Pie chart pie

I should probably hang up my keyboard and cease blogging.  I think I've reached the pinnacle of my baking career.  And at such a young age, too.

This week, I made a pie chart pie. 

This all came about because I work in a place where being geeky makes you cool.  We like statistics and frequency tables and regressions.  And yes, pie charts too.  Last week I was creating some pie charts for a report, and a silly Friday afternoon conversation led me to wonder if it would be possible to actually create a pie in pie chart form.  So I took a poll of colleagues' fruit preferences, and decided to attempt a pie that would show the results in their correct proportions.  Lemon turned out to be most popular, with 4 votes, followed by 2 each for strawberry and blueberry, and 1 each for apple and kiwi.

I'm not going to provide step by step instructions, because I'm not sure who else would be crazy enough to try and make this.  I decided not to google it before I made it, because it would have been disappointing to find out that this wasn't an original idea.  But when I did search the internet for it after it was done, I discovered that I am probably the first person to have thought of doing this.  I'm going to have to look into copyright!

However, should you ever try and recreate this for yourself, my method was to start by making the dough for pie crust (any recipe for shortcrust will do - I went with the one I used recently for tarte tatin) and chilling that in the fridge for half an hour or so.  Then roll it out and use it to fill a flan dish, making sure that the pastry comes up and slightly over the edges of the dish.  With the extra dough, fashion small walls to divide up the segments, and push them into the base of the pie.  You could use beaten egg or milk to help fix them in place, but I decided to just treat the pie crust like plasticine and mould it by hand, and it worked fine.  Then cut out pieces of tin foil large enough to fit in each segment, and weigh down with baking beads.  Cook the pie crust for about half an hour in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees, remove and leave to cool completely before filling.

What you use for filling is entirely your own choice.  I would recommend the following for lemon, blueberry, strawberry, and kiwi (adjusting for the quantity needed for each segment) but there are lots of good recipes out there that would work just as well.

Where it gets tricky is the timing.  For my pie, the lemon curd and the apple needed to be in the oven for 25-30 minutes, but the strawberry only needed 6-8 minutes, and the blueberry and the kiwi weren't supposed to be cooked at all.  However, if you leave foil in those segments the pie crust shouldn't burn, and you can fill them afterwards when the rest of the pie has cooled.

And you know what?  It was a lot of work.  It took about three and a half hours to make.  But it was all worth it for the reaction of all my lovely colleagues and friends.  I'm very glad to know people who think that an endeavour like this isn't completely insane, and enable me in my culinary ambitions.

Now thinking of starting a side-business called Pie Squared...there must be a market for statistical baked goods out there!

More bread

I remember watching Channel Four's cookery show, The Fabulous Baker Brothers, for the first time. I envied the Tom and Henry Herbert's kitchen, their enthusiasm and their time (all that time spent just cooking pies, bread and puddings!) but putting my envy aside, I was inspired. Inspiration was fed further with my housemate buying the series' cookbook for my birthday: I've been working through it since.

So far I've cooked a variety of loaves, some of which will be handy staples. However, what follows is my favourite recipe so far.

Actually, I'm not sure if I've got their Six Seed Malted Wheat Loaf absolutely right: one needs 560 grams of malted wheat flour, but so far I've only found mixed grain malthouse bread flour... I'm sure the real mccoy is available somewhere, but I haven't found it yet. Anyway, it still tastes nice, mainly because added to the flour are 85 grams of mixed seeds, like pumpkin, millet, linseed, poppy, sesame and sunflower. (One can buy these individually from most food stores, or in a mixed bag from others.)

Place all these ingredients in a mixing bowl with 10 grams of sea salt, 5 grams of dried yeast, 20 grams of rapeseed or olive oil with 385 grams of tepid water. Mix them all together, then knead by hand for 15 minutes.

Should you find the dough a little wet, worry not; sprinkle a little flour over your sticky fingers and knead into the bread. It should firm up in no time.

Cover and leave for an hour to rise, after which you're supposed to shape and place it in a proving basket, but I don't own one, so I opt to turn it over, cover it and leave it for another hour.

After this, put on your oven as high as it can go. My ancient machine can go up to 200ºC, but if yours can go up to 240ºC, knock yourself out. Place your dough in a floured baking tray, slash its top and place it in your hot oven, turning it down to 210ºC after ten minutes. (Or, if you have a cooker like mine, just leave the temperature as is.)

About half an hour later, take the loaf out, turn onto a metal rack and leave it to stand. Cut a still warm slice and smear the seed-filled bread with butter and let the flavours fill your mouth. It is absolutely delicious: nutty and nourishing. One for sandwiches or enjoying by itself.


Coconut, ginger and lime soufflé

Sit beside a piggery and watch for flying creatures.

And if  you do, you might also be quick enough to catch me posting a dessert recipe as I'm about to.  I surprise myself from time to time:  this is one of those times.

It's not that I can't.  It's simply that I don't, or not often.  We tend not to make what we don't eat ourselves.  I married a non-dessert person so I became one too.  Nuts in all forms are off the menu in this house and if you look at the list of 'may contain' ingredients in so many dessert or pudding ingredients, you hav\e to stop before you even start or substitute to the point where the finished product bears no resemblance to the recipe starting point.  I know we all do that but an apple and almond cake is simply not the same without the almonds.  Frustrating?  You bet.  So my kids never expected any 'afters' once the main course was served and eaten.

But on my last visit to Toronto, I cut out a recipe from the Globe, one of the lovely Lucy Waverman's, in the 29th February (Sadie Hawkins' Day) edition.  Entitled Proposal Pie, it might be an attempt to entice young men to accept a marriage proposal.  After all, it was once said that the way to a man's heart had something to do with what he ate first but that may have been the Heart Foundation trying to get clever.

But even if this one doesn't prove to be a matchmaker, it's certainly easy and successful  and if only I could find the coconut without the 'may contain' warning, it would be perfect.  And hey, if I can make it..........    well, you get the idea. 

2 large eggs
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup plain flour
1 cup whipping or double cream
½ cup caster sugar
½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes (or desiccated)
1 tbsp finely chopped candied ginger (or ginger in syrup and just drain the syrup)
½ tsp grated lime rind
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt

Whisk ingredients together in large bowl.  Divide among three small, buttered flan dishes (but don't use the tiny ramekins as I did).  Bake at 170º C (350ºF) for about 40 minutes until top is golden and middle is set.  The 'pie' settles in three layers when cooking.

Serves 2 amply with extra for the next day or a couple of gate crashers.


An ode to apples. And friendship.

"Surely the apple is the noblest of fruits."

Thus pronounced Henry David Thoreau, and after making tarte tatin for the first time on Saturday, I would have to agree.  In fact, I think it may be one of those rare perfect desserts.  Sweet without being sickly, very adaptable, and incredibly more-ish.  Frankly, I'm surprised that the piece I took home with me lasted until the next day.

I can't take all the credit for this one though.  It was a joint effort by me and Jenn, who I will eventually convince to stop lurking and start posting!  Amongst the many things we have in common, we share a love of all things culinary.  After lots of nice meals in good restaurants, recipe exchanges, and last year's cupcake decorating class, the logical next step was cooking together.  Truly, cooking is so much more fun when done communally.  Especially when it gives you the chance to catch up with a good friend (and cuddle her insanely adorable baby!).

After some discussion about potential recipes, we eventually settled on tarte tatin, since neither of us had made it before and it was a good opportunity to try pastry-making.  Excellent decision.  Felicity Cloake has posted a comprehensive guide to the different variations of tarte tatin on the Guardian food blog.  I can't imagine anything nicer than the one she eventually plumped for, but I'm sure it would be fun experimenting.  Anyway, we decided to go with her version, and it definitely lived up to its title.

Perfect tarte tatin

For the topping: 
7 medium sized apples (4 Cox and 3 Granny Smith worked nicely, but I'm sure any variety would do)
200g white sugar
50g butter

For the pastry:
225g plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
120g cold butter
1 medium egg, beaten

The recipe suggested halving and coring the apples, and then leaving the fridge uncovered for 24 hours.  But I get impatient with delayed gratification recipes, while Jenn only remembered this instruction in the middle of the night and, eminently sensibly, decided it wasn't worth getting up for.  So I don't think it makes a blind bit of difference if you cut up the apples right before you prepare the tart.

After you've done this, put the sugar in a 20cm heavy-based ovenproof frying pan along with 50ml water and leave to soak for a couple of minutes, then cook over a medium heat until golden and fudgy. If the sugar starts to crystallise in the pan, don't worry.  I had a moment of panic when this happened, but it seems to sort itself out once you add the apples.

Take off the heat and stir in the butter and a pinch of salt, until well combined, and then carefully arrange the apples in the pan, round-side down, bearing in mind the caramel will be very hot, and put back on the heat – you may need to cut some of the apples into smaller pieces to fill in the gaps. Cook for 5 minutes, then take off the heat and allow to cool completely.

