Saturday, 25 September 2010

How not to cook a Yorkshire Pudding

Today’s ramblings are about some real experimentation. I made some steak and kidney stew on Tuesday and I decided that it would be a stew on Wednesday with Yorkshire puddings and vegetables. 
Then on Thursday it would be transformed into a streak and kidney pie. The problem was that I hadn’t remembered to buy some plain flour. I know from past experience that you can’t make Yorkshire puddings from self raising flour. My recipe for four small puddings is as follows
50gms Plain flour
1 medium egg (organic free range)
Pinch of salt
150mls milk

Pre heat the oven to 180C. Whisk the egg and flour together with about 1/3 of the milk. Mix to a smooth paste. Add the rest of the milk and whisk until it is all combined to the consistency of single cream.
Put a drop of oil, something like sunflower, groundnut not olive oil, into four holes of a muffin tin. Heat the oil over a gas ring until it smokes. Health and Safety Police alert – be careful! Turn the gas off and add about three tablespoons of the Yorkshire mix into each of the holes. There is not quite enough mixture for exactly three in each, so do two and a nearly whole spoonful to get it equal.
Cook for approximately 25 minutes. Under no circumstances, with the exception of an explosion from within the oven, open the door in the first 20 minutes. If you do they will not rise.
Now this is my usual recipe but as I have said I didn’t buy any plain flour. I only had 30 grams. The only other plain flour I had was stone-ground wholemeal. It’ll be ok I thought. As well as this I didn’t have any milk. Now whilst I didn’t know whether the wholemeal flour would work I do know that some people use half water and half milk or all water instead of all milk. I believe what happened was the result of the flour rather than the water. They tasted fine. The only problem was that they didn’t rise. Have a look at the results it easier to show you than to explain.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Soda Bread v Mothers Pride

I’ll start by telling you that I don’t like bread. Well not really. I eat it because, well have you tried to do without bread. It’s not easy. I have never been able to eat the pap that the supermarkets turn out. When I was a young child they ‘invented’ the Chorley Wood method of making bread. This cut down the time it takes to make a loaf. If my memory serves me correctly the first of this new wonder loaf was indeed Wonder Loaf, closely followed by Mother’s Pride.

I rejected this straight the way. I couldn’t bear the thought that I could take a slice in my little hand and squeeze it back into dough and it wouldn’t spring back. My mother bought me bought wholemeal loaves from the local baker and the little Hovis loaves. I preferred the Hovis. I now find out that current thinking says that we should all be eating wholemeal loves. I will probably live for ever.

Although I have no medical proof, or even the knowledge to make this assumption, it is nevertheless, my opinion that some people who think that they are allergic or intolerant to wheat and gluten are not intolerant to them at all. Rather they are intolerant to the methods of mass production of bread. Bread making is science. It is a series of reactions. They need time to happen. If you don’t give them that time then you end up with a job half done. If you want to read more about this from someone who is a lot more knowledgable and informed than I am. Have a look at Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters. The full title is Bread matters. The state of modern bread and a definitive guide to baking your own bread. As the title suggests there is an interesting discussion on modern bread and bread making methods, together with details of how to make your own bread with lots of explanation, detail and recipes.

I started making my own bread about 5 years ago. I started with a bread maker. This lasted for about two years and was very well used. I know a lot of people who have bought bread makers with good intentions of making their own. Only to banish it to the back of a cupboard along with the thing that cuts cucumber into long spirals. When my bread maker died a death I decided to buy a mixer that would do the job. I opted for a Kitchen Aid and can confirm that 3 years on it is still going strong. I know I should knead it myself and I do sometimes. But kneading is boring. I usually make stone ground wholemeal bread. I haven’t quite got it right yet, but I am working on it. I think that I need to read Andrew’s book again.

Today for a change, I decided to try soda bread. The process is quick and I was interested to know whether this speed would affect the overall quality of the bread in the same way that the industrialisation of bread has. This does not appear to have happened. I suppose thousands of Irish and hundreds if not thousands of years of cooking this type of bread cant be wrong. What I have is a small wholemeal loaf. It is light and not pappy. It tastes almost malty. I believe it will last a few days. This is good as there is only me eating it.

200g Stone ground wholemeal flour
40g Strong white bread flour
½ tsp Salt
½ level tsp Bicarbonate of soda
1 egg (I only ever use free range organic)
½ tbs Sunflower oil
½ tsp dark brown sugar (you could use honey or treacle if you have it)
200 ml Buttermilk

Pre heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6. If you have a fan oven drop the temperature a bit. Refer to your instructions for how much. I usually find about 20 degrees with my centigrade based oven. Grease or as I did line a tin with that plastic lining stuff that you can use over and over again. Mix all of the dry ingredients together. Beat the egg and add it to the buttermilk together with the oil. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour the wet in and mix. The mixture should be wet and sloppy. Pour and scrape into the tin and cook for about an hour until it is brown, crusty and sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom. I cooked mine for 55 minutes, then took it out of the tin and put it back in for another 5 minutes to crisp up.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Steak Sandwich

Today I decided to experiment with a steak sandwich. There is not a lot to one of those so this wont take very long. Also much of the cooking of steak is down to personal preference of how long you cook it for. I like mine well done. I know that many would put a well done steak in the bin, and I do understand why. It does toughen up. But that is how I like it and I think that you should eat food that you like. So I’ll leave you to decide how long to cook it for and whether to fry, grill or griddle it.

Part of my experimentation was with the cutting of the steak to see if the way you cut it changes the texture. I must at this point say that this cutting idea is not mine. I am quite a fan of Heston Blumenthal, although I don’t think that I could attempt many of his recipes. I had his big recipe book for Christmas a couple of years ago. It is great to read, but you need a big lap. Unfortunately, I have one of those. But as for cooking from it, well I think that you would probably need the support of a few chefs and two or three days to do even a part of recipe. Anyway onto the slicing of the steak. Mr B suggests, if I remember correctly, that you should slice across the grain of the meat, like you would a piece of wood. This way, when someone bites into it they are biting down through the grain. This did seem to work. I sliced half of it with the grain and half against it. The half that was sliced with the grain did seem tougher than the half that was sliced against it. Whether this was wishful thinking I don’t know. I’ll have another go the next time I do steak.

The next bit of the experiment was with the sandwich, or rather rolls. I griddled the steak, so had a hot griddle to toast the rolls on. Grilling them would do just as well. While the rolls and the steak were on I set about making a spread for the bread. I decided not to dress the salad, but to concentrate on a spread for the bread that would add flavour. For two medium rolls I made the following:

1 tbsp mayonnaise

1 clove of garlic

½ tsp French grain mustard

Chives – as many as you think

2 Spring onions

Salt and pepper to taste

Put the mayonnaise into a bowl. Finely chop and mush the garlic to a paste using a knife and few grains of salt. You could put it through a garlic press if you like. What you don’t want is any big bits of garlic. Big bits of raw garlic are not nice. Add the mustard and mix. Taste the mixture to see if it needs a bit more mustard. You can be fairly heavy on the mustard as the spread is spread thinly onto the toasted rolls and coupled with the salad and steak it doesn’t become too overpowering when you eat the whole lot together. Chop or snip the chives and mix in. Chop the spring onions. I like the bottom end of the green bits so I add those. If you don’t leave it out. Taste again. You cant do too much tasting. Well you can if you eaten it all before it gets to the plate, but you know what I mean. Add seasoning to taste.

Spread the mixture on both the cut and by now, toasted sides of the rolls. Lay a salad of your choice on the bottom and add the steak on top.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

It has potential but the chicken recipe needs tweaking

Last night I decided to cook and write about the sort of thing that I had originally decided to record in this blog. That is to try some new recipes, to cook something different and to evaluate the result. However, even in the short time I have been writing, this has already changed to a ‘this is what I have been cooking today blog’. But this post is a cook something new and evaluate the results. I found a recipe for White Wine and Herb Roast Chicken in one of my many cookery magazines. As it is a recipe that has come from a magazine, and I assume it is subject to copywrite I will not reproduce it here. Rather give you a flavour of what it was.

Although the picture was tempting, colourful and the recipe seemed to work on paper I had my doubts from the start about the flavour of lemon and potatoes together. I think I might have overdosed on Master Chef in the past few weeks. I have suddenly become a flavour expert – er no you haven’t! I am also not very keen on alcohol in food, except perhaps a sherry trifle at Christmas. Although beef and ale stews and pies always seem tempting I find that they fail to deliver on expectations. The beer somehow taints the sauce. Beer with your steak pie in a nice pub somewhere, now that’s a different thing entirely.

Anyway, having decided to expand my repertoire, I set about putting the dish together. I took some new potatoes and halved them. I think I would have been better using a more waxy variety. They turned a bit slushy. I drizzled olive oil over them and coated them in it. I chopped some parsley and thyme and mixed those in as well. I broke several cloves from a head of garlic and threw those in, complete with skin. As I was cooking for two, I added two chicken breasts that I had already browned in a pan. I think browning chicken that you are going to poach adds more flavour and is more aesthetically pleasing. Although the recipe calls itself roast chicken, it is poached chicken really. I added some home made chicken stock from the freezer, laid some slices of lemon over the chicken and added some salt and pepper. The recipe, as you can see from its title uses white wine. I have already said that I don’t really like alcohol in food. So I omitted the wine. I cooked the dish for about 30 minutes at 180.

I was not very impressed with the result. I ate it, so it wasn’t that bad. The reason that I didn’t like it was that my first thoughts on reading the recipe were proved right. The flavour of the lemon didn’t work very well with the potatoes. Lemon is too sharp and acidic. Potatoes need mild, almost sweet flavours like onions or chives. They can also cope with bitter flavours like cabbage or brussels .I think that their flavour is too bland to counteract the strong, acidic flavour of the lemon.

I think that if I did something like this again I would use the recipe for the chicken, including the lemons, herbs and garlic, still omitting the wine. Then I would roast the potatoes and herbs separately.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

This is about tomato soup - vegans and vegetarians bear with me

Although I think of soup as a winter thing, I do think that on a rainy August day you can fancy a drop of soup and I can’t be doing with tinned soup. The only time I use tinned soup is in a beef stew. I use a tin of beef consomm√© as a stock. But in the words of Kirsty Wark “more on that story later” I don’t really like the cubes. They are ok if you are short of time, but I find them very salty. I never do roast beef so I never have any bones for stock, hence the consomm√©. I do my own chicken stock when I have roasted a chicken and have the bones left. If I can’t deal with it there and then I freeze it for later. An even better thing is one that I have hacked into bits for a variety of uses, very therapeutic when you have murder on your mind. Not that I am about to do life for anybody you understand. But doing my Sweeny Todd on a chicken is the next best thing. It’s cheaper than buying all the bits and less disruptive to your lifestyle and freedom. This is a way of buying top quality meat for the same price as you would buy the cheap stuff. If you are going to do something creative with chicken breasts one day; a bit of a stewy, fricassee, curry type of a thingy the next day with the thighs and legs and you want some stock; buy a whole chicken. Anyway this is about some soup. The vegetarians and vegans will have moved on by now with all this talk of chickens however cared for.

So, I found myself with some time on my hands today and in need of something to do. Soup, I thought.  Although soup takes no time to prepare, it is not something that can be made in a hurry. I had all of the ingredients so I decided to make tomato and pepper soup. I suppose the whole process took about an hour and half, but in terms of my time, about ten minutes. Soup is the sort of thing to make when you want to sit about and do nothing, and not feel guilty because you are actually doing something.

I got together the following and attempted to work some magic.

1 tbsp Olive Oil
2 medium onions sliced
1 Clove of Garlic
2 tsp Chopped Fresh Thyme Leaves
1 pepper roasted and sliced (or do as I did and use a handful of frozen slices)
1 tin of tomatoes
1 tbsp Tomato Puree
1 pint of vegetable stock
1 tbsp Mushroom Ketchup
2 tbsp Chopped Fresh Marjoram Leaves

I fried the onions, garlic and thyme very slowly in the olive oil. This cannot be hurried. It took me about 45 minutes. The onions need to be translucent, soft when you bite into them and above all sweet. When I had got them to where I wanted them I added the frozen peppers. I warmed the mixture on a very low light for another 5 minutes. Then I added the tinned tomatoes. I buy the whole tomatoes, rather than the ready chopped ones. I think the quality is better. I find the tins of chopped tomatoes contain too much of the bits that I don’t want. I shred the whole tomatoes between my thumb and fingers and discard the stalk end and the centre. I know it might be a bit wasteful, but I think that you get better results. It is also very messy, so don’t wear your best white t-shirt. The tomatoes were followed by the tomato puree. I gave it a quick mix and then added the stock and the mushroom ketchup.

I simmered the soup for about 20 minutes. I have an idea that soup shouldn’t be boiled. I don’t know where I got that from. Then I added the marjoram and simmered it for another 10 minutes. I let it cool for about 10 minutes, added seasoning and whizzed it with a hand blender. You can put it into a liquidizer if you want to.

As I said the whole process took about an hour and a half, but most of that time it was looking after itself. It needs that time for all the flavours to come out of the vegetables and to blend with one another. Making soup is easy, just give it time. Plus it gave me a guilt free hour and a half sitting doing not very much, just waiting for my lunch and very nice it was too.

I think this is suitable for both vegans and vegetarians. That is, unless I have made a mistake with the mushroom ketchup and it contains meat products.

Monday, 16 August 2010

A nice pear

Today’s experiment is going to be a cake again. There is a pear tree in the garden which is starting to shed its pears. If you look at the picture above you can see the tree. Yesterday we had some torrential rain which I think helped some of them on their way. In order to use some of them and to save the garden being full of drunken wasps I decided to make a pear and ginger sponge pudding. Waste not want not

I used my usual 6oz (170gms) of butter, sugar and self raising flour with three eggs. In the past I have whacked all of the ingredients into a food processor and whizzed them for about 30 to 40 seconds with no ill effects. However, today I used a hand whisk. I also added a teaspoon full of ground ginger to the flour as I folded it in. The pears were not the best specimens that I have ever seen but they were free so hey, let’s getting cooking!

