Thursday, May 6, 2021

Back to Basics Sourdough

What is more comforting than a back to basics, simple loaf of sourdough? If you have time on your hands (at least a few hours worth for active labour and a few days for resting) and a decent starter, this delicately tangy, chewy crust loaf can be yours with really very little effort! My sister hardly waited for it to cool before grabbing a big slice!

Well, happy May! I don't know if it's just me, but time seems to both crawl and fly by when lockdowns are involved - suddenly I have 10 times the work to do and almost none of the time to do it. Luckily, the school year is winding down and Summer is almost here, so while it may be crazy now I'm hoping good weather and more social opportunities will be around the bend.

Because I've been every so slightly busy these days, my breadmaking has transformed into low-effort, long rise affairs where I can simply mix, cover and rest, rest, rest until baking day. Luckily, sourdough is built for just that purpose - and you can mix up a few doughs and bake them throughout the week for always fresh bread with ever-tangier crumbs. This particular loaf arose from my sister's hankering for a sourdough boule while I was writing final exams. After promising her that everything would be baked off after the last test was in the books, I mixed up the levain and let it get to work. After the dough came together, it was pretty much hands off, save for the few stretch-and-folds along the way. A scorching hot Dutch oven was my baking vessel of choice and resulted in a blistered crust with a few open air pockets throughout. 

I say this a lot about bread, but if you have no self-control around carbs, the aroma of this one when it cools will tempt you beyond belief! I think this boule survived an hour on the cooling rack before the knives came out, leading to the round getting ever so slightly squashed. While the appearance may have suffered a bit, once the chunk was smeared with butter it didn't matter - the whole thing was gone within a week and the next batch already resting. The recipe is basic for a reason, and is a keeper in this household - I would love to try it in a real banneton one day too.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Continued Rise of Ghost Kitchens and Why They’re Being Invested In

The Continued Rise of Ghost Kitchens 
and Why They’re Being Invested In

Many business ventures have turned towards the ephemeral. Startups design products like SnapChat or introduce features like stories which are focused on the fleeting – Clubhouse is the latest example in the social media landscape. Pop-up stores are another example of this movement towards for-a-limited-time-only presence in malls and shopping estates, as are the exclusive collaborations which fuel these temporary shopfronts.

The food industry is no stranger to this type of business model. Restaurant pop-ups have been popular for a long time. Many chefs focusing on this model rather than establishing consistent residencies. It allows some to impress investors and business people to allow them to then open their own place. Still, the premise is that a space, for a specific and short period, is entirely theirs, setting an atmosphere and a menu to create a distinct experience – it’s an art installation, as much as anything. However, a new adaptation of this is taking over: ghost kitchens.


Ghost Kitchens
Some restaurateurs are opting for delivery-only. To achieve this, they are making use of ghost kitchens. There appears to be two approaches to these spaces. One is that the ghost kitchen is hired and filled by the restaurateurs own staff, to prepare and cook meals and then organise their own delivery system, making use of existing services like Uber Eats or Deliveroo. Some are calling these types of business “digital restaurants,” as they follow the technology trend of picking and choosing when to appear as a physical entity.

There are many perks to this business model. There will be no continued rent on a building, for instance, which is, obviously, a considerable cost for many establishments. Also, no needing to account for the purchase and maintenance of equipment and the salaries of a larger workforce mean that overheads are reduced further.

The downsides and upsides are that the marketing strategy is hugely important. This may sound like a silly thing to say, as its applicable to all businesses anywhere. However, not having a geographically fixed location means that it’s important to work hard to earn the attention of eyeballs online. It’s difficult for a digital roamer to wonder past your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter page without meaning to, making a mental note to try that place out in the near future with some friends. As such, many of the key players in the early parts of the ghost kitchen scene have been celebrities which huge existing audiences. 

Mr Beast’s Burgers
Mr Beast, a YouTuber with 56.9 million subscribers, whose content mostly revolves around gaming, excessive challenges, and philanthropy, opened Mr Beast’s Burgers on December 19 th and by the week of March 12th they had sold their one millionth burger, which is an average of 40 per day at each of their 300 locations across the United States of America and Canada. This is a promising start for the business. While it is someway off a lot of its competition (McDonalds, Burger King, etc.), it’s an important milestone in both Mr Beast’s endeavour and for ghost kitchens.

There have been some criticisms, though, which have followed Mr Beast’s Burgers – due to its profile – as some ghost kitchens are other business’s kitchens which have their own or other orders to fulfill and, therefore, puts extra workload on their staff.

Mr Beast continues to attract venture capitalist intentions, with his management company, Night Media, creating a venture studio to help nurture and grow its stars entrepreneurial endeavours, including his existing fast food business.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Kitchen
Gwyneth Paltrow, a Hollywood actor, author, and entrepreneur, founded Goop, a lifestyle company, in 2008. It is a company which has attract some controversies with its emphasis on wellness solutions and dieting tips that are based on “pseudo-science”. Despite this, Goop continues to be successful and has decided to set-up a delivery-only food service.

Their menu is at odds with Mr Beast’s Burger’s. Goop Kitchen is focused on healthy eating, using sustainable growing practices, and meeting Goop’s own standards for “cleanliness”. The service is geographically limited to Santa Monica, California. It may expand, as Paltrow’s company’s mission is to continue to grow and inspire a movement around these lifestyle choices.

Guy Fieri’s Flavortown
Guy Fieri is a restauranteur who made his name hosting shows on Food Network in the late 00s and has more recently become more of a meme online. He has still, though, the chops for keeping up the with restaurant industry by relieving Flavortown of its brick-and-mortar confines and taking it virtual. There are classic Fieri options on the menu and has already established operations in twenty-four states, with multiple outlets in many states. It’s aiming big, as his profile, knowledge, and contacts enable him to.

Ghost kitchens are another leap into the digital-first approach for businesses and the emphasis on being in a place just long enough.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Rainbow Velvet Cake

This Rainbow Velvet Cake is vivid in colour with a rich vanilla flavour. Six thin layers sandwiched with my Cream Cheese Buttercream and cloaked in a chocolate fudge frosting made for a decadent birthday treat!

Since I was born, there has rarely been a time when my birthday didn't conflict with either Easter or other family members' birthday plans. As fate would have it, my whole immediate family have birthdays within a 4 week timeframe, with Easter falling on either my dads, my sister's or my weekends. Most of the time it's not a big deal, although as a kid birthday parties were always somewhat disappointing. Then again, some years I did get chocolate and gifts, so I guess I'm not too hard done by!

This year my birthday fell right smack on Easter Sunday, so knowing we would have my grandma and N there I figured it would be a great time to make a tester batch of Rainbow Velvet Cake in preparation for my sister's celebration. She got the idea for a multicoloured multiple layer cake from watching Trixie Mattel's Easy Bake Oven series on YouTube (seriously, you should watch her cooking videos for the sheer fact that they are hilarious) and since I hadn't made one stacked that high in - well, ever - I needed to see if it worked.

Luckily, this cake recipe is simple - it's one batter that gets divided and individually coloured. That said, be prepared for all the dishes! While the cake I made uses only three colours, you need 6 bowls for tinting so as to get the right amount of batter per cake pan. Obviously, if you want more colours just don't double up on the bowl tinting! As for what colouring to use, I strongly suggest a gel or paste, since to get enough tint in the batter liquid dye will thin it too much. I haven't tried with liquid, so can't say what you'd need to alter for proper product.
Another note on the batter portioning - it will look like you won't have enough batter per 8" pan. You will. The batter should be thinly spread because you are effectively baking half a layer at once. Separate pans eliminates the hassle of torting and dealing with all those crumbs. 

When it comes to filling and frosting, your choices are endless - though I have to say both my sister and I are biased! I folded sprinkles into my Cream Cheese Buttercream and schmeared it generously between the layers and cloaked the rest in a chocolate fudge frosting. Given that it's a vanilla cake, pretty much any flavour filling will work - my mom loves raspberry jam, my dad loves custard, and me? Well, I'd be loading up on the chocolate. If you aren't using frosting, make sure to pipe a border around the outside edge of the cake to keep it from leaking out!

