The English Student Cooks: Blue Cheese Cornucopia

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Blue Cheese Cornucopia

Method: That’s a very fancy name for a very simple recipe. Basically, I made pancakes (one egg, 85g plain flour, 85ml milk and 85ml cold water whisked together any old how and left to stand for half an hour before frying) and spread them with a mixture of 125g Danish blue cheese and 60g (or thereabouts) butter. Mary wanted me to cut them into eight and fold them up but life is too damn short.

Substitutions/alterations: I didn’t do the pancake mixing thing with the well in the flour and whisking the liquid in gradually because, honestly, the liquid had already overflowed the well so it sort of seemed redundant. I also did not add the basil or walnut garnish because, really?

Verdict: Mmmmm. Salty and pancake-y and a bit greasy. Obviously you don’t want to eat them all at once, but in small amounts they are great.

The English Student Cooks: Chicken and Dill Parcels

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Chicken and Dill Parcels

Method: I started by boiling a chicken breast (it had been in the freezer for about a year, so we’ll see whether I’m still alive in the morning). While that was happening, I made pancake batter (!): I made a well in 85g of plain flour, added a lightly beaten egg and a little milk and combined that into a stiff mixture, then added 85ml of milk and 85ml of cold water and stirred again. That rested for half an hour in a glamorous Pyrex jug, alongside the chicken, which was cooling under a tea towel.

Meanwhile, I washed up. And then did some internetting.

When the pancake batter was feeling nice and snoozy (I know, because I asked it, a tip I learned from Val of this year’s Great British Bake Off), I made pancakes in a hot frying pan with sunflower oil. I’m still getting the hang of pancakes, so a couple of them were quite thick and the first one was a write-off because I tried to flip it before it was cooked properly. (I ate it anyway.)

So I left them to cool while I made the filling: I diced the chicken, sliced three spring onions and defrosted a couple of tablespoons of frozen peas by sticking them in a mug and pouring a small amount of boiling water over them. (This tip I learned from the Circumlocutor.) Chicken, spring onions and peas went into a bowl together with 2 tbsp Asda own-brand mayonnaise and 1 tsp English mustard that has been at the back of my fridge for about a year (again, we’ll see whether I’m still alive in the morning!). Oh, and some dried dill – I don’t know exactly how much because I just shook it at random from the jar.

I cut the cooled pancakes in four, spooned some chicken mixture on each and wrapped it up anyhow (Mary’s instructions didn’t work fantastically, but conceivably this is because I am spatially challenged and as soon as you start gabbling on about short edges and long edges my brain shuts down). Then I ate them.

Substitutions/alterations: I left the sunflower oil out of Mary’s pancake recipe, because I made them last weekend and they seemed very greasy and not, you know, fantastically healthy. I also used dried dill instead of fresh because I know I won’t use it this week and I didn’t want to buy a whole packet just for this meal.

Verdict: There was too much mustard: it coated everything and was just exhausting to eat. I also wonder about how tidy these are given they are supposed to be served as part of a buffet spread: though they’re quite easy to assemble wrapping them up so they don’t fall apart is tricky and even so they have a propensity to fall apart. I didn’t enjoy these enough to make them again, but if for any reason I did I would definitely reduce the amount of mustard in the recipe.

The English Student Cooks: Creamy Seafood Pancakes

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Creamy Seafood Pancakes

Method: First, I made the pancake batter: I made a well in 125g plain flour (in a bowl, obviously) and added one egg and the yolk of another as well as a little milk, and beat it all up to make a smooth and quite stiff batter. Then I added 300ml milk and left it to stand while I made the pancake filling.

I cut up one cod fillet into smallish cubes before frying half an onion and a small clove of garlic till the onion was soft. Then I remembered that I still had to go through the tremendous faff of peeling a couple of salad tomatoes (core, score an X on the base, plunge into boiling water for 15 seconds, plunge immediately into cold water, peel), so I did that rather hurriedly. Then I had to take the seeds out (which is another quite fiddly and messy job) and chop the flesh really small. Finally, I added the tomatoes, the cod and some dill to the onion and garlic (by this time slightly beyond soft) and cooked down for ten minutes, by which point the tomatoes had disintegrated and made a kind of thick sauce with the cod juices. Next, a 180g packet of cooked prawns and one and a half tablespoons of single cream went in, got heated for a bit and then just kept warm while I made the pancakes.

I hadn’t made pancakes before, and found the whole experience quite fun. It took a while to get the technique just right: how much of the batter to pour into the pan (enough to cover the bottom), how long to cook each side (about a minute), how hot the pan needs to be (quite hot). The last couple of pancakes were pretty good, though.

By this time I couldn’t be bothered with wrapping the filling in the pancakes, so I just dumped it on top of them (there were quite a few).

Substitutions/alterations: I kept the pancake batter quantities the same (it being quite difficult to use only half an egg), but halved the filling.

Verdict: The fish mixture, by some alchemy, comes out really rich and delicious; however, next time, I might take the prawns out, or reduce the quantity I use, as they tend to overwhelm the cod.

The pancakes were awesome. I don’t think you can really go wrong with a pancake short of burning it to a crisp.

This is one of the recipes I’m most likely to make again, I think – and the filling would even work separately from the pancakes.

The English Student Cooks: Broccoli and Ricotta Tart

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Broccoli and Ricotta Tart

Method: I cut up some broccoli into little florets and diced up the stalks (which I have never bothered to do before – life is too short) and boiled the whole lot for one minute, and drained it, etc. Then I mixed 250g of ricotta, 125g of non-fat cottage cheese (because I failed to buy enough ricotta earlier on in the day and non-fat cottage cheese was all Tesco Express could sell me at 6:30pm on a Sunday), 125g of grated Cheddar, 60g (or thereabouts) grated Parmesan, two eggs, two cloves of garlic and some thyme together in a bowl. Finally I grated down about six slices of wholemeal bread to make breadcrumbs and stirred them into about 75g melted butter. I lined my special quiche tin with three-quarters of the breadcrumbs to make a kind of crust, dolloped some of the cheese mixture in, remembered I was supposed to stir the broccoli stalks into the cheese mixture, did so, and dolloped the rest of it – Now With Added Broccoli Stalk! – into the tin. On top of that went the rest of the breadcrumbs and then the broccoli florets, “arranged” in my signature abstract style, otherwise known as the “Just Cram Them All On” school of culinary arranging. The tin went in the oven for 40 minutes.

Substitutions/alterations: I think the tin I used was smaller than the one Mary specified, but in truth I have no idea because the Circumlocutor seems to have reclaimed his measuring tape.

Verdict: Like many of Mary’s Eggs and Cheese dishes, this was very, very rich; also I had trouble getting it out of the tin as I didn’t really trust the crust to stand up on its own. It ended up being scooped oh-so-elegantly out with a serving spoon. I did really enjoy the thyme, though, which gives the egg-and-cheese decadence a slightly more grown-up edge. This should be served in very small portions; I’m not sure I’d make it again though.

 

The English Student Cooks: Strata with Cheese & Pesto

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Strata with Cheese & Pesto

Method: I dried out four slices of wholemeal bread in the top oven for 15 minutes (the lower oven was on, so I just used the excess heat from that rather than turning the top oven on); meanwhile, I mixed together four beaten eggs, 125ml of crème fraiche and 125ml of milk in a bowl. Once the bread slices were out of the oven I spread them with ready-made pesto, put them in the bottom of a glass baking tin, poured the egg mixture over the top (I couldn’t work out how to make the crème fraiche stop being lumpy, so the texture of the egg mixture was not unadjacent to scrambled egg) and grated about half a block of Cheddar and a couple of spoonfuls of Parmesan over the top. Finally, the whole caboodle went in the oven at 200 Celsius for 35 minutes.

Substitutions/alterations: The recipe called for vastly more Cheddar than I ended up using, but I felt that I’d already put loads on so I stopped. I suspect that the tin I used was smaller than the recipe specified.

Verdict: I didn’t really like this very much. Between the Cheddar and the pesto it was extremely salty, and there wasn’t very much texture to it: the bread kind of crumbled into the custard, so it was just all one undifferentiated mass of slightly textured cooked egg. I won’t make this again.

The English Student Cooks: Italian Cheese & Red Pesto Tartlets

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Italian Cheese & Red Pesto Tartlets

Method: I made the shortcrust pastry: I rubbed 2oz butter into 175g flour till the mixture resembled breadcrumbs, added some water and stirred it with a knife until it formed a dough. (I may have got impatient towards the end and just squished the dough together.) That went into the fridge for half an hour.

Meanwhile, I peeled four salad tomatoes (core them, score an x onto the base, put them in boiling water for 15 seconds and plunge them straight into cold water, after which palaver the skin comes off easily), chopped them up and de-seeded them; grated a ball of mozzarella (with difficulty); chopped three cloves of garlic (we don’t have a garlic crusher); and quartered nine black olives.

When the pastry came out of the fridge I rolled it out and cut it into four and a half inch circles using what should have been a cookie cutter but was actually the lid from my tub of baking beans. (We don’t have a cookie cutter either, and I couldn’t find one in Asda.) Then the edges of the circles got rolled up to make rims. Either because the circles were too large or because the pastry was too thick or some other arcane baking reason, I only managed to get five shells from the pastry (Mary said there should have been twelve) and they were all rather large. Anyway, I spread each shell with red pesto from a jar, filled them with the tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic and olives, and grated Parmesan onto the top before putting them in the oven at 200 Celsius for twenty minutes.

Substitutions/alterations: Apart from the aforementioned cookie cutter debacle, and the fact that I forgot to put any oregano in, none.

Verdict: These are awesome, like little pizzas, juicy and fresh for a summer supper. I still have three in my cupboard for tomorrow as well. They’re very fiddly, but worth it. Next time I shall try to acquire a suitable cookie cutter.

The English Student Cooks: Mediterranean Courgette Pie

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Mediteranean Courgette Pie

Method: I grated two courgettes, left them to drain in a colander for ten minutes and squeezed the liquid out before mixing them with half a ball of grated mozzarella, about 60g of grated Parmesan, two tablespoons of green pesto, two chopped-up cloves of garlic (we don’t have a garlic crusher) and two beaten eggs. The mixture went in a glass pie dish, topped with half a 500g block of puff pastry (rolled out, obviously, and brushed with a bit of the egg) and into the oven for twenty minutes.

Substitutions/alterations: I didn’t have the right size dish for the recipe, so I did about 70% of all the quantities (the dish I ended up using had 70% of the area of the one specified in the book). I also didn’t have any mint, which was supposed to go in the filling, because I thought I’d bought mint in Asda (since it was in the section labelled “Mint”) but it turned out to be Italian seasoning. Which was annoying.

Verdict: I had my doubts. They were clearly sacrilegious ones; I must learn to trust Mary Berry better. It didn’t taste nearly as bad as I feared: it’s garlicky and cheesy and pesto-y. I couldn’t taste much courgette, though, and the pastry wasn’t cooked through. I haven’t cooked with puff pastry before, though, so I’m giving myself a pass on that one.

It’s quite a fiddly, messy dish, though, what with all the grating and the squeezing of the courgette; it would be a good one to use up leftovers, but I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to make it again.

The English Student Cooks: Roquefort Quiche

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Roquefort Quiche

Method: Shortcrust pastry, as usual: I rubbed 2oz butter into 125g plain flour, added some water and stirred with a knife until it bound together in a dough. That went into the fridge to chill for half an hour.

Then: I rolled it out on a floured surface, lined my special quiche tin with the pastry, put some baking beans in and managed to get it safely into the oven (on 220 degrees Celsius) on the second attempt. (I had a slight mishap with the quiche tin’s loose bottom.*)

While that blind-baked, I made the filling: I mixed 90g crumbled Gorgonzola (so technically this is Gorgonzola quiche not Roquefort quiche) with 180g (a whole tub!) of Philadelphia Light, and then mixed in two beaten eggs and 150ml crème fraiche.

Once the pastry had finished its first bake (I took the baking beans out after ten minutes and let it cook empty for another ten minutes), I put the filling in – once again I had a little too much – and put the whole thing back in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius to bake for half an hour. Et voila.

Substitutions/alterations: I actually forgot to put any chives in the custard, which was annoying as I actually have a live chive plant which I never use. And, as noted above, I couldn’t find any Roquefort in Asda (funnily enough) so I used Gorgonzola instead.

Verdict: Another lovely Mary Berry recipe: creamy and cheesy and not too strong, with these amazing occasional veins of salty blue cheese running through the custard. I might well make it again, but not for myself on my own: it’s a bit too much of a faff for that.

*Ooo-er. That’s what she said. I’m sorry, I just watched Russell T. Davies’ Midsummer Night’s Dream on iPlayer and am having difficulty curbing my emotions.

The English Student Cooks: Salmon and Asparagus Quiche

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Salmon and Asparagus Quiche

Method: First, the pastry: I rubbed about three ounces of butter into 175g of plain flour until the mixture looked like breadcrumbs, and added about four tablespoons of water to bind it into a dough (I haven’t quite got the hang of getting the dough to bind without being sticky). This went into the fridge, wrapped in cling film, for half an hour.

After 30 minutes of surfing the internet, I rolled out the dough and lined my special quiche tin with the holes with it. I then blind baked the pastry: we didn’t have any foil or baking parchment, so I just put the baking beans straight into the tin. (This seemed to work fine, apart from there being a number of little dents in the bottom of the pastry after it was cooked.) That went into the oven at 220 Celsius for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, I made the filling for the quiche: I boiled a 125g pack of asparagus for 3 minutes, snipped 100g of smoked salmon into strips and stirred together 3oog of Greek yoghurt, two beaten eggs, some fresh dill and some pepper to make the custard. (I had to stir for a couple of minutes to get the yoghurt and eggs to combine properly.) Once the pastry had finished blind baking, I took it out of the oven, arranged the asparagus and half of the salmon on the bottom, poured the yoghurt custard on the top and arranged the rest of the salmon on the top. (Mary had a picture featuring a nice criss-cross lattice of salmon on the top; mine was more like an abstract modern art creation which probably would have won me zero marks on Masterchef.) The whole thing went back into the oven at 180 Celsius for 35 minutes, at which point I ate it.

Substitutions/alterations: The tin I used was slightly smaller than Mary specified – 20 centimetres instead of 23 – which meant I didn’t need quite as much of the yoghurt custard filling.

Verdict: This actually felt scarily grown-up. The Greek yoghurt gives it this almost lemony flavour which sets off the salmon really well, and it tastes a lot lighter than traditional quiche Lorraine. Additionally, I really noticed a difference using the baking beans to blind bake the pastry: it was as crispy as anything, even on the bottom – definitely my best effort yet. I had some sweetcorn on the side, which, entirely serendipitously, worked quite well.

This probably won’t become a go-to dish, though; I’d probably cook it if I wanted to show off, for a light summer lunch or something like that. It tastes great, but I didn’t want too much of it, and its grown-up-ness means it’s not really comfort food.

The English Student Cooks: Quiche Lorraine

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Quiche Lorraine

Method: First, I made pastry (I know, right? Advanced cooking!): I rubbed about 2oz of butter into about 125g of flour (I say “about” because it transpired that the weighing scales I thought we had actually belonged to a former housemate who moved out and took them with him, and also I know you are not supposed to mix imperial and metric measures but I did, OK, because I know roughly what 2oz of butter looks like but I have no idea what 60g looks like) until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs. Then I added 1tbsp of water. And then another, because the mixture wasn’t binding properly, but then it was too wet so I added a bit of flour…and so on. Eventually, when I had something that looked about right (a “soft-but-not-sticky dough” according to Mary), I wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge for half an hour.

Thirty minutes of Internetting later, I rolled out the dough and put it into the special quiche tin I bought for the purpose (this whole exercise has been scarily adult), which has lots of tiny holes in to help the dough crisp up and also a fantastic loose base. (It was well worth buying this quiche tin, as I am planning to use it lots.) I also pierced the bottom with a fork to let the air out from under the pastry (although given the air-holes in the quiche tin I’m not sure how necessary this was), tried unsuccessfully to brush it with egg with a whisk (because we didn’t have a pastry brush, and Delia Smith Online said that I could do this instead of baking blind) and put it in the oven for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, I started on the filling: I fried onions and Speck, an Italian cured ham I bought at Borough Market the other week, in butter. I also mixed two beaten eggs with a truly enormous amount of single cream (250ml!).

At this point, I got the pastry case out of the oven, where it had been for 40 minutes instead of 20 because nothing seemed to be happening. (It actually transpired later – much to the hilarity of my housemates – that the oven had been set to defrost instead of fan, which meant it was at a temperature of about 50 Celsius instead of 220.) Undeterred, I put the ham and onions into the case, poured over the egg and cream mixture, and grated Gruyere cheese on top. Then I put it back into the oven for half an hour, and then another half an hour once the mistake with the oven setting had been rectified.

Substitutions/alterations: I made the whole recipe rather than halving quantities as I usually do, because I know with baking things can get messy if you start fiddling around with sizes and quantities. I also used Speck instead of bacon, because I had half a block in the fridge that needed using.

Verdict: Despite the faff with the oven and the fact that the pastry wasn’t cooked properly before the filling went in and my lack of weighing scales, this was hands-down the best thing I have ever cooked. Granted, it did have a bit of a soggy bottom, but other than that it was cheesy and eggy and bacony and warm and rich, the pastry around the edges was delicious, it looked great, and I still have half left in the fridge for today’s dinner.

Having said that, if I make it again (which I will, although probably not just for myself as it’s quite fiddly and time-consuming), I’ll use bacon instead of Speck, as the ham went quite hard in the quiche and didn’t quite work.