16 September 2005

Raising a glass

I always insist on recognizing, if not celebrating, birthdays; not only does it mean the passing of another year, along with whatever personal wisdom attained, it marks the only day of the year that is truly yours.

I recently had my own day with celebratory meals and my usual half-spa day doing girly things. However this year, because of my latest round of sinus treatments, my meals have been restricted to alcohol-free, mostly-vegan sustenance for the past two months. Even though I usually don’t eat a lot of meat, these limitations hit me harder than I suspected. How else would I, a happy carnivore and occasional imbiber celebrate my day? Tofu and lentils, although good, just weren't going to do it for me.

I was (mostly) good while supping with friends and my Darling Dearest at vegetarian-friendly restaurants, but what I really wanted this year was comfort food—not necessarily the curries my Mum makes, but simple and hearty fare. I would have been quite content with the deep and rich flavours of a good steak and mushroom pie with chunky chips and a pint of Guinness, with (of course) something chocolaty for dessert.

Luckily, I found
Nigella Lawson’s version of the chocolate Guinness cake in “Feast.”

The cake has a pleasingly tangy hint of stout. I frosted it as she suggests, with a light, frothy head of cream cheese icing: If I couldn’t have a real pint of Guinness, I could happily delude myself into thinking I was making and partaking in the world’s largest chocolaty pint.

It’s a lovely, dense, damp cake and perfect for feeding a large group—I made it for the office and easily fed 20 people (Nigella claims 12, but I fear it would be *too* heavy after a good meal). To make life easier, I used one (240g) package of cream cheese and decreased the icing sugar to 120g and the whipping cream to 110mL. If you are neurotic about frosting you can easily serve it un-iced (if you’re celebrating, then celebrate and disregard the trivialities of calories and carbs).

Chocolate Guinness Cake
From “Feast” by Nigella Lawson, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada

For the cake
250mL Guinness
250g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
75g cocoa (+ more for dusting)
400g caster sugar
142mL sour cream
2 eggs
1T vanilla extract
275g ap flour
2 ½ t bicarbonate of soda

For the topping
300g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
125mL double or whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 180˚C (350˚F); prepare a 23cm (9”), deep springform tin by buttering and dusting with cocoa.

Pour the Guinness into a large, wide saucepan and add the butter; heat until the butter’s melted, then whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with eggs and vanilla and then pour in the pan of brown, buttery, beer and finally whisk in the four and bicarb.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Set the tin on a rack until completely cooled, as it’s quite a damp cake.

To make the icing,. lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sieve over the icing sugar and then beat them both together. Add the cream and beat again until spreadable.

And do as she says: Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.

as always,



08 September 2005

Returning to a good lunch

As a child I knew I was blessed with a mum who, being an excellent Indian cook, instinctively understood the role of herbs and spices in food.

As a child I knew I was cursed having a mum who, being an excellent Indian cook, habitually turned everything into a curry (try explaining to schoolmates why cinnamon and gingerroot are in the meatballs).

This is what I grew up with. This is what I knew.

As an adult (but not a gr’up) I now appreciate what I originally dismissed as trivial and common knowledge is something that isn’t trivial and not all that common.

This realization came a few years ago. Sitting in the office caf with a brown-bagged sandwich (made from home-made bread and real roasted meats) or maybe it was a leftover supper of simple, but flavourful pasta, I watched colleagues with their greasy assembly line burgers, microwaved frozen, pre-packaged, over-sugared and hyper-salted collections of processed animal parts, and leftover takeaway dinner remnants. They looked fatigued. They looked bored. They looked unhappy.

Someone asked where I bought my lunch because “it looked so good.”

Do “good” lunches only exist on menus?

No…of course not.

Good lunches (and suppers and breakfasts and 2am bingefests) exist as part of an accessible and ever-changing collective food knowledge. Keeping this knowledge alive is what this blog is about.

I’m not going to profess lofty goals of shepherding a lost culinary generation. I’m not a chef and I don’t have a degree in home economics. Heck, most days it takes great effort to leave my kitchen with all my fingers in tact and most of my blood still in my arteries.

What I am is someone who likes to cook…and eat…and feed.

What you’ll find here is the evolution of my foodie writing, begun on the Get Connected site, continued by informal cooking lessons and late-night calls, answering general cooking questions. I’ll write about ingredients and restaurants. I’ll explore feasts and foods. But most of all, I’ll encourage people to try something new to them.

I’ve written elsewhere that cooking is more than a means to an end, more than satiating the primal need to eat.

Cooking is about developing an innate, almost intuitive understanding about food. It’s about showcasing an ingredient’s best qualities and, of course, it’s about stimulating your imagination.

Sometimes there’s indigestion. But sometimes, through a series of cleverly diguised trial and error meals (aka hideously-smelling and vile-tasting sluice), you learn, you grow and you trust your culinary skills.

And from that, you will return to a good lunch.