Here is the weekly highlight of small and happy updates from my kitchen and my windowsill. First of all, Scottish oatcakes! A friend of mine has relatives in Scotland and regularly brings back these crunchy savoury snacks, that I enjoy alone or with cheese. As the package runs out super fast, I finally tried baking some at home, and it ended up being surprisingly simple. I followed the instructions from Penny’s Recipes. For the next batches I would put the oven to a higher temperature so that the oatcakes get cooked faster and don’t dry out too much, but still I am proud of my first attempt 🙂
On the windowsill, the basil is growing happily and making beautifully curved deep-green leaves. I try to trim it so that all leaves get sunlight, I gave it a stick of mineral fertiliser and it seems to appreciate it. I bought this pot of basil as a discounted, sad-looking thing – with the slight but marked sense of guilt that no one would buy it – and I am relieved to see that its condition is improving a lot.
In the larger flower container I planted the seeds of various edible flower species, given to me as present from a dear friend. After a few days of regular watering and careful observation, many of them are sprouting and are enjoying today’s rain.
Last picture for today’s post is the side dish of mushrooms from yesterday’s lunch, following the Italian recipe called “funghi trifolati”. It’s a quick and tasty recipe that starts with stir-frying garlic, then add mushrooms in dices or stripes, and when the mushrooms are soft add salt, pepper and parsley. This time I added a bit of ginger. I forgot to stir at some point and some parts got a nice crust, so my note for next time is to forget to stir again 🙂
There are a few knitting updates that will get their own post. In the meanwhile, take care and enjoy the weekend!
Long time with no bread updates! It took me many months to bake ten bread loaves, as I don’t have the chance to bake that often anymore, and not every weekend has enough free time to take care of the whole process. Here are all the loaves:
Some are missing because they were eaten before I could take a picture 🙂
I keep baking with the same procedures and setup since a long time. The only changement is the addition of a sandstone that heats up in the oven, stores heat and therefore keeps the temperature more stable. I got it from a friend who was throwing away a grill/raclette set, so I’m sure it’s OK for food use. I am not yet so sure how it changes the baking process, as I don’t see much difference in the results, except maybe that the crust doesn’t get that golden (that could be because I don’t let the stone get hot enough before putting the bread in the oven, so that it keeps eating up heat for a while).
I am baking more than once a week, so next update will come really soon!
The title translates roughtly to “Ginger – health and taste” and is a collection of interesting recipes with ginger, with an informative introduction about the plant, its history, and its many culinary and medical applications. From the many recipes I picked the one for rhubarb jam, that included gelling sugar (that I bought last year but didn’t manage to use), lemon and of course ginger juice. I went grocery shopping and I came back with a kilo of rhubarb, in the form of three huge stalks (really huge! I had never seen such large stalks in Italy!). At home I washed and cut the stalks in small pieces, and removed only the largest fibres. I put the rhubarb pieces in a plastic container, poured the sugar, put a lid on and put everything in the fridge overnight. The day after, the rhubarb had let out a lot of juice. I asked my friend to taste a piece of rhubarb, to know whether to filter the fibrous parts away, but he said they were quite soft, so I blended everything in a purée and transferred it into a pot. I cooked the jam until it started gelling, and then added the juice of a lemon and a lot of ginger juice (it’s sold in small bottles here, and it’s so practical). I stirred the jam and poured it into little jars.
I’m not that fond of ginger flavour, but my friend is, and this jam has become a fixed part of our breakfast 🙂 It goes especially well on the dark bread that I just baked, and is #59 in my bread count:
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.