Blueberry Almond Brownies

I wrote (or re-wrote I guess) the introductory chapter to my thesis this week. Given that I haven’t written the conclusion yet, this is probably pre-emptory and it is likely to change once the whole thesis is written and re-read but it felt like the right time to write it, in the scheme of things. I only have two chapters left to revise – the methods chapter and the conclusion – and somehow, this week, I had to write the introduction.

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Part of what happens in an introductory chapter of a PhD thesis is an autobiographical account of the researcher – how you came to the research, your history, how you ended up writing this particular thesis. I’ve had to think long and hard about how I ended up here – three and a half years in, writing a thesis on food experiences. As it happened, I re-read Food and the Self (de Solier, 2013) last week because part of the introductory chapter also includes a discussion on foodies. I realised that quite a lot of my identity and self-formation is tied to this blog and the production of food (both on this blog and in real life). Perhaps this is unsurprising to y’ll – as A- said to me recently, ‘you really do like to feed people, don’t you?’

De Solier found, amongst the foodies she interviewed, that production – that is, cooking and blogging – was just as important to their self-formation as consuming – that is, shopping and eating (both at home and in restaurants/cafes). I find that is the case with myself too. This space is important to me, to my sense of who I am and also of who I might be. I hadn’t realised quite how much importance the blog played in my identity until I started to read de Solier and think about my own personal narrative. It is also why writing my PhD has been so hard, because I have had to be critical about many of the things I believed to be good about food (things like food education, cooking, food gardening, eating well) – things I still believe to be valuable but which I now approach with a wider, more skeptical stance. This stance acknowledges differences in class, culture, race and gender much more than my previous (pre-PhD) self and is now incredibly wary of anyone who makes sweeping statements regarding the benefits of something (whether it be food-related or not).

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Quite how much I enjoy producing food (and cake in particular) became evident this week when I rejoined a professional kitchen. A- told me on Thursday that I looked very happy and I realised I was. I had just spent several hours making cake and cheesecake and brownies that people were going to buy and I felt an immense sense of personal satisfaction about the whole experience. It was odd because some small part of me has often tried to deny this about myself (possibly because it means I will never really have any money) – I really like feeding people – and this realisation is also reassuring in a way. After so many years of wondering who I am, I finally know – I am someone who makes cake. (Or, in the case of this post, brownies.)

These brownies have been all over the interwebs in the last few weeks. They’re from Claire Ptak’s new book, The Violet Bakery Cookbook, which is amazing. I read many cookbooks (and I own a possibly ridiculous number of them) but this is definitley one I am going to add to my collection. These brownies are fudgy and dense, fragrant with roasted almonds and every now and then (like a treasure) a sweet hit of blueberry. Claire describes them as being reminiscent of Cadbury’s fruit and nut and they are, but they are better.

Blueberry Almond Brownies
From The Violet Bakery Cookbook (although I originally saw this in The Guardian)

200g whole almonds
225g unsalted butter
375g dark chocolate (70%)
3 eggs
375g golden caster sugar
75g rice flour
1/4 tsp salt
75g dried blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a rectangular baking tray that is about 2cm deep.

Place the almonds on a baking tray and roast until fragrant – around 15 minutes.

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Melt the butter in a saucepan, remove from the heat, and add in the chocolate. Over a very low heat, and watching like a hawk, allow the chocolate to melt. When it is almost all melted, turn off the heat and leave for 5 minutes – there should be enough heat to melt the remaining chocolate. (Claire recommends melting the butter/chocolate over a double boiler but I don’t have any bowls/saucepans that fit together well and so this is my method. You can also melt it in the microwave in 30 second bursts.)

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Whisk the eggs, sugar, flour and salt together. Pour in the butter/chocolate mixture and fold together.

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Roughly chop the almonds and then add those and the blueberries into the chocolate mixture.

Pour into the baking tray and spread the mixture right to the edges.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes. The original recipe said 25 – until the brownie is set around the edges and wobbles at the centre. My oven is hotter than most and so this only took 22 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for an hour. Then place in the freezer to firm up for another hour. Slice into pieces and serve. These make really good Friday breakfasts.

