Puzzled Cook

Traversing the perils of cooking in unfamiliar territory, with unfamiliar ingredients, in a time zone different to your mother's

Extrapolating A Recipe

Hello and welcome back!

A quick disclaimer and a run down of the last few months
1. Life threw me a screwball and I ended up writing for someone else’s cooking blog!
2. This turned out to be a spectacular waste of my time as it wasn’t so much writing as it was linking to other people’s recipes which is about as interesting as it sounds.
Whilst this all ended in January I did get caught up with a trip back home and some other business here and there and so here we find ourselves, several months later with not a post in sight.

Never fear, I am (hopefully) back and ready to go again. Today we are going to explore a mistake that I have made time and time again; not trusting my own intuition.

For reasons which I will not go into here, I have recently found myself needing a refresher on some basic maths. For someone who is fascinated by complex mathematical concepts, I find the actual doing of equations about as intuitive as a monkey would find turning a banana into banana bread. In a moment of desperation I turned to a good friend of mine who, bizarrely enough, studied mathematics before beginning his film degree. He informed me of this one night over a glass of wine (actually, I can’t confirm whether it was a night or a glass of wine but considering the patterns of our friendship, it’s safe to assume) and I was both bemused and astounded and then promptly put that information away into the “interesting facts about friends” files.

So, recently my brain dug up this piece of information and I requested assistance from this friend. Last Thursday I got up at 8 am and subjected the poor soul to my incessant questions and utter failure to grasp basic algebraic concepts. One of the terms he used is “extrapolating an equation” which basically means opening it up and breaking it down into simpler ones to arrive at the answer. I found the term interesting and realised that this isn’t unlike what we do with recipes when we read them for the first time and attempt to make them.

Extrapolating a recipe goes something like this

1) reading the ingredients
2) grouping the ingredients (the most basic example of this is in baking, where you have “wet” and “dry” ingredients
3) combining those ingredients
4) following cooking steps

Easy, non?!

However much I find math unintuitive, I find cooking equally intuitive. Oooooh, could that be presented in an equation?! Anyway, as a result I often find myself staring at a recipe and thinking to myself “Well that just ain’t right, why would you do that?” Time and time again I make the same mistake, I promptly think “No, no, the recipe knows better than me, follow the recipe.” Well, FALSE!

For the sake of demonstrating my point, let’s assess and extrapolate my latest booboo.

I had some left over leeks I needed to use and some delicious hard goats cheese and it dawned on me that I could make savoury muffins. I did a google search as anything that involves baking means I turn into a crazed psychopath who thinks that baking is an exact science and if you do it wrong there goes your whole day.
Anyway, after some searching I found this guy here and thought it sounded pretty good.
Disclaimer: I don’t mean to imply that a fellow blogger’s recipe is a load of crap, simply that there are things within this recipe that make no sense to me, I also chose this particular recipe as it is not the blogger’s own. Rather, it came out of a magazine so hopefully, no one’s feelings get hurt around here.

Anyway… Here is the recipe as it reads

Ingredients

175g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Quarter teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
50ml milk
1 egg, preferably organic
100ml vegetable oil (I used Rice Bran Oil)
Half a teaspoon mustard – I used Dijon mustard
1 medium leek, washed, trimmed and chopped finely
75g good cheddar cheese, grated finely

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with 10 cases.

2. Mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a large bowl.

3. Mix together the wet ingredients – all in the same jug to limit washing up: Pour the vegetable oil into a jug to the 100ml mark and then on top of this pour on the milk until the oil and milk together show 150ml. I will look a bit weird and lava-lampish but don’t worry. Dollop in the mustard, crack in an egg and give it a good whisk about with a fork.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined. You will have a very thick dough. Gently stir in the chopped leeks and grated cheese, but don’t over-work the mixture.

5. Fill the muffin cases, using a heaped dessertspoon of dough for each muffin. They will rise a little on cooking but each muffin is very rich and so quality is key here, rather than quantity.

6. Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked through.

