Thursday, 26 November 2015

Therapeutic subspecialisation

If I had to summarise my main food source over the last few weeks, it would have to be 'sourdough.' It isn't as random as it initially seems, as the time that I have spent nurturing my starter, tucking in bowls of dough to prove overnight, and kneading and kneading to develop precious gluten has also probably done a lot to help keep me somewhat grounded during this tumultuous time. As the world becomes more unstable and terrifying, it is the basic stuff of life that brings the most comfort and reassurance. Bread, particularly sourdough, is a symbol for so many good aspects of humanity, sustenance and survival, warmth, the sharing of starter and extra loaves - a small and temporary effort to make the world a tiny bit more inviting.

The first loaf
This was the first time I have successfully grown a sourdough starter but it was so easy that I don't know how I managed to get it so wrong with my previous attempts. It took a few more days than the directions specified - 5 days to see signs of yeast activity and 7 or so before it could be considered vigorous, but as soon as the first loaf was baked and sat quietly crackling on the cooling rack, I knew that I had a good thing on my hands. I have already begun sharing around portions of starter with anyone who wants it, and have been gratified to hear reports of successful breads and pizzas outside of my kitchen.

And the taste of fresh sourdough? It's almost like tasting bread for the first time. The crust is chewy or crunchy and fundamentally enjoyable and each mouthful contains complex flavours that negate the need for toppings at all. My recent breakfast of choice has been a few slices of untoasted seeded sourdough and a cup of coffee, and despite sounding like a bread-and-water diet, it feels almost luxurious.

From the top: light rye, semolina, seeded sourdough toasts
Wholemeal sourdough bagels
A mid-spring dinner: wholemeal sourdough, homemade butter, homegrown radish slices, almond pesto and a runny brie.
As you can see, I have already tried a variety of recipes using my starter, from the basic white boule to hand-rolled bagels. I think my favourite bread to date is the aforementioned seeded loaf, a recipe from my favourite sourdough blog Wild Yeast.

Multi-grain seeded loaves - in which I learnt the importance of proper shaping

My adaptations to the recipe were purely pragmatic, I substituted in the seeds that I had to make up a total of 100g (20g flax seeds and 40 each of sunflower and pumpkin) and used wholegrain oats in place of rye flakes. The recipe has 2 long fermentations and takes a total of 7.5 hours. You get 2 small 500g loaves that can sit happily on the counter for 3-4 days in spring weather and also freeze well (place in an airtight bag and freeze when the loaf has cooled completely).

The recipe involves a lot of different techniques/steps and times so I have indicated them in red and blue respectively.

Multi-grain seeded sourdough
2x 500g loaves
adapted slightly from Wild Yeast

Soaker: place in a small bowl and soak for 30 minutes
100g of seeds of your choice
34g of wholegrain rolled oats
86g water

240g of high grade flour (or plain flour and gluten flour)
93g wholemeal flour
41g coarse-ground rye flour
227g water - add about 200mL first then add the rest if required
9.4g salt
169g active 100%-hydration sourdough starter 
all of the soaker from above

1. While the soaker is soaking, combine everything else and knead until you have a dough which bounces back when you poke it and mostly passes the windowpane test.
2. Add the soaker and knead to distribute it throughout the dough.
3. Transfer to a lightly oiled container, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to ferment for 2.5hrs. Fold the dough at 50 and 100 minutes.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, divide into two even portions. Shape them into simple balls, cover with a tea towel and rest for 30min.
5. Shape the dough into 2 batards. I don't have a couche, so I place each batard seam-side down onto a piece of floured baking paper, then into my baguette baking tray. Cover with the tea towel and prove for 2.5-3hrs.
6. Preheat the oven and baking stone (I preheat a metal baking tray and even this helps in achieving a good crust) to 260 degrees Celsius and place a shallow baking tin filled with boiling water (I use a square cake tin with 2cm of water) in the floor of the oven to get steam.
7. Just before baking, slash the loaves with 1-2 longitudinal cuts. Place onto preheated baking tray and into the oven.
8. Once the loaves are in the oven, reduce the temperature to 230 degrees. After 10min remove the water-filled tin and bake for a further 25min.
9. Turn off the oven and leave the loaves in the oven for a further 10min with the door ajar.
10. Cool on wire rack.