If you're pressed for time, pre-prepared shortcrust or puff pastry (about 175g worth) will do.  But I'm on a mission to get everyone making their own, so sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Grate in the butter, then rub together until it is coarse crumbs.  Mix the egg with 2 tsp cold water and sprinkle over the mixture. Mix together into a soft but not sticky dough, adding more water (if required) very gradually. Shape into a ball, and then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before rolling out.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Roll out the pastry  to 5mm thick, and cut out a circle slightly larger than your pan. Put back into the fridge to rest.  Or just keep going.  Again, this is one of those steps that I think can be skipped.  Put the pastry on top of the pan and tuck in the edges around the fruit. Bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden, then remove from the oven.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then place a plate, slightly larger than the pan, on top and then, very carefully, using oven gloves, invert the tart on to the plate. Best served warm, with crème fraîche or ice cream.


Bean there, done that

In my ongoing efforts to replace ordinary packaged products with their homemade equivalents, I decided to try making baked beans from scratch. I spotted a recipe in Saveur magazine that looked reasonable.

At 1 a.m. this morning, I realized I had forgotten to put the beans in water to soak overnight. So I got up and did that. Saveur includes a fallback for quick soaking (boil for 2 minutes then soak for an hour and a half), but I was trying to go the traditional route. By 9 a.m. the beans were nicely soaked.

First thing in the morning, I made a batch of homemade ketchup, since the recipe called for ketchup. This may sound as if I am taking things altogether too far, but it takes only 5 minutes prep time, then I put it on the stove to bubble away while I am doing other things in the kitchen, so it hardly cuts into my schedule.

The next step involved studding a couple of shallots with cloves, which felt vaguely like a Pioneer Village craft (English readers will have no idea what I am talking about). The recipe called for onions, but I had shallots instead. I also substituted little cubes of pancetta for the bacon. Let’s not get too traditional here.

I halved the recipe in the magazine, so we wouldn’t be eating baked beans until kingdom come. As I write, the beans have another half hour of cooking to go, but the taste test suggests they will be worth it. The tinned variety is comparatively textureless and bland. These beans are a bit chewier and the flavour is more complex. 

So if you want to try it yourself, here’s what you do. I apologize for the mix of Imperial and metric, but metric is helpful when you are halving odd quantities, such as “ ¼ cup plus two tablespoons” (for heaven’s sake). I should also note that some of the amounts have not been halved exactly. But this worked for me. 

½ lb. navy beans
1 shallot, trimmed and peeled, but left whole
8 whole cloves (the recipe called for 4 for twice the number of beans, which seemed a little too subtle)
4 oz. pancetta, cut into small cubes
40 ml maple syrup
25 ml unsulphured molasses (i.e., the stuff that says “no sulphites”)
1 tsp dry mustard
3 cups boiling water
⅓ cup ketchup
2 teaspoons cider vinegar 

Heat the oven to 250°F or 130°C. Stud the shallot with the cloves. Put it in a casserole with a lid. Add the drained beans, pancetta, maple syrup, molasses, mustard, and boiling water. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 hours. Add the ketchup and vinegar and give it another 3 hours, stirring every so often.Take out the clove-studded shallots before serving.

The original recipe suggesting stirring in dark rum before serving, but we didn’t have any and it seemed rather too precious, so I ignored this ingredient. And I didn’t bother with salt and pepper either. We can add that later if it seems to need it, but I don’t think it will.

If you live in New England, serve with brown bread. If not, I recommend a green salad and baguette.
We may never go back to Heinz.


Disaster-Banana Muffins

On Shrove/Fat/Pancake Tuesday, my best friend Margi posted this tantalising recipe on her blog:

Makes 8 pancakes.

1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup oatbran
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 bananas

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the oatbran. Whisk together the milk and egg and add to the dry material. Mix. Let sit for 5/10 minutes. Mash the bananas. Add to the mixture. Heat a lightly oiled frying pan until it's pretty hot. Use the 1/4 cup measure to drop the pancake mixture onto the pan. Cook until the mixture is bubbling. Flip over and cook until the other side is brown. Eat. Die of a foodgasm. You can spread them with nutella if you are being decadent. 

This recipe was originally from the Moosewood cookbook (well worth buying btw, excellent all round veggie and vegan cookbook.) The original was too stodgy and unhealthy for my liking to I took out the crap and substituted half the flour for oatbran. If you can't find oatbran (in the UK it's in the health food and 'free from' aisle) do 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup oats. If you don't have cup measures there is a conversion table here. 

Now, I *have* to make pancakes on Shrove/Fat/Pancake Tuesday. I'm not a superstitious person, but that is one tradition that is sacrosant. Tuesday nights mean dance class, so by the time I got started on these it was coming up on 11pm.

Pro tip: if, like me, you're going to use a potato masher to smoosh your bananas, use a bigger bowl.

For once, I followed the recipe to the letter. Or at least I think I did. It was late at night. I have no idea what I did wrong, but (as you may have guessed from the title of the post), it was not my finest culinary hour (although I take the BEST live action pancake flipping shots):

As you can see, this was burnt and misshapen. I think it was too runny to cook the middle before the outside burned. I have no idea. But I just couldn't bring myself to waste all the lovely batter, so I stuck what was left in some cupcake cases and popped them in the oven on a medium heat for about half an hour.

Did I mention the extremely cute cupcake cases? They were a much appreciated gift, purchased from Lakeland & Limited.

The recipe worked great as muffins, maybe a little bit overly dense but a really lovely flavour and delightfully sticky thanks to the bananas.


Emergency birthday cookies

Necessity is the mother of invention, so the old saying goes.  But I pushed that to the limit last night when I realised - at 9pm - that my friend from work had had a birthday that day without many people knowing.  I think everyone deserves to have at least a little fuss made on a birthday, even if they're not big on celebrating it, so I thought the least I could do would be to make some kind of cake.  But after a week away from home, my cupboards were quite literally bare.

Hardly enough flour, and no lemons, oranges, chocolate or raisins for flavour or texture.  What I did have was a large unopened bottle of amaretto, which held some promise.  Hence the following recipe.  I almost thought it was too simple to post, but the cookies turned out much better than I was expecting and disappeared pretty quickly when I took them into work.  I therefore deem them blog-worthy!

Amaretto Cookies

2 cups cake flour (if you don't have this to hand, an easy substitute is to use plain flour, removing 2 tbsp for each cup you use)
1/2 cup wholewheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 tbsp amaretto (I would suggest adding a bit more than this - the flavour was fairly faint in the batch I made)
1 tbsp vanilla extract

The website I found the recipe on gave no instructions for preparation, apart from mixing all the ingredients, chilling the dough, and then baking in whatever cookie shape you like for around 8-10 minutes.  Unlike some of my co-bloggers, I prefer having a few instructions to guide the process, so I'd suggest the best order for this would be to cream the butter and sugar together, then add the egg, the amaretto and the vanilla extract and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go.  Mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk in another bowl, and then add this to the butter mixture a third at a time, beating after each addition.

Leave the dough in the fridge for about an hour to give it time to firm up, and then either roll it out and cut into cookie shapes, or take the quick and easy route like me, scooping small balls of dough onto a parchment-lined sheet and pressing down with two fingers until they look approximately like a cookie.  They didn't spread too far in the oven, but I'd still suggest leaving plenty of room between each one.  You might also want to sprinkle each cookie with a little demerera sugar before baking.

These don't take long to cook - between 8-10 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 200 degrees, or until the edges start to turn golden.  And you should get between 20 and 24 cookies out of the mixture, depending on how big or small you like them.  They may not be particularly exciting birthday-fare, but are perfect as elevenses with a nice cup of tea or coffee.  And even if you don't like a fuss being made, happy birthday anyway Glenn!


Flapjack-adjacent biscuit-type-things

I expect my consistent inability to provide clear descriptions or accurate quantities for my recipes is rather frustrating, but it's more than just laziness and bad record-keeping on my part: I genuinely believe that the best cooking is done by sight and flavour and texture (or sound: read this amazing article on that), with the ingredients you have to hand.

Today I needed something with sugar in it to help me through a very long day on very little sleep. After a quick sweep of my dwindling stocks, I made a batch of sweet oaty treats somewhere between biscuits and flapjacks. I didn't measure any of the ingredients or pay attention to how long they were in the oven (at least not in minutes - it was as long as it took me to get bored of Prime Minister's Questions and put on a load of laundry...).

I mixed roughly equal volumes of flour, sugar and margarine to about double that volume of porridge oats, until I got a mixture that was close to crumble topping but stickier. I then added runny honey, about the same volume as the margarine, a pinch of salt, a pinch of cinnamon, and a few drops of vanilla essence, and mixed until I achieved a doughy mixture that held its shape.

