Day Four & Five – Baking (scroll down for previous days)
I’m not known for my baking prowess. It’s something to do with having to be patient and really just focusing on the task at hand rather than multi-tasking maniacally — neither trait comes naturally, therefore baking and i aren’t the best of friends. Baked products don’t really do it for me, either. Cakes, biscuits, tarts, pastries — i can take them or leave them, to be honest. I don’t mind a wedge of good bread, and would miss it in my life, but if i never saw another baked product again i wouldn’t fret. Not one bit.
However, i felt the need to make scones. I had leftover buttermilk in the fridge after making butter in the Thermomix (see day three entry below) and the booklet that came with the borrowed machine had a recipe for buttermilk scones. It was meant to be.
The role of the Thermomix in scone making is really just to mix then knead the dough. As i don’t bake often enough to have established any kind of rapport with dough, i’m usually unsure about how long to knead for, or how much pressure to exert. So i was quite happy to outsource this step.
One of the things that i like about the Thermomix is the convenience of being able to measure ingredients straight into the mixing bowl. The kneading process is quick, too. I also used the Thermomix o knead my latest loaf of sourdough. I’m told it kneads in 2 minutes what would take 20 minutes by hand. I’m not sure if my sourdough making skills are improving, or if the Thermomix’ expert kneading made all the difference, but Loaf No 5 was definitely my best so far.
The buttermilk scone recipe came with the precursory warning: This is an extremely sticky dough but the result is well worth the effort. However, even i — a baking ditz — could tell that the dough was far too sticky to be workable. I found myself adding more and more flour to be able to shape and cut it, so I wasn’t convinced the scones would work. Despite my random flour addition, they turned out surprisingly well. If the measurements in the recipe were a little off kilter, at least it was a forgiving dough.
However, the bowl and blade set was a bitch to clean. Thermomix demonstrators push the ‘easy to clean’ message. But it’s not always the case. I’ve blitzed several things that have been really difficult to remove from the blade, even when it has been removed from the bowl, and the ‘special’ scrubbing brush was put to use.
While i was on my baking mission, i used the Thermomix to make another batch of pizza dough. This is one of the first things i used the Thermomix for, following a recipe in the Everyday cooking … for every family book that came with the machine. I have to say it turns out a damn fine pizza base, and i wanted to stock up the freezer with some before the Thermomix is returned this week. Stay tuned for more from the rolling Thermomix review. Next up, ice cream.
Day Three – Butter (scroll down for previous days)
I have to admit, i wasn’t expecting big things from today’s Thermomix escapade, which was to make butter. The butter making process sounded too simple: there were only five steps and it would take about two minutes. Something had to go wrong.
I planned to follow the steps on Jo Whitton‘s blog — Quirky Cooking — and I know she’s a bit of a dynamo with this gizmo, so I suspected my butter making was going to be a somewhat rancid experience. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
To make butter you have to whip cream until it separates into butter and buttermilk, at which stage it resembles scrambled eggs.
Then you squeeze as much water out of it as you can. The more water retained the quicker it will go off. I squeezed with all my might … and ended up with this.
I packed it in a mould and left it in the fridge while i went to work. The finished product turned out like this.
Now, it’s not going to win any awards. But it tastes pleasantly creamy and i’ll happily slather it on my toast. I used a bog-standard cream — $3 for 600ml — figuring i was going to botch up the butter and have to bin it, anyway. I’m sure the flavour could be refine by using good, organic cream.
I didn’t end up much better off, financially, by making my own butter. If i’m not splashing out, I buy a 250g pat of Allowrie butter for $3. The cream i bought yielded less butter for the same cost. However, i do have 260g of butter milk left over — which i’m planning on using to make scones. And i figure butter making would be a good way to up the forgotten, unopened, pots of cream of sometimes find in the fridge.
I’ve never made butter before using any other contraption, so i don’t know how the Thermomix compares. But i do know it was fast and hassle free. The Thermomix has got this task down pat.
I deliberated about whether to cook with the Thermomix (TM) today as i didn’t want my week to get off to a cranky start. This little minx of a machine pushed my buttons yesterday, rather than the other way round. But one of the reasons i wanted to trial the TM was to see if i could cook quickly with it on a morning prior to an afternoon/evening shift at work. I’d earmarked chicken and mushroom stroganoff out of Devil of a Cookbook — another in the Thermomix library. It’s a one-pot dish: everything is chopped, measured, and cooked in the TM bowl.
For starters i moved the Thermomix to another work bench — so we both had room to work. It was a wise move. The set-up was cleaner and less cluttered. We fought less — in fact, we didn’t fight at all. The recipe was simple, only six steps, and not exactly hard-core stuff. The Thermomix handled it well. I got a little waft of sauteeing spring onions in butter — but not the full-on rolling blanket of aromatics i’m used to, and relish, when cooking stove top. But this one-pot dish was made, and the washing up done, all in under half an hour. It was all very painless — as cooking should be, really.
I held back a little on the liquid quantity given yesterday’s runny bolognaise and the extended cooking time to reduce it to the right consistency. The strips of chicken are softly tender, there is good — if uncomplicated — flavour.
I also used the TM to steam the accompanying rice. It was no quicker than using a rice steamer (my current method of choice), and it didn’t cook the rice as evenly. Some patches of grains were still hard. I had to stir it and give it an extra 10 minutes. The end result was fine. While the TM is a sizeable device that would take up a fair amount of cupboard, or bench, space there is the advantage of not having to store extra equipment like rice steamers, too.
Tomorrow i’m going to try making butter. Maybe yoghurt, too.
Today I tried to befriend the Thermomix (TM) that i have on loan for two weeks. It was our first real dance together in the kitchen — and i hold it entirely responsible for the big, black mood i am now in on what was supposed to be a relaxing Sunday arvo. I’d say it was a cooking session of mixed success. But this is only Day One of testing — i’ve another week and half in which to try to master this little mixer.
The Thermomix — for those who don’t know it — is dubbed “the world’s smallest, smartest kitchen”. It combines the functions of over 10 different kitchen appliances. It chops, mixes, mills, beats, emulsifies, kneads, blends, stirs, steams, weighs, melts and cooks — yes that’s right: sauces, risotto, soup, and stir fries are just some of dishes that can be cooked in this one-pot wonder.
I used the Thermomix last night to make pizza dough — and followed Jo Whitton’s (of the Quirky Cooking blog) recipe for spiced lamb topping that is included in Dani Valent’s book In The Mix: Great Thermomix Recipes, which is also on loan. The dough — kneaded for two minutes in the TM, which is the equivalent of about 20 minutes by hand, i’m told — turned out tremendously. It yielded a thin, crisp base, if somewhat misshapen by my clumsy hands. However, using the TM to mince cubed, semi-frozen lamb resulted in mushed — rather than minced — meat. Jo’s flavours were outstanding and once the lamb was spread thinly across the pizza base the lamb’s strange consistency was pretty much unnoticeable. The general consensus in the household was that it was a damn fine pizza. Plus, we had two left-over wads of dough in the freezer and some extra mushed lamb topping, which would make an easy meal during the week. But it certainly wasn’t mince — not as i know it, anyway.
Bolognaised to boiling point
This morning, ahead of making a bolognaise sauce, where mince rather than mush is pretty much paramount, i thought it wise to ask for tips on Twitter. Several TM users came to the rescue. One of the difficulties for novice TM users is getting to know the different settings, speeds and dials on the machine. Confident TM users devise their own techniques — they ascertain what works for them and what doesn’t and adapt recipes and instructions accordingly. I was advised to use the TM’s turbo pulse button to mince meat. I did as i was told and was pleasantly surprised with the mince-like results. I probably pulsed the beef one or two times too many, and next time would pulse less to obtain a chunkier mince, but i was definitely a better result. ‘Spag bol, here we come,’ i thought. Not so quick.
I followed Dani Valent’s bolognaise recipe, which is also in In the Mix. The flavours were superb. The addition of star anise and orange zest add a stunning lift to the bog-standard bolognaise i am more familiar with. But after the requisite 30 minutes cooking time i still had a very runny sauce — partly a result of my over minced mince, i suspect.
I jumped back on Twitter and asked for advice. Both Jo and Dani suggested settings to use to reduce the sauce. This is one of the benefits of using a Thermomix — there is a passionate community of users on hand to give advice. However, i ended up cooking the bolognaise for a good 50 minutes longer to achieve the right consistency. Suddenly, my quick-cook Thermomix afternoon was taking on a life — and a duration — of it’s own.
One of the things i have to do on a weekend is cook two or three dishes in bulk for the week/s ahead — it’s the only way our household functions smoothly on the food front. The dishes are separated into individual serves and stocked in the fridge and freezer. For our household to function smoothly in the week ahead i had to cook three dishes: and i was using the Thermomix for all three — or so i thought. I also had other things on my “to-do list”, but the TM was slowing me up tremendously. Cooking tasks i’d usually do in a few minutes took much longer, partly because i was constantly having to return to the manual to check settings, and temperatures, and tips. Resorting to Twitter for advice was a god-send, but also time consuming. I’m sure the more familiar i become with the device the more efficient i’ll become at using it. But it was becoming increasingly obvious that i wasn’t going to achieve everything i needed to do before the start of the working week. Enter the start of a black mood.
Spicing it up (the nose)
One of the or Thermomix dishes on my hit-list this weekend was chicken tagine by Cath Claringbold, which is also included in In the Mix. Cath’s whole roasted Ethiopian spiced chicken is one of my all-time favourite recipes, so i was keen to try her tagine, which calls for the roasting and milling of whole spices in the Thermomix. I’m a spice fiend and usually grind my own spice mixes and curry pastes by hand in a pestle and mortar. So i was keen to see how the Thermomix stacked up on the spice front. Roasting spices in the TM doesn’t emit the same pungent smell that is achieved by roasting them on the stove top, but it milled them to a super fine powder. And boy, what a mess it made — it got everywhere, including up my nose, which set me off on a massive sneezing frenzy (when i get them, i get them bad) that has been with me the entire afternoon and served to blacken my mood further.
Sauteeing onion and garlic in the TM also failed to emulate the results i usually achieve on the stove top, including the gorgeous aromatics and caramelised golden brown vegetables. Maybe i needed to saute for longer, or use a higher setting. I’m interested to hear from other Thermomix users if they manage to saute with the same stove-top success. However, the tagine had lovely depth of flavour and the chicken thighs were fork soft. I look forward to eating it for dinner one night this week.
By this time the kitchen was in an abominable mess. Using a Thermomix is supposed to be easier and more efficient — and with practice it probably will be. But i was out of my comfort zone and not in the cooking groove i’m used to. I was also out of time. I had to get on with some other things: so the prawn curry i’d planned to make for dinner tonight will have to wait for another day. So i’m already a meal down for the week ahead and not exactly thrilled about that. I thought i was testing the Thermomix, but it ended up testing me — and quite enough for one weekend.