Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Lemony Glazed Carrots

A couple of years back my friend Guill made these amazing carrots for my thanksgiving party. I fell in love with them and have been thinking about them ever since. You see, I normally cook my carrots and then glaze them with some butter, salt, and honey. Not that I don't love that version but sometimes it just gets boring. Guill's version is lemony and sweet and you can taste hints of cinnamon and star anise. It's exciting where my everyday version isn't.
So I used my Fakesgiving party this year as an excuse to finally ask for the recipe. I probably should have done so two years ago because I think this might be the version I'll be making from now on.

Oh, and in case you are wondering what I mean with cooking carrots - the stall at my farmers market normally has three kinds of carrots - one variety that tastes amazing in salads but looses some of it flavour when you cook it, one variety that tastes incredibly boring when you eat it raw but once you cook it, it falls apart and becomes really creamy (that variety makes the most amazing soups), and then there's a third kind that tastes ok somewhat bland in salads but really develops its flavour when cooked and unlike the previous one the carrots hold their shape really nicely. I used the third kind when making this.

Guill's Carrots (quantities are approximate)
500g Carrots (I used cooking carrots and some purple carrots)
Lemon Juice (I used 2 tbsp but you might want to add a bit at a time to get the flavour you want)
3 Star Anise pods
2 Cinnamon Sticks
Pinch of Salt
2 tsp Raw Cane Sugar (as with the lemon juice this depends on your preference start with a little and add more if you decide it's not enough.

Peel the carrots and cut them into pieces that are all relatively equal in size (it doesn't matter what size they are as long as they are all more or less the same size. Put the carrot pieces in a saucepan that you own a lid for :) and add some water and the salt. You don't have to cover them but if you use very little water check every once in a while that there is still some left at the bottom of the pan.
Once the carrots are somewhat cooked (but nowhere near cooked through) add some lemon juice, the star anise and cinnamon sticks and sugar (play around with the lemon juice and sugar until you are happy with the flavour). Cover again and cook until the carrots are nearing an al dente stage.
Uncover and keep on the heat until the liquid has evaporated.
These carrots go amazingly well with a traditional kind of meal but they are also lovely with pasta and some hummus if you end up having leftovers.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sunday Salon: Taking a Breath

This week I am 'taking a holiday'.
The fact that I am writing should probably already tell you how much lying on the beach or sitting around doing nothing will actually be happening this week but that's not where I want to start off. Let's take half a step back.
Lately, I've been exhausted. I wake up in the morning and I am already tired, I go to bed and half the time I fall asleep with my light on because I am gone the second my head hits the pillow. I'm not telling you because I'm asking for pity but I'm more stating the obvious - if you're spreading yourself too thin and working on too many different projects, sometimes you just need to stop even if the things that you have to stop doing for a while are all things you love.
The reason I have decided to write about this today is because lately,every time I talk to someone we seem to be comparing who's had more migraines over the last feeks or who feels more rundown, who managed to hurt themselves worse while exercising in order to come down after a long day at work. I'm sure this has something to do with the fact that my circle of friends and acquaintances has a fairly high proportion of people who are at the beginning of their career, who have just moved to new cities, who are still trying to find their place in the 'real world'. But is that really it?
Sometimes I wonder - how much of it hast something to do with moving and starting a job and the whole 'real world' thing and how much has something to do with not being able to take a break.
After Preston wrote the last Sunday Salon post I had a whole list of things I wanted to write about, I had a list of people who had losely commited to writing a post, I had a backlog of 10 recipes, all waiting to be written out and uploaded.
And then I realised that I didn't care.
I didn't care whether you got my post on gay marriage exactly 4 weeks before the US election. I mean I care quite deeply about equality irrespective of gender or sexual orientation or religion, but at that point I had stopped caring about whether you care about what I have to say.
A while ago there was an article on the NYTimes opinionator blog by Tim Kreider making the rounds that discussed the idea that we 'enjoy' being stressed and that it's become somewhat fashionable, that it gives us purpose.
When I look at myself, when I look around me, I don't see that many people who enjoy being stressed out - yes, it's always fun to complain about how much you have to do and where you have to be when you have the time to do so, but more often than not people just disappear in that cloud of stress.
When was the last holiday in your adult life where you didn't think about work or brought your laptop or stuff to review or whatnot? Actually, let's include the last year or two of high school.
I had two times when I really didn't do anything for a couple of weeks - the sumer before starting university and then the summer before starting grad-school (but here I already have to make the concession that I went on a summer school at the beginning of that summer...).
There have been a couple of half-hearted attempts to go off the grid for winter holidays and then last year I went on a trip to the US with my mum last year that was supposed to be completely work-free...but neither attempt really worked out - it turns out I can't relax, even remotely when there is no internet whatsoever. I am that person who walks around a room with laptop or phone for better reception, who gets absolutely antsy if they can't check their email for more than 2 days in a row. I'm told it gets quite hilarious for others.
Have I actually become unable to take time off? Am I just a workaholic, or a person with an isolated problem? I don't think so. I am actually convinced that I am just an example of my generation (tell me if I'm delusional in that respect). I feel, unlike the generation Kreider is talking about our generation never learned to deal with having time off and never really learned to say no where work is concerned.
In a way we are incredibly lucky, having grown up in a time of relative prosperity, when so much seemed possible. No more cold war, the beginning of internet for everybody, one European currency...we grew up in an environment that allowed us to pursue our interests and talents. Most of us ended up studying things that weren't really practical but things that allowed us to grow and to develop our talents even further. So many of us were lucky enough to end up in a field that we are interested in and that we identify with (I don't think it matters whether that turned out to be Psychophysics or Political Science or Game Design or Theoretical Mathematics). Unlike the generation before us that, according to Kreider, likes to keep busy what we do has become entangled with our view of ourselves, it is linked to our self-worth. And that is where I think the trouble starts. When you need to take a break because you have no energy left, how does that affect how you see yourself as a person? If you need to slow down and do less of one of the things you use to define yourself, where does that leave you?
I don't know the answer to all of this, I don't know whether I have managed to explain any of those thoughts I've been trying to express. What I know, though, is that I will enjoy my little work expedition to DC as much as i can :)
I hope you have a lovely rest of your Sunday!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Cranberry Shrub

You might ask yourself - what on earth is a shrub? Well, other than the plant in your local park.
The first time I consciously came across a shrub recipe was in the the Maine section (for raspberries) of the lovely new edition of Clementine Paddleford's Great American Cookbook. While I am absolutely in love with that book - reading her stories that come with the recipes you are going on a journey across a country that is very similar to the US these days but at the same time it feels like you are exploring a completely different country. If you like going to those living history museums where you can see how people used to live 'back in the days' then I am pretty sure you will love the book as much as I do (and all the recipes I have tried so far were really nice!).
Anyway, this recipe called for exactly three ingredients, raspberries, sugar and vinegar. I had this somewhat latent plan of making some kind of shrub at some point to find out what this whole thing was about. If I am going to be perfectly honest with you I was not quite convinced by the whole fruit and vinegar thing but a few weeks ago I followed a link on the bitten word and came across guess what - cranberry shrub. From their description it sounded like it could actually be nice and they suggested serving it with vodka, so I decided I could always up the vodka if it was really horrible. Boy, was I wrong!
This stuff is amazing! As I mentioned yesterday, it pretty much tastes like Brause. In all its fizzy awesomeness. Somehow the vinegar does something on your tongue that it doesn't do when you make salad dressing. I don't have a clue how it works but it's amazing. And more importantly, unlike with the dried stuff of my youth you can add soda water and it will taste even more amazing (the dried stuff would always bubble over and spill everywhere on the table and it never seemed to taste as good as it did with flat water but then there weren't enough bubbles...childhood trauma....I'm telling you).
But let's get to the actual recipe, if you are looking for a somewhat old-fashioned aperitif for Thanksgiving (or any kind of dinner party in the near or far future) I strongly suggest you make a shrub. Any kind really. Because I can't imagine shrub made with other fruit tasting any less amazing than the cranberry one I made :)

Cranberry Shrub (adapted from Dunn & Patton, after a recipe in Fine Cooking)
3 cups Cranberries
3 cups Water
1 cup Raw Cane Sugar
3/4 cup Vinegar (I used 25% vinegar and water in a 1:4 ratio to make the 3/4 cup - go for just under 3 tbsp of the concentrated vinegar in that case - otherwise white wine or apple vinegar will be good alternatives)
Zest of 1/2 Orange

Heat all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the cranberries have turned into mush.
Take the pan off the heat and wait until the cranberry mixture has cooled down.
Puree with an immersion blender or if you only have a normal blender blend it in batches.
Strain through some musselin to remove the remaining pieces of cranberry skin.

Now, that was nice and easy :)

Soda water goes really nice with this. As does vodka or Chase gin or sparkling apple cider or tonic water. I haven't tried anything else, but  I'm sure there are a lot more lovely combinations that will work.
I hope you have a lovely weekend! I will be enjoying airline food :) fun times!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Fakesgiving Impressions

Since I will be spending Thanksgiving with my amazing friend Kathleen and her family, rather than having a dinner with friends on Thanksgiving or the next day (much easier when you're coordinating people who don't get Thanksgiving off work) I had a few friends over for dinner last weekend.
I think apart from last year's party which was small because my suitcase and I had arrived in Berlin the day before this must have been the smallest Thanksgiving-related get-together I've ever hosted.
And it was lovely.

My neighbours helped me with some most of the cooking which was quite impressive because I hadn't expected that you could cook in my teeny-tiny kitchen as a group. I had assumed that you would just be in each other's way all the time. But I shouldn't have worried.
What else could I tell you?

I still don't like rubbing butter under a chicken's skin. I think I already told you last year but I had hoped that it would be one of those things that get easier after the first time.
Yeah, that didn't happen....perhaps next year's party will be totally vegetarian. Who knows. I'm pretty sure people liked it though, because the two pieces of chicken you can see were the only two pieces leftover.

I put too much stuff on my plate so I couldn't actually fit any chicken on there in the beginning...I really need to work on that. That's what happens if everything looks too good :)
Oh, and the glass with a red drink you can see in this picture? That's homemade cranberry shrub. While it doesn't seem to be the proper translation, for those of you who grew up in Germany - think cranberry flavoured Ahoi Brause. I'll tell you more about this in the next few days.
One more picture? I took this the next day because I didn't manage to take any semi-nice pictures of the pie in the evening. But here's one of the pies :)

I hope you have a lovely rest of your week!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Fancy Pumpkin Pie with Meringue Topping

 © Anna Blanch  (all pictures in this post)
I have a confession to make. I have been meaning to post this recipe for two years now. It's hands down the best pumpkin pie I've ever had. I've made it for Thanksgiving dinners, I've made it for Christmas, I even made it once for no reason other than that I wanted to eat some pumpkin pie.
The picture above is actually from the first time I made it. In a springform tin. Because I didn't have anything else left because I had 25 or so people over for Fakesgiving and believe it or not I don't actually own that much baking and cooking equipment.
It was a special day because it was my friend Anna and my first anniversary of being friends (our friendship had started the year before when I, after having cooked for the entire day, had greeted this person I had met the week before at a formal dinner with the now somewhat infamous sentence 'I can I just bitch for a sec?' - see, I can charm complete strangers into being my friends, mum :)).
It was also special because my friend Sandra showed me how to cram two beer-can chickens into the oven at my old apartment, leaving enough space for the sweet potatoes at the bottom. Actually, looking at the pictures I bullied Anna into sending me the other day, we also had a whole baking sheet full of potatoes dauphinoise but I doubt that was in there at the same time...if it was that oven must have been previously owned by Mary Poppins.
I love Fakesgiving dinners because it not only is the best dinner party of the year but also because it means lots and lots of food and nobody complaining that they have to watch what they eat. And people tend to get really creative when they bring stuff along.
This is what our table of awesomeness looked like two years ago:


I'll be sharing pictures of this year's extravaganza with you later this week, but I am forgetting the pumpkin pie recipe again. I found this in Delicious Magazine (I am somewhat in love with the pictures in there...) but made a few changes for ease of execution :) most importantly I don't see a point in buying whole chestnuts and then pureeing them yourself if some genius person in France does it for you and sells it in pretty tins.
I wouldn't bother doubling the filling for this recipe if you are using a 26cm springform tin rather than a pie dish - make a bit more dough and just use the filling as is but if you're really worried, add another half recipe. If you are using a 28cm tart dish, definitely multiply the recipe by 1.5. The meringue topping will easily spread out to accommodate either of these alternative sizes but since you can never have enough meringue topping (I could just start making Pavlova) you could also make more of that if you feel like it. I can't tell you anything about other dish-sizes because I've only tried these three. They all have a somewhat different character but work equally well (adjust the baking time!).

Fancy Pumpkin Pie with Meringue Topping
275g Flour
125g Cold Butter
2 tbsp Icing Sugar
1 large Egg Yolk

450g peeled Butternut Squash, cut into pieces
100g Chestnut Puree (get the unsweetened stuff vanilla is nice, though)
200ml Cream
50g + 65g Raw Cane Sugar
1/2 tsp Mixed Spice
1 tsp Ground Ginger
A pinch of Ground Cloves
50ml Syrup (I've made this recipe both with golden syrup and agave syrup and they're both nice, don't use corn syrup or simple syrup, though...maple syrup should be nice as well, I think)