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References:
De Solier, I., 2013. Food and the Self, London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Ricotta Raspberry Cake

Greetings dear readers. You may have been wondering where I have been. I like to think you have, even if this is not at all the case. The truth is I have been utterly and completely swamped with my thesis re-write and some project work. The last post was 6 weeks ago! 6 weeks! Where did they go? I’m three chapters out from a new draft (yay!) and have a first working draft of my project report (double yay!) and despite my lack of activity on here, I have actually been cooking and baking. (I also had a birthday (!), which was super fun, and not at all terrifying in that oh wow, I’m a whole year older and now a big, grown-up 32, what the hell am I doing with my life kind of way.) I am starting to work part-time in a pastry kitchen again. I start next week. It is a hard thing to explain, given all those terrible articles about the horrors of working in professional kitchens but I am looking forward to being back in a professional kitchen again – the physical aspects of the work, the fact that I can bake and call it work, the team work, the time-off from thinking (although I suspect it may help the thinking, which will continue anyway). So things have been busy and will continue to be so but, as I emerge from thesisdom, hopefully, more writing, more regularly, here!

I had planned to tell you about sticky toffee pudding and banana bread during the course of February but when I made the recipes I was dissatisfied. Both still needed work. I couldn’t put my finger exactly on what was wrong with either recipe, but something was. And so I trashed those posts and then I sort of lost momentum. (I still need to figure out what to do with the frozen sticky toffee pudding that is in the freezer – the recipe made loads more than I anticipated.)

One of the things I like to show here is the step-by-step process of making a recipe – mainly because I often wonder what batters/ingredients/foods/doughs are supposed to look like at certain points in the process. Does it matter if the batter has split at a particular point? Will it come back? What does bright, white creamed butter and sugar look like? Is this bright enough? Should the batter be so liquid I have to pour it out? I find the photographs help the process of creativity. Yes, the batter may split. Yes, the batter may be gloopy or stiff or practically liquid. No, that is not quite bright enough. Etcetera and so on and so forth. But taking those photographs takes time, which I haven’t had much of of late. But today I decided to blog despite not having a whole heap of photographs. Instead I just have two…

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You can blame (or thank I guess) Molly over at Orangette, and Jen, who told me about the post and insisted I go over and read it. I duly did and realised that I also quite like everyday cake and that there was time this week to make cake. So last night I finally got round to baking again. I like this cake (which is obviously why I am telling you about it). It has a texture reminiscent of a mousse, but slightly more sturdy. Molly described it as moist and it is moist, or damp, depending on your word preference. It is also soft and smooth, with the occasional burst of tart raspberry. (I doubled the original amount of raspberries called for because there just didn’t look like enough for the batter. And let’s face it, you want a lot of raspberries in your cake really.) I browned the butter too, because you know, if you’re going to melt the butter you might as well brown it. The result is a nutty undertone to the flavour. You’re supposed to break up the raspberries a little but I quite like them whole. This cake is a doddle to put together and then you just have to wait for it to bake (it takes around an hour). I quite like it still warm from the oven (wait the allotted 20 minutes for it to cool before you attempt to undo it as it is fragile) but it works well as elevenses too. (Or breakfast, if you’re into that kind of breakfast-non-breakfast-food-thing.)

Ricotta Raspberry Cake

Adapted (ever so slightly) from Orangette

3 eggs

325g ricotta

1 tsp vanilla

200g granulated sugar

210g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

two pinches of salt

125g unsalted butter

200g raspberries

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin (I use a springform one as I find cakes are easier to undo from them).

In a small saucepan, over a medium heat, melt the butter. Continue cooking the butter over the heat until it turns brown and starts to smell nutty. You want it a deep golden colour but watch it carefully as the speed at which it can turn black and then burn, is alarming. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Whisk the eggs, ricotta and vanilla together until smooth. (I used an electric beater but I’m sure a regular hand-held whisk works fine too. I just didn’t have one, and you know, needs must.)

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) together. Fold the dry ingredients into the ricotta in two parts and until just combined – refrain from over-mixing. Add in the butter and mix until combined. Finally, stir through 3/4 of the raspberries. (Feel free to break them up a little.) Scoop the batter into the cake tin and smooth it out. Scatter the remaining berries over the top.

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Bake for around an hour, until a skewer inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back at a touch. Leave to cool for 20 minutes before removing from the tin and placing on a plate.

Caramelised Onion and Blue Cheese Biscuits

I often begin to write in my head. My thesis, these blog posts, all begin in iterations in my head. Sometimes while I am walking to catch a bus. On a run up the hill. Often just when I am trying to go to sleep. As a rule, I never write these iterations down. I let them fumble about in my head, seep into my unconscious and then, much later, and usually in normal waking hours, I put pen to paper (or hands to keyboard, depending on my mood and energy level) and I write things out. I don’t fight the head-writing process. Even though it keeps me awake for an extra hour, or makes me look like I am talking to myself, I simply work through what is in my head until I am distracted by something on my route or I fall asleep or my mind loses the train of thought and I drift to thinking about other things. Rarely is the written version in anyway related to what was in my head, but the writing in my head helps – it clears my thoughts and focuses the idea. And eventually, it calms the thoughts in my head to a whisper and I can sleep.

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Such is my writing process. Of course sometimes, like today, I write an entire blog post about something and then I put it on the back burner, save it into drafts and let things lie for a while. The same is true of thesis writing. I write things, often with a pen on paper, and then I cross them out, begin again. Write more. Get up, walk around. Go for a run. Make a casserole, or cake. Watch many (many) episodes of Foyle’s War. Start up my computer, because, perhaps, today, I will begin by typing something straight into Word, rather than writing it out by hand. Then I write another paragraph. And then perhaps another. (My worst is when the head writing process has turned out some rather fabulous lines that I know are in my subconscious somewhere, but I just can’t access them. That’s when I think that actually I should be writing everything down.)

I am busy working on finalising a research project and I am fixing the policy chapter of my thesis. Both of these require an endless amount of sitting at a desk, writing and thinking. If my PhD has taught me one thing, it is that I am not good at sitting at a desk. You want me to run around for hours, taking plates of food to people? Sure. You want me to make a wedding cake, a process that takes three days (and a lot of wine)? No problem. You want me to go out and talk to people, ask them questions about their lives? I am totally game. But then you want me to sit down, be still, and coordinate those thoughts into something readable? I am useless. I am also a fantastic procrastinator. So some days I have to simply tell myself, over and over, just another 25 minutes, just another 25 minutes. And slowly, slowly, those minutes build into hours and the process of being still and sitting at the desk turns out to be productive. But my oh my, sometimes it is hard work.

Today has been a day like that. To compensate, I made a late lunch of these caramelised onion and blue cheese biscuits. Deb over at Smitten Kitchen wrote about caramelised onion and gruyere biscuits earlier this week. And the new Delicious magazine has a recipe for a caramelised onion tart with a walnut and parmesan crust (I am still going to make that) so I guess I had caramelised onions on the brain. The recipe is based on my Ngonu’s scone recipe – a savoury version. I made big biscuits which I then ate with crispy bacon and balsamic roasted cherry tomatoes. They’re very good with butter too. I only cooked three (although the recipe made eight) so I’ve frozen the rest, already glazed for later in the month, when I cannot possibly be bothered to cook.

Caramelised Onion and Blue Cheese Biscuits

2 cups plain flour

2 heaped tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

2 tbsp caster sugar

80g cold butter, diced

1 egg broken into a 250ml cup and filled with buttermilk

1/2 cup gorgonzola pieces (you can add up to 3/4 cup of gorgonzola pieces if you want)

3/4 large white onion, finely sliced

Make the caramelised onions first as these need to cool. Heat a heavy bottomed saucepan and add a glug of olive oil. Add in the sliced onions and cook on a low heat until they are a pretty golden brown. This takes about 20 minutes and you need to pay attention so they don’t burn. Once they’re golden, remove them from the pan – put them onto a plate or into a bowl – and set aside to cool.

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Put the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a large bowl.

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Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles rough breadcrumbs. Then add in the blue cheese, making sure the pieces are fairly well coated in flour. Add in the cooled onions, coating in the flour too. Mix in the egg/buttermilk. Don’t add it all in at once. You need to reserve some for brushing the tops of the biscuits and the flour may not need all the liquid anyway. So add enough to form a soft, shaggy dough. Don’t overwork the dough. You want to stir it enough that it comes together but then stop. You don’t need to knead it or anything. Just bring everything lightly together. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour.

