Monday, 15 June 2015

Trendy

The photo looks very sparse and severe but these blondies weren't at all.


I tend to be a bit late with getting on board with trends. Perhaps because I don't watch television or listen to the radio, I'm less exposed to advertising and general pop culture hype. I don't think I miss out on much but just today I finally caught on to a trend that I am a bit miffed for being to late for. 


I made caramelised white chocolate for the first time and I'm enamoured. Unlike its Maillard Reaction cousins brown butter or salted caramel, it can be served straight without seeming excessively rich nor cloyingly sweet. It's a flavour that one can swirl through brownies and drape on top of caked without feeling ridiculous, like I did the time I made browned butter-salted caramel ice cream and realised that I was pouring melted butter into ice cream. It's a homemade substitute for butterscotch chips. It fills the kitchen with the most intoxicating of scents.

I found the technique for making it a bit fiddly but it is mostly my fault for using baking paper (which slides around) rather than a silicone sheet. Other than that, all that is required to turn boring old white chocolate into its luscious caramelised counterpart is an oven turned low and some time.

The method for making caramelised white chocolate are set out in beautiful detail here by Joe Pastry. And below are my notes from making it for the first time.

1. Use real white chocolate with a cocoa butter content of around 30% or more. 
2. I added 2 tablespoons of coconut butter to ensure that the chocolate melted smoothly. 
3.The completed product will be the colour of peanut butter and although it may be a bit lumpy coming out of the oven, this will even out with some gentle stirring and the residual heat of the baking pan. 
4. Caramelised white chocolate can be used in liquid form to drizzle or turn into ganache, or cooled, chopped into pieces and used like chocolate chips.

The first place I used my freshly made batch of caramelised chocolate was as a swirl through a pan of blondies while the chocolate was still warm and liquid. The swirls were a bit difficult to see in the finished product but lent a rounded, butterscotch flavour. When combined with gooey banana-scented batter and crunchy toasted pecans, the humble blondie is elevated to the level of A Food Experience. Not bad for about 10 minutes-worth of pottering around the kitchen!

Banana-pecan blondies with caramelised white chocolate swirl
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

113g butter, melted
160g brown sugar (I decreased this from the original amount as both the banana and chocolate add sweetness)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8tsp salt
1c plain flour

1/2c mashed ripe banana
1/2c pecans, chopped and toasted
3 Tablespoons of caramelised white chocolate, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line a 20cm square pan with baking paper.
2. Stir the melted butter and sugar together until smooth, then beat in the egg, vanilla, banana and salt.
3. Add the flour and stir until no traces of it remain. Stir in the pecans.
4. Pour the batter into the pan and drizzle the white chocolate over the top, use a skewer or chopstick to create swirls.
5. Bake for 18-22 minutes - the centre should be set.
6. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. These are killer when served warm with vanilla ice cream and an extra drizzle of caramelised white chocolate.

PS.
I signed up to receive weekday lunches from Eat My Lunch from this week. This is a social enterprise that allows customers to give one lunch for every one that they buy. The second lunch goes to a primary school-aged child who would not have a lunch otherwise. 

This is a picture of my lunch from today: 

A beef and vegetable wrap, mandarin, boysenberry(?) yogurt, cucumber and grape tomato and shortbread cookies for dessert.


Everything was fresh and crisp, and the knowledge that a child somewhere across town was enjoying their lunch too made it all taste even better. I know that $10 for lunch is more than some budgets allow for but if it is just a matter of what you are going to have for lunch, this is a fantastic premise and the fact that Michael Meredith (my favourite chef in Auckland by light years) is part of the team behind it is awesome. They only operate within Auckland at the moment, please visit the website if you are interested.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Chya/Chiya/Chai




Back in the summer, at the very gathering where I debuted this banana cake, was the first time I had homemade Nepali spiced tea. The tea was made by the hostess who had spent many years in Nepal doing missionary work, she talked us through the brewing process and even in the relative warmth of late summer, the fragrances brought about by its preparation made the house feel especially cosy and inviting.

Known as chya/chiya/chai, the Nepali spiced tea that I was introduced to has a few distinct characteristics:

  • It is made with a half-milk-half-water mixture
  • You can use whichever warm spices you have on hand but cardamon is a must
  • It is brewed using tea powder or leaves rather than bags
Now that the temperatures have dropped and the winter rains have arrived, I find myself brewing chiya with some regularity, it is warming and restorative and ideal for when a plain cup of tea or coffee just won't do. 

