Tagged: breakfast/brunch

Nigel Slater’s White Chocolate Cardamom Mousse

I have hopes for getting a few things done this year. There are aspirations to be travelling more, cooking more, writing more, learning more. I aim to get my architectural license before the year is through. I aspire to meet up with my friends more and call my mom more often. Well, I’ll have to watch that last one carefully. She might begin to suspect I’m terminally ill if I don’t ease her into it. Don’t want to ping her sonar for no reason. Nothing good has ever come of that.


Time has soared by quickly. We are already at the end of January.  The cold winter means no long walks on the beach, my primary place for random thought. Without them, thoughts have no focus or room. They crowd into my head and push everything else out. Amey has caught me staring into space more often than usual this month. Only two things have really kept my attention. Architecture and cooking.

Taken together, they aren’t quite all that diverse. Here’s how the charge sheet would look if you tried to compare.
☕ Both respond to basic human needs, cooking is to food what architecture is to shelter.
☕ Both aspire to do so much more than just fulfilling a need.
☕ Architecture is both an art and a science. So is cooking.
☕ Either one of them revels in experimentation, often with fantastic results.
☕ Both have a long history and have evolved in response to period and place (Up to a point in time. Both have felt the effects of globalization.)
☕ Never were there two art forms that, as a whole, focus on the person who creates them as much as on those for whom they are created.
☕ A good example of either will satisfy you to your very soul. You may not recognize it immediately but your day will be so much the better for it.

My friend once mentioned that he has never seen a more contented lot than architects. Before all the unhappy ones out there rush to argue this, allow me to explain what he meant. Architecture pales in comparison to the initial monetary compensation of investment bankers, or those in technological fields (the aforementioned friend’s profession). This results in tons of frustration for some, and those who are conflicted about this, leave. This is not a profession you stay in lightly. It is your life.
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James Beard’s Garlic Soup

The new year has brought with it a need for cleaning. And organizing. A lot of organizing, coupled with the putting away of childish things. Well, not quite all things re-eally. That PS2 is going nowhere until it gets replaced with a PS3 someday. (Where else can you learn about Greek Mythology and hack Medusa to bits at the same time?). The problem with having a multitude of interests is that they have a way of taking over precious space and multiplying. Books seem to settle down onto available surfaces and proceed to invite their friends and relatives over to join them, then begin masquerading as surfaces themselves. Magazines try to outmatch them by throwing raucous parties that have them flopping all over everything. Guitars and cameras start showing signs of aspiring to world domination, upon the imminent conquest of our home. Then there is our music collection. We find there was a downside to being able to carry 10,000 songs in your pocket. You end up having 10,000 songs in your pocket. Finding anything in there takes a while. A possible upside? If you want your cooking of soup to be accompanied by a (fairly unhealthy to some) dose of Nirvana, you can easily do so without looking for CDs under those towering stacks of books.

Soup seems to be the obvious choice to counteract the excesses of the holiday season. The weekend that saw some fog-ridden grey days appeared to corroborate this. On the Ipod, Cobain rambled on about the friends he found in his head. Meanwhile, I moved some websites around on my screen and toppled some book towers over before I chanced upon a quaint recipe for garlic soup, requiring very little effort on my part and just as few ingredients. Entirely too prim a soup for Nirvana, but sometimes the most unlikely things work in pairing.
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Orange-Chocolate Pot au Creme

2009 is limping towards its ineluctable exit and very few people, I’m guessing, are going to be sorry to see it go. As years go in the psyche of the human collective, this one has been rather truculent and petty. To put it plainly, it mostly blew for most people. But you know what? While it wasn’t the best, there were parts of it I liked. Like the fact that this country swore in its first African-American president, the same year that I get to be a permanent resident of it. The part where I took six architectural exams in six months was pretty cool, especially when I passed all of them. The fact that all of my  result letters have a stamp on a top corner that says “Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor” is spectacular. (I get my results from the Terminator y’all! Affirmative.)  Then there’s the part where Amey and I actually managed to stay on and benefit from a fitness regimen with results. That last bit while I did my favourite new thing this year, cooking all kinds of new stuff and starting this blog.

My little piece of the virtual world has been a fabulous place to be in. I’ve gotten to combine my love of writing with my love of cooking and experimentation. I’ve been able to enjoy new things and tackle some of the tougher ones and live to talk about it. It hasn’t been easy but the work has been its own reward. When I began, I thought that’s all it would be. But what’s been amazing is that I met some great new people and reconnected with some wonderful old friends. Combine this with the talented people I interact with on a daily basis in the real world, I’d say that I’m surrounded online and offline with some fabulous, fantastic people. Quite frankly, I can think of few things that are as exciting as doing something you love around people you like. I get to do this and share it with you. The readership to this blog has grown exponentially since I started in early 2009. For all the support and camaraderie, I am thankful to you, dear readers. At the close of the year, this calls for a celebration of some sort. With sweets for all. I wish there was a way I could send you real cake virtually. But they haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet. Also, I find myself without flour and sugar. Essential components to cake. Never fear though, in my home there are always options. I think you’ll find this one very welcome.

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Nigel Slater’s Pears with Florentine Cream

*This post came up here a lee-tle late. I was a bit under the weather.*

So I know it’s Halloween and everyone is obsessed with all things scary and icky. I love the idea but I don’t do scary or icky very well. I’m hopeless. I’d be like that colleague of mine at work who tried to prank me with a wormy apple but dissolved into helpless laughter before he got four words into his prank.

I also don’t get the yucky food schtick. Gross food, for me, is sacrilege. I’m going to grow up someday to be the mom who’s a real party pooper in this regard. I cannot get behind “blood-and-guts” potatoes or “barf soup” or even “jellyworms”. No, no and no! Why go through this when you can freak a kid out simply by dishing them a bowl of spinach soup? I did once though it was not my intention. Suffice to say that my nephew runs a mile away when he sees anything green in my hands.

So believe me when I say it was not my intention to mess up the plating of this dessert that I want to tell you about today. Really it wasn’t. My attempts at emulating Pollock were ill-fated from the start, as they would be since I am in fact, a far cry from absolutely any kind of painter. Sad really, because the dessert is fabulous, easy and divinely delicious. Try not to be put off by the drowning-in-chocolate sauce scenario. The gremlins of Halloween are cackling with glee somewhere at the irony.
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Annie Somerville’s Polenta in a Gorgonzola cream sauce with Walnuts

Today, I woke up to a cat. Not my cat. I don’t have a cat. I wish I had a cat. Or a dog. I’m not particular on that point. I just wish I had a pet.  You may be wondering “Why is she making a big deal out of this? Cats, they’ve been around humans for millenia, haven’t they? It’s not like she came face-to-face with a dinosaur!” (That would have been some conversation starter, wouldn’t it? “Today, I met Barney. The real thing my dear! And you know, he’s more vivid mauve than purple, positively fuchsia!”)

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, on with the tale. As I was saying, on waking today, I came face-to-face with a cat. The sighting at close quarters was strange for a couple of reasons. First, I’d just woken from a strange dream involving Superman, the Incredible Hulk, the Cheshire cat and the Mad Hatter cooking together (I suspect this had something to do with watching too much TV and consuming some questionable leftover pie much too late last night, but I’m always glad when Johnny Depp shows up in my dream life, especially since he will never be there in the waking one…sigh). The last elusive image I had in my head was a cat grinning over a steaming pot, just before I woke from my weird shallows of slumber. I stumbled drowsily into the kitchen for a warm cuppa and rolled up the window shades to see a calm, grey tabby just sitting there, staring at me with perfect equanimity. As you can imagine, the feeling was surreal. Second, this would be an absolute first cat sighting for me in the environs of my apartment building. I’ve seen them sitting at windows as I pass by other places in the city. But, to my chagrin, these places are never around me. Not one person in the vicinity has ever had a cat as far as I can see. (I live around some pet-hating landlords.) Yet here was this one, an honest-to-goodness, fluffy grey cat with white socks, pale green-grey eyes and a lovely grey-white-black tail curled comfortably around her.

We stared at each other for a bit, motionless and silent. The cat kindly let me get a hold of my scattered senses; she seemed to have decided that any sudden moves might send me over the edge. Then slowly, deliberately, she lifted her paw in a half-greeting and then proceeded to give it a thorough washing. When she was done, she looked up and seemed a bit miffed that I still hadn’t moved. Her feline gestures seemed to suggest a slight impatience with the human. She got up gracefully, stretched in that mind-bogglingly flexible way that only cats can, and padded her way on silent paws to the edge of the lobby roof where she sat, giving me a reproachful look and a plaintive miaow. “Here I am,” she seemed to say, “out in the cold at your window and you won’t even offer me some milk! What would your mother say?” (My mother, while assiduously denying animals room and board, is nevertheless a famous feeder of stray cats. Famous. Ask any of our neighbours.) That look jolted me right out of my stupor. It was reminiscent of my nephew when he was younger and was told he couldn’t have any chocolate. Just so woeful. I looked about for some milk for her, but realised that if she had it, then me and Amey would have to do without. Telling my husband this early in the morning that he can’t have any milk (“because the cat asked for some”) might cause him to look about on how to get me committed. He’s a bear when he hasn’t had his morning coffee. So in the interest of my well-being, I tentatively offered her the last bit of the questionable pie.