I peeled them and took slices from the outside as the middles were a bit on the iffy side. Having carefully sifted through the pear slices for any extra protein from any bugs that had been foolish enough not to jump off before I put the pear in a bowl and brought them into the kitchen, I then mixed two dessert spoons of ginger preserve in with the pears. I thought that this would enhance the gingeriness of the sponge and would sweeten some of the pears as many were not quite ripe. I suppose that if you were to do this recipe yourself you would need four medium pears. I then spooned the sponge on top of the pear mix.

I cooked the sponge at 190 for about 50 minutes. I have a dodgy cooker at the moment; it is in dire need of a service. One of the elements on the grill has gone and the fan in the little oven doesn’t always start up. I have had to stop using it since I found it in nuclear melt down the other night when I hadn’t noticed that the fan was not going round. Trust me, fan ovens don’t like to be on without their fans are on as well.

The sponge turned out well,, except I think it either needed more ground ginger in the sponge, or I need to buy some new ground ginger. I suspect it is a tad out of date as it is not something I use a great deal of. Apart from that it was nice. I thought that the ginger preserve worked well with the pears.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Starting to experiment

Recently I have decided I need to do something about my interest in cooking and in particular the food it produces. With this in mind I decided to start experimenting, cooking things that I wouldn’t normally have a go at. I cook now, but you know how it is you get into a rut. If it’s Wednesday it must be pork chops. I have also decided to try blogging. I doubt you will be interested in what I have had for my tea, so I have decided to write about my experiments.

I have been experimenting for a while with cakes. I feel that there is a lot of twaddle talked about cake. Yes, I know they can and do go horribly wrong. You need the gluten strands to form in bread but you don’t in a sponge cake. But I have found that if I add a 6-6-6-3 and a drop of milk mix into a food processer and whiz it for about 30-40 seconds I get a light moist sponge. I can find no difference between that method and whisking it together one ingredient at a time with an electric whisk. I have, in the past made cakes with a wooden spoon for the butter, sugar and eggs. Moving onto a metal spoon for the flour, but that was many years ago when I was a mere slip of a girl.

So, that’s 6oz each of soft butter (don’t use margarine), caster sugar (use the unrefined stuff), self raising flour and 3 eggs (use at least free range, better still organic, even better still some eggs from somewhere where you can see the chickens running about. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER from caged birds, but I think they won’t be allowed to do that for much longer.) O.K., I’m off my soapbox now. If I could afford it I would buy everything I could organically. I can’t, but there are two things I insist on; eggs from chickens that have been treated with at least a little compassion and meat from animals that have been given the same care. I know it is expensive but if you buy sensibly and make savings in other areas it can be done. I don’t eat ready meals and I don’t really do takeaways. So whilst I am not spending £20 on a curry and making it myself I can afford to buy two chicken breasts at a fiver a go. Even better buy a whole organic chicken for about a tenner and you have all sorts of options for meals, oh and some really nice stock. Sorry, I popped back on the soapbox. Stepping down now...back to the sponge.

You can then start adding flavours of choice. I made my Mum and Dad a lemon and lime drizzle cake yesterday. They haven’t been well and so I thought they could do with building up. Well not so much building but cheering up. My Dad is 18 stone and 6 foot 4. Mum is a smidge smaller at 5 foot but is well covered. Yes that is five foot. So to my sponge, I added shreds of peel from one lemon and two limes. You could grate them if you haven’t got one of those gadget things that do shreds. I know they are traditionally loaf shaped, but my loaf tin is so old and battered. Any hint of non stickiness has long gone and it feels it needs to hang on to the things that have been cooked in it with the tenacity of a limpet. So I cooked it in an 8 inch round tin that lets go of things when you ask it to. I cooked it in a fan oven at 190 for about 40 minutes. If you are going to try this check it after about half an hour. Stab it with a skewer. If it comes out clean it’s done. If it doesn’t whack it back in for another 5-10 minutes. While it is cooking juice the lemon and limes. Mix this with some icing sugar. I say some. Just keep adding a bit at a time until it doesn’t make your mouth pucker. But don’t add too much. You want it to be sharp against the sweet sponge when you pour it into your stabbed cake. See below for instructions on stabbing.

When you take it out, get stabbing. Stab cake all over while it is still hot and still in its tin. Then pour the juice and icing sugar mix into the cake. Give it a mix before you do this. Then you need to leave it. Leave it in its tin until it is cold. This is why you need a tin that lets go of food. When it is cold slip a knife round the edge and pop it out. Then put it in a cake tin, or even better get a cup of coffee, tea if you like, a plate, a quiet place, a book or magazine and cut yourself a nice big slice.