For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

April 25, 2011

Whipped Cream, Melted Sugar & My Little Helper

Whenever I get my groove on in the kitchen, the place turns into a battlefield. Used instruments, ingredients and ripped up packages everywhere. When it comes to baking the result is even worse, flour, sugar, eggs always create the biggest mess. Actually, I like to call it “taking advantage of the full space”, but that's just me.

I'm a pretty talented mess maker all by my own, but this time the huge mess was definitely guaranteed thanks to a line of disastrous mistakes. Thanks to my little helper, the nine year-old Linnea from next door I didn't or couldn't give up. Linnea's step mother was going have her birthday the next day and Linnea was worried over not having a birthday gift for her. I thought the best present would be a huge, home made creamy layer cake made with love. Linnea agreed.

The next day, on the day of her step mother's birthday, I asked Linnea to come over at 3 p.m. Like clockwork she knocked on the door and we headed to the supermarket. Linnea and I exchanged ideas and visions and finally came up with the perfect compromise: three layers, white chocolate, bananas, raspberries, cape gooseberries and loads of whipped cream.

Turns out, easier said than done! After the nearly fatal endeavour of making a perfect home layer cake, I sure have a great deal of respect and admiration for pastry chefs.

It all started very well. Planning, action, result. The dough for the basic sugar cake, the main component, was super easy to make. The good old “one glass of everything” -recipe (eggs, flour and sugar) that I learned when I was a kid worked like a charm. Even Linnea thought it was fun and easy. What an enormous pleasure it was seeing Linnea's excitement as the cake grew bigger and bigger in the oven. Just like me at her age, she kept asking “How much longer Edith? How much longer?”. Funny how the roles were suddenly switched. If only she knew how much she gave to me in return by looking at me with her big eyes filled with delight... At that very moment, little did I know about the first mistake I was about to make.

The last time I made a layer cake from scratch was at least two years ago. Safe to say that my skills were pretty rusty. Still, I felt quite confident. I took the cake out from the oven and couldn't for the hell of it remember whether you should wait for it to cool down or try to remove it from the mould as fast as possible while it's still hot. Both Linnea and I were very eager to start building the cake, so I went for option number two. Wrong! Totally wrong. “Oh no!” Linnea cried, “Poor little cake! Don't worry, we'll fix you”. The cake suffered some serious damage alright. All that buttering of the mould, in vain. The cake was stuck onto the mould like glue. Luckily, it was real thick and solid so I was easily able to repair it.

With mistake number one fixed and forgotten, we were ready to continue. Because I decided it was best to let the cake cool down before starting the filling of the three layers, I thought I'd tackle the decoration instead. I wanted to make pretty and delicate sugar decorations with melted sugar, just like the ones you see on professional pastry. Melting the sugar, no problem, as long as you keep it from burning. Even Linnea had done it before and knew how extremely hot the liquid sugar gets. When the sugar was golden and melted, I wanted to put it outside for a minute to cool down and thicken up faster. “Linnea, remember at all times when melting sugar to be very very careful because the liquid is like burning hot glue...” And BANG! Mistake number two. I dropped the pan and the melted sugar nicely spread all over the kitchen floor. Panic-stricken, I took a wet towel and tried to get it off. Too late, the kitchen floor had a lovely golden brown sugar icing. Great, just great. My only thought was that Linnea probably thinks that I'm the biggest looser of a layer cake maker there is. After half an hour of wiping and scratching, there was no melted sugar in sight. What a relief! I did the procedure all over again and this time I got it right. Linnea was very impressed by the lovely shaped sugar decorations I made.

After a little tasting of the decoration (one has to make sure it tastes right, right?) we were all set to start building the cake. First layer: white chocolate mousse and raspberries. Roger that. White chocolate mousse – can't be any different from a normal dark chocolate mousse, I though. When the butter was burning hot, I added the white chocolate and kept it on pretty high heat. Mistake number three. The white chocolate, as it actually is a dairy product, reacted badly to the high heat. God damn it! I had no white chocolate to lose so I went to slight panic again. I took the pan of the heat and poured away some of the butter that had divided itself away from the mixture. I added a yoke and the thing finally started to resemble a mousse. As it cooled down, it looked delicious and tasted so too. I poured it on the first layer and sprinkled some raspberries on it. Done.

The second layer couldn't go wrong in any ways, so I thought. Whipping cream and slicing bananas – child's play, so I put Linnea to work. She took her task seriously and made sure that all the banana slices were equally thick. Good girl. When she was done with the bananas, I handed her the blender to whip the cream. She looked at me with confused eyes. Oh yea, maybe it would be a good thing to actually show her how to operate it. As I turned around after giving her the instructions, I heard the noise from the blender and thought that she had got it under control. “Just make sure you don't make butter of it!” I warned her over my shoulder. When I then turned around to see how she was doing, I almost choked on the banana slice I was eating: there was cream everywhere! Linnea made a gesture that her hands were getting tired, so I could easily take over without making her feel like she had done something wrong. I smiled and tried to wipe up the biggest splashes of cream with my sleeve. I hit the power button on the blender and the cream splattered all over my face. Apparently, something was wrong with the blender. Just my luck... At this point the kitchen resembled a Jackson Pollock painting, so did my face. At least Linnea was laughing. I just hoped no one would come in and witness art work we had created.

Layer two, after a little cream bath, turned out fabulous; moist, creamy and sweet. Layer three would be a bit trickier, white chocolate icing, plus the decorations. Luckily, I had already made the mistake of heating the white chocolate too much so this time I'd rock. I did everything according to the recipe and the icing looked and tasted delicious. I was kind of worried though, because it seemed a bit too liquid. The last thing I wanted was for the icing to flow down the sides of the cake, so I decided to let it cool down a bit. That would do the trick. After fifteen minutes, the icing was still liquid but better than before, so I went for it. Slowly I poured on the icing. Linnea was barely breathing, I had stopped breathing long tim ago. The icing wouldn't stop flowing. Stop! Stop! STOP! Linnea tried to stop the flow with her hands. Fridge! Now! I thought. We need it to get cold, yes, that's it! Fast as lightning, I took out some stuff from the fridge and made space for the huge layer cake. As I was about to place the cake into the fridge, I realized that it wouldn't fit. I could hear Linnea yelling: “Faster Edith, faster, it's dripping”. Turned out, with a little twist, I managed to make it fit.

Fifteen minutes later I opened the fridge and almost had a heart attack! The icing was nowhere in sight! It had disappeared. Where did it go? Apparently three layers of cake sucks up pretty much anything. At that point I was ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat. If it hadn't been for sweet little Linnea I think that had been exactly what I would've done. I knew I couldn't let her down, so I had no choice than to come up with a plan B, plan C, plan D... whatever, I had lost the count. I decided to cover the ruined white chocolate icing with more whipped cream. Fortunately, I hadn't cleaned up the previous cream mess yet... Blender vs. Edith, round two. The cream just sprayed from the plastic container like lava from a volcano. I didn't even care anymore, I'd deal with it later. When the cream was nice and solid, I started the covering up. I worked my way around the cake and it looked pretty good. Once again Linnea was impressed. “Good job!” she said and clapped her hands. I stopped for a few minutes to give her a hug and when I returned to the cake, I saw something that didn't please one single bit. The cream was slowly oozing down on the sides. I took a look at the tetra pack and realized that it was lactose-free cream, something very common in Scandinavia. The thing with lactose free cream is that it doesn't stay whipped, it gets liquified after a while. NO WAY! There was nothing to be done, absolutely nothing. I tried to keep a cool head and finish off the creaming and decorating. Meanwhile, I asked Linnea to run back home and prepare the surprise.

Twenty minutes later the cake looked amazing, beautiful, exquisite! I was so proud of myself. Even the lactose-free whipped cream had somehow stopped making my life difficult. Picture time. I took tons of photos, just in case it would look horrible when the time came to cut it in front of Linnea's step mother. At least I had evidence of my hard work and the magnificent result. Come on now Linnea, where are you. It seemed like she was gone forever. Nervously, I glanced at my creation every ten seconds. Finally, I heard Linnea come in. I could only hope that I wouldn't fall flat on my face as I had to carry the cake to Linnea's house. I didn't. It would've been quite funny though.

At Linnea's house, everything was set for the surprise. My heart was racing. Linnea's step mother came in and saw the cake. Her eyes watered and so did mine. She cut the first piece and gave it to Linnea. I looked at her intensively, waiting for the judgement. She didn't say anything, she just took another spoon full of the cake. Finally, I was able to breathe out. The action spoke louder than words. Soon after started the compliments from Linnea's step mother and all the other people around the coffee table. After a while, even I got the a little piece of the cake. I can assure you my friends, the cake tasted as amazing as it looked. Mission accomplished and many lessons learned. Another win-win culinary rollercoaster ride.

April 17, 2011

   Everything Simply Tastes Better With You

Tacky or true? Cheesy or charming? Can the most unremarkable and insipid oatmeal porridge suddenly taste like heaven just because there's that one special person there to share it with? Love just might be the secret ingredient.

Recently I've been enjoying all those banal and plain everyday dishes that much more because I've felt happier than I have in a while. Yes, my dear friends, I'm guilty of love in the highest degree.

I'm someone who very strongly believes that everything is connected, especially when it comes to a person's wellbeing, physically as well as mentally. I also firmly believe that when one's heart is sad, the whole rest of the body grieves along with it. Now when it comes to tasting, I believe that one can at certain moments of extreme joy and happiness taste more, in a deeper and more distinguished way than usually. Maybe it's because a person in an euphoric state of mind might be more open to culinary pleasures, or maybe it's purely biological.

If you look at it from a purely physiological perspective and break it down to basics, the taste buds on your tongue categorise everything you eat and drink into four kinds of taste: bitter, sour, salty, and sweet. Then, the taste pores on the taste buds convert the taste into a nerve impulse and sends the impulse to your brain. When your brain receives the impulse i.e. the taste code, your brain does the classification of the different kinds of tastes. Depending on how your brain does its classification, you'll then be able to identify a taste. Sounds like rocket science, but I'm sure I'm right.

During particular emotional highs one's brain sends out faster and stronger impulses, making the receptors for each sense more active, more sensitive than normally. With other words these impulses do not happen independent from and unrelated to our state of mind and emotions. 

Now coming back to the “everything is connected” statement I made before, I'm sure many of you have heard how people in love are technically speaking in a state of mind comparable to that of a drug rush, an ecstasy of some kind. Their brains experience the same kind of chemical reactions. I think that when a person is high on love or in some other way feels particularly happy, he or she can taste things in a whole different way. I mean just think about it, how many of you have sweet childhood memories of a specific candy for example that your grandma used to give to you when you went to visit her... Those candies never tasted as delicious as they did when you got them for your grandma, at her house. The exact same candy would never taste the same elsewhere, coming from someone else. What a disappointment, don't you think?

So yes, I do have to admit that everything simply tastes better with the one you love. Of course it depends on the person to begin with, but someone like me who feels passionate emotions when it comes to any kind of culinary experiences can agree with me.

Back to the oatmeal porridge. I eat it almost every morning and I like it a lot. Sure, some mornings it tastes better than others, but basically it's always the same porridge, prepared in the same way with same ingredients and spices. It's actually not even about the oatmeal porridge per se. In fact it could be anything. It's just that last week one morning, the same old oatmeal porridge just tasted amazing and totally different thanks to one crucial thing: I had the chance to share it with someone very special to me. When I realized it, I also understood that ever since this person has been back in my life, and therefore bringing me joy, food tastes like love. Yes, my friends, I know what loves tastes like. It's incredibly ambrosial! Looking back, I realized that there were many things that simply didn't reach that savour climax they have the capacity of reaching when this person was gone. Does that make any sense? In order to reach that maximum, that yummy climax, I needed to by fully and utterly in love. The good old “Made With Love” got a whole new and very concrete meaning for me.

I challenge You, fall in love, head over heals and eat. Eat and taste it with all your senses in a whole new vivid way. Taste love!