Saturday, 29 October 2011

Recipes - How To, and How Not To

Today the man and I were wandering in Waitrose looking for lunch ingredients, when we spotted a pork loin.  'What are you supposed to do with that?' asked boy, to which I replied 'This' and held up the accompanying cunning marketing strategy, i.e. a recipe from Delia Smith on smooth stiff leafletty paper.

Having got most of the ingredients home, we discovered that we didn't as we had thought have any creme fraiche, were going to need a pastry brush, and that the apple we had got was quite deliberately the wrong sort.    We also decided not to add the demerara sugar to the caramelised apples, for healthy purposes.

My point being - most recipes are just for inspiration.  Waitrose uses them to inspire you to buy creme fraiche as well as meats.  I use them to find out (for example) what other people think goes with salmon so that I can impress people with tasty combinations.  When it's your recipe, you don't even need any instructions - just quantities, like in the picture above.  But there are proper ways of doing it, laid down since the beginning of Cookery Time by folks like Mrs Beeton, and Delia is not good at it.

When making a recipe for someone, I feel that you should:

1) Mention any unusual equipment at the beginning.  Make it clear if for example, very small jelly moulds are required, or if you can just use ramekins; if a large or mini version can be made.
2) Order the ingredients in the order in which they will be used, in groups as they will be mixed.
3) Explain what weird ingredients are, where you can find them, and what a good substitute would be, at the top of the page.  Ideally, only use one weird ingredient as a feature.
4) Don't just put 'carrots - chopped' in Ingredients; put 'chop the carrots' or 'prepare the vegetables' or something in the instructions at the appropriate point, so that people remember it needs doing.
5) Sprinkle the instructions liberally with 'meanwhiles'.  Most cookery is a 3 or 4 -stage deal, with different tasks overlapping - make the icing while the cake cools, make the gravy while the meat rests, saute the onions while someone makes you a G&T ;P.  Worst offender for this sort of thing is putting 'Preheat the oven' at the END of the recipe.  I have seen this.  It should be a capital crime.

Delia reckoned that her roast pork took 40 mins to make, from start to finish.  Where she puts the start line to end up with a figure like this is a mystery to us, because it sure as hell didn't take ten minutes to prepare with two of us doing it.  But maybe too many cooks spoiled the broth on that one.

A friend of mine stayed at my granny's house once, and granny served her blueberry pie.  When he asked for the recipe, she sent him an absolutely exhaustive recipe for how to make the perfect pastry from scratch and so on.  Slightly daunted, he has still never actually made the pie, but is confident of his ability to do so.

This blog was started with the idea - the overarching idea - that if I can rustle something wacky yet impressive up on a whim having read BBC Food and watched a couple of YouTube videos, you can too - given comprehensive-enough instructions.  I hope I have succeeded.  If not? Moan at me in the comments :)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Autumn Leaves

Copyright RondayPhotography
"You know what's weird?"
"Walking through dead leaves in flip-flops."

We did have a bit of an Indian summer this year (as I'm sure those in the UK have noticed) and during the heatwave I was comissioned once more to make a birthday cake for my Dad's friend A.  Previous inventions have included an apple-and-Calvados Arctic-themed thing, with meringue icebergs and marzipan polar bear; and last year, a chocolate-orange loaf stack with candied orange slices and candied peely squiggles.  This year I went for an autumnal vibe, because when I'm stuck for a birthday in autumn I go with Nigella Lawson and plump for maple syrup and pecans.  The cake will follow, but I decorated it with these.

Autumn Leaves
You Will Need: Rolling pin, baking tray, greaseproof paper, dinner knife or specially-shaped biscuit cutter, chopping board and knife / food processor, cup, pastry brush

One slab frozen/ready-rolled puff pastry
Plain flour for rolling
Pecan nuts, finely chopped
2 egg yolks
Maple syrup

1) Roll out the puff pastry quite thinly - between 2 and 3mm thick.  Cut, using a knife or specialised implement, into the shape of mapley/chestnut/sycamore leaves, with 5 points, or single tear-shapes.  (n.b. Usually when rolling and cutting pastry, ones saves, balls up and re-rolls out the snippets left behind from the first cutting.  With puff pastry, which is made in layers, this process mixes the layers and causes second-round cut-outs to rise unevenly.  Save any leftover pastry for simple quiches and put it in clingfilm in the freezer.)
2) Lay the leaves onto baking trays lined with greaseproof paper and scattered with flour.
3) Beat the egg yolks in the cup to a uniform consistency.  Brush each leaf with yolk.
4) Chop or blitz the nuts (approx. half a packet for one slablet Waitrose' own puff pastry). Sprinkle over the egged leaves.
5) Very carefully drizzle a smidgen of maple syrup onto the leaves, being careful not to get any on the baking paper if you can.
6) Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees C) for 5-6 minutes, until well risen and golden brown.  When cool, remove from the tray and present or save on a plate to eat as biscuits or use to decorate a cake.  Don't worry if smaller leaves rise oddly and spill over themselves; you can eat those and hide your shame... nom nom nom

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

'A Little Promptu'

Such was the conversation which resulted in this little fellow, and actully a little friend for him as well...

He is a 'little promptu', or 'promptu' for short - and they are very easy to make at short notice - impromptu promptus!  He is an odds-and-ends creation using wool from making chicken-wattles, felt from Socky and cuddly stuffing from John Lewis (because all my cuddlies have quality inner cuddleness).  I was able to take all the tools and bits needed to make him to the slightly promptu barbeque in question, and whip up one for D in about an hour.

Little Promptu
You Will Need: Wool (half a ball or less of thickish stuff) knitting needles, 6mm; sewing scissors; felt; needle and thread; wool needle (with large broad eye for sewing with wool); stuffing.

1) Cast on 4 sts, leaving a long 'tail' of non-working wool.  Work 2 rows (the promptu is a stocking-stitch or smooth creature).
2) Increase at the beginning and end of row 3.  Work another couple of rows.  Increase at the beginning and end of the next row.  Continue increasing every other row or so until you have an even snouty triangle about 12 stitches wide at the needle.
3) Increase at the beginning and end of each row until you have 16 stitches altogether.
4) Knit approx. 3 inches on these 16 stitches; this will form the promptu's body.
5) Knit halfway across the row (8 sts).  Turn the work and purl these 8 sts.  Turn and knit 8. Cast off the next row, and leave a long 'tail' end.  Pick up the remaining 8sts on your needle and do the same on the other side.  These will form the promptu's legs.
6) Using the first long 'tail' from casting on, sew the promptu's snout together and as far down the middle of his tummy as you can get.  Roll his legs into little cylinders and sew down the inside edges with the tails from casting off, making a good strong seam in his groin and going up his tummy a bit if you can.
7) Cut out circles of black felt for the soles of his feet (not visible in the photo but very cute) and stitch them on with ordinary needle and thread.  Cut hands, with a slanting edge for the 'wrist' out of more felt and stitch them to the sides of his body.
8) Stuff your promptu tightly and fat!
9) With a new piece of wool if necessary, sew up the gap in your promptu's tummy.  Reaching his chest, make a strong stitch through his chin and pull his head down onto his chest.  Fix his head here firmly with a few more stitches.  Pass the needle through the back of his body to come out near his bottom, and cut off the wool to make a tufty tail.

Promptus have no eyes because I am lazy and they live underground like little moles.  But you could give them eyes if you like - very small beads or buttons.