Saturday, 25 January 2014

Recipe Book Review: The Messy Baker by Charmian Christie

The Messy Baker by Charmian Christie

The Messy Baker is a recipe book that focuses not on the aesthetically pleasing, but on what should be the primary focus for baking: flavour. It promises to carry recipes from and for a 'real' kitchen.

I don't know what sort of oversize house Christie lives in, but her list of 'Can't Do Without Items' would fill my kitchen to overflowing. I'd have no space for food or anything to eat it with. But that aside, her introduction serves as an encyclopaedia of all things baking, and I learned a lot about utensils and ingredients by reading through it. The style is unthreatening, accessible, perfect for a complete amateur like me.

The recipes are grouped by different taste sensations: flaky, crumbly, sloppy, smudgy etc. Which does make the book a little tricky to navigate, but each section has a mix of savoury and sweets that can be mixed and matched across the sections for the perfect culinary experience.

Full of good advice and good recipes, I might have to add this to my physical collection - if there's ever a British version. Because despite the loveliness of the presentation and the food, I couldn't get used to converting cups and Fahrenheit. It would be too much of a hassle to be constantly looking up the conversions. When you make mistakes as easily and as often as I do, any distraction is dangerous!

Mushroom, Leek and Gruyere Tart

Dish: Mushroom, Leek and Gruyere Tart

Difficulty: Easy, but more cheating on pastry

Utensils Used: Knife, sieve

Cock Ups: One

Recipe Book: The Messy Baker by Charmian Christie

Cooking: Felt in a bad mood the other day, so I invited Carole Heidi over for baking. Perfect opportunity to try out my new cookbook.

So, I cheated on the pastry and brought a pre-rolled pack (ultimately lazy) to spread out on my baking tray. I was supposed to score about an inch from the edge, but I've always folded the edges over, so I did that. Slightly less tidy, but it does the same job.

The recipe asked for a large skillet. I don't know what a skillet is, so I used a wok. It's the largest pan I have, and we had a lot of mushrooms to cook. So, I obviously very carefully measured out 3 tablespoons of butter, didn't just cut off a hunk and throw it in, and melted it, then added some garlic.

I got my mushrooms out of the fridge, only to discover they'd been frozen solid, which made chopping them a bit tricky...

The recipe asked very specifically for cremini or portobello mushrooms, so I used.... what I had in the  fridge.

The recipe then asked for two cups of leek. I don't do 'cups' measurement, so I just used two leeks, cutting them in lengthways then slicing them into little half-moon pieces. Aaand forgot to take a photo.

This was then fried together with the butter and garlic until the mushrooms were soft but not weeping.

I placed the mix onto the pastry and cook at 425F, which roughly translates to 220C and baked for 15 mins. The tart is then removed from the oven, 3oz of gruyere cheese grated over it, baked for a further five minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the cheese melted.

Washing Up Required: Quite a lot, but some of that is cake detritus from the pudding we also made.

Result: This smelled divine, and looked pretty good too. I'd like to make it again and brave trying the pastry from scratch.

Taste Test: Both Carole and I thoroughly enjoyed this. The Boyfriend... Not so much. When he had a slice for lunch the next day, I asked him if he enjoyed it, his response was... less than enthusiastic. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Overall Result: I'd make this again if I could persuade the Boyfriend to give it a second chance!

Mushroom, Leek and Gruyere Tart

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Treacle Tart

Dish: Treacle Tart

Difficulty: Easy, but I cheated on the pastry

Utensils Used: Spatula, scales, food processor

Cock Ups: A couple

Recipe Book: BBC Food

Cooking: So the Boyfriend's mum had some short crust pastry that was going out of date. I volunteered to take it off her hands for a Disaster Kitchen experiment. Boyfriend wanted quiche, I wanted sweet pie. Specifically, treacle tart. This was partly a craving, and partly because I'd tidied out the cupboards and found two massive jars of golden syrup that Boyfriend bought when he went through a phase of making ginger biscuits. I figured treacle tart would be a good way of using up one of them. (Yes, that is my laptop balanced on the bread bin - I use it for the recipes, and for tunes.)

First stage was to roll out the pastry. I cut off a bit of it and made a start, only to soon realise I wasn't making a nice even rectangle/square, but a demented butterfly.

So I put that to one side and started again.

With the pastry big enough to cover the dish my mum lent me (I'm sure she's getting sick of my weird and wonderful kitchen requests, and my tendency to phone her and ask what to do with random ingredients...) I set about trying to trim it to size. It fit most of the way, and with a bit of patching, I was able to make a pretty solid base.

Next up was the filling. I weighed 3oz of bread, not sure if I needed to cut the crusts off or not, opting to cut them off just in case.

This was then turned into bread crumbs in the food processor.

I then added the zest of one lemon. I tried to buy one of those zester tools, but the local supermarket didn't have one, so I had to resort to grating. Effective, sometimes a little too much - I think I got quite a lot of pith as well. Some ginger was also added at some point.

Then I had the tactile pleasure of measuring out 1lb of golden syrup. 

This was then mixed in with the breadcrumbs, which required some muscle initially, though as they combined it did become easier to stir.

Although, it did look a little like vomit...

To finish, I got the butterfly back and sliced him into thin strips.

With the treacle breadcrumb mix poured into the case... was then just a case of layering over the pastry strips. I didn't secure some very well, having cut them a little short, so I was a bit worried they would come apart from the edge and disappear into the filling. Oops.

Cook for 30 mins at 190C!

Washing Up Required: Very little (discount hot chocolate mug, ice cream carton and new lunchbox!) but quite a lot of it was very very sticky.

Result: The whole house smelled delicious. My fear that the strips might sink into the filling did prove to be founded, but overall, I was pleased with the appearance.

