The God of Small . . . Naan? · 20 July 2007
It seems like it’s been ages ago that I finished reading The God of Small Things. The story has run its course and left its traces in my life, as good stories should. It scattered little fragments of awareness and knowledge into the subconscious well that I try to tap and then flitted away to make room for new things. It was hurried on its way by my absorbing read of Tim Power’s Last Call and by my fun activities last weekend.
What better time then, to post my second recipe, a dish of Indian origin that’s been influenced by and adapted to American cooking?
In the God of Small Things, the characters are caught in a constant tug-of-war game. On one hand, they cling to their cultural traditions. Rahel’s family frets that she is divorced, Rahel’s mother suffers beatings from her father in silence as part of her role as the dutiful wife, and Rahel marks how the status of an Indian woman in part relies on the length of her oiled hair. On the other hand, the family fawns over Rahel’s uncle, who was educated in England, and over his English wife and daughter. They embrace The Sound of Music and, as children, Rahel and Estha idolize and imitate Julie Andrews.
My first Indian recipe was a tribute to the traditions in this book, an attempt to create as authentic of an experience as possible. I immersed myself in traditional websites and went to a local Indian market (where the only other non-Indian person shopping was a man with his Indian wife). My second recipe is an attempt to capture the way that food is influenced by culture and place, just as people are influenced by colliding with other cultures.
One of the things I love about going out for Indian food is the naan. One of the things that I love about San Diego is the awesome produce we get here. As Maia recently posted, the stone fruit here in San Diego is over the top this year. The end of the cherry season is quickly approaching, so I nabbed a bag while I could, somehow forgetting that 2 pounds of cherries is a lot for one person to eat (especially when the weather is so warm that fruit left on the counter ripens in a day). When I remembered that one of the current events over at Is My Blog Burning called for creative fruit bread recipes, it all seemed to come together. I’d make cherry filled naan and combine the best of both worlds.
After my last success with bread, I was on a yeasty high, but all the yeast based naan recipes called for traditional rising methods. I wasn’t sure I was ready to tackle yeast without the help of the bread machine, so I decided to try a baking soda recipe. I think it was a bad decision.
My naan baking attempt was fraught with difficulties. The recipe called for the naan to be baked at the highest temperature possible, close to the broiler, for 5-6 minutes. According to the instructions, the naan should “puff up” during the baking process, at which point it is almost ready, and you must watch it carefully, for fear it will burn. Sounded simple enough.
Naan take 1. Burned at 3 and a half minutes. Sticky on the inside. I decided to move the oven rack one step further from the broiler.
Naan take 2. Burned at 4 and a half minutes. Sticky on the inside. I decided to roll the naan dough thinner.
Naan take 3. 4 minutes, no burning. No puffing either. Naan was golden brown, but tough. Decided to move back up to the top oven rack and continue the thin roll.
Naan take 4. 3 and a half minutes. No burning. Sticky on the inside, tough on the outside.
Naan take 5. Left the pan in the over for 10 minutes so the heat was distributed evenly. Top shelf, 3 and a half minutes. No burning. Sticky on the inside, tough on the outside.
Naan take 6. Left out filling. Top shelf, 3 and a half minutes. No burning. Sticky on the inside, tough on the outside.
None of my naan attempts puffed. They look reasonably pretty, especially when the cherry filling is exposed before cooking them, but they don’t taste very good and they don’t look like naan. According to Mamta’s Kitchen (not the recipe I used) the leathery consistency comes from not having a hot enough oven. I think it may also have to do with the lack of yeast in the recipe I used. Has anyone made naan successfully? I’m up for another round, but I think this time, I’ll stick with the traditions of the experts.
The Girl Who Didn’t Tread on Her Au Gratin Bread · 9 June 2007
The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf was a demanding book. It questioned many of the standard ideas of feminism and the proper role of family. It demanded a recipe that was no less challenging.
When I started thinking about food that would embody the spirit of this book, the obvious choice was bread.
Inger, the heroine of the original fairytale, is gifted with a loaf of bread from her mistress and sent through the bog to visit her family. A spoiled and mean-hearted child, Inger trods on the loaf, ruining it, rather than get her pretty new shoes dirty. I'd like to think that I'm not a spoiled or mean person, but my prior bread making attempts have pretty much demonstrated that bread I make is only good for stepping on.
Instead of stepping on my food (never tasty), I resolved that I’d step off the beaten path and make my peace with yeast. After all, crossing the barrier and entering the bog is how one finds the fairies, the bog queen and her children. The bog is the place you can embrace the wild pieces of yourself or lose other pieces to the bog’s murky depths. In Inger’s case, it’s where her petty nature literally swallowed her up. I didn't expect to find magical creatures or receive divine retribution, but I did hope that by embracing yeast rather than avoiding it, I might be able to finally rise above my bready troubles.
After reflecting on my prior bread making experiences, dough lovingly escorted to the bathroom for a nice steam by the tub, poked, prodded, yet ultimately lacking that key characteristic that makes defines yeast bread, rising, I called on expert help, the bread machine. My mom purchased a bread machine years ago, shortly after I graduated High School and moved out. (Alas I didn't get to reap the benefits of most of her bread). I remember her telling me how easy and fun it was to make bread, quite the opposite of my own bread baking failures. So, once I resolved to tackle bread again, it was to my mom’s trusty bread machine that I turned.
Imagine my surprise, upon opening up her bread cookbook, More Bread Machine Magic, in finding that the authors had lived scant miles from me, making tasty bread treats for the teachers of my middle school's arch rival. There recipes had been lovingly crafted and tested at exactly my temperature, altitude and humidity. Take that yeast! I've got professional backup.
This book may have saved the bread. There were two very helpful introductory chapters, dealing with specific bread baking tips such as the proper flour to use, ingredients to avoid as poisonous to yeast, and measuring techniques to ensure maximum measuring accuracy.
I wanted a nice savory bread, something with a bit of "oomph" that would do justice to the characters from the book. I also had leftover cheddar from the Farmhouse Eggs I made a few weeks ago, so I selected the Au Gratin recipe from a host of other scrumptious looking ones.
Au Gratin Bread
Annotated recipe from More Bread Machine Magic, by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway, pg. 90.
Each of the recipes has several notes that dealt with the authors’ experience in making the bread. Also included were ingredient quantities for small, medium, and large loaves. I made a medium loaf.
If you start this recipe by boiling the potatoes, it will take you over 4 hours from start to finish. You can save time by making the mashed potatoes the day before, then bringing them to room temperature by microwaving them for about 10-15 seconds.
- .625 to .75 cup Heavy cream (I substituted low fat milk)
- ½ cup potato water (save from boiling the potatoes)
- One third cup plain mashed potato at room temperature (by plain, I assumed no milk or butter added)
- 1 & ½ tsp each salt and sugar
- 3 cups bread flour
- ¾ cup diced sharp cheddar cheese
- ¼ cup chopped onions
- 1 & ½ tsp active dry yeast
Place all ingredients in the bread machine, in the order listed, using the minimum amounts for liquids with ranges.
Select the Medium Crust setting on the bread machine, and press the Start button.
After 5 – 10 minutes of kneading, observe the dough. It should be tacky, but not sticky. If too dry, add the remainder of the liquid, 1 Tbsp at a time, allowing the dough to absorb the liquid completely before adding more.
When the baking cycle is complete, remove immediately from bread machine and from pan, and allow to cool 1 hour on a baking rack before slicing.
As you can see, the loaf did turn out. I can chalk this up as my very first bread success. It wasn’t as cheesy as I expected, but it’s still very tasty. It's also much fluffier than previous potato breads I've eaten, which I'm not sure I like. I was hoping rich, dense, potato slices. Nevertheless, I plan to serve this bread with some fresh avocado spread (spread being a fancy word for mashed avocados with salt and nuts stirred in) later as a light lunch snack.
Could Biscuits Save the World? · 8 May 2007
There a common thread in the work of Anne Bishop. The world may be in danger of being engulfed by the super-villain, you may find that you’re suddenly the head of a group of unbelieving spoiled fairies, or you may push yourself to the brink of death from exhaustion. But whatever happens in the realms of Anne Bishop’s imagination, your family will always be there for you.
In the Ephemera series, this family is headed by Belladonna’s mother, Nadia, and she dishes out practical advice and love with a side of biscuits. Love problems? Nadia's got a biscuit. Eater of the World looks unstoppable? Have another. The entire burden of saving the known world has fallen squarely on your shoulders? There's a basket full of biscuits waiting to be passed around the kitchen and a supportive family to eat them with you.
My mother was a comfort to me in times of need too, but her idea of food therapy was more along the lines of a hot cup of tea with honey or a hot bowl of soup than a carbohydrate binge. I had to discover the joy of home made biscuits long after leaving home when a roommate introduced me to the wonders of Bisquick.
Biscuits have gotten me through some tough times. They’re quick, filling, comforting, and (best of all on a starving student’s budget) cheap. I’d wager a basic batch of biscuits costs about the same as a bowl of Ramen Noodles, and is much less dangerous to your blood pressure.
Biscuits are forgiving and biscuits are a medium for creative expression. You can make biscuits just about any way you want, by adding any flavoring agent that you enjoy, and they’ll probably turn out just fine. My personal favorite biscuit is of the garlic and cheese variety, but I’ve made biscuits with just about every spare ingredient I've had.
By Friday of last week, my larder was a bit bare due to sickness induced abstention from grocery shopping. After days of soup, I needed some solid food. It was time to make biscuits.
These are biscuits made from a basic recipe, not from Bisquick, but can easily be adapted to use Bisquick based on the instructions on their packaging.
I used feta cheese in this batch, a first for me. While I like feta, I didn’t think it was the best pairing for the garlic, or provided the comforting buttery flavor I was going for. I often use a blend of Montery Jack and cheddar cheese (usually leftover from making Mexican food) which is a better taste combination.
If you’d like a slightly sweet biscuit instead of a savory one, substitute the cheese with almonds or pecans, the garlic with sugar, and serve the biscuits warm and topped with jelly.
Basic Baking Powder Biscuits:
- 2 cups flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp softened butter or margarine
- 1 cup milk or ½ cup milk and ½ cup water
Garlic Cheese Biscuit Add Ons:
- Approximately ¼ cup grated or shredded cheese (more if you like really cheesy biscuits)
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
Preheat oven to 425° F. Prepare a cookie sheet by greasing it with cooking spray or using a paper towel to rub a light layer of butter or margarine on it.
Combine flour, baking power, and salt in a large mixing bowl. (For the sodium conscious, the salt is what activates the baking powder, so don’t omit it or you’ll get flat biscuits!)
Add the first 2 Tbsp softened butter and the milk to the bowl. Beat with a whisk or mixer until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
If desired, add the cheese and garlic, or other flavoring agents to the dough and stir until well distributed.
Drop biscuit dough onto the cookie sheet by placing an approximately 3 Tbsp sized dollop of dough on the sheet. This recipe should make 12 large biscuits, so gauge the size of the dollop accordingly. Dough can be added to or removed from the dollop after it’s dropped onto the sheet to make the sizing work out in the end.
Using a butter knife, place a small pat of butter on the top of each biscuit dollop once you have achieved the desired size.
Bake large biscuits 11-13 minutes or until golden.