Friday, June 28, 2013
My friend called me vintage the other day. Me vintage? I'm only a few years over 30, does that really make me vintage? Okay so let's put this into context... we were standing out the front of my daughters classroom at pick-up time discussing the fact that I'm thinking of upgrading my old phone, getting with the times and finally jumping on the smart phone bandwagon (I know I'm years late). See my phone is not fancy, not even close. It's not so old that it can't take photos, but the quality is so terrible that I've only taken a handful in the 6 or so years since I bought it, and there's no touch screen or anything else to make it even remotely flash. My fellow kiwi friend laughed when I told him there was no point in sending a photo to my phone as the screen is so ridiculously small I can't even make out faces! 'Emm, that's why all us kiwi's move over to Australia! So we can afford things like flash phones'. Hrmm, it seems I didn't get that memo.
So while I may be thinking about trading in my dinosaur phone, this whole 'vintage' theme pretty much sums up my life and our little family. We prefer to buy secondhand over new and tend to make do with what we have instead of spending a fortune on things we don't really need. One of the kid's favourite things to do is go op-shopping and our house is quite obviously a mish-mash of hand-me-downs and bargain finds. I'm cool with that.
This way of thinking carries through into my kitchen too, where you see me making most things by hand. Call me old fashion, vintage if you will, but I really don't feel one needs to spend thousands of dollars on a piece of kitchen equipment when our own two hands and a few other simple (and cheap) tools of the trade such as pots, pans, knives and wooden spoons can be used to create all sorts of wonderful foods. Don't get me wrong I would love to own a Thermomix and Vitamix (if I ever win lotto!) and I've long dreamt of owning an off-white KitchenAid but it saddens me a little to hear people say that they can't believe I make do without all of these things. 'How are you writing a cookbook when you don't own a Thermomix?!' My answer is simple... how did people get by in past generations without all these modern gadgets?They just did.
Little tricks like softening your butter in a sink full of hot water, instead of using a microwave. Learning to be confident when using your chef's knife to cut vegetables finely and putting your back into it when whisking egg whites by hand are all things that I've grown up learning and this is part of the love of cooking for me. I love getting my hands into it and it's my hands that are used to judge whether or not the water is too hot to be added to the yeast when making pizza dough, then used to knead the dough. More often than not I ditch the wooden spoon when making cookies and mix the dough by hand. A wooden spoon can never tell you how much more you need to mix or whether or not you need to add a little more liquid to the dough. It is only your hands that can do that, so for me, they are my most essential tool of the trade. And I bet you any fellow chef out there would say the same.
When I did my training we were taught to do everything by hand. I cursed the logic of this at the time, especially when making mushroom duxelles. I vividly remember begging our tutor to let us use the food processor after more than 10 minutes of chopping those damn mushrooms, only to be put back in my place by him telling us we had to all learn to make everything by hand if we were to learn the proper way of doing things, 'sure when you are in the industry you go right ahead and use that processor, but I want you all to know how it is meant to look and feel by hand first'. It was for our own good, I see that now. I quickly taught myself how to do things like whisking meringue using both arms, alternating when one got tired. And just got on with it.
During the many years I worked as a chef my hands were battered and bruised, or to be more precise battered and burnt. They were a sight for sore eyes and some days I was so embarrassed to show my hands and forearms in public, in case someone thought I was self-harming. The lines of burns started just below my thumbs and if I was having a really bad week and not on talking terms with the oven, they would extend right the way up to near my elbow. Not the nicest sight I know, but it just goes to show how much those hands were used in daily life.
When I was thinking about which recipe to include here that demonstrates using your own two hands to make something magical, it was jam drops, also known as thumb-print cookies which I just knew I had to share. Who doesn't love a good jam drop? Crisp shortbread-esk cookie topped with a puddle of jelly-like jam, they are one of my favourite cookies. I've added in some freshly dried thyme to give a lovely talking point to these cookies and when looking for jam at the shops it was a black cherry jam that called out to me. So thyme and black cherry jam drops it is...
thyme + black cherry jam drop cookies
The week before I'd trimmed my overgrown thyme plant back and hung up the leaves to dry. One lazy Sunday afternoon the kids and I stripped all the (now dried) leaves off the stalks, giving us a full jar full of thyme to use through winter on those days when it's too rainy outside to venture out to the garden for fresh. I use St. Dalfour black cherry jam, found at your local supermarket. However strawberry, raspberry or blackberry jam would also work great here, or use marmalade for another twist. I use Billington's golden unrefined cane sugar found at some health-food stores, or you can use regular raw sugar (blended) or caster sugar if preferred. You can find fine brown rice flour at Coles supermarkets.
makes 16-17 cookies
125g butter, softened
1/4 cup (50g) blended unrefined raw sugar*
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 teaspoons finely chopped thyme leaves (fresh is best, but my freshly dried thyme worked well too)
3/4 cup (105g) fine brown rice flour
1/2 cup (50g) organic cornflour (starch)
1/2 teaspoon gluten free baking powder
1/3 cup (35g) almond meal (ground almonds)
approx 1/4 cup (60ml) black cherry jam
Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease 1 large baking tray and line with baking paper if desired.
Cream butter, sugar, vanilla and thyme in a medium bowl using an electric beater or wooden spoon. Sieve over brown rice flour, cornflour and baking powder, add almond meal and mix well to form a soft dough. I tend to get rid of the wooden spoon and just get my hands in there after the initial mix, it's so much easier!
Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls, place onto the tray and flatten just a little. Flour your thumb and press into each dough ball to create a little indent. Fill each with a little jam and bake for 10-12 minutes or until just a little bit golden around the edges and the jam bubbling up and all over the show. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool on the tray. Best eaten on the day of baking, however they will store airtight overnight. Just note though that they will soften the following day, they are still edible but not anywhere near as delicious as freshly baked.
* I use golden unrefined raw sugar and blitz it in my blender until fine, making it easier to cream with the butter.
This post was also posted over on Kidspot where I've been posting as part of their Top 5 Food & Wellbeing blog Voices of 2013.
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