22 January, 2016

Weeks 2 and 3

Week two's book was Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. And overall it went really well. The one slight glitch was that my butcher didn't have the cut of meat I wanted on the day I wanted it. So I had to rejig the planning mid-week and then Tom decided to pop to London for a night, so one night we just had an easy pasta.

Monday: Braised eggs with lamb, tahini and sumac
Tom and I thought this was delicious - girls were a little less enthusiastic. But you know, whatever, that's tough! Broadening their food horizons...

Tuesday: Latkes with a carrot and beetroot salad and sour cream
I don't remember enjoying cooking this but the day was a bit frazzled and so was I. Tasted good and all vanished very fast.

Wednesday: Herb pie
This is a filo pastry pie with ricotta and other cheeses plus loads of herbs and greens. To be honest, I just do what I usually do so I'd say my version was inspired by Jerusalem rather than the recipe being slavishly adhered to.

Thursday: Leftover pie

Friday: Easy pasta - mozzarella, pesto and cherry tomatoes

Saturday: Slow cooked veal with prunes and leek
Oh my lord. This was amazing. I think I may have let the sauce get too thick early on though I rescued it with stock and it wasn't burnt. I didn't use veal. I used beef shin and three thick slices with bone and marrow weighing over 1kg came to around a fiver. And it made this fabulous meal.

Sunday: Leftovers

Funny thing about this book - it looks a tad scary. Long wordy recipes. Long lists of ingredients. But actually everything was really easy to do and tasted so good. Especially the beef.

Which brings us to Week three.

Slightly tricky week. The boiler stopped working and there was a cold snap. Thick frost outside. Really cold inside - I live in a barn so big spaces which are hard to heat at the best of time and the insulation could be better. The boiler started again on Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile I chose the Ballymaloe Cookery Course Book which is one of my go-to references but actually kind of failed to inspire. It is wonderful at telling you the definitive way to do things and it does have a plethora of recipes. I just couldn't work out what to cook that would get me excited to be in my kitchen. We have eaten - just not from the book. So next week - another book. And tonight an egg curry with dhal with cabbage and rice.

10 January, 2016

"You eat well here" Project for the year

"You eat well here" is something my brother-in-law has been known to say when visiting. Which is good.

But while pulling out all the culinary stops is easy to do when people come to stay and you clear your diary for them, day to day it is very easy to get into a rut. And all the time my many many cookbooks are sitting there - some almost untouched, some with a few well worn pages but generally unused.

So I got to thinking and came up with an idea. This year I will plan the week's meals in advance on Sunday evening, and to make better use of my embarrassingly unused cookbook library, I will cook from one book each week. Planning will make sure I use up my veg box, and I can head to the shops on Monday morning to make sure I have everything I need ready for the week ahead.

So far it's all going swimmingly well. It is of course just at the end of week one so we shall see but already I've noticed a couple of things. We are eating more interestingly and I'm getting much less stressed about it even though I'm cooking better and more varied food. I think it's because once I've done the planning on Sunday and shopping on Monday I hand over to whichever author is in charge and just follow instructions. No 6pm "what is in the fridge?" moments. Plus it's way more fun because I like to cook and try new things.

Last week I started with Diana Henry and her book Food from Plenty. I picked up a slightly damaged copy for pennies in a book sale at a local library, and this is the first time I've tried any of the recipes. Here's our menu for the week:

Monday: Moroccan fish cakes with cucumber salad, hot sauce and roast potatoes
Tuesday: Nicoise vegetable stew with rouille and fresh bread
Wednesday: Roast chicken, French peas with lettuce and mashed swede and parsnips.
Thursday: Leftover cold chicken with spring couscous.
Friday: Roast squash and red pepper (instead of spinach) lasagne.
Saturday (Tom cooked): Vegetable korma and rice.
Sunday: Leftover lasagne.

I'm hoping to add a post a week, mostly as motivation to myself.

21 March, 2015

Sourdough everyday

It's been over a year since I posted on this blog. A year of sourdough baking. My leaven is still alive and bubbling and producing lovely loaves. I have gone from novice obsessive through frustration to baking, every couple of days, loaves which are quite beautiful and tasty. I'm not quite sure where I went from the obsessive to the relaxed taking it all for granted stage, and every now and again I think I ought to go back and check I'm "doing it right" and then I remind myself there isn't really a right way. There's just good or bad bread and that's the test.

The first step on the journey - starting the leaven - was handled by Dan Lepard and The Handmade Loaf. The next step - understanding the process of making sourdough and baking a beautiful loaf was in the hands of Chad Robertson and Tartine Bread. I bought the book last spring and read the first section on making a good loaf - 27 pages for one recipe! I read it and read it and read it (this was the novice obsessive phase obviously). And started following it to the letter. And bought extra equipment. And slowly adapted the technique to work for me. Some things have stuck - float that starter to see if it's lively enough - and others have somewhat disappeared - folding every half an hour for how ever many hours sometimes just doesn't happen. I'm not sure I could say when I changed things. And no day of baking is exactly the same - schedules, temperatures, flour mixes, all change.

My beloved Dutch Oven by Lodge
One thing I do consistently is use a Dutch Oven to bake my loaves. The one I have has a shallow lid/skillet which is easy to flip loaves onto, and then the deep casserole goes on top. If you've never tried baking a loaf in a casserole you won't believe the difference. For half the baking time the loaf is sealed in, in a moist atmosphere, allowing the loaf to spring beautifully upward before the crust sets. And then half way through the lid comes off and you end with a crunchy shiny crust on the outside.

I may blog more about other changes and techniques another day. But here is a loaf I baked today.

Cherry and fennel bread - makes two loaves
(based on a recipe from The Handmade Loaf but using proportions and techniques from Tartine Bread.)

200g leaven
700g warm water

mixed together and to which I added

200g unsweetened dried cherries

300g swiss dark flour from Shipton Mill
700g organic strong white flour also from Shipton Mill
1tbsp fennel seeds
20g salt

Below is a picture of the dough just mixed together.

And this is the dough after half an hour, and then stretched and folded and popped into its box. I started using a box because it keeps in the moisture better, and I can see what is going on easily. It's not glamourous but it works.

After several stretch and folds, and a good few hours of abandonment it looked like this.

Shaped into a boule. It's amazing how doing this every couple of days has improved my technique. Well not really, but I am still amazed.

And the final baked loaf!

14 January, 2014

Experiments in bread

My leaven is alive and well. I used it for the first time on day 5 of the process of stimulating fermentation and at that stage I also used dried yeast. A week of so later and I'm baking using only the leaven. The first loaf for this is pictured below. Lovely, isn't it?

Unfortunately once I cut into it I discovered a hole large enough for potholing. The flavour and texture were good but it wasn't very good for sandwiches...

The latest attempt is below and I think may still suffer from the cave effect though not quite as badly. I've googled the problem and come up with all sorts of explanations - poor loaf shaping, over proofed bread, uneven yeast distribution, baking on a hot tray. Nothing definitive of course and there seem to be as many people asking how to get bigger holes in their bread (though perhaps not Wookey Hole sized holes) as there are looking into how to get a more even texture.

I shall try different things and see what happens. One thing I am trying is leaving the bread to rise over night. Last night I left the dough out to rise in our cold kitchen and shaped and baked this morning. Today I'm leaving the dough to rise first time around in the afternoon and then I shall shape and put in the fridge over night to bake tomorrow morning. It's partly an experiment to work out what works for the bread and partly to work out what works for my timetable.

So far what I have noticed is that the texture of the dough is much more silky when using the leaven. Also the oven spring is good (i.e. the amount the bread rises during baking) but the texture is a little uneven. Oh and the bread doesn't taste particularly "sour" which I think may be because I am refreshing/feeding my leaven daily. Meanwhile my leaven is bubbling away nicely and being fed daily on flour and water.