Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Trip to Anglesey

Off we went: me, Greg, Joff, Charlotte, Kate and Pete to Newborough in Anglesey, Wales. I’d never been and was looking forward to it; Charlotte had just got back from Australia and it was her birthday. I idea was to have a picnic on the beach, and it was up to me to bake a cake. It wasn’t a Grigson however, but a milk chocolate cake, a Buttery family favourite from my Mum’s Be-Ro book (a staple for anyone’s recipe book shelf in my opinion). The day started out rainy and miserable, but as promised, Newborough has it’s own microclimate and we were sunbathing and swimming in the sea, with rather severe burning of the face and corned-beefing of the legs.

I did get a chance however to redo the Cornish pasties. This time they turned out much better; it seems I was correct in my review, you need to incorporate the lard very slowly into the flour. In fact, I made it in two half-sized batches just to be on the safe side. The pastry was delicious and was very different to a normal butter or half-butter-half-lard pastry. I’m not quite sure why – it just had a more appropriate flavour. It’s difficult to describe, I suppose it’s like comparing chips cooked dripping to those cooked in vegetable oil: you can’t taste beef dripping, but they taste so much better.

Because of these revelations, the pasties are being promoted from a score of 2/10 to 7/10.

FYI: there is much debate as to how the word pasty should be pronounced. Should it be with a long ‘a’ or a short? Griggers reckons a long ‘a’ since Cornish pasties come from ‘Down South’, but I think it should be short as it makes them sound more homely. Rick Stein agrees, apparently.

#74 Vanilla Ice Cream with Plum Sauce and Lace Biscuits

Real vanilla ice-cream, a port-spiked plum sauce and a crunchy caramel oat biscuit; this is a dessert to impress. You could, of course, make any of the things separately as they are all good. In fact, you make much more of the sauce than you need, so freeze what is left for the next time you make ice cream. Make sure you have to the whole day to make it, or start it the previous day, which is what I did. The whole reason I made this was that I saw some lovely plums in the grocers window and remembered seeing this recipe, thinking I’d never get round to it, since plums in this country are usually a bit insipid. If you see some nice ones, make this dessert, people.

You can make any of the three elements in any order.

The vanilla ice-cream
Boil half a pint of milk or single cream (however, see review bit, below) along with a split vanilla pod with the seeds scraped out. Pour gradually onto 2 egg yolks, a whole egg and 2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar, whisking all the way. Then pour the whole lot back into the saucepan and heat gently until it thickens slightly. Don’t be tempted to turn the heat too high as you’ll get scrambled eggs. Pour the whole lot through a sieve and back into the bowl. You don’t have to sieve it, but it will remove any scrambled egg bits, should there be any. Fish out the vanilla pod; you can wash and dry it and use it again later (I keep mine in a jar of sugar, in case a recipe asks for vanilla sugar). Cover with cling-film and allow to cool.

When cold, pour the mixture into an ice cream maker, and when about half frozen, add half a pint of whipped double cram. Keep churning in the mixer until stiff enough to scoop into a tub and freeze. Make sure that you bring the ice cream out of the freezer at least half an hour before you want to serve it.

The lace biscuits
These are quite tricky customers. You can make them big or small, but the bigger they are, the more difficult they are to handle. I did big ones which looked great, but were a total nightmare. There was a small amount of swearing involved, so I recommend not to make them with children present.

Before you start making them, grease two baking sheets and a rolling pin, and set your oven to 180°C. Next, gently melt 2 ½ ounces of butter and take it off the heat. Mix in2 ½ ounces of rolled porridge oats, 4 ounces of caster sugar and a teaspoon each of flour and baking powder, then beat in the egg. Using a dessert spoon, drop blobs of the mixture at least 2 inches apart from each other as they do spread out rather a lot. The more generous you are with your spoons the bigger the biscuits will be. Bake one sheet at a time for 8-12 minutes, depending on size, until golden brown.

This is the tricky bit: Using a palette knife, remove the still-soft biscuits from the baking tray and drape over the rolling pin. Wait about 30 seconds for it to solidify a little and transfer to a wire rack to cool properly. Hey presto, a posh curly biscuit! Repeat with all the biscuits. If they start getting to hard again, just put them back in the oven to soften up.

