Friday, March 21, 2008

bad cooking day


Both girls are asleep. Bliss. There is no Cbleedin-beebies on the TV only I have just realised I have been happily singing a long to the irritating Cbeebies programmes on Radio 7. Arhhhh. It worries me that when I turn on the TV, the channel I instantly punch into the hand controls is 617 (yes, you've guessed it, CBeebies). And now here I am indulging in some guilt free Internet activity whilst singing along Balamory. Time for some music...

I'm having a bad cooking day today. The chocolate crispies I made with Evie earlier went all grainy and I've just melted 200g of quality chocolate, heated a good glug of double cream with cardamom and orange peel to infuse, with the intention of making truffles for Easter gifts. Only the bloody stuff has 'seized' (also gone grainy) and there is no way of recovering it. I'm always so careful never to get any moisture in chocolate but I guess that is what has happened. Damn and blast it.

So not to waste my thick and disastrous truffle mix, I thought I'd try and fudge it into some kind of brownie concoction. I added eggs, caster sugar and ground almonds and some more melted butter and poured it into a shallow cake tin. It's now baked and looks alright, if a little oily (I don't think I combined the mixture very well, my enthusiasm for the chocolate gloop was fading fast).

Taste verdict - Matilda has scoffed a huge piece and is now bouncing of the walls and Stu likes the cardamom. All has not been wasted.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

battered potato balls


This recipe has not been inspired by Delia and her belief that frozen mashed potato is the way forward. I can't think of anything worse, oh yes I can, tinned mince. Yuck. I think Delia is great, but is the need for a couple of new strikers at NCFC really require her to cook such odd, supposesidly labour saving food?

When I watch Delia's new show, I can't help thinking that Hugh Fernley Whitingstall (my foodie crush) must be a little perturbed by Delia new fascination with tinned meat - is the tined meat from high welfare sources .....?

Anyway, steering clear of both tinned meats and frozen mash, this week I cooked a dish from the West of India involving deep fried potatoes in gram flour batter. Turmeric bright yellow crushed potatoes, with chillies, spices and fresh Methi (fenugreek leaves) dipped into thick chickpea batter. Delicious.

I've been trying to recreate some of the dishes I used to eat in Asian cafes in Birmingham where I studied Textiles in the Nineties.  The cafe I use to go to, usually on a Sunday, was no frills establishment with a TV mounted in the corner usually showing West Bromwich Albian football matches. The array of small vegetarian bites, both sweet and savoury were really delicious, along with the different chutneys to accompany the savoury eats, made the meal even more interesting.

I wish I could remember the region where the cuisine came from, I think it could be west India and possibly from the state of Gujarat but I'm only gleaning this information from the cookery book I found the recipe in. The book that has inspired me to cook Indian food this week, is India with Passion - Modern Regional Home Food by Manju Malhi.

Batata Vadas or Battered Potato Balls (slightly adapted from above mentioned book)

  • 600g potatoes, peeled, boiled and slightly crushed

  • 1 tsp brown mustard seeds

  • 1 tsp coriander seeds

  • 1 tsp turmeric

  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • 1/2 tsp sugar

  • good pinch of salt

  • red or green chilli, finely chopped

  • small handful of chopped coriander leaf

  • small handful of chopped fenugreek leaf

  1. Heat some oil in large frying pan, big enough to hold the potatoes.

  2. Add seeds, ground spices, salt and sugar.

  3. Add the potatoes, gently crushing as you heat and turn them in the spices, cook for 5 minutes.

  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool before adding the chopped fresh herbs.

For the batter

  • 150g gram (chickpea) flour

  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • good pinch of salt

  • 1/4 tsp baking powder

  • Oil for frying

  1. Sieve the flour with other dry ingredients into a bowl.

  2. Add 1tsp oil and about 140ml water, more may be needed to get the batter the consistency of runny honey.

  3. To make the balls, dampen your hands and roll walnut size lumps of potato into balls.

  4. Drop the balls into the batter and lift out with a fork and drop into the hot oil.

  5. Fry for 4 minutes and then drain on kitchen paper.


Methi or Fenugreek leaves

Monday, March 17, 2008



Two weeks ago, I came home from work to find the oven that we bought over a year ago no longer in our bedroom but finally in it's place in the kitchen. I have a 70cm wide oven and a ceramic hob with touch sensitive controls. I love it and the difference the oven has made to my bread is quite excellent.  It rises so much more and cooks without it colouring unevenly. I can also watch it bake through the clean glass window instead of using my nose to guess when things are ready. I also love the fact the thermostat doesn't lie - which is quite odd and I can open the door with a handle instead of my fingers wedged in between the door and the oven. Basically I love it. The first thing I baked was a sourdough loaf....

It's amazing what you can achieve from fermenting potatoes, water and flour, time and patience. As I have mentioned  previously, I'm quite into making sourdough and am loving it and am ever so slightly obsessed with making it. Not one sourdough loaf seems to be the same, yet each loaf seems to taste pretty good. The flavour and texture I'm achieving is great but I can't get that proper looking loaf, you know the loaf that sits in deli windows, covered in flour with artful slashes across the top? But I will keep trying until I do.

I think to achieve that rustic look, you may need proper 'Bakers' equipment which I'm not using. Bakers use proving baskets, floured linen, bakers peel, baking stone and a spray bottle with water to get some humidity in to the oven. Stretching the skin/membrane of the dough as you shape it is also very important to achieve that rustic look. I often manage to tear the bubbly delicate skin as I’m forming the shape of the loaf, which then reveals the layers and structure of the dough underneath. I quite like this look once baked, I think it adds to its charm.

This recipe is for Angie. Good luck and get obsessed!

Feeding the starter prior to using it:

If you have 200g starter – and if it’s from me, it’s the’ mother starter’, it is more liquid than
a starter taken from a pre-salted kneaded batch.

Keep starter in a large glass jar, Kilner jars are ideal.
Take starter out of fridge and bring to room temperature. I usually give it 4-6 hours but it depends on your room temperature.

100g organic strong white flour  (sometimes I add 50g rye/50g white)
100g lukewarm filtered or bottled water. Use hot water from boiled kettle.
Mix with a wooden spoon.

Leave for another 6 hours.

Repeat above feed. Leave for another 6 hours.

Example Times:

Remove from fridge midday
First feed 4pm
Second feed 10pm.

  • Start mixing the dough in the morning.

  • The starter should be bubbly, thick and smell yeasty, fresh and slightly of apples.

  • Take 250g starter and mix with 750g organic strong white flour. And 450 – 500ml of lukewarm water. The amount of liquid will depend on the flour using and also the consistency of the starter.

  • Knead until you have combined flour and dough, it should take no more than 5 minutes. I use the bread machine on the dough setting and stop it once it has all combined and has a rough surface. Push your finger into the dough, it should be soft and springy and a little sticky.

  • 5_mins_knead_2

    Rest for 20 minutes for the gluten to develop.

  • Meanwhile, warm a large bowl in the oven on a very low temperature.

  • After the rest, the dough will have developed a stringing elasticity.

  • After_first_20_minute_rest_2

  • Turn on bread machine if using, and use the dough setting and add:

1tbsp olive oil
15g Maldon sea salt.

  • Knead for 15 minutes.

  • Tip dough into warmed oiled bowl. Cover with oiled cling-film and leave to prove for 3 hours in a warm, draft free place.

  • Once the dough has risen, very gently knock back the dough as you tip into on to a floured work surface.

  • Without kneading, divide the dough into 2 or 3 pieces. It will be soft, warm, pliable dough and a little sticky.

  • Then gently tuck the dough under, to form a round shape.

  • Repeat this process for each piece of dough then sprinkle the dough with flour and smooth over.

  • Make sure you leave space between each piece.

  • Cover with a floured cloth and leave on the surface to rest for 20 minutes.

  • After_secong_20_min_rest_on_worksur

  • Taking each piece of dough, again gently form a ball shape by tucking the skin under the loaf, this is the point when it often tears.

  • Sprinkle again with flour.

  • Place ball on to silicone matt or baking parchment and cover with plastic to stop a skin forming.

  • Leave for final proofing for about 2-3 hours. Use indentation test*** to check if it's ready for baking (see below)

  • At some point towards the end of the proving time, preheat oven to 220 Âșc placing the baking stone and tray in the oven too

  • Spray oven with water and very gently place bread in hot tray. Bake for 25-30 mins. You may need to turn it. To achieve a dry crust, keep the oven door open for last five minutes. It's cook when the bottom of the loaf sounds hallow when tapped.

***Indentation Test
To check the dough has proved enough, gently press your finger into the dough. If the dough springs back leaving no indentation, then it needs to be left to prove for longer.
If the dough springs back and leaves a slight indentation in the loaf, then it’s ready.
If the dough doesn’t spring back, quickly get it in the oven with knocking it, as this will disturb the gases that make it rise.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008



I'm really in to baking bread at the moment. Ciabatta and sourdough are
my latest floury forays, as well as the standard, thrice weekly batches
of wholemeal loaves.

The process of making ciabatta is quite lengthy and I have had a few bad attempts now, but that means I am begining to start to understand bread making and recognise when textures are right and wrong (or so I think).

A few weeks back, I made my best batch of ciabatta to date. Making it is such a great process, quite different to other breads because of the different stages you have get the dough, to achieve the typical airy, holey texture of a ciabatta. The dough feels very tactile and alive, gently pressing the dough to expel the gases feels wonderful beneath floury finger tips.

To make my bread, I use a bread machine to do the kneading. I have never baked a loaf in the machine, the idea of a odd shaped loaf with a hole in the bottom doesn't appeal. I always use the 45 minute pizza dough setting to get the dough ready for the proving stage in a suitable tin or tray. It saves time and is far less messy than if I was kneading on our narrow work surface, plus it avoids the temptation of four small helpful hands throwing flour about.

The results from the bread machine are great, especially when making a 'wet dough' bread like ciabatta.  The recipe I have used is from the excellent book, Baker by Dean Brettschneider, a  collection of recipes from Australian and Zealand professionals.