At any rate, have fun making this cake - and while it certainly feeds a crowd, it doesn't dry out too fast so storing it for the 3 or 4 days it takes to disappear is no problem!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Golden Miniature Panettones

These golden, pillowy Mini Panettones are studded with dark chocolate, Craisins and pistachios and full of orange zest for an irresistibly festive flavour. They're rich and sweet with a secret ingredient that makes them even more special! 

Well, it's Easter weekend - and for the second time, both the Easter Bunny's visit and my birthday are being spent in lockdown. I shouldn't complain though, it isn't like I'm one for parties or bar-hopping, but it would be nice to actually grocery shop without the 45 minute lines again! This birthday is also being spent with limited baking potential, since I'm still relatively useless when it comes to hauling buckets of flour and bowls of dough here and there thanks to the car accident. So, rather than showcase a spiffy cake this year (though one may be forthcoming...) I'm going to share a festive bread that I made last Christmas and forgot to post about! Don't worry, I haven't forgotten the experience, or the reactions from the family I shared it with. Besides, panettone seems to crop up at our household on the Easter weekend as well, so let's say it's still seasonal!

I will admit, I've always wanted to make this form of bread to see just what is so special about it - having a vast Italian stepfamily and working with a few others who love the stuff, its ubiquitous every holiday. One year we had 4 large ones in our pantry thanks to gifts from family and friends! Because we had far fewer people dropping by last year, I decided to try out a recipe that could be made rather easily in miniature form using jumbo muffin tins and a few ramekins, and just so happened to be vegan, but that would be no less decadent. My inspiration came from a carton of Coconut Nog that I picked up at the discount grocery, which seemed like it would add not only flavour but richness to the dough. To make up for the missing "eggy" colour, a pinch of turmeric sufficed. The dough came together like a dream and was satiny and soft like my mom's Brioche dough is. Then I debated fillings.

Given that my mom was one of my taste testers, I knew there had to be chocolate in there somewhere. I mean, how can you go wrong? After that, I looked to my stash and after finding my bag of shelled pistachios in the freezer it hit me - holiday colours could be had by adding Craisins too! I will admit that I measured these rather loosely, so my amounts below are a guide, but each little loaf had a generous amount of each component.

Now, sometimes little loaves are not what you need, but I have you covered with this nutty, citrusy, sweet bread recipe - it's absolutely translated into a large loaf pan and I give baking times below. Either way, I don't think it's fair to keep this as a holiday only affair - who's to say a Saturday morning isn't cause for celebration?

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Shingled Taco Pie

When the wind is blowing and the thermometer is still up and down like a yo-yo, why not turn up the heat with these vegetarian taco pies? A simple spiced lentil and vegetable filling hides under a shingled blanket of thinly sliced potatoes and (of course) cheese! The recipe makes two, so have one tonight and freeze one for later.

Well guys - it's almost Spring! That said, around here, Spring is more fits and starts than a season of it's own, and the nights are still plenty chilly! I've also been sidelined from cooking (mostly) for the last month and a half since a lovely car accident and final exams, so my silence is not intentional! 

However, before all that went down I was dabbling a fair bit in the kitchen, and one of my favourites so far has been this Shingled Taco Pie. It (like a lot of things during the school year) was born out of leftovers - in my case, it was leftover taco filling that the kids and I made. N loves my shepherd's pie made with lentils, and with potatoes always in our pantry I figured why not take that idea and twist it into a meal he could enjoy for a week before his night shifts?

That said, I have a wee secret. I loathe making mashed potatoes. The water, the waiting, the splashing, the dicey-at-best draining... yeah, that's a two-to-three times a year thing (probably good too, cause we like these guys). So instead of baking / nuking the spuds and mashing like I do for the shepherd's pies, I decided to let my knife work and create a neat little shingled "roof" over the taco filling, held together by the highlight of any taco - cheese.

 Did it work? Yes - and way better than I anticipated it working. Not to mention how gorgeous it looked sitting in the pan! Of course, since this isn't a pie with a crust or anything, a slice won't hold the same photogenic quality. However, I am the last person to complain about how a delicious meal looks while I'm savouring every last mouthful! I made two pies and N froze one for a later stretch of work, which apparently came in handy!