Friday, 27 March 2009

David Bann

It has long been a running joke in my relationship with T that just as he will never get me to go McDonalds, he will never eat at David Bann's.

Last night T and I ventured to David Bann's for a vegetarian dinner.

I am still not going to McDonalds though.

Unlike many vegetarian restaurants, David Bann looks pretty classy. There are no ethnic knick-knacks or waitresses wearing clogs and some knitted trousers from Thailand. While I am partial to the odd bout of hippyness, I am also partial to going to fancy restaurants.

I started off with the Thai fritters, while T had leek and tomato tartlet. The Thai fritters had smoked tofu in, and I wanted to see if a vegetarian chef could make tofu taste good! They were nicely crispy, but the spicyness of them overwhelmed the peas and ginger. The mango chutney was also a bit less flavourful than I would have hoped. These were minor criticisms though, and T enjoyed the forkful I sent his way. T seemed to enjoy the tartlet too, leaving only a few crumbs on the plate.

Next up T had mushroom and cashew curry, with rice fritters. Generally it lived up to his high curry standards, but he was a little disappointed that it had more of a focus on the cashew than the mushroom. I had the chilli with smoked cheese and chocolate coriander sauce, served in a wrap. The chilli was very rich, and I didn't make it through the whole dish. The smoked cheese was dotted throughout the wrap, which meant every other mouthful had a delicious creamy element to it. The chocolate and coriander was not that discernable, and on the whole I think I could recreate this pretty well at home. However, the real star of this dish was the guacamole. It had just the right amount of lime and chilli, so the flavour was deliciously bright and zingy. Even though I couldn't finish some of the bean chilli, I made sure every scrap of guacamole was devoured!

We finished our meal with coffee and desserts. I had the cinnamon apple fritter with ginger ice cream. The spicing was a little strong, although the soft apple worked nicely with the crispy batter, and the hot fritters were contrasted against the ice cream. T's ice cream was served on tiny wafers, and the range of flavours to choose from was very varied.

I think we were both pleasantly surprised about how the menu was designed so that meat was not obviously missing. I don't mind vegetarian food, although T is a hardened carnivore, so it was a very unusual experience for him. Although the final bill was fairly expensive once wine and service had been added in, if the restaurant had served meat I think you would looking at £17-20 for a main course instead of £10-12. In this respect, we got a quality of cooking and service that you would normally expect to pay much more for.

If T ever recovers from eating vegetarian food (and even, dare I say, enjoying it) then we'll definitely be back one day.

David Bann's Vegetarian on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Hazelnut Financiers

I made another attempt at Financiers yesterday, but this time I made sure I had all the ingredients to hand!

I purchased a rather pricey bag of ground hazelnuts from Real Foods and decided to use this instead of ground almonds. The hazelnut flavour was quite subtle, and the skins of the hazelnuts created a nice flecked pattern in the cake.

Hazelnut Financiers (adapted from Paris Sweets)

180g unsalted butter
180g sugar
80g ground hazelnut
20g ground almond
5 large egg whites
2 tsps vanilla essence (I made mine with brandy for an extra kick)
100g plain flour

1) Melt the butter until it is boiling, and and the milk solids start to brown. If you taste it, it should taste nutty but not burnt. Leave it to cool but do not let it solidify.
2) In a pan, mix the sugar, nuts and egg, stirring over a low heat until it is smooth. Stir it constantly otherwise you might end with scrambled eggs at the bottom! The hazelnuts mean the mixture will look off-white, but it is ready when it feels hot (not warm) to touch.
3) Add in the vanilla essence, and the flour. Mix gently until combined.
4) Pour in the melted butter. Fold the mixture together, this may take some time.
5) Put in an airtight container and leave to chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
6) Preheat the oven to 200C, and grease up your tins. I used a 12 hole muffin tin, although financiers are traditionally made in an ingot shape.
7) Fill each mould about 2/3 full. At this stage you can decorate the tops with a small piece of fruit or a nut.
8) Bake for 12-13 minutes until golden, remove from the tins and leave to cool on a rack.

They should be crunchy on the outside, but soft and cakey inside, with a hint of a nutty flavour. If I had some chocolate lying around (it's very unusual for me not to have some emergency chocolate somewhere) I'd make a little ganache topping to go with the hazelnuts.

Unfortunately I committed the cardinal sin of baking... I opened the oven door after a few minutes as I'd left a sausage roll in there that was starting to burn. This meant that some of them were very crispy, but the other financiers were a little soft and underdone. It didn't make too much of difference if you were only eating one, but knowing that they were meant to be crispy on the outside it was a bit disappointing to find them a bit softer than expected.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Breadwinner

T got me a voucher for an afternoon at the Breadwinner Bakery, which is a short walk from my flat. They are a wholesale bakery, but from October to March they open their kitchens on a Saturday afternoon and teach baking techniques. I signed up for a pastry lesson, as I'm pretty good with cakes and bread, but have never had that much success with pastry.

