hiatus or finally starting the year

If you are any kind of observant person, you would have noticed that I have been on a bit of a hiatus so far this year. The reason is not nearly as exciting as it usually is with these kinds of things; no, I haven’t been working really hard because I got a book deal or a segment on the Food Network or anything, I’ve just been busy and everything has fallen by the wayside.

Arriving back from overseas has kind of put a stop to all my creativity and I am experiencing a real lack of inspiration; I don’t have any trips planned and I can’t speak all day pottering about in the kitchen as I would like.

But as we enter into the fifth month (!) of the year, I think it’s high time that I get my A into G and get back to it all. I’m sure I made some promises about ongoing challenges I had issued myself last year, I can’t really remember them but here’s to hoping they come back to me.

But in the meantime, I have some planning to get to, some failures to rethink and a very large stack of cooking books to get reading!

 

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spiced, sweet stuffed eggplants

I originally had planned to write a post on eggplant steaks but then I found this recipe and it seemed like a way better idea.

I recently bought myself a copy of Ghillie Başan’s book, Flavours of the Middle East – two-for-one deals always get the better of me – and it is filled with beautiful dishes, vibrant colours and interesting stories. Stuffed eggplants was my first dish, in a long list that I wanted to experiment with. They are a great combination of savoury aubergines, sweet dried fruit and a good kick of subtle spice.

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To begin, I mixed a diced onion with 150grams of minced beef – Ghillie’s recipe uses lamb but I wanted something a little leaner. I also added a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon each of cumin and nutmeg and a few teaspoons of brown sugar. I also added two tablespoons of dried cranberries for sweetness, two chopped dates for a caramel undertone and two tablespoons of pine nuts for a little crunch. I mixed it all together with half a can of diced tomatoes, a big grind of pepper and a pinch of dried thyme, and set it aside so the flavours could meld together.

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After bathing three partially peel aubergines in salt water for 15 minutes, I gently pan fried them in equal parts oil and butter until the skin was glossy and the flesh changed to a pale shade of yellow.

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I slit each aubergine down the middle lengthways, through as much of the flesh as possible, without puncturing the skin on the other side. With a tremendous balance of delicacy and might, I prised the eggplants open and compactly filled them with the meat mixture.

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I transported my eggplant boats into a bright red oven tray and doused them in the juice of a lemon, a healthy gulp of olive oil, a crack of sugar and a bit of water mixed with a teaspoon of sugar.

I baked at 200°C for 50 minutes – the first 25 minutes with a layer of foil overtop, the rest of the time uncovered. I basted each of them with the juices once I removed the foil just to insure they were nice and moist.

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Perfect hot or cold, this dish doesn’t require any sides or special garnishes – they are delicious (both visually and to the tastebuds) just as they are!

 

salted caramel chocolate brownie tart

Since we are in December now, it’s totally okay to start talking about Christmas, and by that, I mean what we are all planning to eat on Christmas. In my family I am put in charge of the menu each year and the pressure to start planning is applied as early as September.

Even though I like to use Christmas as a time to experiment with new recipes, I know there is a lot riding on everything coming off as a success. Desserts are always the area that make me the most anxious – it’s not as easy to wing it with something that requires a strict set of ingredients, so I decided to do a test run of my planned salted caramel chocolate brownie tart.

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The name of this recipe is a bit of a mouthful, and it’s just as much of a process making it – a chocolate biscuit base, a layer of gooey caramel topped with a rich, dark chocolate brownie and glazed with a layer of even richer chocolate ganache.

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I adapted a recipe from the Akaroa Cooking School and used a sweet pastry base for my test run because I had some I needed to get rid of and wasn’t sure if all of the chocolate was going to be a sensory overload.

While the pastry was blind baking, I heated a can of condensed milk with 75grams of butter and several tablespoons of honey. I also added a teaspoon of sea salt because I love that salty juxtaposition. Once the butter was melted and the condensed milk had morphed several shades darker, I poured it over top of the base and baked for 10 minutes at 170°C. The caramel comes out another shade darker and had thickened nicely.

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While the caramel was cooking I got started on the brownie – 150grams of melted butter, ½ cup of cocoa powder, ¾ cup of sugar combined to a thick paste. I whisked in two eggs and folded through a cup of flour, a pinch of salt and another of baking powder. This makes a rather thick mixture and since I want it to pour evenly over the caramel layer, I might thin it with a bit of water next time.

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I popped it back into the oven for another 20 minutes before leaving it to cool.

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The ganache is simple enough; ½ cup of warm cream and 200grams of dark chocolate poured over the cooled brownie and refrigerated until set.

