Happy Anniversary to Us!

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Ten years ago today – Patrick posted a Roundup with Saucy Tomato Salad and look what has happened since. Spices, culinary meditation and crispy culinary chaos feature in some of his favourite posts.

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I started a tad later and spent slightly (ok, considerably) less time in the kitchen. Culinary history and timely tips were my thing – and my favourites list reflects this, featuring as it does only one actual recipe.

We have had guest posters, too (and welcome more … hint, hint).

We have talked turkey, gotten baked – uh, I mean, baking – gone multi-media with podcasts  and launched a Fabulous Foodie Facebook group. What a ten years it has been. Can’t wait for the next ten!

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10 Best (Non-Baking) Uses for Bicarb

Before anyone asks: yes, my fellow Americans – bicarbonate of soda is the same as baking soda. Now that we’re on the same page – Happy Bicarbonate of Soda Day!

There was a time when I assumed the only thing bicarb was good for was, once mixed in with water, as a hangover remedy. These days I bake more so I realize there’s more to it than that. But I’ve also realized in the past year or so, that its usefulness as a tool in the cleaning arsenal around the house is unrivaled. Well, only rivaled by lemons. Between bicarb and lemons, I hardly need anything else.

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I’ve been switching to greener cleaning options these days – for a number of reasons, chief among which is the obsession that cleaning product manufacturers have these days about scenting EVERYTHING. They clearly have a very different understanding of the word “lemony” or the phrase “pine fresh scent” than I do. YUCK!

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So, I thought to mark the occasion of Bicarbonate of Soda Day, I thought I’d round up a few of the ways I used bicarb around the house. You may find a useful tip or two – and by all means, share any others you might have.

Continue reading “10 Best (Non-Baking) Uses for Bicarb”

Tarting Up Weekend Leftovers

I may or may not have mentioned that @dungeekin (taking cues from Heston Blumenthal) made triple cooked chips the other night. If I did not mention it, it’s quite likely because I was far too busy stuffing my face with the amazing meal in which the chunky chips featured. Behold!

Anyway, it was delicious but that’s not why I mention it today. I mention it today because it led to another discussion about using leftovers.

In the course of conversation, dungeekin mentioned that the chips (while a bit faffy but totally worth it) did leave him with rather a lot of cut up potato leftover and he didn’t want to waste it. We determined that the best thing to do was google some ideas for using them up the next morning. We then sat down to digest and watch a bit of River Cottage.  I can’t recall exactly what episode of which series – but I think it was one of the Winter’s on It’s Way episodes and Hugh did a sort of “use your leftovers to make a tartiflette” dish using leftover potatoes! SERENDIPITY! That’s what we decided would happen to our leftovers. More on that later once said tartiflette is underway. But it ties in with my recent focus on leftovers since it uses any number of things we often have lying about waiting to be used up:

  • a couple of  bacon rashers
  • some bits of cold ham, cut into small strips
  • cold cooked potato (baked, boiled or even roasted)
  • a slice or two of thickly sliced bread (which I confess we do NOT have at the moment but which will be replaced today with GORGEOUS cheese and mustard scones from Bakergirl. Yes, the same Bakergirl I wrote about the other day.)
  • some cheese
  • a few salad leaves

In fact, here’s the recipe from the show:  Tartiflette Toastie. It’s a slightly deconstructed version of the classic dish – and frankly, I rather like the deconstructed nature of it. Makes it even more perfect as a way to round out a casual weekend at home.

You can even make it more “leftover” focused by tossing some homemade breadcrumbs on it or tossing in shredded chicken from a previous meal’s roast. I’m totally adding this to my next of “Looking at Leftovers: Bread” post. And quite frankly to my “Looking at Leftovers” Potato” post when I get to that.

Full report on the tartiflette to follow.

Delicious Distractions

Contrary to circumstantial evidence, I really AM working on Part 2 of Looking at Leftovers: Bread. The thing is that I got distracted – by food and cooking, as it happens so I am giving myself a pass. For now.

frenchtoastThis is not to say that bread and what to do with leftovers has gone completely by the wayside. As I suggested in Part 1, a really excellent option for leftover bread is French toast (or eggy bread, if that’s what you prefer to call it). Something not unlike breakfast at TransAtlantic Towers this AM.

But long before that came the distraction First – I was distracted by a follow up trip to Bakergirl (which I went on about at some length). Second, I was overcome by a coffee cake idea I had try out despite being home ill from work Tuesday. Coffee cake, as regular readers will know, is kind of a thing with me and I’ve been trying to figure out a simpler, straightforward way to rustle some up without all the faff.

Faff, in my world, is special ingredients and things that get in the way of the coffee flavour. Nuts may be common in coffee cake but not in mine. It’s not that I want something intensely coffee-ish. I don’t. I want a distinct coffee undertone. But I don’t want it competing with anything else.

And I don’t want to think about it too much. Like I said – no faff.

Here’s what happened. I was home ill, as said but in the afternoon I was feeling a bit more myself (extra sleep and a few ibuprofen do wonders) and I wanted a bit of cake. I was not feeling well enough to go to the store however and I only had two eggs. So I decided I would weigh the eggs and make a simple Victoria sponge based on the weight of the eggs. After all, a Victoria sponge (that’s pound cake, my fellow Americans – a butter cake is a butter cake is a butter cake) is all pantry staples in this house so no shopping needed.

So there I was, weighing and measuring with the oven already pre-heating when suddenly I thought, “Wait a minute – if I swap the caster sugar out for dark brown and add some espresso powder – that ought to do SOMETHING coffee cakish!”

And so I did. What could it hurt, I thought. This was a sort of “use up what I had cake anyway and I wasn’t planning on serving it to guests. And so that’s just what I did.

  • Pre-heated the oven to 180 °C / 350 °F
  • Weighed the two large eggs. Measured the same weight of self-raising flour, dark brown sugar and room temp, softened unsalted butter.
  • Mixed the flour, sugar and butter together until thoroughly combined and fluffier than before.
  • Added the eggs, mixed some more – keeping at it until smooth.
  • Added a dash of vanilla (don’t ask – I didn’t measure. But a good sized dash
  • Added a tablespoon on espresso powder (powder, not granules)
  • Mixed until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes depending on your oven.

I rotated it half way though but that’s because I know my oven’s hot spot. You may want to. You may not want to. Know your oven, this is what I have learned. For a full recipe (using 3 or 4 eggs) I would have used a 2lb loaf  tin but this was a partial recipe thanks to a lack of shopping so I used a 1lb tin and it came about halfway up. Your results will vary depending on how much batter you end up with.

And do you know what I ended up with? An awesome, light, coffee infused sponge.

I was thrilled. So much so that instead of finishing up the bread post, I am going to tackle the coffee cake again – but this time, turning it into mini-loaves and muffins.

Fingers crossed, people.

Lemon Vodka Twist Cake

It was a quiet weekend – well, a quiet weekend as long as you weren’t driving at Silverstone , riding in the Tour de France or playing on Centre Court. As I was doing none of these things, I was having a quiet weekend and on quiet weekends, I often take the opportunity to bake and I knew what I wanted to tackle this weekend.

You see, earlier this week a friend from work brought a recipe to my attention – a recipe for Gin and Tonic cake. over on Pudding Lane, a British cooking blog. Gin and Tonic? A drink cake? I was not unfamiliar with the booze soaked cake concept. Remind me to tell you about effect of rum soaked pound cake on people from my past. It’s terribly amusing. But that’s for another time. I pondered the cake. I read the recipe. I decided that this was something I was going to try. After all, my in-laws and a good many of my acquaintances are all about a good gin and tonic. To here them discuss it, it sounds the most refreshing drink in the history of drink. So, it sounded like a great idea for summer cake. It was a classic pound cake from a proportion point of view and I’m all about pound cakes as many of you know.

So Gin and Tonic cake was my intention. Until Saturday. When I started to think, “well, but I don’t drink gin and tonic. Why couldn’t I swap in the making of one of my drinks?” And then it occurred to me, the lemon-infused vodka!

You see, several weeks back, we’d taken some half decent vodka, popped a mess-o-lemon rinds and a bit of bruised lemon grass into the bottle and left it to infused. We tasted it. DAMN it was smooth. It eventually took on SO much flavor from the lemon rinds that you could easily have just popped an ice cube into it and enjoyed it with no mixer at all. What about a twist on the drink in cake form?A Lemon Vodka Twist!

And so I did. I made a few changes beyond the choice of booze. I used caster sugar instead of granulated for the drizzle (I find it dissolves a bit better). I used SLIGHLTY less lemon juice since the lemonyness of the vodka was VERY intense.

LEMON VODKA TWIST CAKE

cakecool_blogIngredients

  • 4 eggs, weighed in the shells
  • equal weight of:
    • butter
    • caster sugar (that’s super-fine sugar if you’re in the US)
    • self-raising flour
  • 2 lemons – zest of one, juice of two
  • 10 or so shots of lemon infused vodka  (a shot =25ml)
  • 150g caster sugar (you can use granulated if you like – table sugar if you’re in the US)

Preparation

For the cake:

  • Make sure eggs are at room temperature and butter is softened. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  • Weigh your eggs in their shells, and make a note of the exact weight. (Remember – a classic pound cake is all about equal proportions)
  • Weigh out same weight of butter and caster sugar. Cream together until light, fluffy and pale. (This is when the softened butter makes life easier – especially if you’re me and you like to do all this creaming and whisking by hand.)
  • Crack in the eggs, and beat until combined.  (The goal here is as much smoothness as you can get)
  • Sieve in the flour, mix again. (I know sieving is a pain – and strictly speaking, you don’t have to. I often don’t. But I did it this time since I wanted a really smooth batter and sieving is another way of achieving that.)
  • Grate in the zest of one lemon and stir through the juice of that same lemon plus 3-4 shots of the vodka. (The batter is going to suddenly look AWFUL. It’s going to look uneven, watery, lumpy and weirdly translucent at the same time. Do not panic. Mix. Mix steadily and calmly. The smoothness will return.)
  • Then pour into a lined 1kg loaf tin. (I used a silicon loaf. You can use a tin. Your cake might be a smidgen higher than mine if you do. The silicon allows the cake to bulge slightly on the sides.)
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the cake passes the knife test.  (All ovens vary but 45 minutes is when yo need to start keeping a close eye on the situation. Mine took slightly longer than 45 minutes but then, having baked in it quite a bit I knew it would. Note to self: get oven re-sealed.)
  • Remove from the oven, and set aside while you make the drizzle.

For the drizzle:

  • Combine the sugar, rest of the vodka and juice of remaining lemon in a bowl.
  • Prick the surface of the cake with a fork or skewer, then pour over the drizzle.

Let the whole thing cool completely. It came out of the loaf tin brilliantly (thank goodness for silicon bakeware, that’s my position) and is cooling. Initial (very light) dousing with drizzle happened and has soaked in. When cooling complete, rest of drizzle will be poured along top.

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Slice and enjoy. I know I did. It was amazing (couldn’t wait until after dinner). You definitely get the lemon and then there’s “something else there” (which obviously is the remaining waft of the vodka though you don’t taste vodka and the alcohol has all cooked off). Texture-wise this is one of the softest cakes and most stable crumb-structures I have ever made and the drizzle has soaked into the top third perfectly. And now if you will excuse me, I’m gonna go finish this slice.

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Musings on Transatlantic Kitchen …

When I decided that I was going to marry Deb, my prospective father-in-law took me to one side, handed me a bourbon* and shared with me his rules for a long and happy marriage. Chief among these rules was Rule Three, which was, “if in doubt, say ‘yes dear'”.

Good advice and, as we approach our first Second Anniversary (long story, don’t ask), so far highly successful.

So when Deb insisted, on pain of pain, that I actually start writing about the Transatlantic Kitchen, I figured it was best to apply Rule Three, say ‘yes dear’ and make a start on explaining about my kitchen, my food, and the pleasure it brings.

The Transatlantic Kitchen is my ‘happy place,’ a refuge. It’s where I get away from long working hours and nights away from home. It’s a place where all that matters is concentrating on what I’m doing, where the stresses melt away and are replaced by the zing of citrus on the tongue and the scent of garlic in the air. The Transatlantic Kitchen was one of the biggest reasons we bought Transatlantic Towers; it’s big enough to be a social space, is well laid-out and has plenty of working room for an experimental cook to spend many happy hours fiddling with his dishes and massaging his meat.

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garlic features heavily at Transatlantic Kitchen

Facebook followers will know that Transatlantic Kitchen is open mostly at weekends, when I’ll spend whole days prepping, marinating and experimenting to fill the fridge and freezer for the coming week**, as well as providing the meals for the whole family (Deb, Sprog and I) during the weekend itself. And I adore it. It’s a passion bordering on obsession – not to primp and fuss and produce esoteric artworks that wouldn’t be out of place at ‘El Bulli’, but to make good food from all over the world, strong on flavour and taste while working on a reasonably low budget and minimising waste. Oh, and taking ENDLESS photographs of what I make, to make me smile when I can’t be at home at the stove.

Eating is pleasure. Making something to eat should be too. For me at least, slaving over a hot stove feels more like freedom than servitude.

So I shall follow orders, and write about Transatlantic Kitchen. I’ll try and detail the recipes that come out of the Kitchen regularly (harder than it sounds, as I cook by touch and instinct and tend to forget to write anything down). I’ll try and describe what I’ve learned from almost twenty years of faffing about with food, what works for my pantry and, most of all, how much sheer joy there is in just messing about with food. I’ll also try to cover what works for us with pre-preparation (and no, I don’t plan meals a week ahead) and hopefully Deb can cover the science and research bit. I’m no good at that bit – I just never grew out of playing with my food.

I’ve promised Deb that I’ll post weekly, and I hope that reading about the food that comes out of Transatlantic Kitchen is as much of a sensory pleasure as making it can be.


*Several bourbons, actually. Large ones. I’ll spare you the details – those who know the gentleman know what I mean.

**Or month. As of today, there are 19 fully pre-prepared dishes sitting in the freezer.

Customising a Cupcake

As I had Transatlantic Kitchen to myself for a couple of days, I decided to make cupcakes. I had exactly the cupcake I wanted in mind – a basic vanilla or yellow cake base with coffee buttercream icing. What I didn’t want was a very sweet cake because icing is – by definition – very sweet and I wanted balance for that. So I was aiming for something moist, airy and cake-y but not cloying. Therefore I studied many recipes. Not just cupcake recipes but pound cake recipes, cornbread recipes, golden layer cake recipes, etc.

After much consideration, I went with Mary Berry’s Vanilla cupcakes ever so slightly influenced (re flour, using all purpose instead of self-raising and slightly more butter) by Mark Bittman’s Golden Layer cake recipe (on page 724 of How to Cook Everything).

We begin.

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Cupcakes in progress – not as evenly distributed as they might be – but that’s OK. Decided to get some cardio in and skip the stand mixer. Did all the creaming and mixing the old fashioned way. With a wooden spoon. Therefore, these have now been dubbed vintage cupcakes.

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Now cooling while I numberswiki.com

make the coffee buttercream icing. Rather proud of the way they came out. Yes, some are taller than others but as I said, I went into this phase knowing I’d distributed less than evenly. The point is – they have cooked thoroughly and relatively evenly (rotating halfway through to balance the hot spot helped).

cupcakes3

Results: Taste/texture are good. Quite airy and on the ‘not so sweet side’, which was deliberate since the icing is quite sweet and I wanted to balance it. So it’s on the line between yellow cake and corn bread. Texture definitely more a corn bread. That might not thrill everyone but I’m pleased. I am not as thrilled with the frosting this time around. I think I made the fatal mistake of not waiting until butter was properly at room temp. Luckily, I made only a small batch for two “tester” cupcakes as I intend to store the rest sans icing (otherwise they get a bit mushy).

Will pick up more icing sugar tomorrow for icing once dungeekin is back and can share some. Next batch of icing will be better, more like yesterday.

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Weekend Kitchen Report: Jan 4-5

This weekend from the kitchen at Transatlantic Kitchen we started with bacon sandwiches – because it’s what we do on weekends and because we need the energy. We’re gonna be busy.

Saturday:

  • Things went slightly Ukrainian with @dungeekin giving vereniki (sp? varenyky?) a go. Based on various filling options, sounds like a dumplingi-zed kugel. Recipe calls for FAR too many so we’ll have to do something with the left over dough (essentially a pierogi dough) and filling (we’re doing cheese and onion). They tasted very good and I think with a bit of practice and adjustment to cooking time and method, the dumpling part will get even better. It was a bit – I don’t know, overworked perhaps.
  • Ragu in the slow cooker for dinner later in the week. Because prepping in advance means full on meal is only 20 minutes or so away even if both of us get home late. This is why there is also a chicken curry being advance prepped for dinner later in the week.
  • On the snacky/week day lunch front: Roasted chicken pieces for munching and lunching during the week. And I had a suddenly crushing need for a Summer time treat to brighten ONGOING DREARY weather. So ice cream sandwiches – Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra Ice Cream squished between oatmeal raisin cookies. F*ck off rain. I’m ignoring you.

Sunday:

donut

  • Breakfast experiment – donut holes dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon (because we had to use the left over dough from yesterday’s experiment for SOMETHING so why not another experiment. Delicious and we’ll do it again
  • Advance prep for later in the week continues with beef in red wine, currently in the oven cooking very slowly … it will have dumplings eventually.
  • We had to take a significant break from the kitchen to repair the back garden gate. We’d come home Friday to discover that the wind had finally smashed it one too many times against the frame and half of it was on the ground. You know – all this endless rain and cloudy and cold, the distinct lack of sun or heat of any kind means the gate (every single board) was warped beyond belief. But it’s back (ish) for now and we went back to the kitchen.
  • Sunday lunch: flash – cooked steak sandwiches.
  • Sunday dinner: roast chicken (with any left over chicken getting added to the chicken curry started yesterday)
  • Cheesy potato cakes – to use up the cheese mix from yesterday’s experiment