Delia Smith

Meringues

Meringues.jpg

Up until very recently meringues have been my culinary nemesis (along with brandy snaps but that’s another story).

I was going slightly crazy because I just couldn’t work out what  I was doing wrong. I tried lots of recipes and followed all the advice (buying fresh eggs, scrupulously cleaning the bowl and whisk, separating the eggs with great care).

But they would always collapse when I added the sugar, making a sticky, sickly-sweet, flat disc that was barley edible.

You may wonder why on earth I kept at it. Well I often make other things (custards, ice cream) that use only the egg yolk and meringues are the perfect way to use up the white. Also my grandma is a champion meringue maker and it just didn’t seem right that I couldn’t do it.

Anyway, still frustrated but determined, I watched this YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrjWrWeM5JI) and finally worked out what I was doing wrong. I had been using this whisk attachment that came with my hand blender:

balloonwhisk.jpg

But the in the video the presenter used the two regular beaters instead.

handwhisk.jpg

And when I did that they came out beautifully.

So I am now making meringues regularly and very happily (hence the need for the recipe to be recorded on this blog).

Meringues

(a combination of the recipe in the YouTube video above and Delia Smith’s Pavlova recipe from her Complete Cookery Course)

  • Egg whites
  • Caster sugar – 50g per egg white

Set your oven to 150oC (fan).

Carefully separate your eggs making sure to get no yolk at all in with the white. Save the yolks for another use.

In a very clean, glass bowl, beat the egg whites with your electric hand blender (using the two regular beaters) until you get stiff peaks (in other words the mixture would stay in the bowl if you tipped it upside down).

Measure out 50g of caster sugar for each egg white used. Add this to the egg white a dessert spoonful at a time, mixing after each addition for about 10 seconds with the electric whisk, before adding the next.

At this point I like to swirl a bit of gel food colouring into the mix for a nice effect (yellow is used in the photo above). Dot the food colouring into the mix with a cocktail stick and then swirl a couple of times with a metal spoon.

Take a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and dollop the meringue mix onto the sheet using a metal spoon. You can make the meringues any size you like, or shape into a large circle with an indent in the middle if you are making a Pavlova.

3 egg whites will make five large meringues (as above) or one Pavlova.

Put the meringues into the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 140oC.

Bake for one hour, then turn the oven off (do not open the door) and leave in the oven overnight until they are completely cool.

Store in an airtight container.

How to cook Christmas dinner without crying and a recipe for bread sauce

Crying at Christmas

My husband and I have teamed up to cook Christmas dinner for over 10 years now. At first we felt the pressure and really tried to impress. We trawled the internet for new ideas and watched all those Christmas cookery specials – amazed at the ability of celebrity chefs to churn out new takes on the traditional Christmas dinner year, after year, after year.

But in the end we’ve come to the rather undramatic conclusion that keeping things simple is the key. A few basic, well-cooked dishes is far better than a plate so packed full of miscellaneous items that it looks like you’re dining at one of those awful ‘all you can eat’ Chinese, Italian, Indian buffets.

This does make cooking Christmas dinner very undemanding (just think of it as a regular Sunday roast with a slightly bigger bird). But the real point here is that no one really cares whether the stuffing is in a beautiful roll and jewelled with cranberries, or if the carrots are delicately spiced with cumin. They just want a generous amount of food, a smiley/unstressed host, and a free flowing supply of wine. Save culinary excellence for another time when you can chose exactly what to cook based on who you’re cooking for.

To make our lives even easier we always prepare as much as possible beforehand so that on the day itself it’s just a case of bunging things in the oven. Christmas Eve is the day when everything happens in our house, we peel-chop-parboil all the vegetables and keep them in the fridge overnight, we make the stuffings and gravy…the kids watch far too much Christmas TV.

And on Christmas Day we always take the turkey out to rest in a double layer of foil before we start cooking the other stuff (potatoes, vegetables, stuffing etc.). That way we always have plenty of room in the oven. The meat does stay warm enough and with plenty of hot gravy over the top no one has ever complained.

This year I’m very excited because we’re finally getting the chance to cook in our very own kitchen. I’ve bought a special free range turkey from the butcher but apart from that we’re going to keep things pared down. Just potatoes roasted simply with oil and salt, some steamed cabbage from the allotment, roasted carrots, two stuffings (vegetarian sage and onion, sausage meat and chestnut), some really good gravy and…

…well despite everything I’ve said everyone has one thing that they see as an essential part of Christmas dinner and for me it has to be bread sauce. Someone asked me the other day what exactly it was and when I described it as bread soaked in milk flavoured with cloves, I realised that it sounded pretty horrible. But it isn’t. I don’t eat bread sauce at any other time of the year but for me the turkey (or should I really say Boxing Day turkey sandwiches) just wouldn’t be the same without it.  I always use the following Delia recipe and to make life easier I make it a day or two in advance and store it in a jar in the fridge. I then warm through and add the cream and butter just before serving on Christmas Day.

Delia Smith’s bread sauce

Serves 5-6 people (I usually double the recipe which makes enough for Christmas Day  (to feed 10 people) AND turkey sandwiches)

  • About 75g of two day old white bread, crusts removed and made into breadcrumbs using a food processor
  • 425ml full fat milk
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 15 whole cloves
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tablespoons of double cream
  • Salt and pepper

Cut the onion in half and stick the cloves in it. Place the onion, bayleaf, peppercorns and milk in a saucepan and leave to infuse for a couple of hours in a warm place.

Then, over a very low heat, slowly bring the milk to the boil (about 15 minutes). Remove the onion, bayleaf and peppercorns.

Stir in the breadcrumbs and add 25g of the butter and some salt. Leave the saucepan on a very low heat stirring now and then until the crumbs have swollen and thickened the sauce. I’ve made this many times and it’s difficult to be exact about the quantity of breadcrumbs needed because this depends on the texture and make up of your bread. But if the sauce is too runny don’t worry just add a few more breadcrumbs. The consistency should be thick enough to just about fall off a spoon. Leave to cool and place in a clean jar in the fridge until ready to serve.

On Christmas Day, heat the sauce in a saucepan, add the remaining 25g of butter and double cream and taste to check the seasoning adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve with the turkey and a big, relaxed smile.

Scone off – Delia vs Paul

scones

Scones are quick and simple to make but I have so many recipes for them that I get confused as to which one is best. So last Sunday I decided to try two recipes and compare them directly. Firstly, I chose a recipe from the stalwart of everyday home cooking – Delia, and secondly, one from the man hailed as the new god of baking – Paul Hollywood.

I was taught to make scones as a child and the following golden rules (most probably my mother’s) are embedded in my brain:

  1. Use a very light touch, work quickly and don’t over mix the dough.
  2. Try to cut as many scones from the first roll as possible as the more you work the dough the heavier they will be.
  3. Bake the scones as close to eating as possible – they always taste better fresh from the oven.

To be honest though even if they turn out a bit dense or uneven, freshly baked scones are always better than horrid, dry, shop-bought ones and once you’ve smothered them in strawberry jam and clotted cream you won’t notice any flaws.

So back to the scone off and whose recipe was best according to the Shelton household. My son hates scones and so didn’t vote. My husband preferred Paul Hollywood’s and my daughter and I favoured Delia’s. So it was:

Delia 2 – Paul 1

I don’t think there’s a male versus female thing going on here, but I do think the large, manly size of Paul’s scones (which he describes as small!!!) did win my husband over. His are also richer and involve an additional step, a process called ‘chaffing’ (sounds slightly worrying in view of his sex god status but all will become clear below).

I liked the simple taste of Delia’s scones better and I definitely AM swayed by the no-nonsense nature of her recipe. There’s no showing off here and straight forward store cupboard ingredients which certainly suits my style of cooking better.

Delia Smith’s basic scones (from her Complete Cookery Course)

Delia

Make about 12 scones

  • 225g of self-raising flour
  • 40g of butter at room temperature
  • 150ml of milk
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of caster sugar
  • A pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to 220oC and grease a baking sheet.

First of all, sift the flour into a bowl and rub the butter into it rapidly, using your fingertips. Next stir in the sugar and salt, then take a knife and use it to mix in the milk little by little. Now flour your hands a little and knead the mixture to a soft dough – adding a drop more milk if it feels at all dry.

Then turn the dough out onto a floured pastry board and roll it out to a thickness of not less than 2 cm using a lightly floured rolling pin. Take a 4 or 5 cm pastry cutter and place it on the dough, then tap it sharply so that it goes straight through the dough – don’t twist it or the scones will turn out a peculiar shape. After you have cut out as many scone shapes as you can like that, knead the dough trimmings together again and repeat until you have used it all.

Then place the scones on the greased baking sheet, dust each one with a little extra flour and bake for 12-15 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and eat them slightly warm.

Paul Hollywood’s scones (from ‘How to Bake’)

paul

Makes 15 small scones (I made half the quantity and ended up with 7)

  • 500g of strong white bread flour
  • 80g of unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
  • 80g of caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 250ml of whole milk

To finish

  • 1 medium egg beaten with a pinch of salt

Heat oven to 220oC and line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Put 450g of the flour into a large bowl and add the butter. Rub the flour and butter together with your fingers to create a breadcrumb-like mixture.
Add the sugar, eggs and baking powder and use a wooden spoon to turn the mixture gently, making sure you incorporate all the ingredients.

Add half the milk and keep stirring to combine. Then add the remaining milk, a little at a time, and bring everything together to form a soft, wet dough. You may not need all the milk.

Sprinkle most of the remaining flour onto a clean surface. Tip the dough onto it. Sprinkle the rest of the flour on top. The mixture will be wet and sticky. Use your hands to fold the dough in half, then turn it 90 degrees and repeat (Paul calls this ‘chaffing’). Do this a few times to form a smooth dough. Be careful not to over work your dough. If it becomes too sticky use some extra flour to coat it or your hands.

Sprinkle a little more flour onto the work surface and the dough, then use a rolling pin to gently roll up from the from the middle and then down from the middle. Turn the dough 90 degrees and continue to roll until about 2.5cm thick. ‘Relax’ the dough slightly by lifting the edges and allowing the dough to drop back onto the surface.

Using a 7cm pastry cutter dipped in flour so that it doesn’t stick, stamp out rounds and place on the trays. Don’t twist the cutter, just press firmly, then lift up and press the dough out. Cut out as many as you can and re-roll the dough bearing in mind that the more you re-roll the less fluffy the scones will be.

Leave the scones to rest for a few minutes, then brush just the tops with the beaten egg to glaze.

Bake for 15 minutes.

scones 2

Preparing for Christmas – homemade mincemeat

mincemeat

If you can stand to start thinking about Christmas this early then please read on. If you can’t then just ignore this post or I’ll really annoy you.

About this time last year I posted Delia’s brilliant Christmas pudding recipe and in case you missed it here’s the link – A job for a rainy weekend – Christmas pudding. Please note that I’ve amended the post to include figures for making smaller quantities. This year I need one large and one small pudding (3/4 of the recipe) so I rather painfully did the maths (never my strong point).

If you’re a glutton for punishment, like me, and are going to make your own Christmas pudding, then it makes sense to make homemade mincemeat at the same time because many of the ingredients are the same. I made my own mincemeat for the first time last year (again from a Delia recipe) and it was fantastic. Once you’ve bought all the ingredients it’s really simple but I would recommend chopping the apple using a mini chopper or food processor as this did take a while by hand.

