Thursday, September 2, 2010

Growing stuff

I have eleven (11!) tomato plants on my balcony. There are white ones, yellow ones, green and red ones, pink, orange and even black ones. Some are big, some are small, some are the shape of dates, some are very round and others very long. Two of them are striped. A couple of them I grew from seed, but I couldn't help myself when we went on our yearly visit to Gartneri Toftegaard, so some of them came into this home as wee little baby-plants. They've grown, they're producing like crazy (as in big bowlfuls, everyday) and I love it. I loved that I've nursed them all through spring and summer, trimmed the little side shots and the crazy leaves, schlepped water from downstairs so they could have their drinks, fed them, talked to them, moved them around so the sun wasn't too harsh on their delicate leaves or so that they didn't drown in the August downpours. Tomatoes are like gold.

But they are not the only thing growing in this house.

When I got pregnant, I promised myself I wasn't going to turn this into a mommy-blog. I like being a mom - I may even go so far as to say I love being a mom. I like reading about other people being mom's. I just thought no, this is a FOOD blog, my food blog. Not a baby blog.

But then. There had to be a but. I am a mom. I've become a mom. Being a mom is what I do these days, it's what I've done for the past ten months. It's what I eat, read, and (don't) sleep. It fills up my thoughts, takes up my time, even fills up my kitchen, with it's sippy cups and plastic spoons and pureed foods and high chairs. It's just like that - he's everywhere. While I do blog about food, my blog would be nothing without the stories I tell about myself, my family, my life, my everyday and my past. My future. This blog is about food, indeed, but in essence, it's about me. My thoughts, my food and thoughts. And if there's one thing on my mind these days, these past months, it's him. He's called Charlie.

He was born on a pretty non-assuming grey Tuesday, a couple of hours past noon. In the evening he was welcomed into the world by an entourage of family members and friends who joined us at the hospital. My dad - the proud granddad - arrived with a briefcase full of champagne and crystal champagne glasses and silver trays of kransekage. Everyone toasted and smiled and cried happy tears and the little one slept through it all, safe in the arms of people that already loved him.

The growing up whizzes by faster than anything you can imagine. Everyone told us it would, but it's unreal. He eats now, proper food, like the rest of us. Strawberries was a favorite for a while. If he's on my arm when there are rolls fresh out of the oven, he lunges forward to grab one, happily gnawing away on it, leaving crumbs in his trail. He loves sitting in his high chair when we cook, yelling at the pots and pans if they hiss too much, keeping a track on everything going on. He likes homemade pizza and tomato sauce from a spoon, meatballs and salmon and baked, peeled bell peppers. Cheese-sticks disappear within seconds, even those cut from really adult (i.e smelly) cheeses. The only thing I've sen him wrinkle his nose at so far has been anchoïade (and okay, the one time I tried feeding him something from a glass. He's already spoiled rotten ;)) He eats with gusto, and he eats a lot. It's a joy and I know he may outgrow it, but we'll deal with that if or when the day arrives.

It's crazy and it's hard. I've lost count of the hours I've spent worrying about his eating, or  his motor skills - or his sleep. Don't get me started on the sleeping. Is it enough? Is it at the right time of the day? Is he tired now? What about now? An hour ago? Why won't he sleep? It's a constant guessing game and sometimes it's hard to accept that the result of all of this worry and trying to do the best you can won't show for many, many years. And once it does, there's nothing you can do to change anything.

Then again, it's right there, the result. He's right here.

I called it hard. But those moments are forgotten the second  he looks at me with his big blue eyes. It's in the belly laughs and the small, chubby arms stretching towards me. It's in the middle of the night, when his cries settle as I hold him close and I rock him gently. It's in spying on him and his dad, when dad pretends to chew him up, and he giggles so hard he can hardly breathe. When he smiles and his forehead headbutts mine, because for some reason, this has become his way of showing affection, his way of saying: you're one of mine. I like you.

