Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Pure chocolate cookies



Last year I started running. With no conviction at all, I just desperately needed it. I needed to do some exercise. My body and my head were screaming it out loud. I could not afford back then to go to the gym, which is what I had done very happily at other moments in my life. But I was simply unable to make it work in my crazy schedule. -and no, these are not excuses, I know far too well what I mean-; so while running is something I'd always hated, at that time it was all I could manage, so I decided to give it a go.

For a few weeks I was improving my aerobic capacity (well, basically I was creating it, because I have never had it), returning home breathless, flushed like a tomato about to explode, supporting the ironic comments of my hubby, -who can be really annoying-; seeing my daughters’ looks, as they could not believe my face could get that color.

But gradually my husband’s bad jokes began to stop as he develop a bit of healthy envy on my stamina and my tomato face just got grapefruit red instead. I did never run long distances or high pace, but I started to get into shape.


In the middle of that, I had to move houses, have a new job, in a new country, in a new environment, and running went again to the bottom of my priorities list. 

It's been a busy year, but it looks like things are back to routine. That is why some months ago, when I had that feeling of having been here long enough, I decided I had to start running again. 

Just as summer started I went back to running. I started and I slowly got in shape. I even took my running shoes on holidays –and used them- and, at some point some weeks ago, I was running for 30 minutes at a really good pace. And of course, I did it once, and then again, and again, and again. And I did more km in a week that I had done in my entire life. The feeling of accomplishment by running faster and faster, more comfortably every time; the anticipation of the joy of running – I was totally hooked. But for better or worse, it might be my over-excitement, or my absolute lack of technique, but right now my left knee is keeping me tied to the chair. I probably trained a bit too much a bit too soon, overloaded with excitement and recklessness.  

So I'm frustrated. Waiting for my knee to fully recover seems to be taking forever.
You are warned, guys: Injuries are not good. But being injured because you've tried seems to me the most healthy of exercises.

So, since I am injured it was inevitable fall back into temptation. And the temptation for me is shaped almost exclusively chocolate. Black. Bitter. Intense.
These cookies are a shot of chocolate when you need it. They're easy, they're fast, and they are simply perfect. So whether you're injured or not, when you need some good chocolate, here are some cookies to draw a huge smile in your face, sure.




Pure chocolate cookies
100 grams of plain flour
125 grams of cocoa powder
1 pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
80 grams of butter
170 grams icing sugar
1 small egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
                                                                          
Sift the flour, cocoa, salt and cinnamon in a bowl. Put the softened butter in another bowl with the icing sugar and mix with a wire whisk for about 3 minutes until pale and foamy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix again. Gradually add the flour, cocoa, salt and cinnamon mixture until you have a dough. Wrap in kitchen plastic and put into the refrigerator at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees and prepare a tray with a silicone sheet or baking paper. Make small balls of the size of a teaspoon. I put a couple of drops of oil in my hands and work the dough quickly into balls of a similar size. Put them in the tray well apart because they will spread in the oven and we do not want to stick.
Take them to the oven for about 8 minutes. Remove them carefully with a spatula while still hot, and place them in the tray to cool on wire rack until completely cool.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Sauteed shrimp, green apple and strawberry salad


 
From time to time, in between so much baking I have been through lately, you simply need to have a really simple, clean, fresh and light meal. I love the idea of putting a few ingredients together and having a full meal in one dish. I particularly enjoy warm saldads. I still remember my first warm salad, quite many years ago, at a time when I thought that a salad could only be made from some vegetables and really little more.

A long time since then, quite many salads and many other food experiences after that, I particularly like this salad. It has a bit of a Spanish way of preparing  the shrimps that is so simple but so tasty. The tangyness of the green apple and the straberries in really thin layers make a perfect light lunch, for when you want (or need) to feel virtuous.

You will enjoy it time after time, so you will really like to have it now!



Sauteed shrimp salad, green apple and strawberries

Ingredients
100 grams shrimp (fresh or frozen, whatever you want / can)
1 clove of garlic
1 dried chilli
1 Granny Smith apple (or any acid and green variety you like)
50g of strawberries
Pink Pepper
A few leaves of fresh parsley
Half lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Vinegar
Salt


Preparation

Cut the apple into slices and place in a bowl with water and the juice of half a lemon. This will prevent them form getting dark while adding some light lemon flavour that goes great with this salad. Cut the strawberries into slices and reserve. Put a little oil in a pan and sautée the garlic and chili pepper over medium heat, taking care of not burning it. Add the peeled shrimps and saute just until they lose their raw color. Discard the  garlic and chilli. Distribute the apple and strawberry slices in the serving dishes, arranging on top the sauteed shrimps, and season with a vinaigrette made with 3 parts of extra virgin olive oil to 1 part vinegar. Finish with a little parsley and crushed pink peppercorns on top.






Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Brioche

“Back to normal” after summer has been anything but normal. I knew that September was going to be a tough month at work. Maybe tough is not exactly the word, maybe, just overloaded would be enough. Right now I am in the middle of one of those periods when it seems that everyone agrees to ask you everything for yesterday. One of those times in which working over the weekend, and working in the evenings simply becomes normal. Even I expected this beforehand, the feeling of being just overwhelmed with it all is a bit too much at the minute. I am not complaining at all. I am loving the job itself. I enjoy it so much that I do not mind these crazy spikes occasionally. The worst part of it is the lack of time to cook and plan a little more, especially during the weekend. I'm accumulating so much desire to bake that all I want is just to have a little time to bake, and bake and bake a bit more -just to enjoy calmly proving doughs, the smell of vanilla, cinnamon, seeing how the dough rests and grows and grows back in the oven and the house gests filled with a delicious scent.
Since I started cooking, baking and particularly proving doughs have been the kind of things which have given me more satisfaction. I love it, love it, love it every time. It still magical to me the process by which, from a few simple ingredients you can get a truly wonderful brioche like this today. As I am having so little time lately I shortcut by leaving the dough to rise overnight in the fridge, so that in the morning I just have to form the final bun and let them raise another bit to get to the final result.
I guess there is a bit of an influence from the "Great British Bake Off" in this late baking fever of mine.  Every Wednesday from the last 7 weeks we (because my husband has also got fond of it) follow the adventures of a group of amateur bakers. I really do not need that much push to be willing to switch on the oven and try new things. To be honest, watching every Wednesday that bunch of obsessive bakers locked in a tent in the middle of nowhere, making three recipes per program, well, it has its charms, and it makes my Saturdays arrive loaded with an imperious necessity to try one or two things, at least.

I have never been a fan of making great cakes. I’d better think of cookies, muffins, individual versions of any baking treat. Those have all the advantages of a good session of baking, and (almost) none of the disadvantages. First, they bake much faster than the larger versions. The simple idea of ​​having in your hands a brioche fresh from the oven as soon as the whole house begins to get fill with an unmistakable smell is totally irresistible. But also, these individual versions make it much easier to avoid eating more than necessary; they can be frozen on their own, you will always have the right size portions and no one argues for having the largest piece. So as far as during working weekdays I have to go full speed and I can hardly do anything exciting in the kitchen, as soon as  the weekend comes I am happy doing these small beauties. The downside is that I have already had a couple of weekends in which I left the dough resting at night to get up and start baking.  

I say downside because these legendary Saturday breakfast will for sure stay in the memory of the whole family, but there is no way of keeping one single bun to take a photo of them for the blog. Well, sometimes my kids will let me use the phone and maybe I am able to share a bit of what is going on via twitter (). But right now life is finding its own way over blogging and other hobbies. Now I will allow myself plenty of time to enjoy my gigantic weekend sweet breakfast as all we -as a family- want to do is just sharing a lazy laugh and tell all that nonsense that during weekdays we simply cannot tell. We love those mornings around the kitchen table, with the happy perspective of two full days ahead, whole brand new to enjoy being together. I do not know about you, but I guess I am getting too old, and I am increasingly aware that time goes by so quickly that I do not want to miss these moments. I am very conscious that before I realize I will have two teenagers in front of me, worried about other things, anxious about other things. Sooner than later it all will be completely different. Now my girls are old enough not to need me every minute, but young enough so that our home is still their little kingdom. And I find myself in a very sweet moment. I am  happy enough to see every morning in their faces those confident smiles with which they face the world. I am lucky enough to realize that the rush, the work, the obligations, all of that make sense when the whole house is illuminated with their laughing voices. So allow me to keep a little of that just for me, as I cannot afford to miss it;  and apologies if I cannot share those recipes as often over the weekends.


Meanwhile, I am posting today a recipe for one of the best brioches I've ever tasted. I prepared it in the evening, left the dough in the refrigerator and then shaped and baked it in the morning. If you have the time, you can do everything at once, just let the dough double in volume on the first leavening, which will depend on the temperature and humidity of the place where you leave it to rest, and then you can follow the rest of the recipe as it appears here.
Bon Appetite!







Brioche

Ingredients

100 ml of warm milk 

1 sachet of bread dried yeast (7 grams)
2 medium eggs
70 grams of sugar
60 grams of butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (5 ml)
3 grams of salt
175 grams of strong bread flour
175 grams of plain flour  
1 egg beaten to paint the brioche prior to put it in the oven

Preparation


If you use the bread maker, put the ingredients into it in the order they appear in the list. Use the 15 minutes kneading program, and put the dough in a bowl, painted with a few drops of oil. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight. Alternatively, you can knead the ingredients, better with a food processor or electric mixer, until the mixture acquires consistency. Put the dough into the fridge, or leave it at room temperature until the dough has doubled in volume (which depends on the temperature and humidity of the room where you are, so it could be anything from 45 minutes to 2 hours).

Once the dough has doubled in size, knead it slightly on a lightly floured surface. Do not overwork the dough; you only need to remove the excess of air. Divide it into six large portions and six more small ones. Make a long cylinder with one of the large pieces, and close, like a donut. Put it inside a brioche mold or in an individual ramekin fluted, slightly painted with oil or butter. Top with one of the small balls and press lightly so the dough does not fall during baking. Repeat until you have finish all the molds. Leave them rest between one and two hours, until doubled in volume again. Preheat oven to 180 degrees, and paint with the beaten egg without exerting pressure on the dough. Put in the oven for about 16 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm.