Posts Tagged ‘eggs’

My gluten free failure

There was a disaster, people. A disaster! Yesterday morning, in work, the customers kept asking about gluten free options and I kept on saying, earnestly, “I’m going to make some this afternoon, just a few hours!”

As part of my Apple Challenge, I had made an almond cake with apples and gooseberries and it only had 40g of flour in it. So I figured it wasn’t that far off being gluten free. All I had to do was replace the plain flour with rice flour and I’d have a decent gluten free cake that was actually nice, as opposed to gluten free nice.

The afternoon came, I got my chef’s whites on and I approached the kitchen with gusto. I made shortbread biscuits and flapjacks and got some bread dough ready to start proving. Then I let my imagination run wild. Well, not really. I just got started on the gluten free recipe I’ve mentioned above. I was doing it from memory so I knew it might not be perfect.

I put in butter, sugar, ground almonds, rice flour, almond essence, plums, bicarb. It all seemed to be going ok. I put it in a cake tin and stuck it in the oven to bake then got back to my bread.

I looked in the oven at the half way point and it had risen a lot. I worried that it might spill out of the tin. When I checked ten minutes later, it had sunk and looked ridiculously flat. I took it out after it had finished baking and drizzled white chocolate on it and decided to rename it an ‘almond slice.’ It seems like it’s supposed to be flat then…. Doesn’t it?

As I walked home, I wrangled with myself about how to get on top of the gluten free challenge, about whether the rice flour ruined it or something else. Did I not put enough ground almonds in? Did I use too much bicarb? Why was it so flat?

I got home and went straight to the cookbook to figure out the mystery….

EGGS! I forgot the eggs. Dang it. What a schoolboy error. The bloody eggs.

So today, I will try again. Wish me luck!

How to prepare for a 17th century banquet

I know that many of you have been wondering about this, haven’t you?

So here it is. Taken from The Accomplish’t Cookor by Robert May and called ‘Triumphs and Trophies in Cookery, to be used at Festival Times, as Twelfth-day, &c.’

“Make the likeness of a Ship in Paste-board, with Flags and Streamers, the Guns belonging to it of Kickses, bind them about with packthread, and cover them with close paste proportionable to the fashion of a Cannon with Carriages, lay them in places convenient as you see them in Ships of war, with such holes and trains of powder that they may all take Fire; Place your Ship firm in the great Charger; then make a salt round about it, and stick therein egg-shells full of sweet water, you may by a great Pin take all the meat out of the egg by blowing, and then fill it up with the rose-water, then in another Charger have the proportion of a Stag made of course paste, with a broad Arrow in the side of him, and his body filler up with claret-wine; in another Charger at the end of the Stag have the proportion of a Castle with Battlements, Portcullices, Gates and Draw-Bridges made of Past-board, the Gun and Kickses, and covered with course paste as the former; place it at a distance from the ship to fire at each other. The Stag being placed betwixt then with egg shells full of sweet water (as before) placed in salt. At each side of the Charger wherein is the Stag, place a Pye made of course paste, in one of which let there be some live Frogs, in each other some live Birds; make these Ours of course Paste filled with bran, and yellowed over with saffron or the yolks of eggs, guild them over in spots, as also the Stag, the Ship, and Castle; bake them, and place them with guilt bay-leaves on turrets and tunnels of the Castle and Pyes; being baked, make a hole in the bottom of your Pyes, take out the bran, put in your Frogs, and Birds, and close up the holes with the same course paste, then cut the Lids neatly up; To be taken off the Tunnels; being all placed in order upon the Tables, before you fire the trains of powder, order it so that some of the Ladies may be perswaded to pluck the Arrow out of the Stag, then will the Claret-wine follow, as blood that runneth out of a wound. This being five with admiration to the beholders, after some short pause, fire the train of the Castle, that the pieces all of one side may go off, the fire the Trains, of one side of the Ship as in a battel; next turn the chargers and fire the trains of each side. Then let the ladies take the egg-shells full of sweet water and throw them at each other. All the dangers being seemingly over, by this time you may suppose they will desire to see what is in the pyes; where lifting first the lid off one pye, out skip some Frogs, which make the Ladies to skip and shreek; next after the other pye, whence come out the birds, who by a natural instinct flying in the light, will put out the Candles; so that what with the flying Birds and skipping Frogs, the one above, the other beneath, will cause much delight and pleasure to the whole company.”

A lesson in Beeing efficient

As I’m still reeling from learning about the amazingness of bees at a beekeeping course on Sunday, I’m going to give you some more bee facts that could potentially blow your mind. They blew mine.

There are 250,000 varieties of bee. Only one of these is a honey-making bee.

A bee hive is an extremely clean environment. When a bee knows it is going to die, it will fly away from the hive and die elsewhere. If the bee is very ill and cannot get away in time, the other bees will remove the dead body to a safe distance from the hive, to prevent disease spreading.

Bees also do not go to the toilet in the hive. They will fly outside and go somewhere else.

There are guard bees at the entrance to the hive. Each hive has it’s own scent (a unique mixture of the pollen that has been collected by that colony). As a bee approaches the hive, the guard bees will smell them to check they have the same scent. If they are not from that colony, they will be shooed away, unless they are carrying tons of pollen, then they will be allowed in.

When the young worker bees first leave the hive, they spend some time familiarising themselves with the hive and the local area. To help them find their way back, the guard bees flap their wings and fan the scent of the hive out into the air.

When a bee visits a flower to collect pollen, they will leave a scent behind that allows the other bees, who are also out foraging, to know that flower has already been visited. This prevents lots of other bees wasting time visiting the same flower.

A workers bee’s life lasts about six weeks in the summer, at which point they’re pretty knackered from all the flying and foraging etc. In the winter, because their main job is to keep the brood warm, as opposed to all the flying, they will live to about six months.

The personality of the queen bee dictates the character if a colony. If you have an aggressive queen, the colony will be more aggressive and you will get more stings, etc. If, however, you replace that queen with a more placid one, the whole colony will become more placid and calm.

Royal Jelly is produced by a gland in the bee’s head, which develops after a few weeks of life. The worker bee eggs will be given the Royal Jelly for two days only. An egg which is destined to become a drone will recieve a bit more and an egg which is to potentially become a queen bee will be fed solely on Royal Jelly. It is not that the Jelly is scarce. There is tons of it to go around. It’s that the worker bees need to be kept ‘stupid’ and so are rationed, whereas the drones and queens need to develop more and are ‘in charge’ of stuff, so they are given more.

I’ve just realised that this still doesn’t cover all of the bee facts I learned on Sunday.

A bee colony is the picture of efficiency. It’s funny to think that they don’t talk, yet they have developed all these complex systems to keep the colony running efficiently.

Prepare to Bee amazed

Yesterday, my mind was blown. My mind was blown because I never realised how amazing bees are. I went on the first of a two day course in beekeeping at Walworth Garden Farm in central London.

In central London? I hear you say. Beekeeping and a farm garden? In central London.

Well, yes. Yes, indeed. Walworth Garden Farm is near Kennington tube station. Put your hands up if this means anything to you. If it doesn’t, think council estates, think bricks, think high apartment blocks. And you can see why a farm would seem out of place here. Yet there it is and it thrives in the midst of the concrete.

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The morning was spent getting to know each other and getting to grips with the basics of bees, which consisted of the following:

There are three types of bees – a queen bee, the worker bees and the drones. They are all interdependent on each other and cannot survive unless each is present.

The queen bee, after she has hatched, will take trips out of the hive for the first few weeks of her life. These trips are to find male bees to mate with (which they do in the air). The queen bee saves up all the sperm from this mating period, as she will never mate again in her life. Her life is spent laying eggs and she uses the sperm she has saved to fertilise them. If she is laying a drone egg, she doesn’t fertilise it. It becomes an exact copy of herself. When that drone then goes out and mates with another bee, the queen bees DNA continues on.

The way a queen bee knows whether to lay a fertilised egg (which will become a worker bee) or an unfertilised egg (which becomes a drone) is by measuring the size of the cell the bees have built. The bees build bigger cells for drones so when the queen bee measures it with her legs, if it is a bigger cell, she lays a drone egg.

(By this point in the day, I was overwhelmed. I never realised bees were so mindblowingly clever.)

Bees also each go and collect one of three things when they go out – nectar, pollen or propolis. No-one yet knows how they figure out who’s doing what so that they have the rights amounts of each thing.

To keep the temperature of the ‘brood’ (the growing eggs and larvae) at 30 degrees, if it is cold outside, they will huddle together and vibrate their wing muscles (shoulder muscles, if you will) to keep warm. If it is hot, they will fly out to find water, then create an indoor aid conditioning system by spitting/spraying the water out and flapping their wings. The bees will all flap their wings in a certain direction to circulate the air one way and cool everyone down.

After sitting around being amazed all morning, it was time for a quick lunch break and wander in the garden…

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Then for the afternoon, we were split into two groups, with half of us going to look at the beehives. Off we went, to get kitted out…

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The guy in the blue t-shirt, Ian, is Mr Beekeeper and his knowledge of bees and their habits is so vast. He went in with no kit on and took the lids off the hives and showed us the cells and the workers and the queen bee and the honey and….

It went on and on and it was fascinating. I could have stayed there all day, in my unflattering beige suit, looking at the bees.

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Anyway, after some more bee chat, some of which is mentioned above, we called it a day and will be back next Sunday to find out about how to extract honey from hives and what to do with leftover wax.

Watch this space for more bee facts. I feel another post coming on tomorrow.

