Sunday food links – 25 September 2016

Amazing Lemon Cannellini Cake

Smitten Kitchen turned 10 this week – 10!
I can track a large chunk of my cooking-and-blogging life to recipes from Deb. Reading back through her archives, I think I picked up on her blog in late 2008 or early 2009. I certainly remember being excited when she visited the Pioneer Woman ranch. She has persuaded me to peel chickpeas; to make my own ricotta; and held my virtual hand when I made swiss meringue buttercream for the first time.

In 2012 I ordered the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and eagerly ordered tickets for the Abergavenny Food Festival to hear her talk. Sadly, nausea from my pregnancy with E kept me at home the whole of that weekend (oh, and weeks and weeks either side). Her recipes have formed the foundation of countless family dinners, celebration cakes, brunches, breakfasts and everything in between. When E turned one, Smitten Kitchen was the first place I turned to plan the cake. Her first birthday cake was the same as Jacob’s in the end – a big and little monkey cake.

Amongst thousands of American food blogs, what makes Deb stand out is a clear voice, at once friendly and authoritative. She takes you by the hand through the recipe, describing all the little twists and turns, the cul-de-sacs visited along the way, the substitutions that worked, and those that didn’t. Along with her photos, always taken against the same bit of kitchen counter, and documenting every step of the process, you feel you can really trust a Smitten Kitchen recipe. And as a US blog that also lists ingredients in grams, they are also really approachable for a British baker.

So, thank-you Deb for ten years of blogging. May you continue for many more.

Some favourite Smitten Kitchen recipes:

Recipes:

For our MacMillan Coffee Morning at work:

  • Anna Jones’s Amazing Lemon Cannelini Cake – A Modern Way to Cook – pictured above. Gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, and properly light and delicious (not vegan though).
  • Nigella Lawson’s Malteser Cake – Feast
  • David Lebovitz Coconut macaroons, dipped in dark chocolate – Room for Dessert

Without a recipe:

  • Courtesy of my Mother-in-Law, who took on catering and nursery duties for a couple of nights while DH was out of town: meatballs and spaghetti; and roast chicken and veg.
  • Baked fish, mashed potatoes, peas and broccoli

Reading:

Sunday food links – 18 September 2016

Hard to get tired of this view. Love the way the sunshine is picking out the dome of St Paul's this afternoon

It seems as though we’ve walked through the looking glass this week, taking a single step that goes directly from summer to autumn. Going from 30C temperatures to grey and raining, with a dose of the flu, has been a bit of a shock to the system. And this week has had both seasons: still-ripe tomatoes on grilled bread, and then apple sauce with the first of the apples from the tree. Ice lollies from the freezer; and then bookmarking butternut squash soup recipes.

I am doing my best to embrace autumn, but the flu is making that a struggle. Still, I’ve been bookmarking some autumnal recipes, finally going back to finish the glorious Essex Serpent, and assembling some colder weather clothes for my autumn wardrobe. But I’d rather have the golden mists-and-mellow-fruitfellness version than the leaden sky one, all the same.

Recipes:

Without a recipe:

  • Fish and oven chips and peas
  • Firezza delivery pizza
  • Pasta with ragu from the freezer
  • Scrambled eggs on toast

Reading:

 

Sunday food links – 11 September 2016

So pretty... #eclairs #maitrechoux

This week I returned to three days a week at work after a temporary period at four days. This would have returned a bit of sanity and order to the house, were it not for the fact that I used my first free Tuesday in months to get E a vaccine booster, and then spent the next two days at home with her with a temperature…

Still, I did manage to finally put up my post about baking and substituting yoghurt and other dairy products – I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. And I (rather embarrasingly) found a hidden corner of my WordPress dashboard with a stack of messages in, including my first offer of a cookbook for review! So I’m working some book posts to include this – watch this space.

