comfort market food

2 Oct

I re-read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal over the holidays. (I also re-read at least 16 detective novels, of which I had forgotten the endings, and started to see the world in Dalziel and Pascoe tropes.) When I returned to Paris, the leaves outside my window had crinkled and crisped around the edges, like a good lasagna, and the light had a misty quality that breathes spring or autumn, filtered through a haze of pollution.

To celebrate being back in the city, I planned to go to an exhibition with some friends. There was a 45 minute queue, of course, not because it was opening or closing day, but because Paris. Instead of waiting, we sat in green chairs in the Luxembourg gardens, absorbing the last of the sun. I introduced my friends to another cultural activity in the quartier: Pierre Hermé’s shop, which has the reverent atmosphere of a museum. And I discovered that if you ask nicely at the Café de la Mairie on the place St Sulpice – something I never dared in the last ten years – they will let you eat Hermé’s pastries with your coffee, and the people at the next table will stare with envy at the individual boxes, and the cakes within that shine like polished marble.

The next day, I took a basket to the market, and filled it with vegetables, and even if the men at the stand only pretended to recognise me, it felt like I belonged. They threw in a bunch of coriander for free, and more smiles than the usual Parisian quota. At home, with the help of another friend, I Tamar-Adlered all the produce, which means: fill up the sink, put a pot of water on to boil, and heat the oven. Wash everything, stick the halved fennel and the butternut and some shallots in the oven to bake, and start trimming the beans and leeks for their turn in the boiling water. Blend the herbs into a too-hot garlicky paste with chili and oil and lemon. Cook a couple of eggs in the now-green hot water for exactly seven minutes, and toss the cooked beans and leeks in oil and salt and mustard. Leave the fennel in the turned-off oven so that even its hard centre relaxes into caramel.

In half an hour or so, there were vegetables ready for half a dozen future meals: the butternut and herb sauce would become a puree, with crunchy toasted seeds, and then turn into a lasagna; the fennel and leeks would go on top of goat’s cheese tartines. An Everlasting Meal is all about circular cooking, being inventive with leftovers, and leaving scraps like writing prompts to begin again the next day.

For lunch, we had an assiette du marché: an array of greens and oranges around a soft egg sprinkled with salt, and a brief feeling of everything where it should be.

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of witches and madeleines

27 May

I wrote about madeleines and Hansel and Gretel and Chihiro and Cheburashka, and the witches in the background, in a story for Longreads. Above is a draft of one of the illustrations, one of my favourites.

On the recommendation of a friend, I have also been listening to a series on historical and literary sorcières (for francophones) while I make cakes and poach eggs at work.

(Double double toil and trouble, waiting for my water to bubble. Etc.)

rye bread, brown butter, honey ice cream, or glace à la tartine de miel

30 Apr

“You’re saying you made the rye bread first, and then made it into ice cream? So it’s homemade homemade rye bread ice cream?” said one friend. He thought I was showing off. I was, a little.

“It’s a glace à la tartine de miel,” said the other friend. A slice of bread and butter and honey, but in a scoop. She was the one that had asked me for ice cream au pain d’épices, similar to a gingerbread flavour. I had digressed from the original idea, but she seemed happy I left my experiment in her freezer.

They agreed on a glass of rye whiskey to sip alongside it. I had mine plain, but it wasn’t plain. It was stars-in-your-eyes wonderful. All of my desert island foods at once.

If the idea sounds like magic to you as well, it will be. Nutty and rich and a little bitter. If it sounds weird, I won’t try to convince you. (A bit like a review of a Wes Anderson film: if you like him, go see it. If not, don’t bother.)

That way there is more left for me.

~~

Rye bread, brown butter, honey ice cream

I was very proud to have made this flavour up all by myself, BUT the base quantities come from Dana Cree’s Hello My Name is Ice Cream. She taught me everything I know about the science of it all. Now I always finish with cornstarch – or tapioca flour if I remember to buy it – for a smoother, more scoopable texture.

For the rye bread, use a very dark, dense, seeded loaf for the most flavour. The square Scandinavian-style ones. You don’t have to make your own.

100g unsalted butter

100g rye bread stale or fresh

600g whole milk

+up to 300g whole milk

70g honey

100g sugar

100g egg yolks (about 5 large eggs)

5g / 1 tsp cornstarch

20g milk

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter then bring it to a boil. It will foam and hiss and eventually subside, leaving brown granules where the milk solids have caramelised. Scrape it out of the pan into a large bowl. Place a sieve over the top.

Without washing out the pan, heat 600g milk and the rye bread, crumbled into pieces, until it starts to simmer. Turn off the heat, cover and leave for 1 hour.

The rye bread will have absorbed a lot of the milk, forming a kind of porridge. Pour it through the sieve onto the browned butter, pressed gently with a spoon to get as much liquid out as possible. Discard the rye porridge.

Place the saucepan on the scales, and weigh the butter+milk mixture in it (still no need to wash). Add more milk to make a total of 700g. Add honey+sugar. Bring this to a simmer again. Meanwhile, in the large bowl, measure the egg yolks. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and 20g milk.

When the milk simmers, pour half into the egg yolks, whisking as you go. Pour all back into the pan and cook on a low heat, stirring constantly, to 80-82C, for a crème anglaise. Remove from the heat, add cornstarch mix and stir well again.

Pour finished custard into a clean bowl or container, (if it is lumpy, sieve it first) and place in an ice bath to cool quickly. Refrigerate for 8 hours / overnight. Churn according to machine instructions.

[Rye flour recipe, number 3 out of 3]

overnight rye bread

23 Apr

When I visited San Francisco, I was on a bread kick, sourdough in particular. It began with the Tartine book, and was fuelled by the The Toast Story which I have linked to before:

When I called Josey Baker, the — yes — baker behind The Mill’s toast, he was a little mystified by the dustup over his product while also a bit taken aback at how popular it had become. “On a busy Saturday or Sunday we’ll make 350 to 400 pieces of toast,” he told me. “It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”

But Baker assured me that he was not the Chuck Berry of fancy toast. He was its Elvis: he had merely caught the trend on its upswing. The place I was looking for, he and others told me, was a coffee shop in the city’s Outer Sunset neighborhood — a little spot called Trouble.

On my second day, still hazy with jet lag, I took the tram all the way to Outer Sunset, within sight of the ocean, and ordered the special at Trouble. Filter coffee, a slab of cinnamon toast, and a young coconut, with its fresh juice and soft insides. I sat at the driftwood bar and watched the locals come and go, and took notes. The breakfast was an odd combination, but it worked because of the story behind it. Food tends to be more satisfying with a side of story.

The toast was good: sweet, airy, plenty of butter and cinnamon. The bread wasn’t really the point of the experience. It was fluffy and white, a vehicle for the topping. Like the Japanese version of toast as dessert, with ice cream on top. A novelty, not for every day. I walked down to the beach and fell asleep, toes dug into the sand.

Later in the week I went to the Mill, closer to the centre of town. An enormous white space, racks of artisan bread and ceramics on the wall. I ordered cream cheese on rye and watched the shimmer of heat rising from the line of toasters. It seemed there was a Toast Master, one guy assigned to grill, butter and serve the squares of homemade bread. Behind him, a team of bakers tipped dough out of plastic tubs and shaped it into balls, relaxed, dexterous. They were wearing jeans, shorts, bandanas, the antithesis of the French brigade. The rye was dark and chewy, with a slight bitter edge that balanced the cream cheese perfectly. It was stuffed with seeds and grains. I think I had another piece straightaway. I definitely went back later on, and worked up the courage to ask the baker, Josey Baker, if he accepted interns come from across the Atlantic. He did, he could squeeze me in for a day.

I mentally revised my work uniform, rejected the white jacket and check trousers I brought with me, considered buying an old band T-shirt from the many vintage shops along Valencia. I allowed myself to be intimidated unnecessarily. The staff at the Mill were open, generous, sharing recipes and tips. They seemed to be constantly experimenting with new flours, different hydrations. We had a late breakfast in the garden, porridge, toast, a frittata cooked in one of the empty decks of the oven. Late in the afternoon, after the early shift had gone home, I helped the girl in charge of the rye.

‘It ferments quite fast, so we just let it sit in the mixer for an hour or so.’ After that we scooped it straight into greased loaf tins, patting it out with wet hands. She rattled off bread puns as I sprinkled cornmeal and she scored the tops with criss-cross lines. She would bake them in a few hours, at the end of her shift, by which point the loaves should have risen to the edge of the tins. I was done for the day, and left with my leggings covered in flour, a little high on the newness of it all.

This was three winters ago. I tried some other rye recipes in the meantime – the Hot Bread Kitchen book has a good one – but came back around to this one. If you have an active starter, it doesn’t take much effort at all. Prepare your starter, soak some seeds. Wait. Mix the dough vigorously. Pat into tins, no shaping necessary, and allow to rise. Over an afternoon in a warm kitchen, or overnight in the fridge. When it reaches the top of the tin, it is good to go. Barely any active time, just waiting. Perfect if you are hibernating for the winter. It will last for three or four days without going stale: with butter and jam for breakfast, honey for elevenses, slices of cheese for an evening in with friends. Have it toasted to pretend you are in California.

(Special thanks go to James and Matthieu for bringing me Danish rye flour which is especially dark and gritty. It works with a paler kind, but I love the deep colour.)

 ~~~

Overnight rye bread

makes 1 loaf – adapted from Josey Baker Bread

The rye flour I find in France is called Seigle T130, a semi-whole-grain blend. The Danish rye flour, which I prefer, is darker and grittier. It is possible to use light rye, it just makes for a paler crumb. Sometimes I mix the two to make my imported stuff last longer.

This recipe is based on getting 8 hours sleep, so adjust accordingly! I mix the leaven about midday, start the dough at 10pm and go to bed. Then bake at about 8am. To speed up the rise, if doing this during the daytime, the tin can be left in a warm place (in winter: an oven warmed to 40C, then turned off) for 4-5 hours.

quantities are for 1 or 2 small loaf tins, 10x26cm – all measurements in grams:

 

In the morning, mix levain in a small jar, and soak seeds in a large bowl. In the evening, about an hour before bed, mix everything in the large bowl: the seeds, levain, flour, water and salt. Use a stiff spatula and give it a good stir to combine. It will have the texture of cement.

Grease a loaf tin with olive oil and press the mixture into it. With wet hands, smooth out the surface of the loaf. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp extra cornmeal, shaking pan so it covers the surface. With a sharp knife, cut criss-cross slashes, about 5mm deep, to form a diamond pattern. Wrap loaf tin in a tea towel and leave in the fridge overnight.

The next morning:

The dough should have risen a little (but not like a traditional wheat bread) about 1.3 to 1.5 times in volume, up to the top of the tin. If not, let it sit out at room temperature for a couple of hours. Preheat oven to 250C. When the loaf goes in, throw a handful of ice cubes or a cup of hot water onto the floor of the oven to make steam. Bake for 10 minutes at 250C, then lower heat to 210C for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then remove from tin and let cool on a wire rack.

Optional extra, if well prepared: cook 50g of whole rye grains/berries in plenty of simmering water until they are al dente. 30 minutes to one hour. Drain and allow to cool. It is best to do this when preparing leaven and soaking seeds. Mix into dough with rest of ingredients.

[Rye flour recipe, number 2 out of 3]

knäckebrot, or cinema crackers

16 Apr

What do chefs eat after work? David Lebovitz says it is popcorn and tortilla chips. When I worked at a bakery, I took home the leftovers, ate half a raspberry-chocolate mousse cake and fell asleep at 8pm.

Now I tend to go for: the beef satay pho from the place on the corner, which can have it ready in four minutes flat. Or: spaghetti with miso and butter. Or: frozen gyoza and frozen edamame reheated in the time it takes to boil a kettle.

Or if I am lucky, my past self filled up the tin of seeded crackers and I can eat those with Comté and sliced fennel. They taste like the really expensive crackers in the organic food aisle – not like the dry, diet ones that are basically cardboard. Good with cheese of course, or with jam for breakfast, or crumbled over savoury dishes for extra crackle.

Best of all, the crackers only take two minutes to mix up, and an hour to bake. They are mostly seeds, held together with a bit of flour and some oats. There is no rolling involved, so it doesn’t feel like work. And they can last forever, or for a fortnight, depending on how many you made and if your flatmate looks in the tin.

Or, since at the end of a long day I don’t always want to cook, talk to anyone or think about anything: I go to the movies by myself, with a paper bag of these seeded crackers, and eat them during the noisy parts.

~~

Knäckebrot, or cinema crackers

recipe from my aunt Patricia

The quantity below is enough for one standard oven tray of 40x25cm – I recommend making as many trays as will fit in the oven at once as the crackers keep for months (ha) but disappear much fast than that. (See the spreadsheet version underneath.) Use a mix of whatever seeds you have around, and up to 10% of spices, like caraway, cumin or fennel.

50g rye flour (T130) or wholewheat flour (T150)

50g rolled oats

85g mixed seeds (any of sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, flax, nigella – and up to 10% spices like caraway, cumin, fennel seeds)

2.5g / 1/2 tsp salt

175g water

5g / 1 tsp olive oil

Heat oven to 130C. Mix everything in a large bowl for a texture like porridge. Line your oven trays with paper or silpats, and weigh 360g onto each. Spread out with a spatula over the whole tray, as thinly and evenly as possible. Pop trays in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove trays one by one and carefully cut the now set mixture into squares, or whatever you want your crackers to look like. Put back in the oven for 1 hour. If they are still a little soft, turn the oven off and leave them inside to dry out. Store in a tin.

Spreadsheet version, all in grams:

[Rye flour recipe, number 1 out of 3]

next door

21 Sep

Five years as a pastry chef and I never learned how to poach an egg properly. It never came up. I liked crispy-fried eggs for my breakfast, when I wasn’t eating croissants at work.

And then I landed in a new place, a mixture of happenstance and good friends, and poached eggs were on the menu. On everything. My failure rate was high, in the beginning. I looked at every ‘easiest / best poached egg technique’ on the internet and I ate the disastrous ones for breakfast and lunch and snacks. I felt like Frances the badger when she is ‘Tired…of…jam.‘ And finally a friend, a French-trained chef, walked me through it. I had everything backwards. It was supposed to be the deepest pot in the kitchen, whole cups of vinegar and a light smattering of bubbles, like expensive fizzy water. The finished egg should feel like the fleshy part at the crease of a bent elbow. The chasm between reading about something and experiencing it is vast.

In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the sushi chef’s apprentice explains that it was ten years of prep work, massaging the octopus to make it tender, before he was allowed to make omelettes. And it was two hundred failed omelettes – failed in that they did not meet Jiro’s high standards – before he made one that was worthy of a nod of approval. The apprentice cried with relief, pride.

I haven’t signed up for any classes this autumn. Last year it was illustration, before that bread, and Japanese. I like the discomfort of the steep slope on a new learning curve. This year I am working on my eggs. I still mess a few up, and still eat those ones for lunch. The rest are good.

And I get the best coffee as a reward.

summer fruit

27 Jun

I haven’t been cooking for myself. I have been buying bags of fruit at the market – cherries and apricots and baby tomatoes –  and eating them straight from the bag. Then I get home, surprised that there are none left.

Lunch today: a few, sad apricots that got squashed under the radishes. Half a baguette, apricots, pickled red onion slices (always useful to have in the fridge) and a too-ripe camembert. Grilled to melt the cheese into total surrender.

Hope June is treating you well.

xx

happy new year

31 Dec

framboisier

Please accept this very un-seasonal framboisier to put this year to bed. The French like to send cards in January rather than December, which is much easier in the calm after all the parties. Bonne année to all – may the next be full of hopes and adventures.

leftovers (05.10.2016)

5 Oct

prawns and whelks

Recent leftover suppers include: the remains of a potato gratin whizzed up with chicken broth and cooked red peppers for a hearty soup, the first of the autumn. Green lentils with lardons and red wine. Coriander, almond and lemon pesto, originally served over burrata (my one true love), later mixed with cream cheese for savoury croissant tartlets with salmon. More croissant dough sprinkled with cardamom sugar and twisted up following this gif for Swedish cardamom buns.

In ice cream experiments:

I’ve been following David Lebovitz’s recipes since they are consistent and delicious. So this includes his chocolate sherbet, mango sorbet and quick coconut ice cream (with cardamom in place of saffron). I will have to invest in his book. Also a success, Lucky Peach’s pecan brittle ice cream.

In food for thought:

Lucky Peach is killing it at the moment: Should I go to culinary school? and Where are the women chefs? and Power condiments for cooking vegetables.

In the New Yorker: Figs as inside-out flowers (and the reason wasps exist). In the Guardian, Syrian sweets and lost memories.

And in self-promotion:

I was flattered to provide some soundbites for an article on food illustration (the other featured blogs are stunning) and one on British women chefs in Paris, which includes many of my culinary idols.

Over on A Pocket Feast, I have a map for Marseille, a chaotic and lively city. I recommend the fresh seafood, and staying on an AirBNB boat in the harbour, as long as you don’t get seasick. And for the last days of sunshine, try and eat the 10 best ice creams in Paris.

similes / empanadas

16 Aug

empanadas, drawing

“Imagine you are holding something in the palm of your hand. A cup of tea. Now tip it out onto the grass.”

“What? Why would I do that?”

“It’s not good tea… PG Tips? No, Lipton. And it’s cold, tip it out. Now pretend it’s a sponge, squeeze it out. Good. As you extend your arm, turn your hand and squeeze the sponge at the last minute. Imagine there is a leaf between your elbow and your side. Actually,” he chose the largest vine leaves from the terrace, “here. Keep it close to your body, as long as possible.”

As my flatmate Emma had requested, my brother was teaching us karate, starting with a basic punch.

“Now step forward at the same time. Good.”

Our vine leaves floated down to the ground, over and over. Step. Step. The grass under my bare feet was slightly damp in the evening air.

~~~

My mother had a project for us too, also for late afternoon when the sun was low over the fields. She roped us into building an outdoor bread oven, following a rough recipe. Reluctant to surface from my summer reading list, I soon discovered that it wasn’t so much hard labour as child’s play: making sandcastles and mud pies. With the same satisfaction of constructing a perfect dome of lemon cream over a lemon tart, we made a smooth dome of wet sand, then plastered it with damp newspapers (pictures of Wills and Kate, also “en vacances dans le Gers!” the local paper was excited to announce).

building bread oven, drawing

Then the mud and straw from the nearby field had to be stamped with water and more sand to make it pliable. Like grapes for wine, tougher. We started with garden clogs on, but it turned out to be easier to do so without, the mud squishing between our toes as it softened. My mother and I stamped and stomped and squished around in little circles. Finally the hard rubble (interspersed with dangerous pieces of terracotta roof tile) became smooth, the same plasticity as a butter slab beaten and moulded into shape for croissant dough. My brother supervised the construction of the clay layer, built up in balls squashed into a rough wall.

“About the size of cricket balls,” my mother said.

“Not a cultural reference I know,” Emma replied, a smile in her voice.

The cricket balls spiralled up and around, covering the English royal family and more local news of cows and tractors and shooting stars. When smooth, the dome looked like an old fashioned beehive. It reminded me of trying out wattle and daub on a school trip, ancient building techniques. The first layer complete, the mud now covered my hands and feet and stomach, somehow. Better than a spa, an exfoliating mud mask.

“We should sell this as an expensive retreat, mindfulness and oven building!”

The sun was almost gone by then, and we had empanadas to prepare. So we left the second layer and the carving out of the door for another day, and rinsed off the mud.

~~~

The empanadas were Emma’s idea. She wanted to make a nice gesture, a thank-you, on her last evening. All the more so since we accidentally told her what my mother had said about house guests.

“Like fish, after three days, they start to go off.”

My brother tried to make it better by adding, “but you are family really, more like Christmas cake. You can stick around for a month.”

She thought it was funny, I think, since she knows my anti-social tendencies. And because, equivalent to the cricket ball remark, in France, the bûche de Noël stays fresh for a day or two at best.

empanadas, drawing 2

Her father sent us a picture of a faded newspaper cutting, their family recipe. Her mother was from Chile; she and her sister have spent time there and in Argentina, both of which make empanadas of varying sizes and fillings. She deciphered the sparse instructions for me, a cup of this, a small spoon that, mix, rest, roll. I made the pastry, unsure if the cold butter and warm milk would cancel each other out. But,

“It smells right,” Emma said. She was frying onions and finely diced beef, grilling red peppers, before adding cumin and chilli, a homegrown tomato, a handful of raisins. Then I rolled out the dough, stamped out handspan circles with a small, white bowl, while she added the filling, folded the rounds into half moons and crimped the edges, from the corners first, fold, press, fold, press. My brother brushed the little parcels with beaten egg. They could have been miniature Cornish pasties, or enormous gyoza. Choose your own cultural reference. Half were roasted pumpkin (from the garden) and a strong, melty goat’s cheese, the other half beef and peppers and a slice of boiled egg, The latter had sun’s rays drawn out with a knife point, in the manner of a galette des rois.

We ate our baked empanadas on the terrace, under the vines, next to the half finished mud oven. There was a meaty red wine from the Gers to mimic an Argentinian one and no need for cutlery.

~~~

N.B. No recipe today, because I don’t consider myself an expert yet. I wanted to tell the story anyway, to make a list of all of the imagery we used across our lessons and constructions. So much of recipe writing is hitting on the right simile / metaphor that will ring true for the reader. Not to be poetic, but to be explicitly clear. It looks like, smells like, feels like this.

We did compare a few recipes on line to see if they were similar to Emma’s family one. They were the same, and subtly different, in the way that everyone’s Chilean grandmother has her own special method. And yet they were not so difficult, especially with company. I highly recommend having a go. The fillings can be improvised according to your fridge or garden. The roast pumpkin and goat’s cheese (nothing more than that) was particularly good. And they reheated nicely for lunches and snacks later on.

 

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