Not too sweet

Tonight I made an apple crumble for tea. I’ve made quite a few of these over the years, certainly dozens though probably not quite yet hundreds. This one was a bit different in two or three respects, one of them accidental.

Usually I make crumbles as a dessert (although it’s actually fairly unusual for me to have a dessert at all, which may come as a surprise to many who know me and my sweet tooth), but this one was made as a standalone meal. Mainly that’s because I was feeling too lazy after my lunch (which, as usual for a Sunday, was my main meal) and also had some yoghurt that needed using up at that point. So today I made it for tea instead, served up with custard (made up from a packet mix – not from first principles, though that would be even nicer). I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve made it deliberately as a standalone meal, but it might be.

The deliberate way in which this was different from previous crumbles I’ve made is that instead of all butter I used a roughly 50:50 mix of butter and lard, as I had a block of the latter that needed using up. In fact, I still have most of it but there’s now about an ounce less to worry about. Incidentally, while I usually tend to prefer metric measurements for cooking and pretty much everything else, I consider myself to be more or less bilingual between the imperial and metric systems (though I usually have to look up the conversion factors if going between the two). I got my crumble recipe from my mum years ago when I went off to university (though I don’t think I actually made one until several years later) and it’s given in imperial units (6oz plain flour; 4oz butter; 2 oz caster sugar – though I usually halve the quantities, use granulated sugar instead of caster and add a handful of oats and some mixed spice). I can’t say that I noticed any particular difference in the flavour or handling properties from my usual version, but it is several months since I last made a crumble and my memory alone is probably not an entirely reliable guide. Really I’d have to do a side-by-side comparison (or better, a blind triangle test) but I only have one crumble dish so that would be a bit of a faff to arrange

The accidental way in which this crumble was different from my usual (though possibly not unique among all the crumbles I’ve ever made) is that I forgot to add any sugar or other sweetening agent to the apples. Sugar (generally granulated, though sometimes caster if I have it to hand, or brown if I’m feeling more adventurous) is my go-to sweetener for crumbles, but I have occasionally used honey instead to good effect. This time I forgot completely, though I did add a bit of lemon zest and juice (the latter mainly to help stop the apple going brown before I added the crumble topping and got it in the oven) and some chopped ginger, as well as a bit of water and some cinnamon. That (apart from the lack of sugar) is pretty much my standard approach to an apple crumble (and similar to how I’d do a rhubarb crumble, which is the only other kind I often cook – for that I’d probably leave out the cinnamon, but otherwise it would be basically the same, and probably suffer more for lack of sugar).

I gave it about half an hour in the oven at gas mark 6, which gave me the kind of result I particularly like with the fruit nice and soft but still having a slight bite to it. Even without the sugar it was quite pleasant to eat, as the crumble topping and custard made up for the lack of sweetness in the fruit. However, I did miss the syrup that usually forms from a combination of the sugar, water and juice from the apple, so I don’t think I’ll be dropping sugar from my regular recipe anytime soon. And I’ll probably be having another apple crumble before too long (not to mention the rest of this one, which I’ll enjoy for dessert, or possibly for lunch, tomorrow) as I still have a few apples that need using up.

Finally made it!

Tonight’s dinner was a partial success.

When I was putting together my latest grocery order, to arrive a couple of days ago, I decided to make a chile con carne as my main meal for the weekend (by which I mean that I would cook enough for several days, eat some both today and tomorrow and probably freeze the rest, not that I’d only have one proper meal over the weekend). Unlike the last several times this has been my plan, I actually remembered to add some chilli peppers to my order, so I’d count that as the first successful bit of the endeavour 🙂

When it came to making the meal, things looked promising. As well as the usual minced beef, chillis, onion and suchlike, I put in a bit of finely diced carrot and courgette, as I had some of each vegetable that were in need of using up. I also added a dash of vermouth, and I had high hopes for this being a good one.

Unfortunately I got slightly distracted doing other things while I left it to simmer and got back to the kitchen just in time to find it starting to burn as the liquid, which had seemed ample when I left it, had by now all boiled off or been absorbed. I was able to rescue it from being a complete inedible disaster (or worse, setting fire to my kitchen) but suffice it to say that this chile con carbon was not quite the sumptuous delight I had been anticipating. It will be interesting to see how it is tomorrow, as such dishes are often better on the second day when the flavours have had time to develop but in this case the flavours may be a little on the smoky side!

More successful was the side dish, as I’ve finally got round to having a go at making guacamole almost 30 years after first being shown how to make it.

Back then I was still at school, and it was a different, more innocent era in which teachers could invite their pupils over to their homes for things like extra-curricular computer programming lessons, which I very much doubt any sensible and well-intentioned teacher would dare to do these days (even ignoring the minor issue of a global pandemic). One of my teachers had lent me a computer and was teaching me how to program it, which entailed fairly frequent bike journeys (usually on Saturday afternoons) from my village to his in order to take some lessons. As well as getting a good foundation in programming (I was learning Pascal, not a language I’ve ever seriously used since then, but the basic principles of how to program a computer have largely stuck with me), I was introduced to some seriously good music (the highlight being the Penguin Café Orchestra, whose music I continue to enjoy to this day) and, on one occasion, was shown how to make guacamole. This was because my teacher, who had spent some time working in Mexico before joining our school, was preparing for a party that evening and was busy making some using an authentic Mexican recipe when I arrived.

Sadly I didn’t write down that recipe and don’t remember a huge amount from it, except that it involved mashing avocados with salt, pepper and a few other things in a bowl (with a fork, IIRC). Fast forward to this evening and I had an avocado that I’d bought pretty much on a whim in my grocery order the other day; rather than do my usual thing of cutting it in half and eating it out of the skin garnished with a bit of black pepper and perhaps some mayonnaise, I decided the time had come to try out making guacamole for myself. Fortunately there are plenty of recipes online, so I was able to get a general idea of how to do it (to supplement my memories from the last millenium) and then improvised from there. I was very pleased with how it turned out.

Basically, I finely chopped an onion and a chilli pepper (carefully saved from cooking my main dish) and stuck them in a pestle and mortar (well, technically just in the mortar) with the flesh of an avocado, a bit of salt and pepper and a couple of teaspoons of lime juice. I then mashed the whole lot down (with the pestle, of course) and enjoyed eating it with a bit of tortilla. It may be worth noting that I had previously used the pestle and mortar to grind up some cumin, salt and pepper for the chile and had only given it a brief wipe out in between, so there was almost certainly a little bit of cumin in the guacamole too.

The other components of the meal also worked pretty well (namely, a bottle of well-chilled Mexican lager – not generally the sort of beer I go for, but ideal in the right context – a lovely bit of brie and then a couple of Mr Kipling’s trifle bakewells, which happened to be on special offer this week, for dessert). So if you count each of the individual components more or less equally, I’d say the whole meal rated about 4.5 out of 5.

And hopefully it will be less than 30 years before I next get round to making guacamole!