He's crawling. He's two months away from being a full year, and only two supporting fingers away from walking. He's growing. All we can do is watch. Maybe feed him a tomato or two.  Make sure he grows up well fed, you know.

And you may just find a word or two about him, and motherhood, and all that jazz around here in the future. I hope you can forgive me ;)

What to do with all those outstanding tomatoes? There's barely been a meal in August that didn't include a plain tomato salad with optional extra virgin olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. I've made panzanella, of course, and just popping them like candy works fine, too. But how about a proper dish, one that included other ingredients, but still would let the tomatoes shine in all their jewelery-like colors? This here is pretty great, and it works as a meal - one that's ridiculously fast and easy to do. Basically, it's vinegary fish, paired with sweet tomatoes. Kind of the same principles as in panzanella (the kind I did, anyways), and you could always add some croutons if you'd like. Capers would work, too, I'm sure. I actually added some fried leftover potatoes, 'cause they were there, in the fridge and needed using. It was very tasty. That's what I like these days. That's what I've always liked, come to think of it.

Red snapper with tomatoes, red onion, mint and parsley (barely adapted from Nikolaj Kirk: Fisk)
-Enough for 3 adults and one toddler

400 g. of red snapper filet without skin, cut into 2-3 cm/1 inch cubes. (The original recipe calls for wolf fish, but I'm guessing any firm-fleshed fish will do.)
A little all-purpose flour, salt and pepper
Neutral oil for frying (I used rapeseed (isn't that what you Americans call canola oil, btw?))
1 tablespoon apple vinegar - maybe a bit more
2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
salt and pepper
500 g. tomatoes (preferably a mix of colors and varieties), cut into wedges
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 red onion, finely sliced
Fresh mint and parsley, as much (or as little) as you'd like - chopped

Toss the fish cubes in a mix of flour, salt and pepper. Fry the fish in a little oil until done - it doesn't take long, maybe 2-3 minutes per side, so keep an eye on them. I fried mine in two batches as I wanted to make sure it got fried, and didn't boil. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle over the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add the sliced onions and minced garlic here too - they'll mellow a little in the vinegar. Toss and leave to step for 10-15 minutes, then add the tomatoes, mint and parsley. Taste to see if it needs more vinegar, salt or pepper. Toss again, then transfer to a nice platter or bowl and serve with freshly baked bread.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cupcakes and Blogs, with or without a reason

I wish I had more time.

I wish I had more inspiration. I wish that instead of a feeling of helplessness when stumbling upon a new foodblog, I was sure of my own voice in this weird, interactive community. That I felt like I had a place, that what I did was - is - something unique. There are days when I do, and then there are days where I feel like it doesn't matter one bit, because how is what I do different from what all the others do? And if it isn't different, why bother?

I wish I didn't feel like I had to make an excuse everytime I actually do put up a post. I wish it didn't bother me so much to have to type out recipes. This is a food blog - it kind of goes with the concept. I wish I didn't feel like I'm sometimes holding on to something that's already dead.

But in my mind, I'm still writing up posts and I'm still taking pictures. Granted, there are a lot more baby photos taking up space on my memory card these days, but every now and again, there's also a photo of  a roasting tray, full of the most amazing homegrown, differently colored tomatoes, ready for drying. Of perfect light green fresh lima beans, nestled in their cosy pods. Of a pretty cupcake and freshly baked bread.

And I think a lot about food. Still.

I'm afraid I sometimes kill my own posts before I start them, thinking: surely someone must have posted about this before. Then I go check my blog reader, and there they are. Three, four, five posts about the exact subject I was thinking about writing. Darn seasons. And that's only what's in my reader - I imagine there's a lot more out there I never hear or read about.

I wish I knew what it is that makes a good food blog. Actually, no. I wish I could stick to writing the things I think makes for good food blogging. Honest, enthusiastic stories, about food, revolving around food, stories that ends - or starts - with meals, or cakes, or disasters. Stories with humor. And actually, not necessarily stories that ends with recipes. I'll take passion, and warmth and personality over written instructions any day.

