reading about food
I love reading about food. I often pick up Jane Grigson or Elizabeth David and open at random for a comfort (re)read. I take cook books to bed with me. Last weekend I read ‘Love & Hunger, Thoughts on the gift of food’, by Charlotte Wood. As the title suggests, this is not simply a book of good recipes, although it contains plenty of those. It is an exploration of the psychological and philosophical layers of meaning that are folded into our relationship with food and cooking. So, it’s also a book about love, friendship, family, sickness, and death.
This book is full of practical hints and tips on everything from pantry staples, to why temperature is important when making pastry, to wrangling a perfectly cooked roast chicken. It’s a book for any skill level – from supercooks to beginners, and it’s a wonderful read, as visitors to Charlotte’s blog How to Shuck an Oyster would expect.
After howling with laughter at the stories of horrible Home Ec food, and plain old howling, remembering cooking for a friend during her chemotherapy treatment, I went back to page 81 – just the recipe I needed for the too-many mandarins sitting on my bench. This Whole Orange Cake is a classic; delicious, and not the slightest bit temperamental.
2 whole oranges (I used 5 mandarins)
250g castor sugar
6 eggs, beaten
250g almond meal
One and a half teaspoons baking powder (I used 1 teaspoon bicarb – for a gluten-intolerant family member)
I won’t reproduce the method word for word, but it’s very easy.
Put the whole oranges (or tangellos, or mandarins) into a saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for 2 hours, large fruit, or 1 hour mandarins)
Drain, cool, cut in quarters, remove pips.
Preheat oven to 180.
Process fruit till smooth.
Add sugar, almond meal, baking powder, process to combine.
Add mixture to beaten eggs, stir well to combine.
Pour batter into a buttered, lined cake tin.
Bake for approx one hour, till skewer inserted comes out clean.
May need to cover loosely with foil after half an hour if browning too quickly.
Cool in tin before turning out.
I used a 27cm tin, the recipe calls for 24cm, which will give you a deeper cake.
(Charlotte uses a cooler oven, 150 degrees (aha! – and so probably doesn’t need to cover her cake w foil))
I made a quick syrup with mandarin juice, brown sugar, mandarin segments, teaspoon rose water, two teaspoons orange blossom water, and scattered some pomegranate seeds on the cake.
Can’t wait to try the pomegranate honey, p30.
And I have never brined a chicken before, but intend to try that soon, too.
I made these madeleines for reading group recently; they are easy peasy. You do need a madeleine mould, though. I got an uncoated one, because it delivers a tiny bit more capacity and sharper detail in the moulding shape.
Despite a huge number of cook books in the house, a few of them specifically French, I could not find a madeleine recipe – very disconcerting – so I trawled the net and put together this one after reading about a dozen. It worked well.
It is such a pleasure when the form of food is not only pretty but functional – like a spiral pasta shape that invites sauce to cling to it. In this case the scallop-shell madeleine shape delivers fine crispy edges and a plump, buttery centre. Delicious.
100g plain flour + extra for dusting (tin, not cakes)
three quarters of a teaspoon baking powder
100g castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon very finely chopped lemon or orange zest
125 grams unsalted butter, melted, cooled + extra for buttering tin
1 – 2 tablespoon icing sugar
Sift flour, baking powder with pinch salt.
Beat sugar and eggs till thick and fluffy.
Gently fold in the flour, vanilla and zest.
Gently fold in the melted, cooled butter.
Cover with gladwrap and chill mixture for 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 200/C fan forced.
Butter well and lightly flour the madeleine tin.
Spoon mixture into mould (small tin: approx one heaped teaspoon per madeleine.)
Bake for 6 – 7 minutes, until golden, and springy to touch.
Tap tin firmly to loosen; tip onto cake rack.
Dust with sifted icing sugar and serve warm.
The chilling step is important: the mixture thickens and aerates during this time.
The occasion for making madeleines was a long-delayed discussion of our reading, and rereading, the first volume of Proust. It was so interesting to read a different translation this time around. Twenty odd years ago I read the C.K. Scott Moncrief translation revised by Terence Kilmartin (Remembrance of Things Past), this time the recent translation by Lydia Davis (The Way by Swann’s).
Here, from the first translation, a little of the famous ‘petites madeleines’ dipped in lime-blossom tea passage:
‘No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.’
And from Lydia Davis’s:
‘But at the very instant when the mouthful of tea mixed with cake-crumbs touched my palate, I quivered, attentive to the extraordinary thing that was happening in me. A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated me, without my having any notion as to its cause.’
Such different interpretations – in the first passage, the isolation relates to the nature of the pleasure itself; in the second, the pleasure isolates the ‘I’ narrator. What a daunting number of choices must be made on every single page. I preferred the more recent translation, and its editor’s and Lydia Davis’s introductions provide a fascinating discussion of translation in general, and her approach to Proust’s language compared to that of Moncrieff in the earlier translation.
Teeth chattering in Melbourne again, so here is a perfect wintery desk-side lunch recipe from Charlotte Wood-no-relation for spinach dahl. Charlotte’s blog ‘How to shuck an oyster’ is compulsory reading for anyone interested in food. She posted this recipe a few months ago – it’s simple and completely delicious – although I confess to skipping the step giving stems special treatment. (I don’t think they deserve it.)
dan’s muesli bar recipe
Here is the recipe Dan and his mother cook in Six Impossible Things, page 47. They cook a simpler version of this – with fewer ingredients – because they haven’t got much in the pantry.
3 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of plain flour
three quarters of a cup of castor sugar
3 tablespoons of honey
one quarter teaspoon of baking powder
2 handfuls of milk chocolate chips
2 handfuls of chopped dried apricots
2 handfuls of dried cranberries
2 handfuls of chopped dried pineapple
It is fine to use golden syrup instead of honey. And it’s fine to use ANY combination of dried fruit, nuts, coconut. (For example, I’ve made this recipe using white chocolate, paw paw, almonds and coconut.)
1. Mix all the dry ingredients together.
2. Melt the butter and honey together.
3. Pour butter/honey onto the dry ingredients and mix well.
4. Put the mixture in a baking-paper-lined baking dish, and press down firmly and evenly.
5. Bake at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes. Check after ten minutes. It’s cooked when it turns a toasty brown colour.
6. Cut lightly into bar shapes while still hot in the pan. Leave in the pan to cool.
7. When cool, remove from pan and cut bars through.
This is a big batch. It makes 16 generous bars or 32 smaller squares.
eat, complain, walk
We had dinner with old friends. We had risotto with pumpkin and sage and prosciutto.
We talked about the kids and lamented the lack of idealism in this election campaign, while acknowledging that even an increasingly conservative labor government too influenced by what Robert Manne calls ‘the new school of focus group driven, ideas-free members of the New South Wales right-wing Labor machine’ is a vastly lesser evil than the prospect of a Tony Abbott conservative government.
We ate leftover rhubarb and raspberries and rosemary flowers in the morning.
I walked on the beach with the J-man and just missed seeing a pterodactyl walking its dog.