An experiment in bread making

Since my days as a student I have dabbled in bread making, mostly unsuccessfully. I keep trying and hopefully a visit to a cookery school planned for next year will help. In the meantime I whip up a few savoury scones* and quick soda breads to salve my conscience and reduce the amount of shop brought bread. Below is my recipe for an Italian flavoured soda bread. This bread is good for dunking in soups and stews, but is not a loaf for sandwiches or toast. *My North American reader will recognise savoury scones as a version of biscuit.

Ingredients

300g plain flour

15g golden caster sugar

13g baking powder (or 1.5 teaspoons)

6g baking soda (or 0.5 teaspoons)

1 medium egg (beaten)

284ml (1 carton) buttermilk

70ml rapeseed oil (other vegetable oils are available)

50g Parmesan (grated) plus a little extra for a garnish

25g pesto (or one dessert spoon)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 175c (fan oven), and lightly grease a small loaf tin.

2. In a large bowl sieve together the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Stir in the Parmesan, retaining a little to garnish the finished loaf.

3. In a separate bowl mix together the egg, oil, pesto and finally the buttermilk.

4. Gently stir the wet ingredients into the dry. Work quickly, but softly with a spatula to mix until all the flour is incorporated.

5. Soft but quick hands are essential to avoid flattening the mix which will start to rise as soon as the wet ingredients mix with the baking soda.

6. The dough will form small shaggy peaks and be quite wet in appearance and texture.

7. Scrape the dough into the prepared loaf tin and gently press it into the corners so it will form a uniform shape. Garnish the top with the extra parmesan.

8. Into the oven for 45 minutes. Test that it is cooked by probing the middle of the loaf with a skewer, when cooked the skewer will come out clean. The top should be gently domed and a dark golden brown colour

9. Out of the oven, leave to cool for two minutes in the tin, then turn out to a wire tray to cool. The bottom f the loaf will sound hollow if gently tapped.

… 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.

new_kitchen

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.

Crunchy apple sauce

apple_sauce
When you first make your own apple sauce you start thinking it will never soften, then you turn your back for a moment and the whole pan has turned to mush. But with this home made apple sauce the crisp chunks of apple are just the size you want them, and it is as runny or as thick as you want. 

Ingredients (makes 6-12 jars)
2.5Kg  fresh Bramley or Granny Smith apples
1 litre of cloudy apple juice (cloudy juice made from fresh apples not the brown stuff from concentrate)
300g dried apple rings/slices
Zest from one lemon
Juice from three lemons

Method

  1. Chop the dried apple into chunks according to your preferred choice, at this stage you will need them smaller than planned for your finished product. Set aside in a bowl with a little of the apple juice.
  2. Combine the lemon juice and zest in a shallow bowl.
  3. Peel, core and chop the apples into chunks. Turn the chunks over in the lemon juice as you go and transfer to a large saucepan.
  4. Turning the apple in lemon stops it going brown before you cook. Work through all the fresh apples.
  5. Add the apple juice to the saucepan over moderate heat. You can add the lemon juice as well if you wish.
  6. Prepare your sterile jars.
  7. Stir the apples occasionally and wait for the fresh apple to soften. Don’t panic if they go over soft.
  8. Puree the fresh apple/juice mix in the saucepan with a hand blender.
  9. Add the chopped dried apple, stir through, remove from the heat and bottle the sauce.
  10. The dried apple chunks will absorb some of the fluid, they will swell up, but remain crisp and distinct.

That simple.

 

Why commonplace? – #3

If you read my earlier post you will already know about commonplace books. Since I started writing this blog I have also been writing down my recipes in a notebook. What has struck me about that simple act is how it has already started to improve my cooking. The combination of a notebook and publishing my thoughts and recipes is making me think more clearly, capture more details and plan ahead.

I don’t “cook” every day, the day job makes the idea of doing much more than re-heating something out of  the freezer of an evening a challenge. But now when I purposefully spend time in the kitchen creating food I write it down.

Even recipes that I make regularly now get written down each time. Being able to look back to previous times with the same recipe allows me to experiment with minor tweaks to the flavour, use a different ingredient, and to correct mistakes.

It also adds a little element of diary to my blog. So I know that in the last week of August 2017 I am eating Cheese and chives scones, and mince pies. I know that because I baked scones on 26th and mince pies on 27th.

My commonplace book is also driving forward my planning for new recipes. I can write down ideas and random thoughts as they occur and revisit them later. I decided that this Christmas I will be making homemade mincemeat. A simple enough recipe but it is 30 years since I last made my own. It takes weeks for a good batch to mature and I need to taste samples,  so here we in mid-summer and already I am on my second batch of mincemeat for the year.

There but for the grace of God, go I

Every time I go to the supermarket (once or twice a week depending on when and what I am cooking) I always make a list – saves time and money.  Ironically there is always a couple of items that I buy that are not on the list, and they are the items I set aside to go to the foodbank

I never know what it will be partly because it is driven by items I would I buy for myself which are on special offer. And partly by wanting to add a little spontaneity to the contents of the foodbank. but I have still have a few guidelines as to what to include. There are of course the foodbanks own guide, it varies but typically

  • Cereal
  • Soup
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Pasta sauce
  • Beans
  • Tinned meat
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Tea/coffee
  • Tinned fruit
  • Biscuits

I have a few extra “rules” that I apply on my own behalf. And this harks back to my headline – There but for the grace of God, go I*

So I say to myself:

  • I buy at the same level of quality that I buy for myself. I rarely buy the “value” or cheapest own brand variants which typically include more water, sugar or cheap ingredients. If I don’t like them why should others have to suffer them?
  • I donate packages that can easily be broken down for smaller family units. Bulk buying a giant tin of baked beans is economical, but it cannot easily be broken down to meet the needs of smaller family units. As a single person I am acutely aware that hunger is not confined to large family units.
  • Mix and match, I tend to do savoury one week and sweet the next. It is difficult to  know the actual stock the foodbank has today, and what it is running low on. So this is a modest way of balancing my contribution.
  • I include a few things that add flavours to the staples. Looking at what else goes into the collection basket I am struck at how boring pasta and tomato sauce must get week after week. So even simple flavours will make a difference – beef/chicken stock cubes, tinned fish, curry powder, brown sauce.
  • I include basic toiletries and sanitary products in my contribution as more and more foodbanks are now also tackling period poverty.

I am aware how lucky I am to be able to tour the supermarket, mostly buy what I fancy and rarely tot-up the contents of my trolley to see if I have enough money. It was not always like that, there were times when I had to scrutinise every penny. As I put my contribution into the basket I always remember – it may be me one day

*There but for the grace of God, go I – is attributed to John Bradford, a devout English Protestant Reformer, burned at the stake for his faith in 1555 by Queen Mary, after she had restored Catholicism as the official church in England.

 

Ethical confusion

Complicated, confusing

In a daring move Sainsbury’s have broken ranks away from the Fairtrade standard. This is a great shame on them as they opt for their own “fairly traded” standard whatever that means.

And “whatever that means” is at the core of the problem. Sainsbury’s claim that their new “own brand” standard is just as ethical as ever.

Firstly, if it is just as good as the independent Fairtrade then why go to the expense of changing?

Secondly, unless you happen to have a PhD in community development and a MSc in environmental science then comparing differing standards becomes a nightmarish task. Fairtrade provides a robust and independent benchmark against which I, and you, can judge the competing claims of Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi and PG tips, etc.

It seems unlikely that Sainsbury’s has taken this step to capture more of the fair-trade/ethical market so for the cynical layman it is difficult to escape the conclusion that is about saving money – probably at the expense of the tea growers the standards are designed to help.

Simple, uncomplicated

Meanwhile the Cooperative has taken steps to ensure that all its own brand meat products are sourced from British farms. Not just raw meat, but their pork pies, ready meals, sandwich meats, bacon. All meat, period.

Good for British consumers who are increasing looking for “farm to fork” robust monitoring. Good for British farmers who already compete against £6bn meat imports. Good for the animals who benefit from British welfare standards, and don’t get me started on the threat from chlorinated chicken.

Simple, not confusing.

 

 

Why a commonplace cook?

I make no claims to being a professional chef, or even a gifted amateur cook. Nor am I a gourmand seeking out the finest food, craving organic, free range, seasonal and local delicacies. But I do enjoy cooking, I find cooking from scratch to be relaxing and rewarding. I am largely self-taught apart from the modest range of techniques my mother taught me.

Why commonplace? – #1

Sadly only in my dreams do I spend my days in a state of the art kitchen, experimenting or whipping up de luxe dinner parties for eight. Actually like most I go out the house every morning to earn an honest crust. Nor do I earn that living as chef, cook, food critic, farmer, butcher or grocer or any of the other many ways that might impede the impartiality of this blog.

My link to food is my simple pleasure in cooking. For preference whenever possible I start from scratch. So while I have not yet graduated to homemade pesto or sieving tomatoes to make a passata I do strive to make as much as possible for myself. Does it taste better, if I am honest – not always! But the practising and experimentation is part of the pleasure, cooking is hard work but also a calming relaxing pleasure.

Why commonplace? – #2

Commonplace books were a thing across Europe for 300-400 years from the early 1400s. In an age before google people had to learn facts, and do their best to try and remember things.  Even with Gutenberg’s printing press (1450) printed encyclopaedia were rare and expensive. To help that learning they wrote lots of things down.

The commonplace (book) is pretty much just that, somewhere you would write down bits of knowledge you wanted to remember, weights and measures, recipes, flavours, medicinal herbs, foodie poems. Whatever you want to remember, learn or record. Those with even modest artistic talents would add drawings, sketches and link it all up. Take a look at the sketch/notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.

Now we blend WordPress, Pinterest, Facebook, Flickr and a host of other self-publishing opportunities into a modern day commonplace. These are mine.

If this is the answer, it must be a stupid question..

If  washing raw meat in disinfectant is the answer then surely they are asking the wrong question. Frankly if I am to eat that meat then I don’t want dirty meat rinsed clean.

I want meat from animals reared on farms with high welfare standards, endorsed by farmers themselves and inspected by independent bodies. And abattoirs with hygiene inspectors accountable in law and funded by the government.

Fortunately here in the UK I have access to meat that is raised and prepared to highest standards.

Chlorinated chicken from the United States has to be the wrong solution. Surely eliminating their mega-sized agri-factories and rigorous application of welfare and hygiene standards is better. Better for the animal, better for the business reputation and better for the consumer.