I wish to thank the food bloggers that inspire me with their stories, recipes and pictures, I hope you find joy from their posts too. It’s a long post, because I wanted to show a picture from each blog, I hope you enjoy them!
Today’s book review is about this collection of vegan recipes from Attila Hildmann:
I like the style of this book, the gorgeous pictures, the simplicity of the recipes and of the layout. You can see a preview of the book yourself. Vegan to go is currently only available in German, while two other books from him are translated to English (Vegan for fit and Vegan for fun) – I hope this one gets translated soon, because it has so many useful ideas for lunches and picnics! He also gives a ton of tips about how to optimise cooking (cook a larger amont and use it in other recipes, reuse leftovers, cook several side dishes and combine them in a tasty, varied lunchbox…)
Attila explains the basic principles of veganism in the introduction. I liked how he didn’t try to mass-convert the readers, or worse, to make non-vegans feel guilty about eating meat and dairy, and use that as a moral crowbar. He is great in telling his story and sharing his thoughts about his way of eating. I liked how he shows how vegan recipes don’t have to be boring or ascetic or the normal-recipe-without-meat, and that many recipes in Mediterranean cuisines are already vegan. I also liked how he talks about his hobbies on Facebook: fast cars, sports, vegan recipes… he doesn’t fit the description of the usual vegan, but then I got a revelation: does he have to in order to be considered a proper vegan? Shall we expect that all vegans have everything else in common? I think that he is building a bridge towards all people who are not interested in how vegans dress, have fun, shop and so on, and therefore assume are not interested in how they eat; he shows that eating vegan doesn’t involve the rest of your life, if you don’t make explicit, separate decisions to do so.
Thanks, Attila, for being a great ambassador, for your recipes and your positive vibe!
Yesterday I had a bit of inspiration for baking. I fancied something chocolatey and muffin-like, so I browsed my cookbooks, especially “La ciliegina sulla torta” from the famous Italian blogger Jessica Leone. This book is a present from my mum, who bought it after reading her blog, tried her recipe for Belgian waffles and adopted it as her default one. That’s huge. My mum used the same waffle recipe for decades (with unanimous approval) and went so far as swapping it for a new one. So when I found a soft chocolate cupcake recipe, I was sure it would come out great.
Moelleux is the French name for a chocolate cake with soft center (see this page [in French] for a great description). It became the favourite word of my geeky friends when we attended FOSDEM earlier this year and feasted on moelleux at our reunion dinner.
I edited the recipe a bit, because I didn’t want to use butter. I used coconut oil and coconut paste instead. I added too much flour and I compensated that with a spoonful of soya yoghurt and one of almond mousse. The recipe suggested to bake them for 15 minutes for a soft centre, or 20 for a firmer texture. They ended up in between a moelleux and a brownie, with a hint of coconut.
Hello all! I wish to share with you a rather known trick to let a simple electric oven bake bread with wonderfully crispy crust.
Various baking websites and books recommend to have high humidity for the beginning of the baking process. Professional baking ovens have built-in water sprays that allow to regulate humidity at will, but they are quite expensive. At my mum’s house there is a gas oven. When gas is burnt, it produces small amounts of vapour, that is perfect for bread (and most of oven dishes too). Electric ovens don’t burn anything, so the air inside becomes dry very fast. You notice that if you bake bread and its crust is thick and very hard. It means it has dried out too much and has lost all humidity.
I have bought a relatively cheap electric oven and have only lately started making bread. I quickly realised that the crust was always too thick and dry, so I managed to solve the low humidity issue by adding a baking tin with around one glass of water right before warming the oven up, and leaving it there until the end of baking. The amount of water evaporates during the baking process, so that the tin can stay in the oven until it cools down and it’s safe to remove.
The second improvement is about the surface on which the bread cooks. I used to bake on a metal tin (the one that I decided to fill with water) and I read that a ceramic surface is very suitable for baking. Therefore I used my biggest porcelain casserole dish, upside down (so that the bread will be on the rough, porous surface). I put it in the oven before warming it up, so that the bread will be on a warm surface from the start. It is a bit tricky to put the bread in the oven, but with a small wooden cutting board as support, I manage to transfer the bread on its piece of baking paper quite safely.
I have baked three times with this setup and I am very happy with the flavour and texture of the crust.
I knew about this book from Enrico, but until yesterday did not consider it really interesting for everyday cooking. From the cover and the short description, it appeared to me a funny way of writing down recipes: 3-2-1 Pie Dough (3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part water), and so on.
But when I read the introductory chapters, it became clear that Ruhlman unveils a more fundamental, deep layer of culinary knowledge. Ratios among ingredients belong to the core of each recipe, no matter how complex. This book takes ratios out in the light, so that the reader can spot them in recipes, and can make the important connection between the ratios of ingredients and the recipe’s outcome. You can still read this book as a set of simplified recipes and follow them blindly, but you would miss its core message: aim at understanding the ratios and how they relate to each other when they share the same ingredients, and you will be freed from following recipes closely. You will be able to improvise your own dishes, because you have learned the ability to predict the outcomes of a combination of ingredients.
But I’m opening this book with doughs and batters because these are where ratios really shine and help any kind of cook, from novice to expert, understand the way the fundamental building blocks of cuisine, flour, water, and eggs behave given varying proportions of each. Indeed there is a dough-batter continuum that runs from thick and elastic to thin and delicate to soft to pourable that became a revelation to me when viewed through the lens of ratios.
I came to this book after my experiments with baking bread (that I am quite proud of) and biscuits (that I am not). Digging for more biscuit recipes did not help much, because I was missing the ability to collect feedback from intermediate steps. Such a book sheds light with a different angle, that enables me to take the step (back?) that I need to make any reliable progress.
This is also a good argument against persistence, as in “repetition of an action without understanding the differences between repetitions”. I could have resolved to attempt baking biscuits until I had found out ratios on my own, or some other trick. But I prefer to get a lesson that I can understand and apply without waste of time and ingredients.
Today I wish to write about an iconic Italian cookbook: La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, from Pellegrino Artusi. It is so famous that people call it simply “l’Artusi”. The book is the collection of hundreds of regional and family recipes from all around Italy, sampled by Artusi during his business travels and published, with significant difficulties, in 1891. No editor dared to publish such a book, considering it too trivial, so he resolved to publish the first edition at his own expenses and risk. After a short time, with great surprise, he became so popular that it sold over 1 million copies and reached 111 editions!
I bought a copy of it on a street market in Mantua, not suspecting its value, and after a closer inspection, not understanding why someone would sell it. Each recipe starts with a paragraph about how and where he first knew about the dish, a careful explanation of the cooking steps and special attention to the quality of ingredients. It is nowadays not easy to put into practice, because tools, ingredients and quantities have changed so much: he often mentions the large ovens that were common in farms (forni da campagna), meat cuts that I have never seen, and suggests to cook for 8-12 people. It is more an overview of the Italian society than a cookbook, with its rich descriptions, hints on ingredients availability, perils of travelling, funny anecdotes, common ailments, even the final section with menu suggestions for the common holidays you find “Festa dello Statuto”, that was the anniversary of the first Constitution approved by the king.
I have read it in Italian, the rich, musical, aged Italian of the book’s last edition of 1911. There are translations in multiple languages, that I hope keep its peculiar atmosphere. Enjoy!
For this week’s cooking post I chose a dish I like a lot: khichdi, a rice and lentils dish, very popular in South Asia. This dish has endless variants and names, according to the region where it is prepared and the ingredients that it contains.
My recipe of today aims to be a sort of blueprint, that you can adapt to the ingredients in your cupboard and to your taste.
rice (basmati or jasmine do fine)
lentils, dal or small pulses in around the same quantity of rice
one or two bay leaves
a fat: olive oil, or butter, or ghee, or coconut oil
coriander leaves, and/or basil, and/or parsley (fresh would be the best)
Preparation (~2h soaking + ~30min cooking):
Soak the lentils if needed (check instructions on the package, or rely on your experience). Wash lentils and rice together, until the water comes out clean. Optionally let both soak in water for 1 or 2 hours before cooking.
Put rice and lentils in a pot (a pressure cooker would speed up cooking, but is not required; any wide pot will do), cover them with warm water, add cumin and bay leaves and let cook until tender but not yet cooked. In the meanwhile, crush coriander, cumin and fenugreek in a mortar. (You can roast them before crushing them, using a small pan and no fat.) Slice some ginger, at your taste. When rice and lentils are halfway cooked, add the spices and let simmer for another 10 minutes or until tender. Add water if needed – more water will make the khichdi more soupy and easier to digest, while less water will make it more firm, risotto-like.
Add salt as the last thing, in the pot or in each dish.
On each dish, add crushed or minced coriander/basil/parsley leaves, your preferred fat, chili if you like, and/or pepper. A touch of yoghurt makes the dish deliciously creamy and enhances the spices’ flavours. Enjoy!