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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Any chance of something pretty this year?

We have had a week of mechanical and technology failure.   Last weekend for no apparent reason the computer refused to load.  I tried shutting it down, starting it up, switching it off, unplugging and disconnecting all the wires, plugging them in again, restoring it to a restore point, leaving it overnight (maybe it would reconsider and agree to start up again) – all to no avail.  The only option was the radical one – restore to the settings it came with.  This means that all software installed after we got it was wiped.  Microsoft Office disappeared along with any other software – so my camera software, itunes etc. all gone.  We have had to re-purchase and re-install.
My monster cooker has also been fixed this week.  The element and the fan went.  There is only one company in Scotland that services La Canche cookers.  I am confident that this fact and the cost of the parts was information I was not given at the point of sale.  The engineer knows my cooker quite well now.  I even built a plinth on wheels for the cooker to sit on so that it can be wheeled in and out of its space when it needs fixed.  The good news is that my fan oven works again – the bad news is that with parts, labour and VAT – the bill was £477.  I was lucky – it had a 3 legged fan not a 4 legged fan.  The 4 legged fans are twice as much!
I wouldn’t say my kitchen is full of gadgets but I do have a few (quite a few actually) some of these do no more than use up cupboard space..  Many have been given to me as presents – which is lovely – but I occasionally issue a “no kitchen equipment for Christmas/Birthday” plea.  I seem to be one of those women who attract kitchen equipment presents.   Some women get jewellery and perfume and girly things – I am more likely to get a bread maker.  It’s not that I don’t love my kitchen stuff – I do.  One of my favourite things is the K-Mix food mixer I got for my Birthday this year.  All three children and my sister contributed to it and I love it and I use it several times a week.  I once got, as one of my Christmas presents, one of those rubber tubes that you rub garlic skin off with.  Last Christmas I suggested to my husband that he might like to buy me something pretty! 
One of the most bizarre presents I ever got was from my first husband on Valentines Day.  He presented me with a scientific calculator and when I asked why – he said “well – you needed one”.  Somehow I am obviously giving out the wrong messages!  I think my sister may be in a similar position.  A couple of months ago my brother in law dropped in on his way back from picking up a new car in Ayr.  He was driving back down to Essex so stayed overnight with us.  It was the week before my sister’s birthday and I had bought and wrapped her present for him to take back with him (it was a bread bin in case you were wondering – and yes that is what she asked for).  I asked him what he had bought for her and he said he had bought her something that she had wanted for ages.  It was … a washing line!  Now fair enough – it wasn’t just a line of plasticised rope – it was a special retractable line – but I felt I had to ask him if he was really sure that that was a good enough present.  He was confident that she would be delighted.
This week I have managed to make (successfully for the first time) meringues.  I know lots of people can produce meringues without a problem but the technique has eluded me.  I have tried all sorts of ways – including once “cooking” them in a hostess trolley - another gadget – very 70s – that I inherited from my parents.   It was a hideous teak effect thing that I only ever used to keep plates warm.  Thanks to my wonderful K-Mix mixer with its big whisk attachment I have made some successful brown sugar meringues.  I have also made some chocolate fudge/truffles.  Fudge is another thing I struggle to get right.  It comes out the wrong texture or tasting funny.  This week I cam upon a website called “Cooking for Engineers”   www.cookingforengineers.com it is a sort of Heston Blumenthal type of approach to cooking but less glamorous.  It is an American site and states “Detailed instructions on food and cooking for those who like to ask not just How?
but also Why?  Not exactly snappy but you get the idea. 
There is a fudge recipe on the site which I tried – and the product is actually quite good, and very easy to make.  It tastes like a cross between chocolate fudge and chocolate truffles.  I cut the fudge into little squares and rolled each piece in icing sugar before putting them in little food gift bags tied with ribbon.
Chocolate fudge
1lb of chocolate (I used dark)
4 tablespoons of butter
1 14oz can of condensed milk
Heat the butter and chocolate over a pan of water till melted, stir in the condensed milk and mix.
Pour the mixture into a square tin lined with baking parchment, refrigerate for 2 hours, cut into little squares.
So – I end the week poorer but with a working cooker, a working computer and having conquered the fear of meringues.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Birthday food

This is a birthday weekend.  My daughter’s birthday is tomorrow – Monday - so I made her a special dinner last night.   I had an idea of what I was going to make but I decided to ask her what she would like anyway.  She said” I don’t know – it’s difficult – when you go out to eat you get a menu, you are not asked just to tell the restaurant what you want to eat” 
So.. I did a menu ..
Birthday Menu

To start
Really special Prawn Cocktail
Calamari in Beer Batter

Or not?

Main Course
Individual Boeuf en Croute with glazed carrots and fondant potatoes
Steak with Frites
Lamb Kebabs with salad, tsaziki and Pitta

Crème Brule
Lemon Posset
Chocolate Torte

And she chose: Prawn Cocktail, Boeuf en Croute and Crème Brule. (and it was a no to the soup)
I love prawn cocktail but I absolutely hate the sad offerings that are served up under this guise in most restaurants.  I particularly hate the wet iceberg lettuce that makes up about two thirds of some of them.
This is my way of doing a prawn cocktail.
First make the marie rose sauce – 3 or 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise, a splodge of tomato ketchup, a few drops of Tabasco , half a teaspoon of brandy, a squirt of lemon juice and half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard.  Next shred some salad leaves, nice mixed ones with a bit of flavour to them, mix in a couple of teaspoons of the sauce to coat the salad and make it stick together and either spoon into a glass or put in the middle of one of those rings that help you stack food up into circular piles. Take the ring away and place some nice big prawns round the salad.  Sprinkle a bit of cayenne pepper on top - Done