Homemade mincemeat

Makes 6 x 350ml jars (according to Delia on-line) OR enough for two large gherkin jars, one chutney jar and one small jar of mayonnaise (as pictured)

  • 450g cooking apples, peeled cored and finely chopped
  • 225g shredded suet (I used vegetarian suet)
  • 350g raisins
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 225g mixed peel, finely chopped
  • 350g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 oranges, grated rind and juice
  • 2 lemons, grated rind and juice
  • 50g whole almonds cut into slivers
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons of mixed spice
  • Half a nutmeg grated
  • 6 tablespoons of brandy

Simply mix all the ingredients, except for the brandy, in a very large mixing bowl.

Cover with a cloth and leave for 12 hours.

Cover the bowl with foil and place the mincemeat in an oven heated to 110oC for 3 hours.

Remove from the oven, leave to cool and then stir in the brandy.

Spoon into sterilised jars then place in a cool dark cupboard until needed. I think you could actually use it straight away as I had a sneaky spoonful and it was divine. Delia says she has kept hers for up to 3 years but I know mine won’t last that long because I love it too much.

NOTE: For recipes that use mincemeat see my post Christmas is coming – two ways with mincemeat. Last year I also experimented with an apple and mincemeat crumble (I just added a couple of spoonfuls of mincemeat to the cooked apple before adding the topping) and it was very good indeed.

Vegetarian sausage rolls

Vegetarian sausage rolls

Whilst I enjoy cooking and eating meat free dishes, I’m not a huge fan of vegetarian food masquerading as meat. Having said this, these sausage rolls are a rare exception and they’re an absolute godsend when catering for my own family which includes both die-hard vegetarians and die-hard meat eaters. Even my staunchly carnivorous father can’t believe how tasty they are. They are also great for children’s parties (which is what the ones pictured above were made for).

I have made the original meat version but these are better in my opinion. Vegetarian sausages have a lower fat content which means the pastry stays crisp and dry (rather than swimming in a small pool of grease).

First you need to make a batch of Delia Smith’s quick flaky pastry which is pretty foolproof and can also be used for topping sweet and savoury pies.

Delia Smith’s quick flaky pastry (from her ‘Complete Cookery Course’)

  • 170g of Stork block margarine (this is apparently dairy free and so also suitable for vegans or those on a diary free diet)
  • 225g plain flour
  • Cold water

Weigh out the margarine, wrap it in a piece of tin foil and place in the freezer for 30 minutes to harden up.

In a large bowl measure out the flour, then take the margarine out of the freezer and grate it using a coarse grater into the flour. Dip the end of the margarine into the flour from time to time to stop it from sticking. Be quick here as it’s much easier to do this part while the margarine is still very cold.

Next, take a palette knife and start to cut the margarine into the flour without using your hands. Once the mixture is crumbly add just enough water to form a dough that leaves the bowl clean. It is best to add the water slowly until you have the right consistency – if you pour in too much water the dough will be too sticky to roll out.

Use your hands to form the dough into a ball and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour, although you can make this up to 24 hours in advance.

For the vegetarian sausage rolls

Makes about 18

  • 1 portion of quick flaky pastry (as above)
  • 450g of Quorn sausages (or other vegetarian sausages, Quorn sausages do contain milk but if you are cooking these for someone with a dairy allergy, then Holland and Barrett’s own brand vegetarian sausages are suitable for vegans)
  • 1/2 an onion, grated
  • A little milk or beaten egg for glazing

Take the sausages out of their casings, add the onion and mush up with your hands until well incorporated (vegetarian sausages have a very firm texture so this can be quite hard work but when you add the onion the whole mixture will start to soften up). Divide the mixture into two balls and roll each ball out into a long sausage shape about 1 1/2 – 2cm in diameter. Set aside.

Take the pastry out of the fridge. Divide into two portions and roll each out into an oblong shape as long as the sausages you’ve just rolled out and deep enough to wrap around the sausages with a small overlap. You will probably need to trim  with a knife to make a nice neat edge.

Place one roll of sausage meat onto one strip of pastry. Brush a little milk or egg along one edge, then wrap the pastry around the sausage and seal. Roll over so that the seal is on the bottom and then cut into individual rolls about 2 1/2 cm long with a sharp knife. Repeat the process with the other portion of pastry and sausage.

