Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Soul Food

There are times in life when food serves as a comfort. And there are times when friends and family serve as the best comfort around. I count myself extremely lucky to be able to combine the two on a regular basis, whether for comfort or not. But there have been moments such as these recently that I will always look back on with warm smiles as they have truly nourished my soul. This post is dedicated to those friends and relations, who know who they are. Long may we be nourished together!

My first self-nourishing act A.R.C (After River Cottage) came in the form of a birthday cake, straight from my freshly purchased Baking book by Pam 'The Jam' Corbin. Attempts by Olly at Park Farm, coupled with hours of squinting furiously at roadsides had sadly resulted in a distinct lack of crystallised borage flowers to decorate said cake, but no matter, I decided that the flavour of the lemon madeira cake would be the focus.

Armed with my super-duper-smooth-it-to-a-baby's-bottom-zester (perpetual thanks to N), I zested two lemons and creamed the zest with 150g softened butter before beating in 150g golden granulated sugar until light and creamy. 4 eggs were mixed in, one at a time, with a spoonful of the sifted 200g plain flour and 1tsp baking powder between each. The remaining flour was then gently folded in and 2tbsp lemon juice added. The batter was poured into a greased and lined 1 litre loaf tin, its surface smoothed before baking at 180C/gas 4 for 50 mins, or until golden and springy, with a cake tester coming out clean. The cake was left for 10m to cool in its tin before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely. When cool, 150g sifted icing sugar mixed with 1.5 tbsp lemon juice was oozed over the top. Lovely job.

Then it was time to hand over to others to nourish me, or at least to act as facilitators. And, in one word,

Truffle oil.

A delightful Italian taverna near Hampstead Heath taught me that being a boar ain't so bad if that's what you get to smell out. My fettucine dish was a controversial union of hunter and hunted - wild boar ragu with white truffle oil and I reluctantly had to share some, having promised a taste to a friend who swapped for a mouthful of her delicious pear and gorgonzola risotto.

The following day was filled with baking, and, as a consequence of the night before, more truffle oil. With the help of two fellow intrepid foodies, R and S, we recreated ciabatta a la R.C, although our version was perhaps a little dry, but what fun was had reliving Gideon's dough-kneading techniques in the comfort of my own kitchen! Instead of olive, we used white truffle oil which gave the kitchen a wonderfully heady aroma and gave us wide, dreamy grins. Dryer or no, it all went. Fast. It was great to prove to myself that not only had these skills persisted beyond the course, but that I was able to share them with others.

And then it was their turn to share. These friends are macaron aficionados and we (rather, 'I') have been itching for an opportunity to make them together. The basic recipe is fairly standard, with the filling and technique making all the difference. Point one - the eggs must be spankingly fresh and the whites must be totally yolk-free. Ground almonds and icing sugar are carefully forced through a sieve and artfully combined with stiff-peak-whipped egg whites. Colouring can be added at this point to your taste, we went for a sunshine-y yellow.

Because we are mild(!) perfectionists, we piped the mixture into a biscuit cutter to make them perfectly round:

Then came technique point two: to get the most consistent macaron shape, the piped mixture needs to be left to form a 'skin' before it is put in the oven. We left ours in the lounge with a fan circulating air in the room (probably a good idea to dust before you do this, unlike me...). Explaining to the first guest that no, this wasn't anything to do with keeping the house cool, it was purely for the benefit of the macarons was an amusing moment. Half an hour later they were ready to go into the oven at a low temperature so that we could watch with bated breath (and very, very sexy socks)...

While the macarons were cooling, we made a chocolate and coffee paste with melted and rapidly cooled chocolate whipped with a little water.  This sandwiched half of the macarons, and pumpkin jam lovingly gifted from N's trip to Portugal sandwiched the other half. And that was all we needed to do for these beautiful pieces of perfection:

While these sat coaxing us gently from another room, we got on with making lunch. Yes, lunch. Doesn't everyone make ciabatta and macarons before lunch at the weekend?! To accompany the ciabatta I demonstrated my new-found mackerel-prepping skills and these were baked with salsa verde as they had been on the course, and served with a green salad.

You can't have soul food without a little chocolate brownie involvement. Earlier in the week I had spotted a recipe by Gwyneth Paltrow that had to be tried. Amazingly, I had most of the ingredients already, so we got straight to it. 200g flour (spelt was recommended but plain worked fine) was sifted with 100g cocoa powder, 1.5tbsp baking powder and a pinch of salt into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, 125ml vegetable oil, 250ml maple syrup, 125ml rice syrup, 125ml freshly brewed coffee, 125ml milk (soya suggested, we used ordinary skimmed) and 1 tbsp vanilla extract were whisked together. The wet ingredients were mixed into the dry ingredients until just combined and half was poured into a vegetable oil-greased baking dish before sprinkling in 100g plain chocolate chips. We used cocoa nibs to give a bit of extra interest, not to mention antioxidants. The remaining mixture was then poured in, another 100g of chocolate chips added before baking at 180 degrees C for about 30 minutes (the testing stick should come out fudgy!). Highly recommended, unfortunately these did not last long enough for a picture...

The rest of the evening was spent watching 'Julie and Julia' (highly appropriate, no? A wonderful film that I thoroughly enjoyed) and eating personalised pizzas. Not stone baked this time, but there was still chorizo, garlic oil and mozzarella involved, so the smiles were the same.

The next day I went to the Real Food Festival, just to pick up a few things...

Stay tuned, eventually I'l get round to using and writing about some of these, making this a very clever spot-the-ingredient picture. The book has some lovely recipes in it, too, so no doubt these will also be making a guest appearance.

All in all, a wonderfully soulful weekend. Wouldn't you agree?

1 comment:

  1. wonderful! My mouth won't stop watering!