It was a fairly frugal week in meals. The roast chicken with new potatoes and broccoli from Saturday night reappeared several times, with the leftover chicken made into Monday night curry, and the vegetables recycled in pasta and a tortilla. The sausages cooked with beans in the slow cooker on Wednesday covered most of the rest of the week. Pizza on Friday is always a good way to use up little odds and ends of things: in this case, half a courgette and a wrinkled box of mushrooms were part of the toppings. The counterbalance to this frugality was fillets of beautiful lemon sole I bought at a the South Kensington fishmongers, Moxon’s, on Tuesday when we were visiting the Natural History Museum. Oh, and those eclairs…

Recipes:

  • Tartine sourdough pizza from Tartine Bread – with courgette, mushrooms, mozzarella and Serrano ham
  • Slow Cooker cassoulet (really just sausage and beans) – from Slow Cooked
  • Chicken and sweet potato curry – from Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand

Without A Recipe:

Reading:

Yoghurt for buttermilk and other baking substitutes

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How many types of dairy product are lurking in your fridge right now? Mine usually contains whole plain yoghurt, probably some fruit yoghurt too, semi-skimmed and whole milk and often some creme fraiche. I don’t often buy cream, sour cream or buttermilk, even when a recipe specifically calls for them, as I know I can often substitute something else instead. But understanding which can you substitute and what adjustments to make can be tricky.

One of the many divides between British and American bakers is in our use of dairy, and the ingredients that are easy to obtain. This means that the ingredients called for in American recipes, such as buttermilk, are often a bit harder to obtain in the UK, and vice versa (creme fraiche, for example, is harder to track down in the U.S.). But most of these things can be easily substituted, if you are careful about what you swap it with.

American Baker Alice Medrich wrote a really useful piece for Food52 on when and how to swap dairy products in baking. Her rules of thumb also work for comparing British and American ingredients. When considering the ingredient you want to swap:

  1. Compare moisture content – how liquid is it?
  2. Compare fat content – in baking particularly, the fat is likely to play an important role in the texture
  3. Compare acidity – both for flavour and for rising when paired with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda).

The first thing to note is that there are cultured and uncultured dairy products. This has nothing to do with whether they like opera, and is all to do with whether microbes have been introduced into the milk to help preserve it at some stage.

Uncultured dairy products include milk, cream and half-and-half. Cultured dairy products include yoghurt, creme fraiche, buttermilk and sour cream. You can also get cultured butter and clotted cream sometimes, and more unusual cultured products like kefir and skyr.

The cultured products have been inoculated with bacteria to sour the milk or cream, producing something tangy that will last longer than the uncultured version. The key differences are in the bacteria used, which influences the flavour and the sourness, and how industrial the process is. I’m going to assume that we’re generally talking about products available in the supermarket here. You can also get homemade or more artisanal versions of all of these that will vary more in how they are produced, and perhaps give less predictable results in baking, but potentially with more flavour.

Cultured dairy will generally last longer due to their bacterial content. The deliberately added bacteria and the acid makes it a less hospitable environment for other bacteria and moulds. The higher the fat content, the less prominent the sour flavour will be, as the fat coats your tongue and helps to ease the sour tang.

The other factor is the fat content, which will affect the texture and thickness. The texture of the produce is also affected by milk proteins, which can start to coagulate when the acidity rises, as they do in yoghurt and many soft cheeses. Low-fat dairy products will generally have other things added to thicken it instead of the fat, such as guar gum, pectin and starches.

Uncultured Dairy Products Cultured Dairy Products
Skimmed milk 0.1-0.3% fat Buttermilk 0.2% fat
Semi-skimmed milk 1.7-2% Kefir 3%
Whole milk 3.6-4% Whole plain yoghurt 3.5-6%
Half-and-half (US) 10-18% Greek-style yoghurt 5-9.5%
Single cream (UK) 18-19% Half-fat creme fraiche* 12-14%
Heavy cream (US) 33-40% Sour cream 18%
Whipping cream (UK) 38-40% Creme fraiche 40-41%
Manufacturing cream (US) 40-42%
Double cream (UK) 45-47%
Clotted cream (UK) 60%

There is also a difference between the UK and US approaches to dairy. US cream tends to be lower in fat than the UK. It’s fairly common to buy a pot of double cream in the UK that is spoonable and hardly needs whipping. Heavy cream in the US is closer to UK whipping cream, and will be quite liquid, but will produce whipped cream eventually.

Substitutions:

If you want to make whipped cream, the fat content is important. Less than 30% fat, and it isn’t likely to hold its shape. If you are mixing it directly into a recipe, you also want to aim for a similar fat content if you can.

If a few spoonfuls of cream are called for, for example in a soup or sauce, they can sometimes be left out, or I will often substitute with creme fraiche, which heats up well and can be kept in the fridge for a bit longer.

Cultured products can generally be substituted for each other if the thickness and acidity are similar. Look out for recipes that contain bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). It’s particularly important in these to make sure there is enough acid in the recipe to balance out the soda, as any excess will taste unpleasantly soapy in the final product. If you’re unsure, adding a bit of lemon juice will provide some insurance.

I use the following substitutions a fair bit:

To substitute buttermilk, mix plain yoghurt and milk roughly 50:50. You can also use whole milk, soured with a few drops of lemon juice or white vinegar.

To substitute for sour cream, use creme fraiche, or greek yoghurt sometimes with a bit more acid added.

To substitute for double cream in a sauce or even a chocolate ganache, use creme fraiche. There will be a bit of extra tang, but it will generally be masked by the other flavours. Creme fraiche won’t become whipped cream in the same way though, and half-fat creme fraiche might not behave the same.

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Sunday food links – 4 September 2016

Tartine country bread - version 1

I have sparked my sourdough starter back to life this week, prompted by my re-starting Michael Pollan’s ‘Cooked’, and getting to the Air chapter, which documents learning to make sourdough bread. That co-incided with an article on sourdough starters in my new Saveur magazine, and also prompted me to seek out the episode of Cooked on Netflix, and to finally buy Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread.

All of that means that the weekend schedule included sourdough pizza on Friday night, wholewheat sourdough waffles (from a recipe in Saveur) on Saturday morning, and a first attempt at Chad Robertson’s Country Bread (using the NYT recipe, as I impatiently waited for my copy of the book to arrive.

Recipes:

Without a recipe:

  • Grilled chicken with stir-fried beans and noodles
  • Vegetable bake – layered roasted tomatoes, courgettes and peppers, topped with mozzarella and breadcrumbs
  • Roast chicken, boiled new potatoes, romanesco broccoli with parmesan

Reading:

Sunday food links – 28 August 2016

River cafe lunch

Every year, we decide we really shouldn’t go away in August, when everyone else is holidaying – everywhere will be so crowded, it will be too hot, we should make the most of *not* having to stick to school holidays. And every year I feel a bit jealous of those Facebook photos of poolsides or terraces in France and Italy and Greece. And I feel a bit in need of some sunshine and a pool.

So we chose a lucky week for a staycation, with the weather hotter and sunnier than it has been almost all summer. We pretended to be in Italy with lunch at the River Cafe. We refilled the paddling pool in the garden, and dipped our feet in to relieve the heat. And I cooked with apricots, and mulberries and tomatoes, trying to capture the warmth of summer while it’s still here.

I’m already looking forward to autumn though – my favourite season – and enjoying the day-by-day changes that make ‘seasonal eating’ so obvious at the moment: the tomatoes going over, the blackberries ripening in the hedges, the apples getting redder, the mulberries splattering on the ground.

Recipes:

  • Apricot and Almond Custard Tart – from Nutmegs, Seven – absolutely delicious and brilliantly easy. If you have apricots, nectarines or plums nearby, make this now.
  • Pasta with bacon, corn and tomatoes – from Smitten Kitchen
  • Mulberry Jam – from Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking. I made this with foraged mulberries from Boston Manor Park. Lessons from making mulberry jam for the first time? Push them through a food mill first! Otherwise they stay whole, leave lots of seeds in the jam, and don’t really release enough pectin. Let’s hope I can get hold of some more to try again before next year!

