For this month's Daring Baker's challenge, we were to make a very festive (and decoratively impressive) yule log. So I've made bagels.
Yes, so this month's assignment was a yule log, and some of the examples you'll see out there are absolutely incredible to look at. Reading through the recipe, though, I realistically realized I wouldn't have the time to devote to the logging process and so would have to skip my the challenge. To still get into the daring spirit of things and as an homage to the group, I decided to resurrect the recipe that first tempted me into the bosom of the DB'ers: bagels (and, to be fair, making it now is also because I had been talking big to my work colleagues about how London bagels didn't taste anywhere near as good as New York bagels, and I felt it was time to put my bagel where my mouth was, so to speak). When I saw that the Daring Bakers had made what I regarded to be the finest bread recipe known to man, I knew I'd find kinship with the group.
I first tried out these bagels earlier this year, and my eyes shone with happy tears when I bit into my first one - the flavor was so perfectly New York that with one mouth-full I got a bit homesick. Even though I do bring back to London as many bagels as I can fit into my suitcase each time I visit home, they somehow get eaten rather quickly and don't last out the time period until my next visit to NY. Bagels rank high on my list of foods that might bring me to fisticuffs with Mr A&N if he tries to steal one, or in his terminology 'share' them (I mean, c'mon - I stick the bagels into **my** suitcase in lieu of bringing something else back. If he had wanted some, he should have gone to the same effort).
London bagels are different in both taste and texture from New York bagels. Really, they are just circles of bread with holes in the middle: they are crumbly in the middle (instead of having great stretchy air-pockets of gluten) and don't have the same subtle sweetness of a real bagel. I've had some Londoners swear blind to me that such-and-such beigal bakery (as they spell it here) is better than the others, or promise me that this one boils their dough unlike all the others, but I've never found anything of adequate quality.
So when my frustration with bagels reached high enough heights that I had to take matters into my own hands, I google'd around the internet until I found this recipe from Johanne Blank for Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels. Not only does it produce stunning bagels, but it is also the most enjoyable recipe I've ever read, making the process that bit more fun. They're not at all hard to make (at least that's what I say to everyone who I'm encouraging to make them for themselves) but they do take a bit of time commitment.
I still haven't achieved the gargantuan puffy bagel beauties that I can get in New York, but I may need to add more yeast to the dough. The taste though...perfect. I use a combination of sugar and honey in the mixture and the honey really does draw out that special flavor. When I brought them into work last week, everyone commented that they were entirely different than what they'd tasted before, and all the better for it. Of course, they would have to say that, because I just went through the effort of making bagels for them.
Like most of you, I've been and promise to be a bit busy of this Christmas break, traveling places and hosting family and friends, so this will probably be the last blog post until the New Year. Do have a look around at all the proper Daring Baker yule logs, though - a very festive baking project sure to impress you. I hope everyone has a healthy and happy holiday season and gets their fair share of food, relaxation, love and laughter.
Sunday, 23 December 2007
For this month's Daring Baker's challenge, we were to make a very festive (and decoratively impressive) yule log. So I've made bagels.
Wednesday, 19 December 2007
There are only 2 days left before Menu For Hope closes, and everyone is in a final push for the event. Last year's event raised a total of $60,925 for the UN World Food Program, and hopes are high that even more can be raised this year. Right now, there is over $45,000 raised and fingers are crossed we can top last year's amount. The money is going to support the school lunch program in Lesotho, helping keep kids in school by providing them with regular meals there, and teaching local farmers sustainable farming methods.
All your raffle ticket purchases will go directly to this cause, and it might net you a great prize as well. There are some fabulous things on offer - a Kitchen Aid mixer for the Americans, fantastic assortments of wine, food stuffs galore (including my paella kit), and a meal cooked by Heston Blumenthal or a tour of the El Bulli kitchens.
Tickets cost $10 each (or £5 in the UK - bargain). Details on how to bid on the item of your choice can all be found on Chez Pim, as well as a list of all the items on offer. Getting bidding - there isn't much time left.