Now for the extrapolating (my own thoughts are in italics)

175g plain flour – fine
1 tsp baking powder – fine
Quarter teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda – fine
pinch of salt – fine
50ml milk – fine
1 egg, preferably organic – fine
100ml vegetable oil (I used Rice Bran Oil) – seems an awful lot of oil for the measure of everything else, but let’s go with it
Half a teaspoon mustard – I used Dijon mustard – meh… leave this out
1 medium leek, washed, trimmed and chopped finely – use two small ones, also, how do you define the size of a leek?
75g good cheddar cheese, grated finely – used hard goat’s cheese instead

So far so good…

1. Preheat oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with 10 cases. – convert to this heathen Fahrenheit system and preheat

2. Mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a large bowl. – yep makes sense

3. Mix together the wet ingredients – all in the same jug to limit washing up: Pour the vegetable oil into a jug to the 100ml mark and then on top of this pour on the milk until the oil and milk together show 150ml. I will look a bit weird and lava-lampish but don’t worry. Dollop in the mustard, crack in an egg and give it a good whisk about with a fork. - still makes sense

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined. You will have a very thick dough. - alarm bells that sounds more like a scone than a muffin… Gently stir in the chopped leeks and grated cheese, but don’t over-work the mixture. – again, sounds like a scone (remember our scone recipe, don’t overwork the dough) plus, how are you supposed to evenly stir in hard fresh leeks and cheese into a hard dough?

5. Fill the muffin cases, using a heaped dessertspoon of dough for each muffin. They will rise a little on cooking but each muffin is very rich and so quality is key here, rather than quantity. – they hardly rose at all plus with all the bits of leek sticking out everywhere, won’t the leek just burn rather than sweeten and caramelize? I don’t like the sound of this at all, but recipe knows best

6. Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked through.

What came out was flat, stumpy little muffins that had the texture of a scone and some burnt leeks sticking out of the tops. It tasted ok, but it didn’t have the texture I was happy with nor was the sweetness and richness of leeks present. So, here is how i would write the recipe (changes are bold)

175g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Quarter teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
100ml milk 
1 egg, preferably organic
100ml vegetable oil
1 medium or two small leeks, washed, trimmed and chopped finely
75g good hard finely grated goat’s cheese

1. Preheat oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with 10 cases
2. In a saucepan melt a little butter and throw in the leeks, salt and cook until leeks start to soften
3. Mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt, grated cheese and cooked leeks in a large bowl.
4. Mix together the wet ingredients – all in the same jug to limit washing up: Pour the vegetable oil into a jug to the 100ml mark and then on top of this pour on the milk until the oil and milk together show 200ml. I will look a bit weird and lava-lampish but don’t worry. Crack in an egg and give it a good whisk about with a fork
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined. You will have a semi thick dough.
6. Bake until golden and cooked through

And that my friends is how you extrapolate a recipe. To make it abundantly clear, I haven’t actually tested this new recipe (ran out of flour) but I am fairly confident it would work out better. and even if it doesn’t, that isn’t actually the point. The point is to trust yourself. In all the times that I’ve followed a recipe despite thinking it was wrong, my meals turned out meh. Additionally, every single time that I have modified it to what makes sense to me, it turned out far far better. This is a skill that I’ve acquired through years of cooking. I also don’t wish to imply that my way is the be all and end all.

My advice is  this, remember what things taste like. For example, I know that leeks are sweet when cooked lightly, so doing that made sense to me. Furthermore, think about texture. If it sounds to you that the leeks wouldn’t easily mix in with the thick though, then they probably won’t, so what’s the alternative? What can you add or subtract from the recipe to “fix it”? In short, extrapolate!

If someone could now please make my modified recipe and get back to me, I’d really appreciate it!

Happy cooking!

Sorry!

Before I get on with the profound apologies regarding my tardiness I would really like to share with you a conversation I seem to have 2-3 times a week, minimum.

Stranger: Nice to meet you! You’re from Australia?
Me: Yep!
Stranger: That’s awesome, how long have you been here?
Me: Three months (before I go, can we all just note how ridiculously long that sounds!)
Stranger: Oh…. So you haven’t experienced a winter yet?