The plum sauce
De-stone and slice 1 ½ pounds of ripe plums and gently heat with a few tablespoons of water in a saucepan. Make sure the fruit doesn’t stick. Meanwhile make a caramel. I’d never done this before, but it was a piece of piss, so don’t be scared. Stir 8 ounces of sugar in 5 tablespoons of water very gently over a low heat. When dissolved, stop stirring and bring it to the boil. Keep doing this for about 10 minutes until it’s a lovely dark caramel colour. Whilst it’s boiling, liquidise and sieve the stewed plums. When the caramel is ready, take off the heat and very gradually add 6 tablespoons of cold water by stirring. Be very careful here – if you add too much, it will spit on you. I cannot be responsible for any injuries! When fully incorporated, return to the heat to dissolve any lumps and stir in the plums. When cool, add a slosh of port; I’ll leave the amounts to you, as it depends on taste, though I put in around 4 tablespoons.

To present: Place one or two scoops of ice cream onto a biscuit and pour over the sauce.

#74 Vanilla Ice with Plum Sauce and Lace Biscuits – 9/10. A brilliant dessert! Everything works together perfectly. One of the best things about this dish is the real restaurant-quality feel you get about it. All the other desserts, even the ones that are a bit posh, are no way near as impressive as this. I made the ice cream with milk instead of cream, and it didn’t have the silky texture it had when I made the ginger ice cream (it’s exactly the same recipe, except for the flavourings). If I’d one it with cream, I think it would’ve been a 10!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

#73 Lady Shaftesbury's Toasted Cheese

I thought that I’d completely run out of vegetarian recipes until I spotted a whole section in the ‘Cheese and Egg Dishes’ chapter of English Food. This is a dish that I know was popular in Victorian/Edwardian times in Gentleman’s Clubs and the like; it’s essentially a rarebit, but ‘deconstructed’, as trendy chefs would say nowadays. You get a pot of melted cheese and toast soldiers to dip in it. Be warned: this dish comes with a warning from Jane Grigson herself, ‘The quantities seem tiny, but this kind of dish should be eaten in small quantities; unless your family have stomachs of iron, toasted cheese can cause indigestion and nightmares.’ Whatever Griggers. The recipe is supposed to serve 6, but me, Greg and Joff ate the lot.

I do have to warn you, you DO get nightmares: I had totally trippy repetitive dreams all night and hardly got a wink of sleep, and Greg said he had nightmares and anxiety dreams, yet I heard him laughing in his sleep! Weird. I think I’ll conduct a scientific experiment in the future – there’s about six more of this kind of recipe; I’ll get people round, we’ll eat them all, score them, and then keep a dream diary. Thus proving the old wives’ tale as rock-solid fact!

Anyway, here’s the recipe. Divide it between however many people you want. Monitor your dream s though! And don’t eat if prone to sleepwalking.

In a saucepan, gently melt 2 ounces of butter, then, keeping the heat quite low, mix in 7 ounces of good grated Farmhouse Cheddar cheese, 6 tablespoons of cream, 2 large egg yolks, plus salt and pepper. Whilst stirring, get the grill nice and hot and toast a slice of brown bread, which should be buttered afterwards and cut into soldiers. When all the cheese has melted into a thick gloop, pour into ramekins and grill until the tops are browned. Serve immediately with the toast.

#73 Lady Shaftesbury’s Toasted Cheese: 8/10. Really delicious and simple to do. Although, by Jane’s standard, we have iron stomachs, a third is still only a little bit, but and is definitely enough to fill you up. I daren’t work out the amount of calories and saturated fat in this. Oh well, I’ll double my efforts at the gym.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

#72 Madeira Cake

I made a Madeira cake because it seemed refined – one should drink a glass of Madeira wine with it as one reclines for a mid-morning treat, apparently. It’s basically a slightly lemony sponge cake and is pretty D.R.Y., hence the excuse of drinking wine with, I expect. I’d only had it with a cup of tea, but either is pretty good. Drinking cake with wine is very much a nineteenth century idea, partaken by middle-class ladies, the cake itself has nothing directly to do with the island.

Cream 6 ounces of butter and the same of sugar until light and fluffy. Sift 9 ounces of flour and half a teaspoon of baking powder into a separate bowl. Next, stir in 4 large eggs one at time, adding a small amount of flour between each egg to avoid them splitting the mixture. Once incorporated, stir in the rest of the flour and the grated rind of half a lemon. Pour the mixture into a lined or greased 8 inch cake tin. Bake at 180°C for anywhere between 50 minutes and 1 ½ hours, depending on your oven’s idiosyncrasies (I’m still getting used to mine). Half-way through the cooking time, place two strips of lemon zest on the centre of the cake. To test if it’s cooked, stab it with a skewer. When it’s ready let it cool for about 10 minutes before tuning out onto a wire rack.

