Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Ultimate Ginger Cake Recipe

Felicity's perfect ginger cake. Photograph: Felicity Cloake
What better way to spend a frosty Saturday afternoon than baking this perfect specimen of a cake? That is, after one has finished one's writing for the day. Put that vacuum away, forget the windows! Here's the recipe and a link to the full article by Felicity:  Perfect Ginger Cake

I'd add my chaos-comments but I have to finish my blog post for Mslexia. You'll find me here.

100g butter, plus extra to grease
100g dark muscovado sugar
175g self-raising flour
4 tsp ground ginger
175g golden syrup
3 tbsp ginger wine
2 free-range eggs, beaten
Walnut-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
150g candied ginger, finely chopped
75g icing sugar
1 piece of stem ginger, to decorate

1. Preheat the oven to 160C and grease and line a 23cm loaf tin. Cream together the butter and sugar with a pinch of salt until fluffy. Sift together the flour and ground ginger.
2. Pour in the golden syrup (the easiest way to handle the syrup is with a lightly greased spoon and a silicone spatula) and 1 tbsp wine and mix to combine.
3. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, then gradually mix in the flour. Finally, stir through the fresh and candied ginger and spoon into the prepared tin. Level the top and bake for about 50–60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
4. Allow to cool in the tin. When it's completely cool, make the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and remaining ginger wine and drizzle over the top of the cake. Slice the stem ginger thinly and arrange down the centre of the cake.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blog Fling

I’ll be blogging over at The Mslexia Blog for the next three months and thought I’d kick this off with a summer aperitif. Even though it’s hard to imagine enjoying a cocktail at a street café on a sunny afternoon when the misty rain insists on continuing. 

The theme of my blog residency is The Love of Writing Compared to The Love of Cooking. Now what do these two things have in common? Everything starts with a dilemma; a problem that needs solving. Out springs a bright idea that I think is as good as when the wheel was invented. This evolves to some sort of planning, then chaos, then the clean-up and an eventual surrender to discipline. And this results in a readable story or an edible meal. So I hope.

So, you have a choice of two alcoholic cocktails, favorites here at the cafes in Germany. And one non-alcoholic cocktail as well:

Try an Aperol Spritz

(Aka lovely, poison-orange liquid in a wine glass.) Here’s the 3-2-1 principle. Three parts white wine or prosecco, two parts Aperol and one part sparkling water. For example: 60 ml wine, 40 ml Aperol and one splash of sparkling water. Add an orange slice and some ice and you’re set!

Or try a Hugo:

(could be compared to a Mojito, but fruitier and much lighter) Why don’t we mix a pitcher while we’re at it? Take 500 ml prosecco, 100 ml elder blossom syrup, 3 limes, some mint leaves and a splash of sparkling water. Crush the mint leaves and the lime in the bottom of a glass pitcher. Slowly add the prosecco, then the elder blossom syrup and top it off with a shot of sparkling water.  Can also be served in a wine glass but a cocktail glass will do fine.

Non-alcoholic Hugo can be prepared with an alcohol-free prosecco or with a sparkling water and a name-brand lime juice.

Click here to see all the Mslexia Guest Bloggers

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Greetings From the Chaos Kitchen

Picture courtesy of Cat's Eye
Laura's Chaos Cooking Tip #4: Cook clear and concentrated when confronted with Death By Chocolate

Alone in a kitchen with baking ingredients. Somewhere in Germany, 9:30 am

Quick breads are exactly what they claim to be. Quick. If you follow the recipe. My favorite is a basic banana bread. But I don’t want banana bread. I want chocolate. I want Death By Chocolate.

This basic banana bread recipe calls for flour, sugar, an egg, some butter and about a cup of bananas. Some vanilla, some salt and some sort of raising agents.

Ok, something dry, something wet and some grease. I can do that.

I need a cup of something wet and mushy like bananas: so I start with 150 grams of melted dark chocolate and mix that with cream cheese until it looks nice and creamy.

Heart is starting to pump faster and I haven’t even had any coffee yet.

Add 1 cup dark brown sugar, a packet of vanilla sugar and I put in 2 eggs because I have the feeling this needs more moisture. Add butter: let’s use olive oil instead and pretend to be healthy, about 4 tablespoons. Add 1 cup of whole-meal spelt flour, a dash of salt and 1 teaspoon baking powder and, what the heck, a half cup of cocoa. Remember, this is Death By Chocolate.

Thinking is becoming sharper.

Mash that all together and see if it’s moist enough. A splash of olive oil to sink the cholesterol levels and we’re ready to go.

Now who says you have to bake this fast? I think I’ll drop the temp down to like 300° (150° C.) Put the whole mess in a greased loaf pan an away she goes!

The icing: Yes, icing. How about something like Aunt Cathy’s never-fail fudge recipe? I just can’t find it anymore. (Note to self: get that recipe so I can share with you guys, it’s wonderful.)

