Sunday, January 26, 2014

Where recipes go to die

What do you call the tall plastic container in your kitchen into which you throw waste?  In the US it is a trash can.  In the UK it is a rubbish bin.  Well, everywhere in the UK except my house.  At my house it's called The Food Graveyard.  Most recently buried (in the past 24 hours) there's been meatloaf, blueberry muffins, Yorkshire puddings, and toffee cake.  I wish I was exaggerating.

How. Can. This. Be. So. Damn. Difficult.  Seriously.  On paper, as I write it, I look and feel like a total idiot. I can't explain it.

First, the meatloaf.  I was following a recipe from that dandy new cookbook I mentioned look at the ingredients you'd be really excited to try this dish....ground beef, onions, fresh herbs, balsamic glaze.  But once you got past the outer part, the inside was gross.  Perhaps I mis-measured some of it - I had to use the scale (things were in grams) and use the metric system (millilitres).  Or maybe it's just best to always grill (BBQ) or fry ground beef. Who knows.

This morning, in an attempt to give the boys a nice breakfast surprise, I decided to make blueberry muffins.  What ruined them was actually just an oversight...not a measuring error or mystery reason. Tell me what's wrong in this picture:

I completely forgot to add the blueberries.  I noticed the can AFTER I put the muffins in the oven.  So then I thought then that perhaps it would be just a muffin - not a blueberry one, but still the tasty cakey part.  However, apparently there's something to adding the berries, and despite being completely baked, the muffin tasted like raw batter.  And I mean it - the first bite went straight from the mouth to the trash can. Son 1 tried it first and gagged - so why I decided to try it as well was pretty dumb - except that I wanted to say,"No, Son 1, you're crazy. These muffins are great!  I should skip the blueberries more often!"

Tonight I was going to redeem myself with a roast and Yorkshire puddings. For Americans, I'll explain what that is.  The Yorkshire pudding is sort of like bread.  It's made primarily of flour, milk, and eggs.  It isn't particularly overly flavorful - not salty or sweet. It is individual servings made in muffin cups...similar to a mini bread cup that would presumably hold gravy.  Mine, however, were more like a gelatinous, bread-ish, tasteless substance for which there wasn't enough gravy in all of Europe.

I followed the recipe to the exact gram....12 Yorkshire puddings in muffin cups. And now 11 Yorkshire puddings are resting on top of the blueberry muffins, which are on top of the meatloaf.  Unfortunately there's no cork from the bottle of wine I should have drank after the night I had in the kitchen.  I somehow miraculously resisted the urge to open a bottle and drink it all after the next debacle I will now share.

So one of my favorite things to eat here is anything that is toffee flavored.  I spent three weeks straight eating sticky toffee pudding at least once a day. Sticky toffee pudding is a warm mini cake with melted toffee sauce on it. Divine. I wasn't actually tired of eating it, even after three weeks, but I was pretty disgusted with myself so I put a stop to the practice.  

Anyway, I found a recipe for toffee cookie bars - it was in Food Network magazine, in fact, my last real paper issue, as I've had to switch to digital since moving.  The measurements were American; for example, it called for two sticks of butter. Butter here is in squares and is measured in grams...looks nothing like a stick of butter in the US. So I had to go online to figure out how many tablespoons are in a stick of American butter, and then how many grams are in a tablespoon, and then figure how much British butter I needed for the recipe. It was like a story problem from math class in sixth grade. 

I followed the recipe....butter, brown sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour - I didn't miss a single ingredient. I lined the pan with parchment paper - which yes, constitutes a lot of work, as I mentioned in my last post - but that was how committed I was to this dessert.  I put it in the oven, set the timer, and at the right time, I stuck the knife in the middle, as the recipe called for, to see if it came out clean.  Not yet - so I added a few more minutes to the timer. When that went off, I tried another knife test.  Still gooey.  I added more time. At the prompting of the timer, I tried again with another knife - STILL soupy. Are you seeing a pattern here?  Yeah.  Let's just say that the sink had a lot of knives with squishy toffee cake on them before I threw in the towel. The cake wasn't going to bake any more than it already had, and I was on the third food failure of the day - the fourth in 24 hours. 

Despite the fact that it was a nasty mess in the middle, the cake had been "baking" for an hour and smelled fabulous.  So when Husband asked, "When's that cake going to be ready?  It smells delicious," I started crying and said it wasn't ready, and it wasn't going to be ready, and that I had ruined yet another meal.  He laughed, in an attempt to lighten my mood and to show me that it wasn't a big deal - which made me shriek, "It's not funny!" which, of course, made him laugh harder because, really, it was hilarious. Ten minutes later Son 2 came down and asked, "Can I cut this cake?" and five minutes after that, Son 1 asked if he could have some of that cake in the kitchen. (It was too hot to throw away just yet.)  I won't tell you how I responded to their questions and subsequent disappointment at my answer. I know they've filed it away in their heads to be used as fuel for their skepticism toward all future dishes I prepare. 

