, and works like a dream.  With the illustrations being in different colours it makes a much prettier 'tree' than using an ordinary book.

I've not yet folded more than 75 pages and already this could be enough to make one tree (depending on how tight we want the pages to be together.  So one Screwfix catalogue could make 10 trees, and I've loads of other free catalogues and thick mags that could be used (Damart, Lakeland, cookery mags...even the many D.Russell's that we get sent), and the same size could be attached together if not thick enough.

Was very pleased to see Miranda Hart's family home on Superscrimpers (plus parent's and siblings),  her full name is Miranda Hart-Dyke, and although I knew her brother was a horticulturist (he was on a BBC gardening programme the same evening), her father was something high up in the navy before retirement, I hadn't known where her family 'seat' was.  Very impressive.

Not sure what I thought about the three girls who spent over £10,000 hosting six parties over the Christmas season.  Think they've been on before (maybe this bit was a repeat) but obviously have the money to support their expensive life-style.  At least we got shown how to throw a party for less than £50 (and to me that is more than I'd wish to pay anyway).  The Sushi demo looked more complicated than it needs be.

Another programme that I found delightful was Michel Roux jnr's 'Patisserie' (BBC 4 - Wednesday). Much of it was taken with Michel giving us a tour of the best patisseries in France (was it Paris?) and believe me, to the French it is a real art form although probably we'll never manage to match the perfection in our own kitchens, it did give inspiration.
What did please me was when - at the end of the prog - Michel showed the making of a Croqembouche.  He was using the larger 'chef's' cone where the choux buns were placed around the insides, glued together with caramel.  Have to say when he removed it, the top part looked a bit 'gappy' (but easily disguised).

Having myself made a Croquembouche ( B's 80 birthday 'cake' last year) , using a smaller cone (Lakeland sell them) where the choux buns are fixed around the outside, it really looked very impressive, but so easy to assemble (I glued them together with a bit of melted chocolate).   Because I'd used double cream (reduced in price), and practically all the other ingredients were the lower-price range (eggs, butter, flour...etc) the  towering cone - made from 80 choux buns - cost exactly £5!

This proves that a lot of what we pay for is the skill of the cook (and honestly there was little skill in the above), not the cost of ingredients.  We saw that in an earlier episode of Masterchef when the chefs had to make up two different dishes using 'left-overs'.  What they produced could have been served at a Michelin starred restaurant.

The other day made a batch of spag bol meat sauce (extending the mince with Beanfeast Bolognese).  B and I both had a helping and there was another serving that I packed away to freeze, just leaving me with a couple of tablespoons left in the pan.  This too has been frozen as one thing ready to 'see us through' during the many frugal weeks after Christmas. My intention being to make some pasta sheets then dot little balls of this spag bol meat sauce over the top, cover with more pasta and then form them into Ravioli.  This turning not-enough-meat-to-serve-one' into enough to server two or even three as a first course (or light lunch/supper).

My Beloved prefers his spag bol (as a main course) served the 'English way'.  A pile of pasta (he prefers penne as he has never managed to control spaghetti, always chopping it up into tiny bits before he begins to eat), this then topped with a lot of the meat sauce (Parmesan on top of that).
The Italians are a lot more economical with their sauce.  They cook lots of spaghetti, then add that to the pan of meat sauce (this being slightly more liquid than our 'usual, and not a lot of it anyway), then toss it together so the pasta is lightly coated with the sauce.  Every strand of pasta gives us a taste without being suffocated by the meat.  A very economical yet traditional way to serve pasta.  One we should 'replicate'.

Apparently 'replicate' is the 'in word'.  Heard it first used in this context on the Food Network (Amazing Wedding Cakes...) In my day we used to say 'copy, and I still do. 

While on the topic (pasta and meat sauce), as well as spag. bol, we can serve the same - pasta and meat sauce in different guises.  Using sheets of pasta (plus meat sauce) we can made ravioli, or layer the two to make lasagne, or roll the pasta into tubes to fill with meat - then called 'cannelloni'.

Enough of my rambling... time now for me to reply to comments...
We give a welcome to Viv (Montreal, Canada) who was taught how to cook by her grandma who was once a cook in a 'Big House'.  Bet she had some lovely tales to tell about the food she cooked there.

Margie (who also lives in Canada) mentions jelly cubes.  Seems these are not sold in Canada where they use jelly crystals.  Here we still use jelly 'cubes' sold in packets.  These vary in price, the cheapest have little flavour, but myself tend to make them up adding fresh fruit juice to the water when I can.  The flavours on sale are: strawberry, raspberry, lemon, lime, blackcurrant, tangerine, and sometimes pineapple (although haven't seen that one for ages).   I normally keep a box full of about 12 assorted packets as B enjoys jelly (with cream of course). 

My cheat's' Pannetone' (not sure if that is the correct spelling) is made from an orange jelly, melted in about a quarter of a pint of water, then made up with a good three quarters of a pint of unwhipped double or whipping cream.  Poured into individual pudding basins and left to set in the fridge before being turned out onto individual saucers.  Sometimes I add just a teaspoonful of Cointreau - this making it even more special.

A speedy way to set a jelly is first melt it in a very little water (about 2 fl oz - and I do this in the microwave), then add water to make it up to a half-pint with cold water, then thrown in plenty of ice cubes (these I keep in our freezer).  As they melt, they chill the jelly down so it sets almost instantly.
In the old days they used to add snow to pancake batter to help lighten it, but today with 'acid rain' and all the pollutants in the air, snow is not safe to use any more, at least not as an 'edible'.

Seems that over the pond people are experiencing some very cold weather.  In years past we always used to have the same, a few weeks after.  Today the weather conditions don't seem to run to the same pattern any more, but we should still make preparations in case we have a few weeks of really bad weather. 

We used to have a metal 'rabbit' jelly/blancmange mould Pam.  Think most mothers will children used one of these.  In those days most jellies were made in special moulds, at one time I used to collect very old ceramic ones and they had the most intricate shapes when turned out.   Wish I'd kept them, but they were another thing that had to go when downsizing.  Fetched a good price though (over £20 each) considering I never paid more than 50p usually bought at car-boot sales.

Have to take my leave now as must pack the cakes and gingerbread men for B to take to the Foodbank in a few minutes, but will be back with you again tomorrow when I expect to be able to offer more cheap and cheerful recipes for you.  Do hope you find time to join me, and please keep those comments coming.  See you then .