10 from this week

1. We can put our food recycling waste in any kind of plastic bag now, rather than having to buy the compostable ones. I know in other areas you can simply put it straight into the recycling bin, but sadly we can’t. This is at least a good way to use some of the plastic packaging that comes with everything. At least it’s being reused for something, rather than going straight to the rubbish bin.

2. My sourdough bread baking fever continues, albeit with fewer larger holes then I would like, but I’m going to go back to trying the second prove in the fridge overnight, and maybe doing a no-knead version, folding and stretching the dough instead. I asked Kat Goldin (sourdough baker extraordinare) about the secret to good holey SD and she said that you don’t want it too holey or the butter gets out! She’s my kind of girl.

3. This was my amazing Monday find. It kept me smiling broadly for at least another two days after that. You know when you pop into a charity shop, not really looking for anything in particular but just wandering? Well I turned away from the bookshelves and saw this beautiful cast-iron pot. It’s my favourite colour red and completely unmarked. I grabbed it as fast as I could, instinctively. I couldn’t see a price on it and didn’t want to put it down, (mine!) it was love at first sight. I asked the assistant how much it was and I nearly dropped it on both our feet when she located the label and told me it was £3. I’ve never moved to a till so speedily! It’s 24 cm across and the 28 cm version of this brand sells new for around £45. I’ve never come across such an amazing charity shop find. It’s pure treasure. I’ve already road-tested it by cooking a one pot chicken and rice thing on the hob and oven. It’s absolutely superb, what a bargain.

Incidentally I’ve had my personal Facebook account since 2007, in that time I’ve posted all sorts of really important life events and celebrations. But do you know which post garnered the fastest likes/loves ever? Yep, it’s these pictures which I excitedly took when I put my treasure into the boot of the car.

4. Another find in another charity shop on the same day, not that I bought this, but my it brought back some memories. It’s just like a set my family had when I was very young. I have seen Kiln Craft on old TV sitcoms, but I don’t recall coming across a whole collection. This was priced much more realistically at £28 for the set.

5. A quick walk through the library and the cover of this book just jumped out at me, it made me chuckle.

6. I thought you’d like to see my Edenvale Cowl after blocking, it makes such a difference to lace. This weather is perfect for blocking and drying thick items. I’m really pleased with this knit. I did try it on and was thinking about doing a photo, but really it looked ridiculous as I was wearing a spaghetti strap top with bare arms!

7. Naughty, naughty Wednesday morning breakfast but these sourdough pancakes are delicious. I took the recipe from Tastes of Lizzy T blog. It’s good, too good. If you know what I mean.

8. A new lunchtime dish I made: it’s baba ganoush. You grill whole aubergines until the skin is blackened then scoop out and chop the soft flesh. Mix with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Delicious with toasted pitta or flatbread, a few olives and salad.

The recipe is from Paul Hollywood’s Bread book which I’ve borrowed from a relative. It’s got a good range of bread recipes, and for each bread there is one for an accompanying dish. The photography is beautiful and I want to make a lot from it.

The ingredients for salmon pate are on my shopping list for next week’s lunches. Needless to say I’ve added the book to my birthday wishlist.

9. A kilo of gooseberries picked from my Mother’s garden turned into my first ever batch of goosegog jam. I’m all about raspberry jam usually in summertime, but I’m glad I’ve made this because it is delicious, as you can see from the mere half remaining of one of the jars, after just a few days of opening. I’ve only eaten it once on two crumpets and it’s going down so quickly that I’ve grabbed another jar and put my initials all over the label! His and hers jam seems a good plan….!

10. Today I’ve baked my first loaves of bread in my 2lb tins for over a month. I’m now calling this doddly bread; as in it’s a doddle with commercial yeast. Does what it says on the tin! Unlike sourdough which dilly dallies. As the kitchen’s so warm, with our continuing high temps, the bread dough rose as fast as anything, sooo easy.

Are you busy in the kitchen? Have you found any treasure lately? What’s made you laugh this week?

Sourdough adventures

Last weekend my friend Safron posted these yummy photos of her first loaf of sourdough bread and homemade baked beans on her Safrolistics Instagram page. (Check out her papercuts, they’re amazing.) Safron was inspired by a friend, who makes his own sourdough bread and she inspired me in return. This is her first bread since a disastrous attempt at school. Wow! What a beauty.

I started my own sourdough starter last Monday. Apart from a phase around 2013 with Herman the German Friendship Cake, which I eventually turned into a loaf of bread, as we found there really is a limit to how much yeasty flavoured fruitcake you can eat, I haven’t maintained my own sourdough starter before.

It’s been a lot like when I first learned to crochet: researching how to do it, reading many blogs, books, checking out You Tube vids and making so many notes I’ve used up pages and pages of two notebooks (one upstairs, one down because I’ve truly been obsessed and found myself searching for answers to questions at all sorts of moments!) There are so many ways to end up with pretty much exactly the same thing, just like crochet (UK/USA terms, ways to hold the yarn/hook/start with a magic ring or chain and slip-stitch into a ring etc etc…) So in the end I decided to initially follow one method and stick to it, trying not to look at random websites and blogs anymore.

Sourdough starters and making sourdough bread can be incredibly complicated according to some people; I’ve seen articles written where people have made mathematical equations for the ratio of flour to water, the ambient temperature it needs to sit at etc. But really it boils down to just flour, water and the natural yeasts in the flour and your home environment. If pioneers could make it in one lidded pot over the hot embers of their campfire, we really do not need to make it too hard for ourselves.

I really like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Bread with Character article, written for The Guardian. He simply suggests using 100g of flours, and enough water to make a batter that’s roughly the consistency of paint! How easy is that?! I couldn’t quite be that haphazard free spirited especially at the beginning, so I have been using an equal flour to water ratio which is clearly working. I followed the excellent instructions on the Kitchn website. Luckily I had a bag of organic Doves Farm white flour in my baking cupboard, as it’s already my preferred flour when making bread using commercial yeast. There’s definitely a difference in taste and texture between using this flour and a cheaper alternative.

I was amazed that even after a couple of hours bubbles had begun to appear in the starter. ‘What kind of magic is this?’ I wondered with glee.

When baking the bread I mixed it up a bit: Patrick Ryan’s fridge tip for the second prove was a relief; as I was beginning to imagine I’d still be up at midnight watching the slow rise. I used his recipe for quantities of flour and starter etc for the dough. (Though a little less salt.)

There are about 3-5 hours between the top and bottom picture. This is when I decided to pop it into the fridge for the night.

On Sunday morning it sat out on the worktop again, for about 2 1/2 hours to bring it up to room temperature. It can be a slow process making sourdough but it’s well worth it. And it’s not effort, just patience that’s required.

I placed a tray half full of water onto the bottom shelf of the oven before I turned it on, it seemed a safer strategy for slightly clumsy me, than popping a tray of boiling water into the oven just before the bread. I also used Hugh’s method of putting a tray into the oven to pre-heat five minutes before the bread went in, then flouring it with wholemeal flour before the dough went onto it (although the dough was 100% white, I’d read that wholemeal flour is meant to prevent dough from sticking much more effectively than white.) This is also so much faster than oiling loaf tins and easy-peasy to wash up afterwards.

I felt nervous tipping it out of my new banneton proving basket (thank you Sainsbury Nectar points) but it fell softly onto the tray like a plump soft feather pillow. I actually cheered, which brought Someone running to see what excitement was going on!

I do need to find a better quality, thick baking sheet as it will be better for cooking the base of the loaf. Alternatively trying to make one in a cast-iron lidded pot (aka Dutch Oven) appeals. But I need to get one before that can happen… All the professional British bakers, that I’ve read so far, use a baking sheet (or pizza stone) to bake their loaves on, but I fancy trying the pot method sometime.

For a first loaf I didn’t expect much at all, I was prepared for a sodden lump but….

“It tastes as good as the loaves I used to buy at the village shop” oh my goodness! What praise from a sourdough aficionado, especially for a first loaf. It was delicious and I’ve never been a major eater of sourdough bread. Hugh’s right: sourdough is definitely bread with character!

Discarding half of the starter to maintain it, after the initial five days, was so unappealing that I’ve spent a fair amount of time searching for ‘discarded sourdough starter’ recipes. I hate wasting food and especially when I’ve used very good quality flour. Crumpets are already one of my favourite breakfast things, but I’ve never made them before.

I love the evolution of my crumpets, from left to right, the first pancake is always the manky one and that was definitely the runty crumpet! The last has proper crumpet bubbles and the texture was fab! They were just out of the frying pan here, cooling, before I toasted them under the grill.

I decided I would have the worst one, and the best one in the interests of fairness (it sort of makes sense, I think!) as a reward. After all, it was me who had talked to, fed and peered at the starter all week. It worked well; we both enjoyed them for breakfast. Someone had his with Marmite and butter, mine were with honey and butter. Yum, yum, yum.

Now I’m keeping all my discarded starter in a container in the fridge to make a batch of crumpets (I used this recipe.) I need to buy some crumpet rings. Crumpets can be frozen so I’ll make some, have a couple and store them. Fast! Before I eat them all.

I’m still on a complete crochet and knitting ban due to injury, as you probably know. (Boo!) This all started in April and I’ve now stopped counting how many weeks its been, as it can be a bit deflating. But I’m diligently doing my exercises, using ice and heat packs and seeing my physio every week. I am hopeful that I can begin again at some point soonish. Finding a new creative outlet, creating a sourdough starter and baking new kinds of bread has been absorbing. Not to mention homemade crumpets! Homemade crumpets….oh YUM!

If you like making or eating bread and fancy trying sourdough I’d say: Go for it!

You just need flour and water to begin. It’s great. It’s actual magic. And although it’s currently popular again, it’s hardly new; sourdough is thought to originate from the Ancient Egyptians, if not before!

Valentine’s heart patches


This is a sweet little patch. I intend to buy two blank craft cards and envelopes and attach a heart patch to each using double sided sticky tape. Do they still use that all the time on Blue Peter? I’m going to send them to two little-ish girls for a Valentine’s surprise.

Alternatively you could just knit two rectangles, swiss darn the heart (or one on both sides) and sew or crochet them together, to turn them into a little woolly pincushion or a pointless but cute woolly thing. You’ll probably have even better ideas. If you do, please share them!


Yarn: I knitted these with Stylecraft Special DK scraps, in parchment and did the swiss darning in raspberry. You can use any DK you have.

 
Needles: I used 3.5mm but use whatever you have or prefer. 4mm would work equally well and will still make a patch small enough to easily fit onto a card.

 
Pattern:
Knit a moss stitch border with stocking stitch as the main part of the patch

Cast on 20 stitches

Moss stitch for 2 rows:

Row 1: *k1, p1*and repeat * until the end

Row 2: *p1,k1* and repeat until the end

Stocking stitch with a moss stitch border for 8 rows

Row 3: k1, p1, k to last st, p1

Row 4: p1, k1, p to last stitch, k1

Repeat rows 3 & 4 6 more times.

Repeat rows 1 & 2 once

Cast off

Swiss darning/duplicate stitch: decorate the patch with a contrast yarn. See this video from Simple Stylish Knitting if you’re unsure about how to do swiss darning. It’s easy once you get into the rhythm of it. Sew in a good source of light, so you can see what you’re doing properly.

 Both of my hearts are slightly different from each other. The main thing is to start at the top, and do the middle stitches first. Make sure the bottom stitches line up with those at the top.  You can make the heart as wibbly or symmetrical as you like.

Polenta Bread Recipe

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It’s definitely homemade soup and toast weather at the moment especially with the threat promise of snow which hangs over each day at the moment.

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Back in the summer I bought this huge bag of cornmeal, aka polenta, to make a lemon polenta cake when we had guests here for lunch. Since then it’s sat in the pantry neglected really, apart from the first time I tried this polenta bread recipe. Yesterday seemed the perfect opportunity to bake some more and I’m so glad I did as it’s really delicious.

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This is the bread recipe book I use most. I first borrowed a copy from the library to try a few recipes. This had such good reviews on Amazon UK, and I was still using recipes I’d photocopied, that it seemed daft to ask for any other book for my birthday last year. A good decision as I haven’t had a disappointing loaf yet!

