I am quite happy with the way I eat (and cook). It served me well over the years not to gain any weight, and to have plenty of energy to carry on with my activities. Of course there are (more than) occasional treats, but overall I’d say my diet is quite balanced. I am not thin, never have been, but I still have the same size – actually, nearly the same weight – of ten years ago. It could not be any other way, because first, I hate feeling out of shape, and second, I can’t diet. Like in, follow a set diet to lose weight. The ‘d’ word itself gives me sweaty palms and an anxiety that can increase my hunger to epical amounts. I never eat as much and as badly as when I’m trying to follow a ‘diet’.
This is a personal problem however. My partner on the other hand has much more discipline, and a worse metabolism.
A couple of months ago I decided I needed a special treat and ordered myself a pile of cookbooks. Some of them were definitely health oriented (the excellent ‘Just bento cookbook‘, and Heidi’s first book). But for the first time, I had also ordered a book devoted to baking only. As I leafed through it, I admired the gorgeous, homely, intimate photography, and I could not wait to try the many enticing flavour combinations, the rich fruit compotes, the soft pillows of pancakes.. And my partner, drooling, was spying over my shoulder.
‘This book is going to be dangerous.’ I joked.
‘ Fair enough - he answered – you’ll have it back when I have lost five kilos’
And snatched the book away.
And here I am, now, book proudly in my hands, to tell you about this success story. The key to weight loss is someone else doing the cooking for you, someone extremely motivated in your weight loss. He was very good at resisting temptations (probably aided by my killer looks whenever he reached for the cheese), and I did a good support job. We did not do anything exotic: I tried to make yummy and filling food, making sure I always, always included at least 2-3 portions of vegetables at every meal, plus whole cereals and proteins. I may well say the secret to weight loss is cooking, always, no matter what: it is much easier to make a balanced low-fat, filling, nutritious meal at home than buying it anywhere. The hardest bit for me was the organisation needed to have that many portions of fresh food available at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have developed a long list of favourites – his and mine – I resort to regularly, and I have started to freeze extra portions so that they are there when I need them.
And finally, the book. It was totally worth the wait, and for honesty’s sake, there is more than one diet-friendly recipe in it, with its creative porridge and gorgeous pancakes. This book is even better than what I thought initially. It made me remember just how much I enjoy baking. Yes, I love cooking, but there is nothing like that magic that only baking works out. The book is so clear and well written, and Kim Boyce has just so many clever tricks up her sleeve, that cooking after her recipes is better than any cooking class. You learn to think when you bake. You learn why a certain ingredient is there, and why in that amount, and why you need that temperature, and how different flours and grains work together to create the alchemy of a dough. It is impossible not to feel inspired to create your own.
And if this was not enough to convince you to run to the library, the recipes themselves are not only accurate and informative and delicious – they even have that ‘chef’ touch that makes all the difference. Kim has a killer palate for flavour combinations, and some of her fruit, spice, and flour pairing are a real discovery. She is particularly fond of fruit, fruit in her recipes is in no way an afterthought, the pretty icing on the cake. She also has a great gift for presentation: everything looks absolutely non-perfect, home-made, and absolutely beautiful. And when you taste it, it tastes so good. I looked at more than one of the creations coming out of the oven, not believing that I had actually baked that incredible, high-end delight. The outcomes look deliciously rustic and homely, and flavours are all professional and innovative, with an extra dimension given by clever flour usage, instead of the old boring plain white wheat flour.
Take these muffins. Peach and ginger, fair enough. But the peaches are glazed in honey, butter and ginger, and you taste it. And the dough. A magic balance of fat and liquid results is a perfect crumb. They contain white and brown sugar, and the crumb is the colour of honey. The flours – oat, all-purpose and whole wheat – give depth of flavour, lift and structure, and even texture with the little bran of the oat flour. These muffins are nothing short of perfect.
The only downside of this book is that all the recipes are in cups. I normally don’t mind, but in a baking cookbook it is a real pain if you don’t have measuring cups, because you have to track down exact conversions of things like oat flour, and that is not so easy. I hope an European version will come out.
And by the way, we are on our way to another five kilos. I just ordered the opera omnia of Christophe Felder.
Peach Ginger Muffins (from Good to The Grain, by Kim Boyce)
123 gr oat flour (I made my own starting from flakes, using this method: it worked great, and I even added in the bran bits after sifting)
83 gr all-purpose flour
60 gr whole wheat flour
50 gr white sugar
50 gr brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
85 gr butter, melted and cooled a bit
150 gr milk
115 gr sour cream
3 tablespoon chopped crystallized ginger (I did not have it so I did not add it – they were still good)
For the peaches:
2 medium nectarine, ripe but firm
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp honey
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
Pre-heat the oven to 180 Celsius. Butter two muffin pans (this recipe makes nine, but as Kim points out, if you fill just half of the holes, the muffins will finally have enough space to rise)
For the peaches: wash and cut them in half, separate each half getting rid of the stone, and cut into 1 cm thick slices. In a medium pan melt butter, honey and ginger, until bubbling. Take off the heat and mix in the peach slices, tossing delicately to coat them. Set aside.
Sift together all the dry ingredients. In another bowl mix the liquid ones, then add the liquid ones to the dry ones and mix until combined (as usual with muffins, don’t overmix). Pour in the prepared tins. Garnish each muffin with two peach slices, putting one on top and tucking the other inside the dough. Spoon any juices over them.
Cook in the oven for about 25-30 mins, turning halfway. The muffins are ready when they are golden at the bottom (twist and lift one to check), and the pear slices are slightly caramelized at the edges. Enjoy not too hot, since they stay very moist until they are cold.