Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chocolate soufflé in a tiny kitchen

2011 is my year of imperfection – a curious notion I know but one I have become very attached to. The idea of devoting a year to being imperfect dawned upon me last December. It came from my increasing frustrations with a very small kitchen and a desperate need for sunlight.

So it’s Sunday and it seems an appropriate day to practice being imperfect. My dish of choice is a soufflé; not any soufflé but a Julia Child’s soufflé. I loved the film and when I was in the States last year, I brought that wonderful classic – Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Now in my year of imperfection, I am making no aspirations towards mastery; instead, all I want to do is cook. So here is:

Chocolate soufflé in a tiny kitchen
The first thing I need to do is get my ingredients sorted and to turn on the oven. I might want to embrace imperfection but a little organisation in the kitchen will be needed. This is a souffle. Conversion via Google and the oven is on, so it heats to 425 (218 C).

Next to my ingredients:
2 cups of milk,
½ cup of white sugar;
1/3 cup of strong coffee;
200 grams of dark 70% chocolate
1/3 cup of what Julia calls all purpose flour and by this I presume that she means plain; and finally six egg whites and four egg yolks, separated of course.
Also vanilla extra – 1 tablespoon and yes, a pinch of salt.

Now it is good thing that this is an imperfect soufflé because already there is yolk in the whites. I have no idea what this means for the final result but the separation of egg is a new experience for me. (I am not a cake baker: the domain of cookery, where such dexterous precision is required.) In a year of perfection, I would have started again, but not this year. My one concession is note to self – buy an egg separator!

Now, and I confess according to the film, The Mastering the Art of French Cookery was originally written for American cooks who did not have domestic help. So I’m hoping given this promise of handholding, so that what followings will not be the collapse of my delicious airy and light soufflé through stress.

(Now just as an example of how frightfully small this kitchen is, I have to balance the cookbook on the side of the sink, so I can read it. This is because the ingredients are taking up the available bench room…)

And so we begin …
Place chocolate and coffee into a bowl over a simmering saucepan of water – the aim is to begin the melting process.

While this is happening, prepare your soufflé dish. Cover the surface with butter. Now I am going to deviate from Julia here and follow Gordon or what I think is Gordon. It’s a half-remembered tip from an online soufflé recipe.

Butter inside of the dish. Place it in the fridge for five minutes and then rebutter it. Finish by coating the inside with some drinking chocolate. Now I have Valrohona and its perfect for such a purpose. It is 100%cacao and when drinking it, it is like drinking silk.

(I’m now having the rest of the coffee that I made earlier – fab stuff from Bon Marche. Very very retro- it’s caramel coffee. The only reason why I am using it is that I have run out of everything else!)

Now Julia says create a collar of butter tin foil. Well I’ve decided that this is getting a little complicated, especially as my chocolate/ coffee mix has now melted and nothing else is prepared!

Now one of the ways to cope with a small kitchen is not to have a lot of stuff – it’s a great excuse only to have GOOD stuff. So with a quick dry, my saucepan is now being used to make the chocolate basis of the soufflé.

Add the flour to the saucepan and slowly add in the milk. This is where I need to stop writing as it is lumpy and the only way to get out of this is to whisk. So I’m whisking.

Crisis averted, or so I think. It is meant to be whisked into the consistency of a smooth cream! Add the butter and stir over moderate heat until boiling. Let boil for two minutes and continue to stir. (Note: it has turned into a smooth cream! Thank you, Julia)

Skimming forward to see what is next, I realise that I still haven’t whisked my egg whites into submission. I have no idea of timing and so I am starting to panic a little. I’m new to this imperfection thing. I want to default to my normal position – extreme multi-tasking. But my second whisk has gone missing and I am forbidden for using the KitchenAid.

So where was I?

Take the chocolate/ coffee mixture from the heat and allow it to cool. Julia says to stir every minute or so to help with the cooling. Taste wise, it’s uninspiring - just butter, milk and flour. It tastes like and is batter. You can see from the picture that it is slightly lumpy.

One by one the egg yolks are whisked into this batter. Finally, you add the melted chocolate/ coffee combo and finally vanilla extract.

My co-conspirator has just come to my rescue and is going to beat the egg whites for me. In a kitchen this small, you need all the outside help that you can get. I stand back in full admission, as he uses his KitchenAid.

So the chocolate sauce is complete and attention now needs to be turned to the egg whites. Unsurprisingly, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Then slowly, almost sprinkle by sprinkle, add the sugar. What you should get is glossy Disney-like peaks.

Fold in the chocolate mixture and add to the soufflé dish. (I added the chocolate mix a little at a time, so as not to collapse (is this the right word?) the soufflé mixture

Now I can already tell that I have way, and I mean way, too much egg mixture. At this stage, the kitchen is a complete mess. I find myself turning in circles trying to work out what to do next.

Whatever you do turn the temperature of the oven down to 190 as the soufflé goes in.

Now we wait….
Twenty-two minutes in and it’s looking good. Slightly lope-sided as this is not an oven that cooks evenly. I’m too frightened to open the door and besides I’m exhausted.

I’ve just washed all the dishes that I used and my complaints about lack of bench space and resulted in a reshuffling of monumental proportions. Our idea of having music in the kitchen is now unplugged; the rest, much more bench space.

This whole experience makes me think that my idea of removing everything from the bench-top to cook (like I did at Christmas) is a damn fine idea!

OK… five minutes to go to reach the minimum of 30 minutes. Now I need to wait until the top has cracked. The good news is that it appears to have evened out and can I say it smells fantastic!

I need a skewer to test if it is ready – add to the shopping list. (A word of caution – the problem of coating the inside of the soufflé dish with chocolate is that it will look burnt – it’s not!)

What it has left me wondering is how you could possibly do this for a dinner party. Well, Julia has the answer! You can make this mixture an hour before cooking it. You place it in the prepared soufflé dish and cover it with aluminium foil.

So to the taste…
The texture is light and airy. I can’t taste the coffee but otherwise it is wonderful.

As to what I would do next time – reduce the eggs to five (so five white and four yolks). I think I’d also reduce the chocolate by half.

So as Julia would say Bon Appetite!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

You've got to love Delia

You've got to love Delia, well at least before she released - How to cheat at cooking (more about this later). She was the first British celebrity chef.

Her Seasons collection was my first TV experience of real cookery - not cooking for necessity but cooking as a passion; cooking inspired by ingredients; cooking by the seasons.

Her clipped Britishness, her poshness, her kitchen were exotic to me. It was food with beauty and I was inspired by it. It made me want to cook.

So when looking for something to cook last Saturday night, something simple, something easy; I asked myself, what would Delia cook?

Chicken and leek pie
You'll need:

4 small chicken breasts (I just picked up a four-pack from Waitrose)
3 leeks
3 carrots
A bottle of cider
Some fresh thyme (go for 3-4 sprigs)
Two small bay leaves (or a large one. I have a small plant in my small kitchen)
Packet of store brought short-crust or puff pastry

Like most of Delia's recipe, there is a beautiful simplicity to this recipe. You start by placing in a saucepan, the carrots, thyme, cider, bay leaves, and simmer for five minutes.

As I said, you have to love Delia's understanding of the simple and by this I mean her pairing of favours. In this instance, the sweetness of the cider with the carrot and leek.

Then add the leeks that you have washed thoroughly - think all that grit that you want to avoid. Also add the chicken that you have prepared into pie-sized pieces. Cook for ten.

Once the chicken is cooked, drain, making sure that you collect the cider that the vegetables have cooked in.

Place this broth (for want of a better description) back into the saucespan and reduce. Delia's says to reduce to about two tablespoons. I didn't do that but I did reduce it by a least half.

At this stage, turn on your oven to 200 degree or what Delia calls gas mark 6. I was fascinated by gas mark metrics when I watched her shows as a teenager- we didn't have such ovens in Australia.

White sauce ingredients - straight from the larder
275 ml of milk
20 g plain flour
20g of butter
25g of parmesan cheese

Again, we return to Delia's simplcity in this white sauce. Forget the melting of the butter and swift adding of flour and the juggling of pouring milk and whisking. Instead it all goes in there at once (except the parmesan, salt and pepper) and whisk like crazy. The result much to my surprise is a smooth white sauce.

Once you finish the white sauce, add the parmesan and season. Gently mix the pie mixture into the sauce. The result is a wonderfully sweet and fragant filling.

Next use your store pastry and cover each dish. I went for the short crust. From the ingredients, I made a medium-sized pie in a souffle dish and two individual pieces. I folded the pastry into folds and then brushed with milk. Place in the oven and cook for twenty minutes. The result - a fabulous pie, warming, simple and absolutely, Delia.

One final word...

It's about the cheat book. It's a tough one, as I get where Delia is coming from. When most children don't even know what a vegetable is or where food comes from, then the basics shift a little or a lot.

There is no denying that it's probably better for people to cheat and sit down with their kids and eat food than buy pre-made food from a supermarket.

Living in London and being on a London wage, it's easy to forget, some of the harsh economic realities of how people live in Britian. I've always presumed that it is cheaper to buy fresh ingredients and cook them than it is to live on take-away. The reality is... it probably isnt.

What I miss about Australia is the availability of fresh, good food. You don't have to go to a farmer's market, you just go to your local fruit and veg. Here in London at least, I've never really found one. There's Broadway market and Borough market but these aren't cheap.

So is Delia so wrong I ask myself.... what do you think?