Sunday, 25 November 2012

Paul I heart you!!!

I might have mentioned in passing my obses... I mean fascination with The Great British Bakeoff. Yes, I know the season ended ages ago (and I was sooo happy for John when he won, he seems like such an adorable and lovely guy). Anyhows, after watching the bakers produce the most beautiful yeasted doughs, I decided I really need to hone my bread making skills. Well, technically speaking, I shouldn't as I'm at least in theory still trying to shed some pounds before Xmas. However, I couldn't resist when I saw Paul Hollywood's book "How to bake" on Amazon's black friday sale. Damn you one click shopping! And damn you Paul for your foxxy good looks, making kneading dough look so sexxy.

The minute I had the book in my hands, I just had to flip through it from front to back. Yes, I was at work. But in my defence, it was my coffee break. The book is absolutely wonderful, with good instructions and beautiful pictures. Quite a lot of it covers yeast doughs, starting from basic breads, going on to flavoured breads and there is even a whole chapter on sourdoughs. When I get back from my Xmas holiday I will set up my own sourdough starter and try that method as well. In addition to breads, there are really good instructions for pastry, brioche, croissants, danishes, and lots of cakes and puddings. The book is just full or wonderful recipes which look absolutely delicious and I want to try them all. Particularly the breads.

I'm a bit bad with yeast doughs as I don't always have the patience for the long rising times. When I bake, I want to see the results immediately. And I have always been really lazy with kneading, I have always found it messy and extra work that I couldn't be bothered with. But at the same time, I absolutely love bread, and there are no decent bakeries at all in Cambridge, so if you want good bread you have to bake it yourself. So I'm looking forward to improving my bread making skills. 

To get me in the bread mood, before attacking the yeasted doughs, I decided to try one of the few non-yeast based recipes for a super quick soda bread. In my local store they sell buttermilk in 300 ml jars, so I slightly modified the amounts of ingredients in the recipe. I included the original amounts in parenthesis for a slightly larger loaf.

Paul Hollywood's Soda Bread:
375 (500) all purpose flour
3/4 (1) tsp salt
3/4 (1) tsp bicarbonate of soda
300 (400) ml buttermilk

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Mix dry ingredients, add buttermilk and mix with your hand or a wooden spoon until the dough sticks together. Shape the dough into a ball, and flatten it a bit with your palm. Put the bread on a parchment paper lined baking tray, and mark it into quarters by cutting deep, but not all the way through. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and making a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. 

The verdict:
This is a super quick bread to whip together, I made it for evening tea with Best Friend. We ate it pretty much straight out of the oven with just butter on top with some hot tea and lots of gossip. Perfect Saturday evening.

Preparing the bread takes just a few minutes, so it would also be perfect for weekend brunch. It seems pretty much foolproof, as it turned out absolutely beautiful. It rose much more than I expected. It was soft and tasted really nice. It somehow reminded me of some oat cakes my mum used to make, whether or not they actually had soda in them I can't remember, but the scent of the bread was exactly as I remember the oatcakes. So I think next time I will try to replace some of the flour with oats. 

Saturday, 24 November 2012

My new baby!!

I can't believe my family keeps on growing! Family of kitchenware that is. This fall I was infatuated with my slow cooker, then I fell in love with my cast iron skillet. And now, something I have been admiring from afar for so long, but never thought would become reality. But my mum decided to get me one for Xmas. And Xmas came early this year. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the eagle has landed. I finally have a Le Creuset casserole. It's beautiful and purple and ridiculously heavy. I like to just stare at it, take the lid off, and then put it back on. I have wanted one for so long. Every time I go into a department store or kitchenware store, I just have to stop by to look at (and touch) the Le Creusets. And now I have one all of my own! This is the beginning of something beautiful. I foresee many Le Creusets in my future kitchen. Now I just need to figure out how I will get a job which allows me to afford the kitchen of my dreams. I don't care too much about the rest of my apartment, I'm happy as long as I have a sofa and bed. Would even settle for a sofabed I guess. But I'm dreaming of a huge kitchen. One with the centre island with a cooker, and maybe the sink too, a huge shining metallic extractor fan. Maybe one of those red retro fridges. Or a stainless steel one. A dishwasher (yes, I know most people have one, but I am only dreaming of such luxury). KitchenAid has a pink stand mixer... And maybe one of those alien looking Alessi citrus squeezers. And a huge freezer or two, so that I can finally buy things like meat in bulk when it's cheap. Of course, if I can afford my dream kitchen, maybe I don't need to worry about buying cheap meat.

So one of the many reasons I wanted a Le Creuset is because of all the delicious looking bread recipes I have seen on Pinterest and all over the Interwebs. Apparently, the heavy casserole, when pre-heated, helps the bread get that super crunchy crust. You can find more info about baking bread in a dutch oven here. Some of the recipes I have found have the step of pre-heating your casserole in the oven before putting the bread in, others seem to put the bread into a cold casserole and then putting it cold into the oven. The resulting breads from both methods look great, but for me it makes sense to pre-heat the casserole before adding the bread, as the casserole acts as the actual oven in this case, and it should be hot when adding in the bread. However, the problem was the instructions for my baby said you shouldn't heat it empty. Again, the Interwebs to the rescue. Apparently, you can heat the casserole when it's half filled with water. It's just quite a biatch to pour out, the pot gets really hot, and like I said, it's really heavy. And I'm super clumsy, so I foresee a disaster. I already managed to scald my leg with hot water when I was boiling eggs a while ago. It looks like an alien has tried to crawl through the skin, but luckily it wasn't too bad in the end. So I'm trying to be super careful when using my purple beauty.

The recipe I used here is surprisingly something I ran into on Pinterest. It's from a blog called The Pioneer Woman. Recently Completely Delicious made a similar bread, which was adapted from Joy the Baker. Who had adapted it from the Pioneer Woman. And so the same recipes go round and round through the blogosphere. It spins my head right round... All the recipes featured herbes, but I wanted to bake my bread without having to stop by the grocery store, so I chose to use things I could find around the house for flavouring. I ended up with this bread flavoured with garlic, seeds and goji berries. There is also another great recipe for making bread in a dutch oven, it's from a blog called Simply so Good and I've tried it before, just without the dutch oven. It turned out great, and it's a bit different from the others as you don't need to knead (sic) the dough at all. And the blog post has one of the longest comment sections I have ever seen, so whatever possible problem you have with the recipe, it has most likely been covered. And it looks absolutely delicious as well. So many breads to make... so few calories allowed...

Bread with stuff I happened to have at home:
1 cup warm-ish water
1 tbsp active yeast
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups strong white flour (plus up to 1 cup, depending on the texture of the dough)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp gluten
1 tbsp garlic manjira*
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp flax seeds
3 tbsp goji berries
Garlic infused olive oil and sea salt to sprinkle on top

*the lable says it contains garlic, coconut, sunflower oil, coriander, coconut milk, chillies, lemon juice, salt, spices. I would imagine a suitable replacement would be a garlic clove chopped and mixed in a tablespoon of olive oil.

The howto:
Mix yeast, sugar and 1 tbsp of the flour. Add water which has been heated to 42 degrees C (it feels a bit warmer than body temperature). Mix briefly, and let the yeast activate for 5 minutes, until it starts to froth. Then add 1 cup of flour, the gluten and the flavourings. Add the rest of the flour, and knead for 5-10 minutes (or if you are lucky and have a kitchen aid, just use that to make the dough). Let proof in a warm place (I had used my oven earlier, so it was still a bit warmer than room temperature so I stuck the bowl in there) for an hour or a bit longer, until the dough has doubled in size. During the last 30 minutes of proofing, preheat the oven to 225 degrees C, and place the dutch oven, half filled with water, in the oven to reach 225 degrees.  Punch the air out of the dough, and shape it into a loaf. Make a cut in the shape of and X in the loaf, and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Carefully take the hot dutch oven out of the oven, pour out the water, place the bread carefully in it, and bake for 25-30 minutes with the lid on. Finish baking for 10-15 minutes without the lid.

The verdict:
Most of the bread recipes I have seen use four cups of flour to one cup of water. Every time I bake, I seem to need much less flour than the recipes state, or the dough becomes really hard. So by feel, I added three cups of flour which I think gave me a nice dough with nice texture. If your dough is horribly sticky after three cups, add flour little by little until you have reached the desired consistency. It probably depends a lot on the type of flour you use. 

Baking in a casserole with a lid is torture, usually I love to peak into the oven and see how my food is doing. I love watching bread or buns rise, sometimes I can just sit down on the floor in front of the oven and stare inside. I know, I know, I'm sooo weird. So I could only manage 25 minutes until I uncovered the bread as I had to see it. Then I baked it uncovered for another 10 minutes. 

One thing the bread truly had was a crispy crust. It was unbelievably beautiful sitting there in the casserole all golden coloured and crispy. I just wanted to tuck in immediately. Waiting for the bread to cool a bit seemed to take forever. Obviously, you want to remove it from the casserole pretty soon to speed up the cooling process. And remember that the dutch oven will be really really hot. I use folded kitchen towels instead of oven mitts as I never got around to buying them. After handling my Le Creuset, I'm seriously considering buying a pair, maybe those fancy silicone oven mitts. So be careful when you are fishing out that bread from the casserole. 

The disappointing aspect was that the bread didn't rise quite as beautifully as I had hoped. This is probably because I shaped the loaf before heating up the casserole. It would have probably been better to heat the oven and casserole, and then punch the dough and shape the loaf and get it into the casserole as fast as possible. It didn't end up a complete pancake, not at all, but I had expected a slightly more domed look.

Looks aside, the most important part is obviously the taste. What can I say. I had a slice and froze the rest for later. Just kidding!! I ate four slices right after  slicing them off the bread. With nothing but a good knob of butter. This bread also solved my problem of what to do with goji berries, as I have had quite a bit left for ages and no good ideas what to use them for. They bring sweetness to the bread, the same way raisins would do. As I have said before, I have a bit of a substance abuse problem when it comes to raisins, and I can't have them at home. However, goji berries are not sweet enough for me to binge on, so I leave them alone. Hence, in the future, I can use them in bread to replace raisins! The contrast of the sweet goji berries, the crunchy seeds and the sea salt on the crust of the bread were a really great combination. I can't wait to continue experimenting with bread making in my Le Creuset.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Crumbly strawberry pie

No-one ever pops over unannounced these days. You know, the way they used to do back in 'the old days'. Whenever that was. I can imagine it, a small countryside village, and in the afternoon your neighbour knocks on your door, just to say hi and hear how you are. Well, at least that's how it goes in my imagination. Then of course you invite them in and sit down with a cup of tea, some ginger cookies, scones, tea cakes, jam and clotted cream. Unhurriedly you enjoy the tea and gossip about what has been going on in the village. That just doesn't happen anymore. Obviously most of the time I'm actually glad that doesn't happen, imagine someone coming over to gossip just as you are about to leave for the gym. Or just got back from work and all you want to do is turn on the telly and switch off your brain. As long as I have lived here, I don't think anyone has just knocked on my door unannounced. Well, obviously no-one has knocked on my door as they wouldn't get into the building in the first place. What I meant was no-one has buzzed my door buzzer unannounced. Except from time to time the drunk people leaving the club downstairs at 3am in the morning who find it funny to just press every door buzzer. However, today my door buzzer went off unannounced. I didn't answer as I expected it to be a salesman or TV licence inspector or whatever (just to be clear, I don't have a TV so I don't need a licence!!). Then right after that my phone beeps. 'Is you in?". It wasn't just some random door buzz, it was actually someone I was happy to see. And even more lucky, I had happened to bake these great crumbly strawberry pies right before my surprise visitor appeared. Maybe I should just start baking more often, as it seems to attract surprise visitors!

