Birds, bees, and fennel ice cream

There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who, confronted with an open bottle of wine in their kitchen which they know they will not get round to drinking (because of a line-up of dinner engagements elsewhere for the next few days, for example), will let that bottle stand there until garbage collection day and then get round to throwing it out. Then there are those who, confronted with the prospect of wasting an opened bottle of wine, will go out and buy ingredients valued at three times what they paid for the bottle of wine, and make coq au vin.

I belong to the latter.

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The Extraordinary (and Pretty Damn Cool) Science of Junk Food


If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to read this fascinating NY Times piece (excerpted from a forthcoming book) on “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food”.

A friend tweeted that it was a ‘brilliant indictment of the food industry’, which I gather it was meant to be, and which I agree it was to some extent. There are some pretty chilling descriptions of industry strategies to sell more calories, including some pretty off-putting language to describe the bodies that those calories are designed for:

In Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, the biggest consumers were referred to as “heavy users.” “The other model we use was called ‘drinks and drinkers,’ ” Dunn said. “How many drinkers do I have? And how many drinks do they drink? If you lost one of those heavy users, if somebody just decided to stop drinking Coke, how many drinkers would you have to get, at low velocity, to make up for that heavy user? The answer is a lot. It’s more efficient to get my existing users to drink more.”

One of Dunn’s lieutenants, Todd Putman, who worked at Coca-Cola from 1997 to 2001, said the goal became much larger than merely beating the rival brands; Coca-Cola strove to outsell every other thing people drank, including milk and water. The marketing division’s efforts boiled down to one question, Putman said: “How can we drive more ounces into more bodies more often?”

So while I remain sceptical of the “addictive” nature of “junk food” – or rather, I am concerned with how easy the criteria for “addictions” seem to be to fulfil these days – I can appreciate that it’s in the interests of people selling food that we don’t really need to strive to get us hooked on them. And the evident success of that venture has obviously contributed to the rising levels of obesity and poor health.

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Have figs, bake cake, blog it

A week ago the sailor went into the world looking for a snack, and came home with a pack of figs, some bacon and a slab of smoked mozzarella. He had visions of stuffing the figs with the cheese, wrapping them in bacon and frying them up until everything was squidgy, smoky and crispy.

It sounded interesting enough, but because of the control freak that I am I already had plans for dinner (imminent), I discouraged him from going ahead. (I love him dearly, but seriously? Why can’t a snack just be an apple or a handful of nuts?)

A week later the snack pack lay untouched in the fridge, so bacon became breakfast this morning, and the figs are now on the way to cakey goodness, thanks to Dorie Greenspan, who tempted me with this picture in her lovely baking book:

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Bitters. Ice cream!

My mother’s favourite new drink is tonic water with a dash of (Angostura) bitters. Nothing too revolutionary there – who hasn’t added a dash of bitters to a G (or V) & T, etc. But what is pretty damn cool is a whole underground of bitters that I knew nothing about until a friend who lives in the US started boasting about all the cool cocktails he drinks, featuring goodies like blood orange bitters (excellent with gin). To make up for his sins, he gifted us a bottle of celery bitters, which turns a great bloody mary into a stonkingly great bloody mary.

If bitters interest(s?) you, go read this description of a bitters tasting, complete with fascinating stuff like why the ‘Ango’ label is bigger than the bottle, and what goes with what: ‘Ango’ pairs well with rum, whisky, gin, coke (!), and coffee (!), but not with Cognac, while Peychaud’s works with Cognac, tequila and whisky, but not with gin.

Even more interesting is what led me to that post in the first place, which was my own sneaky suspicion that bitters and ice cream would rock. And so they apparently do – over at the Angostura site their advice is to ‘to dash 5-6 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters onto some plain vanilla ice cream. Voila, your ice cream is transformed into a gourmet dessert!’:

Gourmet yawn. Nah, what we need is the bitters in the ice cream. I am talking rock shandy-flavoured creamy goodness. Made with creme fraiche, a touch of lemon, and plenty of the red stuff to offset all the sugar in the condensed milk. The perfect post-Christmas tonic.

Now excuse me while I go talk to my ice cream machine.

Guinnessy goodness and a cheesy crust

Once in a blue cheese moon I actually feel like making pastry. That moon came on Wednesday, when I whipped up Ramsay’s rough puff. But woman cannot live on pastry alone, so I threw some beef and Guinness in a pot and let that simmer for a couple of hours.

The next day (assured by Google that it wasn’t a completely hair-brained thing to do), I rolled blue cheese into the pastry. It looked a bit weird, but then I had a(nother) glass of wine and everything seemed fine. I cut it to size, scored it and put it on top of that Guinnessy goodness, gave it an egg wash, popped it in a hot oven and hoped for the best.

I was quite pleased with the result, but our dinner guest claimed it actually was the BEST Guinness pie she’d ever eaten. She’s apparently eaten lots (of Guinness pies), and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten any, so I’ll take her word for it. (Even if I do know that she on occasion eats baked beans out of a tin for dinner.)

So maybe I could get into this pastry thing. There is something rather splendid about taking a puffy golden pie out of the oven. And how cool is it to make funky crusts. What’s next: roast chicken with a goat’s cheese crust? The previously dreaded apple pie with a cheddar crust? (I now get the cheesy crust, but in a sweet pie??) What cheese goes with lamb?

Then again, maybe our guest wasn’t even talking about the crust. She did reveal that whoever used to make her Guinness pie pretty much put beef and Guinness in a pot with, like, nothing else. (Did I forget to mention that mine obviously included onions, celery, garlic, rosemary, tomato paste, salt, pepper, a squirt of Worcestershire, and extracts from the blood of a leprechaun?)

Whatever it was, it worked. As did the Guinness ice cream, which should really be called genius ice cream: sweet, bitter, creamy, and thanks to the addition of caramelised and salted cashews, salty and crunchy too. All food groups in one delicious mouthful (and then several more).

But no more food now. Is it beer o’clock yet?


A weekend of happy birds

This weekend the Philosophe turns 40, and for several months I’ve been scheming about what cake I could bake him that would be truly memorable. I have found NOTHING cooler than this playable angry birds cake that a lucky six-year old got for his birthday. How cool would that be? (Go check it out in action, the birds are awesome, and there’s a proper slingshot for total destruction.)

Alas (as one of my friends says way too often), with the last few months occupied mostly by getting through three burglaries, sino-bronchitis (ugh), finishing off one book, starting (and very soon finishing) another, oh, and teaching/marking/invigilating/attending meetings, I have regrettably failed to get it together.

But birthdays are no time for regrets. If he can’t throw birds at pigs, he can at least enjoy a solid Danish birthday breakfast (because nothing will stand in the way of me channelling my inner Viking):

These are kanelsnegle, or cinnamon snails. Did I go all out and make proper puff pastry? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But the dough does contain an essential, if little known, ingredient for Danish pastries, which is ground cardamom (any “Danish” that does not contain cardamom is an impostor – could even be a Swede!). And with the leftover dough, this:

This does look pretty Danish, and it would be if it was full of stuff like raisins, cinnamon, and if we’re going to get really fancy schmancy, marzipan. Instead it’s stuffed full of Dairy Milk Whole Nut chocolate (for which there incidentally exists a very silly advert). To be honest, I don’t know if such an un-Danish thing has ever been pulled off before, and I have no idea how it will go down.

But how bad can cardamom-scented bread full of chocolate (for breakfast) really be? Pain au chocolat and all that. I’d sure rather eat that than a stack of double chocolate pancakes. There are limits!

Besides, we wouldn’t want to spoil our appetites, or dampen our fighting spirits. Imagine if a flock of angry birds suddenly pulled in and darkened the birthday sky…

Its name is wedding

This morning the Philosophe gifted me this card:

I never thought I would get a fourth birthday card again, but this was a stroke of genius. See, just over four years ago, we had a little impromptu gathering with a few friends, telling them we had some important news. Thinking that we were oh-so clever and funny, we told them that we’re having a baby… and its name is wedding.

There were more than a few minutes of extreme awkwardness as our friends tried to figure out what the hell we were talking about, and how to respond. Or rather, they (all!) first understood it to mean that I was pregnant, and that we were going to call our child wedding. For some reason, both of those possibilities seemed to them silly/preposterous/insane, but they did what friends do and played along. I think a full half hour passed before someone was brave enough to ask if we were serious, and the truth finally came out: We were getting married (duh!).

Today Americans are going to gorge themselves on turkey and all manner of pies – some to ridiculous extremes – in the name of giving thanks (and good luck to them: I’ve attended one such shindig, and it was truly terrifying). Here, we give thanks to our wedding, which has finally grown out of its nappies and screaming fits and into something that’s old enough to be left in front of the television for a couple of hours a day. And since no birthday is complete without cake, I give you:

(Inspired by this banana cardamom cake with browned butter frosting: I added fresh ginger to the cake, substituted pistachios and coconut for the walnuts, and rum to the icing, because that’s how we roll.)

Recently spotted in the Doctor’s kitchen

Magic, really. I thought I was marking exams, but suddenly there was a brownie occurrence. Specifically, goat’s cheese fudge and smoked almond brownies:

The best part? You can do this too!

All you need is:

1 good brownie recipe waiting for a new identity;

1 batch of goat’s cheese fudge lurking in the freezer (preferably homemade, and preferably blessed by Norwegian angels);

120 exam scripts to mark;

An oven.

In the approximate words of the immortal Nigella Lawson (or the Barefoot Contessa, or that Italian babe with the big head [GdL], or that annoying Brit who keeps annoying people whose job it is to involve themselves in childhood nutrition [JO], et al.), See how easy it is?

My Bree moment #chocchipcookie

I’ve never been much into making biscuits, as we call them in this part of the world. (Apart from biscotti, of course. Those who know me well know that my own biscotti are the only ones I will deign to eat.) I like making biscotti because they keep for long enough not to go stale. And I like making brownies and blondies because they can live in the freezer, ready to provide sugary goodness at any given moment.

Anyhoo. Needed a gift for a dear aunt(-in-law), and needed to make something different. So I did what any good American housewife did, and I baked chocolate chip cookies. Not just any, of course. Only the best will do, which is apparently this number from the NYT. (They really are the best. All the bloggers say so.)

I’m usually intimidated by the sheer size of American-style things (those muffins: seriously?), but I must say I quite enjoyed scooping golf-ball size globs of batter onto the baking tray.

(That’s a sprinkle of salt on top, by the way. It’s the secret!) And then watching them turn into jumbo cookies:

Of course I tweaked the recipe. I added two teaspoons of ginger powder to the mix, and a handful of chopped preserved ginger. An inspired tweak it was!

But as good as these are – and I mostly hope aunty will think so too – I reckon my most important revelation was finally understanding why Americans confuse raw cookie dough with something that is appropriate for ice cream. I mean, just look at it. It’s suddenly an easy confusion to understand. Shame (as we say in this part of the world).