Chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies - an American staple but the perfect way to start your day alla torinese!
Chocolate Chip Cookies – an American staple but the perfect way to start your day alla torinese!

A typical Italian breakfast differs greatly from the average Australian one. Back home, I’d have yoghurt, cereal, or something savoury (a big favourite of mine is toast with eggs, peanut butter or avocado!). Here in Turin on the other hand,  I’m more likely to have a sweet breakfast like most locals do. Generally, if people are having breakfast at home, they have caffè  e latte with bread, butter and jam or biscuits. During the week however, they may go to a bar on their way to work for breakfast and order a cappuccino and a pastry (often a croissant).

I love biscuits but sometimes I get annoyed at all the packaging which easily accumulates if you buy them from the supermarket all the time. I also enjoy a good croissant with a cappuccino from a bar. However,  even if it is by no means expensive to have breakfast at a bar here in Turin (the average cappuccino costs 1.50 euro and the average croissant is 1.00 euro), it does add up if you do it every day.

Anyway, if you’re keen like me to:

a.reduce packaging waste and/or;

b. save a few pennies but;

c. do not want to renounce something sweet for brekkie,

then here is a chocolate chip cookies recipe for you.  It is loosely based on Felicity Cloake’s[i] and I like to make these because they remind me of my husband’s packaged biscuits of choice from the supermarket called gocciole (tear-dropped shaped biscuits with chocolate chips in them). I would recommend preparing the dough in advance and allowing it to chill so that it is easier to roll and shape afterwards.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 240g plain flour
  • 170g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (or equivalent amount of dark chocolate chips)
  • 150 g raw sugar
  • 120g melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt

Method

  1. Using an electric beater, beat butter,  sugar and egg until well combined.
  2. Sift flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and then using a wooden spoon, add to the butter, egg and sugar mixture. Stir until it forms a dough-like consistency.
  3. Fold in the chocolate pieces.
  4. Chill cookie dough in fridge overnight.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  6. Knead and flatten dough  (use a rolling pin if necessary) on a lightly floured working surface.
  7. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes and place on baking tray, ensuring you  leave enough space between them.
  8. Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden, but not browned.
  9.  Allow to cool on tray before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Vi auguro buona colazione!

[i] See the following link for more information:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/apr/25/how-to-cook-perfect-chocolate-chip-cookies

Agnolotti alla piemontese

Nothing beats the taste and satisfaction of making your own pasta. Over the years here in Italy, I’ve learned to make tagliatelle and gnocchi but I had always left the agnolotti-making to the expertise of my-laws.  Last Christmas though, they asked for an extra set of hands and I was lucky enough to learn their recipe for making these delectable Piedmontese pasta dumplings.

Here is my latest recipe contribution, Agnolotti alla piemontese, at Turin Italy Guide.

Stay tuned for my next article on breadsticks, an invention Made in Turin.

Ciao!!

Muesli (and the learning curve that is food photography)…

turinamammamuesli3 Yesterday, I made some muesli, something I started doing last year after my mum showed me how easy it is. It was a lovely sunny day too so I seized the opportunity to practice taking photos of my creation. Practice is something I really need, not to mention greater familiarity with the functions of my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot camera. I realised this the hard way after my photos of the lovely bugie I made for my Turin Italy Guide Carnival article were rejected because I hadn’t set the resolution high enough. Ooops! This prompted me to dig out the instruction manual (I sincerely doubt I consulted it properly when I first got it) and looked up all the functions and settings (and what they meant!) on the Internet. ISO, exposure, metering modes, white balance, aperture, shutter speed, what the?? I must sound really naïve but wow! There were so many things that I could do that I had no idea about. I have a friend who is a professional photographer and she has always said that a point and shoot camera is capable of taking quality photos. It’s simply a matter of practice and of getting to know and understand the functions available. Anyway, I’ve still got a long way to go (and a tripod to buy! Cameras are really sensitive to the slightest movements of our hands no matter hard we try to stay still).  However,  I think I do actually have something to show for the effort I went to to chase the light around my flat with a jar of yoghurt and a bowl of muesli. The food almost looks appetising. I don’t think it’s a bad effort considering I don’t have a chef, a food stylist (wow, I didn’t know this job existed!) and a food photographer at my disposal. I was reading that even with a team of professionals and all the fancy equipment in the world, it can still take a whole day to capture the one image that will be published in a food magazine or blog. Ah yes, this post was supposed to be about making muesli… With the recipe you may prefer to use different nuts and dried fruit. The butter could also be replaced with oil and the honey with melted sugar or maple syrup. The beauty of muesli-making is that it is so flexible. I generally use whatever I happen to have in the pantry and almost never make it with the same ingredients! This is how I made it yesterday:

Ingredients

  • 300g oats
  • 100ml honey
  • 100g sultanas
  • 100g hazelnuts
  • 60g butter
  • 50g pumpkin seeds
  • 50g linseeds
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • 50g desiccated coconut

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  • Melt butter and honey in pan.
  • Place all dry ingredients (except dried fruit) in mixing bowl.
  • Add melted butter and honey mixture to bowl and stir thoroughly until butter and honey mixture is evenly distributed.
  • Line a large rectangular oven tray with baking paper and spread mixture evenly across lined tray.
  • Roast in oven for 5 minutes or until lightly toasted.
  • Remove from oven. Respread mixture on tray and place in oven again for another 5 minutes.
  • Allow to cool completely.
  • Add sultanas to mixture.
  • Store in an airtight container.

turinmammamuesli1

Yoghurt

About two years ago, I was in the midst of spring cleaning. I was complaining to my husband that I kept finding things that he had thought were lost forever. In fact, they had not been lost at all. Rather, they had been shoved to backs of various cupboards and forgotten. Keen to get back at me for nagging him, my husband pointed out an object that I had also been guilty of shoving to the back of a cupboard and forgetting – a Moulinex yoghurt maker that he had bought me several years ago. Feeling bad, I agreed that I would start using it immediately.

As per the instruction manual, I bought the necessary ingredients (UHT full cream milk and a yoghurt culture), I sterilised the glass jars and I gave the yoghurt maker a good wipe with some disinfectant (it was rather dusty). The end result – a no-brainer!  Making yoghurt at home with this yoghurt maker really was incredibly easy and I immediately felt a great pang of regret for not using it previously.

Since then, I have never bought commercial yoghurt! Goodbye nasty added things (preservatives, stabilisers and sugars come to mind)! Goodbye packaging waste!  Oh yes, and if you care about saving pennies, making your own your yoghurt also costs much, much less.

Ingredients

  • 1 litre UHT full cream milk[i]
  • a yoghurt starter[ii] containing active yoghurt cultures (streptococcus termophilius and lactobacillus bulgaricus)

Utensils

  • a yoghurt maker[iii]
  • a mixing bowl
  • a whisk

Method

  1. Pour about 100ml milk into mixing bowl and whisk it thoroughly with the yoghurt culture.
  2. Add the remaining milk and continue to beat at the same time.
  3. Distribute the mixture between the glass jars.
  4. Place the jars without their lids onto the yoghurt maker.
  5. Put the plastic lid on the yoghurt maker and plug it in.
  6. Select a preparation time of 9 hours[iv] and press the start button. The yoghurt maker will stop automatically once the selected preparation time is up.
  7. Once the yoghurt maker has switched off automatically, unplug it and remove the plastic lid on top of it.
  8. Cover the glass jars with their dater lids and use the manual dater to indicate each jar’s use by date[v].
  9. Place the jars in the refrigerator for several hours before consuming them[vi].

[i] You can use skimmed milk if you wish but the yoghurt will not have the creamier consistency of a full cream milk based yoghurt. You will also need to prolong the preparation time for the yoghurt maker by three hours.

[ii] You can choose from three types of yoghurt starter: 1. A natural commercial yoghurt (preferably full cream) with a use by date as far into the future as possible; 2. From a yoghurt you have made yourself; 3. From a freeze-dried yoghurt culture (available from chemists or specialist health food shops).

[iii] There are two main types of yoghurt makers. Please go to this link to find out more: http://the-yogurt-makers.com/tag/yogurt-maker/

[iv] If you are using skimmed milk you should prolong by the preparation time by three hours.

[v] You should consume the yoghurt within two weeks.

[vi] The longer the yoghurt jars stay in the fridge, the firmer they will be.

Roti bread

I was making pumpkin soup for dinner one evening over a year ago. While I was seasoning the soup, I realised there was no bread in the flat. I remember thinking that it would be a shame not to be able to dip a nice slice of bread in our soup bowls. It was almost 7.30 in the evening, when the shops in Turin close. Going out for a last minute bread-run was no longer an option. I had a stash of strong bread flour and dry yeast in my pantry but preparing a leavened bread from scratch would have been way too time-consuming at that point too.

Then I had a Eureka moment. I suddenly remembered my copy of the River Cottage Handbook: Bread by Daniel Stevens. In it, there is a chapter on different breads made without yeast. As the introduction to the chapter says: ‘If time is tight and you’ve forgotten to go shopping, then this is the chapter for you’.

Stevens’ entry about roti bread, a daily staple in India and Nepal, immediately caught my eye. All I needed was flour, water and salt! I quickly followed his instructions and prepared some lovely rotis to serve with our pumpkin soup.

My husband was really impressed when I told him how quick and easy the rotis were to make. Forgetting to buy bread that day turned out to be blessing in disguise. Since then, I welcome any excuse (I’ve found that rotis are just wonderful with homemade hummus!) to make these wonderful unleavened loaves. Here is my recipe (with thanks to  Daniel Stevens of course!) for making them.

Ingredients for 6

  • 100 grams strong brown or wholemeal flour
  • A small pinch of salt
  • 60mL water
  • Melted butter or olive oil (optional)

Utensils

  • A rolling pin
  • A mixing bowl
  • A frying pan
  • A warm tea towel
  • Tongs to flip bread over
  • A pastry brush (optional)

Method

  1. Mix the flour, salt and water together in a mixing bowl.
  2. Knead mixture until a smooth dough is obtained.
  3. Divide dough into six balls.
  4. On a clean working surface dusted with flour, roll each ball into a thin circle with a diameter of about 15 cm. Use rolling pin if necessary.
  5. Lay first roti in a pan when it is hot.
  6. Allow roti to cook in pan for about half a minute. Bubbles should start to appear at this point.
  7. Flip the roti over when it is slightly browned and has a few dark spots.
  8. Cook on the other side for another 30 seconds. The bubbles should get bigger.
  9. Flip roti again and the roti should puff up again.
  10. If you want your roti to have more colour, flip it over a couple more times.
  11. Remove roti from pan and brush with melted butter or olive oil (optional).
  12. Keep roti in a warm tea towel while you cook the rest of your batch. Once they are all ready, serve immediately.

Finding the motivation to write again

Nothing prepares a first-time pregnant woman for the reality of becoming a mum. I honestly found that all the information in books I read and all the advice I received did not really sink in before I gave birth to my daughter last April. In hindsight, I was too concerned with the giving birth chapters in the books I read. I wish I had looked at the fine print of the so-called ‘fourth trimester’ a little more closely. That way, I would have had more realistic expectations about what I could get done in such an intense and life-changing period.

In the postnatal period I also had to contend with moving house (twice!) when I wasn’t attending to my daughter’s needs 24/7. Obviously, my naïve and earnest pre-birth intentions of trying to keep up with some of my treasured pre-baby past-times simply went out the window. I found though that I did not have a big problem with that. When I wasn’t packing, throwing out junk (my husband and I had managed to accumulate all sorts of useless and/or obsolete stuff over the years) and arranging furniture, all I wanted to do was hold and gaze at my gorgeous little girl for hours on end. I honestly believe we are biologically programmed to do this and thoroughly enjoyed being in an oxytocin-fuelled baby-bubble. I was also fortunate enough to have a long period of maternity leave ahead of me. I knew that at some point I would find a way to get back into writing, studying for my Masters and swimming.

About three months ago, after my husband, daughter and I were more or less settled in our new (and permanent!) home, I started to feel the motivation to get back into writing.  My friend sent me a message via FB. She had started an online travel guide and lifestyle blog about Turin and the Piedmont region (the Turin Italy Guide) and wanted me to contribute food articles and traditional Piedmontese recipes to the site.  I am a self-confessed foodie and before giving birth I often posted on my now dormant Tumblr food blog, Turin on a Plate. Flattered by my friend’s offer, I said yes right away, thinking that somehow I’d be able to find the time (and means!) to write and take care of my very active and mobile baby.

I was also inspired by this NYT article a friend of mine posted on her FB wall called  ‘Reclaiming Our (Real) Lives From Social Media’. I was struck immediately by the introduction as it captured perfectly what it is like for otherwise creative people to live in the so-called Information Age:

One day in the early 1920s, a young Ernest Hemingway rushed along the streets of Paris seeking shelter from a downpour. He soon came upon a warm cafe on the Place St.-Michel and ducked inside.

After hanging his rain jacket, Hemingway ordered a café au lait, pulled out a notepad and pencil from his pocket and began writing. Before long he had fallen into a trancelike state, oblivious to his surroundings as he penned a story that would later become the first chapter of his memoir, “A Moveable Feast.”

If Hemingway were alive in 2014, he might not have finished what he started writing that day. Realistically, he probably wouldn’t have even put a pen to paper.

Instead, he might have ducked into the cafe, pulled out his smartphone and proceeded to waste an entire afternoon on social media. Perhaps he would update his Facebook to discuss the rogue weather, snap a picture of his café au lait to post on Instagram and then lose the rest of the afternoon to Twitter.

I’ve  opened Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram accounts but I’ve never mastered or cared for these social media platforms. I must confess though that I have been a prolific user of FB since 2007 and since the birth of my daughter, that I got into a bad habit of following my FB feed on my smartphone whenever I had a spare set of hands and/or moment.  Surely I could use these precious moments a little more productively than by reading the reflections/rants/opinions of people I had not seen or spoken to in years. I immediately removed my FB and Messenger apps from my phone, informed my close friends and family that FB was no longer to best place to contact me and signed up to the 99 Days of Freedom initiative. The results of this social media hiatus were manifold.  I got back into reading books and most importantly, I found I could get a lot of writing done even if I just had a few minutes to spare.

So here I am, on my new website, writing and getting back into my studies at last. The only thing left to do now is to take up swimming again. Even once a week will do just fine by me!