Tag Archives: Easter

What’s Been Cooking? Pandemic edition

 

Life has certainly changed a bit since my last “What’s Been Cooking?” update. Social distancing is the new norm, so the three of us have been holed up at home (when we’re not out for our daily walk(s)) doing lots of cooking. This won’t be an exhaustive list of everything we’ve cooked since the stay-at-home recommendations started a month ago in Germany; rather, I’ll try to highlight some of our shopping strategies and follow that with cooking/baking highlights and projects. So without further ado…

Shopping & stocking the pantry:

F had good foresight regarding the quick global spread of the Coronavirus, so we started stocking up our pantry early with rice, lentils, dried beans, and canned goods. The only thing we forgot was flour, which sold out of the shops and supermarkets really quickly! Apparently when the going gets tough, the Germans get baking… We finally found some Type 1050 (high gluten) flour, which worked great for pizza dough but probably isn’t great for sweet baking; I finally caved and bought 2.5kg of Type 550 (all-purpose) flour online. It was not cheap but I’m glad to have it now.

We have been planning our meals weekly and doing a big shop once a week for a few years. It was simpler to shop less in London because our commutes were so long, and here in Münster we find it easier to save money when we’re not popping out to the shops every other day and inevitably impulse-buying things we don’t really need. So COVID-19 hasn’t really changed our shopping habits, except for trying to go when it’s least busy: for supermarkets, that has been around 8:30am on a weekday, and before 8am on Wednesdays for our weekly outdoor market.

What’s been cooking:

  • F discovered Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt’s YouTube channel and we watched his video on pan pizza. Needless to say, we were inspired to try it ourselves! F made a sauce like Kenji’s, and I made NYT’s Roberta’s pizza dough, which is one of the two I usually make. We used our stainless steel pans and topped the pizzas with cheese, basil, and salami. After 10-12 minutes in the oven, we quickly finished browning the bottoms on the stove, and voilà! Super delicious crispy pan pizza; we both agreed they were perhaps the best pizzas we’ve ever made. Richtig geil. We might never go back to the sheet pan style…
  • Our favorite buttermilk pancakes for weekend brunch! Always in the rotation.
  • Michaela’s chewy chocolate brownies – devoured just by the two of us over the course of a few days. It’s not great for the waistline when social distancing prevents you from sharing goodies with friends, but it is delicious.
  • F made a delicious Bärlauch (wild garlic) pesto, and we even had enough to freeze for future meals.
  • Pretty regular batches dal and rice, often from Priya Krishna’s Indian-ish cookbook.
  • One of our main meals for the week is always a big, hearty salad. Sometimes we do a Niçoise-style, sometimes beet(root) and carrot, sometimes just a mass of chopped veggies. At the moment we are loving cooking dried butter beans to add to our salads: soak them overnight, then add a generous pinch of salt and a couple of bay leaves and cook at a strong simmer for 45 minutes.
  • I made my whole wheat sweet potato quick bread, since we had more whole wheat than white flour. Great for breakfast and/or afternoon snacks.
  • For our fourth wedding anniversary this month, I made Melissa Clark’s one bowl cornmeal poundcake; it came together really quickly and made a great snacking cake, toasted and spread with butter and honey. I used lemon zest, half butter and half rapeseed oil, and split the flour between spelt and all purpose/plain.
  • For Easter weekend, hot cross buns from the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. They are actually not hard to make, and I doubled the recipe to produce 24 buns so we could gift some (at a distance) to our local friends in lieu of meeting in person. Yum!
  • This crispy potato kugel from NYT Cooking: definitely for potato lovers! It could’ve used another onion and a tad more salt, but overall was quite nice with applesauce and sour cream. It was a bit too much work to make regularly but it was a fun project.

What have you been cooking while sheltering at home?


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Hot Cross Buns

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Last time we got sticky making pita bread. Today, we’re making cardamom-laced hot cross buns in celebration of springtime and a four-day weekend over Easter. 

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #7: Hot Cross Buns

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Short and Sweet: Quick Breads and Holiday Breads”. This includes classics like banana bread but also special occasion breads like Stollen, a bread for Día de los Muertos, and these hot cross buns. The chapter’s introduction notes that the holiday breads are “recipes passed from generation to generation, often scribbled on note cards…rooted in old traditions and sure to inspire new ones)” (232). Well, I didn’t grow up eating hot cross buns, but they are abundant in UK shops around Easter-time and F and I both enjoy them as an afternoon treat with coffee or tea, so I decided to try my hand at homemade ones.

Hello, my beauties!

The hot cross bun recipe looked pretty straightforward: it uses an enriched dough with egg and milk, as well as some sugar and both raisins and currants. The bonus ingredient is cardamom, which adds a lovely scent and flavor to the buns. You could leave the cardamom out if you’re not a fan, but I would recommend keeping it in.

You don’t need to know much about bread-making to create these hot cross buns. The dough gets mixed until the gluten is developed — this always gives me a good arm workout, as we don’t have a stand mixer — and then rested for an hour. To form the little round buns, you’ll need to practice your boule-making technique of folding, pinching, and tension-building. I found this less fussy than making sourdough bread: the dense hot cross bun dough is easier to work with than looser sourdough bread dough.

After lining up the little buns on a baking tray, you rest them for another hour before you brush them with egg wash (I could’ve been more generous with my egg washing) and bake them for 30 minutes. (Use the non-convection setting on your oven.) Unfortunately, I thought I’d started my timer when the buns went in the oven, but realized after perhaps 10-15 minutes that my timer had been inadvertently paused! I therefore had to estimate how long the buns had been in and may have overdone them by a few minutes. Despite that, the hot cross buns turned out really well, sweetened just a bit by the icing crosses (I left out the cardamom — pure laziness) and delicious with salted butter. The whole process took about four hours (not including cooling time). F approved and we were both happy!

How do you like your hot cross buns – with butter? Jam? Marmalade?Have you ever made them yourself?

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Race Recap: Regent’s Park Summer 10k Series #1

It’s still bank holiday weekend. We’ve already ventured to central London for the National Gallery, ramen and amazing cinnamon buns; made Moroccan food and enjoyed it with friends; and done a bunch of nothing. Another great way to enjoy a long weekend is to get in some quality exercise — this time in the form of a race. There is a “summer” 10k series in Regent’s Park on the first Sunday of every month from April to September. I missed the races last summer but thought this weekend would be the perfect time to test my speed on the relatively flat and peaceful paths of Regent’s Park. Here’s my recap of the race:

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Going into this race, I knew I had a good chance of running a 10k PR/PB for the following reasons:

  1. My previous PR/PB was not actually that fast: 45:41 from 2013’s Middlesex 10k in flat Victoria Park. And that was really only my second 10k, so I knew I could improve on that time.
  2. Training has been going well. I haven’t been running crazy mileage, but I have finally been getting to the track consistently for Tuesday and the occasional Thursday speed workouts. Also, my recent long runs have all been over 10k, which gave me some confidence for running the distance.

I knew if I felt good I could pull off a PR/PB. Breaking 45:00 was my rough goal, with the more specific aim of 44:30. A 3-lap course meant that to break 45:00 I’d need to be under 15:00 for each lap.

I also changed my race strategy. In the past year or two, I’ve been going out a bit conservatively in races, building over the course of the distance and finishing faster. I think that was partly due to lack of confidence in my ability to hold a quick pace; the lack of confidence probably came from not doing as much speed work. But since getting my track legs back, I feel more confident at a faster pace, so I decided to go out pretty hard for this race and try to maintain it through to the end.

Generally, the strategy worked. My first kilometer was a quick 4:17 to wake me up before settling into a just-maintainable pace of slightly under 4:30/km. Of course, each kilometer fluctuated a bit. I was slightly slower through 5km — 22:15 — than I’d hoped to be, but I still knew I could run a PR/PB with that. I went through the second lap in 30:00 so had to pick it up to finish under 45:00.

My 5th and 8th kilometers were the slowest (4:37 and 4:39, respectively), but I dug in at 8km and gritted my teeth to 9km (4:29) before really pushing home in a 4:11 final kilometer. Man, that last kilometer felt long! An emerging side cramp didn’t help either; I hardly had any kick to the finish, but I did pass a guy just 10-15 meters before the line.

Final chip time: 44:44 for a new 10k (6.2mi) PR/PB! (Average pace: 4:28/km or 7:13/mile). I came 12th lady out of 165 and 80th overall of 381 finishers, so not too shabby there. I’m pleased to have run under 45:00 and know that I can — or should be able to — further improve on the time I ran today. It felt good to run a PR/PB for the first time in over a year.

The addition of a “new” (i.e., Gabi’s old) Garmin helped a lot with pacing. I made more little surges than I used to while racing, but that ultimately helped me hold a pretty consistent pace throughout and made sure I didn’t become too complacent:

RP10k-Apr2015-Splits

The race was well-organized and had a nice, low-key atmosphere with a reasonable but not too late start time of 9:30am. Not to mention that Regent’s Park is just lovely to run through. There were a handful of other Heathsiders racing — well done, all!

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A Moroccan Feast

Thank you, Easter, for providing us with a long weekend (Friday and Monday are Bank Holidays here in the UK). F and I wanted to enjoy some lamb as an ode to spring, so we invited friends to join us for a pre-Easter dinner on Friday. We could’ve done a traditional roast with the usual carrots and new potatoes, but in a fit of experimentation (and knowing we’d have the whole day to prepare — thank you again, Bank Holiday), F suggested we make Moroccan-style lamb. I suggested that we might as well go all-out and make Moroccan sides, too.

Needless to say, Googling commenced. I went straight to NYT Cooking, the New York Times‘ great hub for all the recipes they publish in their Food and other sections. I searched “Moroccan” and loads of vibrant, delicious looking dishes appeared. I was drawn to the Moroccan Cooked Carrot Salad; Spicy Orange Salad, Moroccan Style; and this couscous. Meanwhile, F found a recipe for Moroccan Lamp with Apricots, Almonds & Mint from BBC Good Food; it is a stew rather than a roast, which made it more attractive as it required less cooking time.

Here is how the meal turned out:

IMG_0495

Perhaps it is a bit monochrome, but boy was it delicious. The stew had such depth of flavor, thanks to cinnamon, apricots, and orange, and the ground almonds gave it a deceptively “creamy” texture. The carrot salad — dressed with lemon juice, spiced with cumin and garlic, and balanced with olives — turned out beautifully. We really liked the pearl couscous laced with cumin, golden raisins, and sautéed onions. The orange salad packed a bit of heat from cayenne, although I left out the garlic, parsley, and olives, as those were already present in the carrot salad.

All in all, a great and delicious success. Will we make these recipes again? Definitely. I’m already looking forward to enjoying the leftovers for lunch.

Do you like Moroccan food? Ever cooked any of it? Post your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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