So the inspiration for the strawberry pies was leftover pie crust from my apple pies I made a while ago (sometimes my blog posts wait for quite a while to get published, don't worry, I haven't stored my pie crust for a month). A strawberry tart recipe on Pinterest has been haunting me for ages, so the leftover pie crust with some leftover strawberries that was my perfect excuse. Given that I already had the crust ready made, my strawberry tart is not exactly like the one in the recipe above, but I thought any strawberry tart or pie would calm my craving a bit. First, I was planning to do a classic tart with custard and fresh berries. But then I remembered how wonderful roasted strawberries taste like, so I thought I would do a baked strawberry tart. I only had enough dough to do the crusts, but I was worried the strawberries would burn without a crust on top as well. So, inspired by another recipe on Pinterest, I decided to put a crumble on top. I mean, who doesn't love a good crumble? Well, at least I do. I love oats, and mixing them with butter and sugar can only make it better. So voila, there it was, my crumble strawberry pie. Funnily enough, when I was doing my grocery order online the other day, it turned out Green&Black vanilla ice cream was on sale. I love Green&Black white chocolate, so I thought I should give the ice cream a try. But of course, only because it happened to be on sale. All these coincidences came together beautifully not only to create a delicious dessert but to top that all up, this was all on the day I had my unexpected surprise visitor.

The pie crust dough I had left over were from my apple pie baking antics the other day, and if you can recall, I actually made two different types of dough. One was a buttermilk and butter crust, whereas the other one had part of the flour replaced with almond flour. There was only a little bit left of the almond one, so I made one crust out of that and the three other using the buttermilk one. As you will see from the pictures below, only one was playing nice...

Crumbly strawberry pie (makes 4 individual sized crumbles):

Almond flour crust (the recipe actually makes enough for at least eight small pies, so you can freeze half for later)

200 g strawberries
1 1/2 tbsp light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tsp vanilla paste
1/2 tsp ground cardamom

3 tbsp (40 g) butter
3 tbsp (26 g) whole wheat flour
3 tbsp (26 g) light muscovado sugar
4 tbsp (26 g) oats 
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
The crusts before baking. The one on the
top right is the almond flour one.
The crusts after baking. Only the almond flour
one kept it's shape, the rest ended up on the 

bottom of the pastry tins. Not sure if it the dough
doesn't like to be in the fridge over night, or if it 
was just from baking them without weighing 
down the pastry.
The howto:
Prepare the crust ahead of time, so that it can rest in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably over night. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees. Roll the crust and put into pie tins, prebake for 10 minutes. If you want to do things correctly, you should line the crust with parchment paper and use baking beans to weigh it down. Obviously, I couldn't be bothered to do that, but I think the crust turned out quite nicely despite me being lazy. Well it did for the almond flour dough, whereas the buttermilk dough just didn't keep it's shape in the tin and melted together to a disc at the bottom of the tin (see picture below).  For the filling, hull the strawberries and cut into slices. Mix with the rest of the ingredients. For the crumble, combine all ingredients, and use a food processor to pulse a few times to form a crumbly mixture. Scoop filling into the pre-baked crusts, top with crumble and bake for another 20-25 minutes. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

The verdict:
The amount of vanilla in this recipe is rather generous. For me that worked out perfectly as I love the taste of vanilla and think that if it's the only spice, it should be quite strong. The poppy seeds also bring nice taste and texture to the filling. Baked strawberries just get a great lovely sweet flavour, and the scent coming out of the oven if just amazing. In the summer there is no better way to enjoy strawberries than fresh in a tart, but when it's not prime strawberry season anymore, you get so much more flavour into the strawberries by baking them. And the strong flavour of vanilla is just amazing, with the soft flavour of cardamom to complement the vanilla and strawberries.

I had two types of pastry for the pies, as I wanted to try two different pastries when I was baking my apple pies earlier. One was made with almond flour whereas the other was a buttermilk and all wheat flour pastry. As you can see from the photos, only the almond flour pastry dough behaved nicely, so I recommend you use that one, or some other pastry you know will bake nicely without melting into an unaesthetic mess on the bottom of the pie tin. Not that eating the ugly pies was all too horribly traumatising, they were still good. But the almond flour one made a beautiful pastry which kept the strawberry juices inside the pie. The crumble on top was a nice finishing touch to the pies, and the wholemeal flour and oats nicely complement the soft strawberry filling and vanilla flavour and the crumbly pastry crust. All this served warm, with melting vanilla ice cream on top was quite a treat, and given that my pastry was ready made, very quick to prepare. Fast food to fulfil a sweet tooth craving.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Tarte tatin

If you happened to read my recent post on kale frittata, you know I finally bought myself a cast iron skillet. It's one of those things I have dreamed about for a long time, but it took me  a long time to buy, as I thought I wouldn't have room for it. And to be honest, I don't have any extra room anywhere in my apartment. But I bought one of the small ones, so it doesn't take up that much space. And even if it does, who cares, because it's so cute and pretty and shiny. And above all great for cooking. Best steaks ever. The brand of the skillet is Lodge, and on my recent trip to SF, I found so many different types of cast iron cookware from this manufacturer that I would have loved to bring home. Particularly, I fell in love with their handle-less skillets, which were about single serving size and would have been great for direct to table cooking. Too bad the airlines pose weight restrictions on the luggage, otherwise I would have bought a few of those to take home with me. So I comforted myself by thinking I would get some from Amazon. Turns out I can't find that specific skillet anywhere online, not even on the Lodge website. So now I'm a little bit heartbroken.

My true inspiration for buying a cast iron skillet was my desire to make Tarte Tatin. I watched the bakers on the Great British Bakeoff making more or less successfull Tarte Tatins, and I really wanted to try it out. Despite the more exotic variations out there, such as banana or tomato, I decided to go for a traditional apple and pear variety. Partly because I wanted my first Tarte Tatin to be a classic one, and partly because I still had a bunch of apples and pears left over from my grocery delivery extravaganza a while ago, which really needed to be used up asap.

I have read from several blogs how hard the Tarte Tatins are to make, so I was feeling very insecure embarking on my TT journey. I read all the recipes I could get my hands on and all the comments sections if there were any. The recipes I ended using as a basis for my attempt were this one form BBC food and this one from Jamie Oliver. And the recipes from the Great British Bakeoff cookbook. You can actually find a few of the GBB recipes here if you want to have a look at them. And looks like I wasn't the only one inspired by GBB to make some TT, here is the blog of a fellow inspired baker. She even made her own rough puff, which I am very impressed with.

In theory, making a TT sounded really easy. Just add sugar and water, cook it without touching it at all, dump on the fruit and pastry, and bake. Ok, I guess I can do that, although the instructions for making the caramel were in general very vague. "Cook until a beautiful golden colour". Ok then, thanks for those specific instructions. Also, "don't stir the caramel while cooking as that will make it crystallise". Ok, fair enough, but how am I supposed to mix it when it only turns out golden in one quadrant of the pan? Given that I really had no idea of what I was doing, the end result turned out really great. I suggest you go through the process in your head once or twice before starting though. Just so that you have figured out each step in advance. And make sure you have all your ingredients all measured up and chopped and ready to go. Then just do it! I did cheat by using ready made puff pastry, as I thought the stress of making your own caramel would be enough of a challenge for my first TT.

Tarte tatin for a small (20cm) cast iron skillet (serves 6):
100 g caster sugar
3 tbsp water
1 apple
1 pear
1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla syrup

50 g butter
250 g puff pastry

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out the puff pastry and cut a circle which is a bit bigger than your skillet. I used a plate which is slightly bigger than my skillet as a template. Slice the pear and the apple (peel first if you like). Grate the zest from the lemon, and also squeeze any juice you can get from it. Mix the fruit with the lemon juice/zest mix. Add vanilla syrup.

Make the caramel: put water and sugar in an oven proof skillet and heat on low until the sugar has dissolved into the water. Increase temperature to medium and cook until caramel turns golden brown. Watch it closely, as it will turn from light brown to burned very quick. Don't stir the caramel while it's boiling as this will cause it to crystallise.

Take the skillet off the heat, and add the fruit to the pan, making a beautiful pattern of the layer of fruit which goes on the bottom. Be careful, because the caramel is extremely hot! The rest of the fruit wont be visible, so you can just pile it on without arranging it. Cut butter into small pieces and add on top of the fruit. Cover with puff pastry, and tuck in the edges of the pastry to the edges of the pan, but be careful as the pan is really hot. Make a few holes in the pastry with a fork, and bake until puff pastry is golden, about 25 minutes. The caramel and fruit juices will bubble around the edges of the puff pastry while baking. Let cool for a few minutes in the skillet, then turn over onto a plate which is bigger than the skillet. Place plate against the skillet, and press the plate against the skillet when turning the plate-skillet combo. All recipes suggested wearing heat proof gloves when turning the tarte, as the caramel is really hot and can burn you if you get it onto your skin. I didn't have any problems with any overflowing or exploding caramel, but I guess it's a better safe than sorry moment.

Water and sugar added to the pan.
When the sugar has melted, up the temperature to medium,
and the mixture will start bubbling like this.
The caramel is starting to turn golden. This was when I ran into trouble,
as my cooker clearly has uneven heat distribution, and particularly
the lower left hand quadrant turned very dark quickly whereas other parts
of the caramel were still white. And I wasn't allowed to stir the caramel
so that it wouldn't crystallise. Quite a pickle. I took the caramel off
almost immediately after this picture was taken.
Add fruit and chunks of butter.
Last but not least, add the puff on top, and tuck in the edges.

The verdict:
The tricky part about a Tarte Tatin is the caramel. I seriously had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I wasn't supposed to stir it while it was cooking as this could cause it to crystallise. In all episodes of GBB, they cooked the caramel until it was quite a dark golden brown. My caramel cooked very unevenly as you can see from the pictures, and it started to get a funny burned sugar smell in one part of the pan while still too light elsewhere. I figured some sort of compromise was in order and took it off before the burnt part got too dark and bitter smelling. Also, if I wasn't imagining it, the caramel did crystallise a bit when I added the fruit on top of it. However, clearly baking it in the oven did something to return the caramel to a smooth state, there were no crystals anywhere to be seen in the finished product. And after letting the tarte rest in the skillet for about 10 minutes after baking, it turned out very beautiful, and didn't stick at all. Might be beginner's luck, as I have read many bitter comments about TTs that have refused to get out of the pan when turned. I guess if you burn your caramel that is what happens. Also, some of the tips said you shouldn't let the tarte cool before turning it, as the fruit will stick to the pan. 

Interesting enough, it looks like there are two methods for making caramel. One is the water and sugar method I have used here, and which has been demonstrated by Mary Berry in the GBB. And if Mary says so, that's what I'll do. But some recipes seem to use another method, where the sugar is melted into butter. I have read quite a few comments about people having trouble with that method, but also seen several very successful results, so I guess both methods are perfectly valid. Not sure if I'll ever be brave enough to try the other one now that I know I can make this one work. Now my mind is just jumping from idea to idea what other flavours to do next.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Blogosphere overview

I've been meaning to do this for quite a while, maybe making it a weekly or fortnightly feature, maybe alternating with my Friday quickies. I follow quite a few food blogs. Currently I have over fifty food blogs in my RSS feed, and the number is constantly growing. I get so annoyed if I find a great food blog which doesn't have a rss feed. I don't have time to go through a great number of individual blogs one by one, so if I can't subscribe to it, I will forget about that blog. Which is a shame, but then again this food hobby would get totally out of hand without the help of things like RSS feeds and Pinterest boards which allow for a quick overview of lots of things in a short time.

In my opinion, food blogs seem to fall into one of two categories. There are those which are as much concentrated on food photography as actual recipes, and these blogs usually are not updated very often. However, the photo shoots look absolutely professional, and as much effort has been put into making the photos look gorgeous as in the cooking and recipes themselves. Then there are food blogs which are updated more often and have more of a focus on the actual food, but the photos aren't always quite as impressive. For me, having a good mix of both types in the blogs I follow is important, as I want to ogle the gorgeous photos but also want enough blogs which are updated often to make sure I have some new blog entries to cheer me up and inspire me every day.

I guess this is as good a place as any to remind you of my Pinterest boards, which can be found here and the board for the blog specifically is here. Feel free to have a browse around or to follow if you feel like it.

Anyways, my point was that there are so many great blogs out there, and not nearly enough time to try out all the recipes. But I thought maybe if I highlighted some of my favourite recipes from my favourite blogs, this might help someone else find these great blogs and maybe try out some of the recipes. 

A lot of the American food blogs (and a lot of the ones I follow happen to be American) have only just recently got over their pumpkin and Halloween obsession, and are now full of Thanksgiving recipes. I bet after Thursday, the focus for the next few months will be on Christmas recipes. Trying to avoid pumpkin and cranberries, here are a few recent favourites of mine:

Baker's Royale recently published a recipe for Caramel Rum and Banana Bread Pudding. It's actually three recipes in one, as there is a recipe for the Caramel Rum, the Banana Bread and the pudding which brings them together. You could choose to make just one or the other, the Carmel Rum sounds great to eat with ice cream, or maybe stuff into cupcakes or in a cake as well. 

Brown Eyed baker impressed with a recipe for Salted Caramel Apple Cheese cake. This looks so good I could just eat the picture of it. Salted caramel anything is just genius, and caramel and apple is of course a classic combo. So salted caramel apple cannot be anything but absolutely awesome. 

Chocolate covered Katie is a blog with healthier variations of desserts, cakes and sometimes other things as well. This time Katie is sharing a recipe for making oatmeal in the slow cooker, which I think is a really great idea. 

This recipe from My Little Kitchen is not quite recent, but I just love these piggy buns, they are too cute to be true so I had to bring them up here. 

That's all for this time, a bit heavy on the sweet stuff. I'll try to get in some recipes for proper food next time. However, I have to admit the blogs I follow are quite heavy on the side of sweets and baking. Hopefully you found a new blog to follow, or a recipe that inspired you.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Foodie party at the Frisco Bay

Before starting for real, I'll just warn you. There will be no recipe at the end of this post. This will just be word vomit all the way. So if that disgusts you, turn away now, and come back in a few days when I promise you there will be another recipe. Anyways, on to today's topic. I just came back after spending a few days in San Francisco because of work. I was really excited to see SF, as so many people have said wonderful things about it. Many have said that in addition to Boston, it's their favourite US city. And these are not just random people, but friends whose judgement I tust and value. So I was quite excited. Maybe it was a case of too high expectations, but I can't say I was particularly impressed.

Ok, to be honest, I did like the layout of the city on top of several hills. The steep hills make the city look great. As long as you don't actually want to go anywhere, at which point they are just a great annoyance. But I can't blame the city for the fact that I'm lazy and unfit. When I arrived, I was wondering why all runners looked so incredibly fit. After having walked up the same hills they seem to run up and down, it all started making sense though. I had a great walk around the city with a good friend, and as soon as I got past the crazy steep hills, it was really enjoyable and pretty. But downtown was quite depressing. Architectonically ridiculously ugly and dirty. And crowded. But many other US cities are crowded and dirty too, and it doesn't bother me too much. But the one thing which I found absolutely disgusting was the countless homeless people everywhere. I'm not a timid person, and I can't say I have been scared many times in my life. I like to explore cities on my own, and I'm not usually scared to walk around anywhere even late at night. Obviously I stay away from known dangerous neighbourhoods and use my judgement of where its safe, but I wouldn't say I have been scared many times in my life. But in SF I was scared, several times. It's not just that I think the huge number of homeless people reflect very bady on a society in general. But these people were clearly even worse off, having psychiatric problems and acting really irrationally. I ended up not wanting to walk around the city at night, even though I didn't even live anywhere close to where my guide book consideres to be the 'bad' part of town. I'm very lucky I have been out with gentlemen who have made sure I have gotten back home to my hotel safely. Well that,or I've been in bed by 6pm suffering from a severe but thankfully quick bout of food poisoning. However, even walking in the city early on Sunday morning was quite scary, not to mention all the weird people I ended up sharing a bus with early on Sunday morning. 

In general I don't consider myself to be a very compassionate person. I'm all for an individualist society, everyone making their own luck, being responsible of your own success and all that stuff. But I have also grown up in a true welfare state, where we pay a steep price in the form of taxes to take care of everyone in our society. That's what we do as human beings. And I do think in some things, the Scandinavian model goes too far. We shouldn't have to pay for some of the things we do. But for people to be able to have the tools to build their own success, we need to provide them with an equal opportunity to do that, in the form of free and equal education. And I'm happy to pay quite a bit of taxes to also make sure society will take care of people who are too sick to take care of themselves and to make sure they are not out on the street threatening law abiding taxpayers.

In general, I don't think politics should go on a food blog. But my trip to SF has really made me think about these things. Maybe partly because my first night there was election night. And looking at all those clearly mentally ill people out on the streets, I can't believe Americans were so close to *not* elect a president who wants to improve health care. Well, this is something I could write about at length and I have quite a few adjectives I would like to use about what thakfully turned out to be a minority of Americans, although only by the width of a hair or two. But I won't. Because there are food related things I want to touch upon. That might be a safer topic. And also something I consider myself to be much more knowledgeable about than politics. And endlessly more interested in.

So to be perfectly fair to SF, I think part of why my time there was so miserable was because of work. I have made it quite clear before, but I'm really unhappy with my current line of work. And I am going to start looking for something else soon enough. I was miserable sitting at the conference, listening to the talks. But there were good things as well. I got to see many of my wonderful colleagues from my old job back home, who I am lucky enough to also call my good friends. It was great to get to spend time with people I feel absolutely comfortable with and have such a great time with. And I did find a few things and places in SF that I enjoyed as well.
Some of the things I enjoyed included a walk across town with Friend, as well as my walk all through the rather extensive Golden Gate Park in my single minded attempt to get all the way out to the ocean. On our walk over the steep hills of SF, me and Friend half accidentally ran into several sights that were listed in my omnipresent Lonely Planet travel guide. Which of course means that they are worth seeing. It has actually become a tradition for me to get the Lonely Planet guide for wherever I'm going. And I like to scribble notes in the margins, adding nice restaurants and caf├ęs which I have found on my travels. Unfortunately for most places, I haven't had a chance to go back so that I could return to my favourite haunts.

Honey Honey had a line out the door on Saturday morning.
Part of the menu at Honey Honey.
Talking about favourite eateries. This one was not listed in the guide, but was recommended to Friend by the hotel concierge. It was around the corner from our hotel, and I'm glad we only discovered it the day before leaving. You know how I lovelovelove big breakfasts, and I think the Americans have the whole breakfast routine down real good. Pancakes, eggs, French toast. Heck, throw it all together. And as you can see from the picture of the menu (which filled a whole wall), I could have come here every breakfast, lunch and dinner for the whole trip and still have things left to try out next time I'm in SF. The place is called Honey Honey and is located on the corner of Post and Taylor, only a few blocks from Union Square. Thumbs up! Together, me and friend ended up trying quite a few dessert crepes, with caramel and toasted pecans, with strawberry, and my blintz which was a crepe made into a parcel containing strawberry jam, ricotta, sour cream and orange marmelade. Talk about a sugar bomb for breakfast. The freshly squeezed orange and carrot juice were also really good. I guess it's a sure sign that you are in California when even the smallest cafe has a orange juice squeezing machine thingy instead of serving horrible canned juice. Another sure fire way to know you are in CA is the avocado. I'm used to avocados being these ridiculously expensive things which usually are hard as rock even if you buy the "ready to eat" kind. But not in SF, you could always have a burger, or sandwich, or crepe with avocado. And it was always great soft ripe silky smooth avocados. At one creperie, I was mesmerised by the crepe cook carving avocado out of the shells, over and over again. It was hypnotic. I could have stood there all day. He must have thought I was out of my mind, my eyes following his every move as he scooped that green soft flesh out of the shell. Oh mine, here we go again...

The Ferry building
The Ferry building from the inside
Another food experience I would have liked to expand on was the Ferry building. It is a beautiful old building originally finished in 1898 as the port building. Nowadays it's been converted to a marketplace where local shops sell their produce. There are artesan dairies, butchers, wineries, chocolatiers. And several restaurants which I didn't get around to trying out, but which seemed to come highly recommended and looked wonderful. This would definitely be the place where I would buy all my food if I lived in SF. And if I happened to be filthy rich.

Talking about chocolatiers, SF is the home of Ghirardelli chocolate. I am not an expert on American chocolates but just had an overall feeling that I can't remember ever having had very good chocolate in America. However, many of the food bloggers I follow go on about Ghirardelli and Scharffen Berger chocolate, so obviously I had to give them a try. And as I remembered, the Ghirardelli is not anything very impressive. In fact in my opinion it is at best mediocre (the dark ones) and at worst horrible (milk and white) and absolutely ridiculously overpriced. Scharffen Berger I liked more. But a particular favourite I found was the Dagoba chocolate, they had some good flavoured chocolates. The chai one was brilliant, such a balanced mix of spices but again, the milk chocolate was a bit disappointing. I didn't know this, but perusing the Dagoba site online, it turns out it's owned by Hershey. So I might stay clear of it in the future. But there is no denying the flavour combinations were great! Looks like it might be a bit hard to get hold of in the UK though. Amazon seems to carry a few flavours, but not the chai one. However, the price is absolutely ridiculous, the 56g bars cost £3.99 which currently seems to be $6.33, whereas I paid $3.50 for the bars I bought in SF. But in general, chocolate seems to be cheaper in the US, the Madecasse chocolate I bought a while ago I think I paid £4.99 for, whereas in Wholefoods it cost $4.99, which is about £3.14. When I got to the airport and realised my bag was almost 5 kg under the allowed weight limit, I just wanted to jump right back on that shuttle and go get myself more chocolate. One local chocolatier which seemed to be highly recommended was Recchiuti confections, located in the Ferry building. I didn't buy any of their chocolates as they were priced completely out of this world. I did however bring back a jar of their extra bitter chocolate sauce and burnt caramel sauce, so I will give them a try at some point. Now I just have to decide whether to eat them with ice cream, cake, waffles, pancakes, or just with a spoon... But right now I have to admit I have overdosed on chocolate, so I will save my sauces for later. Much later. I have always said I have no upper limit to how much chocolate I can take, but I was clearly wrong. One week in SF seems to be pretty much my limit. Although I bet by tomorrow morning I'm back to my sugary cravings. 