Word for word, this conversation does not vary. It’s extraordinary how much Canadians love to talk about their winter. All that talk is so arbitrary to me, the fall hasn’t even started properly, the temperatures have been beautiful and haven’t even really hit Australian winter levels. Saturday is meant to be a low of 4 and a high of 10 so we’ll see how that pans out. Suffice to say that when I finally got a hold of the package that my mum sent me and whipped out my jacket and said “Fall Jacket!!” My friend laughed at me, shook her head and proclaimed I was going to need something a bout more substantial. Great.

Anyway, if you care to know why I’ve been so quiet lately it is because I have been busy settling into my new place and starting new jobs with the addition of the occasional bit of drama. Essentially, the basics of life don’t change from one country to another.

I have very slowly been supplying my kitchen. The two most missed items so far are ramekins, a dense mesh colander like this (for washing rice) and a wooden spoon. I need not be told that these are all cheap and basic items, I’ve just been… lazy. However, I have been able to make most things so far, so life is pretty good. In further news that bring me great joy, I have finally found a brand of eggs that deliver me those beautiful bright orange yolks that I love so much. HAPPY CHICKENS!! At $5.90 a dozen they sure are not cheap, but better flavourful eggs from happy chickens than blergh eggs from miserable chickens.

A common theme in the kitchen so far has been me making something and Tom (my new housemate) walking through saying “What are you making?! That smells delicious!” It’s nice to know I haven’t lost my touch. He doesn’t even know the half of it, I’ve profoundly missed my spice rack. It makes me so sad not to have everything I could want at my fingertips. So many times I’d think “oh! I’ll make this!” and then realise I don’t have the spice and then… well then I’m just sad. However, word on the street is that there is a shop about a 15 minute walk from my lovely cosy little apartment called The House of Spice so I’ll be making a trip down there soon and then it’s ON! It’s on like Donkey Kong!

In the meantime this is what my life looks like.

Look at those colours!! Did you know that the more colourful your dinner is, the more nutritious it is? It’s true! Colours in vegetables indicate different vitamins and minerals. Here we had the purple of Spanish onions, red, orange and yellow pepper and the green of parsley. What more could you ask for?

This is Battleaxe, he likes to bite feet, get all up in your face when you’re trying to cook, sun himself on the kitchen table/chairs etc. He likes to sit by the dish rack and watch you wash the dishes (I wish I was making that up) and you know, generally makes a nuisance of himself. I love him though, and I’ve been watching him grow bigger and a bit more bold. Get outta my food Battleaxe!

This one is from my “My Dinner is Better than Your Dinner” series. Baked Salmon with Roast Veggies. Yep.

Have you ever eaten the jelly inside a young coconut? It’s.. strange.


This is my made up dinner and my first bit of Feta Cheese in… wait for it… 3.5 months. I was walking through the supermarket and realised I hadn’t had any Feta in forever. I baked a Portobello, which turned out much like sautéing one in butter but with about 1/5th of the butter. So I’m doing that from now. Have I mentioned how much I love Portobellos? Well I do. A lot. I read a recipe from Martha Stewart where she suggests you drizzle the Portobello in Olive Oil to bake it. She clearly lost her mind momentarily while writing that recipe because no one in their right mind would ever cook a mushroom with anything else but butter.

Anyway, the rest of it was a leek and a big handful or two of Spinach. I put it all on a slice of Rye and Carraway bread because I am European at heart and bread is how we roll. Tom pointed this out to me when he noticed I bought entire loaves of bread. So there’s that. Also, see that table there? He made that. Looks like he might actually be of some use to have around.

Speaking of which, one morning we both got up around the same time and I asked if he wanted some eggs. I just did the ol’ crack them over a tinsy bit of melted butter and just stir until they’re kinda scrambled/cooked. I think in the past we’ve been over my aversion to “wet” eggs (which I am trying to get past so I can eat those really delicious looking runny yolks). Anyway, there is no room for experimentation with quick scrambled eggs so they were nice and dry. Upon eating them Tom said “I’m really glad you cooked them properly. I hate wet eggs, ugh. You can stay.”  So yeah, that’s about the time I knew we’d get along famously.

