Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Traditional British Pudding!

I happen to be a big, big fan of British cookery, so when this month's Daring Bakers challenge was announced I was ecstatic!  I'd made a traditional Christmas pudding before, as well as Spotted Dick, so I thought this time I'd go for a good ol' steak and kidney pudding.  Except without the kidney.  They hadn't any where I shop and my two flatmates (yes, Britishisms all around today) aren't super keen on them.

Anyway, on to the deets: The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet. 

Also could not find suet (my translation into German was Talg or Rindertalg) but I could find lots of lard!

In a land filled with 1,000,000 varieties of pork of course there would be lard! or Schmalz, as they say.  Ever wonder where we get "schmaltzy"?  Here you are.  Of course, in the Yiddish sense, we would be referring to chicken fat or lard.

This is grated lard.  The lard, as you can imagine, has to be quite chilled to do this or you will come to a greasy, sad end.  Even chilled, I was covered in lard.  My camera puts up with a lot of foodstuffs.

Unfilled puddings.  The dough is quite soft and very fatty.  The entire time I was rolling out these mini-pies I thought, "It smells like fried chicken!" Just that perfect fatty, crispy, flaky smell.  These are filled with floured cubes of chuck-steak (Rinderbraten - okay, why I am translating everything into German for you is strange, since you are probably not German - maybe it is to show you how hard I have to work! poor, poor me) and onions - see first pic.

Then a mixture of oyster sauce, water, and port (or red wine) is poured into the shells up until they almost cover the meat and onion filling.

The dough "cap" is moistened all around the edges and pinched in.  I love this process.  This is why I love baking pies.  Because I like tucking things into dough.  Strange, I know, but I find this so, so gratifying.

Now this is where I failed to photo-document my process, probably because I was making three mini pies instead of one big one and feeling quite harumph-y about it by now.  But this is when one must wrap the tops of the puddings with buttered foil (or dish cloth) and tie with twine right under the lip of the bowl.  Then one must make a handle with twine so that one can lower it and lift it out of the steaming water and stay un-scalded.  I steamed mine (in boiling water just above the half-way point of the bowls) for four hours.  Clitter-clatter, clitter-clatter.  For four hours.

Oh, but so worth it.  Suet (or, in my case, lard) pastry can be so light and flaky, even steamed and boiled!

I poured in some gravy made from port, beef drippings, onions, and oyster sauce. 

Recipe - I borrowed this from Audax Artifex, champion Daring Baker.
The following makes a 1 litre pudding, I made about 1 1/2 times the recipe for 3 little puddings.

For the suet crust pastry
225g/8 oz self-raising flour
salt and freshly milled black pepper
115 g/4 oz shredded beef suet
cold water, to mix

For the filling
380g/13 ½ ozs chuck steak
115g/4oz ox kidney after trimming (so buy extra about 15%)
3 tablespoon of oyster sauce and enough red dry wine to make a little over ½ cup
4 teaspoon plain flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the gravy
meat trimmings from the steak and kidney
1 onion, halved
570ml/1 pint red wine
1 tsp beef dripping
2 tbsp flour
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce

You will also need a well-buttered, 1 litre/1 US quart capacity pudding basin and a steamer.

For the pastry, first sift the flour and the salt into a large mixing bowl. Add some freshly ground black pepper, then add the suet and mix it into the flour using the blade of a knife. When it's evenly blended, add a few drops of cold water and start to mix with the knife, using curving movements and turning the mixture around. The aim is to bring it together as a dough, so keep adding drops of water until it begins to get really claggy and sticky. Now abandon the knife, go in with your hands and bring it all together until you have a nice smooth elastic dough, which leaves the bowl clean. It's worth noting that suet pastry always needs more water than other types, so if it is still a bit dry just go on adding a few drops at a time.

After that, take a quarter of the dough for the lid, then roll the rest out fairly thickly. What you need is a circle, about 21.5 cm/8½ in in diameter. Now line the bowl with the pastry, pressing it well all around. Next chop the steak and kidney into fairly small cubes (reserving the trimmings for the gravy), toss them in the seasoned flour, then add them to the pastry-lined basin with the slices of onion. Add enough oyster sauce/red wine/water to reach almost the top of the meat and sprinkle in a few drops of Worcestershire sauce and another seasoning of salt and pepper.

Roll out the pastry lid, dampen its edges and put it in position on the pudding. Seal well and cover with a double sheet of foil, pleated in the centre to allow room for expansion while cooking. Now secure it with string, making a little handle so that you can lift it out of the hot steamer. Then place it in a steamer over boiling water. Steam for five hours, topping up the boiling water halfway through. (See more detailed instructions below.)

For the gravy, simply place the meat trimmings in a saucepan with the half onion, cover with one pint of red wine and 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, simmer for approximately one hour. Then strain the stock, and in the same pan, fry the remaining onion, chopped small, in the beef dripping until soft and blackened at the edges. Then stir in the flour, gradually add the meat trimmings/red wine/oyster sauce stock little by little to make a smooth gravy, adding a spot of gravy browning if it's needed. Taste to check the seasoning.

When the pudding is ready place a small hole in the top of the pudding and pour in as much of the gravy as you can.

To serve, either serve the pudding by spooning portions straight out of the bowl, or slide a palette knife round the edge and turn the whole thing out on to a serving plate (which is more fun!).

Instructions for Prepping for Steaming

The easiest way to steam a pudding is in a dedicated steamer as the water is kept away from the pudding so it can’t boil over. If, however, you don’t have a steamer use a pan large enough to easily fit the bowl you are cooking. Don’t fill the water more than about a third of the way up the bowl or it may boil over and into the bowl. Keep an eye and top up as needed with boiling water.

You need to lift the bowl off the bottom of the pan. This can be done with a steamer stand, an upturned plate or even crumpled up kitchen foil — anything that can stand being in boiling water and lifts the bowl off the bottom of the pan will work.

Make sure you have a well-fitted lid on the pan as you want the steam to cook the pudding not to boil off.
Make sure you put a pleat in the foil or paper you cover the bowl with to allow for expansion and then tie down tightly with string.  Make a handle made from the string that lies over the top of the pudding, as this makes it very much easier to lift out when hot and is well worth doing.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Making: Newly Arrived Luscious Yarn

Last spring, my friends E and D came down to New Haven and we all went to NYC together to go yarn and fabric shopping.  It was a fateful day.  Ever since then I have not stopped knitting, and the lust for yarn - soft, fuzzy, sleek, rough, hand-dyed, hand spun, tweed, all natural, what have you - has become a bit of a problem!

This is Madelinetosh tosh sock yarn in Black Currant.  Just look at all the colors!  But instead of making for ghastly and dizzying combination, the colors chosen give off exactly the shades one sees in nature: variegated but complementing each other just so.

So, I have four skeins from the Loopy Ewe (an incredible shop with incredibly snobby yarns) freshly delivered to me here in Heidelberg.  I have big plans for it, so stay tuned!

Third picture down is The Black Currants Are Ripening by LongInt57 at flickr; some rights reserved.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Feasting: Prize Winning Noodles!

There is nothing like a steaming bowl of beef noodle soup, the slightly spicy, flavorful, and rich broth, the tender chunks of meat, the hearty noodles.  The competition for the title of best beef noodle soup in Taiwan is intense, and the winner of the official 2006 island-wide competition for beef noodle soup was Lao Zhang.  It is well deserved.

The trophy is up for display outside of the restaurant, No. 19, Lane 19, Jin Shan Road, Taipei.

But noodles aren't all they do well at Lao Zhang.  This is their sticky steamed rice with lots of goodies embedded in its glorious golden-brown depths.  Chinese fatty sausage, soft stewed beef, and tripe.  Oh the goodness!

There are also many wonderfully prepared sides to choose from - here, from left to right, pickled turnip, crisp baby cucumbers in sweet rice vinegar, and (my favorite) roasted and fried eggplant.

I've yet to have a bowl of beef noodle soup this perfect in the States - maybe I'm not looking hard enough.  But, if you find yourself in Taiwan, this is the place to go.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wandering: Der Philosophenweg im Frühling (The Philosophers' Way in Spring)

Across the river and up, up, up the Schlangenweg (Snake Path) is the Philosophenweg.  I've wandered upon it many times these past few weeks.  Somehow I find myself chancing upon epiphanies and new ideas when I hike this path, even though I've taken to it to "get away" and clear my head.  I suppose it is aptly named and it works a type of enchantment with its meandering curves.

Now, in the early spring, the path seems especially enchanted.  Yesterday afternoon, with the sun reaching in through the bright green canopy, whispers seemed to swirl around me, and little movements in the undergrowth quickened as I approached and then grew silent.
 Across the valley, most trees are still quiet and sleeping, but a battalion of pines marches down the slope.

Once I see these pleading branches above me, I know that my walk is almost over.  Then I take the sloping path down to Haarlass, then back along the Neckar River, across the Old Bridge, and back into my study.  But I'm not quite sure that the enchantment doesn't last for a few hours more, ebbing away slowly while I go about the rest of my day.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Making: Monsters!

This picture is from Danger Crafts' shop at Etsy, where you can buy patterns for these monsters so you can knit and stuff them yourself.  Aren't they menacingly adorable? 

I thought of making something for my godson, since I've been so immersed in knitting and yarn of late.  Rebecca Danger, who runs this Etsy shop, has a blog that offers a free monster pattern.  I thought I'd give it a go.

Here he is!  A little awkward and shy (and lumpy) looking, but a bonafide Monster Chunk.  He'll go in the post tomorrow (shhh, don't tell, Marian, in case you're reading this!).  Not only is he fun to make, but he's also very, very helpful at getting rid of this:

Bits and pieces of yarn leftover from other projects.  The possibilities for toys is endless. And I bought my stuffing at a department store of all places!  Apparently, they stock all sorts of sewing notions and yarn.  If only it were so in the States!  Raveled here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Feasting: Of Pâté and Quail Eggs

We were supposed to show up at the professor's apartment after the lecture for cocktails before going out for dinner.  Unfortunately, the lecture ran long, so cocktail hour was skipped.  After dinner, the professor slipped this bag into my hand: "I really can't be eating this rich food - so here's a doggy bag for you."  "Doggy bag" is probably the most inappropriate term for the contents of that parcel: three enormous slices of pâté and a tiny carton of hard-boiled quail eggs.  These were to have been eaten with the drinks before dinner.

Now I know that pâté is not the most photogenic thing - and I am definitely not a food stylist - but I had to show you the three different kinds of pâté I was given.  Two with morsels of meat en gelée and one of pure pâté goodness.

Quail eggs just taste richer, creamier, and denser than chicken eggs.  And the fact that they are so dainty and their shells so beautiful - just look at the pale mint green on the inside of speckled brown! - that they are a delight to eat.

And, really, I have a thing for eggs, overall.   This was gastronomic kindness at its greatest.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wandering: A Walk to the Castle

You can either take the tram or hike up the hillside to ramble around the ruins of the Heidelberg Castle (blown up by the French in 1689).  It's easier to take the tram - but then you would miss sights like the one above . . .

. . . and a miniature landscape of moss on the steps up.

The old clock tower at the gates of the castle.

Here's a larger view of our beloved town, looking down from the castle walls.  
Our apartment is about a couple buildings to the left of those twin spires in front of the bridge.

There's a large expanse of park grounds on the plateau of land next to the castle.  I am waiting for warmer weather to come up here with my knitting and a book or two.  Or three or four, depending on how far I am studying for exams!  Speaking of which, I must now be off to study.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Making: The Francis Revisited Sweater

This is what you end up with when you're trying to get a shot in the sunlight of your knitted thingy... and you're all by yourself at home.  Yes, that is the shower curtain behind me.  At least it gives you an idea of the stitches up close: mostly stockinette, with a hem of seed stitching on the cowl, sleeves, and bottom hem.

This was the first garment I ever knitted - finished about a month ago.  It's based on the original Francis Revisited (Ravelry link) created by Beth Silverstein and blogged about here.  It really is a simple, lovely pattern: top down, raglan, knit in the round with no seaming - yay!  I couldn't have asked for a better first sweater pattern.