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Preheat the oven to 220C and line a flat tray with baking paper.

Flour your work surface. Turn out the biscuit dough and pat it down, until it is about 1.5cm thick. The dough is super soft and so won’t take well to be rolled out. Just shape it as best you can with your hands. Use a cutter to cut biscuits to your desired size – you can have small or big ones. I made big ones and the mixture makes about 8 large biscuits. Place the biscuits on the baking tray and brush with the leftover egg/buttermilk mixture.

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Bake for 10-15 minutes until risen and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before eating.

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Milk Loaf

If I tell you I was going to write about pull-apart cinnamon bread this week, will you turn away from a relatively boring (in comparison) post about milk loaf? At the beginning of the month, when I was organising the recipes I would make, I wanted to make cinnamon bread. I really did. But this week, the last thing I wanted to eat was cinnamon bread. I know right? Who does not want to eat cinnamon bread all the time? Well that was me this week. And, because this space is really about my life and the food I eat, I didn’t want to make something just because I said I would. Who would eat it? So there’s no cinnamon bread here today. Instead there is milk loaf.

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I actually didn’t think there would be a recipe here this week at all. When it got to Wednesday I was still busy rewriting Chapter Two of my thesis. I had set a deadline for Wednesday to get it done and I was determined, no matter the hour, to finish it then. I did, finally, at around 11.30pm. So there was no opportunity to make anything or to blog on Wednesday. The rest of the week was spent recipe testing for Florentine, a new book by Emiko Davies, a food writer. Ages ago, via Instagram, I offered to test some of the recipes and this week I finally got round to doing so. But as a result, I wasn’t really in the mood to do any of my own recipe development for here. I figured I’d write about how fun recipe testing had turned out to be. How challenging it was to have to focus on actually following the recipe, rather than automatically looking at what could be adapted or changed. Actually measuring one teaspoon of vanilla, rather than pouring it in by sight; paying attention to baking times, rather than waiting to smell when something is done; the sequence of steps and the equipment needed (you mean I can’t simply put this cake batter into a round tin? It has to be rectangular? Really?). It was great. But I can’t share the recipes I made on here so I figured it’d be a non-recipe post. But then today I made a batch of marmalade (Seville’s are back in season! Yay!) and I figured it might be good to have fresh bread for toast in the morning. So I made this milk loaf.

I’m slightly obsessed with this loaf at the moment. I think I go through stages of loving different breads. For ages it was sourdough. Now it’s this milk loaf. It’s easy to make. Dense and chewy in texture. Toasts well. Lasts the week. The recipe comes from Delicious magazine. I subscribe to their newsletter (as well as the print magazine) and this loaf was featured in one newsletter recently. I love making my own bread so I decided to give it a whirl last Sunday. I’ve been eating slices for breakfast all week and now that there is marmalade again, I suspect I’ll be eating this combination for a while. I changed the method slightly (as well as using more milk), only because I am a lazy baker and prefer for things to be as easy as possible. Thus, instead of rubbing the butter into the flour, I simply melt it whilst heating the milk. It cuts out a step and opens, I think, the possibility of turning this into a brown butter loaf…. Mmm. Now there’s an idea. I also added in a second proof. The original recipe only proofs the dough once but I’m always skeptical of such things, having been taught that breads should be proofed twice. So I proof it twice. Just in case. (And because you get the satisfaction of punching down the dough.)

Milk Loaf
Adapted from Delicious Magazine
750g strong white flour
7g instant yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
75g unsalted butter
350ml milk

Place the flour in a large bowl. Add in the yeast on one side and the sugar and salt on another side. You don’t want the yeast to come into contact with the salt and sugar until you’re ready to add in your liquids as you risk the sugar/salt killing the yeast. (Which, let’s face it, would be a tragedy*!)

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Place the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat over a medium heat until the milk is warm. Switch off the heat and leave it for a few minutes so that the butter melts. Give it a stir. Test the temperature with your finger. You don’t want it to be hot – body temperature is good. Stir the flour, salt, sugar and yeast together. Add in the milk. Using either a wooden spoon or your hands, bring everything together to form a dough. If there isn’t enough liquid to do so, add in some warm water.