The course instructors were amazing yesterday. Everyone knows their stuff inside out and is passionate about what they do and about sharing their knowledge. If you can get to beekeeping course near you, I can fully recommend it, not necessarily to become a beekeeper, more to understand and appreciate how these fabulous little creatures help us and how they work. They are very, very interesting little things.

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How to prepare a 17th century feast

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I have been doing lots of research about 17th century cooking and ingredients, for my volunteer work at Ham House and I have come up with some real gems. A recipe book from 1664 called The Accomplisht Cookor by Thomas May contains the following fantastic recipe for bisque. It’s so brilliant, it doesn’t even need comment. Just check it out.

To make a Bisk divers ways.

Take a wrack of Mutton and a Knuckle of Veal, put them a boiling in a Pipkin of a Gallon, with some fair water, and when it boils, scum it, and put to it some salt, two or three blades of large Mace, and a Clove or two; boil it to three pints, and strain the meat, save the broth for your use and take off the fat clean.

Then boil twelve Pigeon-Peepers, and eight Chicken Peepers, in a Pipkin with fair water, salt, and a piece of interlarded Bacon, scum them clean, and boil them fine, white and quick.

Then have a rost Capon minced, and put to it some Gravy, Nutmegs, and Salt, and stew it together; then put to it the juyce of two or three Oranges, and beaten Butter, &c.

Then have ten sweet breads, and ten pallets fried, and the same number of lips and noses being first tender boil’d and blanched, cut them like lard, and fry them, put away the butter, and put to them gravy, a little anchove, nutmeg, and a little garlick, or none, the juyce of two or three Oranges, and Marrow fried in Butter with Sage-leaves, and some beaten Butter.

Then again have some boil’d Marrow and twelve Artichocks, Suckers, and Peeches finely boil’d and put into beaten Butter, some Pistaches boiled also in some wine and Gravy, eight Sheeps tongues larded and boiled, and one hundred Sparagus boiled, and put into beaten Butter, or Skirrets.

Then have Lemons carved, and some cut like little dice.

Again fry some Spinage and Parsley, &c.

These forefaid materials being ready, have some French bread in the bottom of your dish.

Then dish on it your Chickens, and Pidgeons, broth it; next your Quaile, then Sweet breads, then your Pullets, then your Artichocks or Sparagus, and Pistaches, then your Lemon, Poungarnet, or Grapes, Spinage, and fryed Marrow; and if yellow Saffron or fried Sage, then round the center of your boiled meat put your minced Capon, then run all over with beaten butter, &c.

1. For variety, Clary fryed with yolks of Eggs.
2. Knots of Eggs.
3. Cocks Stones.
4. Cocks Combs.
5. If white, strained Almonds, with some of the broth.
6. Goosberries or Barberries.
7. Minced meat in Balls.
8. If green, Juyce of Spinage stamped with manchet, and strained with some of the broth, and give it a warm.
9. Garnish with boiled Spinage.
10. If yellow, yolks of hard Eggs strained with some Broth and Saffron.”

Ok, now off you go to the kitchen and get going on your bisque! I think I’m going to try my lips and noses with cocks stones… Mmmm…

E is for….

EGGS!

Eggs come from chickens, which are the key to my imaginary life. In my imaginary life, I have chickens in my garden. Currently Danda is blocking the acquisition of a chicken for the back garden.

What’s that? My garden’s only the size of a small room and the chicken would have hardly any space to walk around? Yeh, ok. Way to rain on my parade. I’ll never become a farmer if I’m up against such constant negativity.

Anyway, back to chickens and eggs and my alternate universe life where I live on a farm. My day on my farm goes as such….

At 7am I leap out of bed, bright as a daisy and ready for the day ahead. I can’t wait to go and see my beloved cows and chickens and piggywigs.

“Good morning, dears!” I sing, Julie-Andrews-esque, sailing effortlessly from field to field, greeting my animals, who love me for my Mother Earth qualities. Never mind that when I was actually on a farm, I was mostly tramping through soggy mud and vaguely tried to stroke a cow on it’s nose but it turned its head and licked me instead and its spit was all supergluey and disgusting on my fingers.

But it will be different on my farm. I will be at one with nature and glide around, happy and loving.

After greeting the day and my animals, I will approach the chickens who, rather than clucking frantically and heading in the opposite direction, will swarm around me, cooing affectionately while I make my way to the coop and collect some eggs.

While returning to the farmhouse, I will pass the cows, kneel briefly with a mug and get some milk (cause it’s really easy, right? And only takes a minute or so and there’s no faffing around with buckets or stalls, is there? Good, I thought not). The cows look at me, doe-eyed with love, and moo to send me on my merry way to breakfast.