We started by making a croissant dough. Fresh yeast was mixed with water and flour, then left to ferment. While that was getting going, we mixed the first stage of a puff pastry, as well as a wholemeal shortcrust pastry.

While the puff pastry was chilling, we added sugar, salt and egg to the yeast starter. This was again left to rest, this time in the fridge. The timing of the afternoon was very cleverly set up so that there was always something to do. While the croissant dough and the puff pastry were resting, we made the shortcrust in to mini-quiches.

The most exciting thing for me was learning how to laminate dough. I've attempted puff-pastry before, but it was a complete disaster. I found the illustrated instructions in Leiths very confusing, it was like trying to read a book on origami. Being shown how to do it was much easier, plus the baker, Sean, and his assistant, Craig, came round our benches and offered advice and help where necessary! It was very reassuring to have them check whether your mixture was too runny, too stiff, too dry, too sticky, and even better when they helped you correct it!

Something I've realised from living with people who aren't used to cooking is how much you rely on just "knowing" when something is right. One of my ex-flatmates used to complain that her food was always bad, even though she followed the recipe exactly. That was the problem, if it said brown the onions for 10 minutes, she'd do it for 10 minutes even though the onions were brown after 5, and black after 7. Given that I've been cooking fairly frequently for the past 15 or so years, I've acquired this skill for most things, but my inexperience in the pastry arena meant I wasn't entirely confident that things were on track all the time.

We had a coffee break in possibly the only staff-room with a full on espresso machine! After a latte, some pizza and a bannoffee cupcake, it was back to work. As the croissant and puff pastry take hours to make (you have to work on them in stages, with long periods of resting in-between), we were given doughs that had been made earlier, in true Blue Peter style. We made croissants, cherry and raspberry danish pastries, sausage rolls and banana tarte tatins.

Very low quality photo of high quality goodies!

I came back with two palettes of baked goods, plus the unfinished croissant and puff pastry doughs.

I am definitely more comfortable working with pastry now, and feel more confident about attempting things like croissants. I am going to try to get to the bread class and the cake class too, as I think even though I am more experienced in those areas, there would still be lots for me to learn.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Ice Cream

A late Christmas present turned up last month, and it was the Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book. It's a bit of a tricky one, as as well as having American measurements, it has lots of American ingredients. I had to google what a Heath Bar was.

I made ice cream once before (apple crumble flavour) and I made it with a custard base. I had the impression that good ice cream was made with a custard base, but none of the Ben & Jerry's recipes follow this. A quick look in Leiths revealed there were three methods: custard base, mousse base, and all in one. The Ben & Jerry's recipes seem to mostly all in one, but there are a few mousse ones too. I decided to see how a custard base stood up to an all in one base, and whether there would be any difference in taste.

Before starting, the only difference between the recipes seemed to be that B&J used whole eggs, whereas Leiths only used the yolks. Leiths didn't have a custard-based vanilla recipe, so I went for a hybrid version of a coffee ice-cream and creme-anglais recipe. B&J also wanted me to use extract, but I wanted to use vanilla beans, so I adapted that recipe a bit too.

Ben & Jerry's

I made this using the Sweet Cream Base that appears frequently throughout the book. I infused the double cream with a split vanilla pod, and used vanilla sugar instead of plain. After whipping the eggs and the sugar, I added whole milk and the cream. The mixture was very runny, and produced a much larger amount than I expected. I put half in the freezer and half in the fridge to use as a base for another flavour.

When I went back 30 minutes later to whisk out any ice crystals, it had already frozen quite well. I was a little worried when the lumps didn't seem to whisk out as easily as I'd hoped, but when I tasted one, it was smooth, not icy.


I began by infusing scalded milk with a vanilla pod, and then whisked an egg yolk with a small amount of vanilla sugar. Once the milk had infused, I added in the egg mixture and stirred for a full 25 minutes before the custard thickened. I actually managed to get twinges in my tendons from the intense stirring!

Then I mixed in a little double cream to loosen the custard, and froze it. Again it was quite lumpy after the first couple of whiskings, but when I tasted the lumps they were obviously icy unlike the B&J mixture. After a few whiskings, it was less icy.

As you can see from the picture, the ice cream looked very similar, although the custard based one was frozen harder than the Ben & Jerry, which was almost soft scoop.

I prefer a firmer ice cream, so I was instantly more excited about trying the custard base. Tasting the mixes before and during the freezing process, I had preferred the custard base as it was richer and creamier.

However, when faced with a whole scoop rather than a teaspoon-full, the Ben and Jerry mix won over. The custard base was too rich to eat lots of, and had a slightly unpleasantly "eggy" taste that didn't seem right. Also, the vanilla flavour was very intense, almost chemical. The Ben & Jerry's was still rich, but the vanilla taste was more subtle. Both had small ice crystals, but I suspect this was due to me going out for a few hours instead of staying home and churning them as I should have!

I suspect that either of these ice creams would go well with a dessert, but the B&J is more suitable for eating on its own than the custard one. I think it would be very difficult to tell the difference between the two methods if you tasted the ice creams separately. It was only tasting them back to back that the differences became clear.

