Elderflower season is here once again and the eldest and I are kicking off our elderflower cordial production line!
Noticing that our bagel supply was running low and with two kids who’d happily fight to the death for the last one if it came down to it, I decided this weekend to dust off an old recipe and restock using the ingredients in our cupboard. For a festive spin, I opted to make cranberry and cinnamon bagels, and served a few at my family’s regular Sunday brunch. Little did I know that they would turn out to be such a hit that not one from the resupply would survive to the end of the day, and I’ve been pressed into making them again in time for breakfast on Christmas Day (or, as Ruth suggested as she and Robin fought for the last one in a manner more-childish than the children ever would, I could “make them any time I feel like it; every week maybe?”).
If you’d like to make your own, and you totally should, the recipe’s below. I prefer volumetric measurements to weight for bread-making: if you’re not used to doing so, be sure to give your dry ingredients a stir/shake to help them settle when measuring.
Festive Cranberry & Cinnamon Bagels
Yield: 8 bagels
- 360ml warm water
- 5ml (1tsp) vanilla extract
- 60ml clear honey
- white of 1 egg
- sunflower/vegetable oil for greasing
- 10g instant yeast
- 950ml strong white bread flour
- extra flour for kneading
- 40ml golden caster sugar
- generous pinch salt
- 240ml dried fruit, half cranberries (sweetened), half raisins
- heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Whisk the yeast into the water and set aside for a few minutes to activate.
- Combine the flour, one quarter of the sugar, and salt.
- Make a well, and gradually introduce the water/yeast, mixing thoroughly to integrate all the flour into a sticky wet dough.
- Add the vanilla extract and mix through.
- Knead thoroughly: I used a mixer with a dough hook, but you could do it by hand if you prefer. After 5-10 minutes, when the dough becomes stretchy, introduce the dried fruit and continue to knead until well integrated. The dough will be very wet.
- Mix the cinnamon into the remaining sugar and scatter over a clean surface. Using well-floured fingers, form the dough into a ball and press into the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Fold and knead against the mixture until it’s all picked-up by the dough: this approach forms attractive pockets and rivulets of cinnamon throughout the dough.
- Rub a large bowl with oil. Ball the dough and put it into the bowl, cover tightly, and leave at room temperature for up to two hours until doubled in size.
- When it’s ready, fill a large pan about 6cm deep with water, add the honey, and bring to a simmer. Pre-heat a hot oven (gas mark 7, 220°)
- On a lightly-floured surface and with well-floured fingertips, extract the ball of dough and divide into eight (halve, halve, halve again). Shape each ball into a bagel by pushing-through the middle with your thumb and stretching out the hole as you rotate it.
- Submerge each bagel into the hot water for about a minute on each side, then transfer to baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper.
- Thin the egg white with a few drops of water, stir, then brush each bagel with the egg mix.
- Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Mostly this recipe’s here for my own reference, but if you make some then let me know how they turn out for you. (Oh, and for those of you who prefer when my blog posts are technical, this page is marked up in h-recipe.)
Set a timer. Cook the eggs for precisely three minutes and not a second longer.
Everyone thinks they have a sense of how time passes, but it’s crucial to use a timer. You are never as right as you think. Three minutes goes by more quickly than you expect. Six years even quicker.
Good instructions for poaching eggs. Also for leaving a marriage, for all I know. Surprisingly strong parallels between the two.
I normally reserve my “on this day” posts to look back at my own archived content, but once in a while I get a moment of nostalgia for something of somebody else’s that “fell off the web”. And so I bring you something you probably haven’t seen in over a decade: Paul and Jon‘s Birmingham Egg.
It was a simpler time: a time when YouTube was a new “fringe” site (which is probably why I don’t have a surviving copy of the original video) and not yet owned by Google, before Facebook was universally-available, and when original Web content remained decentralised (maybe we’re moving back in that direction, but I wouldn’t count on it…). And only a few days after issue 175 of the b3ta newsletter wrote:
* BIRMINGHAM EGG - Take 5 scotch eggs, cut in half and cover in masala sauce. Place in Balti dish and serve with naan and/or chips. We'll send a b3ta t-shirt to anyone who cooks this up, eats it and makes a lovely little photo log / write up of their adventure.
Clearly-inspired, Paul said “Guess what we’re doing on Sunday?” and sure enough, he delivered. On this day 13 years ago and with the help of Jon, Liz, Siân, and Andy R, Paul whipped up the dish and presented his findings to the Internet: the original page is long-gone, but I’ve resurrected it for posterity. I don’t know if he ever got his promised free t-shirt, but he earned it: the page went briefly viral and brought joy to the world before being forgotten the following week when we all started arguing about whether 9 Songs was a good film or not.