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Form the dough into a ball. Knead lightly for five to ten minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place into the bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave in a warm place to proof until double in size – about an hour. (I put the bowl into my oven, with the oven light on and a tray of hot water on the floor of the oven. This creates a warm, moist atmosphere that makes the dough extraordinarily happy.)

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and shape it into a log. Grease a loaf tin with some oil and place the log into it. Cover loosely with a tea towel and proof again for half an hour – the dough should rise up beyond the tin level.

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Preheat the oven to 200C. Cook the loaf for half an hour – until dark golden brown on top and hollow-sounding when tapped.

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Turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before eating.

*If you are of the same era as me, perhaps the word tragedy! (with the exclamation mark after it) reminds you of that song by Steps. I remember once doing the coordinated dance moves on a stage at some formal dance I went to in my final year of school. In case you have forgotten, here’s a link to the music video… (Also, this video be cray-cray.)

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

I know, I know. It’s Saturday. Apparently my ability to keep accurately to resolutions like ‘I will blog on Wednesdays’ is flawed. But there you go. In fact, I had the food in this post made up ages ago but then I was in London on Wednesday for an interview so I couldn’t get it written in amongst all the travelling. So I’m doing it today instead. I’m being indulgent and blogging from my bed too. (Is there anything quite as indulgent as working from bed? I think not – in terms of the places to work I mean. There are many other indulgent things I would rather be doing in bed.)

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I love lazy Saturday mornings when I can get up, make a coffee and return to my bed while I wait for my flat to warm up and to be lightning-bolted with a flash of energy so that I can continue rewriting my thesis draft. I’m still busy with the Foucault chapter. It’s a long one and it frames the thesis so I am stretching my brain to understanding this week. So far I’ve written about discourse – how discourse produces knowledge and how some discourses are taken up, incorporated into everyday life, and accepted as truths. For Foucault, discourse didn’t just mean language though – it wasn’t just about what we say. He talked about discursive practices rather than discourse. This is because he wasn’t simply interested in the things said, he was interested in the social, material and symbolic conditions that allow certain things to be said at any one time, and for those things to be taken up and become true. This knowledge about life and living, about how we should be, becomes incorporated into everyday life through technologies of power and techniques of the self (more on that next week).

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So that’s Foucault for today, and the next few days. The chapter goes on to apply this analysis to the discourses of obesity and nutrition that currently produce (through the media, institutions, public awareness campaigns) people as healthy subjects and self-disciplining citizens. I knew y’ll wanted to know about it in vague detail. I mean, what is Saturday morning without a little Foucault?

But now I will tell you about this dinner instead, without analysing it, I promise. I haven’t made anything really savoury (and non-pastry related) in a very long time (for this blog I mean. I don’t eat only baked goods daily.) I always thought I would incorporate elements of what I was actually eating normally onto the blog but somehow, cake almost always wins on this site. When I was planning out the month of blogging Wednesdays, this Wednesday was supposed to be treacle tart. But then I had a craving for meatballs and I decided I could throw in a savoury/dinner post just to mix things up a little. And this is that.

There isn’t really a recipe as such for these meatballs. I mean there is a recipe, mostly for proportions, but it is infinitely adaptable and changeable. I like that kind of flexibility when I’m making dinner. My mom always used to make meatballs and when she was here at Christmas she taught me her chicken stuffing recipe. Somehow, I think due to the breadcrumbs, this made me think of the meatballs she made and then I started to crave them. So I made them for dinner a few weeks ago. They’re super easy, you can make them in advance and then reheat them to serve, and they freeze well.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
For the meatballs:
500g beef mince
4 pork sausages
1/2 an onion
generous bunch of flat-leaf parsley
1 egg
2 slices of bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs

For the tomato sauce:
1/2 an onion
2 cloves garlic
1 large carrot
1/2 red pepper
1/2 yellow pepper
500g cherry tomatoes
1 tin tomatoes
flat-leaf parsley

Begin with the meatballs as these need some refrigeration time.
Place the beef mince in a large bowl. Squeeze the sausage meat out of their casings and into the bowl. Discard the casings.
Finely dice the onion and roughly chop the flat-leaf parsley, including the stalks. Add these to the bowl.
Add in the egg and the breadcrumbs.

