This book was recommended to me by the sourdough baker whose course I took. It turned out that I had already one of Pollan’s books – The Botany of Desire, which was awesome and looked at various plants in light of the general idea of desire. (My biggest take away message: the Agricultural Revolution was the grasses using humanity to destroy the trees. Also that all edible apples are clones.)
This book is Pollan’s attempt to learn more about cooking, having looked at the gardening and the eating side for a long time. He divides the book into four sections: Fire, Water, Air, Earth. Or, basically: barbecue, braise, bread, and fermenting. Continue reading →
I have a new blog! and a new podcast! Acts of Kitchen is kinda just that. The blog is about whatever I’m cooking or reading about food or watching about food. The podcast (same name) is mostly about me interviewing people to get their food and cooking stories. It’s fortnightly, and I aim for it to be about 15-20 minutes in length – pretty easy-listening length, right? You can subscribe at iTunes or listen to it at the blog!
To start with the writing: Wilson writes beautifully. Her prose is clear, occasionally whimsical, sensible, and altogether a delight to read. It’s not that often that I read 280 pages of history in just over a day, even when I’m on holidays. In fact at one point I tried to put it away because I was worried I would finish it too quickly (I was away from my bookshelf; I was feeling a bit irrational, ok?). Her love of food and history and cooking come through clearly; she mingles the occasional personal anecdote with what’s clearly broad-ranging research. But she also doesn’t get bogged down in the research – she’s not aiming to construct a thorough, blow by blow account of the development of cooking or food technology. She’s writing for an educated but non-professional audience and she does it really well.
The chapters are organised around probably the most important aspects of cooking and its technology: pots and pans; knives; fire; measuring; grinding (I admit this one surprised me a little); eating; ice; and the kitchen itself. In each chapter she gives some of the current thinking about where and if possible how the technology began (in some instances in the Palaeolithic, in others more recently), and then – depending on the objects – skims through the ancient world, the medieval, and the early modern.
My main quibble with the book is its European preponderance, but I do wonder whether I’m being overly sensitive about that. There’s a wonderful section about the Chinese knife, the tou; and a discussion about the difference in fork+knife vs chopsticks; some about the differences in wok cooking opposed to more European methods; and other mentions as well. I wonder if there’s more history done on this from a European perspective – or that’s translated into English anyway. Although if that’s the case I would have liked a mention of the dearth of literature.
Another small quibble is that sometimes her language implies that the changes in cooking technology were things that the population had just been waiting for. While that might be true for can openers (invented FIFTY YEARS after the invention of the tin, I kid you not), sometimes it grated a little: to whit: “At last, these people [the ancient Greeks] had discovered the joy of cooking with pots and pans” (12). I get what she means but it grated a little.
Anyway. A few gems include ideas for future ice cream experiments (burnt almond, orange flower water, cinnamon, apricot, quince; bitter cherry; muscat pear…), the history of the refrigerator and freezer and how they show differences between the English and Americans post-WW2, and developments from coal to gas to electricity in terms of stoves. Also the thing about the tin opener. SO WEIRD.
Overall this is a joyous book that I highly recommend if you’re into food and history, especially both at the same time. Her writing really is marvellous, you might learn something, and it re-inspired me to get into my kitchen and make something. (Which was annoying because I was on holidays, but whatevs.)
I have baked my first sponge! You can click that link to read my hubristic recount of the deed. And see a fairly average photo.
I am in the ‘want to give useful presents’ zone. So today, I went to my discovered-forgotten-rediscovered love, Basfoods. Ah, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, I love you. Especially in bulk.
I intended to buy some puy lentils for some people outside the city, who would struggle to find those little gems, and see what other nuggets I might unearth. Consequently I am sitting here taste-testing and finding new favourites:
double roasted chickpeas: I’d heard of people eating these like popcorn… oh yes.
sugar-coated almonds: OK, so not a new discovery, but… yum!
sugar-coated pistachios: Drool.
sugar-coated chocolate sesame: !!
sugar-coated coriander: Wow.
sugar-coriander: apparently people eat these like after-dinner mints. Me, I could probably eat them by the handful.
I might be in love.
i also bought 150g of cinnamon quills for not much, which I’ll split up; and sumac; and curry powder.
I’m feeling really quite smug.
Courtesy of my sister comes this gob-smacking recipe:
5 MINUTE CHOCOLATE MUG CAKE
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional… ha! as if it would be an option to put them in!)
a small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug
Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips and vanilla extract, and mix again.
Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts (high). The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don’t be alarmed! Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.
EAT! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).
And why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world? Because now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!
I made it last night, and did go the ‘virtuous’ option… it was tasty, but I think I over-mixed it; it had that texture that overmixed muffins sometimes get. Still… I’m trying to decide whether I really ought to post this, or if I should delete it and the email and try to forget that chocolate cake could be so accessible!
Or, without the atrocious French accent, roast beef.
Until Saturday night, I did not like it in the slightest. I think this is because we basically never had it at home, so my few experiences with it have been at average buffets and worse wedding receptions.
But then there was Saturday.
Saturday, we had a party. It was a bit of a fizzer in the afternoon – only a couple of people came by because the weather was icky – but we ended up with 14 for dinner. And J had this brilliant idea that wouldn’t a roast be fun?
3.8kg of beef later, a kilo or more of beans, plus potato and carrot for the mob… I was impressed. And very full, of course. It was fantastic! And there were two pieces left… hello, lunch. So I’m a convert, at home anyway.
I have been promising myself since, oh, February that I would blog more about my UK trip. I’ve mentioned very little so far… in fact, it feels a little surreal…. Anyway, I thought I’d do a short quirky one: the beer we drank! Since we drank a fair bit – and before you start making quips about being alcoholic, much of the beer there is lower in the alcohol than the beer here in Aus, so it doesn’t compare! Since we stayed mostly in smaller towns, we tried very hard to drink local beers; I went for those with unusual names, as you will see… and I decided that just the beer was really quite boring, so I’ve added in the best food we et too.
Sheffield: Tetley’s for J; Carling for me; an ambrosial Samian dessert wine. Christmas dinner with J’s relatives was totally unforgettable. The turkey!!
Windemere: Boddingtons (and a brilliant Chilean sauv blanc at a Mexican place). Tapas – brilliant. And a nice steak and Guinness pie at the pub.
Dumfries: Deuchars Pale Ale; Stowford Cider (not a fan); Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. Alex discovers that fish and chips and beans means baked beans. Not a lesson to forget. Also smoked haddock and spring onion cakes – very tasty.
York: Copper Dragon. Poached salmon and asparagus; J had venison and cranberry stew! Great Italian.
Llanberis: Bass Ale; Unicorn Best Bitter. A truly heroic Indian banquet at “Spice of Llanberis”.
Abergavenny: Reverend James; Brains’ Smooth; Rhenmeny
Crosley Heath (weirdest place we stayed!!): Henry’s IPA; Doombar Bitter
Oxford: Harp and Caffreys – both not cask, very sad; some Cypriot version of ouzo that tasted like it was mixed with metaxa… whoosh! and something random at The Eagle and Child, famous for bring frequented by Tolkien, Lewis, and other literary types. Magnificent Lebanese; brilliant tapas again.
Cambridge: Abbot’s Ale; mulled wine (from a machine! J will never, ever forgive me for making him order it for me…). Dinner at King’s College, thanks very much Bridget! Tapas, again, and noodles at Dojo’s.
Canterbury: some Kentish beer; Archers’ A Good Tern (truly!). Manoli’s Taverna – stupendous Greek food (apparently, in a building that used to be a stable, at which Ben Jonson apparently stopped!).
London: boring beers I didn’t bother to record. Take-away Indian for a colossal price.
So there you go. More random bits and pieces to follow… that’s a threat…
Dear Reader, I am sorry, but I lied.
It wasn’t pannacotta, it was a sweet flan – I was mistaken. I do still indeed intend to try pannacotta, but this is what I was intending to make. There were some Issues… let’s just say that when I thought the muffin tray was going to fit in the big tray I had, so it could act as a water bath, I was mistaken. I discovered this when I had already put mixture into the muffin tray, but nonetheless – we progressed.
They were tasty, despite the fact that I cheated and used vanilla extract (fake, even, I think) rather than vanilla bean. I made a bit of a dark chocolate ganache with the rest of the cream I had, and some dark choc melts… it was very tasty. Just ask J!
I just made Roasted Garlic and Goats’ Cheese Flan! Yay me! Why did I do it in the middle of the day? Because it’s the holidays, and I wanted to experiment, and when better to experiment than on a rainy Friday in the holidays, with Torchwood that J downloaded for me because I think I stuffed up the VCR? No better time!
It was really, really easy… and very tasty… I can foresee dinner parties with this as the entree, and me getting an awful lot of kudos for it. And I won’t be saying then that it was easy…. Now, perhaps, to attempt and conquer pannacotta…