Monthly Archives: January 2013

Jabal’Amel Freekeh

I bought this freekeh at the Salone del Gusto last year in October. It’s produced by a Presidia in Lebanon. Slow Food presidium are projects in which small-scale producers/artisans are identified and aided in their attempt to safeguard a dying grain, species or practice. These efforts are community-rooted: they help revive a culinary tradition that risks being lost/enable farmers to make a living while preserving their physical environment/may help a disenfranchised group like women/pass on knowledge to children. From the packet:

Jabal Amel is an area located in Southern Lebanon. Its landscape is characterized by wide terraces on which local wheat is continually produced as a rain fed crop. Many households in different Lebanese wheat production areas make “freekeh”, or roasted green wheat. It is a specialty linked to Jabal Amel. It is said that freekeh originated around 2300 BC, when the attackers of a Mediterranean village set its green wheat fields on fire before retreating. The inhabitants later rubbed away the burnt layer and found that the grain had ripened due to the heat and that it had retained a greenish hue. This discovery led later to the production of freekeh.

I remember when I asked the Lebanese delegate in what way this freekeh was different, she was at a loss for words. After a while, she struggled to explain how freekeh across the Middle East was different, but as reporters came along, she had to cut short our discussion. Having tasted it, now I know. It has an intriguing almost ‘meaty’ smell when it first warms up, then a wonderful grilled, greenish, wheaty smell fills the air as it’s cooking. Cooked, the grains retain their brownish-green hue and chewy texture. I imagine this would pair marvellously with spiced meatballs in a tomato sauce. But I just did aubergines in tomato sauce and frankly, I could eat this grain plain. Tis sad that we’re down to the last servings… If anyone wants to get hold of this, it’s grown by Khalil Olleik of Jabal’Amel, Nabatiye, in Lebanon. And I suppose Slow Food Beirut would provide more information.
Freekeh cooked

Semolina sourdough

I do not, thank goodness, have the habit of baking bread at one in the morning, but since I was awake from the coffee, I thought I’d bake overproofed bread, instead of refrigerating the dough and baking my usual way overproofed bread the next morning. Adapted from the very gifted baker Codruta’s blog, which I first came across at TFL.

Semolina-wheat sourdough (makes one medium-large loaf)
140g leaven (mine was a mix of wheat and wholewheat)
100g T65 flour
295g semolina rimacinata
280g water
8g salt

There is something about the lightness and crunch of durum wheat breads that is so appealing. Not to mention the yellow colour. I think for them, the you-will-not-tear-into-freshly-baked bread rule can be broken.

Bob pointed out that this means we won’t have warm, freshly baked bread tomorrow morning. I offered him its use as a hot water bottle tonight.
semolina sliced
Submitting this to Susan’s Wildyeast Spotting. Hey, after all this time of looking forward to her weekly treat of bread stories, I can actually contribute cos i finally started a blog ha.

Au Vide Gousset, bistro & boulangerie

Au Vide Gousset is an old-style bistrot in the 2eme arr, a step away from the Place des Victoires. I didn’t enjoy my meal much because I ordered a salad (what was I thinking??? on a cold and snowy day too). Well, I really wanted their oeufs bio but they were out of it. And I was not up to charcuterie which they seem to specialise in—they have charcuterie Ospital, Basque pâté guindillas, Aubrac beef hamburgers, Stilton and Cantal cheese platters. Also when i was there, the place was still empty and rather dim and drafty. So all the time i was having my crab and haricots verts salad, i was really smelling some gentleman’s burger (it was all I could do to not whip around and stare at his plate) and eyeing another’s choux farci, a mysteriously dark mess that was strangely tantalising. Later when the bistrot started filling up, such that i could hear a trio’s uncensored opinion of their company’s syndicat, and another man listing all the Christmas gifts he had bestowed on his daughter,things looked up. Because what is a bistrot if you can’t hear your neighbour’s conversation huh?
Next door was its boulangerie arm. Perhaps they haven’t finished setting up because there weren’t as many choices and there were some chairs stacked up in an empty space beside, but it’s a pity because there is a lovely Belle Epoque decor going on. I hurriedly bought what looked like their signature breads: the pain de ferme, a sourdough miche that reminded me of Du Pain et des Idées’s Pain des Amis and of Gambette à Pain’s Pain Préféré. I would say this is one of the ‘sourest’ breads I’ve had here. In general, the French don’t seem to like their sourdoughs pronounced. As well as their fouasse. This one was new. I saw it on the menu but had no idea what it even was until the vendeuse pointed to this flat round loaf. I discovered it’s like a brioche but if you look at the crumb, it’s denser then usual. There’s also a orange scent and one little fleck of angelica in my half. Here’s a bit about the fouasse. Again it reminded me of the Pain Mouna at the two boulangeries mentioned above. The one at Gambette, by the way, is a real real treat.This one was milky, eggy and buttery in all the right ways, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough with coffee in the morning.

Made fig bread over the weekend, a big batch, but was too busy to take pictures. one day, when the basement is ready, i would like to make all manners of preserves, different versions of tomato sauces for the horrid winter months, pickled vegetables, eaux-de-vie, and…can one attempt shoyu and mirin in one’s basement?

Pain-Nature, Roland Feuillas, a producer/miller/baker with a mission

I first found out about Roland Feuillas and his solo gung-ho attempt to bring back ancient grains and restore an ancient windmill to bake breads as close to nature as possible on Azelia’s always-interesting blog. I made a mental note to myself to make a trip to Cucugnan (can you not say that word enough? it’s so cute) when possible. Since then I’ve seen here and there that some épiceries in Paris stock his biscuits and cakes, but it was the bread that I was after. So when I read here that a boulangerie in the 16eme was baking bread with his flours, I rushed down the first chance I got.


Unfortunately the grand épeautre and Kamut loaves are available only on Wednesdays, so I grabbed an anciens blés one, as well as the boulangerie’s signature baguette. A bold bake, roughly formed in a rectangularish shape. I can’t say the crust was particularly delicious, or that there was a sweetness or acidity that seduced—what nailed it was the taste. It was a wheat loaf, but the taste was totally different. A very slight but completely unmistakable difference. Sorry if that sounds confusing. Immediately I wondered what it would like to bake with such a flour

pain cucugnanThe only problem was that huge hole. Now, I have no problem with holes. We know how those gelatinized bits are the repository of cool sweetness, but this particular air tunnel was so long, it stretched across five or six slices!! You could peer in and view the stalactites 🙂 The result being that there was a frustrating lack of crumb. Very frustrating indeed when you want to try and recapture that uncommon taste. So i’ll have to trek all the way across town to buy this again. The baguette was also very good, and the other breads certainly looked worth a try.

…and finding Page 189

Page 189 bookshop1

On the same day, i also stumbled on this bookshop at 189, Faubourg Saint-Antoine. A small, intimate one with very appealing titles and quite a large space devoted to BD for its size. What is surprising is the little post-its you find on the books, humorous scribblings by the owners with their opinions and recommendations. This personal vein was confirmed when a man dashed in to thank the lady owner profusely for some book he had read. He was so enthused, so full of joy, I thought for a minute he was going to kiss her. But like the wind, he dashed out again.

Is that not a nice gesture, just popping in to thank your bookshop owner? Is it not good that the written word, a book, still has the power to make someone’s day like that, so much so that he, presumably, went out of his way to thank her? Why do we not do the same for our dentists? ;)) Is it not heartening that this sort of relationship with your neighbourhood bookshop can still exist? Take that, Kindle.


Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man || A Sony Pictures Classics Release.

so glad I went with my instincts and decided to watch this film even though I had never heard of this musician. A sweet film about giving a talented but bypassed singer from the 70s his long-overdue recognition. Does it come too late? Is it enough? What is fame and recognition worth anyway? These are just some of the questions the film leaves you with. What a shame this man was dropped by his record label (probably because he wasn’t a white swaggering Mike Jagger-type), what a shame he didn’t get to develop his career, what a shame he had no idea he was so big overseas, what a shame he got cheated by his producer (the film doesn’t say it out loud but the man’s vehement, out-of-place protestations make it quite clear who’s the baddie as far as the director is concerned), what a shame he spent the rest of his life not in music but roughing it out as as construction worker. Yet, as he said, his dream was to make a record, and he did. Is that just modesty from this soft-spoken man from whom the director and journalists, and even his family, can hardly tease out a reaction? Would fame and money have changed the man and the outcome of his life? As his daughter said, he seems to lead two lives: one, the Dylan-ish singer whose songs were taken up as an anthem for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and another, the bricklaying construction worker in Detroit whose ‘past life’ is totally unknown to his colleagues. But perhaps running through all this is the soul of a man whose purity has remained untouched. As his boss voiced with admiration, his is the soul of a poet who finds beauty in the banal, who ennobles the filthy, the downtrodden. Here is a man who would “do the dirty jobs that no-one wants to do”, who would come to work dressed in a tux, who would work harder and longer than he needed to. From the mouth of a man whom, you suspect, hardly deals with ‘art’ and ‘poetry’ in his quotidian, this is insight indeed into the man and real praise. It’s interesting to see too the immigration experience as played out in his life and his daughters’. The Rodriguez to America came as poor Mexican immigrants, eking out a living in the construction industry and living in a shantytown. He belongs to the second, ‘bridge’ generation, and perhaps his music was a dream he dared to dream outside of the ghetto before it was snuffed out, but his daughters seem to have made the transition to middle-class America. And perhaps the dichotomy between his musician life and his blue-collar existence is not as wide as it seems. He ran for mayor in his town, never mind if he lost; the high ideals and militancy is his songs were not empty words. He also imparted these ideals to his daughters. It should not be overlooked too that a measure of the man can be found in his daughters. By all appearances, they seem to be well-adjusted, sensitive, good people, a close-knit family and caring of their papa. The youngest seemed often on the brink of tears when evoking her father. Finally, the singer remains an enigma. What does he make of his newfound fame? Did he have any regrets? Why does he continue living his hard life in Detroit? It’s almost a joke that everyone else’s lives seemed to have changed—for the better— but his. We don’t come any closer to finding out at the end of the film.

Vegetarian, make-amends, kitchen-sink quiche


Sunday was one of those impossibly bleak hellish days where you think it’s only 7 am when it’s already 9 cos the sun aint there, and you know with a sinking heart that it just isn’t going to show its face the whole day. Maussade is what they call it here; might as well draw the blinds cos it won’t make a difference is what I call it.

I just felt like some colour and cheer and NON-stews and NON-soups and NON-winter roots, so I made us a quiche. I even *gasp* indulged in some out-of-season red peppers but drew the line at tomatoes.

I’m loathe to tell anyone how to make a quiche seeing how i’ve never made the same quiche twice nor planned ahead, but my point is quiches needn’t be rich, cheesy affairs. This one was sort of making amends for all that indulging over the festive season (that is cheese you see on top, but it was reduced-fat cheese, BUT I’ll be honest and take no credit for that, I only bought it by accident). Anyway, if anyone feels nervous about making quiche, there’s no need for that.

230g      wholewheat flour
60g        water
50g        olive oil
1            egg
a pinch of salt

Combine, chill for at least half an hour for dough to relax, roll out, fit into tin (this one fitted a deep-ish, 9″ quiche tin), patch where you have to patch, then back into fridge while you go do something else.

The Solids, kitchen-sink bit: Two red peppers grilled, skinned and sliced; a head of broccoli and one leek (meant for soup but happily hijacked from its purpose) chopped up and tossed with olive oil and thyme and thrown into oven to take on some flavour while peppers were grilling.

The Liquid, ‘healthy’ bit: one block of firm tofu (the soft wobbly sort would be too wet) which when I remember to, and do try to remember, it helps, I drain by placing in a strainer with a weight on top + 3 eggs + light cream/milk/sour cream/fromage frais/yoghurt/any combination of these + seasoning.

Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Remove chilled dough in tin. Scatter solids over base. Pour in liquid almost to the top. Toppings of your choice. Into oven and out in about 40 mins.

