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A Sourdough Day

For most people Sunday is used as a day of rest and relaxation; put your feet up and have a cup of tea and a biscuit. For me, I want to be brewing the pot and making the biscuits. Last Sunday was no different, I invited a friend over for a day of sourdough experimentation! I’d spent the week nurturing what became affectionately known as my ‘alien baby’ otherwise known as a sourdough starter.  Here it is in all it’s bubbly fermented glory!

To start this off, I used a San Fransico sourdough culture bought for me by the same dear friend who came over to help. This was to be mixed with strong bread flour and water and then fed every day for a week. Some of the instructions were baffling “Leave your starter in a warm place between 80 and 90 degrees” even in fahrenheit this is outrageously warm for a February (or even mid summer!) in London. I put it by the boiler and hoped for the best. I nurtured this creature for a week, feeding it every day with flour and warmed water, stirring it, sniffing it, until it reached this very alive and yeasty stage.

The next part of my story is less successful. I’m sharing it with you because the starter gave rise (no pun intended) to a really excellent day of eating, cooking and catching up with a great friend and because the starter was such a bubbly success I just had to show you… the bread, alas, was not so successful hence why no recipe is included. I’ll wait until it’s fool proof.

We discovered early on that not only does the starter take an awfully long time to prepare, so too does the bread itself. Most recipes I found started at 8.30 in the morning and then had half an hour timed instructions through to 6pm! We thought the hard part was over with the starter, no such luck. Eventually we found a recipe that was more to our liking, mainly because it appeared not to take as long as some of the others. It did however, seem a bit untrustworthy, the fellow who wrote it was a shifty looking character and the instructions were a little hazy which is not a good sign in a bread recipe. Despite this we ploughed ahead and created a lovely sticky dough

We then had to knead it for 15 seconds, then rest for 30 minutes. Yes that’s right, 15 seconds – 30 minutes. You repeat this step over many hours increasing the resting time each time. At one point you swap from the mini kneads to a stretching and folding routine. Our dough was really rather nice, soft, floppy, warm and glutinous maximus! When tipping it out of the bowl, it hung on for ages, stretching it’s gluten enriched strands down towards the table in a most satisfyingly alien manner. Unfortunately I didn’t get a great picture of this because by that time, it was getting dark.

To relieve ourselves of the monotony, we decided to throw together some lunch. I, of course, had originally thought we could have warm bread and cheese, but new plans had to be made. It was a typical Sunday in our fridge, the ends of the week’s shopping and vegetable box hung around waiting for inspiration. There would be a number of things that were off limits as they had been reserved for supper and on this particular Sunday this left very little to play with. With the familar cry of “pasta?” in the air, we foraged until my friend in a flash of inspiration said: “Pasta Con Le Sarde?” After living in Venice for many years, she is very good and seeking out what I cannot when looking at an empty fridge. OBVIOUSLY I did not have any fresh sardines just lying around, but we had most of the rest of the ingredients and to be honest, it was delicious. I can’t wait to try it with the sardines!

 

Pasta Senza Sarde (Pasta Without Sardines)

200g mini orzo pasta

5 anchovies

2 cloves of garlic finely sliced

2 large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

30g raisins

Parsley, roughly chopped

Parmesan to serve

 

Cook your pasta according to instructions…meanwhile…

Warm a good slug of olive oil in a pan and add the anchovies to melt, slowly on a low heat.

When they have broken down and are smelling lovely add your garlic, raisins and tomatoes and cook slowly until the tomatoes are beginning to break down and the raisins have puffed up a bit

When the pasta is cooked, drain it, loosen it with olive oil, and stir it through the fishy tomatoes, add the parsley at the last moment and serve with Parmesan. Eat with a spoon!

A proper recipe for this, with the correct additions of white wine, fennel and saffron (and of course sardines) can be found here. I’m certainly going to try it.

After lunch we braved the bread again, this time stretching then folding the dough into thirds and then leaving it to rest, again and again…..

