Albert Squares

Albert Squares are the next instalment in my Edmonds challenge series, following Afghan Biscuits in the index section of the Edmonds Cookbook.  Although not strictly – there is an entry for Afghan Slice hot on the heels of Afghan Biscuits.  However, the recipe for Afghan Slice involves making the exact same recipe as the Afghan Biscuits, only stuffing it into a tin at the final stage rather than making biscuits, and I decided this would be a bit like cheating on my part, and possibly a little boring for you dear readers out there.  Afghan Slice does of course sound delicious.

So, the mighty Albert Square it is.  I have to say I had never heard of this particular treat. The only Albert Square I was familiar with was a fictional one – that of the somewhat harrowing british soap EastEnders.

A quick flick of the ingredients, however, and it rung a dim bell in my memory, stored somewhere with the memories of Sunday School afternoon teas and bake fairs.  I think it’s the combination of currants and coconut that make it familiar to me; it seems that a dusting of coconut and dried fruit are integral parts of many New Zealand baking treats .

I’m not sure of the history of the Albert Square, although I suspect it may a Victorian-era delicacy, with the name Albert and all (hot tip – take caution when googling ‘Prince Albert’ in pursuit of innocent baking facts).

To make your very own Albert Squares,  Edmonds requires you to have:

  • 125g butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons golden syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 cup currant
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup milk

You begin by creaming the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  No further comment on creamed butter and sugar is needed from me since the Afghan Biscuits except to say I still think this stuff is delicious.  Then the eggs are added, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Beat in the syrup and vanilla.  Here’s a handy tip which I like to think is my own invention, but I bet heaps of you know this one already: when dealing with sticky substances such as syrup or honey, it helps a great deal to heat the measuring apparatus before use, which I usually do by immersing in a cup of hot water.  That way, the syrup slips off very easily, and you are not forced to spend extra time coaxing it off with your fingers and making a mess.

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Next come the currants, which are folded in.  Is it just me or is it only possible to buy currants in very large quantities?  I seem to have heaps of them and I only ever require small amounts perhaps twice a year.  Hence I was pleased to see a cup of these little buggers are needed for Albert Squares.

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The flour, baking powder and salt are sifted together and folded into the creamed mixture, alternating with the milk.  I found it made quite a stiff mixture, almost like a dough.

At this point, you spread the mixture into a greased 20 x 30cm sponge roll tin and bake it at 180 degrees celsius for 30 minutes, or until the centre springs back when touched.

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When cold, ice it with icing made by combining 1 & 1/2 cups icing sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence and ‘sufficient water to make a spreading consistency.’  Here’s a gratuitous icing shot, because I really love icing.

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Complete the look by sprinkling with 3 tablespoons of coconut and finely grated lemon rind.

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And there you have it.  I can certainly imagine Victorian ladies enjoying this little square with a cup of tea.  For myself, I must say that although it was pleasant, I probably will not experience a craving to make it again any time soon.  But for those who like a more solid, cakey slice with a touch of dried fruit, this would fit the bill.

Bored of sandwiches

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good sandwich.  Although bread has been having a hard time of late, what with low-carb fashions and suspicions about gluten, I do not let these things hold me back.

Nonetheless, we all have times when we crave a little change from the humble sandwich.  This week is one of those times and so the Mr and I put together some sushi.

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Now, please don’t think I am making claims for any kind of sushi-making prowess, and certainly nothing in the league of the talented Jiro in the delightful film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which I heartily recommend by the way.  No, I always find sushi-making a bit of a stretch of my technical abilities, with plenty of frantic stuffing of rice and filling into the hapless nori.

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Concerns about presentation aside (which I understand is certainly not the point if one is making sushi properly), there is still something very satisfying about  the combination of sticky, vinegary rice  and the filling of one’s choosing.  I am an avocado nut, and so I always plump for plenty of avocado, along with tuna and plenty of capsicum and carrot in this instance.

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And as we’re talking about sushi ingredients, I just can’t help adding a few snaps from Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, where the proper sushi chefs find their ingredients.  A far cry from my tinned tuna, I know.

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The nice people at BBC Food provide these helpful instructions for cooking sushi rice.  My sushi even fits nicely into my much-love Tupperware sandwich container, which will be housing sandwiches again before long I’m sure.  Happy eating ’til next time.

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My first harvest! Rocket and goat cheese

Today was an exciting first for me.  As you may have read in earlier posts, I have taken to gardening over recent months.  Well folks, today was the first time I harvested and ate something I had grown myself (aside from herbs…I’m talking things you can make a meal out of here).

Rocket was the lucky plant in this instance.  Rocket  made the final cut into my garden largely because I had it on good authority they are  easy to grow and low maintenance.  This has proven to be true.  Aside from losing a couple of seedlings to an enthusiastic blackbird chasing worms, my rocket plants are starting to resemble a pretty decent salad.  I am proud.

So, when one is harvesting one’s first crop, one really wants something special sharing the plate.  And that special something is goat cheese.  If you fancy hearing about my rocket and goat cheese salad with honey and balsamic dressing, read on.

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To make this for two people I used:

A handful of rocket leaves

Goat cheese – I used about 50 grams

2 tablespoons of pine nuts

A heaping teaspoon of runny honey

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons of olive oil

This salad requires doing pretty much all preparation simultaneously and then throwing to together at the end, which requires vigilance to any burning smells.

I started by toasting the pine nuts in a non-stick frypan.  Watch those little critters, they  burn all of a sudden.  I find they only need a couple of minutes of medium heat.

