Jesurgislac’s Journal

August 24, 2010

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Bring On The Sweet Stuff

You have a cake or a cookie or a muffin.

Actually, this is the Internet, so I don’t know if you really do, but pretend, okay?

How can you make your ordinary and undistinguished cake or cookie or muffin or fruit loaf or WHATEVER, really, look special? Cover it with more sugar!

Icing or frosting, the basics:

The best invention ever; if you’re icing a whole cake, do it twice. The first layer is the crumb layer.

1 cup powder sugar (aka icing sugar). This is very, very fine-grained sugar that blows about with a puff of air. You can sub in 1/3 of a cup of cocoa for 1/4 cup of sugar, if you want to make a chocolate icing.
2 tablespoons liquid.
1 teaspoon glycerine, if the cake is not to be eaten immediately: it saves the icing from drying out.
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon of additional flavouring, if the liquid is not sufficient.

The liquid can be anything. Use wine or brandy or liqueur for a rather grown-up taste: use lemon or lime juice for something sharper. Use coffee if you are making a chocolate cake. Coffee icing on a chocolate cake is THE WIN, if you can’t make chocolate ganache, see below. You can even use a tablespoon of water and a tablespoon of vanilla essence. Put the icing sugar into a big bowl. Wear old clothes. Shoo the cats out of the kitchen. (Their hair will stick to the icing. Yuck.)

Add the liquid to the powdered sugar, and beat well. The icing sugar flies about the kitchen. You’re grateful I told you to wear old clothes. If the icing seems a little dry, add small amounts of more liquid, but it should be fairly thick and sticky for the crumb layer. You can expand this recipe just by doubling quantities. Four tablespoons of liquid is one-eighth of a cup, to be added to 2 cups of powdered sugar .

Spread on the first layer of icing. It will take up crumbs from the cake, but that’s okay. No one will see it. Cover the whole cake. You can use a knife dipped briefly into boiling water to make sure it doesn’t stick.

Wait for the first layer to cool and dry. It doesn’t need to set completely.

Mix up the second batch of icing – this can be a little bit more liquid BUT NOT MUCH – and pour over the first layer. Presto: you have a perfectly frosted cake.

Buttercream is even easier and you use it to layer the cake together. So, if you just frosted your cake according to my instructions above, you should now take it apart to put in the buttercream frosting, cursing yourself for not reading my instructions to the end.

1 cup of soft brown sugar.
2 tablespoons butter or vegan margarine.
1 tablespoon vanilla essence, or other flavouring of your choice. You could also add 1/3 cup cocoa, or a couple of tablespoons of honey.
Beat the soft butter into the sugar until you have a thick brown paste. (You could, of course, use plain white granulated sugar and use food colourings, if you want sparkly colours instead of the yummy brown-sugar-butter-vanilla flavour. Peasant.)

Spread the buttercream on one layer of the cake. Cover thickly. People will thank you for it. Drop the second layer on top of the first. Repeat as necessary.

Chocolate ganache: Melt 8 ounces/200g good chocolate in 1/4 cup of soy milk. (Heat the milk till it’s quite warm, not boiling, break the chocolate into the warm milk in small pieces, put the bowl with the milk into a larger bowl with just-boiled water – and stir the contents of the bowl until the chocolate has all melted. This is a foolproof technique: the milk doesn’t need to be kept VERY warm to melt the chocolate, and a bath of very hot water around the bowl works a treat.) Add a tablespoon of maple syrup or honey. When the chocolate is all melted, spoon the liquid ganache over the cake. When this sets, it will be like solid chocolate, only slightly softer. Delicious. You can use this to layer cakes together or to cover them or even as just a layer on top of the cupcake.

February 23, 2010

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Real Pizza With Love

Filed under: Food,Tuesday Recipe Blogging — jesurgislac @ 8:25 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Pizza literally means pie. A pizza is, originally, an open-topped pie with a bread-dough crust. Naples claims to have invented the original pizza (and this year had their traditionally-made pizzas trademarked as a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed) but real pizza really is… a method of finishing up left-over bread dough with a bit of flavour.

(If you don’t make your own bread routinely, of course you can make a batch of dough specially to make pizzas.)

Because you are making your pizzas with left-over dough, the dough won’t be thin and go crispy – but then you probably don’t have a pizza oven, either. Spread out the dough as thin as you can get it using just your hands. I have a couple of 4-at-a-time mini-pie baking trays I use, because I like mini-pizzas. They’re about two and a half inches across and a quarter of an inch deep, and I divide the dough into 4 or 8 pieces, grease the pie trays, and spread the dough into a rough pie-crust shape for each.

Spread the inside of the pizza pie with your sauce: something sharp and full of flavour. (Or you can make a white pizza with no sauce.) Besides the standard tomato sauces, I like salsa or pesto. (Anchovies are perfectly traditional for pizza, if you were wondering.)