It was a simpler time, when, having fewer responsibilities, we were able to do things like this “for the lulz”. But more than that, it was still at the tail-end of the era in which individuals putting absurd shit online was still a legitimate art form on the Web. Somewhere along the way, the Web got serious and siloed. It’s not all a bad thing, but it does mean that we’re publishing less weirdness than we were back then.
I’m a big fan of pizza. I use it to celebrate people moving house back to Aber; I use it to bribe people to help me move house; I’ve been known to travel into the next country over in search of the “right” one; over the course of the 300 or so Troma Nights I hosted between 2004 and 2010, it got to the point that our local pizza place would bring our food in through the front door and directly to each consumer; and once we got as far south as Naples, finding the world’s best pizza was among the first things on Claire and I’s minds. I like pizza: you get the picture.
More-lately, I’m also a big fan of making pizza. I’ve always enjoyed making bread, but over the last five years or so I’ve become particularly fascinated with making pizzas. I make a pretty good one now, I think, although I’m still learning and periodically experimenting with different flour blends, cooking surfaces, kneading techniques and so on. Those of you who know how capable I am of being a giant nerd about things should understand what I mean when I say that I’ve gotten to be a pizza nerd.
In pizza-related circles of the Internet (yes, these exist), there’s recently been some talk about pizza cake: a dish made by assembling several pizzas, stacked on top of one another in a cake tin – ideally one with a removable base – and then baking them together as a unit. Personally, I think that the name “pizza cake” isn’t as accurate nor descriptive as alternative names “pizza pie” (which unfortunately doesn’t translate so well over the Atlantic) or “pizza lasagne” (which is pretty universal). In any case, you can by now imagine what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is an artery-destroying monster.
Not wanting to squander my dough-making skills on something that must be cut to size (proper pizza dough should always be stretched, or in the worst case rolled, to size – did I mention that I’d been getting picky about this kind of stuff?), I opted to go for the lazy approach and use some pre-made dough, from a chilled can. That was probably my first and largest mistake, but a close second was that I followed through with this crazy idea at all.
I didn’t have as deep a cake tin as I’d have liked, either, so my resulting pizza cake was shorter and squatter than I might have liked. Nonetheless, it came together reasonably well, albeit with some careful repositioning of the ingredients in order to provide the necessary structural support for each layer as it was added. I eventually built four layers: that is, from bottom to top – dough, tomato, cheese, pepperoni & mushrooms, dough, tomato, cheese, pepperoni & mushrooms, dough, tomato, cheese, pepperoni & mushrooms, dough, tomato, cheese, pepperoni & mushrooms. As I went along I found myself thinking about calzone.
Using a cake tin with a removable base turned out to be an incredibly wise move, as it proved possible to separate the food from its container by simply running around the outside and then tapping the tin from underneath. It had the weight and consistency of a cake of similar size, and smelled richly like freshly-based bread and cheese: exactly what you’d expect, really. I sliced it into six wedges, “cake-style”, and served it with a side salad to my courageous test pilots.
Ultimately, though, the experience wasn’t one we’re likely to repeat: the resulting dish was less-satisfying than if I’d just gone to the effort of making four regular pizzas in the first place. It was impossible to get an adequately crispy crust over the expanded surface area without risking burning the cheese, and as a result the central bread was unsatisfyingly stodgy, regardless of how thin I’d rolled it in anticipation of this risk. Having toppings spread through the dish was interesting, but didn’t add anything in particular that’s worthy of note. And while we ate it all up, we wouldn’t have chosen it instad of an actual pizza unless we’d never tried it before – once was enough.
But that’s just our experience: if you give pizza cake/pie/lasagne a go, let me know how you get on. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to making my own dough and using it to make my own regular, flat pizzas. The way that the pizza gods intended!
To those of you that don’t know already, I have a confession to make. After years of picking holes in and finding flaws in their various ethical or other arguments and of mocking their dietary choices, I’ve become… a vegetarian.
Okay, this probably wasn’t actually a shock to anybody. Between the observations of the barbeque food I’ve been enjoying recently and the fact that I willingly chose falafel over hog roast a month or so ago, it’s quite possible that you’re saying “well, duh” at this so-called revelation. That’s why I thought it’d be far more-interesting for me to talk about the principal reason for this change.
