Friday, 30 November 2012


There are times when standing and staring at the leftovers in the fridge is a prelude to producing an excellent dish. When enjoyed by friends and commented on however, I point out that often there are well over a dozen ingredients if you add them all up from the three meals that went to combine what we are eating.

The other day we ate such a dish; there was some left over dahl, not enough to stretch to anything on its own, but with the addition of a handful of frozen peas, always a standby, it might form a bigger part, I had also some roast potatoes that simply needed 10 minutes in a hot oven to bring back to life. I put these two together but at the last minute the desire for something a little fresh to finish it off, made me finely chop a couple of dill pickles and a few sprigs of fresh coriander to sprinkle on top. It's difficult to believe this simple combination, not many ingredients in this case, tasted as wonderful as it did, but somehow it delivered on almost all taste levels. I ate it up thinking about what would make it complete and yesterday made it all again from scratch, including everything from the first time but with the addition of some scallops.

This post is really my recipe for dahl, but if you wish to go on to make this totally unexpected dish, there are directions at the end of the recipe, what ever you do, do try the dahl, it's delicious.

You will need:
200g of split lentils
4 cloves of garlic
1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of chilli powder
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
Some curry leaves
1 tablespoon of dried methi (fenugreek) leaves.
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil or ghee.

Begin by boiling the lentils in a litre of water, cook until the lentils are tender and disintegrating. Slice the garlic finely, chop up the fresh ginger and get together the spices. Heat a separate pan, I  use a small deep frying pan, add the oil and add the cumin and mustard seeds, as soon as they begin to pop, add the garlic and fresh ginger then the turmeric and chilli powder. Adding the powdered spices at this stage, when the garlic and ginger have reduced slightly the temperature of the oil will help reduce the risk of burning the spice. Continue to cook until the garlic begins to take on a little colour, this should take no more than a minute or two at the most, overcooking garlic brings out a more bitter flavour. Add the spice mix to the cooked dahl along with the curry leaves and the dried methi. I usually grind up the methi in the palms of my hand to create a more dusty texture, it seems to distribute the herb throughout the dahl. Cook the dahl on a gentle heat for a further 20 minutes adding more water if you find it getting a little dry. I usually eat dahl a little on the drier side myself, drier than the more soup like consistency you find served in many Indian restaurants, the choice is yours.

 If you feel moved to make the final dish you will need:
a quantity of the dahl
a cupful of frozen peas
a number of roasted potatoes
some cherry tomatoes chopped with a little balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper added
2 dill pickles finely chopped with fresh coriander
scallops, 3 or 4 per person
some cavolo nero, finely shredded and deep fried as a garnish (I warned you it was mad)

Heat the dahl, roast the potatoes, deep fry the cavolo nero and fry the scallops in a very hot pan with a little oil for no more than 1 minute on each side, this should allow you to not overcook them and at the same time create a nice caramelization on the outside. Over crowding the pan will reduce the heat and the scallops will stew rather than fast fry.

Assemble the dish, pile the dahl in the centre of a warmed dish, surround the dahl with the potatoes and the scallops, place a small amount of the marinaded tomato around the outside along with a sprinkle of the pickle and coriander mix, finally place a small pile of the deep fried cavolo nero on the very top. Deep fried greens are served in this country in Chinese restaurant as sea weed, they provide a delicious crunchy texture which is well worth making the effort to make. Be careful to use a large enough pan, the brassica will foam up rather quickly, but when the foaming subsides, the fine shreds should not take more than another minute to cook, drain on kitchen paper.

I, like many, read and flick through recipe books, I scan the list of ingredients, I study photos, always useful, and form an opinion as to whether or not I will ever create such a dish. I will be the first to admit, this one would pass me by and I would never have a second thoughts, however I stumbled across a dish, made of bits and pieces, the result delivers a combination of flavours and textures that makes me very happy I did.