I wish I wasn't a follower. Sometimes, I wish I wasn't such a pleaser. Sometimes, I wish I followed my heart, and not my head so much. There are days when my self-editing makes me want to kick me in the butt.

I wish I had more cupcakes. Even though I'm not really sure I like cupcakes. But I make them, again and again, because they're pretty to look at. Because I can. And that's probably not the worst reason to bake. Or blog. Just because.

Vanilla cupcakes with rhubarb compote and cream cheese frosting
Recipe for cupcakes: via Cheryl - THE queen of cupcakes, in my opinion.
Rhubarb compote: cut rhubarb into 3 cm. bits, couple of spoonfuls of sugar poured over and mixed in, baked in a 180 degree Celsius oven for about half and hour. Leave to cool.
Cream cheese frosting: equal parts butter and Philadelphia (or other cream cheese) beaten together; lots and lots of icing sugar beaten in (roughly the same amount as the total amount of butter and Philadelphia)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

On Bread Baking Mojo

Walnut breads
How many bread bibles is it legal for one woman to own? Considering that I am an avid baker, who takespride in baking most of the bread we consume in this wee household, I take it there's still a limit. Two of the ones I have are even NAMED The Bread Bible, but are by different authors. One book I have two editions of, because, well... I didn't realize they were the same. Yet, even so, I managed to acquire one more of those babies - Meyers Bageri. It's Danish, it's gorgeous and I strongly recommend it.

Light rye bread

Every time I buy a bread book (or even a regular cookbook) I feel like it's more or less the same recipes that are in there. Obviously, it doesn't stop me from buying them. But there's your everyday wheat-type bread, a couple sourdoughs, some dark bread and then they end with a couple of yeasted cakes. Of course, they're not exactly the same in all the books, but they're cut from the same fabric. Often, I just end up using the same standard bread recipe I always use - one part coarse-type flour, one part tipo 00, 2 parts wheat. It's easy and reliable.

Emmerbrød - bread made from emmer, an old wheat-type

Does it feel too overwhelming, following a recipe I never tried before? Perhaps. I know that's how I sometimes feel with recipes for everyday meals, even though they may be no more time consuming than the things I make on a regular basis, and would bring something new! and exciting! to the table, which, I must admit, is desirable. Afterall, we can't live off mince, chicken and baked root vegetables all the time.

Brunsviger with marzipan, ohmygoshyoumusttrythis!

This book here, I felt was different. I'd been eyeing it in the shops for a while, and got it for a friends birthday present. I then proceeded to leaf through it the entire evening (what company I am!) Yes, there's still all of your standard fare, but there was something more. The photos are pretty, text good and thorough - but not overly lecturing - and something in it made me want to bake.

Pumpkin bread
 All of it.

Apple muffins with fresh cardamom - it really does make a difference

The breads are wow, even without the baking stone they keep telling me to use. Since I got it, I've baked several new breads, a yeasted cake, apple muffins - I even raised a sourdough! I guees that's all the proof you need - it made me want to bake again. It made me try a new way of kneading, and had me browsing the internet for bread baking techniques and (ooops!) had me searching for a new mixer (yes, I love my Kitchen Aid mixer, but it sadly isn't strong enough for the type of bread doughs I'd like to make) On my way, I found a new forum (The Fresh Loaf, anyone? It's a veritable treasure trove of all good things bread) and plain and simply, I think this book helped me get my bread baking mojo back. Now, all I need is a new baking stone... And big, big sacks of flour!