A tiny light of hope comes from the fact that the roast was pretty good.  It could have been a bit more tender, but it was pink and juicy and flavorful. So I've got that going for me.  If we can salvage one bit of a meal every 24 hours around here, we might be okay.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A post about food (no, really!)

If you've thought that the absence of my posts meant that I was getting by just fine here in my new home, you're wrong.  I am most definitely doing better than I did back in England - I'm seasoned now, after all - but I'm still struggling with something random every day. 

Take today, for example.  I have a great new cookbook that is full of simple's perfect for me right now because it doesn't have too many ingredients and it refers to the ingredient by its local name, which is key. Just to give you an example (and there are many more to come in future posts), do you know what a courgette is?  How about a sultana? A courgette is a zucchini, and a sultana is a golden raisin. You're welcome. 

Back to today.  I was in the grocery store with my crazy cart (the wheels...remember the wheel problem?) and I was looking for tomato sauce. Easy, right?  It's in with the diced, stewed, and puréed tomatoes, of course. Oh, wait...that's only if you are shopping at HEB (Texas) or Dierbergs (St. Louis) or Safeway (Portland).  Or anywhere in the US, I'm sure.  But not here. The closest thing to tomato sauce (by looks alone) is passata, which looks to be tomato sauce - it even comes with Italian herbs (say the H here, by the way). However, since I was using a local cookbook/recipe, I assumed that if the recipe called for passata, it would say passata.  So I had to ask.  

But before I tell you about that, let me tell you the other thing I was looking for that was not necessarily called something else, but was not in the spot where it should be.  Or at least by my standards where it should be.  It was chutney...the recipe said I could use any fruit chutney.  So I looked in the section titled "Jams and Marmalades."  Not there. (Neither is grape jam, but I digress.) 

So I reluctantly go ask one of the nice Sainsbury's girls (who have helped me at least a dozen times already in the past four months.)   I approach her and she says, "Hiya...yullright?" (Translated: Hello. How are you?)  I reply something along the lines of needing help finding two things.  I start with the tomato sauce...which is the required ingredient for two meals I'm preparing - and neither recipe helps me figure out what tomato sauce actually is.  The first is for a "gourmet" meatloaf...the tomato sauce goes in the meat mixture (among other things) and on top of it to bake.  The second is for a pizza-like dish that's veggies, balsamic glaze, goat cheese on a crunchy crust/tortilla. These descriptions will come in handy as you read the next paragraph and the Sainsbury's girl's answer. 

I asked her where to find the tomato it the same thing as passata, I wonder?  She tells me that it can be that OR pasta sauce (like Ragu) OR ketchup.  Then she asks what I need it which my answer of meatloaf and pizza does nothing to clarify.  Finding her answer to be completely useless, I decide to table that one and move on to the chutney.  I can ask a friend for help with the tomato sauce issue later.  Chutney, apparently, is not shelved with the jams and marmalades and other fruit-in-a-jar-like substances.  It's with the condiments.  Go figure.  

So after reconfiguring dinner for tonight (it was going to be the meatloaf - now it's tacos with a side of regret) I decide to make a nice dessert.  I was already committed to spending a teeny bit of time in the kitchen making meatloaf and a side dish, which was considerably reduced by defaulting to the taco scenario. I pick up a cake mix for a lemon cake with glaze.  A quick glance at the back of the box tells me that it needs just milk and eggs. Convenient - my kind of dessert. 

Fast forward through unpacking groceries and the 17  minutes it took to make tacos - which includes offering soft AND crunchy wraps/shells - and it's time to stir the mix, milk and eggs. I get out the glass bread loaf dish and start reading the box.  Apparently, what is needed is a metal bread loaf pan AND it needs to be lined with something or another.  The directions for that can only be found, however, on the mix's website.  So much for convenient.  Not only do I need to do some extra work on the pan, I need to get online to read about said extra work.  No thanks.  So I take a gamble and put it in a 9x9 glass baking dish and hope for the best.  But here's what the directions said:
The part about instructions to line a 2 lb loaf tin....if I'm lining anything, presumably with parchment paper, I've gone past "convenient" and ventured into complicated.  Parchment paper is for Christmas baking.  Or when I don't feel like washing a baking sheet.  Lining a narrow metal breadpan with it is not my idea of quick, easy or convenient. 

The good news is that the lemon cake turned out just fine.  I didn't need to go to for any help.  The tacos were good too, although I'd cut off my thumb for some authentic Mexican food right about now.  But that's another post for another time.