Monday, April 7, 2008

To blog or not to blog...

OMG, I can't believe my last post was exactly 3 months ago! What happened in between, as most of you know, is that hubby and I found it we're getting a family in September :D
To refer back to the title of the post, I must say that in the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy the question was rather "to eat or not to eat" :S, hence my absence in the blogging world. I don't think anyone would have been interested in my daily menus, which consisted of bread and butter, rolls and butter and (surprise!) bread and butter :) Everything else made me bloated or gave me severe heartburns and discomfort.
Although everyone comforted me with the assumption that all this would be history after week 12, I must say it isn't, although it has certainly improved a lot and I can aim towards a more balanced diet, even if it's not too perfect yet.
Losing an interest in eating coupled with losing an interest in cooking and even baking, and I have still not regained my food-obsession (not that it's bad news that cravings and obsessive eating have evaded me), though I am slowly venturing back in the kitchen to cook quick meals.
I'm still not sure when I can (or if I will) start blogging again, time will tell...

Monday, January 7, 2008

Bread, beautiful bread

First of all, Happy New Year to all!

New year, new beginnings, they say. And while I didn't make any New Year's resolutions, which I would inevitably fail anyway, I just decided to change a thing or two in my eating habits. Nothing drastical, nothing unmanagable, just things like taking up bread baking again. On a regular basis, because I love baking bread but I have neglected it for a long time. But the appalling state of affairs at the bread front in this country has simply made it inevitable to look for ways which produce bread. BREAD, with capital letters, as the "things" they sell at supermarket cannot be called so with the greatest good intention. And my town is too little to have a quality bakery, I'm afraid.

I tried tons of recipes for bread in the last few years. Recipes for bread machine, recipes for bread baked in the oven, several of which turned out fine. Fine, but not perfect. And ever since I tasted a gorgeous sour dough baguette on Portobello Road, I've been craving that taste.

So a few weeks ago I decided to give another go to the oh-so-famous no-knead bread. I must admit, I did try this recipe when it hit foodie internet circles but it didn't convince me, it turned out too chewy and wet for my taste. It was so long ago that I don't even remember what could have gone wrong there but I was hoping for a better result this time. And that I got. Perfect loaf of bread, nice crust and all those lovely holes inside, mmmmm! I could eat a whole loaf at a sitting, with only butter.

So here's my adapted recipe:

No-knead bread

450g bread flour

about 350ml water

a pinch of fresh yeast

1 tsp salt

Mix everything with a wooden spoon so that you get a sticky dough. You might need less or more water so go carefully. Cover with foil and let it rest for at least 12 hours. I usually rest it for 14-15 hours.

Fold the half of the dough over the other half and transfer to a heavily floured workspace. Let it rest for half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 240C (or 220C fan) and put in a round or oval Pyrex dish with lid to preheat.

Carefully transfer the dough in the dish, sprinkle with some flour, cover, and bake in the lowest position in your oven for about 35 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 25-30 minutes.

I have also tried replacing 100g bread flour with Graham flour and the loaf turned out just as beautiful, in fact higher than the previous one. No pic though, sorry.
For a change, I also made some health rolls this week, which have a different texture but are altogether very good.

Health rolls

200g bread flour
100g pastry flour
200g whole wheat, Graham or rye flour
4 tbsp rolled oats
125g yoghurt
about 300ml water
2 tsp butter
2 tsps of each: cumin seeds, sesam seeds, flax seeds and sunflower seeds
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar or honey
16g fresh yeast

Put everything in a bowl and knead by hand or KA. You need to get a soft, but not sticky dough.

Let the dough rest for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Knead again quickly and divide into 10 portions and shape rolls, putting them on a big baking tray. You can cut an x with a knife on top. Brush the rolls with water and sprinkle over some seeds or rolled oats if you want.

Let the rolls rest for about 20-30 minutes, and in the meantime preheat the oven and put a small bowl of water on the bottom. Then put the tray in the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the rolls are nice golden. You can brush them with water again at half-time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas bites

My favourite Christmas decoration, not surprisingly an angel... I have lots of angels in the house around this time of the year.

Daddy's traditional Fisherman's soup with carp slices


Flower-shaped linzer cookies with meringue in the middle

Poppy-seed beigli (or bejgli), a traditional Christmas cake, which you can find in every household at this time.

My favourite foodie-present, a gorgeous cookbook holder from hubby

The engagement party

I've never really understood the wide-spread tradition of having an engagement party exactly at or slightly before Christmas. Christmas is such a beautiful time of year, I want to enjoy it for its sake and not connect it with another event, however joyful that might be. I even told hubby, when he was only a boyfriend of mine, that if he'd want to propose to me at Christmas, he'd better prepare for an unfavourable answer LOL
So you can imagine my terror last year, when my aunt's daughter announced that she would have her engagement party on 23rd December. Oh why, oh why?? Isn't one busy enough getting ready, baking and shopping for Christmas, why should one waste a whole day for other things, which would be so much more fun at any other time of the year? Anyhow, I survived that party, unaware that this was only the beginning... About two months ago my aunt's son announced that he was having an engagement party... right, you guessed, just before Christmas, on the 22nd. I didn't even have the strength to be really appalled, I was so tired because of all the stress this year and even agreed to make a similar cake as last year, as my cousin's fiancée liked it so much.
So before you start thinking I'm a naughty bitch, I must say I'm really pleased about the happiness of both my cousins, and I happily started planning how to twist the cake to make it unique. But I must say I'm really glad my brother is too young to get engaged, I don't think I would survive another party this time next year LOL In a few years' time, perhaps...

So as for the cake, last year I made Nigella's sour cream chocolate cake from HTBADG and coated it in pink icing, which I made myself - damn the fact that royal icing is not available here - with golden syrup, icing sugar, butter and some food colouring.
This year I wanted something different, so I made a marshmallow fondant, which failed miserably, perhaps marshmallows here are different from the American version, but the icing turned out to be a big chunk of rubber...
Fortunately I had some marzipan and managed to coat the cake in an acceptable way, making it Christmassy at the same time, though I had quite something else in mind when I started LOL But it went down a treat and the fiancée was really pleased, so it made me happy, too.

Festive cake

For the cake:
Follow the sour cream chocolate cake recipe in the book but use 1.5x amount of ingredients and bake in two 22cm tins

For the filling:
250g mascarpone
500g frozen chestnut puree, defrosted
50g soft butter
icing sugar to taste (depends how sweet your puree is)
a few tbsp rum to taste

For the icing and decoration:
250g marzipan
cocoa powder

The filling is very easy to make, just whisk everything thoroughly together and fill and ice the cake.

For the decoration, I rolled the marzipan until I thought it was big enough to cover the whole cake. Actually, I think you could even use 500g marzipan to get a smoother and thicker finish but I only had that much at hand. I coated the cake carefully, cutting the edges off, which I then kneaded with some cocoa powder and rolled out to make the ribbon. I used a ruler to cut out the ribbon evenly and folded it so that it slightly resembles a real ribbon LOL For the Christmas theme, I sifted cocoa powder through a piece of paper in which I cut out some stars.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A festive birthday cake

I don't think you can ever fail with a Black Forest Cake, no matter what the occasion is. Who doesn't like chocolate, cream and cherries in one cake? I certainly don't know many people who don't. And I certainly know my mum is mad about this cake, so it felt just right to make it for her birthday. And also because the cake is so festive and in the run-up for Christmas it's another advantage, isn't it?

So here's my recipe for Black Forest Cake:

for the sponge:
6 eggs, divided
180g fine caster sugar
1-2 tsp vanilla extract
120g flour
50g cocoa powder

for the filling and decoration:
1l double cream
icing sugar to taste
cocoa powder (optional)
about 350ml pitted cherry preserve,
Kirsch or cherry preserving juice

Whisk the egg yolks with half of the sugar until the mixture turns pale and multiplies in volume. Then beat the egg whites until they start to stiffen, then add the rest of the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Add the beaten egg whites to the yolks and mix very carefully but firmly. Mix the flour and cocoa and add to the mixture in 2 or 3 parts, again, stirring carefully but firmly. You should avoid crushing the beaten egg whites as much as possible. Pour the batter into a 22cm round tin (whose bottom you have lined with baking parchment) and bake in pre-heated oven at 180 C for about 20-25 min, or until a tester comes out clean. Don't open the door until 15 minutes though, or the sponge will collapse. Let it cool completely, remove from the tin then divide into three layers.

Whisk the double cream until it stiffens with as much icing sugar as you like. I usually use 3-4 tbsp for this amount of cream. I like a bit of chocolate in the filling, so I add 1-2 tsps of cocoa powder to 1/3 of the cream, but you don't need to do it. Sprinkle over a few tbsp of Kirsch or the cherry preserving juice on a sponge layer, then spread about 1/4 of the cream (alternatingly and including the chocolate cream if you made it). Scatter half of the cherries on top. Repeat with the other layer. Put the last layer on top and spread a thin layer of cream (only white) on the cake. Put the cake in the fridge for about half an hour and spread over half of the remaining cream generously. This way you will get a crumb-free frosting. Decorate the cake with the remaining cream and a piping bag, as you please, and sprinkle with grated chocolate or similar, adding a pitted cherry here and there.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

With the Brownie Queen's recommendation...

I may have mentioned already that I'm freaked out by recipes whose ingredient list contains items like 300-400g chocolate and 200-300g butter. I simply cannot justify putting so much of these ingredients in a smallish cake. It just doesn't seem right, neither from calory point of view, neither because of economic reasons. And since brownie recipes tend to begin with such items in these amounts, I have had to neglect them so far because I relate different ideas to weekend baking and for special occasions I surely wouldn't want to bake brownies.

But this weekend I wanted chocolate cake, an intense and moist chocolate cake but was not willing to sacrifice my principles. Julie came to the rescue with this recipe. If I didn't know she was a modest girl, I'd be surprised why she didn't start her new English blog under the heading "The Brownie Queen" :) The recipe seemed to include the perfect amounts of chocolate, butter and flour (I don't like chocolate cakes with too little flour, like the Easter egg nest cake was) for a smallish tray of brownies.

I left out the cheese swirls as I wanted pure chocolate and baked the brownies only for 40 minutes which resulted in the best texture and exactly the one I was looking for! Soooooo perfect!! It will be a wonderful basic recipe to add nuts, chopped white chocolate or indeed the cheese swirls to without feeling too guilty about eating half the tray myself LOL Thank you, Julie!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Favourite kitchen items

I've been really uninspired foodwise lately so I thought I'd invite you to have a look around my kitchen until my mojo comes back.
I've chosen my favourite items in my tiny kitchen (non-electric gadgets only), all of which are special for me for different reasons.

The item I love most is this cheerful, striped pot I bought a couple of years ago. Morning grumpiness just doesn't have a chance to linger around too long when tea is served from such a colourful, freshening sight :) A pity I didn't buy the accompanying mugs and cereal bowls back then.

The second item is my mug pretty in pink. I have a thing for mugs and have a huge variety of them but this is the "one". I love pink, I love mugs and this is such a delicate piece.

I also have an obsession for storing tins and have got a great amount of them, small and large, square and cylinder shaped, for pasta, tea, coffee, sugar, cookies, you name it! I must admit I often buy food items just for the tin they get sold in LOL This design is my favourite and I've got a couple of other shapes with the same pattern but this cookie tin is the prettiest one.

The fourth item is this gorgeous tea towel I got from the lovely Anna. It's so pretty but I must admit I don't use it too often because I'm terrible at removing stains and I would hate to see it end up like most of my tea towels. So this a special occasion towel ;)

I love fridge magnets but I haven't got too many of them because hubby hates them and would be happy to remove all of them but hey, the kitchen is my "castle", hands off the fridge! My favourite item doesn't need much comment, does it? LOL

And last but not least, here's my gorgeous red Peugeot pepper grinder which is almost exactly the same shade as my KA, Beauty. I would not normally spend that much on a pepper grinder but this was irresistable. And Beauty surely deserves such an extravagant companion, doesn't she?

Now I wonder if any of my fellow bloggers would like to join in the game and show us their favourite kitchen items... I'd be more than happy to have a sneaky peek :)