27 June 2009

Daring Bakers: Bakewell Tart...er...Pudding

Recipe origins: Traditional (UK)
Inspirations and References: Allan Davidson, Tamasin Day Lewis, Anton Edelmann, Jane Grigson, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver
My lovely co-hostess: Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Bakewell tarts…er…puddings combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.

Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling.

The version we’re daring you to make is a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.

Bakewell Tart History and Lore
Flan-like desserts that combine either sweet egg custard over candied fruit or feature spiced ground almonds in a pastry shell have Mediaeval roots. The term “Bakewell pudding” was first penned in 1826 by Meg Dods; 20 years later Eliza Acton published a recipe that featured a baked rich egg custard overtop 2cm of jam and noted,

“This pudding is famous not only in Derbyshire, but in several of our northern counties where it is usually served on all holiday occasions.”

By the latter half of the 1800s, the egg custard evolved into a frangipane-like filling; since then the quantity of jam decreased while the almond filling increased.

This tart, like many of the world's great foods has its own mythic beginnings…or several mythic beginnings. Legend has it in 1820 (or was it in the 1860s?) Mrs. Greaves, landlady of The White Horse Inn in Bakewell, Derbyshire (England), asked her cook to produce a pudding for her guests. Either her instructions could have been clearer or he should have paid better attention to what she said because what he made was not what she asked for. The cook spread the jam on top of the frangipane mixture rather than the other way around. Or maybe instead of a sweet rich shortcrust pastry case to hold the jam for a strawberry tart, he made a regular pastry and mixed the eggs and sugar separately and poured that over the jam—it depends upon which legend you follow.

Regardless of what the venerable Mrs. Greaves’ cook did or didn’t do, lore has it that her guests loved it and an ensuing pastry-clad industry was born. The town of Bakewell has since played host to many a sweet tooth in hopes of tasting the tart in its natural setting.

Bakewell tarts are a classic English dessert, abounding in supermarket baking sections and in ready-made, mass-produced forms, some sporting a thick sugary icing and glazed cherry on top for decorative effect.

Enjoy it with a cup of tea or coffee or just eat it sneaky slice by sneaky slice until, to your chagrin, you realise the whole tart has somehow disappeared despite you never having pulled out a plate, fork or napkin with which to eat it.

Is it a tart or is it a pudding?
Someone once said something like “The Bakewell pudding is a dessert. The Bakewell tart is that girl over there.”

It’s a debate that rages on and we aren’t taking sides on this one. But we will say that many people call this pudding a tart.

While we’re at it...
The etymology of pudding is a rather interesting and slightly convoluted one.* The naming confusion may come from the British manner of referring to the dessert course as ‘pudding’ (as well as referring to fat babies by the same name, though we don’t think that is what was the inspiration in this case). And so any dessert is a pudding until another name comes along and adds clarity to what it really is.

* nb: Annemarie had to electronically restrain Jasmine from delving into another treatise, threatening to remove her digital scale, personally autographed copies of How To Eat by Nigella Lawson and A.S. Byatt’s Possession and toss her kitchen footstool into the squidgy marsh up the road (really…Jasmine’s kitchen appears to be designed by a 6’4” fast food-eating engineer named Martin, Chuck or perhaps Buford) Anyone interested in hearing or reading her wax lyrical about puddings should just email her directly.

The Challenge

Rough Durations: Please see individual recipe elements to see how much time you’ll need. You may pull it together in more time or less—it all depends upon your kitchen’s pace. You can complete the tart in an afternoon, or break it up into a couple of days by making the pastry one day in advance.
Measurements: These recipes were developed using weight and not volume metrics, so for better results, pull out your scales. We’ve done our best with the Metric to Imperial conversions.
A giant tart, medium tarts or little tartlettes: We’ll leave that to you.
Mandatory and Optional Elements
Mandatory element 1: Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
Yes, it’s a pie pastry. Don’t look at us like that. It’s sweet and tender and it’s not scary…and we’re encouraging you to do it by hand and put the food processor away (but if you really want to pull out the gadget, go ahead).

Mandatory element 2: Frangipane
We love onomatopoeia of frangipane: it’s rich, sweet and feels slightly luxurious, and can be used in several confections.

Optional element: Home made jam or curd
We know several amongst us are rather jammy with making their own jams and preserves. Go ahead get wild and creative or simply showcase whatever’s local and in season. If you haven’t jammed before and want some hints or recipes, take a look at Bernardin’s homecanning.ca. If you want to just make some jam for this challenge and not go through sterilising jars and snap lids, you can try a pan jam, similar to Jasmine’s Blackberry Pan Jam. If you do use homemade jam, please include your recipe or the link to the one you used in your post.

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding
Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability (here's the strawberry jam I used)
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.
The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

Sweet shortcrust pastry
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract

Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Annemarie’s notes:
• Add another five minutes or more if you're grinding your own almonds or if you're mixing by hand (Heaven help you).

Special thanks to my dear Annemarie and Ivonne and all the DBs who put together the tart--thanks so much for everything.

Click here for a list of participating Daring Bakers.


What I'm reading: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

I'm a quill for hire!

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24 June 2009

Too hot to cook...but not too hot to eat: Turkey sandwiches

I know. Who blogs about making a turkey sandwich?

Summer appeared right on the dot on the 21st. The skies dried up and the sun arrived with temperatures warm enough to see people sitting on their front porches chatting with passers by. Not truly high temps, but high enough that the neighbours turned on their a/c and I'm watering my teeny little front garden every night as the patch of dirt is looking more like a patch of dust.

Not really in the mood to cook, but I'm hungry. No salad (regardless of how hearty it is) will do. A sandwich will do (with a side of crisps) nicely.

But just because I'm in a low-effort mood doesn't mean that I'm in a no-effort mood. Very simple and uses up the heels from the loaf, I decided to do a Frenched turkey sandwich: Simply layer sliced turkey and top with a good dollop or two of my lascivious peach chutney. Sandwich it up and soak both slices in beaten egg, and fry in butter.

Yes, I know not much of a post today as I'm putting the final pictures together for this month's Daring Bakers' post. Hint: I'm hosting...

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21 June 2009

On My Rickety Shelves: Little Cakes From the Whimsical Bakehouse

Thanks to the lovely people at Random House Canada, a copy of this month's cookbook selection was delivered to my kitchen.

Little Cakes from the Whimsical Bakehouse: Cupcakes, Small Cakes, Muffins, and Other Mini Treats
By Kaye Hansen and Liv Hanson
Clarkson Potter/Random House Canada
176 pages; $27.95

My readers know my cake decorating skills are the antithesis of those produced by Charm City Cakes. So frustrated I am with the prospect of prettifying my baking that I've deemed the mere attempt at piping "foofing"... as in: I don't do foofy cakes. Normally I glaze...at best I schwoop...but pipe? Never. So why did I accept the offer of Little Cakes from the Whimsical Bakehouse? Simple: I wanted to prove to myself that I could produce a cake that, while not of Duff Goldman's calibre, would not be a total embarassment.

Kaye Hansen and Liv Hansen are the creative and baking forces behind The Riviera Bakehouse in Ardsley, NY. Kaye is a self-taught baker while her daughter Liv uses her art school training to create eyecatchng cakes. They've appeared on various US Television shows and have produced a series of cake books under the "Whimsical Bakehouse" name.

Their latest tome was written for people like me, who find the entire prospect of cake decorating daunting, but would like to learn. The book itself is broken out into four main areas: getting started, anytime little cakes and muffins, special occasion little cakes and templates; they also include a section on suppliers. Recipes include cakes and other pastries, fillings and icings; decorating instructions and templates are also provided.

The most useful information this book gives about cake decorating. Basic tools of the trade from bases to pans to brushes and scoops are all explained, including tools and special ingredients. The fundamentals of filling, crumbing and icing cakes are covered to some extent, but some of their baking tips are overly basic, almost to the point of "dumbed down" more than is necessary...at times I felt like they were talking down to their readers, in a schoolmarmy tone that just puts my back up--"carefully measure all of your ingredients" and "most cake and muffin recipes can be baked in cupcake papers."

For me the most important part of this book is the confidence it gives the neophyte decorator. Instructions are easily followed for desired effects. Granted some techniques are less daunting than others--dolloping and smoothing icing on a cupcake vs piping hydrangeas--and some require an artistic temperament--piping and shading acorns.

The recipes are laid out in a non-standard format--instead of starting off with an ingredient list and following with instructions, ingredient information is provided in a sort of "as needed" basis, lists appearing, just before they're called for in the recipe. This may be problematic for some bakers.

The recipes themselves are rather lacklustre. Normally I would make three or four recipes to test a book but after two, I'd decided I didn't need to try any more. Even though the foods come together well enough, the flavour tasted as soul-less as if they were made by assistance of a store-bought pouch. I may be odd, but when I bake at home, I want the products to taste like someone cared about the end product, not bought from the grocery store.

Almond Coffee Cakes (p57)
This recipe is easy but may hold some people back, simply because the requisite baking tin (a 12 mold mini-square tin) is not necessarily in every home's baking rack. As you can tell from the photo I don't have one and I decided to make this recipe in my 12-bun cupcake/muffin tin. The other issues I have with this recipe is--and I'm not sure if the fault is mine, or with the batter or instructions was the cakes fell apart where the centre of cumbs separated the two halves of batter. Not the end of the world, but not enjoyable. The flavour was so reminiscent of pastries bought at overpriced coffee shops--flat and very sweet.

Banana Muffins (p52)
I substituted the called-for walnuts with almonds, which I don't think detracted from the muffin. The authors suggested topping the cakes with some chopped walnuts...instead I spooned the dregs of my last batch of granola). The muffins were incredibly moist and but again, lacked any sort of twinkle that would set this apart from something made from a cafeteria reliant upon packet mixes.

Ella's Birthday Cake
Okay. I know what you're thinking--there can't be a recipe for something called "Ella's Birthday Cake." You're right. There isn't. I wanted to give you an idea of what someone, with no confectionary talent can pull together based on what she learned from this book. It's not the fanciest or "cleanest" cake, but it's decidedly prettier than I'd produced before. I learned how to smooth on the icing and adapted the acorn technique for the multicoloured polka dots. Not bad for a first try, I think.

The Hansens give home bakers ideas about how they can make cupcakes and cakes a bit more festive. They can start off with basic techniques and then go on to create their own masterpieces.

So how does it rate?
Overall: 2.75/5
The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 2.5/5
Writing: 3/5
Ease of use: 3.25/5
Yum factor: 2/5
Table-top test: Lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Novice
Pro: Decorating instructions that can take decorators from square one to beyond.

Con: The cakes taste so absolutely...boring.


What I'm reading:
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

I'm a quill for hire!

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17 June 2009

Comfort and Restoration: Pizza

Every once in a while it's good to do the same-old same-old a little differently. Whether it's trying a redder or browner hair colour, re-arranging the sitting room furniture or simply switching to decaf for your fourth daily cup, sometimes the slightest change can be just what the doctor ordered.

Sundays are pizza days in cold weather months. I hide indoors from the snow and wind and make the kitchen a bit warmer, at Beelzebub's permission.

Usually I vary the toppings. Sometimes it's roasted veg, others bacon and mushrooms, sometimes it's a pesto with shrimp. White or whole wheat, thick crust or thin, I just play with whatever's on hand.

Now the weather is decidedly warmer and the final frosty night of the season has passed, it will soon get too warm to continue this ritual. I will miss it. The dough is home-made--beery head of yeasty water tipped, with a raw egg into a slightly salted flour and kneaded and pummelled into submission. I've always believed that breadmaking is better than a therapy session...not only do you get to work out your frustrations, but you end up with something you can eat. What more does one want?

The season's final, official, pizza was inspired by a couple of things. Gale Gand's Torta Rustica was far too fussy to make, butthe idea of baking a pie in a cake tin still appealed. The other was Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I had some while at Blog Her '07 and since then have indulged in that partituar style via store-bought frozen pies.

Same dough recipe, same ingredients...just put togehter slightly differently. I rolled the dough quite thin and lined an oiled springfom pan with it. Next were the toppings--in this case pepperoni, mushrooms and onions, then a layer of cheese sandwiched between thin layers of stewed tomatoes. Top with drizzled olive oil, rubbed basil and black pepper before baking in a 375F/190C oven until done...

Yes, I know "until done" doesn't help the novice cook but it depends upon the depth of pan, the and the thickness of toppings.

Pizza Dough
100ml hand-hot water mixed with 0.5 tsp sugar
0.5 Tbsp traditional yeast
225g bread flour
1 egg

Bloom the yeast in the sugar water for 15 minutes, or until a frothy head appears. Mix into flours and salt. Add the egg and knead, adding more water or flour as needed. When the dough is nice and soft (like the proverbial baby's tushie), transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let sit an a warm, draft-free space until doubled in size--a couple of hours or so. After rising, punch it down and knead for about five or ten minutes and let rest for a couple of minutes. Roll out as desired.


What I'm reading:
Great Canadian Plant Guide
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14 June 2009

Jasmine gets a garden; Sarah gets lunch

I've never claimed to have a green thumb.

My parents are fabulous gardeners. Give them something vaguely leafy, sometimes thorny and often petally, and they will turn it into something verdant and sweet smelling. "Obsessed" isn't the right word, but nearly every square inch of the backyard was taken up by veggies, half the side and nearly the whole the front yards are inhabited by bushes, flowers and flowering bushes.

