Life by coffee and sleep

TrevisoRisotto8

Ten days without coffee felt like a bear’s winter hibernation. It’s the season and I seemingly never miss a clean opportunity to get sick. Slightly out of commission.

Cup of joe number one since the crash. At 3pm. Splendid! I’m upright, and thinking about what I’ve done this week. What I’ll do from this cup, onto the next one, probably tomorrow a.m. And so! It’s been a week of discovering the famed New York dollar slice. That you can indeed just order a side of plain white rice at the local Chinese haunt without a batting eye. And, a resurgence of a famed banana shake from my archives. Which I will fondly share the recipe. It’s one I learned from a Scandinavian baker, both goddess of bread and salads. She was lovely.

I did happen to make one nice dish during the down time. A simple one which I had all the ingredients to already, but one. Being the season it wasn’t hard to find. Treviso risotto.  A woody amber kick coming from a glass of dry vermouth, and a roundness by parmesan and butter. I read today an article about Japanese ikebana. An art much to do with opposing characters, harmonized. Could treviso risotto be a good meal example for that? Bitter yet creamy. Hm. It’s a thought! A bit of a silly one at that. It got me thinking about making life more like ikebana. The Scandinavian baker, both goddess of bread and salads.

Green Banana Shake

  • 1 banana, best if frozen (adds creaminess!) at least for a few hours before blending
  • 2-3 juicy dates
  • palmful of cashews, raw
  • 1 small spoonful of vanilla paste
  • 2 big handfuls of kale, removed from their stems
  • 6-8 cubes of ice
  • Splash of nut milk

Blend all together until smooth. Serve in tall glass.

 

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Treviso Risotto

A recipe from the great chef Russell Norman. His book Polpo is a favorite of mine. One I slip out when I’m looking for a singular example of a fine ingredient, he probably has it. His book is a dedication to his restaurant in London, but also a definition of his experiences at aperitivo hour in Venice, Italy.  

  • 1 liters of stock, be it beef, chicken or vegetable
  • 50g butter, room temperature
  • Small sprig of rosemary
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 150g risotto rice, carnaroli is best
  • Flaky salt
  • Half a glass of dry vermouth
  • 250g Treviso radicchio, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 30g grated parmesan

To begin, bring a pot of the stock up to a gentle simmer on the back burner. On the front burner melt two-thirds of the butter in another pot. Add the rosemary and swig around a bit for a minute only to flavor, and then remove the sprig and discard.

Add the chopped onion, sweating slowly until glossy and translucent, about 10-15 minutes.

Now add the rice, being sure to coat in the butter. Allow to toast lightly, you’ll be able to smell it if you stick you nose over the pan. Add a pinch of salt, and stir for just a few minutes until the toasty smell is slightly present.  

Now is the time! Add the vermouth and lift any sucs sticking to the pan. Sizzling away until absorbed and steamed off. Add the first ladleful of stock, just enough to soak each grain, the mixture should be still gently simmering. Add the treviso now, reserve a small palmful for the final mix.

Slowly now, add the stock, one ladleful after the last has been absorbed. About 15 minutes. The risotto is done when a grain is chewy and soft on the outside, but the inside hull has a tiny al dente bite to it. Remove from heat, fold in the last knob of butter, parmesan and the palmful of treviso leaves set aside. Cover and leave for a few minutes before serving.

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TrevisoRisotto1

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Grilled Treviso

And if in the end. You can’t be bothered to make risotto. Halve your treviso lengthwise, rub with olive oil, slipping into the inner leaves. Set on a hot cast iron pan, or grill, and cook undisturbed for about four minutes on both sides. Serve, sprinkled with flaky salt and a few drips from the old balsamic bottle. Paired nicely with a bouncing ball of soft mozzarella dressed in more sweet olive oil and flaky salt.

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And now all I’m craving is to watch Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden. Until next time! Hopefully sooner than the last!

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Porridge cake

Porridge Cake 2

Once I stood about the stove every morning to put on a pot of porridge. I’d dress it up with a spoonful of thick and tart yogurt, some honey and pumpkin seeds. If I made a jam I’d swirl that in, drop in a few toasted blanched almonds. A lovely bunch which I’ve found  imported from Sicily. And when my jam pot was all up, I’d return back to the dollop of yogurt. I won’t deny this breakfast. I know which oats I like. And I can grab them around the corner. But when I started working earlier, I found I didn’t have as much time at home to put on a pot, be sure it doesn’t burn, then scrub my pot clean after  minutes at the table sharing breakfast with my bird. Not to mention it was earlier! “Maybe it would be nicer to have this breakfast a few hours later.” One thing I’ve learned about myself, (great indeed, it’s wonderful to know something about your character!) I am not one for ambient room temperature porridge!

And then I learned about a cooks breakfast. Among the many places which I have worked, I’ve had the opportunity to catch onto, I think a rather intimate part of one’s day being, breakfast. Another one for character. I love learning what a person most often likes to eat at during these usually solely morning hours. It is intimate, isn’t it? A cooks breakfast usually take a little bit from the day’s haul without being much of an impact on production at all. It’s almost unnoticed really. Unless somebody is experimenting. In such a memorable case; we had scrambled eggs. The most softly cooked. Curdling slowly in a large bowl set over a simmering pot as a bain marie. A large slab of focaccia out of the oven, spread thickly with the egg clouds. Salt, olive oil. Wahla! A more usual breakfast was more to the likes of a steaming demi baguette along with an apple received from a delivery. A buttery and nutty scone from the bake off paired nicely with a thick and bitter shot of espresso. Or in the savory kitchen, a bundle of just blanched tender greens tangled atop a thick cut of bread dosed in the good olive oil and salt. All being pieces for tonight’s dinner service. Japanese rice cooked for today’s lunch, spooned into a small bowl along with a softly cooked egg, a good squeeze of the smoky and very sweet soy sauce and a pivotal pinch of togarashi chili powder.

I quite liked the convenience of these breakfasts. Nearly no dishes. At an opportune time of hunger.

Porridge Cake 1

During this time I was also reading quite heavily only the backs of Italian cookbooks where the cakes lie. Italian cakes seem to be not very sweet and Italians seem to love these types of cake for breakfast. Breakfast, more likely at the time for a mid morning snack with coffee to get on with it until a more lengthy lunch, a more lengthy dinner to come. I loved this. And adopted it nearly immediately after I got a few cakes under my belt, in which I will share them all in ongoing posts.

This particular cake, received from one of Marcella Hazan’s books, felt quite like a fall breakfast. ½ a cup of sugar for a cake, perplexing. Cooked polenta. Dried fruits and nuts mixed in. “It’s porridge isn’t it?” And it is, nearly. A cake with its own category. And a delicious one at that. Delightfully refined, thanks to thoughtful ingredients. Being a touch sweet, nourishing, and overall a nice combination of flavors and things. Quite like my stovetop porridge I thought. But this one is just as nice too at ambient room temperature. The next day, the day after that. In a little baggy I’ve been munching on it on my train ride to work. Along with coffee from the place down the street from my apartment. It makes for a lovely, easy morning. I look forward to a more lengthy dinner with my bird later on. Happily he’ll stand on my shoulder as we wash the dishes without much of any rush.

Porridge Cake 3

Porridge Cake

  • 1 cup coarse polenta
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup dried figs, quartered
  • ⅓ cup muscat raisins
  • ⅓ cup pine nuts, I prefer to toast them!
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter, plus more for buttering the pan
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour, using a freshly milled flour, all the better!

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Begin by first buttering well about a 9 inch cake tin and then lining with flour. Be sure to tap out any excess over the bin! Go onto measuring the ingredients. Combining the dried fruits, toasted pine nuts, fennel seeds and sugar into a cereal bowl. The butter resting on the knife in which you cut from the block. The egg nearby and a cup of flour set into a bowl all for itself.

At the stove bring 2 cups of water up to boil. Pour the polenta in a steady stream through your fingers as you mix about any potential stubborn clumps forming with a handy wooden spoon. When all is in, continue stirring just for a few more seconds, the polenta doesn’t need to be on the stove long. Then add the olive oil and a pinch of salt, another few stirs and take the pot off heat.


Mix in your bowl of nuts and bolts, followed by the egg and butter. And when all mixed in, add the flour. Only mixing until your cake batter is just combined. Pour and smooth into the prepared cake tin. Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan until warm, then invert onto a wire rack and serve as it still cools with a cuppa tea. This cake is lovely at room temperature, grasped in hand as you run out the door tomorrow morning.

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Crispy leaves and shively prunes

A Flicker in October

The wick begins to pool
one leaf falls
the wax begins to drip
a crunch under foot
my cheeks begin to glow
this precious time
before the wick runs out

Prune Loaf 3

Prunes! Glorious jammy things. Juicier than an apricot, whose color is alluring, but it’s the prune I find most satisfying of the dried fruits. A thin protective skin, just barely sealing a smoothing prune cream. Confoundedly a flavor both of vanilla and milk chocolate. And even a fragrance faintly reminiscent of orange blossom. Glorious prunes!

The leaves are beginning to turn in New York. Yellow and crisp. A few scattered underfoot, one crunching, another saved inside a book. The sun is still warm to the bone, and it’s…quite. Where might be the flock of finches whom lived in the tree outside my window be? The window unit is unplugged and the floor fan switched off. This precious, and perhaps introspective time!

I was a thinking about what I might like to eat for breakfast during the next few days, while I had the time, and prunes showed up first in mind. The first place I looked for inspiration was a big cookbook, humorous and light, but each recipe a rather serious matter. Fairly charming that such a talented and experienced chef wrote a book for us at home, reading in a way that feels, well quite doable. Needing only the right ingredients and a good dose of confidence. One day I’ll get to that warm pig’s head… ! Seemingly, Fergus Henderson loves prunes too. And seemed to crave the same sort of pruney breakfast loaf as I did. A prune loaf with brown sugar and molasses, extra vanilla for a lift of fragrance, and then quite a buttered tin – yielding a crust buttery and textured. The heavenly heavily buttered tin is a small trick I learned in school, beurre en pommade, a consistency mayonnaise like, which when heavily lining a tin makes the most lovely cake and loaf crusts.

So here is a slightly adapted recipe of Fergus Henderson’s le grand prune loaf. Fit for even those who may think they might not like a shriveled prune.

Prune Loaf 1

Prune Loaf

  • 4 ½ oz softened (soft by leaving out, mine usually overnight) unsalted butter, and extra for greasing the pan
  • 4 ¾ oz light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 8 oz flour, plus a five fingered pinch for dusting the pan
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste, or 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp black molasses
  • 3 tbsp prune juice, mine coming just from my soaking liquid of tea and prunes.
  • 3 tbsp full-fat milk, obtained at the coffee shop, thank you baristas, a generous slice coming your way!
  • 20 oz prunes, and strips of lemon peel, soaked in two bags of black tea, mine being a rose like blend, soaked overnight or least an hour before.

Rummage about for a loaf tin, mine being a tube pan. With your softened butter, brush heavily into pan. Dust with a bit of flour and tap the excess out. Set aside and get on with the mix.

In a bowl with a wooden spoon, paddle the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Incorporate the beaten eggs slowly, which will help prevent a curdle. Sift in the flour, baking soda, salt and mix in. Next add the vanilla, molasses, prune juice and milk.  

Fill your prepared tin with half of the mix, then lightly pressing in the prunes. You’ll notice it’s quite a lot of prunes, it is, a prune loaf! Spoon in remaining mix and lightly spread about evenly. Place in the fridge for 2 hours. The chill stops the prunes from sinking to the bottom during the bake.

Bake in an oven preheated to 350ºF for 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven, invert onto a rack, remove tin, and allow to cool for ten minutes before serving.

**Fergus Henderson mentions a mist in his recipe which is 2 ½ oz of prune juice, heated in a saucepan until it starts to boil. Off heat, ¾ oz of Vieille Prune (prune brandy) is stirred in. Two spoonfuls of mist is soaked into a slice before serving along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Prune Loaf 2

Tozzetti alla mandorle

Tozzetti

 

I cannot quite pinpoint which book it may have been where my eyes first glazed over Italian pastry recipes. I think it actually was a flood of books I brought home all at once, I’d scramble to the ends of each book and try to absorb every ingredient and method. The style in which the author wrote the recipe, I was, and am still elated. My heart nestled into Italy, it was the mentor I had been looking for but didn’t know existed. This cookie that looks like what I first knew as biscotti, seemed to be an Italian classic, (I suppose as most Italian recipes are), lots of cookbooks had their variation of it. Seemingly alike, it took quite a handful of trials and reading to discover the difference. Biscotti means twice cooked and in Italy there are two types of biscotti; tozzetti being softer and more cookie like. And cantuccini being made from a bread-like dough, dry and crisp. This recipe falls under the tozzetti category.

Classically enriched by egg yolks, being that the land had more eggs to offer than butter at a time, this recipe is delightfully and nutritiously rich. In what to me feels to be relatable to human digestion, being easy on our metabolism. Still, lots of sugar is necessary for the sharp tooth this cookie is known for. Making it a sublime treat. Any mix in additions to the dough will be lovely. I can imagine showcasing chocolate, and other ideas being pine nuts, rosemary, anise, or candied orange and melon. I think when you try an ingredient and it strikes you that would be a delight savored over a morning coffee ritual, or a weekend 4pm break, working your way slowly through the cookie studded with the ingredients that first drew the inspiration, all along the while sipping a sweet glass of Vin Santo to celebrate yourself and the moment.  

It’s summer now,  I am enamored with Sicily, and these almonds I brought home from a local Italian market. Flatter and wider in shape they looked interesting. The flavor to me was remarkable. Still fragrant and plump of the mediterranean air scented with oregano, tomatoes and fennel growing abound. I imagined biscotti and as I gathered my ingredients I threw in lemon and vanilla feeling it was the right melody I most felt like savoring along with my special almonds. It’s likely you too have the remaining ingredients already in your cupboard, really just flour, eggs and sugar. The cookie is strong, sweet and soft when warmed by the tongue but resilient to all else. I like that the yolks keep it from being crisp like many biscotti’s I’ve had before. This biscotti in that sense fills you like a meal. It’s a delightful breakfast and a joy to hold in hand with a to go cup of coffee on the train as I make my way to work.  

Tozzetti with candied lemon, vanilla and mandorle

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 yolks
  • 350 g sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 450 g flour sifted with 4 ½ tsp baking powder and 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 200 g mandorle (Italian almonds)
  • 2 tbsp finely minced candied lemon
  • Pinch of flaky salt

Preheat oven to 375ºF, if convection 350ºF. Blanchir the eggs with sugar and vanilla. Sift in flour mixture. Mix in the butter, almonds and lemon peel. Work with hands to make two strong logs. Set atop parchment paper and a strong baking tray, bake for 25 minutes until lightly golden. Turn oven temperature down another 50º. Cool for three minutes, and using a tea towel and a serrated knife, saw the log along a slight angle, making tozzetti shapes. It’s an important time to do this now while still hot from the oven, otherwise it will prove difficult.  Arrange slices back onto the baking tray and return to oven for five minutes. Flip the tozzetti to their other sides, and bake another five minutes. Turn the oven off, set the door slightly ajar and allow the rich glory to cool completely as the oven does.

Tozzetti with candied fennel and mandorle

The same as above, simply take away the candied lemon and vanilla. And mix in the candied fennel along with the almonds.

For candied fennel:

  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed of outer leaves
  • 300 g sugar
  • 300 g water

Dice fennel into small cubes of equal size.

Meanwhile make a simple syrup, by bringing the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Add cubed fennel and turn down the heat to a lively simmer. Continue on until fennel is plump and full of sugar, Drain and set aside fennel to cool. Either discard or reserve syrup for other uses, perhaps a dash in your seltzer. Or drizzled on your morning cantaloupe.

I am part of the summer
my bare feet spread on the warm wooden floorboards
a sense of temperature warmly like the womb
And like me, the frayed screen awry
our curling hairs
Soft wind, humming engines, play and flighted notes, a field of cilia sways
My water glass round, of the overgrown mint and the bouquets of fennel fronds set aside …

The stone building is warm, I am warm

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