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Thursday, 22 January 2015

Just One Thing!

Andrew was diagnosed with diabetes just before Josie was born, and since then I’ve been experimenting with various ways to make sweet recipes more diabetic-friendly.

There are a few different schools of thought on doing that. One is, don’t bother. A small amount of sugar in your diet every now and then, even for a diabetic, is not that much of a problem. That school of thought would keep on baking in the tried and tested manner. 

Another school of thought: why bother? Just cut out sweets, cakes, and more entirely and give up as a lost cause the fight to make them more diabetic-friendly. They never will be anyway.

This is not me. Ever. This is Andrew. All the time.

My school of thought? Might as well have a bash a trying to bother so Andrew can actually have his cake, and eat it. As sugar substitutes have become more widely-available, cheaper, and more like the real thing it’s become easier to try to replace sugar in recipes.

There are still some things that fake sugar never works for, prime among them being a meringue. I love meringues. If I were to list my top 5 desserts meringue would probably feature in at least 3. Pavlova for one, or Eton Mess*. Bless those ridiculously-dressed Etonians – I value them not for their political adeptness/rich Daddys who have propelled them to take the last 50 million Prime Ministerial and Cabinet posts, but for their clumsy meringue-crushing dogs who, in a most apocryphal way, smashed up a Pavlova and turned it into the Eton Mess.

I love Pavlova. A lot. So much, in fact, that I once made my Mum defrost a pavlova in the microwave because I couldn’t bear to wait for it to defrost naturally. She was taken very ill about 3 hours later, which she initially blamed on the hastily-thawed whipped cream, but thankfully once the paramedics arrived they diagnosed as acute appendicitis. Which was a relief, because I was concerned if the Pavlova turned out to be the culprit that I would never be allowed the dessert again.**

Is that a triple-layered Pavlova? Oh. Hello.

Anyway, meringue-based desserts aside (I fear they will never get the diabetic-recipe overhaul) I have learned some valuable lessons from my culinary experimentations. The first, the foremost, and the one that you must never break if you hope to create repeatable recipes is this:

Change only one variable at a time.

I probably should have learned this in Standard Grade Chemistry, but it turns out I did not. I have now. It is important. 

Without rule number one, how do you know whether that slightly bitter aftertaste in your otherwise delicious banana bread comes from the wholemeal flour (to replace the plain) or the Stevia (to replace the sugar)? Answer: You don’t. 

And so you have to bake the whole thing again, resetting one of those variables to the base recipe to understand why it just tastes so weird. At which point, you might realise that you misread the recipe the first time, and that those 4 TABLESPOONS of bicarbonate of soda should actually have been teaspoons and that neither of the aforementioned variables had any effect in making the banana bread taste so, so bitter and it was actually just your own incompetence.

But, raising agent disasters aside, the principle should still be observed. And I still break it. For instance, in a recent banana bread experiment, I used orange-juice infused sultanas and peel instead of normal, which made it just taste a bit odd. Delicious, but odd. Which meant I couldn't really assess how successful the fake sugar was in it. It’s my own fault, of course. I broke rule number one. Never mind. I'll just have to bake it again!

This is Andrew eating all the banana bread.

*For the record, in no particular order they'd probably be: Pavlova, Lemon Meringue Pie, Queen of Puddings, Chocolate Mousse, Lemon Posset.
**Obviously, she is fully recovered now and so I can talk about her misfortune with an otherwise inappropriate levity.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A Few of my Favourite (Scottish) Things

Burn's Night isn't a very big deal in our house.

So far, Lori and Josie have had to learn a few poems, and I have cooked haggis once. That was last year, and I only did it because the girls were interested in what a Burn's Supper might taste like. I made whisky sauce to go with it, but it was a bit gross.

This year Lori has been going around singing My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose at every opportunity, which Josie is particularly displeased about.It is a truly unique rendition of the song, which doesn't mean it is good, and I am saving all your eardrums (although it might only be audible to dogs lately) by not sharing it with you. You are welcome.

However, quite by chance, and nothing to do with the approaching celebration of some random Scottish poet whose work I mostly hate, I have been making a few recipes that have a distinctively Scottish culinary twist.

The Millionaire's Shortbread one was particularly popular with everyone who tried it (me, me, me, me again, me, me for 6th helpings, tiny sliver for whining child, ME!).

Millionaire's Shortbread

I had to make this. Had to. I had some caramel in the fridge, left over from Christmas. I had some white chocolate, left over from Hallowe'en. And I had some shortbread, left over from New Year. I love shortbread. There's something quite delicious about its rich butteriness combined with sugar and a slightly salty flavour.

White Chocolate Millionaire's Shortbread

Treacle Tart

My Mum makes a lovely treacle tart. This isn't her recipe. Treacle tart usually calls for breadcrumbs, which I didn't have, but I'm always up for experimentation as a cooking technique. And that's where the Burns/Scottish reference comes in, as I substituted the breadcrumbs for porridge oats. I also didn't have treacle, but I had some molasses and it's not too dissimilar. I think this one came out very treacly, possibly because of the molasses, but it certainly was much more like a treacle toffee tart than the syrupy ones my Mum makes. It tasted better than it looked. The girls each had a slice in their packed lunch boxes, but they sneaked them out to eat at break time as a snack, and reported much enjoyment.

Treacle Tart with Porridge Oats

Friday, 9 January 2015

Happy New Year (and a folio of festive food)

What a pleasure it is to cook in my own kitchen and with all my old things that were far too long in storage. Nithsdale has been great for revivifying my culinary creativity this year. I have tried out a lot of new recipes over Christmas this year, as well as going back to some old favourites. And others…well, others were old recipes adapted into something completely new.

Plenty of visitors to Nithsdale brought their own recipes or brought gifts that were turned into ingredients or simply were the inspiration for a menu item. Oh, and as an aside, I am going to keep on referring to Nithsdale by its name at every opportunity. Indeed, I may never get over the excitement of having a house special enough to have its own name, even if they name wasn't my choice, it does sound suitably MiddleEarthish to satisfy me.

So, it was my brother James's feedback on the Salted Caramel Torte that turned my thoughts to orange in the Jaffa Torte. It was my Mum's old recipe for Mackerel Pate that I turned to on Christmas Day, although I did have to improvise by using mascarpone instead of Philadelphia cream cheese. Mascarpone doesn't work as well, by the way, although Andrew, Josie, and Lori professed not to notice, so it might do in a pinch. I haven't got a recipe online for Mackerel Pate, but my old school-friend Claire Winlow does, and it is pretty much the same as mine. You can find it here. And it was the fine gift of a panettone from Marianne and Mark that made me realise I needed to do something with the panettones that was more interesting than just slicing them up for tea with a touch of jam. Although, don't get me wrong, I am absolutely not averse to the Jamettone option.

Panettone. Not Jamettone. 

Anyway, thanks to everyone who came to see us this year, and best wishes to those who have not yet made the pilgrimage North or Southwards, or who could not, especially my bestie Emmy, whose plans fell through because of a poorly elbow. Happy New Year!

The Folio of Festive Food

Chocolate Jaffa Torte

I’ve been making a Salted Caramel Chocolate Torte for quite a few years now. When I started, Salted Caramel chocolates were impossible to get in most shops, now they’ve become ubiquitious. Every sweet or dessert with caramel in it seems to be salted. Never one to want to follow the crowd, I decided it was time for a change, and so I unveiled the Chocolate Jaffa Torte. The caramel is replaced by orange curd, the rich, dark chocolate is tempered with milk chocolate. This is a jaffa cake on steroids, and it is absolutely gorgeous.

Lori is 8. Hip Hip Hooray!

A Boozy Cranberry Sauce

For a couple of years I've been making a Cherry Brandy Cranberry Sauce. As Andrew has diabetes was trying to find a way to make cranberry sauce with a sugar substitute. After a few goes I started adding the alcohol as a way to overcome the slightly too-sweet aftertaste which I find a sugar substitute leaves. The cherry brandy lends it a very Christmassy, almost-almondy, taste. However, this year I took inspiration from a Women's Institute recipe book that I got out of the library, and used orange juice, red wine and port instead. I think I like it better, but I'm going to need to make both next year to compare. The colour certainly went very well with our Christmas table.

Boozy Cranberry Sauce in Little Heart Ramekin Dishes

Pomegranate and Festive Fruit Rice Salad

I noticed these orange and spice-infused raisins, cranberries and mixed peel in M&S when I was doing my typical Christmas Eve last-minute shop. They were reduced, and I grabbed them along with many other impulse buys. I knew they'd be perfect for a Christmas recipe, but I expected it to be Rocky Road, not rice! The rice was a leftover from a Turkey and Chorizo stew, and I was lacking inspiration on what to do with it until faced by an extremely spicy Chilli Chutney Chorizo Tart. Something cooling was definitely in order: cue this salad, a concoction of orange dressing, festive fruits, and a family favourite of ours, pomegranate seeds. I was quite pleased with the results. We don't often eat rice salad, but this one has been added to the Law family repertoire for festive feasts. 

A Little Pot of Rice

Was there more? Of course there was more...there's always more!