I thought I’d share the polenta bread recipe with you in case you have need for a soup and bread meal too.

Polenta Bread

Makes 1 loaf
Preparation time: 15 minutes + proving + 25 minutes
Freezing: Recommended

“Polenta (or maize flour) has a slightly grainy texture and a vivid yellow colour that makes an everyday loaf a little more interesting”

350g (12oz) strong white bread flour
115g (4oz) polenta, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fast action dried yeast
25g (1oz) butter, melted
275-300ml (9-10 fl oz) hand-hot water

1) Combine the flour, polenta, sugar, salt and yeast in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and water and mix to a soft dough.
2) Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth. Cover and prove in a warm place until doubled in size.
3) Grease a baking sheet and sprinkle with polenta.
4) Knock back the dough and shape into an 18cm (7″) long oval. Place on the baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, make deep cuts on alternate sides of the loaf.
5) Cover and prove until doubled in size.
6) Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 7 / 220oc / 425of
7) Sprinkle liberally with polenta and bake for about 25 minutes until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

From Women’s Institute Bread: Over 100 Easy-to-Make Recipes by Liz Herbert.

** I didn’t have any butter so used a tablespoon of olive oil this time. It worked well, although the slightly buttery taste is best. I use my Kenwood mixer and dough hook, so cut down kneading time by half (to around 5 minutes). To knock back the dough I give it a quick whizz again in the mixer. In the winter the warmest place for proving is the airing cupboard, so put the covered (cling film) mixing bowl there. Typically it takes an hour, to an hour and a half to double the first time. I put the oven on to heat after about 30-40 minutes, while the dough proves the second time, then it’s reached temperature by the time the dough has doubled.”**

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Polenta bread is best eaten fresh, when it’s moist and the knife slides through each slice as if it’s butter. It seems to go stale quite fast, but that’s no matter as it makes the crunchiest, tastiest toast. Perfect with chilli and lentil soup! Here’s the soup recipe.

What are you enjoying cooking and eating at the moment?

Warming Vegetable & Pasta Soup

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The other day I was looking in the pantry for pasta to go with my leftover puttanesca sauce (Recipe here from Nigella) and came across a bag of these little pasta shapes. They look macaroni sized, but are in fact much smaller, absolutely tiny. I bought them in a hypermarket in France last summer.

This morning it was 5oc which is 2oc up on yesterday, but it’s a bitterly cold wind which blows. Time for soup. I had a good Goggle for minestrone recipes, but nothing really grabbed me so I made my own up as I went along. It turned out to be a corker.

The Mister is away working in Stockholm this week and I do intend to save him a bowlful as a warming welcome home, but I’m not sure it’s going to last! He is texting about having rich and delicious moose meatballs for dinner. A couple of weeks ago he was in Toulouse and it was all cassoulet and sausages.

Here’s what I used, because you might fancy making some really warming soup too:

Vegetable and pasta soup

2 tsp olive oil

2-3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 onion, finely chopped

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

1 large carrot, finely diced

1/2 red & 1/2 yellow pepper, chopped

3 rashers smoked bacon, finely chopped

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp mixed herbs

1-2 bayleaves

400g tinned tomatoes (best quality the better)

500-750ml vegetable stock (depending on how thick you want the soup)

2 handfuls of small pasta shapes (I have small hands!)

Seasoning to taste

——————-

Serves 4. Or 3 if you’re into really hearty bowlfuls!

::Heat oil in a large pan, cook onion till translucent, add rest of vegetables and cook slowly, covered, until softened.

::Add bacon and cook for a few minutes. Add smoked paprika and cook for a minute.

::Put rest of the ingredients into the pan and cook till vegetables tender. Stir now and then so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Serve. Try not to go back for ‘just a little more’.

** The peppers could easily be missed out, especially as you’re using the holy trinity of onion, carrot and celery as a base for the soup. I just included them because I had a few to use up, and I love pepper. Instead of, or as well as, the pasta you could throw in some lentils, chick peas, cannellini beans or butter beans.**
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Who needs Swedish meatballs or cassoulet?