Of course, with a cup of steaming chiya in my hands, I can't help but think about the people of Nepal. The situation in the areas badly effected by the earthquake is still dire and factors such as poor sanitation and housing are expected to cause ongoing problems as time goes on. I have been donating to UNICEF mostly, and am considering making a regular monthly donation as way to offer ongoing help to their relief efforts. 

I realise that not everyone feels that they have enough to give - one way that was able to informally fundraise was by asking a group of friends who I was meeting for dinner if they would mind eating at a slightly less expensive restaurant and donating $5-10 each to UNICEF. Together we raised $100 to donate, not bad for a spontaneous effort among a small group of people and hopefully it lead the way for the people involved to stay interested in the cause.


Below is a simple little recipe for warming and fragrant chiya. Here's hoping you will be warm this winter.

Chiya (spicy Nepali tea)
makes 2 servings

1c milk
1c water

Any of the following, although cardamon is recommended:
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
2-3 cloves
4-5 cardamon pods
2cm knob of ginger
2-3 black peppercorns

2tsp black tea leaves
1-2tsp sugar

1. Measure milk and water in a 2c capacity measuring cup and pour it into a small pot. Put the measuring cup to one side.
2. Add spices to the milk/water and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to med-low and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add sugar and tea and boil for 1 minute.
4. Pour tea back into the measuring cup through a tea strainer and divide into two cups.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Words


I choose recipes for all sorts of different reasons, it may be to use up a surplus ingredient, to try out a new technique or flavour combination, or because the accompanying images are far too pretty to resist. Because I find a lot of my recipes on food blogs, I occasionally come across a post were the words themselves are enough to have me in the kitchen tying up my apron. 

The words that accompanied recipe were just that kind of perfect. And although the flowing praises of how delightful the process and results of this recipe are were very tempting indeed, it was the Wednesday Chef's description of waking up early and quietly shuffling about in the kitchen making something spectacular for one's beloved that really resonated with me.



Of course the allure of puddles of chocolate, toasty nuts and warm, cloud-like bread, all held together by a deeply caramelised bun bottom in just over two hours does not detract from the appeal of the recipe at all, and a few weekends ago, on Mothers' Day, I found myself tracing Luisa's quiet steps into the kitchen to measure, mix, knead and shape my own pan of buns for breakfast. 

These buns are the baking equivalent of going to a spa. You will come out the other end healthier of mind and smelling amazing. There is so much to think about while hand-kneading bread dough and as you sip a cup of tea, watching the buns bronzing in the oven. The proving times are short thanks to the massive volume of yeast in the dough but there is no sign of that shortcut in the flavour of the finished product. 

I've made these buns twice, one with walnuts and once with almonds and both were lovely. Feel free to mix and match nuts and chocolate (I used my standby fairtrade 72% dark chocolate from Whittaker's). I think the zest of an orange added to the dough would be intoxicating. The only downside to making these is that you won't be able to stop making them.




I halved the recipe because our familiy of four can't eat 30 buns and baked them at 200 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes (my oven runs a bit hot).

The ideal treat for the many drizzly days that are headed our way. if you're feeling a bit forlorn, take some time for yourself (and your beloved) and have a go at these beautiful buns.

Chocolate-almond whirligig buns
adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe by way of the Wednesday Chef
makes 16 buns in a 20cm square tin

3 cups of all purpose flour
3.5Tb sugar
1/4tsp salt
3.5tsp of active dried yeast
3 3/4Tb butter
3/4c milk
1 egg

4 1/4Tb softened butter
1/2c sugar
1/3c chopped or slivered almonds
1/2 of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

milk for glaze

1. Heat the milk until it is just uncomfortable to touch then add the yeast. Leave for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, add the butter and stir until it has melted.

2. Place flour, sugar, salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Pour in milk mixture and add the egg and mix to form the dough. You may need a bit of extra milk or flour. Knead the dough until it springs back when gently prodded - usually 10-15 minutes by hand.

3. Cover the bowl and rest in a warm place until doubled in size (about 30 minutes). I usually switch off the microwave and put the bowl in there with a mug of boiling water for warmth.

4. Combine the second amount of butter and sugar for the filling.

5. Remove the dough from its resting place and knead it gently to deflate it. Empty the dough onto a clean, floured surface and roll it into a 20x40cm rectangle.

6. Spread the butter paste onto the dough, followed by a shower of nuts and chocolate. Roll the dough along the long side to form a 40cm sausage or cylinder. Cut into 16 pieces and place in a 20cm baking tray lined with baking paper.

7. Brush the buns with milk and cover and leave to rise in a warm place for another 20-30min, until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius during this time.

8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, if the buns are browning too quickly during the last 10 minutes, cover the tops with aluminium foil.

9. Cool the buns on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes. Best eaten within 2 days.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Happiness




A feeling that I have been having constantly throughout the past year, is doubt about whether it is appropriate for me to be putting effort into something as frivolous as a food blog while there is so much tragedy and heartbreak going on in the world. There are too many to name and they have come at the cost of so many human lives. I've always been the kind of person who is brought to tears by the news but it feels like there is more and more to cry about as I get older. Fortunately, my tendency towards Weltschmerz is counterbalanced by optimism about humanity. The kind of idealism that you can find in countless folk songs is genuinely a large part of the energy that drives me.

One word of caution that is often offered to me is to not go 'too deep' or care too much about what is happening around the world. It seems that for some people, the only possible response to current events is to become depressed. It's true that sometimes the pain of others is hard to bear, but I think that being able to empathise with those who are going through hardship makes you a stronger person. Being able to understand the injustice dealt to another person makes you brave on their behalf and being concerned about the welfare of someone on the other side of the world expands your capacity to love.

I don't think that ignorance or apathy is the best emotional defence against the ills of the world. I think that the realisation that our own well-being is lessened when another person is suffering, and acting upon this realisation is the key to finding happiness. So, in the midst of endless disasters and sadness, I do what makes you happy, with the knowledge that my happiness is intertwined with that of every other person.


On that note, I offer a simple recipe that made me very happy indeed. Fudgy cocoa brownies with swirls of peanut butter and puddles of jam.



A one-bowl, half-an-hour recipe for a little bit of happiness. Use fair trade and cruelty-free ingredients for extra happiness.

PB & J brownies
brownies based on this recipe

10Tb / 150g melted butter (I used coconut oil because we were out of butter and it was still tasty)
1c sugar 
3/4c and 3Tb / 65g cocoa powder 
1/4tsp sea salt
1/2tsp vanilla extract 
2 large eggs
1/2c / 65g plain flour
3Tb of jam (I used cherry), warmed so that it is liquid
3Tb peanut butter (I used an all-natural brand that was quite loose and flowing at room temperature, other brands might need to be warmed a little)

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Line a 20cm square baking tray with baking paper.
2. In a small pot, melt together butter, sugar, cocoa and salt over a low heat until the butter is melted. Use just enough heat to gently melt the butter and remove from heat.
3. Stir in vanilla and mix in the eggs one-by-one. Add the flour and stir to combine.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Drop spoonfuls of jam and peanut butter on top of the batter and drag a breadknife through the batter to add swirls.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, even if the middle feels slightly wet, the brownie will firm up as it cools.
6. Cool completely in the cake tin. Cut into 16 squares and store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days or in the fridge for 5 days.


Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Milkshake 'n' Honey

"Visa, Mastercard, discovered that I was spent
took my heart, my best jeans, and left me
with paying the rent
A user, abuser, a loser
but I didn't care
I've always been a guy with a sweet tooth
and that girl was just like a king-sized candy bar"
-From Milkshake 'n' Honey by Sleater-Kinney (All hands on the bad one, 2000)


Milkshake 'n' Honey, and the songs of Sleater-Kinney (SK for the fans) in general made up a large part of the soundtrack to my university days. I never had a chance to feel insecure about what I saw in fashion magazines because I was too busy scouring the Internet for scanned old zines and watching documentaries about riot grrrl. I played drums in a band and we chose not to have a bass guitar so that we could be more like our heroes. Having seen SK live is one of my favourite memories of those years.

A photo of Carrie from back then in all its grainy glory. At The Kings Arms.

I had already started baking back then but my technique was sorely lacking and I couldn't afford to buy decent quality ingredients which significantly limited what I could make. I couldn't afford ingredients because I spent all my money at the school pub and the record store. 

The song quoted at the start of this post inevitably sends me off on a tangent of dreaming about delicious things. I think it must be the evocative combination of milk and honey that does it, just like the contrast between Corin Tucker's drawling verses and Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss' too-cool-for-school delivery of the chorus. To me, the flavour of honey makes dairy products taste richer; actual milkshakes made with honey taste like they're made with cream (try milk, feijoa and honey and prepare to swoon), blue cheese and honey is a formidable duo, and this cheesecake that I made with honey and the honeyed sweetness of dried figs is delicious enough to be inhaled. 

This recipe takes minutes to make but elevates simple ingredients to new heights of delight. There are nuggets of dried fig in the crust that add an oddly addictive grittiness, and the filling is exclusively sweetened with honey for a well balanced sweetness and voluptuous mouth-feel. Not quite a king-sized candy bar but irresistible all the same.


