Mostly Concerning Food
Thanks to fellow blogger Master of Something I’m Yet to Discover (wonderful title) I have finally been inspired enough to have a go at making sourdough bread. She in turn had been inspired by a serious food blogger called Foodbod. I recommend both blogs heartily and will add links at the end. I won’t go into great detail. My days as a recipe writer are long gone and there are so many places to get a better recipe than I could make up. I actually followed two as well as getting inspiration from the above.
I set two starters off at the same time. One was just flour (wholemeal) and water and the other was white bread flour and also had a grated (organic) apple in it. One was kept in a sealed Kilner jar and the other in a bowl with cling film over it. Both were doing fine until the particular bowl I’d used was required for something else. I continued feeding the one with the apple in and it was soon reproducing itself in a manner that would interest a writer of science fiction. Every day or so you are supposed to discard half and add new flour and water. It’s rather like having a pet. Not as good as a dog or a cat but a darned sight better than a stick insect or a Tamagotchi.
After the second feed I decided to simply add double the flours and water and keep the discarded half in a second jar. A decision that was fully vindicated when Master of Something said that it made wonderful pancakes…and it does!
Meanwhile back in the world of true homely eating. This (see photograph) was always one of my favourites. Both sausages and bacon are thought of as breakfast items: at least in England. Both are in fact much nicer served with potatoes and vegetables as a main meal. Even the traditional (over the top) “Full English” is improved if served with a portion of chips as a proper dinner.
The Cumberland sausage is a wonderful thing. The late jazz trumpeter and all round comic genius, Humphrey Lyttleton made tracking down the perfect Cumberland sausage a life long hobby. I thought I’d cracked it in as obvious a place as Marks and Spencer. For two years their Cumberland sausage was without peer in lands away from the Lakes. But alas, the photo before you shows what happens when you tamper with a winning recipe. Someone must have been reading a book and confused the words “generous grinding of” with “far too much of” in the context of adding pepper. I bow to no-one in my love of piquancy but pepper is a condiment, a spice. It’s there to enhance the flavour not smother it. These sausages were not the treat they should have been. I’d caution against them but as I’m not exactly the Frank Rich of the food world I don’t think Marks and Spencer need worry too much. Does anyone know where I can get a really good Cumberland sausage?
I’ve had a spate of eating steak. Tesco has recently been selling first rate sirloin steaks. I don’t normally have much time for Tesco. Despite (or because of) the presence of a massive store practically on my doorstep I very rarely go in. But a good steak is a good steak. An ideal treat for one and a perfect evening meal for two. Not much cooking…I simply follow the advice of Hervé This and Harold McGee.
While I was in Tesco I noticed oysters at 50p each. For a mere £3 I turned breakfast into a treat for one. Nobody else likes oysters. I got an oyster shucking kit for Christmas. Finally I can break into the shells without risking severe injury. I’m proud of it in an ironic way. It goes well with the fish knives and forks we inherited except that the kit is actually useful. It makes shucking oysters simple. I’m also very fond of it because it was a present from my daughter, and she’s wonderful.
I may never have made any fancy breads before but I’m fond of eating them. My favourite meals are often simply bread cheese and tomatoes. It’s perfect as a picnic on a beach or for an instant lunch or even a reliable meal at a hotel where the catering isn’t up to scratch. I’d far rather have good bread and cheese in my room than a bad roast dinner in the restaurant. One of the big advantages of having supermarkets in every town is that you can invariably get good bread and cheese. Here is some rather nice cured ham. Yes I know it is fatty. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that the flavour is in the fat. (I refer the honourable gentleman to the answer I gave earlier.. the one about This and McGee).
One of the discussions we have, when the whole family gets together, is whether the large English pancake or the smaller American pancake is the better. Personally I prefer the former but this could be because it was what I was brought up with. Like pronouncing scone to rhyme with gone, it is simply the way I learnt it first. I love American pancakes but would walk past them if a little further down the line someone was cooking them like my mother used to… two or even three pans going at once trying to keep up with the hungry appetites of seven children.
Sourdough batter is perfect for the smaller trans-Atlantic cousins. I repeat my gratitude to Master of Something Yet for the idea. I improvised the recipe…well I simply added 2 eggs and a cup or two of skimmed milk to the sourdough starter I was about to discard. Beat it merrily and left it to stand. For how long? Until my wife and daughter got back from Sheffield. They are essentially blinis when made this way but with a sprinkling of sugar and a squeeze of lemon they were fabulous; simply fabulous. Even my mother would have loved these. Next time I’ll try them with maple syrup and the time after that…cream cheese and caviar!
It’s Mothering Sunday tomorrow. Must use the proper name. My mother in law would have been annoyed if I’d called it Mothers’ Day no matter where I placed the apostrophe. Simnel cake is the traditional treat for Mothering Sunday. It’s become associated with Easter but that is just plain wrong. As wrong as chocolate eggs for Whitsun or Christmas cake for bonfire night. Recipes will often include a series of marzipan eggs on the top. Ignore these. They are wrong too. The tradition of Simnel cake to celebrate mothers goes back a lot further than greetings cards, a trip to the florist and taking her out to a carvery once a year.
It’s basically fruit cake with a layer of marzipan halfway down. It cooks with the cake leaving a sweet almondy vein of enhanced flavour in the middle. A real treat and an ancient recipe.
Which brings us to my first attempts at sourdough bread.
I followed the recipe which told me to knead it for ten minutes which produced a wonderful, silky-smooth dough. I proved it once in a bowl for 5 hours and later for twenty hours. This was the part I had to improvise…because I wasn’t sure what the recipe meant. I was given a choice between making a proving basket or laying the dough on a floured cloth and placing it in a clean plastic bag. I loved the fact that it insisted on a clean bag. I’d been very keen to use a dirty one before reading this.
I’ve baked bread often and know it is not overly forgiving stuff. Once it has risen it doesn’t like to be messed about with. I’d appreciate any advice readers may have on how to get dough onto a cloth and in and out of a plastic bag without messing the dough about. I just about managed it. I’m pretty sure the professionals do it differently though. 40 minutes in the oven, and a hot oven at that, produced a couple of fine loaves. Good crisp crusts on the outside, wonderfully chewy on the inside. Quite simply first class bread. Delicious with butter and even better with some well flavoured Cheddar.
I mustn’t forget to add my thanks to another blogger who suggested using sourdough as a pizza base (She’s Italian). My gratitude to you all.
Bon appétit. Simon