Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Biscuits for Masses

Having just celebrated my second birthday in the UK after arriving 17 months ago, I'm still trying to get used to a very sensible albeit modern birthday tradition. Here in the UK, rather than everyone chipping in to buy the birthday cake at work, the birthday boy/girl buy/provide their own sweets, treats or cream cakes. This makes perfect sense to me, since the special person can then decide whether they want to announce the celebration, or keep it to themselves. Another, more frugal benefit of this workplace tradition, is that one only has to shell out cash once a year, rather than multiple times a year, and that one can choose for oneself how much money to spend or effort to put in, without having to worry about peer pressure.

I thought it was appropriate, this year to make my own treats. Since there are approximately 80 odd people in our office, I needed to make something that could be enjoyed by 40 or so, and for those specially tempted to have a couple left over. So, as I didn't want to spend too much money, I brought out my trusty old biscuit recipe that I know make about 60 biscuits - give or take a few. I have been making this cookie recipe since I was about 16 or so and the little magazine clipping takes place 10 or so pages into my recipe scrap book. The recipe takes about an hour (only because there's so much!) and it says it makes 80 cookies - but I always need to make allowances for quality control and the size of biscuits I make. I often substitute the add-ins and have used different types of chocolate, glace cherries and nuts. I also find that the cookie dough is excellent to keep in the freezer - in a little plastic wrap log, to take out for last minute guests or cookie craving moments.

It is a great moment, that I'm posting this recipe - as it's a great weapon of mine and I didn't think I'd ever share it.

Here it is:

500g of butter
1 1/4 cup of castor sugar
400g of sweetened condensed milk
5 cups plain flour
5 teaspoons of baking powder
250g white choc bits
500g milk choc bits
750g of adds-ins of choice

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a VERY large bowl cream butter, sugar and condensed milk together using an electric mixer until light and creamy in texture. Add sifted flour, and chocolate bits and mix until well combined. Using 1 tablespoon of mixture roll into balls. Place onto non stick trays and flatten slightly with a fork, leaving plenty of room for spreading. Bake 14-16 minutes or until light golden. Allow to stand on the trays 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Roast Onion Soup

One of the things I've come to love about England is the seasonality of the produce. I think I arrived at just the right time to be able to experience a push in the food culture towards local, British and seasonal produce. Whether this be thanks to Jamie Oliver's campaign against bad school dinners, or whether cooking has become the new rock 'n roll, this surge of pride for local food and produce is a welcome breath of fresh air. Especially for me, coming from Australia and from such a temperate climate where seasonal veg is pretty much available all year round and exotic fruit such as mangoes and lychees were quite the norm for me.

So, it's always a pleasure to use up vegetables that we have in abundance. We've been getting our organic vegetable box for about 5 or 6 weeks now and in every box we've had about 4 onions - and since we don't use onions every night, the stock pile has been growing. Not wanting to have to throw any of the onions away, Friday saw me looking for a recipe to use up them up in. And, after delving into Nigel Slater's - The Kitchen Diaries, I decided to do a version of his French Roast Onion Soup.

Now, I love onions - especially roasted onions with their slippery and velvety texture and sweet aroma that fills the kitchen. I've never had onion soup before, and this was definitely the best way to be introduced to it.

Roast Onion Soup

4 or 5 onions
2 cloves of garlic
1 litre of vegetable stock
olive oil
salt and pepper
sliced bread
1/4 cup of sunflower seeds

Peel the onions and quarter them lengthwise, place in a roasting dish along with the peeled and crushed garlic. Cover in olive oil and season. Roast them in a 200 degree oven for 25 - 30 minutes turning once. Let them cool and slice into chunky pieces.

Add them to a pot with the garlic and pour over the vege stock. Bring to a boil and turn down the heat to simmer for 20 minutes. Whilst simmering, take 4 slices of bread and cut into quarters and trim the crust. Brush down with olive oil and grill until toasted. Place the sunflower seeds in a dry pan and roast over a high heat until brown.

Serve in a small bowl with the sunflower seeds sprinkled over and the croutes placed on top.

Serves about 4.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

And the Mothers met over an English tradition.

Thankfully, for Dan and I, we are blessed with Mothers that like to talk. So when they were to meet on Sunday we were not too worried that they wouldn't get on.

It was definately going to be a winner when we knew what was going to be on the table for Sunday lunch. A traditional English Roast Dinner. Now, since Janet (Dan's Mother) is a professional cook, her roasts are always superb and she wins everyone over on the first bite. Replicating her dinner would take years to perfect.

Fluffly potatoes, varieties of meat, and even her "experimental" dishes of pickled cabbage all turn out delectable and every bite leaves you hoping that someone else doesn't get the last potato on the serving plate.

And every English roast would not be complete without the Yorkshire Pudding. Janet has perfected the art of preparing and cooking a Yorkie pud. Whether it be in the flopping noise of the batter, or the heat of the oil, they always turn out to perfection being crispy, tall and non-oily.

With dinner over and being full to the brink, Janet tempted us yet again with her desserts - one of which was this simple shortbread and strawberry dessert which was beautifully put together.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Popping the Cookbook's Cherry

On Saturday, whilst meandering throught the Food section of our local Borders store, Dan and I found a beautiful enchanting book (that I've had my eye on for sometime). It was to be the first cookbook that we bought together. (I can hear you all making a various amount of sighing and ahhing noises now!) We bought Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries.

It was love at first sight. As we flipped through the pages, I knew that this would be a book that would take pride and place on our coffee table - a book to flip through to engage the senses and to delve and dip into to spark the imagination. Nigel Slater has written such beautiful prose that sets the English cuisine and produce off beautifully.

So, on Sunday evening, when looking for inspiration on ways to cook the pork that we had bought the day before, Dan's first impulse was to dive into the book. Lo and behold, he found a Pork with Mustard Sauce recipe. Made with dijon mustard and dill pickle, the sauce was a perfect compliment to the Suffolk pork. We served it up with new season aspargus and a type of potato that we hadn't tried before - Anya.

Pork chops and mustard sauce

Pork spare rib or chump chops - 2 large, about 1 cm thick
Butter -25g
Olive oil - 1 tablespoon
Garlic - 2 large unpeeled cloves, squashed flat
A glass of white wine
Double or whipping cream - 150ml
Grain mustard - 1 1/2 tablespoons
Smooth Dijon mustard - 1 1/2 tablespoons
Cornichons - 8, or half as many larger gherkins

Rub the chops all over with salt and pepper. Put the butter and oil in a shallow pan set over a moderate to high heat and, whenthey start to froth a little, add the flattened garlic and the seasoned chops. Leave to brown, then turn and brown the other side. Lower the heat and continue cooking, turning once, until the chops are no longer pink when cut into.

Lift out the chops, transfer to a warm serving dish and keep warm. Pour off most of the oil from the pan, leaving the sediment behind, then turn up the heat and pour in the wine. Let it boil for a minute or so, scraping at the sticky sediment in the pan and letting it dissolve. Pour in the cream, swirl the pan about a bit, then leave it to bubble up a little before adding the mustards and the chopped cornichons.

Taste for seasoning; you may need a little salt and possibly black pepper. The sauce should be piquant and creamy. If you want, you can sharpen it up. Pour the sauce over the chops and serve.

Enough for 2 with sides of choice.

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