As a self professed dish washer (I know my dad will laugh at this, but you know what, he always got up to wash them so quickly, no one ever got a chance!) I was mortified that they’d sat in the sink for pushing on 24 hours. I wrote an apology on our chalk wall. I don’t think that Tom actually cared that much. Also, I’ve become addicted to Tropicana Orange and Tangerine juice. I’m pretty sure they put crack in it because I just can’t get enough. So now I have a drug problem… Oh boy.

The cat is weird and refuses to drink out of anything but an actual glass. Also, he was totally onto me with the whole taking photos of him thing, so this is as good as it gets.

So there you are. Oh oh, and I’ve made friends with a foodie so my life is probably about to get better!!

Til Next Time,

The Puzzled Cook

I have bought…

My first piece of cookware!!
A Calphalon 10″ non stick frying pan. Delightfully FREE thanks to a gift card courtesy of the lovely Kathy and Paul and the freakin’ fantastic prices at Winners. I can’t begin to explain how happy this makes me!!

YAY!

Love,
The Slightly-Less-Puzzled-Cook

The Case for Butter #2

Again, Pioneer Woman shows us why butter is GOOD.
Please embrace it. Nature intended for you to eat butter, instead of margarine. It tastes better and it’s natural. Please eat it, please?

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2011/08/pie-fats-revealed/

Food = Love

I bet ET didn’t really want to leave earth, I bet he just had a good ol’ fashioned hankering for something. Maybe ET’s version of Cottage Cheese. I bet ET missed his friends and family because he remembered that all those precious times he shared with them somehow always managed to revolve around or involve food. I believe this completely and utterly.

Here are some examples of special times I’ve shared with friends in the last year that have involved food.

1. Ella’s 21st. There was a Pork Leg roasting in her backyard, complete with bowls of Rocket and Apple Sauce. No, I didn’t eat the Pork Leg but aside from all the other amazing things that my wonderful friends prepared for her birthday, the Pork Leg was a central focus of the evening. I believe Ella loved the bejesus out of that thing. Kirsty also ate an entire Pavlova to make a point. Not at the party itself you understand, but it was a part of her birthday gift to Ella, to eat an entire Pavlova.

2. Kirsty came around and made fresh pasta with us. My mum and I yelled at each other a lot that day, I’m sure causing a most awkward situation for poor Kirsty, but she made pasta with us and the result was tasty and it took several hours but that didn’t really matter. Though, maybe Kirsty sees it differently as she did bang on about how long it took.

3. Sam ate the Veggie Goulash that I made one night as we worked, even though it mostly had things in it that he doesn’t like eating. He ate it nonetheless and I will forever be grateful to him for doing so. He also brought over a six pack of Bee’s Knees that night so I feel like I really owe him one. I’m sorry, Sam, it will never happen again but maybe before you and Lucy head North for a visit, you should give me a list of things you don’t eat, as it is hard to keep up.

4. Amber… well she just came over frequently, and ate dairy at my house. She doesn’t eat dairy ordinarily but she seems to find it acceptable when I make something. I love her for that more than she’ll ever know. I love that she lets me be myself in the kitchen.

5. Reneé came over and I made veggie lasagna, and she loved it and we drank a bottle of wine and she taught me about genetics. Then I taught her the recipe and then she made it for carnivorous boys who went in for seconds. Life is a delightful exchange lie that.

6. Jussie made me a delicious pasta that involved cream and curry powder and then handfuls of Parmesan. I know that sounds crazy, but we warmed to it through the meal and ended the night full of delicious and satisfied, and we both broke our diets. That’s what those nights are for, breaking your diets.

7. See previous post re: Paul’s birthday and the great Eggplant feast.

8.  Rufio and the Burger’s Priest blow out after our failed Rock Climbing Adventure. Obviously when it turns out you can’t engage in exercise, you turn to food.

9. Stinky Tofu ’11. Nothing quite brings people together like the knowledge that you’re all suffering through the same thing. Sure is a good way to quickly relate to those you’ve just met.

10. Oh and then there was that time when my mum gave Deb a jar of the red Capsicum and Eggplant Chutney that she makes each summer. After a climb I dropped Deb home and half way back to my own place I realised she’d left it in the car. When I rang to tell her she exclaimed “I NEED THAT!!”

