Thursday, 16 September 2010

Cake Bakery

A few months ago, my very good friend Lillah asked me if I would make her daughter Daisy's first birthday cake. Before this, my experience (almost entirely documented in this blog) with cake bakery, let alone decoration was entirely elementary.
The thing is, one of my favourite things in the WORLD to do is make things as gifts for other people. Whether it be jewelry, clothes or chutney, I want whatever I'm making to be the best I can possibly do, because I'm doing it with love.
So for weeks, I Googled images of daisies and cakes, hit up my ridiculously talented cousin Lucy for tips and supply sources and set about ordering plunger cutters, fondants, colours and dusts. I practiced making daisies out of fondant (instead of gum paste, because I didn't know any better) and made a few practice cakes, which my guys were happy to taste test for me.
Daisy Cake 

I made the 12" bottom tier a lemon cake, drizzled with a lemon syrup, filled with lemon butter cream and raspberry jam.
The top 8" tier was a dairy-free vanilla cake with vanilla syrup, dairy-free vanilla butter cream and cherries and berries jam.

The dairy-free tier I felt was a little on the dry side, so I'm going to see if I can find a good alternative to the sunflower oil spread (Pure) I used. The other drawback to using the non-dairy spread was that it's not as firm as butter at room temperature, so it was harder to keep the fondant as flat and smooth for a long period while it warmed to room temp while I was decorating it.

This was my first properly decorated cake, so I gave myself a couple of days to work on it. I used recipes from Eric Lanlard's mediocre Glamour Cakes cookbook, which I tweaked to improve the flavour and moistness.

The daisies were made by using a PME plunger cutter, then rolling the petals with the end of a small paintbrush to give texture and depth. I made the centres with flattened and textured balls of yellow fondant. I should have taken some close-up pics so you could see the ladybugs, bees, butterfly and dragonfly, but I was too excited to think straight. Grrr! They were all made by hand, as was the grass and the daisy leaves.
In total, it took me about 16 hours to decorate the cake, not including the first batch of daisies that I ended up tossing, because I wasn't happy with them.
I immediately texted my cousin Sharon to ask if i could do her daughter Poppy's cake in November. I'm hooked. I never thought I would find myself this excited about cake decorating of all things
Daisy cupcakes

I made some simple vanilla cupcakes for my cousins Jenny and Sharon this past weekend and topped them off with some pink gerbera daisies and ladybugs. Of course I'm still every bit as obsessed with savoury cooking, but I'm really enjoying the novelty of this sweeter side.

It was my step mum Judy's birthday at the beginning of the month, so I made her this chocolate cake, layered with a coffee and hazelnut praline mousse, covered with a dark chocolate ganache and decorated with roses I made from dark chocolate with milk chocolate leaves.
I used the chocolate cake recipe from Eric Lanlard's book and it was depressingly dry. I will definitely be testing some other chocolate cake recipes in future, because it doesn't matter how pretty a cake is, if it tastes like loft insulation :-)
Dark Chocolate Roses Cake

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Prodigal Blogger

I know. It's been a while.

I'd love to tell you that I've been traveling the world, sampling exotic and fascinating foods off the beaten track and away from an internet connection, but that would be a big pork pie.
The truth is, I lost my bloggy mojo for a bit there and to be honest, the longer I left it, the harder it got to come back.

It has been an eventful and sometimes stressful couple of months filled with self-doubt and neuroses (but nothing that a little Prozac can't handle) and I have spent a lot of time evaluating my life and where it is going. Maybe because I'm only a few weeks away from my 35th birthday and am very much aware of the spectre of my approaching middle age.
I've spent too many years doing jobs that I'm not passionate about and have come to the stark realization that I'm not a person who can work for themselves, especially when I'm doing something that doesn't make me bound out of bed every morning with anticipation the way cooking does.


I have decided to go to culinary school and make the most of my passion. My best friend Alli was who gave me the final push and the confidence to say "Bring on the student loans! Bring on the sweat and sore back!"
Encouraged as always by my ever-supportive husband and proud parents and step-mum, I took the big step of enrolling in Tante Marie's Intensive Cordon Bleu diploma course, beginning in January. I am counting the days!

Of course my love of cookery has been just as intense while I' haven't been writing and I have been concentrating a lot more on practicing my baking and trying my hand at cake decorating.

My very good childhood friend Lillah's baby daughter Daisy will be one year old in two weeks and Lillah has asked me to make her cake, which I am ridiculously excited about and honoured by. I have ordered Wilton cake tins, boxes, boards, dowels, fondant, coloured dusts, flower and leaf plungers, all kinds of specialty equipment and have taken over much of what has been husband's office to store all my new goodies. Now that he's no longer working from home, I have my sights set firmly on turning this space into a cake decorating and sewing room, as the dining table it taking a bit of a beating.

So that's my news. I'm sorry for neglecting you and being so far away from the bloggiverse. I miss my fellow bloggers and I miss writing daily, and I promise I will be back regularly. Maybe not on the daily basis that I was blogging before, but definitely frequently.

I have my stepmother's birthday dinner this weekend, so I will post the roast duck breasts with locally picked black berries and the chocolate celebration cake I'm making. I promise to post all about the Daisy cake, no matter how it turns out. (I have only rolled out fondant ONCE, so be kind!)

I imagine too that chef school will provide me with plenty of blog fodder, if for no other reason than I will surely meet Gordon Ramsey, who is now a part-owner in the old school and lectures there regularly. And yes, Alli, if I DO get to meet him, I will ask him to call you from my mobile, so keep your ringer turned up when you go to bed, because Lord knows it will be the middle of the night your time.

Thank you all for your patience. I love you.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Upside Down And Ugly

First, let me just say that I, like millions of other people around the world, I cannot WAIT for the World Cup to start. Of course I'll be cheering for Mexico on Friday, but but what I'm really excited about is the England v USA game on Saturday evening. Being an English gal who spent most of her life in the US, I'd like to say I'm a little torn about who to cheer for, but I'm not. That game however, will be the only match that will see me cheering against the States. Unless of course England and the US are both in the final, which let's face it, isn't very likely.

We're going to watch over at my oldest childhood friend's house with her family and we're going to pig out on fish and chips. I'm going to make some red velvet and white chocolate cake balls to take along as treats, so we've got both countries' cuisines covered.  I've never made cake balls before, so if they turn out well, I'll post them. I think it might be fun to theme our coming weekly menus on the teams playing that day, but I might get a little opposition from my picky eater husband who doesn't like football. (I know, you're thinking "Tell us again why you married him?")

So anyway, the coming months promises to be exciting and interesting both for the footie and for the food. Historically, I'm not my most productive during the World Cup, but at least I can post recipes during half time.
Now, on with today's recipe....

It's such a shame that strawberries lose their vibrant red colour when they're baked, instead turning into something that looks like it should be bandaged and given antibiotics.

I actually made this upside down cake because I had a can of apricots that were taking up precious space in my store cupboard and I wanted to use them up. I had bought some fantastic vanilla beans at the London Foodie Festival and thought that the three flavours of vanilla, apricot and strawberry would make a lovely, summery combination and I was right.

This is lovely served either chilled or at room temperature and is delicious with ice cream.

Apricot, Strawberry and Vanilla Upside Down Cake
serves 8-12, takes 1 hour, 20 mins +cooling

1 can halved apricots in fruit juice
400g (14oz) fresh, ripe strawberries, hulled and halved
250g (1/4lb) unsalted butter, softened
250g (1/4lb) plain flour
4 large eggs, room temp
250g (1/4lb) golden caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 large vanilla bean
1/2 tsp good vanilla extract
1 tbsp flavourless veg oil
2 pinches, salt

Preheat the oven to 170C (340F) and grease a deep pie dish or casserole with butter.
Place the strawberries and apricot halves round-side-down in the bottom of the dish and heat the juice from the can of apricots in a small saucepan, reducing to the consistency of maple syrup.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer or with electric beaters for 4-5 minutes, until pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs in, one at a time and beat in well between each addition, then beat in the oil and the pinch of salt.
Scrape the contents of the vanilla bean into the bowl and add the vanilla extract, beating well to combine.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and soda and mix well enough to combine thoroughly, but not longer than necessary, so as not to toughen the final product.

Pour the fruit juice syrup over the fruit in the dish and scrape in the cake batter. Spread it out evenly, with a slight depression in the centre, to compensate for the rise.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean and there is no more bubbling.

Remove from the oven and allow it to cool completely before turning it out onto a large plate.

Put on an Astrud Gilberto CD and have a nibble in the garden.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Game On (The Barbecue)

I bought a couple of frozen pheasants from a game supplier at my local farmers' market last month and have been having a hard time deciding how to cook them.
Because pheasant season is October-February, most of the recipes that came to mind were decidedly wintry, which just did not appeal at this glorious time of year when it's sunny out and the garden is full of the colourful produce of spring, not parsnips, cabbages and swede.
I took them out of the freezer with a plan to roast them and serve them with some sweet potatoes and spring greens, but as the day wore on and hours working in the garden had warmed me through completely, I knew that the only way these puppies were making it to our dinner table was via the barbecue.

I decided on a very simple Thai marinade and rather than cooking whole, I jointed the birds and gave them just a few minutes on each side, fully expecting to title this post "Pheasant Fail". I mean, whoever heard of barbecuing pheasant? Thai pheasant? No? I didn't think so.

What resulted was absolutely fantastic, juicy and bursting with flavour. At only £5 for both birds, this was one of the best experiments I have ever done and will definitely be repeated again soon.
You could absolutely do this with chicken, but I might use a little less sugar in the marinade, as it would be likely to burn because it would need a longer time on the grill. I don't see any reason why poussins, quail or other small game birds wouldn't work just as well. If you do use game bird, be sure to warn the other diners about the possibility of finding shot in their meat. Nothing spoils a summer barbie like an emergency trip to the dentist.

Thai Marinaded Barbecued Pheasant
serves 4, takes 40 minutes

2 medium pheasants
4 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tbsp palm sugar
juice of 2 limes
large handful coriander (cilantro) chopped finely
1-2 large red chillies, finely chopped

Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a large freezer bag.

Remove the legs and separate into thighs and drumsticks just as you would with chicken, except the knee joint is a little fiddlier.
Remove the breasts and place the 12 pieces of meat into the freezer bag, seal and toss well to coat the meat well in the marinade.

Get the barbie going and when the coals are white, pieces on the grill for 2-3 minutes per side, depending on both the size of the meat and the heat from the coal. You want the outside to be slightly charred and the inside just cooked through. There is nothing drier or chewier than over-cooked pheasant, so take care not to overdo it.

I served ours with a simple salad of sweet corn, red pepper, coriander (cilantro), mint, lime, fish sauce, and a little garlic and I roasted the peeled chunks of sweet potato in the oven with just oil, salt and pepper for the about 40 minutes.

The combination of all these flavours and textures was just the perfect summer supper, with plenty of lip-tingling, finger-licking tang and spice. We ate outside with tall glasses of gin and tonic and extra lime wedges on the side.


Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Stuff in Muffins

As usual, this week I was left with overripe bananas in the fruit bowl and because I can't stand to throw away food, I knew I had to do something with them quickly.

Hubby has moved his office from home to an actual office building recently and almost always forgets to take lunch with him. His partner and employees are all young single lads without a girl to look after them and so I have been taking cookies and muffins in with his lunch for him to share with the lads. I made some banana, cardamom and dark chocolate muffins earlier in the week, but yesterday I delivered these tasty banana, apple and walnut nibbles. Of course I kept plenty back for the house and took one out to the garden with a cup of tea as fortification before a mammoth weeding task.

The apple in these little bites adds a little bit of a twang that I think the bananas really benefit from. I used Braeburn, but any nice eating apple should work, although Granny Smith might be a bit to tart and firm.

Banana, Apple and Walnut Muffins
makes 12 muffins, takes approx 45 minutes

2 overripe bananas
2 eating apples (Braeburn, Gala, Jazz, Fuji, Empire etc) skin-on, grated, discard cores.
210 g (7.5oz) golden caster sugar
255g (7.75oz) plain (All purpose) flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of (baking) soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
113g (4 oz) unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 cup walnuts (or pecans if you prefer) chopped

Preheat the oven to 170C (140F) and line a muffin tin with muffin papers.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or with electric beaters, mash the bananas up and add the vanilla and eggs, whisking well.
Add the sugar and apple, then mix well for a minute or so.
 Melt the butter and allow it to cool slightly before adding it to the wet mixture while stirring briskly.
Add the salt.
Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together and stir them into the batter until just combined, then add the nuts, stir through well and distribute evenly between all of the muffin papers.
Bake for 20-25 mins, until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Either give them to hubby's grateful colleagues or keep them all for yourself.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Gardener's Treats.

I don't know if many amateur veggie growers would say that growing your own is less expensive than buying the same veggies in the grocery store. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, (probably) but the amount of money that we've spent on gardening tools, lumber to build raised beds, fencing, compost, seeds and young plants would probably take a few years to make back in commercial value.
That's not factoring in the amount of time and back-breaking effort involved in establishing a healthy veg patch, or the frustration when seedlings fail to thrive or are eaten by F*@&ing ba$t£rd caterpillars and pigeons.
These days, I think you'd struggle to find anyone growing veggies who doesn't do it purely for the love of the hobby and the pleasure of eating something that has traveled mere yards from the garden to the kitchen sink.

