Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Best Way To Make A Cake

Acquire slaves. Deploy slaves. Sit back and relax. Point where utensils are occasionally. Enjoy.

(P.S. Thank you Mash and George)

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Simple Chocolate Cake

Dish: Simple Chocolate Cake

Difficulty: Let's just say the title is a serious misnomer

Utensils Used: Wooden spoon, electric whisk, pink spatula thing for scraping out cake mix

Cock Ups: Lost count

Serves: Probably about a hundred, once the excess topping has been used

Recipe Book: Cooking With Chocolate, Imagine That Publishing

Cooking: A friend of mine bought me this 'Cooking With Chocolate' book, I think believing that it was both a good enough title to convince me to use some of the recipes and simple enough for me to follow. It's full of instructions like 'ask an adult to help you', so I think she pitched it just right.

The recipe starts with creaming together 225g of butter with 150g of sugar. Which was about where my problems started. Not wanting to break my arms creaming it by hand, I used the electric whisk and promptly sprayed sugar all round my kitchen.

When I'd got the mixture looking vaguely creamy, I stirred in three beaten eggs. The result looked like someone vomited scrambled eggs.

The recipe calls for 175g of self raising flour and 75g of cocoa powder to be sieved and then folded in to this mixture. I don't have a sieve, so 175g of self raising flour and 75g of cocoa powder were unceremoniously dumped in the bowl and folded in. At least, I tried. The mixture didn't seem to have enough liquid, even when I added a tablespoon of milk and a teaspoon of vanilla essence as the recipe dictated.

When it became physically impossible to stir, I did what I usually do in this situation - throw in more milk. It took considerably more than a tablespoon to get the mixture runny enough to mix again. That done, I put it in my two greased cake tins and placed them in the oven for 35 minutes at 180. The mixture I licked off the spoon was like rich chocolate mousse - delicious enough for me to get my hopes up about the cake.

So far, pretty simple, even with the milk fiasco.

While the cakes were cooking, I beat 500g of mascarpone and 15ml of milk into a smooth cream. Only I had no physical way of measuring 15ml, so I used a tablespoon instead and hoped for the best.

225g of cooking chocolate was put in a pyrex bowl and placed over a pan of boiling water to melt.

When melted, it was lifted away from the pan and left to cool (last time I did this I scalded myself quite badly, so I remembered the oven glove this time) which is where I think I started going wrong on the sauce. I was a bit confused by this instruction - leave it to cool for how long? Leave it too long and it will surely start setting back to solid chocolate? I don't think I left it long enough though, which impacted on a later stage.

Once the chocolate was 'cool', it was stirred into the mascarpone, along with 150g of 'sifted' icing sugar. It made a lovely rich chocolate sauce, which was then put in the fridge for half an hour. I didn't cut any corners with the time, like I normally would, but when I took it out it honestly didn't look any different to when I put it in. The leftovers that have now been in the fridge overnight have gone like stiff mousse, but that was not what I was working with when putting the cake together. Remember that.

Take the cake out of the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. They came out of the greased tins nice and easily, but I did manage to break one in half when I tried to turn it the right way up. It gave me a chance to taste a few crumbs, though, and it was delicious. Really rich and stodgy.

When the cake cooled, it was time to put it together. A time I spent cackling to myself because it quickly became apparent that the picture on the recipe was not what my cake would look like. The sauce was still way too runny, and quickly drowned the bottom piece of cake. I tried to 'decorate the sides' as the recipe suggested, but by this point my hands were shaking with laughter, which only really made the situation worse.

Then 150g of raspberries are split between the middle and the top of the cake. I sprinkled half of the raspberries into the middle, then cackled more as I tried to balance the top of the cake on top of them. No matter how hard I pressed down, there was still a gulf between the top and the bottom of the cake.

More of the sauce was poured on top, then the rest of the raspberries used to decorate. I was actually a little worried they would slide right off, but the sauce was at least viscous enough to hold them in place.

But even if the sauce had been the right consistency, there was still way too much. I think half the quantity I made would have been about right. Now I've got all this lot to use up:

Washing Up Required: Multiply this picture by two, as I actually had to wash up most of this stuff in between making the cake and the filling, as it used all the same things.

Result: Not great. But hilarious.

Taste Test: I took the cake round to Mum's for the taste testing, though the Boyfriend did request a piece be saved. I had to be picked up by George, because I didn't dare walk round with it, for fear it would slide right off the plate. Even in the short journey, the river of chocolate was perilously close to becoming a waterfall.

The cake provided much amusement. Everyone agreed that the sponge was nice, though Mum and Maisie both agreed it had a slightly herby taste. I said this was probably because I used the same wooden spoon as I used to make my pasta the night before. I only have two, and they're both equally soaked in savoury sauces. Mum took pity and offered to buy me some more. She said she'd like me to make the sponge again, but serve it with fresh cream and raspberries. No one was particularly keen on the sauce.

