Triple Layer S'mores Brownies | Tara O'Brady + Seven Spoons

I have no intention of relying on phone photography here, but I am a bit in love with this shot. It wasn't my plan on sharing this recipe either, as snapping the pic was a spontaneous thing, and the recipe was a bit thrown together, in the aim to perfect a birthday wish. But we'll get to that. First, to explain.

My freezer storage is divided into three distinct, but unequal zones. The largest is ingredient storage. It's where I keep nuts and grains, plus seeds and cacao nibs, and things like wheat germ and bran. Flours and shredded coconut. There's fruit from the summer stacked in flat packs, and bananas black-ripe and ready for bread. Ginger root I grate while still rock hard, chiles, and lime leaves. I am rarely without frozen spinach and sweet peas.

The smallest category is full of odds and ends; ice cubes, egg whites, and parmesan rinds. A package of homemade puff pastry, unbaked streusel from when I made too much, discs of pie dough, and bones for stock.

Between the two are the prepared leftovers. There is enough tomato sauce for one pizza, cooked rice, some savoury hand pies, Julia's turkey meatballs, and cakes. A lot of cake. It's not just that the pace of our consumption rarely keeps up with the celebrations around here. It's also one of those rarely-discussed byproducts of recipe testing. The spoils are regularly parcelled for giving away, but a small stash is always kept behind. Right now, my inventory includes the thinnest slice of walnut cake from Divali, a quarter of a vanilla bean cheesecake, bagged muffins, a coffeecake that's a work in progress, and s'mores brownies.

Those brownies though, they're celebratory through and through. Benjamin turned 11 in January. He's all knees and elbows now, and has strong opinions. He's had a thing for s'mores for years, and this birthday wasn't any different. He asked for a repeat of last year, brownies with chocolate ganache and a seven-minute frosting to billow on top. When I've made s'mores cupcakes in the past, the inclusion of graham crackers added essential contrast against all the dense-chocolate-marshmallowyness going on. I like them as rebar in the ganache rather than rubble in the brownie itself. Somehow they make more of an impact that way. Toasting the grahams in the oven crisps them up, the process and effect amped up with a sugar syrup glaze. 

I use my own brownie recipe, but as it was included as a preorder inclusive for my book, I made the squares this week with another favourite, from King Arthur Flour. As advertised, their brownies exist ideally between squidge and cake. You can use my recipe, if you have it, or theirs, or your preferred. One thing I'll say though, is resist the urge to use an intensely fudgey one. When combined with the ganache and the meringue frosting, it is a combination that can careen into headache-inducing real quick.

The brownies are over the top. They bring out the childlike and exuberant, and are the antithesis of refined. They are unbridled and unrestrained, and remind me of the happiest days. Don't let the fact that there were leftovers steer you into thinking they went unloved. Sometimes, you want to make the good things last. And, as brownies never fully freeze, a skinny slice on a Monday midmorning with coffee, falls into that category. 

For the record, that was exactly what I was planning when I took the photo.

Have a great week, pals. xo

 

TRIPLE LAYER S'MORES BROWNIES

The brownie recipe is this recipe from King Arthur Flour, halved.  The marshmallow frosting owes it loft and stability to Stella Park's revolutionary Easy Swiss Meringue

Makes an 8-inch pan

FOR THE BROWNIE BASE

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons | 55 g dutch process cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon medium grain kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 2  teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup | 115 g unsalted butter
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons | 225 g sugar
  • 3/4 cup | 95 g all-purpose flour

FOR THE GRAHAM CRUNCH AND GANACHE

  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 8 graham crackers
  • 8 ounces | 225 g bittersweet chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
  • 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
  • A good pinch medium grain kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup | 160 ml heavy cream

FOR THE MARSHMALLOW FROSTING

  • 4 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup | 150 g granulated sugar, preferably toasted
  • Generous 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • A good pinch medium grain kosher salt
  • Seeds scraped from a vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

METHOD

Make the brownies. Preheat an oven to 325°F | 165°C.

Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking tin, then line with a piece of parchment paper with a 1-inch overhang. Press the paper into the pan and then remove. Line the pan with another piece of parchment paper, then place the first piece, buttered side up, across. Set aside.

Crack the eggs into a bowl. Sift in the cocoa, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt. Add the vanilla. Beat for four minutes on medium speed (you can do this while melting the butter in the next step).