Ok, I know I have been going on and on and on. I still have a few other things I wanted to touch upon, but I'll do it very quickly. One of my favourite touristy spots was WholeFoods. Yes I know, I'm crazy, but I do love perusing grocery stores. And this one is definitely one of the more worthy of aimless wandering from isle to isle. I bought some absolutely delicious cream cheese made from milk from non-hormone fed cows, which after enjoying it with some bagels, I just ate on it's own.. Oh, and the all American apple pie. It was so ridiculously good, that I can't reveal how much I ended having in one go. Lets just say I wish ihan only bought one piece instead of... More. And I finally got to buy myself a jar of Biscoff spread, which seemed to be all the rage in all US food blogs earlier this year. So yes, I'm a bit late with that food fad, but I just had to try it out. I find it so funny it is marketed as European, but I haven't been able to get my hands on it anywhere despite some extensive googling efforts. And I also bought myself some pumpkin. You know, the canned pureed thing, which is used for pumpkin pie. I'm trying to remember if I ever had pumpkin pie. I think I had one many years ago in Boston when I happened to be there for halloween. Now I will certainly bake myself a pumpkin pie at some point, although I realise I should have moved on from pumpkin (aka Halloween food) to cranberries (aka Thanksgiving food). But since we don't have any of those food traditions over here (at least I don't with my Finnish heritage), I think I can cook pumpkin pie any time I want. I'm still surprised there isn't any pumpkin in any of the grocery stores over here, as I would have thought the UK and US food cultures would have some things in common, but pumpkin doesn't seem to be one of those. So I'm really excited to get to try it out. Other things I dragged across the pond was pancake mix and maple syrup. Things you can get here as well, but American pancakes are better. And buying maple syrup in the UK just seems wrong. Well, not sure if it's any less wrong to buy it on the west coast. At least I had the pleasure to drag my heavy suitcase across town and up the 50 stairs to my apartment.  

Last thing I wanted to say. SF is clearly a very environmentally aware place. I love it that you have to pay for plastic bags. It's one of my pet peeves over here when people can't be bothered to take their own bags for life with them when going shopping. And then they use at least 20 plastic bags for their 10 items of shopping. I mean, first of all it's ridiculous to have those really thin plastic bags which only hold a few items. But it's even more annoying when people can't put their box of crackers and bag of crisps in the same plastic bag. I would like to strangle them with their plastic bags. So every time a salesperson very apologetically informed me about the SF $0.1 bag fee, I just smiled at them and told them I think it's a great thing. And I do. The other thing I loved was that unlike the rest of the US, there were no styrofoam plates and takeaway containers anywhere. Everything was recycled cardboard. That made me so happy. So there were definitely some things we should adopt here in the UK as well. Back home, there has been a charge on plastic bag for as long as I can remember. And not a styrofoam container as far as the eye can see.

Ok, if anyone made it this far, thanks for reading, and like I said in the start, sorry for the lack of a recipe this time. I promise I will report on my experiments with pumpkin, Biscoff and Recchiuti sauces when that time comes. Although that time won't come until I can close my jeans again, so it might be a while. Until then, it's a good thing I have some old recipes in store.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Kale frittata

I'm very fickle in my affections. I know me and the slow cooker only just fell in love. And I'm not saying I don't still love it (made a delish pineapple and onion pulled pork just the other night. And when I say night, I literally mean night. I even woke up a few times to the wonderful smell in my apartment. Ok, to be honest, I woke up to leg cramps, but the pork still smelled amazing). But me and the slow cooker are past the initial infatuation, you know when you want to spend every moment together and tell each other everything. I also have to admit, I'm in love. Don't tell my slow cooker, but I found something else. And that something is my brand new shiny, black beauty. My cast iron skillet.

I have wanted to get a cast iron skillet for ages, but I'm still trying not to overcrowd my super tiny kitchen. Apparently I'm very unsuccessful at that... After watching the bakers on Great British Bakeoff make Tarte Tatins I finally cracked. Off to Amazon I went, and ordered a cute little 20 cm skillet of a brand that had quite good consumer reviews. It was also important to me to get a skillet which was ready to use and did not require seasoning as all reviews of pans that were not pre-seasoned said that it makes your apartment smell horrible, and having only just got rid of the smell of smoke from my apartment, I was not too keen on inducing any new smells.

A Tarte Tatin was going to be the first thing I made in my brand new skillet. However, I can't justify that kind of decadence in the middle of the week. But I still wanted to give my new pan a trial run. And I happened across this recipe for Kale Frittata on My Kitchen in the Rockies which was perfect as I had ordered some curly kale and had no idea what to use it for. I modified the amounts of ingredients slightly, and omitted the cheese from the original recipe.

Kale frittata (serves 4):

2 tbsp oil
1 onion
100 g curly kale
1 clove of garlic
65 g pepperoni
6 eggs

One serving contains 285 kcal (22g fat, 8.5g carbs, 14g protein).

The howto:
Preheat the grill. Chop the onion, garlic, pepperoni and kale. Whisk eggs, season with salt and pepper if you want, although I thought the pepperoni was plenty of flavour and no extra seasoning was needed. Heat oil in an oven proof skillet, and cook the onion for a few minutes until translucent. Add kale in two or three batches and cook until kale begins to wilt. After adding all kale, add garlic and pepperoni and cook for a few minutes more. Turn down the heat to medium/low and add the eggs. Stir so that the eggs distribute evenly, and cook until set on the sides of the skillet but not in the middle. Add cheese if you want to, and finish cooking under the grill for a few minutes. Let set for a few minutes in the skillet before serving.

