When things go wrong in the kitchen…

Wisley Oct 2019 lake
RHS Wisley – on a rare fine Sunday

With a crazily busy working schedule throughout October, wet weekends have at least afforded me the opportunity to bake, and using up windfall apples has been high on the agenda, with lots of apples falling off the trees much earlier than I’d usually expect. I made my go-to apple favourites including spiced apple shortbread, traditional apple pie, apple juice and apple compote in various guises, but when a colleague on the Foodie Translators Facebook page posted a recipe for apple cider doughnuts similar to the ones we’d tasted in an apple farm in New England back in September, I was tempted to experiment. Unfortunately, the recipe was an American one and, despite using proper measuring cups, I somehow came unstuck. It’s not often I have culinary disasters, but this was one such day. I used self-raising flour with only 1 tsp baking powder, rather than the 1 1/2 tsp the recipe recommends, so that could have been an issue, as could the dilemma of how to measure solid butter in tablespoons. Turns out (thanks to my American daughter-in-law for enlightening me later) that the American ‘sticks’ of butter (so-called because they are long narrow sticks, half the weight of our 250g (8oz) slabs) are marked in tablespoons – of course they are! Whatever I did wrong, the mixture rose like a soufflé, then promptly sank again, spreading all down the sides of my muffin cases and ring moulds. It steadfastly refused to set, so I ended up leaving it in much longer than the recipe suggested – with the upshot, when they finally came out and cooled, that they were nothing more than crumbs! Tasty crumbs admittedly, but crumbs nonetheless. Reluctant to throw them away, I scraped them out of the tins and these are the two recipes I salvaged them in – very satisfying that my disaster actually turned into two delicious creations and another bag of crumbs in the freezer – waste not, want not :-).

The first was a vaguely remembered childhood treat: chocolate rum truffles, but made with cake crumbs rather than the more decadent ganache truffles you buy from upmarket chocolate shops. These are not dissimilar to the inside of that Viennese classic, the delightfully pink Punschtorte, but without the lurid pink icing. I scoured my cookbooks and the internet, without finding exactly what I wanted, then cobbled together something along the lines of what I remembered and hoped to achieve – success!

Chocolate Rum Truffles – makes 12

Chocolate rum truffles

6oz cake crumbs (any sponge cake will do – mine were spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, but that’s not essential)
4oz ground almonds
2 heaped tbsp good jam (I used gooseberry, but plum or apricot would work too)
1 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp dark rum
4oz dark chocolate, to coat (or use chocolate vermicelli)

Blitz crumbs in a food processor, then add the ground almonds, caster sugar and sifted cocoa powder. Warm the jam and sieve to remove any lumps, then stir into the mixture with the rum – or mix on a low speed if using a food processor. Mould into 12 balls and place in cake cases. Leave to set in the fridge before melting the chocolate (I do mine in the microwave at 80% for 1 minute, followed by 30-second blasts, stirring each time, until just melted, but you can melt in the traditional way in a bowl over a pan of simmering water if you prefer). Coat the truffle balls by dipping in the melted chocolate using a fork, or kitchen tongs, then set on baking paper before returning to the cases. Enjoy – all the better if you’ve rescued the crumbs from a culinary disaster in the first place!

My next crumb salvage operation was inspired by a suggestion from another colleague on Foodie Translators, although I have had this recipe in one of my ancient cookery leaflets for a while. This particular glossy leaflet was a forerunner of the popular dairy cookbooks that came out in the early 80s, and was given to me by another translator colleague and good friend many years ago. Called “Clever with Cream”, it is, as you’d expect, all about using cream in many different ways. This recipe comes under the “Crème Continental” page and has the enchanting name of “Danish Peasant Girl with a Veil” (Bondepige med Slor in Danish!). As ever, I ended up adapting the recipe to suit what I had on hand, but it worked very well – can’t think why I haven’t made it before!

Danish Peasant Girl with a Veil – serves 2-3

Danish Peasant Girl with Veil

2-3 large eating apples
Juice and rind of half a lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
sugar to taste
4oz cake crumbs
1oz butter
1 tbsp Demerara sugar
1/4 pint double cream, whipped

Slice apples, sprinkle with lemon and cinnamon and cook gently with a dash of water in a pan (or in the microwave) until tender. You can add sugar if you like, but this will depend on the sweetness of your apples. I used a Cox variety and they really don’t need any extra sugar. Stir in the lemon rind. Set aside to cool.

Set oven to 180°C fan/Gas 5. Melt the butter in a small frying pan and fry the crumbs until crisp and golden, stirring continuously. Watch them like a hawk as they can catch very quickly! Stir in the Demerara sugar.

Place half the crumb mixture at the bottom of a small greased ovenproof dish – I used a straight-sided soufflé dish about 6″ in diameter – then add the cooled apple compote, straining off any excess liquid beforehand. Finish with another layer of crumbs, then place in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, checking to make sure it doesn’t get too brown. Remove from the oven and allow to chill before topping with a swirly layer of whipped cream. Decorate as you wish – I used dried apple rings, but you could also use toasted flaked almonds or spare toasted crumbs.

Wisley Oct 2019 orange tree
RHS Wisley again – so glad the sun shone for once

 

The rainy season

Cotinus Grace on a grey day
Cotinus Grace in all its autumn glory – despite the grey skies

Oh dear, nearly 6 weeks since I last wrote here – how on earth has that happened?! I can only blame dreadful weather, pressures of work and another trip abroad, this time to Split, in Croatia, for a translation conference and one last opportunity to top up on sunshine for the year. Since getting back at the beginning of October, we’ve hardly seen the sun here in this south-eastern corner of the country. Inevitably, that means I’ve barely had chance to go down to the allotment, or do anything in the garden at home. I did manage to mow the lawn (or should that be meadow?!) one day this week after a couple of dry, but mainly grey days, having not touched it since before I went away at the end of September. My summer containers are still flowering away, as it has been fairly mild apart from one sharp frost which put paid to the courgette plants – begonias are clearly tough specimens. Just as well, as I really haven’t had the time or the weather to plant my bulbs yet for the winter/spring display. Surely we’ll get a dry weekend some time soon?

Leo Oct 2019 in the ferns

Today it’s been so vile, with heavy rain and gale-force winds, that even the annual village fireworks display has been called off – first time I’ve known that happen since I moved to the village 14 years ago. At least the time feels right to start cooking winter stews and warming casseroles, hence tonight’s comforting venison shank dish. I’d forgotten I had the joint in the freezer, but unearthed it today when deciding what to cook this evening. Perfect for a miserable November day when all you want to do is snuggle in front of the fire with your knitting or a good book. I adapted a Mary Berry lamb shank recipe, but this is basically a straightforward casserole, browning the meat, then the veg, adding liquid of your choice and leaving to simmer in the oven until the meat falls off the bone – delicious. I just used one shank and will definitely have plenty of stew left over to freeze, but it’s easy to scale up as you require, allowing one venison shank per 2/3 people.

Venison Shanks with Rosemary & Redcurrant Jelly – serves 2-3

Glug of olive oil
1 venison shank
1 red onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1/4 swede, diced
1 generous sprig of rosemary, leaves finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp plain flour
1 generous tbsp redcurrant jelly (preferably homemade)
400 ml chicken or vegetable stock
200 ml red wine
salt and pepper
chopped parsley to garnish

Brown the venison shank all over in the olive oil in a large casserole, then set to one side. Add the prepared onion, celery, carrot and swede to the oil and cook gently for 10 minutes or so, or until starting to soften. Add the chopped rosemary and sprinkle over the flour. Mix in and cook for a minute or so, then add the stock and red wine. Season and stir in the redcurrant jelly and the bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then transfer to the oven, pre-heated to 150°C fan/Gas 3, and cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone. You might want to turn the venison shank(s) every hour to make sure all sides are exposed to the liquid, and you may need to add more liquid towards the end, depending how hot your oven is. Serve with creamy mashed potatoes and vegetables of your choice. (I tossed roasted beetroot in butter with finely chopped baby leeks, adding a touch of allspice and cream at the end.) Winter-warming wonderfood.

Venison shank casserole

I’ve not even been able to bring much produce back from the allotment recently, although I have harvested my apples in dribs and drabs, picking what I could when the worst of the weather held off. The calabrese, which had been infested by whitefly under its mesh pigeon and butterfly protection in September, seems to have come to a halt and the kale I would normally expect to be harvesting now has been stopped in its tracks by caterpillars (even through netting!) in the mild, wet weather. Sigh. I dusted them with organic pyrethrum powder, and they do look happier, as do the flower sprouts (kalettes), so fingers crossed they recover soon. Fortunately, I have been able to harvest leeks, rocket, spinach and chard on damp, late afternoon dog walks to the plot, and last year’s parsley is doing amazingly well, so there’s no shortage of herbs. I’m still picking dahlias and chrysanthemums (bought as bargain cuttings from the village open gardens plant stall back in June), but they are so sodden that they don’t last long in the house. I’m just enjoying them while I can, as they will soon be curtailed by the inevitable frosts.

Chysanths late Oct 2019