Without a recipe:

  • Pizza – with peppers, sweetcorn, mozzarella
  • Quesadillas
  • Leftover improvised chicken curry, with leftover dhal

Reading:

Behind the ingredient: Kosher salt

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If you cook from American blogs or cookbooks, you may have come across recipes that specify ‘kosher salt’. You might have wondered how this is different from other salt, and what on earth is it that makes it kosher?

What is Kosher Salt?

Kosher salt
Kosher salt

In fact, not all kosher salt *is* kosher; it refers most often to koshering salt, i.e. salt for koshering meat, by drawing out the blood. This means that the critical difference between table salt and kosher salt has nothing to do with Rabbis, and everything to do with the shape of the salt grains.

Kosher salt is usually shaped as square or pyramid shapes, instead of the cube-shaped grains of table salt. This is produced either from evaporation (the same process as most sea salt) or by compressing the salt grains to produce flat flakes.

The biggest reason why American chefs love to use kosher salt is that it is much easier to pick up between your fingers and thus gives you tighter control over your seasoning. It sticks to your fingers less than table salt and is easier to sprinkle by hand into an even layer over meat or vegetables. If you’re dissolving the salt into water to cook vegetables or pasta, it makes no difference what you use – table salt is just as good.

How much salt to use

The other effect of the shape of the flakes is that it takes up much more volume for a given weight.

My measurements (on a scale that only measures to the nearest 2 grams):

You can see that 1 teaspoon of kosher salt weighs about half the amount of a teaspoon of table salt, so if you’re using a recipe that calls for kosher salt, you need to use about half as much table salt to get the same effect.

I was really surprised that the sea salt and table salt were a very similar density. Despite having similar sized flakes, the sea salt and kosher salt pack very differently, because of their different shapes (see below). This explains the problem I had with the Hot Bread Kitchen challah recipe (see here) – I had assumed that the sea salt would be similar enough to kosher salt, but in fact I added about twice as much as I should!

Kosher salt
Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Sea salt
Saxa fine sea salt

Which salt to use when:

Sprinkling over meat or veg before cooking – I would use kosher salt or inexpensive sea salt here – it’s easier to distribute it evenly without oversalting things. For meat, it generally makes sense to salt in advance to help draw out water and concentrate the flavour of the meat. This might mean an hour ahead for a steak, or up to 24 hours in advance for a whole chicken or a joint of meat. It has the added advantage of drying out the surface a little, which will help to give you crispy chicken skin or pork crackling.

Table salt
Table salt

Dissolving in cooking water – use fine table salt for this, something cheap. Once salt is dissolved into water, it doesn’t really matter what shape it was in to start with. Bear in mind that it’s particularly important to season water that is used to cook something like pasta, which will absorb the cooking water. For vegetables, you can often get away with seasoning after they are cooked.

Baking – if you want to mix the salt into the dough or batter, then table salt is probably a good choice – you want something fine that will mix in evenly. If you use sea salt or kosher salt, make sure the flakes are nice and fine before mixing in.

Sprinkling over food – this is where those more expensive salts are worth using. Maldon or Fleur de Sel have big, crunchy flakes that add texture to the surface of a crust of bread, the surface of a steak or the top of a brownie. The contrast between the burst of salt from a big, crunchy flake can be really exciting, but is lost if it’s added too far ahead and just dissolves.

Maldon salt
Maldon salt
Fleur de Sel de Guerande
Fleur de Sel de Guerande

More about Kosher Salt:

Serious Eats – Do I Need to Use Kosher Salt

The Kitchn – Kosher salt – where it comes from and why it’s called kosher

 

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Sunday food links – 21 August 2016

Nectarine almond tart

The haphazard nature of this week’s meals is a good indication that this week’s meal plan didn’t really come together. Still, I’ve been working on getting myself a bit more organised, and this week’s staycation should give me a chance to get a bit ahead on that front.

