Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Contentment of Simple Gastronomic Luxuries

Otherwise known as, 'Be thankful for what you can eat.'

My recent trip to Europe has confirmed one thing for me - it's much, much easier to eat gluten-free there, on relatively little cost. Given the exchange rate between Malaysian ringgit and Euros, I was immensely thankful. Two weeks' stay in Austria is no joke if one has to spend a lot on food! Just being able to -eat- without fear, now that's a gift. It's a luxury, small as it is, and who says small things can't be luxuries?

Like this:

It's pumpkin seed oil! This is a specialty of Graz where we were at. It's a dark, viscous, thick deep green oil, rather like well-cooked spinach, and the fragrance is out of this world. It makes even the simplest food (canned tuna with rice) taste like a gourmet meal. My mother loves the bottle I brought back so much she prefers it over her favourite sesame seed oil even.

It certain livened up even the most ordinary hamburger patties:

That was Jamie Oliver's Cracking Burger patties, and they are every bit as cracking as they make out to be. I used the remains of a pack of gluten-free crackers that I brought back from Europe, and they turned out absolutely marvellous. Juicy, flavourful and completely satisfying, even without buns (who needs buns when one has great burgers, really?)

Make 'em, you won't regret it. Go to the recipe, tweak it as you like to suit your taste, leave out the mustard if you don't like it and replace it with Worchestershire sauce, but make 'em. Your tastebuds and your stomach will thank you.

I also brought back three other treasures from Austria: sumac, z'aatar, and piri-piri peppers. Sumac comes from the ground-up red berries of the sumac shrub, species Rhus Coriaria. It's a tart, lemony spice that is used very often in Middle Eastern cookery. Z'aatar is a Middle Eastern mix of spices that very often include oregano, thyme and savoury, sometimes with sesame seeds and salt - it is also the generic name for a family of related Middle Eastern herbs from the genera Origanum (Oregano), Calamintha (Basil thyme), Thymus vulgaris (Thyme) and Satureja (Savory). Piri-piri peppers are used very commonly in Portuguese cookery (think Nando's). I've not been able to find any of these spices here, so finding them was an occasion worthy of jumping up and down in the Naschmarkt in Vienna, squealing with delight.

I wanted to do something with my newly acquired spices, and this recipe for Zaatar Sumac Lemon Roast Chicken, from the Ottolenghi cookbook, looked fascinating.

Of course, being me, I always forget or change something in a recipe - I forgot to put black pepper and paprika/cayenne pepper in, and I forgot to mix the chicken and spices together well -after- I'd added the water to it until oh, somewhere around 2am in the morning after I'd put it in the fridge to sit overnight and marinate. I also used chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken since I am a lazy person and don't want to dig bones out of my fowl (yes, yes, that makes me a horrible chef I know!)

That being said, the chicken came out beautifully. So tender and flavourful! And best of all, completely gluten-free and healthy. I didn't have fresh parsley (this is becoming a trend isn't it) so I used dried parsley instead and voila, fresh out of the oven:

I served it over a bed of rice with lots of marinade and chicken juices - luxury right there in a little bowl.

You will not regret trying this recipe. I can promise you that - it really is just that good, and so easy. If you don't have sumac, as per one of the comments, use more lemon juice. If you don't have z'aatar? Approximate it with this and just leave out the sumac, add lots of lemon.

That wasn't so hard now, once one is past the exotic names, right?

Really, I don't need a fancy restaurant to be contented - just the simple act of being able to eat safely? That's all I need, even if it's a slice of bread, a few crackers with cheese, or a very simple roast chicken like this one.

Sometimes it's good to go back to simple - we all started from there anyways. And when I think of the days when the very thought of eating used to depress me because I had no idea what to eat or how to eat just after my diagnosis, I breathe a quiet prayer of thanks for these precious, small, simple things that make life so meaningful.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Saga of the Busy Day Cake and All Plugs Electrical

...also known as 'BOOM thar it is.'

So I was going to try and remedy the utter shame of not having updated this blog since April (April! Dear lord where did the time go?). I've got photos galore, all nicely categorised away, it was just a matter of writing a post and selecting pictures, and then life happened, and Austria (I went to the World Youth Choir Championships with the quartet I sing with, Caipifruta - more on that in another post some day!), and...and...well. You get the picture.

Today was my first day off in a while, so I decided to bake a cake. This cake, as a matter of fact - Shauna's wonderful adaptation of Edna Lewis's Busy Day Cake. In fact, I was even planning on making a pie of some sort to use up the rough puff pastry I had in the freezer. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Everything, it seems.

The universe had other plans, starting with the power tripping off when I woke up in the morning. This got remedied, with nothing untoward - no smoking electrical items or whatnot. So I made miso soup with thick rice noodles for lunch and started putting together the ingredients for the cake - weighed out the flour, beat the eggs, grated orange peel, measured poppy seeds and cocoa, etc.

Then I went to cream the butter and sugar in the stand mixer. And realised that it wasn't working. Now, my stand mixer is an antique - a functioning one, but an antique nonetheless. It had started making some odd noises my last batch of bread a few months back, and my first thought was, Crap it's given up the ghost. I tried another plug point - still not working.

So I transferred all the butter and sugar to my food processor, having remembered you could actually cream butter and sugar and make cake batter in it. Plugged it in, switched it on.

The expression of WTH-ness when it didn't work was probably a camera-worthy moment. My food processor is -new-. I'd not even broken in the food processing attachment yet!

I tried another plug. Still no luck. It was only after I'd tried on every single plug point in the kitchen that it hit me - the power outage in the morning was probably caused by one of those points blowing a fuse, and now NONE of them were working.

Which left me with the problem of a lot of butter and sugar still needing to be creamed. My stand mixer was also probably working just fine, all I had to do was find a working plug point.

Enter the little grey cells.

The cake right out of the oven...

Right now the cake is cooling in the kitchen, I've had two pieces already and it's absolutely HEAVENLY. Wow. I can't say enough good things about it - it isn't dense or heavy, it's...well, cake! Real cake, not the sticky, gummy slabs that often make up most gluten-free cakes. The crumb is light and airy, not heavy and over-moist. And it tastes delicious. I'll likely cut down on the sugar the next time around because even this is very, very sweet to me - but I don't often eat sweet stuff so it may be fine for other people.

I am in awe of this cake. I think I might even cry. Shauna, you are -wonderful-. Have I said that enough times yet? Cake! Real cake! It was worth all the crazy kitchen hassle, that's for sure.

...And served, with a apricot for colour! Look at that wonderful crumb!

You must make this! It's easy, it's adaptable, and it's absolutely delicious. I won't post the recipe, it's here already (and Shauna is always, always worth reading anyway.)

My only modifications were:
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 tbls poppy seeds

These were all mixed in with the dry ingredients (ie: the flour, baking powder, cardamom) and set aside till needed.

I didn't use cardamom powder either, because I accidentally put coriander in. Yes, coriander! Thank heavens I can't really taste it in there...talk about stupid at work!

PS: I also hope no one out there has ever needed to go through the nightmare of mixing up and baking a cake while squatting on the living room floor by the front door in a decidedly fetal position, next to one's housemate's hair salon equipment. Thank God for a small oven, or I'd never have gotten it out the kitchen let alone to the plug point outside.