Wednesday 25 June 2008

Comfort Eating

I think anyone reading a food blog knows that food is comfort. And when things aren't so good, all I really want to do is mix up a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and eat it, raw, off the spatula. (Probably not such a good idea when I have a little red bikini to fit into for next week).

But to be honest, I don't have the energy to be witty, or sarcastic, or even really remotely interesting today. I probably shouldn't be blogging (sorry anyone who finds themselves feeling inexplicably depressed after reading this) as a result, but I thought I'd explain rather than just let the blog languish; basically I have a lot of family problems going on at the moment that I don't especially fancy going into in great depth.

So instead, I'll offer you these.

These are based on an idea I had after seeing cookie dough brownies somewhere online (can't remember where; bad luck). I saved the recipe, but somewhere between first finding it and coming across it again a while ago, something very odd started happening to me. It started when I had a bite of a mars bar a while ago and found it... repulsive. It was too sweet.

I've never, to my knowledge, found anything 'too sweet' in my life. Am I getting old?

And then I made 'halfway cookies' at some point; chocolate chip cookie dough with a meringuey topping and so on... and it was just too much. I ate about twelve of them, admittedly, but only because I was trying to work out if I liked them or not (yeah, alright).

And so I made these... less excessive. Don't be disappointed in me: these are based on the cookie dough brownie idea, but obviously I used a plain (ie, not white chocolate or whatever) blondie base, and I changed the cookie recipe I used cause it was kind of spreadable, and I ended up with layers rather than blobs of dough.

The final result is gorgeous, especially fresh from the oven where the cookie-like top is thin and crispy and the blondies are slightly warm and still gooey beneath. But I can't help it. I like the blondie batter warm from the melted butter, and uncooked. When I'm maybe not feeling too hot, that, to me, is comfort.

Cookie Dough Blondies
Blondies from How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, metricised by me.
Cookies adapted from Chocolate from Parragon books

For the blondies:
120g (1 stick) butter, melted
120g (1 cup) brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
140g (1 cup) plain flour

Preheat oven to 180C. Prepare an 8x8" pan.

1. Mix melted butter with brown sugar & beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla. Add salt, stir in flour. Pour into prepared pan.

For the cookie layer:
175g (6oz) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
120g (1 stick) soft butter
90g (3oz) soft light brown sugar
5 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
125g milk (about 1 cup, semisweet) chocolate chips
. Add more chips if you want but I wouldn't go above 175g (another 1/2 cup) cause my first test of this recipe used more, and it all sort of combusted.

2. For the cookies, place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat until well combined.

3. Blob rounded teaspoons of cookie dough over the blondie batter, pressing down lightly. You'll probably have a little too much cookie dough, but I like to overdo things. Also I'm not averse to eating the leftover stuff, especially when I need cheering up.

4. Bake for about 30mins until golden brown. Allow to cool before cutting and removing from pan, but they are best fresh.

Friday 20 June 2008

Upside Down & Back To Front

There is one important thing I have to tell you, regarding this cake.

Don't be like me.

To my knowledge, no one is actually aspiring to be like me (to justify why, refer to the episode of the Melancholy Aubergine, which I like to consider a lowpoint in my mental health record) so this shouldn't be too difficult for most of you.

Let me specify. Don't make a ten inch cake in an seven inch cake pan. Don't eat all your leftover pineapple (yum, pineapple) before catching on to this fact. And DON'T, whatever you do, use a loosebottomed cake pan rather than a solid dish for a cake with a layer of caramel at the bottom.

'Ohh,' you say. '...But I quite like the look of all that melted, oozy caramel on that baking tray up there...'

Yeah? Well, I only caught on to put the baking tray beneath my cake tin half an hour into the baking time. Ever wondered what all that melted, oozy caramel would look like burnt black onto the bottom of an Aga oven?

Well, I'd show you , but I was too busy shutting my head into said oven and weeping at that point to photo it.

Then there was the point where I was forced to eat the rest of the dripping caramel off the baking tray - a sacrifice I am willing to make - and immediately burnt my tongue on it (karma?) and had to stick effectively my entire head under the cold tap. (At this point I took a break for a pint glass of orange squash, while wishing fervently -albeit somewhat redundantly- that it was vodka). And the point where I had to desperately hunt out some overripe peaches for a second cake, since I'd misread the tin size and had half my mixture left over, to find that my little sister had had a joyful, eureka, 'I like a type of fruit!' moment the previous day and eaten half the punnet in one fell swoop.

And the point where I brandished my spatula furiously at the sky, shouting to the Kitchen Gods, 'NOTHING ON EARTH COULD PERSUADE ME TO MAKE THIS CAKE AGAI---'


Well, that's certainly very convincing.

Do continue.

Yes, I see your point.

Well, if you insist. The difficulties were all my own fault, obviously. I suppose one could say I've learnt from experience now. There really seems no point to hold it against the recipe, after all, and... and... nomnomnom ♥.

Pineapple/Peach Upside Down Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, Feb 2000. Via Smitten Kitchen
(Adapted to metric by yours truly, as usual)
Makes one 10" cake or two 7" cakes (yeah, I don't really get the maths there) if you want to do one of each. Which obviously, I fully intended.

For topping:
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled, quartered lengthways, and cored (or a punnet of peaches)
85g unsalted butter
90g light brown sugar

For batter:
210g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
85g unsalted butter, softened
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp dark rum
120ml unsweetened pineapple juice
(I used orange as it was all I had)
2 tbsp dark rum for sprinkling over cake,
which I forgot.

Special equipment: 10-inch cast-iron skillet. If you lack a cast-iron skillet of this size, make the caramel in a small pot and scrape it into the bottom of a similarly-sized cake pan. But not with a loose bottom that will leak out everywhere. Learn from my ineptitude. Something I'm not confident is a word.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

1. Make topping: Cut pineapple crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick pieces. Melt butter in skillet . Add brown sugar and simmer over moderate heat, stirring, 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Arrange pineapple on top of sugar mixture in concentric circles, overlapping pieces slightly.

2. Make batter: Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in granulated sugar. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and rum. Add half of flour mixture and beat on low speed just until blended. Beat in pineapple juice, then add remaining flour mixture, beating just until blended. (Batter may appear slightly curdled.)

3. Spoon batter over pineapple topping and spread evenly. Bake cake in middle of oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cake stand in skillet 5 minutes. Invert a plate over skillet and invert cake onto plate (keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together). Replace any pineapple stuck to bottom of skillet. Sprinkle rum over cake and cool on plate on a rack. Serve cake just warm or at room temperature; I have to say though that personally I loved it best straight out the fridge in big hefty wedges.

I made these -two- cakes at around midday, and when I came back from work later that night and opened the fridge I found ONE piece of cake left. Which, obviously, I ate. This says more about my family than it probably should, but also a great deal about how damn good this cake is.

Thursday 12 June 2008

Ode To A Wasted Aubergine

The Melancholy Aubergine

Oh look upon this aubergine,
its skin so wrinkled and obscene;
its purple bloom begun to fade,
flesh over-ripe, and soft with age.

Consider now this aubergine;
the days it lived, the fate it dreamed
when plucked from desert, or from snow
(I'm not quite sure where eggplant grow).

Now pity here this aubergine,
victim of kitchen destiny
- had it been avocat instead!
oh tragic tale of list, misread.

Exams have sent me mad. Send help.

Saturday 7 June 2008

Pudding In Your Pocket

There is one thing on this earth (and obviously, I am talking about food, for a change) for which I would sell my soul. Really. Maybe not really. It isn't glamorous (no Daring Baker would look twice at it); it isn't expensive (no truffle oil, for example, or saffron); and it isn't even chocolate (GASP).

It's school apple crumble.

Yeah, I know. Not regular apple crumble; not apple crumble made with love and care by my own dear mother and lavished upon me in the finest china while I recline on my velvet chaise longe, watching Doctor Who repeats in a careless manner (although this does happen all the time). Just regular, mass-produced, margarine-not-butter apple crumble, flung together by underpaid dinner ladies every second Thursday.

But god, that stuff is good.

'It's not that good,' my best friend tends to say when I lapse into incoherent lusty noises over lunch. 'It's only apple crumble.'

HA! Shows what she knows.

I know, I know. You're peering at these photos now, aren't you? Muttering to bewildered family members, 'apple crumble? That doesn't look like apple crumble' and possibly, 'is that not a plate?'. Some of you may even be poking your monitors mutinously; possibly the words, 'bar cookie' have passed your lips while you try to comprehend where I'm going with this ode to school apple crumble.

The thing is... I'm not here to give you the recipe for that apple crumble. I know. I'm sorry. I thought about it, and then I thought, 'but - how will food bloggers the world over POSSIBLY APPRECIATE the sheer genius of this pudding without a big enough build up?'. For all I know, you could go the same way as my treacherous best friend ('only apple crumble'? ONLY APPLE CRUMBLE; I ASK YOU).

No, the only solution was to raise the tension a bit. An advertising campaign, if you will. After a few weeks of me subliminally dropping apple crumble references into every post, you will be desperate to own this recipe for yourselves.

Alternatively, you will have stopped reading my blog. One of the two.

Which brings me to the recipe at hand. Now, this may be a build-up recipe, but don't go thinking that it's only a build-up recipe. This has its own kind of genius, namely: it is apple crumble THAT YOU CAN CARRY AROUND WITH YOU. Should you be strolling the streets one summer evening, and the urge for apple crumble seizes you, there is no longer any need to vault a nearby wall and break into the school kitchens! You can carry apple crumble IN YOUR POCKET.

The sheer genius of this idea makes me slightly weak at the knees.

Apple crumble bars
Original recipe (and American measurements) here

560g flour
1/2 tsp salt
270g sugar
60g brown sugar
330g butter, softened
About 5 granny smith apples, skinned and diced (I halved this and used 2, cause we only had 2, but use 3 if you halve the recipe)
1 tsp cinnamon

1. Take the butter out of the fridge to soften (do not melt) on the counter as you peel and dice up the apples into small cubes. Squirt with some lemon juice and set aside.

2. Combine the flour, salt, white sugar and brown sugar in a bowl.

3. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients. The butter should not be melted; what we’re going for here are crumbs. You can either do this with a wooden spoon, or you can use your hands to crush it all together.

4. Take 1 cup of the crumb mixture and mix it with the apples. Add the cinnamon as well and set aside.

5. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and flour a 9×13 baking pan. Take 1/2 of your remaining crumb mixture and press it into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

6. Remove the crust from the oven, pour in the apple mixture and top with last of the crumbs. Put it back in the oven for another 45 minutes. When it’s done, the top should be a beautiful golden brown. Cool by putting the pan on a wire rack so air can circulate around it. Cut into bars after they’ve completely cooled, if you can resist it. It’s a great idea to refrigerate the bars so they set a bit more.

Monday 2 June 2008

A Rose By Any Other Name Will Taste As Sweet

Well I asked at the end of my last post if anyone had any suggestions for what rosewater was good for, and you - you lovely bunch - were full of ideas and flavour pairings, so if roses symbolise love, consider this post a bit of a romance novel for you all.

Do not consider it a horror movie. I'm just saying; because those splashes of raspberry juice and, sort of, scarlet splatters -- I'm sorry. My food often looks like a massacre, but not always this literally.

This dessert may be of uncertain genre, but one thing I'm sure of is that the flavours taste great together (thanks everyone who suggested rose/lemon, rose/raspberry, rose/rice pudding, &c. &c.). I wanted to finish this with a sprinkle of pistachio nuts, but we had none; hence the raspberry massacre you see before your eyes. (I can't get over this. They're not even heart shaped or anything. They're bloodstain shaped. Sigh.)

This was a rice pudding recipe I found here, which intrigued me due to the lack of pudding rice in it ('BUT WHERE IS THE RICE? THIS IS MADNESS.'); apparently I find it hard to get my head around minor changes in food habit. I believe I had a similar reaction when it came to a Japanese-style cheesecake with no crust. This uses ground rice instead, which seemed pretty radical to me.

'Aha!' I cried, feeling triumphant, 'yet another culinary first! A break-through! A twist, on a time-honoured theme!'

At this point, my mother came into the kitchen and peered over my shoulder at the puddings. 'Aww,' she said. 'I used to feed you this sort of thing when you were about six months old. You've regressed!'

Once again; thank you, mother.

This is a more grown-up version of what I used to eat when I was six months old. If that appeals to you (and it should, because this is good, okay? Ignore my mum. It bears no resemblance to baby food, and has, you know, bloodstains and everything. It's at least a PG or 12A in the pudding department) give it a try.

Raspberry & Rose Rice Pudding
Adapted from here.
Makes two generous portions

55g (2oz) ground rice
15g (1/2 oz) ground almonds
80g (3 oz) caster sugar
200ml coconut milk (you could use all coconut milk; it's just that we had half a can in the fridge that needed eating)
150ml ordinary milk
50ml evaporated milk (again, we just had some in the fridge; you could use about 3 tbsp of double cream as in the original recipe. But we had none of that, and it didn't make any difference to me)
60 ml (4 tbsp) rosewater
juice of half a lemon
To garnish: Raspberries (I used frozen ones that I'd zapped in the microwave, hence the bloodstains. But meant a nice juice)/pistachio nuts/whatever.

1. In a large saucepan, combine rice flour, ground almonds, coconut milk, milk and sugar, cooking over very low heat until thickened and gently bubbly, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk. If mixture becomes too thick, add incremental amounts of additional milk. Cook for another five minutes.

2. Remove from heat then stir in evaporated milk/cream, rosewater and lemon juice. Adjust sugar to taste. Pour into individual bowls or glasses. Decorate with optional garnishes. Refrigerate until cool and firm.