11. Then there was that time when James, Emily, Eddie and I decided to take the delightful Jan Anders (head of the Norwegian Film School) and his wife out for dinner. Jan in turn decided that to get us all properly sloshed and a good time was had by all. This was closely followed by the balmy Aussie summer night with James, Emily, Eddie, Deb, Helen, Neil and my parents, where the seafood was abundant, I made superb Margaritas and everyone got spectacularly sloshed, including my mother(!).

So there, that’s why ET wanted to go home. Now I’m not ET, and I don’t want to go home but my point still stands. I actually had an entirely different post written for you, but then I read this.

For Mikey

It moved me to near tears. So you know what, ring up a friend/family member/partner/colleague and ask them over for dinner, or do what I’ve been doing and go to their place and make food for them. Make them pasta with sauce out of a jar for all I care. Make something fancy and fail and then make the pasta with the sauce out of a jar. Hell, make them a PB&J. Make a mess, have a drink and a giggle and hug them. Alternatively, throw your exercise plans out the window, and go eat a burger, it’s good for the soul.

Much Love,

The happy and content Puzzled Cook

Discovering Markets

Whilst I am still finding the supermarkets in Canada a strange and alien place that lack the elements that are vital to sustaining life I am discovering foodie joys also. The possibility of leaving in a week brings to sharp relief what an amazing adventure this has been so far, and I don’t want to stop discovering!! Anyway, let me tell you about the markets in my very verbose and roundabout way.

My love of Farmers’ Markets is well documented here. There is truly nothing more wonderful than returning home with a giant basket full of colourful goodies and then trying to work out what to do with them. This can take up entire Sundays for me and I love it. It gives me almost as much joy as cooking for friends. Anyway, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some very delightful people here. I feel so instantly at home because of the people in this city. A few weeks back my lovely friend Chris invited me out to dinner with a friend of his, Paul. I arrived at Brazenhead Pub in Liberty Village with Chris to find Paul and his girlfriend Kathy and her brother already seated. It was a pleasant balmy evening on a Patio with some decent pub eats. I’ve been making my way through various veggie burgers at Toronto’s pubs and Brazenhead’s was one of the better ones thanks to their fantastic patty. Anyhoo, Kathy and Paul are both animators so there was some good conversations about all things film etc.

Fast forward three weeks, one humungously  successful shopping trip with Kathy, (who not only is a joy to shop with but has tastes so similar to mine that we may or may not have bought some identical items in identical sizes… ahem.), a couple hangouts with both Kathy and Paul and one ill designed trip to get a coffee (sorry, Kathy!!) later and I find myself on the streetcar heading down Spadina to meet her for a trip to St Lawrence Markets in downtown Toronto. The previous Saturday the conversation went something like this,

K: oh, I’m going to St Lawrence on Friday to get food and stuff for Paul’s birthday picnic?
L: oh that sounds like fun!
K: what should I get for vegetarian eats?
L: I dunno, veggies and cheese and stuff? Oh! I could make my eggplant patties!!
K: oh ok! that sounds like fun, wanna come over and we can cook and stuff?
L: oh yes!

You see? You see? That is how my life pans out in a matter of seconds and it’s just oh so great! Now here’s the thing, T-Dot has been experiencing one of the worst heatwaves in living memory. The other day it lived through the hottest day on record, 51 degrees with the humidex. Disgusting, totally disgusting. I can’t begin to describe to you how hot it was. I promised Chris I would never ever make fun of his complaints about the heat again. So anyway, Kathy and I stumbled our way to St Lawrence in the morning heat and made an amateur mistake; buying a coffee BEFORE doing all the shopping. We found ourselves swapping bags, coffees, shuffling over, placing things on counters and generally taking up too much space and time to the occasional irritation of the people serving us. Let this be a lesson to you, friends, coffee AFTER shopping. St Lawrence, like Adelaide’s Central Market, is a foodie’s indoor delight. Fruit and veg, grains, cheeses, breads, deli meats, deli deliciousness (get this right, a tub of olives, a tub of caper berries and a tub of dolmades for $8?! Sweet joyous land, Oh Canada!!). There were little continental shops and stalls, Asian food delights etc.

