29 September 2010

Happy birthday to me: Nigella's margarita ice cream for five food bloggers

Being a food blogger means you are part of a large food-loving community, brought together by pixels, LANs and wireless connections. Over the past five years I've corresponded with hundreds of food bloggers. I've been lucky enough to meet a couple dozen of them, here at home or in transit. Some have become dear friends and we try and get together a few times each year, but there are others whom I feel just as close to, but have never met.

In as much as I'd love to have Chinese New Year dinner, wings and a pint, or spend an afternoon making strawberry jam with pretty much every food blogger, there are a few I'd simply, unabashedly squeal with joy if the stars aligned and we wound up at the same table, stove or check-out queue.

That got me thinking...
Many of us have played the dinner party game where we'd list people we'd most have to have dinner with--my own list includes Artemisia Gentileschi, Stephen Fry, Oscar Wilde, TE Lawrence, Jane Austen, Nigella Lawson (whom I've met), Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams--I wondered, since both my blog and I added a "one" to our ages, which five food bloggers I'd never met would I love to have at my birthday supper...

Why these five? There's a connection there that's sometimes hard to explain...but suffice it to say whenever they pop up, they always make me smile.

Why five? A perfectly practical reason: my dining table seats six...

Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar: I think Annemarie and I met through The Daring Bakers a couple of years ago. When my turn came up to host a challenge, I knew I wanted her as my co-hostess. Her sense of humour and clear thinking made her a fabulous colleague and dear, dear friend.

Jeff of A Dork and His Pork: Jeff popped up in my Twitter feed last year. When I visited his blog, I knew he was someone with whom I could relate: he drew an anaolgy to Thelonious Monk when writing about banana bread. 'Nuff said.

Mary of The Sour Dough: There are certain parallels our lives have and because of that, there's little explanation needed. We can email one another at any point and there will be assistance, encouragement and support. That, and she'll answer my inredibly silly questions about bread baking.

Paz of The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz: Oh goodness...Paz is simply one of the sweetest people I've met online. Visiting her site is like going to the home of a long, dear friend. I love the breadth of her recipes and, of course, her slice-of-life photos of New York City.

Shaun of Winter Skies, Kitchen Aglow: I can't remember when we found one another, but we recognise in one another a spark and a connection--we're kindred spirits in words, influences and outlook.

And since it's my birthday, what else would I serve alongside cake, but ice cream? I've spied Nigella Lawson's Margarita ice cream recipe in Forever Summer for ages, but have never made it until this summer. It's rich and creamy, with the lime-laced tell-tale tequila buzz of its eponymous cocktail--appropriated served in a sugar-salt rimmed glass. In La Lawson's own words: "This is surely what angels would eat at their hen night."

Margarita Ice Cream
adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe in Forever Summer

375ml (1.5c) heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1x300ml tin (1.25c) sweetened condensed milk
90ml (6Tbsp) tequila
30ml (2Tbsp) Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier
Juice of 6 limes and the zest of 1

First, make a custard by scalding the cream, then dribble it into the egg yolks, and then pouring the mixture back into the pot. Cook it, stirring all the while, until it coats the back of a spoon. Take it off the heat and let cool for at least 20 minutes before stirring in the condensed milk, tequila and Triple Sec, lime juice and zest and then leave to cool completely before pouring into your ice cream maker. Churn according to manufacturer's instructions.


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20 September 2010

Peach-almond upside down cake

I’m not the only one who hates being photographed.

I can’t really point to a reason for this neurosis: There’s the once-natural smile, held too long; being at the mercy of a once-enthusiastic and creative soul reduced to crutches of standard poses against unimaginative backdrops; the once-hidden moment that is now forever captured. At some level, it’s the blunted truth captured by a mechanical eye. I am the subject which becomes the object.

I also have a pathological distrust of photographers and a deep-seated dread of cameras: photographers are evil and cameras are the work of a malevolent being.

In other words, I simply don’t photograph well.

In many pictures I look like an Ewok with thyroid issues as drawn by James Gillray. Other times I look like a maniacal motivational speaker who specialises in presenting to sadistic dentists and their overly Botoxed, gold-lamé sandal wearing assistants who own their own tanning beds.

That ain't pretty. Not that I do pretty.

My recent need for a head shot was met my usual apoplexy: knotted stomach, quickened breath and more than a touch of “just let me do a line drawing likeness of myself and be done with it.”

After meeting
Jay, I could see why my best friend recommended him. He captured gorgeous, light-filled natural images that radiated her personality. His online portfolio drew me in with snaps of spirited moments, thoughtful compositions and unrehearsed expression. Our pre-shoot meeting confirmed my initial impressions of him formed from those images: approachable, perceptive and receptive.

Truth be told I think he got more than he reckoned…Others would have stared blankly or nonchalantly (or not so nonchalantly) looked for the exit as my tongue unfurled non-profane bluntness and free-wheeling adjectives and adverbs. Him? He rolled his eyes several times with an impish grin and, unlike others, he very deftly handled my pronouncements, concerns and meandering tales while reassuring me and talking through the nuts and bolts of the photo shoot—duration, colours and apart from lippy, no make up.

The session itself was very unlike other photo sessions I’ve done. Those were mechanical and processed. This was like spending the afternoon with an old friend…except, of course, for the honkin' huge camera, massive light reflector and the occasional crowd that gathered to see what was so special about this short chick in pink that she had an incredibly tall stalker photographing her every step.

The shutter clicked more than 200 times, but it didn’t feel like it.

There were more than two dozen useable images. Heck, there were more than dozen good images. From those, these two were chosen, each imparting a different facet of my personality:

According to my friend
Gin, I can no longer claim to not photograph well.

Begrudgingly...I think she’s right.

Quite honestly, I think Jay is the reason there were so many good images. It goes beyond the facts that he has a good eye, understands light, composition and movement. It’s because he made me feel comfortable and forget that I was being stalked by an incredibly tall man with a soul-stealing camera.

Good gravy. That’s a revelation on par with Herschel’s discovery of Uranus.

Seriously. It’s THAT big.

And it must be noted.

What appeared from my kitchen was this peach upside down cake, inspired by Ontario’s August peaches. I gave it to him when I selected the images. It wasn't a total surprise as I emailed quesitons about allergies and preferences. But he and his family appreciated this small bit of thanks, asking for the recipe. And that, to me, is all I could ask for.

This cake is the progeny of several different recipes (but my main inspirations were recipes by Rose Murray, as blogged by Charmian, and Canadian Living). It’s deceptive in that it looks as if it should be treacly, but it’s not. The caramel is light and tamed by a pinch of salt; it melts with the peach juices into the cakes soft crumb. If you’re in midwinter and can’t get in-season fruit, drained, canned peaches work just as well and is a delicious way of bringing back summer in the midst of dark and cold days.

Peach-Almond Upside Down Cake
Yield: one 20cm/8" cake

For the topping:
100g (0.5c) brown sugar
45g (3Tbsp) butter, melted
pinch salt
4-5 peaches, peeled, sliced into 0.5cm wedges

For the cake
90g (6.5Tbsp) butter
2dspn (1.5Tbsp) flavourless oil
120g (0.66c) sugar
1 egg
1tsp almond extract
1tsp, rounded baking powder
0.75tsp bicarbonate of soda
130g (1c) cake flour
0.25tsp salt
125ml (0.5c) milk/cream
125ml (0.5c) vanilla yoghurt
Garnish (optional)
A handful of toasted almond flakes

Preheat oven to 170C/350F. Butter a 20cm/8" springform pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment. Wrap the tin's outside in tin foil to keep the caramel from leaking (and burning) in your oven. Line a baking sheet with tin foil as well. Set aside.
Sift together the baking powder, bicarb, flour and a quarter teaspoon of salt and set aside. Mix together the milk and yoghurt; set that aside too.

Melt brown sugar, 45g butter and a pinch of salt until bubbly. Pour into the prepared pan. Place the peach slices in the caramel in whatever configuration you wish. Set the tin on the lined baking sheet and set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the oil. Add the eggs one at time, beating well between each addition. Pour in the almond extract and mix again. Scrape down the bowl's sides with a rubber spatula.

Add the flour mixture and yoghurty milk mixture in the usual alternating way: flour-milk-flour-milk-flour--scraping down the sides between additions. Give the mixture a gentle turn with the spatula before turning the batter into the prepared, carameled and peached pan. Evenly spread the batter before popping it into the preheated oven. Depending upon your kitchen's temperament, bake for 45-60 minutes. When done, an inserted skewer will come out clean-ish, with a few crumbs adhering to the stick, the cake will spring back to the touch and pull away from tin's sides. It will be a golden tawny colour.

Let cool for at least an hour before unclipping the sides. Invert onto a cake plate, so the peachy bottom is on top. It's easiest to remove the parchment round while the cake is still warm, to preserve the loveliness of the peach pattern.

Strew with toasted almonds and serve the cake warm with or without ice cream or whipped cream.


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12 September 2010

A Cake is Announced: Delicious Death

I always find my blog’s inbox completely irresistible.

Here are grouped together, all higgledy-piggledy, notes from readers and stoppers-by with questions or comments, frenzied appeals to publicise charitable events, PRs and marketers looking for a cheap and easy way to gain pixel space for their clients, and subject lines asking me if my Mr. Winkie needs improving.

This particular Wednesday, September the eighth was no exception to the rule (well, apart from notes of well-wishing for both this blog’s anniversary and another notable event). And so it was with great interest while sipping my tea and nibbling a foofy pink cupcake, I perused
Mailwasher’s preview pane, I noticed lying betwixt newsletters and messages imploring me to try “it” now for the purposes of shocking friends with my tool, I spied the following notice: A cake is announced and will be available to celebrate Agatha Christie’s 120th birthday on 15 September, and will be available a Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair during Agatha Christie Afternoon Tea the week of 12-19 September 2010. *

My, it was like my inbox was like the North Benham News and Chipping Cleghorn Gazette.

Further reading truly got my heart racing. No, the cake would not be prepared by or served by
Lucas Bryant (my current actor crush). For you see, this was not just any cake, but one created by Jane Asher, inspired by "Delicious Death," Mitzi's celebrated dessert in A Murder is Announced.

Its description is only this, in Mitzi's own words:

"Yes. It is rich. For it…I need for it chocolate and much butter, and sugar and raisins….It will be rich, rich, of a melting richness! And on top I will put the icing--chocolate icing--I make him so nice...These English people with their cakes that tastes of sand, never never, will they have tasted such a cake. Delicious, they will say--delicious--"
How a propos that the Queen of Crime nickname a mysterious cake "Delicious Death."

Recipe in hand, I set out to bake the cake. If you followed
my Twitter feed this past weekend, you're well aware of my skirmish with the kitchen gods.
If you didn’t (and really, I’m not sure whether to be hurt that you don’t clamour for my every online word or congratulate you for having better things to do than follow my often disjointed140-character missives), this was the fate of that first cake:


It fell.

To the floor.

Dismayed, I collected the hunks of crumb, and still glistening confettied dried, preserved and sugared fruit off the floor. It was very much a lovely tribute not only to the story, the lady but also post-war rationing and baking traditions in England but also from somewhere in the middle of Europe. This was not a light and tender, buttery crumbed floury cake as many of us are accustomed to, but a more substantial cake gilt with chocolate, dried fruits and fortified with brandy (or rum, if you prefer). It is not a fruitcake, but could easily turn into one by folding the fruits into the batter before baking.

I tasted it before binning it. The cake was chocolaty and moist with a nutty undertone from the ground almonds. It was, as suspected, sweet. Cloyingly so. Between the sugar in the cake, the sugar in the filling and the sugar in the glaceed cherries and crystallised ginger, I buzzed around my kitchen like a little humming bee.

I checked my ingredients. What I didn’t have I’d simply substitute for or use a reduced amount. I faithfully followed the recipe once. This second time I would play a bit, based on what I had on hand and my assessment of the first attempt. My recommended tweaks are in the baker’s notes following the recipe.

To me this cake is not the wedge-serving kind, but instead one where squarish slices are sliced off. So I baked it in a 21.5cm (8.5”) loaf pan. Since I could not find candied flower petals, nor was I willing to pay for gold leaf. and I was besotted by the jewel-like translucency of the glaceed cherries and crystallised ginger, I decided to mince some of each and strew them on the ganache glaze.

Regardless if you choose to bake the original or tweak it, it is a lovely little cake. It’s equally at home to be brought out for an afternoon coffee or tea, but also as a festive dessert.

Delicious death? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Agatha Christie’s Delicious Death
by Jane Asher; Imperial/volume conversions by me

175g (1c) dark chocolate drops (50-55% cocoa solids)
100g (7Tbsp) softened or spreadable butter
100g (0.5 c) golden caster sugar
5 large eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
100g (1c) ground almonds
½ tsp baking powder

For the filling:
150ml (10Tbsp) rum, brandy or orange juice
150g (1c) raisins
55g (0.33c, packed) soft dark brown sugar
6-8 glace cherries
4-6 pieces crystallized ginger
1 tsp lemon juice

For the decoration:
175g (1c) dark chocolate drops (50-55% cocoa solids)
150ml (10 Tbsp) double cream
2 tsps apricot jam
10g crystallized violet petals
10g crystallized rose petals
1 small pt of gold leaf.