Saturday, 15 December 2007
Winter is still a handful of days away, technically, but I've quite settled into my darkened-day hibernation mode without the need of calendars to confirm how I feel. To whit:
- It's cold outside, it's cold inside: our famed kitchen extension - which might or might not be done in time for Christmas dinner - is also a few days short of the important moment when we can turn the heating on in it. Making everything in the house c-o-l-d as this large, open room sucks in all the other heating into it.
- Climbing into bed results in too-close communication with icy sheets. My alluring orange fleece vest, woolen socks, and extra-thick pajamas don't help stave off the cold. Last night I called for the season's first use of the hot water bottle, fondly known as 'The Warmth Pig' for the way the heated rubber gives off a sausagey smell (I was tired when the name came out, but it's sensibly stuck).
- It's too dark to ride my bicycle home at night, I'm nibbling all the time, and my extra winter coat (of fat) is piling on. Oh yes it is.
- My lovely new Mac laptop is truly dead. It would cost about as much to fix it as it would be to get a new one. I've spent 2 days this week feeling utterly crushed about it and having on some dark days/nights of the soul over the waste of money and my careless stupidity. At least, in this case, the cold, dark, shortened days are an appropriate mirror of my mood.
The leek and barley was a nice twist from a traditional leek and potato soup. I like using barley to thicken soups in place of cream or potatoes. After an hour or so of cooking, all the starch that the barley gives off helps create a soup that has the umami of something cooked with cup-fulls of cream, but which has been made in a healthier fashion.
I also quite luxuriously used a whole chicken to make the stock, which I then shredded the meat from and put back into the stock. With generous amounts of pepper, it all worked together to be a creamy, warming, filling and hearty dish which will definitely feature heavily on this winter's soup menu. I might be tempted to experiment in the future with some gentle curry spices to take the soup in a mulligatawny direction, but that's only if I can be tempted away from my new Winter 2007/2008 Comfort Food.
In the meantime, don't forget the Menu For Hope campaign going on at Chez Pim - there are many tempting prizes, including a paella starter kit from yours truly.
Chicken, Leek, and Barley Soup
- 1 medium sized chicken (1 1/2 kilos / 3 lbs)
- 2 liters of water
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut into quarters
- 2 bay leaves
- 200 g barley, rinsed
- 1/2 liter water
- 4 medium leeks, washed
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place the chicken in a large pot with the 2 liters of water and the onion, and bring to a boil. If the chicken doesn't look like it will be submerged under the water, you may need to quarter it.
- Gently boil this stock for about an hour.
- At the same time in another pot, bring the barley and 1/2 liter of water to a gentle boil. Also boil this for about an hour, checking in on it every 20 minutes or so to make sure the water hasn't boiled away.
- Chop the leeks into approximately 1 cm / 1.2 inch disks. Set aside until ready to use.
- After the hour, remove all the chicken and onion pieces from the stock pot. Set the chicken aside to cool down enough until you can handle it.
- Also after the hour and once the stock pot contains only liquid, add the barley and the leeks to the stock pot. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for around 30-40 minutes.
- Shred the chicken - remove the skin and throw it out, and pull the meat apart so that it's in bite-sized chunks.
- After 30 minutes, check the soup mixture for consistency. It should be nicely thick rather than watery. If it needs to thicken up, turn up the heat to boil away some of the water.
- Add salt to taste, and enough pepper to make the entire soup warmingly peppery.
- Add the chicken back into the soup when it is otherwise ready, and cook for a further 3 minutes to warm through.
Thursday, 13 December 2007
I had a bit of a disaster last night when getting ready to write the day's blog post. It wasn't a culinary disaster (well, at least, that wasn't what was troubling me) but a computer disaster. Reaching for my 4th cup of tea of the evening, I mis-judged the height the laptop screen would re-gain as I leaned back, and...horrible, horrible tea all over the keyboard. Of my new computer. It immediately shut off, and we thought "Oh how clever, an auto shut-off function", which, we've since learned, the computer doesn't have. It's quietly sitting in a corner now, with me trying not to make eye contact with it until we take it to the shop, because I've learned that's how you make computers work again. All my recent food pictures are on the other computer, so I am sharing with you a recipe that was fine if not over-the-top exciting.
We live near a market with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable options, and where the occasional interestingly-named item crops up. The process goes that I become intrigued, buy it, take it home, look it up on the internet, find it's something fairly mundane/completely bizarre, and try to find an appropriate way to eat it. Last week's purchase was a fruit named 'kaki'.
Kaki, it turns out, is the Latin word and Japanese name for the fruit that is also called a persimmon or Sharon fruit (thank you internet). The name persimmon supposedly comes from the Algonquin name for 'dry fruit', and the tree the persimmon grows from is part of the ebony family. I've always liked the look of the fruit, with its frilly stem on top of the jewel-like glow of the cut flesh.
Persimmon is a very sugary food when ripe, and so I thought of making something savory with it that cut through some of that sweetness. I found a recipe on epicurious for a permisson salsa which sounded lovely for summery months, and which I thought could be tweaked into a warm chutney sauce for colder months like these. It suggested tying together persimmons with lime, ginger, and chili - three fantastic flavors in their own right. We had the chutney with roast chicken, and I used some of the drippings of the roast to add a depth of flavor to the chutney. Not strictly necessary, but I did like how it helped tie tastes together.
I wasn't over-awed by the chutney in the end, in a large part because the persimmons weren't quite ripe enough and so stayed more whole and chalky than I would have expected. I still really like the idea of all those ingredient together, though, and do feel it should 'work'. I would be tempted to try this again keeping the ingredients more or less the same but making sure my fruits were achingly juicy sweet next time.
I'm submitting this to Anna at Paulchen's Food Blog for this week's installment of Weekend Herb Blogging.
- 4 limes, juiced
- 2 ripe persimmons, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
- 1 small-medium red onion, chopped
- minced chili or 1 small chili, chopped (enough chili to accommodate your taste)
- 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
- 1 Tbs fresh chicken drippings plus 1/2 C water, or 1/2 C chicken stock
- glug of dry white wine
- salt and pepper to taste
- (optional: 1 Tbs brown sugar)
- Combine the lime juice, diced persimmon, onion, chili, ginger, and chicken stock/water in a saucepan, and heat over a medium-low heat.
- Simmer until the persimmon has reduced down into a mush. Leave it to simmer further if you want it to be less chunky, or simmer less if you like the chunkiness. Take care not to let the mixture dry out. Cooking should take a total of 5-10 minutes.
- Taste for flavor and balance with salt and pepper.
- If the chutney is too sour for your taste, add some brown sugar 1 tsp at a time.
- Remove from heat once it's the consistency you like, and serve warm with meat.
Monday, 10 December 2007
Today launches this year’s Menu For Hope, an event created by Pim at Chez Pim in order to raise money for those who need it. This year’s beneficiary is the Lesotho school lunch programme (to keep children fed – and going to school – while attending their daily classes), organized through the UN World Food Program. The event is run as a raffle, in which you buy a ticket for the item(s) you want to win, and then you wait with baited breath until you find out whether or not you’ve won what you most covet. There is a huge array of exciting things on offer, and though I can’t compete with a meal cooked by Heston Blumenthal, I am making my own small contribution which I hope will tickle someone’s fancy.
I am offering up a starter paella kit (prize code UK06), to help you bring a touch of Spanish ole into your lives. In the kit are a paella pan for 2, 1 kg of calasparra rice, sweet paprika, saffron, and a home-made booklet of some of the best paella recipes I’ve found, put together from various cookbooks and websites. All the goods are bought from the wonderful Brindisa foodstore in Exmouth Market which anyone in the area really ought to check out – they do fantastic sausages, cheeses, and general Spanish foodstuffs. The only thing I ask of anyone bidding is that they let me know how their first meal went, and they make the effort to pronounce the word correctly (it’s pah-AAAYY-ya, people, not pa-ELL-a; drives me a bit nuts, that does). I am willing to ship this to anywhere in the world.
Menu for Hope runs from 10 December to 21 December, with the raffle winners being posted on Chez Pim on Wednesday 9th of January. Tickets cost $10 (a piddly £5 in UK money) and you can buy multiple tickets for multiple prizes. All the money goes to help people who need help, and you could wind up with some goodies for yourself - I believe that's what's referred to as a win-(hope-to-)win situation
- Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at Chez Pim for the global list of prizes, or at Cooksister for the UK prize list. You must make sure to check the terms and conditions for the individual prizes BEFORE you bid, as some will come with restrictions regarding where they ship to or how long the prize is valid for.
- Go to the donation site at First Giving and make a donation.
- Please specify the prize code of the prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. If you are buying more than one ticket, please indicate how you would like the tickets to be allocated. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02. Remember, the prize code for this paella kit is UK06.
- If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
- Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.
- Cross your fingers, and check back on Chez Pim on Wednesday January 9 for the results of the raffle. I’ll post the result on here, as well, in case anyone is curious.
Saturday, 8 December 2007
Cardamom is one of my favorite spices, both to smell and to taste. The first time I knowingly tasted it was in a Celestial Seasonings tea called Bengal Spice. I found the combination of cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom absolutely intoxicating. Like a cat with catnip, I would go into moments of empty-headed joy when drinking the tea, and was fully addicted to the body-warming suffusion of flavors that this simple drink could give.
Cardamom is used mostly in Middle Eastern and Central Asian cooking, with use also seen in Scandinavian countries. Green cardamom is more typically used in sweet dishes and in the Middle Eastern coffee drink, while black cardamom is more for savory dishes and is described as having a more blunt, strong flavor. It has a huge range of medicinal uses attributed to it, from being used to sweeten breath, help mouth ulcers and gum problems, aid tuberculosis sufferers, improve digestion, counter-act obesity, and act as an aphrodisiac. A fairly impressive list, I think, and makes me wonder why we haven't all been munching on cardamom to help heal all our ills.
I got in the mood for cardamom the other night when faced with a cold, rainy walk home and a return to a cold (though dry) house. I remembered the wonderful warmth of the tea, and felt I had to work its way into my dinner. Carrots were already on the menu out of necessity, and I thought that a mash with carrots, potatoes, and cardamom would deliver both the right, comforting, flavor and consistency.
We had the mash with middle-eastern spiced lamb chops: plenty of garlic, ras al hanout, and a bit of chilli powder, stirred together in a dish with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then put under the grill. It was all very right for a rain-soaked winter night.
For my weather-led use of cardamom, I'm submitting this to Simona from Bricole for this week's Weekend Herb Blogging.
Carrot and Cardamom Mash
- 4 large carrots
- 2 medium potatoes
- 3 pods cardamom (green cardamom is preferable)
- 1/2 C milk
- 10g butter (approximately - use as much butter as you normally do for your mash)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Peel the carrots and potatoes, and roughly cut into pieces.
- Boil the carrots and potatoes in water until they are both well softened.
- Meanwhile, crush the cardamom pod and combine it with the milk in a small saucepan. Gently boil the milk for about 15 minutes, to allow the flavors to infuse.
- Drain the carrots and potatoes, saving a ladel-full of the cooking liquid.
- Strain the cardamom seeds from the milk.
- Mash the carrots and potatoes together with the butter and the cardamom-flavored milk. If mash needs a bit more liquid, add some of the reserved cooking liquid.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
One of the things that amuses me about Nigella Lawson's cooking is the unexpected combinations many of her dishes throw up (what I don't like? The cream, cream, cream). There's a sweet rosemary bread (recently made by Pille at Nami-Nami), a gin and tonic jelly, and this ham in Coca Cola. A normally savory and salty meat dish is sweetened and lightly glazed by boiling it in a pot of soda and roasting it in an oven. Nigella says she channeled the recipe from something similar done in the South, to give the ham a smokey barbeque flavor without going through the effort of a full-on barbeque.
