The Missing Ingredient

images.jpegI don’t remember how I came across this book – could have been through Gastropod? – but I thought it sounded like just my thing. Time as an ingredient makes a lot of sense, when you consider it! And overall, Linford does look at some interesting points in connecting food with time; I learned a few things and was encouraged in my love of cooking and food.

However, this book turned out to be not quite what I expected. On reflection, I think I was expecting something more like Michael Pollan’s Cooked, where he meditates on particular ways in which fire or air or whatever have an impact on cooking and food at length. This is not that. Instead, this is a long series of vignettes. Some of them do go over pages – there’s a good few pages on pickles, and on smoking, and the wonders of freezing., among others. But in general each topic within each timeframe (seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years) is relatively short, addressing the connection between the topic and time – the seconds between different stages of caramel, the time it takes to make true traditional Modena balsamic vinegar – and usually not going into the depth that my heart really wanted. (And sometimes the topics chosen in each chapter seem to be tangential to the concept of time as an ingredient, but maybe I missed the point.)

If what you’re interested in is a series of short stories about time and cooking, that you can easily dip into and out of, that are sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant and that remind you that cooking and good food are good things, then you will probably enjoy this book.

Simple, by Ottolenghi

Unknown.jpegIt seems like half the people in my extended family got this book for Christmas. Certainly I did, because when I saw it at a friend’s house I sent a link to the Fishpond listing to my mum, with the subject heading OH MY AN OTTOLENGHI BOOK I DON’T OWN and because she’s a smart lady she knew what to do.

Jerusalem will always be my best and favourite and the book by which I judge all other Ottolenghi books, which is probably unfair to him but that’s my brain. So Simple is different from that; it doesn’t feel quite as Middle Eastern-y to me. Having said that, that may be because a) I cook a fair bit in that style (caveats for being Anglo-Australian etc), and b) I live in an area where getting sumac and the like are straightforward. This is not a criticism, it’s just a Thing.

Simple reflects one of the tendencies I’ve noticed in cookbooks over the last several years: reassuring people that cooking isn’t hard, and giving a convenient shorthand for picking recipes. Since I have friends who were new to cooking, started a recipe at 7pm without reading to the “… now cook for two hours” bit, I think this is very useful.

S – short on time

I – ingredients: 10 or fewer

M – make ahead

P – pantry (what you have in it)

L – lazy

E – easier than you think

Me, I think that last one is a bit of a cheat, but I do also approve of encouraging people to do things that might seem difficult.

I adore it. Chapters include Brunch, Raw Veg, Cooked Veg, Rice Grains and Pulses, Pudding… and one of my very favourite things that is cropping up more recently, the Meal Suggestions and Feasts ideas. Thank you for helping me think about what pairs well!

So far the thing I have made most frequently is cauliflower ‘tabbouleh’. Grate cauliflower, add a lot of herbs, serve. It’s delicious and works exceptionally well with roast chicken. Soba noodles with lime, cardamom and avocado is brilliant on a summer’s evening, with some added lamb – the lime and avocado and lots of herbs are a delight. The blueberry, almond and lemon cake is easy and delicious; I also made an alternate version with hazelnut meal and cherries.

There are so many recipes in this book that I want to make that it will definitely be on high rotation this year. This is a very good place to start if you’ve never cooked anything from Yotam Ottolenghi before.

Seven Culinary Wonders of the World

Unknown.jpegThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Murdoch Books, at no cost. It’s out on 1 November; RRP $35.

I was intrigued by the idea of looking at culinary traditions and histories through seven key ingredients, and those chosen here seem quite appropriate. Not comprehensive, since you could argue for others (like corn, or potato, were my first thoughts) but nonetheless widely used in a variety of cultures over the world and with interesting histories attached. Linford’s chosen seven ‘wonders’ are: rice; salt; honey; pork; tomato; chilli; and cacao.

In each chapter, Linford talks a little about the chemistry or something scientific of each ingredient, but that’s not the focus. There’s more about the history, although it’s still very much an introduction – how something like the tomato moved from the Americas to the rest of the world (I love that tomatoes are, relatively speaking, new to Italy), as well as the development and cultivation over time of different types (the ambition to create inedibly hot chilli is completely foreign to me). There’s a fairly wide-ranging look at how different cultures use different ingredients; because this is a relatively short book (about 230 ish pages), this is by no means exhaustive, which may annoy some people if she hasn’t chosen a particular culture. Still, she does talk about the use of chilli, for instance, in Mexican and Indian and Thai and Malaysian and Korean and Chinese and Portuguese and Italian and American (esp Texan) and Hungarian and Spanish cookery. And finally, there are recipes. Again, these are not comprehensive, but there’s no way it could have been. For pork, she has everything from Chinese pork potstickers (dumplings) and char siu to sautéed chorizo with red wine  to glazed ham; for honey, it’s baclava to honey-glazed shallots and grilled goat’s cheese with honey. The recipes are set out nicely on the page, and each one only takes up a page (possibly a requirement in choosing?)

My one reservation with this book is that sometimes the language got repetitive. It’s as though Linford, or her editor, assumed that people would mostly not be reading this straight through (I did), and so they thought that repeating certain key phrases would be both a good and not noticed. I noticed. And while it wasn’t enormous clumps of text that were repeated, it was obvious enough that I got a bit impatient.

Overall this is a nicely-presented book: I love a good hardcover, although I love a cookbook with a ribbon even more! Each chapter has its own colour for the page numbers and the recipe text and the illustrations (there are some nice illustrations throughout – not photos), which is a nice touch. This is a nice book for someone like me who likes the background to ingredients as well as a variety of recipes.

Croissants

IMG_2009.JPGA few years ago I thought I would try making croissants sometime. Then I was dissuaded by being told it was very time consuming and difficult.

Unknown.jpegThen my friend Alison gave me The Tivoli Road Baker and it’s got a whole section on viennoiserie and I read the instructions and I thought… well, how hard can it be? I just need two days of relatively cool weather.

Friends, that was yesterday and today. I have now made croissants.

IMG_2006.JPGI started by buying Danish butter – Lurpak – because it’s 82% fat, although I don’t know if it’s cultured as the recipe recommends. Then I just followed the recipe for the dough, which turned out to be a lot easier than I thought. Then it was into the fridge overnight.

IMG_2008.JPGToday, I did the laminating, which again is a whole lot easier than I expected. I think the process has a bad name because it really does take a long time – but that’s the resting time, not the active time. The rolling out of each stage was easy and only took a few minutes. And in fact even the process of turning the dough into the croissants – cutting into triangles and stretching and rolling up – was really easy.

IMG_2010.JPGOf course, things did not go entirely right. Because it was a cool day, I decided to follow the instructions for proofing in the oven. I put a pan in, with boiling water, and then put the teeny croissants in to rise. After an hour, I thought the oven wasn’t warm enough, so I put more hot water in. Then 20 min later I took the croissants out because it was time to turn on the oven… and butter had melted out. Yeh. So that made me feel pretty awful. Then, hilariously, because I was annoyed about that, I completely forgot to eggwash the croissants before they went in. Thus they did not quite crisp up as well as they should.

Nonetheless! I made croissants. And they aren’t terrible. They are even flaky!

IMG_2007.JPGI also found a recipe to use the leftover bits of croissant pastry. Actually I think it was meant to be just the laminated dough but I used the bits I cut off as I went as well, so it didn’t puff up as much as they could have. I was going to make just the sweet version but then a friend pointed out that savoury could work too. So I made half with pistachio and raspberries, and half with a teeny bit of tomato paste and finely chopped mushroom. They’re ok… they didn’t work as intended because not all of the dough was fully laminated. Also, not making it from frozen probably impacted too.

So there we are. Croissants. Tick that off the bucket list.

Acts of Kitchen: Tansy Rayner Roberts #2

AoK_logo_v2Tansy and I continue our discussion, this time moving on to food in books (both childhood classics and Tansy’s own stories), food in space, and food in history…

Part 1 of my interview with Tansy

A Trifle Dead, written under Tansy’s nomme de plume Livia Day

Jane Brocket: old blog and new blog

I can’t find a link to where you might buy a dormouse for eating, so maybe it’s gone underground…