Archive for May, 2010

perfect chocolate chip cookies

its been brought to my attention that there is an angsty, existential undertone to these posts. perhaps its becoming oppressive. and i have been doing A LOT of blog reading of late and it seems that there is no place for melancholia in the food blogging world. i have watched videos of young girls giggling with glee as their car-mel transforms from translucent to a golden, nutty brown. i have heard joyful, giddy exaltations such as “oooh, its science!!! lol babes”. i have read as people took “strollers”, “hubby’s” and “the little baba” to the local farmers market on a sunny spring sunday morning. ive read enough alliteration. ive seen enough sycophantic comments. ive also seen a keen interest and disturbing level of camaraderie betwixt and between food bloggers. i have stared the sickly, the saccharin, the nauseatingly glowing, in the face and i have decided that this is not a space for the mournful to come. it is not a place for the outpouring of bile. this is not a place for healthy levels of alienation. so in the place of this weeks melancholia, i suggest a cookie. the cookie. the classic, perfect all-american chocolate chip cookie. sans ennui. and accompanied by giggles, cries of delight, glee, exclamation marks (literal and metaphorical…sometimes even metaphysical) and excited, hysterical hand clapping. YAY FOR COOKIES!!!!!!!!!

ingredients

350g plain flour

3/4tsp baking soda

1/8tsp salt

225g butter

215g packed brown sugar (see snow for how to really pack it in right)

3/4cup caster sugar

1tsp vanilla

2 eggs

400g chocolate (milk or dark…whatever does it for you)

preheat the oven to 175 degrees. mix flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl so its well incorporated

in a separate bowl put the butter and sugar together. add in the vanilla.

beat this until smooth. then add in the eggs one at a time, beating after each. then fold in your flour mixture until combined and smooth. gloriously smooth.

then add in all the chocolate….or what little remains

line a baking tray with baking paper. take mouth size balls of dough and drop them onto the try. put into the oven for ten minutes. they will come out looking soft, unreasonably so, but thats what you want, whether you know it or not

these can be eaten with a tall glass of milk. or you could call them biscuits and have them with some espresso but youd only be fooling yourself. alternatively these, placed next to 3 loaves of sourdough, a doomed polenta cake, and a revolting lump of starter, could also be deemed too much to bare and be swiftly discarded of

sourdough

it worked. and it was earth shattering. i wont introduct for very long because the picture speaks for itself. and it worked so nicely im still in stunned silent awe. i will say the following.

1. i love my starter and im sorry that i ever doubted it

2. its like i always say, patience is a virtue

3. bread is good and sourdough is better

4. a kitchen aid is not necessary but useful

5. dont cut into bread before it cools (see point 2)

6. working with wild yeast does not mean you will contract a yeast infection

7. use real butter

8. see number 2 (you didnt think there was more to it than that did you?)

ingredients

100g starter..this is what it looks like presently and what a well-fed starter should look like on baking day

200g water

300g flour (strong white bread flour)

7g salt

put all the ingredients, EXCEPT THE SALT, into a bowl and mix together with a kitchen aid until just combined.

then let it rest for 30 minutes. this is a process called autolysis. (i dont know why exactly, something to do with the flour absorbing more water and the shortening of gluten strands so its easier to handle…seems like just another ‘resting’ step in a relentless procession of ‘resting’ steps. but then im impatient so dont listen to me…the recipe knows more). then, put the salt in. if you are using a kitchen aid fit it with a dough hook and knead (on speed 1 or 2) for seven minutes. if not, use your muscles. it will be very sticky but thats just how it goes. let it rest for an hour, covered in a relatively warm place.

when it has started to rise a bit, get a spatula or a flexible scraper, like what they use for paint and turn it over itself. i found this video which was highly instructional so have a look. this gives the bread its structure. cover it again and let it rest for another hour.

after an hour fold it again, a la the video and then cover again. now the bread needs to rest for a long time. i left it for somewhere between 8-12 hours. after this it is ready for baking. finally and thank goodness. the exact time is tricky – i have read that its ready after 6 hours but i think it largely depends on the quality of your starter, and what kind of flour you are using. i only used white flour so i let it rest for closer to 10 hours. the dough should have doubled in volume.

i first used a pizza stone to bake this but it didnt really work. so i got a cast iron pot, which i rubbed with some olive oil. the pot should be about 3l – any bigger and the dough will spread rather than rise.

