April 30, 2008

Eccles Cakes

b_twin_1, 28 April 08, comment to ‘Hellgoddess, Hellhounds…’

Here follows an approximate recipe (”approximate” because I tend to fiddle with it a lot and I don’t measure stuff any more)
Makes 12.
3 sheets ready-rolled puff pastry (you could use flaky pastry if you want)
1 egg yolk
Castor sugar

30g butter
1 cup currants
1/4 cup mixed peel
100g glace cherries, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Cut pastry sheets into quarters (or 11cm rounds, but I hate wasting the pastry and am too lazy to cut *rounds*).
2. Place a tablespoon of filing in centre of each quarter.
3. Fold over and pleat edges of pastry to enclose filling..
4. Turn smooth side up and flatten gently, shape into circles.
5. Brush with egg yolk and sprinkle lightly with sugar if desired, cut 3 small slits on top of each oval.
6. Bake in hot oven about 15 minutes or until brown.

Filling: Combine butter, fruit, sugar and spices in pan, stir over low heat until butter is melted. Cool mixture before using. (Tip: puff pastry will rise better if the filling is cool/cold)

Eat them warm/hot……. yummmmmm :)

Restaurant-Style Miso

Kristin in MT, 28 April 08, comment to ‘Ruby’s memorable first trip to England’

8 oz. water
a pinch of bonito flakes (a little goes a long way, says Stef the Chef)
1/2 tsp wakame (seaweed)

1″ – 2″ cube of tofu, diced into 1/4″ cubes
1 T. miso (any kind is fine, but light or white miso is traditional)
1/4″ – 1/2″ green onion, finely sliced

Bring water, bonito flakes and wakame to a boil in a small saucepan. Boil 1 minute, then take pan off heat. Stir in tofu then let stand 1 minute. Add miso and stir well to dissolve. Pour into bowl and sprinkle green onions on top. Fast, easy and delicious!

Notes: if using dashi miso, skip the bonito flakes as dashi miso already includes bonito flakes.

(serves 1)


24 April 2008, main post

If you want to try making these, you’d maybe better brace yourself for the possibility that it’ll take you a few attempts before you find your way to compose the perfect oatcake. Unlike your first attempts at yeast bread, though, your oatcakes should, barring national emergency, be perfectly edible.

The crucial cookbook is John Thorne’s SIMPLE COOKING.† This is a lovely book, a book about food with recipes rather than a cookbook. He’s nothing at all like Elizabeth David, who is the usual comparison, but he is a food writer. Here’s a favourite bit:

‘Just as there are dog lovers and cat lovers, there are bread and pastry makers. These things respond so differently to even loving hands that they pull at opposite temperaments entirely. Doggy bread dough exults in pummelling, contact, and warmth, and does its tricks almost unbidden, so eager to share affection. Pie dough, conversely, catlike, wants love, too, but from a coolly respectful hand and in short, sweet doses; only if you get it to its liking will it deign respond. Pie makers think bread work too easy; bread makers just hate pie dough. . . . ‘

Well I make very good pastry (sez she) but I’m a better bread maker. Oatcakes are somewhere between the two. I do it like this, as considerably devolved from Thorne’s:

1 c fine oatmeal. It’s common enough over here; I think you can now buy this generally in the States too. I used to buy mine at a health food shop. (Still do for that matter.) If you can’t get fine oatmeal, in other words oatmeal that looks like flour, run it through your food processor till it does. Look like flour. I suspect this is one of those things that you’d better use short pulses for.

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt. You want your oatcakes fairly salty, so I use salt even with salted butter. But you may want less or more.

Make a well in your oatmeal and blob 2-3 T butter there. Then pour up to about half a cup boiling water over and mix. I start with ¼ c–pouring with my right hand and squishing it together with my left–don’t burn yourself, believe me, it’s easy to do–and keep dribbling till it starts to act like it’s coming together. Then knead with both hands. I keep the rest of the ½ cup water–if there’s any left–because I may still use it if after I’ve been kneading a while it seems dry. This is the pastry-like bit: you only add as much liquid as you need to make it hold together; also, pastry-like, you don’t knead and knead and knead, as you do with yeast dough††, you knead just till it seems to be all the same thing all the way through–and then just a little bit more. This is where experience is what you have to acquire. If you knead too little the oatcakes will be crumbly; if you knead too much (like overhandling pastry) they’ll be tough. But it’s not hard: you just have to do it, and find out for yourself.

Sometimes you may need more than ½ c water too. Don’t panic. The worst that happens is that your oatcakes are a little soft, or that you end up kneading in more flour. Purists flour their hands with more oatmeal; it’s kind of gritty, though, and it doesn’t absorb the way wheat flour does–also you’re just used to wheat flour, you know how it handles and what to look for, unless you’re a gluten-free girl in which case you should probably be telling me how to make oatcakes. Anyway, I usually flour my hands and the countertop with flour flour, not oatmeal.††† Knead until it’s a homogenous half-sticky lump. The definition of half sticky is also something you learn with experience: but you will have to keep flouring (or oatmealing) your hands and the countertop. Kneading doesn’t take long. It’s not springy like bread dough, though–no yeast, no gluten, duh–and it’ll be disconcerting if you don’t keep telling yourself this is oatmeal. Again, once you’re used to it, you’ll recognise when it’s ready.

Which is not to say that the rolling out process cannot be a trifle fraught. I’ve been making piecrust for forty years and I’m just resigned to the rolling out process being a trifle fraught. I’ve streamlined the whole beautiful-regular-edges thing though and have deliberately gone for raggedy homespun edges in my oatcakes. According to Thorne you’re supposed to roll it out in a circle or circles and cut it into wedges, like shortbread; I think these are unnecessarily hard to handle, since you want to roll it pretty thin. Not to strudel dough thickness (oatmeal won’t do that anyway) but thin. The other classic oatcake shape is round: so you roll it out and use your biscuit-cutter on it. I can’t be bothered with this either. All that scraps and rerolling? Forget it. I roll it out into a rough rectangle and whack it into (rough) squares, leaving the slightly raggedy edges to be part of the presentation and–as are edges in all baked things–more desirable. I also pat it with my hands a bit, so the surface is slightly uneven too, to go with the rustic edges.

You can cook these on a griddle, but again, I can’t be bothered: I slide ‘em onto a cookie sheet. (Use a spatula.) You shouldn’t have to butter your cookie sheet, but I’m paranoid, and I put ‘em on parchment paper. 350 F for about 15-20 minutes, but you can experiment with slightly higher for slightly shorter. They should have turned a few delicate shades darker, and the raggedy edges a few shades darker than that but they should in no way go very dark or burn.

Remember, again, that these are made of oatmeal. The texture is just not like flour. There’s always that slightly crumbly, slightly gritty quality. Us aficionados like this. And they never get quite crisp the way flour does; there’s always a slight softness, one might almost say gentleness‡, about them. But when you break one in half, it should break, not crumble.

If you get into the swing of these, then do experiment with herbs: I’m a rosemary nut, myself, and have never got beyond rosemary oatcakes: a small palmful of fresh, chopped, which is the best, or I think about a half teaspoon of dry–chop these too, or better yet, grind them in a mortar for a bit.

† Copyright 1987. Wait a minute. How did I make oatcakes before that? I’ve been making oatcakes since I came back from England for the first time as a grown-up, which would have been about 1980. Hmm. Anyway:


Pardon the books on dermatology. At least the one on hunter ponies is the right name. And my old trade paper edition of SIMPLE COOKING has a much nicer cover.


Thorne used to run a food newsletter, if you can even imagine such a thing, back in the days when you had to do this by street mail. Yes, the long ago days when telephones were attached to the wall, TVs were big square things and we drove horses and buggies. Now he has a web site like a normal person.

†† Although some of that is quantity. There’s a lot more dough in a loaf of bread to bash together into a consistent consistency. But kneading bread dough is overdone in the how-to books too. But that’s a discussion for another day.

††† Note that you can make a very nice oat cracker with about half fine oatmeal and half wholemeal/wholewheat or spelt flour.

Miso soup

Kristin in MT, 19 April, comment to ‘food heroine’

The secret, if I remember correctly, is bonito flakes which you boil briefly to make a broth.

I’ve also made a simple but tasty miso broth by putting a spoonful of miso into not-quite-boiling water, which can be dressed up with some chopped green onions, a little chopped tofu, whatever is on hand. Miso is so very versatile (and so very good for you).

Addendum by Robin, 20 April

I tend to like squashed marinated tofu–I can post this some day–you press the tofu between a couple of cutting boards at an angle with a weight on top and then marinate it later so it soaks it up better without going to pieces. Cut in small cubes and fry gently–these will then keep a week or so in your fridge–and a few of these make your miso soup sing. :)

Drop cookies

eiriene, 19 April 08, comment to ‘food heroine’

Anyway, the long-promised recipe for cookies made with oil! I’m typing it in as it was passed down to me from my mother’s family, with my own notes in brackets.

400 degrees F
Bake 8-10 min

2 eggs
2/3 cup oil [I like using a freshly-opened bottle]
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp grated lemon rind
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Beat eggs with fork until well blended. Stir in oil, vanilla, and lemon rind. Blend in sugar until mixture thickens. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt–add to egg mixture. (Dough will be soft) Drop by teaspoonful about 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Stamp each cookie flat with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. (Lightly oil glass, then dip in sugar)

[I’ve found that when I make the recipe, the dough is always too soft for flattening with a glass to be really effective. I just make them as drop cookies, and end up sprinkling some sanding sugar on top, for decorative purposes. They’re less uniform, but just as tasty.]

3 dozen cookies–3″ in diameter

Addendum by eiriene on 22 April, as comment to ‘More guest blogging!…’

I usually use either canola oil or vegetable oil for the drop cookies recipe. They’re both really mild. I suppose you could use peanut oil, but it might give it a nutty taste. It might be an interesting experiment though, to make them with walnut or almond oil, instead of a neutral-tasting oil, to see how well the nut flavor goes with the lemon in the cookies. I’m thinking almond more than walnut though.