Place the remaining butter in a medium saucepan. Pour in the sugar. Heat over medium low, stirring, until the butter is melted. Continue to cook until the mixture is hot but not bubbling, maybe 1 minute more. It should go shinier as it heats. 

Stir the hot butter and sugar mixture into the beaten eggs until smooth. Sift the flour over top and mix it in. 

Spread the batter into the baking dish, nudging it to the edges as needed. Bake until the top begins to crack, 32 to 35 minutes or so. Cool on a wire rack.

While that bakes, make the graham crunch and ganache. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, dissolve the sugar into the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat then simmer for 5 minutes. Brush both sides of the graham crackers with the syrup then arrange on the prepared baking sheet (there will be syrup left over. Save it as a sweetener for coffee, oatmeal, or fruit). Bake the crackers until toasted, 8 to 10 minutes, flipping once. Set aside to cool then snap into pieces, some small, some large bite-sized.

Tumble the chopped chocolate, espresso powder, and salt in a large heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Once steaming, pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 5 minutes, undisturbed. After the time is up, stir until smooth, starting at the centre of the bowl and working outwards. Fold in the graham crunch. Pour the rubbled ganache over the brownies and spread to an even layer. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until set.

Finally, make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the bowl has some clearance. Heat, stirring attentively and scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically with a silicone spatula, until the mixture reaches 175°F | 80°C on a candy thermometer, about 8 minutes. Transfer the whites to the stand mixer with the wire whisk attached. Beat, starting slow and increasing the speed steadily, until the mixer is on full. Whip until the stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.

Retrieve the brownies from the fridge. Spoon the frosting onto the ganache layer. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to swoop and swirl it to your liking. Toast the frosting with a culinary torch or under a hot broiler—watching it all the while. Let cool and set, then use the cross of parchment to lift the brownies from the pan, then slice and serve. Extras can be refrigerated in their pan, loosely covered with cling film, for 2 days. Or, frozen until firm and then transferred to an airtight container for freezer storage up to a month. 

NOTE: 

Growing up, whenever my mother made her dandelion-hued chickpea curry with puris, there was a ceremony of thorough hand washing after. My parents kept a nail brush in the upstairs bathroom drawer and, while I may be remembering my grandfather’s, I remember it as the style with an open, flattened oval as its handle.  I could shape my fist around it for a firmer grip. Its short, stubby white bristles pricked the pads of my fingers sharply but made gratifying progress of scrubbing away the turmeric stains from beneath my nails.

Frothy Turmeric Tea | Tara O'Brady

Nowadays, the turmeric in my pantry has a note tucked in its jar. It's from my dad, who has particularly distinctive handwriting that's narrow and tall. He used to write against a ruler to keep his lines neat as he filled out the collection of forms required of a ship's captain at each port. Even still, his penmanship looks as though it's curved against a straight edge.

The note simply says "turmeric from your grandfather's house." In the nearish future, Grandpa's house will no longer be ours, so my stash feels particularly precious. I've been metering it in meticulous portions, trying to make it last as long as possible. 

Week before last, Tejal Rao wrote about her grandmother and the position of turmeric in her household. Then last week, somewhat of an offshoot from the conversation she started and in response to the recent treatment of turmeric as innovation, I had a piece in The Globe and Mail about traditions becoming trend, and the uncomfortable realties that can arise in the process.

On Instagram I mentioned the turmeric tea I've been making—its milk and water base is sweet but not candied. It is buzzy with ginger, warmed by cinnamon and a miserly dispensation of pepper, and rounded out with soothing cardamom. Turmeric dyes everything day-glo golden, and adds an earthy astringency. Black tea provides fragrance and structure. As some of you expressed an interest in it, here it is.

Since Sean prefers coffee in the morning and I want wring the most possible flavour out of the whole spices, I make a provocatively strong concentrate in a biggish batch, then reheat servings as needed. I froth some milk for its cap, but whisked or blended milk would work just as well. Or, just pour in plain hot milk, without the addition of bubbles.

I like the tea best with condensed milk, a fondness I'm sure I picked up from my grandmother, who at boarding school would sip on cans of the stuff in secret. It gives weight to the tea that I find especially soothing. I have mine at the hottest temperature I can stand, taking breaths around each sip. Somehow the practice seems vaguely ceremonial in a way that makes me feel as though I'm taking good care. 

 

FROTHY TURMERIC TEA

Adapted from a recipe from Tejal Rao in the New York Times, with my grandmother's influence.

Serves 4

FOR THE CONCENTRATE

  • 1 cup | 240 ml water
  • 1/4 cup | 60 ml sweetened condensed milk
  • A 2-inch piece of ginger, see note
  • 6 to 8 green cardamom pods, split
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in half
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric, or a 1 1/2-inch piece fresh, peeled and grated
  • 2 cups | 480 ml milk of choice
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons ghee or coconut oil, optional
  • 0.5 oz | 15 g black tea or 4 black tea bags

FOR EACH DRINK

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup | 80 to 120 ml milk of choice, steamed and frothed
  • Ground pistachios for dusting

METHOD

In a heavy saucepan, stir together the water, condensed milk, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, an turmeric. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the milk into the syrup, and spoon in the ghee. Bring to a boil again, and then knock back the heat to a simmer for another 3 minutes. Pop in the tea, and let bubble for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea. Strain the concentrate through a fine meshed sieve—I find it neatest to do so into a wide jug or large liquid measuring cup with a pouring spout—and press on the solids in the basket to extract as much liquid as possible. If using the concentrate later, decant it to a jar for storage. Refrigerate until needed.

For each drink, pour one quarter hot concentrate into each cup. Top with the steaming, frothed milk, and the ground pistachios. Serve immediately. 

NOTES:

  • I use almond milk for the concentrate, and then cow's milk for finishing as I'm terribly bad at establishing a foam on the former (though I've not yet those blends aimed at stretching). I realize that makes three milks in one recipe, so use what you like. If you want to omit the condensed milk, use 1/4 cup cane sugar in its place, adding the sugar with the water to start, or honey or maple syrup instead. 
  • If making the concentrate in advance, skip the ghee as it will separate from the brew when chilled. Stir it into the reheated concentrate right before serving.
  • Grating the ginger will produce a much more assertive cuppa. To tone it down, slice or chop the root instead.
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I will be the first to say that I'm a terrible food blogger. Maybe it's because I started this site before the phrase was a thing—way back then, it wasn't a profession, but rather a hobby that few understood. 

Then writing here became more than a hobby, it became not a journal but a way to talk from this corner of the world to points all over. Posts, to me, were like letters. 

Sarah Kieffer's Chocolate Sugar Cookies | Tara O'Brady + Seven Spoons

But right now, with people murdered as they worshipped in Québec, the litany of egregious acts and lies from the current administration in the United States, and the continuing refugee crisis, I don't have a lot of words. All I have is that Sarah wrote a book I've been meaning to write about for months, and the incomprehensible state of things doesn't the diminish recognition she deserves.

The book is full of sweetness and comfort, and it is a lovely thing. xo

TO HELP: The American Civil Liberties Union | Doctor's Without Borders | The International Rescue Committee 

TO READ: Throwing Parties During the Apocalypse, by Tim at Lottie + Doof.

 

SARAH KIEFFER'S CHOCOLATE SUGAR COOKIES

"I often find myself craving a piece of chocolate in the afternoons, s it goes rather with the cup of hot coffee that is also a necessity in my daily life. Most days a little sure of bittersweet will do, but other times something more extravagant is essential. I found these chocolate sugar cookies to do the trick; they are soft and delicious without being overly rich and sweet."

— From The Vanilla Bean Baking Book: Recipes for Irresistible Everyday Favourites and Reinvented Classics by Sarah Kieffer. (Penguin Books, 2016) 

Makes around 12 cookies

INGREDIENTS

  • 1¾ cups | 250 g all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup | 50 g natural cocoa powder or a combination cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup | 225 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1¾ cups | 350 sugar (plus 1 cup | 200g  for rolling)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)

METHOD

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium until smooth. Add the 1¾ cups sugar and beat on medium until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined.

Place the remaining 1 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in cardamom, if desired.

Form the cookies into 3-ounce | 85 g balls (a scant ⅓ cup each). Roll each ball in the sugar and place 6 cookies on each prepared sheet pan. Bake one sheet at a time 11 to 14 minutes, until the edges have set and the centers are puffed and starting to crackle.

Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool completely on the pan.

