Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes, made in a flash (and even faster when you're just watching!)



Sometimes, my Man is amazing. Wait, allow me to correct that - he's always amazing. But sometimes he outdoes himself. Like on a cold, cold December night he'd been working and I'd been sitting in front of the heater, studying for my exam, and he came home and started making me cupcakes. Martin never bakes, I should probably mention. But with Nigella in one hand and me coaching from the little table in the kitchen - as if he wouldn't have known what to do without either!:-P - he made these wonderful little numbers, Chocolate-Cherry Cupcakes.

I'm still studying for that exam. For some reason (maybe it's still the perfection thing??) I chose to walk out from the what-was-to-be a six hour written exam after half an hour. I get a second chance in a couple of weeks (luckily!) but just know that that is one of the reasons posts might go a little short and sweet for a while around here... Well, that and I seem to have collected an enourmous amount of pictures of food that I think I need to get posted before I forget what they are!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Art?



- this is what leaving a 2,5 kg. bag of chocolate buttons close to the heater will get you - just in case you were wondering...;-)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Home is where the Heart is - and if Homemade Bread's there too, that's nice!



I'm bad. There I go, leaving y'all with nothing - NOTHING! - for an entire week - again! But you see, it is not for of lack of "want", nor is it too much "must do" or need of perfection that 'causes me to not post so much at the moment. It's only because of - yet another - darn exam. And the other thing. Oh yes, the other thing is taking up quite an amount of my time as well. I'll get back to the other thing.

Anyways: don't you just love the smell of freshly baked bread? I know I do. For some reason, I've never been afraid of the whole yeast/too much cold/draft thing. I used recipes, I measured flour, water, yeast, salt - I kneaded, proved, knocked back, shaped, proved again - baked. Not thinking too much about it, just doing it. I used to bake around a hundred rolls every morning back when I ran a canteen, not giving it much thought.

But I don't think I ever really understood what it was all about, before I started baking all of the bread I eat at home myself. It was back when Martin and I lived in London, and there was no way of getting a decent loaf of bread unless you wanted to pay an arm and a leg for it. So, browsing the piles of cookbooks on sale in Selfridges I found Linda Collister's The Bread Book. And I think it's safe to say it was nothing short of a revelation to me.

I mean, before that I'd learned as much as: yeast is a kind of small cells that walks around in the dough, eating little bits of flour and farting, hence making everything rise (is that too cute an explanation or what??) and that you really shouldn't use liquid that was too warm, or too cold - but the whole thing about the dough being alive, or proving it in a hot versus a cold environment, or adjusting the amount of yeast - I had no idea. Linda's book was read from one end to the other. At first, I thought that proving a dough for 2 hours was just plain ridiculous - I was used to a maximum of half an hour - and, well, half a ton of yeast more than what Linda suggested. But I did as I was told. And I haven't looked back since.

Or, wait, that's a slight exaggeration. For a year or so, I baked a lot. Sour doughs, rye bread, rolls - you name it. And I still bake every now and again, but it's not like it used to be. Now, we rely heavily on Emmerys. They make wonderful bread, but the thing is - it doesn't come with the smell. Sure, if you poke your nose deep enough in the brown paper bag, you'll get an idea of it - but it really isn't the same.

So - I would promise myself to bake more bread this year. I would. It's not that hard, and I've become pretty confident about changing all sorts of recipes to fit my temper - some days I do have hours and hours to wait for something to prove, at other times it's just easier to scoot everything into the fridge and let it take care of itself in there, then get back to it the next day. I would do it.

I can even prove, that sometimes, I do do it. Sometimes home is where homemade bread is - especially if it's this kind of bread.

Grandma Bread or Mormorbrød - courtesy of Camilla Plum

This is a bread that's just a touch more special than a plain white because of the use of milk, butter and eggs. Not rich like a challah, but somewhere in between challah and plain white, I'd say.

30 g. fresh yeast (if you want to leave the dough in the fridge overnight to prove, use only 5-10 grams)
200 ml. tepid milk
1 egg
100 ml. melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
500 g. flour

Dissolve the yeast in the tepid milk. Add the egg, butter, sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve. Add 3/4 of the flour, kneading as you do so. Keep kneading for about 10 minutes - add the rest of the flour if necessary. Leave the dough to prove for a couple of hours (about 2 hours if you're on the full amount of yeast - you could confidently leave it in the fridge to rise for 6 hours, on the smaller amount of yeast)

Knock back the dough and shape into a loaf. I usually use a bread pan, but you could also bake it free form. Leave to rise for 1 hour (perhaps a bit longer if it's straight out of the fridge) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes. Enjoy the smell of freshly baked bread.

- And yet. I hope my home is not defined by where I bake my bread. Because it's not being done as much as it should, and well, it's not going to change for a while - not in this home, anyways. You see, getting back to "The Other Thing".

No, I'm NOT pregnant! No, no, this is something I have to do BEFORE I get pregnant - and I'm not planning on getting pregnant anytime soon, but really - should we just stop with all of the pregnancy talk now?? Okay. Good.

Martin and I have been - NO, we're NOT getting married either! C'mon. It's way more down to earth than that. Or actually, there'll be flying involved. And driving by car. Lots of driving. And no real home, no our home, for a while.

On March the 1st., or somewhere around that date anyways, Martin and I are going to pack our bags, empty our bank accounts, take our hearts (and not so much homemade bread) and fly to Miami, Florida, buy a car - and go on a roadtrip across USA. We've been talking about doing this since this summer, then came the move and school and all sorts of distracting stuff, but now - NOW - oh wait, now there's an exam, hovering above my head. Argh.

So I'm asking for your help here. I need help, hints, plans, ideas, suggestions - everything! I'm dying to plan more of what we're going to do, but "research" these days means shoving my head deeper into the medical books, NOT surfing the internet. We have at least a TON of questions, some of them in the "F-U-N" category, and some of them more related to insurances/buying cars etc. But I thought I'd start by asking you all the most basic of basic questions:

Where should we go?? Why should we go there? Should we come see you and maybe try your homemade bread;-)? Okay, okay, it doesn't have to involve you baking bread, but there's no doubt I'd love to meet as many of you as possible along our way!

Feel free to use the comment section or drop me an e-mail - I can't wait to hear your suggestions!

Friday, January 6, 2006

Striving for Perfection, with Panna Cotta & Pomegranates



A couple of weeks or so ago, a very wise woman told me something important. She told me that sometimes, you can get so afraid of not doing things perfectly, that you end up doing nothing at all.

I never thought of this before. I like to believe that I'm human. I make mistakes - I'm not proud of them, but I try to learn from them. I'm notoriously messy, I can't be bothered to vacuum before I have guests over, they'll dirty the place anyways, and well - the dishes have been known to wait for a couple of days, or even a week, before I get round to them. I do like organizing - the spice drawer, the sock drawer. I make scrapbooks. In school, I take notes using mind maps. Sometimes, the dinners I throw are planned down to the tiniest detail and I've done long lists taking every possible outcome into consideration - what glasses to use, what herb to top a dish with - and at other times, I forget to buy half of the groceries I need.

Still, deep down, despite all these thing - I guess I have to admit that I am a perfectionist, when it comes to some things. I guess one could say I do strive for perfection. And I think that that fact is a major limit to what I can do - or at least, a limit to the things I actually want to do and do do.

Like blogging. My conscience is black, black, black, for not having blogged at all for the past month, and then some - I know, I didn't blog that much before either, but NOTHING? Surely, I've been eating??

And I don't want to go all whinny and apologetic, because it's my blog and I can do whatever I want to with it (or in this case, not do anything at all!) But the thing is, I don't want to not blog. I don't want to stop doing this, out of fear of not doing it perfectly.

Foodblogging for me is a life confirming activity. It manages to meld together some of the things I love the most: food, writing, photography and meeting new people. It helps me to remember to appreciate these things, to treasure them. It makes me happy. So you could say I blog out of purely egoistic reasons. That just makes it even more ludicrous to be held up with this idea of me letting someone down when I don't put up posts. Only I suppose I am letting someone down - myself. Not necessarily because I'm not writing 7 posts a week, but because I fail to remind myself of the things that are important to me - one among many of them definitely being this.

I think my lack of posting lately has a tiny bit to do with a sudden feeling of blogging having to be perfect. Or, let's say - unique. A slight feeling of pressure to produce posts that are special, and not just a statement of this and that ingredient, blended in this and that way, baked in a so and so warm oven. But who decides what "perfect" food blogging is? Among all the other things, what I like about food blogging is that there are no judges. There might be favorites, nominations and book contracts signed, and there's a general consensus that well, food is a major subject. But other than that, you're free to do as you wish.

I think I forgot that. I think I forgot that "perfection" isn't the goal. Having fun is. So I'm going to stop feeling bad about not blogging when I don't, and just enjoy the times that I do. Not worry so much about it, about it having to fit my own, or someone else's definition of perfect. Just like I didn't worry to much about these.

Panna Cotta with Pomegranates

As it was, I actually wanted to do a pomegranate jelly to put on top of the panna cotta, but time and such had me opting for the easier version of just spooning the seeds on top, providing a nice textural crunch. Just goes to show that really, it isn't about things being perfect, or as you had planned - improvising and doing what seems right can be just as good.

For 8 small tumblers of velvety smooth panna cotta:

0,75 L whipping cream
4 gelatin sheets (soaked. You could experiment on the amount here, I'll try it with three sheets the next time I do them)
150 ml sugar (1,5 dl)
Seeds of 3 vanilla beans

Seeds of 2 pomegranates

Whisk together the cream, sugar and vanilla bean seeds in a pan. Bring to the boil and let simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool for a bit. Gently wring the water from the gelatin leaves, then dissolve them in the hot cream. Strain the cream through a sieve into the tumblers. Put in the fridge for a couple of hours, to shapen up. Decorate with the seeds from the pomegranates.

And woe and behold, I might not be able to do the things I set out to do - but other people do, and do it so well! Go Nicky and Oliver!;-)

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Happy 2006!



Here's wishing y'all a very happy new year! I know it's awfully quiet around here at the moment, but life's being a b**** and trying to slap her around and get her to be nice again isn't really working for me!;-)

Hopefully there'll be time for blogging again soon. Meanwhile, start enjoying the 365 fresh and sparkly new days you've just been given - I know I intend to!