Acts of Kitchen episode 5: Alisa tastes stuff

AoK_logo_v2In which #alisatastesstuff and I feel cranky about lunch and therefore cook scones. Also, chouquettes. You can listen here or subscribe at iTunes.


Japanese Kit Kats

You can find Alisa at her blog – there’s links there to her Instagram and Twitter accounts. (And if you like the idea of supporting independent publishing and love speculative fiction, she’s the publisher of Twelfth Planet Press, too. )

Feedback gratefully received: you can email actsofkitchen at gmail dot com

The Pedant in the Kitchen

Pedant_150x205.jpgMy beloved, loving, and never at all snarky mother gave me this book a couple of years ago, for my birthday I think. I was a little miffed at the time, although that didn’t stop me enjoying it. I’ve just re-read it, and once again I really appreciated it. In fact, I think I got more out of it on this read-through.

Barnes describes himself as a pedant because he will never be one of those breezy “oh, I never use a recipe” type cooks; he uses recipes, he sticks to recipes, and he gets incensed when, for example, a recipe has step 1, step 2, and step 4. He loathes being told to use a lump or a gout of some ingredient. By this measure I am absolutely, almost irredeemably, a kitchen pedant. And I’m ok with that. I know that I will never really be a kitchen experimenter. I can make a meal without a recipe but only if it’s very standard meat and veg, or some vague pasta sauce. Barnes reassures me that there are other people like me out there, and we’re ok. We’re really ok.

This book is funny. Like laugh out loud sometimes funny. But possibly only to other pedants. And possibly if non-pedants laughed, I would feel a bit offended; we only get to laugh when it’s laughing at us, right? So only a pedant really appreciates the frustration inherent in figuring out the differences between chopping and slicing an onion (and does it make a difference?) or the frustration of not being to fit two pork chops and four chicory halves into one pan.

But there’s also a wonderful degree of comfort and reassurance in Barnes’ writing, for someone like me who stresses and overthinks things. When asked how many cookbooks you have, do you say

a) not enough,

b) just the right number, or

c) too many?

Barnes points out that if you answered b) you’re either lying or have no interest in food… or, most frighteningly, you’ve worked everything out perfectly. Maximum points are scored for answering both a) and c), which is exactly what I would have said. His description of trying to deal with That Drawer (Cupboard, Shelf, whatever) – what to throw out, what to keep, what’s your criteria? – is both funny and exactly how I feel; and his lament and reassurance that no one (not even Elizabeth David) ever has the perfect kitchen is a delight.

This is a delightful little book, and I love it. Only for the pedant, though. Available from Fishpond.


I know, I know. I keep going on about bread. It’s because I’m determined to Get It Right.

IMG_1201.JPGI tried again with white bread the other day, with the rest of the Laucke flour. I had hoped to use my new baguette pans but it seemed too gooey – I was afraid it would drip through the holes. So I baked it in a tin instead and it’s probably one of the best loaves I’ve made to date.

Yesterday I went with wholemeal again, although instead of 100g rye (to 500g wholemeal) I used the white flour, just to lighten it a bit.  I was IMG_1203.JPGsensible about the amount of water I put in – and it didn’t need as much as it would have with the rye – and the dough seemed to be about right. On the left is what they looked like when I first put them in the pans… distinctly ugly looking, right?

Happily, once they had risen they turned into the picture on the right, which is a lot better looking. And then once they had actually cooked…


Ta dah! they look like baguettes!


Lunch in Paris, and chouquettes

Unknown.jpegI’ve had this book on my shelf for a very long time, and I’m not sure why I haven’t got around to reading it; I guess I just haven’t been in the mood for a twenty-something-in-love-in-Paris memoir with recipes.

I’ve finally read it. Turns out this might be a Thing. To the point where I’m tempted to go look at Amazon and check out If you like this, you might like…

Elizabeth Bard is a romantic, preferring museums over night clubs and dreaming of living in the past. She begins her story with “I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date” and goes from there, describing weekends in his French flat and exploring the city, the food, and their developing relationship. It’s definitely nice to know that they do end up together; it makes it a more comforting read, to know the ending.
The story is basically an analysis of an intercultural relationship, as well as the somewhat difficult* road she took to get from innocent-arrogant-American thinking she can do anything to eventually writing this book. She had a lot of ‘who am I and what am I’ moments that struck a chord with me. It’s a nice story overall, and the memoir aspect is touching – her remembrances of her mentally ill father, the difficulty of making friends in France, negotiating with her own and his parents: it’s well written, with appropriate pathos but no eye-roll-y over-the-top woe-is-me wailing. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would; I was at the hankering-to-keep-reading stage at 11pm.

And every chapter has recipes at the end.

I’ve never been especially keen to try French cooking. For a long time I harboured a deep-seated desire to make croissants, until I saw a video about the endless folding, and then voila! I was cured. Anyway, I suspect that this somewhat American take on French cooking IMG_1205.JPGis likely to be a bit easier for me. And when I saw the recipe for chouquettes, I thought – really? that easy? So I tried, and I made them, and they worked, and now I can make chouquettes. I AM VERY EXCITED. This might be a new thing for me.

