Sunday, 23 December 2012

50s dinner - Harlequin Blancmange

"Summer days and party occasions call for a veriety of cold sweets." 

Well, we're in the dead of winter, but catching up with an old friend is a good excuse for some festive dessert.  The book has a range of jellies, trifles, creams and ice creams (none of which contain much actual cream of course), but I fancied having a go at this 'Harlequin Mould' as I'd never attempted to make a blancmange before.  It also looked pretty impressive in the picture.

1 1/2 oz. cornflour
1 pint milk
2 oz. sugar
Colourings & Flavourings

First blend the cornflour with a little milk.  Bring the rest of milk almost to the boil, then pour in the blended cornflour mixture.  At this point I ended up with with a big lump of gluey cornflour in the pan, but giving it a whisk blended it right into the milk.  Cook for 2-3 minutes before adding the sugar.  At this point I was stirring what felt like a big pan of milk, and not sure if or when it would turn into something that could set.  After another minute or two it suddenly thickened up to the consistency of custard and I took it of the heat.  At this point it had developed some more lumps, but agian giving it a whisk solved the problem.

At this point I divided the mixture into two jugs (you could do more if you're feeling extra festive) and added the colourings and flavourings.   The reciepe recommends that you co-ordinate your colours and flavours, so I matched the pink to the strawberry and the lemon with yellow.  Note, you will want to use a separate teaspoon for each colour unlesss you're pretty artistic or don't mind your pudding turning puce.  For the strawberry layer I used a teaspoonful of both the colour and flavour.  For the lemon layer I added a little more flavouring.  Not sure if I just couldn't taste the lemon as all my other senses were telling me I was eating birds-eye custard!

I poured some of the first batch into my mould.  Then I had to wait for it to set.  This was a pretty anxious time as I was worried that the rest would set in the jugs before I could get it into the mould.   So I risked defrosting the fish fingers and popped it into the freezer for a few minutes.   It still seemed fairly soft, but had formed a little skin, so poured the next layer.  I used the old bartender trick of pouring over the back of a spoon, but the first layer seemed to hold up well.  I then repeated the process with a third layer and left to set in the fridge overnight.

Getting the jelly out the mould was a nerve wracking business.  I immersed it in hot water before tuning it onto a plate.  It didn't come out first time, but another shake and, plop, it was on the plate.

The taste test
This took us back to our childhood days, sickly sweet, brightly coloured and packed with those  classic artifical fruit flavours.  Texture wise I enjoyed it - creamier and not as 'bouncy' as jelly can be.  Perhaps not one for sophisticated adult palates, and not in line with the current vouge for all things natural and organic , but lots of fun.  I know my little girl would be impressed! 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

50s dinner - Cucumber Gratin & Potato nests

And so to the accompaniments....

I wanted to try this dish as the idea of cooking cumber seemed to ludicruis.   I then read about a french dish where they do this and I wondered if it was so crazy after all.  Still sounded like a pretty odd idea.

Cucumber au Gratin

1 cucumber
2 oz. grated cheese
1/2 pint white sauce

Steam peeled pieces of cucumber for 20-30 minutes until tender.  Place in a dish with most of the cheese and sauce,sprinklinkg a little more cheese on top, and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brow.

The taste test

I thought the cucumber would be all slimy, but it was firm, with a similar texture to a gherkin.  Not strongly flavoured in itself, but good with the creamy, salty sauce.  We all had seconds.

Potato Nests

These are simply mashed potato piped into 'nests', baked and filled with cooked peas.  I say simply.  Have you ever tried piping mashed potato?  Yeah, it looks easy when they do it on Masterchef.  I have more respect for this skill after having my piping bag exploded and I enedd up with mash in my hair. 

The taste test
Well, it was mashed potato with peas.  The presentation doesn't change the basic flavour.  It looked great, but I needed a bath.  Maybe I'll stick to dinner lady presentation in the future.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

50s dinner - Steamed Meat Roll

There is an extensive pastry section in the reciepe book, so I did want some kind of pastry dish represened in the meal.  Suet crust pasty is unusual in that it is boiled or steamed rather than baked, with steamed savoury puddings of this sort not being seen very often now.  It also seemed a little more approachable than puff pastry or choux pastry! 

For the suet crust:
8 oz flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3-4 oz. suet
cold water to mix

Sieve together flour, baking powder and salt.  Mix with cold water to a soft, not sticky, dough.  I did get my mixture a little sticky at one point, but just brought it back by adding a touch more flour.  The pastry was easy to work with and to roll out.  I rolled mine straight onto greaseproof paper to make the next stages easier.

For the filling:
1 lb. beefsteak
1 onion or leek
1 carrot

Mince the meat, onion or leek and the carrort, season and moisten with a little stock (I acutally used gravy).  Spread the mixture on the pastry, moisten the edges with a little cold water and roll up.  I was aiming for a swiss roll type of thing, using the greaseproof paper to coax it into place.  I didn't end up with a perfect spiral, but it got the job done.  

The greaseproof paper stops the pastry sticking to the pudding cloth.  I tied it all up with a muslin square (the type mums will be familiar with from mopping up baby sick), but a thin tea towel would do as well.  It shouldn't be too tight, as the roll will expand during cooking. 

By this time, despite my careful measuring, I'd created a monster too big for my steamer.  After some improvisation with a giant jam pan I got it going and, 3 hours later (checking as I went along that the pan hadn't boiled dry), we were ready to serve with a little gravy on the side.

The taste test
This was quite a hit.  Not the most sophisticated dish, but lovely rich and comforting flavours of beef stew, snuggled in a dumpling duvet.  Perfect for a cold dark night.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

50s dinner - Salmon Creams

When designing my 50s menu I had to restrain myself from serving every course as a jelly in a mould.  These Salmon Creams let me play with aspic jelly and kept up the presentation being served in grapefruit 'water lillies'.

Salmon Creams
1/2 lb. cooked salmon
1 hard boiled egg
Tomato & cucumber
4 tbsps. mayonnaise
4 tbsps. aspic jelly

These are essentially little salads - flake the fish and mix with the chopped egg, tomato & cucumber, dressed with mayonnaise, and the jelly of course.  Aspic jelly is traditaonlly made from stock, but the reciepes in the book call for commercial aspic which you mix up from powder.  I couldn't find aspic available nowadays, so used plain gelatin.

You can put the the mix straight into the 'water lillies' to set, but as I hadn't started the grapefruit carving and I wanted to give it plenty of time I popped it into a dish first.  I was planning to cut out circles of the set mixture with a pastry cutter to place in the grapefruits, but the mixture was too soft, so I spooned it out instead, onto a bed of lettuce.

The grapefruit water lillies were fairly straight forward. Cut around the grapefruit it a zig zag shape, digging into the centre of the fruit so you're cutting through the flesh as well as the skin.  Give a twist and a good pull to separate the two halfs.  I found the best way to remove the flesh inside to was to use my fingers to get between the fruit and skin, with the flesh then coming away cleanly.

The taste test
The main unknown for me was how the consistency of the dish would be with the aspic.  It wasn't actually very noticible, especially along with the mayonnaise, and I'm not sure anyone else would have even known it contained jelly if I hadn't told them.  All the other salad ingregients were light and tasty, although I'd nomrllay have gone for a different type of dressing over the mayo.  All in all, we started the meal with a sucess.