Monday, February 19, 2007

Sunday lunch - a bit differently

Falling Cloudberries is to me like love fulfilled after several hardships. I had wanted to buy this book for ages, I heard so many raving reviews, but after searching tons of bookshops personally, by phone and on-line, near and far, I had to give up my hope of getting it. Until a day came along when I discovered an option which would solve my problem without throwing myself in the hands of credit companies (I'm a credit-phobic, you know), and happily ordered it from amazon.
It arrived on a lovely winter day, just before Christmas (actually as a Christmas present from my parents) and I snuggled down on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and started reading. I was enchanted by the pictures and the promising recipes. They all sound so homely and cosy to me, and I could imagine the family dinners they were served at at Tessa's home quite clearly. The chapter about Cyprus is the fondest to my heart as my honeymoon was there and it was truly one of the best weeks of my life.
The moment I open the book fills my heart with peace, and the possibility of living life so peacefully and casually as the book suggests, seems to be within reach. And suddenly a day of pottering in the kitchen seems like the only possible way to spend a Sunday, without feeling guilty of neglecting other chores.
As I had quite lost my "mojo" recently, that was exactly what I needed last weekend. And since the prospect of having another roast meat with potatoes didn't quite appeal, I was looking for something simple, yet very tasty. And so I found this:

Veal loin with mustard, pancetta and cabbage

I had to improvise a "bit", because all I had was a beef loin (I guess, I'm not too familiar with the parts of beef, to be honest) in the freezer which needed using up, and since my local shops don't stock pancetta, I had to be content with bacon.
The meal is very simple to make: fry the piece of meat on some olive oil in a pan, salt and pepper, then smear over some Dijon mustard - again improvisation as I had only hot, not mild as the recipe suggested -, cover with bacon slices and leaves of savoy or Chines cabbage (I used the former) which had been blanched. Now, as I've never seen caul fat here, I elegantly left out this ingredient and just tied up the meat with a piece of string and placed it in the oven for 1.5 hours (could have been a bit longer as it was not veal but we were hungry), turning it over in the meantime and adding a glass of white wine as well.

The result was fantastic, the boring cabbage was lifted to a higher dimension by the marriage of mustard and bacon. In fact, I was sorry I didn't add more leaves, which I certainly will when I make it next time: for there will be a next time, I'm sure.
I served it with a simple salad of mixed leaves and cherry tomatoes and Bill's olive and rosemary bread. A wonderful combination.

The leftovers were devoured for lunch on Monday and if I may say that, the meat was even better then. Next time I'd make it the day before.

Of course I cannot go past this quickly by Bill's olive and rosemary bread from Every Day. It's a flat bread actually, might even be called a foccaccia, and it's simple and wonderful. The recipe calls for spelt flour which I forgot to buy (I only have wholemeal spelt at home regularly) so I made it from all plain flour.

half a kilo flour
1 tsp honey
300ml tepid water
7 g instant yeast
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sea salt + more for sprinkling
rosemary sprigs and pitted olives

You start by combining half a cup of flour, honey, water and yeast, setting it aside for 10 minutes. Then combine it with all the other ingredients but the rosemary and olives (I did it in the KA) and knead until it is shiny and elastic. Cover and let it rise for about an hour or until doubled in size.
Knock the dough back and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Knead quickly then stretch it out on an oiled baking tray and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Poke holes in the dough, placing a rosemary sprig or olive in all of them, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Bake at 220C for 10 minutes, then at 190C for a further 12-25 minutes.
It's a soft, tasty bread and looks like it keeps very well.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Carnival time!

Just like in many other countries, besides the religious connotations, carnival (farsang) in Hungary marks the weakening reign of winter and the coming of the glorious spring. Although feasts are not as numerous and widespread as they used to be, some regions still keep their traditions alive. One of the most interesting traditions is busójárás , about which you can read here

However, the gastronomical mark of carnival has not been forgotten over the times and doughnuts are still happily made by grandmothers and mothers during this time of the year.
The most popular doughnut is the so-called "ribbon doughnut". The reason for the attribute "ribbon" is that when made properly, there is a lighter circle around the middle of the doughnut.

Although my aim is not to intimidate you from reading on, I cannot say that this is the easisest snack to make. There are many areas where you can go wrong, but with a little practice (and luck) you can get it right.
First of all, you need to get the dough perfect. It's an extremely sticky dough, difficult to manage. If it's not proven well, you'll end up with objects that can be used to kill LOL. So if you've never made yeasted dough before, I beg you not to start with this.
Secondly, the oil. It can be neither too hot nor too cold. If it's too hot, the doughnuts will burn quickly outside but remain raw inside - yuck! In the reverse case the doughnuts will absorb too much oil - not too pleasant either!

If you can escape these two pitfalls, you win - and what you win is worth all the effort! And to prove that I'm talking sense, I confess this is my first time of making doughnuts - as I'm so lucky as to have a grandmother around who has done it for me so far. But it was time I tried my luck with these!

Ribbon doughnuts
(makes about 20-25)

600 g plain flour
35 g baker's yeast
100 ml + 250 ml lukewarm milk
4 tbsp sugar
50 ml rum
4 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
70 g butter, melted and cooled slightly

oil for cooking

apricot jam for serving

Sift the flour (I know it's a bore, but you really need to do it for the dough being airy). Make a starter by crumbling the yeast in 100 ml milk, and adding 4 tbsp of the flour and 1 tsp of the sugar. Stir well, and let it sit for 15 minutes.

Heat the rum a bit and add the remaining sugar. Add it to the flour with the starter, egg yolks, salt, lemon zest. Add the milk step by step, using a wooden spoon or a dough hook. You need to add all the milk, it should be a very sticky dough, difficult to work. Add the butter gradually and work the dough for 5-6 minutes. My Beauty was a wonderful help with this!

Cover with a tea towel and let it rise for about 45 minutes, or until doubled in size (I put mine in the cold oven and turn on the light: this gives enough warmth for the dough to rise nicely).

Knead the dough quickly again, and spread it with your fingers on an oiled surface until about 1.5 cm thick. Dip an 8 cm round cookie cutter in oil and cut out circles (you can re-knead the leftover dough until all is gone). Transfer to a dusted surface, cover with a tea towel and let it rise for 20-30 minutes.

Press the middle of each circle with your thumb. Pour oil in a big casserole until it comes about 2-3 cm high. Heat it, add three-four doughnuts with the upper side down (!) in the oil and cover with a lid. Cook for about 1.5 minutes, then turn them over (do not stick anything in the dough) and cook the other side for the same time without the lid. Transfer to a plate with a kitchen towel.

Serve with icing sugar and jam.

See, it wasn't that difficult after all :) I can now sit down and even my knees might stop shaking LOL

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Cur(d)ious heritage

We Hungarians love curd cheese – in cakes. I know it sounds strange to some foreigners, but believe me, it’s not more bizarre than cheesecakes are to us. Our curd cheese is quite dry and crumbly, with a tinge of sweetness.
Perhaps you’ll wonder no more if I show you the absolute favorite snack of all Hungarians, young or old: Túró Rudi, which is roll shaped curd cheese covered in dark chocolate (at least the original, now you can buy milk chocolate versions, and ones with fruit jellies in the middle, etc. )

As hubby is especially keen on curd cheese cakes, and I just got a lovely book from him which contains a recipe I’ve not heard of before, I thought I’d surprise him with this. The recipe can be found in a book called (roughly) The taste of Székely land. The Székely are a group of Hungarians living in Transylvania, Romania and since my husband’s grandfather comes from there, he’s very interested in everything related to this people.

So here goes the recipe, it is really easy and quick to make:

Curd cheese pie with meringue topping

2 tbsp sugar
7 tbsp (sunflower) oil
2 eggs
2 tbsp cocoa powder
12g baking powder
1 ½ tsp white wine vinegar
15 tbsp milk
15 tbsp flour

For the filling:
500g curd cheese (or ricotta if that’s what you can find)
4 egg yolks
5 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
3 tbsp semolina (more if your cheese is too wet)

For the meringue topping:
4 egg whites
200g sugar

Mix the first five ingredients and the milk in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Put the baking powder in a small bowl and pour over the vinegar and let it start foaming (do not stir but make sure the whole thing is foaming). Add it to the mixture, stir well and add the flour (add more if necessary, you want a muffin-thick batter).

Spread the batter in a 30x20x5 cm baking tray (lined with baking paper). Stir the ingredients for the filling and dollop it over the batter with a spoon.

Bake at 180C for about 30 minutes (or until tester comes out clean). Let cool.

Whisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until almost stiff and add the sugar while whisking further. Put the bowl over simmering water and continue whisking for about 4-5 minutes. Spread it over the cooled cake, make waves with a fork and replace in the oven and dry at 100C until the top is slightly set.

The result was very pleasing and what shows it more than the beloved husband taking several helpings, which is really unusual for him :)

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Meet Bill!

I have mentioned Nigella Lawson as being an inspiration for my baking. Bill Granger is my recently encountered inspiration for cooking. His dishes are simple, easy and quick to make, yet give quite an experience to someone trying them.
Oh, and what is more, even my above mentioned husband finds his food "edible" - which in his dictionary means that it is lovely. What more can a girl dream of?

Although I've mainly tried savoury dishes from my two BG books, now I chose to make a sweet pie from Open Kitchen. I'm trying to be a good girl, you see: fruit is healthy, isn't it? And this is a fruit pie with peaches and blackberries. The idea to bake this came to me when I realized that I haven't made anything from pears this season. And I had half a box of frozen blackberries to clear out from my freezer. So I thought I'd use this recipe and substitute pears for peaches.

Pear and blackberry pie

For the shortcrust pastry:
500g plain flour
60g icing sugar
a pinch of salt
360g butter
125g sour cream

For the filling:
1kg firm pears
150g blackberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
115g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cornflour (or starch)
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp caster sugar (I used raw cane)

I threw everything but the sour cream in the food processor and blitzed until the mixture resembled coarse breadcrumbs. Added the sour cream (bit by bit) until the mixture came together in a ball. Divided in two, packed in plastic wrap and refridgerated for about 30 min.

By the time I put the pastry in the fridge the blackberries had thawn. I peeled and cut the pears in wedges and mixed with the berries in a colander on a bowl to reserve the juices (I added the juice from the blackberries as well). I spritzed them with lemon, vanilla extract and sprinkled them with sugar. Since the pears were hard there was no need to let them sit in the colander for more than 30 minutes, I thought. Then I transferred the juices from the bowl to a pan and boiled it until it thickened. I mixed the corn starch with 1 tbsp warm water and added. Then I poured all this in the bowl and mixed in the fruit.

On a lightly dusted surface I rolled out both pastry balls 5mm thick and transferred it to a 27cm pie tin (the recipe called for a 23cm but I only had this one) then I added the fruits. Isn't it a lovely colour?

Then I folded over the overhanging pieces, brushed with egg yolk and covered with the other pastry. Some cuts with a sharp knife on top and it was ready for the fridge for a 30 min chill.

In the meantime I heated the oven to 200C, put in a tray for 10 min, then transferred the pie (brushed with more egg yolk and sprinkled with raw cane sugar) to the tray and baked for 30 min. After lowering the temperature to 180C, it remained in the oven for 30 min (and some extra mins to get a more golden top).

So, the result was this lovely golden pie, with lots of fruit inside. Really yummy, but next time I'd serve it with vanilla ice cream as Bill suggested or with custard.

As I had two egg whites left and I hate wasting food even if it's only two insignificant egg whites, I whipped up some meringues.

Coffee meringues

2 egg whites
80-90 g superfine caster sugar
1 tsp ground coffee (not instant!)
few drops of red wine vinegar
a pinch of cardamom
1 tsp cocoa, sieved

Proceed as usual.

Welcome to my diary

Welcome to my world! A world full of cakes, cakes and erm... cakes. I'm addicted to making cakes just for the sake of baking - alright, I love eating them, too. The people who started me on this dangerous -well, extending waistlines are dangerous - road includes Nigella Lawson and the lovely folks on her website, To them I owe the most heartfelt thanks for introducing me into the world of FOOD. With capitals. Before I met them, I liked cooking and baking. Now it is my passion. I have learned -and am still learning - so much from these people, that my world is extending. I use ingredients I didn't even hear of a couple of years ago and I am more adventurous than I've ever been - well, sometimes not to the satisfaction of my somewhat down-to-earth-palated husband, but anyway...
Also it is owing to these lovely people that my cookbook collection is increasing immensely - and my bank account is shrinking to the same extent, but I've not decided yet whether I should be grateful or reproachful for that LOL

Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy taking a few trips in foodland with me, with occasional detours to some specimens of Hungarian cuisine.