Comment by Robin, to the above, on 22 April:

Calling all experimenters. :) Yes, I like the idea of trying a nut oil. I put a few drops of toasted sesame oil in all kinds of things for that background tang.

Spring Food

spindriftdancer, 20 April 08, comment to ‘timing is everything’

Try some fried mushrooms and asparagus: Fry up a little chopped onion with butter, add mushrooms, fry for a bit until they’re close to a texture you like, then throw in some chopped up asparagus and keep frying until *they* get to a texture you like, too. Serve over noodles or rice.

Spring food is great… and it’s easy to prepare.

Green Risotto – Comfort food (with broccoli)

AJLR, 19 April 08, comment to ‘timing is everything’

(enough for 2 people who are hungry, or in need of comfort food, or both)

1 lb (generously weighed) of broccoli – the big heads of calabrese work best for this and better to have just over the lb once all trimmed.
2 pints good strong chicken stock
8 oz risotto rice (I use Arborio, but others are fine)
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic (optional, but use a larger onion if not using garlic)
a generous 1oz of semi-salted butter

2 rounded T of freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

Put the chicken stock on to heat in a saucepan that will take it easily – with about 2 – 3 inches freeboard. Wash, trim and chop the calabrese so no piece is larger than half a square inch, using as much of it as possible – ie, peel and slice the big main stem as well. Put all the calabrese into the stock, once simmering, and cook for 3 – 4 minutes. Then take the calabrese out of the stock, drain stock back into pan, and keep both warm. While the calabrese is simmering, peel the onion (and garlic, if using) and chop fairly fine. Heat the butter in a large saute or frying pan and add the onion/garlic, saute over a gentle heat for about five minutes until it is soft and translucent but not browned at all. Add all the rice and stir to coat in the butter, keep frying gently for another minute then add all the drained calabrese pieces. Stir well together then start adding the stock in small cupfulls. Keep stirring, gently, over a fairly low heat and adding the stock a cup at a time until the rice is cooked and everything is nicely creamy (takes about 15 minutes from adding the first cup of stock). Add a little salt, to taste, if there was none in the stock and stir again. The calabrese will break up even more during all this but it’s supposed to. You probably won’t use all the stock, but better to have plenty to hand and the calabrese doesn’t simmer easily in less.

Serve straight away, with a thick sprinkling of the grated Parmesan if used.

It’s really important to have nice strong stock for this. When I first made this dish, as a trial, I was a bit dubious as it seemed probable it would be overly bland. But all the flavours meld together beautifully and produce absolute soul food (for us, anyway).

Tahini cookies


3 c white flour*
1 c sugar
1 packet (about 10 gr or 1 T – I think) baking powder
pinch of salt
1 c raw tahini – not processed in any way and certainly not seasoned.
200 gr butter, soft

mix dry ingredients together and then add the tahini and butter until you have a soft dough. make little round balls and slightly dent them in the middle then place in cookie pan. don’t place them too close together cause they tend to spread out. bake in 175 celsius for about 12-15 minutes. you have to watch the cookies and take them out the minute they get golden, otherwise they burn on the bottom. wait to cool and serve!
(they get sort of broken on top, sort of like the dry desert ground, lol).

*I use only white for this recipe, otherwise I think they’d be a little heavy.

Non-dairy adjustments


Any other non-dairy people out there, these days if I’m making something with buttermilk in it mostly I use water, with the vinegar. (Note: any mild ordinary vinegar will do. Don’t use the balsamic.) I may raise the butter quantity a little if I’m afraid the substitution will make the result taste thin.***
Non-dairy? Butter? Huh?

I’ve said before in the blog that a high percentage of us milk intolerants can have butter, because it’s the milk proteins that are the commonest problem. I can eat butter. And, believe me, I do. I can also, I find, have a little cooked milk, like in a cake, so if we have house guests so there’s milk in the house anyway, I’ll probably use it.


Mexican Chocolate Cake

Blackbear on 3/24/2008, comment to ‘Minimum Daily Chocolate Requirement’

(and by Mexican here, we mean “contains cinnamon and chocolate together.”)
1/2 c butter
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 oz unsweetened chocolate (I use Baker’s chocolate, but I realize there are cooking purists among you who will demand better, or San Francisco natives who will demand Ghirardelli. It doesn’t matter, just so it’s unsweetened.)
1 c water
2 c flour
1 tsp soda
2 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c buttermilk
2 eggs

Heat the chocolate, butter, oil, and water together until the chocolate melts and it’s smooth. Mix your dry ingredients, and stir in your buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Blend it all together with the chocolate mix, and pour into a greased and floured jelly roll pan. Bake 25 min at 350°F.

While it’s baking, make the icing. Melt together another stick of butter, another 2 oz chocolate, and 6 Tblspoons of buttermilk. Remove from the heat and add a tsp of vanilla. Then slowly beat in a pound (yes, a pound) of powdered confectioners sugar. Beat it smooth, then pour it on your warm cake mere moments after it comes out of the oven. Let the whole business cool. The edge pieces are the best, because the icing puddles up a little bit at the corners and is to die for.


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