Wednesday, January 21, 2015


The seed-cake of hobbit fame* has enchanted me since I read that book out loud to a friend when we were much younger than we are now. We both badly wanted that cakeI, with my herbal tea, he, with his coffee. I have come across as many versions of this fabled cake as there are individual imaginations. Various approaches include adding citrus zest or a sweet spice like cardamon, skimping on the caraway seeds or letting them rain onto the batter like a demented deluge, and augmenting with any other available crunchy seed like flax, poppy, sunflower, hemp, yup, that's right, hemp! Yet still other bakers do it gluten-free and substitute different sweeteners for sugar.

Variation is fine but to my mind the only parameter that can't be ignored is its roundness: full like a happy moon, enticing in its bedazzling completeness, and smugly satisfied with its circular solidity as Bilbo is with his own rotund belly. Not to mention that he baked it in this form. So please put those loaf pans away! Furthermore, I have divined that Bilbo when in a certain mood, would say to himself, hmmm, a little lemon icing would not be amiss.

makes a 20 cm/8 inch round
adapted from the 2008 edition of Delia's Frugal Food

  • Flour, white, plain, 170 g/10 fluid oz
  • Baking powder, 2 tsp
  • Almond meal/flour, unblanched, 50g/3 fluid oz
  • Butter, sweet, at room temperature, 120 g/4 fluid oz
  • Sugar, preferably caster (very fine texture), but regular will do, 120 g/4 fluid oz
  • Eggs, large, 3
  • Milk, whole, 2-3 T
  • Caraway seeds, 1 tsp
  • Lemon icing: 8 T of icing/confectioner's/powdered sugar & 3 T of freshly squeezed lemon juice, that is, about a small lemon

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F. Liberally butter the bottom and sides of the pan. To ensure the cake can be removed without heartbreak, the buttered bottom can be covered with a circle of buttered parchment paper. If baking a cake requiring creaming butter and sugar together, I leave the eggs, butter, and milk out on the counter for a few hours. Having no caster sugar on hand, I buzzed the regular stuff in a mini food processor for about a minute. Though a finer textured sugar will be easier to cream, the ordinary version will work also.

Start by mashing with a fork the softened butter. 

The Calm One, when spying this yellow ware bowl in a shop, said, I must have it as he grew up with such in the wilds of Yorkshire, England. Those words were uttered twenty-five years ago. And I am embarrassed to say, that is the time it took us to realise that this was not just an attractive, large mixing bowl steeped in childhood memory, but one with a particular edge. It has two feet, one on the bottom, and a slanted, flat one on the side allowing this heavy bowl to be tipped easily for blending and pouring.

The goal in creaming is that the mixture needs to be beaten until fluffy and most of the sugar crystals are invisible, though they can be felt when tasting a sample. It usually takes several minutes to get this state.

Beat in the eggs one by one.

Mix together the almond meal, flour, baking powder, sugar, and caraway seeds. Blend into the wet ingredients a third of this mixture, do another, and then finally incorporate the last.

Whole almond meal packs texture and flavour

Add enough milk to make a gloppy consistency. Spoon into the prepared pan and spread the batter evenly with the back of a metal tablespoon.

Bake for about thirty minutes or until the edges slightly pull away from the pan, the top springs back sprightly after being pressed in the centre, and when an inserted wooden skewer comes out dry. Loosen the edges with a narrow spatula and remove. Cool on a wire rack. One from the oven can be used.

Just before serving, mix up the icing and using a small pitcher, dribble/pour on the cake and let dry. Was it as good as what I imagined all those years ago? Yes! Reminiscent of biscotti, albeit a soft, tender version, it makes a wonderful breakfast or snack, especially when paired with coffee. Engaging, delightful, and fulfilling, it is the height of a simple pleasure.

Dirac the kitten is now nearly nine months old. At times, lively beyond belief, at others, quiet and composed like a Buddha, he continues to grow and to outsmart us. His latest coup is when we try to retrieve him from a room that he has decided is his personal gym, like, let's say, the kitchen, he hides under a chair, and when that chair is picked up, he darts under another...

Dirac taking a much needed rest after a vigourous game of musical chairs in the kitchen

À la prochaine!


Lemon curd almond shortbread
Irish soda bread made with caraway seeds and raisins

*[Bilbo] had a horrible thought that the cakes might run short, and then he — as the host: he knew his duty and stuck to it, however painful — he might have to go without.
‘Come along in, and have some tea!’ he managed to say after taking a deep breath.
‘A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to you, my good sir,’ said Balin with the white beard. ‘But I don’t mind some cake — seed-cake, if you have any.’
‘Lots!’ Bilbo found himself answering, to his surprise; and he found himself scuttling off , too, to the cellar to fill a pint beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.
--J.R.R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Thyme Panisse with Green Peppercorn Yogurt Sauce

Chickpeas are an appreciated ingredientespecially as a flourin Provencal cuisine. My own appreciation started during my New York City childhood. While my peers peeked in the cookie jar, I cruised the pantry for tinned chickpeas which I often would gobble straight from the can. Savoury candy, as it were. Their warm colour, robust creaminess, and endearing form resembling partially popped corn captivated me.

Panisse, if you are wondering, are deep-fried chickpea sticks

The night before, I cook the chickpea flour in the stock, pour this batter into a pan, and leave it overnight in the fridge. At this time, I also mix up the sauce as its flavour mellows while it shares fridge space with the panisse. However just an hour is enough cold-time to allow the slicing of batons and to smooth out the sauce.

makes about thirty-five 7.5 cm/3 inch fries, about 1.25 cm/.5 inch thick
  • Chickpea flour, 115 grams/8 fluid oz
  • Chicken stock, unsalted (veggie stock or water could be substituted), 475 ml/16 fluid oz
  • Thyme, dried, 1/2 tsp
  • Salt, 1 tsp
  • If using veggie stock or water, olive oil, 1 T
  • Vegetable oil for frying, enough for a 5 cm/2 inch high level in a medium-large sauce pan (I used about a liter/quart of sunflower, 1/4 of which was reused oil which helps in crisping the fries)

Dipping Sauce
can be doubled if so desired
  • Yogurt, plain, 120 ml/4 fluid oz
  • Tomato paste, 1 T
  • Green peppercorns, freshly crushed, 1/8 to 1/4 tsp
  • Sherry vinegar, a drop or two

Put the stock, thyme, and salt in a medium saucepan. Gradually stir in the chickpea flour. It most likely will be a bit lumpy. Turn on the heat to medium-low and while it cooks, whisk frequently. Whisk and simmer for about five minutes or until it is very thick, smooth, and has no raw taste.

Remove from heat and promptly pour into a well oiled, 20 cm/8 inch square casserole/baking pan. Working fast, as it congeals quickly, level the surface with the back of a metal tablespoon. Cover with plastic wrap, foil, or a lid. Put in fridge.

Green peppercorns after being crushed gradually become less piquant. So if piquant is your thing then crush them (with the back of a metal spoon) and add them to the sauce close to serving time.

If not, blend them into the yogurt and tomato paste. Add a drop or so of sherry vinegar. Salt to taste. Put in fridge.

The next day, flip the solid panisse out of the pan onto a cutting board.

Those creases in the corners were caused by sluggish leveling

Cut into sticks. Any wrinkled area will be harder from which to get nice clean slices. Don't worry as those odds and ends will still taste great. You may have to fish them out of the hot oil sooner than the others.

Heat the oil over medium flame. To test for adequate temperature, insert the handle of a wooden spoon. If hot enough, the oil will release a steady stream of small bubbles from the end of the handle. I used a metal skimmer for both putting them in the pot and for taking them out. A metal sieve with a handle would work also. If you have a deep fryer, then you are sitting pretty. Don't crowd the little ones and fry them in several batches. They will float up to the top fairly soon. If not, then a gentle nudge with the skimmer may be in order.