One of my favourite things about growing some of my own veggies is being able to eat parts of the plant that don't normally make it to the shops, like tiny, tender beetroot leaves or the side shoots of adolescent asparagus spears.

Just as we did last year, we're growing our potatoes in sacks on the patio, freeing up valuable veg patch for brassicas, corn, squash and so on. One of my favourite sneaky things to do at this time of year is feel around under the soil of some of the early cropping varieties to steal a few babies packed with sweet nuttiness and perfect for a summer salad.
The French Breakfast radishes have been popping up out of the soil for a couple of weeks now and those that do not get eaten on the spot have been making their way into all manner of salads, sandwiches and nibble plates.
I decided to roast the little potatoes in a little garlic confit oil and chill them to make a light and summery salad along with the peppery little radishes. We had ours with burgers, but it would be lovely by itself as a lunch or as part of a picnic or barbeque spread.

Roasted Miniature New Potato and Radish Salad
serves 4, takes approx 90 mins, including coking and cooling

500g (1 lb) tiny baby new potatoes, about the size of a 50p (half dollar)
500g (1 lb) French Breakfast radishes or other spicy variety, halved or quartered.
2 tbsp free range mayonnaise
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 stalks celery from the heart of the bunch, including the leaves, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
2 tsp dijon mustard (Maille recommended)
2 tsp white wine vinegar
small handful parsely, finely chopped
2 tbsp garlic confit oil (*or olive oil plus 2 cloves of garlic in their skins)
Coarse sea salt
Black pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F)
Wash the little potatoes well, dry them thoroughly and toss them in the garlic oil*
Roast them for 30-40 minutes or until thoroughly cooked, with golden, wrinkly skins. Cool to room temp before refrigerating completely.
Whisk the mayonnaise and yoghurt together well with a the mustard, vinegar, garlic and a little sea salt.
Stir in the potatoes, radishes, celery, parsely and shallot and preferably refrigerate for half an hour or so before serving to allow the flavours to meld.

I had the leftovers for lunch the following day and it was every bit as lovely, but I wouldn't leave it for longer than that, because the radish and celery would likely go a little rubbery.

What is you favourite Springtime salad??

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

100 And Counting.

The other day, I was fannying about in my blogger dashboard, reading others' posts, when I noticed that my own blog listing had "99 posts" next to it.


I've only been blogging since the beginning of Feb, but like many other things I do, I have become a little obsessed. I was posting daily, sometimes more at the beginning, and had thrown myself into my new blog with the same gusto I have for every new creative adventure.
As I don't make an absolutely new dish every day, the posts are less frequent now, as I don't think anyone wants to read four different ragu alla bolgnese or roast chicken posts and frankly, I just couldn't keep up that kind of pace.

Since realizing that my next post was to be my 100th, I've been thinking a lot about what I should write about, as well as whether or not I have arrived here too quickly. I keep hearing "less is more! " and "Quality over quantity!" ringing in my head and wondering if perhaps my excitement about sharing my culinary life and gastronomical endeavours has sacrificed the quality of my posts.
I suffer daily from blog envy, camera jealousy and frustration with my lack of photography skills and the struggle to find new ways to make yet another chicken dish sound so delectable that you simply have to drop what you're doing and go make it.

Before I launch into today's recipe, which is one of my favourite dishes, I want to give a shout out to some of the bloggers who have helped me so much along the way, both directly and by just being inspirational.

These guys make me want to be a better blogger, both by being incredibly inspirational in their own writing, recipes and photography and also by being pillars of a fantastic network of foodie writers who prop each other up and cheer each other on. In finding these people, I have got so much more out of keeping this blog than I ever could have imagined. Thanks guys!
In no particular order:

Stella at The Witchy Kitchen
Liam at My So Called Knife 
Alex at Just Cook It
Monet at Anecdotes and Apple Cores
Ali at Three Baking Sheets to the Wind
Ms. Humble at Not So Humble Pie
Susan at Food Blogga
Robin at A Chow Life
Cassie at Chow Bella
Monica at Floating Cloudberries
Natasha at Five Star Foodie
Wendy at Upstart Kitchen
and Angie at Angie's Recipes

All of these people inspire me to try harder at all this, and if I can learn to take a decent photo and be more conscientious in general, I hope that the next 100 posts will be much better than the first.

In other good news, Olive magazine is publishing my chipotle-rubbed pork shoulder tacos in their September issue, so if you fancy a flip through my favourite cookery mag, check it out! I'll be on the Over to You page, as Reader Recipe of the Month. (Finally, a decent photo of one of my dishes!)

And now onto the food.

I had one of my favourite childhood friends Lillah and her delightful 8-month old daughter Daisy for a sleep over last Thursday. Stepson had requested his favourite Indian dish for dinner and so I turned it into a bit of a feast befitting the occasion.
Chicken korma is not one of the most authentic, nor one of the most adventurous of curries but what it lacks in fire and sizzle, it more than makes up with fragrance and luscious creaminess. I made cauliflower and red onion pakoras to the same recipe as my asparagus pakoras and served the whole lot with a selection of chutneys and riata, saffron rice and some cumin puppadoms.

My Favourite Chicken Korma
serves 6, takes 24 hours, including marinading. 90 minutes work tops.

1 whole free-range chicken, boned and skinned, cut into 3 1/2cm (1 1/2") chunks (or equivalent in boneless thighs.)
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground tumeric
2 tsp ground fenugreek
2 tsp ground red chilli
5cm (2") ginger root, grated
5 cloves garlic, grated
300ml (13 oz) plain yogurt
150g (5.25oz) coconut cream
100g (3.5oz) ground almonds
3 tbsp ghee or veg oil
150 ml double cream (heavy whipping)
sea salt to taste

Mix the yoghurt, ginger and garlic together well and stir in the pieces of chicken. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the flavours really permeate the meat.

In a food processor, puree the onion with a little bit of water and the red chillies into a smooth paste.
Heat the ghee or oil over a medium heat in a large sautee pan, then sweat the onions for 10-12 minutes until they're translucent and very fragrant. Stir in the coriander, turmeric and fenugreek, stir-frying for several minutes until the flavours have developed well and the oil is brightly coloured. Add the chicken, along with all of the yoghurty marinade and stir into the spicy onions.
Add the coconut cream and the ground almonds, then enough water to almost cover the chicken. Bring to a low simmer and allow it all to cook for 40 minutes.
Check periodically to make sure it doesn't get too dry and catch on the bottom.

