29 December 2015

The best ways to cook eggs plus a daft one!

I am a bit confused.
how-to-store-eggs
I have never, in the UK, stored eggs in the fridge, they have always been absolutely fine and so far as I know this has always been the norm here, indeed chicken shaped baskets for storing eggs attractively on the counter are readily available.

In the States eggs are kept in the fridge and I understand that European and American eggs are treated so differently that our eggs would be illegal in the States and American eggs would actually be illegal anywhere in the EU. Read more on how to store eggs here if you don't believe me!

In America it is law that eggs be washed before being sold commercially, in the UK it is the law that they must not be washed!  The reasoning behind these different laws are thus ...

~   The Americans’ take on the issue is that washing eggs makes them cleaner, which in principal one can’t argue with. The downside is that after washing the eggs must be dried very thoroughly indeed as any dampness will promote bacterial growth. Furthermore, because their natural protection has been washed off eggs in America are stored in the fridge and there is the danger that eggs may sweat when removed from the fridge, especially on the journey home from the shop, and bacteria will grow.

~   In the UK we prefer not to wash our eggs for the above reasons, careless cleaning being more dangerous than no cleaning. Washing also removes the cuticle which protects from contamination, it is because we leave the cuticle on that we do not need to refrigerate eggs in the UK.

Another point in our favour is that since the 1990s our farmers have been routinely inoculating hens against salmonella and it’s really worked. In the US eggs are kept below 40oF to stop salmonella developing.

Why then, I ask myself, and you, does my box of eggs from Tesco have “best kept refrigerated” on it?

how-to-store-eggs-in-the-uk

What a surprise, have things changed and no-one has told me? 

Apart from freeing up space in your fridge storing them un-chilled is a boon when cooking as for best results they should always be cooked from room temperature.

Speaking of eggs I just tried something interesting-ish ...

Hard “Boiled” Eggs in the Oven


~   Preheat the oven to 160ºC/325°F/140ºC fan/gas 3.
~   Put 1 whole raw egg in each individual cup in a muffin tray.
~   Bake for 30 minutes.
~   Immediately immerse in a large dish of ice cold water.
~   When completely cold (about 10 minutes) peel and do with them what you will.

When I saw this I wondered to myself “is this another of those daft hacks I’ve been seeing recently?” but tried it anyway.  And the answer to my question? 

In short – a definite yes; daft and pointless. In more detail ...

~   Preheating the oven and keeping it on for 30 minutes is time consuming and costly compared to just boiling the buggers. If you have the oven on already I suppose it might be economical but not many things cook at such a low temperature.
~   The egg whites were discoloured, their texture was rubbery and they tasted strongly metallic/sulphurous.
~   The yolks tasted fine but seemed to have migrated to one side of the egg so not good for pretty presentation.
~   I noticed a distinct and long lasting eggy pong about the house which is not the case when boiling.

cooking-eggs-in-the-oven

Don’t try this at home – or anywhere else!

Why are such peculiar ideas becoming rife when there are easier, pleasanter, safer, quicker, deliciouser ways to do things?  For more irritating “cooking hacks” see here.   

Eggs are incredibly useful and versatile so  here’s some actually useful info, tips and opinions about the most usual ways of cooking them.

How to Boil Eggs


"Put fresh eggs into cold water and allow them to boil for the
duration of a Paternoster or a little longer"
Aldo Buzzi

A Paternoster is the Lord’s Prayer which, hang on a minute … took me 21.36 seconds of slow praying (I am always very thorough in my research for this blog) and, that being the case, I think Mr. Buzzi is very much in error. *** More information on this matter at the end of the post.

I do agree with him, however, that although eggs can be boiled by plunging them into boiling water it is easier to do them well from cold, like this ...

