Wednesday 24 September 2014

Graham crackers

In January this year, I did a road trip with a friend down Highway One, on the west coast of the US. The starting point for our trip was San Francisco and before leaving, we stocked up on snacks at the Ferry Plaza Farmers market down at the waterfront. In addition to the many stands outside selling the most amazing fresh produce (and Blue Bottle coffee), there were permanent stores inside just as incredible - cheeses, meats, and bakeries galore... which is how I found myself at Miette, a San Francisco institution, surrounded by delicate pastries, decadent cakes and countless other dazzling sugary treats. My fellow road-tripper Christina, a New Yorker, but frequent visitor to San Fran and Miette, pointed at a downright homely looking cookie - brown, flat, and round. That, she pronounced emphatically. That is what you want. I looked around at the other more obviously enticing choices - pretty pastel macarons, chocolate sabl├ęs glittering with salt crystals, elaborate multi-layer cakes - then at Christina's face, which said trust me and I ordered the graham crackers. I'm so glad I did.  

I'd read about graham crackers for years. They were always in American recipes as the biscuit base of a cheesecake, or in children's books as an after school snack. What were they, I wondered? Like a milk arrowroot? A gingernut? A shredded wheatmeal? Or maybe they were savoury, as the name cracker seemed to imply, like a Vita-Wheat or a Salada. (It occurs to me as I write this how oddly-named every country's traditional biscuits/cookies are) It turns out there is no Australian equivalent. 

Graham crackers are basically buttery, honey-flavoured cookies made with wholemeal flour. As noted, they're nothing to look at, but their homeliness is their greatest strength. There's something incredibly comforting about this unassuming cookie. They're warm (honey! brown sugar!) and delicious and easy to make, the sort of everyday cookie you can rely on. You know what else is everyday? The sunset. I saw plenty of those that trip, as I ate my way through that box of graham crackers. And both were spectacular.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Freekah pilaf

I'm afraid I haven't got into quinoa. For a number of reasons. One, it seems tricky to cook, two, it's expensive, and then there are those allegations about its appropriation by middle-class white folk depleting the supplies of a staple food in its less white, less middle-class country of origin. So my experiments with alternatives to rice and couscous and pasta have led me in a different direction. First to barley, which I love in this risotto, and now to the fantastically-named freekah. Who else to turn to for a recipe to showcase the wonder of this relatively little-known ancient grain but Yotam Ottolenghi? He's got a new cookbook just out - Plenty More - but this is from the original Plenty. All the usual Ottolenghi suspects are there - fresh herbs, onions, yoghurt, spices, garlic...  coming together in a creation that's cool and sweet, warm and nutty and just wonderful. It's a great side dish to serve with meat (roast lamb would be great), or as part of a vegetarian spread, or just to eat in a bowl on its own, like a risotto or fried rice... but a little left-of-centre. With a name like freekah, how could it be anything but?

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Cocoa hazelnut brownies

Some good friends of mine moved house on Monday. I, by contrast, have not moved very far from my computer in the last month with a seemingly neverending string of deadlines. So to make something for their move, that required me to move only as far as my kitchen, where all the ingredients were waiting for me, I turned to these brownies. The ones I usually make require a bit of forethought, as they contain prunes that need to be soaked for three days, but these cocoa hazelnut numbers take about as long to make as the decision to make them, which you'll see, after your eyes graze over these images (or these, from the original source) is not very long at all.

Most brownies are made by melting butter and dark chocolate, but here, the chocolate is swapped for cocoa. I'd been looking for a recipe to showcase the contents of the catering size bag of Italian Pernigotti cocoa I'd lugged back from Seattle (of all places) last year and this proved perfect. Dense, dark, delicious. Worth moving for. Whatever the distance.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Egg salad with pickled celery

There was a time when the thought of egg salad made me screw my face up with disgust. It was soggy, it was smelly, it was the food of retirement homes. Maybe it's because I'm getting older but I prefer to think that my recent change of heart is due to discovering a version that features CRUNCH. 

Celery's the sort of thing that you buy for use in a recipe and end up with more left over than you used in the first place. At the risk of sounding like an episode of Portlandia, here is the solution - pickle it! Or at least some of it. If only for an excuse to try something you'd previously disdained. The briny zing of the pickle in combination with the sharpness of mustard and the sweetness of shallot obliterates all memory of that bland pastel mush. With some fresh herbs, on a roll, it really is the prettiest and most delicious sandwich. Egg salad! I'm a convert (with caveats). After all, you have to change your mind to prove you have one.