Seeded and semolina sourdoughs with herbed scrambled eggs

Saturday, 7 November 2015

For Grace Lee Boggs

Sometimes you come across a life-changing moment without even recognising it for what it is. An idea can quietly settle into your head and stay there, without much fanfare or shouting, and it is only in retrospect that you realise how big it was. This was very much how my introduction to the ideas of Grace Lee Boggs went. I first learnt about her through the documentary 'American Revolutionary - the evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.' 

Her philosophical interpretation of what it means to be a revolutionary felt like a truth that I had been fumbling towards for a long time and helped to make sense of what my ever-changing ideas about the revolution meant. I went on to learn more about her life and read some of her work, and in a calm, logical and ever-hopeful way, her work became an illuminating presence during the many discouraging political/current events moments of the past year.

More directly, her ideas about food production helped to give greater form to my own thoughts on food and eating. Of taking back the chain of production as a progressive action and a way to bring greater meaning to our lives, and a sense of community to our neighbourhoods. Although these ideas had been bouncing around in my head for awhile, it was Grace's words that inspired me to action. I was a pretty enthusiastic gardener back in high school but it all became a bit much when university and work began.

I sought out some local/heritage seed producers and set about constructing a variety of container gardens around our house. Starting with microgreens and sprouts, and moving onto radishes and carrots - hopefully tomatoes, chilis and zucchini by the summer, I have been developing closer ties with the food that my family eats.

It has been a lot of fun so far, it's exciting to see a seed sprout, grow its first leaves and one day suddenly resemble a recognisable vegetable. It is satisfying to wash the soil off a freshly harvested radish and admire the brilliant pink and red colouration. It is rewarding to feel that ones revolutionary act is bearing literal fruit.

It is even more enjoyable to cook with vegetables if they're straight from the garden. They become a bit more precious. I couldn't bear to throw away the lovely, fresh radish leaves from the picture above, and decided to make a radish leaf pesto out of them. I followed the basic outline of this recipe, substituting nutritional yeast for parmesan and sunflower seeds for nuts (I'm not vegan or averse to nuts, I am just too lazy to go shopping just to make a pesto), and adding quite a lot of basil  to balance out the very peppery radish leaves.

The resulting pesto was fresh, fragrant and quite beautiful. I made a couple of sandwiches, using the pesto as a spread, but used most of it as pasta sauce, with the addition of a liberal sprinkling of red chili flakes and a bed of delicate, just-picked baby greens. I thought about Grace with gratitude as I ate dinner that evening, the dish wouldn't have existed without her. Later that week, I heard the news that she had passed away. It was like a star had burnt out of existence, and that a lot of greatness had suddenly disappeared from the world. It was the same feeling I had after finding out Kurt Vonnegut or Joe Strummer died. The world become a bit more mundane, a bit less special. 

I think that is why it has taken me such a long time to finish this post. It seems very final, and also a very paltry tribute to someone who meant so much to me. However, I was compelled to write this because I am so grateful, Grace Lee Boggs and her work has changed the way that I see the world and the struggle against stupidity, selfishness and cruelty that is going on right at this moment. I am so glad that we have had her as an elder and teacher, to show that the revolution must be thoughtful and self-searching in order to be successful. I guess that all there is left to say is thank you for all your hard work Grace Lee Boggs, we were blessed to have you.

Radish leaf and basil pesto
adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini
makes one small jar

2 large handfuls of fresh radish leaves (I used about 4 radishes-worth of leaves)
1 small handful of fresh basil
20g of nutritional yeast
30g of sunflower seeds
zest of half a small lemon
1 clove of garlic
2Tb olive oil

salt, pepper, chili flakes - to taste

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor or mortar and pestle and combine until you have a smooth sauce. Adjust salt/pepper/chili as required.
2. Store in a airtight container with a layer of olive oil on top. Keeps for 3-4 days in the fridge and 1 month in the freezer.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Brand new finds

Buckwheat granola with frozen berries, atop overnight oats

I recently tried buckwheat groats / kasha for the first time. They are one of the most satisfyingly crunchy non-fried foods I have ever eaten. I had initially bought them to try as a grain substitute for savoury meals, but my search for recipes led me to a granola recipe instead. The thing that got me interested was a passage in the recipe description which favourably compared buckwheat granola to its oaty relative, which I have always found takes quite some time to chew and swallow. Being a very lazy person, sometimes I find myself lacking the energy to face a bowl of oat granola in the morning.

The recipe uses a mashed banana in place of some of the oil and sweetener that usually go into granola and I was unsure whether the flavour would be overwhelmingly banana-y. It ended up being pleasantly fruity and mild, but there is also the option to substitute it for another fruit/pumpkin puree or nut butter if that is what you prefer. I did find that my batch took longer than indicated to reach a proper deep, golden brown colour - I just continued to check it and give the mixture a stir every 5 minutes until the granola was uniformly browned.

I often snack on this granola on its own, and it also adds a delightful crunch sprinkled atop a bowl of overnight oats or yogurt.

Buckwheat granola
recipe from food52

2 cups of raw buckwheat groats 
2.5c add-ins (nuts, seeds, coconut flakes)
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp vanilla extract (the original recipe says ground ginger)
1 ripe banana, mashed
2Tb oil (if using coconut oil, make sure it is melted first)
2 Tb maple syrup or honey

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray with baking paper.
2. Stir together the buckwheat, add-ins and cinnamon in a large bowl.
3. Pour in the rest of the ingredients and stir well to combine.
4. Bake for 20-30 minutes, stirring once during this time. If needed, continue to bake for another 10-20 minutes (stirring every 5 minutes) until the mixture is uniformly golden brown.
5. Cool the mixture completely before transferring to an airtight container.

So far my batch has kept for 3 weeks (stored in a ziplock bag in a dark cupboard).

Friday, 18 September 2015

Bread, cream, honey

I was drawn in by the words again. This time it was this sentence:

"For some reason, today I imagined while getting up, cutting up a fresh flatbread and coat it with a thick layer of Kaymak and Honey."
-Insane in the Kitchen

There's something very lovely about it, and even though I didn't know what Kaymak was (a Turkish dairy product similar to clotted cream), the sentence definitely sounded like something I would want to make and eat.

The recipe that came with the sentence was also lovely, a soft dough fragrant with olive oil, only a single 45 minute proof, and the satisfying balance of using an egg white in the dough and its yolk as a glaze.

Being my imperfect self, I forgot to add the salt which resulted in an overly risen loaf, and living with a spice-averse family, I stuck to black sesame seeds rather than the traditional caraway topping.

Not having the 8 hours or so that is required to make kaymak, I decided to use my homemade creme fraiche as a stand-in spread, to accompany the drizzle of honey and sprinkle of salt that the sentence had me dreaming of.

This bread is just as delicious as I imagined, and I can't wait to make it again correctly. It would be the perfect thing to have as a centrepiece to a special breakfast, to accompany dips or soups, and keeps very well when sliced and frozen in airtight containers or bags - just defrost and turn them into toasted sandwiches.

Ramazan pidesi (Turkish flatbread)
straight from Insane in the Kitchen

3c flour
1 egg, separated
1Tb active yeast
2Tb sugar
1Tb salt
1/2c milk
1c water
2tsp olive oil
sesame and caraway seeds OR black sesame seeds for sprinkling

1. Heat the milk and water together in the microwave (in 30 second bursts) or in a small pot until it is very warm, almost uncomfortable to touch. Remove from the heat and stir in yeast and sugar. Leave for 10 minutes, until the top of the mixture has become thick and foamy.
2. Place flour and salt in a large bowl, add yeast mixture and egg white. Combine with a fork until you have a shaggy mass of dough, then start kneading. Continue until the dough springs back when indented with a finger.
3. Add olive oil and knead until it is incorporated.
4. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave somewhere warm for 45 minutes.
5. Cover a baking tray with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
6. Punch down the dough, leave it to rest for 10 minutes, then roll the dough into a circle or oval, so that it just fits in your baking tray.
7. Place the dough on the baking tray and brush with the egg yolk. Sprinkle over seeds.
8. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the bread is a deep golden brown.

