Thursday, July 26, 2007

Let them eat cake

This, my readers, is what a birthday cake should look like. Yes, homespun, yes, I agree it is a little lop-sided. But, it looks like a cake.

Sadly, this is not the spectacular birthday cake which I created for my husband's birthday. No. That one, which I had spent all day preparing including an extra run to the grocery store for a few urgent ingredients was not a success. It was, in fact, a big fat failure. All 75% cocoa solid, condensed milk, pure butter, coffee, bitter sweet chocolate, chocolate ganache of it was a disaster.

Because I broke it. When I came to split and ice it, I broke it. I broke it into so many small pieces that there was no gluing it back together with ganache, no cutting the layers smaller and making a smaller cake. The Ford truck which I'd found in Jewel to place on top took on a new significance, as if it had unloaded right there on the cake plate. This was a shame, because it was his 30th birthday and I had been melting chocolate since he left for work.

Which is why I was more than a little proud of the coffee and walnut cake I turned out earlier this week for a close friend's birthday. Vindication. Or, lesson. Don't over extend when it's that important. Stick to Mum's tried and tested recipe. Impress! And delight! Eat cake.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Coming out of the woodwork

And this one is well worth coming out of the woodwork for.

If you are anything like me, you have a lot of recipes floating around, so many that you never use half of them because you know there's a great Thai fish curry around here somewhere, but gosh darn it, where could it have gone.

I'm guessing this great product, the Neat Receipt Scanalizer could truly revolutionize my crazy recipe filing. Currently, all three rooms in the apartment, as well as the corridor to the master bedroom, contain clippings, printouts and scribbled family recipes. Despite my best efforts, there are recipes stuffed on top of the fridge, making a living as bookmarks, and holding up bookshelves in the second bedroom. To solve this cooking (and cleaning) conundrum, the Scanalizer enables you to send the images and details of each gourmet meal to your computer, where it can be found next time you fancy trying to follow the same recipe. Imagine a world where all your favorite recipes are stored happily on your computer AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO TYPE THEM IN FIRST. Hooray! Yes Please!

So nip over to 5 minutes for mom and check out this awesome contest, at

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tasty Afternoon Carrot Cake

This week I am mostly needing food which is easy, tasty but healthy-feeling after a few weeks of traveling. Visiting family and friends in the UK has meant that we had no fixed schedule, and few set mealtimes. This has made me crave some comfort food. At the start of the week I made very unhealthy chocolate and ginger brownies. I had to send them into work with my husband to avoid eating more than two slices.

Today, looking for a more saintly snack, I dug out all the carrot cake recipes I could find and cobbled together something a little different. Slightly on the crumbing side, it nevertheless has done the job. It has a fantastic crunch to the crust, thanks to the addition of polenta and is wonderfully moist in the centre.

I have a tasty, healthy-sounding carrot cake sat on the kitchen counter with one slice missing.

We have had dreadful weather here today - complete with tornado warnings - so I stopped everything and had a slice with a cup of tea at 4pm. Very British. Very rainy day. Very not helpful for my 750 word deadline.

Tasty Carrot Cake
Adapted from several recipes, including Jamie Oliver and Leith's Cookery Bible

1 lb of carrots, freshly peeled and chopped in the blender until the consistency resembles finely grated carrot
3 eggs, separated
about 1 1/2 inches of thumb width freshly grated ginger
150 ml of honey
6 fl oz of olive oil
1 tsp of vanilla essence
2 tsp baking powder
3 1/2 oz of polenta (or medium grind cornmeal)
pinch of salt
pinch of allspice
pinch of cinnamon
60z plain flour

Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a nine inch cake tin, it is advisable to use greaseproof paper to avoid burning.
Mix together the carrot, egg yolk, ginger, honey, olive oil and vanilla essence.
Add the dry ingredients.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Fold into the carrot and flour mixture.
Pour batter into cake tin and bake for 35 -45 minutes, until skewer inserted in centre comes out clean.
Cool on wire rack and enjoy.
Fold into the carrot mixture.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Roasted Tomato Soup with Basil and Red Onion

Yesterday I did my grocery shopping at the store nearest to our home. It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable doing the weekly shop. A first, there were brand names I did not recognise, fruit and vegetables that came in vastly different sizes and were even, in some cases, called different things. I would stand in the bread aisle and feel an unforgivable urge to cry. Hundreds of colorfully packaged loaves of bread and not one that looked familiar.