Now I absolutely adore ham (I know, I know, I adore lots of food stuffs, cheese, popcorn, and peanut butter among them). The proof?
- I haven't taken Mr A&N's surname in marriage, but I do mean it that if his name were Cheeseman or Hammings (unlike his actual name, Hemmings), I would have taken it.
- I strongly advocated for us to move to either the towns Ham or East Ham in London, purely due to their names; instead, I've had to settle for Walthamstow (see? it's in there).
- For our first Christmas together, Mr A&N gave me the gift only a man who understood me and was destined to be my life partner could give me: a large gammon ham, wrapped up and waiting for me to cook it.
One of the other beautiful things about a boiled ham is that it keeps on giving for many slices, and is equally happy placed in a sandwich or placed straight in the mouth (my favorite route to hammy-ness - why mess with the middle man?). Since a good boiled ham is a reserve that can feed dozens in comfort, it's also what I have made for Peabody's Housewarming Party, over at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. I wish her as much happiness in her new house as the Christmas present of a ham once brought to me.
Nigella's Ham in Coca Cola, from How to Eat and Nigella Bites
- 2kg mild-cure gammon (ham)
- 1 onion, peeled and cut in half
- 2-litre bottle of Coca-Cola
- For the glaze:
- handful of cloves
- 1 heaped Tbs black treacle
- 2 tsp English mustard powder
- 2 Tbs demerara sugar
- Boil the soda and onion and ham in a large pot and reduce to a simmer once boiling
- Cover most of the way, and boil for close to 2 1/2 hours (roughly 1 hour / kilo plus 15 minutes if it's just come out of the fridge)
- When it approaches the end of the boiling time, pre-heat the oven to 240 C
- Remove ham from the pot, keeping the cooking liquid behind, and let ham cool slightly so you can handle it (or entirely if you want to finish the glaze another time)
- If there's a skin, remove it, leaving behind a light layer of fat
- Score the fat into a diamond pattern, and insert a clove into each of the diamonds
- Spread the treacle on top, going gently over the cloves
- Pat the mustard and sugar onto the top of the treacle and cloves
- Line a roasting pan with foil, place the ham in it, and cook for 10 minutes (or, if you've let the ham cool all the way, cook for 30-40 minutes)
Monday, 3 December 2007
In my family, Thanksgiving and Christmas are a very similar affair, culinarily speaking. That's not a complaint, please note. The recurring themes are turkey (mainly because I demand it - I can't get enough of the meat, and have eaten myself into a turkey coma on more than one occasion), stuffing, some form of potatoes, and pie. Pie is almost always pumpkin, made by the dear Mrs. Smith. As much as I insist on turkey showing up twice a year, my father insists on frozen pumpkin pie. My brother and I have dared to try to make it from fresh and serve it instead, only to be threatened with removal from the will for the betrayal of switching pies on my father (well, not really, but he was rather upset and forbade us from denying him the frozen variety again).
In the UK, pumpkin pies are slightly harder to find, either the fresh bakery or frozen variety. That doesn't cause too much strain since I prefer to make my own, and once I'm armed with my trusty tins of pumpkin (thank you Waitrose), the hardest part of making the pie is deciding how indebted I want the flavor to be to Mrs. Smith's. Which, as it turns out, is my absolute standard for how pumpkin pies should taste. I suppose I've been indoctrinated as much as my father has, I'm just more stubborn and will make it from scratch in order to make it taste like the frozen. Still, that's some damn fine pumpkin pie.
Apple pies are a close second on the holiday pie-eating favorites list. It was for the sake of apple pies that I made my first pastry, and honed my technique (as it is). I've been making apple pies and crumbles for years now, though I still tweak my apple recipe each time I make it. I currently like to sautee up my apples for a couple of minutes, accompanied with a glug of amaretto liquer and the occasional handful of raisins if I'm feeling in a German, strudel-like mood.
I had a request to make an apple pie this week for Anne, the grandmother of my just-baptized godson Matthew. The pie was to be the dessert at the christening party, although I wasn't under any delusion that the pie was meant for anyone other than Anne. Sadly, I was hit by a bug this weekend and Mr. A&N rightly declared that I couldn't/shouldn't/wouldn't be handling foodstuffs unless I was happy with possibly infecting the whole party. So Anne didn't get her apple pie, for which I can say: stupid sickness bug. I have promised to make it for her the next time she's over from Ireland, but shall in the mean time post the recipe here (along with a picture of baby Matthew, the most gorgeousest baby I've had the privilege of blowing raspberries onto).
Makes enough for 1 10" crust; double if making apple pie or any other covered pie
- 1 C flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 70 g / 1/3 C shortening (Crisco in the US, Cookeen in the UK)
- 1 1/3 Tbs butter
- (optional: ground cinnamon or nutmeg)
- apprx 1/8 C ice cold water
- Cut the flour, salt, shortening and butter in together until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal. I like to add in 1/2 tsp of cinnamon or a few shavings of fresh nutmeg in with the flour mixture in order to give the pastry a bit of the taste of the pie.
- Add water into the pastry a bit at a time. You should use enough water to gather up all the dry bits of the flour mixture, but the pastry should not be wet or tacky.
- Cover and allow to sit in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour.
- After chilled, roll out the pastry on a floured surface so that it's big enough to fit in the base of the pie dish.
- Cut off any excess dough (if making the pumpkin pie, you can cut back to the top of the rim of the dish; for the apple pie, leave a little bit more overhang).
- Line the dish with baking paper and fill with weighted baking beans (or, the cheap option of dried beans) and blind bake for 10 minutes at 175 degrees C.
Pumpkin Pie (bake at 220 C, reducing to 175 C)
- 1 1/2 C mashed pumpkin (about 4-6lb fresh pumpkin roasted, peeled, and drained or 1 15 oz tin)
- 1 14 oz/400g tin sweetened condensed milk
- 2 eggs, yolks and white separated
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 Tbs allspice
- 1 tsp fresh ground ginger
- 3/4 of 1 fresh nutmeg, ground
- 1 tsp salt
- Combine the pumpkin, condensed milk, egg yolks, all the spices and salt, and mix well.
- Beat the egg whites until fluffy and with soft peaks
- Fold in the egg whites into the pumpkin mixture (if you have trouble with folding - like I do - stir in about 1/4 of the egg whites until well combined, and then fold in the rest of the whites. It will be much easier).
- Pour mixture into blind-baked crust, and bake for 15 minutes at 220 C. Then reduce the temperature to 175 and bake for another 40 minutes.
- 8 average sized apples (cooking apples are recommended though since these can be quite big, 4-5 will probably do)
- 1/4 C flour
- 1/2 C light brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 Tbs butter
- 1/3 C almond-flavored liquor
- Peel and slice the apples into thick chunks (about 1/2 inch in width).
- Place sliced apples in a bowl, into which you'll add the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Sire well and allow to sit for 1/2 hour.
- Heat the butter in a frying pan, and add in the apple slices and any of the juices from the bowl.
- Add the liquor, and sautee for 3-5 minutes until the liquid has thickened a bit. The apples shouldn't begin to soften, the ingredients should simply come together and create something of a syrup.
- Place into the pie tin with the blind-baked crust. Cover with another layer of rolled-out pastry, and cinch the top and bottom crusts together by folding the top edge under the bottom and creating the fluted-type pattern with your fingers as seen above.
- Cut a hole into the top crust, making it seasonally decorative (such as a leaf or a turkey).
- Brush the crust with milk or a beaten egg.
- Bake for around 45 minutes at 175 C, taking care not to let the edges of the crust burn (if the edges do start browning too quickly, cover them in foil).