Tag Archives: easy

No-Knead Sourdough and a Few Words about Finnish Flour

Plain sourdough no-knead bread.

Plain sourdough no-knead bread.

There isn’t much I need to say about this – the result of me waking the starter up (and worrying it’d kicked the bucket), and then thankfully finding out it didn’t.  I will just let these pictures speak for themselves.  There isn’t a crumb photo because the bread is still cooling, so I haven’t cut it yet, but I will happily add that later once I have one.

This is a happy-ending post to the saga of me reactivating Gloop, my Stockholm-brewed sourdough Type 1 starter from dry state.  The recipe for this bread is exceedingly simple – it’s the newer (edited) version of this one, using the 3.25dl water, slightly lower oven temperature (as mentioned in the opening paragraph of said post), and with the lavender taken out, because I wanted a plain, plain bread dough to let me see its development and bubbles without specks of dried herb or anything extraneous in the way.

I think I can pronounce the sourdough test bake in Finland a success.

Test bake

While at it, I would like to say a couple of words about bread flour found in (just about any) Finnish supermarket.  Those words would be – it’s awesome.  The local flour goes up to 14% protein content, and handles incredibly well, creating a beautiful, smooth, elastic dough without much effort at all.  The proof is, obviously, in the tasting (coming up rather soon!), but if the smell is anything to go by, I will stand by the ‘awesome’ verdict.

Here is a photo of the developing dough during the final proof in the banetton.

Test bake

Note that the beautiful shape and structure was achieved with literally zero kneading, only two double folds after first rise, and very rough shaping.  Color me impressed.

So, with this in mind (and eye, and nose – oh, the smell in the apartment right now is amazing!), I will feed my starter again, and contemplate bread recipes old and new – perhaps something with some rye and wild blueberries (aka bilberries) or lingonberries to celebrate Finland! – to bake over the next few weeks.

P.S.  And yes, I haven’t forgotten my promise of sourdough flatbread recipe.  Now that the starter is demonstrably awake, the recipe for that is on the short-short list of things to bake and write about!

Orange and Chili Tiger Prawns with Lemon Thyme

JätteräkorAlthough I have posted about prawns before (and here, and here, too), I still don’t feel that I have done this amazing, healthy and luxurious food justice.  In my opinion, crustaceans in general, and giant prawns in particular, are among the best things to eat – and easiest to prepare as well.

Besides, it’s early March, which here, in Sweden, is still technically winter – if you count -12C overnight temperatures and snow piles not yet melted outside as winter.  I mean, we have flowers now, too – the snowdrops are blooming their white little hearts out – but it’s still winter.  Not for much longer, though – and while I love the Scandinavian winter, I long for summer warmth.  And nothing screams summer like citrusy prawns with just a touch of heat and bite from chili.  When consumed, they instantly transfer you to a sunny spot in a garden – provided that you’ve remembered to shut the windows against the bright sunny -5C day outside after freezing airing the apartment out.  What I am trying to say, is that these aren’t just for when it is summer out – they are even more wonderful when you wish it already were.

The best part about these (after how divinely they taste – the clean, bright flavors are such an antithesis to all the winter soups and stews and roasts!), is how amazingly easy and fast these are to prepare.  You know me.  I will not wiggle a lazy little toe more than I have to, and yet I want to eat and I want to eat healthy and gorgeously.  And these prawns are it.  And you can start with a bag of them deep-frozen, like I have, because prawns are one of those foods that defrost quickly and well when submerged in a sealed bag in a bowl of cool water.  You can have these prawns out of the freezer and on the table within 30 minutes if you want – although I would recommend taking closer to an hour during which you do something else – like take a shower, read a book or vacuum the apartment out – while they marinate.  But because seafood soaks up flavors so fast, an entire 40 minutes of marinating is not strictly necessary – these will be fine just after ten.

Ready?  Here’s what you need for a summer-invoking lunch for two:

  • 6 giant tiger prawns or 10-12 regular-sized ones
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, stripped off twigs and chopped (I just took scissors to my lemon thyme pot on the window with some rigor)
  • 1 teaspoon of chili flakes (more or less depending on how hot your chili flakes are and how much heat you like)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt to taste
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • A squeeze of lemon (entirely optional – I added this because my orange was very sweet and lacked any hint of citrus tang.  If you are blessed with a tangy orange, this is not needed)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of neutral cooking oil – I use rapeseed (canola) because it has a similar fatty acid profile to olive (very good for your health!) but not the strong olive taste
  • A cast iron griddle
  • Makings for a green salad and/or some bread – whatever you like with your crustaceans

JätteräkorHere’s what you do:

  • Put your frozen-solid prawns into a plastic bag and submerge it while holding the top above water, into a bowl of cool water.  Clip top shut after the air is forced out.  Let float.
  • In meantime, juice and zest your orange.  Discard pulp and put the zest and juice in a bowl.
  • Press garlic into same bowl, add chili flakes and chopped thyme and swirl with a spoon to dissolve salt and taste, then adjust seasoning if needed.  Set aside.
  • Poke your prawns.  They should be defrosted or nearly so.  Rinse them in cold water and using sharp kitchen shears cut through their backs and devein them if needed.  Devein if needed, cut through backs in any case unless they are already pre-cut.
  • Drain on paper towel where they can finish defrosting if they are still a little stiff inside.
  • In meantime add the oil to your marinade and swish with a spoon or fork to mix.  Add prawns one by one to the bowl, poking them about so that marinade gets inside the cut  backs of shells.  Push them into the liquid as far as they’ll go (mine stuck out some) and let sit 10-40 minutes, depending on how hungry you are.
  • Five minutes before you take the prawns out of the marinade (or nearly right away if you are opting for the 10-minute marinade), preheat a heavy cast iron frying pan coated with a thin layer of lard (if you are against lard, use non-hydrogenated shortening, coconut or cooking oil, whatever floats your cookware!) on medium heat.  I use setting 6/9 on my induction stove.  The pan should get hot enough to sizzle if you splash a drop of water on it, but not nearly hot enough to smoke.
  • While pan heats, arrange your salad on plates, toast bread, etc.
  • When ready, fish prawns out of the marinade (I use a pair of steel kitchen tongs), shake excess marinade off, and set them onto the hot pan.  Prawns (over)cook very quickly, so don’t walk away!
  • Cook without moving on one side until the prawn flesh has gone opaque at least to the halfway point in the cut you made in back of shell, and the shell on the underside has turned gorgeously pink.
  • Flip the prawns and cook until the prawn is opaque throughout and no bits of shell are ‘uncooked’ grey.  Do not cook longer than that, because overcooked prawns, which you have all met in many restaurants and family dinners, are rubbery.  And that’d be a shameful thing to do to such wonderful food!

JätteräkorPour yourself a glass of sparkling or just a good white wine, and sit in a sunny spot in your room.  Instant summer!

Seasoning Mixes and A Very Easy Grilled Salmon Lunch

Rajah Seasonings I know, I have been remiss at posting in the past few months – life got busy again, and when that happens, blog, sadly, takes second place to immediate priorities.  And then, on top of it all, both T and I got a terrible case of influenza together, and spent the two weeks over the winter holidays in bed with thermometers, cold-and-flu drugs, and endless pots of tea, instead of out in the beautiful snow.  I’ll stop about that here before the blog post degenerates into whining.

As a result of it having been winter holidays and us having been sick, I have decided to post about two things which came as holiday presents, and came to be needed.  The first thing is that my wonderful beloved, among other things, bought me a set of seasoning mixes from Rajah, which is a very nice English brand of seasonings – not for English food.  In the United Kingdom, they are mostly found in ethnic shops and the ethnic food departments of supermarkets.  The other thing – a result of us having been so sick – is that I am cooking a lot of rather simple, everyday food that is easy on the stomach and short on prep and effort. As far as the seasonings are concerned, I am not really worried – I have bought many Rajah brand mixes before (in particular their curry powders), and they have always been of great quality.

The ones I received this Yule – none of which I’d tried before – are Jerk Seasoning (insert immature giggle here), Barbecue Seasoning, Hot and Spicy Seasoning and Lemon and Chili Seasoning.  I also got a pack of good Ras-Al-Hanut mix which isn’t by Rajah and isn’t in the picture, but I’ll write about that separately once I have tried it.

The thing about seasoning mixes bought in bulk like this is that they aren’t at all the same as the single-portion packets of ‘taco seasoning’ and ‘dressing mix’ that are sold in supermarkets.  It so happens that I think those ‘shortcut’ packets – which are mostly not made of spices, but of cheap filler – are vile.  This is not to say that all seasoning blends are bad – quite the opposite.  Good quality spice blends found in the spice department of your supermarket, at your favorite ethnic shop or at the spice traders’ are incredibly good to have around the kitchen for when you just aren’t up for standing and measuring and mixing and grinding and… you get the idea.

So, out of these four packets so far, I’ve only tried the Lemon and Chili and the Jamaican Jerk Seasonings.  The latter was used as it was intended, as a rub for a roast chicken, and the former I have used for simply the easiest lunch of grilled salmon.  Now, as I’ve mentioned before, salmon fillets should be on everyone’s list of things to buy when you can get them for a good price  (with the reasonable exceptions of allergic people or those who hate salmon with a passion).  Why?  Because not only are they healthy and really, really good for you, but they are also one of the easiest things in the world to make into hot, delicious food in under 20 minutes.

How?

Salmon 3288

It’s really simple.  So simple, in fact, that you don’t need a recipe.  All you do is:  preheat the oven to about 200-220C, and smear a small drop of cooking oil over the bottom of a small baking dish.  Blot your salmon fillets with a paper towel and smear them in … well, any seasoning you like.  I used my new lemon and chili seasoning from Rajah.  It worked great.  However, you can use your favorite mix, or you can simply season the salmon with salt and pepper and rub those into the surface.  Put the seasoned fillets into the oiled baking dish, and place the baking dish into the middle of the oven and grill for 15-18 minutes (depends on how large your fillets are and how done you prefer them).

Salmon is a fatty fish and so while it can handle glazing really well, it doesn’t even need that – the oil in the fish itself will mix with the seasoning as it grills.

Salmon 3293

See the salmon fat pooling down there in the bottom of the baking dish?  Like so!

Toss some greenery onto the plate, chop a cucumber or ball a melon or something – or both, season that with a drizzle of good olive oil, spatulate the salmon over to the waiting plates and you have a gorgeously elegant, healthy and tastebud-tingling meal in less time than it would take to get takout pizza (even if you live above the pizzeria!).

Grilled salmon - plated with melon and cucumber salad

As to seasoning mixes – I definitely recommend the Rajah Lemon and Chili, and the Jerk one isn’t half bad (it’s meant for chicken, not fish, however), but this post is not a plug for Rajah brand as such.  Most fish-friendly seasonings will work here – it is simply that if you have one on hand premixed – either bought or compounded by your very self, it makes a great meal come together without any effort.  And that is a worthy thing in itself.

Combined with a chunk of baguette, or a couple of boiled baby potatoes with peel on, and a glass of white wine or bubbly, this makes for a great dinner as well.

P.S. In case you are wondering, the salad here is just a handful of greenery topped with cucumber and melon, with some flaked sea salt, chili flakes and dried oregano sprinkled on top, and drizzled with a good olive oil.  Melon and chili work wonderfully well together, and I tend to think that anything more complicated than that would be entirely unnecessary.

Preserving the Bounty: Easy Spiced Plum Jam for Beginners

Edit:  if you are looking for a recipe for spiced fig jam to go with your cheese, it’s here and it’s just as easy and awesome as this one.  For plum jam, and the better-detailed rundown on equipment and hot-water processing, read on!

One of the things I adore most about autumn is the fruit – a generously wide variety of it, beautiful, ripe and inexpensive – in some cases even free, unless you count picking it and hauling it home.

Obviously, as the time and stomach volume permits, I munch away at all of this glorious bounty raw, or in pies and tarts, but there is something incredibly comforting about preserving some of the perfectly ripe fruit at the peak of its flavor in jam jars, to keep for when the landscape turns white and blue, to remind us (and the lucky recipients of such jars) that winter is not forever.  And that, for all it’s -20C and pitch dark at 6pm outside, at home there is warmth and candlelight, and in the meantime, there’s jam.

Best thing about plum jam is that of all the jams I’ve ever tried to make (with the possible exception of the very pectin-rich quince), it’s the one that sets the fastest and most reliably, without the need for any added pectin.  So all you really need to make it is sugar and plums.  And if you’ve got whole cloves or star anise or cardamom pods in your pantry, it’ll be that much better.

The second best thing about it (though not unique to plum jam in my experience) is that you can make it in tiny batches, and you can make it fast – far faster than the hours-spent-at-the-stove image a jar of homemade jam might evoke, so that you can cook a tiny batch of it whenever you have a couple of handfuls of plums on hand, and be able to gift (or keep to yourself greedily) the jam jar the very next morning, and channel the domestic goddess without much effort at all.

I sincerely recommend using the spices listed (one of, not all three together!) in the cooking process.  They do not detract from the plum flavor, but in fact enhance it and elevate your jam to heights far above the regular off-the-shelf shop-bought stuff by giving it that extra-fancy complex scent like the really expensive gourmet stuff you might or might not have tried – or the best-ever homemade jam that I hope you have.  If you haven’t – just do it, you won’t regret it!

Star anise or cinnamon stick can be used in either golden or purple plum jam, as they are easy to see and therefore get out at the end of the process.  Cardamom is harder to see in purple plum jam, but is easy to remove from golden (unless you tie it in cheesecloth, in which case it’s easy either way), and cloves can be left in the jam after cooking, so use them in either.

A note about ripeness of plums:  you should use mostly or only ripe fruit.  If one or two of your plums are hard, it is no trouble, but if all of them are just slightly underripe, your jam will set so hard, you could slice it with a knife – underripe fruit are too rich in pectin, making them ideal to add to overripe ones to set a jam, but not to make a jam of on their own!

And then, of course there’s the problem of canning apparatus and tools.  Or not at all, as it happens – if you use small jars (250ml ones are great for gifting!), you don’t need much at all, and all you need is probably already there in your kitchen.  That is because the plums have high acidity, and so boiling-water processing is all it takes to make plum-based preserves shelf-stable for about a year (or more, but don’t quote me – most reputable canning websites suggest eating homemade jam within 1-3 years of preparation).  What this means is that you don’t need any fancy apparatus to process the jars – a stockpot, a silicone trivet and a pair of jar tongs (or if you are like me and don’t have those, a silicone spatula and a wooden spoon to place jars inside the pot and fish them out) are all that is needed.