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Using your hands, mix everything together. I’ve read that the more you mix, the smoother your meatballs will be and they’ll hold together better, so smush everything together until it is wonderfully incorporated.

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Divide the meat mixture into 15 portions. Roll these into balls and flatten them onto a baking tray that has been lined with baking paper. Cover the tray with clingfilm and refrigerate for an hour.

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While the meatballs are chilling, make the sauce.

Dice the onion, carrot and peppers into equally-sized pieces. Finely chop the garlic. Halve the cherry tomatoes and roughly chop the parsley, including the stalks.

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In a large heavy-bottomed pot, sweat the onions, carrots and peppers in a generous glug of olive oil. Once the onions are translucent, add in the garlic. Continue cooking but reduce the heat slightly.

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Once this veg is soft, add in the cherry tomatoes and the tin of tomatoes. Fill the tin up with water and add this in too. Bring the sauce to the boil and then reduce the heat so that it simmers lazily. I like to cook the sauce for at least two hours, stirring it occasionally.

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About 45 minutes before you want to eat, or after about an hour of the sauce reducing, cook the meatballs. There are more meatballs than you’ll need for the sauce so I usually cook 8 meatballs in the sauce and freeze the other 7, uncooked, for later.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the meatballs in batches, so they aren’t too crowded in the pan. You want them nice and caramelised but not black, obviously. Turn them over when they’ve reached a good colour. Once they’re brown on both sides, place them into the sauce.

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Cook the meatballs in the sauce for about half an hour to 45 minutes. You want them cooked through and the sauce reduced but you don’t necessarily want them to fall completely apart. Serve with some salad or pasta or just as they are, with some good baguette.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ah. The chocolate chip cookie. Has anyone else been on a quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie? I have, and I began to wonder what that means about me, as a subject and citizen in a world where thinness is the highest form of being. I thought, for fun, (and to stretch my brain a little), I could try and understand this quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie using Foucault.

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Foucault was concerned with subject formation – how we become self-disciplining citizens – and so, to a certain extent, the quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie is a form of resistance to current debates within food and nutrition discourses that are focussed on eating for health purposes. Subjects are constructed through the relations of knowledge and power. Knowledge of food and nutrition currently suggests that we eat for health purposes, so as to avoid getting fat. Such knowledge promotes the consumption of fruit and vegetables, whole-grains and lean proteins. If we eat such foods, we will remain healthy, and ultimately, not become a burden on our societies or government funds. Populations are taught what to eat through public awareness campaigns, schooling and labelling. Therefore, what we chose to eat is, to a certain extent, constructed by society.

There is a long history in Western societies of food and pleasure and the need to quell any pleasurable associations of food and eating. By disassociating food and pleasure and linking food to health, we, as subjects, are required to construct ourselves with concern for the ‘proper’ way of eating – that is, to limit consumption of certain foods, maintain a ‘healthy’ weight, and ultimately, to not become a burden on society. This can be seen through popular TV shows that shame fat people and encourage them to be thinner, campaigns in schools that measure BMIs, and growing concern that we are not eating enough ‘fresh’ foods, made from scratch, around the table.

Those of us who promote the consumption of butter and sugar are engaging with a discourse of pleasure – that food and eating should be pleasurable, it should give you joy. Such an idea is a form of resistance to the healthy foods, health weight ideas described above – to such discourses, food is not about pleasure, it is about health. Through the production and consumption of the chocolate chip cookie we are engaging in a form of resistance to the formation of ourselves as healthy subjects. We are (possibly) also introducing the idea that food need not be about health, that it can be about pleasure, enjoyment, memory, conviviality and taste too. The quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie is therefore also a quest to stretch the boundaries of acceptable food behaviours…

The chocolate chip cookie is said to have been invented by Ruth Wakefield, who ran the Toll House restaurant in Massachusetts, in the 1930s. In 1939, Nestle purchased the rights to the cookie from Ruth as well as the Toll House name and so, the Toll House chocolate chip cookie was born. You could say the world has never been the same since…

In an article in The New York Times, David Leite ponders the debates that surround the perfect cookie. The first is at what temperature the cookie should be served. This may seem slightly bizarre – surely the cookie is served when it has cooled? But actually, the best cookies are served still slightly warm from the oven. Pastry shops and bakeries have various techniques to achieve this warmth. It is also hugely important, in chocolate chip cookie discourse, to have a soft centre but a crispy edge. This is achieved through scrupulous baking times – both in the oven and cooling on the trays. The third important step in achieving the perfect cookie is to chill the dough. This is particularly important with these cookies, as you will brown all the butter and so to even roll the dough into portions, chilling time is necessary. Finally, you want the cookies perfectly golden brown, almost perfectly rounded and the chocolate needs to be slightly melted when you eat it. Achieving all of this in a single cookie is a big ask. But the pleasure that is gained is pure happiness so it’s worth the effort.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from The Little Loaf Blog
190g unsalted butter
120g golden caster sugar
100g soft brown sugar
80g dark brown sugar
1 egg plus 1 yolk
225g rice flour or buckwheat flour or a combination of both
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
100g each of dark, milk and white chocolate chips

First of all brown the butter. All of it, in a saucepan on the stove. This takes up to twenty minutes and basically entails melting the butter over a medium heat and then cooking it (it will bubble and splutter quite violently at various points) until it turns brown and begins to smell nutty. Watch it carefully here – you want it a dark-ish golden brown but not black (which will mean it is burnt and you have to start over.)

Set the butter aside to cool for about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together the three sugars, breaking up any lumps. Pour the slightly cooled butter onto the sugar and mix until smooth.

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Then add in the egg and yolk, followed by the flour, baking soda and pinch of salt.

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Roughly chop the three different chocolates. Use any combination up to 300g-worth. Add this into the batter/dough.

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Mix everything until the chocolate is well-combined into the dough.

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Now you have to exercise some self-control and chill the dough for 24 hours at least – I usually just clingfilm the bowl and store it on a shelf in my fridge. This resting time allows the butter and egg to be absorbed into the flour and ultimately will give you a better cookie.

Once the 24 hours are up, roll the dough into balls – I use a teaspoon to extract the dough. I normally roll all the dough (it makes approximately 30-40 balls, depending on size) and then freeze the ones that I don’t want to bake immediately. This way you always have emergency cookie dough. Because who doesn’t need emergency cookie dough right?!

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Place the ones you want to bake on a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 170C. Once the oven is hot enough, bake them for 10 minutes. Turn the tray around and bake for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on the tray for 2 minutes. Then slide them off the baking sheet and allow them to cool slightly before devouring en masse.

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Enjoy with the knowledge that eating the chocolate chip cookie is a form of resistance…

Pear and Blue Cheese Tart

I had a meeting with my supervisor on Monday. It is a strange thing, the supervisor-supervisee relationship. I have not written about it much here but I thought, now that I am nearly at the end (the beginning of the end as it were), I would start to do so. Monday’s meeting got me thinking about the PhD-supervisor relationship and how it changes over the course of a PhD. I am not the person I was three and a bit years ago when this journey began. I have done the research. Read the literature. And now I am busy putting my thoughts (and to a certain extent myself) on display for critique for the first time. I am learning to defend my work. And I am learning to absorb criticism. Monday’s meeting was the first face-to-face discussion following my supervisor’s comments on my draft…

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To a certain extent, every meeting feels like a performance. I embody my PhD-self, competent and informed, ready to answer questions, discuss issues and ultimately defend my work. I regard the relationship as a fairly formal one, as a student seeking advice from a more knowledgeable sage. But our relationship is also fairly informal – after we have discussed my work and progress, we often talk about current affairs in the world of food, education, obesity and health studies. My supervisor often sends me emails with links to articles, posters, tea towels – some are related directly to my work and others are merely for interest. I appreciate the ones for interest as much as the ones for work. We get on quite well, I think, but this meeting was our first one after she had read my thesis, provided very specific feedback (read: tore my thesis apart, chapter by chapter) and I was nervous. What if she had decided I was (what all PhD’s ultimately fear) completely inadequate and not actually suited for academic life? (After I first read through the comments, I had a proper crisis of self that questioned this very thing. Fortunately I then got over that and resigned myself to the long slog towards the finish line. And to be fair, she had warned me not to ‘throw myself over a bridge’ after reading.) But, as she explained, being a ‘mean’ supervisor, and tearing my draft apart is part of the process of a) writing a thesis and b) ultimately becoming an academic. You have to get used to (and build yourself up against) critiques from all sides. And, as we discussed, it is much much much worse if such a thing happens in the viva. So, at some point in our relationship, she had to embody the ‘mean’ supervisor.