No wonder I believed they loved their plants more than they loved me...why else would they name me Jasmine?

Needless to say, I didn't take an active part in the care of my surrogate siblings. Sure: I'd eat what came out of the veggie patch--if only to lessen the enemy's numbers--but other than that, I found gardening so distasteful that I couldn't even be bothered to learn flower names. Yes, I can usually identify easy things like bleeding hearts, daffodils, irises, roses and tulips...but the rest are prone to my own naming conventions. Flowers are either fluffy or pointy. To distinguish them I'll add the colour. For example this is a
yellow fluffy flower and this is a purple pointy flower. And for the reord, I prefer fluffy to pointy...all those angles....glah. I've never really needed to know more than that.

That's not to say I'm totally inept at caring for plants (or eating them, for that matter). According to friends with thumbs of green, my instincts are pretty bang on. I just look at the blessed things, decide what their problems are and then go about my business in fixing things as I see fit. They almost always become happier. At worst, they stay the way they are. Yes...I suppose gardening could be in the genes.

One of my friends told me because I really don't care what happens to plants, that's why it's easier for me to make "hard decisions"... apparently pruning is a hard decision. What's so hard? Just get out a snippy thing and snippety snip...

I fully admit when it came time to tend to my little patch of dirt, I needed some handholding. It's one thing to play around in the back where no one can see the mess you're making, but the front entry is a little different.

Sara has green thumbs, toes, elbows and earlobes, all of which contribute to her horticultural reputation. In return for her not making my front garden an embarassment, I offered her lunch.

Of course, me being me, I decided that there were plants I wanted to incorporate--I'd seen them in other people's flower beds or in sales flyers and just kept note of things. Apparently I came up with a pretty good mix of plants--all easy peasy lemon squeezy. Pretty darned close to idiot-proof. She was impressed.

She inspected my soil (I have worms!--in what other context would that phrase be joyous in this blog?), looked at the light and pondered my pie-shaped plot. Off her notepad came a simple but lovely little garden plan. Off we went to the nursery to buy my patch's new inhabitants.

While she yanked out the vegetal interlopers I busied in the kitchen, pulling together a lunch of salad and lemon-rosemary grilled chicken sandwiches with feta on ciabbata. Mediterranean flavours zhuzh what could be a rather ordinary sandwich, but what I think made the sandwich extra tasty was the feta spread.

To make the sandiwich, pound a boneless chicken breast flat and marinate in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, minced garlic and rosemary for 15 minutes at room temperature. Then grill.

Line the bottom slice with greenery of your choice (I chose a mesculin salad mix), roasted bell peppers and cooked chicken. Spread the top slice with the feta spread and close up the sandwich. If you've time, tighly wrap in cling and squoosh it with something heavy so as to have a pressed sandiwich. Serve with salad or soup.

Feta spread

Mix together the following ingredients into a smooth paste:

100g cream cheese, softened
50g feta cheese
1 tsp basil pesto
1 garlic clove, finely minced

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07 June 2009

A face only a cook would love or why my Provencale pork chops taste a whole lot better than they look

I've never claimed to be a wonderful photographer. Truth be told, my strengths lie in landscapes and cityscapes. Give me a good tree or sculpture (or a bad tree or sculpture) and I can usually get a good, if not interesting, image. Not gallery quality, mind you, but something I'm generally not embarrassed to have my name on. Here's an example...and another...and another (the gazpacho or the eggs benny).

Not so much so when it comes to my attempts at food photography. Yes, I do have moments when the stars align and I've captured colour, lighting and mood in such a way that I'm rather pleased. Every once in while whatever appears in my viewscreen is close to the composition I have in my head. I accept this and hope, that with practise, I'll have more good photos than bad.

Yet there is one foodish subject which I can never, ever photograph well: Pork.

I'm not talking about bacon or sausages. I'm referring to pork chops and pork loin.

I think the problem is it just doesn't enthuse me. When cooked, all I see is grey, pallid flesh...reminiscent of something I'd see on Six Feet Under, Pushing Daisies (WHY is that cancelled??) or Waking the Dead (on a boring episode). Yup. What I see is a roundish cadaver slab...unless, of course, I coat it in something crunchy or saucy.

But if I'm just grilling it or slicing through a roast...it's none too exciting.

It's not the piggy's fault he's visually unappealing.

He's very tasty and I'd be more than happy to share his juicy flesh with others. I'm just embarassed about the pictures. I mean look at that top image: doesn't it remind you somewhat of a dead person's hand, crawling out of a bog or something? It's not even a healthy person's hand. It's the hand of someone who's never really done anything except spent far too much time on a keyboard illuminated by a monitor's flickering blue light.

I guess you can say that it's got a great personality, but has a face only a cook could love (gee...I sympathise greatly).

So when it came to today's offering I tried to make it look less dead man like and more dead yummy. I must admit that I don't think I did a good job of it...my imagination was on strike, and all creativity was sidetracked by hunger. The only thing I could think of was to smoosh the chop in the Provençale sauce and photograph it. It does look better (I think).

It's very easy, but does take a good hour to put together. The tomato-mushroom sauce is quite easy to put together--but do keep your eye on it while you're simmering the chops. I didn't and the sauce became a little more caramelised than I'd like. It wasn't burnt, but another few minutes and it may have been.

Provençale pork chops
Four pork chops

1 Tbsp olive oil
400g sliced mushrooms
60ml red wine
1 onion, sliced into lunettes
1 small tin of tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
350ml chicken stock
salt and pepper

Brown pork chops and set aside.

Brown mushrooms in oliveoil and add onions. After onions have softened, add wine, garlic and stock, salt and pepper. Give it a good stir. Let simmer for about 5-10 minutes.

Nestle the chops into the pan, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes or untl the chops are fully cooked.


What I'm reading:
The Children's Book by A.S Byatt

I'm a quill for hire!

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02 June 2009

As flat as a pancake

No. I haven't lost that much weight....I think I'd have to be a negative weight to be considered "as flat as a pancake."

No...today's post is about the unfairness of summer.

You read correctly. The unfairness of summer.

No--I'm not going to wax lyrically about being a grown up who will spend almost every weekday between now and the autumn inside, at my desk, cursing a blue streak at a computer screen because the muse has left me, in favour of a patio, a pina colada and a lovely waiter named (well, does it really matter...).

No...I'm talking about ironing.

In the dead of winter, when the kitchen is warm with baking and roasting, my wardrobe choice is pretty easy: jeans and a rumply sweater. It's easy. It's warm. It's low maintenance.

Fast forward a few months when grass carpets the ground and mosquitos queue up to snack on my various parts and it's quite a different story. The oven sprouts cobwebs and the fridge is filled with leafy greens and purple and red berries. I don't want to think of anything heat-born. My wardrobe choice, while just as obvious as in the cold months is nowhere near as low maintenance: light and crisp cotton.

Cotton needs ironing, so every so many days I'm behind a folding board: a spray bottle filled with lavender water in one hand, a searing hot iron in the other and the most pathetic, put upon expression on my face.

I know I could forego pressing my clothes and go for the easy, breezy carefree look. But really. Who really wants to go around looking like a 5'1" wadded up Kleenex?

I suppose I could just look for no-iron synthetics...but I remember the the synthetics of the 1970s...and all I have to say is "Ew. Gross." And yes...many things from the 1970s elicit that reaction: leisure suits, powder blue eyeshadow, Paul Anka's song "Having My Baby"...

Note to marketers of new polysynthetic fibres: Please don't email me or leave comments telling me how wonderful the new generation of fake fibres are. I'm really not interested...and besides, I won't publish your comments.

In a few weeks, when I curse my hot weather laundry ritual, waiting for the day someone invents 100 per cent cotton clothes that miraculously stay freshly pressed, I'll also be looking for relatively effortless ways of feeding myself.

Even though salads and sandwiches are fine, often I need something a bit more sustaining, but nearly as effortless ways of feeding myself. I've written about my preference for breakfast for supper previously. Even though a good waffle is a thing of beauty, sometimes beauty takes too long.

At times like that, I don't have to sacrifice satsifaction for speed. Nigella Express has an incredibly instant pancake mix recipe that produces delicious pancake at pretty much the drop of a hat. All I have to do is keep a supply of the mix on hand.

When a pancake craving hits, all I need to do is scoop out a cup of the mix, and combine it with a cup of milk, a tablespoon of melted butter and an egg, and drop two or three tablespoonfuls onto a hot, buttered pan et voilà! The flapjacks, although not flat, are fluffy and so gosh-darned tasty, especially when served butter and maple syrup.
The Divine Ms Lawson has made her recipe available here.

I think, if you're the type to make your pancakes from a boxed mix, once you try these, you won't go back.


What I'm reading: The Children's Book by A.S Byatt

I'm a quill for hire!

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