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Experimental Cooking Jive

A couple of days ago, I adapted an online recipe for “Sprite Zero Cake”, and pushed one of the resulting very springy, slightly bready, slightly sticky but perfectly acceptable cakes onto Delightful Boyfriend. The man in question inserted one into his face hole and declared it “all right”, because boarding school has destroyed his taste forever and what it hasn’t broken his staggering addiction to hot sauce has pretty much finished off.

Then I told him what was in it (no butter), and what I planned to replace next time to reduce the calories further (sugar replaced with sukrin), to which he made a face and said “It sounds pretty joyless to me.”

I believe I said something curt about him enjoying it before he knew what it was, but really the fun in these things is at least as much from the challenge as from the food itself.

On that note, welcome to further adventures in Teaching Myself To Cook. I’ve included some experiments, which I probably could just have looked up online, but as I prefer to find things out for myself by doing them, that didn’t happen. If you’re more reading-oriented these might be useful, I don’t know.

Raspberry & Vanilla Sugar “tea”.

I bought some raspberry powder on a whim a while back and it has made a sterling flavour addition to yogurt, fromage frais, and occasionally cream cheese ever since; I bought vanilla sugar on an even bigger whim and it makes terrific icing.

Night shift requires no further tea after about 4am in order to be able to sleep, and while I have decaf tea sometimes I want something hot that doesn’t even pretend to be tea. I hate herbal teas because they invariably taste of cardboard (pro-tip: stop bulking up your tea bags with hibiscus seeds, you asshats), rather than what they smell of.

Chiming with the Packetsu philosophy, I dumped 1/4 of a teaspoon of vanilla sugar and 1/2 a teaspoon of raspberry powder into a sachet and while the end result contained a certain amount of flavoursome sludge at the bottom, it was delicious and hot and tasted of raspberries and the sludge yielded another half cup.

Flour?

I acquired a sack of gram flour because I’d heard it contained fewer calories than wheat flour (which it does, marginally) and nowhere seems to sell it in smaller quantities than “sack”, so after a lengthy period of suspicion and indolence I have begun experimenting with how gram flour (made from chickpeas) holds up against wheat flour.

The major discovery was that gram flour takes up water much more effectively so you don’t need as much, or you end up with a very sticky dough. The obvious is that gram flour isn’t as elastic as wheat flour and it doesn’t rise as much, but makes a surprisingly good flat biscuit.

gram/wheat flour mix base with cumin, spinach powder, garlic, and black pepper.

gram/wheat flour mix base with cumin, spinach powder, garlic, and black pepper.

That by the way is a quail egg, to give you an idea of scale. This was a 2/3rds gram to 1/3rd wheat base, and the end result – cooked for about 15 minutes – was a firm, snappy biscuit rendered a little softer where the tomato paste was.

The results of further experiments with flour:

I had a hypothesis and I colour-coded my baking with food colouring. REAL SCIENCE.

(PINK)

Oven pancake (1 tsp gram flour, 1 quegg, 1 tsp milk, baking powder,
to scale up to a hen egg/suitable quantity of egg substitute use 1
tbsp instead of tsp) would make good topping for something but not
good base, a bit rubbery.

(BLUE)

plain gram flour base (1 tbsp gram flour, baking powder) does not
need much water – less than 1/2 a tsp – and needs to be spread
smoothly like a paste not a dough onto the baking tray/muffin hole.

(YELLOW)

gram/wheat (2 tsp gram, 1 tsp wheat) needs more water (1.5 tsp) and
rises more, is rougher on top than the plain gram flour, with less
water might make a serviceable dough.

All need salt.

I made a second attempt at pizza base dough:

you can make perfectly serviceable dough balls with gram flour
instead of wheat flour – a little denser but not perceptibly. (i
coloured the wheat flour with spinach powder this time to differentiate from the gram).
needs a different water ratio – 1 tbsp of gram flour takes 0.75 tsp of
water as opposed to 0.5 of a tbsp with 1 tbsp of wheat flour – but
you get a nice dough from that which makes 2 x mini dough balls
(then just scale up i guess) and also if you squash it flat and fry
it briefly in a reasonable amount of oil for a very short time on
each side: chapati.

The exchange there is from emails to Scientist Friend On Hiatus, who is also vegan and gluten-intolerant, and therefore likely to be interested in ways of making food that don’t egg or wheat.

Yesterday I made Traffic Light Mini Naan, coloured with spinach powder, tumeric (and garlic), and paprika. I remembered the salt. They were fantastic.

Baking Fail

Having succeeded in the Accidental Biscuit Pizza Base (which was pretty nice and a good way of eating pizza), I decided to have a go at some Deliberate Biscuits using a similar recipe. Wheat flour, gingerbread spices, and Stevia to replace sugar.

Let me say this: don’t do the thing with the Stevia. Use a sugar substitute intended for baking. What I got were rock-hard and all the spices had granulated into dark spots. I mean, they tasted okay, but they were very much not biscuits.

Parting Shots

Spending a lot of time on slow nights at work reading recipes which are of an increasingly paleo/gym lunatic variety, trying to find a balance between “author is mad and just listing health benefits no food can actually bestow” and “food is actually four million calories and being described as healthy because an apple looked at it once”, I wandered across some recipes for treats and the like which didn’t have the restraining factor of “I am trying not to consume more energy in a day than the ISS uses in a year”. Most of them, which might previously have appealed to me, now look thoroughly gross. Or, as described to a friend:

after changing my eating habits a lot of the things that I
previously considered delicious now taste greasy and disgusting (i
can’t actually say this on most social media for fear of being
yelled at for… changing my tastes? being entirely non-judgemental
about what everyone else is eating? i don’t know, but man people
will yell if you express a preference that is out of line with
theirs)

Which means that whenever someone talks about what a chore it is to replace, for example, Reese’s with raspberries, I just find myself a tiny bit alienated… and a tiny bit worried that if I mention preferring raspberries I’m about to get shouted at for being “smug”. I know there are people who will bang on and on about the benefits of eating nothing but raw food (I grew up with a borderline orthorexic); but the immediate response of “liar” or “smug cunt” to “actually I like X” is one of those modern tribalist things I really don’t understand.

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Concept Design or Philosophy? Packetsu!

Another instalment in what’s turning into Design Week, this is going to be broken up into three sections because it kept expanding and expanding. Whether that’s a sign of a great idea or merely an obsessive mind is up to you.

First things first:

What’s with that name?

It’s a stupid name, I agree. Mainly it stuck because I came up with it in an Itsu, where everything was something-su, and the Resident Australian started referring to my bag full of packets of things as Packetsu, and habit is habit. A better name will, I am sure, occur to someone else.

Yes, but what is it?

Bearing in mind that I have a powerful fascination with the following things:

  • exact measurement of food/calories
  • tidy, exact packaging
  • choice

and that the majority of retailed food items do not manage to allow any of these three things, it occurred to me in the process of making my rice cooker that many instant noodle and rice and so on products could be hugely improved upon by selling the plain item on its own and then selling separate flavour and embellishment (dried beef, dehydrated vegetables) packets cheaply and individually, to allow people to both pick their own flavours on a whim and also mix and match. Choice, you see.

It then occurred that this didn’t really need to be limited to flavour: different sizes for different diets. Multibag buys.

Sounds a bit packaging wasteful.

Except now of course there are endless options for low-impact packaging which makes that concern rather less of an issue. You can make compost with those extra layers, or eat them, or reuse them. The individual packets work well for vending machine culture – endless variations and one slot to dispense them. Preparation pots sold separately, but cheaply. Just add hot water.

Where do you see this going besides the supermarket aisle and the vending machine?

Well they’re terribly convenient in those aspects. Why not corner shops? Why not move on from the savoury rice and noodles and stir-in pasta salads to fresh, vacuum-sealed produce in individual serving sizes (80g bag of peas, vaccuum sealed. Pull the strip to perforate, pop in the microwave. Three veg bags, one potato bag, some fish fillet: a proper meal in the microwave at work with whatever sauces and seasonings and combinations you want instead of the three flavours previously made up by the supermarket cold food section). Why not introduce wallet-sized sachets for emergency spicing-up of snacks at eminently reasonable prices?

Remember that this revolution is already expanded from “just noodles or rice”: The Food Doctor sell couscous pots. Various diet companies have put out bean-chilli pots of the “add hot water” variety, and Itsu do famously delicious massive pots as well as their little crystal noodle ones.

Move on from the savoury to the sweet, even. Muller Corners, hot chocolate sachets, astronaut ice cream, popping candy paper sachets, porridge pots (with dried milk, so all you need to add is water) – the rudiments exist already, and only need to be rejigged to really sell the “mix and match”, “individual”, and “durable” aspects across them all. Porridge can be altered with the substitution of powdered soya milk or similar for the vegan option. The “add your own toppings” deal is already the staple of deli counters and ice-cream bars and the philosophy can be expanded easily into take-away or assemble-yourself.

So the idea is: tiny packets?

Ah, but also a choice between a) specialised containers or b) one all-purpose container: “fill the multi-purpose to the GREEN line with water” etc.

Of course there’s also the possibility for themed containers/cups (Hello Kitty? Rilakkuma? Movie tie-ins?), children’s lines… folding silicone ones for camping…

Tiny packets and containers?

You make it sound so unfulfilling! There are so many options! It’s so convenient! You could go batshit and have raspberry powder and soy sauce and coconut and beef on your tapioca and no one could judge you for it.

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Recipe: Cauliflower Fritters

Before I start:

  • I was debating whether to do the disingenuous Buzzfeed recipes thing and call them pancakes even though they are quite clearly not.
  • These have like two ingredients, and are therefore perfect.
  • Also completely gluten-free, due to aforementioned only two ingredients.
  • Someone has almost certainly done this before, but “I should try X” is one of those thoughts that plagues me when I’m trying to sleep.

Are you ready for a recipe which is hysterically simple in its construction and is therefore perfect for breakfast? A recipe which will shut up the irritating Paleo types, please vegetarians, and soothe the gluten-free? A recipe which is acceptable to even people doing that moronic 5:2 diet who are on their 2 day?

Also it tastes pretty nice, which is clearly far more important.

Ingredients

This is the minimum amount and provides ratios, you can of course increase it and make more.

  • 200g cauliflower (roughly 1/4 of a medium cauliflower)
  • 1 egg

That’s it, that’s your lot. Optional extras:

  • Dried seaweed – I put this in the ones you’re about to see photos of.
  • Spices mixes/herbs – I used a paprika/garlic powder/garlic chips/onion salt mix in mine but that’s because I use it in absolutely everything
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • You could probably add Bonito flakes or really anything small and flavoursome

Method

  1. Cut the cauliflower up as small as you can, this will make life easier later.
  2. Boil the cauliflower until it is soft
  3. Mash the cauliflower until it is mush. Put in the spices/seaweed/whatever you’re adding.
  4. Mix the egg into this until it’s sort of smooth.
  5. Glob some of the mix into a frying pan/wok/hot plate on a low heat. Don’t spread it too thin or it won’t stay in one piece.
  6. When it seems like the bottom’s probably cohered reasonably well, turn it over and press it down.

The above mixture, depending on what size you make them, makes about three to four fritters, which is a perfectly adequate breakfast. I splashed some oyster sauce on mine because that’s how I roll but really I’m sure it works with just about anything salty.

mix pan serve

Additional information:

If you’re counting calories, this comes to 128-130 calories for the whole mixture outlined above.

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Pie Tins:

Since I stopped writing all the things I’ve been mainly cooking all the things: I can’t really return to sewing all the things while I’m still losing weight (outside of taking things in repeatedly until they can’t be taken in any more and I have to sadly abandon them); I could start embroidering things but I was frustrated with the lopsidedness and I am tired of stabbing myself in the fingers and have elected to burn them instead (oven gloves: someone explain their function to my boyfriend so we can actually have a set).

This culminated recently in the purchase of a pie tin.

In which I made a pie:

top of pieside of piecut pie

Now the pie in question could have done with more gravy (a steak and kidney pie adapted at the last minute from a pork pie recipe isn’t going to be the same), and probably a little less pastry, but it has merit: this is, after all, my first ever pie. In the history of me putting things in ovens and not letting them char to cinders: first ever pie. Future plans involve switching out the lard for butter and making a vegetarian pie with cheese and roast vegetables, as I go mad with power. I can MAKE MY OWN PIES. I can make curry pie.

But before the vegetarian pie, or experiments with mince pie the size of a bowling ball, or any of my other inside ambitions, it occurred to me that this tin is also the right size for making cake.

I’d originally intended to make an ugly garish rainbow cake, inspired by my friend Hana’s rather more beautiful cake, but when I went looking for recipes I found one for cinnamon and apple. If there is anything that is tediously predictable about me (apart from everything, and my etsy favourites), it’s that I can be immediately won over by the inclusion of warm spices. Sweet food, savoury food, drinks, ice-cream, perfumes – if it can be adulterated with cinnamon, ground allspice, cloves, garam masala, turmeric, paprika etc, I want it to be. I bought a load of “make your own teabags” so I can gingerbread my tea over the winter; paprika and garlic powder go in all the cooking oil as it sizzles.

As I was blindingly angry and had nothing better to do, I decided to make the cinnamon and apple cake.

So I embarked on cake-making. Two things about that:

  1. Trying to mix a cake without a food mixer (we have one, I just don’t know how it works and last time I tried to use it I got soup on the ceiling) is hard work. I’m a little wiser now as to why so many older cartoons have the cook character with seriously beefy arms.
  2. Violently attacking cake mix until it is properly mixed is a surprisingly good way of making yourself not be blindingly angry any more.

cake

The greaseproof paper is, of course, for keeping it from sticking to the sides of the pie tin forevermore, as the cake has a good deal less ambient lard than the pie. “Cinnamon and apple” in this instance became “cinnamon and apple with some glacé cherries”, because I had some left over. And because I am a grown-up, which means I can put whatever the hell I want in my cakes, and no one can stop me.


In addition to going mad with baking power (as opposed to going mad with baking powder, which is unseemly and is what my kitchen looks like anyway), I’ve acquired a tiny Christmas tree:

CRIHTSMSA!

I don’t normally do Christmas particularly but this tree is tiny. That is a stuffed goldfinch in the background, a birthday present from the Resident Australian: his name is Clive.

I also acquired a job, which is a nice way to finish the year.

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Recipe: Christmas Comes Early

Before I introduce this variant on the BBC Good Food Best Brownie Ever Recipe (more details on the post where I made them into apple and cinnamon bars), I have to admit that I fucked them up slightly: oven temperature was too high, which meant the brownies cooked too fast on the outside and split on the top. On the other hand, given my trepidation concerning them cooking properly at all, I don’t think it went too badly.

Christmas Brownies

Wait, why the fuck am I making Christmas anything, it’s the middle of August?

  1. This never stops the bloody shops, as soon as the Back To School sales stop there will be Christmas shit in shops.
  2. I want to make sure I’ve got it right when the time comes to thrust these babies at alarmed friends who have had years and years of my voluble insistence that I will kill them with my cooking.

So, once again:

Christmas Brownies

I imagine when they don't crack you can also decorate them, if that's your bag.

I imagine when they don’t crack you can also decorate them, if that’s your bag.

(Serves 3, don’t be a greedy fucker)

Ingredients

  • 35g plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 12.5g ground allspice (it’s more than you think)
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • 62.5g salted butter
  • 75g cranberry jelly (this hides in the condiments aisle for some reason even though it is clearly jam)
  • 25g mixed dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, candied peel, etc)
  • 25g chopped glacé cherries (if you don’t like glacé cherries either double up the dried mixed fruits, substitute something similar, or have a long hard think about what’s wrong with your life and your choices, you weirdo).

Method

  1. Heat your oven to 180C. Not 185C as I apparently inadvertently did, which would be stupid.
  2. Throw sugar, butter, and cranberry jelly into a pan and melt them together while stirring.
  3. You should end up with goo. Turn off the heat and stir in the egg. Break the egg first otherwise this really will not work.
  4. Sieve the flour and ground allspice into the mixture and then stir it in persistently until the mixture is basically smooth and thick; this takes a bit more effort than with the apple bars for some reason.
  5. Wang in your dried fruit and cherries, stir them until they’re evenly distributed in the mix. Potentially hold some back and chuck ‘em on top later so they don’t all sink to the bottom like mine did? I dunno.
  6. Scrape your goo into 3 x ramekins or 2 x (ovenproof) mugs or a small tray, whatever you fancy, really. Put them on another tray, and put that tray in the oven for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove your Christmas whatsits, wait for them to stop being painfully hot, serve with custard or ice cream or brandy butter or whatever it is that counts as Christmas Accompaniment in your house.

Added bonus: these are nowhere near as calorific as the chocolate version so if you’re being bullied into Watching Your Waist by whoever, you can mark them down as 313 and not, like, 500.

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Recipe: Baking so simple even I can do it.

I would not go so far as to suggest that my cooking is legendarily bad; so far I’ve not killed anyone with my gumbo despite their fervent wishes and the other day I made soup. I did misspell “recipe” three different ways in the header, mind you, and I’ve never been able to master the arcane art of bakery until now, because anything that involves letting the thing I am cooking get out of my sight ends in crispy blackened disaster.

The “until now” part was generously provided by the BBC. The original recipe of best-ever chocolate brownies with raspberries (here) has been experimented with on this blog before, by the Resident Australian. This produced Far Too Many Brownies, which thanks to the inclusion of Paul A Young cocoa powder (I will happily shill for this company, everything they sell is amazing) and the unwise addition of salted caramel butter as a kind of icing, were entirely too rich for people to eat more than one. Tactical error: I hate food waste like leaky ceilings and whichever dick it is who likes to drive down my road playing Turkish pop music at deafening volumes out of their car window after 10pm.

Happily it turns out that maths.

I mean, it turns out you can reduce a recipe size with maths. I halved the recipe and halved it again (no more than that because I’m not in the game of trying to figure out how to halve an egg), and now instead of making two trays of brownies it makes 3 ramekins of brownies, effectively enough for three people. Which is exactly how many people there are in my house, and thanks to previous  consumption we have the required number of glass, oven-proof ramekins of exactly the right size. My advice is obviously to buy and consume some Gü rather than specifically buying ramekins, or just use an ordinary coffee mug and accept that you’re going to have two larger brownies instead. Kind of romantic!

Anyway, the quartered, romantic division of the recipe I linked to is as follows:

50g dark chocolate
25g milk chocolate
62.5g salted butter
100g soft light brown sugar
1 large egg
35g plain flour
12.5g cocoa powder
50g raspberries

And then follow the same instructions as in the link.

Last night I decided to put a spin on this and made one batch of these:

I don’t normally put food on the windowsill, it’s just the only place that has any light at the moment.

For this I made three incredibly simple changes: switched out the amount of cocoa powder (12.5g) for ground cinnamon (everyone was convinced this was going to be too much but instead: bang on the correct amount); switched out the combined 75g of chocolate types for 75g of jelly-like apple sauce from a jar; and instead of 50g of raspberries I had 50g of chopped apple, which is just over a quarter of an apple and meant there was still a large amount of apple left to eat – I’d suggest that means if you’re making the full amount you still only need one apple.

Moderately concerned while I was making it that somehow the apple sauce in place of chocolate would prevent the brownie from becoming adequately cohered, but it worked out pretty much perfectly and smelled fantastic while it was cooking.

In case you’re too lazy to follow the link, the instructions are:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Melt sugar, butter, and chocolate or apple sauce (depending which version you want) in a pan together.
  3. Turn off the heat and stir in your egg.
  4. Sieve in the flour and cocoa/cinnamon (depending), and stir them in until the mixture is like smooth goo. This should take less than a minute.
  5. Wang in your fruit, be it broken up raspberries or chopped apple bits or whatever really. Stir that shit in.
  6. Put the goo in the ramekins/tray/coffee cup/whatever you’re baking it in, stick that in the oven.
  7. 30 minutes later remove your excellent brownies and wait for them to cool enough that you can insert them into your face hole.

And this is why it’s so incredibly simple that even I can make it in my insultingly tiny kitchen at 9.30 at night while not entirely paying attention and still have enough brownies for my whole household to eat in bed. Next stop: gonna try and make a Christmas variation.

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Cordialgeddon

Witness the fruits of my labours.

Apparently I am the only person in Haringey who can correctly identify elderberries and understands that they are edible and in fact make a wicked purple cordial as well as a very syrupy wine, and also has the patience to strip half a tree while waiting for the bus, and then remove those fiddly little fucks from bunches and stew them.

I bought the Voss water because I liked the bottle, and it’s turned out useful.

Spiced Elderberry Cordial Syrup is the recipe I used, adjusted for quantity and what was available in my house (I put in cinnamon and cloves because my love for cinnamon bears no resemblance to reason). This involved turning my hands, one of my t-shirts, and a certain amount of the kitchen a vivid dark purple, and now I feel like my mother: the smell of stewed fruit is probably reminiscent of many people’s childhoods, but I do sort of wonder how common that really is in London.

(in an attempt to avoid editing and plotting/researching, we made brownies yesterday as well).

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February Links Post

Things my friends have done

Things I have done

Things strangers have done

  • Begun the process of reconstructing sounds from brainwaves, apparently. I cannot work out if this is cool, terrifying, or both.
  • Compiled a gorgeous selection of photographs of the most beautiful and innovative bookshops in the world. I am sad about the lack of representation of Hay-on-Wye, but deeply envious of some of the ones that are on the list. Portugal especially have apparently nailed “awesome bookshop”.
  • Interesting fellow on OKCupid showed me his music (this is not a euphemism), so naturally I am going to share it with the internet: Add Gray Fun. The two tracks I’ve listened to are sort of sparse and build tunes out of discord, which I’m very fond of as a feature in electronica. Professionally speaking I think they definitely need mixing & mastering – some work on the levels – and would personally have an annoying faff with reverb in places but overall I rather like it.
  • This fuzzy-haired scientist has an apparently supportable theory that cats make us bonkers. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.” Well, that’s not terrifying at all.
  • This Tumblr user is using police photo-fit software to try to recreate the faces of famous literary characters as described by their authors. What a fantastic concept!
  • Josie Long takes on UniLadMag and does so wonderfully.
  • When Same-Sex Marriage Was a Christian Rite. Fascinating to me, and I do have a copy of a book with a title along the lines of “Same Sex Unions in Medieval Europe” waiting for me to finish reading the thousands of other books I’ve acquired and get around to it.
  • Written about The Invention of Heterosexuality, which examines how other areas of social change during the birth of psychiatry as a profession led to the creation of sexual identities connected to biological urges, and the value judgements that come with them.
  • People Like Me, a very depressing list of unfair treatment you can expect to receive if you’re viewed as being “unacceptably” fat.
  • A handy little interactive graph for women to use to determine which clothing size their measurements make them at any given clothing shop.
  • An Eight-Step Guide To Self-Editing Your Manuscript. On, completely unrelated, a very pretty blog.
  • Via that link, a useful website for determining how often you use particular words. I am cringing just imagining what would come up on mine.
  • And an io9 article about what the problem is with adverbs
  • As a confirmed over-emotional weenie about the city I live in who buys maps and cries every time she lands back at Heathrow and owns an embarrassing number of books of London photography, this post about London set to music is rather moving.
  • This fascinating blog over at Tiger Beatdown about how reality television and blogging have destroyed the ability of readers and viewers to appreciate the difference between performance and reality.
  • A very funny review of what sounds like a very awful movie (Splice).
  • In a rather timely coincidence, not long after I whined that I’d be more inclined to eat healthily if healthy food were more convenient, a friend of mine discovered COOK, who have made that leap for me.

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