Monthly Archives: January 2015

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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