Survivor: The Little Kids’ Party

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They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  They say a lot of things.

We made it, but it was tight, very tight, early 80’s jeans tight.  The kind of tight where eating is ill-advised and sitting down entirely out of the question.

Now anyone who’s had a baby knows that sleep is actually optional and that 5 hours is a veritable sleep in.  Unfortunately nobody told my cough that, so I’m back to hacking like a one woman TB clinic.

Plus I might have been a bit not very nice to my sainted husband sometime (continuously) between about 11pm  Friday and 2:30pm Saturday.  That would be about the same time that I swore never even to think about entering Masterchef, My Kitchen Rules, or any other cooking competition involving time challenges, ever.  (This in case I ever suffer a moment of sufficiently complete self-delusion to think I might be a contender.)

But it’s OK because the birthday girl loved her party and my husband, may he have many good wives, has forgiven me … again.

Was it all as planned?  Not entirely, but perhaps actually better.

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The Strawberry & Sprinkles Toadstool cake turned out fine, but a word to the wise:  if you’re going to bake a pink tinted cake, forget the sprinkles.  Only the blue and green ones show up and then you get these little white dots in the crust, all contributing to the overall impression of rampant bread mould.  The cake fairy ornaments went into hiding, but Lydia was too excited to notice.  I figure no harm, no foul.

We did the chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow flowers, even if the sparkly glitter didn’t quite show up quite as much as I would’ve liked.  I was short on time to make separate chocolate buttercream, so you’ll see I used the leftover from the toadstool instead.

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The cheese and tomato baby toadstool canape worked-ish.  They were a challenge to keep upright.  I should have piped the mayo spots on with a little zip-lock bag rather than dabbing manically with a pointy teaspoon handle, but overall they were still effective. Given free will, do small children eat tomatoes and cheese sticks? Not at all. So it’s probably just as well I canned the little crackers with lady birds made from tomatoes and olives.  The dog did quite well enough as it was.

Tomato and Cheese Toadstools

I also ran out of time to do the cheesey snail pastries and the sausage rolls.  By this I mean I could have done both if I’d used the emergency back up bought frozen sausage rolls and tried making the snails using pre-rolled puff pastry and grated parmesan.  Worse things have happened.  But the yeasty sausage rolls are a bit of a favourite.

They also say that necessity is the mother of invention.  Mostly I find myself thinking that necessity is just a real mother, but sometimes they get it right.  So we had yeasty snail-shaped sausage rolls.

The dough is quick to make and very, very forgiving.  You don’t need to let it rise.  Time having been exceeding short, the snails you see below represent a very rushed first attempt.  I have no doubt that, given an extra 15 minutes they could have been much prettier.  As it was, the results were not too shabby.

Snails before

Snails after uncropped

Now what do you do when you’ve managed to bake the cookies, but run out of time to do the fancy icing?  No worries. You now have a new party activity.  The children (and some of the adults) just loved this.

Make up two or three bowls of runny icing – icing sugar with a little boiling water from the kettle will do just fine.  Put out any leftover cake icing, rifle your pantry for sprinkles, cachous, jelly (jello) crystals and tubes of writing icing, stray candies and put it all out on the bench. Use plates or cold baking trays (cookie sheets) to accommodate the new creations, but remember that a high proportion of cookies will never make it that far.  Once the kids got bored, some of the parents had a go too.  Happy guests, happy Mummy and bonus: I’ve got this week’s tick for my commitment to weekly hands on cooking for the girls.

Little hands at work

Decorated Sugar Cookies

A couple of games of musical statues, afternoon tea and present opening, and it was pretty much over.  Family and very good friends stayed on.  We got take aways, kicked back and caught up.  Once we got all the little ones to bed, I curled up on the sofa in front of TV with the sainted husband, very tired, but good tired, and drifted off to sleep.

Did the kids like it? I’d say so.  Francesca has requested an identical party when she turns nine, so that’s one fan at least.

Lydia turns 5

In case you feel like trying the sausage roll snails, or anything else where you think yeast pastry would do nicely, here’s the recipe.  It has its genesis in a recipe from one of my favourite Russian/former Soviet cookbooks, Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman.

This batch yielded enough dough for about 2 dozen snails and 40 odd more conventional rolls made by taking half a cheese kransky sausgage (c. 5cm or 2″ long and about 1.25cm or 1/2″ thick) and rolling it diagonally across a square of pastry about 5cm/2″ square.

Easy Yeast Dough

Ingredients:

2 1/3c milk

4 tsp sugar

2 tbsp dried yeast

1c (225g or 2 sticks) butter (you can substitute vegetable oil in this dough, but for this I’d stick with the butter)

2 eggs

1 tsp salt

flour, preferably high grade/strong/bread flour between 6 and 8 cups (c. 750g to 1kg or 1 3/4 to 21/4 lb)

1kg or 2lb kransky, choritzo or similar thin smoked sausage

Note: If you prefer a shorter (less bready, richer) pastry, reduce the milk to 1 1/3c and increase the butter/oil to 2c (450g or 2 sticks).

Method:

1. Warm the milk until it is just blood temperature.  If you use the microwave be sure to stir  through before you check the temperature – sometimes you can miss a hot pocket and unwittingly end up milk which is too hot (kills your yeast), or which is hot at the surface, but really not very warm otherwise (yeast might not work very quickly).

2. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar into the milk until dissolved.  Add the yeast.  Just sprinkle over the surface and let it re-hydrate, or, if like me you lack the patience and want to be sure to avoid dry yeasty lumps, whisk it in.  Let it stand until it fluffs up: now you know you are working with live yeast.

