Saturday, 31 January 2009

Perfect to Sop Up

I don't like January. Actually no, "don't like" suggests a sort of trivial little thing, something that rarely even crosses my mind, entirely inconsequential, but it's something much more than that. I absolutely, completely and totally loathe January.

I know it's ridiculous, it's just a month, one out of twelve. In the grand scheme of things it's nothing at all, or at least nothing important enough for words like loathe to be thrown around, but nevertheless here I am doing just that.

It's just such a miserable month isn't it? It's not that I mind the cold per se, but in January it seems to never-endingly stretch itself out, last summer feeling as though it could've been years ago and spring feeling as though it's never going to come. The freezing weather fits in with December, Christmas wouldn't be right without braving it home through the miserable weather for hot chocolate, mulled wine and a night curled up on the sofa under a blanket or next to the fire, but by January the cold weather has seriously over stayed it's welcome and, worse still, it isn't even really on it's way out yet.

One thing that I hate almost as much as January is mushroom soup. Mushrooms? Delicious. Soup? Yes please! But put them together and I just can't stand it. Mushrooms were not, I think, designed to be blended to within an inch of their lives, the colour of mushroom soup is enough to prove that; a sort of grey-brown sludge which, even if it's your favourite food, isn't the most appetising sight I hope you'll agree. But then this recipe turned up and I had to try it. Mushroom soup but not as I‘d known it before, big chunks of porcini mushrooms, cubes of waxy new potatoes and sweet little lumps of chestnut all floating together in a rich mushroom broth with a generous helping of rosemary and a slick of grassy extra virgin olive oil, perfect to sop up with torn chunks of crusty bread. My kind of mushroom soup.

The recipe is over on 101 Cookbooks along with a beautiful picture.

I shouldn't really be complaining about January anymore, it's over now and I should be grateful for that but, truth be told, I've never been all that fond of February either.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A Rather Wonderful Thing

Tradition is a rather wonderful thing, little customs passed down through the generations, things that you do for the simple reason that’s what your mother did and that she did because that’s what her mother did. These rituals remain constant throughout life even when everything else is changing, no matter where you are it’s these traditions that can make somewhere, anywhere, feel like home.

Defined by the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary tradition is:
“noun 1 a something, such as a doctrine, belief, custom, story, etc, that is passed on from generation to generation, especially orally or by example; b the action or process of handing down something in this way. 2 a particular body of doctrines, beliefs, customs, etc that belongs to a specified group of people, religion, country, family, etc. 3 colloq an established, standard or usual practice or custom.”

But to me, I must admit, tradition means something simpler, greedier; food. I must also admit, greedier still, that sometimes the things I celebrate aren’t even my traditions. This Galette des Rois for example, a fantastic French cake made to celebrate epiphany.

Now it’s not that we don’t acknowledge epiphany over here in England, it’s just that we don’t have a specific way of celebrating it, there’s certainly no cake involved and I can’t help feeling that even if there was we wouldn‘t do it quite as well as the French have.

Beneath a blanket of crisp puff pastry is a layer of sweet, damp frangipane in which a trinket or bean “la fève” is hidden. Whoever gets this trinket is crowned King (or Queen) for the day and gets to wear the gold paper crown which would come with the galette had it been bought. To make it fair, and I think this is my favourite part, the youngest in the family is meant to sit under the table whilst the galette is being sliced and call out names, deciding who gets which piece.

There’s another fantastic thing about tradition, something I forgot to mention earlier, and that is how it always has to start somewhere. Whilst, strictly speaking, this might not be my tradition, in a few years time who knows?

Galette des Rois
from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess

2x 500g packets of puff pastry
400g ground almonds
250g unsalted butter, very soft (or margarine)
250g caster sugar
50g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tsp orange flower water (next time I'll probably use more)
a dried bean or charm
gold paper crown
26 cm springform tin

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6/390°F, putting a baking sheet in to heat up at the same time.
Roll out one of the packets of puff pastry till you can cut out a big enough circle to line the bottom and sides of your tin, with a generous overhang. Put into the fridge whilst you make the frangipane: put all the remaining ingredients (from ground almonds to orange flower water) into a food processor and whizz until amalgamated (I don't have a food processor so I had to beat it all together by hand, it was really still an difficult to mix so I added in a tablespoon or so of water).

Open the other packet of puff pastry and roll it out till you've got enough to cut out a circle about 5cm bigger than the diameter of your tin. Get the tin out of the fridge and dollop in the frangipane, hide the charm somewhere, level with a spatula, then place the top round to cover. Using scissors snip the overhang so both bottom and top only have about 2-3 cm excess round the edge. Curl the edges over inwards, so you've got a tightly sealed rim then press round with the tines of a fork. Now decorate the top of the galette: make a small hole in the centre with a small sharp knife, then using the same knife draw swirly lines, like elongated S's, coming out from the centre (Now, this is what Nigella says to do but I decorated the top before I put it on top of the frangipane and I think it's much easier that way).

Place on the hot baking sheet in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden and well risen. Remove to a wire rack and leave at least 20 minutes before removing from the tin. Present the crown to whoever gets the bean.

The Beginning

The beginning is, I hope you'll agree, probably the best place to start. These things are always rather awkward so I'll just jump right in.

Fingers in the frosting sort of sums up how I feel about eating (although as an English girl it's icing to me rather than frosting), greedily picking at food as I go along. I love to eat, to cook, to feed people. Whilst I would define myself as a vegetarian rather than a vegan all the food I cook and eat is vegan.

This isn't the first time I've blogged, I already tried my hand at food blogging a couple of years ago, but it is the first time I've been dedicated to keeping it up. I decided to start again to give me a chance to write, something I used to do quite a lot but am now feeling fairly rusty on.

Anyway, this is the beginning and I'm looking forward to seeing where it ends up.