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Archive for May, 2012

There seems to be a bit of a mystery about making meringues and they have the reputation of being difficult to make. Perhaps because they are so easy, those in the know are keeping the secret to themselves.  I always think that most recipes can be adapted but this is one that needs to be mastered before you tinker with the ingredients.  After all there are only two ingredients to them and the real secret is in the beating – if a secret at all.

These were my brother’s favourite sweet.  When I was a child my older brother was seriously ill and had spent several years in hospital, then towards the end of his stay he would be allowed home for the weekend.  Of course everything at home had to be perfect for these weekend visits.  All his favourite meals were prepared and an order to the local baker would be placed for a box of fresh cream meringues. These involved two plump oval meringues sandwiched with fresh cream topped with a cherry, a sprinkling of nuts and then packed with five others into a white cardboard box, which was then tied up with red ribbon.

hen Saturday came I would be duly despatched to go and collect them.  This for me would entail a dawdle on the way there, taking great interest in the plants along the hedgerow and a short fantasy – I was a bit of a dreamer as a child so would invent all sorts of scenarios with me being the heroine of the day. Other Saturday pick ups might involve a detour to the swings, but I knew once the precious box of meringues were collected it was straight home with only a very slight hope of getting a taste of one of these delicacies.  Of course there was not a hope in hell, for my brother would wolf the lot down in one.  Even when I went to the bakers with my mother, and was asked which cake I would like, I often pointed to the fresh cream meringues only to be told they were too fancy and sophisticated for a little girl like me, no mention that they were fine for my big brother to wolf down in one!

My Meringue eating brother Rudy

As the years rolled by these remained my brother’s favourites, and whenever I visited him I would always make him a box full, and he would never disappoint me in wolfing the lot down in one without a morsel offered my way.

So like a lot of food we eat and things we smell, making meringues always reminds me of my brother Rudy and the sheer gluttony he had for them.

Meringues

Ingredients

Whites of 2 eggs

4 oz caster sugar

1 oz granulated sugar

Oven needs to be turned on to Gas mark 1/4 /225F.

Wipe the bowl you are putting the egg whites in – there needs to be no trace of grease.

Beat these until stiff and peaky.  Add some of the caster sugar and beat again and keep adding until all the sugar has been used up.  I normally beat these on medium speed on my Kenwood mixer or fast speed on my hand held mixer for at least five solid minutes.  The mixture will turn into a glossy creamy texture and when you lift the mixer blades out the egg whites should form stiff white peaks that don’t collapse.

At this point add the granulated sugar and fold into the mixture.

A baking tray needs to be lined with greaseproof paper (to hold the edges down just dab a little of the meringue mixture on each corner and it will stick the paper to the tray).

You have two choices here, either put the whole mixture onto the greaseproof paper and with a knife mould into a round disc, drawing the edges up to form a sort of bowl or put the mixture into a piping bag and pipe ovals of meringue onto the paper (should make approx 16) or use two dessert spoons, one to form the oval and one to push it off the other spoon.

Bake in the oven for 1 ½ hours.  Remove from the oven, carefully separate them from the paper, turn them upside down and return to the oven for a further hour.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool.

Meringues store well in an airtight container but they are best eaten at their peak, which is just cooled from the oven.

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This is a quick and easy way to use up leftover chicken from a Sunday Roast.  It doesn’t have to be chicken, turkey would do.  Sometimes when I don’t have any left over roast chicken and I have a yearning for chicken pie, I just poach a chicken breast in a saucepan with some stock instead.

Leeks give the dish a little lift whereas onions would overpower the chicken.  They also give a little bit of colour too.  I sometimes replace the leeks with a sliced red pepper.  This is an easy recipe which can be played around with.

I also like to cook my pastry separately on a baking sheet as I like the pastry crispy all the way through.  This meal in some ways is a bit of a cheat because it can be put together very quickly.

I used a rough puff pastry recipe but you can also use frozen or fresh pastry from the supermarket.  Like everything else, homemade always tastes better.

Chicken Pie

Ingredients

Cooked Chicken (I used one breast left over from the roast and some extra meat from the carcass)

1 Leek trimmed top and bottom, washed and chopped into discs.

1 ½  oz butter

1 ½  oz plain flour

1 tsp Dijon mustard

salt and pepper

½ pint milk or a little more depending on how thick you like your sauce

½ lb mushrooms sliced

a small amount of butter or oil to fry the mushrooms

If you wish you could add sweetcorn to pad out the chicken.

Method

In a saucepan melt the butter then add the leek.  Using a wooden spoon stir and gently separate the leek rings so that they cook uniformly.  Do not let them brown you need them to soften.

Add the flour and stir leave on a low heat for a few minutes so that the butter incorporates the flour and the taste of the flour is cooked out.

Add the milk a bit at a time stirring continuously and bring to a gentle boil.  The sauce should be custard like and smooth, if not take the pan off the heat and give it your best spoon action until all the lumps have been beaten out.  If you want a looser sauce then add a little more milk.

In another pan add a little butter or oil and fry your mushrooms.  To keep their shape more cook on a medium heat.  When coloured slightly remove and drain and add these to the sauce along with the chicken and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Empty out into a pie dish and depending how you wish to cook your pastry either cover the dish with pastry or foil and place in the oven Gas mark 7/220c for 40/45 minutes.  I put the chicken warm from the pan on the middle shelf and the pastry on a baking sheet on the top shelf.  When the pastry has gone golden brown it is generally an indication that the pie filling is also done.  As the chicken is cooked already all you are doing is fusing the flavours.

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Spring is here and so is the Quiche and Flan season.  There is something about serving a Quiche in winter that doesn’t seem right.  It’s a summer dish – maybe it’s because of the sunny yellow that comes through from the eggs and cheese or maybe because its best suited to serve with salads, I just don’t know.  Quiche in winter just seems so wrong.    Neither do I know which title to give my little dish, is it a Tart, Flan or Quiche?

Quiche is so easy – I always seem to forget this little fact.  I have made the pastry in the morning, lined the tin with it and left it in the fridge until the evening when I have taken it out, blind baked while making up the filling.  The added bonus it can be eaten hot or cold so another meal is taken care of for the following day.  I have also taken it on picnics – the secret being to keep it in the flan dish so it doesn’t break up in transit.

Watercress Flan/Quiche/Tart

Ingredients

75g/3 oz plain flour

75g/3 oz wholemeal flour

pinch of salt

40g/1 ½ oz butter

40g/1 ½ oz lard (may not sound appealing but it does improve the pastry)

2 tbs grated Parmesan cheese

1 egg yolk

Iced water to mix (I used 2 mean tbs water)

Filling

25g /1 oz butter

1 bunch spring onions chopped

1 bunch watercress finely chopped

3 eggs

142ml/5 fl oz soured cream (I couldn’t get soured so squeezed some lemon juice into double cream)

125g/4oz cheddar cheese grated

My method is to throw into a food processor the flours, salt, butter and lard and whizz for a minute.  If the mixture does not resemble  fine breadcrumbs whizz again for 30 seconds and check again.  Add the Parmesan and give a ten second whiz to mix.  Add the egg yolk and a little iced water (I used 2 small tablespoons) and whiz again until it forms a ball in the processor.

Roll out onto a floured board and line a 8 inch flan dish.  Push the pastry into the fluted edges of the dish.  Prick all over the pastry with a fork and place in the fridge for a minimum of 30 mins.  Longer is better.  Pricking the bottom and sides with a fork will prevent it from bubbling as it bakes.  It’s not the end of the world if the flan dish is 7 inches or oblong in shape.  The fabulous thing about pastry is that if there is any left over that would be enough to make a small tartlet;  wrap it in a freezer bag and place into the freezer and use when needed.

When the pastry has had the required rest, remove from fridge and line the flan with greaseproof paper or foil and weigh down with dried beans and cook for 12-15 mins at Gas mark 5/190C/373F.  Take out and remove foil/greaseproof paper and beans and put back in the oven for another 5 mins.

Then melt the butter in a pan and add the onions and cook for 5 mins not allowing them to burn.  Stir in the watercress and cook for 2 mins until wilted.

Beat the eggs and soured cream together;  add the cheese salt and pepper.

Spoon the onion and watercress into the flan, you will need to use a fork to spread out the mixture evenly then pour over the egg mix and return to the oven for 20-25 mins until golden brown.

Serve hot or cold.

I love to eat this when it’s cooled.  I have also found that if I put it in the fridge after its got cold the pastry tends to tense up and becomes a little bit firm.  So I tend to eat it within 24 hours and try to avoid putting it in the fridge.

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