29 February 2008
When our fabulous Daring Bakers hosts, Sarah of i like to cook and Breadchick of The Sour Dough challenged us to make Julia Child's French Bread, I knew this would be a combination of fun and, well...work.
Yes, I'm fully aware of those glorious home bread machines that via prest-o-change-o magic fill homes with scrumptious aromas in three hours. Relatively effortless, all you have to do --apart from measure out the ingredients-- is dump the fixings into the gadget and walk away until it dings its "the bread has loafed" ding. Then all you need to do is cool it, wipe down the inside of the machine and wash the tin. It's a little too sterile for my liking...and truth be told, I usually wind up losing one of the kneading paddles into the crumb, so I end up massacring its underside, pulling out huge wodges of bread in search of a wandering machine part.
I wasn't forced to use the bread machine, something an uncle convinced my parents to get, but being the lazy sort I am, it became very convenient...and a very lah-di-dah excuse to not be lassoed into doing something as exciting as digging my eyes out with the catbox scoop--"Oh no, thanks for the invite, but I really do need to make some bread...yes, I do bake my own...it's terribly complicated...I really can't leave it, even through the second rise...yes, there's more than one rise...it's that sort of thing." Given the bread machine was usually hid under a tea towel, many people never noticed it.
To tell you the truth, there was a bit of me that was happy when the bread machine broke some 10-odd years ago. I'd rather have my hands stuck in a mass of sticky, yeasty and, well, farty dough than letting some dispassionate contraption have all the fun.
Let's face it, breadmaking by hand is not for the feint of heart, nor wimpy of arm. Although not required, a...healthy, if not plumptious physique helps with all that kneading and rolling and slapping and smacking that goes on when taming yeast bubbles. It also helps if you have a wee bit...or a whole bushel-load...of frustrations to work through. Think of the dough as a soon-to-be edible stressball.
If you've ever wanted to make French Bread, this recipe is one to try. Whatever you do, don't be discouraged by its copious notations, nor the total amount of time needed to make this bread from start to finish: Sarah's and Mary's hints, suggestions and clarifications are a fabulous way to calm even the most nervous of novice breadmakers, and well, you really aren't that active for all that breadmaking time (up to nine hours, if you want to know)...most of it is spent letting the dough grow, so you can go about your normal housey antics...cleaning, flitting through blogs, chasing the cat, watching Coronation Street, all of the above...
I was so pleased with my humble little loaf. I knocked on the crust--it had that lovely deep sound a good crusty loaf should have. The outside was a beautifully burnished colour and he crumb was soft and yielding. Fresh, it's delicious with butter and jam. Cut into thick batons and lightly toasted, it's fabulous dunked into (Nigella's) Oeufs en Cocotte.
To read what the other DBs did with this challenge, take a meander through our blogroll.
27 February 2008
Several weeks ago I’d gotten it into my curly-mopped head that I wanted to bake birthday treats for My Most Marvellous Manager. Normally such adventures start out with me having a very clear picture in my mind’s eye. It can be a flavour, a texture, or a colour--anything that allows me to springboard into something, if not wondrous, then hopefully edible. This time…apart from the idea of baking something, I was at a total and utter loss.
I must admit, it’s rare that I find myself like this, itching to make something, but without a clue as to what. If it were just for me or a few, select souls, I’d just start weighing and pouring and grating and tearing open packets of fruits or nuts or candy. But it wasn’t just for me…t’would be bad form to give the person who approves your paycheque something indescribably experimental for his birthday…even though he is on my guinea pig list.
Off from my teetering shelves came the faithful tomes of inspiration: Nigella, Dorie, Edna, Julia…
Flickaflicka flick flick.
Magazines, newspaper clippings, printouts from online recipes.
Flickaflicka flick flick.
Favourite and talented foodbloggers.
Clickaclicka click click.
Gosh, you’d think I was searching for the a map to the world’s tastiest and ever-renewing truffle patch.
It’s not that I had some unreasonable self-imposed expectation that whatever it was, it had to be “perfect.” All I wanted it to be was tasty …and sortakinda pretty...
How easy it is for me to spiral into a tizzy of mammoth proportions...all for want of a simple baked good.
What made me remember a skinny little spine, I don’t know. But I’m glad I did. Was it desperation or true enthusiasm that made me decide on Anna Olson’s Cocoa Cupcakes? I don’t know. And I don’t know if in such cases a) it matters or b) there’s a difference.
All I know is these little cakelets, with a softly chocolate flavour and a sweet and slightly sticky glaze, studded with silvery balls were exactly what needed to be made…along side an equal number of softly flavoured vanilla cupcakes.
24 February 2008
Guiltily, I've eyed my stack of new and neglected cookbooks for several weeks, some titles for months. Don't get me wrong--I wanted to read them, cook from them and write about them, but until very recently, I just couldn't.
Since getting back into the swing of things, these titles have beckoned me to frolic in their pages. I've resisted to a certain extent, simply because I didn't think I was up to the challenge of trying something new. That is, until I saw this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge theme: Nigella Lawson, hosted by Foodiechickie.
How better to get me riffling through pages than by mentioning a favoured food writer?
In as much as I love pottering away in the kitchen, that really is a luxury. Life is busy, and although I don't have little ones running around, between work, sorting out Michael's possessions, getting the condo up and running, finishing my last course and all those things --and people--that pop up when you least expect, supper is usually a mad root through the fridge and pantry, hurriedly thrown together, with any leftovers boxed for the next day's lunch. This, of course results in me relying upon a few standbys--sandwiches, doctored soups and pastas--followed by one night of bulk cooking, well bulk enough to last two nights.
Nigella Express is meant for those of us who want delicious meals with relatively little effort. As the opening flap pronounces, "The Domestic Goddess is back and this time it's instant." That's not to say this is a book for the enamoured followers of "semi-homemade." Yes, she uses premade or boullioned broths and some recipes, such as Minestrone in Minutes call for "tomato-based pasta sauce of your choice" but her book isn't permeated with the pong associated by the TMs or (R)s in ingredients lists, as happens with certain other recipe scratchers.
Nigella's language is exquisite and encouraging. Her speedy Chocolate Croissants, made with store-bough puff pastry, starts with "First, let me say that if I can do this, you can. As I have never tried to hide, I have not patience and even less dexterity. But this is child's play..." The recipes are also written with speed in mind--instructions are short and you don't have to turn the page.
The book is divided into 13 chapters, each addressing a different express need, from everyday meals, quick breakfasts, speedy entertaining, holidays, make-ahead meals and quickly-made restoratives. Regardless of speed or reason, this book contains instructions for the food you want to eat.
Here's what I made. Where ever possible, I've linked to recipes.
Please note, I have the UK version of the book--have learned to distrust conversions and "translations". If you are only to get the US version in your shop, you can order it (or many other UK imprints) online through amazon.co.uk, or Blackwell--I've used both in the past and have been extremely pleased.
Breakfast Bars p94
I knew I had to make these as my shopping trolley usually holds a box or two of granola or breakfast bars. Incredibly easy to put together. Yes, they take an hour to make, but I ended up with more than two weeks' worth of morning munchies. Sweet nutty and easily transportable. I've been using salvaged crumbs from my bar-butchering as an ice cream topper.
Pear and Ginger Muffins p 97
Yes, I know...two breakfast foods, but I generally find breakfast the meal I need most and the one I have the least amount of time for. The gingeryness gives the pear a zippy flavour and a happy morning snack food.
Oeufs en Cocotte p65
Is there anything simpler and more pleasurable than a baton of toasted bread dunked into squidgy, thickened and still-warm yolk? I luxuriated this a bit by adding a morel. All this in 15 minutes.
Buttermilk Roast Chicken p274
Roast chicken is a perennial favourite and chicken marinated in buttermilk even more so. I'm used to buttermilk poached chicken that's then fried, but the roasted version just as easily satiated my hunger.