I knit this with a bulkier yarn than called for - more of an aran weight.  It made for a bulkier and stiffer fabric, but I like that it keeps me quite warm.  Of course, the short sleeves are at cross-purposes with warmth . . . but I like the way it looks with a white long-sleeved tee underneath.  Raveled here.

I'm off to buy more yarn.  I'm thinking: how about this in a dark blue merino, this time with long, slightly flared sleeves?

Friday, April 09, 2010

Feasting: Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

I made some impromptu jam after seeing rhubarb at the market. Yum: sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb - and I think rhubarb always adds such a home-made-goodness taste. The following recipe is rather approximate - but jam is one of those nice, imprecise things to make in the kitchen on a lark.

 Take about two pints of these and hull them, then mash them slightly.

Chop about 5-7 stalks of these into 1 inch pieces, simmer with a little water - just covering - until slightly mushy.  Drain.  Add strawberries and about 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.  I added sugar with pectin (perhaps a German peculiarity?), about a cup and a half, but if you want a more congealed texture, add more pectin - and you may want more sugar.  I'm trying to cut down a bit!  Bring to hard boil for 3-4 minutes.  Take off heat to cool.  Pour into two prepared jam jars.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Wandering: An Unharried Day in Istanbul

Start by sipping Turkish coffee in the Arasta Bazaar - behind the Blue Mosque.  This picture is inspiring me to get the percolator going right now.  Ahhhh.  Coffeeeeeee.  Arasta, though still a tourist trap (but who are we kidding? we're tourists!), is much quieter, smaller, and less frenzied than the Grand Bazaar, especially off season.

Wander around the smaller streets by the bazaar and you'll happen upon some bizarre display like this at Cocoon.  What in the...?  These are felted hats!  In fact, the store is full of felted lovelies, along with some beautiful textiles and handcrafts.

The Istanbul Handicrafts Market (Kabasakal Caddesi 23) showcases their artists' work in glass, pottery, silk painting, and weaving.  The different crafts are housed in small studios/shops surrounding a sunny, central courtyard.  Artists sometimes are at work in their studios.

If you're feeling peckish, try Çiğdem Pastanesi at Divan Yolu Caddesi 62A.  It serves delectable baklava, pastries, and cappuccinos worthy of Rome.

Or, if you're hungry enough for lunch, go to the Sultanahmet Fish House for super-fresh fish at very, very reasonable prices.  Their three course meals are fantastic.  Sit at a window and watch people and cats go by.

Here's Sappho: she's expecting your visit at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum - and behind her is the discus thrower, on loan from the British Museum (not sure how long that will last).  The museum really does have an impressive collection of ancient Near Eastern, Greek, and Roman art and artifacts, along with Ottoman tiles and art.  Beware, however: the museum guards will kick you out at 4PM!  So make sure you arrive with plenty of time.  Closed Mondays.

Walk across the Galata Bridge at sunset, then make your way to drinks and dinner on the modern strip of shops and restaurants on Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu. Rest your feet and relax!

Whimsical felted rabbits, with each their own felt tote bag, at Cocoon.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Making: Opal Hundertwasser Socks

I never really understood the urge to knit socks.  Socks seem to be rather ho-hum articles of clothing, mostly obscured by shoes and pant legs.  Why devote so much time to knitting one?  Even as I knit one right now, I don't plan on becoming an avid sock knitter.  BUT one thing I will say: sock yarns can be fantastic flights of colorful fancy.  And I would only dream of wearing such crazy fabric on my feet!

This sock I'm working on (oh, I guess I'll do a pair, but do I have to?) is made out of Opal sock yarn, from their Hundertwasser series.  Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) was an Austrian painter and architect, all about color and drawing outside the lines.  The painting my sock yarn is based on (yes, crazy notion) is Winterbild:

I think Opal has done a heck of a job getting color combinations in the sock yarn to echo the painting.  What Hundertwasser would think about these colors being worn on people's feet is another matter.

I just love the colors in this particular row of stitches - looks like candy, doesn't it?  But, egads, can you imagine wearing this as a sweater?  But they will do as socks.  I will post when done!