The Boyfriend was less enthused.

"Out of ten I'd give it... minus one and a half. Honestly, I wouldn't feed it to a dead person."

I think Dylan felt much the same way:

Overall Verdict: If I hadn't cocked up so many times, this might have been at best okay. The sponge was nice, the filling not so much. And the quantities in both mixtures were off. I'm usually the first to blame my ineptitude in the kitchen, but I'm calling bad recipe on this one.

'Simple' Chocolate Cake

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Aubergine Parmigiana

Dish: Aubergine Parmigiana

Difficulty: Fairly easy

Utensils Used: Colander, wooden spoon

Cock Ups: 2, but one, as you'll see, was not my fault

Serves: Original recipe serves 6, but I halved all the ingredients so mine serves 3

Recipe Book: River Cottage Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Cooking: The Boyfriend and I are recent converts to the delights of aubergines. As a vegetarian, I should have come round much sooner, as they are pretty much a staple in a lot of vegetarian meals. I've always avoided them though, thinking they were slimy. I must have had a badly cooked one at some point in my childhood, as slimy is no longer an adjective I associate with them. Delicious, yes.

So after the insanity of the Spoufflé last week, today's Disaster Kitchen was a lot more sedate. Not entirely intentionally.

The recipe starts with trimming the ends off two medium sized aubergines, then slicing them lengthways, about 3-5mm in thickness. Kinda tricky when they bell out at the bottom, but I got fairly regular sized slices. They then needed to be put in a colander, lightly salted, for an hour to draw out the juices.

My colander is ridiculously small and isn't one of those that is freestanding, so I had to balance it in a pan, which created more washing up, but oh well.

While they were... juicing? I started heating about a tablespoon of olive oil in a 'very large, wide pan.' Well, all I had was a wok, so I used that. And speaking of things I don't have... Cock up one - if there was a tablespoon of olive oil in the wok, it was a very small one. Despite standing the bottle of oil on its head for a while. Vegetable oil it is. It might not have that same Mediterranean richness, but it's better than onions sticking to the bottom of the pan.

One onion and two cloves of garlic were chopped and fried gently on a medium heat for about ten minutes, 'until soft' (read: slightly brown in places where I didn't stir it properly). And here comes the cock up that wasn't my fault. The Boyfriend asked for dinner for about half seven, but then phoned me to say he was picking up a free table to replace our wobbly drop leaf one, and couldn't I put dinner off half an hour? I tried. I really did. But it's difficult to drop out of something and pick it back up again, so it ended up being closer to half eight than eight, and the onions were left standing for quite a long time.

Can't figure out how to rotate photos on blogger, so if the perspective looks a little weird there, that's why!

By the time I'd delayed the dinner enough to be 'ready' for eight, the aubergines had well and truly juiced. I wasn't sure what this meant, but apparently the salt draws out all the goo from inside them. Nice.

They were then washed and placed on a piece of kitchen towel to dry off.

Meanwhile, I was reheating my now chilly onions and garlic, adding two cans of plum tomatoes, which I roughly chopped in the pan, but didn't try to remove any stalky ends as instructed. I couldn't really see any stalk, but some of the ends were a bit tough, and could probably have done with removing, but I didn't fancy making the mess.

That was brought to a vigorous simmer, and left to boil down for about half an hour. It needed regular stirring, quite apart from stopping it sticking, it stopped it spitting everywhere all over my nice clean hob. I remembered the seasoning this time, although I didn't have a bay leaf to cook in it.

While that was cooking down, the aubergine slices were cooked in olive *cough* vegetable oil on a medium heat, a few minutes on each side until golden. I found it kind of difficult to judge when something purple and green went 'golden' but when they started smelling delicious, I figured that meant they were sufficiently cooked.

After that, it just needed to be put together and baked. A third of the aubergine slices is placed at the bottom of an oven proof dish, a third of the tomato sauce layered on top of that, followed by a third of a ball of mozzarella, broken into pieces, and a generous sprinkling of grated hard cheese. 

Rinse and repeat two times, and it's ready to go!

Cook in a preheated oven at 180 for about 20 minutes. The recipe says 30-40, but with it being smaller portions, I halved the cooking time as well. It needs to be golden and bubbling on the top, which after twenty minutes it was, so I think I improvised correctly there.

Washing Up Required: Less if you have a real colander, but overall not that much.

Result: Even with my bodged timings it looked and smelled delicious when it came out of the oven, perfectly bubbly and golden.

Taste Test: The Boyfriend, trying to describe what he thought:

'It is what it is, isn't it? I can taste what is in it.'