Let the bread cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before slicing, unless you plan to eat all of it in one go.

Monday, 14 September 2015

And another one

Green tea swirl sables
Spring and green tea continued to be a primary inspiration for me over the weekend. This lightness has transferred across to everything from my sartorial choices (actual colours!) to movie selection, with a shift away from my staples of sobering documentaries and slow-paced, thinking pieces to brighter and louder works. I watched We are the best! and God save the girl over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed them both. The former reminded me a lot of my own teenage, band-having years, and I passed on the recommendation to my high school friends. God save the girl was lovely and reminded me of how I used to listen to Belle & Sebastian while walking to the hospital when I worked in the Emergency Department. Despite being dressed in practical sneakers and ugly hospital scrubs, and despite knowing that I was due to face a thoroughly unwhimsical shift in a busy ED, the music was enough to make me feel exactly like I was a character in an adorably hipster musical.

In keeping with the aesthetics of the weekend, I baked something cute and interesting. I came across a recipe for green tea sables that used two tones of green to make cute swirled cookies but unfortunately lost the link and was unable to find it again. I would love to attribute the idea correctly if I find it again. Luckily though, I already had a great green tea sable recipe at hand. From the incomparable Smitten Kitchen, of course.

Recipe notes
  • I made the recipe in two half-batches, adding 1tsp of green tea to the first batch and 2tsp of green tea to the second one. My kitchen is still quite cool, so before chilling, I rolled the dough out between two sheets of clingfilm into 2x 20cm by 35cm by 0.5cm(ish) rectangles, placed one on top of the other, and gently rolled them together like a sushi roll. I then chilled the rolled up dough for 2 hours before slicing into 0.5cm slices and baking.
  • My green tea powder is quite strong, so if your powder is mild, consider increasing the amounts by 0.5tsp each.
  • These cookies are just as delicious made without the swirl.

Green tea swirl sables
makes about 30 moderately sized sables
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

ingredients (halve to make one light green and one dark green batch)
2c flour
1/2tsp salt
1/2c icing sugar
226g butter (softened)
1/2tsp almond extract
1 tsp of green tea powder for batch 1 and 2tsp of green tea for batch 2

1. For each batch, place 113g butter into a medium bowl until smooth, add 1/4tsp almond extract and beat again to combine.
2. Sift in 1c flour, 1/4c icing sugar, 1/4tsp salt and correct amount of green tea powder and beat on low until you get a uniform dough.
3. If the dough is unmanageably soft, form it into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 1hr. If it is firm enough to handle, shape as described in recipe notes.
4. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Slice the rolled up dough into 0.5cm thick cookies and place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Leave around 3cm between cookies as they do spread a bit. Bake for around 15 minutes, until the edges are barely golden.
6. Cool on the baking tray for 2-3min before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Will keep for 1 week when stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Spring and green tea

As I have already made plain, I am enamoured with the shifting seasons and am endlessly inspired by them. I like to form my own associations between them and certain objects, emotions and activities that are personal rather than the machinations of some faceless marketing person goading me to make everything smell like pumpkin spice. For some reason, spring reminds me of matcha, or powdered green tea. I think it is because of the delightfully vibrant green colour and flavour, which complements the freshness an fragrance of the season. A green tea treat and a cup of tea, sitting next to a little bunch of freesias is my vision of spring.


This green tea pound cake is a quintessential weekday morning or afternoon tea sort of beast. Simple (as in you can mix it up while the oven is preheating) to make and flavourful without being challenging. You can slice off a thickish slice, wrap it up and take it wherever you may roam. The flavours of green tea and raspberry are interesting but not too challenging, and the texture is dense and delicate at the same time. I recommend brushing the cake with vanilla syrup as soon as it comes out of the oven for a little extra moisture.

