Tag Archives: inspiration

Inspiration

7 Nov

Yesterday, I didnt post, even though I really really wanted to. I had nothing to say, nothing to write, and the things I did cook had been posted already. I had the cookblogger’s version of writer’s block, and it was a bit scary. I sat in front of my laptop, and started to write about… Cook’s Tips? Orange Olive Oil Cake? Nothing inspired me. Nothing made me excited or happy or intrigued. There was nothing to say, really, so I didnt say it.

Today when I woke up, I found I still had that feeling. May be it has something to do with the weather – hot (as always) but slightly damp, overcast and softly raining. Curling up in bed with a good book and a cat seemed like a plan. But I know myself. I am the best (or worst, depending on who you ask) procrastinator in the world. I could curl up with a good book and a cat forever and a day, and be perfectly happy. One of the things this blog has given me is discipline, and there was that nagging empty feeling inside because I hadnt posted.

Its a strange thing, this discipline. I never understood it before, not clearly, but the discipline of writing this blog is a gift I give myself. I feel good when I write a blog post. Not just because I get wonderful responses that stroke my (still slightly fragile) cook’s ego. Not just because I enjoy having a history of my food thoughts and creations. But because something in me has begun to flower and bloom – and the discipline of writing every day is like sunshine and water to that nascent joyous self. It makes me realise I can do anything I set my mind to do – and I can do it consistently, over time, and learn and grow from it.

So after finishing the book, and cuddling the cat – because, after all, I am still me, and I love my sensual lazy creature comfort Sundays… I hauled myself out of bed, had a cup of coffee, and thought about what I should do today and where I should go in order to find some inspiration. And I realised that it was Sunday – and that means the Bangsar Sunday Market would be just beginning and a little wander through all the sights and sounds and colours of that market might just be what my soul needed… and my be even my tummy!

Many years ago, there was a woman who came with her two children and sold the most astonishingly delicious home made vegetarian nasi lemak (with about 10 different dishes to choose from – rendang, char siew, masak lemak – all made with veggie proteins) for the princely sum of RM5 (about USD1.50). I thought I would find her again, take some photos, choose my dinner, and wander home with a meal and a blog all done… but a very friendly gossipy auntie told me the nasi lemak lady couldnt afford the license for her stall and so did not come any more. I almost turned back then, but I am glad I didnt.

The Bangsar Market is on Jalan Maarof, right next to the mosque, in front of Bangsar Village II. Its an open air market with plenty of stalls. Many neighbourhoods have open air markets one or two days a week. Its when the residents can come and buy fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meats from stall holders who are traders – and who deal directly with farmers and fishermen and the like. This is our version of the western farmer’s markets – and I have been going to market in Malaysia for as long as I can remember. My grandmother used to take my sister and I to the wet market in what is now the very touristy Central Market in the centre of town. I can remember the scents, the textures, the colours, the haggling and bargaining and laughter and teasing as if it was yesterday.

So, since I could not find my nasi lemak lady, I thought a slow stroll through the stalls might re-awaken my mind … and oh my goodness, it did so much more than that! The colours, sights, sounds, textures. Everything conspired to pull me in, to tempt and tease and slowly bring me back into myself. I thought Whole Foods was amazing … but this! Such abundance, such freshness, such textures. Everything was so beautiful, people were so knowledgeable and friendly and I wanted to touch and stroke and poke and sample everything. Instead, I took photos, and these are my inspirations. My grounding, my home…

Bangsar Market

Vegetables of every colour and texture arranged in gorgeous glistening piles … just waiting to be taken home and turned into delectableness!

Green Green Green

Every possible shade of verdant green you could imagine …

Green Green Green

In overlapping patterns of green

Beautiful

And the most delicate shades of smooth cool green

Purple and Green

And patterned green juxtaposed against deep purple … Which brought me to…

Mangosteens

The bruised beauty of my favourite fruits… mangosteens …

Purple Red

And earthy purplered beets… melding into …

Tentacles

The bloodred tentacles of roselle (with a tiny green bug nestled in a petal). And then I move on to sweeter reds …

Pink

The juicy bright pink seductiveness of watermelon … prettier than any lipstick…

Pink

The fragile yet wild blushing pink of the dragonfruit gave way suddenly to sunshine …

Orange

 

Carrots arranged with pride and care …

Yellow

The patterns of bright bananas (pisang mas) and honey papayas ….