So, if you’ve ever thought that in order to have lovely rich-tasting jam, you either need to empty your wallet and hit the gourmet store, or have a country estate with a huge kitchen equipped like a miniature canning factory, you’ve been terribly misled.

So, how do you go about it?  It’s all really very simple!

This will make approximately 750ml jam (3x250ml jars of it).

Equipment:

  • A 2L+ pot for cooking the jam
  • A wooden or nylon spoon
  • 3x 250ml canning jars, washed.  I use the sort with screw-top lids by preference, they seem to work best for me and seal reliably – though I’ve also made and processed jam in washed-out honey jars, it’s not generally recommended to reuse those.  Thicker-walled jars for home canning have a far lesser chance of cracking during processing or when filled with very hot jam.
  • Your glasses (if you have them), or a pair of goggles such as pictured (mine are my old laboratory eye protection gear), which are entirely optional – but I like the safety that having something between my eyes and hot sugar syrup provides.
  • A timer/thermometer is helpful, but not necessary.  If you want one, you should get a cheap and good dual-function one at IKEA – I love mine and it’s worth every one of the pennies (not many!) it cost!  (No, I don’t work for IKEA’s ad department.  Sadly.)

If you plan to gift the jam or store it outside the refrigerator, you will also need the following to process the jars:

  • A 4L+ pot for boiling-water processing the jars
  • Something (like a silicone trivet) to prevent jars from knocking about too much in the processing pot.  Some people use a 100% cotton tea towel, or a metal rack-style trivet.
  • Jar tongs or something you can use to lift the jars out of boiling water.  I would recommend the jar tongs for safety – I’ll buy a pair myself as soon as I can find a good one for a decent price!

Ingredients:

  • 500g ripe plums of any sort, pitted and sliced or chopped into small pieces.  I quarter the plums, and then slice them crosswise into pieces about 0.5cm thick
  • 300-350g sugar (I would not recommend using less than 250g or half the weight of the fruit as the jam may not set)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (be careful what sort you buy!), OR 3 stars of star anise, OR 12 whole cloves OR 4-6 cardamom pods (all optional, any are recommended)

That’s all!  Now, what do you do?

  • Put your jars and lids opening-down on the oven rack and set the oven to 75C.  This will sterilize and dry them while you make the jam.
  • Put your plums and your sugar in the smaller pot and turn on medium-high heat.  I use 6/9 setting.
  • Set the larger pot with 3L of water in it on the back burner.  Stick your glasses or goggles on if using those, and feel like a scientist tinkering in his or her lab!
  • Stir the plums with sugar and mash them a little until sugar dissolves.  Add the whole spices.  Keep stirring until the jam boils.
  • Set a timer for 15 minutes.  This is a guideline, not an absolute measure.  Keep watching and stirring the jam so that it does not stick and burn (it isn’t prone to that, really, but you don’t want to chance sugar burning – it’ll ruin the entire batch).
  • Reduce heat a little if the jam boils too vigorously – it should boil but not spit.
  • To know when the jam is ready to be jarred, you can follow this easy guideline courtesy the National Center for Home Preservation:

Jelling Point Spoon Test

  • At first the syrup will drip off the spoon in a single drip (not pictured so well), then after a while it’ll drip in two simultaneous drips (it really does!), and then, after a little while longer, it will sheet or drop off the spoon in blobs (see rightmost picture).  At that point your jam is going to set.
  • Once you’ve reached this point, turn off the heat, stir the jam well and remove the cinnamon stick, anise stars or cardamom pods.  If you used cloves, feel free to leave those in the jam, they will do it no harm.
  • Take your jars out of the oven using potholders.
  • Pour or scoop the jam into the prepared jars, and screw the lids on thoroughly.  The lids and jars will be hot, so use a tea towel.
  • If you plan to eat the jam within 2 months and store refrigerated, go no further.  Allow the jam to cool to room temperature and place in the refrigerator.
  • If you want to make the jam shelf-stable and/or plan to give it away, bring the larger pot of water to a boil if it’s not yet boiling.  Place the trivet inside.  Carefully lower the jars into the water using jar tongs (or whatever contraption you come up with), and time 10 minutes.
  • Take the jars out, place them on a wooden board, and allow them to cool.  Once cooled, the tops of the screw-top lids will ‘ping’ into the depressed position, indicating a vacuum seal – that’s your sign that processing succeeded.

Note:  If a lid does not depress after cooling, store the jam in refrigerator for up to 2 months (I don’t recommend re-processing), and eat it or use it in dessert.

Tian Provencal, Revisited (and simplified while at it)

Thanks to the changeable and on-and-off awful weather, I’ve been on some sort of oven-cooking kick.  Or, to skip excuses, I am back to all my favorite colder-weather dishes which I have avoided in the summer, and I want to cook and eat them all, now, as soon as possible – there is only half a year of cold weather left!  So, oven on and om nom nom nom nom nom!

I’ve written about Tian d’aubergines before, and therefore it may well be superfluous to write about this again, but I am of the opinion that anything worth doing, is worth doing well (and again), at least where food is concerned – and besides, this is a far less fussy preparation, which will take a lot, I repeat, a lot less of your time, which makes it entirely worth writing about.  And in its golden, savory wonderfulness, it is a vegetarian dish to make even carnivores such as myself weep with joy – and put away a giant bowlful of, not wanting a single thing more for lunch.

You can, of course, serve this alongside some roast fowl, or with a well-marinated piece of grilled meat, or a quick-fried good quality steak, and it’ll make a large and filling celebratory dinner.  Or you can plate this into small ramekin-sized containers (or, indeed, as mentioned here, bake it in individual casserole dishes – but this is making things more complicated again!), and serve as starters at an autumn dinner party.  And, should there be leftovers (and there were some – far less than one’d expect! – from my large casserole dish), you can always stuff them into a sandwich (cold as they may be from the fridge), or between two tortillas with a little cheese and chipotle paste, and dry-fry into amazing quesadillas.  Although, if you serve this at a party, I doubt there’ll be any leftovers – and you will wish there were.

The main difference with the aforementioned recipe is the aubergines – both, the variety and the preparation (or lack thereof).  The method of baking remains very much the same (how much can one simplify the instruction of “put in oven, leave in there for X time“, really?), but is still gloriously simple and forgiving.

What makes the big difference, is using not the giant purple-skinned aubergines, which are notorious for having a bitter off-taste more often than not, and require a slicing-and-salting to leech the bitter juices out, but the adorable striped and/or tiny egg-shaped white ones, the latter of which, I believe, is what gives the vegetable its English name, ‘eggplant’.  I’d be surprised if there was another reason for it – just look at them!

The white and the striped ones, unlike their shiny purple cousins, are not bitter at all.  I know.  I licked them after slicing just to be sure, even though I’ve been told so before.  Which means, you can dispense with the pre-salting, and pre-frying of aubergines, and can, in fact, assemble the whole shebang as you slice and go along.

Note – the cornucopia of vegetables in the above photo was me having bigger eyes than a casserole dish, for all it was a large one.  I had to leave out a couple of the potatoes, 2 of the mushrooms, and 2 of the little white aubergines because they simply didn’t fit.  Since I cannot predict the size of your vegetables (they don’t come in standardized shapes and sizes, thank the gods!), my advice regarding quantities will be – take out more than you think you need.  Washing and drying vegetables and then putting the leftover ones in the fridge washed and dried does them no harm.

What you need to make this:

  • Time: 2 hours.  This bakes for 1.5 of those.
  • A large casserole dish.  I use a cast-iron shallow thing I bought ages ago.  Use whatever size you want the tian to be, so long as the thing fits into your oven!
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Rosemary (recommended), fresh, 2-3 large sprigs, leaves stripped
  • Sea salt
  • Aubergines, sliced
  • Tomatoes, sliced
  • Squash (zucchini or golden, not winter squash), sliced
  • Onion, sliced
  • Garlic – I used a generous handful of cloves, outer papery skin removed, clove shells left intact, root tips cut off
  • Cheese to top, if desired (I always desire cheese)
  • Other optional vegetables – some small potatoes, firm large mushrooms (baby portobello, for example), fennel bulbs – also sliced thinly

What you need to do:

  • Preheat oven to 200C.
  • Oil the casserole dish with olive oil generously.
  • Grab 3-4 of your vegetables – I usually start with aubergine, tomato and zucchini, and start alternating slices of those in a repeating pattern:  zucchini-tomato-aubergine, zucchini-tomato-aubergine – in whatever order you like, and leaning them against the side of the casserole dish, going around the outside.
  • When you have covered about 3/4 of the circle, begin inserting onions every repetition (easiest way I found is ‘after every vegetable x’), and moving the other veg along a bit as needed.
  • Stick other vegetables into the spacing in order to close the circle as necessary.  Begin the same rotation with whatever is left, adding optional vegetables if needed.  Slice more if you run out as you go along.
  • When you have filled the entire pan with concentric circles or rectangley-things (if your pan is rectangular), gently wiggle garlic cloves into the available spaces, and slip all remaining sliced-up veg into whatever sections look flatter than the rest of the pattern, evening it out.
  • Scatter rosemary leaves over the vegetables, pushing some into any nooks, drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
  • Cover with lid or foil, and place in the oven for 1 hour.
  • After an hour, check and remove lid – the vegetables should be cooked through and steaming.  Add cheese if using (do, do, you know you want to!), sprinkling evenly over the tian, and place back in the oven for ~30 minutes to finish browning.
  • Remove from oven when cheese is bubbling and browned.

Like so.

Shovel into plates while steaming-hot, add a bit of green salad (or nothing), grind some black pepper on top if you like it (it’ll do it good!), and celebrate autumn in all its colorful glory!

P.S. I tend to fish the garlic cloves out in my plate by the tail end, squeeze them out with the side of a fork, and spread the velvety-soft flesh on my vegetables.  Yes, I suck the shells clean, too, if it’s not in public.  You do as messily or as politely as you will!

Potato and Mushroom Gratin – Real Quick (for a Gratin!)

The weather had turned autumn-ward several weeks ago.  And while I wish we’d have had our full share of summer, and not had it truncated at the end of July (I mean, where DID the August go, really?), I also can’t say I am unhappy about the excuse to get out pretty and warm clothes, drink hot drinks, and cook cold-weather comfort food.

Most comforting dishes such as my beloved cassoulet and various beef stews, are long-and-slow cooked creations that require thinking ahead and preparation.  Happily, this one is not one of those – the entire prep and initial cooking takes maybe 15 minutes, and then it is 40-45 minutes of doing nothing while the oven does its job.  An hour may not sound like it’s a very fast dish, but when you consider that most potato gratins take more like an hour and a half or two to achieve that perfect consistency, then an hour from start to finish with only a quarter-hour of active involvement really isn’t so much of an investment.  Especially – especially!!! – when the results are so creamily, comfort-heavenly good.

This generous portion will serve two for a generous dinner, or four as a decent side dish to steak or roast chicken.  The recipe is somewhat adapted from Nigella Express – quantities changed a little, and I chose to use heavy cream for part of the milk specified, black pepper instead of white, and a little more wine than was called for.  The results were just the right thing to take the edge off a tiring Monday night grown rapidly chill with sunset.

A word about the potatoes – the main star of this show:  I bought the pre-washed shiny golden ones that ambushed me in the entrance to the supermarket.  But really, any will do.  Don’t bother peeling, but if they are dirty, do give them a good scrubbing in addition to the non-optional rinse.

What you need:

  • 700g potatoes, rinsed and patted dry, sliced into 3-4mm thick slices
  • 150-200g mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • 2.5dl full-fat milk
  • 1dl heavy (36%+ fat) cream
  • 0.5dl white wine
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Garlic granules or powder (optional), to taste

What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 220C.  Butter a large casserole dish thoroughly.
  • Put potatoes, milk, cream and wine into a pot.  Place on medium-high heat, bring to a boil and add salt and garlic granules if using (I did, and they worked wonderfully well).  Cover, turn heat down a little to avoid burning the milk, and let simmer while you prepare the mushrooms.
  • Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan on medium-high heat.  Dump mushrooms into the pan and saute until they are giving off a tiny bit of liquid and are turning soft and a little translucent, maybe 5 minutes.
  • Pour the entirety of the mushroom pan into the pot with potatoes and stir carefully, avoiding breaking the potato slices.
  • Pour the contents of the pot into the buttered casserole dish, and pat gently with a spatula into a uniform layer.
  • Place casserole dish on a rack in the middle of the oven and set timer for 40 minutes.  Go take a bath, power nap, or finish that last bit of business for the day to get it off your mind.
  • When timer goes off, check the gratin.  If it is not quite golden enough on top for you, turn the broiler (top grill) on for a few minutes while you watch it (watch it, it will brown FAST!).
  • Take out of oven, and shovel into plates (warm the plates if you want to be really decadent).  Eat on sofa off your lap, or serve with half a glass of white wine for a luxury workday dinner.

P.S.  I’d like to note that the clean-up for this isn’t half bad – if the casserole dish was buttered well (mine was), all it takes to loosen the browned dairy bits off the sides is a bit of soaking in water, and a light brushing.  No heavy scrubbing required!

Green Salad with Honey-Roast Figs and Kabanos

In addition to studying for my law degree, I tend to take entirely too many projects on.  Mind you, I am not some sort of workaholic with insane work-ethical worldview that makes me run around doing stuff like crazy – far from it.  I am lazy at heart.  But, there are just so many interesting things to visit, see, read, do, make, write, cook, grow and eat out there!  And as a result, I run around trying to juggle the schoolwork and hobbies like a madwoman.

Like this morning – I just got done watering all the orchids and picking up around the kitchen, and it was already lunchtime!  Where did the bloody time go, tell me?!

Guess where I take the shortcut?  Lunchtime.  More often than not, I end up opening the fridge and staring into it in fascination trying to figure out what I can take out and prepare in 20 minutes or less.  No, ramen noodles aren’t on the menu – ‘something to eat’ in our household which consists of myself and a spoiled other half needs to be healthy, delicious and fresh.

