Wednesday, 18 January 2012

New Week, New Resolutions for the New Year

With a new episode of Top Chef: Texas as I write, it must mean it's once again Wednesday. Since my last post over the weekend, the second semester of the academic term began; just over halfway done with the week and it already feels as if an entire month has passed. It's certainly been a whirlwind couple of days and what better way to slow things down than with baking. The arguable precision and added concentration for my guesstimation sensibilities on Tuesday morning before work definitely helped me through the day, with this post writing as another break in the work week and another moment to reflect and slow down.

But before I even get to my recent foodie experiences, I would like to adjust one of my earlier resolutions for the new year. If you've been tracking my blog's progress, you've probably noticed I haven't done much food writing by way of Viestad's Where Flavor Was Born. The simplest response is that I forgot the book at home; so I'll have to wait until later in the year to start that one. This being said, I would like to note I'm auditing a course this term which seems particularly timely and relevant to the work I'm doing on campus and plan to be doing for quite some time. The course is La Gastronomie Française, with a particular emphasis on the connections between French gastronomy and religion. In this first part of the semester, we begin with a history of French gastronomy, and began with the original French inhabitants: the Gauls. And where there are lessons on the Gauls and early French food fare, there's bound to be a discussion on Astérix et Obélix. Understanding the historical and political references associated with often stereotyped social life in comic book and /or cartoon form, Astérix et Obélix offers much commentary on cultural variation especially when it comes to food and language. Speaking of language, we also spent some time on French idioms which quite frequently are inclusive of food. (Check out this great resource among the many others available on-line.)

Though this course is not a cooking course, I would say it'd be rather difficult to understand French cuisine and gastronomy without partaking in a dégustation (tasting). And today, we had our first one. Christine, the course instructor, is from the eastern French region of Franche-Comté (which borders Switzerland and is the site of my favourite cheese) and introduced our two galettes (in reference to their circular shape) to try as reminiscent of tastes from back home. The first was a galette franc-comtoise which has as its base pâte à choux, a creamy dough used more regularly for cream puffs (which in turn are often seen in the form of the caramel-laced croquembouche).

The second was a galette des Rois, also known as a kings' cake and which is traditionally made in celebration of the Ephipany. Made instead with pâte feuilletée (puff pastry), this flaky and buttery dessert has a different flavour profile than that of the galette franc-comtoise but is equally delicious. I'll refrain from saying any more about this galette here, as I'll definitely be writing more about it in my next post. Indeed, tomorrow (and with Christine's help in partnership with the French department), I'll be launching a new program for the campus, a program sponsored by the Office of Multi-Cultural Student Affairs (for which I work) and the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life: the Community Culture Kitchen (CCK). So, more on that tomorrow.

I would like to quickly note that, though I'm not much of a tea drinker, I did try mint tea on Monday and a hazelnut and pear tea today which Christine offered to our class along with French pressed coffee. I should note here that as other food experiences come up--through residence hall food and culture programming, the CCK, this course and the like (as if I'd really have difficulty)--I'll certainly continue to share them with you. As for the regular food writing portion of my 2012 resolutions, much of the inspiration will easily come from this course (in addition to Viestad's text when I get to it).

As for my calming baking experience on Tuesday morning, I found my inspiration in another one of the food items Lauren had given me for Christmas: dried blueberries. Granted they're meant more for the oatmeal I also got, but I did manage to put the blueberries into another vegetarian recipe. With a meyer lemon sitting in my refrigerator, I decided on meyer lemon blueberry muffins.

With my oven preheating to 350 °F, I initially began with my limoncello muffin recipe and adjusted the recipe to make more of a savoury breakfast muffin [than a cupcake]. Taking cues from here and here, I among other things lowered the sugar content of the limoncello muffin recipe, removed the butter and added baking powder to make the recipe presented here. And so, begin by adding to a bowl with 1/4 c dried blueberries the zested rind and juice of a whole meyer lemon. Give this a stir and set it aside. Next, sift together in one bowl 1.5 c all-purpose flour, 3/4c granulated sugar and 1 tbsp baking powder. In another bowl, beat together very well two whole eggs and whisk in 1/2 c milk, 1/4 c canola oil and a few drops of vanilla extract.

Working in small batches, combine very well with a strong whisk the dry mix into the liquid mix. Continue to combine and whisk the ingredients together until you have a smooth consistency that feels like there's a bit of resistance. To this, add in the ingredients from the blueberry bowl, including any juices that were pulled into the meyer lemon juice. This will smoothen the consistency even more without making the (now) batter runny.

In round tablespoons, get the batter into your muffin pan/s (or in my case mini muffin pans) and then get the pans into the oven to bake for about 15-20 minutes or until they pass the clean toothpick / wire test. If for some reason the muffins aren't colouring (e.g., you're baking with multiple pans at the same time), feel free to set them under the boiler for about 45-90 seconds or until golden brown.

Not too sweet and with a rather neutral base, you can taste the subtlety of the meyer lemon within this not-too-dense dessert, as well as the additional bursts of blueberry (especially in mini muffin form). To make sure at least the name was accurate, I made sure to put an additional dried blueberry in each baking vessel. And as far as presentation is concerned, be careful not to tap the muffin ware on a flat surface prior to getting it in the oven, as you might find yourself with flat muffins in the end.

For the entire album from these foodie days, click here.

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