I spread it to about three-quarters-of-an-inch thickness onto baking paper on a baking tray, and baked at 200 degrees for about half an hour, which was a little bit too long. I then left it to cool quite thoroughly before cutting into squares:


Pasta with greens and peas

Another Kick at Kale

Honestly?  I’d never eaten kale until Alex introduced us a couple of months ago.  And I enjoyed it.  It’s not a leaf that takes a back seat.  You know you’ve got your work cut out as it’s full of texture and fibre, never mind that it’s fluorescent green.  This might not appeal to the under 10s or over 90s, but slightly wilted in the pan just before serving and mixed with the other ingredients, kale in this form might even attract the attention of very young and very old.

I would never even have considered a kale recipe before my first swing at the stuff with Alex’s encouragement, but on a recent trip to Toronto I spied one in the Globe and Mail, a Lucy Waverman offering, which I cut out and considered and as usual, decided to use simply as a base for my own concoction.  Is it a genetic tendency or do all of you generally add and subtract from the set piece and experiment freely?

The results in this case were successful which is why I’m offering it to the kale converts in our midst, and perhaps to those kale novices who would like to give it a go.

200g cooked pasta (Lucy suggested orechiette but I had fresh penne to use)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
200g mushrooms, sliced
150g pancetta cubed
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ tsp chili flakes
150g chopped kale (wash and remove the tough mid-rib and stem)
dozen or so cherry tomatoes halved
balsamic (optional)

Cook pasta in boiling, salted water.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the garlic and mushrooms together gently.  Add pancetta and fry together until it is browned.  Add chick peas and chili flakes.  Toss together for about a minute to combine the flavours.

Add kale and cook for a further couple of minutes until the kale is just wilted.  Turn into a big bowl and toss with the cooked, drained pasta (adding a splash of balsamic if necessary to bind the ingredients slightly).

Serve with a scattering of halved cherry tomatoes on top. 

Serves 3 comfortably.

Asparagus and Barley Soup

This recipe happened entirely as a result of me going into a daze in the supermarket and stumbling across the last bundle of half price asparagus - right next to some heavily discounted, lightly wilted spring onions.

I chopped them up with some garlic and chucked them in a saucepan - spring onions and garlic first...

...and then once they'd softened, the asparagus.

Once that had started to break up, I added a small handful of flour and stirred vigorously.

I then added strong stock - two cubes in a kettleful of water - filling the pan most of the way up. Once it came back to the boil, I turned it way down to simmer on low.

The my fear of vegetables kicked in. I'm always convinced a primarily vegetable dish just won't fill me up. I happened to have some barley in the cupboard, and I decided to stick that in. As instructed, I boiled it and rinsed and drained it before adding it to the soup. I left it for the requisite hour and a quarter, by which time it was halfway between soup and risotto. I added a teaspoonful of mustard, because I add mustard to everything, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, because, well, ditto.

It was yummy, and kept well in the fridge for three days although after sitting overnight it really was more like risotto. Barleyotto?


Come by Chance Meatloaf

I may have a graduate degree in planning, but I am not a planner. I read in magazines about people who plan their menus a week in advance and I am in awe. I couldn’t do that. Too much organization involved. With the exception of a few slow cooker recipes that require a few hours’ notice, my usual routine is to wander into the kitchen in the mid to late afternoon, open the refrigerator, glare in, and do some quick calculations. Do I need to run over to the grocery store before dark? Or can I wing it with what we have?

A couple of days ago, I explored as far as the freezer and came up with some frozen ground turkey. I put it out to defrost and figured that inspiration would strike later.

Well, it didn’t. And dinnertime was coming up. In despair, I turned to the Internet and Googled “ground turkey.” Lasagna? No. Meatballs? No. Chili? No. Then I found something that spoke to me: turkey and quinoa meatloaf.

We love quinoa and wonder of wonders, we actually had some on hand. I looked at the meatloaf recipe and thought it needed editing (it was American, and it called for brown sugar, for heaven’s sakes). But I had the inspiration I needed. And this (more or less) is what I did:

About ¼ cup cooked quinoa
1 lb turkey
1 onion, chopped
1 egg
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Tomato paste (or barbeque sauce, or something of the sort)
Salt and pepper

I got the oven going at 350F/180C. I made the quinoa as the package directs (rinse in a sieve, put in a pan with 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa, cook for about 15 minutes, fluff with a fork), and then mixed everything together. (The recipe suggested you sauté the onions in a pan first, but I didn’t have time.) Into the greased meatloaf pan, into the oven, bang. I also threw in some small potatoes cut in half, spritzed with a bit of olive oil, in a separate container. 40 minutes later, I did some green veggies. 50 minutes later, dinner is on the table. Whew. 

Norman likes to say, “Planning is what you resort to when chance breaks down.” Well, chance stood me in good stead once again.