You don’t eat what, now?
For some, however, this change has been a gradual one, beginning with dropping beef from my diet in January, and other red meats in March (making me, technically-speaking, a lacto–ovo–melo–pollo–pescetarian, which is quite a mouthful). Poultry and fish disappeared from my diet in April and May.
For a brief stint, I tried to remove milk, too, aiming for ovo-vegetarianism, but it turns out that – while oatmilk is a perfectly reasonable alternative to the white stuff, and there are some great soya-based dairy-free deserts – there really are no adequate vegan substitutes for cheese… and I’m just not quite capable of coping without it.
Why, Dan? WHY?
My decision to adopt a vegetarian diet is based on a few different influences, but the principal one amongst these is one of environmentalism and sustainability. Over the last few years it’s become increasingly apparent to me that the Western Pattern Diet has a hugely damaging effect in the following areas:
- Water usage sustainability – studies consistently show that it takes an order of magnitude more water to produce beef than wheat, rice, or maize, by weight of food produced. Other meats fare somewhat better, being only three or four times less water-efficient per unit of weight of food, but are still unacceptably water-expensive, to me. Milk and eggs are really quite water-efficient, being (respectively) about as efficient as soybeans/rice (depending on the region they’re grown in) and maize (note, of course, that beef and dairy cattle are almost always separate breeds, so the counter-argument that beef is a by-product of milk production or vice-versa is not valid).
- Climatic impact – intensive modern livestock farming has an appreciable negative impact on global climate, contributing over a third of the world’s methane, probably the most-significant of the greenhouse gases.
- Food scarcity – despite worldwide crop yields increasing faster than population growth, year on year, food security is becoming a growing issue owing to desertification of equatorial regions, increased uptake of the wasteful Western Pattern Diet, and an increase in the production of biofuels. A still-growing population, the depletion of fish stocks, and a rapid increase by developed nations in biofuel demands as oil supplies dwindle will only aggravate these issues. While a widely-adopted vegetarian/vegan diet would not in itself alleviate these problems (many of which are caused by political and economic constraints), it would help to ensure that it is possible to feed our booming population in the decades to come.
- Overfishing – most of those reasons, of course, are only applicable to the farming of mammals and birds, but it’s hard to deny that there are huge problems with our consumption of fish, too. We’re already reaching the point where the consumption of many species of fish is ethically very dubious, and an increasing number of species are threatened with extinction. To ensure that fish stocks remain available for future generations, we need either extremely restrictive multinational agreements on fishing quotas (unlikely), or dramatic reductions in the demand for fish.
In short, I could probably best be described as an economic environmentalist vegetarian: I’m concerned primarily with making sure that our agricultural practices are sustainable for the benefit of humans, whether currently existing or future. More on that, little doubt, in the Frequently Anticipated Questions, below.
So… how’re you finding it?
Man, I miss bacon.
Giving up beef, it turned out, was reasonably easy. Ditto lamb. But bacon: that’s something I miss. When my co-worker Liz had a bacon, mushroom and cheese jacket potato at an office lunch the other week, I could have almost drowned in my own drool. I find myself envying those vegetarians I know who don’t eat meat because they don’t like it: those guys have it so easy…
Chicken’s been challenging, too, because it’s always been a go-to base ingredient for me, and I’ve had to learn to substitute other sources of protein into my diet. Thankfully, I’ve been in a strong position: many years of cooking for vegetarians, at one point or another, has given me a pretty good understanding of what’s good for what and a decent repertoire of already-vegetarian dishes.
I tried to give up milk and milk products after realising that the ecological impact of milk production – while significantly less than beef, for a variety reasons – is still higher than I’d like. Sadly, it turns out that milk turns up in just about everything, and cheese and cream are remarkably hard to do without. Maybe some day I’ll give that another go.
On the up-side, though, I’ve discovered a reasonable number of things that I didn’t think I liked, that actually I do… or at least, that are perfectly adequate substitutes for meat products.
But man, I miss bacon. Pigs may be clever, but they’re not smart enough to not be delicious.
I also routinely slip up on the likes of isinglass (used in the production of many of my favourite beers), and gelatine (which appears in a surprising number of things), and I try not to kick up a fuss where food is being prepared for several people, of which I’m only one, in a non-compatible way. For example, I tolerate the addition of Worcester sauce (containing anchovies) as an ingredient where a meal is being prepared for several people – it’d be incredibly inconvenient to require a separation of the food at this point during cooking, and I’m happy to compromise a little where the chef’s convenience collides with my ethics.
Frequently Anticipated Questions
In order that I jump the gun and answer you before you ask:
You consume products made using isinglass, gelatine, and occasional small quantities of fish sauce… you’re not a vegetarian at all!
I guess not. But the label’s for my convenience, not yours. I use the word vegetarian because it’s the simplest-common-denominator. If I ask in a restaurant “what have you got that’s vegetarian, or would be but that it contains trace amounts of isinglass, is made using gelatine, has Worcester sauce in, etc.” I’d never get my meal. Plus, the staff would be confused. To take a mathematical model: the set of things that better-vegetarians-than-I eat is completely contained within the set of things that I eat, and the two are very nearly the same, so to call myself a vegetarian is closer to a convenient rounding error than a lie.
Also; that wasn’t a question.
Do you expect to make a significant difference?
No. But, like many moral decisions, this isn’t about making a significant difference but about doing the right thing.
If there’s a riot in your town and an out-of-control crowd begins damaging and looting the shops in the high street, you might be tempted to go out and steal a nice laptop or television yourself, too. Regardless of whether or not you do so, you won’t make a significant difference – Currys will be just as empty in the morning whether you partake of a little ransacking or not. But that doesn’t change the fact that it would be wrong of you to rob them.
On the other hand, over the course of the rest of my life I’m liable, under ideal circumstances, to make a miniscule but measurable net decrease in the demand for meat products, which might, under ideal circumstances, have an impact on meat production, thereby coming some way to achieving my ideals. Moreover, I’d like to think that my dietary choices go some way to making those dietary choices more palatable (hah!) for others, which may influence others to reduce their meat consumption too.
If the aim is to reduce meat consumption, why not simply eat less meat?
Because I can’t trust everybody else to play along.
My gut feeling is that this would work (although I haven’t read any research to either confirm or deny that suspicion): that if we all just cut down our meat consumption so that we were eating meat only once every few weeks, that we’d have a huge impact on sustainability for the future. But I can’t make everybody do this. The best I can do is to do so myself.
However, if I go just a little bit further and stop eating meat altogether, then I also help to “make up” for other people’s meat-heavy diets.
For every animal you don’t eat, I’m going to eat two!
Well, I hope you enjoy it, because you’ll probably not live too long after consuming all the saturated fats of all of the animals I don’t eat.
In any case: I’m not responsible for how you choose to live your life, even if you are threatening to push Comic Book Guy off a railway overpass.
You mentioned that the economic/ecological reasons were the principal cause for your vegetarianism. Are there other reasons, too, like the health and longevity benefits or the cost saving?
Yes. But they’re not the principal reasons.
Incidentally, removing meat from my diet made it far easier for me to lose the second of my three 10kg weight loss goals (as part of my ongoing effort to get down from 110kg to 80kg; I’m currently at about 89kg), because it’s far easier to avoid fats when you’re already avoiding meat.
He’s not… so much. These days, Ruth eats a reasonable amount of a select few different varieties of meat, and Paul… well, I’m not sure I can keep up with our favourite pepperoni-eating vegetarian, but I think that right now he’s abstaining from meat entirely, but I’m not sure.
I have a hypothesis that perhaps the world can only tolerate a certain number of vegetarians at once, so as I became one, Ruth had to stop.
What about sustainably-farmed fish/synthetic meat/a survival situation/some other hypothetical situation?
I’m pragmatic, first and foremost, so if somebody wants to demonstrate that a particular farmed fish is environmentally sound, to my satisfaction, then great: it’s back on the menu! I’m not going out of my way to look for any, though, because I was never a big seafood fan to begin with! It’s not a high priority for me to make my life more complicated by coming up with some kind of complex list of what’s okay and what’s not, when the simple rule “no meat” seems to be perfectly workable.
Survival situation: sure, I’d chow down on whatever was available to stay alive. I’m not stupid!
And synthetic meat? If it was economically-sound, environmentally-friendly, safe, and tasty… sounds like a win to me. Fetch me a plate!
Isn’t this quite a turnaround for somebody who was once quoted on the BBC as describing vegetarianism as an “eating disorder”?
Yes, I suppose it is. I’ve always prided myself, though, on what I call “correctness over consistency”: that is, I’d like to think that I’m able to do the right thing, even where it means contradicting my previous attitudes or behaviour. I believe that we’d all do a lot better if people were less attached than they are, on average, to appearing consistent, especially when they’re faced with new information. There’s no shame in saying “I was wrong then,” so long as you can show that you’re learning.
But yes, I’ve been quite mean to many vegetarians for many years, as if I needed reminding. And so yes, this really is quite a turnaround. And I’m proud to be capable of that.
-  [PDF] Virtual water flows between nations in relation to trade in livestock and livestock products, A.K. Chapagain and A.Y. Hoekstra, 2003
-  [PDF] Virtual Water in Food Production and Global Trade Review of Methodological Issues and Preliminary Results, Daniel Zimmer and Daniel Renault, 2003
-  [PDF] The Changing Landscape of U.S. Milk Production, Don P. Blayney, 2002
-  Livestock’s Long Shadow; environmental issues and options, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 2006
-  Methane’s Impacts on Climate Change May Be Twice Previous Estimates, Krishna Ramanujan (NASA), 2005
-  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006
-  [PDF] Hundred-year decline of North Atlantic predatory fishes, Villy Christensen et al., 2003
Many of you reading this will have eaten one of my chilli con carnes before, where I’ve used my Da Bomb: The Final Answer hot sauce in the recipe before (original recipe). For those not in-the-know, when cooking chilli to feed four or so, I tend to use the following system to measure the hot sauce:
1. Dip last centimetre or two of a strand of spaghetti into sauce bottle.
2. Wipe excess sauce off back into bottle.
3. Dip spaghetti strand into chilli pan, then dispose of.
And this makes a nice, weighty, fruity (it’s not all about heat, y’know), strong chilli. It’s a powerful little sauce.
Anyway, while cooking this evening, I noticed that my upper lip was starting to go numb. This is normally a bad sign, indicative of having spilt an untraceable quantity of The Final Answer (dubbed who dares burns) on my fingers and then accidently having touched my face. I recall the time I hadn’t washed my hands quite well enough before going to bed with Claire, and you should have heard her scream…
…I digress. The stinging spread to my cheeks and got worse, and it took me some time to realise that what was causing this pain was, in fact, merely the habanero-infused steam ascending from my pans. Yes; the capsaicin quantity of this steam alone was enough to cause pain. This was where I became a little alarmed, and opened the window.
Surprisingly, this chilli is really quite mild… but I think I’ve come up with a recipe that makes toxic chilli-fied steam while it cooks, which is in it self remarkable. Now if only I can find a way to condense the steam and collect it into gas grenades…
Freshers’ Fayre was a success, as Kit reports. Although it must be said that he’s probably right to be concerned that this may be the last year we’re able to pull such a stunt. Which is a real shame. We worked really hard – harder than we ever do at the jobs from which we took a holiday just to make this possible – to sell burgers and hot dogs and bacon rolls and things to freshers, and we raised a considerable amount of money to donate to Aberystwyth Nightline.
On which note, both Claire and I sustained thumb injuries as a result of our efforts – see the picture! Mine was caused by sheer stupidity – picking up a hot pan I melted my thumb to the handle, and required a trip to A&E. Claire’s was caused by damn blind stupidity – while seperating two frozen burgers, she levered them apart using a bread knife, and in doing so took a large bite out of her thumb when the knife slipped.
On which note, what idiot decided that the Sports Centre’s emergency first aid kit should be stored behind a double-locked door to which nobody on site has either key? Our designated first-aider eventually had to run to his car and collect his own first aid kit in order to stop Claire’s bleeding. Had the injury been significantly more serious, we’d have gotten to a point of having to improvise a tourniquet to save her from bleeding to death while she waited next to the locked door. Ah well.
And there’s another thing – how could the union justify telling us that we couldn’t cook indoors because “no food or drink is allowed in the building”, forcing us to rent a generator and stand in the rain for hours on end, then allow Spartacus to sell sandwiches in the foyer… and then, better yet, let some of the clubs and societies give away beer to their members. The mind boggles.
I’ve had three days of meeting lots of 18-year-olds, fresh to the University, setting out for their degrees and away from home for the first time. I feel old again. =o)
It’s not often you plan an entire evening around one ingredient… which turns out not to have anything to do with the food…
Kit: “What’re we going to do with these coconuts?” (holds up two coconuts)
Two hours later, we’re sipping pina coladas, eating carribean-style curry (soon to be followed by Bounty bars). The curry turned out quite fantastic: I’d recommend it (and, in fact Sainsbury’s Recipe Finder). I’d have liked more banana in it, and perhaps a little pineapple… but hey; I’ve had six pina coladas so far, so I’m not complaining (although typing is becoming challenging).