She sniffed at it with suspicion, then proceeded to consume it with a rather browbeaten air, as will a guest when his hostess insists he try something he can’t stand, but is too polite to refuse. The deed done, she licked her whiskers clean and then proceeded to chew her tail in a gentle, abstracted fashion for a few minutes. Then, quite suddenly, with the air of the end of a performance, she stretched with an athlete’s commitment and took off, gracefully jumping onto a tree from the roof as she proceeded to make her way to the ground. Then, with a slow blink of those green eyes, she was gone, quite as suddenly as she had appeared into my life. No forwarding address, no P.O Box Number. Disconsolate, I could only hope she made her way home safely before the traffic picked up for the morning. This early morning event left me craving something warm, comforting and nourishing for a meal. With daydreams of having my own cat (or dog) someday, I thumbed through the books for inspiration. That’s when I spied this little recipe for polenta.

Polenta came into my culinary horizon fairly recently. There was a grilled version of polenta I ate as an appetizer at Greens restaurant that I fell head-over-heels in love with. The way you feel when you meet the one and wonder where they’ve been your entire life. Polenta is made rather easily from cornmeal and has a way of firming up as it cools down. This porridge is then sliced and browned on a skillet or toasted in the oven until its outsides crisp up a bit. It tastes of mushed up corn and is a blank palette for any number of flavours that you can throw at it. At Greens, I ate it with some mushrooms and it was one of the most delectable things I’ve ever eaten. This recipe was different. It called for the gentle poaching of ingredients in cream while you cooked, cooled and grilled the polenta. Some gorgonzola cheese and walnuts rounded out the flavours. A warming gem of a dish. It leaves you with the same contentment you get from having a warm and purring cat sitting on your lap.

Polenta and Walnuts with a Gorgonzola and herbed cream sauce
Adapted from Annie Sommerville’s Everyday Greens
Serves 3 to 4 as an entrée, maybe twice as many as an appetizer

For the polenta:
Water – 4 cups
Cornmeal – 1 cup
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Parmesan cheese – 1/4 cup, grated
A quick two gratings of nutmeg and cardamom
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:
Half-and half OR skimmed milk – 1 cup
Cream – 1 cup
Red onion – 1/2, sliced fine
Garlic cloves – 3 to 4, smashed with the flat of a knife, paper skins left on,
Bay leaf – 1
Fresh Thyme sprigs – 2
Fresh oregano sprig – 1
Sage – 3 leaves
Gorgonzola cheese – 3/4 cup, crumbled
Kasseri or Fontina cheese – 1/4 cup, grated
Walnut pieces – 1/2 cup, toasted
Basil leaves – a half-handful, chopped into a chiffonade

To make the polenta:
– In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Salt the water, then add the cornmeal. Lower the heat a bit to gently cook the polenta until it smoothly thickens, about 20 minutes or so.
– When the polenta is cooked, take it off the heat. Stir in the pepper, nutmeg, cardamom and olive oil.
– Pour into a 9″x15″ dish and allow it to cool. Upon cooling, slice the polenta into  six or eight squares (which can be cut into triangles if the dish is to be an appetizer).

To make the sauce:
– Combine the cream, milk, onion, garlic and herbs in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer the sauce. Allow the sauce to reduce slightly, cooking for about 15 minutes.
– Strain the cream sauce, then return to the saucepan. Add half the Gorgonzola cheese to it, whisking it in to melt, over low heat. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

To assemble the dish:
– While the sauce is cooking, pour a little olive oil onto a skillet. Lightly crisp the polenta slices on the skillet until golden brown. Alternatively you could place the slices with some olive oil into a pre-heated oven at 325°F for 15-20 minutes.
– Place a couple of square (or a couple of triangles) on a plate . Sprinkle some Fontina (or Kasseri) and some of the reserved Gorgonzola on the slices, then ladle over some of the sauce. Sprinkle with some of the walnut pieces and a generous amount of basil. Enjoy right away!

Cook’s notes:
I like lots of basil. So I didn’t didn’t bother with a chiffonade. Annie Sommerville suggests plating the polenta on a plate of arugula. I might have used it if I had it, or I would have used some watercress. Turned out I didn’t have any, so I just made up for the lack of it with lots of basil. (After the pictures, the dish went all green). The cooking of the sauce threw me a bit. I’ve never poached onions in cream before…to be frank, I’ve never poached onions in anything before. I’ve always browned them in oil or had them raw. The poaching here gently brings out the essence of the onion, herbs and the garlic. Sure, it all gets discarded but it has passed some of its soul onto the cream. It leaves behind a very luxurious, fragrant sauce that’s a real treat with the crisped polenta.

This is certainly a rich dish, but satisfying and very good with just the salad. As an appetizer, I would serve small individual portions to ensure that my guests save some room for the main course. A couple of pieces stacked together should do. The polenta can be made a day ahead, sliced and placed into the fridge. When required they can then be crisped on the skillet before assembly. One bite of this takes you to a warm, happy time. Mine I imagine, would be curled up on a sofa, with a book and my cat, if I had a cat.

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