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This slice of heaven is definitely a chocolate lover’s fantasy, and while the pastry base is a nice touch I think I will be making a chocolate base come Christmas time – in my mind, you can never have too much chocolate!

 

thoughts: nigella’s avocado on toast

I saw something in the news this morning about Nigella Lawson getting a bit of flak on Twitter for featuring a recipe for avocado on toast on her newest recipes, Simply Nigella.

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Picture: BBC

Does a bit of smashed avo on bread really constitute a recipe? Probably not, but in Nigella’s defence, it wasn’t just avocado on toast, it was a mini work of art. Granted, avocado is a wonderful subject matter to spread on toast; it’s naturally creamy, it blends so perfectly with sweet or salty components and it oh so healthy if you’re into that sort of thing.

Simply Nigella is about taking everything a step back; so many cooking shows are becoming so extravagant when I think they really should be showing people how to cook delicious, yet simple meals at home. No one is going to watch a TV show to learn to make a croque-en-bouche.

Even though Nigella’s recipe was simple, it was by no means the simplest avocado on toast presentation I have seen. She compliments with avocado’s soft flavour with zingy lime juice and dill, topping it off with crunchy radish slices.

If anything, I think we should commend the woman on being so enthusiastic about breakfast; if I was that peppy in the mornings, imagine what I could achieve with my day!

the smallest kitchen in paris

My approach to learning the French language was slightly alternative to most; I didn’t take French at school, in fact, my school didn’t even offer French until I was 16. I studied Japanese at university then decided, in a rather spontaneous decision, to move to France instead of heading to Japan as originally planned.

Armed with a My-First-French-Words book, I set off on a whirlwind attempt at conquering this difficult little language. It turned out that my greatest tool would actually be a cookbook.

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La pétite cuisine à Paris by Rachel Khoo was first published in 2012 and details the recipes Rachel finds closest to her heart from her time in Paris. Like me, Rachel moved to France with basically no knowledge of the French language, unlike me, she has become hugely successful. Her love of food, cooking and entertaining is prevalent in this book, and that is what I love about it, it’s not pretentious, like French cuisine can easily become, the food is uncomplicated and gives a modern spin on many French classics without being too ‘modern’.

When I was given this book (as part of the French-est Christmas present ever) I was under the impression that Rachel had written the book in French, or translated it herself from the English version, but I am not quite sure I can confirm this as a true fact. But at the time I liked if for that very reason; it made me believe that it wasn’t impossible to master the language, even though so many irregular verbs should be illegal; if she could do it, and write a book to prove it, then so could I!

The language the book uses is relatively basic – the majority of it is recipes; they all follow a similar structure and repeat many of the same verbs and nouns. Reading it and cooking from it was an excellent way of improving my reading ability, practicing verb conjugation in a practical and delicious way while learning verbs and nouns that would eventually come in very handy! Faire fondu, préchauffer, and la recette are all phrases that anyone who has to cook anything in French needs to know.

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As well as teaching me how to say whisk in French and the words for a bunch of vegetables, it also provided me with a crash course on the French classics. We have all heard of coq-au-vin and macarons, but my favourite new encounter was her mini tartiflettes – a sinfully delicious Savoyard take on potato bake, filled with smoky lardons and gooey melted cheese; relatively unheard of anywhere else and one of France’s best kept secrets!

blogging 201: will blog for food

Welcome to Blogging 201!

‘Hot of the Press: July in Blogging U.” the post read, I scrolled past it, then I unscrolled back to it, even though unscrolling isn’t something you can grammatically do. I signed up on a whim, what have I got to lose? And thus, I begin. Blogging 201: Branding and Growth, pushing us to really define what our blogs are about, and more importantly, how we are going to get them out there, which funnily enough coincides with my next chapter in my ‘Will Write for Food’ challenge.

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Blogging 201: What do you want to accomplish? Will Write for Food: How will you expand your knowledge?

Three goals for each, be specific, because writing it down means its real, it means that you’ll do it.

  1. I want to increase the number of views I get by at least 50% by the end of the year, ideally more and ideally sooner. But slow and steady wins the race.
  2. I want to post regularly; consistency is key. At the moment I try and post about three times a week, it is a hard task; the planning, cooking and writing is time consuming but getting into a routine makes it that little bit easier.
  3. I want to find more blogs that I want to follow, that is the point of WordPress isn’t it? What is the point in writing if we aren’t also here to read? I think the blogisphere is a great community to get involved with and if anything, I would like to see the number of comments my posts get increase, and in turn, comment on more posts by other people.

