Monday, 20 April 2009

Finally Flan

So after long last, I attempted to make flan. Apparently there is a British dessert called flan (pronounced differently as if it rhymed with land) that is somewhat like a pie without a lid. This caused a bit of confusion when I said I would make flan for Ed's birthday Die Hard get-together which was only cleared up when I began making some and they wondered what on earth I was doing.

My roommate Annemarie used to make wonderful flan, so I asked her for her recipe and thankfully it was much simpler than the horribly-complicated one I found online requiring an actual vanilla bean. In any case it only needed sugar, milk, and eggs! I managed to work out some cookware that would make a waterbath for the flan to cook in, which besides a little bit of overflow worked out pretty well. To first caramelize the sugar the recipe called for 1/4 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons, but in my own haste to get started and panic that people were watching my cook something new I accidentally poured in a whole cup. At this point, it all started to go awry. I quickly decided that since we needed to raise the quantities for more people anyway that we would just quadruple everything from then on. Well, this might have worked if Jess had had a clearer notion of what a tablespoon was. He somehow thought, and still does think despite all 4 people there telling him otherwise, that a tablespoon was a giant server spoon, not an actual table spoon. It might have helped if I had remembered to bring my measuring cups, but usually it works out fine estimating using the silverware (as people seem to do here most often for some reason). In any case there was WAY too much water in there, so to even it out I added more sugar. And more sugar. And even more sugar. At the end I had no idea how much I had put in, but Lotty seemed to think it was the best plan of action as well, and she bakes a lot too. It seemed to work out fine, if it took a lot longer to caramelize than it should.

The unusual measurements and hodge-podge-ness of the endeavor continued as I warmed the milk (even now I cannot remember how many cups there were). I only doubled the number of eggs, since quadrupling was out of the question- we didnt have 16 eggs to use for flan! Its a good thing I didnt, too, because when I added the milk and the other bits of sugar to the eggs and poured it all into the caramelized-sugar-coated dishes, it was overflowing! I even spilled some on my shoes when I was trying to put one in the water bath.

After all the trials and questionable decisions of this attempt at flan, understandably they did not taste up to the same standard as Annemarie's variety. But it was pretty tasty and edible, so I would mark it as a relative success in the end!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Tres Leches Troubles

After my previous aborted attempt at flan, I decided to try another mexican dessert: Tres Leches. I managed to find all the evaporated and condensed milk I could ever want, and everything seemed to be going well (although I about ripped off my arm during the "beat well" phase), until I put the batter into the oven to bake. I waited the 30 minutes dictated by the recipe, horribly enough having to watch the only passable Sunday television option of Beauty and the Geek, but when I went to remove it from the oven I realized it was still almost completely liquid! I left it another 20 minutes or so, but began to notice a slightly burnt-butter smell... and when I checked it there was buttery-eggy liquid bubbling up from around the sides putting off the eggy buttery smell. I had no idea why that was happening, and Natalie didn't either, but she thought perhaps that always happened but that we didnt see it usually or that it was because I had had to use a glass dish for some reason.. but who knows. Two more short stints in the oven left the cake reasonably done and lacking bubbles around the edge (somehow about 45 minutes longer than the recipe allowed overall), so I poured the milky mixture over it, but it didnt seem to be sinking in as much as it would seem, but I left it sitting with half poured in to soak through before pouring the rest on. I dont know why this recipe is going so awry, but it has not gone nearly as smoothly as most others I have tried! Right now, half the milk mixture is soaking into the cake, but Im still not sure how its going to all get in. I realize I used a slightly smaller pan than was recommended, but that usually doesnt change quite so much about the resulting food... apparently Tres Leches just likes being difficult. Well. I have added all the milk on top, but it still looks a bit drowned. The whipping cream confused me; I bought two containers of double cream and one was so thick it wouldnt come out of the tub and the other was pretty much liquid. I dont know why the same thing would be so different, but it seems to have gone with the sugar alright to make the whipped cream on top... maybe its a bit liquidy, but maybe it will thicken up while waiting for the buckets of milk to soak into the cake. We shall see. All in all, I think this recipe for Tres Leches did not work very well.

Its been sitting there "soaking" for about an hour, and the milk is still just sitting on top of the cake even after repeated forking. I think I will leave it a bit more then drain off the excess milk and just go from there in putting on the whipped cream bit. Hopefully the refrigerator will magically cure it.

And it did! Even though it looked a mess, it actually tasted quite nice. Very sweet, but good.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

The Perfect Peach Crisp and Pasta Plate

Last week Jess suddenly brought up the amazing peach crisp that Sydney had made for our dinner party last summer in Texas. Since Jess rarely has strong emotions regarding a specific food dish I figured his mentioning it with such enthusiasm necessitated me trying to re-create it for him! Luckily, he likes to make small trips to the shop throughout the week, and after a few minutes searching online I found that Sainsbury's sold small containers of fresh peaches (and they were actually on sale!) so I sent Jess out to get a few of the "sachets." I had no idea what a sachet was.. perhaps because we dont often use that word back home, but apparently its just a package or container of a few items. He brought back 3 of these "sachets" and thankfully that turned out to be the exact 2.5 pounds of peeled and pitted peaches that we needed! I had asked Sydney what the recipe she used was, and she sent me three she had found online, but I decided to go with the same one she made last summer.

The same night I was also making a baked pasta and bacon dish I cobbled together from several recipes [ and,1627,157166-238207,00.html and a few of my own ideas] and altered some (my first recipe altering experience, and I must say it made me feel much more like a real cook) ingredient amounts. I definitely needed Jess' help that night, even though I had told him I wanted to make it all myself for him and his housemate, Paul. There were just so many things that had to be done at once, I dont think I could have managed all by myself. Although perhaps if I had done some of it before hand and if I knew more what to expect I could have done a bit better. The first change I made was the amount of pasta! Somehow the recipe only called for 2 cups of uncooked pasta- I dont even think that would cover ME, much less Paul and Jess! They eat a LOT, as boys tend to do. I think I more than tripled that, and I worried how the cheese would turn out so I doubled most of the other amounts as well and it turned out fine. Along with bacon, Paul suggested (rather insistently since its Paul) sweet corn- which is just regular "corn" back home, off the cob, frozen from fresh, etc etc- and it did add a good sweetness to the pasta that was quite nice. Making the white sauce to bake in the pasta was a bit of a challenge, since the internet was out in their house and I had to make up the conversion for butter amounts completely without much basis! Needless to say, I overestimated and it all turned out a bit buttery (there was a thin layer of caked butter on all the plates after we ate) but it still tasted good! Near the end of making it in the sauce pan I thought it was still somewhat buttery looking, so I added more flour and milk to try and make up for it, but I guess it still wasnt enough (not to mention the pan was about to be over filled!). In any case the pasta-cooking, white sauce- making, and bacon-frying all took just a bit too much concentration and Jess had to be called in to grate some (tons) of cheese and fry the bacon and drain the pasta when it was "chewy but not yet fully cooked." Oh, not to mention the sweet corn that we all forgot to cook until everything was almost ready to add together! Good thing it cooks quickly. Since Jess didnt have a bowl big enough for all of it, we separated it into halves and stirred it all together into two of his beloved LeCruset dishes and sprinkled the remaining grated cheese over the top (it ended up taking the entire new block of cheese and it still couldve used more over the top). It cooked in a lot less time (about 10 min less) since it was in two dishes and the ends of the pasta that sticked out the top became a bit burned, but both Jess and Paul insisted they liked a bit of crunchiness to go along with the softer baked middle. I think it turned out well, and I know for next time *less butter, more milk and cheese!*

After dinner and most of Sister Act 2 (not as good as Sister Act 1, but with a catchy "Back in the Habit" title), Jess helped peel the peaches while I pitted, sliced, and weighed them. The flour and sugar was benefitted by my constant need to double the amount of required cinnamon (its just always better that way) and we forwent the blender for manual labor! After I could cut the butter no more, Paul had a go and used his hands to pinch the pastry together. We just put the peaches in, sprinkled it all on top, and put it in the oven! (Again using two dishes instead of one for the same reason- Britich people need bigger cookware!!! For all their talk of Americans and giant portions, the English guys Ive met here eat almost twice as much as anyone I know from back home, shouldnt they need to make big dishes?! It would make more sense to me.. In the end the crisp was crispy and crumbly and the peaches were the perfect texture, and everything worked together to make a lovely dish that most would serve with vanilla or cinnamon icecream, but in true Jess style, he wanted chocolate. Somehow the flavors tasted alright together, and he was happy. I ate them a bit separately so I could enjoy them both to their fullest. Maybe Im just not adventurous enough to appreciate the chocolate and peaches together..

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Some Form of Flan

Well, as it turns out, there are a multitude of flan recipes available. Since some seemed too easy and maybe just a bit boring, I decided to try the Food Network's recipe I found online. However, when I made the trek to Tesco to find the ingredients I found that they do not have vanilla beans. They have a vanilla stalk, but thats not really the same, is it? And it cost about as much as all the other ingredients combined- not helpful with my limited funds. But, according to the ever-trusted Wikipedia, one teaspoon of Vanilla Extract gives the same flavor as a bean. Thankfully, all is well in the world. It also asks for a cinnamon stalk, but since it was to be ground up anyway I figure using my already-purchased ground cinnamon wont be too bad for the recipe. Ah, Wiki again saves the day, apparently a teaspoon is a popular dosage. Hm. Perhaps I should check that we have the proper dishes to make both the flan and the "water bath" it soaks in...

Well. So much for that! I may have dishes for the flan, but definitely nothing for the water bath... why dont the English have normal casserole dishes?? Perhaps Annemarie can come to my rescue with another way of making my favorite Texmex dessert..

Friday, 9 January 2009

The Formula for Floury Biscuits

As anyone knows who has been to England, no one here knows what a poper biscuit is. Somehow they think its a cookie. Its not. The floury, buttery, flaky goodness of a southern biscuit cant be attached to the cookie family at all. On one of my first mornings back in York again I attempted to recreate the amazing biscuits of my best friend Sydney, but with questionable results. First of all, she is an amazing baker, and I merely stick to what I know. Secondly, I had completley forgotten the lack of American- standard measuring spoons. Somehow, a British cup is smaller than an American cup (maybe somethig to do with our world-wide reputation for being fat- its just the bigger portions), and teaspoons and tablespoons are measured with actual spoons. Weird. Somehow, that doesn't seem to be very precise to me. Anyway, even with these handicaps I began to follow Syd's recipe as best I could, often with Jess offering to help or find a somewhat-the-same amount of butter or flour. In the end the dough seemed to be about right, maybe a bit floury, but most was sticking together as Syd said it should. I put them in the tiny oven of my student house kitchen and hoped for the best. They were pretty floury. After baking it seems all the flour came to the forefront of the biscuit, leaving the butter and milk far from my abilities to detect. I cant even imagine Jess could, with his poor over-worked taste bud. Bless. Oh well, they were edible, and what else could I hope for? Maybe I should have some American-style measuring spoons sent over for better cooking arrangements. It couldnt hurt. At least Jess appreciated my efforts, and Ill keep on trying to find more recipes I can attempt to recreate over in Jolly Old England. Maybe wiggly jiggly Flan shall be next...