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Friday, 30 December 2011

New, Improved Recipe!

Two tracks for this train of thought on improvements: an example of the way some companies feel the need to 'improve' their recipes, and the way food companies package their wares these days.

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By the time I finished my 7 Months of Baking challenge, I'd picked up my next round of Wright's flours for baking, including their Madeira cake, which wasn't available at the food show earlier in the year. The selection on offer wasn't great, but I did bag another couple each of the chocolate and carrot cakes. The first one I baked was a second chocolate cake, according to my own embellished 'recipe', specifically so I could take some round to my folks because I'd neglected to do so the first time round.

The other day, I decided - on a whim - to bake myself a carrot cake. After all, I have plenty of Betty Crocker icing left over, and even those shop bought carrot cakes that refrain from pollution by walnut will invariably be iced to one degree or another. The perfect match, surely?

I noticed something was different the moment I started tipping the mix into my bowl: the carrot pieces were larger. Back when I baked the first carrot cake, I noted that the carrot pieces were basically crumb-sized. Now, they have officially graduated to 'flakes'. Still not the full-on gratings that some ready-made cakes contain, but a noteworthy change nonetheless, particularly since it seems to have happened without any fanfare. Then again, other than that, the mixture is unchanged, so maybe larger fragments of root vegetable don't deserve announcement.

The cake was fine as it was, but the larger carrot pieces do add to its texture and, with a carrot cake that tastes as good as this one (let's face it, nothing tastes better than freshly baked cake!), the last thing we need is for the delicate balance of spices to be upset.

There have been times when a 'New, Improved Recipe' has basically ruined a product so, while I'm fully aware that the thing that sets the best companies apart is their response to customer feedback and their constant striving to improve the quality of their products, I believe that some things should always stay as they are.

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Anyone who spends any amount of time shopping in supermarkets will no doubt know the frustration of packing cardboard food boxes into their fridge or freezer. Nine times out of ten, the boxes are oversize for their contents, so it's always appreciated when packaging is minimised. Where the food is contained in a plastic tub or foil tray, extra packaging is often limited to a printed band around the container - less wasteful of cardboard, more easily compacted, and just as recyclable as a full-size box.

When restocking my freezer in Iceland today, I found that some of their foodstuffs that used to be packaged in oversized boxes (and the product contained in a plastic bag within) are now packaged only in their standard heavy-gauge printed plastic bags. These take up far less space in the freezer drawers and become even more convenient as their contents are removed (cardboard boxes can be folded, sure, but tend to unravel, flap about and generally become a pain in the backside).

I should point out that there's no indication on the bag as to whether or not the plastic is biodegradable, recyclable (are either mandatory now?), or even what type of plastic it is. Then again, there's no council-provided recycling collection from my home, so whatever I don't transfer to my parents' place for recycling will end up in the bins. Also, and perhaps more worryingly, while investigating one bag I discovered that the particular chicken product I was looking at was prepared and packaged in Thailand... and, no, it wasn't Thai Chicken.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Last Course: Off-Key Lime Pie

As previously mentioned, there is a vast gulf of difference between 'Key Lime Pie' and the things that are sold as 'Key Lime Pie' in supermarkets across the United Kingdom. Quite how cream ever became involved, I may never know (other than because we like our cream over here... Mmmmm, that full fat goodness!)... so why some insist on turning it into a cheesecake is, frankly, beyond baffling and into the realms of the frighteningly abstract. If Salvador Dali had been a chef, he'd have had nightmares about Key Lime Cheesecake.

What I aimed to do with this was recreate something akin to the traditional, Florida Keys recipe. Naturally, proper Key Limes were out of the question - they're hard enough to come by at the best of times but, right now, it's the middle of winter! Since I like my puns almost as much as I like my snacks, I figured calling it 'Off-Key Lime Pie' was a fun way to admit that it wasn't going to be quite right.