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But saying and doing are very different things, and I think it is gaining new knowledge over a snazzy looking blog that is going to draw the crowds in. (in saying that, I am working on getting a logo done)

So how will I increase my knowledge so people care about the things I have to say?

  1. READ – as someone who only discovered cooking recently, I don’t really have a wealth of knowledge on many of the basic elements of cooking. To remedy this, I have decided to read Nigella Lawson’s “How to Eat” in its entirety. 526 pages on elementary cooking form the very basic to the somewhat skilful, and more importantly – how to enjoy eating it all. 526 pages, no pictures, wish me luck.
  2. COOKING CLASS – I have a mortal fear of not being in control in the kitchen, which is why I don’t think I would do well on Masterchef. I have never taken a cooking class, I don’t follow recipes well and like to ‘augment’ them as I go, so I think a cooking class could be a little too reminiscent of home economics at school – where I often had flour fights, and often forgot to turn the oven on. But maybe I’ll learn something, do I might give it a go.
  3. DINNER PARTY – Very seldom do I cook for other people on a grand scale – maybe just one or two people. In order to expand my knowledge, I think it is important to not just learn by doing, but also learn by watching and eating! I want to form a little dinner party group – not only as a way of being social, but also to learn new recipes, ideas and cooking styles at the same time.

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So, that’s Blogging 201 Post 1 done and dusted, stay tuned for more over the next two weeks!

writing, comma food

I have recently begun reading ‘Will Write for Food’, by Dianne Jacobs; a charming guide to all things falling under the grand canopy of food writing. Each chapter of the book ends with a series of tasks, designed as an aid to improving one’s writing and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to share my journey through each section by publishing my musings for each task encountered.

A summation of the first chapter’s tasks is to explore finding your own voice and writing style by describing a favourite food while looking at similes, metaphors and enhanced descriptions.

For integrity purposes, I have left all editing and annotation visible, as it is really about the journey and the process as opposed to the finished product.

I ate a lot of cherries while I was in Spain. I am a huge cynic of anyone who overuses the word ‘literally’, while saying I ate them by the tonne may be a slight exaggeration, but I did literally eat bucket loads of them. Breathing in the warm summer air, my mind easily floats back to a time when my mind life was filled with nothing but fluorescent, deep red orbs, when the staining, tartly sweet taste of them barely ever left my mouth.

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What draws me to eating, and cooking with cherries is their sheer versatility; plump scarlet slithers in a cherry jam, velvety sweet in a clafoutis or bursting with juice at the end of the season, melting in your mouth like a molten ball of summer.

In my opinion, half of the satisfaction of eating cherries comes from the preparation; such an awakening of the senses! The sun beating down on your shoulders and the lactic acid building up in your arms as you reach for the sweetest fruits on the highest branches, everyone worker bees in a row at the kitchen table removing stalks, removing pits and slicing fruit in half, purple-stained hands adding each crescent moon into jam pot.

There comes a point, midsummer, when a cherry tree’s output becomes exponentially greater than a human’s rate of consumption. An afternoon of jam making makes easy work of a big bucket of cherries morning’s pickings, but what are you to do with the other two buckets?

Cherry pie
Cherry juice
Cherries mixed through gooey vanilla ice cream
Cherry crumbled topped with shards of caramelised sugar
Cherry-infused vodka, gin or brandy

As the blood-red sun begins to set on the summer’s horizon, and the soft, ripe fruit is given away to anyone who will take it, you stop loving cherries; you think you can’t stand the sight of another cherry, let alone the taste.

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Until next summer.

five quarters of the orange

I have recently been reminiscing over all of the books I read in my formative years which initially attracted me to France. This, combined with my recent orange obsession, reminded me of Joanne Harris’ book, Five Quarters of the Orange. There is a scene where the little girl puts dried orange peel into the house’s heating vents and the house is filled with a sweet yet faint aroma of oranges. While this is her mother’s absolute nightmare, I can’t think of anything better.

Dried orange peel is something that is so easy to make and so useful for so many different ways of cooking.

Turn your oven up relatively high for this; about 250°C on fan bake. Peel a bunch of oranges; enough to fill a baking tray. For the peels to dry properly they need to be quite thin, so slice them lengthways to get as much of the pith off as you can. Bake the peel slices for about 30 minutes or until they are dry and brittle, you can make a judgement call on this based on the size of your pieces and the strength of your oven.

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This is such a versatile ingredient; add it to a stew or slow-cooked brisket or chuck steak for a subtle sweet tang, or simmer with some double cream or chocolate to add another dimension to your desserts. They will store for weeks and once cooked they develop a soft, candied texture and can be eaten as part of the dish.