Add your bits and pieces, sliced thin. Mushrooms, garlic, baby aubergines… anything you like, really. (I got to this stage of mini-pizza making and asked the child what she wanted – daughter of a friend, an alarmingly picky eater – and finally the only thing she actually agreed to was chips. She grew up quite normal however. Don’t be discouraged.)

Add the cheese! Or skip it, if someone’s allergic to dairy.

Leave to rise for half an hour to an hour: bake till the cheese is melty and the edges are crispy: and then let cool for ten minutes before you eat, because burning your mouth on hot sauce and hot cheese is really going to spoil the whole rest of the evening. If you don’t pay attention to the pizza of my experience, then it helps to have ice-cream in the freezer.

But then of what situation is that not true?

February 16, 2010

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Pancake Day!

When I was a kid, Saturday evening meant pancakes for supper. Not what you probably think of when you think “pancakes” – these were thick, almost savoury cakes made with cream-cracker crumbs and cottage cheese and eggs, served with fruit sauce. Though I have not made them in years, the recipe is fixed in my mind:

Ingredients per person: 1 ounce of cream crackers, crushed or ground to fine crumbs; 1 ounce of smooth cottage cheese; 1 egg. Beat the cottage cheese and the eggs together to form a thick yellowish paste, then add the cream crackers “to a dropping consistency”, meaning that when I picked up a spoonful and dropped it into the hot oil, it fell cleanly from the spoon. We always fried them in shallow oil till they were dark brown, layered them on a plate with paper towel to catch the excess fat, and ate them with fruit sauce as soon as possible after they had been made.

The sauce was made with two tins of fruit – over the years I think my two favourite mixtures were pineapple and apricot, or mandarin oranges and pears, and usually preserved in fruit juice rather than syrup. But really, any kind was good – I think the only sort I ever regretted was a tin of fruit salad mix with glace cherries. It was always made in a cast-iron red pot that had been a wedding present: save a little fruit juice in a small bowl, and tip the two tins into the pot, turn up the heat under the fruit, and mix the juice with a tablespoon of cornflour. Add the mixture to the fruit in the pan, and stir: magically, to me when I was a child, the white mixture would disappear and the liquid juice in which the fruit rested would thicken into a sauce. This could be eaten hot or cold, so the sauce could be made hours or even a day before the pancakes. These were delicious and filling, and as I remember no one usually managed more than three. There were always leftovers, which were eaten cold as snacks.

Nowadays when I make pancakes I usually make them with a cup of flour, or more depending on how many people I am feeding, and a pinch of salt: make a well in the middle of the flour, stir in an egg, and then up to a pint of milk, or milk and water, or beer, (or cream if you want thicker, richer pancakes) to make a thin batter, which makes a large thin cake in a thin layer of hot grease in a pan or on a griddle.

But I also sometimes make sourdough batter, which is egg-free: I take some sourdough starter from the fridge, add some more flour and water, beat it into a thin liquid with a plastic whisk (metal isn’t good for the yeast) and leave it to quicken for an hour or so in a warm place. When it’s bubbly, it’s ready to be used as I would basic pancake batter.

I eat pancakes plain, or with maple syrup, or lemon juice and sugar, or with a spice like cinnamon whisked into the batter, or with curry…

How do you make your pancakes? How do you eat your pancakes?

April 28, 2009

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Plantain and Pineapple Curry

I’m writing this on Sunday, not on Tuesday, because I feel the need to write up the recipe before I know for sure if it was fail or win.

My usual recipe for this is Banana Tofu Curry. It’s very good. But, I’d been wondering for some time if it were possible to make it with plantains. (Those big green banana-like fruit that need to be cooked before they’re eaten.)

So on Saturday I bought four plantains, and on Sunday I cracked a coconut I’d bought earlier (cracked two: but one of them seemed off, so I decided not to use it). This part involved much thumping and bashing with my heaviest hammer. Great fun.


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March 24, 2009

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Sweet Potato and Leek Soup

Almost too obvious to blog about, but not quite, because it really is that good.

Six leeks: wash thoroughly, remove all the bits you wouldn’t want to eat.
Two medium sweet potatoes.
Three medium white potatoes.
Two vegie stock cubes.
Herbs: I used rosemary and sage.

sweet potatoes

Chop the leeks, scrub and prepare the potatoes for their awful doom. Put the leeks in the slow cooker. Cut the potatoes up into small pieces. Add the herbs (about a half teaspoon of each) and crumble in the stock cubes. Cover theubgredients with water, put on high for half an hour and then low for eight to twelve hours, liquidise with a stick blender, and enjoy.

(Obviously one could make this without a slow cooker, in which case I would probably cook the sweet potatoes, leeks, and white potatoes in butter or olive oil, with the herbs, until the sweet potatoes were beginning to be tender, before I added the vegie stock.)

I think of leek-and-potato soup as one of the basic soups – it’s fine, you make it a lot when leeks are in season, eat it with maybe some cheesy bread or with sour cream stirred in. But the addition of sweet potato makes the soup richer, gives the flavour more depth: it turns a good soup into a great one.

The colour of the soup becomes a murky green rather than a clean green-and-white or plain green, but who cares when it’s tasty?

February 10, 2009

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Cheese and Potato Pie

In its simplest form, this isn’t even a pie. It’s just the fastest way to get three hungry kids fed, presuming that you routinely have potatoes and cheese in the house. This was my dad’s fast food meal for us.

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February 3, 2009

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Easy Peasy Pea Soup

The easiest way to make this soup:

About a quarter-kilo of frozen green peas (that is, the usual smallest size available). A vegie stock cube.

Put the peas into a pan. Crumble in the stock cube. Cover the peas with water. Bring the water to a boil and cook for a couple of minutes. Skoosh the cooked peas into thick green soup with a stick blender. Season to taste with salt/pepper.

That’s all. It’s a delicious quick fresh hot soup.

You can dress it up, if you have time, by sauteing garlic in olive oil, or better yet (if you’re me) garlic and broccoli and some rosemary, or fresh sage, and then adding the frozen peas and water/vegie stock cube, but this turns it into a bit more of a production. The original version produces lovely soup in less than ten minutes – not much longer than it takes to open a tin and heat it.

You can also (if you have a slow cooker) make mushy peas: half a kilo dry split peas, two or three onions, as much garlic as you like, vegie stock cube, dried sage, salt, pepper: chop the onions and the garlic, add them and the split peas to the slow cooker, crumble in the stock cube and a teaspoon or so of dried sage and just a bit of salt and black pepper – and then cover the mix with water, and cook for about half an hour at a high heat and then for six to ten hours at a slow heat. Ridiculously delicious.

January 27, 2009

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: flying food

Via, via, the open letter on Virgin Airlines food, inspired me to this week’s Tuesday Recipe:

I used to fly from Heathrow to Scotland on the BMI earlybird flight more often than I like to remember. In theory, you could get a breakfast on the flight: in practice, getting a vegetarian breakfast required booking it at least 48 hours in advance. (The flight was one of those you can book 12 hours in advance – I don’t know if they still exist, but on at least one occasion I decided to go to Edinburgh if I could get a seat, rang up BMI in the afternoon, booked myself on the next day’s flight… and found I was 36 hours too late to get a vegetarian breakfast.)

The one time I managed to book in advance and navigate their special meal booking system to get a vegetarian breakfast on the plane, another vegetarian was sitting several rows ahead of me, so when he asked could he have a vegie breakfast, he got mine: and no, the flight attendant did not apologise for the mistake.

Food on short flights exists mainly to give the passengers something to do. (Actually, I suppose the practice of serving meals probably initially began because flight attendants, whose primary duty is to save the passengers lives in the event of disaster, were always mostly female, and what do you have women do when they’re not saving lives? Serve food.)

On long flights, though, you do need to eat something – even if you’re not doing anything: and of course the crew need to be fed: they’re working. The only problem is, and particularly if you’re vegetarian: the food is usually vile, where it isn’t inedible.

My solution is baked cheese on bread. (more…)

January 20, 2009

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Promises Are Pie Crust

“Promises are pie crust” – easily made, easily broken.

Obama has promised he will remove “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and LGBT people will be able to serve openly in the military; he has also promised he will have the Defense of Marriage Act repealed, which will mean that a same-sex couple who live in a state where they are legally banned from marrying, can go to a state in which they can marry, get married, return home, and their home state will be legally required to recognise their marriage as valid.

Both are huge legal steps towards legal equality for LGBT people in the US. But all we know for sure about Obama’s Presidency is that today, Rick Warren will give the invocation prayer at his inauguration.

When Barack Obama was born, his parents could not be legally wed in multiple states in the US. The last state to take the laws against his parents’ being married off the books was Alabama, in 2000. Young Barack Obama was not quite 6 years old before a Supreme Court decision anti-democratically overturned the legislation against the legal marriage of Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. The same kind of Christians who today oppose same-sex marriage, back then opposed miscegenation or interracial marriage, and in the same terms: it was against God’s will, they said, to give mixed-race couples the legal right to marry: it was against God’s will for them to have children.

Would Barack Obama invite a preacher who had, a few weeks ago, told him that his parents were morally the same as child or animal molesters – that for his mom and dad to marry legally was on the same kind of moral plane as paedophilia and bestiality? If he would not, why does he feel it’s Okay to invite Rick Warren?