Anyway, a more memorable part of the trip occurred at the bakery.

Kathy: how much bread should I get, a loaf or two?
Lej: how man people are coming?
Kathy: I dunno, 15?
Lej: Oh! you need like 4 loaves!
Kathy: oh.. maybe we’ll go with 3? There will be salad and stuff too.
Lej: yeah ok!

More on that later…

I have been told that St Lawrence Market is total chaos on a Saturday and that one needs a solid strategy to get around. I’ll have to head over there one day and check that out, but on a Friday it was completely pleasant and all the permanent stalls were still open.

Anyway, due to Toronto’s completely oppressive heat, we took the streetcar back and then went to the supermarket for additional ingredients. Supermarkets are a total pain. We couldn’t find half the stuff we needed and had to visit two separate ones. It’s painful trying to work out where things are when you don’t recognise any of the brands etc, but we got there in the end. I find that supermarkets here don’t seem to have some sort of logical isle order to them, or if they do it’s not one that I am used to. (What’s the point of 3 different dairy sections?)
We headed back to Kathy’s and got stuck into it… Ok no, that’s a lie. We sat down for a bit and had some wine before we got stuck into it. Some days, you just gotta work out your priorities.
Now came the time for some life lessons.

1) Whilst you’re used to four eggplants making maybe 20 patties, know that 8 eggplants will yield over 60.
2) Saying “oh these will be done in half an hour” when you have 60 patties to roll is a lie. Every time you lie god kills a kitten.
3) People CAN be taught to like eggplant.
4) Warn people that their house might smell like fried eggplant for a few hours after the fact.

I’ve talked about these patties a lot here. You can do ANYTHING with this mix, you could make them into a burger or, do as I prefer to and make them small, almost like flat meatballs and shove them in a Sandwich, as if they were a felafel (or you could make them like a felafel! GENIUS! I *just* thought of that). Make it SIMPLE. They’re insanely joyful with piles of different types of salad and solid a serving of a good sharp cheddar, or even better smoked cheese of any sort.

The following photo does not do the quantity we made ANY justice! It was actually obscene.

I will post a full photographic recipe to this because they are just so popular that they deserve to be shared with the world. Just let me settle in and actually get a kitchen together!!

I had gotten it into my head that we would also make Key Lime Pie AND meringues for mini Pavlovas but of course, nothing ever goes according to plan. Thus, several hours later we had a delicious Key Lime Pie and 7 left over egg whites.  C’est la vie!

The picnic was amazing. Paul’s mum made a pasta salad that puts any pasta salad I’ve ever made to complete shame.  I will try and recreate it at some point, I can vaguely remember some of the ingredients, the star of which was Thyme. It really was a perfect day outside, under a tree, with minimal movement. There were lovely, friendly people, good conversation and a very sweet little boy. How do children have so much energy even in the middle of an oppressively hot Toronto summer day? It never ceases to astound me. Chris tried to teach him how to hold out a badminton racquet straight and then swing (with the shuttlecock on the racquet) and while he did actually get a grasp of it, he soon discovered that if he just put the shuttlecock on the ground and then whacked it with the racquet, the results were far more exciting. This is what I love about children, they’re experimental, life skills are way cooler when you figure them out for yourself.

Back to the food though, the eggplant patties were an absolute hit. I had several people tell me that they HATE eggplant but that this is amazingly delicious. I watched tentative bites turn into approving nods, it warms my heart!! Oh and by the by, those three loaves of bread purchased? There were two left over… Kathy and Paul are eating a looooooot of sandwiches this week.

So, moral of the story is… go out and MAKE some picnic food this weekend, it’ll make you feel tops, I promise!

Much love,
Puzzled Cook

I do USUALLY keep my promises

Ok so, I know I said that I would post daily photos of the berry pudding thing that I’ve got in the fridge doing its thing, but not much seems to be happening to it so for now I’ll leave it. Progress is slow, this is concerning. Could this be the Puzzled Cook’s first ever public fail?

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