This morning I went to an Italian market in town to buy jars. There, the jars are for sauce and soups, but each year around this time I snatch empty ones for eggnog. I never liked eggnog much until I started making it; this one has rum and bourbon, and gets aged for 10 days before we start sipping. It is a work in progress— I've never even typed up the recipe, but it feels like it'll always be a part of our holidays.

I started writing on November 30th, but never got far. I've spent the last half hour trying to remember where I was planning to go from that paragraph, and what I'd hoped to say, but I can't reconstruct the memory. Maybe it's still as good as a start as any, because I'm happy to be here and talking again. 

Rum Ginger Sticky Toffee Cake | Tara O'Brady

The bulk of that eggnog went to the annual holiday party Nikole hosts at the Herriott Grace studio. I held some back for our household supply, but went through it faster than expected and December 15, the fridge was dry. We made another batch, the halls were decked, and the holidays were as bright as we could make them.

There was a rice pudding I forgot to serve one night that was eaten in the morning as porridge, dusted aromatically with Ceylon cinnamon. I made gingerbread dough and the boys decorated cutout snowflakes on Christmas Eve. (On the topic, do you have a favourite gingerbread cookie recipe? I wasn't thrilled with the one we used.) The trifle on Christmas Day was one of the best in recent memory, its surface regal in gossamer silver leaf. Instead of the usual sponge, the base was an egg-rich coconut cake. It was heavy with vanilla and woolly with shredded coconut, and it held its own against the black raspberry filling, custard, and cream.

Through the days, and those meals, all the things I've wanted to mention have been rattling around my brain. So, we've got ground to cover.

I've been revising favourite essays of the year and finding new ones by working my way through this list: Longreads best of 2016.

Speaking of Herriott Grace, Sean and I have a pair of these little earthenware cups for our household nog—they are matte and feel like velvet in the hand. At the party we served it in these beauties, and they were equally perfect. 

George Michael rehearsing for the Freddie Mercury tribute concert . (Yes, that's David Bowie watching from one side.) 

Back in September, I started another column with The Globe and Mail. I am still in the Life section every month, and now in the Style section too, as part of Kitchen Cabinet. It a feature in rotation with three other cooks—they're proper chefs, actually, and I'm chuffed to be the odd one out. That cake up top was for my December column, and it was inspired by both sticky toffee pudding (a cake I enduringly associate with winter) and the Dark and Stormy cocktail (a drink I'm happy to have in hand any time of year). The cake is vaguely stodgy, freckled with waxy nubs of walnut, the leathery chew of dates, and fiery flecks of candied ginger. You soak the cake with some toffee syrup while it's still hot, then save the rest to offer at the table. I think it's a cake that will take us to spring.

A friend was looking for vegetarian recipes and one I recommended was Heidi's Green Lentil Soup with Curried Brown Butter. It's terribly good.

I want to make these for the lads before the winter break is over. And I'm bookmarking this cake

Ashley wrote about the Everyday Yellow Dal from Seven Spoons; I've often said that dal and rice, finished with a pat of ghee, flaky salt, and finely minced onion, is my never-fail comfort food. Ashley's words, capturing the fortifying effect of gathering at the table, are its ideal partner.

And finally, if you haven't seen it already, this piece by Molly isn't to be missed. 

May this new year bring you such happiness. xo

 

RUM AND GINGER TOFFEE CAKE

FOR THE CAKE

Butter for pan

  • 3/4 cup | 180 ml water
  • 1/4 cup | 60 ml dark rum
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • Zest of half an orange, finely grated
  • Zest of a lime, finely grated
  • 12 ounces | 340 g pitted dates, Medjools preferred
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 ounces | 60 g walnuts, toasted and cooled
  • 2 1/4 cups | 290 g all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup | 215 g dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup | 170 g unsalted butter, soft
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) finely diced candied ginger

FOR THE SAUCE

  • 1/2 cup | 115 g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 1/4 cup | 260 g dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon black treacle or molasses, optional
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1/2 cup | 120 ml heavy cream
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

METHOD

Please refer to my column in The Globe and Mail. 

 

 

 

 

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How is it already thisclose to being June? I'm holding tight to the well-worn marks of weekly routines to remind myself of the borders between these days, rather than accepting them as a smear across the calendar.

I am happiest with a schedule, and yet want Monday to feel different than Wednesday. Saturdays are for the farmer's market and tacos for breakfast, Tuesdays are often a standing bibimbap lunch, and Sunday night is when I make granola.