Beautiful

Offset by the jagged symmetry and perfume of luscious looking pineapples.

Everywhere I looked, everything I touched… beautiful. Inspiring. The noise and jostling of the crowd of people. The light soft coolness of the rain cutting through humid heat…

And in the midst of it all… In their own space and silence.

Dog

A woman with a fabulous looking knife, preparing jackfruit, and her dog, kipping a nap in the midst of all the hustle and bustle.

I think … I think I have my inspiration back …. 😉

 

 

 

Savoury Polenta Tart Tatin

3 Nov

Tart TatinOne of the things I love about reading great recipes is that they inspire me to create unique dishes of my own. For a long time now, I have been fascinated by tart tatin, the great French creation where you pour caramel into the bottom of a cake tin, layer over caramelised apples, and then top it all off with puff pastry. The pastry bakes at the top, becoming crispy and light, and the apples caramelise even further. When the tart is done, you flip it out of the cake pan, et voila! A perfectly crisp bottom, and sensuously caramelised apple.

I have always wanted to make a tart tatin that was savoury… but part of the trick is that sweet caramel sauce that you pour in first. How to make something savoury with that? And then… I read Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for a caramelised garlic tart – with goats cheese and puff pastry. I read the actual recipe for the caramelised garlic and realised that there is a sweet savoury caramelised sauce that coats those gorgeous garlic pieces. And then… I read a recipe for polenta with sauteed mushrooms. I do love mushrooms, and polenta is another obsession of mine. I fell asleep last night daydreaming of a perfect dish… and this morning, when I woke up, I knew what I needed to make a savoury polenta tart tatin.

I cant tell you how happy this makes me. Its like I have figured out some remarkable puzzle. It may have been made before (after all, in cooking, relatively little is new), but I have never read a recipe like this. I loved it from the moment it popped into my head, and I was determined to make it!

It took me more than 3 hours to make this today. Its a hell of a recipe, but … you could definitely do it in stages. Almost everything (even the polenta) can be made in advance and refrigerated until needed (though I would make the spinach mixture on the day). If you spend a day or two caramelising garlic, sauteeing some mushrooms and burnishing them with old thick balsamic, preparing some polenta, thickened with parmesan and butter … well, then this recipe would probably take you about 40 minutes from assembly to final stages of cooking.

And I am here to tell you… Its damn worth it! It is so good. Outrageously good. Celebration, birthday, vegetarian Thanksgiving, dinner party good. Its gorgeous and dramatic, and the layers of flavour are unbelievable. Fluffy yet creamy and cheesy polenta, with a crisp crust, is topped with creamy spinach, which in turn is topped with balsamic mushrooms and caramelised garlic. Its a beautiful tart, and very dramatic. If you want to add a bit of flair, you could probably decorate it with a few sliced cherry tomatoes stuffed strategically into place, but it really does not need it. This tart is a tour de force of flavours and textures … It is sublime, if I say so myself.

Feeds 6 – 8

Caramelised Garlic (from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

  • 3 medium heads of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 220 ml (about 1 1/4 cup) water
  • 3/4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp chopped thyme (I did not have any fresh thyme, so I used about 1/2 tsp dried herbes de Provence)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Break the heads of garlic up, and peel the cloves. I realised I had many different sizes of garlic cloves, so I chopped the larger pieces in half to make them all approximately the same size.

Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Lower heat so the water is simmering, and blanch the garlic for 3 minutes. Drain well.

Wipe out the saucepan (make sure you do this well – oil and water sputter badly), and place the olive oil in the saucepan. Over high heat, saute the garlic for 2 – 3 minutes. You want the garlic just to begin to brown around the edges.

Add the balsamic and the water (be careful, it will spit and spew at you as the water hits the hot oil), and bring to the boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Then add the sugar, rosemary, thyme and salt, and mix well. Simmer on medium heat for a further 10 – 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated, and you have a thick  dark caramel sauce and deep dark soft garlic.

Take off heat and set aside. If you are only cooking the tart in the next day or so, transfer to a bowl or container, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before assembly.

