Thursday, 9 February 2017

Interlude is over

I stopped writing this blog a few years ago due to appearing on the Irish Masterchef TV programme (I had to intensify my research and spent all my time creating and testing recipes, so had no time for blogging of any kind), and got out of the way of keeping it going.

Now it's back.

I have recently been baking bread. A lot of bread. And I have researched yeast, flours, recipes, kneading techniques, shaping, forming, proving and baking methods. I'm not too keen on fancy breads with lots of ingredients, so I mainly use just water, flour, yeast and salt, and maybe a little olive oil.

One of my most recent experiments was creating my own yeast (well, capturing it is more accurate) from the atmosphere and creating a 'starter' from that. Basically, you mix flour and water, then leave the bowl - covered with muslin - outside to capture airborne wild yeast spores. I left it outside for a couple of days (bringing it in at night) and waited a few days for bubbles to form. Once the bubbles started to appear I began a regime of feeding the starter (up to three times a day!) with fresh flour and water for around 10 days. This process of growing and strengthening the starter is very wasteful, with lots of surplus starter going on to the compost heap during this time. Once the starter is mature, however, it can be stored in the fridge and brought back to life over a couple of days before using a portion of it and then putting the 'mother' back in the fridge again. So it's really only the initial creation of the starter that's a problem. This process makes hard-core sourdough and results in bread with a thick chewy crust, a very open texture and great depth of flavour: quite excellent, and it's good to have done it, and it creates a benchmark. But not everybody has time or patience to go hard-core, so I have been experimenting with an intermediate technique whereby a starter is created using instant yeast and left overnight to mature a bit before using it as part of a more conventional process the next day. This results in an excellent loaf and I'll be describing the whole process soon.

I have been making home-made pizzas for many years now and I only recently bought some pizza stones. These ceramic disks are pre-heated in the oven and the pizza is constructed and then baked on top of them. The results are quite excellent, and I wouldn't think of making pizzas in any other way now. I also use them for baking other breads and rolls.

One thing that fascinates me about bread recipes is that each chef has their own technique for mixing, kneading, shaping and baking; each claiming that their way is the only way to do it. Some books explain the theory behind their techniques and certain nuggets of information keep reappearing, such as 'you need to knead for 15 minutes to strengthen the gluten'. There's no doubt that there's plenty of science behind these theories, and they consistently reappear, but I recently read about a no-knead technique for making pizzas, so decided to give it a go:

No-knead pizza dough



Ingredients:

1 sachet dried yeast
2 tsp olive oil
380g strong bread flour
10g salt
250 ml water

Method:

Combine yeast, flour, salt and olive oil in a bowl. Add water in stages, just bringing it all together. Leave for 15 minutes.

With a running tap, wet fingers then bring one edge of the dough to the middle with finger tips and press down. Repeat with 3 more corners. Do this 3 more times, wetting fingers as you go. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a wet cloth and leave to rise until doubled in size.

It shouldn't work, but it does.

I have also used some leftover dough to make bread rolls and flatbreads, and I wouldn't trust it to make good stand-up boules or cottage loaves, but for pizzas it's very quick and easy.


Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Monday, 2 April 2012

More potatoes

Sometimes I get ideas out of the blue, and this is a typical example. I was intending to make a potato cake from mashed potatoes which are pressed into a hot, oiled, frying pan to brown on both sides, but just as I was getting ready to put them into the frying pan I thought  "I wonder what would happen if I stirred an egg into these before I fry them?". So I did, and the result was a delightful, fluffy, light cake. They accompanied the Boeuf Bourguignon very nicely.

Ingredients

5 medium sized yellow potatoes, such as Rooster
1 egg, beaten
salt and freshly ground black pepper
oil to grease a non-stick frying pan (I used a wok)

Method

Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Put them into a pan of boiling, salted water and simmer until they are just tender to the point of a knife. Drain and then mash them, checking seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Oil a non-stick frying pan and put over a hot heat. Stir the beaten egg into the potato mixture and press the mixture into the frying pan, smoothing the top surface. Reduce the heat and allow the potato mixture to crisp and brown underneath (about 5 minutes). Put a plate over the frying pan and invert the pan so that the potato cake drops onto the plate. Slide the cake back into the pan so that the other side of the cake can crisp and brown for another 5 minutes. Slide or invert the pan again to put the cake onto a serving plate. Serve cut into wedges.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Potato cubes

I made these to go with grilled Mackerel with tomatoes and capers, but they would go very well with chicken, or as part of a buffet.

Ingredients:

About a pound of yellow/waxy potatoes, like Roosters
A good glug of Olive oil
Splash of White wine
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Clove of garlic

Method:

Peel the potatoes and cut into 2 cm. cubes. Slice the garlic very finely. Put everything into a frying pan over a medium heat (I used a non-stick wok) and stir to mix. Allow the wine to evaporate, stirring occasionally, then as the frying sound starts, let the edges of the potatoes crisp and turn them from time to time. When the potatoes are tender to the point of a knife, drain and serve hot.

These would probably be best made in portions no larger than indicated above, since you want every potato piece to be in contact with the oil at all times.

Amazingly tasty and easy to make, although you might have to dance a little at the end to stop the potatoes from breaking up.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Smoked salmon on spaetzle with asparagus and a mustard sauce

I have been working on this one for quite some time, and I think it's now ready for human consumption.

(the measures are vague, but since I don't measure, anyway......)

Spaetzle is a pasta-type 'filler' from northern France/Switzerland/Germany, depending to who you talk to.

I made this for two people.

For the salmon:

2 lightly-smoked salmon fillets
2 tsp mustard with grains still in
small splash white vermouth
large splash double cream
1 tsp mustard

For the spaetzle:

100g flour
big pinch salt
1 egg
4 tbs water

For the asparagus:

Asparagus spears
boiling salted water

For the garnish, and as a sauce base:

Handful of pancetta cubes

Method:

Put the flour and salt into a bowl and break the egg in, stirring to mix. Slowly add the water, and beat for a couple of minutes until you have a smooth paste. Put the bowl into the fridge for 30 minutes to let the flour absorb the water. Coat the upper surface of the skinned salmon fillets with mustard and leave aside. Render the pancetta cubes slowly until they are just beginning to crisp and have given up most of their fat. Remove them with a slotted spoon, keeping their fat in the pan. The rest of the process should take between 10 and 15 minutes, so time accordingly. Drop the asparagus into boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, retaining the water, and keeping it at a rolling boil. Heat the plates in an oven and keep the asparagus warm. Pop the salmon under a hot grill. Don't bother to turn them: they're already cured, so you're just sealing the mustardy top. Reheat the pan with the pancetta oil and throw in the vermouth, letting it sizzle for a few seconds. Stir up any sticky residue from the lardons. Add the double cream and extra mustard, stirring for a few seconds. Reduce the heat and simmer slowly while finishing the spaetzle: slowly pour the paste through a large-holed sieve or a slotted spoon (I used a potato ricer with the large holes) into the boiling asparagus water. It will break up into little pieces and will separate and float as you stir. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain through a sieve, and divide between the plates. Put a salmon fillet on the spaetzle and dress the plates with the asparagus and the sauce and sprinkle over the pancetta cubes.

This is my kind of food.


Friday, 3 February 2012

Souflee tarts

These were inspired by Raymond Blanc's current TV program: The very hungry Frenchman.

Essentially we are making a quiche, but the baked mixture is a souflee mix, rather than the conventional custard: the results are wonderfully light, and the flavours are what I can only describe as 'expanded'. I urge you to make these. Now.

The amounts mentioned assume we're making 2 tarts.

For each tart:

Pastry Base:

I used bought shortcrust pastry, but if you have the time, make your own.

Start the oven to pre-heat to 170 c.

Roll the pastry out (floured work surface, floured rolling pin) until it is 2-3 mm thick. Line a 15 cm. loose-base tart tin with the pastry, making sure the pastry is eased into the base and pinch/raise the edges to 2mm above the tin edge. Prick the base all over with a fork and refrigerate to relax the pastry.

Bake the tart shells until lightly browned, around 20 minutes.

Filling base:

Make a veloute by putting a walnut sized lump of butter into a pan over a gentle heat and then stir in an equal amount of white flour. Stir until the flour is just taking on a very light colour. Stir in milk until the mixture makes a thick sauce, beating quickly to avoid lumps. Stir in half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Off the heat, stir in two egg yolks (keep the whites for the next step). This makes 2 measures of filling, and is intended for two tarts.

In a clean bowl, beat three egg whites with a few drops of lemon juice until they form soft peaks. (reserve the last egg yolk for sealing the bases).

Filling 1)

Slice half a chicken breast and 4 mushrooms very thinly. Melt some butter in a pan and throw the chicken pieces in, stirring until they turn white (2 minutes or so). Add the mushrooms and stir for another minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in half of the filling base.

Add a quarter of the egg whites and stir to mix. Fold in another quarter of the eggs whites very gently, just to amalgamate.

Filling 2)

Dice some lightly smoked salmon. Stir in half of the filling base.

Add a quarter of the egg whites and stir to mix. Fold in another quarter of the eggs whites very gently, just to amalgamate.

Pre-baking:


Heat oven to 180c.

Brush the baked tart bases with the remaining egg yolk and bake for 2 minutes to seal the base. Remove from the oven for filling.

Building the tarts:

Grate some Cheddar or Gruyere cheese over the base to lightly cover. Spread the filling over the base, piling slightly in the centre. Bake for 20 minutes.

Eat and smile.