Available from Fishpond.

*yes, the difficulty is all within the context of white privilege; she admits that she isn’t exactly in the hardest place in the world, but I think we all know that when nothing is going our way it feels like the worst thing ever.

Chocolate cupcakes

IMG_1192.JPGIn the cupcake book, these are dark chocolate wedding cupcakes. And they’re good, ok, but I don’t think they’re quite that good. Now maybe that’s my fault because I didn’t use Grand Marnier – I used orange blossom water instead – and I used Greek yoghurt instead of creme fraiche – but whatever. I also didn’t make the very rich chocolate icing, which in the recipe included double cream; icing sugar, milk and cocoa seemed to me to do the job.


As a privileged first-world person I have many boring things to complain about. Today it was lunch. I do not like deciding on lunch, and I do not like having what I decided to have for lunch be unavailable.

So. Today I took inspiration from a dear friend who, when I went to visit some time ago, had made scones. Just like that. I like scones but I’ve only ever made lemonade scones, and I’d never rally thought about them as lunch. I grabbed out my Stephanie Alexander and there’s her scone recipe – under Basics (well sorrrrryyy). I decided to be adventurous and divide the mixture in half. One half I added parmesan to. The other half… choc chips and sour cherries. Yup.

They were easy and they were yum. They didn’t rise as much as I might have liked but I think I was a bit too rough with them. Now to decide whether to freeze the rest or just, y’know, eat them.

Acts of Kitchen episode 4: gingerbread houses

AoK_logo_v2In which Karlee talks GINGERBREAD HOUSES and I’m living a Katering Show episode. You can listen here or subscribe at iTunes.


Gingerbread (a biscuit recipe). Sugar glass.

How do you store new recipes?

A scrapbook; iPad apps have never stuck.

Feedback gratefully received: you can email actsofkitchen at gmail dot com

Food TV: Dinner at Tiffani’s

I am a big big fan of food TV. When I discovered that SBS had started a food channel I was incredibly excited – although I’ve been a bit disappointed, because I don’t love competition food. What I love is watching people in the kitchen, talking through recipes with all their faux relaxation. I’m fully aware of how staged everything is, and the fact that especially when the cook is feeding friends it’s magnificently managed. But I am, usually, capable of splitting my brain and watching it on an innocent level as well as the cynical level.

Unknown.jpegAnyway, I’ve just discovered Dinner at Tiffani’s. It’s Tiffani Thiessen having people over for dinner, and cooking for them. All the people she has over are famous (…ish…), and she talks through what she’s feeding them. STAGED. But what I have liked, around the amazing American celebrity nature of it (with Tiffani chatting to the camera in between segments), is that she often gets the celebrities to help with the cooking. And I’ve only watched… um, three… today… but the number of them who don’t seem to know anything about cooking is a bit sad. One of them asked what is that? and the answer was thyme! (who knows whether that was staged.)

The kitchen is beautiful, she takes time over place and table settings as well as the food, and nothing is ever messy. I haven’t actually seen her make anything strenuous yet but I think that’s kind of the point – because everything looks tasty and appealing, but relatively easy to make, and the celebs like it so it must be good, right?

It’s a very amusing and very tacky show and I will absolutely be working my way through every episode that SBS has currently On Demand.

Desserts #2: the reckoning


And when life hands you the inability to make Swiss roll, MAKE TRIFLE.

With thanks to Tansy and Ju over on Twitter, that’s what I did. TA DAH.

I had used JAM’s In the Library for the Swiss roll – it’s plum and cardamom – so I used blood plums that I preserved in summer; I made the most basic custard ever (milk and whole eggs and sugar); and I cut up that roll and layered it, baby.

So now I hope it will taste ok.


ETA: boy was it ever ok. The jam in the roll had cardamom in it, and it came through beautifully – I would add a bit more to the custard next time; the plums were scrumptious (not a huge plum fan but NOM), and the custard wasn’t very rich but that was ok. Polished off by five adults, with a small amount being tried by the young godson who was diplomatic but not in love with it.

Desserts, baby

IMG_1123.JPG1. A dessert that worked.

This is from Indian Made EasyThey’re carrot and orange balls, where those things have been simmered in milk until they go mushy and then the mush is fried in butter and cardamom for a while. Then the mixture is formed into balls, once cold, and then drizzled with chocolate and pistachio (which is what I tried to do artistically on the plates at the back). They were delicious.

2. A dessert that didn’t work.IMG_1128.JPG

Recipe from BakeClass. What I really have to say here is I HATE YOU SPONGE. I really thought that I had mixed it properly – there were no gloopy bits in the mixture – and I thought I had cooked it long enough, because it looked the right colour and it sprang back when touched. It had risen and everything! But then when I put it on the tea towel I noticed that it immediately stuck. And then after I unrolled it, spread it with jam, and went to roll it again off the towel… well. It stuck a lot.