Let them cook for about five minutes until crisp and brown. Blot with paper towels.

The dipping sauce complements not only the taste of the fries, but also its nutrition, upping its protein boost. Crunchiness and molten lusciousness are at their most delectable when the panisse are served hot. However, they are still tasty and fun to eat when tepid or cold. Since frying, if done properly, is closer to steaming, don't shy away from embracing your inner sizzler from time to time.

Dirac the Kitten has taken lately to communing with a fleece lap throw that has the same degree of softness and shade of colour as he has. If it is draped over my shoulders while I sit at the computer, Dirac will squirm up between it and my back making me look as if I have a mobile hump. If its fate is to be on the floor, after a brief and albeit gentle tussel, he becomes enveloped in its folds. If it is innocently crumpled on a chair, we first need to make sure there is not a Dirac within before sitting down.

The other day, I removed the fleecy/furry unit from my back, almost dislocating my shoulders in completing this most delicate task. Once this wriggling grey mass was placed gingerly on my desk, the in situ bliss continued.

À la prochaine!


Making chicken stock
Eating chickpea socca ('pancakes') in the south of France
Green peppercorn veggie flan
Sweet red pepper/green bean pakora (chickpea flour fritters)
Making vegetable stock

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

Though a mug of simple hot cocoa is welcomed daily chez nous during the winter months, sometimes one clamours for a hot chocolate with a dramatic flair, unctuous richness, and cordial sophistication. Is there a powdered mix that can pull that off? Nope! Only by whisking together milk with added cream and a copious amount of high-quality dark chocolate over moderate heat can such a phenomenal presentation be made. To make a lasting impression, slosh some salted caramel sauce into the bottom of the glass or cup before pouring this aromatic elixir.

makes approximately two 6 fluid oz/175 ml servings, adapted from Vanessa's recipe

  • Salted caramel sauce, 2 heaping T, my recipe here
  • Chocolate, dark/bittersweet, cocoa content of at least 70%, 85 grams/3 dry oz, broken into small pieces
  • Milk, whole, 4 fluid oz/120 ml
  • Cream, heavy, 4 fluid oz/120 ml

Combine the milk and cream. Put two fluid ounces/60 ml of this mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the chocolate. Whisk over moderate heat.

It takes a couple of minutes for the chocolate to melt completely.

Slowly add the rest of the cream/milk, all the while, whisking. Once smooth, carefully stir with a wooden spoon to ensure that everything is indeed melted. Heat until there is a slight bubbling around the edge which should take a few minutes.

Put a heaping tablespoon of salted caramel sauce into each glass.

Pour the hot chocolate. Stir to introduce the chocolate to the caramel. Nice to meet you!

The only thing that can make me feel more marvelous than this kissed-with-caramel, liquid dessert truffle masquerading as hot chocolate is if the recalcitrant genie I keep in a small brass lamp finally grants my wish to drink from the fountain of youth.

My new year resolution: turn off the flash when photographing Dirac the kitten. This way, we all get to see his gorgeous hazel eyes.

His teething is mostly over but there are times that it is necessary for me to stick a hacky sack into his adorable mouth, especially those times when he is gazing at my neck in that sneaky vampire manner of his.

Not a sleepy Dirac, but just temporarily made purblind by my inconsiderate use of the flash

À la prochaine!


How to make chocolate sauce and chocolate truffles

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Season's Greetings!

Dirac the kitten, The Calm One, and I all wish you the happiest of holidays! Laugh, eat up a storm, pet the furry one(s) you love, and don't forget to do something especially nice just for yourself. 

My apple pie recipe is here (sans cheddar in the crust)

Dirac already told us what he will be doing. Catching up on his reading!

He has many catalogs to browse...