The cost of Fillet steak makes beef wellingtons something that you can’t have very often.  However .. If you use individual fillet steaks it makes it much cheaper and has the added advantage of everyone being able to have their steak done how they like it.  I love my steak medium rare and everyone else likes theirs well done.  This way I can have mine how I like it.  I also use an onion and mushroom reduction rather than pate to cover the fillet.  Finely chopped onion and mushroom cooked with a little butter for around 20 – 25 minutes until it has lost all the moisture makes a much nicer middle bit. 
I rub the fillets with brandy – sear them in a hot pan in a little butter and oil, let them cool, cover them in the mushroom mixture and wrap in a puff pastry sheet.  Brush with beaten egg and bake in a hot oven for 20 – 25 minutes.
I did a veggie version with roasted vegetables, little bit of tomato and basil sauce, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and wrap in pastry.
Crème brule – simple and delicious.  Heat 500ml double cream with a vanilla pod (I like to scrape all the seeds out into the cream.  Beat 4 egg yolks with a tablespoon of caster sugar pour the cream into the eggs in a steady stream and put in a large bowl over a pan of barely boiling water.  Heat – stirring – till the cream coats the back of a wooden spoon.  Pour into little ramekins and chill.  When they are cold sprinkle with a layer of caster sugar and then heat with either a kitchen blowtorch or under the grill until the sugar has gone the colour of tortoiseshell.  Chill again before eating.
Today – my other daughter is making cupcakes for her sister – Birthday cupcakes.  There has been a bit of a cupcake disaster ... she has been in the kitchen for between 4 and 5 hours now and I can still hear the clash of cutlery on bowl.  The first lot (made using a different recipe to her usual) were a disaster and so she has gone out to the supermarket for more ingredients and has reverted to her trusted method.  I can’t even begin to tell you what my kitchen looks like right now.  It is amazing how far icing sugar can spread itself.  I may need a glass of wine!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Chicken and then more chicken

There are times when eating out is just one big disappointment!  The anticipation is rarely matched by what is delivered.  I have eaten lunch out twice this week and both times were definately underwhelming. 
Monday was a holiday here in some parts of Scotland so we went out for lunch.  Limited by what my son would eat (must expand that boy’s range of acceptable food!)– we went to Pizza Express.  They used to have a great salad with torn chicken, avocado, egg and dough sticks.   Unfortunately they don’t do it any more – so I had one with mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, cheese and avocado but it was drowned in balsamic vinegar and that was all you could taste.  That evening I fancied some Kedgeree so I picked up some smoked haddock at the supermarket (could have been better) and we had a big pan of buttery kedgeree.
Tuesday I used up the left over roast chicken by making some pancakes and mixing the chicken into a creamy sauce with mushrooms, rolling up the mixture in the pancakes – topping them with some cheese and baking in the oven for 20 minutes.  Serve with a green salad.
Wednesday – we clearly are trying to eat our way through the European chicken mountain because we had more chicken.  Husband sometimes buys random meat and I could bet a month’s salary that it will be sausages, chicken or pork tenderloin in that carrier bag.   I won’t even bore you with how I prepared the chicken.  Even I , who really likes chicken can sometimes have had enough.  Having said that – chicken does make one more appearance in our week (Friday)
Thursday – Nothing in the house so – after picking my son up  (He does Combined Cadet Forces on a Thursday after school) I dropped by M&S on the way home.  My son – who usually wants to stay in the car whenever I stop off at a supermarket – decided that today he wanted to accompany me.  The thing about CCF day is that they go in their combats and big boots and on Thursday this week they had been practising camouflaging their faces.  So there I was trying to look like it was the most normal thing in the world to have my trolley pushed round M&S by a boy in camouflage gear with his face totally obscured by camouflage paint.  Small children were hiding behind their mothers in fear, staring!
That evening we had steak sandwich and salad with sautéed potatoes (had some new potatoes left over from earlier in the week which I sliced and sautéed).  Thin, flash fry steak in baguette spread with a little horseradish.
Friday – the reappearance of chicken – this time I was trying to recreate the pizza express salad and managed to do so successfully.  Bowl of salad topped with chicken breast that had been sliced and pan fried.  Avocado sliced on top, boiled egg cut in quarters in there too, some bits of shaved parmesan, a few cherry tomatoes, mix in some Caesar salad dressing and accompany with some dough balls and garlic butter to dip them in.  All prepared in 15 – 20 minutes.  The warm chicken makes the salad leaves wilt slightly.
Finally – the second eating out.  My daughters and I went to Costco on Saturday.  I go to Costco every couple of months and always spend far more than I intend.  I am always fascinated by what people have in their trolley.  There was one woman who bought 5 sets of salad bowl and servers.  I can only assume that is what everyone is getting from her for Christmas this year.  Costco also has some strange and random things for sale – this time what caught my eye was a Victorian style streetlamp.  You know the kind of thing – seen in films set in a foggy London street.  Who buys this stuff?
Anyway – the Costco bit is irrelevant – we decided to have some lunch on the way.  We headed for the west end and –for no good reason – decided to have lunch in Otto on Byres Road.  I would describe it as soulless in both atmosphere and food.  My fish and chips were overdone and greasy, the vegeburger was bland and tasteless apparently and the chicken burger wasn’t great either.  All in all a very lack lustre performance and so we have decided that the next time we have lunch out we will try the Two Figs at the bottom of Byres Road  - the menu looks really interesting and apparently it has the same owners as the Left Bank in Gibson street – which is always good.
That’s the problem with eating out – I object to paying for food that you could cook better yourself.