Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bean in the cake

Did you grow up planting a bean in the cake? Or perhaps a coin, wrapped in tin foil? Was it for birthdays? Christmas? Some random Saint Day? What happened if you got the elusively baked bit in the cake? Did you get a prize? Was the coin/bean/figure the prize itself? Did you get to wear a silly hat? Were you granted luck, love, happiness? How long did it last - a day? a month? a  year? As long as the piece of cake in front of you?

Seriously. This bean in the cake thing pops up all over! I started thinking about it on January 6 - epiphany. In France all the bakeries bake galette des rois in honour of the three wise men who arrived at the baby Jesus' manger with very expensive and inappropriate gifts. Actually I think by the time they arrived he was meant to be a toddler but that would make a very complicated nativity scene so they just stick with the baby Jesus part. Anyways the tradition is that inside the lovely puff pastry almond cream tart is baked  a figurine and whoever gets the figure gets to wear the silly crown that is provided with the tart and gets to be king for a day.

All very cute and quaint, no?

Except this bean/figure/nut/whatever baked in a cake or tart shows up all over the place. Repeatedly. All sorts of random saints days are celebrated by making a cake (often heavy on nuts or dried fruits) and hiding a Thing inside for one lucky person. How peculiar. I thought it was very strange and sort of silly but then I realised my mom used to put coins wrapped in tin foil in my birthday cake. And I think I thought that was the neatest thing ever. (Don't worry I'm sure she washed the coins first) So maybe the whole thing isn't so peculiar. But I wonder where it started? I haven't been able to find that out so if anyone knows...

Galette des rois aren't at all difficult to make. Puff pastry and almond cream. I made a smallish one as I quite like them and I knew that if I made a big full sized one I would end up nibbling away at it sliver by sliver. Which I did anyways with the help of C and T, but at least it didn't start out as big...

There are a ton of recipes for the galette des rois flitting about on the internet. I used the one at Chocolate & Zucchini and used about a third of the filling for my slightly smaller circles of pastry. I did not eat the leftover filling from the bowl. No. I did not. Stop looking at me like that!

This is what I made. I was quite pleased with it.

Until I looked over at the counter. And I realise I had forgotten to put the god damned bean in it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Know Your Pig

Illustration by Kagan McLeod from the New York Magazine article  
A brilliant post from New York Magazine and chef du jour April Bloomfield on pig pieces. I love this kind of thing. Makes going to the butcher much more satisfying.

Monday, January 10, 2011


"I recommend the Hindu meal - I have no idea what a Hindu meal is, but a curry is better than the righteous indignation of the Atheist meal" from an email sent to Nathan from his friend Dr. Justin Bahl, Evolutionary Geneticist

LA Times Article: America's Good Food Fight

A great article on the price, external costs and myths around sustainable, healthy food. Read it.

Vietnamese Cooking Class at Fernandez & Leluu

When I was a kid my mom volunteered with CARE (Central Alberta Refugee Effort) helping families who had just immigrated to Red Deer to get settled in. She'd go to various stores and services with them and help them get acquainted with how things worked, where things were. I'm sure they would have figured it all out on their own, but, having moved to a Strange Country myself, I can see the appeal of having a friendly local to show you the ropes. We've lived here for three years and a trip to the cleaning products aisle still does my head in. 

I don't remember if I met many of the families my mom met, but I do remember one family very well, and I think they had quite a profound impact on me. They were a small family - mom, dad, little boy who must have been a bit younger than my brother at the times - from Vietnam. This would have been in the late Eighties. They had some family in Canada but had (for whatever reason) landed in Red Deer. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to arrive in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. I hope they arrived in summer. It's beautiful in it's own way, but Alberta is flat prairie land and the winter's are harsh and cold and bleak and the grey of the sky blends into the grey of the houses and the grey of the snow and it can break your heart. They had pictures in their flat of Vietnam, I remember a calendar, and it looked lush and warm and full of life. 

The mother made food the likes of which I had only ever had in restaurants. And she made it every day, like it was nothing special at all. This fascinated me. 

I'm sure she made plenty of dishes but all I really remember were the summer rolls. I remember taking them home by the plate load and my dad devouring them. She never wanted to come eat at our house. I don't think they liked Canadian food. But she did come over and make chocolate chip cookies with us. An odd cultural exchange that, chocolate chip cookies for summer rolls. Eventually they moved out to BC to be closer to family and when they left I think that was the last we ever heard of them.

But I can think of no other solid reason of my deep held need to one day go to Vietnam.

In the meantime I like Vietnamese food and while I have read a number of books, I've never delved into cooking it myself. So when Uyen of Fernandez & Leluu posted that she was going to be holding Vietnamese cooking classes, I was delighted with the opportunity!

Building summer rolls

Eating summer rolls!

Uyen held her second Vietnamese cooking class over the weekend. She and her mom led a group of eight of us through a crazy number of delicious dishes. We drank, we ate, we photographed and took notes. We took a break at the pub because we were bursting. Came back with renewed energy and appetite and were off again, preparing more dishes. The day culminated in a feast - we sat around the table, eating and chatting.

Building the Green papaya salad with carrot, prawns and chicken


Bo la lot ready for the oven

Possibly my favourite thing to eat that day

Uyen took us to a nearby Vietnamese grocery store where we all picked up foreign items and asked her how and what and is it delicious? I am so excited about the prospect of heading back and walking out with my arms laden with treasures. I think that just that little bit of knowledge will make me feel quite a bit more adventurous and I might  start buying random unknown things and bringing them home to test.

Stir Fried Tofu, Oyster Mushrooms & Asparagus In Oyster Sauce and Steamed Chicken with Poached greens - and brilliant accompanying sauce

Sweet & Sour Catfish Soup

I loved what Uyen had to say about the etiquette of eating. You take only what you will eat at that moment, and don't load your dish up with a mountain of food. This feels elegant, but also beautifully communal because it makes you interact with the other diners at your table and takes your face out of your plate. 

Dinner table begins to come together


Both Uyen and Ute, one of the other students who writes at Hungry in London, wrote posts about the day. 

The full menu for the day:

Sweet Basil Drink
Beef Pho
Green Papaya,  Prawn Salad
Catfish Hot & Sour Soup
Pan Fried Fish & Fish Sauce With Steamed Rice
Sweet & Sour Ribs With Vegetable Stir Fry
Summer Rolls
Beef in Lemongrass & Peanut Rolled in Betal Leaves
Rehydrated Logans, Seaweed & Jelly Dessert
Banana Pudding

The best part? I can actually see myself making some of these dishes at home. Vietnamese feast at C&L?

Rehydrated Longans, Lotus Seed, Jelly and Wakame with Pandan

Friday, January 07, 2011

Sunday, January 02, 2011

New Years Day

I thought there would be plenty of religious celebrations on January 1st. There doesn't seem to be. The Catholics used to celebrate the Circumcision of Christ, but now it is a holy day of obligation to celebrate Mary as Mother of God. I also read something about it being a bit of penance for the pagan festivities of the night before. But I couldn't find anything delicious to eat.

But yesterday was Shogatsu, Shinto New Years. In Japan people woke up and ate a soup called Ozoni. It is prepared differently based on where you come from and I read from a number of sources that you can pinpoint a person's village based on how they eat their soup. The most important, and defining ingredient seems to be mochi, a steamy sticky Japanese rice cake. There are recipes all over the internet if you google it.

I really like the idea of soup on the first day of the year. For us it's almost always a cold, (hopefully snowy) day to cuddle up and be warm so soup is the perfect meal. Plus there is something simple and unassuming about soup which makes room for all the other thoughts and pieces that the new year's day brings.

Twitter was awash in soup yesterday. Is a new year's day soup a thing? I know the Persians make one for Norouz in March that sounds delicious and that I plan on making, but seriously, is it? Do you, dear Reader (hi mom!) make soup on New Years Day? This is the fourth New Years Day that C and I have spent on our own terms and they seem to involve pancakes for brunch (except last year when I attempted a more elaborate brunch which while good isn't something I'll do again) and soup for supper. The January 1 in Paris we ate an onion soup, which we ate an awful lot while we were in Paris, not because it was authentically French but because we were authentically poor ("ahh, when we were poor in Paris" we say now). Last year I made harira (Ottolenghi's recipe, again. Really I should just turn this into an Ottolenghi love in). Anyways.

So I had planned to make the actual Shinto soup onizo. But I realised early that the spirit of the religious festival may sometimes be more important that the letter. We got back from Vienna on the 30th and the shops closed early so there wasn't much time to stock up on groceries for the weekend. Getting dashi and odd fish stick things proved impossible. My local shops are great but they are more Turkish than Japanese and I haven't got a pantry full of Japanese staples. So instead of making the perfect Japanese Shinto new years soup to honour the past, I made Moro's Chestnut and chorizo soup, to honour the day.

And it was delicious and you should make it too.

4 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion
1 carrot
1 celery stick
2 cooking chorizo sausages

Throw these into the food processor and chop them up.

Warm your soup pot and add the olive oil. Add the food processor contents and let fry slowly and gently, caramelising, for twenty minutes until the whole kitchen smells divine.

2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp thyme leaves (supposed to be fresh but I used dried)
1 dried red chilli crumbled

Stir and let cook for two minutes.

Add Half a 400ml can of tomatoes, roughly chopped

Stir nicely together then add
400g cooked peeled chestnuts, chopped (this is two packages of the vacuum packed ones you can get at the store)
A big pinch of saffron threads, infused in 3-4 tbsp boiling water
750 ml water

Simmer for 10-15 minutes, then take off the heat and mash all the little chestnut bits with a potato masher until it is a smoother, but still rustic, texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a drop or two of sherry vinegar.

We ate it (almost all) with yogurt flatbread and finished it up with a lemon cake and clementine confit.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Tart and A Flatbread

We had two lovely friends over for dinner and I made two Ottolenghi recipes from Plenty: the caramelised garlic and goat's cheese tart and the yogurt flatbreads with mushroom barley salad. I saw via Twitter that Gastrogeek was making that tart the same night as I. I found that terribly amusing. (I didn't put butternut squash in mine though I like the addition.)

Anyways, these little flatbreads are awesome! They're quick. You can get away with making just two (which I have since done). I love them! A few years ago I got Dough out of the library and on one of the first pages is a double spread - store bought loaf and ingredient list on one side, homemade loaf and ingredient list on the other. While you and I both inherently know that there are additives and icky bits in store bought bread it really brought it home to me and I am lucky enough to live close to bakeries and markets where I can get Real Bread most of the time. But there are days when you're too late to get a loaf. Or to lazy to go out. Or the shops are closed. And you still want bread, good bread, but don't want to go to the trouble of making a proper loaf. So I turn to various flatbreads. And this is my new favourite.

Yogurt Flatbreads

135g wholemeal flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
140g greek yogurt
3 tbsp fresh coriander

butter and oil for frying them up

Combine all the ingredients. Mix with your hands into a dry dough, adding more flour if needed. Knead dough for a minute or so until it smooth and uniform. Wrap it in cling film and chill for at least an hour.

Divide dough into 6 pieces. Roll into balls and flatten with a rolling pin into rondo discs about 2mm thick. Heat some butter with some oil in a non-stick frypan and fry the breads one at a time on a medium heat for about 2 minutes per side until golden brown.