Pre-heat the oven to 150degC, (300degF, 135degC fan assisted). Grease an 8” deep cake tin and line the bottom with baking parchment or silicone.

Prepare the filling: in a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients and stir over heat until the mixture is bubbling. Allow to simmer gently, while stirring, for at least 2 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thickened. Allow to cool.

In a small heatproof bowl, melt the chocolate drops over simmering water or in a microwave, being careful not to let it overheat. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until very pale and fluffy. Separate the eggs, setting aside the whites in a large mixing bowl, and, one by one, add 4 of the yolks to the butter/sugar mix, beating well between each one.

Add the melted chocolate and fold in carefully, then stir in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, mix together the ground almonds and baking powder, then stir them into the cake mix.

Whisk the egg whites until peaked and stiff, then fold gently into the chocolate cake mix.

Spoon the mix into the prepared cake tin, leveling the top, and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 55-65 minutes, or until firm and well risen. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out on to a rack to cool completely.

Using a serrated knife, slice the cake in half horizontally. Spread the cooled fruit filling onto one half and sandwich the two halves back together.

To decorate: put the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl and melt them together over simmering water or in a microwave. Spread the cake all over with warmed apricot jam and place on a rack over a baking tray. Keeping back a couple of tablespoonfuls, pour the icing over the whole cake, making sure it covers the top and the sides completely, scooping up the excess from the tray with a palette knife as necessary. Add any surplus to the kept back icing. Carefully transfer the cake to a 10” cake board or pretty plate.

Once the reserved icing is firm enough to pipe, place it in a piping bag with no. 8 star nozzle and pipe a scrolling line around the top and bottom edges of the cake. Leave for 2-3 hours, to set.

Place the violet and rose petals into a plastic bag and crush them into small flakes. Sprinkle these liberally around the chocolate scrolls. Finally, with a cocktail stick, pull off some small flakes of gold leaf and gently add them to the top of the cake.

Jasmine’s Notes:

  • Chocolate: If you cannot find chocolate chips with the cocoa solids percentage listed on the packet, look for bittersweet chocolate chips.
  • Double cream: Double cream can be difficult to find in Canada (I only manage to find it at Christmas). It has 40% fat and can be substituted with whipping cream (heavy cream), which is 35% fat.
  • Caster sugar is the same as superfine sugar.
  • If you wish to make this a loaf cake, use a 21.5cm (8.5”) loaf pan and bake at 150C/300F for 65-75 minutes.

My tweaks to the original filling
 30ml (2Tbsp) Cointreau, plus extra for assembly.
 75g (0.5c) raisins
 1Tbsp soft dark brown sugar
 8 glace cherries, minced
 6 pieces crystallized ginger, minced
 1 tsp lemon juice
 a pinch of salt
 1tsp butter

While you mix the cake, soak the raisins, cherries and ginger in water, to remove as much of the excess sugar as possible. Drain the water. After the cake is done, mix 2Tbsp Cointreau with the remaining filling ingredients and bring to a simmer over medium heat to let the alcohol evaporate and the liquid thicken. When assembling the cake, brush or sprinkle the slices’ surface with Cointreau.

Original recipe reproduced with permission.

AGATHA CHRISTIE and DELICIOUS DEATH are registered trade marks of Agatha Christie Limited (a Chorion Limited company). All rights reserved.

Visit http://agathachristie.com/ for more information about the author and the celebrations marking her 120th birthday.

* With apologies to Dame Agatha and all her fans. I couldn't resist.


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08 September 2010

Now I am five: Plus ca change...

Now I am five.

Well…no: I am older than five…but this blog, one of my current online personae, is five years old.

In a world where half of blogs wither and die on their electronic vines within three months, that makes me—to borrow
Kate’s phrase–officially old.

I tapped out
my inaugural post late at night on the same laptop I use today. Then The Fussy Eater snacked away at the other end of the couch, watching whatever TV show was on at the time. Now, Hagia curls up beside me, in a whisker twitching-dream: she’s a mighty huntress stalking and eating her prey.

I think that first post still holds true: at its heart Confessions of a Cardamom Addict is food-centric diarisation: written for my edification, crystallising my evolutions as both writer and cook, homage to disparate influences and inspirations. It’s about my ravenous gullet in as much as it’s about the people, cats and events that envelop my life.