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Slice rounds of the goat cheese and place in a heat proof dish.  Put it under a hot grill and grill for several minutes until golden brown.

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While all this is going on, make the dressing by whisking the honey, vinegar and oil together.  I microwaved my honey first for 15 seconds first, which was helpful to proceedings.

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Place the rocket leaves in two bowls. Top with the grilled cheese and pinenuts. Add the dressing and combine.

As my rocket plants are in the first flush of youth, my harvest was modest, and so we had this salad on top of some fresh pasta to fill the meal out a little. It was okay teamed with the pasta, but another time I would have the salad with bread or grilled chicken if a little padding was needed.

Not so bad if I say so myself.

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Afghan biscuits: Sure to Rise

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I have been toying with the idea of cooking my way through the entire Edmond’s Cookery Book for some time now. The seed of this idea began to germinate a while back, after I watched Julie and Julia and my mind leapt to some more Antipodean possibilities.

Although this idea has flitted through the corners of my mind (or more towards the centre during hungrier moments) it was not until I started this blog that I finally had a reason to cook my way through about one thousand recipes which include such gems as cinnamon cream oysters, brandy balls and fruit betty.

I shall pursue this challenge in between blogging about other bits and pieces I have whipped up in the kitchen because I fear Edmonds, week in week out, for the next three years, might not provide enough variety. So, some posts will be Edmonds posts, and some will be posts about whatever has taken my fancy that day.

I’m attacking this one alphabetically, and so sadly we will all have to wait to find out what on earth fruit betty is and how one attempts to cook it. Not to fear, the first recipe in the Edmond’s index is still a crowd-pleaser…the ever popular Afghan biscuit.

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Wikipedia offers no answers on why Afghan biscuits are so named, and frankly, given that Edmonds Cookery Book was first published in 1908, I suggest we do not probe too much further on this one. Suffice to say, they are a crumbly mouthful of chocolatey goodness and I am pleased to have an excuse to bake some.

Edmonds provides the following instructions:

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 & 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 cups cornflakes
  • Chocolate icing
  • Walnuts (optional)

Begin by creaming the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy (is it just me or is creamed butter and sugar the best thing ever? I could eat a bucket of that stuff).

Sift the flour and cocoa and stir it into the creamed mixture and fold in the cornflakes. At this stage, I feared that my mixture was looking kind of dry and lumpy, so I used my hands (clean of course) to blend it together a bit more, and this worked quite well.

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Spoon mounds of mixture onto a greased tray, gently pressing together. There is no reference here to what sized spoon-mound we are talking about. So, I used one of the soup spoons from the drawer as this was closest to hand, and this seemed to work.

I have to say they don’t look super-attractive in their uncooked, uniced form.

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Bake at 180 degrees celsius until set. When cold, ice with chocolate icing and decorate with a walnut ‘if wished.’ Hell yeah I wish! It just wouldn’t be an Afghan biscuit without a walnut.

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Socca

My adventures with chickpea flour began in Binn Inn, one of my favourite retail locations.  It’s the perfect combination of thrifty spending and food shopping that leave me positively glowing with pleasure and virtue.

On this particular occasion, my sister and I had made a special trip to Binn Inn as part of a birthday outing, in which she also very generously shouted me high tea at the gorgeous Sweet Pea on Petone High Street.

As we poked about in the bins and bottles, she alerted my attention to a large vat of chickpea flour, promising ‘I have a nice recipe for this stuff.’  Not one to turn down a new recipe, particularly one which involves a purchase at Binn Inn, I found myself in possession of my sister’s lovely Socca recipe and now, dear reader, is your chance to read all about it.

Socca is flatbread made from chickpea flour.  This lovely dish also goes by the names of Farinata, Cecina and Faina and is found in Italy, France, Agentina and Uruguay.

Chickpea flour, I suppose, does not look terrifically exciting in its raw form, although I can assure you it has a rather pleasant nutty smell.

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To turn a little pile of chickpea flour into delicious Socca according to my sister’s recipe, you will need:

1 cup of chickpea flour

1 cup of water

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 teaspoon of salt.

Method:

Add all the above ingredients to a bowl, mix them together and leave them for about half an hour so the chickpea flour can absorb some water.

Heat up the grill at quite a high heat.

Heat an oven-proof frypan on the stove top and once hot, add a fair bit of olive oil and swirl it around to grease the pan (I say ‘a fair bit’ as my first attempt, sadly, did not involve enough olive oil and I wound up forlornly picking bits of my flatbread off the pan).

Pour in a third to a half of the batter and treat it like you would a crȇpe – swirl it around to cover the base of the pan.

Leave it cooking a few minutes.  Mine developed some cute little pancake-like frills as I did this.

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Then, put the pan under the hot grill until it bubbles and blackens slightly.  Once it has coloured and bubbled evenly over the surface, you’re ready to go – pull it out and enjoy.

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My sister included the following piece of advice about this stage: ‘DO NOT hold the handle of your frying pan with your bare hand.  I did and it burnt me. OUCH.’  And for this, I can recommend my cute little green potholders, modelled below.  They offer a bit more grip and flexibility than your average cloth potholder, with their clever ridgy-bits.

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I served my flatbread with pan-fried chicken thighs, spinach and pine nuts, and a smudging of my Parsley and Mint Yoghurt Sauce.  The internet tells me they are often served with fresh rosemary, pepper and sea salt which sounds utterly scrumptious, and given the fact I am nurturing a small rosemary bush in my new garden, I will be trying this combination soon.

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