When the sauce has reduced and is very thick, add as much of the cream as you need to to loosen it a little and turn it into something unctuous and silky. Season to taste.

Serve with basmati rice boiled with green cardamom pods and cloves, stirred through with saffron soaked in 1tbsp of milk right before serving.

Cucumber and Radish Raita:
300ml plain yoghurt
5" de-seeded cucumber, finely diced
6 French breakfast radishes, thinly sliced
1 tbsp mint sauce
sea salt

Mix all the ingredients together well and chill for 30 mins before serving

Coriander, Green Chilli and Mint Chutney:
2 tbsp mint sauce
handful coriander, leaves picked and very finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped
juice of half a lime

Mix all the ingredients together and serve at room temperature.

The mango chutney was from Waitrose. What? I didn't make the puppadoms either, Sharwoods did!
pinch of sea salt.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Best Oven Fries EVER (seriously)

I'm going to make this quick, because I have a lot to do today, as I'm making a veritable Indian FEAST for a girlie sleep over tonight and I'm really excited.

I just wanted to share this method for what are seriously the best oven-fried chips you can make. Don't be fooled into thinking that they're a low-cal option, because they're not. I just don't like all the palaver involved with deep frying, cleaning up and filtering oil afterward.

This method produces a fry/chip with a crunchy, glass-like outer crust with the fluffiest, almost creamy interior. They take a little planning ahead, but you could do the par-boil the day before if you want to be able to bake them quickly before serving.

Sea-Salted Oven Fries To Die For
To serve 4 hungry people, takes approx 2 1/2 hours, including cooling

1 kilo (2.2lbs) floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper or King Edward
120ml (1/2 cup) goose fat or grape seed oil
plenty of sea salt.

Peel the potatoes, reserving the peels and cut them into 1/2" chips.
Boil the potatoes and the peels* in very salted water for 10-12 minutes until you almost think that they're cooked all the way. The outsides should be floury and loose, but obviously you don't want to cook them until they fall apart.
Drain the chips and when they're cool enough to handle, put the chips on a wire rack to cool and dry for an hour or so. Discard the cooked peels.

Heat your oven to 200C (400F) with a large baking tray containing the fat. When the oil is stonking hot, carefully tip in the chips and toss them in the oil to coat completely. They must be in one layer, so if your pan isn't big enough, use two pans on different shelves.
Put the chips in the oven and set your timer for 20 minutes, then check to see if they need to be turned (carefully) before finishing them for a further 15-20 minutes, or until really golden and crunchy on the outside.

Serve straight away with your favourite burger and plenty of lovely sea salt, then bathe in the the adulation from astonished, greedy family members.

*This is a tip I learned from Heston Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection series. Cooking the peels along with the chips imparts a really potato-y flavour to the finished product that will knock your socks off.
I was skeptical too, but believe me, it totally works.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Love Is In The Air

My husband is not a foodie at all. Falling firmly in the "I eat to live, I don't live to eat" camp, there are very few meals that he gets excited about besides brinner and Captain Crunch with Crunch Berries.

On the rare occasion that we go out for a meal, if there is duck on the menu, Drew is almost guaranteed to order it. I do love to cook duck, but tend reserve it for special evenings when it's just going to be the two of us, as good free-range duck can be on the costly side and Stepson has the appetite of a small village.

Usually, I'll buy ducks whole but at one of my last trips to my favourite grocer's, they had huge crowns of free range Gressingham ducks for a fiver, so I snapped one up and popped it in the freezer.

I've done all sorts of things with duck in the past, but honestly, I think that the best thing to do with duck breast is roast it simply with a little seasoning and not for too long. Because of how fatty the meat is, I usually serve something tart or tangy along side and don't put anything else too fatty or heavy on the plate.

This recipe is so super simple and almost fool-proof, as long as you don't over-cook the meat. The citrus buttered asparagus and new potatoes are just what this little ducky needs to bring it into the Spring.

So grab a couple of breasts and your special someone and get ready to knock their socks off with this delicious and special, yet simple supper.

What do you cook when you're setting a romantic mood?

Roast Duck Breasts With Citrusy Asparagus And Crushed New Potatoes
Serves 2 lovers, takes 1 hour 

2 free-range duck breasts
salt and pepper

1 bunch asparagus, bottoms snapped off
zest of 1 lemon, juice of half
zest of 1 tangerine, juice of half
small sprig of fresh rosemary
 2 tbsp butter
sea salt

10 small new potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil (or, if you have leftover oil from confit garlic, use that!)
sea salt

First, boil the potatoes in salted boiling water for about 15 minutes, until tender, then drain.

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F)

Melt the butter for the asparagus in a small pan and when the foam has subsided, add the rosemary then cook for one minute before stirring in the orange and lemon zest. Pour the citrus butter into a ramekin or small bowl and pop it in the freezer to firm up while you carry on with the rest.

Squash the potatoes gently with the back of a fork, until they pop, then toss in the olive (or garlic) oil and sea salt to taste. Pop them into the oven in a small baking dish while you cook the duck

While the potatoes are boiling, use a very sharp knife to score the duck's skin into the fat, but without going through to the meat. The easiest way to do this is to lay the blade almost flat on the skin and pressing in a little, as opposed to cutting at a 90 degree angle. Season breasts all over with plenty of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat an oven-proof frying pan over a med-high flame until hot. Don't use oil, there's plenty in the duck skin.
Lay the duck, skin-side-down in the hot pan and leave for 5-6 minutes until there is a pale, golden crispness to the skin and a lot of fat has rendered out.  Turn the breasts over and put the pan into the oven to finish cooking for 12-15 more minutes, depending on the size. The breasts I cooked were quite large and were medium-rare after 15 minutes.

Remove the duck breasts from the oven and move them to a warm plate to rest for ten minutes (very important!) and check the potatoes. If the potatoes are gold and crispy, turn the oven off but leave them in there while you do the asparagus.

In the same pan that you made the citrus butter, add a touch more butter and add the orange and lemon juice. Reduce the liquid by about half and add the asparagus. Cook the asparagus for 3-4 minutes, depending on thickness.

To serve, slice the rested duck breasts into 2cm (3/4") pieces and arrange on warm plates with some of the roasted, crushed new potatoes and the asparagus. Top the asparagus with a teaspoon or two of the citrus butter and sit down with some candles and a lovely bottle of red wine.

Duck Breasts on FoodistaDuck Breasts

Saturday, 22 May 2010


There are few things in this world more guaranteed to bring smiles of joy to the faces of my husband and stepson than brinner. That is, breakfast for dinner.
Usually, this will mean a 'full English' breakfast of eggs, grilled bacon, sausage or black pudding, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms and toast. Stepson squirts liberally with ketchup, husband with Tabasco, and we all tuck in to our naughty supper with childlike glee.
So when I asked my husband "What would you like on the menu this week?" I was not surprised to hear "Brinner!"....."But not normal brinner. Can we have pancakes pleeeaaase?"