3. While the yeast is doing the fluffy thing, warm the butter until it is just melted (or be prepared to wait while it cools).  Beast into the fluffy yeast mix together with the eggs and salt.

4. Once blended, add the flour, starting in 2 cup lots, then after 6 cups have been added, in smaller quantities until you have a soft dough that comes away from the sides.  Start with a wooden spoon.  Once the mixture is getting close to forming a dough, knead by hand.

5. Turn it onto a lightly floured bench and knead briefly.  Use immediately or cover and let it rise for a little. Cut into three or four sections (depending on what you find manageable) and roll out into sheets somewhere between 3 and 5mm (1/8 and 2/8″) thick.

For snails:

6. Trim the bottom edge of the pastry sheet.  Line up kransky sausages about 2cm or 1″ in from the edge, keeping them close so that there is no gap between saugages.  Trim the sides of the pastry sheet in line with each end of the sausage line up. Roll the bottom edge of the dough up over the sausage and then keep rolling the lot until the dough has wrapped around the sausages twice.

7. Trim the top edge of the pastry so that you are left with about 4 to 5cm (1 1/2 to 2″) of unrolled pastry. This will form the body and head of each snail.  Slice the dough cross wise into 2cm or 3/4″ slices.  Fold some of the unrolled pastry back towards the rolled section and pinch on each side to make feelers.  Glaze with an egg yolk beaten with a little water if you like.  Bake at about 195 C or  385 F until golden brown.

For plain sausage rolls (pigs in blankets):

8. Take half a sausage (c. 5cm or 2″ long and about 1.25cm or 1/2″ thick) and roll it diagonally across a square of pastry about the same size as the length (so in this case about 5cm or 2″ square), wrapping the dough around the sausage piece as you go. Glaze and bake as above.

9. This dough can also be used to make pizza pinwheels for school lunches (roll out dough into a rectangle, spread with a layer of tomato paste, sprinkle with cheese and sliced ham or salami, roll up tightly swiss (jelly) roll style and cut into 1.25cm 1/2″ slices.  Arrange on a tray and backe as per 7. above), or to make piroshki – but for that we need a separate post.

Sunday Suppers: Smoked Sausage and Melted Onion Sauce

Smoked Sausage and Onion Sauce on Mash

Growing up, Sunday night meals were always different from the rest.

If the extended family hadn’t gathered for a big lunch, we would, almost without exception, have spent the afternoon together for coffee. In our family, no gathering is really conceivable without prodigious quantities of food, so when I say coffee, think more of a light luncheon served a bit later in the day.

Come Sunday evening, nobody, least of all my Mum who had done most of the cooking, felt like a large meal of the meat and three veg variety. The guests had left. In their wake the house felt empty. The dying strains of The Wonderful World of Disney could be heard from some remote corner of the house as if quietly jeering, “That’s it, your weekend is over, the cold world awaits you on the morrow.  And by the way you’re late with your English homework.”

Sunday nights were made for comfort food, those in between dishes that frowning matrons would not consider a proper meal, carbohydrates and peasant cooking.

Times have changed.  Family dinners tend to be on Saturday nights and the weekly Sunday coffee gathering are long gone.  Sunday night syndrome is not, thankfully, what it used to be.  But damned if I’m going to let those supper dishes go.

This Sunday’s was one my mother and grandmother used to make, sometimes as part of a larger meal.  It used to be a staple of mine too, then somehow over the years I’d forgotten it until the other day I found a loop of Krakowska sausage in the freezer.  The shape reminded me of the thicker type of rookworst sausage my mother used to use for this dish.  Pretty much any smoked pork sausage would do, at a real push maybe even kransky, but I’d avoid sausages that are highly seasoned, dry or fatty – leave the salami end of the spectrum and go for something with more moisture.

I’ve served it with mash, but it’s also good alongside noodles, buckwheat kasha or just a good piece of rye bread.  You could also stop before the thickening stage and use the sausage and onions with a little goats cheese and caraway on a pizza base.

Smoked Sausage and Melted Onion Sauce

2tbsp vegetable oil

500g or 1lb moist smoked pork sausage, in 1/2cm or 1/4″ slices

8 to 10 medium onions, halved and cut into 1/2cm or 1/4″ slices

salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 large or two small bay leaves

2 to 3 tbsp cider or other mild white vinegar

11/2 to 2 tbsp flour

1 1/2c good beef or chicken stock

sugar to taste (if needed)

1. Heat vegetable oil in a broad, heat proof casserole or similar.  Add sausage and cook over a moderate heat until the sausage is deep golden brown.  If the sausage is fatty, reduce the amount of oil you start with.

Fry the sausage gently to a deep golden brown.

2. Add the onions, bay leaf and seasonings.  It will look like a lot, but the onions really cook down.

Add onions.

3. Cook over low to moderate heat stirring frequently until the onions are starting to melt and turn a light golden brown.  You will need to stir more often and perhaps reduce heat as the onions get closer to being ready. If you burn the onions it’s pretty much all over.  If you’re having problems, add some of the stock or some water little by little so as to let the onions cook some more without sticking.

Onions melting and light golden.

3. Add the vinegar to taste and let it cook out. Remove the bay leaf.   If you want to put this on bread of some kind check the seasonings. Depending on the onions and vinegar, you may need to add a touch of sugar.  If so, sprinkle it in and let it cook through.  Taste again in case you need more.  If it’s too sweet, you can try to balance with a little more vinegar.

4. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture, stir in through, let the mixture cook a little – you want the flour to cook through some.  Stir in the stock.  It will tend to go more easily if the stock is already hot.  If the sauce is to thick add more stock or water.  Check for seasonings, sugar or more vinegar as at step 3 above.

5. You’re ready to serve.

Smoked Sausage, Onions and Mash