Posts Tagged With: baking

CCC Week 7

This week has continued the theme of making old favourite recipes, between my favourite quick and dirty tomato pasta sauce – in fact the recipe that my header photo showcases, minus the cooked chicken – a batch of English muffins and a banana loaf, mildly tweaked for the current circumstances but otherwise from a recipe of my mum’s that I’ve been making all my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m using all wholemeal flour instead of half and half, it makes a drier cake and I need to compensate with more eggs/other liquid than the recipe would normally call for.

I went through a phase, before I moved up here, when I first got into making bread, of attempting to make all the weird and wonderful bread options in my Lorraine Pascale cook books. However, having fun aground on focaccia, and never being entirely satisfied with my rolls, I mostly stuck to making Soda Bread and English muffins, and while I do sporadically make soda bread when I’m at my parents, I haven’t made these kind of muffins in a good six years. You can make them in the oven or on the stove top, but I always prefer to make them on the stove top. I’ve made the successfully in a heavy bottomed frying pan, but these days I’ve got an actual girdle pan so it feels rude not to use that.

My girdle pan has actually been getting a fair amount of use lately, between the banana pancakes and the English muffins. I wasn’t sure if I’d use it enough to make it worth giving some of my limited cupboard space to when my mum offered it to me, just after I moved house. It’s really just been lurking on the shelf above the fridge since I moved in, but it’s proved a fun and handy tool over lockdown so I suspect it’s here to stay. Now I’m wondering if I could make flat breads on it.

Now that pasta has returned to the supermarket shelves properly and there’s enough on the shelf that I don’t feel guilty buying some, I’ve been revelling in a different kind of comfort food. Certainly there was my abovementioned quick and dirty pasta sauce, but I was moved to dig out my little Italian food cookbook and dry some more complicated and decadent recipes. I have barely touched that recipe book since becoming a vegetarian, because so many of my favourite recipes from it are heavy on the meat. However, it’s proved quite inspirational, and I’ve rediscovered some tasty recipes some straight forward – I made a cheesy mushroom pasta bake that was heavy on the garlic and included three different types of cheese – and plotted out a couple of rather more adventurous dishes to try to next week.

Vegetables stuffed with other things – rice, couscous, other vegetables – were a bit of a cliché of vegetarian cooking when I was a kid, and while I tend to agree that life is too short to stuff a mushroom, I do love a stuffed pepper so the rice stuffed peppers rather appeals. There’s also a few polenta based recipes, and I used to love cooking with polenta before I went veggie so clearly it’s high time I brought that back into circulation. I also mis-read a recipe Tuscan Beef Ragu as Tuscan Bean Ragu but on reading the recipe, I bet you could make a lovely dish with beans instead of beef that would fit the bill nicely. And that’s before I even look at the dessert section!

Categories: challenges, covid cookup | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Food Based Media

For the purposes of virtual film club, I’ve recently signed up for a Netflix account who have an entire rabbit-hole of food programming to get lost down. My first, and favourite, discovery was the series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which is based on the book of the same name by Samin Nosrat, who also presents it.

As a child, I really enjoyed those travel/food programmes that were all the rage in the 90s, but I hadn’t realised until I watched this series how much I missed that genre and how much it still being dominated by white guys of a certain age annoyed me. There was something so delightfully refreshing about listening to her converse with local specialists in Italian and Spanish, and the way she used her Iranian food heritage to relate to the other cuisines that were talked about in the show, made all the difference.

It’s a lovely and informative little series, and ten years ago I could really have used it – in fact I’d like to give my younger self a copy of the book to work through. There was a lot in the salt and acid sections that I was already intimately familiar with, but that knowledge was acquired piecemeal, largely through trial and error, with occasional helpful pointers from episodes of Gastropod. (I’d learned from experience that lime juice could rescue a stir-fry sauce if you’d overdone the soy sauce component, and a really fascinating episode of Gastropod had opened the world of vinegar as a flavour enhancer to me.) Nonetheless the series gave me lots of ‘huh, interesting’ moments, largely by explaining why elements worked in certain ways, some things that I knew to be true from experience but didn’t know why they were that way, are now much clearer to me than they ever where before.

After the success of my food based television binge, I decided to seek out more food programming to comfort watch. I went searching in the iPlayer and found an old favourite of mine. Fuine is a very gentle baking programme from BBC Alba, where the programme goes round to local ‘star bakers’ kitchens and they teach the presenter how to cook their signature bake. I started watching it years ago when I was studying Gaelic, as a low stress way to learn more of the kind of vocabulary that I did get in class. They changed presenter for the most recent series – the new presenter is a chef who had been on the programme as a guest baker on a couple of occasions – and I realised that while I’d heard good things about it, I hadn’t actually seen any of it to judge for myself. This latest series has more of a balance between sweet and savoury dishes, which is great for me as I love a savoury bake. (There was also an episode dedicated to ‘free-from’ baking, but throughout the series they were good at saying ‘substitute this to make it vegan’ or ‘this recipe is actually gluten free’.) It’s very much a series where the intent is that you can make the things at home yourself – a lot of the recipes are on the website if you prefer it written down – and I’ve now got a whole list of recipes that I’m keen to try. Those crackers for humus looked both tasty and easy to make!

The Netflix algorithm is still learning what I like at the moment – to start with I was only watching Studio Ghibli films and fairly violent martial arts movies so it was a little confused about my household – but my decision to watch Salt. Fat. Acid. Heat. has caused it to give me all the food recommendations. There is a whole world of food documentaries and cooking programmes that I never knew existed – Hindi-language series about the different food cultures of India anyone? – but given that the current situation has mostly nixed my usual appetite for documentaries I am ready to head down that rabbit-hole.

This week I’ve been watching a series called Street Food: Asia (I presume that means there are companion series about street food on other continents, or at least that they plan for there to be.) It is definitely food to watch with snacks, because all the food and cooking made me so hungry – I definitely hold it responsible for my decision to make sushi this week, along with everything I’ve made involving tortilla wraps. I have such a craving for noodles now, every kind and variety that you could imagine.

The decision to – mostly – focus on cities other than the capital cities of the countries in question, was one I really appreciated as I felt it gave a much better sense of there being different food cultures in different regions within a country rather than one homogenous food culture in the entire country.

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Baked Comfort

Over the last few months I’ve been getting more adventurous with my oven usage. After something of a false start when I first moved in where it turned out the thermostat wire had melted through, I’ve been slowly getting the hang of my new oven. The rule of thumb appears to be, 10-20˚C lower than the recipe/packet suggests and 5-10 minutes less cooking time (180˚C on the middle shelf seems to be sweet spot of the oven) and you’ll be just dandy.

To my great delight – and relief! – unlike my last place’s oven, this one actually bakes cakes and buns properly, no more half-cooked blueberry muffins for me! They don’t weld themselves to the paper cases anymore either! I’ve now successfully made two different kinds of muffins (rhubarb ones and apple and cinnamon varieties) in the oven so I feel more able to be more adventurous with my baking again. I didn’t realise how much frustration and uncertainty about whether they’d come out okay had curtailed my baking.

Apple cinnamon muffins

The somewhat temperamental nature of the previous ovens meant I really only made pasta bakes and pies in it – though an honourable mention needs to be made for the delightful discovery of baked eggs. It’s been rather fun experimenting with roasted vegetables – I may never again eat sweet potatoes any other way – as it’s opened up a whole bunch of recipes that I previously avoided as they started with ‘first roast the vegetables’ and it was too much of a faff. It really does improve the flavour of a surprising number of vegetables.

I’ve also successfully made bread in the oven now – even if only from packet mix so far – something I never risked attempting in either of the ovens at my old place. Before I moved to Inverness I used to bake bread, not all the time, but at least on a regular basis. I’d got pretty good at making soda bread, and it became a ritual to make it every time I made pea and mint soup, something I now only really do when I’m home visiting my parents for Xmas. I’d forgotten in the interim, how easy and satisfying I find making – most, ciabatta never comes out right for me – bread until I had the dough under my fists pummelling it gently into submission. There’s a special kind of joy in going to check on my proving dough and finding it successfully doubled in size. In the way my whole flat smelled of warm bread for a good 24 hours afterwards, and the repeated pleasure I got every time I opened the breadbox to be greeted by the scent. The way the loaf was exactly the right size for me to have eaten it all before it went off, and the satisfaction of making sandwiches for lunch with it, the added pleasure of the casual ‘that looks nice bread’ comments from colleagues to which I could proudly respond ‘thanks, I made it myself’. There are few more comforting scents than fresh bread you made yourself, I find. An olfactory hug if you will.
Cheese and tomato bread!Cheese and tomato bread sliced!

Categories: feeling philisophical, new skills | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

New Year, New Challenges

So I think we can call last year on the blog a reasonable success. I wanted to blog twice a month, I wanted to cook 2 things a month from my new recipe book and most of all I wanted to stop myself from being all feast and famine in writing terms. I didn’t entirely succeed, I only made 20 posts last year, but that was an improvement on the previous year’s 15 and while I didn’t cook two things from the cookbook every month, I did cook something from the book almost every month. And most importantly, for the first year ever, I managed to write at least one thing each month! Hopefully I can keep that up, along with writing – and much, much more importantly cooking – more.

This year, I have decided on two separate challenges to keep me writing (and cooking for that matter) on a regular basis. First up, I want to bake something new each month this year, sweet or savoury, it doesn’t matter. Despite us now having a better oven, I’ve barely baked in it. I want to master baking in this oven. I miss it and its an important part of how I relate to my colleagues – I like being the kind of workmate that appears sporadically with home-baking. Secondly, I plan to work my way through the other recipe book I got last festive season – How to be a Better Cook by Lorraine Pascale. As I’m going to be doing two different challenges, I’m only going to try and cook one recipe a month from the book – unless the thing I’m baking that month is also from that book!

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Bake More Often: Baking in Unfamiliar Kitchens

Over the last year and a half, I’ve lived in three different places, which has meant three different kitchens. One of those was my parent’s kitchen, which is familiar but having been away seemed strange and new again last winter. I adored the kitchen in my old flat. It was big and between my flatmates and me we basically had everything culinary we could possibly need (and a few things we didn’t). One of my flatmates was as keen a cook as me and the kitchen became the main social space of our flat. The weekend that I moved in there were home made brownies and I never had a chance to get nervous about cooking in this kitchen because someone else was already experimenting. There were successes and disasters and not a little heckling.

My current kitchen is different. It’s small and perfectly formed but it’s not mine. I’m a lodger and however well that situation has worked out, I’m always aware that this is someone else’s kitchen. It’s exacerbated by the fact that my landlady isn’t much for cooking herself. She doesn’t bake at all. I already spent much more time in the kitchen than she does just making dinner and preparing packed lunches. So for months I chickened out of baking. After my excellent start to my Bake More Often challenge in the first three months of the year, I didn’t bake again for another three months.

Then June arrived and with it both my parents’ birthdays. And they came to visit. In our family birthdays are always marked with cake. Even when I was writing my dissertation in sunny Bournemouth and couldn’t come home for my birthday, my parents sent me a tiny box cake in the post. I couldn’t not provide cake and pride forbade the shop-bought variety. There were some obstacles. Due to the aforementioned small kitchen, most of my non-essential cookware is in storage at my parents’. I had no cake tin and it seemed foolish to buy one up here that I would use once or twice and not again after it. Equally it seemed foolish to buy flour and sugar and all the rest when I had no room to store them and would probably only bake once or twice. So I determined to get one of those packet mixes and make a cake that way. After all I’d got back into baking back in Bournemouth after I’d found a packet on special offer and had too much fun making butterfly cakes…

Flutterby Cake

Then I discovered that neither did my landlady. In fact the extent of her baking equipment is a large bowl, a whisk, a set of scales, some wooden spoons and a bun tray. Undeterred I bought packet mix and butter, and made red velvet cupcakes. Not quite as impressive as I’d hoped but baking nonetheless. The icing was a bit of a disaster but the buns were tasty and my parents were impressed that I’d actually produced cake in this strange new kitchen.