#72 Madeira Cake – 7/10. I really liked this cake. I usually prefer something with a bit of cream or icing, but in combination with the sweet Madeira wine, it is really lovely. How refined!

#71 Rolls Filled with Cheese and Tomato Paste

Next up for the picnic – Rolls Filled with Cheese and Tomato Paste. A perfect thing to take out on trips etc., reckons the Grigson; and she is correct! Looking at the recipe, I though it was a bit of a faff to prepare, when you could just have a cheese and tomato buttie. Jane suggests using bridge rolls – I have no idea what they are, but small baguettes seem to do the same job.

Greg sneaking in sarnie before dinner

For six: Slice 6 small baguettes in half longways and scoop out as much of the bread from inside as possible without creating any holes in the bread; breadcrumb the scooped-out bread in a food processor. Next, chop a small onion very finely, and soften gently in 2 ounces of butter. Chop up three skinned tomatoes and add to the mixture – you may want to add a tablespoon of tomato puree and some sugar at this point, unless you grow your own tomatoes, or live in Spain. Simmer the mixture for about 15 minutes, until all is quite thick. Whisk in the egg and keep stirring until the sauce thickens even more – don’t let it boil or the eggs will scramble. Take off the heat and stir in 2 ounces of grated Cheddar cheese, and the breadcrumbs – don’t add them all at once, you may not need them all. Season with salt and pepper and stir in a tablespoon of chopped parsley. Fill the rolls with the paste along with a layer of something green – lettuce, watercress, or whatever.


#71 Rolls Filled with Cheese and Tomato Paste – 6.5/10. They are certainly bizarre but very good, at first I wasn’t sure if I liked them, but as I scoffed away as I walked about, I decided that I did. Though I’m not sure if a ‘normal’ cheese and tomato sarnie is better. They went oddly well with lagers that Jono brought along.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

#70 Cornish Pasties

When we all thought about going out for the day picnicking, the first thing I thought of making was a Cornish pasty; easy to make and easy to eat. The whole idea is that they are hardy. I'd never made one before, but knew that it was pretty straight forward...

Start off by making the pastry. Cornish pasty pastry should be made with lard as the only fat, apparently. Grigson doesn't give much instruction on how to make pastry other than, fat and flour are to be used in a ratio of 1:2. To make two large pasties I used a pound of flour and 8 ounces of chilled, cubed lard. It sounds a lot, but these are big pasties! Start off by rubbing the flour into the fat, along with a pinch of salt. Use the tips of your fingers, or the appropriate attachment on your food mixer. I usually go for the mixer as it doesn't make the fat warm up like fingertips do. Don't be tempted to put the mixer on a high speed; use the lowest setting possible (see review, below). Let the pastry rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Meanwhile, chop up a pound of beef - use skirt, chuck, or as I did, top rib. Make sure all the fat and gristle is cut off. Chop a four-ounce onion, and thinly slice 3 ounces of turnip and 8 ounces of potato. Mix the vegetables and meat in a large bowl and season well with salt and pepper - do not skimp - plus a pinch of fresh or dried thyme.

Divide the pastry into two and roll one half to the size of a large dinner plate, pile in half the mixture in a line down the centre of the pastry circle, pull up the sides and crimp them together using water as glue. Place it on a baking tray and brush with egg. Repeat with the other half. Bake for 20 minutes at 200ºC, then turn down the oven to 180ºC for a further 40 minutes.

#70 Cornish Pasty - 2/10. The first disaster of the project! I've given the recipe because I know what I did wrong - because I was making such a large amount of pastry, I tried to hurry it along by turning the speed of my mixer too high. The result of this is the fat doesn't form 'breadcrumbs', it softens too early and doesn't get incorporated properly. If you are making it, heed my advice! It would perhaps make two lots of pastry, using half the required amounts of fat and flour. The filling was delicious , but the pastry turned into dust, I couldn't even get them of the baking tray without them collapsing. Instead I ate the filling with a spoon, and threw the rest in the bin. I am going to try them again next week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Trip to the Sticks

Off me and Greg went along with Joff to see Sarah, Jono and the Georgeling, plus Ben and Katy in Barnton. The idea being that Jono, Joff and I would go off birding and everyone else would go to the outdoor pool. We would eat picnic food and then a meze tea. This being August and the North of England did mean that it pissed it down. Rubbish. We still got a chance to do a bit of birding, but it was all a bit grim, though a sandpiper was spotted, and you don’t one of those everyday in the centre of Manchester.

