E pur, sono buoni

May 30, 2009

Things don’t always turn out as you thought they would, even if you’re supposed to be in total control of the situation.
Cooking does not escape this rule…

My objective was to bake “Mazapanes”, little almond paste treats (a relative of marzipan) served at Christmas in Spain.
They are marvelous: the rich taste of almond, encased in a small soft and colored shape (animals or geometric).

So I started with the easiest recipe I could find (there are at least two variations of the mazapan, I’ll try the other one later). Almond powder, icing sugar, water. That’s all.

First, when opening the almond powder packs, I asked myself: “This could be finer … can I do something about it?”
Well, processing already powdered almonds does not really change the situation, so this is a step I’ll happily skip next time.

Adding the same weight of icing sugar, and just enough water is not a daunting task, and it’s quite funny: when mixing icing sugar, inhaling the dust that ensues causes your throat to feel … sweet, without having eaten anything.

There, a dough is rather quickly ready for some refrigeration.
Note: you could already eat the almond paste, everything from now on is just decoration!

Rolling, cutting shapes: always funny

Following the recipe, I lightly beated an egg white, and covered my little menagerie with it

That’s where I should have listened to my mummy followed the recipe: they say “introducimos la placa en el horno durante unos 2 minutos a 200 º C de temperatura”
And what to I do? I wait the prescripted two minutes, and check the color: still white!
Then I wait for two minutes … nothing … then two more … there!

It smells nice, and everything is promptly transferred to a rack

They look good, smell good, taste good …

But they’re not mazapanes at all!
– They are too thin: mazapanes should be thicker
– They are crunchy, when they should be soft
– The almond taste is not strong enough.

In a nutshell, I’m happy with my biscuits, but not with my mazapanes.
Oh well, a small defeat turned into a small victory 🙂

Cooking today: Zucchini, pasta, walnuts

May 29, 2009

After a full night sleep, my advance preparations are ready for the show.

First, I quickly slice and heat the cold grilled zucchinis with the garlic oil. Smells nice.

During this time pasta did their job as usual: easy, predictable, perfect.

Adding the veggies to the carbs gives a nice feeling of rightness … so different, and yet so compatible…

The mix is promising. I added some of the pasta cooking water to loose the mix. I think I didn’t put enough.

The roasted walnuts/grated cheese combination is eyebrow-lifting enough, but adding them to the pasta-zucchini melange creates an interesting variety of elements.

Verdict: it was really nice, I will do it again.
Some notes:
– The zucchini were great: still firm and just tender. It was dumb luck (I didn’t plan for this), but their texture was the best counterpoint to the pasta softness
– There wasn’t enough garlic sauce. I definitely could smell it, but the taste needed a little more punch. Maybe I’ll add some grated ginger next time

Cooking for tomorrow: Zucchini, pasta, walnuts

May 28, 2009

Tomorrow is a work-from-home day, but I know I will have little time to cook.
But I still want to have something tasty and home-made …

Well let’s try some advance preparation.
I’m not used to prepare a lot of time ahead, which mean my cooking is pretty simple, come to think of it; not very elaborate …
I’ll try to change this in the months to come …

But in the meantime, I chose a simple recipe from epicurious (nice tool), and adapted to my ingredients.

First of all, roast walnuts on a fierce fire. Then crush them coarsely in a good old mortar
After such violence, let the walnuts rest with some gentle grated cheese. They will spend the night together.

I intentionally didn’t wash the mortar to crush a garlic clove in it, letting it benefit from the walnuts previous presence.

Some olive oil, and hot chili powder help the garlic accept some more grinding

And eventually, I come up with a lovely colored and rich smelling paste. The soul of the recipe, if you will.

Zucchinis are halved, and grilled with salt and pepper. It smells good, almost enough to wake my appetite again!

Here they are, ready for tomorrow. I will now cling-film all this, and write a post about this … no wait … :p

Intreme: The twelve faces of fear

May 27, 2009

Hi there.
Like “Meteowrite”, “Intreme” is another experiment. It is the blog counterpart of a French-written zine I (re)animate from time to time.
Its name says it all: it is about “inside extremes”, things of the mind, you know …
I know many of my musings are cheap psychological tricks and nonsenses, but more than the result, the way to get there is what interests me 😉
I’m not trying to define a definitive Truth (there is no such thing), or to rally you to my thinking (it is in perpetual reconstruction, I regularly contradict myself). I’m just having fun with ideas, and inviting you to the party 😀

Anyway, here is a hand-made translation of one of the articles I wrote a long time ago.