To be completely honest, I'm not a huge fan of pancakes, preferring crepes or waffles if I had to choose. I generally prefer a savoury meal, but who am I to deny the occasional sweet-toothed whim of my favourite person?

Now one of the things that we have battled over a little in this house is what a pancake should be like. I prefer the more tender, thin version that is more common over here in the UK, with perhaps a little lemon juice and icing sugar. Drew is a staunch American pancake fan, fighting in the "It's called a panCAKE for a reason!" corner. American pancakes are definitely thicker and fluffier than their European friends and benefit most from lashings of real maple syrup and butter. They wouldn't be American pancakes without the requisite side of smoky bacon, although I used English back bacon rather than streaky because it has more meat in it.

It has taken me a while to get the recipe just right for these American pancakes, and I know that most of my readers are American,  so this is like teaching Grandma to suck eggs. If you're an English person (or other ferner) married to a yank and would like to know how to make a lovely, light and fluffy American pancakes for your beloved, then this is how to do it. These are my husband's absolute favourite pancakes of all time. Given that he is my most honest critic and aficionado of food from "back home" that's high praise indeed. Now if I can only replicate some Taco Bell for him....

American-Stylie Pancakes
makes about 8 10" pancakes, takes approx. 40 mins

400g (14oz) plain (all purpose flour)
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
 4 1/2 tsp caster sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3 lg eggs
2 cups whole milk (plus extra if needed) or buttermilk if you can get it.
3 tbsp butter
oil for cooking

To serve:
Crispy grilled free range bacon
real maple syrup

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar (if the sugar is fine enough to fit through your sieve, otherwise, add it separately)
Beat together the eggs and milk well and add to the flour mixture. You want a fairly thick batter, rather than a thin, heavy cream texture. Add a little more milk if the batter wont pour easily. Melt the butter in a small skillet and cook until the foam subsides and the butter starts to go ever so slightly brown, with a nutty scent. Whisk this into the batter mixture and let it sit for 20 minutes.

Heat an iron skillet or other heavy-bottomed pan or griddle over a medium heat. Use a heat-proof pastry brush to spread a little oil in a thin film over the bottom of the pan and use a ladle to pour the batter into the centre of the pan, tilting this way and that to spread the batter in a circle.
Cook the pancake for 1-2 minutes, until there are bubbles breaking on the surface and the edges are dry. Flip carefully in one movement with a spatula, or if you're fancy, with the flick of your wrist.
When the second side is cooked (after 45-60 seconds) move it to a warm plate, brush the pan with more oil and pour in your next pancake. Rub a little butter all over the top of the pancake, drizzle with a little real maple syrup and cover with an upside-down bowl. Repeat 7 more times, until all the pancakes are cooked, buttered and syruped.
Divide the pancakes onto serving plates and top with more butter and lashings of maple syrup.

Meanwhile, while the pancakes are cooking, put 2 slices of bacon per person under the grill and cook until just crisp but still with a little bend in it. Serve hot on the side of the pancakes.

My two guys ate 4 pancakes each, but they are gluttons with hollow legs. This recipe is plenty for four people with human stomachs and self-restraint.

Speaking of American pancakes and self-restraint, has anyone else heard about these IHOP cheesecake sandwich pancakes?? I I don't think that there's much I can say that the article and picture don't. Ugh.

Do they come with a tube of anti-chafing gel?

Friday, 21 May 2010

Not For You, Sookie

I feel really bad for vampires. I mean aside from the obvious problems of constantly needing to prey on us mortals for sustenance and your friends and loved ones dying of old age while you just carry on living.

Imagine never being able to eat garlic or make out with an Italian! I bet even vampires' significant others have it tough, much like people who are dating a person with a peanut allergy.
You wouldn't be able to have anything with garlic in it, in case when you kissed your vampire, their lips and throat swelled up and they died-died (as opposed to undead-died.)

So Sookie, this recipe is not for you unless Bill stays missing and you finally hook up with Sam.

Can shapeshifters eat garlic?

This garlic soup recipe is a variation on a lovely looking dish that food blogger extraordinaire Wendy Tien at Upstart Kitchen. There are three bulbs of garlic in here, but the flavour is so mellow and golden. You know what I mean, right? I served this as a main course with some toasted sandwiches and it was absolutely beautiful. Stepson went on and on about how tasty this was, which is high praise indeed from him, because he isn't a big soup fan generally. It was wonderful as a main, but would be a fantastic starter if served in cups the way Wendy does.
If you like the mellow sweetness of gently roasted garlic, then this is the soup for you.

Unless you're Sookie.

Velvety Garlic Soup
serves 3 as a main, or 6 as a starter, takes 1 hour

3 bulbs garlic, cloves separated and peeled
2 cups olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
500ml (1 pint) free range chicken stock (preferably home made)
1 floury potato (about the size of a tennis ball) peeled and finely diced
2 sprigs thyme
the top of a sprig of rosemary (about 2")
2 bay leaves
100ml (4 oz) double cream (heavy whipping)
2 tsp sherry vinegar
salt and white pepper to taste
truffle oil to serve (optional)

Some of the garlic growing in our garden

Put the garlic cloves and olive oil in a small saucepan over a very low heat. The garlic should be completely submerged in the oil with room to move around. If you need to, add a little more oil. Allow the garlic to poach gently for about 30 minutes, until it is a warm honey colour, floating on the oil and the kitchen smells fragrant. Turn off the heat and let the garlic cool for a few minutes before removing from the oil with a slotted spoon.
What ever you do, don't throw away the oil. It is wonderful used in cooking, or on breads and in salad dressings.

Use a little of the oil in a medium sized saucepan to gently sweat the chopped onion until translucent. Add the garlic cloves, herbs and potato, then add the chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes, until the potato is completely cooked and the herbs are tender. Remove the herbs, they should be floating on the surface.

Pour the lot into a blender and wazz for 30 seconds or so, until completely smooth and velvety. Return the soup to the pan and add the cream. simmer for a minute, then add the sherry vinegar and seasoning.
Taste to check seasoning before serving in warm bowls. Drizzle with a little truffle oil if you're using it.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Don't Judge Me!

I cooked rabbits.

I know, I know, But before you say "But eating bunnies is so cruel! Wook at their widdle faces!" I'll just say this-
Yes, bunnies are really cute, but then so are pigs, chickens, pheasants, lambs, cows and even prawns. The rabbits I cooked were wild and so as free-range as you can get. They're a fabulous source of lean protein and super cheap, at a mere £2.50 each from a game supplier at my favourite local farmers market.
I'll admit that for many years I couldn't conceive of eating bunny, as I'd had them as pets growing up but I would much rather that than cook any of the millions of factory-farmed animals that never see the light of day or live any kind of natural life.

*Give me a second to climb down from my soap box....*

I've only cooked rabbit a handful of times before, having tried Jamie Oliver's Essex Fried Rabbit once with tough, dry results and a few casseroles and stews with marginally better texture and flavour.

The problem with rabbit is similar to those we all experience with many game birds in that if the whole rabbit is cooked in the same way, you end up with at least one tough and chewy component.
The legs benefit from long, slow cooking much the same way that duck legs do, while the loin turns to dry, splintery nastiness when given anything more than a quick flash in the pan or oven.

I bought Flopsy and Mopsy home without any real idea of what I wanted to do with them, but I knew it had to be something different from my previous attempts and that if the result wasn't satisfactory, I would probably leave bunnies alone from here on out. I thought about it for a few days and decided to give the rabbits a little bit of a Chinese treatment, slow 'red' cooking the legs and then giving the loin a quick stir-fry with some carrot (of course!) and cashew nuts. Simple right? You'd think so....

So that afternoon, I can't remember why, I got to thinking about Nine Inch Nails and how much I loved Trent Reznor when I was in my teens. I decided to Google him to see what he was up to these days and landed on his Wikipedia page. At the bottom, there was a link to a video that he had narrated for PETA about the Chinese fur industry. I am not going to post a link to it here, because there is no amount of disclaimers or warnings that could prepare you for what you see, and his isn't even the hardest of these Chinese fur PETA vids to watch. Basically, the undercover video shows images of animal abuse so horrific, it makes the Hostel and Saw movies look like Sesame Street. Google them if you like and try to watch if you can. I have said before that when we were in China we were shocked by the animal welfare standards (or lack thereof) but this is something else. I have resolved to never again buy a Chinese animal product, including leather.

Wow, look! I somehow ended up back on my soap box!

*climbs down*

So I felt pretty guilty while washing residual fur from my rabbits and really didn't think I'd be able to eat them, especially cooked Chinese style. I told myself that I was being silly and that these rabbits had had happy, hoppy lives and had been dispatched in a humane way and that I couldn't stop cooking Chinese food just because of a horrible video. I forged ahead and I'm glad that I did, because the result was by FAR my best rabbit result to date. If you do cook rabbit, I would definitely give this a try. If your childhood memories of Peter or the Velveteen Rabbits are still too fresh, then skip this post and stick around for the completely animal-free one coming tomorrow.
If you dig on swine, the red cooking is traditionally done with pork belly and is seriously out of this world.

Red-Cooked Rabbit Legs
serves 4, takes 2 1/2 hours (only 20 mins or so work)

4 each front and back rabbit legs (either wild or free-range)
2cm piece of ginger, sliced approximately 2mm (1/8") thick
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp caster or granulated sugar
3 tbsp ground nut, canola or sunflower oil
3 star anise
3 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
3 tbsp light soy sauce
500ml (1 pint) chicken stock (home made or good quality bought)

It's best to leave the meat on the bone, but if you have family members who whine when you leave bones in messy meat dishes (as I do) you can remove them. It may also be necessary to cut the legs into pieces to make it easier to remove any buckshot. Leave the meat on the bones of the front legs.

In a hot sautee pan or wok, heat the oil over a med-high heat and add the sugar, stirring for a minute until the sugar has melted. Add the rabbit pieces to the oil and stir-fry for a few minutes in the sugary oil until you have a nice, brown colour all over. Add the remaining ingredients to the pan, bring it to a simmer, then cover the pan, lower the heat and let it cook for about two hours, checking now and then to make sure there's still liquid in the pan. When the two hours is up, remove the lid and turn up the heat to allow the remaining liquid to reduce into a thick, syrupy sauce.

Stir-Fried Rabbit Loin with Cashews and Carrots
serves 4 (as part of the 2-part dish) takes 20minutes

4 rabbit loins (from two rabbits) silverskin removed
1/2 cup raw cashews
8-10 small Chantenay carrots, topped and quartered
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
3 spring onions (scallions) sliced about 2" long
2cm (3/4") piece of ginger, julienned
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp preserved black beans
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Szechuan rice wine
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp corn flour
2 tbsp ground nut or other flavourless oil
Slice the rabbit loin into 1 inch pieces.

Mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, vinegar, black beans, peppercorns and corn flour together in a bowl and add the pieces of rabbit loin, set aside to marinade while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Heat a wok or frying pan over a high heat until smoking, then add the oil. Toss in the garlic and ginger, stir-frying for a few seconds until fragrant but not brown. Add the marinated rabbit pieces to the pan, leaving the marinade behind and stir-fry for a minute or so, until beginning to brown on the surface all over.
Add the cashews, stir those in and then add the scallions and carrot, stir-frying for a further minute-90 seconds. (if you prefer your carrot soft, add it before the cashews) Add a couple tbsp of water to the marinade and pour this into the pan, cooking for another minute until the sauce has thickened and coats all the ingredients well.

Serve both rabbit dishes on either side of a pile of plain boiled rice with some extra sliced spring onion.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Annie Leibovitz I Ain't

Those of you who have read this blog before, especially at the beginning, might find it hard to believe that there are actually pictures of my food that I deem too bad to use. I take my photos with my phone right before we dig in and I have appalling lighting in my kitchen. I WILL sort myself out soon and get a decent camera, but for now, I've decided that I'd rather post my rather poor excuses for food photography than not post at all.

I nearly didn't post this recipe for rhubarb and apple crumble because I couldn't get a decent picture of it  (I made a mess serving it, bad lighting). Yesterday I made a 6-hour roasted and barbecued piece of belly pork that was probably the best I've ever had, but forgot (yes, forgot!) to take a picture of it on the plate and so will wait til the next time I make it to post it.

This crumble was a special treat for my husband who was sulking because his shiny new laptop that had been due to arrive was stuck in UK customs. Given the sheer scale of his geekiness, it's unlikely that it completely made up for his disappointment, but he certainly didn't mention it after he ate this. All of us agreed that this was my most successful crumble yet and that the rhubarb and apple is a serious winner.

The rhubarb is the first and only harvest we'll be able to get from our juvenile plants this year, so it was important that I make the most of it. The recipe is very simple and I think really makes the most of the rhubarb, which is at the height of its season here at the moment. Not including baking time, this is a quick dish to make and because of its rustic nature, is super, super easy.

Best Ever Rhubarb and Apple Crumble
serves 6, takes 90 minutes

4 stalks rhubarb
5 eating apples, such as Braeburn or Gala
1 knob of stem ginger in syrup, finely grated
100g (3.5oz) golden caster sugar
2 tbsp plain flour
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

For the topping:
175g (6.2oz)  plain flour
100g cold butter, cut into 1cm dice
30g rolled oats
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 170C (340F)
Cut the rhubarb into pieces approximately 5cm (2") long and peel, core and cut the apples into half-moon slices about 1" thick.

Sprinkle both with the sugar, flour, nutmeg and ginger, then mix well to combine. Leave the bowl to sit for 15 minutes while you prepare the crumble.

Put all of the crumble ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse for 20-30 seconds until you have the texture of coarse breadcrumbs.

Arrange the apples and rhubarb in a baking dish, with the rhubarb at the top. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top in an even layer and then bake for 55-65 minutes, until you have a golden-brown top with a warm, syrupy bubbling around the outside.

Allow the lot to cool for about ten minutes before serving with custard or vanilla ice cream.

*I made a vanilla bean custard, cooled it and then folded in sweetened whipped cream. Holy CUSS! Is there a name for this already or did I just invent the most amazing dessert accompaniment EVER?

Rhubarb Crumble on FoodistaRhubarb Crumble

Friday, 14 May 2010

Prawn Yesterday

I have a confession to make.
Remember yesterday that I said I thought that we should get free booze as a reward for keeping our families well-fed and healthy?
Well I told my husband about that and so today when we got to the cash register at the grocery store I grabbed a bottle of really good ale I'd been lusting after. (No, I'm not a bearded 50 year old farmer with a pipe, I'm just a gal who missed English ales for 20 years who indulges occasionally.)
I got back from the store and put away my spoils, updated the menu on the kitchen calendar and went out to the garden to check on/chat with my seedlings and sprouts, carrying my bottle of ale with me.

Did I mention that it is about 1:00pm at this point? (But it's 6:00 O'clock in Yekaterinburg.)

So it went like this:

Sip, Sip, "Hello little corn plants! I see you're doing well. in a couple of weeks you'll be able to live outside!" sip... sip...

Sip, "Hi radishes! my goodness look at you! You're doing ever so well in spite of this cloudy weather. You'll be tasty in some salads in no time. sip, sip, sip....

Sip, "Asparagus! Why do weeds love growing around you so much?? (sip, sip)  Look at the beetroots and garlic! No weeds there, so what are you doing?" Sip, sip, sip......sip

And so on and so on. Sip.

It's 2:00pm now and I am what you might call three sheets to the wind. I looked at the alcohol content (4.9%) and the back of the bottle and it turns out, I just drank 2.45 units of alcohol in the middle of the week. At Lunchtime. Alone. Without eating lunch.
Part of me is ashamed, but the rest of me thinks it's pretty awesome and like I'm getting away with something. Something that I will not make a habit of though, because I keep having to go back and fix typing errors.
I am also aware that I will probably have a hangover at around 5:00pm.

Anyway, on with the cooking.
Last night I made this tasty and quick Thai prawn and noodle dish. Bright with the flavours of fresh lime, lemongrass and coriander it's a delightful Spring evening meal.
I used wide rice noodles, which are lovely but chin-slappy, so rice vermicelli might be a better idea if you like a dry face.

Coconut Prawn Noodle Soup
serves 4, takes less than 45 minutes

1 can organic coconut milk
1 can water
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised and roughly chopped
2 thumb-sized pieces galangal thinly sliced
2 shallots, chopped
2 red chillies, sliced
6 lime leaves (fresh or dried)
400g (14oz) large, uncooked prawns, peeled and deveined
300g (10.5oz) rice noodles
juice of 3 limes
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar
1 tbsp flavourless oil such as ground nut or sunflower
green tops from two bunches of pak choi, sliced thinly (reserve the white parts for another use)

Prepare the noodles according to the instructions on the packet, more than likely pouring boiling water over them and allowing them to soften before draining and refreshing with cold water. Divide the noodles into four bowls and set aside.
Sweat the shallots, galangal, chili, lemongrass and lime leaves together in a medium saucepan until soft and beginning to colour. Add the coconut milk, palm sugar, water and the fish sauce and bring up to the simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid has reduced and is very fragrant.
Strain the broth through a fine sieve, pressing on the vegetables to squeeze out all the flavour.
Return the liquid to the pan and bring up to a simmer again and add the prawns. Cook for 2-3 minutes (depending on their size) until almost cooked then add the pak choi, cooking for half a minute more.
Squeeze the lime juice into the pan and give it a quick taste to check the sweet, spicy, sour and salty harmony, adding more sugar, cayenne pepper, lime juice or fish sauce if necessary.

Ladle the broth, prawns and pak choi over the noodles and scatter with coriander leaves before serving.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Eating Apples

Being responsible for the diets of each of your family members is no small feat. Not only do you need to take everybody's likes and dislikes into consideration, you must also make sure that it's nutritionally balanced, varied and interesting, all while staying under budget. I think that we deserve free booze at the end of a grocery shop, as a reward for not giving up entirely or ending up in a clock tower with a semi-automatic weapon.  Free booze would work better for grocery stores than loyalty cards any day.

For me, one of the things I rarely get right is the quantity or selection of fruit that fills the bowl in the kitchen. If I buy two bunches of bananas, six apples and a kilo of grapes one week, All the apples and two bananas might get eaten, leaving the rest to soften and moulder on the counter.
The next week, two bunches of bananas might be gone in three days, while the apples turn dull and mealy. Oranges might be a hit for three weeks, only to inexplicably fall out of favour the very minute I buy three kilos on sale.
It's enough to drive a girl crazy!

One thing that IS nice about having all this left over fruit is that I can usually cook with it in one way or another. Cakes, sauces, crumbles and even chutneys are often thrown together when I know that they're past their eating best, which I think is sometimes why the guys leave it there in the first place. I mean what teenager wouldn't rather eat a piece of apple or banana cake instead of the whole fruit?

This cake is a very subtly spiced caramel apple upside down cake, with apple in the batter too. The spices are really only enough to enhance the mellow brown sugar flavour, rather than strong enough to really taste them, although if you like very cinnamony or nutmeggy apple, feel free to go crazy!

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake
Serves 12, Takes 1 hour, 40 minutes +cooling

8 eating apples, like Gala or Braeburn (whichever is local or in season)
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 pinch salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
about 8 cardamom seeds (out of their pods) crushed in a pestle and mortar
2 tbsp butter, softened
1tsp finely grated orange peel (optional if you don't have a fruit bowl full of oranges..)

