Tweets on 2010-06-25

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Tweets on 2010-06-24

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Tweets on 2010-06-23

  • Oh, no. VAT to increase to 20%. CGT? #
  • Housing benefit reforms will be a shock to landlords. (amongst many many others) #
  • Ok, CGT reforms sound OK to me? #
  • Listening to budget on radio in car. What's that thumping noise? #
  • Lightbulb moment. I *could* lord weight for the wedding… Or I could just buy a corset! #
  • Talking to online support to see if we can figure out why alexfoster.me.uk is hogging too much CPU time and is suspended. #

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Pudding club: foraging for food

Another post that has been very long in the writing.

I’m growing very slowly and gradually in the stuff I eat from hedgerows. I urge everyone to make their own elderflower cordial at around about this time each year. It’s really easy, the ingredients are easy to find, and elderflowers are everywhere in England at least. My recipe is here. This year I also have some elderflower gin which needs to steep in a darkened place for another few weeks yet, and which I will report on in the fullness of time. Loosely based on this recipe.

In years past I have made things with blackberries – I’ve only just finished a blackberry vodka made by steeping blackberries in a jar with vodka for a couple of days, then straining. Bramble jelly has been a favourite too, and a bramble / apple jelly also.

But beyond that, I have not been terribly adventurous when it comes to eating things that can be picked in the park for free.

A few weeks ago, that changed. Inspired by Alys Fowler’s Edible Garden TV series we made dandelion pancakes and nettle soup.

Picking the nettles was… interesting. There’s a huge patch around the corner from me, so I donned some of P’s cleaning gloves (( not that I don’t clean, hem hem, I just don’t mind plunging my unprotected hands into neat bleach )) and went to pick them. Standing in front of the nettles, even with protected hands, it was actually quite hard to summon up the courage to grasp the stems and pick them. Aversion to the sting is obviously very deeply ingrained from childhood.

Standing there in front of them, I was reminded of a story about an Australian friend of mine living and working in London, where he was unexposed to wildlife. When, however, he went on a choir tour the countryside, he returned with a very long face. “No-one told me about nettles!” he said. And I don’t suppose anyone did. English children learn very early on not to touch the nasty jagged-leaved hairy beasties and it would never have occurred to me that they are not common in Oz, home to nastier plants and nastier insects than almost anywhere else on the plant. (( “It is true that of the 10 most poisonous arachnids on the planet, Australia has 9 of them. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that of the 9 most poisonous arachnids, Australia has all of them.” – Douglas Adams ))

Anyway. The vinyl gloves protected me from the stings. For the first four stems. On the fifth, the nettle won, and so I returned home and got the really sturdy gardening gloves before continuing. Before long, I had a half-carrier bag full of nettles and headed home to soup them.

I was basing my recipe loosely on this one from Wartime Housewife.

Because I think I got there a little bit late in the nettle season, I removed the leaves from the stalks and discarded the stems. If I’d gone out earlier in the year when the nettles are still acid green, the stems might have been thinner and less manky. But at this stage in the year, I kept the gloves on in the kitchen and pulled all the nettle leaves off before sluishing them through the colander, and adding them to a pretty standard soup base – stock, onions, garlic, carrot, the usual stuff.

The resulting soup was definitely a distinctive flavour. It was a very dark, evil-green. It was nice – I couldn’t finish a whole bowl, but my companions all did.

For the dessert of that meal, we made Alys Fowler’s dandelion head pancakes. For these, I’d just picked dandelion heads – flowers, obv, not clocks – and doused them in a light batter before shallow frying. They were edible, a novelty, but not particularly nice.

Pudding club: chocolate cake / lemon polenta cake

I’m getting far behind when it comes to writing up the things I’ve cooked for various pudding clubs over the past weeks.

The week I made the jellies we learned at short notice that more people would be there than initially planned. I had already cooked ahead and made four individual jellies, but that would be no good for the 6 people who would be there, so I took the jellies, but tried to whip up a quick cake to complement it.

I made this Lemon polenta cake and it was delicious, but very unhealthy. A whole pack of butter!

250g butter , softened
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g polenta
250g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
3 lemons (3 zested, 1 juiced)
4 tbsp limoncello
3 tbsp icing sugar

Heat the oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3. Butter and base line a 23cm springform tin. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (use an electric hand whisk). Add the eggs one by one and beat between each addition. Fold in the polenta, almonds and baking powder. Mix in the lemon zest and juice.

Bake for about 50 minutes-1 hour until the cake is risen and golden (cover the top of the cake loosely with foil after 30 minutes to stop it browning too much).

Make the syrup by warming the limoncello with the icing sugar until the icing sugar has melted. Serve the cake warm cut in slices with a drizzle of limoncello syrup.

(I didn’t use the limoncello drizzle as I knew amongst the eaters would be teetotallers and drivers – I just made a syrup of 100grams sugar, and the juice of 2 lemons)

In recent weeks, I have been watching Cook Yourself Thin – despite the fact that my own diet is completely and utterly off track now. Lots of Gizzy Erskine’s recipes have looked really nice, including the chocolate cake below. However, some of them have really weird ingredients, and I’m not sure to what extent I want to try trawling Asian supermarkets for mirin and gochuchang. Nor would I want to buy a big tub of chilli paste if it ended up I didn’t like the recipe!

The format of the show is: meet fat person; hear what horrendous fatty calorie rich terrors they like to cook; suggest lighter alternatives. There’s three dishes per episode, and the focus is a bit on technique and interesting alternative ingredients as well as just the recipes.

Many of the recipes could not conceivably be called healthy or low calorie in their own right. But they are better than the alternatives being cooked by the show’s daily guest.

So far they have had two cakes based on boiling a citrus fruit, and blending it, and using that as the mainstay of the texture of the cake. There’s this Moroccan Lemon cake, which I haven’t tried, but will; and this chocolate orange cake, which I have tried and mucked up a fair bit:

Serves 12 (< — no! no it doesn’t!)
Preparation time 15 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour 50 minutes
Cooling time 2 hours
Icing time 10 minutes
Ingredients
1 whole orange
125g fruit sugar
200g 70% dark chocolate, melted
100g ground almonds
3 free range eggs, separated
½ tsp baking powder
For the icing
150g 70 per cent dark chocolate, melted
Zest of 1 orange
3 tbsp honey

1. Put the orange in a microwave-proof bowl. Add 250ml water, cover with cling film and microwave on high for 20 minutes, turning halfway through (or simmer for 1 hour in a small saucepan). Leave to cool, still covered.

2. Heat the oven to 180°C. Line a 20cm round spring-form tin with baking parchment. Cut the orange in half and remove the pips. Put in the food processor with 5 tbsp of the orangey liquid left in the pan and blitz to a smooth purée, scraping down the bowl a couple of times. Add the sugar, melted chocolate, almonds, egg yolks and baking powder, and whizz again to mix thoroughly. Tip into a large bowl.

3. Beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry, and fold into the chocolate mixture. Spoon into the lined tin. Put the tin on a baking sheet, then in the oven. Bake for 50 minutes, covering with a piece of foil or baking parchment halfway through to stop the top burning. Cool in the tin.

4. To make the icing, mix the melted chocolate and orange zest It will start to seize so mix in the honey and it will go shiny again. Transfer the cake onto a plate or stand then simply ice the top.

I tried to make this in the middle of the night, and consequently was trying to make it quietly. Not so possible when you need to blitz the orange into a pulp and use the whisk to get the eggs to stiff peaks.

The all-important garnish. "serves 12"
If it’s not garnished, it’s not finished.

My two major failings with this were: using the wrong sized tin – the cake mix barely touched the sides – and in the melting stage, allowing the chocolate / almond / orange mix to get too cool. Ideally, don’t microwave the chocolate, melt it au bain marie on the stove top. Then you make sure it’s still good and liquid. When I made it, the chocolate nearly solidified when added to the orange and dry ingredients. I then had to beat quite hard to mix it with the egg whites, nearly losing all the air and ending up with quite a heavy cake.

The final thing is a query about maybe whether the icing is just too heavy. Does the chocolate need lightening with cream rather than honey to get a ganache rather than, well, basically, a chocolate bar?

Previously on Pudding Club:

Tweets on 2010-06-21

  • Burton joyce (@ Burton joyce train station) http://4sq.com/9tOyZE #
  • The 1990 "Making of" for Total Recall talks about NASA's 20 year plans to colonise Mars. Are we halfway there yet? #
  • Beaker sings the Ode To Joy http://bit.ly/9NRt7v #

  • I liked a YouTube video — BBC Micro game Cybertron Mission http://youtu.be/sQ0rGboeOL0?a #
  • @jamesgraham all will become clear in a post. I'm almost bothered by Beaker = Alexander stuff, but sometimes you can be too right-on, eh? in reply to jamesgraham #
  • Good lord, they let @warrenellis reproduce? Dios mio. #
  • Cats, babies, graveyards, cathedrals. In their own separate ways, each of my Flickr friends has had their normal sort of weekend 🙂 #
  • Well, that's 4k words worth of blogposts written tonight. Now to some sort of activity less taxing on the wrists. #

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