It was a very lovely dough. It certainly felt as though it was going the right way… But then, who knew? We were just persevering with the ever complicated recipe and hoping we were on the right track.

The bread making left quite a lot of room to do other things so I decided we needed something sweet. Tea time was fast approaching and the bread was far from ready. Oatmeal and Raisin Cookies were the decided treat and I set about it.

The recipe I used is one from the lovely food blog Smitten Kitchen

These aren’t really a chewy cookie, they are more of a soft tea time mini bun. Tom is insistent that they are rock buns. I will continue to call them cookies because that’s what they appear to be. In reality, he is probably right.

The reason I like this recipe is that it is ridiculously quick. Butter, sugar and an egg are combined in the whizzer, then flour cinnamon and salt are added,  oats and raisins are mixed in at the end and then you simply put dollops of the dough on a tray, chill for 10 minutes then cook for 10 minutes. Excellent and all ready in half an hour.

I like to make mine really small, about a teaspoon of dough per cookie. It is a very good idea to chill them for 10 minutes in the fridge first as they probably have a tendency to spread like mad if you don’t.

I haven’t reproduced the recipe here as it is in full and good order at Smitten Kitchen. If you don’t have American weighing cups, I recommend you get some. They make this sort of cooking so much easier and are very satisfying. Translating recipes from cups is pretty difficult as you can imagine: think of a cup of flour, a cup of dark brown sugar and a cup of walnuts, these are not going to all weigh the same.  Next time I make these, I will weigh each thing and write it down and share it if you really want. But until then, buy some cups.

So after our tea time treat we went back to the bread… Evening was fast approaching and my dear friend was getting tired, she left me with the dough and went home for some well earned rest. I soldiered on with the dough, stretching, folding and resting (I was resting too, 30 minutes of series 1 of ER then back to the kitchen)

As it was now dark I thought I’d better start on dinner so with the remaining bits and bobs in the fridge I whipped up a potato curry. And jolly nice it was too. It was influenced by an Ottolenghi dish and some general online curry recipes.

Potato Curry

1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
6 cardamom pods
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon

700g potatoes, peeled and quartered
200g carrots, peeled and quartered
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbs black mustard seeds
1 onion, sliced thin
5cm piece ginger, peeled, grated
1 green chilli, seeds removed, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
5 or 6 curry leaves
1 tin of good chopped tomatoes
125ml coconut milk

 

Toast the coriander and cumin in a pan until they start popping

Transfer to a pestle and mortar and grind them up with the cardamom until they smell wonderful. You can throw away the cardamom skins when the seeds are released

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions, fry until soft then add all the spices, ginger and mustard seeds and stir to gently cook them. Now add the chilli, curry leaves, garlic, carrots and  potatoes and mix the while lot together until the potatoes are turning yellow with the turmeric.

When everything is smelling wonderful, add the tinned tomatoes and coconut milk and leave it to putter away on a low heat with the lid on for a good hour.

Check on it after this to make sure the potatoes are cooked, then when you are ready to eat, re-heat with the lid off for another 30 minutes.

You could do all this in the oven too if you were so inclined.

I desperately wanted to make Naan bread to go with this but we didn’t have any yoghurt and I still needed to focus on the sourdough, which was gently mocking me from a corner of the room.

Finally it was time to shape the dough. Last year I went on a bread baking course at the wonderful Lighthouse Bakery School. It was such a fantastic day, I highly recommend it. In fact my bread lesson companion was the same as my sourdough buddy, but unfortunately she had long since gone home and so the shaping lesson we had listened so intently to at the Lighthouse was left to me alone to re-create. One thing that really stuck from that day was the lesson not to knead your dough with flour. Instead we were taught to wipe a light layer of olive oil onto the surface, this keeps the dough from sticking and doesn’t add a new component to the dough. Kneading with flour means you ruin the delicate balance of ingredients.

Another important lesson was how to shape the dough using it’s own elasticity, stretching the dough so it forms a ‘skin’ on the top.