See you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Parmesan Polenta with Tomato Sauce (Quick Recipes Series)

Polenta if made with the fast cooking variety presents its sunny goodness in minutes. Mounded in a bowl, it invitingly glistens. A possible response? Make an ample indentation, sprinkle some Parmesan, pour in a simple, easily made tomato sauce, and top with more cheese!

provides a huge serving for a very hungry person
  • Polenta, quick cooking (I used fine grain), 120 ml/4 fluid ounces
  • Water, 355 ml/12 fluid oz
  • Tomato paste, 3 T to be diluted with 8 T of water
  • Garlic, one large clove, minced
  • Thyme, dried, 1/4 tsp
  • Olive oil, 1 T
  • Parmesan, freshly grated, 2 heaping T plus some 'ribbons' made with a veggie peeler for garnishing
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put the 355 ml/12 fluid oz of water into a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil.  In a skillet, saute minced garlic in olive oil for a minute or two over medium low heat, and then add the tomato paste and thyme.

Carefully pour in eight tablespoons of water and blend.

Simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Reserve and keep warm.

Into the boiling water, very gradually add the polenta in a fine rain, all the while stirringContinue to stir over low heat and simmer for a few minutes. Test taste to see if it's cooked to your preference. Pile into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and line it with one heaping tablespoon of Parmesan.

Puddle some sauce.

Scatter another heaping tablespoon of cheese and finish with cheese ribbons.

Dwarf snapdragons are still blooming chez nous!

This colourful duo of polenta and tomato sauce are made for each other. The sauce brings to each substantial spoonful of warming porridge a fragrant reminder of summer.

Dirac the kitten often assists in my publishing posts at Souped-up Garden. Here he is identifying some prose needing revision.

He attentively observes my editing.

He thoughtfully approves.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Quick Coffee Cake

Coffee cakes which are raised with yeast and served when still warm from the oven are my preference. Their steamy softness emitting a whiff of spice and topped either with buttery crumbs or a plain icing makes me happy that an aromatic, invigorating brown liquid exists.

But this type takes time. My culinary bible, Fannie Farmer, to the rescue! It contains a recipe for a baking powder version whose simple cinnamon sugar topping becomes transformed into a carmelised crust which seals in moisture. Barely an hour is needed to put a freshly baked delice on the table!

makes nine approximately 2.5 inch/6.5 cm squares

  • Sugar, white, 200 grams/8 fluid oz
  • Flour, white, 245 grams/14 fluid oz
  • Baking powder, 2 tsp
  • Butter, sweet, 60 grams/4 T (cold and cut into small pieces)
  • Egg, large, 1, slightly beaten
  • Milk, whole, 1 dL/4 fluid oz
  • Topping:  1 T sugar mixed with 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • If desired, cake squares can be split and filled with lemon curd, recipe here (decrease sugar by 2 T because this cake is pretty sweet)

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch/20 cm square pan. Mix the sugar, the flour, and the baking powder in a large bowl.

Work in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

Add the egg and milk...

...and blend till mostly smooth.

Spoon into pan. Shake to level out the thick batter. If required, smooth out to the edges with a wet, metal tablespoon. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly all over the top.

Bake for about thirty minutes or until the sides pull away just a bit and when the centre is pressed it springs back slightly. Served warm, this cake has a pleasing doughy crumb and a crust close to toffee in taste and texture. It still is pretty good when completely cooled and in that state it can be easily split and filled with lemon curd. You are right if you are thinking that I didn't wait for either the cake or the curd to cool completely. Hence the yellow lava flow.

A fabulous pairing!

Dirac the kitten is slated to start a course where he will learn not to run in circles around my computer screen. Well, at least not continuously for thirty minutes. Yes, he is still teething and thank goodness for hacky sacks and the international conglomerate who inserts them in our cereal boxes.

One half of the circle: back of the screen

The other half of the circle:  front of the screen

À la prochaine!