We have been making the most of the stone fruit, a really lovely Charentais melon, and lots of tomatoes (even a small handful from the garden).

Recipes:

Without a recipe:

  • Nectarine almond tart – using up the last of the almond cream
  • Roast chicken, with a loosely interpreted Zuni bread salad, featuring spinach and currants
  • Bought fish pie for us, fish fingers and chips for E, peas and corn on the cob
  • Grilled chicken, marinated in lemon, yoghurt, garlic and sumac – with hummus, pita bread.
  • Burrito bowls – leftover pork and beans, roasted tomatoes and courgettes, leftover avocado, corn on the cob
  • Sausages, roasted courgette and tomato salad with freekeh, bread rolls
  • Tomato pasta

Reading:

I have become increasingly interested (some might say obsessed, ahem) with getting myself organised. This mostly consists of using my bullet journal to put a bit more thought into what I plan to do each day. As I’ve nearly filled up journal #1, I’ve been reflecting on what has worked and what to change as I start joiurnal #2.

In this vein, I’ve got a lot from the following books, articles and podcasts in the last few weeks:

Sunday food links – 14 August 2016


I went for my first run in a couple of weeks this morning, and coming past the mulberry trees in the park, noticed there were a lot of ripe ones, which was enough to make me adjust the route to double back and pick them at the end.

A few minutes and many stained fingers later, I hve a very small bag of mulberries. I don’t have much time to deal with them today, so other than snacking on a few, I will freeze them, and hope to  make jam with them when I have picked some more in a few days.

My Riverford delivery this week contained tomatillos, sweetcorn and coriander, and sparked a few Mexican-inspired meals. A wahaca meal kit to make chipotle roast chicken pieces, with tomatillo salsa and sweetcorn; and then smitten kitchen carnitas, in the slow cooker, with the leftover salsa and pinto beans.

Recipes:

  • Apricot tart – for French potluck lunch at work – a hybrid recipe of Bread Ahead shortcrust pastry + Richard Bertinet almond cream + quartered Natoora French apricots, all baked and then glazed with a little apricot jam and honey
  • Wahaca tomato and smoky chipotle taco meal kit – more about them here
  • Homesick Texan carnitas, via Smitten Kitchen
  • Green beans with freekeh and tahini – from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More
  • Milk bread – my recipe here
  • Justin Gellatly sourdough – Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding
  • Slow-roasted carrots – Five O’Clock Apron

Without a recipe:

  • Chicken stir fry with sugar snap peas and pointed cabbage
  • Lamb kofte (from freezer) with rice, yoghurt and slow-roast carrots (above)
  • Burgers with tomato salad, green bean salad (above) and roast carrots
  • Spinach and ricotta cannelloni (from the freezer)

Reading:

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Sunday food links – 7 August 2016

This was one of those weeks where it was tempting to do nothing but grumble about the British summer: grey skies, occasional rain, and only the warmer nights and Summer-holiday-quiet London commute to remind you that this is August and not April.

But summer definitely returned this weekend, and we made the most of it, with tomato salads, ice-cream cones and meals outside.

Recipes:

  • Pork shoulder ragu from Dinner: A Love Story with homemade tagliatelle (Sunday night dinner)
  • Gateau au yaourt with lemon – Chocolate and Zucchini
  • Anna Jones: Sweet potato quinoa bowls – liberally adapted this, keeping the sweet potato, coconut cream and chickpeas, but adding in shredded cold roast chicken and chicken gravy with shredded cabbage as the greens. No need for quinoa or rice – just a bit of naan on the side to dip into the coconut sauce. One of my favourite templates for a weeknight dinner – this was on the dinner in about 10 minutes.

Without a recipe:

  • Tacos: shredded pork, avocado, creme fraiche, lettuce, cheese
  • Pork ragu and pasta
  • Chicken curry – leftover roast chicken + Spice Tailor sauce + boiled potatoes, cherry toms and peas

Reading: