Monday, 15 June 2009

Oven gripe, but eventual cake.

So far I appear to be having baking disasters in the new house. The first time I made the lemon cake in our new oven, the wretched device burnt the bottom. Grr. That's what you get with a gas oven, I guess - much harder to predict, especially if you're used to the even cooking of an electric fan oven. But this is an odd thing anyway - all the gas ovens I've seen before have the heat source low down at the back of the cavity, along the line where the back of the oven joins the base of it. In this one, the heat is in a strip along the centre of the floor of the oven, running from front to back. That means that the heat rises straight up, making the base of whatever you put in very hot indeed. With the heat at the back you generate a circular convection current, meaning that whatever you put into the middle of the oven has heat going all around it instead of being fired from one directino all the time. Of course you're going to cook the side of whatever it is near the back of the oven faster, but you can easily turn it around to get it cooked evenly. It's not like I can flip a cake over to cook the top of it as much as the bottom, or like I can very easily protect the bottom from getting scorched with tin foil or whatever. I had intended to test whether or not it would be possible to shield the bottom or at least spread the heat a bit by putting any trays I can find between the heat source and my cake tin, but a whole OTHER disaster happened after that.

The oven stopped working altogether. ARG.

Of course, I found out it had stopped working as I opened the door to put a trayful of careful prepped raspberry fairy cakes in it. Grr. It was always dodgy to light, but I'd got that figured out - it just needs quite a large volume of gas running through it before it will consent to ignite - you just have to hold your nerve... It has a heat switch like many gas appliances do, whereby you have to keep your finger on the button for a few seconds after ignition until some heat has been generated, otherwise the gas shuts off. The idea is that if the flame goes out, the jet won't keep pumping gas into your kitchen creating a potentially lethal fire hazard. All well and good. But that switch doesn't seem to be registering heat now - however long you keep your finger on the dial, when you take it off the gas shuts off and your oven goes out. This makes baking fairy cakes impossible. Eleanor and I ended up in the car clutching bowls of cake mixture in a variety of hues and driving across town to bake them in John and Will's oven. We cleaned their kitchen in payment, and Will's in Japan in any case, but it WAS annoying. Landlord has been contacted.

Don't get me started on the fact that the shower has burst a pipe.

At least we got the boiler fixed and we can have baths with hot water instead...

Raspberry cupcakes

6oz caster sugar
6oz soft butter (it was warm enough on Saturday that I kept having to freeze the butter so that it didn't just run away!)
3 eggs, separated
6oz plain flour
2 scant tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
12oz (300g) raspberries - fresh or frozen (one third of these will go in the icing, but it all needs making into puree)

Icing (this is for my favourite blue smiley face cakes)
100g plain white fondant
Few drops blue food colouring
2oz soft butter
4oz icing sugar
A small quantity of jam
More icing sugar for dusting

Also - one oven (that works) preheated to 200 degrees centigrade and a 12 hole deep muffin tin and corresponding papercases.

First make the raspberry puree. This is easier in the microwave, especially if you're using frozen berries. In a heatproof bowl, heat the raspberries until they turn mushy - try not to boil them. You can do it in a pan, too. When everything is liquid, run it through a sieve and put the resulting puree in a pan. Boil to reduce by half. This now needs to cool - I just put it in a cold bowl and stirred it while my lovely assistant made the rest of the batter. You could (shock) plan in advance and leave this to cool properly. Try not to eat it all on yoghurt - this is a problem I regularly suffer from when faced with raspberry puree.

To make the cakes, beat together the sugar and the butter with an electric beater, or a wooden spoon if you have more energy than that. Beat in the egg yolks. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually beat in two thirds of the raspberry puree. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Take one spoonful of the eggs whites and stir it into the rest of the batter to loosen it, and then fold in the rest of the whites.

Divide the batter between your twelve muffin tins - they should be full to within about 1cm from the top.

Check your oven is still working. If it is*, bake the cakes for 12 or so minutes, until lightly browned and cooked through. They'll be a wonderful pinky purply colour. Test with a cocktail stick.

While the cakes cool, make the icing. Beat together 2oz of sifted icing sugar with 2 oz of soft butter. Drip in about 2tsps of the reserved raspberry puree and beat again. Continue adding raspberry puree until abotu half of what was left has been added, and then beat in the remaining sugar. The rest of the puree you can pour over yoghurt or eat with a spoon...