Place the rolls on a flat baking tray lined with baking parchment, then make two light slices with a sharp knife on the top of each roll and brush with a little milk.

Bake in an oven pre-heated to 220oC for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Store the cooled sausage rolls in a tin. They can be eaten cold or warmed slightly in the oven before serving.

Some other vegetarian recipes on this blog:

Broad bean salad

broad bean and bacon salad

When I was a child my list of worst nightmare foods would have included, liver, mushrooms, black pudding and melted cheese. At the top of the list though would have been broad beans. I have terrible memories of chewing through tough leathery skins to reveal that disgusting chalky texture and for years I didn’t dare touch them.

But then we started to grow broad beans on our allotment (because they’re notoriously easy to grow and we were a bit rubbish) and this was the recipe that completely converted me. Trust Delia to get it right but having said that anything mixed with crispy bacon is usually nice. Now I can’t wait for the first broad beans of the season.

This salad is best with really fresh young broad beans. I’ve learnt that when the broad beans get old and tough you have to take the time to remove the white outer layer of skin and even then it’s best to turn them into broad bean hummus (if you want a recipe for this see my post).

Delia Smith’s broad bean salad

Serves 2

  • 700g of broad beans (shelled), or thereabouts
  • 2 rashers of lean, smoked bacon (without the rind), finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs (I use marjoram and parsley)
  • 4 spring onions

For the dressing

  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon of English mustard powder
  • 1 dessertspoon of lemon juice
  • 1 dessertspoon of white wine vinegar
  • 1 level teaspoon of crushed rock salt
  • Freshly milled black pepper to taste
  • 4 dessertspoons of flavourless oil (like groundnut or sunflower oil)

First fry the bacon until it’s really crisp and set aside.

Make the dressing by placing all the ingredients in a jam jar and shaking until well amalgamated.

Next cook the broad beans in boiling water until tender. The time this takes will depend on how young and fresh they are (I usually find that they are done once they float to the surface of the water and this tends to be somewhere between 1 and 3 minutes).

If you’re making this later in the broad bean season then it’s best to pop the inside out of the white layer of skin which tends to be thick and chewy when the beans are older.

Drain thoroughly and toss them in the dressing while they are still warm. Stir in the bacon and spring onion and serve.

I like to serve with some cucumber and salad leaves. If you’re feeling particularly lavish then a poached egg on top works brilliantly.

Unglamorous gammon

gammon revised

Gammon is so uncool – it’s one of those foods that conjures up images of old people’s homes and really bad pub food. And I’m not going to do its reputation any favours when I tell you that when recuperating from a sickness bug that floored my entire family and made me lose my appetite for an entire week, this is the first thing that I actually fancied eating.

And who did I turn to for a recipe to cook this unfashionable foodstuff but the most uncool of cookery writers – Delia. I’ve cooked this dish many, many times and I don’t bother experimenting with other recipes because it works so well. First you boil the joint in cider which is a good way to use that run-of-the-mill stuff (like Strongbow) that sits around going out of date after a big party. Nigella does a similar thing with coke (the fizzy drink sort) which sounds bizarre but is probably nice and I’ve also seen recipes using ginger beer.

As a Sunday roast gammon is the boring one, the one that doesn’t come with anything – no stuffing, no Yorkshires, maybe just a splodge of parsley or mustard sauce (which I couldn’t stand as a child). But the great thing about a nice bit of gammon (and something that you only really appreciate as an adult who has to cook their own dinners) is that you can do so much with the left overs. A couple of slices are great with oven chips and a fried egg, or you can slice into thin strips and toss with linguine, egg yolks and parsley for a carbonara type dish. But for me sliced in a sandwich with English mustard is the best.

Some people serve gammon as an addition to turkey for Christmas dinner. That’s never been a tradition in our family but I think it sounds like a nice idea and this recipe would be perfect because you could do the boiling part a day or two before and then roast on Christmas day once the turkey is out of the oven resting.

Delia’s sugar-glazed gammon

Serves 4 with left overs

  • 1 piece of middle cut gammon, rolled, about 1kg – I prefer mine smoked but it doesn’t have to be
  • 1 onion studded with a few cloves
  • A bayleaf
  • 570ml dry cider
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper corns
  • 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of English mustard

Put the gammon in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring it to the boil and then throw out the water which will look disgusting – all grey and foamy.

Now add the bayleaf, peppercorns and onion and pour in 425ml of cider and enough water to cover the meat. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for one hour.

Remove the gammon, let it cool and then remove the string and skin with a sharp knife. If you are doing this part in advance then wrap in cling film and store in the fridge until ready to roast.

Preheat the oven to 190oC fan.

Stand the gammon up (fat side uppermost) and smear the mustard and brown sugar over the surface – it’s easiest to do this with your hands. Then put the joint into a roasting pan with the remaining cider in the bottom and bake in the oven for 45 minutes, basting the joint a couple of times with the juices.

NOTE: In the original recipe Delia studs the gammon with cloves all over before roasting. This probably looks prettier but I don’t bother with this as I find the taste of that many cloves a bit overbearing.

Smeared with mustard and sugar before entering the oven.

Smeared with mustard and sugar before entering the oven.

I like to serve gammon with ‘pommes coq d’or’ (pictured in the main photo)

Pommes coq d’or 

Serves 4

Take 5 medium sized floury potatoes (I use Wilja). Cut the potatoes as thinly as you can with a sharp knife (or with a mandolin if you have one and can be bothered to get it out and wash it up). Generously butter a shallow tin (mine is 23cm diameter and 4 cm deep) and layer the potatoes in the tin overlapping them slightly. I save the neatest ones for the top. – you want about 4 layers. Crush two cloves of garlic and add this to 250g of chicken stock (made up with half a Knorr chicken stock pot), along with 10 twists of the pepper mill. Pour the stock over the potatoes until it comes to just under the top layer (you may not need it all), then dot the top of the potatoes with butter. Bake in the oven at 180oC fan for 40 minutes foil-covered and then 30 minutes without foil or until the top is brown and crispy.

Yorkshire Puddings – Delia versus Aunt Bessie

The children are back at school, the days are slowly drawing in, and I can suddenly feel a slight autumn chill in the air. This is when I start dreaming of warming comfort food – stews, pies, crumbles, basically anything calorific and slightly stodgy. Last night, to satisfy my craving, I cooked a giant Yorkshire pudding using Delia’s magic recipe from her ‘Complete Cookery Course’ book. I’ve not changed it much except to double the quantity, as I like the Yorkshire pudding to act as the main event, not just an accompaniment.

Say what you like about Delia but for me she is the queen of the basic every day recipe and I promise that this one has never, ever, let me down. The puddings may vary slightly with regards to how much they rise, and they may sometimes rise unevenly, but they always do rise. I (perhaps rudely) offer to give it to anyone who ever serves me an Aunt Bessie’s.

Delia’s Yorkshire Puddings

  • 150g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 150ml milk
  • 100ml water
  • A good pinch of salt
  • Oil (I use rapeseed oil)

Preheat your oven to 220oC.

Oil two round tins, 20cm wide with a desert spoon of oil for each tin and put in the oven to heat up.

Measure the flour, salt, eggs and milk into a bowl and whisk by hand until smooth. Then add the water and whisk again for a minute or so to get plenty of air into the mix.

You will need to work quickly for the next part. Remove the hot tins from the oven and fill each one with half the batter mixture. The mixture should sizzle and bubble as it touches the hot oil. Put the tins back into the oven on the same shelf and close the door gently. Cook for 20 minutes until risen and golden.

Now fill the Yorkshire puddings with a filling of your choice. My absolute favourite is cabbage, sausages and gravy. A meaty stew is also good.

The golden lovelys. Please excuse the rather grimy oven.

The golden lovelys. Please excuse the rather grimy oven.

Ready for the table. And yes, this is one portion.

Ready for the table. And yes, this is one portion.