I thought that I would do a trinity of Grigson recipes: Cornish pasties, cheese and tomato paste rolls and a Madeira cake. Of course, I made all these in advance didn’t know the weather would be pants, also I turned up sans Cornish pasty, as they turned out to be a total disaster!

Luckily, Sarah’s meze food was not a disaster, but brilliant. She’s been doing loads of cooking, much more than me and we’re thinking of starting up a dinner club where we all make a course each. Also, we watched You’ve Been Framed and pissed our pants, whilst it was pissing it down outside.

Anyways, the recipes…

Thursday, August 7, 2008

#69 Watercress Soup

The third and final soup I made for my recovery. I love the peppery taste of watercress and certainly don’t eat it enough. I thought that watercress soup would be a bit bland, but it is not. Don’t freeze it though, it goes a bit weird. I had mine at work and it didn't look too appetising (see pic), it does look (and taste) better freshly made. It’s another easy soup, especially if you have a blender, though everything can be run through a vegetable mill or ricer. Chicken stock is probably best, though Grigson says you can use water, but vegetable stack is probably better, I reckon.

FYI: Watercress is one of only three indigenous vegetables we have in Britain (the other two are samphire and kale). It's strange how none of them are regularly eaten.

Freezing your watercress soup results in something that resembles pond water - beware!

Start off by dicing a pound of potatoes and slicing an onion. Soften these in a covered saucepan in a little water until soft – keep an eye on it, as you will have to top it up a couple of times. Measure out 2 ½ pints of chicken stock before attempting to blend the potatoes as you may need to some of it to add. Add the liquidised potatoes along with the rest of the stock to the pan and reheat without boiling. Chop 2 small bunches of watercress and stew them in butter for around minutes and add them to the soup. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and add two tablespoons of cream to enrich it.

#69 Watercress Soup: 5/10. OK, but I prefer watercress as a salad leaf I think. It has a nice texture to it and the pepperiness does come through, though is hampered by the fact it is cooked.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

#68 Carrot and Tomato Soup

This one is very similar to the tomato soup I made last month, and has almost the same ingredients. I used beef stock rather than vegetable stock this time, which really brings out the flavour of the tomatoes, so unless you’re vegetarian go for the beef!

Soften 8 ounces of sliced carrots and a medium-sized, chopped onion in 2 ounces of butter. Add 8 ounces of peeled and chopped tomatoes and 1 3/4 pints of stock and gently simmer until the carrot is cooked. Liquidise and pass through a sieve to remove seeds before returning to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and add 1/4 pint of single cream and some chopped chives.

Soup 7/10; attractiveness 1/10.

#68 Carrot and Tomato Soup – 7/10. Really delicious. Sieving it and adding cream made it really silky and smooth, which is important when you can hardly open your mouth. It freezes brilliantly too.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

#67 Green Pea Soup

This one’s a cracker. It’s basically pea and ham soup as it uses ham stock. Grigson gives the option of using chicken stock, and I suppose you could use vegetable stock, but it will not be in any way as delicious as ham. Use peas in any form – fresh, frozen or dried. I went for frozen as I’ve always got them in the freezer, and I reckon they’re better than fresh, unless you happen to grow them yourself. The Grigson also gives a vegetarian version which swaps the bacon for the heart of a Cos lettuce, a small handful of spinach and half a shredded cucumber. The stock is swapped for water.

Start off by softening a chopped, medium onion in 2 ounces of butter until soft and golden, but not brown. Next add two rashers of smoked streaky bacon that have been chopped to. Fry for a couple of minutes and then add 1 3/4 pints of light ham stock and 8 ounces of peas and simmer until cooked. Liquidise and add more water or stock if it’s too thick. Re-heat, season and stir in some chopped parsley.

#67 Green Pea Soup – 8.5/10. A lovely warming soup. It was the first thing I ate when I got back from the hospital and is certainly my favourite soup from English Food thus far. Get it made!

The Agony and the Ecstasy

By ecstasy, I actually mean agony.

I have returned from the hell that is multiple wisdom tooth extraction. I have been doing some Grigsons but have only been in the right frame of mind to actually write anything about. I have been toggling between complete agony, being spaced-out due to super-strong painkillers, being asleep, and being in A & E due to veins reopening. I’ve had a week of soup, Angel Delight and baked beans. I seem to have lost weight due to a total lack of carbs in my diet. Saying that, all changed last night when Greg and I scoffed a whole Heinz sponge pudding EACH last night. Roll on the gym – I can’t do anything too strenuous at the minute, when the blood rushes to my head I either start bleeding or get terrible toothache, plus I’ve got another week of it! Thank God I don’t have to go through it again.

Best do the recipes…