Red Velvet Cupcake

The oven has taken some getting used to. Its highest temperature is 200˚C (it’s a fan oven thankfully) and pretty much anything I ever bake in it takes at least 5 if not 10 minutes longer than the instructions say. It’s been an experience. However, I’ve persevered, as evidenced by the fact that I have another two Bake More Often posts planned for this month. (Pastry is a bit of a theme; it seems to be the most consistently successful substance to bake in this oven.) I made Banana and Peanut Butter muffins and they were…fine. Well the recipe needs a bit of refining which doesn’t help but in the end I established that giving them a wee zap in the microwave then letting them cool down again made them quite pleasant to eat for breakfast. Given how nice they looked and smelled they were just a bit underwhelming.

Banana peanut butter buns!

Back to the drawing board with those ones I fear…

Categories: bake more often, challenges, feeling philisophical, nablopomo | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Bake More Often 2/10: Baking from the Big List

Well, at least one of my foodie resolutions is going well. So far this year I’ve baked three times, which is the same amount that I managed all year in 2014 and its only March! Today I want to talk about the two items I made that were also on my big 30 recipes list (I’m now up to 23 recipes tried) which is an extra kind of progress.

Technically one of those baking incidents was actually two because it was across the Friday and Saturday of an epic weekend of baking. Why am I calling it one baking incident instead of two? Well it’s silly really, but when it comes down to it, as a novice cook, determined to learn to cook properly there’s a lot of snobbery out there about ‘cheating’ at cooking. (Bless Delia Smith for her campaigning against this kind of nonsense, I may not want to cook her recipes but, she’s a kitchen legend for a reason.) I stand by my statement that life’s too short to make your own puff pastry, yet still that little niggly voice says ‘well, its not really baking, is it’. Which is nonsense. Between pummelling the pastry into submission so they didn’t attempt to take over the world, carefully trimming the sausages to fit perfectly, and making sure the rolls stuck together properly, it certainly felt like baking. Also I suspect I’ve ruined their mini frozen cousins for myself which to me is always a sign that I’ve done some proper cooking. Next stop learning to make my own veggie sausages for them!

Lazy Sausage Rolls

The other bake that I want to talk about is the batch of Bite-size Pinwheel Snacks that I made as a Cheerio Biscuits for my workmates on my last day working there. Normally when recipes say ‘tiny’ or ‘bite-size’ they aren’t even close – and make you wonder about the size of said chef’s mouth – but these actually are, perfect when you’re baking for a team of people where at least half of them are on diets. They are a bit of a challenge though they actually look more complex than they are. The mixture is really quite dry (not an egg in sight!) and I was quite worried for a while about it coming together until I thought to just get my hands in there and knead it into submission (you add the chocolate to half the mixture by kneading it in so I figured that it couldn’t hurt) after which it behaved much better. They turn out to have a pleasantly short-bready texture to them, which I enjoy. Due to not actually liking chocolate as a child – I’m still much more a crisp hand even now – baked goods in my childhood were chocolate free and it mostly doesn’t occur to me to use it when I’m baking myself now. To the extent that when I came to having to buy cocoa powder and was faced with the range of options I plumped desperately for the ones I’d seen in my Inverness flatmate’s cupboard – he made really good chocolate brownies, alright! So this was actually my first attempt at cooking with chocolate and my goodness you get in a glorious mess! Oddly enough the most frustrating bit of the process isn’t weighing and dividing the mixture or even rolling the two batches together like a swiss-roll, but having to chill the mixture in the fridge for half an hour – twice! The first time was fine, it gives you time to do the dishes, but second time round I’d run out of things to do. Definitely one to do on days when you’re making several different things. Mine weren’t as neat and tidy as the recipe-book picture, but I’m sure I’ll get tidier with practice.

Bitesize Pinwheels

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