Pie crust is easy to make. The best kind is short-crust pastry. For this, you need:

1. Cold hands. If your hands are not naturally cold (cold hands, warm heart) hold them under the cold-water tap for a minute or so before you start rubbing the fat into the flour.
2. Cold water. Cold as you can get it without it actually freezing over.
3. Fat. You can use butter or margarine. Butter has a lovely flavour in itself, of course, but really, for a pie with a flavoursome filling, margarine will do. If you use a fat that is hard in the fridge, it needs to be at room temperature – that is, soft to the touch – when you use it in pastry. This is, in fact, the best reason for using a soft margarine if you just want pastry right now – it won’t be the best, but it’ll be fine. Non-vegetarians tell me that lard is good.
4. Flour. In principle, you want a low-gluten flour – a “soft” flour in bakers’ parlance. This is because a high-gluten flour, or “strong” flour, will make you pastry that’s very hard and stiff. But if you are a dab hand with the rolling pin and can roll your pastry out very thin, I personally think that the stiff pastry that results from a high-gluten flour can be very nice – but you do need to plan on using it for a thin, thin crust.

For short-crust pastry, if you are making a batch with four ounces of flour, you want two ounces of fat. Half the weight of fat to flour.

With cold hands, rub the fat into the flour to make crumbs. Do so gently and quickly. Don’t over-rub. There are all sorts of techniques advised, like using a knife to cut the fat into the flour until it is evenly distributed, but the reason for all these rules is simply: You don’t want the fat to melt. You want the grains of flour to be englobed in fat that is still fat, not oil. So: cold hands, don’t rub too hard, if you’re deft with a knife use a knife as much as possible, keep your hands cold…

Mix the crumbs with cold cold cold water. Just enough to draw the crumbs together into a ball of pastry-dough. Not too much.

Wrap the pastry-dough in cling film and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to two days. (Seriously; if it’s wrapped up, it’ll be fine in the fridge for a couple of days.) If the pastry’s been in the fridge for more than 30 minutes, make sure it’s at room temperature before you start rolling it out, or it’ll crack.

If you’re making a pie, divide the pastry into two rounds. It would be otiose to point out that you will want the round for the bottom crust to be larger than the round for the top crust: about a third larger. Either you are the kind of person who thinks of these things before you start rolling out the pastry, or you are not. Flour a cold surface, flour the rolling-pin (I picked up a marble rolling-pin in a second-hand shop for peanuts, years ago: it makes great pastry because it’s cold) and roll your pastry out. Keep dusting the pastry and the rolling-pin with flour if it seems to be sticking to the pin. Line the tin you are using with the first round of pastry, fill it with beans, and blind-bake it in the oven for a few minutes to make it crisp.

Roll out your second round of pastry. Fill the pie with your filling. Apple pie is the best. Cover with the pastry. Trim off the edges. Press holes in the top with a fork (or cut with a very sharp knife). Do fancy things with the trimmings like making shapes of leaves or apples if you like, but you’ll make me feel inadequate – I usually just bake the trimmings in the oven spread with mustard and cheese for instant cheese straws, yum. I am not artistic.

Bake your pie in the oven. You will find that the pie crust is like promises: easily made, easily broken.

—Update, 2nd May 2009—

Sometimes, I really hate being right when I’m cynical.

You remember those promises being made post-election, pre-Rick Warren? The civil rights section of the White House website is now de-gayed. versionista cite

(waves at cleek)

January 13, 2009

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: griddle cakes

I own a family griddle. It’s a flat piece of cast iron, quite heavy, with a wooden handle in a metal socket riveted to one side. There is a slight rim around the edge, to keep melted grease from running off. (You never pour large amounts of oil on to a griddle: you grease it, and wipe it off after use.) I don’t know how old it is: I inherited it from an elderly cousin who died a few years ago.

This week’s Tuesday Recipe Blogging is inspired by this video at Ezra Klein’s, in which Barack Obama (then a very junior state senator) extols the virtues of Dixie Kitchen, and warns of the dangers of corn cakes.

Which are griddle cakes: there’s a shot of someone cooking them. Sure, you could fry them, if you don’t have a griddle. Different technique, though. Frying is cooking something in hot oil – even a shallow fry is the process of heating oil until it is hot enough to cook whatever you have put in the oil.

Griddle cooking uses grease only to keep whatever you put on the griddle from sticking to it. What cooks the food is the heat from the metal: a cake placed on a griddle is cooked through from the bottom up, and you turn it over only briefly to brown the top side (if you want). It’s a very basic kind of cooking. I have cooked popadoms and chapattis, oatcakes and drop scones and singin’ hinnies, tortillas and tacos, on my griddle. All of them are made with some basic combining of ground grains, water, fat, and flavour.

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