I arrive in my lovely kitchen with a rustic flagstone floor, shout out to Danda and put the kettle on to make tea. I crack and scramble the eggs and toast some of the seeded bloomer bread I made the night before. Danda and I eat scrambled eggs with toast and drink tea with our fresh milk. Our toast is buttered with the butter I made from churning the fresh cow’s milk yesterday.

The rest of my day is spent as such. I visit the vegetable garden later that morning, to gather asparagus and tomatoes and potatoes and chard, which I will make into some kind of new potato salad for lunch. I also collect leeks and carrots to make soup with.

I visit the little pigs for some fun really, to watch them snuffling about and rolling over in the mud. Ah, my farm life gives me such glee.

I tend to the roses and the lavender and notice, with pleasure, that the bees are swarming around, collecting nectar.

This reminds me to check on the new hives so off I go. Rather than stinging and causing me to swear, the bees buzz a friendly hello and clear out of the hive, hovering politely nearby until I finish and they can return. I find a glut of honey and extract it with ease. None of the honey drips on me and none of the bees are angry.

“Have it,” they buzz, smiles on their little bee faces. “It is a gift.”

I accept their gift, graciously taking it to the kitchen (it comes already in jars, right? That’s what’s in bee hives, isn’t it? Pre-packed jars of honey) and think what to make with it, for I am very Mother Earthy and like to make everything from scratch using the lovely gifts that the earth has presented me with. I make some breakfast muffins for the following day using the honey and I also glaze some apple slices and gently roast them for later this evening.

As there is a deer cull at the moment, the farmer next door has brought me some venison, which I have minced and mixed with lots of herbs and am currently in the process of making into sausages, because I make everything from scratch and am never pressed for time and never burn things and people always rave about my sausage making skills.

Before the sun sets and I start cooking my venison sausages, I skip around the farm saying goodnight to each animal individually. The chickens hug my ankles with their wings and offer me presents of eggs, which I take back to the kitchen to make into custard for having with the apple slices later.

Tired, but fulfilled and relaxed, Danda and I eat our dinner in front of the log fire and listen to the sounds of the cows mooing.

Being a farmer would totally suit me. I’d be ace at it, as is obvious from this post, cause I well know exactly how to be farmer. Isn’t that obvious? I can’t believe Danda won’t let me get a chicken and have eggs in the morning. It’s like he doesn’t realise that this whole post could become a reality, if only I had a chicken.

I’m being stifled here. Stifled.

A is for…

Ok, it’s April and, as far as I remember from last year, it’s AtoZ time! I haven’t seen anything about it this year but I reckon it’s still running and it was fun last year. So I’m going to go for it. You post one letter every day, missing out Sundays and finishing on the last day of the month. So here goes…

A is for….. Abel & Cole!

There has been a revolution in my world. Following my instructions few days ago, to try and reduce my air miles while shopping, I made sure that nothing I bought had been flown in from other countries. It was difficult because the cold weather prevents very much from being grown in England at the moment but I did it and it was fun because I had to be more imaginative with the ingredients I did find.

Then I spotted an Abel & Cole catalogue someone had given me because they order with them. Abel & Cole are a company who source local products and deliver to your door. They started in South London with fruit and vegetable deliveries and now do a whole load of stuff. You can get your meat, fish, eggs, milk, yoghurt, food cupboard stuff, etc from them, plus things that aren’t food, like bathroom and kitchen products, toilet roll, cleaning products…. The list is endless. Most of the products are organic with but some of the meat, you have the choice of organic or non-organic. Another fabulous thing about them is that when you’re ordering online, you can check the product information to see what country it is from. And even the things which aren’t from the UK, aren’t flown in so you know you’re shopping has zero air miles. Phew!

So I took the plunge and ordered from them. When ordering meat, I included venison because I know there is a deer cull at the moment and I don’t like the idea that perfectly good food is being wasted.

My vegetables came covered in dirt which, sucker that I am for anything farmer-ish, pleased me immensely.
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All my things were delivered in cardboard boxes that I was told to fold down and leave out when my next delivery is due. All the packaging was labelled to be recycled or given back to Abel & Cole for reuse.

And suddenly, I found myself falling in love with Abel & Cole. I just love them. I can’t help myself. I tried not to fall for all the cutesy notes about recycling and the stories about where my food had come from or the note telling me that I could log on to my online account and find recipes for the things I had bought. But I fell. And I have fallen hard.

Then a whole new world opened up to me…. The world of NOT SUPERMARKET SHOPPING anymore! A thing I’d never considered. And I am very excited! Today, in fact, I am going to a farm about half an hour away to go to their farm shop to see me over until my next Abel & Cole delivery.

I love the idea of seeing where my food is coming from or having a more direct link to the people who produce it. I have logged onto the websites of the farms and fishermen who provide the things I am getting through Abel & Cole and it’s really refreshing, knowing about who is feeding me!

So far, I haven’t been to a big impersonal supermarket for five days. Let’s see how long I can go for.