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Everything That Could Go Wrong? Did…

So this year I decided, after my success last year with St Delia’s (hallowed be her baking) Cake in a Box, to make a Christmas cake from scratch, especially after my in laws confirmed they would be at ours for the holidays.

So I grabbed my St Delia’s (hallowed be her baking) Christmas Book and bought the fruit and the peel and the parchment and the brandy.

Yesterday, as instructed, I measured and mixed the fruit and peel with the brandy.

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More dried fruit than I have ever seen in one place before. Ever.

Today, I made the cake. Adam is on half term holiday but decided he didn’t want to help. He’s very wise, my son.

The first mistake happened when I was sifting the dry ingredients. I didn’t realize I wasn’t quite over the bowl and some of the flour etc went on the counter. So I scooped it back in and went on my merry way. (Get it? Merry? Christmas? Never mind…)

Next up it was time to cream the butter and sugar. So I put them into another bowl and stuck my electric hand whisk into it. Butter starts to fly as it was still too hard.

So I scooped up what I could and moved it to my food processor, which has a stronger motor. But not strong enough as I discovered when one of the whisk blades snapped right off. Probably not the motor’s fault, on reflection.

So I scraped it back into the original bowl and dropped some on the floor. Now, my counters are clean. I clean them regularly during the day and I always wipe them down with soap and water before I begin to cook, so scooping spilled flour back into the bowl was no great hazard. My floor, however, needs a wash. So I swept up the butter and sugar and hoped it wasn’t as much as it looked like as I threw it in the bin.

And then I set to work creaming by hand. Which hurts as my arthritis is quite bad in my wrists today. Once it was softer, I went back to the electric hand whisk to finish the job.

Here I need to stop and explain something. I was taught to cook, more or less, by my Jewish mother. In Judaism, if you find a blood spot inside an egg, the egg cannot be eaten, which is why each egg is cracked individually into one bowl before being added to other eggs or ingredients.

Yes, I was making a Christmas cake and I don’t practice Judaism anyway and have never thrown out an egg with a blood spot in it, but I still crack my eggs into a bowl or glass on their own before adding them. Indoctrination is hard to shake…

Anyway, the next thing to go wrong was when I was cracking my eggs. I tend to use a small glass for this only today I used a really small glass for this for some unknown reason and when I cracked one of the eggs the shell slipped out of my hand and half of it landed in the glass with the egg. And I couldn’t get it out.

So I pour the egg though my fingers and am praying I caught all of the shell…maybe people will think it’s a very skinny almond if I didn’t?

So. The eggs were added. Next problem…

Recipe says to fold dry into wet. Only I used the wrong bowls. I used the huge bowl for the dry and the medium bowl for the wet. There was no way the wet plus all that fruit (see above) was going in that bowl. So I folded the wet into the dry and prayed that St Delia (hallowed be her baking) would forgive me.

After that things went a bit more smoothly. Everything incorporated well and looked the same as it had last year when I had St Delia’s (hallowed be her baking)  measurements instead of my own.

Then came the parchment paper.

It is a fact that parchment paper hates me. If I tell it to fold crisply, it flops. If I try to cut it to size, it wiggles and I miss. So it probably took me 30 minutes to get the damn cake tin lined. And I was so frustrated I almost didn’t line my tin, just to see what would happen. But I had come so far…

But I did it. And it’s in the oven. For those 4.5 hours. With Adam asking me every 10 minutes “Where’s the cake?”

Which he will never be allowed to eat due to the brandy.

The verdict?

If for some reason I ever again say “I think I’ll make a Christmas Cake this year.” Simon has been instructed to tell me to go lie down until the urge goes away.

The aftermath.

But I’m still thinking about making my own Christmas pudding…

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Pie!

The Last Pie.

So if you follow me on Twitter you may have seen this:

Which is a pie that I made.

So tonight I did it again. And took pictures.

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Veggie Tables.

To make my chicken pie, which is made with leftover chicken. Or turkey. Or, in tonight’s case, chicken and ham…anyway, to make it you start with some vegetables.