If you are lucky and have a chef girlfriend, you might have piping tips lying about somewhere along with some disposable piping bags. If not, you can roll up a cone of greaseproof to use, or cut the corner off a square sandwich bag. Whatever your medium, fill it with the pink goo and put to one side.

Mash together the fondant with the blue colouring until a uniform baby blue colour.

Heat a tablespoonful of jam and then run it through a sieve so it's smooth. Brush the top of each cake with this to act as glue.

When the cakes are cool, dust your work surface with icing sugar and roll out the fondant to a couple of millimetres thick. Cut circles using a glass or a biscuit cutter, and stick these to the cakes. Pipe your chosen designs on top, then leave to dry before eating.

By this point on Saturday, housewarming party guests started arriving, and I'd done *NO* cleaning. Such is life... They didn't seem to mind that much, there were cupcakes...

*If it's not, round up one friend, ring up another one (waking him up in the process) and ask in a state of fluster if you can come round and use his oven. Drive all the way across town and bake your cakes there, drive back, making the friend you took with you late for her lunch date... *sigh*.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Chicken noodle soup

Chicken noodle soup (two portions)
Some chicken bones - buy legs and bone them if you don't fancy boning a whole chicken (a whole bird is a faff...legs, you just hack the bones out of the middle of the meat - neatness isn't required!). You can buy bags of wingtips for stock in butchers sometimes, you just need to ask. Or you could roast a chicken or a couple of legs one day and eat most of the meat, and then use the bones and the remains of the meat for this.
A piece of ginger the volume of your two thumbs, roughly chopped
2 star anise
Handful of peppercorns
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp red chilli flakes (I ALWAYS add more than that, but I like it hot...)
Juice 2 limes - keep the juice to finish the soup, and the shell of one goes in the stock
Other things that sound good - I add a dried lime and dried mushrooms because I have them around

Things to go in it
Enough of your favourite sort of chinese noodles for 2
around 350-400g of mushrooms (whatever two portions looks like to you), quartered or chopped into bitesize but not small pieces
Two heads of pak choi, or maybe one head of chinese leaf, or two big handfuls of spinach leaves - something green and leaf, chopped in such a way as to make portions.
6 spring onions (scallions) sliced finely
Tsp honey
50ml soy sauce
sprinkling of sesame oil and sweet shilli sauce to serve
cooked chicken meat if you want it (i usually don't, because I'm being frugal!) - you can poach it in the stock.

OR, new thought, buy commercial chicken stock! Buy the fresh stuff, and organic if you can. Cubes...not when you're ill. About 750ml? I've not tried this way so you may need more

Commercial stock version: throw your chicken stock in a pan and add the same quantity of water. Throw in the stock ingredients EXCEPT the bones and simmer gently for 2 hours. It'll smell ace. Strain the liquid. You're probably aiming for about 750ml of liquid left, so if there's more boil hard to reduce it.

Bones version: Throw the chicken bones and the rest of the stock ingredients into a big pan. Cover with water - around 2 litres. Bring to the boil and simmer for as long as you have time for in an evening - ideally as much as 6 hours. I never have time for that. 3.5-4 is fine. Leave to cool with the bits in and then strain just before you make the soup. There will be clear fat on the top and it looks horrid, I promise it tastes good! When you're going to start the soup, boil to reduce to around 750ml.

When you're ready to eat your food, heat up the stock. Heat some oil in a wok and throw in the mushrooms and half the scallions. Stir fry until nearly cooked and throw in the greens. Taste the stock and add the soy, lime and sesame to taste. Add some soy, lime and sesame to the mushrooms with the honey. When the veg is done, put your noodles into the stock to cook.

When THEY are cooked, heap the veg and noodles into bowls and pour the stock over the top. Add sweet chilli as you eat.

I'm sure it's not authentic, but it tastes good. And you'll get very messy eating it.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Eureka moment.

The picture came from this post on the 101 Cookbooks blog - which I literally started following today. Can't believe I hadn't looked it up before, I *HAVE* heard of it, many times. It looks like a cracker.

But I wanted to have this picture somewhere. If I ever do the opening-some-sort-of-eatery thing, then I want to have those plates and that cutlery in it. Colours and rustic and interesting, but not busy. I just wanted them there...

Gah. I tried to post a comment on that post checking for permission to re-publish. Couldn't find a contact. However. I HAVE linked back to the website...