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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Got the cooking blues?

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How do you feel about being in your kitchen this weekend? Are you looking forward to creating another tasty family meal or perhaps an extravagant dinner party menu? Or do you have the cooking tedium blues I seem to run in to every now and then?

Sometimes deciding on, shopping for, and cooking yet another meal makes me want to scream… or at least grumble and whinge loudly. But a recent visit to a National Trust property in Cornwall helped put things in perspective!

Lanhydrock’s fascinating history has been beautifully recreated in interiors fashioned by its former Victorian/Edwardian owners, so we were able to immerse ourselves in the family’s storyline. But after traipsing through room after room dedicated solely to the production of food – nine in total – my other half queried incredulously: “So, how many people were they cooking for?”

The upstairs/downstairs divide

It was a pertinent question. This family of two parents and nine children, along with innumerable ‘downstairs’ servants, all needed to be fed. Actually, ‘fed’ is something of a misnomer. Wealthy Edwardian families feasted on several huge meals a day, interrupted only by teatimes, evening appetisers and late suppers.

And the implications of such output for the cook (and her helpers, if she had any) were staggering. Everything had to be made by hand. Every can (oops, sorry – no cans in those days), jar, bottle, tub, tray or dish of anything used in the kitchens was produced by her, down to the butter, jam and clotted cream in those gloriously-indulgent Cornish cream teas!

Little wonder servants were up before dawn, retired to bed only after the last family member, and were treated to just one afternoon off a week.

Modern technology

After a devastating fire in 1881, Lanhydrock’s owner commissioned repairs that incorporated the latest technology for the times, including new range ovens, heated cupboards (connected to central heating pipes) for warming the food and plates, and a high-gabled kitchen roof with louvre windows to remove hot air. The massive roasting spit was particularly impressive, with the rotisserie being turned by a fan located in the flue above the fire.

But the mod-cons don’t appear to have made life any easier for those toiling in the extensive kitchens, which comprised a scullery (with yet another, smaller range oven); a bake-house for a constant supply of biscuits and cakes (the oven took four days to bring to temperature); a pastry room; a still room for making jams, chutneys, jellies and broths; and a meat larder.

For ‘refrigeration’ there was a pantry room with cool slate slabs for storing cooked foods and an ice chest for making ice cream; a dairy scullery where butter and clotted cream were made and the milk kept in pans in cold water; and finally a dairy room where jellies, mousses, cold puddings, soups, custards, milk puddings and the cream and butter were all stored on marble slabs and over slate runnels cooled by spring water piped from outside the house.

Whew! I’ll think about that next time I sit down for a quick cup of coffee and a warm scone oozing jam and cream! And tonight, if I don’t feel like spending time in the kitchen, I’ll open a can, throw its contents into a pot with some other ready-prepared item, perhaps add a little chopped this and that, and dinner will be on the table.

For that I’m immensely grateful.

How I found grace in a gooey, chocolatey indulgence

Florentines

June was a difficult month in our household and I didn’t feel able to do any blogging. Somewhere in the middle, I experienced a crushing disappointment.

It wasn’t completely unexpected, and I found myself responding as I usually do to life’s hurts. I withdrew from all but my dearest. I ignored pinging text messages, the telephone and the doorbell. I took time to cry, sleep, think and mooch about. I know from experience that solitude and space help me recover.

But what I hadn’t anticipated was a sweet moment of grace that taught me something new about myself.

In the midst of my sadness, I thought about baking. Seriously.

And this from a woman who in the past could have given lessons in kitchen avoidance techniques.

It wasn’t so much the idea that some extravagant treat would produce a feel-good sugar rush and sweet-coat the bitter pill I had swallowed. It was more that the process itself might have some kind of mind-and-heart soothing effect.

Perhaps I reasoned subconsciously that a concentrated focus would help me forget the ache for a while. Or perhaps I was inspired to create something new and satisfying out of disparate parts, or to bring joy to those who would eat the treats. I really don’t know.

But I trawled through my recipes and settled on Florentines. Despite them being one of my favourite indulgences, I haven’t made them before. So bake I did.

And those mouthfuls of crunchy nut-and-toffee deliciousness, layered with dark chocolate turning more gooey with every mouthful, not only delighted friends and family, but – surprisingly – took me a step closer to my healing. Making them brought a fresh and different rhythm of grace into difficult circumstances.

It is such sweet moments of grace, gifted to us by a loving Father who knows what we need just when we need it, that often sustain us on our journey.

*****

Chocolate Florentines

Here’s the Sainsbury’s recipe I used (it makes about 12). The combination of nuts, toffee and chocolate is difficult to resist (and why would you want to)!

50g unsalted butter

100g light brown soft sugar

1tbsp plain flour

75ml crème fraiche

50g flaked almonds

¼ tsp mixed spice

125g unsalted peanuts & raisins

50g Brazil nuts, roughly chopped

125g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

25g white chocolate, broken into pieces

 

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan 160°C). Line two baking trays with baking parchment.

2. Put the butter and brown sugar in a pan and melt over a gentle hear. Stir in the flour and bring to the boil. Stir in the crème fraiche and remove from the heat. Add the almonds, mixed spice, peanuts and raisins, and Brazil nuts, and mix well.

3. Spoon tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the trays and gently flatten with a spoon. Space them well apart as they will expand as they cook.

4. Bake for 12 – 15 mins until golden. Leave the Florentines on the baking parchment and lift onto a cooling rack. Once cooled, turn them over ready for the melted chocolate.

5. Melt the chocolate in separate bowls in the microwave (on medium, in 30 second bursts; keep checking). Or bring a little water to a simmer in a pan and suspend a heatproof bowl over it (don’t allow the base of the bowl to touch the water). Add the chocolate pieces and stir until smooth and melted.

6. Spread the Florentines’ bases with the melted dark chocolate. Then drizzle over the melted white chocolate in thin lines. Chill to set.

 

If I make them again I’ll probably avoid adding the crème fraiche when the mixture’s boiling, and follow the Hairy Bikers’ instructions to gradually combine it over a medium heat, stirring continuously.

The Florentines really do spread over the baking sheet, making them thin round the edges. Next time I might try spreading the mix into a baking tray, and cutting it into neat squares once it’s cooked and slightly cooled. Another recipe suggested using walnut-sized scoops of the mixture and, once baked, immediately reshaping them into circles using a cookie cutter or knife, before allowing them to cool. Enjoy!