Emma Galloway's Tahini and Orange Granola from her book "My Darling Lemon Thyme" | Tara O'Brady + Seven Spoons

When I was fine-tuning the recipes for my book, certain ones that had always been part of my weekly to-do list became even more so entrenched in the way we do things around here. The soft sandwich bread took over the bread box, instead of sharing the space with the milk-and-honey-enriched loaf that was our alternate. I was giving away jar after jar of the pickled strawberry preserves. I had a freezer's worth of variations on the Walnut, Cherry Butter Tart Pie (there was one with milk chocolate, one with bittersweet, and one with cacao nibs; then one with pecans instead of the walnuts, another with bourbon, and one with dried cranberries, and every permutation in between).  The clumpy granola became our one and only, and it was made with such devotedness that there was usually a surplus stashed in the pantry.

Once the book was done and out in the world, I took a break from many of those recipes, first off because—and nobody tells you this—while you're promoting a book you end up doing very little cooking. Then it was summertime, when our schedule had only the loosest of parameters. Slowly, slowly with fall and winter and school and holidays, I found my way again to the little ceremonies of my kitchen.

I'm back to a varied bread baking program, and the yeasted ones from the book are supplemented with a rye-heavy sourdough on the regular. The butter tart pie was was on the table at Thanksgiving, and it'll be shuttled to the cottage this summer. 

Now the granola has its antithetical compatriot sharing a shelf. While mine is rough with clusters, this one from Emma Galloway's My Darling Lemon Thyme, is snappy, crackling and light. Hers is a toasted muesli, with a combination of flaked grains, coconut, seeds, and nuts, plus such a collection of dried fruit that each bite is a change from the one before. The kicker really is Emma's ingenious binding agent; tahini, mixed with coconut oil and honey. The resulting syrup is rich without going overboard, and not overly sweet. It is fragrant yet not sickly, evocatively savoury almost. In short, it's compellingly good. 

Sarah wrote about this recipe just last month, so I consider this adding my voice to the chorus of praise as this muesli is one for encores. 

Emma Galloway's Tahini Orange Muesli from "My Darling Lemon Thyme"| Tara O'Brady + Seven Spoons

EMMA GALLOWAY'S TAHINI, ORANGE + COCONUT TOASTED MUESLI

"Muesli-making was always my dad's domain when we were little. Late at night he would set himself up in the kitchen, toasting and chopping like a mad man, before decanting the goods into his giant glass muesli jar. I remember him saying how expensive it was to make but, and this is a huge BUT, homemade muesli beats that store-bought sweetened stuff hands down. This is my favourite version, and it's filled to the brim with the goodness of quinoa flakes, shredded coconut, nuts, and fruit all bound together in a sweet (but not in-your-face-sweet) mixture of coconut oil, tahini, honey, and orange zest. To keep things strictly mean you can use pure maple or brown rice syrup in place of the honey. Also, whole-grain oats can be used in place of the quinoa flakes."

— From My Darling Lemon Thyme: Recipes from my Real Food Kitchen by Emma Galloway (Roost Books, 2015)

Makes 1.5kg | 2 pounds

INGREDIENTS (please see below and the note for my changes)

  • 5 cups | 500 g quinoa flakes 
  • 2 cups |180g unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut (I used both)
  • 1/2 cup | 65g cashews, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup | 75g whole raw almonds, roughly chopped (I used flaked)
  • 1/2 cup | 65g pumpkin (pepita) seeds
  • 1/2 cup | 60g sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup | 35g sesame seeds
  • 1/3 cup | 80ml virgin coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup | 80ml un-hulled tahini
  • 1/3 cup | 80ml honey, pure maple or brown rice syrup (I used maple)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • The finely grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup | 200g natural raisins or sultanas 
  • 1 1/2 cups | 165g dried cranberries
  • 1 cup | 95g firmly packed dried apple slices, roughly chopped 
  • 1/2 cup | 80g pitted dried dates, roughly chopped

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C. Combine quinoa flakes, coconut, cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower and sesame seeds in a large bowl using your hands to combine thoroughly. Combine coconut oil, honey or syrup, tahini, vanilla, orange zest and sea salt in a small pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring constantly until melted and combined. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well.

Transfer to a large deep baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until toasty and golden brown. Watch those edges like a hawk as they have a tendency to burn. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Stir in the dried fruit and transfer to a large glass jar or airtight container. Will keep for 2-3 weeks as long as airtight.

NOTE FROM TARA:

Instead of quinoa alone, I used 3 cups rolled oats11/2 cups quinoa flakes, and 1/2 cup buckwheat groats. I tailored the fruit to my sons' preferences, using 1/2 cup sultanas1/2 cup chopped figs1 cup dried cranberries1/2 cup dried cherries1/2 cup dried blueberries1/4 cup minced candied ginger, and 1/2 cup pitted dried dates, chopped.

Last but not least, thank you for the generosity of your kindness in response to my post about my grandfather. You guys are the absolute best. xo

Halcyon Gate | Tara O'Brady

Phone calls to India used to necessitate a crackling pause after you finished speaking, over which you could hear the faint echo of your own voice before any response came from the other end.

I'd imagine my words travelling along the phone line like a blip of light racing across wires, in a direct path from here to there, from day to night or the reverse, dipping under inky waves to zip across crags of the ocean floor, breaking the surface on the some far shore to scale the heights of airless mountains, carrying whatever sentiment within a incandesent bubble of breath, travelling across all those miles to end against the ear of the listener. The distance could have been the width of the universe. 

Late last month, my maternal grandfather passed away. He was 99 years old, and lived just outside Dehradun in Uttarakhand, India. Within 24 hours of receiving the news, I was on my way there.  

The road to Dehradun | Tara O'Brady
Bougainvillea | Tara O'Brady

His house is called Halcyon. 

At the side of the house | Tara O'Brady

When we arrived, the last of the pomelos still clung heavily to branches, and the mango blossoms were spent.

Calcutta brand fan | Tara O'Brady

We ate meals at the same table from my childhood, cooked by the same cook. Her chapatis were as perfect as ever. The pink gingham curtains my grandmother made hung from the windows. My grandfather's chair was still beside the toaster, his marmalade still on the table.

Sagumburi in the kitchen doorway | Tara O'Brady
Her arm while she cooks | Tara O'Brady
Aunty Dolly | Tara O'Brady

I spent days reconciling memory with fact, and filling in the greyed out details in technicolour. 

I remember his big green car; it was the perfect shade of green, a refined deep-toned emerald with the gloss of a wet leaf. I remember the warmth of his chest through the scratch of a wool sweater. His love of golf, and dogs, and how he'd shade his eyes from the sun with an unfolded newspaper for a nap. 

Those memories butted up against the tree from which the swing once hung. The water pump halfway down the slope behind the house. Straight pins in a tiny jam jar on his desk. The box of photographs that chronicled lifetimes. The fine-toothed comb on his dresser. His red jacket on a hook on his dressing room door. 

Halcyon Garden | Tara O'Brady

Mum and I would wake in the early hours of morning. If we'd left the window between the two beds open, the room was cold in the indigo light, and the breeze so heavily perfumed with flowers it was as if you could taste their scent.

She'd go to the kitchen and make tea with milk and cardamom, and then we'd lay in our respective beds, with covers pulled high and hands around hot cups, listening to the end of the night birds' song and the beginning of those from the day. When the first hint of dawn pierced the horizon, we'd hear a call to prayer. 

I missed my grandfather before we got there—such as it is when you live at a distance from others. At Halcyon I looked for him, expecting him in his favourite seat on the verandah or to hear him one room over. I expected to find him in the midst of the routines of his years. Instead he reverberated in all corners of the house, all the way up to where the wall and ceiling met and past that still. 

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If I make it to the early yoga class, things line up so that I head in with unadulterated darkness behind me, but come back out to sun. It's a fleeting thing, but the contrast is especially bolstering. It adds to that ta-dah feeling of doing meaningful work to start your day. Crazy as it sounds, the making and eating of today's soup affords a similar feeling of goodwill. 

Nigella Lawson's Chinese-inspired Chicken Soup | Tara O'Brady + Seven Spoons

It's the Chinese-inspired Chicken Noodle Soup from Simply Nigella, a book which includes this cake — the most beautiful bundt imaginable, but also one so dulcet with the persuasive combo of five spice and apple cider that it's looks are rendered a second billing. Since the book came out late last year it's shouldered itself comfortably into a spot in my regular rotation. 

When it's me alone for lunch, brothy soups are my ideal. I make up some stock early in the week or late on the weekend, and then reheat it by the bowlful and cooking whatever add-ins I have around directly in my serving. Lawson's soup keys in on all that's appealing of that habit. The process is thoughtful and still the particulars are forgiving to fiddle to suit your likes.

Two days ago Sean brought home a plump but petite organic chicken, the perfect size to tuck snugly into a 4L cococtte. After a moment of bronzing, followed by a Shaoxing deglaze, the bird was joined by cilantro stalks, celery, and carrots, then water, garlic, ginger, soy, lime, and dried chiles. From there all is trusted to slowest blip and burble that can be maintained, under a lid clamped tight. But this, this is where it all shifts, goes sideways, and changes. What begins as intensely heady and clear, simmers into a with a wholly different character — one of redolent singularity rather than disparate components. 

The chicken came from its soak, pale and splendidly tender. The broth, deeply flavourful with supple weight on the spoon was a triumph, the ideal example of the alchemy of slow cooking. I ladled a clear, steaming cupful and drank it standing by the stove, in raspy slurps so that the air would cool it just enough to save my mouth. It made me feel lit up while soothed, like medicine and precious reward all in one.

When it came time for a proper serving, I laid a bed of noodles in my bowl then nudged some shredded chicken up beside. I brought the soup to another boil, and added leeks followed by Shanghai bok choy; first the stalks, then the leaves, so that the former was poached but the latter only wilted. At the table there came radishes, sesame oil, more soy sauce, the leaves from the cilantro now, and sesame seeds. The garnishes accentuated the broth — think of turning up the light rather than stealing the spotlight— and the slipping, tangled slide of noodles and vegetables went down with ease.

As an epilogue, the leftovers lasted three meals more, which made Monday's endeavour feel especially productive and satisfying. I hope you're having a great week. 

A quick endnote — Simply Nigella was photographed by my friend Keiko Oikawa and a public hooray for her felt apt. K, you've been such an inspiration for so many years, and you did an expectedly bang-up job with this. xx

One more — my cookbook was included in Food52's Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks this month, and while I was kicked out in the first round, to lose to Ruth Reichl hardly feels a loss at all. And, the nomination was truly the most unexpected honour. Cheers and thanks for that. 

 

CHINESE-INSPIRED CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP

"Actually, there are dual inspirations for this soup, for it really a version of My Mother's Praise Chicken from Kitchen infused with Chinese flavours. What you end up with is the sort of soup you want to eat in bowls held up inelegantly close to your mouth so that you are in easy slurping distance. I am embarrassed to say that I can't use chopsticks, unless they're the children's sort held together with a piece of card and an elastic band, but this soup really makes me want to learn.

I always recommend organic chicken (or organic meat generally) but I am mindful of the fact that not everyone can afford the luxury. Even so, if you use an intensively farmed chicken here (and the lack of taste is only one concern), you just won't get a flavoursome enough soup, in which case some bouillon cubes or concentrate in the water. 

I've given an exuberant list of ingredients for sprinkling on at the end, as I love that final fling of flavour. And though I haven't added them here, should you be making a fresh foray to an Asian food store to make this, and you see Chinese flowering chives about, they would be a real treat, and are so beautiful. Despite the Asian inspiration for the soup's flavour, I make a steep geographical about-turn and use golden nests (one per person) of an egg-enriched tagliolini for the noodle element, though I do also love this with those very thin mug bean or rice vermicelli. In fact, I just can't think of a bad way of eating this: even noodle-less, and thus rather not living up to its title, this is bliss in a bowl. "

— from Simply Nigella, by Nigella Lawson (Appetite by Random House, 2015)

Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS FOR THE SOUP

  • 3 leeks, cleaned and trimmed
  • 3 carrots, peeled and trimmed
  • 3 stalks celery, trimmed
  • 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 small or medium chicken, preferably organic
  • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup Chinese (Shaoxing) rice wine
  • tied stalks from a bunch of cilantro, plus leaves to serve (see below)
  • 2 1/2 quarts cold water
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoons Szechuan pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more to serve
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated or minced
  • zest and juice of 1 lime, preferably unwaxed
  • 10 ounces baby bok choy, tatsoi, choi sum, or other greens of choice 
  • 4 ounces radishes
  • 2 ounces dried fine egg noodles or vermicelli per person
  • salt for noodle water to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil, plus more to serve (see below)

TO SERVE

  • Asian sesame oil
  • 2 (or more to taste) fresh red chiles, seeded and finely diced (optional)
  • leaves from a bunch of cilantro (see above)
  • finely chopped chives (optional)

METHOD

Slice each trimmed leek in half lengthways, and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Set aside. Cut the carrots into 1 1/2-inch lengths and quarter each log lengthways. Chop the celery into 1/2-inch slices, reserving any leaves to add to the soup at the end. Grate the ginger onto a plate for the time being. I use a microplane grater and get 4-5 teaspoons of fiery pulp out of this. Don't wash up the grater yet, as you'll need it for the garlic and lime later.

Now, with your vegetables prepped, untruss your chicken, cut off (but do not discard) the ankle part of the leg (I find kitchen scissors more than adequate to the task), and put the chicken, breast-side down, on a cutting board, then press down until you hear the breastbone crack — perhaps I shouldn't like this as much as I do — and the chicken is slightly flattened. Wash your hands, and then warm the tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan that comes with a lid and that's big enough to take all the ingredients comfortably; I use a saucepan of 12 inches in diameter, 5 inches deep, which is a tight, but good, fit. 

When the oil hot, put the chicken in, breast-side down, and leave to brown for 3 minutes; the heat should not be too high for this or it'll start burning. Turn the chicken the other way up, then turn the heat to high and chuck in the rice wine. While it's bubbling, throw in the chicken ankle pieces along with the tied cilantro stalks, sliced carrots, and celery. 

Pour in the water, then add the sea salt flakes, Szechuan pepper (or crushed red pepper flakes), soy sauce, and finely grated ginger. Add the garlic, then grate in the zest of the lime, and squeeze in the juice of half of it. Let this come to a boil. 

Once it's bubbling, clamp on the lid, turn the heat to low, and let it simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Once the hour is up, take the lid off, then turn up the heat and bring it back to a boil again, and, once it is, add the leeks you sliced earlier. Cover partially with the lid and cook for 10 minutes, then let the broth simmer uncovered and confidently for another 10 minutes. This is to let the broth strengthen a bit. Then turn off the heat altogether, though keep the pan on the stove, clamp the lid back on, and leave for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour. While this is going on, I'd put a saucepan of water on to boil the noodles later, and salt it when it comes to a boil.

When you want to eat, remove the chicken to a board: it may be falling to pieces, but so much the better. Remove the chicken skin (I discard it, as for me there's no joy in chicken skin unless it's crisp), then take the meat off the bone and shred it. And by the way, should you not use up all the chicken for the soup, know that it is magnificent — flavoursome and tender — in a salad or sandwich the next day. 

Chop the stems of the greens you're using, and put the leaves into a separate pile. Quarter the radishes top to tail. Bring the pan of soup back to a boil, add the stalks of the greens and the quartered radishes, and let it come back to a boil once more. At the same time, add the noodles to the pan of boiling salted water, and cook them (if you're using the fine noodles or vermicelli they shouldn't take more than 2-3 minutes). 

Add the leafy parts of the greens to the bubbling soup and drain the noodles. Put the noodles and shredded chicken into your serving bowls. Taste the soup for seasoning, and add more salt (or soy) and the juice of the remaining half of lime, if you think it needs it. When satisfied, ladle the fragrant broth, with its vegetables, on top of the chicken and noodles, add a drop of sesame oil to each bowl, then sprinkle with chopped chiles, cilantro, or chives, as you wish. Bring the bottles of soy sauce and sesame oil, and some more of the chopped chiles and herbs to the table for people to add as they eat. Warning: don't burn your mouth; this soup smells so good, I'm afraid it's easy to be dangerously impatient and eat while the soup's still scaldingly hot. 

STORE NOTE:

  • Transfer leftover cooked chicken to a container, cover, and chill within 1 hour. It will keep in refrigerator for up to 3 days

FREEZE NOTE:

  • The cooked and cooled chicken can be frozen, in airtight containers or resealable bags, for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in refrigerator before using.

NOTE FROM TARA:

  • Because I'm probably the only fan of radishes in my household (I'd be sad, but it means more for me), I left them out of the soup pot and added them instead to my serving alone.

 

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