Monthly Archives: November 2017

Latte Explorations

It wouldn’t be nanoblomo on this blog, if I didn’t squeeze in a wee entry on hot beverages. Last year, when the annual, parental cry of Christmas present hits went up, I dredged up the idea that I’d like a milk steamer. I’d gotten slightly obsessed with coffee lattes – the only kind of coffee I actually enjoy – over the last few years and had recently discovered the odd sub category of tea lattes, especially the ones that shouldn’t really work. (I know from unfortunate experience that milk in green tea is vile, so why on Earth is a matcha latte so darn good?) Being able to make my own seemed a good way to save myself both time and money of a morning. I got myself a little insulated mug – its got owls on, its very cute – picked out a little milk frother – try to find a non industrial milk steamer outside of a coffee machine proved to be an exercise in banging my head off a wall – and bookmarked a whole bunch of recipes for my favourite odd tea lattes and planned to beat the January blues with them.

Of course, life happened in January and I didn’t have a commute to need to make lattes for, so my careful plans fell by the wayside. Other than a couple of uninspiring attempts at better hot chocolate my milk frother has been gathering dust in my cupboard. However, November has arrived, with driving rain and gloomy grey skies, and in the aftermath of a grinding cold, my commute has been in dire need of a cheer up. So I decided to break out the milk frother and bring myself some much need seasonal cheer.

A while ago, I came across a tub of the instant matcha sachets – on one of those, end of line shelves in the supermarket – and made grand plans to have a go at making my own matcha lattes. (They can be rather hit or miss, either divine or a little…dusty, depending on which barista you get in the coffee shop.) I had delightful plans for comparing and contrasting between those made with the ground matcha and different kinds of green tea bags. Would a Tokyo Fog turn out to be more my thing? What would you call the same thing made with Jasmine tea? (A Beijing Fog? Given the air pollution issues in that city that doesn’t sound entirely appetising.) Yet, once again, I didn’t get around to actually doing anything about my exciting plans until gloomy mid-winter came to call. I’ve been glorying in a seasonal special at my favourite tea shop called a Matcha Maker, which is essentially a white hot chocolate matcha mash-up. It’s utterly heavenly, so once I master the straight forward matcha latte, I need to perfect that one. Though first I’ll have to figure just how they make it!

This week I have, for reasons that don’t need explored at this juncture, been working on perfecting my London Fog. I’m not entirely sure what it is about a well-made London Fog, but there’s something deeply comforting about drinking it. Somehow it brings out the best of the Earl Grey, that deep aromatic flavour and almost floral scent. I suppose in certain ways its my ideal form of tea drinking. My preference when it comes to standard tea is strong with lots of milk (several of my colleagues just leave the bag in for me when they make my tea – as does the lass in my favoured tea shop when she makes me a London Fog) and when you make a London Fog you make the Earl Grey into a highly concentrated brew which you then top up with a decent serving of hot frothy milk. It’s hot, soothing, flavoursome and just a little sweet. Perfection.

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Homegrown Adventures

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here on a regular basis, but I wouldn’t want you to think that I’ve not been cooking in the interim. Perhaps not cooking as much as I’d like, but certainly cooking and even occasionally being adventurous. This month has largely involved cooking from my garden and the gardens of various friends.

We’ll start with my own garden adventures. In the Spring of this year, I finally got round to starting my own, long wished-for, container herb garden. I started with a basic selection of herbs to see what worked and what didn’t. And more importantly, what I cooked with and what I didn’t. Apple-mint, thyme, rosemary, parsley, purple sage and lavender. I was warned about the prolific nature of mint, so kept it in its own container within my larger herb container, but honestly it was the parsley that nearly took over the world. I have eaten a lot of parsley this year, I had no choice, it was that or watch helplessly as it colonised the entire container. I’ve used it as a substitute for coriander, I’ve used as a garnish on all sorts of things, I’ve cooked it in soups and omelettes. Never has my food been so well seasoned as it was this summer.

Tiny herb garden ahoy

Having only narrowly avoided drowning under the parsley, I didn’t have a great deal of a rosemary crop, but having gone to such effort to save it, I felt the urge to do something special with what I did salvage. So I decided to make herb infused oil. Over the last month or so, a jar of oil has been gently infusing on a sunny window-sill, its burden of rosemary and thyme getting an occasional shake on the passing. Some of it has even been bottled into a pretty little gift bottle. So I guess I better start cooking with my own share, in its rather more prosaiccontainer: a former jar of mayonnaise.
Herb oil

More recently I’ve acquired a Bay Tree, which, as the Autumn as turned, has reminded me that there are other ways to preserve herbs for the winter. As beautiful as my purple sage is to look at, I’ve hardly cooked with it. So I’m attempting to dry some in two different ways to see which works best. One set are being tied up in a cool dark place to air-dry and the other are going in the bottom of the oven on as low a setting as I can get it. We’ll see which works best.

