Indian Chai

You need this kind of tea and brand!

During my trip to India last February, one could not help but notice the ubiquitousness of Chai, or tea, in daily life. It is served everywhere. Breakfast, lunch, tea-time (of course), guests, roadside pit stops. It was sweet, savory, rich and flavorful, all at the same time. It was basically India in a tiny 100 ml teacup. It was always served in tiny cups only somewhat bigger than a shotglass. And they had to, because that tea was rocket fuel! Three cups of tea a day was enough to make my hands tremble and contribute to a fitful night’s sleep.

When I got back to Germany, I set about re-creating the tea I had in India. I knew from the get-go that what qualifies as tea here would not fly when making chai. It just wasn’t strong enough, no matter how long I kept the teabag in. I tried using English tea, but it really was missing a particular je ne sais quoi that I couldn’t put my finger on. A dimension was missing. Only when I was able to acquire Indian teabags was I really in business. You could mix the Indian with the English or German teas, but the Indian teabags have to dominate, a 2:1 proportion.

Indian tea leaves in those bags are not the shaggy cut up flecks we know. They seem to resemble tiny black beads–the tea leaves are curled or rolled up into balls.

The next challenge was the fat content of the milk in the tea. All the recipes I found online mentioned the use of full-fat milk (in Germany it’s 3.5% fat), but that did not approach the fullness of flavor I experienced in India. I realized by looking at Indian powdered milk, of all things, that milk in India has a much, much higher fat content. At 30%, it’s basically cream!

Once I put these two elements together, I was able to put together a chai that would make any expat Indian homesick.

Chai

(Serving: 500 ml-750 ml. Duration: 30 minutes)

DRY INGREDIENTS

2-3 teabags or 2-3 Tbsp. Indian loose leaf tea in a tea filter, tied with a string to secure. Brand is irrelevant, but I use Brooke Bond.
1 cinnamon stick
5 medallions of fresh ginger (basically a finger cut up into 5 pieces, no need to peel if feeling lazy)
4 cardamom seeds, crushed
1-2 pieces whole cloves
4 pepper corns, preferably black
1-2 pieces star anise
2-3 dashes of nutmeg powder
2-3 dashes of cinnamon powder
3-5 Tbsp. white sugar
2-3 sprigs of basil leaves to garnish (optional)

LIQUID INGREDIENTS
250ml or 500 ml water, depending on how much tea you want. Less water=stronger tea
250 ml full fat milk
1 jigger (30-50 ml) of cream
2 Tbsp. sweetened condensed milk (optional)

Boil 250 ml to 500 ml water in a small pot with the teabags inside. When the tea comes to a rolling boil, turn off the heat and add the cinnamon stick, ginger medallions, crushed cardamom seeds, cloves, pepper, and star anise into the pot. Add the full fat milk, and re-boil. Be careful, as boiling milk increases volume and overflows! When the milk tea re-boils, turn the heat off again and stir the pot to remove the milk skin. Add the cream. If using sweetened condensed milk, add 3 Tbsp. of sugar. If not, stir in 5 Tbsp. of sugar. Add 2-3 dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg for a more intense flavor. Let cool for about 5 minutes and pour the tea into a thermos bottle using a sieve to catch the spices and broken-up milk skin. Add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg before serving, and garnish with basil if desired.

Living History Experiment Day 3 and 4: Beer Hair and Curls

When I first conceived of this experiment, I kept turning a central question in my head: How did women in the past keep their hairstyles going? The central theme of this experiment is lack. A lack of options, a lack of modern conveniences. There’s a war going on, baby, and rationing is a thing.

I wish that I still had my grandmother to ask about these things. Unfortunately, she has passed, so I asked the next best person: my friend Inez. Her mother was a model and socialite in the 1960s in Manila. Apparently, they set their hairstyles with…beer?!!!

This was the point in my research that I was so skeptical of. Women have been using food items as cosmetics for ages . Tea bags, cucumber, honey, sugar, oil are a few food tems I have used for non-food purposes. But beer just takes the cake (pardon the food metaphors, I am on a roll here).

But it really is a thing! Google searches confimed Inez’s claim. I went and asked German women who would have been alive in the 60s and said that yes, beer was a thing they used to keep their curls curly and bouffants puffy. Now, I doubt that my grandmother would have had access to beer in the mountains of Leyte in the 1940s, but I think that beer would have been available in wartime Germany. I went and got the cheapest beer from the Späti around the corner, and I was all set.

I got myself thin plastic perm rollers, sprayed beer on my hair, especially at the roots. I only had an hour and a half to let the curls set. My hair was not yet dry when I unraveled the curlers, but I had a life and it wasn’t gonna wait for me.

Little Lord Fauntleroy or Weird Al Yankovic?

After brushing it out, the curls did not look half-bad, although admittedly, it wasn’t the look I was looking for. I looked like I had a bad ’80s perm job than a 1940s siren. The beer smell dissapated, and my hair was not sticky, as I had feared. You could only smell the beer if you had sniffed my hair, and you would have had to be a creep to actually do that.

Beer curls settled into waves. I slept in my beer hair, without any special protection or a scarf.

By Day 4, my curls had settled into waves, which was my intended look in the first place. My scalp did not itch, and still wasn’t sticky, and the hairstyle held until the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning. It survived a children’s party and a night out with friends. By then, my wavy hair wasn’t so wavy anymore, but my hair had amazing volume and body, and it had amazing memory. My hair stayed in place even after removing the bobby pins that had held them.

Beer as a setting lotion: confimed! Last experiment: rag curls!

Mea Culpa!

You didn’t think I was really leaving, did you?

I know, I know, it’s been a year. A crazy year, if I may say. I finally got my divorce, after three (!) years. I picked up a man and a dog along the way. And I am back in school.

I haven’t stopped cooking and experimenting, it’s just that I haven’t got the time to make a blog post (believe me, it takes at least an hour from concept to posting). So I put up an Instagram account for my lazy days. More food, less talk. Okay, so the images aren’t always stellar, but at least you know I still walk among the living!

If you want to follow me on Instagram, click on the link at the right!

 

Catalana/ El Goloso

As with other European cities, Erfurt is being invaded by chi-chi restaurants that serve fancy schmancy-tricky food. Catalana is one of them. Catalana restaurant and its sister bar, El Goloso, has been an institution in Erfurt for almost ten years now, and serves excellent but expensive tapas.

The one thing that I would comment about these restaurant types is that they would not be out of place in Barcelona. What I mean is, I could be in Berlin, or in Erfurt, and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash if you told me I was actually in Frankfurt. They all seem so interchangeable. I couldn’t put my finger on why was this dish so unique. What was so special about what I was eating?

Case in point: There is a German joke attributed to Otto von Bismark that says if the apocalypse is upon us, you move to East Germany, since everything happens 20 years later here. Dude, I can only say YEP. Even the food trends. Molecular cooking is all the rage in Erfurt now. I understand it, I use principles of this in my cooking too, but restaurants like Catalana are really overdoing it with the lemon/lime foam sauce, the just-so-rare-beef, the crispy leaf veggies. Or maybe I’m just bitter for shelling out six euros for a plate of air and chewy beef?

In a nutshell, food is good, but you eat at Catalana because the food is just so damned photogenic.

 

Michael Pollan’s Sour Dough Bread Recipe

Making sour dough bread is a fight of air against gravity, according to Michael Pollan’s Cooked. Going through the process of baking sour dough bread, I can attest to the truth of this assessment. It seems to me that in baking this bread, you should really throw out the time instructions, and let your sense of sight, touch, and smell decide whether the bread is “done.”

This is the process of how I baked this bread, and I will also point out where I deviated from Michael Pollan’s recipe. I have also incorporated suggestions from Regensblog and the fomer Heidelbergerin in baking this batch.

Sour dough bread is basically infecting a bigger, then an even bigger, dough with the starter’s bacteria. The medium sized dough is called a leaven, and the even bigger dough is the bread. Making the starter can take a week, while baking the bread will take a day and a half. For some reason, I have better results in a loaf pan than the free-styling method. The dough is really liquid, the consistency of a thick batter, so the urge for the dough to turn into pita bread is huge.

I have described how to make the starter. What I can tell you is that putting in a hungry starter will make a more sour bread than a starter that has been fed an hour before. I make the leaven and the bread dough just before I go to bed, and get cracking in the morning. You will need an iron or ceramic pot, something that you can put in the oven. Since only my 8 x 4 inch loaf pan fits in my iron pot, I use that. It is really important to use a digital weighing scale.

The leaven: 100 g whole grain flour, 100 g all-purpose flour (I used Type 550 for a higher gluten content. The recipe says unbleached), 200 g tap water, and 30-35 g (2 Tbsp) starter.

The bread: 600 g whole grain flour, 250 g all-purpose flour, 150 g rye  or pumpernickel flour (I kept to the recipe this time with the recommended rye flour percentage), 900 g warm tap water (abt 40°C), 25 g sea salt.

The night before baking the bread make the leaven and the bread dough.

Leaven: In a glass bowl, combine the flours and water and stir. Add the starter and mix thoroughly. Cover with a towel and leave overnight in a draft-free spot.

Bread dough: The flours need to be “soaked” to soften the bran in the whole wheat flour and make the bread fluffier. Sift the whole wheat and rye flours to get the bigger bits of bran: You need this to decorate/cover your loaf. Set the bran aside. Combine the flours in a big bowl with 850 g of the water. Cover it with plastic wrap and leave overnight in a draft-free spot.

In the morning, test the leaven by dropping at least half a teaspoon (recipe says a tablespoon) in warm water. If it floats, you’re set. If not, Pollan recommends mixing 3.5 g of fast-acting yeast with 50 g warm water, then adding it to the leaven after a few minutes. What I did was I added one, then two tablespoons of the starter. That seemed to do the trick for me.

He then recommends adding half of the leaven to the dough, and reserve the other half as the starter going forward. I deviated from the orginal Tartine bread recipe, which calls for throwing out all but 1 Tbsp. of the starter, by not throwing out my starter. I just dumped the whole leaven in the dough. I figured I needed the extra leaven since I did not use commercial yeast. Mix the dough thoroughly and let it rest from 25-45 minutes. Towards the end of the proofing time, mix the salt with the remaining 50 g of tap water, add it to the dough and work it in thoroughly by hand. The salt slows down the fermentation process in the dough.

The next step takes 4-5 hours. Warmer temperatures and a vigorous starter meant that I was done at the fourth turn. What does that mean?

Every 45 minutes or every 60 minutes, turn the dough in the bowl. wet your dominant hand, work your fingers to the bottom of the bowl, then bring up the dough from your cupped fingers to the top. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the process, until you have completed a revolution of the bowl. This is supposed to strech the gluten and trap air in the dough. I noticed that after my fourth turn, the dough was not really sticking to my hand anymore, but was dripping back into itself. It felt definitely billowy, just as the book said it would. It smelled yeasty and a bit sour. If it smells sour, then it is time to end bulk fermentation.

In the book, Pollan recommends shaping the loaves by sprinkling a work surface with flour and spilling the dough onto the surface. using a plastic dough scraper, divide the dough in two halves and shape them into globes with your floured hands and the scraper. Rotate the dough on a work surface until it forms a ball with some surface tension, then cover the balls with a towel and let them rest for 20 minutes. After that time, scrape the dough off the counter, flip it upside down, then strech the dough. Grab the dough on the side farthest from you, stretch it away from you, then fold it back on the top. Do this with all four sides of the dough, and it will resemble a package at the end. Do the same procedure of stretching and folding on top on the four corners of that package. Then roll the package away from you, so the seams would go under that cylinder. Then sprinkle the bran on the bottom of two bowls, and place the dough in there for final proofing.

I didn’t get good results from this, but I did get good results by greasing, flouring, and then sprinkling an 8 x 5 inch loaf pan with bran and pouring the dough into that, until there was an inch and a half of space left until the lip.

In both cases, cover the bowl or loaf pan with a towel and rest them for 2-3 hours in a warm spot. You can also place the dough in the fridge and leave it there for several hours until overnight if you are not baking within that 2-3 hour time frame. When ready to bake, take it out of the fridge and give it an hour to get back to room temperature.

Baking: Be careful, this is very dangerous!!

Pre-heat iron or ceramic pot to 250°C (500°F) in the oven. Using kitchen mitts, carefully remove the pot from the oven and onto the stovetop. Drop the dough into the pot, or place the loaf pan in the pot. The dough doesn’t have to land squarely in it, it will right itself. Score the bread in a patern you prefer (be decisive!), then cover the pot and place back in the oven. Lower the temperature to 230°C (450°F) and bake for 20 minutes.

After that time, remove the lid of the pot. The bread should have doubled in volume and should have a tan or pale brown color. Give it another 23-25 minutes. The bread will turn dark mahogany: Burned tops are okay! If using free-styled loaves, remove them with a spatula, and they should give a hollow sound when tapped. If not, return to the oven for an extra five minutes. I skip this step with my loaf pan breads, but they have all turned out fine so far!

Alrighty, so that concludes this extremely long post on my sour dough challenge. I guess this proves that sour dough is not for wimps!

Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan

I would like to thank Adam for giving me this book. It was a wonderful present. As you notice, I have managed to wear out my copy in a short while, and I have been reading and re-reading it for the longest time, and trying out the recipes too.

If you haven’t heard of Michael Pollan, he is practically a god in the foodie and DIY circles, basically an ur-hipster who has been tinkering about in his garden and kitchen and writing about his musings. And he’s not even a trained-trained cook, but a journalist.

In many ways, our philosophies and curiosities intersect. So I was really excited to read his latest book.

The book is divided into four parts, corresponding to the four elements, and ways we use these elements to prepare food.

Fire deals with spit roasting. Roasting a whole hog, or lechon as it is known in the Phiilippines, is a big deal in parts of the Southern US. It was very testerone-laden, to correspond with his observation that while cooking is traditionally regarded as wimpy women’s work, the Barbeque is a man’s job, his way of offering a sacrifice to the gods. Then he goes into this theoretical mumbo-jumbo of spirituality and the barbeque, and his more down-to-earth experience with helping serve barbeque in New York.

Thankfully, the weakest part of the book is over. if you haven’t given up on reading it because of Fire, Water, or the art of stewing and braising, is infinitely more interesting. I will have to try that soffrito recipe when I have a free weekend.

Then there was Air, or the world of obsessive bakers trying to make the perfect sour dough bread. This was the most fascinating chapter for me since I have been trying to perfect the art of sour dough bread myself. The perfectionism of these artisanal bakers, their devotion of “thinking like a seed” appealed to me very much. I mean, to actually make a marble grinding wheel that will crush grain one kernel at a time in order to make the perfect flour for the perfect bread? It’s quixotic, impractical, but something that I see myself totally doing if I had the resources.

And finally, Earth, or fermenting. It is the funniest part of the book, and where Pollan finally hits his stride. Pickling Sauerkraut, Kimchi, fermenting alcohol and his immersion in the world of “fermentos,” or people devoted to pickling food, makes for a funny story

So what I get from this book is that all the processes of changing the composition of food is basically chewing the food outside of our stomach to make up for the loss of another, “second” stomach, which most animals have. We are able to more readily unlock the nutrients in the food because of it.

The most interesting theory for me is his treatise that bacteria is not bad, and managing them is very beneficial to both our species. He also goes on about the role the bacteria in our gut how they affect our general health.

A very good read, and I would recommend it to anybody who is interested in the creation of food.

French Toast

These are a beloved childhood favorite. These are special treats made by my dear departed grandma when we had pan de sal left over from the day before. Her recipe was to dip the halved rolls in a mixture that consisted of  two eggs, a tablespoon of sugar, and a bit of evaporated milk whisked together, then fried in oil.

I still make french toast when I have too many pieces of toast left over to prevent them from going bad, which was the case last weekend. So in lieu of pancake Saturday, we had french toast 🙂 I’ve tried many recipes, but I’ve stuck with Nigella’s because 1) I am pretty traditionalist with my french toast;  and 2) the ingredients are all things I have lying around the house, and I don’t have to do extra shopping to whip up a batch.

The only thing I would change about Nigella’s recipe is her technique: I do not soak my french toast for five minutes at each side, since it soaks up too much egg and the bread slices break up when you put them in a pan.

They tasted as good as they looked. When was the last time you made french toast?

 

Easy-Peasy Leche Flan

Now that asparagus season is coming up, which means that I whip up a batch of Sauce Hollandaise every time I make them, also means that I have to be creative with what to do with egg parts that are left behind.

Egg whites are not a problem. They can be frozen or chilled, and are in fact all the better for it, since cold egg whites are faster to whip than those in room temp.

But what to do with egg yolks? You can turn them in to flan, known in the Philippines as Leche Flan, which was introduced to the Philippines by the Sapnish by way of Mexico. Filipino flan uses only egg yolks. As a child, I was fascinated at the ceremony of making this dish. Making the caramel, straining the egg yolks, rubbing dayap (lime) rind, then steaming them seemed so complicated, I never thought that I’d get them right. And duck eggs! Purists always argue that duck eggs make the best flan. It is rich enough to give you a coronary.

Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express saved me from all that trouble by giving me a flan recipe that is so easy, preparation time is 10 minutes, excluding the 45 minute cooking time.

zuckerrubensirupAnother time-saving product for me is Zuckerrübensirup, or syrup made out of sugar beets, also available in Australia as golden syrup. This saves me from making the caramel top of the flan, which I keep on burning anyway!

The recipe comes from Nigella Lawson, and instead of a traditional llanera, I use a round aluminum cake pan 8 inches in diameter. The recipe below is enough to fill the pan.

 

The flan requires: 1 340 g can evaporated milk (known in Germany, strangely enough, as Kondensmilch. I use one with 10% fat, which is the fat content of evap milk in the Philippines), 1 397g can of sweetened condensed milk, 3 eggs, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Put enough of the golden syrup to completely line the bottom of the cake form. Add all of the ingredients of the flan in a bowl and whisk until well incorporated. Pour into cake tin.

Now there are two ways to cook the flan, both of them involve steaming. In Nigella’s recipe,  the cake tin should be placed in a bigger pan filled with freshly-boiled water, then place in a pre-heated oven, baking it in 170°C for 45 minutes.

I’m lazy by nature. I figured out that my cake tin fits snugly in my biggest cooking pot. Even if I have a double boiler, I have never used it for the recipe. I just half-fill the pot with water, place the cake form over it, then cover the form with the pot’s lid. Forty-five minutes later, I have flan! Always test the readiness of the flan by inserting a toothpick in it. If it comes out clean, then you know it’s done.

This flan is always a welcome pot-luck gift at Filipino parties. So every time I am invited to one, I always bring flan. Who has to know that it  also has egg whites in it?