I did cook the chopped stems of the cavolo nero in the dahl. but this was merely a way of avoiding waste, the dahl as described above is a perfectly complete dish, however the addition of butter would add something magical.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Seeded Sourdough

Deciding to toast the sesame seeds in this seeded sourdough bread, gives the bread a wonderfully nutty flavour. You can of course add any seeds you fancy, I chose sesame, sunflower and pumpkin.

for this bread you will need:
for the ferment,
1 tablespoon of starter from the fridge
100g of Strong White Flour
100g of Strong Wholewheat Flour
200g of water.

For the main dough,
All of the ferment
700g of Strong white flour
200g of Strong wholewheat flour
75g of whole sesame seeds, toasted in a dry pan on a low heat for a couple of minutes.
75g of pumpkin seeds
75g of sunflower seeds
650g of water
20g of salt.

Begin by creating the ferment, I leave mine in my rather cool kitchen all day to get on with growing. This means I put the ferment ingredients together at around 8.0 and leave them covered in a 2 pint pudding basin until 10.0 at night before adding all the main dough ingredients apart from the salt.

Create the main dough by putting together all the ferment and all the main dough ingredients, apart from the salt, and mix to form a soft dough, leave covered overnight.

In the morning, add the salt , mix in thoroughly, this takes just over a minute in my food mixer. Leave the dough to rise, stretching and folding it every hour for 3 to 4 hours. The dough will become stronger and holds its shape slightly more as this process goes on. You should find it grows and becomes more billowy, stretching and folding the dough needs to be done increasingly gently so as to avoid losing as much of the precious gas as possible.

Divide the dough into 3 and shape into long oval loaves, place the dough into well floured baskets to prove. I flour my proving baskets with rice flour rather than wheat flour, it seems to be more effective at preventing the dough sticking to the basket. Tip each loaf out onto a hot baking stone, slash the top before baking in a hot (220C) oven for 30-35 minutes. I sprayed the top of each loaf with water and scattered it with poppy seeds just prior to slashing.

You can add more seeds than I chose to, the lightness of bread however, depends of gluten forming large stretchy bubbles and the addition of anything that compromises the elasticity of the gluten, even the addition of bran, will affect this, creating a less lofty loaf.
This bread is particularly good with cheese, I found a Peyrigoux, a soft cheese made in the Aquitaine which was brilliant.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Porcini & Roasted Hazelnut Bread

I have just shared the last slice of this delicious bread, toasted for breakfast with my Italian friend Nali, I did send a loaf home with my daughter at the weekend but really I should have baked more.

For this bread you will need:

for the ferment,
1 tablespoon of starter from the fridge
200g of strong white flour
200g of water

For the main dough,
600g of Strong white flour
350g of water
100g of Roasted Hazelnuts
30g of dried Porcini Mushrooms (plus a little oil for frying)
1 tablespoon of Hazelnut Oil
12g of salt.

Begin by creating the ferment, this will happily sit a bowl for the whole day until last thing at night before you go to bed. Mix all the ingredients to form a very thick batter, leave covered at room temperature. If your home is very warm, lucky you but apart from that, reduce the time this process takes to accommodate the activity of the wild yeast. Keep an eye on the ferment, it is ready to use when there is healthy bubbly activity.

Prepare the porcini mushroom by rehydrating in 2 tablespoons of boiling water, after a few minutes of saoking, chop up the mushrooms and fry in a little oil for a minute or two, add the saoking water and continue cooking until all the liquid has been absorbed. Allow to cool completely

Last thing before going to bed, in a large bowl (I use my Kenwood mixer) mix all the remaining ingredients apart from the salt. Leave covered overnight.
In the morning, add the salt and mix thoroughly to incorporate. Stretch and fold the soft dough every hour over the following four hours, being careful to avoid knocking out as much of the air as possible. I find this easier if the dough remains in the bowl, then any rogue hazelnuts that pop out easily become re-incorporated.

For the dough into two boule loaves and place seam side down on a well floured linen cloth. Leave in a draft free place for 2 hours until risen, transfer carefully onto a baking stone before slashing and baking in a hot oven 220 degrees C, for 30 - 35 minutes.

The addition of the small amount of Hazelnut oil does make a difference to the texture of the bread, as well as enhancing the flavour of the Hazelnuts in the bread; it makes the crumb more tender and the crust easier to cut. If hazelnut oil is not available though, the bread is still good.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Making up for No Shells!

After breakfast, Nali and I fell into a conversation about food, in particular the spaghetti con vongole that Inspector Montalbano enjoys in the TV series of the same name. Spaghetti con vongole is indeed a favourite of mine and Nal's. Living here in Norfolk it's easy enough to find cockles, a tiny form of vongole, but of course they are sold already cooked and the real downside of that is the complete absence of liquor from the fresh cockles that would ultimately flavour the sauce in the most delicious way.

We decided mussels would make a good alternative and headed off to the fishmonger. There we found not only cooked cockles but brown shrimp, a speciality here in Norfolk. Thinking on my feet I bought half a pint of both and planned how I could create a recipe to deal with the absence of Cockle liquor to create a sauce for our pasta.
This is what I came up with. In a tablespoon of olive oil, I gently fried a small onion, finely chopped, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, a small stick of celery finely chopped and a small piece of fresh fennel bulb, again finely chopped. Once the vegetables had softened, about 5 minutes over a gentle heat, I added 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (Nali did the chopping) and after frying gently for no more than a minute I added a small 50ml of Noilly Prat. I continued to cook gently until the liquid was reduced before adding another 50ml and about 100ml of the water from the pot that was boiling the pasta, the smallest amount of tinned tomatoes, no more than a tablespoon, and an equal amount of double cream. I seasoned with salt and pepper and the sauce was ready for the spaghetti.

I have to say, for me nothing beats spaghetti con vongole, but this dish came a very close second, the addition of the brown shrimp helped enormously to bring a taste of the sea to this pasta dish. A sprinkle of chopped parsley completed our dish for lunch.

 Notes: Eat more brown shrimp! the industry, small as it is these days, needs us, thank you.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Roasted Vegetable Soup

I have always maintained if you have only a carrot, an onion and perhaps one other vegetable, the very best thing you can make with these or equally few ingredients is soup. So when my dear friend Nali was coming over from Italy for a long overdue visit and I needed to make something warm and comforting for a late arrival, soup was the obvious answer, especially when looking around me I saw a couple of very tired looking carrots and the end of a butternut squash.

Roasting a vegetable before transforming it into soup intensifies the flavour, so I began by cutting up a large onion, peeling the carrots and cutting them into chunks along with the end of the butternut squash. I left the skin on the squash since I intended blending and sieving the soup.

For this soup you will need:

1 large onion
2 large carrots
Half a butternut squash
1 bulb of garlic
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of tomato puree 
2 litres of vegetable stock.

Having cut up the vegetables into chunks and sliced the bulb of garlic in half, toss these in the oil, fennel seeds and black pepper before placing in a hot oven for 20 minutes to roast. I took them out half way through to turn the veg a little.

Place the roasted veg in a large saucepan and stir in the tomato puree and cook for 2 minutes before adding  the stock, simmer for a further twenty minutes.

Blend the soup and sieve before returning it to the pan to re-heat. I serve this soup with a swirl of basil oil, but a thin swirl of sour cream would also be good.

I now have a blender which has a lid that locks down, so I have no explosions blending hot liquid but do be aware that blending hot liquid in a jug blender causes rapid expansion of the liquid and the lid should be held down securely with something like a tea towel and the soup blended in batches to avoid accidents caused by overfilling the jug.
Roasting vegetables in this way produces a deeper flavour and this method would work well with, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnip or celeriac, just make sure the chuncks of vegetables are coated in oil before placing them in the oven. Roasting tomatoes and peppers in this way certainly makes for a good flavoured soup.
Having Nali home is the best thing!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Cold & Slow Bread

Julia gave me a thermometer, designed to not only show the temperature, but give advice on the effects of temperature on humans. For instance my house is now below 16 (actually it's around 10 degrees C) at this temperature I read "There is a risk of heart attack or a stroke or even hypothermia if exposure is prolonged". My bigger concern is whether or not my dough was going to rise. For me, well it's just a case of putting on more layers.

The bread, which finally came out of the oven late last night, had a lovely appearance, good oven spring, and a glorious colour, the flavour this morning is equally good, fuller rather than more sour, delicious. I can't recommend living in the cold, but somehow if you find a way to slow down the fermentation of dough by reducing the temperature, the result is very worthwhile.

I used:
for the ferment,
100g of starter from the fridge
200g of strong white flour
200g of water.

for the main dough,
all of the ferment
1,000g of strong white flour
700g of water
20g of salt.

I began by mixing the starter with the ferment ingredients and leaving it all at room temperature, in this case around 10 degrees for 14 hours. I then added the flour and water from the main dough ingredient list, omitting the salt. I mixed until thoroughly combined into a very soft dough. I went to bed. The following morning, expecting the dough to have risen overnight to the rim of the bowl, I found it sluggish and only half way up. I added the salt and mixed thoroughly before placing the dough in a clear plastic box to rise over the next few hours. I stretched and folded the dough within the box once every couple of hours, for the next 8 hours. Finally it showed signs of growth, good gluten development and signs of large bubbles. I formed the dough into three loaves and placed them in my moulds having floured them well with rice flour. I left them for at least another 6 hours before finally baking in a hot oven, 220 degrees C, for 30 minutes.

Notes: Better bakers than I will know a lot about how temperature produces different flavours based on enzymes etc. but at this point I am reminded how strong an organism yeast is, I just need to remember that I always need to keep an eye on what's happening to the dough, temperature is a guide as to what to expect, but nothing beats observation.
My daughter Hedd ( a Welsh name, pronounced Hathe to rhyme with bathe) is coming home tomorrow so the heating will be on!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Sun dried Tomato and Parmesan Braid

Sometimes I plan my cooking, but often I find I have ingredients staring me in the face requiring an answer. This morning after making cheese yesterday evening, I found myself with about a litre of whey drained from the curds that are now formed into a nice flat cheese. I used most of the whey in a Stroganoff I am making for Sue & Dick this evening but I still had 300ml left. Looking in the cupboard I found a jar of sun dried tomato paste, I have Parmesan in the fridge so why not make a loaf to share to start our meal. Now I normally always begin making dough at least the day before I bake even when using commercial yeast, it will be interesting to see how this loaf turns out.

I began by mixing 500g of strong white flour with 7g of instant yeast, 300ml of whey, and 10g of salt. I can't remember the last time I kneaded dough, putting dough together in a food mixer, mixing only for a minute or two before leaving the dough overnight in the fridge always eliminates the need for any kneading. There is something pleasant though about the kneading process, where the rythmic stretching, rolling back and stretching again slowly transforms the dough from one that tears easily to one cohesive mass that is silky and smooth.

I rested the dough in a bowl for a couple of hours to rise while I grated up the parmesan and searched for anything else that might be added. In the end I decided to add some grated Cheddar to the Parmesan in order to provide a bit more of a melted cheese component. Having stretched and flattened the dough out to be roughly 40 by 30 centimeters I spread 2 tablespoons of the sun dried tomato paste spread over the dough and just over 100g of the the combined cheeses. A drizzle of the basil oil I had left over from the pizzas click here and I was ready to roll the dough up. Having rolled the dough into a long roll I cut it into two pieces along it's length, beginning 1 centimeter in from one end. Taking the two long halves I twisted them into a one single twist being careful to try to keep the cut sides on top. This stage is messy but it really doesn't matter too much, any parmesan that pops out, you can simply sprinkle it back on the loaf. I scrunched up some baking parchment and lined a large round baking tin before carefully slipping the loaf in for its final rise. After the loaf had doubled in size I baked it in a hot oven 220 degrees C for 10 minutes before turning the oven down and baking it at 180 for a further 20 minutes.

Much like pizzas, it's possible to vary the fillings or toppings to suit yourself, pesto is good, including red pepper pesto, tapenade with chopped up char-grilled artichokes. Home made baba ganoush with sliced olives, mushroom duxelle with roasted hazelnuts chopped and grated gruyere, the puree from a couple of heads of roasted garlic with olive oil and chopped parsley, would be a few worth trying.