Unless I realize (in horror) that we’d run out of our resident packet of greens, what we end up eating on a daily basis, is some permutation of a green salad.  Frankly, I don’t have a single set ‘recipe’ for a green salad – I just grab all that looks promising out of the fridge: greens, vegetables, cheese of some sort, and cured or cooked meat of some description, and then figure out what sorts of seasoning and dressing it would go well with.

This salad, however, was memorable enough in its semi-accidental nature, that I think it ought to be written down and shared, for it turned out lovely and fresh and full of rounded flavor without any component overpowering the whole.  The delicate sweetness of roast figs goes oh-so-wonderfully with the smoky meat, and the freshness of the mint and basil set it all off to perfection.  I could wax poetic about how great it is to have fresh potted herbs on my windowsill, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Anyway, the salad!  The quantities given were enough for a large lunch salad for two people.  If you want to feed four, feel free to double the recipe as main dish for lunch or light supper, or use below quantities and have smaller portions as starters.

What you need:

  • Two large handfuls of baby salad greens
  • 1 red sweet paprika – I used the long sweet variety that are thinner-fleshed and a little less watery than typical bell peppers, but using a bell pepper here would harm the salad not at all
  • 1 good-sized tomato
  • A chunk of cucumber 10-15cm long
  • 8 very fresh mint leaves, rolled and chiffonaded
  • 4 sprigs of Greek basil, snipped – a large sprig of regular basil, chiffonaded, will also work.
  • 150g white brined curd cheese (I use a German white cheese which is a bit less salty than feta, but feta or anything like it will work too – you might need to reduce the amount of salt)
  • 1-2 figs
  • 1-2 teaspoons of honey
  • Kabanos sausage, or other smoky-flavored dry-cured or smoked sausage, sliced into easily edible bits.
  • A large (or small) pinch of sea salt flakes and a good grinding of black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar
  • 2-4 tablespoons of good extra-virgin olive oil

What to do:

  • Slice the figs into quarters nearly all the way through, so that the four quarters remain attached at the bottom.  Drip a teaspoon of honey into each fig, place in a baking dish and bake at 225C for approximately 10 minutes or until the figs are open and bright-pink inside and ooze a little bit of pink syrup when prodded.
  • Remove from oven.
  • While the figs roast, toss the greens, chopped peppers, cucumber and tomato, finely snipped/chiffonaded fresh herbs and cubed brined curd cheese to the bowl.
  • Sprinkle with vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and toss thoroughly.
  • Add olive oil and toss again.
  • Plate the salad out, and garnish with roast fig or figs on top, and smoky sausages on the side (or wherever the heck you want them!).

Enjoy.  The entire ‘cooking’ process for this takes approximately 15 minutes.  In fact, there’s even time to make a couple of cups of honeyed mint tea to go with it.

You don’t know how to make mint tea?  Nothing easier!  It is one of my favorite non-caffeinated hot drinks out there, and probably the easiest to make – and it is lovely, lovely, lovely for your throat if you are down with a cold!

Take a large (500ml or so) coffee or soup mug.  Place inside it a sprig of fresh mint, and a teaspoon of honey.  Pour over boiling water and let steep about 10 minutes.  Stir honey in and remove the sprig.  And it’s good with nearly any Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean-style dish you I can think of.  Try it, you definitely won’t regret it!  (Unless you hate mojitos or something.)

How To Make Your Own Sourdough Starter (and why you should)

Pictured:  Stockholm Sourdough 2.0

I think I will start today’s post with the why before the how.  Now that I think of it, it is how I usually structure my posts anyway, but in today’s case there are actually two ‘why’-s:  they why of why you should make your own sourdough starter, and the why I am writing this post at all.  After all, there are so many instructions on the internet about how to do this – right?

Right.  There are actually many instructions about how to make a sourdough starter.  In fact, I have read at least two good ones which have helped me immensely in creating my own starter… but!  But, in the year since I’ve made it (the starter has no name, in case you wondered – I don’t name what I eat), I’ve learned a whole lot about sourdough starters which I had not known back then, most of which has to do with making the whole business more foolproof and less problematic and labor-intensive.  And when you think about it, our foremothers and -fathers baked bread in their busy schedules for thousands of years without the use of sterilized this, special that, or having time to feed the starter every eight or however many hours, the way many internet ‘sourdough gurus’ would declaim you simply must!  The truth is, it’s far simpler than that, and a lot less messy, and this is why I decided to write my own guideline for making and caring for a sourdough starter.

And then, perhaps a few insights into microbiology offered in the previous post don’t hurt one’s understanding of how to take care of this, either.

The why of why should you make your own sourdough starter is far simpler.  Do you want to bake your own delicious and healthier-for-you sourdough bread?  Do you want to save money on it?  Do you want to have guests greedily reach for more bread at a table regardless of what else is on it?  Then you want to bake sourdough bread.  And for that you need a starter.  So, you should make it.

As an aside, if you have someone who can give you a starter culture, or can buy it in a shop to perpetuate for yourself, or would prefer to get a mail-order dehydrated culture, by all means, do so.  I did not opt for those (except for a piece of Polish starter which I managed to kill – Sylwia, if you are reading this, I will come to beg another bit from you at some point!), but decided to cultivate my own starter because I find microbiology fascinating, and I wanted something authentically mine.  And what can be more authentic than making your own local starter with locally sourced flour, local wild yeasts, and the resident population of microbes?  By now you probably suspect I don’t get out much (I do, actually), but if not, and you want the fun of your own starter, then read on!

The ‘how’ of making and perpetuating a starter is, like I’ve said, a lot easier than many people would have you believe.  Why they make it sound more difficult and complicated and labor-intensive than it has to be, I don’t know.  Perhaps it is to work on their own ‘blogger’ or ‘food writer’ cred.  Don’t get me wrong, some of their advice is very good, and the two places I’ve read for advice on sourdough baking (here and here) give no bad advice – if you follow their instructions to the letter, you will have a good sourdough starter.  It is just that I have found that a lot of the more labor-intensive bits which are ‘common knowledge’ about sourdough starter are either just not true (yes you can use stainless steel bowls and utensils!), or unnecessary.

So, let’s get to it!  What do you need to start and perpetuate a sourdough starter:

  • Patience.  About two weeks’ worth (no, I don’t know where to buy any, either)
  • Tap water (cold)  Addendum:  use tap water if it is drinkable.  If you filter your tap water to drink it yourself, filter it for the starter as well.
  • Whole wheat flour (50g) – preferably local and reasonably fresh
  • White wheat flour and rye flour (latter is optional)
  • Bowl (glass, ceramic, plastic or steel – food-safe), spoon, glass jar with lid (washed out pickle or honey jar at least 1L in volume is good), volume measuring spoons or cup, kitchen scale or a measuring cup which approximates grams for flour, maybe a whisk if you want to be fancy

For cheating/troubleshooting/prevention of issues:

  • 1 teaspoon of liquid accumulated in a bucket of live natural yogurt (ready source of food-grade lactobacillus)
  • 100ml of supermarket-bought pineapple juice from a carton

What you need to do:

This section will be broken down into Day 1, Day 2, Days 3-? (usually 7-14), Troubleshooting (or in case you want to start things off with the cheats that aren’t for purists but work), and Maintaining Your Starter, for the obvious reasons.

Day 1:

  • Mix 50g of whole wheat flour and 50ml cold tap water in a small bowl until fully combined.  Scrape mixture into the glass jar (it should fill your chosen jar no more than 1/4 of volume to allow for rise later on).
  • Cover the jar with its lid, screwed on part-way (to allow a small amount of air flow but no direct contact with dust falling into the jar from above).  Leave until the next day.

Day 2:

  • Remove about half of the mixture and throw it away.
    • Here is why:  until your starter is ready, you do not want to use the discarded portions of your starter for anything food-related – simple reason is that until you have an established symbiosis of acid-manufacturing microbes (a ready starter), which will make sure no spoilage organisms such as molds or pathogens can grow in it, spoilage organisms can be present in your starter.
  • Add 25ml water and 25g of whole wheat flour to the remaining starter.  Add water first, mix the starter into it, then add flour.  Cover with the lid and leave be till next day.

Days 3-? (Usually 7-10 or so):

  • Throw away half the mixture.  Transfer the remaining half to a small bowl.  Wash out the jar with dish soap and water, rinse well, and dry.
  • Add 25ml of water and 25g of all-purpose or white bread flour to the bowl of starter.  I recommend mixing a teaspoon of rye flour as part of the flour as well (sourdough starters love rye.  I am not actually sure why, but they do).  Mix, return to clean jar, cover and leave be until next day.
  • Repeat daily until starter is ready* or at least until Day 7.

At this point you will begin to notice bubbles which form overnight in the starter.  It might, in fact, even rise and fall in-between your visits, leaving some streaks on the glass of the jar (this is why you should clean it – so you can see what your starter has been doing while you aren’t looking!).  These are good signs.  Repeat the routine daily, stirring the starter so it collapses before throwing away half.

During this stage of development, the starter may well smell spoiled, and sometimes may have a film forming over the surface.  These are not a problem – they should go away by the time the starter is ready.

* Starter is ready to bake with (and to store for future use) when it is at least seven days old and it rises on a daily basis to at least twice its height (volume) in the jar, filling it with bubbles 6-12 hours after it’s been fed.  Please note the ‘and’ there – it should be at least a week old, and it should rise.  Not one or the other.

The third and very important thing is that any off-smells which may have been present during the initial week or two should be gone, replaced by a fresh and yeasty scent.  A small hint of acetone (nail polish) scent may also be present – it is not acetone but ethyl acetate, and it is an indication that acetobacteria are taking up residence in your starter, which is a good thing.  The starter at this point can be tasted cautiously – it should be quite sour to the taste.

Once the starter is at least a week old, rises regularly a few hours after feeding, and smells yeasty, you are ready for the next stage – keeping and storing the starter.

Maintenance:

A lot of sites tell you that you must keep your starter at room temperature and you must feed it every 8 or 12 hours.  I disagree.  This is unnecessarily labor-intensive, and would discourage even me from keeping this up and having sourdough starter around.

What I do instead, is keep my starter in the fridge.  The only thing you should know about this, is that it keeps better if you feed it and put it directly into the fridge (lid on but not very tightly to allow air flow), rather than stick it into the fridge after it rises and falls (is ‘ripe’).  So, after a feeding, you can put the starter into the fridge and forget about it for 2-4 weeks, no problem.

When you want to bake, get the jar out, and feed the starter.  If it has been less than 2 weeks, you can simply take a tablespoon of it and feed that and use it to bake, retaining the jar in the fridge – if it’s been longer, I figure the starter is getting hungry, and so I tend to take entire jar out, mix twice what I need, return half of it to a (cleaned) jar to the fridge, and use the other half for baking.  You can also freeze a ‘retaining’ sample in a small plastic tub in case you manage to kill the starter somehow – or bake up all of your starter.  I haven’t done that, but I’ve heard it’s traumatic if and when it happens, so you can have a bit of ‘insurance’ in the freezer.

If you want to keep more than just the 100g of starter around, feel free to feed it more for a larger total amount.  Once the starter is ready, I tend to keep approximately 150g of it in the refrigerator.  I prefer my starter to be 100% hydration – meaning that I advocate using equal amounts (by weight) of flour and water at every feeding, and all my sourdough recipes are geared and tested with this type of starter.  If you want yours thicker or thinner, feel free to experiment once you feel you have the hang of it – just keep in mind that the more water in starter, the faster it will both, rise and fall.

Troubleshooting and ‘Cheating':

There are two additional pieces of advice I would like to offer here, one which I have used myself (not being a huge purist after all), and one that I have read about, but which appears to me to be both, microbiologically sound and easy to use (and won’t hurt anything in any case).

The first advice is using the teaspoon of yogurt water (the liquid that collects in a bucket of any good live natural yogurt) in your initial starter culture – mixing that into the water quantity on Day 1 of your starter.  This will ensure that you have lactobacilli present in the starter from the get-go.  I have done this and it has worked really well, so I do recommend it, although by all accounts it will work fine without introducing the lactobacilli there – theoretically there are enough present on our skin and in our kitchens to inoculate the culture.

The second piece of advice is for those whose starter ‘misbehaves’ and either rises well for a while and then stops, or smells off.  This advice is to use shop-bought pineapple juice instead of water on Day 1 and Day 2 of the cycle, and then swap to the water per routine instructions above.  What this is meant to accomplish (and does according to the source), is ensuring an acidic environment for the starter to begin with, which will stop development of the wrong (non-acid-tolerant) strains of yeast and pathogens, and allow only acid-loving organisms to survive (which is what you want).  I have not tested this yet, but I am curious and might do so just to see how well it works.  According to all I’ve heard of this method, it works, and does so really well.

I realize this got wordy, so this is all there is to it, folks – once the starter is ready, you can use it in any sourdough recipe.  If the recipe calls for more starter than you have, making more is very easy – just add equal amounts of water and flour (by weight) to some of what you have, mix and leave overnight.  Oh and obviously you can first impress all your foodie friends with home-baked sourdough bread, and then magnanimously bestow pieces of the mystical bread-making grey gloop on them if they want to experiment themselves.  So, have fun!

Sourdough Focaccia (and what ‘sourdough’ is and is not)

Edit:  How To Make Your Own Sourdough Starter (and why you should) guide is now up!

So, in the wake of my trip to Barcelona and some home improvement, I have cooked and eaten, but not photographed much in the recent weeks. This all changed yesterday when I was baking this and realized that it’s too gorgeous not to photograph and tell about.  And it tastes (I write this anticipating the very last piece of this for lunch!) amazing – the bottom crust is browned and lovely with olive oil, the top is golden, the crumb is chewy and moist and aromatic, with just a touch of the sourdough tang to it – which sets the herbiness of rosemary and oregano off really, really well.  In short, if you like baking, you need to bake this.  If you have only tried the common cafe ‘focaccia’ (which tends to resemble dry toast more than anything, at least hereabouts), you truly need to try this.  There is just no comparison – this wins on every count (unless you compete in ‘dry’, then maybe not – but then it’s not a cracker!).

There are no complicated techniques involved here (other than owning some sourdough starter – more on that shortly), and the entire process is very very easy – and really, so very much worth the fairly small effort!