I decided to cut some serious corners with this first iteration, the idea being that I'd see how it turns out using bottled lime juice this time, and then revisit the recipe at a later date, and make it fresh. Also, Waitrose's ready-made Sweet Pastry Case was an absolute Godsend, because it meant no faffing about with rolling out pastry and finding a suitable tin to bake it in. The base actually has to be partly cooked ('Blind Baked' is the term) before the fillings go in anyway, so lots of time and effort were saved there.

Just to make this more fun, I made this while visiting my folks. There was no way I'd be able to eat the whole thing myself (no, really... 'Two-Puds' I may be... this is six, easily), and I figured it'd be easier to transport the ingredients than a finished pie... so I was working in a kitchen I'm not as used to as my own, and with both parents to-ing and fro-ing all the while.

Ingredients:
  • Waitrose Sweet Pastry Case
  • Condensed Milk (approx 325g to be used, so try to get a container of about that size. Carnation make one of 450g, which is what I used... but shop around!)
  • 4 Eggs - to be separated!
  • Essential Waitrose Lime Juice (1x 125ml bottle)
  • 1 Fresh Lime (for the zest)
  • Cream of Tartar
  • Vanilla Extract (I used Ndali's 'Intense')
  • Icing Sugar
Preparation Time: Approx 1hr 20minutes (before chilling in fridge), or 40minutes if using an electric whisk

Tools Required:
  • 2 Medium Bowls - one for the pie filling, one for the meringue
  • Whisk (this is one of those times when an electric whisk is helpful - it makes the meringue far easier!)
  • Grater (for the lime zest)
  • Measuring Implements - Condensed Milk is a liquid that is measured by weight, not volume, so scales are handy... US-style 'cups' can be quite helpful for some things: a half cup is the perfect size for the amount of lime juice and icing sugar used by this recipe.
  • Baking Tray or Cookie Tray
The Process:
Preheat the oven to 160C (140C for fan assisted). Carefully separate the eggs so you have the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. A little white in with the yolks won't be too important, but yolk in with the whites will be troublesome!

Add 325g of condensed milk into the bowl with the yolks and lightly whisk. The simplest method for gauging how much to put in is to weigh the container full, then pour some condensed milk into the bowl and weigh the container again. Once the container is approximately 325g lighter, you're done. Grate in some of the lime zest and add the lime juice (gradually, so as to avoid separation), stirring in well. Leave this for about 10 minutes, as the interaction between these ingredients will 'cook' the mixture to some extent, and it should thicken up. Pour the thickened mixture into the pastry case.

Next up comes the meringue, which is basically a case of whisking the egg whites. A lot. Once it really starts frothing up, add about a quarter of a teaspoon of cream of tartar, which should help things along. Once you have a soft, light foam, add about 6-8 tablespoons of icing sugar, one spoon at a time, while you continue to mix. The rule of thumb seems to be that the meringue ready if pulling the whisk out results in a fairly firm 'peak'. As the foam begins to firm up, add one teaspoon of vanilla extract.

The meringue takes absolutely ages to make and requires a lot of elbow grease. I would like to mention (read: boast) that I did mine entirely by hand (OK, I let my father do some whisking when my arms started to ache, but I did lots at the beginning and lots at the end). While whisking vigorously, I noticed that making meringue could be turned into an almost-full-body exercise, as I found my legs were moving slightly some of the time... If you're not using an electric whisk, one useful trick is to roll the whisk handle between your palms, back and forth (anyone who's ever been in Cubs or Scouts will recognise this as the traditional technique for making fire, using two sticks of wood), as this gives you something close to the effect of an electric whisk.

Scoop the meringue onto the lime mixture in the pie case, then scatter over the remaining lime zest. Put the pie onto a baking tray or cookie tray and bake for about 10 minutes. Note that, if you're not using a fan-assisted oven, you may need to turn the pie round halfway through to ensure an even cook. Cool slightly before chilling in the fridge, then serve chilled.

The Results:
As is traditional with this blog, I shall discuss the things I got wrong on this first attempt:
While I have noted temperatures of 160C/140C above, when I went researching Key Lime Pie, temperatures of 200C were recommended, and so that's more or less what I used. The end result was that the pie filling wasn't as well-set as it should have been and the meringue was rather more than 'golden brown'. Also, since the oven I used this time is not fan-assisted, there was a visible graduation in browning from the back (very brown) to the front (basically still white) of the oven, because I did not turn the pie halfway through.

Also, the quantities listed, while good, are perhaps a little excessive for the Waitrose Sweet Pastry Case I used. The lime filling was damn near overflowing before the meringue went on! There was also rather too much meringue but this 'problem' was solved by dolloping the excess onto a sheet of greaseproof paper, and baking some small meringues. I suspect that 3 eggs with a correspondingly reduced amount of condensed milk (and lime juice?) would have been preferable.

But, of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating...

And I have to say, despite setting the oven too high and having too much of everything, this turned out to be an amazing home-made dessert. One 125ml bottle of lime juice seemed to be the perfect quantity - the filling was smooth, but with a subtle citrus sharpness and a good lime flavour, and the meringue softened it nicely. I will say that Waitrose bottled juice (from concentrate) probably didn't work as well as freshly squeezed lime juice would, so I'm very keen to revisit this and do it 'properly' sometime soon. The lime zest in the pie adds a nice bit of texture and extra little hits of lime flavour, but the overall experience was smooth.

I don't think vanilla extract was traditionally an ingredient in the meringues my family used to make, but it really does boost the flavour, so I shall certainly remember it for my future efforts. It gives it almost a toffee-like hint - a single teaspoon really goes a long way. Also, I believe that electric whisks, while convenient, never quite manage the light, fluffy consistency you get from putting in the time and effort with a hand whisk.

Some other, similar recipes (such as Lemon Meringue Pie) tend to suggest baking the pie briefly before adding the meringue, then reducing the temperature for a final round of baking. I think I'll give that a shot next time: 10 minutes at 160C (140C fan-assisted), then cool and chill, then add the meringue and cook for another 10 minutes at 140C (120C fan-assisted).

For a first attempt at something quite daring (for me!), this really was quite amazing. I was very worried about separating the eggs - never having done it before - but it turned out to be reasonably easy, even with my mother watching over my shoulder for the first couple of eggs. In retrospect, I think I'd like to have taken advantage of the electric whisk, but making this entirely by hand was a very rewarding experience, even if it did leave my arms aching!

And, since I am so proud of this... Have some photos!
Note that the pie filling is yellow, not green... then compare and contrast with any alleged 'Key Lime Pie' you find in the shops. Home made pie wins.

Addendum 9/1/2012:
Remade this using only 3 eggs, 245g of condensed milk, the juice (and pulp!) from 3 fresh limes and the grated zest from 2. The end result was better, not least because I actually used the settings detailed above, rather than those I initially found in my research. The filling was rather more solid... or jelly-like, rather. The meringue was perhaps a little underdone, but was soft and light. Flavour-wise, it wasn't much different from the original... perhaps a touch less acid. I'm not sure the addition of actual lime pulp made much of a difference to the pie but, overall, I have to recommend the fresh version over the one made with 'lime juice from concentrate'.

No surprises there, I guess...

Pictures, you ask? Why, certainly...
It's obvious that the filling has worked better this time round, but whether this is due to the lower cooking temperature or the use of fresh juice, I don't know... Probably a mixture of both.

Volume-wise, it's nowhere near overflowing the case, like the first one. I'm honestly not sure that's an improvement. Also, even with only three eggs, there was still far too much meringue. I tried using the remainder to make some separate meringues but, again the times and temperatures I found online were utterly wrong, and the results were still soft and sticky.

I still ate them all, though...

Come on, what kind of fool do you take me for?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

7 Days Months of Baking: Day 7 - Wright's Ginger Cake

OK, so this wasn't 7 Days of Baking in the sense of spending a week baking one cake a day, but I kind of predicted that. And, hey, let's face it, I set myself this challenge on a Friday 13th, so it was never going to go smoothly. Now, finally, so very nearly seven months to the day after this bake-a-thon began, we have the final entry - my embellished Wright's Ginger Cake.

Considering how well all of these have gone so far, one could be forgiven for thinking that, when it comes to baking Wright's mixes, I can do no wrong but, please, delay your flattery... This one didn't go so well.

