By Marie Neilson

COOKING FAILURES


Culinary flops - we all have them. The difference between an ordinary cook and a good one is what we turn our mistakes into. Even that famous French pancake dessert Crepes Suzette was born of a cooking failure.

The young chef, nervous because he was cooking for the then Prince of Wales, accidentally set fire to the alcohol-rich sauce he was making. He had no time to start again, so added more of the liqueurs he was using, folded his pancakes and soaked them in the sauce. He sent them to the table, instructing the waiter to set fire to the alcohol fumes at the table. The dish was a triumph, and the rest is history.

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My failure - almost every time - is marmalade. Try as I might, any marmalade I make is either runny or overcooked. It's very rare indeed for me to turn out that golden, perfect bittersweet confection that many of us love on our toast. I've learned to be careful when I eat drippy toast and to use marmalade in other dishes. Luckily, there are plenty.

1) Spread it on pancakes, roll up, and bake in the oven at 180C until heated through and bubbly. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

2) Spread on slices of lightly buttered bread and make it into a bread and butter pudding. You won't need to use any sugar, though adding dried fruit and some spices will give the pudding a "Christmasy" flavour.

3) Brush runny orange, or lemon-lime marmalade on to chicken, fish, pork, sausages or ham when you bake it.

4) Add a spoonful of marmalade or jam to a curry to give it a subtle kick.

5) This wartime recipe is from a 1950s WDFF or CWI cookbook, (the cover has fallen off, so I don't know which). Sugar was rationed during wartime, but extra allowances were made during the preserving and jam-making season. Housewives got clever at using preserves in their baking.

It makes a large cake, with a surprisingly rich flavour. If you don't have a cake tin this big, you can substitute a paper-lined 27cm x 33 roasting pan. You may need to adjust the cooking time.

ELLISHOLME FRUIT CAKE

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125gm butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup golden syrup (warm the cup and grease it with a little cooking oil before measuring. The syrup will slide right out)

1 cup strong cold coffee

1 cup marmalade

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450gm currants

450gm sultanas

6 level cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 dessertspoon mixed spice

Grease and line a 30 x 30 cm cake tin. Preheat the oven to 180C.

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Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat well. Add the syrup, coffee and marmalade and beat. Then add the sifted flour, baking powder and spice and add with the fruit. Mix well. Bake for 3 hours.

HOW TO "RESCUE" OVERCOOKED VEGETABLES

1) Cover them with cheese sauce, sprinkle with grated cheese and breadcrumbs and brown under the grill.

2) Drain them, reserving the liquid. Taste it. If it tastes good (some vege cooking waters don't), then use it as part of the recipe to make soup. If not, make up some stock, using a cube or powder. Fry a chopped onion or two in a little oil or butter, add a slice or two of finely chopped bacon if you have it). Add the vege liquid and the veges, which have been chopped or sieved. Add milk to the soup, and thicken it with a little flour which has been mixed to a thin paste with water or milk. What you have now is a nutritious, warming, "rib-sticking" soup. (Which is what you were going to make all along, right?)

TO "RESCUE" DRY CAKE

1) Dry fruit cakes should be brushed or sprinkled with sherry, brandy or whisky. Place in a plastic bag in the fridge. Repeat the treatment daily until the cake is as moist as you like it.

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2) All other dry cakes can be made into a sort of rich bread and butter pudding. Dice, slice, or crumb the cake. Mix with milk and eggs to cover (3 eggs to 600ml milk, beaten together with 1 teaspoon essence of your choice). Bake at 180C until set.

3) TRUFFLES

Kids love making these, but it is wise to use juice when it's their turn to cook.

1 cup currants

2 teaspoons finely grated orange rind

1/4 cup rum, whisky, brandy or orange juice

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2 1/2 cups cake crumbs

Just over 1/2 cup (125gm) dark chocolate chips

Coconut, sieved cocoa or chocolate sprinkles to coat.

Pour boiling water over the currants. Drain them, then mix in a bowl with the orange rind and the orange juice or spirit of your choice. Melt the chocolate chips. This can be done, either in a microwave, on 50 per cent (medium) power for 4 - 5 minutes, or in a bowl over hot, but not boiling water.

Once the chocolate is melted, stir in the cake crumbs, then the currant mixture. Roll into small, walnut-sized balls, then roll them in the coating of your choice. Refrigerate uncovered on a tray until firm, then hide them in the fridge in a covered container.

VARIATIONS: Replace some of the currants with chopped glace cherries. Replace the dark chocolate with white chocolate. Experiment with what you have on hand.

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