If anything, Nigella Express reminds me that fast food doesn't have to be limiting to pasta and jarred sauce or a fried egg sandwich. Nor does it mean a Styrofoam box in my trash bin.
WCC25's mission was to cook from any of Nigella's books. And I've done my fair share of that. To see other Nigella recipes or -inspired foods I've conjured, click on this link.
21 February 2008
A previous declaration leaves me focused on food-related memes, so in my typical fashion, here are my seven random food things...
1. I own one whisk.
It's red and rubberised--probably my nod to all things Lauren Henderson (granted, the homage would be truer if it were black rubber). Most people I know have two or three silvery wire balloons tucked in a drawer, while My Dear Little Mummy keeps seven or so hanging on her wall for quick grabbing. My ex-hash-slinger friend thinks of my scullery as woefully under equipped as a result of this single, snazzy whisk. If I need to go from yolks to whites (or whatever), I simply wash it and use it again. He thinks I'm being silly.
2. My dish washing machine does not do dishes.
No, it's not broken (AFAIK), but it was one of the things that was left in the condo. I have no use for its original intent, even if I do have a propensity for using every bowl and most pots and utensils to complete a simple meal. The machine simply represents more counter space--for which my scullery is sadly under equipped--and its innards house my unused resealable containers. It remains on premises for the eventuality of condo resale (why the presence of a dishwasher matters in such things, I haven't the foggiest).
3. My real life food reputation is a study in contrasts.
Depending upon who you talk to, I'm a:
- food snob who only dines in chichifoufou restaurants
- food pleb, whose gullet easily succumbs to the six fastfooderies near my condo
- fussy eater with a debilitating list of foods that will not cross my lips
- indiscriminate yet adventurous gluttonous creature who'll eat pretty much anything
- lazy, basic, dump and heat cook
- someone who revels in creating difficult and intricate dishes and meals
- dragonlady and a fearsome critic to anyone who serves me a homemade meal
- easily appeased soul if you're sweet enough to feed me
4. My favourite kitchen tool (pictured) is older than I am.
My surrogate grandmother and neighbour gave my Mum that peeler. Mum and I both believe Grandma used it before handing it over. I've saved it from the bin several times--not because of absentminded clumsiness, but because Mum easily succumbs to new toys. It's now in my kitchen and is still very, very sharp. I am so used to it that I cannot easily use other peelers (apart from knives).
5. Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course was my first real cookbook.
And by "real" I mean commercially published and one I really used. I bought it in the early 1990s when I was looking for more guidance than was available through my mum's Auxiliary Cookbook. CCC is well thumbed and still often-referenced.
6. I love treacle toffee.
Last Halloween I was upset to find an absence of those orange and black, wax paper cloaked toffees. As kids we hated them because they were usually rock-hard and stale. As a teenager and 20-something I developed a nostalgic fondness for them. The company no longer makes them--probably a bright idea emanating from Marketing and Finance. I've since found an adequate substitute in brown and white wrappered treacle toffees, available from a little independent Scottish bakery in the next town. I dose myself slowly and regularly, with these wondrous little sweets.
7. My Mum can rarely surprise me with food.
Much to her chagrin, I can walk into her home and tell her exactly what she's made. She curses my nose--it may be small, but it's awfully good at sussing out her kitchen's activities, and can...umm..suggest additions that will improve whatever she's prepared. All without tasting it.
As to tagging others, I'll just leave it open. If you want to participate, please do!
I know I have at least one outstanding Meme (Shaunnie, dear, I've not forgotten) and I will get to it. Until then, and if you are interested, here's the somewhat short list of other memes I've completed:
18 February 2008
"...I must say that I do get a kick out of looking at the "for the adventurous" section at the bottom of the recipe. I'm amazed at what is sometimes considered to be 'adventurous.'"Sometimes recipe writers try too hard. Sure, their intentions may be innocuous--helpful, even--but every once in a while even the best-laid plans of mince and mandoline may be best left in that dark place where recipes never are never committed to paper (or pixels).
I fully understand many Canadians do not live in urban centres and may not have easy access to the same ingredients as those who live in larger cities. Heck, I live in one of our larger cities and I have trouble reliably finding chipotles in adobo sauce in our mainstream grocers. I also know that because not everyone was raised with Asian, Central American or even Mediterranean foods (among others), balancing culinary timidity with an honest curiosity of different flavours can be daunting.
Call them tamed, simplified or brutishly dumbed down, creating a non-offensive and easy version of a famed, complex and flavourful dish isn't an easy job. Add to that a pre-requisite ingredient normally absent in many other versions, and you risk a final product that's, at best, lacking. Yes, you could help someone out of their comfort zone and give them the courage to try different flavours, cuisines and cooking techniques, but sometimes you could simply be passing on misinformation.
Am I being a food snob? I don't think so.
Entitled "Easy Jambalaya" I was torn between two reactions: the lazy-I-want-it-now part of me was excited at the prospect of a jambalaya that didn't take hours to make...combined with...oh gawd, what did they leave out to make it appealing to the masses. Yes, it's easy and designed so anyone with access with the most basic kitchen can make this. But it's also boring and unsatisfying.
I made one substitution -- thought the can of crushed tomatoes was a can of stewed tomatoes...and then when I realised I had the correct quantity of tomato sauce, I used that instead of opening up a new tin...if anything, my substitution added more flavour to the dish.
As written, its flavours are dull and lifeless. There's no depth of flavour attained from browned chicken, quantities of smoked or andouille sausage. I'm used to sautéeing onions, peppers and celery until they've released their basic goodness. I'm also used to garlic and bay leaves. Yup...no garlic in this recipe--sacrificed in the name of the hoi polloi? Probably. Don't know why the versatile bay leaf was omitted.
I tasted it after it was "done." It wasn't. I had to doctor it--heavily to bring it to the barely passable zone. If I had some garlic powder I'd have tipped some in, but I did add some chicken stock, along with a plethora of spices and a good dollop of hot sauce. And that's why my photo looks so much different than what's in the calendar.
A friend was over to try it. As we ate we tried to figure out why it wasn't working for us. We both agreed that the milk should have been left out and a rich chicken stock would have been better. I prefer my jambalaya with sausage, chicken and shrimp. He wasn't specific with the type of meat, just the quantity...it needed a lot more meat--and I'm in full agreement. We both thought it needed garlic and more seasoning.
The "adventurous" recommendation of adding shrimp would not help this dish in the slightest.
15 February 2008
Since my Time to make the doughnuts post one of Tim Horton's CSRs wrote back with a little info on their Dutchies. No, they don't know why they're called that, but these doughnuts were part of the original Tim Horton offering in in 1964. Fair enough. Baking Soda came up with a very plausible suggestion, when she suggested that the name may have something to do with the Pennsylvania Dutch -- makes a lot of sense to me.
Anyway, my little cakes kinda sorta got all squooshed on their way from the second rise to the oil. I'd forgotten to put some flour on the first tray and when I lifted them out they went from little square cushion about to be tansformed into yummy fried treats to what looked to be pummeled remnants of a pillow fight about to be transformed into yummy fried treats.
Watching the bits of dough bob and float in the hot oil, I must admit that I began doughnut-watching. It's like cloud-watching, finding familiar figures in gathered bits of water mist against a blue canvas, but it's tastier. Think of it as a foodie version of a Rorschach Inkblot Test.
Not sure what you see, but here's what I found:
Left: A hen sitting on her nest, but the photo makes it look more like an alley cat that's been in one too many fights.
Right: A sock puppet.
Right: A heart.
Left: Frankenstein's monster wearing a beret.
Right: Either an ice cream cone or a turkey leg.
Hmmm...notice how I see a lot of food images in food? Wonder what that says about me.
Anyway...so there I was with this collection of doughnuts. Granted a few were eaten that first night, but after a couple of days, they just get a little...well...stale. Not one to let a good doughnut go to waste, I did the only thing I cold think of...
Make a doughnut pudding.