Fig and honey cheesecake
made 15cm diameter mini-cake, double ingredients to make a 20cm cake

85g plain biscuit crumbs (I used coconut flavoured biscuits)
3 dried figs, diced
3Tb coconut oil, melted

200g cream cheese, room temperature
1c full cream
1tsp gelatine, soaked in 1Tb cold water for 10 minutes
4-5Tb honey (taste before adding the last tablespoons-worth)

dried figs, honey and whatever else you desire for decoration (I used violas, mint leaves and freeze-dried blackcurrants)

1. Line a baking tray with baking paper and place a 15cm ring mould or a removable-bottom cake tin with the base removed, at the centre of the tray.
2. Combine biscuit crumbs, figs and coconut oil and mix until all the crumbs are moistened. Press crumbs into the base of the ring/cake tin.
3. Place cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl and beat until smooth and homogenous. Add the cream in 3-4 additions, followed by honey, tasting as you go. Continue to beat until the mixture is thickened to a clotted cream/spreadable consistency.
4. Dissolve the soaked gelatin in 2tsp of boiling water. Stir until it is completely dissolved and beat into the cream mixture. Don't let the gelatin sit around for too long after adding the boiling water, as it may start to set.
5. Pour the filling into the mould, cover with plastic and chill for at least 6 hours.
6. To umould, I transfer the cake to a serving plate then use a hair dryer to heat up the edges of the cake before easing it out.
7. Decorate as desired.


Friday, 17 April 2015

April 17 2015

An image shared by a Facebook friend picturing the victims

Yesterday marked a year since the Sewol Ferry Disaster. I thought about posting but really it was too emotional a day to string many words together. Instead I spent a few hours holding a one-person demonstration in Aotea Square and just having a quiet day. 

Me, in Aotea Square yesterday. Photo taken by a friendly passerby.

The events of last night and today, what could be called the aftermath, were almost expected and yet frustrating and heartbreaking. After the memorial concert finished in Seoul Plaza, the families and 70,000 members of the public made their way to Gwanghwamun Plaza to pay their respects at the memorial tent, each carrying a white chrysanthemum, the traditional flower of mourning. The police blocked all the major footpaths to Gwanghwamun Plaza with buses and barricades, then proceeded to use force and pepper spray to prevent people from getting past them. 10 members of the public were taken into police custody. A group of bereaved parents and a number of university students ended up trapped by a ring of police, just outside of Gwanghwamun. 

The parents are still there. The police ring is too. Reports from social media accounts of those presents say that parents have not been allowed access to food, water or toilet facilities. Furthermore they state that the parents are currently having to make do, using a plastic box as a make-shift toilet, while police cameras film them. Amnesty International Korea has already condemned this as a violation of the parents' human rights, and rightly so.

It is so frustrating that the parents have to fight for their right to be heard, let alone be faced with this level of persecution from the State. All I can do from here is send my prayers and help spread their message. Below is the translated version of a statement that the parents trapped by the police released earlier today (pictured).


Appendix 3. A year since the Sewol Ferry Disaster, an appeal from the Sewol mothers and fathers after spending a night trapped in Gwanghwamun Plaza by the police

It has already been a year since I saw my son. I was headed from Seoul Plaza to Gwanghwamun with a flower in my hand, to see my son’s portrait but I was stopped by the police. I was let dumbfounded once again. Our son. It was the same feeling I had when the accident happened last year, I still don’t want to remember… I heard that the other parents were staging a sit-in on one side of Gwanghwamun Plaza, and with much trouble I managed to get past rows and rows of police to where the parents were. We had the help of some university students and the night passed. I had a lot of time to think while waiting for the dawn to break. Our child… Last April was extremely cold too. Our son. Our children. How cold and scared were they at the time of the accident? When I think about the children, just the thought of those rascals reduces this cold and this suffering to nothing at all. My beloved son, I miss you very much. This road may be long but as your mother I will walk down it.

When our rising fury forces us to go forth, they misconstrue it. When we look back at the past with a sense of longing, anger piles up in front of us. In the moment that we hesitate, unable to go forwards or backwards, the sorrows of our children are unending and the parents who should wipe away those tears don’t even have a chance to dab at their own before their hearts are broken yet again. In this broken heart, the fury, wailing and despair never cease and the blowing winds of deception only make things worse. I try to fight against the forces of evil but end up resenting myself for being so small and weak. But it’s what we have to do in order to be a bit less ashamed when we see our beautiful children again, in the future, in a better world. The sun will rise and fall on another day of anger, sorrow and remembrance. Citizens of the nation, please come and meet our families. Come together around this land. Let’s build a safer country and discover the truth of the Sewol together. Shouldn’t we create a better country to live in and pass down to our children?

Yesterday, on April 16, the President, no Park Geun-hye, deserted the nation, just like she buried our children at sea. We cannot tolerate this any longer. The person who claims to be the president of this country deserted the nation in its greatest moment of sadness and hardship. We will not recognise her as president. We cannot even recognise her as a member of the Republic of Korea. Please do not set foot on this land again. We revoke your citizenship.

We were everyday mothers and fathers, we have no power. We simply want to know why our precious children had to leave us in such a devastating manner. However, the world keeps trying to isolate us until it feels as if we have become a single, small island. The waters surrounding the island are strangling us, just like the black waters that swallowed our children. We want to live. Help us. Please help us.

Much of the Korean media is biased towards framing the Sewol Ferry Disaster from a perspective that supports the political rhetoric of the ruling party. From what I have read, a number of prominent English-language media outlets are simply transcribing these coloured accounts. All I want to do is to shed a little light on what the families are going through and saying. As the bereaved mother in the above document state, "it’s what we have to do in order to be a bit less ashamed when we see our beautiful children again, in the future, in a better world."

Image from Twitter featuring the names of the victims of the Sewol Ferry Disaster.

Monday, 6 April 2015

I daydream of banana cake


Occasionally I get the chance to bake for a special occasion and also get free reign over what to make. This usually means I spend days daydreaming/planning about which ingredients I have readily available, whether there are any techniques I want to try and the sort of event it is going to be. Figuring out how to combine different flavours and textures, and dreaming up my ideal version of a dish, is some of the best fun one can have for free. Over time, I have come up with my own way of approaching this little exercise with a number of criteria for any particular type of dish.

My ideal cake, for example:
-Is light and finely-crumbed without being dry. 
-The flavours are interesting and harmonious. 
-Contrasting textures are allowed but a mouthful of cake should melt away without too much effort.
-If there is a frosting, it is not too sweet and forms an indispensable part of the cake, rather than acting as an ornament.
-Is either simple to make or complicated but phenomenally tasty.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an end-of-summer barbecue that I was asked to bring a dessert to. I wanted to bring something impressive but simple and crowd-pleasing but still interesting. Those conditions, in addition to having bought a surplus bunch of fair-trade bananas was enough to steer me in the direction of a gently embellished banana cake. I had used this recipe from the blog Orangette a couple of times before and loved how delicate the crumb was when compared to the standard densely moist banana cake. I decided to add a few different elements to the cake based on my daydreaming and love for fluffy cream cheese frosting. 

The end result was a delightful combination of light yet richly-flavoured banana cake, studded with dark chocolate and topped with a good 2cm of smooth, fluffy cream cheese frosting. It is interesting but not excessive and manages to be reminiscent of a combination of banana cake and cheesecake without feeling over the top. All-in-all, the kind of creation that makes you want to high-five yourself in a fit of self-congratulatory goodwill. Please give it a go if you are looking for a slightly different take on the common banana cake.




Chocolate chunk and caramelised banana cake with whipped cream cheese
one 22cm cake, serves 16 modest slices
Banana cake adapted from Orangette

2c plain flour
1/2c white/fine raw sugar
1/4c brown sugar
1tsp baking soda
3/4tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
2 large ripe bananas, cut into 2cm chunks
1/2c full cream
2 eggs
1 1/2tsp vanilla extract
115g and 30g softened butter (as separate amounts)
1/2c chopped dark chocolate, plus extra for decoration

250g cream cheese, softened
1/2c full cream
1/4c white/ fine raw sugar
1/2tsp vanilla extract

About 1/4c granola

1. Caramelise the bananas: place the brown sugar and 30g of butter in a small pan and heat over a low flame until the butter has melted. Add the banana and increase the heat to medium, cook until the banana chunks turn soft and translucent - about 5-10 minutes. Leave to cool - the mixture should be warm, not hot.

2. Butter and flour a 22cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, mash the bananas with a fork or potato masher. Add cream and beat until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and beat again to combine.
4. In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add the softened butter and about half of the banana mixture and beat together briefly. Add the remaining banana mixture, scrape down the bowl and beat again to combine. Stir in the dark chocolate.
5. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 35-45 minutes, checking with a toothpick for doneness. Remove the cake from the oven, let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn it onto a wire rack to cool completely.

6. Once the cake is cool, prepare the frosting. Beat the cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl until it is smooth. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat again to incorporate them into the cream cheese. Add the cream in two additions, beating at a low speed. Once the cream is incorporated, increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until the frosting is smooth and fluffy.
7. Spread frosting on the cake, decorate with extra dark chocolate and granola.

Cake is best eaten the day it is made. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.