The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Month of Fundays: Day 3 – Cook or Bake Something YUMMY

At this point you think I’m the most boring person alive, don’t you? Or, I’m working under some dystopian-type propaganda where I tell you work is fun and you believe me and go along doing it; helping society come back from some sort of fall-out, life-as-we-know-it-ending type thing. Seriously, when I get to the point where I tell you mowing the lawn and doing laundry is the fun activity for the day, you should stop reading these. Neither of those things is remotely fun. Ever. No matter what I might say.

But cooking and baking…All types of fun to be had there. No? Maybe you’re just not doing it right?! I have the tiniest kitchen known to man – it’s a galley style, miniscule thing. I get cranky and angry when other people enter the kitchen while I’m creating (read: destroying the cleanliness) yummy masterpieces. This really is my fun activity for the day. And here’s how I roll:

Cooking – Today’s recipe is a potato & leek soup concoction. The recipe comes from my friend Catherine. Catherine is very green and a little hippy-like in a Wiccan sort of way. In other words: perfectly lovely. She and her husband – and their two kids – grow a lot of their own vegetables. They have a green house as well as earth boxes all along their deck. I’m not sure what any of that has to do with me cooking, but usually I come home from their house with an arm full of fresh veg! The local Farmer’s Market is also a good place to get things like leeks and potatoes at a low, low price. Growing your own vegetables and buying local produce are also fun activities…no, really! That’s not just my propaganda speaking.

Potato & Leek Soup
4 to 5 baking potatoes – baked and cubed
1 to 2 bunches of leeks (base this on taste preference or the size of the leeks themselves) – cleaned and sliced
1 to 2 tbsp of sauté liquid (like bacon grease, butter or olive oil)
14 oz of chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you want a vegetarian recipe)
1 can of evaporated milk (a vegetarian recipe where the veg-eaters in question also eat dairy. Boy, are you screwed if you’re lactose intolerant.)
Optional (read: don’t do this step, herbivores): Some pre-cooked meat – such as ham, bacon, or chicken/turkey. I use bacon (hence the bacon grease for the sauté liquid).

NOTE: for every 14 oz of stock, use 1 can of evaporated milk. There’s some (read: oh, my god – so much) starch in this soup, so I tend to always use double the liquid to get the final consistency I’m looking for.

-Bake the potatoes (I always forget this part and then get angry with myself, because the recipe clearly says “baked and cubed”. Tack on an hour or so if you’ve forgotten to bake the potatoes before you get to the soup making part).

-Clean and slice the leeks. If you’ve never worked with these, they are very dirty and have lots of layers; I promise they are easy to work with. Here’s a video on how to clean leeks.
-Cook the optional meat – only if you are using it though. It’s just a time-waster otherwise.

Saute leeks until well sweated and slightly browned. I use a small stock pot. Add stock and evaporated milk. Mix well. Add baked and cubed potatoes and optional meat. Mix again. Cook on medium low heat. Stir as needed. Once the potatoes are thoroughly cooked (Yes, I know. They’ve already been baked, so they are cooked thoroughly. Just use your best judgment. It doesn’t take long.) and soup has reached the desired consistency; serve with your favorite carb vehicle (sourdough, biscuits, brown n’ serve rolls, baguette).

PS – once everything has stewed/heated up for a while, take a potato masher to it for smaller pieces and really, just to release more starch. This makes the soup easier to eat; it has an amazing texture your taste buds will love.

…Yes, soup in the summer. I don’t know why, but I always find myself craving a hearty cup of soup or stew when it’s hot out…

Baking – I thought about making cupcakes, but I just did that and scones sound much more appetizing today. Perfect paired with tea or coffee, this is not the recipe I’d use for added fresh fruit. For that, I use another recipe that looks and acts more like the big, triangular scones you find in most American coffee shops. The one below is just a nice, sturdy scone that holds up to clotted cream, jam, marmalade, lemon curd or even, just butter if eaten fresh from the oven.

Basic Tea Scones
Don’t let the name fool you; these are not basic at all. The recipe has been tweaked and tried numerous times. Most scone recipes are similar with the best ones having only a few basic ingredients. Here is the result of many a scone baking. To be fair it is about 75% Harrods scone recipe. It’s not like I went into Harrods and asked them for their recipe – so most likely it came out of a cook book or off that new-fangled internets-thingy. It tastes like the scones I’ve had at Harrods though.

3 cups (15 oz / 470 g) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp baking powder
6 tbsp (3 oz / 90 g) cold unsalted butter (seriously, DO NOT take this out and get it to room temperature) – cut into small pieces
3/4 cup (6 oz / 180 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (8 fl oz / 250 ml) milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). In a medium bowl, sift the flour and baking powder together, and then stir until well blended. At this point you should brew a nice of cup of tea. Using your fingers, rub the butter in until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Drink your cuppa tea and then remember you are making something to eat whilst drinking tea. Fists of fury. Then stir the sugar into the butter / flour / baking powder mixture and mix well. Quickly stir in the milk to make a firm dough. Yes, it is too sticky and there’s lots of flour not incorporated into the mixture yet. At this point you should swear because you’ve forgotten to flour a work surface, prepare the baking pan and/or remove the biscuit cutter and rolling pin from the drawer you keep them in. Un-goo your hands with lots of soap and water and do all of the forgotten things. Have another cup of tea to calm your nerves.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth. You can make a well and add all of those crumbly bits that didn’t adhere to the big ball of dough at this point. Roll out (I hate to say use a rolling pin, because you can almost pat this out with your hands. If you have a small rolling pin left over from an Easy Bake Oven or something; that would be your best bet.) to a 1 cm thickness (I eye-ball this, so 1 cm is probably more like 3 cm for me) and cut into 2 inch rounds with a pastry/biscuit cutter.

Place the scones 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet (Yes, the parchment paper is mocking you. It will roll up onto itself and be cut at an awkward angle no matter what you do. You can win! You will show it who’s boss!), brush with milk and dust with super fine (castor) sugar. Bake in the oven for 14 – 16 minutes, or until lightly golden, remove from oven and let them cool on a wire rack. I use the matching tiny spatula from my Easy Bake Oven set to remove the scones from the pan. Or your hands work too. Makes 12 – 16 scones.

These scones are really versatile. If you must add golden raisins, regular raisins, currants or other dried fruit, go ahead. I also make these in the fall with a can of Libby’s pumpkin added for a rustic flavor.

To eat: Brew another cup of tea and then slice open – putting clotted cream then jam on each half. Or, if you are my husband, slather with butter and lemon curd and smash both halves together, you Crazy British Man.

The point is to have fun baking, cooking. Enjoy your time in the kitchen, put in your earphones and dance around the kitchen while cooking. Creating something yummy to eat is one of those endorphin-infused moments you can be proud of. If you have kids, cook and bake with them. These are the moments I remember from my childhood. Kitchen time with mom was always a good day in my book.

Picture: Look! I took pictures today. You should take a picture of whatever it is you’re making.

Song: Not surprisingly, I tend to listen to music while I’m in the kitchen. Today was a Mary Chapin Carpenter day (also not surprising). I’m going with “Passionate Kisses”.

Tomorrow: Relaxation. Spa Day!

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