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By many accounts, I am lucky. My supervisor has been supportive, championing my data, providing guidance and where necessary, criticism. This is not the case for all PhDs – as has been written about here - and I know of several other PhDs who are regularly reduced to tears by their supervisors. I’m not sure how you cope with the stress of a PhD if you don’t have good supervisory support. It is a strange relationship, but a hugely important one. I’m fairly sure there is a course you can take called ‘Managing Your Supervisor’ – I have not yet had to resort to such help but I think sometimes supervisors do need managing – when you have to remind them that it is your research and that you are the expert. This is not an easy thing to do when they are experts in their own fields (probably a larger part of your own). On Monday, we discussed (and have now agreed via email) a timetable to the completion of all these corrections (three months!) and the overarching arguments and flow of my thesis. Most importantly, I left the supervision feeling re-energised about finishing. I am no longer petrified about the quality of my work. Yes, it needs to be improved, but it seems more like an achievable goal than an insurmountable task, following the meeting.

So I came home and got organised. I wrote out the projected timetable and started to do some reading. I am returning first to Foucault, to fix the chapter that frames the thesis, and then to the policy chapter. So, you will forgive me if I start to talk about healthy subjects, nutrition discourses and how we come to know what is good to eat over the next few weeks. Foucault and I are spending some more time together right away.

And so, to compensate for this return to some thinking work, and because my New Years resolution was to blog every Wednesday, I made this tart! I have labelled it a tart because the filling is partly on top of the egg-custard and partly encased by it so I’m not really sure it is a quiche; to be fair, I’m not really sure I understand the difference between quiches and tarts. Can tarts only be sweet? Quiches savoury? Tart sounds so much more daring than quiche. This tart is daring. It is bold. Creamy. Rich. The harsh blue cheese notes are rounded out by the sweetness of the pears. I made it over Christmas and have not stopped thinking about it since so I thought I would share it with you here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Foucault is waiting.

Pear and Blue Cheese Tart.

For the pastry (makes enough for two tart cases):

250g plain flour

125g unsalted butter, cold, diced

approximately 100ml cold water

pinch of salt

For the filling:

1/3 cup double cream

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

2 small rocha pears, finely sliced

150g blue cheese (I used a combination of Stilton and Bleu D’Auvergne)

In a large bowl, place the flour, salt and the diced butter. Rub this together with your fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

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Add in the cold water, a little at a time, until you can combine all the flour to form a sticky dough.

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Knead this on a lightly floured work surface until the dough is as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

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Divide the dough in half, shape these into two balls, flatten them, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour. You will only need one ball, so you can freeze the other for later use. While you are waiting, whisk together the double cream, milk and eggs until smooth. Set aside.

Remove the dough from the fridge and lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/2cm thick.

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Line a pie dish, leaving some of the dough to overhang the sides. (Trim excessive overhang like that pictured below.)

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Refrigerate again for an hour. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line the pastry case with some baking paper and baking beans or rice. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the rice/beans and paper and return to the oven for 5 minutes, until the pastry is dry.

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Crumble the blue cheese onto the pastry case. Then fill the case with the custard mixture. It’ll fill about 3/4 of the way. Arrange the sliced pears atop the filling.

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Bake for approximately 25 minutes. You want the egg custard puffed around the edges of the tart and the middle only just set. It can wobble but should not be liquid. Remove from the oven. Trim the excess pastry overhanging the edge with a sharp knife and allow to cool before slicing and serving with a side salad. (This tart works fantastically well cold too. For a savoury breakfast.)

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