It's quite simple. Instead of using bread or jam sandwiches for bread pudding, simply cut up the stale doughnuts, and let them soak in a sweet, creamy-eggy mixture for a little bit before baking in a 180C (350F) oven until the custard has set. Yummy, yummy yummy.
12 February 2008
With so many flavours and types out there, narrowing down my entry was pretty easy: the Dutchie.
"Dutchie?" I hear some of you say. "What on Earth are you talking about?" (Okay, others are saying, "Oh man, couldn't you do something good?" while others are leaping about for joy (yeah, I hear the little thuddy sounds)).
To me, the Dutchie is the quintessential Canadian doughnut. And trust me, Canadians know doughnuts. According to this CBC article, there are more doughnut shops per capita here than anywhere else on our big blue marble, and we eat more doughnuts than anyone else in the world (that and, apparently, KD).
Available at pretty much every Tim Hortons (but the one in my office), these sultana-studded pillows of sugary-glazed, yeast-risen goodness seem to have as many fans as detractors...is it the coffee shop's embodiment of our two solitudes? Peut-être...but it has nothing to do with our national soul-searching, culture-defining, language-determining passtime...In my opinion, it has everything to do with freshness.
Enter any hockey area at 6am (or earlier) and you'll see a gaggle of parents, clutching their double-doubles, munching away on Dutchies watching their kids practice. Walk into a Timmy's and you'll see a number of women conversing and cajolling over coffee and their Dutchies. Head off to the office and you'll see the guys gravitate to the still-warm deep fried squares of dough-covered raisins. These, I think, are those in the pro-Dutchie contingent. People who happen to get their treats freshly made, retaining a bit of oven warmth.
The anti-Dutchie group seem to centre on two issues. The first is raisins: people either like them or they don't (not sure if I've ever met anyone who's indifferent to the wrinkled beasts). So, if you don't like raisins, you probably won't like Dutchies. The other point is their peculiar ability to go stale faster than any other of Tim's doughnutty offerings (ring, twists, fritters or Timbits); unless you see someone put them on display racks or if they still have their "just made" tag, chances are the glaze has dried and begun to flake off and the doughnut itself may be better used as the puck at those 6am practices.
Why are they called Dutchies? I don't know--and Tim's won't tell me. I sent them a very polite email asking for non-nutrient info on these treats, which they've promptly ignored. (Edit: They've since replied.) My theory is they are based on the Dutch oliebollen...but who really wants to eat something that sounds vaguely like "oily ball" so in true pocket-riffling, while wearing rubber gloves style, these fried cakes were monickered "Dutchies." (If someone really knows why they are called Dutchies, please let me know and I'll amend this post...or post your theory...and no "they were originally made from Dutch people" is not an acceptable response, sorry JDN.)
Unlike most doughnuts, Dutchies aren't ring doughnuts or twists--they are squares or rectangles, made from a yeast-risen dough, sprinkled with raisins. I want to say the Dutchies of my childhood were glazed in honey, but now seem to be glazed in a simple syrup. If anything, they are reminicent of a blueberry fritter-sans blueberries. Most I've seen are uncomfortably large and more filling than I'd like. If I have one, I usually split it into two or three and save the rest for later. Microwaving helps diminish the staleness a bit.
I searched for an appropriate recipe to try, but I couldn't find one. I looked at several oliebollen, olykoek and beignet recipes in attempts to figure out my own variant, but in the end, I decided to base the recipe on my dear friend Edna Staebler's Kucha recipe from Food That Really Schmecks.