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Roasted tomato & garlic summer soup

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I’m happy to class myself as a tomato bore at the moment! I don’t mind if you’re thinking it…

There are various bowls around the kitchen full of ripe and ready to eat tomatoes, alongside those still ripening. It’s fun deciding what to eat them with. We had bacon and vegetable risotto with roasted tomatoes (simply cooked in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, nothing else, they are so sweet) last night.

When I got up this morning I really fancied making a light summer soup for lunch. The temperature has dropped by about 10 degrees in the last few weeks, instead of a blissful 28 0c it’s now 17/18 0c at best and feels so cold!
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There are many versions of this soup floating around the net and I’ve made own version; using homemade garlic oil. I always have some on hand for when I’m feeling lazy and use it instead of fresh garlic, or if in this case, I want an extra garlicky kick to a dish. It’s easy: just add 3-4 peeled and halved garlic cloves into a glass jar or small bottle of olive oil and leave to steep for a few days. When it’s all used up I throw away the garlic, wash the bottle and begin again with fresh.

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I love all the bright colours. Don’t worry about the amount of garlic in the recipe, when it’s roasted garlic loses it’s stinkiness and just becomes rich and sweet in flavour. I’ve just opened the door for a delivery and the guy didn’t recoil when I breathed over him to sign for the box!

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While the vegetables roasted I hung out a basket of washing, a lot of looking at the sky, muttering and toe crossing went on. So far it hasn’t rained…

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The tray of charred vegetables might not look like much, but they smelt delicious. Ok, so this next bit might not seem a good advertisement; but if you do have a smoke alarm I’d recommend keeping the kitchen door closed while you’re roasting the vegetables. That’s a little tip I’ve learnt when I make my roasted butternut soup in the winter time!

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Make sure you scrape the roasting tray out well;  you want to use every bit of caramelized vegetable that you can, to give the soup as much flavour as possible.

The black specks you see in the soup is ground black pepper.

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Yum, yum in my tum.

Roasted tomato & garlic summer soup

1 tbsp (garlic) olive oil
500g ripe tomatoes, quartered
2 large red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
1 bulb of garlic, divided into peeled cloves
1 red pepper (or 1/2 a red & 1/2 a yellow pepper) deseeded and quartered
600ml / 1 pint hot vegetable stock
3/4 – 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3/4 – 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt & pepper
Fresh basil leaves to garnish

Preheat oven to 220 0c/400 of/ gas mark 7

::Put the vegetables into a large roasting pan, drizzle with the olive oil and season
::Roast for about 45 mins until the edges are charred. I gently turn them all over after 15 and then 30 minutes. The house fills with a delicious smell.
::Remove the tray from the oven and leave the vegetables to cool
:: Whizz the roasted vegetables with the balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce (add quantity to taste, I’d recommend 3/4 tbsp of each) and stock in a food processor or a liquidizer
:: Put the soup through a sieve to remove tomato skins, easing the last of the liquid through by rubbing the vegetable skins etc with the back of a ladle
:: Reheat, scatter with torn basil leaves to serve

If it’s tropical where you are (lucky things!) you can serve this summer soup well chilled with a few ice cubes in the soup.

Serves 4

Enjoy!

Chilli & Lentil soupyness

It’s grey and rainy today. In the middle of our wonderful summer! Yes. This is irony.
I wondered about salad for lunch and then decided what I really craved was lentil and chilli soup. I just felt the need for something warming. It’s a BBC Good Food recipe that I’ve used time and time again, usually in the winter months!
It’s been a good chance to fill up my new masala tin while the soup gently bubbles away.20120716-133607.jpg20120716-133613.jpg

 

 

Do you fancy making this too?

Lentil & tomato soup

Heat a pan and dry-fry 2 tsp cumin seeds and a good pinch of chilli flakes until they smell nice and pungent.
Add a tablespoon of oil and chopped red onion, cook for five minutes.
Stir in 140 g of split red lentils with 850ml of vegetable stock and 400 g can tomatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes until lentils have softened.
Whizz in a liquidiser or use a stick blender until its chunky. Put back into the pan and add a few tablespoons of chick-peas. Makes 4 portions. Serve garnished with chopped coriander and a swirl of yoghurt/creme fraiche/double cream.

Yum!

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