Tonight I had a swede (That’s turnip to those of you in the US. Or maybe rutabaga. Not sure), some carrots, potatoes, a parsnip and some leftover green beans. I also used a small onion and about four cloves of garlic. All of that, except the potatoes, was thrown in the food processor with some sage and made into a rough medium to small cut. Different sizes is good because texture is good! The potatoes I just cut into small chunks.

The chicken I used was leftover from one I made in the slow cooker on Monday. If you’ve never made a whole chicken in the slow cooker, give it a go. Just shove it on there with four or five halved and squeezed lemons with one or two shoved inside the cavity of the bird, bung the lid on and cook for around 10 hours on low. So.Very.Good. And even better?

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Solid Stock. Really.

The stock you get. The chicken fat just all melts and combines with the lemon juice and the chicken juices to make this incredible stock. You can try making gravy with it but gravy is the one cooking nemesis I am still working on, so I save it instead and threw it in the ‘fridge to use in the pie.

I took it out of the ‘fridge and removed all the congealed fat and brought it to a boil. Once it was boiling I added the veg and potatoes and turned it down to medium low. I let it simmer for about two hours, until all of the vegetables were tender and there was a thickish sauce.

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Now with added cream.

I then added some single cream (which is just, well, cream, in the US) and cooked it another 10 minutes with the lid off.

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Meat! (And beans.)

While I was letting that simmer and heating the oven (200C, that’s something or other F. Use Google.) I layered the bottom of my pie tin (Don’t you love this tin? So old fashion. Lakeland. I love them.) with the ham (which, by the way, was also made in the slow cooker. On Sunday. Ham in Coke. Let me know if you want the recipe), chicken and green beans.

Now I have a confession to make. I don’t make pastry. Ever. I buy it. Always.

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Store bought. Don’t judge me.

See?

Do you want to know why I buy my pastry? Do you? Because Angela Hartnett told me to in a recipe of her’s I use. If it’s good enough for her? It’s certainly good enough for me.

Anyway, after the veg is finished cooking, it is poured over the meat in the bottom of the tin. Then I egg wash the edges of the tin and place a strip of the pastry along it. Then I egg wash the strip and place the rest of the pastry on top, trim the edges, make a cross in the top and shallow cuts along the sides (This makes the pastry puff up more) and then egg wash the whole thing.

Place in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes and you get…

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TA DA! Okay, a bit burnt. Again…don’t judge me.

It was delicious. Again.

Poultry pie. Nailed it.

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After More or Less a Full Day in Bed

I feel much better.

Well enough to make apple muffins with my son, even.

Some how we wound up with a ton of apples. So I found a recipe and we set to work.

Get Ready!

Adam, as always, was eager to help, grabbing his step stool and getting right to work. He, as always, is chief in charge of stirring, button pushing and scrambling eggs. He’s a pro at all of these things. Here you can see him getting ready for the next step. He’s already put the liners in the muffin tin.

Get Set!You many note the Cars 2 plaster on his head. That’s because he managed to fall twice in 3 days, landing on the same place on his forehead each time. It’s mostly just a long scratch, but there is also a lovely green bruise.

In any event, after he put the liners in the tin, he got ready to stir!

Baking!

He is a fantastic stirrer. Here he is mushing butter up before we added the rest of the wet ingredients.

At this point, we got too busy for Mummy to keep snapping, so you’ll just have to take my word that next we incorporated the dry ingredients and then he helped hold down the button on the mini-chopper to get the apples into nice small chunks.

Apple Muffins!

And here you can see the finished product!

I’m not 100% happy with the recipe. I think it needs more sugar and more apple and more cinnamon, so I will adapt in the future to make it better.

But Adam and Simon think they are quite good.

And, most importantly, Adam and I had fun.

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I Think I’ve Become A Better Cook

since moving into the house, I mean.

Which is odd as the kitchen is impossible. Horrid small electric stove, no counter space, only one oven.

And yet my cooking lately has been fantastic, if I do say so myself. Simon has even noticed, commenting that this dish or that is the best I’ve ever made.

I think it is because of the impossible kitchen. With a good kitchen, you can let the equipment do a lot of the work. You know, with a gas stove, that if you turn the burner down to a simmer, the flame will instantly lower and the temp of the food will adjust accordingly.

With my stove, going from high to low takes about 15 minutes. I wish I was joking. But if a recipe says ‘heat the pan on high, cook for 5 minutes, and then reduce to low’ I now heat the pan on high, put the food in and immediately turn it down. By the time the burner is cooled down enough, the food will be where it would be if turning the burner down had immediate affect.

There has been a lot of trial and error on this method for the past year. And some real disasters.

But there have been some amazing successes as well.

And that’s what counts.

 

 

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I Didn’t Take Pictures

as I was too busy cooking, but Adam helped me cooked dinner tonight, which was Simon’s birthday dinner as today is, surprise, his birthday.

We were having the newly named Simon’s Casserole, (used to be Jeffrey’s Casserole, after my brother, but I’ve changed. I’ve done a family proclamation and everything. Don’t sweat it, Simon doesn’t understand either.) which is a sort of simple lasagne dish, and home made garlic bread using my pizza dough.

Adam helped first by rolling out the pizza dough. It should be noted that the one Adam rolled was perfectly round and mine was not.

Then he picked the skins off the garlic cloves and put them in the mini-chopper. Then he held down the mini-chopper button.

Next he helped peel onion and then held down the mini-chopper button again.

Then I told him the fun stuff was done and all that was left was simmering he got bored and went to watch Toy Story for the 1,000 time.

He wanted to use Mummy’s big knife but understood when I said he was too little.

Tomorrow I think I’ll have him make lunch. By himself.

🙂

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Saturday is Simon’s Birthday

I won’t tell you how old he will be, but he’s 5 years younger than me and, as you may recall, I just had the 22nd anniversary of my 21st birthday.

Today Adam and I were scheduled to bake some cakes for Daddy’s birthday. So we went into the kitchen to get started when I found a fatal flaw in my plan. I only had one egg. I needed three.

So instead of getting down to it, we put on our shoes and coats and headed over to our local Mace. There we acquired biscuits, yoghurt, Pringles and eggs. You thought I forgot the eggs, didn’t you?

Once we were home we got to work.

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Adam mixes.

Adam was chief in charge of mixing eggs, which he did with panache. Then he got bored while Mummy was incorporating the flour, eggs, butter and sugar and went to watch Fireman Sam. So Mummy licked the bowl herself.

Just before Adam’s First Birthday, I purchased the dinosaur cake pan from Lakeland, which doesn’t seem to be on their site any more. It has been used a *lot* for a variety of birthdays!

Here it is full of finished cakes as of today:

Cakes
Simon's Cakes

Later today we’ll make chocolate buttercream icing and get them iced and covered with 100s and 1000s.

Of course, there probably won’t be any left by Saturday…

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Adventures in Pie…

So, like most people, I had a lot of leftover turkey after Christmas dinner.

So I broke the turkey apart and put about half in the fridge and we ate it over the few days after Christmas, including a pie I made Boxing Day.

The rest I put in the freezer.

The Boxing Day pie, while tasty, was not to my satisfaction. I had decided to make a double crusted pie for the first time in my life and it didn’t occur to me to not blind bake the bottom crust. So then I had to try to adhere the raw top crust to the cooked bottom crust. It tasted okay but the pastry wasn’t really done to my satisfaction.

Cook’s Note: No, I did not make pastry. I never do. Angela Harnett, one of my cooking heroines, never makes her own pastry. She buys the refrigerator stuff. So I do too. 🙂

So tonight I’m trying again. I defrosted some of the turkey. I precooked some veg. I placed it between two uncooked crusts:

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Uncooked...

It smelled wonderful when it came out of the oven. And looked like this:

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Cooked!

It even tasted good!

Something I will definitely make again. With two crusts. And cook it for slightly less time. 🙂

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And Now You Can See…

The completely finished Christmas Cake, done via Delia’s Cake in A box, as previously noted. If you watch this video you’ll see what it’s suppose to look like at the end: –

See that? Yeah. Well this is mine: –

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So not horrible. But not perfect.

Which just goes to prove why I consider myself a cook. And not a baker.

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The Cake What I Won

So about 2 weeks ago Mumsnet had a live chat with Delia Smith. I asked a question about what other sweet I could make as I despise Christmas Cake. She didn’t answer me specifically as someone else had also asked that question (oops, sorry! should read the thread!) but MNHQ announced that everyone who had asked a question would be entered into a prize draw to win Delia’s Cake in a Box.

And yes, you’re reading that right. Waitrose can’t do math. An object that was £10 and is now £5 is not 25% off.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when me, who never wins anything, was announced to be a winner of said cake.

For the American’s in the audience, you should know that you’re suppose to make your Christmas cake at least 4 weeks before Christmas so you can feed it with brandy in the run up to Christmas until it’s such a drunk cake you wouldn’t dare feed it to your 2.5 year old. However, I did not actually receive my Box o’ Cake until last week and then had the issue that I did not have a 20cm cake tin. I did have a 20cm cake tin, but it rusted and I threw it away and never bought another as I never bake cakes.

So I had my Box o’ Cake and no way to bake it. And then the day I was going to go buy a cake tin, Adam was home ill and I didn’t get to go shopping.

So today I finally had the Box o Cake, the pan and all the other ingredients needed to make the cake. And Adam at daycare. And so I baked it. For 4 hours. You read that right. It bakes for 4 hours. O_o

And here it is: –

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Simon says it tastes okay. It is still cooling as I write this and then I will feed it with some brandy over the next week and then do the icing bit on the 23rd ready to be served on Christmas Eve. To my American guests.

Who will probably hate it as much as I do…

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Christmas Cookies, The Battle I Won…

So the other day I decided that Adam and I should make Christmas cookies. I had purchased a set of Christmas cutters and decorating equipment from Lakeland (which is no longer on it’s website, which is odd) that included a recipe for sugar cookies so I got the ingredients out and went to work.

I don’t have an electric mixer, so I used my food processor instead. This was probably a mistake, although the instruction book that came with the processor says it should work. Let’s see what happened:

Sugar and butter. So far, so good...
Sugar and butter. So far, so good...

Adam, was, of course my helper here:

Adam keeps an eye on the timer for the creaming process.
Adam keeps an eye on the timer for the creaming process.

After the butter and sugar was creamy, about 3 minutes like the recipe said, I added an egg and let it mix further. And then added the flour, 1/2 cup at a time. The recipe said after 2 cups of flour I should have a ball of dough:

That's all the flour...only not dough...
I wouldn't call that dough. More like batter.

I poured it out of the processor and into a big bowl at this point and proceeded to dump all the plain flour in the house into the mix…

In the interest of full discloser, I should note here that I actually had an entire canister of plain flour still on the shelf. I just completely forgot it was there. This is probably a good thing…

More flour added...still not dough...
All my flour...still pretty much not dough...

I decided, thinking I had used all my flour, to let it chill and see what happened:

Not dough chilling.
Not a circle of dough. More like a lump.

I took it out of the ‘fridge and tried to roll it out, using self rising flour to flour the board. It didn’t work too well…

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Perhaps it's art...

Adam had been watching eagerly and pressing the cookie cutters in, getting confused when mummy would then roll the, to him, perfect cookies back up and try rolling it out again, with even more self rising flour.

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Yeah. Big lump of non-dough...

I finally put it back into the fridge for another hour and, miracle of miracles, it started to work!

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The first batch. With holes poked in the top. That way if they were totally inedible we could hang them on the tree.

But they worked! They cooked! And kinda tasty. Well, sort of tasty. In truth I couldn’t get unsalted butter (I have now found a source!) so used salted and then guestimated how much more salt to put in and it was too much. But they didn’t taste horrid. Just a bit salty and over floury. I can live with that!

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A bit over cooked but my oven is very iffy. ::nods::

Next up, of course, came the colouring process:

The mad scientist at work, colouring icing.
Adam stirs the colour into the icing.

Again, I should really check my cupboards before I start doing this sort of thing. I thought I had red food colouring. I was wrong. I also thought I had a ton of icing sugar. WRONG!

Huh. Teal.
Shhhh. Artist at work!

 

So the cookies are teal, as Adam mixed together the green and blue icing we made. And only half of them were iced.

Beooootiful!

But it was a fun morning with my son. And the cookies were most definitely edible!