Archives for the month of: June, 2012

Today in New York City residents are taking to the streets, or should we say to the curb side tables and chairs, in protest against the laws surrounding brunch. Yes, brunch. The leisurely and loveliest of all meals is causing controversy in a city synonymous with dining and the art of eating. In New York it is illegal to serve brunch before noon on a Sunday, lest diners block the footpaths for those on their way to church. The law dates to 1971 but has largely been unenforced; in fact, many eateries claim they never knew the law existed.

Brooklyn residents recently complained of the difficulties many of them experience when walking to church; of navigating the footpaths crowded with restaurant patrons on Sunday mornings. Several New York cafés and restaurants have been issued with tickets and court summons since these complaints were laid. New Yorkers are appalled. Three City Councillors are entering submissions for the legal time to serve brunch on Sundays to be brought forward to 10a.m. One Brooklyn resident, opposed to any changes to the law, asks the people of New York to be watchdogs for illicit brunching. But as most people of New York will argue, no one will stand in the way of a New Yorker and their right to brunch.

The “War on Brunch” is being discussed with an interesting, maybe slightly puritanical, approach. There is little coincidence in the timing of the brunch debate; New York State politicians are also considering a loosening of the laws surrounding drug possession and “public display” of cannabis. Can brunch in New York be considered a public display of self-indulgence? An expression of lazy, joyous consumption? Some newspaper articles have labelled this law an issue of the plate versus the church. I’m for the plate.

Francesca and I made brunch this morning in sympathy for the plight of the poor New Yorker who must “have those bagels with cream cheese or Belgian waffles on a Sunday morning, and nobody should stand in their way.” I made orange and ricotta hot cakes from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, the most beautiful of cookbooks. Nigel Slater’s writing seems to evoke the quiet calm and joy of a Sunday brunch in every sentence, for every dish. Our brunch was everything a New Yorker would say brunch should be; late in the morning (but well before noon), with strong coffee, and good company.

These hot cakes are made with minimal flour, but instead have stiffly beaten egg whites folded through a mixture of ricotta, sugar and egg yolks. They are heavenly light, almost like a soufflé. The ricotta lends a savoury richness to the hot cakes, while the flecks of orange zest brighten everything up. These hot cakes are good to eat, especially with honey yoghurt and a swirl of maple syrup. If you were to doll these cakes up a bit, I think a spoonful of fluffy stewed apple, or an orange and berry compote, or a brandy spiked orange syrup would only add to the brunch quality. New Yorkers would be proud.

Orange and Ricotta Hot Cakes

250 grams ricotta
4 tablespoons caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
finely grated zest of a large orange
50 grams plain flour
butter for cooking

In a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta, caster sugar and egg yolks. Grate the orange zest into the ricotta mixture and stir it in gently with the flour. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then gently fold the whites into the ricotta mixture.
Warm a non-stick frying pan over a moderate heat and add a small knob of butter, about a teaspoon. When the butter sizzles add a heaped spoonful of mixture into the pan. Cook for a few minutes until bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Use a spatula to flip (take care! They are delicate). Cook until, as Nigel Slater writes, they are coloured appetisingly.
Serve immediately with a dusting of icing sugar, runny jam, yoghurt, compote, syrup or other fruit.

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At the start of June I happened to flick over to the Kitchen Maid for a blog reading fix (her blog posts are short and sweet, ideal for a quick hit), when I saw the special ingredient for this month’s We Should Cocoa Challenge: coffee. Oh lordy may, I thought, chocolate and coffee, my two favourite things.

When it’s been a long day, or I feel the start of caffeine withdrawal shakes coming on, I buy a coffee and a Santé bar; I take my coffee black and my chocolate near abouts. I use the chocolate like a spoon, swirling it through the coffee, then licking the melted coffee-chocolate, feeling the rose creep back into my cheeks. It’s a dangerous way to live.

Then, just last weekend, I happened to be flicking through Julie Le Clerc’s Simple Café Food, looking for something else entirely, when I saw a recipe for Turkish Velvet Biscuits, with the sub-title “coffee, coffee and more coffee”. Oh lordy may, I thought, here we go!

These biscuits fill the kitchen with the scent of coffee. Take a pinch of the mixture and there is sweetness and a bit of spice, and then, the deep bitter flavour of coffee hits you. Despite using ground coffee in the dough, and then being rolled in ground coffee and sugar before baking, the texture is quite lovely. Yes, there is a bit of a grainy quality, but in the best possible sense. The coffee sugar creates a crisp outside with a sort of airy softness in the middle.

These biscuits fall in the same camp as biscotti for me. They aren’t overly sweet, ideally served with coffee (funny, that), and would even be nice with a coffee flavoured or cream based liqueur. I’m thinking they would be an excellent match for coffee, chocolate, or perhaps maple ice cream.

Turkish Velvet Biscuits
Barely adapted from Julie Le Clerc’s recipe

The chocolate here may seem like a bit of an after-thought, but the coffee is the shining star. I think you could possibly switch out the measure of ground coffee in the mix for an equal measure of cocoa for more of a mocha flavour.

2 tablespoons finely ground coffee
1/2 cup caster sugar
150 grams butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup finely ground coffee
1 egg
1 tablespoon strong espresso
1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
50 grams dark chocolate
small knob of butter

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a baking tray.
In a small bowl mix the first measure of ground coffee with the first measure of sugar and set aside.
In a bowl cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the second measure of ground coffee, egg, espresso, all spice and baking soda. Stir through the flour until just incorporated.
Form into walnut sized balls and then roll through the coffee-sugar and place biscuits on baking tray.
Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

In a microwave proof bowl melt the chocolate with the butter. Once the biscuits have cooled, drizzle chocolate over biscuits.

Makes 20-30 biscuits depending on size.

Tuesday was a miserable night, calling for slow cooked and warming food – a venison ragoût. On nights like we have had this week; where the wind shakes the windows in their frames; there are metres of freshly fallen snow in some parts of the country; we’ve had thunder and lightening and unrelenting rain, it was such a pleasure to stand at the stove and slowly put together this meal.

In the world of food blogging there appears to be a constant need to reinvent the wheel, to take old favourites then add a bit of this, a touch of that so the original recipe is almost lost. I think this is why baking recipes are held in such high regard on blogs; swap dates for currants, white sugar for brown, all-purpose flour for whole wheat and, hey, we have something new and exciting. This is how we develop new ideas and new ways of cooking, so please, don’t get me wrong, many baking blogs share some wonderful recipes. I like the sound of these, and this, and these.

But we shouldn’t forget the everyday good things: the soups, stews, salads and grains, the humble vegetable. When prepared with tenderness and thought, they too can offer something exciting. After all, most of us don’t just eat cake. This venison ragoût with the sweetness of bacon and prunes and the subtly rich flavour of the meat is a deeply satisfying dish for a cold winter’s night.

I served the ragoût with brussel sprouts, halved and sautéed with a knob of butter, a half teaspoon honey, grating of lemon zest and a splash of hot water. Once the sprouts were lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes, I added a handful of trimmed green beans and continued to toss for a further 5 minutes.

Venison Ragoût
Barely adapted from the Silver Fern Farms recipe

1 tablespoon oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
500 gram venison fillet, diced
1 teaspoon paprika
a few sprigs of thyme
pepper
2 rashers bacon
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
a handful of prunes or cranberries
1 tablespoon tomato paste
100ml red wine
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
zest of a lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
100ml stock

Heat the oilve oil in a frypan or casserole dish (suitable for stove-top use and with a lid). Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft. Put onions in a bowl and set to one side. Turn heat to medium-high and pan fry the venison with the paprika, thyme and pepper until lightly browned. Reduce heat and add chopped bacon and vegetables. Cook for a further 5 minutes. Add onions back to the pan with the prunes or cranberries. Add tomato paste, red wine, vinegar, lemon zest and mustard and stock. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for one hour or place casserole dish in a pre-heated oven to 170°C for an hour.

Serve with potatoes or rice or green vegetables.