I’ve often stated social media, and blogging in particular, is a balance between exhibitionism and voyeurism. My readers find me amusing, bemusing, satiating and hunger-inducing. They like my turns of phrase and my turns of whisk. Some became dear friends; others remain silent onlookers. Some stop me while I’m out and about; others email me thanks, questions and their own stories, inspired by my flailing words.

Regardless if you’ve just arrived or have been checking in for a while, thank you for your time, your words and your kindnesses.

I’m in a bit of a retrospective mood. I still find this site entertaining, challenging and gratifying. Yet at times I feel like the grande old dame in a corner club chair, reminiscing about when we Young Turks were a type of food revolutionary. We built upon actual and virtual food traditions, helping change how to share food knowledge and culture with countless others.

Few of us remain from those days. I watch sites born, lessons relearned, tools and pages grow and die, the task of establishing individualism an increasingly crowded realm.

So here I am,
Toddtini in hand, reflecting on 18+ years online (yes, really, I told you I was old) and the constancies that hold true regardless of how online looks.

Be honest with yourself and with others as to why you’re here.
Honestly answer this question: Why do I want to blog/vlog/podcast/create a community/etc?

Being an online diarist is just as valid as establishing credibility, wanting a book deal, finding an audience or trying to profit from corporate online ad spends. There are no right or wrong answers, but without an answer you may not find what you’re looking for here.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: why you start may not be why you continue. Just be sure you feel good about a conscious shift and you aren’t refocusing because it feels right for someone else. These shifts are normal. It’s called evolution.

See social media for what it is and what it isn’t.
Social media is a connector, a stadium with a 25-kilowatt sound system, an incubator that protects and nurtures the most fragile of concepts. It’s also divisive, a string with a single tin can in a shoebox, and a graveyard of ideas.

If you want to find and grow an audience, understand search engine optimization. Audience growth can take time. Simply starting a blog or a video channel or contributing to a thread may not win you an instant loyal following that rivals the populous of a small nation.

Social media’s beauty partially lies in its relatively low barriers (cost, skill, accessibility). It won’t necessarily deem you an expert (but it will easily deem you a poseur or a wing-nut). Your content’s veracity and quality will attract an audience and be one tool to help earn street cred.

Yes, Virginia. You’re on minute 14.
No one is on a forever upwards trajectory, nor do they usually forever tumble downwards. Fads and flavours of the moment can be born, catapult to stardom and die a fiery death within a day. Learn how to ride the crest but realise you won’t be on top forever. Still wearing parachute pants? No. I didn’t think so.

Many people who’ve tied their online persona to numbers give up their presence once traffic drops. That’s fine; it’s sunk cost theory in action: when your endeavour no longer provides you the satisfaction you desire, quit and go on to something else.

But...if you’re driven by unquantifiable reasons, and still enjoy it, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re fine as you are.

Community: It’s called “Social” Media for a reason.
Social Media is like a continent, with countries, each with provinces, counties, cities and neighbourhoods:

  • Each country can be seen in context of tools: blogs, podcasts, social networking sites etc;
  • Provinces are subject-specific (food & drink, gaming, politics,literature);
  • Counties are the grander topics--within food there’s cookery, baking, history, science and a plethora of others;
  • Cities are specialties such as regional cuisines, restricted diets and techniques, and
  • Neighbourhoods can be extremely granular specialties such as gluten-free cookies.

You can move between cities and countries, or just stay in one neighbourhood: you can be both a podcaster and a microblogger; you can write about tech and books. Some people will tell you that you should write about tech or books; others tout you should use all the toys. You don’t have to do either: it’s totally up to you.

You are part of already-established communities where interactions take place every moment in different ways. Posting isn’t enough to be a part of the community. You need to interact…meaningfully.

You will find supporters and detractors, kindred spirits and antagonists. Whatever it is you think you know, there will always be those who know more than you and are willing to call you out on your foibles. There’s an old Usenet phrase that can speak to the Web as well: Usenet is not a womb.

Communities self-regulate. We have our own languages, standards of ethics and practise. None are written in stone: they’re constantly in flux, moving and twisting and evolving. Some have issues with this; I don’t...usually.

Some are neophytes to your speciality and others have doctorates and eponymous awards, theories and comets. Be aware that your community’s members can often sniff out the disingenuous. Don’t pretend to be something you aren’t: if you don’t know what “cream together butter and sugar” means, don’t profess to be an expert baker.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The cupcakes? Bakery-bought. I’ve earned them.


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