Monday, May 24, 2010

A lovely day

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I woke up smiling this morning. It was rather early, the sun was up, birds were singing and I was surrounded by this mesmerizing lush green as far as the eye could see. Early summer bliss in the middle of the city. Very very quiet. For you see, it's a holiday today. The first long weekend of the season. And city folk are rejoicing, you might say. Some went to cottage country, some went camping while others chose to stay put and enjoy the peaceful pace of the first holiday Monday. I belong to the latter category. Just lying here on a checkered blanket, reading a very old edition of The Dickens Digest, "four great Dickens masterpieces written for the modern reader" it says. I bought it at a yard sale not long ago. As I open the book I find an inscription written on the very first page: "From Frank Whitmore, Christmas 1943." It was someone's Christmas present during the Second World War. That makes it all the more special to me. I am going to escape today. To another world. Then maybe take a nap al fresco. My favourite. Don't even have plans for cooking. Some cool garden pea salad with feta and yogurt will do. And maybe some minty lemonade to wash it down.
Breakfast was simple and comforting as well. Some rather robust stalks of rhubarb have crossed my way the other day. So I made some stewed rhubarb and strawberry jam to go with my semolina porridge for breakfast. Utterly delicious, if I do say so myself.

Semolina porridge with strawberry rhubarb jam

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup of honey
60 g semolina
20 g butter
slivered pistachios to serve

For stewed rhubarb preheat oven to 325 F. Add about 400 g rhubarb (cleaned and cut into 2 cm pieces), 3/4 cup of brown sugar and 2 cinnamon quills to a baking dish. Mix it all together, cover the dish with foil and bake for about 1 hour. Remove dish from the oven. Let it cool a little. Transfer stewed rhubarb to a pan. Discard cinnamon quills. Add 2 cups of strawberries and sugar to taste. Quickly boil for a few minutes, until strawberries have broken up and given the jam a wonderful rich pink colour. Cool.

Combine milk, vanilla, lemon zest, honey in a bowl. Bring mixture to a boil. Add semolina in a steady stream and cook until thick, about 10 minutes. Add the butter and stir until melted. Transfer porridge to 4 individual bowls ans serve with strawberry rhubarb jam and pistachios scattered on top.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Playin' around

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Yeast and I have had somewhat of a roller coaster relationship throughout the years. As a rebellious cook/teenager, I avoided any recipe that even mentioned the dreaded Y word. Same goes for gelatin.
Needless to say my first endeavour into this (for me) uncharted territory was a disaster of epic proportions. What can I say? I was 15, it was Saturday, and I felt adventurous. Enter an old recipe for cheese danish with raisins. I had fresh yeast on hand, lots of it. So I though, why not?
Thick headed that I am, I was adamant about not needing any help whatsoever. Baaad idea. On the first try the yeast wouldn't rise. No problem, had lots more where it came from. Second try, just as bad. I had the windows open, there was a major drought in the house. But the recipe didn't mention anything about the precarious working relationship of yeast and drought. Thus, not my fault! Finally, on the third try, yeast + sugar + warm water rose beautifully. I was in business! Or so I thought. I put all the ingredients in my large ceramic bowl, mixed it all together, worked the lovely vanilla scented dough into a shiny, springy little ball of beauty. I felt really proud. I covered the dough and let it rise while practicing my "see, I told you I could do this by myself" speech. And then I waited. And waited. And waited some more. But even after two hours the dough wouldn't rise. After three hours and much consideration I concluded that it has risen. A little. A tiny bit. And it still smelled wonderful. Plus I already made the filling. The creamiest cottage cheese from my grandmother' own cremerie, kirsh soaked plump raisins and vanilla sugar. So I rolled out the dough, cut it in squares, filled it with big spoonfuls of cheese and formed the adorable tiny purses. They were a marvel to look at. At this point I was convinced that this achievement was going to be the pinnacle of my blossoming culinary career. To backtrack, I had had some considerable cooking success before that day. My chocolate sour cream ice cream and my potato salads were famous. I mean, really. With my entire family, all three of them.
Next I placed my baking sheet of danishes in the oven and anxiously waited for the final result. I had my serving trays all prepared with doilies and all. The whole house smelled wonderful.
After 30 minutes, the recommended baking time, I went to check on my work. I wish I hadn't. The dough had not risen at all and all the cheese filling was seeping out of the little pockets, forming charred crusty little pools on both the baking sheet and the oven floor.
It took me five years to even look at a recipe with yeast again.
Since that time many a yeasty recipes have found their way to my kitchen, with various degrees of success. I got bolder and no yeasty recipe is ever going to scare me again! But seriously, no two recipes ever come out exactly the same. Is it just me? Am I doing something wrong?
I'm on a quest to make the perfect brioche. Fluffy, light, not to buttery or crumbly or dry and definitely not one that requires 7 eggs for 2 cups of flour!
I know a lot depends on the quality of your flour, your eggs and even the room temperature. I've done my research and the consensus seems to be that fresh yeast is superior to that of the dried kind. But these days fresh yeast is not widely available.
And it's a little scary, too. And then there's the instant kind, which I never used nor do I have any desire to use in the future.
If you get the best results by letting your dough rise slowly, what exactly is the point of instant yeast? What's the hurry?


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This past weekend I was craving the satisfaction that comes from working with soft yeasty dough with your bear hands. So I made these walnut buns, using Nigella Lawson's Norwegian Cinnamon buns recipe for the dough. I halved the recipe, since
using 4 cups of flour for two people seemed a tad to much. For the filling I used 1 stick of butter mixed with 1 cup of ground walnuts and some vanilla sugar. Should you wish to give this walnut version a try, you could also use this recipe (for the dough), one of my favourites and on regular rotation in our kitchen. The walnut cream knocks it out of the ball park, so you might want to try it. You can bake them in muffin tins, or just spread the filling on the dough, roll up, cut it up in 1 1/2" coins and bake them as you would cookies, placing them 2 inches apart on your cookie sheet. I baked the second half in these cute little tins I bought in Tokyo, along with a bunch of other tins and moulds that I have yet to figure out how to use.
Happy baking! As for me I'm right back to the drawing board. I still have a lot to learn. Another day, another stubborn recipe: caramel roll ups with fennel seeds. And yeast, of course. I'll keep you posted. Later,(in my life) I might even consider making homemade bread. Real bread. With crunchy, thick crust. Just like the ones they make in Paris. Whit natural starter or old dough. Check out the brilliance here.
In the meantime any yeast related tips, suggestions are more then welcome.