Wheat bread, cold-proved

Bread books I own (some more used than others...):
Camilla Plum - Et Ordentligt Brød
Nanna Simonsen - Brød & Kager
Aurions Bagebog - Fremtidens Brød af Fortidens Korn
Hanne Riisgaard - Hjemmebagt
Linda Collister - The Bread Book
Rose Levy Beranbaum - The Bread Bible
Beth Hensperger - The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes
Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid - Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World
Dan Lepard - Baking With Passion: Exceptional Recipes for Real Breads, Cakes, and Pastries
Nancy Silverton - Breads from the La Brea Bakery: Recipes for the Connoisseur

What is your favorite bread book?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How to Celebrate with Chocolate Cake(s)

Pistachio Petit Four Cake - for my 31st. birthday

It seems like it was just yesterday M drove me to the hospital, one early morning. We thought we were just going for a scheduled check-up - but then again, some sort of something had started during the night, and I wasn't quite sure, is this contractions and am I...? Turned out, M missed his meeting. We never got the bring "the bag". Or park the car in the right place. It went fast, and out came one little wrinkly, dark-haired, big, fantastic baby boy.

And that's it. All of a sudden we were parents. A Mom and a Dad. Two days later, late in the evening, M drove the three of us back again. He's never driven that slow before either. A new family.

Mile-High Devil's Food Cake - for the Maternity Group

Oh my, oh me. People, it's been six months. That's half of an entire year. And my - our - baby boy is growing up so fast it's all we can do to try and keep up.

It's a whirlwind. It's crazy and amazing and breathtaking and scary as s***. It's huge, enormous even, it's taking over everything - taking up my time, my heart, my every thought. And it's all okay, it's as it should be. Somehow, it's all very natural.

At one point, I got back to thinking about food. Which, happily, coincided with getting time to cook - and bake - some, too. Also, it seemed the camera had been glued to a baby smile - taking photos of food again took some readjusting.

It's not that I believe you have to have excuses for baking a cake, but it seems that lately, there's been cause for celebration. Within the last couple of months, four three-layered chocolate cakes have come from my kitchen.

Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake - for the Babyshower

First, pre-baby: Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake. It was served at the babyshower my Mom and Sister threw me, and it was awesome. Even better the next day, if I may say so.

Then, a Pistachio Petit Four Cake for my 31st. birthday back in the middle of February. Ooooh, so pretty (and so expensive! Shelled pistachios cost an arm and a leg around here. But worth it)

Not long after that, I made a Mile-High Devil's Food Cake for my Maternity Group (we're 6 mothers and babies in total) because, you know, new mothers and chocolate cake go hand in hand, and motherhood should be celebrated! Also, we need chocolate, to make us forget the hours we don't sleep.

Last, but by no means least, one of my best friends is getting married in a couple of weeks and we threw her a "Hen's Afternoon" (instead of night - she's pregnant) which included a Chocolate-Hazelnut Gianduja Cake.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Gianduja Cake - for P's "Hen Afternoon"

There's always a reason for chocolate cake...

There may be a lot of my cookbooks I don't use regulary, but my copy of Sky High is just about to stick to the countertop! I'm not the first to have that happening - Deb from Smitten Kitchen is a die-hard fan, as is a whole host of people from The Cake Slice Bakers. So I'll take the liberty of linking to their write-up of a couple of the recipes, and just put my notes here - that way, you even get more people telling you to just go out and buy "Sky High - Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes" by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne, already! ;)

Pistachio Petit Four Cake - recipe link here (from Smitten Kitchen)

My notes:
  • I baked the layers the cakes the day before I assembled the cake
  • I used storebought marzipan and made the roses in the morning - it took a wee while longer than anticipated, so I may just leave them out another time, or start well ahead of time
  • Was I to make this cake again, I may just assemble it a day or even two in advance. It seemed the flavors gained from this, complementing each other much more so, than when just assembled.
  • I may just use bittersweet (not extra-bittersweet) chocolate in the frosting - I thought the chocolate nearly over-powered the taste of pistachios in the cake
Mile-High Devil's Food Cake - recipe link here (from A Whisk & A Spoon - at the bottom there's a link to a printable recipe)

My notes:
  • I thought the brown sugar buttercream waaaaaay to buttery, but seeing the photos from others who've made it, I'm thinking I must have done something wrong - mine looks nothing like theirs. Mine was more hard and grainy - maybe I didn't whip it enough? It was tasty, but sort of left a buttery film on the roof of your mouth - not the texture I was expecting. Could have something to do with me downsizing the measurements, too. Guess I have to give it another try
  • The cakes were baked in advance, sans problems. A really nice cake, just as is, as well
Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake - recipe link here (from Apple & Spice)

My notes:
  • Only make the frosting right before you need it. It's a pain to try and get the right texture again later on.
  • Cakes and white chocolate mousee could easily be made a day in advance
And, finally, here's the:

Chocolate-Hazelnut Gianduja Cake

For the cake:
½ c. hazelnuts
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 1/3 c. cake flour
1 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
6 eggs, separated
3 T. hazelnut oil
1/3 c. water
1/4 t. cream of tartar

For the vanilla syrup
1/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. water
half a vanilla bean

For the frosting
8 oz. gianduja chocolate, coarsely chopped
2½ c. heavy cream

Spread out the hazelnuts in a small baking pan. Toast them in a 350 degrees F preheated oven for 7-10 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. When done, put them in a tea towel and rub of the skins. Allow to cool. Set half aside for garnish. Leave the oven on for the cakes.

Line the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with rounds of parchment paper - do not grease the pans.

Place 1/4 c. of the toasted nuts in the bowl of a food processor with 1 c. of the sugar. Pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl, and sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the nuts. Stir and then, using a whisk, blend in the egg yolks, hazelnut oil and water.

Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large mixing bowl and with the mixer on medium, whip until frothy. Add the remaining 1/4 c. sugar in a slow, steady stream and beat until soft peaks form (you don't want stiff peaks, as that will make the cake dry)

Add one fourth of the egg whites to the batter, folding them in gently. Fold in the rest of the egg whites and divide the batter among the three prepared pans. (I only have two pans that are the right size, so I leave the last third of the batter in the fridge until the first batch has cooled and is removed from the pans. It's a tip the authors give in the start of the book, and I haven't noticed any difference in the finished product when doing this.) Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans, then run a blunt knife around the edge of the cake and turn them out onto a wire rack. Peel of papers.

Combine sugar, water and the scraped out seeds of the vanilla bean in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to 2/3 c, then remove from the heat. Cool completely before using.

Melt the chocolate and 1/2 c. of the cream in a double boiler (or as I did, in the microwave) remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Let cool to room temperature, but do not allow to set. (I melted the chocolate with the cream, then stirred in Nutella, and things started looking a little grainy. It didn't affect the end result though.
Whip the rest of the cream until almost stiff, the fold into the chocolate. Use frosting immediately.

Assembling the cake:
Place one layer, flat side up on the dish you want to serve it on. Brush about 3 tablespoons of the syrup over the layer. Spread 1 cup of frosting on top of this, then repeat with the next layer. For the third and final layer, moisten with remaining syrup. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the frosting and decorate with reserved hazelnuts.

My notes
  • Again, baked the cakes in advance
  • It was impossible for me to get a hold of gianduja chocolate - so why make the cake in the first place? you may ask - well, I wanted to. So I figured I'd just use 1/3 (weight) Nutella in the frosting and that way get some hazelnutty goodness. Hm. I don't remember having tried gianduja chocolate, so it wouldn't be fair of me to say whether my substitution ended up anything like the real thing, but it didn't taste remotely like hazelnuts. Next time, I may try using nougat (the Danish kind is sort of like a paste) instead. Or find the real chocolate
  • Assembled the cake and went off to the shindig - the frosting is like chocolate mousse, so I definitely wouldn't want to make it too long before using it, but it kept up beautifully
More cake photos? See my Flickr set here