When he realised I would be posting this on the blog, he added:

'The aubergines are cooked perfectly. And I like this mush... But I prefer brown sauce.'

I thought it wasn't as nice as the restaurant version I had a while back which alerted me to this recipe, but then that probably had eight tonnes of salt and flavourings in it, where as mine tasted fresh and healthy. And the aubergines were perfectly cooked, if I do say so myself.

Overall Verdict: A slightly time consuming dish, though if done properly, the sauce could be reducing while the aubergines are juicing etc, which would reduce cooking time. However, it's dead easy, and really filling. Double up the quantities and the cooking time, and you have a perfect meal for a dinner party!

Parmigiana! (and again, dodgy camera angle. Sorry)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Spinach, Penne and Cheese Spoufflé

Dish: Spinach, Penne and Cheese Spoufflé

Difficulty: Really bloody hard

Utensils Used: Sieve, Electric Whisk, Wooden Spoon x 2, Cheese Grater

Cock Ups: 3

Serves: 4

Recipe Book: River Cottage Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Cooking: This dish was destined to be a disaster as soon as the heavens opened right as I was about to go out and buy ingredients. Cosmic foreshadowing? I think so.

It starts off relatively simple: chop half an onion, measure 300ml of whole milk (first mistake - we only had half, but that doesn't matter, right?) and put into a pan with a few whole peppercorns and bring to just below a simmer. Take off the heat and leave to infuse. Easy.

While that was infusing, I got on with the next parts of the recipe - cooking 100g of penne pasta al dente, and wilting 250g of spinach. Already the number of pans this required was starting to exceed my dishwasher capacity, but I figured I could reuse a few for different parts.

When the pasta was cooked it was strained and mixed with a little oil to stop it sticking. The spinach was similarly drained and left to cool. So far so good.

Next, 50g of butter needed to be melted into a pan, then mixed with 50g of plain flour to make a roux. Cock up one - my flour was so old it had mites in it. Fortunately, my parents don't live far away, and after a quick phone call, my sister came round - armed with an umbrella against the deluge outside - with some flour.

I mixed the flour into the butter to make the roux and cooked for a minute, simultaneously bringing the infused milk back to temperature. I shouldn't have multitasked. It was too much for my poor brain. Because the next thing I did was strain the onion and the peppercorns out of the milk - only saving the wrong bit. I'd poured almost all the milk down the sink before I realised what an idiot I was being.

I put the onion and peppercorns back in the pan. By now, I'd used the measuring jug to hold the three egg yolks I'd separated out from their whites ready for the next stage. My bid to save on washing up had come back to bite me.

Judging the volume of milk by the white lines on the pan, I sloshed some more in. A quick blast on maximum heat got it to boiling point, then I left it simmering rather vigorously in an attempt to speed up the infusion process.

Meanwhile, I whisked up the four egg whites I'd separated out (one egg yolk in spare - not sure what to do with a spare egg yolk. Ideas?) The recipe book said to make them into 'stiff white peaks.' My nan's method of testing egg white stiffness is to turn it upside down over your head. If you didn't get a face full of egg white, they were stiff enough, but given my current run of luck, I wasn't about to try that. So I whisked them for a bit, until they looked good and peaky.

Returning to the roux, I strained the milk, correctly, then mixed it in to make a 'very thick' béchamel sauce. I then had to squeeze the water out of the now cool spinach (okay, I helped it along a little with the cooling by running the cold tap through it) and chop it up.

In my now stressed state, there was something deeply satisfying and therapeutic about squeezing the excess liquid from the spinach. The spinach, along with 75g of grated mature cheddar, a pinch of 'freshly' grated nutmeg and the penne pasta (which had stuck together despite the oil) was then stirred in, making a lovely green slop. 

The egg whites were then folded in, then the whole lot was tipped into a buttered dish and cooked at 190 for 25 minutes.

Only after I'd put it in the oven did I remember I was supposed to season with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Oops.

Washing Up Required: Quite a lot, despite my best attempts to minimise.

Result: While the Boyfriend said it looked like a blueberry muffin, the spoufflé did at least rise and brown as it was supposed to.

Taste Test: The Boyfriend described the taste as a bit 'beh bleh bur beg bar buh gur', specifying that this meant it was a bit cakey.

Personally, I thought it tasted quite nice, though a bit bland without the proper infusion and seasoning. The texture wasn't bad, and it was nicely filling. Though I probably should have served it with some salad or something.

Overall Verdict: Not the easiest or the quickest thing to make, but quite tasty, and a bit different. Perhaps a bit on the ambitious side for my particular culinary talents...


Saturday, 14 July 2012

Hello World

Hello, and welcome to the Disaster Kitchen, where I will be chronicling my gung-ho attempts to cook things a little more sophisticated than my usual freezer-food/chips/beans combo.

Disasters will ensue.