You do this by pushing the dough away from you and then folding it back on itself. You do this around 6 times turning after each fold so you have created a taught top (which will be facing down). It still looked like an alien.

To be honest, I knew this was where things would start to go downhill. The recipe I followed only called for one shaping of the dough. A sourdough has an extremely high water content and it spreads if you leave it for even a minute. I think this dough needed 2 shapings.
This is a pretty interesting video. I like how she calls a Boule a Boo-lee!
But it gives you an idea of how crazy this dough is. It runs away from you!

So to cut a very long story a little shorter, I shaped my dough, slashed it and left it to rise one more time and then I put it in the oven for the suggested 40-50 minutes…

 

And I burnt it.

 

That’s right. After a whole day of labor, I burnt the bugger.

And the slashes sealed up on the top leaving me with a huge round black bomb! OK it wasn’t too bad, the top was VERY crispy but it wasn’t totally ruined. The lovely open texture I was hoping for after all that work, was only evident in the top third of the loaf (due to the slashes disappearing I think). Something went very wrong, I am yet to discover what. I think what is needed is a whole lot more experimentation, but really… who has the time?!

Luckily by this point Tom had come home and had brought some raita with him to eat with our potato curry. We sat down and ate while I mourned the death of a loaf… But we still had warm slices of it for pudding with butter and plum jam… And really, who cares if you make a big baking mistake, it’s all learning and you never know, I might get it right one day and until then, we’ll eat it warm with butter and jam and pretend that’s how it’s supposed to be.

 

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Filed under Baking, Biscuits, Bread, Curry, Lunch, Pasta, Quick, Recipes, Supper, vegetables, Vegetarian

Baked Ham with Flagolet Beans and Celeriac Mash

Nothing says Autumn like a hearty stew. Ham is one of my favourite things to cook as it makes for an excellent frugal Sunday lunch dish. Celeriac is in season at the moment and very cheap. It is an excellent (if ugly) ingredient. It is the root of celery and has a lovely subtle celery flavour, it pairs well with potato and can be used to make soup or an amazing gratin with cream and nutmeg (recipe soon!)

Not only is this dish cheap, it is also totally delicious and will last for a lunch then a supper the next day or can stretch, with side dishes (curly kale or savoy cabbage would be good) to feed 6. Brilliant.

The following recipe was inspired by a recipe in one of my favourite cook books, Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries for Ham with Butter Beans.

I often substitute any bean in a recipe with flagolet as I love their silky texture, light green colour, nutty flavour and how they stand up well to slow cooking . The picture below is courtesy of Delicious Magazine, click here to see their excellent tips on storing, soaking and using beans.

If you do not fancy the mash with this, just double the quantity of beans.

Gammon is the hind-quarters of the pig that typically uses the term ‘ham’. Ham ‘hock’ or ‘hand’ is also referred to as ham but this is the front leg and is normally sold on the bone. This is good for a large carving ham, suitable for Christmas or a big party. Nigel Slater states to use ‘boiling bacon’ in his recipe but I have never known the difference, even my lovely local butcher looked confused and offered gammon. Does anybody know the difference? Do let me know… His boiling bacon recipe does not require pre-soaking whereas I would always suggest this with gammon to rid it of it’s excess salt.

Soak your gammon overnight in water, the next day, put it in fresh water and bring to the boil. Discard water.

If you are using dried beans, soak these overnight too then boil for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until tender…and begin…

Ham with Flagolet Beans and Celeriac Mash

1.5kg unsmoked gammon

olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic

1 tsp paprika

optional: 2-4 chorizo sausages sliced into chunks (the uncooked kind, not the pre-cooked slicing kind)

2 or 3 sprigs of thyme

a few carrots or 1/4 of a butternut squash

1 tin or 200g dried  flagolet beans

2 tins chopped tomatoes

Celeriac mash recipe below

Pre heat your oven to gas 4 or 180 degrees

Slice the skin off your gammon (don’t worry if it is uneven) now slice off the fat in one piece leaving a thin layer (you want this to crisp up in the final stage).

Heat oil in large oven-proof pan and add gammon fat, onions and chorizo if you are using it. The chorizo will seep it’s delicious paprika scented oil into the onions.

Peel and chop your carrots or squash into 1cm pieces

Once the onions are softened add thes carrots/squash to the pan with the thyme sprigs and all 4 garlic cloves whole. Stir to coat for a minute.

Remove the gammon fat from the pan and put to one side.

Add flagolet beans chopped tomatoes and 100ml water, stir to combine and bring to the boil.

Now push your gammon down into the bean sauce and tuck the fat in next to it. Put the lid on (or a double layer of foil) and bake in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.

In the last 30 minutes:

Remove from the oven and turn the gammon so the thin layer of fat you retained it visible above the sauce, leave lid off and return to the oven so the sauce can thicken and fat can caramelise.

Make your mash!

Celeriac Mash

You want to make this as you would normal mashed potatoes just use 2/3 celeriac and 1/3 potatoes. I used 1/2 a small celeriac and 2 medium potatoes.

celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks

potatoes, peeled and cut to roughly the same size as your celeriac chunks

butter

salt and pepper

Peel your celeriac . Celeriac has a tough outer layer and you need to remove at least 5mm of the outer flesh to get to the pure white underneath otherwise you will get lumps when you mash. Peel it once, then peel it again.

Put your potatoes in cold water and bring to the boil, then add the celeriac

When both are soft to the point of a knife, drain and mash with butter and salt and pepper.

Serve with thick slices of the ham, and spoonfuls of the bean sauce.

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Filed under Baking, Kitchen Tips, Meat, Pulses, Recipes, Supper, vegetables

The Great British Bake Off and a Simple Pasta Supper

My goodness what a final!

If you haven’t watched the Great British Bake Off  presented by the hilarious Mel and Sue I suggest you catch up NOW! I love this show, amateur bakers from across the country battle it out to win the accolade of Best Amateur Baker. Blimey it’s great. Nail biting stuff.

Congratulations to winner Jo (our finalist favourite!) whose dainty Victoria sponge sandwiches, white chocolate and pistachio meringues and mini banoffee pies assured her place as the winner. Her blog link here

After the final I really want to experiment with Mary Ann’s decor paste stripy sponge cakes. She has set up a food blog which is doing incredibly well already. Check it out here to see her rose apple tarts that won her high praise on the show and look so beautiful. Not always one for delicacy Mary Anne really pulled these out of the bag!

However, I was very sad to see Janet leave last week, her hilarious reactions to the judging and constantly surprised expression were a joy to behold. Her exit speech brought tears to my eyes… Also sad to go was 19 year old Jason representing South London (!) who was eliminated earlier in the programme, I could have watched him ALL day. He also has started a blog (no doubt they all have!) check it out here

While we watched, of course, I cooked. A simple comfort pasta supper

Tortiglione with Pancetta, Tomato and Olive Sauce

100g Pancetta cubed

A handful of kalamata olives stoned and chopped

1 red onion

3 cloves of garlic chopped

1/2-1  tsbp dried chilli flakes (depending on how you like your spice)

2 tins of good chopped tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Olive Oil

S&P

100g tortiglione per person. I like De Cecco pasta the best

Parmesan to serve

optional

knob of butter

1 clove of garlic, crushed

2tbs double cream

1 tbs Parmesan

Serves 4-6

Heat  a couple of healthy glugs of good olive oil in large heavy bottomed pan and add the onions. Put a lid on and sweat the onions on a low heat until soft (about 10mins… don’t rush this otherwise you’ll have crunchy onions and that just doesn’t work!)

Add the pancetta about 7 mins in and brown it lightly.

Add the olives and chilli flakes and stir to just release their fragrance (turn the heat up for a bit) then add the 2 tins of chopped tomatoes and the sugar. Stir, put a lid on, turn the heat right down,  and forget about it for at least an hour.

Remove the lid and stir, continue cooking for another 30 mins until the sauce has a lovely thick rich red intensity to it. Add pepper last (if you add pepper too early it starts to taste bitter) check for salt as the olives will have done some of this for you and adjust.

Meanwhile cook the pasta in a large pan of salty water and when it’s done, quickly drain (reserving a tablespoon or so of water) set aside and chuck into the hot pan the knob of butter and garlic, swirl for 30 seconds until then add the cream parmesan and pasta. Coat the past in this garlic cream sauce, loosen with cooking water and serve immediately with a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce on top.

Obviously the creamy element is optional (and is actually perfect on its own) but I like to combine the creamy intensity of the pasta with the rich tang of the sauce. This way it also means you’ll have plenty of sauce left over for impromptu suppers, like ours last night.


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Filed under Baking, Pasta, Recipes, Supper

Chutney

A glut of tomatoes has been sitting in the kitchen for a few days now while I gather up as many jars as I can find… I am determined to make a beautiful tomato chutney to heap on top of a strong cheddar cheese or to serve alongside cold meat.


I decided on a spicy Indian inspired recipe to get as much depth of flavour into the chutney as possible so combined these two recipes:

One, for spicy Indian chutney found on The Traveler’s Lunchbox and this simpler mustard version on Waitrose.com

Both use the lovely flavour combinations of ginger and spice but due to the fact that I only had an inch of ginger and a pot of mustard in the fridge I decided to experiment. All the lights have blown in the kitchen so I am making it in a romantic semi-darkness, getting up occasionally to stir and release the heady smells of vinegar and spice into the kitchen whilst enjoying a beautiful evening in one of the hottest Octobers on record.

Spicy Tomato Chutney

1kg ripe tomatoes roughly chopped

1 inch of ginger, peeled and julienned into very thin strips

4 cloves

250g light brown sugar

375ml malt vinegar

1tsb Cayenne pepper

6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 cinnamon stick

Add all ingredients to your pan, and simmer on a low heat for around 2 hours. You need this to get to a jam-like consistency but it burns easily, keep the heat low, stir every so often and watch it isn’t catching. As mentioned on the The Traveler’s Lunchbox, you can speed things up by increasing the heat, but you’ll have to keep a much closer eye on it.

Once it is ready you can either leave it for a day or overnight for the flavours to develop or preserve it immediately. I pop my jars in the oven for 20 minutes after a hot soapy wash in the sink and boil my jar lids in water for about 5 minutes on the hob. No-one ever seems to mention how to sterilise lids, I find boiling works just fine. And after all that jar hunting, my sticky delicious chutney only filled two 280g jars!


Alternatives : use 2 fresh chillies in place of the cayenne and balsamic instead of the malt vinegar and whiz the whole lot in a mixer before heating: this will make a chilli jam!!

Plums

Last week it was plums, and a sweeter more delicate chutney was born. This one was a very simple classic chutney recipe and I made it as a thank you gift for a friend and her parents… Check  out my nifty home-made labels! Just wrapping paper and double sided sticky tape. I love the Obama paper “Yes we Jam!”

Plum Chutney

500 g dark red plums

2 small red onions chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

100 ml white wine vinegar

3 tbsp water

1 cinnamon stick

100 g demerara sugar

Chop plums into small chunks, add to a non-reactive preserving pan (you can buy these on ebay for minimal amounts and you really cannot beat a good old fashioned jam pan with sloping sides, a pouring lip and lovely long handle)

Add all other ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally until chutney has a soft jam-like consistency (about 1hour). Chutney does not set like jam as you are not adding any pectin, so it has to reduce down quite far to get a good spreading consistency. This one was a little too loose (I hurried) but a couple of weeks in storage should sort that out and improve the flavour.

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Filed under Fruit, Preserving, Recipes