Balsamic Mushrooms

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp truffle oil (if you have it – if not, use olive oil or any other flavouring oil that you like)
  • About 8 medium to small portobello mushrooms (about 250 g – 1/2 lb) peeled and sliced thickly
  • About 3 – 4 Swiss brown mushrooms, peeled and sliced thickly
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp butter

In a large non stick frying pan, heat the olive oil and truffle oil over medium high heat. Add all the portobello mushrooms, and stir well to combine, and to ensure that most of the mushrooms have been slicked with a little oil. Leave the mushrooms in the pan, not stirring, and allow them to brown and caramelise on their own. The heat and the olive oil will do the trick – you just have to NOT stir! Once you start smelling a wonderful mushroomy smell (about 3 – 5 minutes – possibly longer if your heat isnt that high), flip the mushrooms over. You should see that the bottom side is well browned.

Add the Swiss browns, mix again, and allow to saute, undisturbed for another few minutes. Salt and pepper well, stir, and then add the balsamic all at once. It will immediately begin to bubble and coat the mushrooms completely. Slice the butter directly over the mushrooms, and allow it to melt into the mixture. The butter will flavour the mushrooms as well as adding a bit of needed oil to the balsamic coating.

Taste, adjust seasonings, and once you are happy with the mushrooms (they should be slightly burnt, sticky, gooey, balsamic-y and intensely mushroom flavoured), tip out into a bowl and set aside. Transfer to a bowl or container if you are making the tart in a day or two, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before assembly.

Creamed spinach

  • 2 cups baby spinach, tightly packed
  • 2 heaping tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Lots of black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (or more, depending on your cheesiness) grated cheddar – I used an organic white cheddar which was phenomenal here

Wash the baby spinach very well, and then roughly chop it. Add the spinach to a large non stick pan over medium heat. You still want a bit of the water to be clinging to the leaves – this will help it cook. Saute the spinach briefly – a minute or two will do it – until it turns dark green. Remove the spinach from the heat, and place it in a sieve to drain the liquid from it. Allow to cool a little.

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, cream and egg. Add the spinach (squeeze it with your hands before adding to the mix to make sure youve gotten rid of as much moisture as possible). Using an immersion blender (or you could transfer the lot to a blender or food processor), cream the spinach until it has completely integrated into the cream cheese mixture. Add salt and pepper, and mix well.

Add the grated cheddar, and mix well. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Set aside until ready to assemble the tart.

Cheesy Polenta

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (low-fat will do, but its better with whole milk)
  • 1 cup polenta (cornmeal grits)
  • 1/2 cup mixed water and milk if you are making as below (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Loads of black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 tbsp butter

Polenta is usually made in a saucepan, but I actually like the quickness and control I get from making it in a large, non stick, frying pan. You need a good spatula or wide flat wooden spoon.

Place a large non stick frying pan over medium heat and pour in the water and milk. Bring just to the boil, and once it boils, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Pour in the polenta in a steady stream, mixing constantly as you do so. This will ensure that the polenta is smooth and creamy and without lumps.

Keep stirring, the polenta should begin to thicken almost immediately. I usually use an almost scooping motion – circular, and right at the end, I scoop some polenta, and flip it over itself. Almost like folding egg whites gently into cake batter. Keep stirring and scooping for about 5 – 10 minutes. If the polenta gets too thick, add the water and milk mixture in gentle dribs and drabs.

Taste the polenta – it should be uniformly creamy. Any grittiness, and you need to continue cooking.

Once the polenta has reached a creamy consistency of thick oatmeal, and there is no grittiness, add the salt and tons of black pepper. Stir well and combine. Add the parmesan and butter, and combine well. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Set the polenta aside (in the pan if you like) until it comes to room temperature. The polenta will firm up quite a bit but this is fine. Refrigerate if you are not making the tart immediately, but bring to room temperature when you assemble.

Polenta Tart Tatin – Assembly

  • Caramelised Garlic
  • Balsamic Mushrooms
  • Creamed Spinach
  • Cheesy Polenta
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • Butter for the cake pan

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F), and prepare a 9 – 10 inch round cake tin. Butter the cake tin, and place a circle of grease proof wax paper in the bottom. Butter this as well.

Pour the syrup from the caramelised garlic, and cover the entire bottom of the cake tin with the sauce. Tilt to make sure you coat the wax paper completely. Arrange about half (or all if youre greedy – I like to keep some back for other uses!) of the garlic on the syrup, and arrange the balsamic mushrooms over the garlic. With the garlic and mushrooms, you will cover the entire bottom of the pan. Dont mix them up though, they should remain quite insular.

Pour over the creamed spinach, and use a spatula or knife to ensure that the spinach completely covers the garlic and mushrooms.

Bake the tart in the oven for about ten minutes, or until the spinach has firmed up and puffed a little – it will bronze a bit. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for about ten minutes or so.

Prepare the polenta. Sccop up a handful of polenta, and flatten it between your hands. It should be less than 1/2 inch thick. You will have a polenta patty – place this gently onto the baked spinach in the tin. Keep doing this until the spinach is completely covered. You can patch up the polenta if there are small holes or bits youve missed.

Grate the parmesan over the polenta, and bake again in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the parmesan has burnished and become a gorgeous burnt mass on top of the polenta.

YumRemove from oven and allow to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes, in the pan, on a cake rack.

Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan to make sure that nothing is sticking to the sides. Place a serving plate over the cake pan, and using oven gloves (as the pan may still be hot), flip the tart over in one smooth move. Remove the cake pan, and the wax paper, and adjust any bits of garlic or mushroom that may have fallen off.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or even cold the next day. Any which way, its mind-blowing-ly deeeeeee-licious!

Enjoy!

Adi’s Cookies

26 Oct

Inspirational!Today was a lovely chilled day, reconnecting with the KL I love so much … seeing friends, being inspired and challenged by strong women. My beloved friend, Adi, gave me a beautiful gift – an astonishingly lovely vanilla bean paste that she brought back from holidays in Bali … and this paste was truly magical. It was a mix of vanilla bean, cacao nibs and chili! What a taste combination … and what a scent. When I opened the jar this deep spicy dark chocolatey vanilla musk wafted out and assailed me with its deliciousness.

I couldnt wait to cook with it … and it set me to thinking. Pastes are such a lovely conglomeration of tastes – this one in particular has a balance of dark deep flavours, invigorated by a faint sting of chili. Beautiful! I decided I was going to make refrigerator cookies with the paste, and I also dreamed up a whole variety of other pastes I could make inspired by this one.

If you cant put your hands on a vanilla, cacao nib, chili paste (and unless youre in Bali, and visiting the Puri Ganesha Villas where it was concocted, I doubt you can!), you can make your own paste from any number of wonderful combinations.

Just pound together a few ingredients that inspire you – a mortar and pestle would do well by you here – and bake some cookies or make a cake with the paste as your flavouring inspiration.

Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Crystallised ginger, cranberries and cinnamon
  • Grated lemon and orange peel, hazelnuts and raisins
  • Mint, cacao nibs, and pineapple
  • Dried blueberries, saffron, and almonds
  • Macadamias, a touch of honey, and nutmeg

Once you have a paste that you love, you can add it to so many things – to cakes and glazes. You could stir some into a pudding or ice cream. Use it to perfume a cupcake or frosting. Rub it onto an apple before baking, or stir it into a fruit crumble… you will have a haunting, unique flavour that will intrigue and delight.

Or you could make these cookies. I love refrigerator cookies. Basically, you make a simple cookie dough, lushly rich with creamed butter and sugar, and flavoured with the paste of your choice, and refrigerate the dough, rolled into logs, for at least a few hours. This allows the butter to firm up, and then you just slice the cookies and bake for a few minutes. Any left overs, you can freeze for up to six months, so you always have fresh cookies to hand. What a pleasure and a luxury! And once you have a paste that you love, the entire process takes literally 20 minutes to put together!

Enjoy this recipe, and be comforted. And thank you to Adi for inspiring me in so many ways!

Makes about 48 cookies / 2 logs

  • 2 sticks (16 tbsp) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp sour cream (or you could use cream cheese – or even leave this out – I just love the slight tang this provides)
  • 2 – 4 tsp vanilla, cacao nib and chili paste (or one that you make up!)
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached organic cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp sea salt (I used 1/2 tsp because I wanted to bring out the spice note of the chili – use less if your flavour combinations are softer)
  • 1 tbsp milk or buttermilk

In a stand mixer, fitted with a flat paddle, or a electric hand beater, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This takes a few minutes, so be patient. Its not just mixed together, but actually starts to fluff up…

Add the egg and sour cream and mix well. Add 2 teaspoons of the vanilla paste and taste – adjust if needed.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and sea salt. Add to the butter mixture in three batches, adding a touch of milk in between each batch to keep the dough soft and pliable. Mix in the flour very briefly, just until the dough comes together, then add a bit of milk, mix again, etc.

Once all the flour has been incorporated, turn the dough out onto a long strip of waxed paper. Divide the dough into half, and roll out into a thick log. Wrap tightly in separate pieces of waxed paper, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or freeze until you are ready to use.

When you are ready to bake some cookies (and I have to ask myself, when am I not?!), preheat the oven to 200C (400F)

Line a cookie tin with greaseproof paper, and take out a log of cookie dough. Cut slices about 1/8th inch thick from the log, and arrange on baking sheet. They wont spread very far, so they dont need to be very far apart.

Bake for 6 – 10 minutes, until the edges are just starting to brown, and the cookies are firm to the touch. Cool on racks for a few minutes before devouring.

Enjoy and be inspired!

PS – forgive the blurry photograph, am still sorting through my luggage looking for my camera!

Kind-of-Ratatouille-a-la-Karo

14 Oct

with Spinach Couscous!Tonight’s dinner may not be much to look at but it sure was delicious! And it was an intersection of different food thoughts that have been running through my head in the last few weeks. Inspired by so many things – my friend Karo’s post about the grated courgettes (zucchini), the Medjool dates at Per Se, and Karo’s link to Ottolenghi’s website.

Dinner needed to be fast and yet different tonight. Suddenly, autumn is upon us. I think we had our last 80 degree day a few days back, and now the crisp chill of cold is in the air around us. So dinner needed to be a response to that – warm and hearty, yet with echoes of sunshiney places. I didnt really think I wanted to do a ratatouille (though that often speaks of sunshine and warmth), mainly because I didnt have enough tomatoes. And I wanted to do the zucchini grated, and see what happened.

I started cooking with the thought that I was going to grate everything – but it didnt work out that way. Im pretty glad about that because I think I would have had a dark brown looking sludge by the end of it! Some stuff was grated, some stayed basically intact. You could serve this kind-of-ratatouille with french bread, rice, pasta – or as I did, with spinach couscous for a lush hint of colour and raw spinach flavour.

This is an example of my favourite free-form cooking – starting with a few ideas, and some beautiful ingredients, and seeing what happens. The end result was pretty damn tasty, completely vegan, rich and complex. The spice choices leant a hint of sunshine to the dark cold night, and we all went to bed happy and satisfied. All is right with the world 🙂

Serves 4

  • 1 tbsp plus more as needed olive oil
  • 1 small onion grated (mostly liquid)
  • 2 cloves garlic (or more as is your preference), grated
  • 1 small eggplant (aubergine) – diced
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Pinch (or more) cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 portobello mushrooms, peeled and minced
  • 1 zucchini (courgette) grated
  • 1 Medjool date, pitted and chopped very small
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds
  • 1/2 orange sweet pepper
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped tomatoes (I used baby heirloom)
  • 1/2 cup or so water
  • 1/2 cup cashew nuts (toasted)
  • Spinach couscous

First off, toast your cashew nuts if they are raw. Use a non stick frying pan, dont add any oil, and toast over a medium fire until lightly browned. Pour off into a small bowl and set aside.

Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil to the frying pan. You might need to add more oil as you go through the various ingredients, but try to be miserly with the oil – you dont want an overly greasy end dish. Instead, use more or less heat (and eventually water) to control the cooking process.

Grate a small onion directly into the pan. The onion I grated ended up being quite watery – this is fine. If you have lovely little grated shards of onion, this is good too. Saute for a few minutes until the onion is glossy and soft. Grate in the garlic and stir to combine. Lower the heat and let the onion and garlic get acquainted.

While the onion and garlic are bubbling together gently, dice the eggplant into small cubes, keeping the skin intact. Bring the heat up a little (and add a touch of olive oil if you think it needs it), and add all the eggplant, mixing well.

Season the eggplant and onion mixture with the paprika, oregano, pepper, cinnamon and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust if needed.

Cook for about 5 minutes on high-ish heat. You want to burn the eggplant a little bit, and allow the onions to melt into the mix. When you start smelling that wonderful eggplant roasted burnt scent (its unmistakable) add the next part.

Add the mushrooms and mix extremely well. The mushrooms will let go of their liquid – encourage this by mixing thoroughly.

Lower the heat to medium, and let everything simmer together while you grate the zucchini. Squeeze most of the liquid out of the grated zucchini, and add to the pan. Sautee together, and mix very well. The zucchini will act as a paste and start to incorporate everything together. Taste and adjust for seasoning. add the minced date, and mix together. Allow everything to saute on medium heat for a few minutes.

Add carrots, sweet pepper and tomatoes to the pan, bring the heat to high, and stir to combine. As soon as everything starts to pop and sizzle, add the water, and allow the mixture to bubble. Taste for seasoning and adjust.

Add the cashews, and taste everything to make sure its a singular whole. Serve over spinach couscous or a grain of your choice!

 

Favourite Things (Part 2)

26 Jul

I was thinking just now (when the fire alarm woke me for no fire) about posting a few more of my favourite things. As a cook, I get obsessional. I have favourite knives that no one else is allowed to use, and, for example, I only like using the biodegradable rubbish bags. I only drink Ceres juices (from South Africa of course!) and while I will buy plastic bread, I try and only have organic milk and eggs. Strange, but these are my balances, in my kitchen. Its a pleasure to have been able to develop these choices and learn what balances appeal to me and only me. You would be surprised how much of a struggle it is sometimes to claim my own space. All this musing reminds me of a story …

When I first rented my apartment, I went shopping to fill up my pantry. I get nervous when I dont have enough in the pantry to make at least 3 good meals. Anyway, I stopped at the jam aisle, and flush with that particular pleasure one gets when living on one’s own, tried to figure out what jam I wanted. I suddenly realised… I knew what kind of jam my Ayah liked, my Mum, my sister, my ex-housemate, my other ex-housemate, my ex-husband… I knew what kind of jam was every body’s preference – except for mine. Hell, I didnt even know if I liked jam at all! And then I realised, jubilantly, that now was the time to figure that out…

It might sound like a minor episode, and in reality, it was, but it was also an empowering experience. Shopping truly for myself, and my tastes. For my desires and my comfort. Mindblowing, after a life of cooking and feeding everyone else. I think that is when my commitment to being a vegetarian really sunk in and stuck – because I did not have to do it for anyone else but me.

I suppose the reason I am telling this story now is that this blog is intensely personal as well. I cook what I like, when I like (to paraphrase Steve Biko). I cook to share, of course, and as an extension of my loving for family and friends, but also because cooking is me. And I cook because its what I love, and where my passion lies.

So on to my favourite things. Some may seem very ordinary, but they are indispensable to my kitchen. I couldnt do without them…

Pretty little cheese all in a row

Greaseproof paper / baking paper

Goddess, I love this stuff. I use it every single day, for something or another. Its such a simple kitchen staple, and until I really started cooking on a regular basis, and for my own whim and fancy, I didnt realise how much I used it, and relied on it. I like it better than plastic wrap or aluminum foil because its paper – much more environmentally friendly to throw away (some bits can even be recycled) and much better chemically when interacting with hot, soft, wet or otherwise foods.

I use greaseproof paper to line my baking tins for everything from cookies to roasted butternut. They are a wonderful means of preventing that sticky gooey mess that ends up at the bottom of the tin and that takes hours to clean. They are a brilliant way to ensure that cookies and cakes bake evenly, and dont stick to the pan. I used to think it was a waste to use baking paper on top of a perfectly good baking tin – but I used it once – in response to strict instructions in a recipe – and have never looked back.

I use it to wrap all my cheeses in comforting, organised little packages. I hate the plastic cling wrap or packaging that most cheese comes in these days. Once the cheese is open, the plastic encourages it to dry out quickly, or even for mold to form. I butter my cheese (I know, crazy, but it works) lightly to keep it moist, and wrap it in baking paper. It is fresh and delicious and there is so much less wastage.

I use it to cover puddings or mousse or soups – anything liquid that will form a skin – when I store in the fridge. This little bit of paper (sometimes I oil it a bit so as to prevent major sticking) prevents the skin from forming, and makes me feel much happier than if I were to cover a hot liquid with plastic wrap. I always worry (I told you I was slightly obsessional) that the plastic will release toxins in reaction to the hot liquid, and that would be bad for the consumers (namely me and those I love).

I use it around my cutting board, and underneath a bowl when grating cheese, to pick up the mess, and make for instant cleanup. Oh I love this stuff. Its simple and inconspicuous, but its a staple I cannot do without.

How do I love thee...

Immersion Blender

I have loads of fun toys and gadgets in my kitchen. Ive got my beautiful and deeply beloved Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer (I saved up for that baby, and have used her a lot), my Cuisinart food processor, and my professional ice cream maker (on sale, and adored). But the one thing that I have found I use all the time is my Kenwood cherry red immersion blender. I bought it on a whim because it was on (another) sale. I thought, this might be fun to play with at some point. When I unpacked it eagerly at home, the plug point wasnt attached, and I am not technical in that way, so I left it until I found a friend who would figure it out for me.

I didnt really think it would get that much use in my kitchen, but to be honest, its the thing I turn to for most of my pureeing, chopping, mashing needs. I made the most amazing blueberry banana smoothie with my immersion blender – in seconds – and it just liquidised all that frozen fruit in the blink of an eye. I make the densest creamiest soups with it, I mash potatoes with it (they come out like silk if you use a deft touch, otherwise they can get a bit gluey), I creamed butternut and spinach for a pie and mixed them with sour cream — all using the immersion blender.

Its such a simple piece of equipment as well. It looks like a … well, now come to think of it, it could be, to a naughty mind, just a little obscene! Its a large wand, with a head that holds rotating slicers. It operates like a food processor, but its much smaller, and because its handheld, much easier to control. Dont get me wrong, I love my food processor. But in part because of space issues, its a big pain in the tukus to take it out of its little storage space. And once I am done, the food processor involves a lot of parts to clean up. Not so with the immersion blender. You pop off the metal part of the wand, wash it, and you are done. It is awesome. Probably my new absolute favourite gadget. I keep thinking of new ways to play with it…

Hardworking and beloved!

Fridge

When I first moved into my apartment, my landlady provided me with a fridge. Dont get me wrong, it wasnt an awful fridge. But it was definitely from the 1970’s, that particular vomity green colour that all major appliances had back then. It was very retro in not a cool way, and it wasnt very big. I could barely fit my juice and staples in, and I certainly didnt have enough freezer space for more than ice cubes and a carton of Ben & Jerry’s. I thank the good Goddess that this indispensable piece of kitchen equipment is par for the course. But when I renovated, I decided I deserved a larger fridge. I think I might have gotten my measurements wrong, or in my mind’s eye my kitchen was bigger than I thought it was, because this fridge just fit. I had to get things built around it, but I dont care! I love love love it.

Its freezer is on the bottom – a clever bit of design, because you dont use the freezer as much as the fridge part, and so bending to check out whats in the bottom of the fridge lurking in the veggie bin, is a thing of the past. My fridge is full of stuff – my vitamins and staples (flour, sugar, salt – all of which I keep in the fridge because of the high heat and humidity here) – as well as food I have just cooked and am saving for friends to eat and taste – or thats waiting to be frozen for next week – and fresh fruits and vegetables waiting to inspire me. It gives me great satisfaction to look into a full fridge – may be its that Jewish-Muslim feeding people thing, but I love knowing that if someone drops by, I will always, always have something to offer them.

My fridge makes me feel safe (against hunger, because as anyone who knows me knows, I could just fade away! 😉 ) and satisfied. When I look in my fridge, I see all the things I have made (thats one last lone oven roasted fig in the centre, by the way, waiting for AngelKitten and Ezril), and I know that I have expressed my love and passion in a way that is distinctly me. I also am inspired. Sometimes I just look in the fridge and think… Oooh, I will make that today! Or I think, I need something soothing and quiet. And whatever my mood, I can always find inspiration there.

Its funny, but taking photographs of the interior of my fridge was a bit intimidating. Kind of like showing your your undies to complete strangers. Oh well, its me, and this is my blog, so fudge it 😉