January 27, 2020

POACHED EGGS

 
How do you poach your eggs?
 
I have struggled with poached eggs for years, along with the dreaded scones and meringues.  Having finally banished my scone nemesis and mastered meringues last year I am completely chuffed to say that - at last - I have worked out how to produce a decent poached egg.  My mum always said that things come in threes and it appears that it counts for successes as well as failures or disasters.  (Or buses.)  Another of her sayings was "if at first you don't succeed, try again".
 
In the past I have tried every method going.  Dropping the things into a saucepan full of swirling simmering water, which produced a kind of amoeboid blob with a detached yolk. 
Nigella Lawson's method of dropping them from a cup with a dash of lemon juice into almost still, barely simmering water.  That method was ok but not perfect as results were not reliable.
 
Years ago I bought a non stick poaching pan to which they stuck like glue, producing half a ragged poached egg for your toast.  That went into the bin along with the bits of egg stuck to it - I couldn't bring myself to take it to the charity shop where someone might fork out a quid for it to end up with only half an egg every time.
 


 
 
I own a set of very snazzy and brightly coloured poaching pods, along with the scoop that allows you to lift them in and out of the pan without scalding your finger tips.  They work but are a real faff, having to butter them first and still ending up with some of your egg refusing to come out. 
 
 
They also produce an egg that's absolutely fine but shaped like a flying saucer, not natural looking like you get in a good restaurant. 
 
One of my favourite starters at our local favourite restaurant is a poached egg served on black pudding on toast.  The egg is perfect every time, shaped like it's been quenelled - and we all know what that means according to James Martin.  The difference between a dollop and a quenelle is twenty quid.  I did once ask the waitress how the chef did it and she looked at me like I had just emerged from a flying saucer.  She said she would ask him but never returned to the table, sending someone else instead.
 
We have friends who have given us a full English breakfast a few times, skinny style, all grilled and poached instead of fried.  The husband cooks the eggs and they are perfect every time.   I have watched how he does it and it looks so easy.  When I have tried it his way we get the amoeboid blob again.
 
The key to success seems to be, for me, after all, vinegar. 
Nick has been averse to vinegar in the cooking of poached eggs after too many hotel breakfasts with vinegary eggs when he was working.  But I have discovered that if you use white wine vinegar, not malt vinegar, you can barely taste it.  In fact I defy anyone to know that vinegar has been used at all.
 
My tips for success are to get all your eggs shelled and ready in little cups or ramekins - this is probably not necessary if you only have two to poach but with more than two it allows them all to be dropped into the pan in quick succession so they are all cooked at the same time.
Boil the kettle and pour the water into a frying pan.  Depth is not important except that it should be deep enough to cover the eggs.  Slosh in a good splash of white wine vinegar, probably about a tablespoonful.  Bring back to the boil, reduce the heat so that the water is simmering gently then slide the eggs in carefully one at a time, from very close to the water, so that they stay where you have put them.  That way you know which one went in first and will be cooked first with just a few moments between each one. 
Then leave them alone, except maybe to spoon water gently over the top if they're not quite completely covered.  No pushing or stirring.  They are cooked when the whites are no longer translucent but white, which will be about five minutes for an average egg.  Turn off the heat.
 
 
 
Using a slotted spoon, slide it under the egg that went in first and gently lift it out onto your toast, plate (or a sheet of kitchen paper first if you want to drain it of water completely).  You might have to ease it gently off the bottom of the pan if it's stuck slightly but so far I have not burst a yolk doing this - gently does it.  Repeat with the other eggs in the right order - the water will still be hot so they will continue cooking until you lift them out.  Stand back and admire the beauty of your creation triumphantly. 
 
Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!

January 22, 2020

STRAWBERRY AND LEMON CAKE and success plucked from the jaws of disaster.

 
During one of the blisteringly hot heatwaves we had in France last summer, I offered to take a cake to a garden party.  The party was to celebrate both a couple of birthdays and a wedding anniversary so I wanted it to be a bit special.
Bundt cakes are great for large gatherings as they can be cut neatly into lots of slim slices.  Most people don't want a big slice of cake at a party, just a taste of it.  For this particular party the host asked for a lemon cake so I picked a recipe that I had used several times before with huge success. 
 
 
This time, it went horribly wrong.
I have no idea why.
 
Despite using a good slathering of home made cake release the cake stuck firmly to the tin.  I had that sinking feeling as I inverted the tin.  Instead of the welcome sound of a cake plopping cleanly out onto the plate - nothing.  No amount of tapping, shaking or cursing would persuade it to come out.  Eventually it landed on the plate with a good third of it still stuck inside the tin.  Rats !!
 
I wondered if the high sugar content combined with the high ambient temperature had something to do with it.  I really have no sensible explanation why a recipe that has worked perfectly before should fail me now - and on such an important occasion, too!
 
 
This is how it looked the previous time I made it!
 
I put my thinking cap on and made a quick trip to the nearest supermarket.  Which was not that quick as it's a twenty minute drive away.  We have a choice of two supermarkets - twenty minutes away in one direction or ten minutes in the opposite - but that one closes for two hours at lunchtime.  (One of the rather quaint features of life in rural France.)  So it was Hobson's choice as I headed for Descartes in search of fresh strawberries. 
I was in luck and armed with two punnets of strawberries I was able to rescue the cake.
 
I sliced off the ragged top of the cake where it had stuck to the tin, spread it with a good coating of whipped cream, filled the middle and decorated the top with strawberries and added a final flourish of strips of lemon zest and a sprinkling of freeze dried strawberries.  It looked perfect for a summer garden party and tasted delicious!  Nobody asked any awkward questions so I had no need to confess that it was very nearly a huge disaster!
You can see the recipe for the cake here.

January 12, 2020

STICKY GINGER CAKE and a new cake stand!

 
For Nick's birthday last November he requested a ginger cake (again).
 
No surprise there but I was glad to have a reason to bake a recipe I had been hanging my nose over for some time.  It's on the Clandestine Cake website and is one of Lynn Hill's own recipes.  The Clandestine Cake Club as such folded some time ago but the concept is still alive and well in websites and social media.
 
 
It was easy to make and ticked all the birthday cake boxes.  Very gingery with a lovely crumb and a slight stickiness - there's a clue in the name.
 
 
I was also pleased to have a reason to use my new black cake stand.
 
As a person who has more cake stands than a sensible person should ever need I did hesitate briefly before buying it.  (Very briefly.)  I had been hankering after a black one for a few years but never found one that I liked.  Last year I made one for myself - from a black plate glued to an almost black (charcoal grey) candle stick.  It's fine but, just like buses, when you have finally given up hope and ordered a taxi, the bus you were waiting for turns up.  This one turned up in an antique/vintage shop at Cromford Mill and was very modestly priced, so I swooped.  It's made from black glass and is said to be vintage 1950's.
 
The cake was so good it will be my go-to ginger cake from now on.  You can see the recipe here.  I used a 23cm round springform tin instead of the square one in the recipe and it worked fine.
 

January 8, 2020

ECCLES CAKE


We often had Eccles cakes at home when I was a child.  A Saturday afternoon treat when Mum had been shopping in the morning, on the bus, and called at the baker's for four little cakes, one each.  She actually made excellent buns and tarts for us every weekend but in those days one from the baker's seemed more special.

Those Eccles cakes were about the size of a mince pie, made with flaky pastry, golden brown and sprinkled with sugar on top, filled with a sweet and sticky currant mixture.  They were impossible to eat tidily, inevitably producing a scattering of pastry crumbs and the odd escapee currant.  As for speaking with a mouthful.....



So when I saw a recipe for an Eccles cake in my little Good Food book I was intrigued.  There is no pastry but there is a layer of currants in the middle of what is basically an apple cake.  I had no idea that an Eccles cake could actually be made as a cake so was looking forward to have a go.



I was most disappointed to find that my currants sank to the bottom of the cake - not like the picture in the book where they are nicely in the middle - harrumph !!


The other odd thing is that the quantity of mixture was actually way too much for the size of tin stated.  I merrily poured all of it into the tin and vaguely thought "that looks a bit full" as I put it in the oven.  I rechecked the recipe and that I had used the right size of tin, which I had.  Minutes later it looked like it was going to overflow - eek!  Luckily it stopped at the top but it did take a bit longer than stated to bake.

It also took a long time to cool and with guests arriving I didn't have time to drizzle the lemon icing over it prettily as in the book so it had to do with a dusting of icing sugar instead.

It was yummy!  Next time I might try adding a little flour to the currant filling to see if that stops it sinking.  And I will definitely be making it again but using a larger tin - 23cm instead of 20cm.

You can see the recipe here on the Good Food website, or on page 102 of "Easy Baking Recipes" in the Good Food series, in the "celebration cake" section, sandwiched oddly between rose and almond cupcakes and red velvet cake.  A thorn between two roses perhaps.

Ingredients**

250g softened butter (I used Lurpak Spreadable)
250g light soft brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
100g plain flour
250g SR flour
100g buttermilk*
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and diced

For the filling
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tblsp melted butter
2 tblsp light soft brown sugar
85g currants
85g raisins
50g mixed peel

For the decoration
85g icing sugar, sifted
zest and juice of 1 lemon
a few sugar cubes, crushed

Method

Preheat the oven to 160 C / 140 fan / gas mk 3.  Butter and line a 20cm round springform tin.  (I suggest 23cm instead).

Put all the filling ingredients into a small bowl and mix together.  Set aside.

Put all the cake ingredients apart from the apples into a large bowl and beat together with an electric whisk until smooth.  Fold in the diced apples.

Put roughly half of the mixture into the tin and level the top.  Scatter the filling over the top, leaving a clear border of about 2-3 cm all the way round the edge.

Spoon the remaining mixture carefully over the top.  Start by plopping spoonfuls around the edge of the tin and gradually fill in the middle, so as not to disturb the filling.  Level the top and bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes or until done.  Cool in the tin.

To ice the cake, mix the icing sugar with enough lemon juice to make a runny icing (about the consistency of single cream).  Drizzle over the cake with a spoon and sprinkle the crushed sugar cubes and lemon zest over the top.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

* Buttermilk was not available in my local supermarket so I made my own by adding 1/2 tsp lemon juice to 125 ml milk.  Stir well and leave to stand for 5 minutes before using.  (As per a tip on Nigella's website.)

** On the website the zest of 1 lemon is added to the filling ingredients.  I'll try this next time.

January 7, 2020

FRITTATA

 
This is yet another of those very useful recipes that I wish I had heard of decades ago.
 
 
I always had the idea that a frittata was some kind of exotic dish that required a lot of faffing and was therefore in the category of "not for us".
 
The very first time I had a frittata (as far as I know) was about two years ago, in France, when a new friend served mini ones as nibbles for apéros.  She made two varieties, cooked in a mini muffin tin and served slightly warm, and both were utterly delicious.  She gave me a copy of her recipe and I soon sussed that this was simply a kind of omelette and why oh why had I never made one myself?!
 
 
Since then I have been making frittatas for us at every opportunity.  By opportunity I mean the need to use up some bits and bobs in the fridge.  Believe me, there is never any need to go out and buy something specifically for a frittata, as long as you have eggs and a few tasty bits to use up you're ready to cook.  As a quick and tasty way of using leftovers it's up there with "fridge bottom quiche" and "Sunday dinner pie" but much, much quicker.  It makes an excellent meal for lunch, supper or even breakfast.
 
For this one I used green and yellow peppers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and about half of a Matteson's smoked sausage.  In the past I have also used bits of potato, cooked broccoli or other veg (peas and asparagus are very good), cooked lardons, smoked salmon or shredded chicken.
 
 
We had ours with garlic potatoes and a (small) green salad.  For the potatoes I just boiled a few baby potatoes (while the frittata was being created) and, when they were cooked and drained, tumbled them in a good tablespoon of Heinz garlic sauce while still warm.  Deelish.
 
Ingredients
 
Roughly half each of a green and yellow pepper, washed, de-seeded and cut into chunks.
a handful of mushrooms, washed and thickly sliced
6-8 cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
Roughly half of a Matteson's smoked sausage (or any other cooked sausage), thickly sliced
4 eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper
 
Method
 
Preheat the oven to 200 C / 180 fan.  Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan, preferably one with a metal handle that can be used in the oven.
 
Add the chopped veg and cook on medium heat until just tender.  Add the smoked sausage and heat through.
 
Pour the eggs over the filling and cook gently as if you were making an omelette for about 5 minutes.  Check if the eggs are set underneath by lifting up the edge of the frittata to see if the underside is set and golden brown. 
 
If your frying pan handle is oven proof, transfer the pan to the oven.  If not, gently slide the frittata onto an oven proof plate or dish of a suitable size.  Cook in the oven until the eggs are set on top and beginning to brown.  (You can also do this under a hot grill if you prefer.)
 
REMEMBER THAT THE HANDLE WILL BE HOT - USE OVEN GLOVES!
 
Serve immediately with whatever you like to go with it - potatoes, salad, chips, veg, beans.....anything.
 
Serves 4 as a light lunch, 2 as a main meal.