30 March 2007

Corn Tortillas - an update

Well tonight's dinner was enchiladas. While I didn't admittedly make the sauce (it was reduced though) I made the corn tortillas that I wrapped all the stuff in.

It has long been a goal to make my own. I got a press from America that would do all the pressing (not that I cannot roll it out but thought it would make them more even - which it does!). The goal came rather like most out of frustration. The frustration was borne because one cannot in this island get anything that is near an authentic corn tortilla.

A long time ago (not really but it sounded good!) while shopping for the usual food stuff I wanted corn tortillas. Of course here they only seem to sell them in a 'set' meal - meaning high cost for corn tortillas, a packet of spices and a pouch of sauce. Well in my usual fashion thought 'Nope, I'll make my own'. That will teach me!

So had to first find a tortilla press - check. This admittedly took the longest because I wanted a cast iron one (durability issue) and could find none on sale here in the UK. Only the US was open to me and it seemed everyone was interested in gouging me for shipping. Finally found a one at a reasonable price and shipping too was reasonable.

Then had to find the masa harina - check - see previous post below. This was easier - not sure why really. Then had to season cast iron pan for cooking said tortillas once made (before preparing them into dinner) - check.

So finally culmination is today - enchiladas. I found a recipe that gave me directions on how to make the tortillas and then how to use them in the press. Quite helpful but as usual I have a few tips.

One, don't use cling film for the press. I found parchment paper worked much better. I was able to flatten the dough and remove it far easier than cling film. I cut the paper so that I could fold it over and have one end that was closed. I used that end closest to the press handle.

Two, the recipe said to use a tea towel to keep the tortillas in while cooking them. This should probably be a slightly damp towel as I thought a dry one didn't keep them moist enough. Next time I'll wring it till almost dry and use it that way. Because when trying to roll them and tuck them into the dish they started to crack (not unsightly you understand but I wanted them to remain moist).

Otherwise I could find little to improve upon. The dough was quite easy to handle and only required a small sprinkling of water to get it to the right consistency of 'soft cookie' dough.

Sadly, no pictures but it was lovely. Although I'm not a condiment person (this applies to sauces, gravies, just about anything that spreads or is a liquid!) I must admit I enjoyed the dinner. Now off to find how to make sauce.

What is art?

I was watching Nigel Slater last night on the BBC and he was interviewing Keith Allen and one of his friends who was cooking a dish for Keith said 'Food is art without the evidence'. I could find nothing via searching to attribute this quote to.

It took me a while to register it but think about that quote for a minute. I thought how true that saying is. While we strive to cook we eradicate all the evidence of its existence. Well some people document its (as we see on other blogs) existence but by and large we (humans) cook and then consume.

Then I began thinking of other thoughts - dangerous I know. Is all of your cooking geared towards that final 'look'? That final picture perfect meal that we all strive for - otherwise why buy cookbooks? Why continue to beat ourselves up when it doesn't quite look like the picture?

Perhaps it is me getting older that I feel I don't have to 'conform' to anyone's expectations of me and especially about my cooking. I like to cook for people and I like to see that they have enjoyed the meal but I'm getting less impressed by the 'look' of something. Yesterday, I had some blackberries (brambles in the UK) and decided to make muffins with them. So I just took a few recipes I had and made my own - fearful of what might come out of the oven.

However, as usual my fear was for nought. The muffins were quite tasty and even appealing (although no pictures survive) despite my fears. I began to ponder this idea of why I am so fearful. I've had only one real disaster - we call it the fruit disaster. I once saw this program about fruit and creme fraiche and in some important way forgot something because it was awful - both in taste and presentation.

Otherwise, most of my cooking adventures are or have been edible (I'll skip over the mint doubling episode too!). I think the fear comes from the unknown. While I'm cooking or baking I just tend to throw in what I think will work. While I use recipes as a guide I often deviate from them. A friend of mine says we all have our palette. Mine just happens to be in cooking although I am quite good at a number of other things too!

Here's to the adventure in art of cookery.....I feel a title in there somewhere!

25 March 2007

Vegetarian cake?

In my reading quest - basically surfing around for interesting things to read I came across a blog post about a vegetarian birthday cake. Since I was a vegetarian this perplexed me since I never made much of a distinction between a veggie and non-veggie cake. After all most cakes are vegetarian, unless you are making something with gelatin in it you are safe with most if not all cakes.

Now I have had to make cakes with considerations for people who cannot tolerate wheat or gluten - simply make a flour-less cake, which will usually suffice. Or you can use soya flour which gives nearly identical results without much sacrifice to the taste. I made a mean flour-less cake in my 'Desserts to Die For' (recipe was For Chocolate Lovers Only but I omitted the chocolate nut ganache for another person's allergy) cookbook. I also made the wonderfully light frosting that went with it. Lovely... BTW, that blogger obviously had never heard of this cookbook - otherwise she would never have needed the net!

Anyway, that's my strange comment for today. Cooking wise I made bread (recipe from Dough - the sweet one because I'm going to make French Toast with it later in the week) and dinner was a bunch of leftovers from the week fish pie, potatoes, peas, and some shrimp. Rather pathetic but hey they all have to be used and I don't waste food. Unlike what I saw of some American households (even a few British ones too!) I do not throw food out. I work it so that it all is used up and not much goes in the bin. If only we had an outdoor garden to have a compost heap - I'd be a dangerous woman. Well I'm already dangerous - mostly to myself!

24 March 2007

Quiche and other things men supposedly don't eat!

About a year ago I found this site for flour - very good and can recommend them quite highly. I got several different flours and their bulk yeast. I thought it was good value for money and it actually is on par with Red Star, which is suppose to come from France. I believe this one came from Holland. However, performance for me is always key - this yeast is very good and performs spot on.

The one flour that I found interesting was the one for pastry that is/was the same kind as used in M&S pastry. I haven't had it (pastry from M&S that is) so cannot comment but it really is lovely. I don't make many things with pastry but recently made a quiche with it and it really came out great. Only thing is that is doesn't roll quite like my normal pastry but once you know this you can compensate for it.

I also got Masa Harina so that I can make my own corn tortillas. And yes, I am so sad that I finally got a cast iron tortilla press from the good old USA (via Mexico) so that I can press them out rather than having to roll them.
Pictures finally attached! Although I might try rolling them but we shall see. Now all I have to do is clean and season a cast iron skillet that I got for the job. It isn't a pan with a lip but no lip and very flat rather like a griddle but with a handle if that makes sense. I need to get it clean - lots of rust on it but perhaps when I am off next week. I found an article on-line about bringing them back to life.

Off to dream of future meals.......zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

21 March 2007

Pasta with a twist

Was tonight looking for a way to make pasta a bit different. I usually make fresh pasta and then just use a bit of garlic puree and lemon juice sort of thing. However, tonight I wanted garlic punch. I have seen garlic pasta but it pales once cooked. I think this is because it is dried and once you have cooked it for so long that its gone - at least the taste of it is.

So made fresh pasta (I use 100 grams of pasta to one large whole egg). However, I also added one clove of fresh garlic to the Magimix for every 200 grams of flour. What a difference this made to the final product. I then just did my usual of slicing thinly a red onion, added a knob of butter, some parsley and coriander, and the juice of one lemon. If you are really decadent then a small shaving of Parmesan is also called for.

All J could say was 'Cook that again!' which translates that it was a good thing (someone else says that!) and I can make it any time I want. I served it with some grilled zucchini and aubergine which was lovely with all its hatch marks on it (don't you just love the grill pan?!).

Anyway, try it sometime you might find you like it better. Off to have some tea and a cupcake. Last night had a burning passion for chocolate cake but made cupcakes instead with cream cheese frosting.

17 March 2007

Busy Bee....Buzz...Buzz

Well it seems life as always is on the super-fast speed. Why is it that things always just go by so fast but when you are in a meeting it goes so slow?

Yesterday was non-stop as I had to run to the hospital to have blood drawn that I couldn't have done at the clinic. What makes it bad was the doctor should have told me it needed to be done there. Instead I made an appointment at the clinic which wasted money (phone call to make appointment), and time (clinic's and mine). As they say 'It's annoyin'.

Weather was just lovely today but hear it will soon go back to cold. I only wish it would make up its mind and go one way or the other but the roller coaster ride is doing my head in.

Finally got around to beginning my herbs from seeds. I hopefully soon will have Italian flat leaf parsley, coriander, lovage, and chervil. Unfortunately, now I need more potting soil! I have never tried lovage before nor chervil - both I got as organic seeds from some place on-line and it will be interesting to see what they taste like. haven't a clue what I'll use them in but I shall find something that you can be sure of.

Off to find some pudding post dinner - perhaps some crepes. So easy to make and wonderful with just about anything but as usual I prefer the simple things - vanilla sugar or chocolate spread. Lovely....

11 March 2007

Quick meals for working women...

When I work during the week I try to have quick meals that don't take a lot of time to prepare and get to the table. Most of the time what I do is make a time-consuming dish at the weekends (or on my days off it just depends) and make enough to have leftovers during the week. This however isn't always the answer since I can often work 4 days or more in a row.

So what do you do then? Well I try to keep to hand the basics in the fridge or larder to help but often you can get caught short and have to work with what is at hand. The other day I was wondering what to make for dinner and there wasn't much in the fridge for dinner and the thought of thawing something also did not appeal. I took stock of what I did have (1/2 butternut squash, risotto rice, Parmesan, and some dried porcini mushrooms) and began to make dinner.

While risotto is time consuming in that you have to stand and stir for me it is a perfect meal. I roasted the butternut squash with some olive oil, salt, and black pepper and a teaspoon of honey. I then re-hydrated some of the dried mushrooms. Cut up an onion and a few cloves of garlic. Mixed up some low salt bullion and added to it the strained mushroom juice. I the began the sweating of the onions in some butter and olive oil. I then added the garlic and rice and cooked for about a minute. I then added a good slug of white wine and allowed that to evaporate and began ladling in my broth into the risotto. I then added the mushrooms at this point and continue to cook and adding broth when it has nearly been absorbed by the rice. When about 3/4 of the way done I added the cooked squash (if you cut into small chunks they will cook quickly and you won't have to prepare them before tossing in). Once you the rice is nearly cooked you add your knob of butter and good handful of Parmesan to thicken. Enjoy.

Now while it might be a lot of time preparing - there is only 20 minutes of actual stirring. It is a fast an nutritious meal that if you are counting the calories, fat, etc. you can adjust the point is that it is to personal preference. The best thing about risotto is that you can add just about anything and it will work. I've used asparagus tips (and even the stalks), peas, bacon bits, you name it then throw it in.

I also have a number of what I call quick dishes that take no time to prepare if you have the stuff. Quesadillas are a favourite in this house and really take only about 10 minutes of prep and 1-2 minutes cooking. There is also my stand-by of cooked breakfast. This usually consists of eggs in some form (either scrambled, sunny-side up, omelette), grits, sausages, baked beans, toast, mushrooms, etc. Although not all of that but you get the idea that you have a lot of options in that dinner choice to really make it with gusto. I also have a quick chicken recipe that I use when really pressed for time which while cooking means I can do my clean-up and have only the dinner dishes left.

I suppose it comes down also to a mind-set that you will cook something good for your family and commit the time and effort. I do have my doodle-noodle nights (think cup or noodles only not so salty or high in fat!) but they too are souped-up (no pun intended!) to include spring onions, shrimp, bok choi, or whatever I have in the veggie bin along with plenty of red chilli paste. The point should be use what you have and don't be limited by your mind. Enjoy your advventure!

Childhood food memories...

I must admit I have a large cookbook collection probably in excess of 300 or so books. I began collecting many years ago (more than I probably care to admit about now!) but I have since begun to refine my tastes and am now quite discriminating on what books I will buy.

I tend to go off on tangents and when really into something I would get all the best books on the subject. For instance, once when in the bookstore, I saw this book on chocolate - it was like porn for chocolate lovers. I could not put the book down. I did not get it that day but of course, it only took me a few days to go back and get the book. What was it you ask? Death by Chocolate by Marcel Desaulniers. I remember then finding a show on one of the cooking channels back home - how I wish I had kept the videos I had taped, I taped over them with Martha Stewart. While I am happy to have some of her older shows (they were the best if you ask me) it would have been useful to keep his shows too. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say.

Anyway, despite having the book I made only one item in it for a long time (probably more out of fear than anything else - the recipes often are intimidating to read through let alone make). I then, when moving to England, found that cakes here were nothing like our American counterparts. Icing here is usually fondant but I think it is such a super-sugar rush that I cannot stand it. They really do not do icing as we do. Therefore, I began to broaden my baking horizons and started making most of the items in this book. My particular favourite is the White and Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cake. It really is the best frosting by far and has just the right amount of sweet, chocolate taste.

Now for the reason for the posting - see I am already on a tangent! I made yesterday a loaf of bread - nothing unusual in that but instead of the usual loaf I made a sweeter type of bread more akin to a brioche but not as sweet. I got the recipe from my Dough cookbook (another one I recommend) and this got me to thinking of my childhood and how we had gotten this type of bread usually for our Easter dinner.

I then began to think of all the other breads I had that I cannot now find and one was a poppy seed confection that really was out of this world. Therefore, I naturally turned to a cookery book that I saw in the States about 7 years ago called Polish Heritage Cookery, what a gem this book has turned out to be. Eventually I found a recipe, which sounds similar to what I remember but of course, it will be a lot of work. I will have to gather a number of ingredients for it but I'll report back when I have made the item. I hope that I can get the camera to work and take a picture of it as well. I must admit I am a techie but working that thing is often beyond me.

Now this is a rather long post but I find it is often food that transports us back to our childhood and to relive those pleasant memories gone by. I am lucky to have many of my family recipes that my grandmother made. I so wished that she had written them down even if they were in Polish - it would be something. I do have her cookbook but the date in it is well past when she would have begun cooking so I can only assume it was a present. I can see some similarities to the recipes of some items I make but they are never the exact - nor are the ingredients.

I tend to cook the same way - I will synthesise a number of recipes and tackle it my own way. I sometimes have flops but then again life is a learning curve. Hopefully, I’ll have a bit more to pass on when I am gone as I try to keep a record of the recipes I like and have adapted. At least I hope there will be someone in my family that will enjoy cooking and getting the best they can from their food. We shall see…

6 March 2007

Where does your meat come from?

The BBC has a new program that I watched recently called Kill it, Cook it, Eat it which I found very interesting and informative. The program basically takes you back to the how your food gets to the supermarket before it is packaged so nice and sterile.

I have been on both sides and had I not many years ago, been in an abattoir and saw for myself how meat arrives to my table I might have found it shocking. But I'm a firm believer that you should know where it comes from before putting it in your mouth. If you cannot trace your food origins then my question is why are you putting it in your mouth?

This process for me hasn't been an overnight modification but a gradual change - an evolution in my ethics and responsibility as another person on this planet. I cannot do everything perfect - far from it. But I do try to be as responsible as my purse strings (and salary) will allow.

Many years ago when touring that abattoir I began a process of excluding meat from my diet. There was no special reason other than I liked other things. I had by 1989 cut all beef out of my diet (for a later post on why I did not enjoy beef) and was slowly working out pork. By that time I hadn't had a hot dog for some 10 years and still could not stomach the sight of them. I ate more poultry and fish and slowly lessened the poultry as well.

I then came to the UK and went on to becoming a vegetarian and excluding all animal products. This wasn't a 'choice' but rather a way to keep harmony among my partner and me. But I had a problem with eliminating fish as there was no acceptable substitute within the veggie world and I just plain liked it. So fish was incorporated into the diet but all the other animal products excluded.

But after about 5 years of this I began to miss being able to make things that my mother made. I was afraid I would lose those skills and recipes if I did not use them. I was inventive and made similar things that made them vegetarian but they of course never came close to the real thing. However, I didn't just plunge into buying any type of meat.

During this time of being a vegetarian I had done a number of studies on our household which gave me an idea of our ecological footprint. We paid a lot of attention to where our food was coming from and how far it was travelling before we got it in our mouths. The test in my opinion is skewed a bit but it is worth doing if only for you to get an idea of how much your fresh grapes which came from Chile cost the rest of the world in carbon emissions.

In any event, when going back to eating meat we opted for organic or free range meat only. We were both opposed to eating battery farmed anything. I buy only free-range or organic eggs as prices dictate and we only eat organic or free-range meat. We try to buy local produce when available and if it is not we then look at where the food has come from. Is there an option from France versus South Africa?

While we try our best it is often impossible to buy entirely local but you begin to see how difficult it will be for people to change. What I found most saddening was that people were unaware of how meat came to the supermarket but also did not seem to care - only that it was there and they could buy it. While the program gives people the option of finding out how meat is slaughtered if people are not interested in the first place - how will it affect them? Already the picture has widened and as yet no answer from the masses.

4 March 2007

Feeding America Project

I was ambling around the web doing my usual, finding links of interest and stumbled upon the Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. What a treat of a find! All manner of old cookbooks dedicated to American cookery.

While I have a great number of old cookery books (some American and some English) I was pleased to discover this site. You can view the actual pages on-line or download them in .pdf format for perusal off-line. What a gift! I even found one that I have in my own collection which can be found here. I really only had gotten the book for the title and not its historical significance. I just loved the title 'The way to a man's heart...' classic isn't it?

Don't go to this link and think you'll only spend a few minutes there - I've been there for over an hour just perusing the titles and pictures. I have even downloaded a few of the files for looking at later. I just love old cookery books.

I did a bit of updating on my website - more pictures of my purses and such. Although I like being able to post to this blog the website attracts a number of hits and I try to keep news current there. However, since my Uni career is now over (for the time being!) there isn't much to be posted on the web site.

Enjoy the site...

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