As far as I’m concerned, quiches are all about having fun and experimenting. Take the crust: you can use butter or oil; you can vary your choice of oils; you can vary your flours (wheat, non-wheat, oat flour, millet flour, throw in some cornmeal for crunch, etc.) Just bear in mind the mouthfeel—do you mind something wetter/denser than the usual? If in doubt, just do a half-wheat, half-something else crust—or just go for it and you’ll know better the next time round. Make it plain, or throw in spices, dried herbs, sesame seeds, whatever. Using oil, you’ll find it’s slightly greasier to the touch but it’s a such a cinch throwing together and rolling out couldn’t be easier. It makes for a slightly harder crust and you won’t have the smell and flakiness of a butter crust, but we like it fine.

As for the filling, it’s a good way to use up leftovers, the odds-and-ends. Just beware of vegetables that could leak too much moisture, cook these through first. Ditto with the liquid bit: I’ve used ricotta, goat’s cheese, parmesan, yoghurt, milk, etc., whatever was lurking in the fridge. You can dial up the fat (and flavour) as you wish. Just aim for something medium-wet. I often end up improvising and adding on depending on the ‘depth’ of the solids. Grating some cheese on top just before it goes into the oven never hurts.

Which brings me to the goat’s cheese on top. You see how it stayed mostly intact? I was wondering why this weird cheese didn’t melt into gooeyness when it was pointed out to me that I had bought a low-fat version. Blerk. No wonder that plasticky taste and texture.

For tofu-haters/lovers: can you taste the tofu in it? Yes, very vaguely. But I’ve noticed that different brands of tofu vary in taste so it’s hard to say. Besides, you’ll notice I went very light on the cheese or rich dairy, which would have masked the taste. I don’t think the tofu-hater would notice if you didn’t put them on a tofu-alert. So don’t, it’s more fun that way, you can watch their face change:))

Challah and Moulin de Versailles

challahSuch a long time since i last made challah. Used the trusty Hamelman formula, which calls for high-gluten flour. Coincidentally, I discovered a flour supplier that’s not too far off. Les Moulins de Versailles is a miller and wholesaler, but they also have a retail boutique. They sell all sorts of flours, mostly milled in-house, but also some organic ones from other brands, as well as all sorts of other baking ingredients and some tools. What really surprised me though was the vast range of flour mixes—for country-style bread, cereal bread, autumn bread, chestnut bread, part rye bread, brioche, etc. etc. available According to their website, they’ve been operating since more than a century ago and you can catch a glimpse of the machines within the stone building. One day when i have the time, I could perhaps ask them for a tour of the premises???

In any case, I would certainly like to know more about what exactly goes into a packet of flour. I know millers carry out tests to determine the quality of their flour and make adjustments accordingly. Just what these tests are, and more importantly, what else do they add to the flour to render it more ‘user-friendly’? I enquired and was told their house brand of flours are additives-free whereas their flour mixes contain ascorbic acid. But is there more stuff added during the milling? Their basic house brand flour lists flour, gluten and malt as ingredients. What is the difference between industrial flour, ‘artisan’ miller flour and organic flour? If my usual organic, artisan miller flour doesn’t even have a list of ingredients, what can I understand by that?

As for the customised flour mixes, there was an ‘a-ha!’ moment when I spotted familiar names of breads I’ve seen for sale in boulangeries such as Le Cérébrun, Le Breizhic, La Payse. I have wondered how some boulangeries can offer such a gamut of breads; the answer lies partly i guess in these pre-mixes. The downside for the consumer is less diversity, less control and more of these standardised, ‘packaged’ goods.

I found the flours to be rather dry, requiring more water. Here’s a view of the crumb just ‘cos I liked the other-directional pull of the braid.

challah crumb

Dan Lepard’s oat & linseed loaf

Dan Lepard loaf90% of the time I make sourdough bread, but the problem of waiting for inspiration to strike is that sometimes i’m caught out with the leaven not ready. Yupe, slow loaves do require some planning ahead, especially in these cold times. So I made a quick loaf this time, from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet. It has oats, linseed, pumpkin seeds, and I also added sunflower seeds. Moistened by butter and sweetened with honey, what’s there not to like? It makes perfect breakfast toast and is so easy to make. I’m floored each time I hear people say they need a bread machine to make bread.