The other thing which spurred this post is feeling that I really ought to get the rant about what sourdough is and is not off my chest. Because, really, people (whom I, per usual, will not name) who have food shows and are supposedly ‘bakers’ seriously ought to get their heads out of where the darkness reigns supreme, and maybe take a class in microbiology. Or, barring that, at least one in sourdough baking.  Or do something else to acquire a friggin’ clue.

What I refer to, is the rather common phenomenon I see permeating both, cookbooks and online recipes and cooking videos, whereby a celebrity (or a blog writer, or whoever) goes something like “this recipe calls for a sourdough starter… if you don’t have your own sourdough starter, you can easily make it overnight by mixing some water, flour and bakers’ yeast…”  and proceed with the recipe without batting an eye.  This, frankly, annoys me – not because the recipe in question is not good (it may well turn out fantastic!), but because it’s not sourdough.  It’s a simple recipe with a ‘sponge’ or ‘biga’.  Which could be a sourdough sponge, but unless it’s made with actual sourdough culture rather than baker’s yeast, is not a sourdough sponge.

Why does it annoy me?  Because it muddles terminology, and I have a science education.  Things have names for a reason.  When a doctor prescribes you some antibiotics, your pharmacist doesn’t just go “have some antihistamines, they’re also pills and sort of sound like that too”.  When a reader or listener wants to bake sourdough, they imagine the sourdough flavor, or perhaps they want it for the health benefits (lowered GI, easier to digest), and instead they are being handed a recipe based on baker’s yeast is simply false advertising.  Oh, and I guess it annoys me as a student of food law, too.

Why is this common?  My guess would be, because foodie culture is making sourdough bread more popular again, people want recipes for sourdough that’d taste like that fancy levain bread they had at a cafe, or that sour-tangy loaf they bought at a bakery.  But… giving ‘difficult’ recipes or advice regarding making starter (7-14 days) aren’t going to sell food shows, or cookbooks – because, sadly, people who grew up with the 70s, 80s and even 90s idea that a béarnaise sauce can come out of a dried packet, don’t take well to being told something takes time and you can’t get around it by using something you have on hand as a shortcut.  And so, the “sourdough-but-you-can-just-use-any-bought-yeast” recipes proliferate.  And people try them, and they never taste the way sourdough did and they give up on sourdough baking before they even actually tried it.  So, the practice annoys me as a food blogger, too.  Make it trifold annoyance, then.  Sigh.

The really silly thing is, these days you can get sourdough starter from a bakery, or you can mail-order it dried, or you can even buy it at some of the better gourmet shops – at which point you can simply perpetuate it forever without the effort of making your own.  Or you can make your own like I did over a year ago – and mine is going strong despite me frequently leaving it in the fridge for a month without any feeding (or even checking to see what it is doing).  In fact, I think I need to write a better summary of making and care of starter after a year of experience with mine – note for the near future.  Either way, sourdough starter is not hard to make (or get), and it’s not at all hard to keep alive if you have a refrigerator (and most of us reading this online do – or I hope so, anyway).

But, back to the title of the post – what sourdough starter is, is a culture of lactobacilli (bacteria which sour milk to create yogurt, for example), acetobacteria (bacteria which make vinegar), and an acid-tolerant species of yeast (one of a few, none of which are the species sold as baker’s yeast commercially) living symbiotically in a mix of water and flour, together comprising the greyish gloop that is referred to as “starter”.  Because it is a living culture, it needs to be fed occasionally – daily if it is kept at room temperature, monthly or so if it is kept in the fridge (which is what I do).  Why is it special and different from regular yeast?  Well, the thing is – the “sour” in sourdough – the part that makes it both, taste great and helps preserve it for days on end when regular bread would just go moldy – are organic acids (lactic and acetic) which are produced by the aforementioned bacteria.  And the yeast that is living in the starter must, in order to raise the bread, be able to happily live and reproduce in a very acidic environment that these bacteria create – which baker’s yeast generally can’t do.  Hence the symbiotic culture of the right yeast which can naturally coexist with the bacteria in question.

The above also answers the other implied question – by process of elimination, what sourdough starter isn’t, is anything which is made by mixing baker’s yeast with flour and water and whatever else.  Whew, good to get this bit off my chest.

And now that I’ve hopefully not confused you at all, I will proceed to the really lovely focaccia that I have baked yesterday that begged to be shared with other people (food is happiness, happiness is bigger when shared – platitude, but not a bad one).

This recipe, somewhat unusually for me, uses both, a sourdough starter (for its flavor and preservative qualities), and a tiny bit of dry yeast to help this bread rise faster and to make it practical – and no, I do not contradict myself here.  The sourdough overnight sponge does not involve any dry baker’s yeast – that is added in the final dough mix, where acidity is reduced by mixing in a lot of ingredients.  So in a way, this recipe is the best of both worlds, though not one for the snob bread-baking purists (maybe, who knows – I certainly don’t talk to those types!).

This recipe includes an overnight pre-ferment (sponge), and it obviously does require a sourdough starter.  If you don’t have one, don’t use regular yeast – it may turn out ok, but the flavor and the lovely texture won’t be the same at all.  Instead, consider making your own starter (link now updated!).  Or buying it, or asking a friend for a piece – anything goes.

So, what do you need?

  • A couple of bowls, a kitchen scale (recommended for weighing flour), a hand or stand mixer (unless you have strong arms and are really good with that wooden spoon, then you’re fine with a spoon), a half-sized oven pan to bake this in or equivalent (two square or large round cake pans may do).

Day 1:

  • 1 heaping tablespoon of sourdough starter (mine worked fine from a jar in the fridge last fed maybe 2 weeks ago)
  • 110ml cold tap water
  • 85g flour (white, I mixed in about a tablespoon of rye because my sourdough starter loves the rye and goes crazy-bubbly when it gets some)
  • Whisk the tablespoon of sticky starter into the water in a large bowl.  Add flour, mix until thick batter-like consistency, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, cover with a plastic wrap (clingfilm), and leave overnight.

Day 2:

  • All of the above sponge (in its bowl where it should be bubbly by now)
  • 325ml cold tap water
  • 1 tablespoon good extra-virgin olive oil + a lot more for pan and brushing
  • 1.5 tsp dry yeast of any description
  • 1-2 tbsp rye flour
  • 450g white bread flour + a few tablespoons more if needed
  • 1 tbsp dry oregano, crushed in a hand a little
  • 1 tbsp coarse salt

For Topping:

  • You can really use whatever you like here, but in the picture I used:
  • 1 package of tiny baby plum tomatoes (I happily ate the last four or five that didn’t fit on the focaccia)
  • 100g chopped feta-style fresh cheese (I buy a German cheese which is less salty and not technically ‘feta’ as it is not from Greece)
  • Three sprigs of rosemary cut off my potted bush, leaves stripped.
  • Olive oil, flaked sea salt

What to do:

