Focaccia – my favourite bread

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This yummy bread has become my firm favourite for dunking in soups, a quick option alongside casseroles and great to mopping up gravy. This version is a classic rosemary and garlic version, but experiment with other flavours.

Ingredients

300g strong white bread flour
50g ’00’ flour (sometimes called ciabatta flour)*
9g fine ground seasalt
200ml lukewarm water
15g fresh yeast*
15ml rapeseed oil#
5ml/teaspoon of clear honey

For the Dressing

30ml rapeseed oil#
3 sprigs of rosemary
1 clove of garlic

 

* If you can’t get ’00’ flour just up the ordinary bread flour. I was taught to make bread with fresh yeast by a professional baker – never looked back since. Dried yeast packets maybe ok for a bread machine but you can’t beat fresh yeast for the pleasure of kneading bread by hand.

#Olive oil would give a more authentic Italian taste, but I prefer to stick with rapeseed which is my oil of choice for virtually everything.

  1. Sieve the flours and salt into a large bowl and stir.
  2. Dissolve the yeast into the lukewarm water.
  3. Form a well in in the centre of the flour, stir in a third of the yeast, add the oil, stir again. Add a little more yeast, stir, add the honey stir, add the last of the yeast. This layering of the wet ingredients helps for a even distribution through the dough.
  4. Fold the dough into itself in the bowl as it starts to form a sticky ball and absorbs all the dry flour.
  5. Once you have a simple and very sticky ball turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface. I use flour sparingly for this (barely one heaped dessertspoon of flour on the surface for the entire breadmaking) The recipe is for 350g of flour – if you use another 30-40g on the surface that will be worked in and your finished loaf will be too dry.
  6.  I form the dough into a loose sausage perhaps 8cm diameter and 20cm long -very roughly, fold the right end to the left. Turn the sausage 90 degrees and form a new sausage 8x20cm. Fold it again. Repeat three or four times. you can be quite rough with the dough at this stage. As you do this you will see the dough getting stretched. this is the strings of gluten forming – these are essential later on to trap the gas from the yeast for the perfect bread texture.
  7. By this time the oil and honey should be less noticeable in the dough.
  8. The dough sausage will be sticking to the surface a lot and leaving bits behind. Fear not, with the dough sausage to one side you can use a palette knife or dough scraper to lift the sticky portion off the surface. All of these bits can just be absorbed back into the dough, just roll your dough over the bits.*
  9. Now comes the proper kneading. Lightly flour the surface and light flour your hands. The aim is produce a smooth even dough – that coarse stringy  appearance will disappear into something much more even and finer textured.*
  10. Trying to write down the process of kneading is really hard, fortunately here is a handy video (not me!) to demonstrate.
  11. After 10-12 minutes kneading form the dough into a ball. Lightly grease a large clean bowl and place the dough in the middle. Cover the bowl tightly with cling film (saran wrap for my American readers). Place in a warm place (not hot and out of direct sunlight) for 30-40 minutes until the dough has doubled in size. You may grease the inside of the cling film if you think the risen dough might touch it, generally with this amount of dough I do not have that problem  – if the film is air tight it will balloon up as the yeast in the dough releases CO2.
  12. Gently ease the risen dough out of the bowl onto your lightly floured surface and knock it back. This is a very light kneading, only 4-5 repetitions just to take most of the air out of the dough.  I aim to finish with a fat short sausage shape.
  13. Divide the dough into two equal portions and flatten to a disc – you are aiming for something like a 8″ pizza base. Flatten each disc into a 8″ flan dish, greased, alternatively I line mine with baking parchment.
  14. You now need to prove the loaf, this is a second rising but this time in a warm and steamy environment. In the absence of a specialist proIMG_0855ving oven my baker taught me to use a (scrupulously) clean sink, a shallow bowl of boiling water in the base, risers (coffee mugs in my case) to support a baking tray with the dough on, an upturned tea tray on more risers with clean tea towels around the edges forms the lid. It sounds very “Heath Robinson” but it works. I have seen descriptions of using a barely switched on oven but yet to try it myself, a combination oven should be able to do it with ease.
  15. Leave it to prove for 20-30 minutes, meanwhile turn on the oven to preheat at 220c (fan oven) and prepare the dressing.
  16. For the dressing, simply strip the leaves from three sprigs of rosemary, crush the garlic and mix both into the oil. I make this bread a lot and make up enough dressing for 8-12 loaves in one go and store in a jar in the fridge to let the flavours permeate through the oil.
  17. Take the loaves from the proving oven and create dimples in the surface. Either use your fingers or the  “wrong end” of a wooden spoon. I favour the spoon and stab down to the base. Once dimpled, spread the dressing over the top. The more and the deeper the dimples the more the dressing will soak into the bread for that perfect focaccia.
  18. Place the dressed loaves in the oven and bake for 16-18 minutes until golden brown.
  19. Turn out  onto wire trays to cool.
  20. Serve as a dipping bread with soups, salads and casseroles.

Bamboozled . . .

I’ve been buying pesto in a jar for a few years, found a version I liked, and stuck with it as a staple in my food cupboard. But the other day I made the mistake of checking the ingredients…

I mean what could be simpler – basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan and olive oil. Perhaps a little vinegar or lemon juice to preserve it. So you can imagine my surprise to discover my favourite includes bamboo!

I may not be a trained chef, I may not even be a food scientist – but I am most definitely not a panda! The bamboo is not there out of tradition, or even for my health. Mostly it is there for bulk, for texture.

So another staple item I need to start making for myself.

Apple Bircher for breakfast

The UK has seen an increase in the sale of Bircher as a takeaway breakfast sold in the coffee shops. The original and “authentic” Bircher recipe called for the oats to be soaked overnight, grated apple for sweetened condensed milk. during the working week evenings are too busy and too precious to be prepping breakfast so I developed this alternative version of Bircher by trial and error. I can prep it in two minutes in the morning and it still contributes one of my five a day. Unexpectedly my version is also lactose free. Near raw oats are very filling and find I don’t need a big bowl to keep me going all morning. One of the fun things with Bircher is you can vary the mix until you find your perfect blend of flavours and textures.

Apple Bircher breakfast

Ingredients (for a small bowl)

3 tablespoons of dry porridge oats
3 tablespoons of good apple juice (pressed juice, cloudy and sweet, not the brown stuff from concentrate)
1 dollop of crunchy apple sauce (a generously heaped spoonful – more or less to taste)
Chopped fresh fruit  to taste – I use a tablespoon of my mincemeat most days

Method

1.Put the oats in your breakfast bowl, add the apple juice and apple sauce, stir.
2. Add the fruit or mincemeat, stir.
3. Serve. It barely takes a minute to prep and can be eaten straight away for a crunchy taste, or leave it in fridge for 40 minutes so the oats can soak up the apple juice if you prefer.

 

Christmas diary

Season’s greetings
A busy day for cooks as we all want to put something special on the table. For many this is the one day of the year when we have to cater for large numbers of people, and get everything to the table piping hot and looking just right. So at 4.54am a heartfelt hug to everyone of you for the trials and tribulations of today.

On my lunch menu today:

Mushroom and watercress pate,
Crackers

Honeyed mustard lamb shanks,
Rosemary roasted roots
Steamed savoy cabbage
Fortified redcurrant jus

Brandy mincemeat lattice tart,
Clotted cream

Merry Christmas

Mincemeat

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I offered up my recipe for mince pies a few weeks ago, these rich treats are highly portable, full of goodness and sadly neglected outside December. I mentioned at the time I was refining my recipe for homemade mincemeat and I think I now have something worth sharing. For those of you clinging to tradition it will be too late for 2017, this recipe is not for the impatient since it takes four weeks!

Ingredients (makes 9-12 jars)

1000g sultanas*
1000g currants*
1000g raisins*
750ml cooking brandy (save the good stuff for drinking)
100ml port or whisky or rum (I don’t drink whisky or rum so not tried this directly, but it should work fine)
Two jars of my crunchy apple sauce (if using shop brought you will reduce the amount, this is due to the latter being thinner and runnier)
Two jars of good quality black cherry jam (go for the highest percentage fruit content you can find, I use 55%)
200g shredded vegetable suet (meat suet is fine if you prefer)

*If you have a strong preference or dislike for one of the three vine fruits feel free to increase or decrease the proportion accordingly.

Method

1. Mix the vine fruit together in two large bowls, I find this easier to manage the stirring and steeping than using just one bowl. Alternatively halve all the ingredients and make less.

2. Add the port (or whisky/rum) and a third of the brandy. Stir well to coat the fruits and cover. Store somewhere cool, dust free and out of direct sunlight.

3. Stir the mix every 24-36 hours, you don’t have to be precise, just move the fruit at the bottom where the brandy collects to the top and vice versa.

4. One week later.

5. Add another third of brandy, stir in well, cover and store. Continue the mixing every day or so.

6. One week later.

7. Add the remaining brandy, stir in well, cover and store. Continue the mixing every day or so.

8. One week later.

9. In a large soup or jam pan melt the jam and apple sauce over a low heat, until the jam has melted. Add the vine fruit in batches, stirring as you go to coat the fruit in the sauce. Gently increase the heat to medium and steam starts to rise.

10. Add the vegetable suet, stirring in to get an even distribution. The suet will start to melt coating the various fruits. This is good but you want to keep some of the suet pellets intact for that traditional look.

11. If you are happy with the mixing and that it is thoroughly heated you can bottle it into your sterilised jars. Better to be heated longer (but not hotter) to make sure.

12. Leave at least one week before using to allow the mincemeat to mature.

Once cooled the sealed jars can be kept in a cool dark cupboard unopened for months. Use within a week once opened.

… and finally

A few days turned into a few weeks, but finally I did get my new kitchen.

All shiny and new, already it has transformed into the heart of the home. I am enjoying cooking – rehearsing familiar recipes with a new oven and hob, working out how to get the best of the space and experimenting with new recipes.

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I even managed to have my first major spillage. Just bottling a batch of my apple sauce I thought the lid was screwed tight, but sadly it wasn’t. A full jar all over the new work surface and up the walls. <Sigh> But on the bright side, I have truly christened the new space and can get on with enjoying it, making a mess in it and not feel guilty.

Unexpectedly good cake (again)

When I formulated the ideas behind this blog I had not expected to include reviews of restaurants or café-bistros. But I ended up at a venue today that produced a magnificent Victoria sponge – light fluffy sponge, yet firm enough to cut with a fork, fresh cream and a tasty jam layer. So I decided to give it a mention.

I was here, I went to look over some furniture options for my new kitchen/dining room/conservatory and the café is attached. It is bright and airy place, the menu is very “run of the mill café” but the cake was superb. If the rest of their food is to the same high standard then it is a handy little find.

For reference it is in Ossett – not far from J40 of the M1 at Wakefield and Dewsbury so certainly an option if you are looking for an alternative to the Service Station.

I am not planning on making reviews a big thing – but this Victoria sponge was a worthy exception.

I was back here ordering my new sofa this week and stopped to review my options over tea and cake – the chocolate cake was every bit as tasty as the Victoria sponge and so deliciously moist. Never mind the furniture – just go for the food!

 

Refreshing lemonade

lemonade

A great pick me up for hot and sticky summer days, but also a zingy freshener for palates jaded by rich winter food.  There are lots of variations on lemonade, but this is mine for still lemonade.

Ingredients – the critical part of the formula is the ratio of sugar to lemon juice, which we never quite know until the lemons have been squeezed.

The juice from 10-12 lemons. (Typically I end up with 400-500 ml)
Golden caster sugar – 25g per 100ml of lemon juice. (Note: you can use white caster sugar or ordinary granulated, I prefer the slightly nutty taste of the golden caster sugar.)
400-500ml of boiling water
800-1000ml cold water.

Method

  1. Juice the lemons, I prefer a hand held lemon reamer which gets more juice and flesh out. Sieved into a large bowl I can strain out the pips while pushing much of the flesh through for a “with bits” cloudy lemonade. For a smoother finish sieve the flesh out.
  2. Measure the amount of lemon juice you have.
  3. Separately combine the sugar and an equal amount of boiling water and stir to dissolve all the sugar to a thin golden-brown syrup. If you have 400 ml of lemon juice you will need 100g of sugar and 400ml of boiling water. 500ml = 125g sugar, 550ml juice = 137g sugar, etc.
  4. Add 500 ml cold water to the syrup and then combine the syrup and the lemon juice. Top up with extra cold water so the final ratio is 1 part lemon, 1 part syrup, 2 parts cold water.
  5. Decant into a bottle or jug. Chill for at least 12 hours, 24 hours is better.
  6. Taste before serving, if necessary you can add a little more syrup mix to sweeten it.

 

Which came first

As if the threat of chlorinated chicken from mega agri-factories in the US was not enough the UK has managed its own chicken meat scandal. Again the drive to cheap “pile it high, sell it cheap” supermarkets is driving the hygiene and ethical standards of food processors down.  First the turkeys, then the horsemeat scandal and now chickens.

Sadly the days of a High Street family butcher sourcing meat from local farms are long gone. And not everyone can afford the time and money, but making the choice to shop ethically – and not just for your meat can never be a bad thing.

The big supermarkets are obsessed with market share  – when we vote with our feet they notice.