The twelve faces of fear

How do you measure fear?

By the angle between your hair and your skin, the frequency of your shivers, or the number of goosebumps on your arm?
Instead of listing our fears physical impacts, let’s try to analyze them in terms of intensity, and sanity level on the subject.
After all, doesn’t fear apply first on our mind , which is the true target? The body then simply produces empathic reactions.

Let’s follow this graph: the horizontal axis leads us to fears of increasing intensity, the vertical one represents our thinking capabilities; the higher on the graph, the more we think.

  • Top-left: Unease and Fright.
    These are toned-down versions of fear,  they are quickly forgotten unless one is tired or lets his imagination race freely.
  • Bottom-left: Aversion, Repulsion and Disgust are also precisely defined fears, and reside in our atavistic area. One cannot really explain them, and doesn’t really want to try either. They too quickly fade.
  • Upper-middle: Dread is a more extensive fear, with a medium intensity. It has a wide range of psychic representations, but remains in the active consciousness area.
    To keep on existing, dread needs us to think, and feed it. One can dread something and imagine any possible way to erase it, or stay in mental control, but physically passive.
  • Upper-right: Horror.
    Everything is stronger in Horror. More intense, it freezes our mind and doesn’t let it work properly. The most horrible with Horror is that we still have just enough thinking energy to realize how strong and overwhelming it is. This extreme fear makes our mind overheat, but not to our advantage …
  • Bottom-middle: Phobia.
    Not as strong as Horror, but truly visceral, Phobia is a fear without conscience. A given situation or object obliterate every thinking mechanism, and generally produces an obstinate refusal or physical recoil.
  • Bottom-right: Panic is the pathway to the loss of control. Logic is thrown off board, you are a hunted animal, your survival instinct is in total disarray, there is just one possible solution: run.
  • A dotted line starts in the upper left quadrant, and dives down to the lower right one. It drives through fears with increasing incapacitating powers: Apprehension, Anguish, Scare, Terror. They work in pairs, in a symmetrical way.
    Apprehension and Scare are fears of anticipation, with either psychic or physical causes. As a forbidding sensation increases, they each turn into Anguish and Terror when the fear becomes reality, and paralyze us each one at a specific level.

    Terror is a special state. It’s strong, and pure.
    Are we even Human at this stage? Are we even alive? We don’t dare move, we almost can’t breathe, body and mind are immobilized in a shell where time, space, and most of all spirit are gone.
    Without hold, references or hiding, we are naked before something unthinkable, unspeakable.
    Maybe madness is the only way out …

Everything is proceeding as planned. (really?)

May 27, 2009

Once in a while, I come to a point in my everyday life where I realize some things drifted a little too much, and become out of easy reach, lack convenient use.
More than “once in a while”, I could even say that this happens on a regular basis (months rather than years).

What happens then?

Well, I just shake the clutter away, perform some drastic cleaning (it’s bin/trash filling time!), and come up with fresh ideas and new resolutions.
‘Fresh’, ‘New’? Well not quite in fact. Not unlike fashion, history or music, my revolutionary ideas are nothing more that your good old timetable.
This old concept never fails to amaze me. Be it carefully drawn on paper, or cleverly devised in a computerized spreadsheet, it’s always the same thing:

  • List activities
  • Give them enough time
  • Give them extra time whenever possible (it helps ease the transitions between tasks)
  • Organize them in a logical mannerAnd most of all
  • Be convinced by the result. If you don’t believe in your planning, there’s no way you’re going to follow it …

Anyway, here’s the current activities landscape, flying straight out of a suprematism nightmare.
Oh yes, and … I find it somehow beautiful too 🙂

Meteowrite: Bad Timing

May 25, 2009

I enjoy Science-Fiction.

The way it focuses on a single concept, and toys with it in any possible way, free of any preconceptions or dogmas (dogmata sounds a little pedantic, I’m discarding it).
It’s almost a philosophical experience, or maybe a perfect experimentation, since we are not part of the events depicted, we watch them but cannot interfere with them. And yet the stories are most of the time about ourselves (or someone, or something we can relay to).

Short stories fit particularly well to that definition, and I have a special fondness for them.
Here is my feeble attempt at writing philosophically-hued words in another language … talk about an alien experiment!
I’m calling these “Meteowrites”, since these short messages are destined to shoot past the websky and be forgotten as quickly as they were read.

This is quick and easy fun.

Bad Timing

After several millenia of evolution and progress, humanity left the Earth used surface aboard an interstellar arch, aiming towards a promising distant star.
On the way, the sleeping ship crossed paths with a similar arch, carrying an alien population dreaming of another world …

Faster, more chocolate!

May 23, 2009

I had a little time before today’s lunch routine, and my sweet tooth was reminding me I hadn’t baked anything for some days, so I raided the fridge.

Bingo: we happen to have several fresh fruits at the moment: grapes, strawberries, raspberries, cherries.
Muffins seemed the obvious choice, given the time I had.

I grabbed flour, sugar, butter, egg, milk, raspberries, cherries … and some chocolate for good measure.
Mixing, melting, whisking, adding, washing, cutting, mixing again and pouring. Done!

25 minutes of medium hot over later, I have ten “all red” muffins, and four with added chocolate (is it true that it’s not really pastry if chocolate is missing? :p)

No too overcooked this time, I took them out of the oven as soon as the “blade test” was OK.

I haven’t even tasted one yet!

Impro pie

May 16, 2009

When I started cooking today I knew two things: I wanted pie, and I wanted sun-dried tomatoes

I wanted a meat pie, but the meat still was a mystery. The onion/garlic basis, on the contrary, was an obligatory checkpoint.
I find it so difficult not to use onion (or cousins like shallots, or leeks) when cooking. The mere perfume of sizzling onions is enough to activate my salivary glands…

Ah, I found the meat: versatile and easy to cook chicken breasts. I defrosted them and diced them in a jiffy.
Yes, defrosted.
When one has to cook on very short notice, or doesn’t always know what’s on the menu before grabbing the cutting board, frozen ingredients are a benediction!

A wok, a touch of butter, and onions plunge happily.

The moment I’ve been waiting for: friendly sizzling sound, penetrating scents, changing colors … this is magic.

Before the onions start to turn into gold, I add the meat and chopped garlic

The fire being “set for burn”, I add some spices, and start stirring happily. Something smells good! 🙂

Today’s special ingredient is added to the mix.

Again, I invoke the power of the freezing gust, and add frozen peas, and a mix of forest mushrooms.
I know, it doesn’t look too good.

But after some time, the ice is broken, the veggies feel perfectly at home.
And the produced water is a perfect way to hold everything together (like the Force)

The filling is done. Let’s choose the receiving dish

Dough’s easy, dough’s good.

Rolling is a game, and a precision one, when it comes to adjust the bottom layer in the dish

The very satisfying moment (of truth): the filling quantity is just perfect; not too much, not too few. And I didn’t measure anything.

More rolling, more adjusting.
And as a bonus, as I was feeling inspired, I crafted some dough decoration

Egg yolk is crucial at this point: it glues the decoration in place, and will give that golden color to the pie when cooked

35 minutes later, the oven is very proud of his work. I won’t contradict him

Another moment of truth: cutting the beast open!

Result: It worked, and is perfectly edible.

A last glimpse at today’s game: everybody won!

How you get so big, eating food of this kind?

May 14, 2009

We don’t see people eat very elaborate food in Star Wars, and it always somewhat bugged me.
I sometimes like to redirect my cooking energy to my favorite fandom … and here is the result.

So far, I only produced cakes, but I’m going to start exploring other territories … drinks and main courses, here I come!

This Death Star was cream filled and sugar paste covered

R2 Forêt Noire did not contain stolen plans

And yet we looked everywhere in its creamy innards!

Wookiee cookies were … (Wookiee roar)

Chocolate/marshmallows bandoliers

Thank the freezer

May 10, 2009

Today’s Sunday, and I wanted something nice to eat.
In fact, I’ve been thinking about today’s meal for one or two days, and knew what was on the menu.
Cassoulet is in order. A home made one, with the unavoidable “saucisse de Toulouse”, but also duck in various flavors.

… and it’s a frozen cassoulet, by the way (I cooked an enormous amount of it, and had to save some for later)
An overnight thawing left the coveted dish in a cold and somewhat mushy state. Not very nice looking.
Heating the oven, transferring the cassoulet to a dish and spreading a layer if fine bread crumbs only takes a few minutes.
What now? Can I just call it a cooking day?

Not quite so.
While the oven warms, I decide to quickly assemble a pastry, adding cumin, nutmeg, and curcuma powder.
Like this:

Rolling the dough flat, cutting away shapes and adding four different flavors is done in a snap:

While the cassoulet gently transforms into our main course, I slip the biscuits in the top rack, and wait while cleaning …

Meanwhile, the cassoulet filled the air with a yummy scent, and opening the oven revealed a good surprise:

Conclusion: frozen food saves time, lets you blitz-cook on the side