Melt yet more dark chocolate and add sweetened condensed milk. I don’t know how much but you have to get it off the heat before it gets weird and then stir the daylights out of it. Set it aside but don’t refrigerate it because it will get all hard again. We want it soft and spreadable.

Thoughts are racing. Is this ‘fight or flight’ or a sugar rush?

As I write, this wonderful creation is baking away, the outer crust almost frying in the greased loaf pan. Now I need a cigarette.

Chaos Tip #4a: Always set the timer.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Franconian Legend


Once upon a time, a German guitar maker had a dream. What if he made an electric bass in the shape of a violin? And, what if one landed in a Hamburg shop and some guy from Liverpool bought it because he could turn it around and play it left-handed? Well, he did and it did and he did and the rest is history.

Nick Wass and Steve Russell have finally put together this legend in one neatly-bound book. And guess what? Now available for pre-order, this book is due for release on May 17 from Centerstream Publishing – “Hofner The Complete Violin Bass Story”.

Check pre-order details here at amazon.com

This book makes a detailed look at this iconic bass, from its inception in 1955 through to the present day and includes all of the re-issue story and the little known Japanese connection! With 320 pages and numerous superb photographs this book is sure to please owners and collectors of the World’s most famous bass.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Greetings from the Chaos Kitchen

Image courtesy of About.com

Laura’s Chaos Cooking Tip #3: Prove your prowess by puzzling out The Pulled Pork Predicament

Or: Spend hours cooking trying to come up with a new name for this dish

Like any chaos-cooking session, I like to start with those millions of internet recipes. Usually there’s some sort of basic thread to follow and I have a framework where I can move about freely. That is not the case with pulled pork.

There seems to be forums dedicated to the perfection of the pulled pork experience. Some smoke the meat, some bake it but general consensus is that the best way to make this is in a slow cooker. 

I don’t have a slow cooker. The last time I looked for one in Germany, they were like 250€. At that time I bought a pressure cooker instead coz that cooks the daylights out of meat too. But I don’t want to do that now. I want to perfect this experience.

Well-known huge internet shop to the rescue! There’s a German importer who posts slow-cookers from England and ships ready-to-go with an adapter for our plugs. Ordered on Tuesday, it is on my door step on Thursday. 

Now I have to sort out the cut-of-meat thing. More surfing is necessary. I find maps of The Body-of-Swine, find the English words and throw them into the handy-dandy Leo translator. Now we’re set to go and buy a five-pound slab of pig neck.  

I want to do my own barbeque sauce, so I’m going make this up. I start with two red peppers, a large sweet onion and brown them in oil in a large pot. Throw some garlic in there, powdered paprika and before it burns, add 1 liter pureed, unseasoned tomato sauce. Now open the condiments cabinet and throw everything in there that seems like it would fit to barbeque sauce. Chipotole Tabasco, Old Bay, Worschestststser Sauce (those crazy Brits!), brown sugar, sugar-beet syrup, catsup, mustard. My family aren’t really spicy eaters, so I keep it mild and sweet. Salt, pepper. Cook for a few hours then puree the whole thing with your destructive implement of choice. Set aside.

Since I want to make this for Sunday lunch, the fun starts around 9 pm. I cut the slab of pig neck into five pieces trying not to spill the wine cup or cut my fingers off with my dull knives. (I am not allowed to have sharp knives.) The unbrowned meat (there are forums dedicated to the browning question!) goes into the slow-cooker with 500ml of jarred beef broth and a few ladles of my sauce, just enough that the meat is covered with liquid. Now I had read somewhere that some people cook the meat in water. That’s plain gross. I’ve heard of using beer, broth, one could use wine if there was any left. Root beer sounds really good, too.

The slow-cooker is now set on low. Wine in hand, the weekend is saved!

Sunday morning, 10am.

Now the whole house smells like meat. I shut off the slow-cooker and examine my patient and wonder what to do now. Ok, I read somewhere that I could reduce this liquid and use it in the sauce. So I set the meat aside and reduce the juice in a pot on the stove right down until about a quarter of it is left and then top it up with my barbeque sauce.

The pork is then shredded with forks. Never did I pull this. Never.

Back in the slow-cooker, the meat is then dribbled with sauce. I didn’t put all of it in. I thought they might like to add their own.

By the way, this gets put in a roll. I would suggest a crusty kind of hard roll.  I had to explain this to those not yet enlightened.

At some point we had made cole-slaw, too. Must have been when the juice was reducing. I have a great recipe and if you’d like it, let me know.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Greetings from the Chaos Kitchen

Laura's Chaos-Cooking Tip #2: Survive the snow by serving steamy soup!

On my way to PA today! And it's still friggin' snowing there and here in Germany, too. I can't wait to cook with my big sister this weekend. I'm sure she can't wait to have me in her kitchen.