Now I know where to find fresh baked bread and my woes are different. It begins with wrestling my shopping cart out of the hallway cupboard. To get to the store I must successfully navigate a large crosswalk with no lights. My rickety shopping cart must be stored precariously in the shop’s own cart before I can begin. Sometimes the idea that I must then stride back and forth through poorly organised aisles weighs heavily as I plunge through the doors. If I am honest, I do not like the store, but there are none closer and the thought of taking my shopping cart on the train fills me with more dread than the thought of taking my chances with the one block walk.

Yesterday was different. Yesterday the sight of a giant display of bright plum tomatoes winking at me from the produce department lifted my spirits enough to propel me through the whole store. Those winks, now safely jostling with red onions in my cart, held the promise of soup.

I love soup. I make it almost every lunch time, sometimes labouring over fresh vegetables, sometimes opening canned beans and blitzing up something quick and filling, sometimes pulling a labelled bag from the freezer. The household favorite is leek and potato but if it can be made into soup, I've added it to stock. My kitchen even has a special hand-held blender which I use specifically for the creation of soup. By special, I mean cheap: and loved.

Back home, my mother makes a tomato soup at the end of summer, with the excess of tomatoes from my father’s grow-bags, which year after year sit by the back door and produce varying quantities of fruit. There are never enough. In mummy’s tomato soup, there are to be found, all those tomatoes deemed not worthy of the salad plate and potatoes, for thickness. This is, after all, approaching fall and the frozen leftovers will need to sustain us through the winter.

Today, as we face the possibility of spring, despite the unseasonable cold and the odd flurry of snow, I felt the need for something a little lighter, although still warming. It’s currently cold in the Mid-West. I needed something that could convince my palate, if not my cold hands, that spring is around the very next corner. Roasted tomato and red onion soup seemed to fit the bill.

Just over two lbs of plum tomatoes, red onion and basil roasted with sparing amounts of balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and castor sugar for about an hour at 400˚. Then they simmered away with some stock, around a pint and a half, until the tomatoes broke down and the red onions had leaked away all of their remaining colour. It took about 40 minutes on a low heat before my lunch was ready.

Probably laziness coming through, but I prefer my soups to have some substance. I do not blend them too finely and I have never, ever, strained. Finding a stray basil leaf is part of the fun. It also means that you get to eat quicker. I would guess it is also responsible for the burnt ochre colour of this soup; along with the balsamic vinegar. Just some salt and pepper and a ladle; and the cheeky winks had become soothing murmurs from the bottom of a bowl. At the end of the summer, this would make a perfect treat with more red onion added. Until then, it keeps out the spring chill.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Why write about food?

Why write about food? Apart from the fact that I consume copious amounts everyday and truly love to create something from the raw ingredients I can find without a car in this city, I choose to write about food because it connects me. It has been there ever since I remember; from my mother’s homemade birthday cakes to her Slimming World menu plans. It connects me to my family and to new friends who also get excited about that brand new cookie recipe.

In my mother’s cookbook collection there are already those recipes, like the wonderful Cooked Turkey Curry, which I have transcribed and stolen to make myself here in the States. Other recipes have been promised to me when the time comes for them to be passed on. Until then, my grandfather’s Pâté, written in his familiar handwriting, waits patiently on a shelf in the UK for me to claim it. I am part of an elite clan who make Red Wine Punch this particular way for Christmas parties, part of a tribe who are also reheating a homemade Christmas Pudding on New Year’s Day.

In food, there is the potential to show love; look what I made, for you. There is satisfaction on so many levels. I am able to produce something which creates or retrieves memories from smell, or sight, or taste. If I make my husband cheese and potato pie, the sight of bubbling, blistered cheese lets him know that I have thought about him. It reminds him of all the times he has eaten this dish, lovingly cooked by his mother back home. If I make myself a mushroom risotto, the bloated grains comfort me whilst telling me that I am worth such a luxurious treat. They remind me of a dear friend who serves nothing else to supper guests and who will take over the stirring if you dare to make ‘her dish’ in your own kitchen.

Why write about food? I'm hoping that sharing my dishes and my memories should force me to stop baking, cooking and eating long enough to appreciate the last meal and become excited about the next.

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Greedy Pig will be opening any day soon. Pop by, pull up a kitchen stool and join me for tea and cakes.