Taste Test: This was lovely with a bit of custard. Sickly as hell, but that's treacle tart for you.

The Boyfriend, who had debated recipes with me beforehand, told me it was nice, but it just wasn't right without cornflake topping. After much heated debate, we have agreed to disagree about this detail. If he ever makes treacle tart, he can include his horrible cornflakes, but I won't be eating any.

Overall Result: Easy, tasty, not good for the New Year's Resolutions. Perfect!

Treacle Tart

Sunday, 5 January 2014

French Bread Pizza

French Bread Pizza was pretty much a staple of my childhood. Cheap, quick and a great way to use up odds and ends - they were always going to be a winner when my mother had four hungry mouths to feed. So when she gave me a load of leftover French sticks, I knew exactly what I would do with them :)

We fried some onion for our tomato sauce.

Added a tin of chopped tomatoes. Sister, Mash, was keen to try out the new drill to season.

Our sauce just about made it round all the pizzas. I made some mushroom ones for the boyfriend and I. Mash and George, our impromptu dinner guests, aren't fans, so we left some plain.

Grated cheese sprinkled on to the pizzas.

Then cooked until crisp and tasty.

There were many, many pizzas. As many as I could fit on all my various baking trays. And we ate them all. They are so delicious. And so simple and quick for a dinner party you weren't planning to have until your mother threw a bag of French Bread at you!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Grilled Vegetables and Couscous with Tahini Yoghurt Sauce

Dish: Grilled Vegetables and Couscous with Tahini Yoghurt Sauce

Difficulty: Easy

Utensils Used: Peppercorn power drill

Cock Ups: Errr lol

Recipe Book: 200 Veggie Feasts (Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook)

Cooking: Christmas has been good for the Disaster Kitchen. Along with a new recipe book from my sister, my mother won this bizarre gadget:

Yes, a kitchen POWER DRILL. Knowing my kitchen proclivities, this is just about the perfect christmas gift.

The set includes an actual working power drill with drill bits for screwing and drilling. And two extract attachments to uncork wine bottles and grind peppercorns.

So I popped my new toy on charge and started looking through my new recipe book. The Boyfriend wanted something healthy, so I picked grilled veg and couscous. When I called him to let him know, he let me know that the 'couscous better not taste of fluff' otherwise he wouldn't be impressed. I'd forgotten that the Boyfriend isn't keen on couscous.

No matter, though, for as I was lining up my ingredients that I just bought, I realised that I'd forgotten to buy the couscous. 'Rice instead?' I said to the Boyfriend and he accepted.

Cut one aubergine, two courgettes and two red peppers into large chunks and stir with some olive oil. The recipe then says 'heat up a ridged griddle pan.' I figured I'd use my George Forman grill, but there were too many veg, and it would have taken ages. So I just put them in a roasting tray and roasted them.

Next up was the tahini yoghurt. I have no clue what tahini is, and I couldn't find it in the supermarket, so I decided to improvise. I stirred a bit of chilli powder into a few spoonfuls of greek style yoghurt, then it was time to try my drill. The following sequence of photos shows you exactly how well that went...

I did eventually realise that you had to hold on to the grinder while the drill turned the mechanism, otherwise it just spun off.

I microwaved some rice.

Then stirred in the veg when it was done. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Washing Up Required: Very little.

Result: My vegetables weren't grilled, my couscous was rice and my tahini yoghurt sauce was not tahini. But it looked pretty tasty all the same.

Taste Test: The vegetables were well cooked and went well with the rice (though I think it would have been better with couscous) and the made up yoghurt sauce was surprisingly nice too. The Boyfriend declared it very nice, but lamented the lack of a steak to go with it.

Overall Result: Quick, easy and tasty, though I do agree about the steak thing. Just... not a steak.

Grilled Vegetables and Couscous with Tahini Yoghurt Sauce. Sort of.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Microwave Mug Cake

Dish: Microwave Mug Cake

Difficulty: Easy

Utensils Used: Tablespoon, fork

Cock Ups: 2

Recipe Book: BBC Goodfood

Cooking: So, the Boyfriend is away at a friend's birthday party and for the second week running, The Walking Dead has failed to provide me with a Daryl Dixon fix. Needless to say, I was feeling in need of cake.

Being on my own and not inclined to make much of an effort, I decided to try a mug cake. I'd seen lots of recipes for them before and thought it sounded amazing. Plus, it was about time I got some use out of the oversize mug my sister bought me when I first got my job… four years ago now!

Mix 4tbsp of flour and sugar with 2tbsp of cocoa powder. Making a massive mess on the work surface and own hand optional.

Add one medium egg and combine as thoroughly as you can.

Add 3 tbsp of milk and vegetable oil and finish combining. I was a little freaked out about putting that much oil in a cake until I remembered it didn't have any butter in it...

Add nuts/chocolate chips/raisins. As I had none of the above, I added sultanas.

Microwave for 4-5 minutes on high, or until the cake has finished rising and is firm to touch. This would be easier to judge if I could actually see inside my microwave, instead of just my own reflection...

Washing up required: Not a lot by anyone's standards…

Result: The cake didn't overflow from the mug, and looked pretty good when levered out with a spoon.

Taste Test: Disappointing. I don't know if I microwaved it for too long, or what, but it was solid as a rock in places. And enormous. Way more than I could eat even if I hadn't needed a pickaxe to break it up. (Looking back at the recipe I do now see that it serves 2 - that didn't show up when I was looking at it on my phone… No, honestly!) I did get some custard out of the deal though, which was a bonus.

Overall Result: Really really easy and quick. I might try it again and cook for less time. And share with the Boyfriend, obviously.

Microwave Mug Cake