Now, there's a big soup discussion going on over at Terrible Minds today. And I love soup coz you can throw just about anything (presumably edible) in there. So I thought I'd share one of my favorites with you.

Hokkaido Soup (Hokkaido is a little, dark-orange pumpkin from Japan that you don't have to peel).

Take one hokkaido and wash it. Cut off the stem, cut it open, remove the seeds and cut it all into cubes. You might have a bowl full, that's enough.

Peel a big onion. If you don't have a big one, then peel two or three little ones depending on if you even like onions. And a couple of cloves of garlic while you're at it. Chop it all up. Heat a big pot, pour in some oil, (a few splashes is good. I like cold-extracted olive oil) throw the onions in first, let them cook a bit and then throw in the garlic. If you like curry, you could sprinke curry over the oily frying onions until the smell makes your mouth water, then it's enough. Then pour something liquid over the top. Like that white wine you're sipping. Or vegetable broth. Homemade lamb stock is really good if you're not serving to vegan friends.

Ok, Hokkaido, go! Throw that in, unpeeled, of course. Add four peeled and cubed potatoes to help thicken. Cover it all up with broth (that's enough wine!) Cover the pot and set a timer if you're going back online or, um, going back to your writing. Twenty minutes unless you find yourself composing a volume-sized comment on some blog or another. When you come back you'll be surprised how fast that cooked. It should be really mushy.

Puree the soup now using your favorite kitchen utensil. If you're serving to meat-eaters, you can add creme fraisch or real sour cream. For our vegan friends, soy cream does nicely, too. Salt and pepper to taste. Add fresh grated ginger and serve. Serving suggestions: top with roasted pumpkin seeds and a little spash of pumpkin seed oil.  

Guten Appetit!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Greetings from the Chaos Kitchen

Tear-and-Share Vegan Bread by TheVeganWoman.com

Laura’s Chaos-Cooking Tip #1:  Beat the winter blahs with bread baking. Yeast dough smells yummy when it’s rising, kneading dough is a fun way to let off some steam and you get to punch the daylights out of something!

But isn’t bread baking hard? No, not at all. All you need is yeast, flour, water and salt.

First, skim some sort of recipe. Just look one up on the internet. I found a vegan recipe, just follow the link up there, by googling ‘vegan bread recipes.’

Ok, flour, salt, powdered yeast, soy milk and something else. After skimming the recipe, go into the kitchen and see what you have in the pantry. Well, I don’t think we can buy powdered yeast, but I have these little 40 gram blocks of fresh yeast. Is that still vegan? Yeast, check. Flour, check. I don’t want to use soy milk in bread, how about olive oil? Check. Doesn’t yeast need sugar to feed on? I read that somewhere. Sugar, check. Water, duh. This is the twenty-first century.

Dump the flour in a bowl and make a depression in the middle. I don’t know why, just do it. Mix the yeast with lukewarm water and a teaspoon of sugar and stir it until it dissolves. This part has to be right. If the water is too hot, the yeast will die! And I just throw the whole block in because what am I going to do with a half a lump of yeast?

Now you may open the wine bottle.

Pour the yeast mixture into the flour. Throw in some salt. A teaspoon looks about right. Pour the olive oil over the top. Maybe four tablespoons. I don’t like to dirty a spoon, so I count. One banana, two banana, three banana, four…tablespoons. Then get your hands in there and mix it up.

Man, this looks really dry and crumbly. How much flour is in a bag? I already threw the empty bag in the fire. Checking a pizza dough recipe, I notice that 500 grams of flour would have been enough. And looking in the drawer at another bag, I notice that the bag was a whole kilo.

Pour a big glass of wine, get out the half a lump of yeast that is still in the fridge (oh, that’s what you can do with that!) Mix with water, who cares how hot, get out the oil and one banana, two banana…

Sip wine.

Get your hands back in there. Mix it around until it starts to look like dough. Ok, this looks better. Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth and let stand for about an hour and a half in a warm, draft-free corner of the kitchen where no mice will go. Grab the wine and get out of the kitchen.

Don’t panic when you come back coz it’s ALIVE! Now picture someone who you might have a beef with and punch that sucker in the face. Funnily enough it feels like flesh. Punch punch punch punch! Take it out of the bowl and throw it onto a floured board and punch some more. Some may call this kneading, but I call it stress-management.

Now, there’s lots of turns this scenario could take. One could slice the dough into small handfuls and make rolls. Maybe stick some of those big Spanish olives inside or some fresh chopped herbs and sautéed garlic. Or some vegan cashew cheese. One can bake half of the dough and put the rest in the fridge for the next day.

Punch punch punch sip gulp.

One could roll the dough out flat and put some tomatoes on top, maybe some homemade pesto, fresh chopped red pepper, sliced mushrooms, onions, garlic. Then throw it in the oven and make pizza (since this is probably a pizza dough.)

Punch punch punch gulp.

OR…I can see an evil twin moment coming…the situation gets out of hand…