turn the dough out onto a well floured bench and with floury hands and a floury heart, shape it into a rectangle. get the edge furthest from you and fold it toward the centre. do the same with the other half…so its folded like a letter. turn the dough 90degrees and fold it the same way. lift the dough and lower it into the oiled pot, seam side down. you can, at this point use a knife to score it, forming a cross on the top – but im led to believe that this is not necessary, nor desirable when making a white sourdough, ie. using only white flour.

put a lid on the pot and put it into a non-preheated oven (cold oven) and turn the temperature up as high as it will go – i can get a mere 220 degrees but the hotter the better. leave the bread in there for an hour – starting from when you first put the pot in. this is part of the proving process because it proves while the oven is heating up, which is usually about 15-20 minutes.

remove the pot after an hour and put the bread on a wire rack to cool. it should be golden brown and spectacular looking. when you tap the base, it should be hollow.

do not cut into it until it is completely cool. i learnt this through bitter bitter experience and much to my chagrin, it will not be any good at all unless it has cooled. when you do cut into it, there should be holes – indicating something about your starter and mainly your success. if you are feeling cold, miserable or sickly eat this with some soup (its up to you which soup you choose – its not something im prepared to discuss here) and the crusty yet soft warm bread should, in the words of tim freedman, make the world safe for you. or if nothing else, temporarily numb the pain.

Guest post – Cara Kejio

Some of us are laboring under a wintery sky and with it comes lurgi, flu and cabin fever. Much like Kurtz sometimes you just have to let go the thin veneer of modern society and just stay in bed watching movies with a laptop on your chest so you can keep warm. And it is here that this blog gets taken away from foods and other poncy things and directed towards the medicinal. The background of this questionably named, spelled and pronounced drink comes in equal parts from a Spanish taxi driver and my grandma from the old country. It became the standard drink at the Malthouse Theatre a few years ago for the bar staff about to face the onslaught of a 20 minute interval with 500 plus…patrons…demanding a “goblet of your cheapest”. This concoction seemed to make most of us a bit more “lively” than usual except that 18 year old kid, whatever his name was, who ended up retiring for the intermission with visions of gordian knots and proclamations later translated as “fffffaaaaarrrrrggggg”.
This, of course, is artistic license. But it does give a lad one hell of a kick up the pants when he needs it and a slight n-dimensional shift to the left when its not apparent.
So, take one wee little bottle of dram. You know what dram is ya heathen bastards! In this case I choose to use Drambuie but you could easily replace that with some sort of single malt, preferably from the Isle of Islay, but then if you did this to a shot of Glenrothes you deserve the full fury of the Scot.

Anyway, take a shot, 30ml or if you need to, 55ml, cos that’s the size of the smallest bottle and put it in a good glass that can take a bit of heat.

Add some soft brown sugar to it.

Warm up the old espresso machine. Did I mention you need one of these?
Stick said glass under the “steaming wand” and froth around a bit till its warm to touch and the sugar melts, whatever you fancy here but you could always use the temperature of frothed milk as a guide.

Then, take a cigarette lighter or similar, and FLAMBE! Just light it like you do any other medicine that the doctor forces you to drink. This actually serves little point other than burning off the alcohol and looking slightly dangerous. I say slightly because its very hard to see the resulting flames, so be sure to make sure you blow it out before continuing.

See how I said you can’t see the flames?

Grind up some fresh coffee.

Stick it under the espresso machine and espresso your favoured amount. If you have no espresso machine then ignore most of these instructions and just add some coffee to a bit of brandy or Stones Dry and Dry and celebrate easy living.

The finished result should be layered, you know cos of science and fluid dynamics and stuff. This means that when you take the glass to your mouth to sip, your lips taste coffee and then the dram shoots through down your gullet.

Not to be taken when completing uni assignments, operating machinery, having a domestic or any type of giving a shit. Be sure to enjoy, in moderation, as much as anyone should. When they are sick. Cough.

beans, feta, spinach & sumac

sometimes in life you lose your balance. or, to quote a glorious but tragic clown, you “fall off the life horse”. sometimes its less of a fall and more of a plummet. in these times, you have two options. resignation or beans. i choose beans – because they push you, one way or the other, over the edge. generally they seem to straighten things out. something about the fibre seems to act as a stabiliser, sometimes a tranquilizer. desperate as i was for a culinary solution to the problems that come with everyday life, (ie, the cold, a cut on my primary cooking finger, an interaction with a rigid, unforgiving, and unattractive bureaucrat, a 72 hour period which passed without even a hint of productivity, a heavy heart from it all and very heavy camper boots), i turned my attention to beans. i have had some bitter encounters with beans in my time…on more than one occasion, when i was deep in the jungles of central america, my stomach faught with beans – a fight it could never win. and so it was with some trepidation that i approached this recipe. but it was the great enthusiasm from my most dedicated and important eater, whose attitude to food and the discussion thereof can at best be described as indifferent, won me over. and so it was that i climbed back up on the dark, trauma-ridden horse and tried to re-invent my relationship to beans. it was also inspired by a recipe and a photo found in ottolenghi’s new cookbook which suddenly made everything seem ok. so here it is…my bean/life renaissance – thank you to ottolenghi. thank you to my hooded eater, who gave it an involuntary thumbs up. and thank you to snow, who through her ‘oatmeal with the lot’, showed me the power of fibre to make things good again.

ingredients

2 garlic cloves crushed

1 red chilli finely chopped

8 spring onions sliced thinly lengthways

big bunch of spinach

handful of basil

300g butter beans

60g butter

1tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

1tsp sumac

1tsp lemon juice

150g feta

finely chop your chilli, crush your garlic and slice your spring onions lengthways into thin strips. then chop the spinach and basil into strips, or shreds, or whatever word you think best describes what you see here

melt the butter with some oil in a fry pan and throw the beans in. cook on both sides for 1-2 minutes each until they get some colour. try not to overcook and let it all go to mush. just before they’re ready, throw in your garlic, chilli, spring onions, green stuff (reserving a handful for the glorious end) and finally the sumac. stir gently to combine and cook for another minute or so.

remove from the heat and let cool a bit until it is just warm. squeeze in the lemon juice, crumble over the feta and toss in some remaining basil. give it a gentle loving stir.

this of course was served with pine nuts – because what isnt in this place? it was, on its second night, eaten as beans on toast. the toast being the first successful sourdough of my ever-lengthening life. and so with little baby bean steps, and giant yeast-based leaps, things seem to be looking up.

pear & almond tarts

these tarts were conceived of initially as an exercise in waste management. i had lots of shortcrust pastry, lots of hopes, and so many dreams. but more to the point i had the need to not do what i was meant to be doing – a need which always, invariably ends in baking. the french left was going to have to wait…because i was filled with a sudden, unexpected and extremely pressing sense of urgency to use up my chilled pastry. and i doubt the communards would disapprove of my pear and almond tarts. as it happened, the amount of pastry i had remaining only made for ten tartlets and as a result, i was left with a glut of frangipane mixture. so i was forced to turn that into a cake. mores the pity. it was more of a cake-tart. i spent some minutes looking at the almond mixture – trying to work out the science which would transform this from tart filling to cake, in and of itself. ‘what does it need?’, i asked out loud, much to the consternation of those around me trying to record audio (yes these cakes are the product of a very artistic, if occasionally fraught environs). it had butter, it had sugar, it had eggs, and it had ground almond substituting flour. all it lacked was air and, henceforth and forthwith, lift. so i took my almond mix and to it i added one whisked up egg white and a smattering of baking powder. and poured it into a cake tin. i also lined it with the roasted pears left over from the tartlets, which were, in turn, left over from the free-form pear and raspberry tart, which were loosely based on left overs from some teacakes, which lay in the house that jack built. so here they are – the tartlets and a tart cake. both were lovely and didnt taste like leftovers at all.

ingredients

1/2 quantity shortcrust pastry – divided into ten tartlet tins – pre-baked, ready to rock

350g butter

350g sugar

350g ground almond

4 eggs

1tsp vanilla extract

4 pears roasted (in oven on 200 degrees with 2 tbsp vanilla sugar and a few knobs of butter. i used vanilla paste – and tossed the pears in the sugar and vanilla in a bowl before spreading them out on a baking tray to cook – until tender which is about 30 minutes)

couple handfuls of raspberries

preheat the oven to 190 degrees. make the almond mix. beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. add in the ground almonds, then the vanilla and beat to combine. then add the eggs one at a time and beat until fully incorporated. what you have now is beyond description – its golden, sweet, textually mind blowing heaven. what you no longer have is self-restraint. so at this stage, take a moment to enjoy.

pour the almond mix into the tart cases – filling them almost to the top.

then press the fruit into each one. you can of course exercise your freedoms and use any fruit you choose. and you do not need to roast them first. i did for unrelated practical reasons but mainly on account of a total lack of direction – but they did seem to taste lovely roasted, their flavour concentrated and intensified and given the tarts are only in the oven for 20 minutes, it helped that they had already had some cooking. this again depends on their ripeness. mine were like rocks.

i also used some leftover frozen raspberries – so push them into the top. frozen is probably better because there didnt appear to be any bleeding…which is all you can ask of a raspberry in a cake.

put them into the oven for 20 minutes or until golden

and then there were more….

if you are mad enough to continue on in the belief that you are responsibly managing potential waste (by making another cake that had no where to go and nothing to do, thereby only adding one more step before it all goes to the bin) then take your leftover frangipane mixture. to it, fold in one egg white, which has been whisked to stiff peaks and give it a tsp of baking powder. mix together and then pour into a greased 21cm cake tin. arrange your leftover pears on top, which ever way you see fit and push them in gently to the cake mix

put into the oven, which yes, is still on but turned down to 180 degrees for 30-40minutes or until golden brown

zucchini and basil salad

Sometimes you want something delicate and refined. Like a zucchini and basil salad with shavings of parmesan. But then sometimes, people need a little more substance…and a little less wankery. Sometimes, these needs take place concurrently, running parallel to one another, and only occasionally colliding. so a compromise was found because in the words of a grandmother I know “im not making six different dinners”. It was thus, that this dual salad was created. For those seeking little – stop at the basil and zucchini. For those who seek more, grill some haloumi, some broccolini, make some couscous and don’t write a blog. To each according to his need. So here it is – a theme and variations of dinner proper, entitled ‘refinement…revisited’.

Ingredients

4 zucchinis

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

handful of basil leaves (green and purple – if you can)

handful of parmesan shaved

handful of hazelnuts

4tbsp olive oil

1tbsp balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

first cut the zucchini diagonally– about 2cm thick. Put in a bowl with 1tbsp olive oil and the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Put on a crazy hot griddle pan and cook until the black marks appear. Cook it through or not…whatever does it for you. Take off the grill and put into a bowl. Pour over remaining olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Check for seasoning. To serve, scatter the basil leaves onto a plate – add some rocket or spinach if it feels right to do so. Top with the zucchini, then the parmesan shavings and finally scatter some hazelnuts atop.

But it might be arctic out there. The elements, your immune system and the whole world might be against you…and you may need more. The cold can make a beast of a man. If this man is you then after having done your zucchini, chop up some more garlic and one red chilli.

Put some broccolini into boiling salted water for 1 minute. Then put broccolini into a bowl with the garlic, chilli and olive oil and grill until tender (not too soft). While the broccolini is grilling, make some couscous. Then grill some haloumi…its hot right now and from what im reading, it’s the new parmesan. Add broccolini, and haloumi to afore-elaborated salad and combine. Serve with couscous.

saddest sourdough in the world

Here is the bread that wouldn’t. to be honest, its not the breads fault. Its not even the starters fault. I am wholly to blame – me and my impatience. As well as my climate. Try though I did, tempratures, science, and time were not on my side. Fortunately this was not the real thing. It was a prototype, made from some discarded starter. Having read what to do with left over starter I thought id try my hand at a loaf, and with little to no expectations, the inevitable failure didn’t break me. It just made me a little bit sad. I will not post a recipe as yet. Partly because it didn’t work – and I don’t wish that upon any of you. Partly because I believe that the recipe I used, was deeply flawed. In fact the entire baking book, from whence this starter started, I believe to be not quite right. All too often I will follow one of its instructions and then when I go back to check, that instruction is gone and replaced by one which is entirely contradictory. I have my own suspicions about this (perception filter)…but in any case, I intend on going elsewhere for my bread-making guide-lines. Its not over yet so do please stay with me. to horrifyingly misappropriate the words of a great man “ever onwards to victory”.

the disappointment was palpable. but its all part of a very steep learning curve. apparently it was in the final 4 hour retarding process that i fell down. retarding indeed. so am now currently in the process of building my loaf an enclosure in which it can bask in the warmth of a man-made ecosystem. 80% humidity, 26 degrees, and far too much attention for a loaf of bread.