In fact, I'd have to admit that, despite managing to recover from an error early in the baking stage (I think I set the temperature too low), I had made another, even more crucial error in my choice of embellishment.

Ingredients:

  • Wright's Ginger Cake Mix
  • Water
  • Cooking Oil
  • Chocolate Coated Crytallised Ginger (I used a bag from Julian Graves, Dark chocolate)
Preparation Time: About an hour

Tools Required:
  • Medium/Large Bowl (for the mixing)
  • Whisk (or electric mixer, if you're lazier than I am, also for the mixing)
  • Baking Tin (2lb loaf size - paper liners optional)
  • Measuring Implements (jug for the water, tablespoons or similar for oil)
  • Cooling Rack
The Process:
I'm actually going to include the full instructions here, since I did such a fine job of reading them wrong this time. Consider it a mark of my shame.

Preheat the oven to 140-160degrees C (160-180 if not using a fan-assisted oven). Measure out 200ml of water and 60ml of cooking oil into the bowl, then add the Wright's cake mix, stirring as you go. The instructions do reckon only a couple of minutes mixing with a hand whisk, but I tend to whisk for at least 5 minutes, just to be sure of as many lumps and clumps are smoothed out.

To make the baking tin ready, either add a paper liner or grease the inside thoroughly with butter. I'm using paper liners all the time now, as they do save a great deal of effort in washing up afterward - but the cakes come out easily enough, and with very little cake left in the tin just with buttering.

Pour the batter into the tin - it's thin enough that it settles evenly - and place into the oven for 50 minutes (generally good enough but, as mentioned, I think I went for the low end of 140-160C this time, when previously I've gone for closer to 160C). I have a timer that gives me 10- and 5-minute countdown warnings, so I set it for an hour and checked at the sound of each alarm.

When it looks ready, remove the tin from the oven and allow to stand for 10 to 15 minutes to cool, then tip out the loaf onto a cooling rack for a few minutes.

The Results:
I really thought this would work, and that it would be great... I mean, what could be better than a ginger cake with large pieces of actual ginger mixed in? Only a ginger cake with large pieces of chocolate coated actual ginger, surely?

In fact, it turned out terrible. First things first, I set the temperature too low so, when I pulled it out of the oven at the 50 minute mark, as I have learned to do with these cakes in my oven, it wasn't fully cooked... but I only realised this when I tried to tip it out of the tin, and the still-liquid innards started to ooze out of the split in the top. So, the oven got switched back on, and the cake went back in for another ten minutes.

Thankfully, this did not result in a thick, tough crust... But what I hadn't considered was the effect of baking on the crystallised ginger...

Truly, I am embarrassed to confess, that which tastes so good on its own, was the utter ruin of this cake. The ginger pieces seemed tougher, stringier and far more bitter than they are in their normal state. Yes, sure, crystallised ginger is invariably coated in sugar because it's not exactly sweet, but the act of baking it inside a cake seemed to emphasise the its bitterness. The chocolate coating wasn't too helpful either - it did nothing to dull the flavour in the way it would normally. Worse still, the combination of dark chocolate and unusually acrid ginger actually overloaded the flavour of the cake, leaving it tasting rather bland... Which it really isn't in its unadulterated state. Maybe milk chocolate would have worked better, but I doubt it.

Perhaps there are other things I could have added into this cake, or perhaps Wright's Ginger Cake deserves to be baked as it comes, without any embellishments.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Uncle Ben's Chilli Con Carne Sauce

OK, I'm playing it safe again.

In many ways, this is going to be a rinse-and-repeat of the Spaghetti Bolognese writeup, because it's essentially frying some minced beef, then adding a ready-made sauce. Hum.

To make it a bit more interesting, therefore, I'm going to link to a proper Chilli recipe (once it's available) used by a friend who's a real American-style Chilli connoisseur, for the sake of comparison.

Ingredients:
  • Uncle Ben's Chilli Con Carne Sauce (1 jar is enough for anywhere between 2-4 people)
  • Minced Beef (approx 300g is recommended by the instructions on the jar. Fresh is always preferable, but I've tended to use frozen, from Iceland)
  • Grated Cheese (optional)
Preparation Time: About 10 minutes!