~   If you are in America bring your eggs to room temperature for two good reasons; they can be timed more accurately and they are less likely to crack.
~   Put them in a small pan and add enough cold water to cover by about 1cm/½".
~   Bring to a boil over high heat then turn down the heat and simmer for the following times.
boiled-egg-timings



Very soft boiled with a still runny white – 3 minutes

Soft boiled with a runny yolk but a set white– 4 minutes

Semi firm yolks – 5 minutes

Hard boiled with a tender yolk– 8 minutes.

Really hard boiled – 10 minutes


How to Scramble Eggs


I have never, ever whisked milk or cream into eggs for scrambling, they are perfect just cooked with butter.

It is absolutely essential than any intended additions or accompaniments are ready before you start scrambling.

~   Melt a generous knob of butter (about 15g/½oz) over medium heat in a small pan – non-stick preferably for washing up reasons.
~   Break two or three eggs directly into the partly melted butter and immediately stir the two together.
~   Season and stir constantly over a low-ish heat.
~   As the eggs start to solidify fold them into the uncooked egg till you have a pan of softly cooked eggs.
~   Immediately stir in a little more cold butter or some cream simply because this will stop the eggs continuing to cook, any added deliciousness is purely incidental.
~   Serve absolutely immediately.

Using a goodly amount of butter makes the eggs rich and creamy both in taste and texture.
how-to-scramble-eggs


How to Fry Eggs


To fry an egg ...

~   Heat a tablespoon of oil or equivalent in butter (the egg will be more tender if cooked in butter, more inclined to "puntillitas" or slightly crisp browned edges in oil) in the middle of a preheated non-stick or well-seasoned frying pan.
~   Gently break the egg into the centre of the oil
~   Cook over medium heat for about a minute till the white is actually white and then do one of the following:

~   For sunny side up either serve as is or briefly cover the pan with a lid so that the top of the yolk sets lightly in the steam.
~   For slightly more set yolks, when the white looks pretty well cooked splash the hot fat over the yolk till it assumes a glazed look.
~   For over easy carefully flip the egg yolk side down and cook for about five seconds.
~   Over hard are the same as above but cooked till the yolk is firm.
how-to-fry-eggs


How to make an Omelette


Omelettes are not as difficult as we have been led to believe; in fact they are quite easy. This is how to make an omelette for one person and as you should always make an omelette for just one person this is all the info you need. For additional people make additional omelettes, they only take a minute or two and work out much better than trying to double up ingredients.

~   Break 2 or 3 eggs into a bowl.
~   Season and lightly beat together just to break the whites into the yolks, there is no need to whisk till fully amalgamated.
~   Melt a knob of butter in a 24cm or thereabouts non-stick pan.
~   When the butter has melted and starts to foam swirl it about the pan and pour in the eggs.
~   Allow to sit over the heat for a few seconds and when you see the edges start to solidify gently lift them with a spatula, tilt the pan towards the spatula and encourage the runny egg on top to flow to the side of the pan and under the cooked egg.
~   Keep doing this till the top of the omelette is merely moist.
~   Add any fillings and fold one half of the omelette over the other.
~   Slide onto a warm plate.

You can add pretty well anything to the middle of an omelette remembering to pre-warm most fillings first (not cheese) as it will only be over the heat for a few seconds. I like to add crunchy croutons for a lovely texture contrast.

how-to-make-an-omelette
How to Bake Eggs – real ones that are actually good to eat!

A simple way to bake eggs ...

~   Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350°F/160ºC fan/gas 4.
~   Butter one ovenproof ramekin per egg and break said egg into the ramekin.
~   Season to taste.
~   Pour over a tablespoon of double cream.
~   Bake the egg(s) for 15-20 minutes till the white is set and the yolk isn’t.
~   Serve with crisp hot toast for dipping purposes.

You can bake eggs in other things too – eg. a tart case, half a avocado, a bacon lined muffin cup or, as here, in a tortilla lined ramekin.
how-to-bake-eggs

In Other News …

~   I hope you had an absolutely gorgeous Christmas full of good food!

~   I’m updating my writer website – have a look here and see what you think.


On timing boiled eggs!



*** Some years ago a reader wrote to the Daily Telegraph as follows …


If you boil an egg while singing all five verses and chorus of the hymn, 'Onward Christian Soldiers.' it will be cooked perfectly when you come to Amen.

I think this may be a more reliable method than the Lord’s Prayer.



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6 December 2015

Christmas Food Quiz – with some Really Useful Answers!


Hello and I'm so sorry I haven't written for a while.  I've no idea why, I just seem to have been busy.  I am planning to write about parsnips soon – I know, fascinating – but in the meantime here is a little Christmas Quiz I devised. 



Christmas Quiz Questions ...


1.  Of which Christmas dish did the Quakers say this?

an invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon, an hodgepodge of superstition, Popery, the Devil and his works.

2.  Which alcoholic drink (a perfect accompaniment to Christmas pud, incidentally) may have formed a crust called beeswing?

3.  Which Christmas food should only be eaten between and including Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night? (Tell that to Tesco!)

4.   Which of these is NOT Moose Milk?

a)  A hot rum drink
b)  Liquid that comes out of a mummy moose’s nipples
c)   Ice cream with rum and Kahlua


5.   What can be added to brandy to make Christmas Pud burn even more spectacularly?



6.     Bounceberry is a colloquial name for which Christmassy fruit?

7.    In which classic 19th century book was a poor family served …

ice cream – actually two dishes of it, pink and white – and cake and fruit and distracting French bonbons?

8.     What can be stored alongside Christmas cake to keep it moist?



9.     Which spice is traditionally used to flavour Bread Sauce?




10.   What was formed into the shape of a “husband” and baked in the hope of attracting the real thing?

11.  The Old Norse phrase ves heill” evolved into which tradition and beverage in Britain?

12.  Which traditional Christmas food can be traced back to a cookbook written in Roman times?

13.  What did confectioner Tom Smith invent in 1846 that is now de rigueur on the British Christmas table?

14. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol who served up the Figgy Pudding?

15. Do sugarplums have anything to do with plums?

16. Which traditional mince pie ingredient is no longer included in modern mince pies?

17.  Just to piss you off – how many calories do you think the average adult Christmas dinner is estimated to contain?

18.  Mince pies are often topped with a star but what was a traditional decoration in days of yore?

19.   Senior Wrangler Sauce is a traditional Christmas sauce at Cambridge University, is it …
   

a)       Bread Sauce
     b)     Cranberry Sauce
     c)      Brandy Butter
     d)     Custard




Now, before we get into the answers, and as a way of helping you not to cheat by causing an obstruction, allow me to interrupt this blog to mention my Christmas cookbook Easy Festive Food for a Stress Free Christmas.

Click here

OK, here's the Answers 


1.   Christmas Pudding.  God knows what they were doing with it!



2.  Port 

As it ages a thin crust forms in the bottle which, when broken, looks like bees’ wings. Seasoned port drinkers handle the bottle carefully so as not to break the beeswing.



3.   Mince Pies 

In fact, you should eat one a day for the 12 days of Christmas. Whilst eating the first one it is recommended that a wish be made for good luck in the coming year.  To make this task less onerous add a little grated orange zest and/or some brandy to the mincemeat before making the pies.  Also, serving with clotted cream might help. To make the magic more powerful it is important that mince pies are eaten in silence.

4.   c) !

Ice cream with rum and Kahlua is not generally referred to as Moose milk. The hot rum drink of this name is amazingly quick, easy, delicious and strangely satisfying.  Moose milk recipe here.

5.   Salt

Mix a goodly pinch of salt into the brandy you intend pouring over the pud.  Warm gently then pour over and proceed to light it.  The result is lovely golden hued flames and a delicious salty kick to the pud.  This is not my idea, I read it in the strange little book reviewed here.  

If you are a bit scared or a bit teetotal stick a sparkler or two into the pudding and light that before bringing it to the table.

6.  Cranberries


When ripe cranberries will bounce - just watch here!  This is because they contain small pockets of air so, luckily, they float, which is how they are harvested. It is easy to make your own bounceberry/cranberry sauce – 3 variations in my book.

7.   Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  


8.  An Apple

“They do say” that storing an apple in the container with the cake helps to keep it moist. I would suggest replacing the apple (and eating the old one) regularly if you do this.


9.   Cloves. 

Personally I dislike cloves but whether you like them or not there is a seriously luxurious and somewhat authentic recipe for bread sauce here.

10.    Gingerbread

Hence Gingerbread men.  The first recorded instance of these chaps is when Elizabeth I had replicas of visiting dignitaries made as gifts but the idea was soon adopted by women willing to try anything (even a delicious biccy) to find a man.  

If you are single here’s the ...


Gingerbread Recipe


350g plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
100g butter
175g soft light brown sugar
1 lightly beaten egg
4 tablespoons golden syrup

~   Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/170ºC fan/gas 5.
~   Mix together the first 4 ingredients and then rub in the butter.
~   Stir in the sugar.
~   Add the egg and syrup and mix to a firm dough.
~   Roll out to about the thickness of a gingerbread husband and cut into several pieces the shape of your ideal man.
~   Lay on a baking tray and cook for 10-15 minutes till golden brown.
~   Cool on the tray a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.
~   Decorate with icing, ribbons, etc.

Makes approximately 20 biscuits which is surely more than enough husbands for anyone!

11.  Wassail

The original phrase meant “good health” and this is what we wish friends and neighbours as we partake of mulled cider (traditional) or other splendid beverages. 


Mulled Cider Recipe


ltr dry cider (and for my American readers I mean the alcoholic type)
125g soft light brown sugar
12 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
about 2cm fresh root ginger- sliced
1 orange – sliced
1 apple – sliced
a little rum, brandy or, best of all, Calvados – optional

~   Pour half the cider into a large pot and add the rest of the ingredients except the rum.
~   Simmer together gently for about half an hour.
~   Add the rest of the cider, taste and add a little more sugar if necessary, if you do then simmer a few mins to dissolve it.
~   Strain ornot, as you wish.
~   Ladle into glasses to which you may, or may not, have added a tot of spirit.



And here's a lovely easy Mulled Wine recipe as an alternative.

12.  Stuffing 

Apicius who lived somewhere around the end of BC and the start of AD. had recipes in his cookbook 'Apicius de re Coquinaria', for stuffed chicken, pig, and dormouse, using vegetables, herbs, nuts, spelt and offal. Here’s a great adaptable recipe for stuffing using bread and other ingredients – shove it up a dormouse if you like!


13.  Christmas crackers!



14.   Mrs. Cratchit.

15.   Not Really!

In the 17th century “sugar plum” was a term commonly used to describe a comfit, i.e. a nut seed or spice coated in sugar. Sugared almonds are descendants of these comfits but in earlier times they frequently consisted of sugar coated coriander or caraways seeds! So, in short, the answer is hardly at all – maybe there was the occasional plum in there!

16.  Meat.

Early mince pies not only included fruits, nuts, spices and sugar but also meat, as in this recipe from 1624.  This is reflected by the inclusion of suet in mincemeat today.


I think even pies of indifferent bignesse in those days were quite large – this probably makes about 24 of our  21st century mince pies.
Pin for easy reference!!

Libra approximates our pound weight and is where the abbreviation lb derives from.

17.  7,000 calories!  

Sorry about that.

18.  The star decoration on mince pies originally represented the Star of Bethlehem but in the past, when pies were often rectangular or oval, suggesting a manger, an image of Baby Jesus was also a popular motif with the top crust being his swaddling clothes.  Must have been quite a challenge for the cook.

19.   Bread Sauce - recipe for bread sauce here, you'll have to sroll down a bit.



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19 November 2015

Christmas Cake Recipe for Stir Up Sunday and beyond!

I made our Christmas cake yesterday because my real man gets a bit anxious this time of year in case we don’t have enough tonnage of food for the two of us to eat!

This is the recipe I use which, by making adaptations to various recipes through the years, is apparently getting close to what my real man’s Mam used to make. Also it is delicious. 

best-christmas-cake-recipe
Why not pin it for easy reference?


Christmas Cake Recipe


This is for a 23cm (9”) round cake tin –probably easier to buy a new pan than try and calculate for smaller or larger cake tins!

1 kg mixed dried fruit (mine included cranberries which is extra Chritmassy)
120g glacé cherries – cut into quarters
4 tablespoons brandy


~   Mix all of the above together and leave overnight to soak.


The next day …

275g soft dark brown sugar
275g soft butter
275g plain flour
a very generous pinch of salt – maybe ½ teaspoon
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
60g ground almonds
5 large eggs
grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 tablespoon Golden Syrup
a generous amount of brown paper
a length of string


~   Preheat the oven to 140ºC/275°F/120ºC fan/gas 1.
~   Grease the 23cm cake tin, line with baking parchment and grease again.
~   Cut two long strips of brown paper sufficient to tie a band round the cake tin plus cut a circle of brown paper the size of the cake tin and cut 3cm hole in the middle.


how to cream together





~   In a large bowl cream together the sugar and butter until really fluffy and well combined.  Don’t stint on this.





~   In a separate bowl sift together the flour, salt and mixed spice.  Then add the ground almonds.
~   In another bowl beat the eggs together.
~   Stir the zests and the golden syrup into the fruit and brandy mixture.
~   Gradually, a little at a time, whisk the beaten eggs into the creamed butter and it is a good idea to add just a spoonful or so of the flour mix at the same time – this will prevent curdling.
~   When fully combined fold in the rest of the flour mixture. When I say fold I mean fold in, not stir– see below.

how to make fruit cake



~   Now stir in the fruit and all its juices – I know it seems a lot, I am perturbed every year but it works.



lining a cake tin
~   Decant into your prepared cake tin, level the top and tie the bands of brown paper around the cake tin, place the piece of paper with a hole on top and then put it in the oven.

~   Make a cup of coffee (or tea I suppose) and scrape the bowl.  For this reason it is best to make this when your family is out.
~   The cake will take 4½ - 5 hours and ignore for at least 4 hours.  It is really when a cocktail stick or similar inserted into the centre comes out clean.
~   Cool for a little while in the pan then carefully remove and finish cooling on a rack.


Store the cake wrapped in parchment in an airtight tin and every now and then pour a spoonful of brandy into its bottom till Christmas.

How to "fold in"


Although it is difficult to explain an action in words, for those of you unsure of how to fold in I’m going to give it a try because it is important - you want to retain the air that has been whisked in and even to fold in a tad more.

Using a large metal spoon or a spatula cut across the middle of the mixture, slide the spoon or spatula under it to the edge of the bowl and fold that portion over the rest.

It’s quite easy to do, just hard to describe. Keep cutting and folding from different angles, rotating the bowl, till everything is merged together in a light and airy way.


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Stress Free Christmas Recipes


I would, of course, just like to mention my Christmas book Easy Festive Food for a Stress-Free Christmas!

Catering for Christmas can be time consuming, tiring and a bit stressy, so I thought I’d offer some suggestions to make it quicker, easier, more relaxed and perhaps more impressive!

This book does not contain all the information and directions that you can find everywhere in books, magazines and on the net such as roasting times or mince pie recipes. This contains a collection of useful ideas and recipes that as a professional chef I have used over the years to delight guests and customers without knackering myself! 

Included are over 50 interesting recipes such as The Quickest, Easiest, Smoothest and Richest Chicken Liver Pâté I know, a super easy but Really Luxurious Bread Sauce and a gorgeous no-churn Christmas Pudding Ice Cream. I have also added every useful idea, hint and tip I can think of!









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