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Horrifying meal for Halloweeen (if you are Nero Wolfe) October 31, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Game, Wolfe recipe.
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Readers, look away now. This post is absolutely shocking. I present to you: the horror that is Nero Wolfe’s Halloween dinner.

Well, horrifying if you’re Nero Wolfe, that is. Let me explain the true terror of this dish: We have lamb cooked with 10 (count them!) juniper berries, corn boiled in water, and perhaps worst of all – warm beer, not poured by Wolfe himself.

In case you are questioning why this meal is so shocking, let me explain. To start with, Nero Wolfe is very particular about the number of juniper berries used in the marinade for the lamb (confession: the original recipe is for venison, but I substituted lamb in this case). Any more than three, and they will impart far too much sweetness to the dish (The Doorbell Rang). Well, I went overboard, and added 10. The horror!

I made the marinade as per the recipe in the Nero Wolfe Cookbook – except with the addition of the 10 juniper berries. I left the meat to marinate and turned to the corn.

Readers of the Nero Wolfe books will know of his particular way of cooking corn – and his aversion to cooking it any other way. Corn plays a key role in the story Murder is Corny, and Wolfe explains his method of preparing it: “It must be nearly mature, but not quite, and it must be picked not more than three hours before it reaches me…Shucked and boiled in water, sweet corn is edible and nutritious; roasted in husk in the hottest possible oven for forty minutes, shucked at the table, and buttered and salted, nothing else, it is ambrosia…American women should themselves be boiled in water.”

Well. I’m afraid I must join those legions of people who should be boiled in water – because that’s what I did to the corn. Worst still, the corn had not been picked less than three hours previously. Just horrifying!

I’d like to point out I’m not a total barbarian. I did make a sauce for the meat by straining the marinade, adding more spices and boiling it until it thickened. And I had plenty of butter and salt for the corn. It was very edible! Lucky I’m not Nero Wolfe…

Perhaps the worst insult to Wolfe’s sensibilities, however, is the addition of beer which he has not opened himself and has not been kept at correct temperature. It does not matter how good the beer is – if it has not been kept to Wolfe’s specifications and opened by him personally, it’s no good.

I know this post will be terrifying and even shocking for some people. I hope it scared you good and proper in time for Halloween, and that you devise your own spooky horrors for your own Halloween!

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White chocolate and orange lava cakes for Halloween October 23, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Sweet things.
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I’m horrifically excited that it’s almost Halloween! While nothing can top the fun of making a zombie Nero Wolfe, it’s definitely time to create some creepy food for my favourite holiday of all. I had been thinking of chocolate lava cakes and had the idea to somehow make them red, so it would look like they were oozing blood.

I figured that someone had probably thought of this before, and sure enough, I found a recipe over at The Gourmand Mom. She made her cakes to celebrate a new season of Dexter, but I can’t imagine anything more appropriate for Halloween.

I started by melting white chocolate and butter until they were well combined.

I added plain flour, confectioner’s sugar, eggs, orange essence, and a couple of spoonfuls of cocoa. Then came the fun part: adding the red food colouring. I used the gel colours I use for cookies, because I wanted to ensure a good, rich colour.

I may have been overly concerned with making sure I added enough food colouring but at least it was definitely red when it was all mixed through!

Having no nice little ramekins to spoon my mixture into, I made do with the various serving bowls and things lying around my house.

I cooked them, as instructed, for 14 minutes exactly. I let them cool in their ramekins for a couple of minutes before inverting them onto a serving dish.

I think because my ramekins were larger than ‘proper’ ramekins, I ended up with slightly larger, and therefore flatter, puddings, than the original recipe. Extensive amounts of icing sugar notwithstanding (not sure why I added so much!), these were really nice – and definitely oozing red blood for Halloween.

The flavour was actually quite complex, and they were sweet, but not cloyingly so, with the orange flavour helping to balance the sweetness of the white chocolate. But best of all was the ghoulish residue of red colouring on the eaters’ mouths: this dessert can also be used as part of a vampire costume! Although I am not usually a fan of white chocolate, I very much enjoyed these little cakes, and they were a great start to my Halloween cooking.

Zombie Nero Wolfe October 31, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Pork.
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For my final piece of Halloween cookery, I decided it was only fitting to combine the concepts of Halloween with Nero Wolfe. The only logical conclusion to this was for me to create a zombie Nero Wolfe.

Zombies, as we know, are reanimated corpses of the recently deceased, brought back to life by magic or other means. In this case I would like to think of a zombie Nero Wolfe stalking the streets of New York, angry because there are crimes going unsolved and hoping to eat brains that have been prepared by a gourmet…

To make a zombie, it seemed the easiest medium to use was meatloaf. I decided to grind my own meat and add spices as I went, to be able to better control the flavours and appearance of the meatloaf.

Clockwise from back left we have: Chicken, flavoured with basil and sundried tomatoes, beef with onion, parsley and pepper, lamb with rosemary, pepper and parsley, and pork with basil and fennel seeds. Using the principles outlined in Charcuterie, I also added some ground up pork fat to the lamb and beef minces, as they were quite lean. I figured there was enough fat in the chicken and pork minces so I didn’t have to add any additional fat. I added salt to all of them.

Once everything was minced up, I turned them into meatloaf with the addition of breadcrumbs and egg – I didn’t bother to add tomato sauce or anything like that, as I was hoping the mince mixtures would be flavoursome enough without it.

Once the meatloaf mixes were prepared, it was time to start sculpting. Now here I must definitely acknowledge the work of H, who took over at this point and did all of the sculpting. He has far more artistic skill than I do!

Zombie Nero Wolfe had a body of beef, hands of chicken and a head of pork. Once this was sufficiently shaped, his clothes were added.

You might not be able to tell from the photo, but another layer of meat was added. Now Nero Wolfe has a suit jacket and shoes of chicken, suit pants of lamb, and hair of pork.

Once he was sufficiently sculpted, I put the meatloaf in the oven for about 40 minutes at 180°C. When it was ready, I added some finishing touches…and here I present to you: Zombie Nero Wolfe!

I was pleasantly surprised how well the different meat colours showed up and how the sculpting had remained throughout the cooking process. Nero Wolfe, even when he’s a zombie, still likes orchids, so I cut a flower out of capsicum for him to wear on his lapel. Small rounds of pickles served as suit jacket buttons, and he stares with malevolent pickled onion eyes…

As well as being scary and creepy, zombie Nero Wolfe is also delicious! I was very pleased to note the different flavours of the various minces coming through, with the beef with onions, parsley and pepper probably my favourite, with the chicken being a close second. However, all the meats were superior to a standard meatloaf, being juicy and flavoursome.

I hope everyone has a brilliant Halloween, and rest assured that no zombie Nero Wolfes will be following you, as he has been consumed and will be wandering the streets no more!

More Halloween preparations: Cupcakes October 30, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Sweet things.
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I did warn you there would be multiple Halloween posts and I’m happy to say this is not the last! These Halloween cupcakes were a fun project I did in order to supply my colleagues with Halloween goodies – I stuck to simple designs but I still think they were quite effective.

I made a basic cupcake recipe with brown sugar and vanilla essence. I made them quite small – which meant I had a lot to ice!

I decided to do 2 designs for the cupcakes – mummies and spider webs. I started with the mummies. Using a thick, flat icing tip, I piped white icing in overlapping lines to emulate mummy bandages. I did the lines fairly randomly but made sure I left a gap for the eyes.

With a thinner tip, I piped yellow blobs of icing in the gap I’d left for the eyes. Here’s a photo of the icing production line when I had begun to add the eyes.

As the final step, I used a thin icing tip to add dots of black icing for the eyeballs. Here’s the final result:

I think this one looks a bit scared!

For the spiderweb cupcakes, I spread a thin layer of icing on, and then piped a series of circles onto the cupcake.

As you can see the circles certainly weren’t perfect, but that didn’t matter to the final design. The next step is to drag a toothpick through the icing, from the middle to the outside, and repeat around the cupcake to form the spiderweb. You do have to do this fairly quickly, as it becomes more difficult as the base icing sets.

Here’s a photo of the final cupcakes.

Now, I must apologise for the quality of the photo – it was late at night and the light wasn’t good. However, I had to take the photo at night, because I had a very special guest…

Just look at Dracula! He’s so happy to have these cupcakes to eat! I’m sure they provide a bit of variation to his normal diet. Although that sugar might not be good for his teeth…

Whatever your plans are for Halloween, I hope you’ve had time to prepare whatever you needed to prepare, added appropriately spooky decorations and found just the right costume. Have a great Halloween!

Preparing for Halloween: Fruit Gelées October 24, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Sweet things.
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Happy almost-Halloween everyone! This is definitely my favourite holiday of the year, and I make absolutely no apologies for devoting multiple blog posts to it, although I’m sure Nero Wolfe wouldn’t approve.

I decided that I’d start my Halloween celebrations by making fruit gelées, which I’d first read about on Not So Humble Pie. When I saw her pretty butterfly gelées, I immediately thought of making bats for Halloween!

This was my first attempt at making any type of candy, and I ended up making two batches because the first one didn’t set properly. I’ll add what I learned in making the second batch and hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!

To start with, I had to collect a couple of somewhat special ingredients for the recipe. To start with, the recipe calls for fruit juice concentrate. I know this is fairly common in the US, and is available in multiple flavours, but all I was able to find here was an orange and mango fruit juice concentrate – and this was after going to 3 different supermarkets! I was happy with this (and the orange works so well for Halloween too!) but it meant I was limited on choice of flavours. Having seen the consistency of the fruit juice concentrate and the final result, I think it would be possible to substitute the canned ‘nectar’-type juices available from the supermarket (eg Apricot nectar).

After I’d sourced the fruit juice concentrate, I still had to find powdered fruit pectin. Again, this seems to be something that is generally available in the US but was not in any supermarket I visited. A trip to the Essential Ingredient resulted in a packet of powdered citrus pectin, and me hoping that this was the same as the pectin called for in the recipe!

I decided to make a half recipe, as the full recipe stated it would make approx. 60 gelées! Unlike some recipes where I generally work out the amounts as I go, this time I sat down and worked out exact amounts before I began. I started the cooking process by setting up two saucepans on the stove – one with light corn syrup and sugar; and the other with the fruit juice concentrate, water, baking soda and the pectin.

The corn syrup/sugar mixture basically looked after itself, and I only had to stir it occasionally as it heated up. To prepare the fruit mixture, I added the fruit juice concentrate, water and baking soda into the saucepan, and mixed it together. After putting the heat on, I added the pectin slowly, whisking constantly until it was incorporated. In the first batch I attempted, I dumped all the pectin in at the start, which resulted in the pectin immediately absorbing all the liquid, leading to lumps and a very odd mixture! So I would strongly recommend adding the pectin slowly and stirring or whisking as you go.

After both mixtures had come to the boil, I reduced the heat. I continued to cook the sugar mixture until it began to turn light brown and then slowly added it to the fruit mixture, again stirring all the time. There’s no photos of this stage because all my hands were busy!

Once it was incorporated, I continued to stir for another couple of minutes, and then poured it into a prepared baking dish. Because I was making half a batch, I used a loaf pan instead of a larger baking tray.

I should note that this pan was probably a bit small for the amount of mixture I had – and the resulting candies were quite thick in consequence. Next time I will use a slightly larger pan – or make a full batch and use a baking tray as directed in the original recipe.

I then began the difficult process of waiting for the mixture to harden. After a couple of hours, it was well and truly hard and I was able to cut shapes out of it. I used my Halloween cookie cutters to cut each shape out, and then rolled each one in caster sugar.

Then it was just a matter of rinsing and repeating for the remainder of the lollies. Since these were for Halloween, I stuck to bats and pumpkins for my shapes – and I must admit that the pumpkin gelées are quite large! I decided to arrange a suitable scene for my Halloween gelées.

Mourning cushion by Jen at Ghoulie Babies

As for the taste – I love all types of jelly-like lollies so I really enjoyed these. The orange-mango flavour came through well and the texture was great – firm with a bit of ‘give’ as they were bitten into, while still quite smooth. Next time, I think I would add the optional citric acid to the caster sugar you roll them in, as a bit of tartness would have been nice to set off the sweetness.

There will definitely be more Halloween posts in the upcoming week(s) and in the meantime I hope you are all enjoying your Halloween preparations!