Tools Required:
  • Medium-sized Saucepan (or Frying Pan)
  • Stirring Implement
  • 1 Burner on your Hob
The Process:
Set your chosen pan on the hob on a high setting. Add the beef, and keep it moving as it browns. There's rarely any need for extra oil, because the beef will probably contain more than enough fat. It should only take about five minutes to brown 300g, even from frozen.

Once all the beef is evenly cooked, tip in the jar of sauce, which already contains the beans, peppers and onions so, unless you're really desperate for something that's not included (mushrooms, perhaps?), there's no need to add anything else. Just keep it moving, and wait for it to start bubbling.

While this is going on, make ready with whatever extras you'll be serving along with your chilli. Tortillas and dips are always fun (and tend to be nicer when it's all served up fresh together - few things are worse than the way far too many restaurants serve chilli'n'tortillas, which ends up as a soggy, congealed lump before you're halfway through), but Uncle Ben's also have a Spicy Mexican style rice in their Express range of microwave-cooked rices. Serve up in a bowl, and top with grated cheese if required.

The Results:
I have to say, as someone who has only recently started eating chilli, I really rather liked this. The spiciness is spot on for my tastebuds, and the proportions of beans, peppers and onions in the sauce are most agreeable. Even my chilli connoisseur friend was surprised when, after a mere 10 minutes in the kitchen, I presented her with a bowl of chilli this good.

Serving it with tortillas and dips is probably the best route (though I wasn't able to find any sour cream at short notice, so we had to make do with guacamole), and I did find that the Uncle Ben's Spicy Mexican rice was perhaps a little too spicy to work as a good accompaniment to this dish - one effectively cancelled out the other. Topping with grated cheese does add to the experience, but Cheddar is probably not the right choice - it doesn't melt quickly enough, even when added to the chilli bowl immediately after serving. Something like Monterey Jack might be a better fit, as it melts more easily and its flavour isn't as intrusive on the chilli.

Last Course: Waitrose Key Lime Pie

Some years ago, I took a holiday in Florida, so it should come as no surprise that I've sampled Key Lime Pie that was actually made in the Keys.

With that in mind, it should also come as no surprise that most things I've found in the shops labelled 'Key Lime Pie' are but pale imitations of the true dessert.

Many of them are topped with rather too much cream. Many of them use a very obviously artificial colour to emphasise that it's Key Lime Pie ("it's all green and stuff, innit? Limes!"). There are those that are too sweet, there are those that are too bland. There are very few that follow the Conch tradition of adding a meringue topping.

Because that would be too much like Lemon Meringue Pie, wouldn't it?

Flavour-wise, Waitrose version is a fairly decent stab at a Key Lime Pie. It has a good, crunchy, biscuit crumb base (described as 'gingercrumb', though I cannot comprehend why - it doesn't taste gingery, and nothing obviously gingeresque is listed in the ingredients), and the lime mousse is subtly flavoured, yet has bite and doesn't have the unpleasant aftertaste one often finds in products claiming to be 'Key Lime Pie'.

But, other than the flavour, it really isn't Key Lime Pie by any stretch of the imagination. Alongside the condensed milk required by the traditional recipe, this thing contains double cream, crème fraîche and full fat soft cheese... So it's basically a lime cheesecake. A true Key Lime Pie should be made with nothing more than lime juice, egg yolks and condensed milk and, in the oldest recipes, this pie wasn't even oven-baked - the chemical reaction between the lime juice and the condensed milk was enough to 'cook' it.

The other thing to note is that yer actual Key Limes are often not dissimilar to lemons in appearance, albeit smaller, so the green colouring is hopelessly misleading. If any additional colour is needed for a Key Lime Pie, it should be yellow, not green. This one is very pale, but still green... and the little pieces of lime zest on the top are definitely green.

Waitrose attempt, therefore, is another one for the "It's Not Really Key Lime Pie" column. Nice as the 'gingercrumb' base is, it should have been proper pie crust. Sharp and limey as the flavour is, the mousse is all wrong. As a lime cheesecake, this is absolutely wonderful... But that's not what they're calling it.

All of which makes me think that, considering how simple the traditional recipe is, I should really attempt to make a Key Lime Pie myself. Of course, it's highly unlikely that I'll be able to buy any Key limes in any of my local shops, or even the larger supermarkets further afield, so I'll just have to make do with the normal kind.

Then again, considering how simple the traditional recipe is, I wonder why so few people actually follow it...

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Miso Spaghetti Soup

You know how it is: It gets to be late in the evening, so you don't want to cook anything that takes ages, don't have much of an appetite anyway, but do feel the need to eat something... And all you have in your cupboards is basically leftovers.

So, what do you do? Dash down to the kebab shop, or go wild and throw something together at random?

OK, probably me too... but if all I ever ate was takeaways, I wouldn't have anything to write about, would I? So let's just assume for a moment that your first instinct is to consider which leftovers can go together, and start planning a quick, scrappy meal with what you have to hand.

Ingredients:
  • Spaghetti (or any other dry pasta leftovers you have that aren't quite a full portion)
  • 1 Sachet of Miso Soup Paste
Preparation Time: About 15 minutes!

Tools Required:
  • Medium-sized Saucepan
  • Stirring Implement des choix
The Process:
Very, very simple stuff. This is basically a combination of making miso soup (empty sachet into pan of boiling water, stir) and making spaghetti (add dry spaghetti to pan of boiling water, stir), with the intention of allowing the flavour of the soup to permeate somewhat into the spaghetti, thus removing the need to add salt to the water.

So... Half-fill the saucepan with water, bring it to the boil and add the miso soup paste. Stir it in thoroughly for a few minutes, then simply add the spaghetti, and treat it as if you're making it up for a bolognese, or whatever. Obviously, though, once the spaghetti is ready (10-12 minutes on the boil), you decant the entire contents of the pan into a bowl and serve, rather than straining the spaghetti and tipping the water away.

Neat, huh?

The Results:
There's a problem with this idea which I only now see in retrospect: the starch in the spaghetti. Even as I was eating it and noting that the soup was unusually bland, yet bitter, it didn't occur to me that I'd made a small oversight/error in judgement in my combination of ingredients: Allowing the soup to flavour the pasta is all well and good... but starch from the pasta will inevitably flavour the soup

It wasn't bad, really, but there was a noticable change to the taste of the soup, and I can only think it was the starch that did it. This could probably be remedied by using fresh pasta, as opposed to dry... or noodles rather than spaghetti.

Still, as quick, hot, soupy snacks go, this is one to keep in mind.

7 Days Months of Baking: Day 6 - Wright's Cheese & Onion Bread

And so, we draw near the end of my much-vaunted '7 Days of Baking' project. As I write, in fact, the final installment - the second Ginger cake - has already been baked... so expect to see the write up of that in early 2012.

Here, though, we have the last of the Wright's Bread mixes, Cheese & Onion.

Ingredients:
  • Wrights Cheese & Onion Bread Mix
  • Water
  • Butter or Oil (for greasing the baking tin/tray, or just use a tin liner)
  • Flour (only for the kneading part!)
Preparation Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (1 hour 15 if baking rolls rather than a loaf)

Tools Required:
  • Medium/Large Bowl
  • Sturdy Mixing Impliment (a whisk is not appropriate for dough!)
  • Baking Tin (2lb loaf size) or Baking Tray (enough to accommodate 10 rolls)
  • Jug
  • An Area of Clear, Flat Kitchen Surface (for the kneading)
  • Cling Film or Cloth
  • Cooling Rack
The Process:
Again, this is detailed quite clearly on the packaging, and I've written it up to some degree already with the Mixed Grain and Parmesan & Sun Dried Tomato varieties, so all I'm going to say here is that I was a bit more imaginative this time, and tried to make myself a baguette. There is some small variation in the amount of water to be added to the different mixes, but nothing worthy of any additional detail.

Of course, since you're required to leave the dough to rise for 30-40 minutes, something that starts out shaped like a baguette ends up looking somewhat more like a bâtard... And, since I ended up leaving the dough for a little over an hour this time, it had become so large, I couldn't have turned the risen dough into a single baguette that would fit in my oven.

Also, since my only option for something this size was to place it on a baking tray, I laid down a sheet of foil before shaping the dough in the first place. Not as easy to remove as the tin liners I've used before, but far less effort than greasing the tray. Finally, in a fit of pique, I decided to remove this bread from the oven after only 25 minutes, since my experience with the cakes and the other breads suggests that Wright's estimated cooking time doesn't suit my oven.

The Results:
Well, if the Parmesan & Sun Dried Tomato bread was unexpectedly light on cheesiness, this one more than made up for it, leaving Wright's mixtures in generally very good standing. When I munch on a Cheese and Onion loaf, I expect to taste both cheese and onion. Naturally, the minute crumbs of cheese in the mixture (2% this time, but still Parmesan) are absorbed fully into the bread during its time in the oven, but the onion pieces - while small - remain a tangible component both to the eye and to the palate.

The slightly reduced cooking time did indeed result in a softer crust, but no discernible difference to the interior of the loaf... it was soft, light and nicely moist. I was a little disappointed that my knife-scoring on the top of the dough didn't open out more, but that's just me getting (briefly) hung up on a small, aesthetic point. I'm guessing that I just didn't score deeply enough, or made some other mistake than can be rectified for future loaves by research and/or with practice.

I don't normally add photos of the stuff I cook for this blog (but often wonder if perhaps I should... Feedback, anyone?), but I was so happy with the results of this particular round of baking that I just had to take a few snaps...



Iceland Ultimate Snacks Tuna Melt Panini

You know, I'm just going to have to accept that Iceland's 'Ultimate Snacks' line is going to be a permanent and regular exception to my 'Keeping Away From The Microwave' ideal. Here, we have a freezer-friendly, ready-made tuna melt, made with red onion, which is ready to eat - from frozen - in a mere two minutes. I believe it would be doing a disservice to any blog named 'snacks & the single man' to exclude the range entirely because, cooking method aside, it fits the concept admirably.

Or does it?

On the whole, I'm going to be quite positive here. For just £1, you get a decent-sized panini which is, indeed, ready in two minutes. Whereas with the sausage and egg muffin, you have to cook it in two stages - contents first, then the whole - this one only requires that you turn it over halfway through. I'd guess this is mainly to ensure good ventilation, since its plastic bag is perforated.

While the texture of the panini's crust is never going to be the same from frozen as it is when fresh (it actually turns out soft and rather rubbery), it's really not too bad, and certainly doesn't come out soggy, which can so easily happen with dealing with bread products in a microwave. The flavour of the bread is good, and the filling actually tastes amazing - the tuna and cheese blend nicely, the red onion component is a distinct enough flavour without becoming overpowering and, hell, you can even tell there's black pepper in the mix without having to examine the ingredients list. In short, it tastes like a really good tuna melt.

But is that enough? When you look at the photo on the packaging, what you see is a panini that's full to overflowing with tuna, cheese and onion - like you'd make yourself, or the sort of thing you could buy in a high street sandwich shop or café. Sadly, the packaging is very misleading. The product contained therein has nothing like that quantity of filling - comparatively speaking, it's an almost insultingly thin smear of filling within the panini. I'd estimate that the only way they could get a photo like the one on the packaging, using the same amount of filling, would be to have piled it up around the two visible edges of the panini.

It's one of those things you must deliberate and weigh in your own hearts, stomachs and wallets. If you were to buy the components, and make one from scratch, I honestly doubt you could make a better tuna melt at a unit cost of £1... It's quick to cook, tastes amazing, and is incredibly cheap... but does that make up for the meagre quantity of filling?

Personally, I'd say it does... There are always caveats with ready-made products, but purely in terms of flavour, this is one of the winners in the 'Ultimate Snacks' line.

...But I'm adding 'tuna melt' to my list of 'Things to Try to Make From Scratch', just in case.
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