Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Guilty Pleasures #2

The man I really want to be in the back of a car with...

So has anyone else on this side of the Atlantic seen/tasted these new Walkers crisp flavours? There are very many places where Canada beats Ireland; the existence of brunch, great sourdough, more than say, 3, sushi restaurants in the entire country. But when it comes to the humble spud, we have it covered. My favourite potato based snack food is Tayto Cheese and Onion flavour crisps – a conservative choice perhaps, but they’ve stood me in good stead since childhood, and I am loyal to anything which consistently feeds me. My preferred method of eating them is in a classic Irish dish: the crisp sandwich. Take two slices of white bread, the rubbery sliced stuff is fine here, butter generously, then fill with as much of the crisp packet as you can. Press down gently to make it easier to hold. If in need of something more substantial, some cheddar can be added to the mix. How this has never made it to a book of traditional Irish cooking is beyond me. How half of the population isn’t dying of heart disease is also a mystery.

In any case, Walkers, the same snack company which had Heston Blumenthal on the brainstorming team not too long ago, have a range of new flavours, including Spanish paella, French garlic bread, and Italian spaghetti Bolognese, to name the three types which I snaffled greedily in the back of the car last week. (In the name of culinary research and all that.) And fancy and fun as they were, none could trump my beloved cheese and onion. Despite generally being a liberal, progressive type of gal, I simply can't get past my conservative attitude towards junk food. I always go for the classic option - usually the one most reminiscent of being a kid and spending all of my pocket money in the local corner shop. When it comes to hanging out on the sofa watching tv, I will go for the regular bar of cocoa-butter-heavy milk chocolate over the organic, single estate 70% dark chocolate every time. But surely I’m not the only one with a junk food guilty pleasure or two. Any confessions?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Beginners' Luck

Lime & Basil (Gina) 2010.

This week my friend Liz and I decided it was high time to conquer the challenge of French marcarons. After hearing horror stories of the difficulties, and Liz decidedly rating these little morsels as 9/10 on the hard-to-make scale, we dove in.

We used the recipe for lime and basil macarons from much loved Ottolenghi cookbook. The recipe was appealing because although it gave specific directions on how to best achieve success, it wasn't overwhelming and stupefying. Also, lime and basil! Yum!

And you know what? With two sets of hands and some (limited) patience, the process wasn't nearly as scary as everyone had told us. Not a 9/10 at all. Perhaps only a six. Our marcarons were definitely delicious, although perhaps a bit more rustic looking than fancy-pants Paris patisseries produce. Some work on piping technique is due, but all in all I consider this a triumph.

Along with a potentially large share of beginner's luck, here are some tips that helped us learn to stop worrying and love the marcaron.
  1. Sift those dry ingredients. Like, three times.
  2. Be really nice to your egg whites. Especially after they enter meringue stage (i.e. fold carefully).
  3. Once you've piped your cookies out, don't be afraid to bang the bejesus out of the cookie sheet to get rid of air bubbles - we didn't bang enough.
  4. Also, don't be afraid to let them sit out before you bake them. For some magic reason this helps.
  5. While they are baking, open the oven door a few times to let some steam escape.
Now go forth, with macaron recipes in hand, and conquer!

And please feel free to share any tips you might know or come across!