This Autumn has seen the most extraordinary glut of apples. Almost everyone I know with an Apple Tree (and a few more I didn’t even know had one) has been pressing bags of apples onto everyone they know this year. I ended up with unexpectedly red cooking apples – the owner of the tree claims that every other year they’ve been green – that ended up becoming parsnip and apple soup, and several mini apple pies. I also ended up with nearly 3kg of proper tiny crab apples. (I could have had more if I wanted. They’re owner just got sick of picking them she had so many.) The only thing to really do with them was make jelly, so I ended up buying a jelly bag and getting the pure and ridiculous joy of straining them overnight, like a small scale version of my mother’s jelly-making shenanigans from my childhood.

Cooking Crab ApplesStraining the Apples

It took me…a while…to get the jelly to set, but I did finally manage it, so I now have a ridiculous hodge-podge of sizes and shapes of jars of apple jelly. The real mystery of which, now that the excitement and novelty of finally achieving jelly has faded a little, is emerging. Why, if the apples were yellow, the juice that I extracted post straining was yellow and the sugar was white, is my jelly, a bright vibrant red?
Apple Jelly!

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Cooking the Book – Being a More Adventurous Cook

I must confess, the only reason I have anything to write about for this post, is because I wrote the last post. It wasn’t until I was posting it that it dawned on me that I hadn’t actually cooked anything new from my book last month. Which caused me to squash in some extra cooking at the last minute.

However, what it did also do was make me cook something on a day might not otherwise have cooked at all, or eaten remotely well. Instead I ate something delicious and deeply satisfying, like a hug in food form that would keep me going for several days afterwards.

This month’s recipe was a little bit of an adventure. It started with some broccoli. My housemate went away to visit their cousin and left me a note asking me to use up their broccoli. So when I broke open the recipe book, I knew that it needed to involve broccoli in some capacity.

I came across Sesame Beef and Broccoli with a Honey Soy Sauce and that was my original intent, but as I looked further into it and its practicalities and realised it wouldn’t work with the protein I had on hand. (Although the illustrative photo show small lumps of meat that I could easily substitute with the packet of seasoned tofu I had in the fridge, it turned out that you needed a steak, which would be coated in sesame seeds and only later chopped up.

What I ended up making was a combination of that recipe and the recipe for Chicken and Cashew nut Stir-fry with Hoisin Sauce and Five-Spice Rice. I swapped the Chicken out for the tofu pieces – good texture, didn’t fall apart the way most other tofu I’ve tried does – and not having three different colours of peppers or any spring onions on hand, traded those for mushrooms, one kind of pepper, some baby sweetcorn and the all-important broccoli. Handily, par-boiling the broccoli and sweetcorn gave me a vegetable stock to make the sauce with so I felt brave enough to tackle making my own stir-fry sauce. Disappointingly the recipe suggested a bottled hoisin sauce, or using corn flour and soy sauce instead. So I took that idea and combined it with what remains my favourite Chinese sauce that I can actually make myself. It’s a combination of soy sauce, limejuice, rice wine vinegar and mirin. (It should really have brown sugar too, but I don’t think it would have worked cooking the sauce the way I did, in the middle of the stir-fry.) It’s a firm favourite of mine and it did not disappoint here.

I’ve tried making five-spice rice before with little success, where some spices can be thrown into the cooking liquid and give a delicate flavour to the rice, I’d always found five-spice rice to be strangely bland using this technique. However all was revealed to me, if you toast the spice mix first then stir the rice into the toasted spice to coat it and then add the water, you get a much tastier more flavoursome result.

Stir fry of great joy

In a call back to my original choice of recipe I swapped the cashew nuts for sesame seeds for scattering duty. Something that I used to do all the time, but rarely do these days.

So really I was more using the recipes as a set of guidelines for techniques I wanted to try, rather than a set of strict instructions. However, I feel that given that the recipe is literally called ‘how to be a better cook’ I think Lorraine would probably approve of that methodology.

Categories: being veggie, challenges, cooking the book, nablopomo | Leave a comment

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