Monthly Archives: May 2012

Small Things Big Joy

The question I always tend to ask myself before baking something is: would I eat this if I was offered it? This stems from back in the day when I found myself making things because they looked pretty in the magazine but that didn’t ‘really’ appeal to me, in terms of ingredients. It’s these types of pitfalls of experimenting we sometimes fall into, especially if you are on the first try of a dish and you are doubtful to begin with about it’s taste. Another one of those pitfalls is the ‘how hard can it be’ thought and ‘this looks fancy, must be delicious’.  I’m not afraid to admit that I’m easily charmed by nice pictures for example, there is something about a lovely glossy piece of fruit or meat that gives an instant gratifying feeling and you wish to extend that feeling as long as possible by making the meal as soon as possible.

One thing that has never disappointed me is chocolate. It’s the (sometimes) solid brown or white rock that I can always count on to taste just as delicious as I imagined it. In any shape or form it has always delivered on it’s promise. Till this day I have yet to taste chocolate, melted or otherwise, that was not good.

While tinkering in the kitchen on a batch of cupcakes as a gift for a friend I decided I would try out the mother of gruesome chocolate-y tasks: tempering my own chocolate for decorations. I wanted to make letters to spell out her name and after watching about a dozen YouTube videos on the subject I was confident, only a little, that I could pull it off. With no candy thermometer on hand ( or any thermometer at all really ) I worked my way through 2 bars of 250 grams of chocolate. In the end I managed to make the chocolate do what I wanted and the result was exactly as I hoped: sweet, delicious chocolate that snapped properly and looked lovely. The wasted chocolate was a small price to pay for this success, and even if my first decorations were quite small they brought plenty of joy that cannot be found in a packet in a store.


Eternal Sweet Struggle

My love for sweet foods and desserts really has no bounds, sadly sometimes that love is unrequited.  I once managed to make my whipped cream into a nice pile of butter ( it was actually pretty good but obviously I needed the cream more than the butter). Sponge cakes where never a breeze until I found a recipe that managed to produce THE best sponge ever and after that my luck seemed to change, I manage every cake recipe now. Before I could make crepes there has been a lot of batter wasted and eventually I managed even that, including the flip in the pan.

I have a love/hate relationship with meringues: I love to eat them and they hate me with a passion. It’s a swing or a miss situation with them, every single time. Logically speaking I probably had a lot of mishaps with wrong eggs, wrong temperatures and wrong utensils. But in the back of my head I started considering other options when another batch of Pavlova or meringues failed. Obviously there was a weekly meeting in Meringue Land where they would collectively decide that person A would have great ones this week, person B would see theirs collapse and person C will have burned ones. I would picture the little meringues sitting around a table discussing the fate of mine while giggling in an evil high-pitched tone. Frankly, without this vision, I probably would have given up on them a long time ago.

It should be one of the easiest things to make, with only 2 ingredients: 3 egg whites and 150 grams of  fine caster sugar. I always add the juice of half a lemon in the mix also, seems to work  great in making the whites stiff and glossy. Also important, bowl and utensils should be crisp clean without any residue, fat or water. Great way to achieve this is to use the same lemon to coat the bowl and your whisks. And after that it’s simply a matter of whisking the egg whites to soft peaks, adding a spoon of sugar at a time and keep mixing until the whites are stiff and shiny. I usually whisk until the sugar is dissolved before adding the next spoonful and always end up with a smooth meringue. You can test if its smooth enough by rubbing a drop between your fingers, if you can still feel grains of sugar you better keep on whisking. After that there is not much that can go wrong anymore, bake the meringue in a 100 C oven for 2 hours and they are ready. Today I have chosen the simple approach of whipping up some cream with blueberries and just filling my meringue circle. I would say it was a breeze but I would be lying to you and to myself.

Easy Does It

When discussing food in a group of friends I’m always the first to admit that my no-nonsense approach to cooking is hardly the ‘right’ way to work. I admire people that can create elaborate meals that are a joy to eat, but I have a bigger admiration for people that can create elaborate meals without a nervous breakdown in the process. It probably has to do with my upbringing: my mother took great pride in her cooking but was seemingly allergic to following recipes. To be fair, her taste buds are trained and she has infinite patience, which I both lack. Growing up I saw her taste and toss ingredients while cooking and she never broke into a nervous sweat on any occasion, be it for Christmas, birthdays or dinner parties. I was quite aware I had pretty big shoes pots to fill.

As the years went by and I started a family of my own I found myself looking for shortcuts in recipes, debating replacing a difficult ingredient with a simpler one and pretty much trying out whatever I could to avoid stress behind my stove. I haven’t mastered the art of substitution quite yet but I did achieve to keep my outlook on food exciting and fun. Cooking is not a chore for me, and never will be, the prospect of a gratifying feeling and a nice dish in sight keeps my sanity intact.

Today I had very little time and found no breadcrumbs anywhere in my pantry. This resulted in my assaulting a packed of crackers that I did have and seasoning them generously with some dried rosemary, parsley, salt and pepper. I coated my chicken for lunch with it and had enough left to store for a later time, and other meats. It was delicious and may even replace the breadcrumbs in some dishes. Placed on some baby spinach leaves with a dressing of white wine, olive oil, fresh rosemary, mayo and garlic it was the perfect lunch for an busy day.