Green tea and raspberry pound cake
adapted from Love & Custard
makes 1 standard loaf-sized cake

200g flour
2tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt
1.5Tb green tea powder (standard notice about not using bad quality product here)
170g sugar
170 butter, softened
4 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 raspberries, I used frozen ones

vanilla simple syrup
1/4c sugar
1/4c water
1/4tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius and line a loaf tin with baking paper, allowing for overhang so that you can lift the cake out later.
2. Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl and use a whisk to combine them.
3. Add remaining ingredients except the raspberries and beat with an electric mixer on low for 2 minutes. Increase to medium speed and beat for another 2 minutes, until you have a smooth batter.
4. Pour 1/4 batter into the loaf tin and scatter over 1/3 of the berries. Repeat until all the batter and berries are in the tin. Bake for 45-55 minutes. At about 40 minutes, consider covering the top with foil if it looks like the cake is over-browning.
5. While the cake is baking, make the syrup: bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla. You can also heat this in the microwave on 45 second intervals until the sugar dissolves.
6. Check the cake for doneness using a toothpick. Lift it out of the loaf tin and onto a wire rack to cool. Peel back the baking paper and brush all over with the syrup. Cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A stunner

I'm sure that I've mentioned this before, but one of my biggest reasons for being an avid cook is pure self-gratification. I love being able to imagine something delicious then make it come true. Because I take a very pragmatic/amateur approach to this process, things don't always turn out as planned.However, most of the time it is a most satisfying process and often results in something that makes me a bit proud of myself.

I am a frequent user of frozen fruit, I freeze bananas and buy bags of berries and mango pieces for baking and the occasional bowl of nice cream. When I went to the supermarket recently, I saw bags of frozen black cherries for the first time. Because the local cherry season is so short, any fresh cherries I come across are promptly devoured. I was compelled to buy a bag to try out all the baking recipes that I had only been dreaming about.

The first portion went into a cherry clafoutis, which was delicious but not exceptional or photogenic. Next, I improvised a free-form cherry and pastry cream tartlet with a rough puff pastry base, it was one of the tastiest things I had made in ages but the rustic design resulted in the loss of a lot of the precious cherry juices during baking.

Second draft tartlets
After these efforts, I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted to eat. Juicy, perfumed cherries, creamy custard and buttery pastry, held together with enough structure to give the impression of something quite elegant. I found a recipe that was reasonably close to what I wanted and improvised the rest. I used the pastry recipe (subbing 3Tb of cream for the yolk because I had used all the eggs to make pastry cream) and baking instructions found in the recipe but used my own pastry cream recipe and flavoured it with vanilla and a few drops of almond extract. Partly because I ran out of cherries and partly to add a bit of sharpness and interest, I used a mixture of cherries and raspberries, although either would make a delicious tart. I also didn't precook or add a thickening agent to the fruit, because I like to walk on the wild side sometimes.
The results were everything I ever wanted. The pastry was short and buttery, holding everything together but yielding easily to the fork. The pastry cream smooth, rich and comforting. And the fruit, soft and juicy but not cooked to the point of jamminiess, the two berries contrasting delightfully with each other and the almond in the pastry cream. To serve, I gilded the lily with a spoonful of homemade creme fraiche, which unbelievably made the tart even more delicious. Needless to say, the tart was gone in less than a day.
Cherry and raspberry custard tart
makes one 23cm round tart
pastry and baking method adapted from this recipe
1c flour
110g softened butter
3Tb cream
1Tb sugar
pinch of salt
Pastry cream (1/4 batch of this recipe with 1/2tsp almond extract added)
2c cherries and 3/4c raspberries (frozen fruit can be used without defrosting)
1. Butter a 23cm round removable-bottom fluted tart pan.
2. In a large bowl, use a whisk to combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or fingertips to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients. There shouldn't be any bits of butter bigger than a pea. Add the cream and mix with a fork to make a cohesive dough.
3. If it isn't too warm, the dough can be rolled out straight away, otherwise chill for 30min-1 hour before rolling. Use silicon mats or two pieces of baking paper to make things easier. Place the rolled out dough on the tart pan, pressing it down gently. Use a rolling pin to pinch off any overhanging edges. Chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
4. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Spread the pastry cream into the pastry, and sprinkle over berries, trying to get as close to a single layer as possible.
5. Bake for around 45 minutes, a knife inserted into the custard should come out clean with it is done.
6. Cool for at least 30min before cutting and serving.