4 large Eggs,
1/4 tsp Lemon Juice

In a bowl, rub the butter into the flour until your mixture looks like grits. Add a pinch of salt and the icing sugar. Follow with the egg yolk and a tablespoon or two of cold water. Working quickly, bring the dough together. If it helps, use a knife but I find I work faster using my hands. Wrap in cling-film and chill or at least half an hour.
Once he dough is properly chilled, preheat your oven to 180˚C and roll out the dough until it resembles a circle with a diameter of 28cm. Transfer the dough into a buttered 24cm pie dish, prick little holes into the surface and blind bake (use your preferred method) for about 10 minutes or so before you remove whatever you used to hold down the bottom and bake it for another 5-10 minutes.
In a saucepan, bring the butternut squash, 130ml of the cream, first 50g of the sugar to a boil. If the cream does not cover the squash, add hot water until it is submerged. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, until you are on the slightly squishy side of tender.
Remove the butternut squash from the pan and boil the cream mixture down until it has the texture of thick double cream. Add the chestnut puree, butternut squash, syrup, and spices. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until it is relatively smooth.
Mix the eggs, egg yolks and remaining 70ml of cream until smooth, then add it to the pumpkin mix. Fill the pre baked shell and bake for 45-50 minutes until the filling is set but the centre has only just done so.
If you over-bake things it won't taste any worse but the filling tends to separate from the shell on the sides and it can start resembling a brick...so err on the side of under-baking here - it will go back into the oven later on anyway.
Whisk the egg whites until they are starting to get fluffy, then add the remaining sugar and lemon juice until stiff peaks form.
Turn down the temperature in your oven to 150˚C, top your pie with mounds of egg whites and return the pie to the oven for another 10-15 minutes or until the top of the meringue are golden.
You could eat this pie warm or at room temperature and it would be equally nice. I've had it chilled as well and I wouldn't want to repeat that experience but the other two are equally great alternatives.
I hope you have a lovely rest of your week. I also hope I can share some pictures of this year's party with you really soon.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Mini Chocolate Cakes (avec gooey centre) for Sonja

Some people have told me that it's the friends you make in college that stay your friends for life. I've met some amazing people both during my time as an undergraduate and as a graduate student, but to me it feels like that diminishes the bond you have with some of your high-school friends. You know, the friends who knew you before you got highlights and lost weight and started using probably too much make-up. Yeah, those friends. My friend Sonja is one of those people I became friends with, let me think...I guess nearly 11 years ago. Even though we haven't lived in the same country for the better part of 8 years now (why do people have to move abroad when I decide to move back?!?!) we've kept in touch (thank you, Skype!). 
Anyhow, it's Sonja's birthday today and a while ago she asked me whether I could write a recipe for her. 
Something with chocolate.
Something 'like those mini cakes [I] used to make, those with the gooey centre' (ok, that was a fairly loose translation of the fb message that started this whole thing).
So let's talk about those mini cakes Sonja was talking about.
They're from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess and apparently I made them when I came back home one summer. I think.
They're pretty much chocolate with some eggs, butter, sugar, and flour to hold the chocolate together and you can even make them after a lacrosse game (only potentially still in your sports clothes) while dreaming of all the things you'll eat afterwards. I obviously didn't do any of that because I'm all grown up and organised and whatnot.
Anyhow, let's make some mini chocolate cakes (a.k.a. mini chocolate-mousse-soufflé thingies with a molten chocolate centre).

Note - the original recipe leaves you with mini cakes, I tend to keep them in the ramekins I use to bake them in and eat them like a chocolate soufflé. If you would rather have them sitting on a plate, butter your ramekins and cut out some baking parchment to line the bottoms. Both versions are super easy.

Mini Chocolate Cakes after Nigella Lawson's recipe - enough for 2 cakes
15g Butter
90g Dark Chocolate (use nice chocolate here since it's the main ingredient)
45g Sugar
1 Egg
Pinch of Salt
1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
15g Flour

Preheat your oven 200˚C and heat a baking sheet in the oven.
Melt the chocolate and set it aside to cool. Beat the egg with the salt until it is somewhat frothy. Cream the butter and sugar, then start adding the egg, followed by the vanilla extract. Mix in the flour until well combined. Add the chocolate to the mixture, make sure everything is properly mixed.
Pour the batter into the ramekins and place them in the oven for 10 minutes. 
Nigella suggests tipping them out straight away and eating them with some whipped cream, unwhipped cream, crème fraiche, crème anglaise or ice cream. I really like them slightly cooled just as they are.
Sonja, I hope this cures any chocolate cravings you might have while writing! I wish I could celebrate your birthday with you!

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