The left-over B&J base is going to become rhubarb and custard flavour over the weekend, and now that I am sure that I can produce a decent all-in-one ice cream without a churning machine, I can't wait to try some of the other recipes in the book!

EDIT: Custard base went very well with the Breadwinner Banana Tatins.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Dining alone

I am probably one of the few people in the world who prefers to eat out alone. I know this makes me sound like a misanthrope, but let me explain...

I tend to eat out for lunch, partly because I can't afford dinner, but mainly due to my forgetfulness on the packed lunch front. I have good intentions, but I prefer to come home for a hot lunch, especially in the cold weather. However, the distance I live from uni, plus cooking times, means that to get a decent lunch I need a two hour gap. What tends to happen is that I forget about a project meeting, a tutorial overruns, or I end up spending longer than planned looking for a book in the library. Suddenly my two hour gap is gone and I decide to get lunch out. (Actually, it's probably raining and I'm grumpy and can't be bothered to walk home.)

I've realised in the last year or so that going for lunch alone is usually better than trying to get people to come with me. I like to try new places, whereas a lot of my friends always want to go to the same place (a rather nice falafel take away, but there is only so many chickpea based dishes I can take). I also don't like having to deal with other people's food issues. My sister has a lot of food allergies, and my brother is picky, so as a family there were only a few restaurants we visited. It's marginally better now we are all grown up, but when they came to visit me in Edinburgh last summer I spent at least an hour online researching menus to find somewhere everyone could eat something.

The other day I went out for coffee with my flatmate. The cafe is one of my favourites, and I was looking forward to relaxing with a cappuccino and and a delicious baked good. Instead, my flatmate went up to the counter, decided it was too crowded, and ordered to take away. We sat outside in the drizzle and wind, trying to eat cake out of a cardboard box. Then she complained that the icing from the cake had made her hands sticky and that the cake was too hard to eat as it was crumbly. If I'd had my way, we would have waited two minutes for a table, and enjoyed our cake from a plate with a fork.

I also hate it when people complain about the price. If I wanted to eat with the bare minimum of cost, I wouldn't be eating out in the first place. Obviously some places are better value than others, but for me, the price consideration includes the quality of the food. Peter's Yard in the Meadows is probably more expensive than many other coffee shops, but the coffee is easily one of the best in Edinburgh, and the food is much higher quality (and more interesting) than the many other coffee shops serving up ham and cheese paninis and mediocre coffee. When the difference between the total bill is a pound or two, the extra quality in the food is worth that to me. I don't want my enjoyment of a well cooked meal with good ingredients being ruined by someone who just sees food as "fuel" complaining that Burger King does a 99p deal that would have been better.

I suppose it's not really because I don't like eating with other people, it's more because lunch is an important thing for me. I don't have enough money to eat out as much as I would like, so when I do go it's a treat. I don't want my treat spoiled by other people not appreciating it in the same way I do. It's the same kind of feeling as when somebody hates your favourite book or film. I want to enjoy my lunch, and I want the people I'm with to enjoy it too. I don't want to worry about money or other "real world' problems. I want to eat a bowl of soup with some bread, drink a decent coffee and dream that one day I could do something foody instead of just overly savouring my lunch breaks.

I need to find myself a lunch buddy. In first year, I went out for lunch every week with a friend, but that has tailed off a bit now as our schedules don't match up in the same way they did. I guess I should also make the most of lunch out while I can, the job I have got for September is in an office in a business park so opportunities for eating out are limited to a burger van and the on-site canteen. Then I really will have to work the packed lunches!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Still ill and ongoing guilt

I have been ill for the past 6 weeks, and it is making things very difficult. I am feeling a bit better lately but I'm still not completely over it. I have an extension on my dissertation and coursework, but as I am still ill it still isn't moving as fast as I would like.

As I lost my appetite, I have barely cooked anything over the past few weeks, plus I didn't want to bake anything sharable in case I spread my germs around.

At the weekend I had a craving for custard, so ended up with 6 egg whites leftover. I'd noticed in "Paris Sweets" that there was a recipe for financiers, which only used egg whites.

The main problem with living in a flat share is that ingredients disappear. I had bought enough butter to make these specially, but when I came to make it, there was only 150g left. I used this to make beurre noisette and topped it up to 180g with vegetable oil. That was the only real mishap, and the rest of the recipe went smoothly, although I used muffin tins rather than the traditional ingot shapes.

I am not a massive fan of almonds, but was pleasantly surprised by the way they turned out. They had a similar taste to madeleines, but the texture was the best part. Outside was crispy and a touch chewy, but inside was soft and fluffy. I have some egg whites in T's freezer, so I will defrost them to make this again soon. I saw a variation on the internet that used ground hazlenuts instead of almonds, which is a very intriguing prospect. I managed to find some ground hazlenuts at the local health food shop, so will be giving this another go sometime soon.

I was also very excited to see Falko making a baumkuchen on "Rachel Allen's Bake" tv show on Saturday. It was cooked on a spit!