Monday, February 01, 2010

Grandma's Cheese Pudding (aka when cookery goes bad)

In a change to our scheduled service, today I need to share with you my experience of attempting to cook a meal for my wife's birthday. By the end of my (sorry) tale, I am certain that you will be in agreement that any job involving food preparation is about as unsuitable as it gets for me...

Our story begins when, having been asked by my wife what we were going to be eating on her birthday, I foolishly blurted out something along the lines of 'I'll cook something special for you...'

Now, I'm not entirely sure where those words came from (my current working theory is that, for the briefest of moments, I was possessed by the spirit of Keith Floyd) but I regretted them as soon as they came out of my mouth. You see, I just knew that my traditional speciality of beans on toast just wasn't going to cut it for birthday celebrations.

And thus, on the day of the afore mentioned birthday, while my wife was at work I threw myself into the task of scouring the internet for good recipes - with my only guidance being a request for a 'cheese based dish'.

So, when I stumbled upon the recipe for Grandma's Cheese Pudding, I figured I was onto a winner. Not only was it cheese based (check!) but it was also (in my opinion) well within the scope of even my, hopelessly limited, culinary capabilities. It said you needed a 2.8 litre dish to make it but, since I didn't have one this big, I made the executive decision to simply halve all the ingredients.

A quick dash to the shops later and I had got all of the ingredients save for breadcrumbs. My supermarket doesn't sell breadcrumbs - and, apparently, just breaking up some pieces of bread (in a similar method used to feed ducks) doesn't count. So I sought advice and, after some crust slicing, oven baking and grating, I had a plate full of breadcrumbs. Of course, not having any scales I had to estimate how many I had but I figured there must surely be enough and moved onto grating cheese (which also went, I must say, swimmingly).

Perhaps I wasn't so bad at this cookery thing as I thought. Which was obviously the point at which the spirit of Keith Floyd decided he was no longer needed and drifted back to whence he came, leaving me in charge of bringing the milk to the boil and mixing it in with my ingredients.

One litre of boiling milk later, I pour it over my breadcrumbs and stir in my cheese, only to find that I have a very watery (well, actually milky) gloopy mess. Even to my untrained eyes, this looks very wrong indeed. I recheck the recipe. Bugger. I have halved all the ingredients except milk. There is now twice as much milk as I need mixed in with my breadcrumbs and cheese.

At this point - with only an hour or so until my wife got home (expecting Grandma's Cheese Pudding - I'd made the rookie mistake of telling her what I was cooking) panic set in. I tried to pour milk out through a strainer but I'd made it in such a big bowl that I was losing as much of the breadcrumbs and cheese as milk. So, after using a ladle to rid myself of some of the excess milk, I decided that time was pressing too much and that I needed to get it in the oven pronto.

Grandma's Cheese Pudding is in the oven. Twenty minutes tick by. Wife arrives home. It smells nice (check!). We sit down and I position myself in a chair so that I can surreptitiously keep an eye on the dish in the oven; only to see that it is growing at a not inconsiderable rate. The mixture is rising like a cumulus nimbus cloud. I'm not sure it's meant to do this. I keep my wife's attention focused in the opposite direction. It's really starting to get big now. I begin to worry it will grow too big for the oven at its current rate of growth. The story of the magic porridge pot stirred uncomfortably at the back of my mind...

But then, with a ping, it was ready. I breathed a small sigh of relief and went to get it out.

Only for the cumulus nimbus to slowly deflate, leaving behind a yellowish mixture that I discovered wobbled like a jelly. Feeling fairly certain this was not meant to be the case, I made my excuses and slipped it back in the oven for another ten minutes. At which point it was browning quite a bit at the edges but still wobbling like a jelly in the middle. Well, it's as near as dammit, I thought and prepared to serve it up for dinner.

Which was the point that I discovered that, instead of cooking Grandma's Cheese Pudding (which sounds impressive, you must admit) I had actually spent all afternoon - and nearly an hour of cooking time - creating an oven omelette.

Too much milk, too little breadcrumbs = an oven cheese omelette, and not a particularly good omelette at that (although I'd never before considered the possibility of cooking an omelette in the oven). So, after all my slaving and panicking, I served my wife two slices of birthday omelette and swore that I would never, ever, be so foolish as to think I can cook again...

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