Words to the wise from Dr Sister Outlaw

I am a quiche maker extraordinaire, and a dab hand at buttery shortcrust. The quiche I made for last night’s Earth Hour/40+something-too-big-to-tactfully-mention-any-more-party literally flew off the plate, with much ooing and aahing about my magic ingredients, which in this case included sage, oregano and thyme and a judiciously sliced preserved lemon quarter, in a mix of eggs and ricotta.

But before you go all funny about me blowing my own trumpet, I would like to share with you some of the learnings I have gleaned in the last week’s baking, during which I made three quiches, one successfully:

  1. Always check that one actually possesses a rolling pin before one makes the pastry. An old bottle of Cascade Ultra-C is not a worthy substitute. (Observant readers may recall that I have mentioned my rolling pin deficiency on this site already. You would think I would learn, but alas, I forgot I lacked a rolling pin twice in one week.)
  2. Olive oil is no substitute for butter in pastry, no matter how many foody websites insist that it produces a nice workable crust. On the other hand, if you actually want a biscuit crust that tastes like olive oil and falls away from the bottom of your quiche, go right ahead. Personally, I would just cut your losses and make frittata, but then maybe the rolling pin deficit is to blame?
  3. Silicon baking dishes are robust, but not robust enough to tolerate being set on top of a lit gas jet for some minutes.

Just in case you thought this was a blog restricted to people who are actually competent in the kitchen.

It’s Time … Dr Sista Outlaw’s annual zucchini fest

Zucchini, how I love it. There is nothing more delightfully buttery or charmingly versatile, or, for that matter, quite so easy to grow. Mine are bursting at the seams right now, pushing over the chook wire, and trying to run over the ground, fruiting in black and green stripes, with a pattern like 1960s barkcloth. Having just had a quarter of a year’s worth of rain in one weekend, they’re turning into marrows. And, as I am dead broke until the arrival of the Kevin Bucks, it’s time to get working on ways to use this luxurious, yet cheap, food.

Zucchini Muffins look so damned good the boy recanted his anti-zucchini stance and tucked in. They are also easy. Take a giant marrow or a few small ones and grate until you have 400 grammes worth. Then add: 1 cup white flour, 1 cup of polenta or some polenta and wholemeal, 1 tsp of baking soda, 1 tsp sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 lightly beaten egg and 60g of butter you’ve melted in the microwave. You can add flavourings such as a big handful of grated parmesan; a small handful of shredded herbs; six semi-sundried tomatoes sliced up; a big chunk of crumbled feta; ham, bacon, salami or smoked salmon in chunks; a handful of lightly toasted pine nuts or walnuts. Or any combo. Mix it all together until it just comes together into a lumpy mess and put big spoonfuls, lumps and all, into a lightly greased muffin pan. Bake at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes in a shiny new electric fan-forced oven, if, like me, you have one (I truly love my oven), but any one will do.

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Dr Sister Outlaw just loves butter/flour combos

Am currently feeling rather more prepared for Christmas than is usual. (Zoe made me feel very chuffed by asking me advice on pudding preparation by SMS). As a result, I am on top of the shopping and have accepted invites to (a) mother-of-boyfriend’s drinks (b) aunty-of-boyfriend’s Xmas dinner. Was a bit flummoxed when I realised that I really ought to take something to both events, but have no cash whatsoever (as going to Thailand and Vietnam shortly). So, in a fit of idiocy, I decided to make shortbread, using pretty angel, star and love heart cookie cutters that I bought today.

I haven’t done this since I was 24 or 25, which was quite some time ago. And, after I started, I remembered why. All that butter and all that flour, rice flour and sugar surely makes an unholy mess once you get going. Particularly if you have not yet made pastry in the new house and have no bench space. Particularly if you are so stupid as to double the recipe, as I did today (I’m not giving you the recipe, it’s the one off the McCormack rice flour packet, so you can’t go wrong).

I generally, genuinely, love making pastry and home-made pasta, because of that magic moment that occurs when the dry ingredients and the fat or the eggs just, you know, happen, and you get the elastic dough that you are aiming for. I learned a while ago that the old rubbing in method is pretty damned frustrating and that a blender works very well indeed (you do want lumps of butter in pastry, but that’s another story). However, even with a blender, f***ing shortbread just never seems like it is going to come together. This was not at all helped by my sudden discovery that I DON’T HAVE A ROLLING PIN. Jesus, how did I move out from the ex without the freakin’ rolling pin? How have I lived, in two houses, without one?

Despite these setbacks, it did finally come together, with a fair bit of manual handling. There is an old adage about how pastry cooks are supposed to keep things cold and use only the tips of their cool little fingers to rub butter and flour together, but, really, if you don’t use your toasty warm palms you will never, ever, get the butter and flour bits of the shortbread to hang together, let alone be able to flatten them into a nice even pattie and cut them with cookie cutters.

So, I used my palms and rolled out batches with the wine bottle I finished off last night with the boyfriend. God, it went on for hours, the rolling, cutting out and baking. But goodness me, it was worth it. Baked for about 30 minutes in my brand new fan-forced electric oven … yum.

AND I get to be all smug and say ‘yes, of course I made them myself.’ God, home cooking is brilliantly satisfying.

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