In her fat cakes section, she recommened using plain kucha dough for yeast doughnuts (you can simply roll the dough out and form it into little buns and bake them at about 180-200C (350-400F) until done). Edna's never steered me wrong, so I followed her advice and used the plain kucha as the base, adding the sultanas, spicing and honey-water glazing to transform them into Dutchies.
adapted from Edna Staebler's Kucha from Food That Really Schmecks
yield approx. 15
250ml hand-hot milk
55g butter, very soft
grated zest of one small lemon
1 egg, well beaten
420g plain flour (you may need less)
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/4tsp ground nutmeg
100g sultanas, soaked in boiling water with about 1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
honey-water of whatever strength you prefer
Sprinkle the yeast into the warm milk, then add the butter, sugar, salt and zest and stir well. Add the egg and spices. Stir in enough flour so the dough holds together, but is still tacky. Be careful to not add so much flour that the dough is stiff-- if after you've added all the flour the dough still seems too loose and tacky, bundle it up and let it firm in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Take out your frustrations on the dough for about 15 minutes before letting it double in size in a warm place--anywhere from one to two hours.
After the dough has risen, punch it down and add the drained sultanas and knead again to distribute the fruit. Roll out to 1cm thickness and cut to 5cm squares. Place the squares on a lightly floured surface and let them rise again, until they've doubled in size.
Fry in hot oil until golden and blot on paper towels, then glaze with honey-water.
Edit: Kucha clarifcation
Related Post: Pass the Dutchie on the left hand side
09 February 2008
06 February 2008
01 February 2008
Who would have thought a sudden craving for a weeknight omelet supper, followed by Saturday brunch (featuring my special gingerbread waffles and a healthy dose of scrambled eggs) would have caused a near crisis for my cuppycake-baking plans on Sunday? Did I mention that I also completed the Lemon Meringue Pie Daring Baker Challenge as well?
Yeah, that's a greater-than-normal eggy business in my scullery.
Normally I'm on top of my pantry's essentials, but I admit I slipped last week: it was probably the heady rush of a week's hols to thank for my poor planning. I'd love to blame Beelzebub for this, but I can't.
I had grandiose plans to celebrate My Most Marvellous Manager's birthday. Okay. Not grandiose, but I wanted to bake some cocoa and vanilla cuppycakes to mark his special day. Whipped up the cocoa cupcakes with ease (to be blogged about later) before starting on the vanilla ones. I decided to use Nigella's Victoria Sponge (p14, How To Be A Domestic Goddess) batter for the cakelettes--super easy, yummy and one of my "go to" cakes when in a baking mood.
Unfortunately, I didn't count the number of eggs I had on hand...and wound up one short. This wouldn't have been so bad if I'd set up a proper mise en place--I could have run out for a carton before I started mixing things--but I didn't. So I creamed the butter and sugar, added the vanilla extract and then began adding the eggs one at a time, interspersed between good spoonfulls of flour...and then I realised I was short one egg.
This is where I am compelled to say "If you don't have a copy of David Joachim's The Food Substitution Bible, get one and keep it on top of the microwave for easy access. You won't regret it."
It's the cookery reference equivalent of that friend you call at 11pm for advice about trapping the chipmunk who's running around in terror in your living room because it came through the cat door while you were out and now it's being stalked by said cats and is obviously scared poopless as it's leaving **prezzies** everywhere, but you can't catch it because it's just so darned quick, and quite honestly you aren't sure if it really is a chimpmunk or just a mutant rat, so you don't want to get too close to the vermin, but at the same time you want it out of the house, but it's too late to call animal control, so you have to take things into your own hands, but you don't have a live trap big enough for the thing and the friend then comes over and grabs your wastepaper basket and that bit of light card backing from the new sheetset you just bought and traps the critter (the chipmunk, not one of the cats) and releases it into the backyard, but only after the cat door is locked, and before pouring you both very healthy G&Ts and popping in the latest Gerard Butler DVD.
Yes, the book is *that* friend...
Thank goodness for Mr. Joachim...and his egg substitution for eggs needed in baking:
3 Tbsp milk
3 Tbsp flour
1.5 tsp shortening (for which I substituted butter)
0.5 tsp baking powder
I was worried how this would affect the crumb. No need--the cakes turned out beautifully and you really can't tell that I had to do the emergency substute. Now, I probably wouldn't substitute all four eggs needed with a quadruple of the above mixture, but one egg was just fine.
* Although I'm sure there are certain ones out there who claim that I'm usually one egg short of a full dozen.