The verdict:
During the last year or so, I have eaten eggs in pretty much any form. Hard boiled, runny yolk, poached, fried, scrambled, in the form of omelettes, mini muffins, oven cooked in tomato sauce, with banana... You name it, if it's got egg, I've done it. So this was a really nice change. I think I have pinned a few different frittata recipes and am excited to be able to finally cook them.

This isn't the healthiest start to the morning, as the pepperoni has quite a lot of fat and salt. But just for a change, this was nice. It can't be helped, but the salty and spicy pepperoni complements the kale and eggs perfectly. Next time I think I might add a bit more onion, as I really liked the combination of kale, pepperoni and onion. Also, I think I might have slight overcooked my frittata, so next time I will leave it a bit more runny in the middle before putting it in the oven. If you don't have kale, I think spinach would also work perfectly, although the kale adds a nice crunch. And replacing the pepperoni with bacon would probably also work perfectly. So as a summary, I now have one more way to cook eggs. And the good thing with the frittata is that leftovers can be re-heated the next day, either for brekkie or as a light lunch together with a green salad. I think my new love will see a lot of use in my kitchen.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

Banana breakfast muffins

I constantly keep doing this. I swear in the morning I won't have anything sweet that day. And it always starts innocently with a chocolate after lunch, or some biscuits with tea. Not that I would ever buy any dessert chocolates or tea biscuits, but today when we got off the bus coming to work in the morning we were offered chocolates because it was "travel to work in an environmentally friendly way" day, and in the afternoon we had an afternoon with people from all across our department giving talks with a tea and biscuit break in between. Then I snack on some nuts and dried fruits in the afternoon because I'm so bored at work. And I keep silencing that little voice in the back of my head saying I shouldn't be eating this. After all nuts and fruits are healthy, right? Then I come home, and for some strange reason a big handful of dates or sultanas just fly into my mouth. So I have no chance but to eat them. I mean, they just viciously attacked me. Sometimes I'm so desperate that I go to my baking ingredient stash and eat a few candy melts or some caramel chunks. And once again, the day which started healthily with an omelette for breakfast and a salad for lunch ends up with a thousand calories more in my food diary than was intended. Are there any self help books for developing some self control? Something along the lines of Self Control for Dummies?

Today was one more of those days. When I came home from the gym, I was attacked by a bag of dried dates. And then there was the problem of those two over-ripe bananas sitting on my kitchen counter. They would not last long, so something had to be done. And that something was of course hitting my Pinterest boards as I knew I had pinned several recipes for banana bread and muffins. After much pondering, I settled on a recipe for Vegan Banana Muffins from Minimalist Baker. And again, I fell deeper into the depths of self deception, convincing myself this recipe is almost health food. I mean it has no added fat and very little sugar. Healthy, right? And replacing the white flour with rye and whole wheat makes it almost acceptable to eat the whole batch in one sitting? Well, health food or not, those bananas had to be used in some way, and this seemed like a decent enough way to help them find the reason for their existence. I made a few changes to the recipe, replacing the flax egg with a regular egg, excluding the butter and replacing the white flour with half rye flour and half whole wheat. I also doubled the recipe to make 4 big muffins as I had two bananas that needed to be used up asap.

Banana muffins from Minimalist baker (makes 4 big muffins):
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda (I didn't have any soda so I used baking powder)
pinch of salt
2 ripe bananas
3 tbsp dark muscovado sugar (the original recipe had 3 tbsp sugar for two muffins, but I reduced it a bit)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla paste
4-5 big pieces of crystallised ginger
about 10 pecan nuts, coarsely chopped, for topping

The howto:
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Use a fork to mash the banana, and mix in baking powder, salt and sugar. I used a fork to mix. Then mix in the eggs, ginger and vanilla paste, I gave them a good swirl with the fork. Last, work in the flour. The batter was still easy to mix with the fork even after adding all the flour. Pour into single serving ramekins or big muffin moulds, and top with the coarsely chopped nuts. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

The verdict:
I have never been a big fan of banana bread. At least not until I made this chocolate and banana bread, which I pretty much ate in one day. Every time I passed by the bread, sitting there all innocent on the kitchen counter, I couldn't help but to have a slice. And another. And another. It was just so moist and soft and decadent. And with some butter on top... oh that was good. That also encouraged me to try some other banana recipes, despite my prejudice.

This recipe does bring out the taste of banana. I was first thinking of adding some cinnamon, cardamom or dried ginger, but I'm glad I didn't. I did add some finely chopped crystallised ginger though, as I have a bit of an addiction to it right now. Chocolate chips would also be a great addition.

The only thing I will do differently next time I'm baking these muffins is I wouldn't bake them in my rose cake moulds, instead i would make them in ramekins as was done in the original recipe so that you would get that beautifully risen domed top of the muffins up on top. I really can't figure out what to bake in the rose moulds, it would have to be something that doesn't rise too much so that you would get a flat bottom to your rose cakes. I'll have to experiment, and I'll get back to you.

I'm really surprised how high the muffins rose in the oven. I probably measured my baking powder a bit on the generous side, but I think that was necessary because I was using rye and whole wheat flour, which don't naturally result in light or fluffy muffins. But I actually think the texture of these muffins was spot on, not too fluffy, but still light and moist. Of course with rye flour, you will always get a somewhat more dense texture compared to all white flour, but I like the almost nutty flavour it brings. And these muffins actually didn't taste healthy, they tasted really good. These muffins were perfect for breakfast, they are on the large side but at least you are not left hungry. And they are perfect to take along and enjoy while sifting through your morning emails at work.