Monday, May 31, 2010

Tender at the Bone

This delightful book is the memoir of Ruth Reichl, editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine. It tells the story of her fascinating childhood and early adult adventures. She charts her ups and downs with the foods and meals shared, interspersing recipes along the way. There are a few heartbreaking moments, but overall the tone is very funny--Reichl is willing to take herself and her surroundings with a good dose of humour.

Reichl's early memories of parties thrown by her mother taught her that "food could be dangerous, especially to those who loved it" and that if "you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they are". But as the book progresses, Reichl finds out more about herself than others through watching what she eats and cooks. Her boarding school experiences in Montreal, which are tragic and hilarious, and her later journeys through France as a student all build up a picture of her as an adventurous eater, who loves to cook and learn more. It seems she always had the creativeness necessary to be a good cook. As she watched Mrs Peavey, the domestic helper, making gougere in the kitchen a young Reichl remarked that cooking seemed to her "mostly a matter of organization." Mrs Peavey deftly replied, "Ah, it is only because you have imagination that you say that."

Reichl's imagination inspired me to be more determined to try new things and to record my ideas. She knows the power of food, and by including recipes, we can all experience those memories she shares in her book. For example, Reichl the teenager used cake to make reasons to invite her whole gang over to her house. She had her eye on one Tommy Calfano, so she cooked. "I discovered [cooking] had other virtues. I wasn't pretty or funny or sexy.... I discovered the secret of every experienced cook: desserts are a cheap trick. People love them even when they're bad."

This Devil's Food Cake recipe is the one that features in one fateful teenage party. I made it to take to my colleagues for our department meeting tomorrow. Cheap trick or not, cooking for others shows them you care!

Devil's Food Cake
adapted from Tender at the Bone

1 c (250 ml) milk
3/4 c (100 g) cocoa
1/3 c (85 g) white sugar
1 c (115 g) butter
1 c (200 g) brown sugar
3 eggs
1/4 c (75 ml) sour cream
1 t vanilla
2 c (250 g) cake flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

Heat the milk in the microwave until hot but not boiling. Allow to cool, then whisk in cocoa and white sugar.
Meanwhile, cream butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla, and mix well. Add the cocoa mixture.
Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt, then add this mixture to the wet ingredients, mixing gently and well until combined.
Bake at 350 F/180 C for 20 to 35 minutes until a tester comes out clean.
Let cool and ice if desired.

Tender at the Bone was Jill's choice for the Kitchen Reader club I have joined. I really enjoyed reading it, but wished it had gone further into Reichl's adulthood to explain how she came to work at Gourmet. I supposed with the recent demise of the magazine, there is space for Reichl to write more, and I would pick up any sequel she chooses to write.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

pizza nepoletana (for Fresh from the Oven)

My mother often makes pizza when guests come over. I decided to follow suit as we had some new friends visiting for dinner and to watch the Formula One. The dough recipe is part of the Fresh from the Oven baking group that Lauren from Coffee Muffins hosted this month. Have a look at the round up from the challenge.

I used my dough recipe to make one large pizza and one tray of garlic bread. The dough was fluffy but not too heavy, and it made great bases for both the pizza and garlic bread. The recipe starts the night before, and rests in the fridge overnight. Then it rises and gets pressed onto the pans. There's no kneading, just some heavy mixing on the first day. Overall the dough was simple to make and didn't require much preparation time at all. We topped it with tomato puree, sweetcorn, mushrooms, courgettes, green peppers, caramelised onions, and mozzarella.

I would definitely make pizza dough again. Next time I plan to use some whole wheat flour as well. I remember reading a few years ago about a fast version that uses soda instead of yeast, and I want to try that as well. So all I need to do is keep inviting people over so that we can keep eating pizza!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

chocolate chiffon cake--"basic kitchen" version

Mum's birthday was while my parents were visiting. A few days before I asked her, casually (!?), "What's your favourite kind of cake?" Well, my kitchen is lacking a few things to make a proper chocolate chiffon cake, but I was determined to have a try. May I present the "Basic Kitchen" version of chocolate chiffon. (The full equipment recipe can be referred to if you wish!)

We have no saucepans at the moment, so as a result, the rice cooker is getting use at almost every meal. For this cake I used it to melt the chocolate and water together. And my electric mixer is also in the (still enroute) shipment, so Dad's muscle power had to substitute for that. He's such a good sport, especially when I insisted, "But it's Mum's birthday cake!"

Chocolate Chiffon Cake--Basic Kitchen version
Serves 8

115 g dark, semisweet chocolate
1/2 c (125 ml) water
1/2 t salt
1 c (140 g) + 1 t flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t cocoa
5 eggs, separated
2/3 c granulated sugar
1 t vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C.
Break the chocolate into square and put with the water and salt into an electric rice cooker. Switch on to "cook" for two minutes, then stir, and switch to "warm" for a few minutes longer until the chocolate is fully melted. Switch off the rice cooker and allow to cool.
In a bowl, mix together 1 c flour and baking powder.
Grease a 24 cm baking tin. In a small bowl, mix together 1 t flour and the cocoa. Use this mixture to flour the tin and discard any extra flour mixture.
Put the egg whites into a bowl and (get a volunteer to) beat by hand for 15 minutes until fluffy, or longer (if your volunteer can stand it) until soft peaks form. Fold in sugar.
When chocolate mixture has cooled, add egg yolks and vanilla. Stir in flour and baking powder mixture until well combined.
Gently fold into egg white mixture.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
Let cool and then ice with chocolate frosting.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

tofu cheesecake

Getting settled in Hong Kong has taken longer than I thought. We moved into our apartment last week and Mum and Dad have been visiting with us. We now have a bit of furniture but our shipment of personal things and kitchen items doesn't arrive until June 7. Until then I have the rice cooker and one wok-sized frying pan. The rice cooker has come in surprisingly handy and I have used it to steam veggies, cooke egg noodles, and hard boil eggs. We have eaten out a little, but our main strategy is to just eat more simple meals.

I did want to mention this cheesecake that I tried at Starbucks last weekend: the green tea tofu cheesecake. It sounded too bizarre to pass up. It was more tasty than I thought it would be, and even Ant said it wasn't disgusting, which was high praise for a tofu item! The tofu was blended in well with the cheese and the green tea taste was delicate and only a little sweet. One of the baristas came over as we were finishing and asked if I had liked it. She replied that she often chose it when she wanted a treat but nothing too sweet. I would like to try to make it myself, much to Ant's dismay.


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