2014 Recipe Challenge

All posts in the 2014 Recipe Challenge category

Tidying up 2014’s goals, starting 2015’s

Published February 4, 2015 by Storm

Ending my recipe challenge with a flurry of treats

I may not have found time to write about doing so but I did find time to keep trying new recipes throughout December. My final three efforts of 2014 were Turkish Delight, French Chocolate Cake, and Beer and Mustard Bread.

I’ve been wanting to try making the Turkish Delight since being given Gifts From The Kitchen a few years ago, it just took me a while to brave my first attempt. This was a mixed success, it tasted good but I definitely didn’t have the texture right; boiling for longer at the final stage is obviously required but it had reached the point that I was struggling to stir it and was getting blisters. The recipe was reasonably easy to follow and although it is time consuming and wasn’t a great first attempt I probably will try again some time as I do love Turkish Delight. 

The French Chocolate Cake, from the simply titled Chocolate, was a greater success; just as well as I was baking this as a gift. It was more complicated than my usual ‘throw all the ingredients in the food processor then chuck the mix in a sponge tin’ approach to cakes, but the recipe was well written and easy to follow and the results were (so I’m told) good.

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Beer and Mustard Bread, from The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Bread Machine Baking, was very easy to make; using the bread machine still feels a bit like cheating but it’s a nice sort of cheating. I baked this as part of a Boxing Day buffet and I think it’s fair to say it was good as I’ve never seen a loaf disappear so rapidly. Possibly the perfect bread to eat with cheese.

Which leads into

2015 Goals

  1. Try a new recipe from one of my cookery books each month.
  2. Try a different bread recipe every time I bake.
  3. Learn something new with each knitting project I do (the two projects I’m carrying over from last year are exempt from this).

January saw me start all three of these goals!

The recipe I tried was Broccoli and Cauliflower Gratin from Vegetarian Classics. I cheated and used a bag of broccoli and cauliflower florets rather than chopping my own, this was a mistake as they weren’t well enough matched in size so I had to choose between extra firm cauliflower or soggy broccoli. I wasn’t particularly keen on the yoghurt and cheese mix used a a sauce either, I think I would have preferred simple grated cheese or a more classic cheese sauce, the yoghurt flavour dominated. Not one I’m going to be making again.

The bread was far more successful than the supper dish. Chickpea and Peppercorn Bread from the same lovely book as the Beer and Mustard Bread. This doesn’t use gram flour (which you might expect) but combines white flour with tinned chickpeas. The chickpeas blend into the dough and create a rich bread with a moist, slightly heavier crumb. It’s delicious and filling; it also seems slow to go stale, I baked it on Saturday and it hasn’t started to dry out yet (maybe that’s partly thanks to the bread bin I was given for Christmas). I will bake this again but will probably omit the peppercorns to give myself more choice what I eat with it.

The knitting was the first of a string of selfish projects, a hat for myself.

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The pattern is Sandra Dee’s Nymandus Draculea and the yarn is King Cole Galaxy. King Cole seems quite a fine DK so I used 4mm needles, not the 6mm called for in the pattern, and put in an extra pattern repeat. The new, to me, technique was cabling; little, baby cables where just one stitch crosses another, but there were quite a lot of them. The cables don’t show as well as they might in a slightly heavier and plainer yarn, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing! I know that I was a bit clumsy with my cables at first, though they got neater as I became more used to doing them, so having a yarn that distracts from the slight unevenness of my cabling isn’t such a bad thing. It took me about ten evenings to knit, I might have finished a little faster but I decided not to work on it when I was tired as I didn’t want to risk too many mistakes (feline assistance led three or four dropped stitches I needed to rescue without adding sleepiness into the equation). I’m happy with my hat, I might even knit it again in slightly chunkier yarn, and, having bought more yarn than I needed, I have the next project queued to start using galaxy; the Railway Modeller will just have to get used to me in stripes!

Cake to keep and cake to eat

Published December 7, 2014 by Storm

Cake to keep (for two or three weeks)

For at least the last 10 years I’ve been using the same Christmas cake recipe, with the only variation being whether I soak the dried mango and pineapple in spiced rum or spiced mead. It’s a nice cake, but this year I felt like a change. We’d enjoyed the Simnel cake recipe I’d baked from Vegetarian Cooking Through The Year so last week I decided to give the Christmas cake recipe from the same volume a try.

My first challenge was finding dried pears; I couldn’t get them anywhere within walking distance of home! I thought about the rest of the fruit in the cake, currants, sultanas, raisins and apricots, then looked at what we had on the shelf at work and decided that dried sweet cherries would do nicely.

The next challenge was to find a vegetarian sherry. I eventually found an amontillado (how suitably Poe), a nip of which will also make a nice companion to cooking Christmas dinner. At this time of year my drinks cupboard gets a bit scary; sherry for the cake, brandy for the mincemeat, rum for stollen, and possibly some kirsch still to add for a dessert I want to make for Christmas Eve or New Year… I might be making up some jars of boozy fruit in readiness for next Christmas.

Making the cake was nice and simple. It smelt lovely getting home the day I’d left the fruit and chopped almonds infusing in the sherry, ready to bake in the evening. Cheating a bit, as usual, I mixed the flour, spices, ground nuts, fat and eggs, in the food processor then stirred the mix through the fruit by hand. It all looked right going into the tin and tasted right when I cleaned the bowl out before washing it; I’m afraid when it comes to cake mix I do take my chance with raw egg. Two hours into the baking time, when I went to check on the progress of the cake, I realised I’d missed an ingredient or two; there on the side was the still sealed jar of molasses with the honey alongside it, too late to do anything about it I shrugged my shoulders and concluded that since the mix had seemed right, and the cake smelt and looked good, the lack couldn’t be too serious.

Now of course it’s waiting time.  The cake is wrapped in baking parchment, securely in it’s tub, being unwrapped to be fed a tablespoon of sherry about every 4 days; the recipe doesn’t actually mention feeding the cake but it’s a Christmas cake, of course it needs feeding! In two weeks time I’ll add marzipan and icing. I’m looking forward to seeing if it tastes as good as it smells.

4.5 out of 5 for well written instructions and ease of baking 

I can’t really grade the tastiness just yet!

And a cake to eat (now)

Having made a cake which wasn’t for immediate consumption I thought perhaps I should make another cake this week. I’d been given a glut of ripe bananas so a banana cake of some description was the obvious choice.  I picked up the Cook’s Encyclopedia of Bread Machine Baking and thumbed my way to the chapter on teabreads and cakes. Banana and Pecan Teabread looked nicely tempting.

I had most of the ingredients in the cupboards but I did need to buy shelled pecans. Again, using the food processor to mix everything, this was a doddle to make. When I’m mixing a fruity cake in the food processor I mix everything except the fruit, then use the pulse option to mix the dried fruit in so as to keep as much of the fruit whole as possible. The only thing I would disagree completely with the recipe about is the cooking time; the recipe suggested an hour’s baking for the size I was making, with perhaps a few minutes more; I ended up giving my cake an extra half hour, which to me is more than a few minutes. Minor grumble aside, the cake is moist, tasty, and moreish; I’m likely to bake it again.

4 out of 5 for ease of baking and well written instructions

4.5 out of 5 for tastiness

Cheating coconutty curry

Published November 25, 2014 by Storm

I’ve been so busy having adventures that I nearly forgot to write about the recipe I tried last week. A far more interesting, I hope, post about my adventures will follow just as soon as I can whittle down my choice of photographs to illustrate it. In the meantime I give you…

Mushroom curry

This particular recipe is from The Book of Vegetarian Cooking. It’s very easy but I’m pretty sure it’s not very authentic. Aside from the button mushrooms, which are briefly fried whole, all the ingredients, onions included, are puréed raw to make the sauce; the sauce is then poured over the mushrooms and the lot is heated through for about ten minutes.

At first taste I wasn’t keen but by the end of my meal I felt the dish had potential. My biggest dislike was that the sauce, which should have had a mildly spiced, creamy coconut flavour tasted strongly of raw onions; I like raw onions in salad but the flavour was too strong and overpowering for this curry.

The simplicity of this means I may try it again but I’ll be deviating a bit from the recipe as written. The most significant change I’ll make will be to cut the onion into wedges and fry it with the mushrooms, hopefully giving a sweeter, more subtle flavour. I’m also likely to use a mix of mushrooms as button mushrooms alone are a bit boring.

5 out of 5 for clear instructions and ease of cooking.

3 out of 5 for flavour.

The best recipe I’ve tried this year, plus a tasty side and a speedy supper

Published November 10, 2014 by Storm

Whoops! It’s been a month since I’ve written about the recipes I’m trying. I only skipped trying a new recipe one week of that month and that was my birthday week. I ate out a couple of times that week and had a delicious lunch in the café of The Ashmolean, if you’re in Oxford give it a try.

The best recipe of the year (so far)

In Vegetarian Cooking Through The Year I found myself thumbing beyond autumn and into winter, there I found this delicious Almond Roast. I’m a little shocked at realising that it is my favourite of the dishes I’ve tried so far this year; I have a love hate relationship with nut roasts, Dad makes a fantastic one (and I do have his recipe) but the mention of nut roasts always pulls up the unpleasant memory of those dry packet ones you mixed with water and cooked in the microwave, cloying, over-salted, and generally yuck. Anyway, I pushed past my initial aversion and I’m really glad I did.

This recipe combines almonds and mushrooms, two foods I can never get enough of. I did ignore the celery stick in the ingredients list, the one vegetable I strongly dislike, and I used a red onion for it’s delicate sweetness while I suspect the recipe intended white as it didn’t specify. My only pause for thought was how to halve the quantities, the method suggested making a half sized roast in a 1lb loaf tin or a full-size one in a 20cm ring tin; not that my maths is bad but how do you halve three eggs? My solution was to use two smaller eggs and not add the splash of water. Other than that minor mathematical challenge this roast was a doddle to make. I liked this so much I made it again last week and even the firmly carnivorous Railway Modeller found it palatable in place of stuffing with his roast dinner.

5 out of 5 for clear instructions and ease of making.

5 out of 5, plus a bonus point, for tastiness.

Also, something which is unheard of from me as I always complain recipes don’t go as far as they say they will, I got more portions out of this than the recipe suggests!

A speedy supper

Wanting something quick and easy to cook after a late shift, I decided to try the Mushroom Stroganoff recipe from the pages of The World Vegetarian Cookbook. Fry, or sauté if we’re being precise, some onion with some theoretical celery, then add some mushrooms and sauté a bit longer; herbs and stock follow, with some yoghurt at the last minute. The recipe reckoned on 30 minutes for preparation and cooking but I’m pretty sure I shaved it down to 15. Obviously, I skipped the celery, choosing to replace it with garlic which is a zillion times tastier!

5 out of 5 for ease of making.

4 out of 5 for tastiness.

And a tasty side

Already decided on making the Almond Roast again, which feeds me for most of a week, I decided that last week’s new recipe should be an accompaniment to it. A few dishes caught my eye but most were similar to things I make without referring to a recipe or didn’t quite lend themselves to working with both my main roast and The Railway Modeller’s pie. In the end it was a new, to me, method of cooking new potatoes which I decided to try. The Greens Cookbook gave the technique for New Potatoes and Garlic Baked in Parchment. As the oven was going to be in use anyway making maximum use of it’s capacity seemed a sensible idea. Also, roast garlic cloves are far nicer than they have any right to be and I was definitely interested to know if baked garlic cloves were as tasty.

This is a great way to cook new potatoes. I think we both enjoyed these; though the Railway Modeller declined to try his garlic cloves, giving them all to me. Garlic cooked like this is almost as good as roasted but it doesn’t quite have that fabulous texture, needing scraping out of it’s skin instead of sucking out. Jerusalem artichokes are freshly onto the shelves at work this week so I’m thinking of trying those cooked with this technique.

5 out of 5 for clear instructions and ease of cooking.

5 out of 5 for tastiness (there’s not really a lot that could go wrong with new potatoes and garlic).

De-lurking the lentils

Published October 10, 2014 by Storm

There’s been a bag of red lentils languishing at the back of my cupboard for months, ever since my disastrous attempt at Baked Rice. I’ve used countless (well two or three) bags of puy lentils over the course of the year but those red lentils were in danger of becoming long term lurkers. This week I decided that they needed to leave the cupboard and find their way into the pot.

The World Vegetarian Cookbook offered an option to use all my leftover lentils and the Herbed Lentil Stew I chose to make only required me to buy one ingredient, fresh spinach, everything else was already in my kitchen. This was really easy to make and, while cooking took around an hour and a half, preparation took next to know time; it would have taken longer if I’d needed to chop the coriander and crush the garlic but I was cheating a little and using them in ready prepared form. I skipped using the potatoes, the instructions regarding them were vague to say the least and once I got to the mention of them it sounded like I should have cooked them along with the lentils ahead of adding them to the spinach and onion mix. The recipe was also a little muddled on what it’s ingredients should be; the ingredients list stated cayenne pepper, which I used, but the method stated black pepper and made no mention of cayenne. 

Despite not being as well written as it could have been the stew itself turned out reasonably well. It was certainly filling and was tasty enough, though it wasn’t as good reheated as it was cooked fresh. Not something I’ll be in a rush to cook again but not something I’d rule out either.

3 out of 5 for ease of cooking and clarity of instructions (if it wasn’t so easy it would be scoring less).

3 out of 5 for tastiness.

First shell your pecans

Published October 3, 2014 by Storm

This week was one of those weeks where I was trying as much as possible to cook from the larder and freezer and avoid shopping, it was also a week when the Railway Modeller needed packed lunches every day. Given the choice between flapjack and cake, cake was requested so my challenge was to find a cake recipe I hadn’t used before that I had all the ingredients for. The only one I could find which answered the challenge and which I could eat, I wasn’t going to miss out on cake if I was baking, was the Coffee and Pecan Nut Cake in the recipe booklet which came with my breadmaker. 

The only catch was that the pecans, left over from last Christmas, were still in their shells. It took about an hour but I eventually had my three ounces of pecans, it’s just as well the recipe wanted them chopped though as they were nowhere near whole. Using a loaf tin liner to line the breadmaker, no more messing about and making a mess with greaseproof paper, and the food processor to do the mixing all other aspects of baking were a doddle.

I found the pecans a little oily but do like their flavour, maybe pre-shelled ones would be better. In this cake’s favour ground coffee brewed in the percolator gave a much nicer flavour than instant coffee as used in the American Coffee Bread I wrote about in this-bread-is-a-cake. The Railway Modeller said he found the cake slightly dry, I think the texture of the Coffee Bread would probably be more to his taste. Neither of us disliked it but I don’t think either of us would say this was the best cake I’d ever baked. I have ideas though; Turkish Coffee and Hazelnut Cake might be the first recipe of my own devising I try in the breadmaker.

Coffee and pecan cake gets 5 out of 5 for clear instructions and ease of making (most people wouldn’t be idiotic enough to start with pecans in the shell).

It gets 4 out of 5 for flavour but it was let down by the texture.

Midnight Spud Feast

Published September 24, 2014 by Storm

Sometimes I need to plan better, or not to let myself get distracted from my original plans. On Monday I got home from work at a sensible time planning to make Creamy Potato Gratin with Herbs from the dinner party section of Vegetarian Classics; somehow the evening sped by and I ended up opting for a quicker to prepare option for supper. Last night I got home from work at 10:30pm and decided that, since I’d bought the cream and cheese on Monday, I ought to make my gratin despite the time. 

This wasn’t a difficult dish to make but I underestimated the preparation time; I think it took as long to chop and grate ingredients as to actually bake the gratin. If I’d wanted to speed up the process I could have used the food processor to cut the potatoes into matchsticks and to grate the cheese but I tend to avoid using noisy gadgets late at night.

I used a goats’ gouda in place of the gruyère the recipe called for, very flavoursome but not too goaty for the Railway Modeller. My herbs in this instance were a simple mix of parsley and thyme, I had those in the fridge and didn’t fancy going out in the dark and wet to cut anything else from the garden, and I was fairly generous with the black pepper and nutmeg.

We didn’t eat until just after midnight but it was worth the wait. Both our plates were cleared too well for the cats’ liking, I had a second helping I probably didn’t need, and neither of is is objecting to the fact that we’ll be eating gratin again for supper tonight. Although the recipe suggested a wider selection of herbs we both felt the flavour was just right as I’d made it. Some of the potato in the centre was very slightly firmer than would have been perfect; I think cooking it in a shallower dish with a larger base area than the casserole dish I used would avoid that next time.

I’d better not make this too often though, with all that cheese and cream it’s a slightly wicked supper!

5 out of 5 for clear instructions and ease of cooking

5 out of 5 for flavour

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