250g (8.8oz)unsalted butter, softened
250g golden caster sugar
250g self raising flour (or plain flour with 1tsp baking powder)
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Turn your oven on to 170C (340F) and butter and line the inside of a 22cm (9") square or round cake tin.
Peel, quarter and core 5 of the apples and slice into sorta half-moon shape slices.
Mix the softened butter, spices, orange peel and the pinch of salt together in a large, heat-proof bowl. Toss the apples into this mixture to coat well. I put my bowl into a wok with filled-halfway with boiling water to help melt the sugar, butter and spices well and coat the apples nicely. You don't have to worry about dissolving the sugar, that will happen in the oven.
Tip the apples and sugar mixture into the cake tin and press to make an even layer. If you want to be fancy, you could lay them out in a pretty pattern, but I was making this cake just before midnight, so there was no cussing way I was about to do that.

Peel the remaining 3 apples and grate the flesh off all the way down to the core, then put the grated apple in a colander and set aside for a few minutes while you:

Cream the 250g of butter and the caster sugar together for several minutes until pale and fluffy, then beat the eggs in one at a time, mixing each in well before adding the next.

Squeeze out as much of the excess liquid as you can from the grated apples, then add them to the butter/sugar/eggs mixture, stirring just enough to combine well.
This mixture will look rather curdled and unattractive, but fear not, it will be fine.
Sift in the flour and baking powder, stir well and then add the vanilla. Don't work the batter more than you need to, as you'll toughen the flour. Tip the batter in over the top of the apples and spread into an even layer, with a bit of a crater in the centre to compensate for rising.
Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before turning out (unless you want hot brown syrup running everywhere...)

I sprinkled the top with a little coarse cane sugar before I cut it but to be honest, it didn't add anything, so I'd leave it off next time.
Apple Cake on FoodistaApple Cake

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Bread. The Saga Continues...

I've spent the better part of the last year and a small fortune on flour trying to achieve a really good loaf of sourdough bread. I'd made starter after starter, following a few slightly different methods, finally to end up with Algernon, my starter who has been living in my fridge for about four months now. Like leading men and Iberico ham, Algernon is improving with age, giving me a slightly more complex flavour and more active rise every time I use him. So it seems that while yes, it can take a while (days) to make a really good loaf of sourdough, it is worth investing some serious time in your pet starter, as over time you'll be rewarded a better and better loaf.

Last week, I bought a bag of Malted Blend organic wheat flour produced by Bacheldre Mill, a 16th century traditional watermill in Wales. Being still fairly new to bread baking, I'd never used malted flour before. I even had to Google 'malted wheat' because I wasn't quite sure what it even was.
Apparently, they let the grain germinate, thus releasing some of the sugar from the kernel, giving the bread a sweeter, nuttier flavour. This blend is a mixture of malted wheat and rolled malted wheat flakes.
I made the bread the same way that I made my last loaf of white sourdough, but replaced all of the flour with the malted blend. I made it to serve with a pasta dish I was making for dinner (tasty but not worth posting) for my hubby, stepson and stepson's friend. (In case you had not noticed, ours is a carb-friendly house.)

My stepson has an almost pathological aversion to wholemeal bread and the crusts in particular. It's not bad enough that I pack it in his lunch every day, but now I'm serving it with dinner??! I had put a large plate of the still-warm bread on the table, from which he and his friend took the smallest pieces.
Three pieces and a return trip to the kitchen to get more later, I said to Christian "I thought you didn't like wholemeal or crusty bread!" to which he said, wide-eyed "I KNOW, but this is SO GOOD!" His friend nodded enthusiastically with his mouth full.

That was yesterday. There is no more bread left now. as it got polished off with breakfast and at lunch today but I'm going to make another loaf tomorrow. I also bought a bag of Bacheldre's wholemeal rye flour, so I'll report back and let you all know how that turns out.

Malted Wheat Sourdough Bread
For the sponge:
250g (8.8oz) organic malted blend wheat flour
300ml (10.14oz) warm water
100ml (3.38oz) sourdough starter -Here is one of a few good resources for starter recipes/methods.

For the finished loaf:
285g (10oz) more flour
10g (.4oz) fine sea salt
 tbsp cornmeal or polenta for dusting

At least 24 hours before serving, start the sponge. Mix together the warm water, starter and flour well until you have a wet, stretchy batter. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place overnight.

After 12 hours, you should have a bubbly, frothy mixture that smells all sour and beery. If only a little foamy, leave it for several hours more and see if it doesn't get the light, loose spongy appearance you're after. One thing I definitely learned is that you can't rush a sourdough and that at the beginning, a starter might need a little longer to work its magic.

Add the remaining flour and the salt to the dough (you can use the dough hook on your stand mixer for this part) and then knead well by hand for a good 8-10 minutes, until you have a very smooth, elastic dough that is a little on the wet side.
Spread a little olive oil all over the inside of a large bowl, form your dough into a ball and put in the bowl, covered with cling film in a warm place until at least doubled in size. This may take 4 or 5 hours, it may take ten, it just depends on your starter.

Punch the dough down and give it one final little knead, then shape it into whichever shape loaf you'd like and place on a board scattered with polenta or cornmeal to prevent sticking.

I cover my dough with the large clear plastic bowl from my salad spinner, but you could use a tea towel. Leave it to rise for a final time, probably around 2 hours, then turn your oven to 200C (400F) and put a baking sheet or (even better) a baking stone in to get nice and hot.
When the oven is hot, remove the baking sheet, (or stone) slash the top of the loaf quickly with a sharp knife and carefully slide your risen loaf onto the baking sheet.

Put a small bowl of water on the floor of the oven to help form a crust and set the timer for 40 minutes.

Check the loaf after 40 minutes by turning it over and tapping on the bottom. It should be dry and firm and there should be a hollow sound when you hit it.

After baking a few loaves of sourdough, as is true for many foods, you'll be able to smell when it's done. It's like a little nose alarm goes of like an oven timer and even if you're engrossed in a book (or 30 Rock...) your head will snap up and you'll just know. The first time I was aware of this phenomenon was when I was roasting chicken as a young thing.

Anyway, back to the bread. That's pretty much it. Take it out of the oven when it sounds right and you're happy with the colour. Try not to cut into it while it's really hot because you'll squish the inside into a doughy wad.

This was so good, I ate more bread in the past 24 hours than I usually do in a week. I then made pizza for supper, so I'm in a gluten stupor and I'm getting muscles in my upper arms from all the kneading. I'll look like Madonna with a potbelly in no time!

I wont pretend to be any kind of authority on the vagaries of sourdough, this is just the method I've been following recently. If you have helpful hints or critiques, please leave them in the comments section. xoxo

Malt Bread on FoodistaMalt Bread