May 20, 2005

Living on the Edge

... of the expiry date.

Sometimes my cooking and/or baking is predicated on what’s most in need of using up. The tag end of an irregularly used pasta shape, the green peppers that I had forgotten to put in the salad four days ago, the milk that is rapidly approaching its due date. Things that are taking up space.

I open the door to the fridge, and survey the contents with an Iron Chef scowl. What can I make that will use up as many of the “secret” ingredients as possible? Then I get right to work. I don’t have a small army of sous-chefs to chop and stir on my behalf, but I also don’t have to work within an hour’s time constraint or stand at the end of the table while mincing tasters make faces and search for adjectives for “meh.”

When the must-use items include buttermilk, the first thing that leaps to mind is coffee cake. Almost infinitely adaptable and very forgiving of slap-dash, make-do efforts, the coffee cake can conceal a multitude of kitchen sins. It’s a good thing, too.

When I was first learning to bake, I would assemble all of my ingredients on the kitchen table before beginning. That way, there would be no surprises, such as last night’s realization that I only had half the amount of buttermilk required, and half the amount of the correct type of sugar (golden/brown sugar). Only slightly daunted, I soldiered on with the recipe, using a quarter-cup of liquid egg white instead of a whole egg, packing the remaining space in the sugar-cup with both demerara and white sugars, and replacing the filling and topping with shaved Callebaut chocolate and cinnamon. The buttermilk was shored-up with regular 1% milk and left to “age” in the hopes that the culture in the buttermilk would quickly convert the interloper.

The finished cake didn’t rise quite as high as the original recipe faithfully does – my punishment for subbing out the egg with only whites and the buttermilk for a mixture - but it was light-textured (“weightless!” says Palle) and flavourful, with a pretty spackle of chocolate across the top. Although less sweet than the regular version, it was in fact ideal with a cup of coffee.

The rest of the regular milk is on a ticking clock, too – I will probably make paneer tonight, to go with tomorrow’s potential Indian dinner. Cooking the milk will give me the day or two’s respite needed to gather my wits and plan a dinner around it.

No comments: