I came across a great recipe challenge recently on Belleau Kitchen. Geared around choosing a recipe at random from your stash of cookbooks (hence called ‘Random Recipes’) it seemed a fab idea. I’ve got a serious cookbook addiction but, like a lot of people, most of the time I cook from half a dozen favourites whilst the rest gather dust. Challenge yourself, I thought. So far, so good.
My first problem was the cheesy nature of my blog. I didn’t want to cheat but equally a recipe for Thai-marinated pork thighs or somesuch was going to look a bit out of place (and I wasn’t sure I could get away with just sprinkling a bit of parmesan on the top). The rules said if I chose a recipe I’d already cooked I could go to the next page, so I thought I’d just keep going until I found a cheesy one (apologies Belleau Kitchen for the complete mangling of your rules). I left out all the obvious non-cheese contenders (sorry Gok Wan) and made my selection and – huzzah! – Rick Stein’s Baked Cheese, Ham and Spinach Pancakes it was! Without a word of a lie, I didn’t even have to cheat.
Excellent, I thought. Pancakes are easy but I don’t usually cook savoury ones. I can knock these out in no time and the children will happily wolf them down, imbibing much of their daily requirements of calcium and iron in the process. We even had some spinach ready in the garden. Lovely Rick Stein.
Here are the ingredients:
675g spinach, washed and large stalks removed
Pinch of nutmeg
About 15g good-quality cooked ham
Salt and pepper
1 onion, peeled and halved
900ml full-cream milk
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
65g plain flour
4 tablespoons double cream
175g Berwick Edge, Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese, coarsely grated (bcause this was a bit of an impulse cook, the only similar cheese I could get was Jarlsberg)
1 medium egg yolk
100g plain flour, sifted
pinch of salt
1 medium egg
1 medium egg yolk
300ml full-cream milk
25g butter, melted
And so I got to work. I think I may have been humming a bit at this point. I started by making the sauce. I studded the onion with the cloves and put it into a pan with the milk, bay leaves and black peppercorns. I brought it all to the boil and then set it aside to infuse for twenty minutes.
Onto the pancakes. I sifted the flour and salt into a bowl, made a well in the centre and added the egg, egg yolk and milk, beating it to make a smooth batter. We make pancakes quite a lot and I am, if I say so myself, an accomplished tosser. Eldest boy was jumping about in anticipation and the baby was laughing with delight. What a lovely family scene. Until:
Disaster. I scraped it off the floor, figuring that children are too protected from germs these days anyway. Eldest boy, unimpressed, went off to watch the television. The baby started to cry. And then I read the bit where Rick says, ‘Slide onto a plate and repeat to make 12 pancakes.’ TWELVE pancakes?! You’re having a laugh, Rick. I had already used a quarter of the batter to make a not very large pancake (which was currently in bits anyway). There was no way the mixture was going to stretch to twelve unless they were the size of a mouse handkerchief. I was starting to feel hot. I made the executive decision to make four pancakes. Jamie Oliver would approve of this kind of improvisation, I’m sure. And that’s why I usually cook from his books and NOT YOURS, RICK.
I managed to wilt the spinach, drain it and chop it with some aplomb, I feel. Time to preheat the oven to 200C / 400C /Gas Mark 6. To make the sauce, I strained the milk through a sieve and discarded the flavourings. I’m good at making white sauce. To quite a smug degree. The only downside is I learned how to make it by watching John Leslie on Blue Peter and so his visage looms into view whenever I cook it. But still, this was a cinch. Or at least it was normally, so why did it look like this:
Lumpy and floury and horrid. No amount of whisking was going to fix this. I had what the Other Half describes as my ‘holiday sweat moustache’. The baby started wailing. The eldest boy wandered back and peered at my work:
BOY: I thought we were having pancakes.
ME: We are.
BOY: Where’s the sugar and lemon?
ME: We’re having them with cheese and ham.
BOY: But I want sugar and lemon.
ME: Well, Rick Stein says we’re having them with cheese and ham.
BOY: I hate Rick Stein. He’s a poo-poo head and a Lady Gaga.
I was starting to agree with him.
I decided to crack on with the sauce by putting all the cheese, cream and egg yolk in, in the hope it will disguise the lumps. However, I didn’t anticipate that by using Jarlsberg, I would create the world’s largest ball of cheese-string:
I’m supposed to stir a third of the sauce into the spinach but it was like trying to manipulate wool that’s been dipped in glue. The hob was starting to resemble the web of some giant cheese-emitting arachnid. Both children were crying with hunger and I was cursing Rick Stein and whatever no doubt picturesque Cornish fishing schooner he rode in on.
I laid the pancakes out flat and covered the centre of each with some ham and spinach mixture.
I then rolled them up and placed them in a baking dish, dolloping the rest of the cheese-ball over the top. I sprinkled them with some more cheese and then baked them for twenty minutes whilst making some toast to appease my starving offspring. They actually looked and smelled quite nice when I took them out of the oven. I usually try and take a nice photo but I’m so exhausted and distraught that here they are, slapped on an Elmer the Elephant plate:
Mmmm, bet your mouth’s watering, isn’t it?
The children ate sullenly, in silence. ‘What do you think?’ I asked eldest boy. He pondered the question.
BOY: I like some of it and I don’t like some of it.
ME: Which bits do you like?
BOY: This bit of pancake [pokes small bit of pancake].
ME: And which bits don’t you like?
BOY: The ham, the cheese, the green bits and the pancake with goo on it.
Rick Stein, you are officially a poo-poo head and a Lady Gaga.
(And okay, maybe I am a little to blame for this cookery debacle… ;))