  • Combine all the dry ingredients in a clean bowl, mix a bit with a random kitchen implement (whisk or wooden spoon both work).
  • Add water to the sponge and whisk to mix.  Add 1 tbsp olive oil.  Add the dry ingredients and mix with a mixer and dough hooks (I use a handheld mixer) until all flour is incorporated.  At this point the dough will be very wet and sticky.
  • Continue mixing, turning the mixer up to medium speed, and adding white flour by tablespoonful at a time (I think I might have used 3-4 extra tablespoons) until the dough is still very wet (it won’t achieve the smooth elasticity normal bread dough gets when well-kneaded), but sort of pulls away from the sides of the bowl with the mixer hooks, though leaving sticky bits still, and sticking right back to the bowl.
  • Clean and very generously oil the other bowl and your hands.  Transfer the sticky lump of dough into the oiled bowl, and turn it over so it’s all coated.  A tiny bit of oil in a ring around it is good.  Cover with cling film and leave for 2-4 hours (I went out for about 3 hours to shop and then fussed with the dough maybe 40 minutes after coming home).  It should have at least doubled in size during this time.
  • Oil hands, lift the film, and stretch and fold the dough a few times right in the bowl, without taking it out on the counter (less mess!).  It’ll degas and be far more amenable for being made into a ball at this point.  Put the ball back into the bowl, cover and leave for another hour.
  • Pour enough olive oil into your pan(s) to have a couple of mm of oil on the bottom, and use a pastry brush to brush the oil up on the sides, covering those thoroughly.  If using more than one pan, cut the dough lump in half.  I didn’t, so I just transferred it to the rectangular half-oven pan as it was.
  • Use your hands to stretch and poke the dough into the shape of the pan.  If it resists too much, give it five minutes to relax and continue.  Be gentle and avoid deflating the dough – you want those air bubbles in there.
  • Take your toppings and push them deep into the dough, as far down as they’ll go, making little wells.  I pushed the rosemary leaves in with bits of cheese and tomato to help them stay stuck in.
  • Brush the top of the dough with more olive oil, and turn the oven to 225C to preheat.  Allow to rise for 30-40 minutes – the dough will become puffed up.  You may need to shove the toppings down again in places.
  • Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then move into lower part of the oven to avoid scorching the top and turn heat down to 210C.  Bake for another 10 minutes or so (for me it was total of 25 minutes) until the top is golden brown and internal temperature reads 93C (200F) on instant-read thermometer (fantastic way to tell when bread is done, by the way – get one, they are cheap as chips at IKEA!).
  • Remove from oven, brush the top with more olive oil (I am not kidding!), and use a metal spatula to tease the bread out of the form and onto a rack to cool.  Wait as long as you can and then devour!

We had ours with roast pumpkin-and-garlic soup topped with fresh bacon bits and some chopped flat-leaf parsley.  You do as you will – you can just eat it as-is with a cup of tea or coffee.  Trust me, it won’t disappoint.

Submitted to Yeastspotting!

Two-Ingredient, Five-Minute Ice Cream

WARNING:  This post contains information that will come perilously close to ruining your relationship with your jeans.  And/or the mirror.  Read at your own risk!

Anyone who knows me, knows that of all sweets, ice cream is the one I have least resistance for.  Which, as it happens, does not at all mean that I’ll eat any sort of bad ice cream whenever.  Oh no.  The above only applies to exceptionally good, ice-cream-shop ice cream, or at the very least something like Häagen-Dazs. Or, preferably, the homemade stuff.

Like this.

Because really, if we could make ice cream at home without an ice-cream maker (some of us who have tiny kitchens can’t own every kitchen gadget we want because of space issues if nothing else!), of course we’d make it as amazing as we want it to be, and without anything questionable of remotely icky on the horizon.

I have made no-churn ice creams with fresh or frozen fruit before, and they turned out amazing – but when I came across this recipe, I simply had to try it.  Because it was promised that it would deliver (and boy, did it!) an even creamier version without any, any iciness at all!  And don’t color me boring, but I love vanilla ice cream.  By that, I don’t mean the plain oversugared white stuff you can find in any supermarket, no – I mean the heavily vanilla-perfumed rich and creamy vanilla ice cream that vanilla fanatics (like me) seek like the holy grail.

Personally, I think it’s sad that the word “vanilla” has come to signify in common slang something boring and uninventive.  I blame the aforementioned tasteless concoctions labeled “vanilla” that line the supermarket shelves, and the cheapening of this queen of flavors that inevitably followed – but I digress as usual, and this is a story for another time (yes, that other time is being planned… just need to take photos!).

Back to ice cream.  This ice cream is by no conceivable definition boring, unless you hate vanilla and/or ice cream with a passion (in which case I am not sure why you are reading this post).  It is lush, it is incredibly creamy and full of that rich, perfumey goodness that we expect of vanilla ice cream.  And best of all, it is very, very easy to make!

Now, like the original writer of the recipe, I cheat.  I use more than 2 ingredients, because while I imagine this ice cream would taste wonderful even without it, I have added real vanilla extract to it.  Why?  Because of all the above and how I adore vanilla.  And because I have real vanilla extract at home, made by yours truly (like I said, vanilla talk another day), and so I could.

So, what do you need for this?  (Makes just under 2L of ice cream.)

  • 2 plastic buckets or freezer-safe boxes that will hold a bit over 1L each.
  • Freezer that goes to -12C or below (Two-star or preferably more rated).  I am serious here.  Mine goes to -24C and that is how high I crank it, but those little (one-star) iceboxes in some fridges that don’t really freeze food solid won’t work.
  • Mixer.  I would not try this with a hand whisk although I have a friend who is scary with that thing and can whip cream or egg whites or whatever you want by hand.  I am not so gifted or exercised!
  • Bowl
  • 0.5L (5dl) heavy whipping cream (I used 36% one because that is what I had in the fridge, but I imagine 40% will work even better.)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (397g one which is apparently standard … who the heck came up with that amount?!)
  • 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract (and some seeds out of the vanilla pod if you want those black specks in your ice cream)

Method:  (This takes approximately 5 minutes.  After which there is a freezing period but really, you can just go to sleep like I did and wake up to ice cream!)

  • Put your cream in a bowl (add vanilla seeds now if using), and whip it to soft peak stage.
  • Add vanilla extract and whip to stiff peak stage.
  • Add condensed milk and whip to combine.  Mixture will be somewhat softer than stiff-peaks but that is ok.
  • Pour into your boxes and freeze overnight.

Serve.  If your freezer is a mean machine like mine, take the ice cream out for a few minutes before scooping, but to be honest, with a bit of arm power, I managed to scoop this even straight from the freezer – it does not go icy and it does not go terribly solid either.  It is creamy and gorgeous and, for all of you vanilla freaks, incredibly vanilla-satisfactory.  So much, in fact, that even I tend to have a little and then feel it is enough.

Like the original author says, this is very versatile.  Next time I will make my salted caramel sauce and swirl it into a semi-frozen mixture.  Or mix in some smashed cookies like she did.  Or… the imagination is the limit, I suspect, and I really do think that adding some chocolate to the whipping cream would work wonders as well.

Now that I have this recipe, the ice cream is always, always within my reach… my jeans may think this is not such a great idea.  I may have to, you know, compromise with them and feed most of the ice cream to skinny Scandinavian friends.  Yesss… ;)

P.S.  While I make none, zero, nada claims regarding the health value of this (it has none except for those who really need to gain weight, and maybe not even then), it does have some virtues which are hard to come by in shop-bought ice cream:  It has zero food additives, stabilizers, colors or artificial flavors.  It contains no eggs at all, and so is suitable for egg allergy sufferers and vegetarians who avoid eggs.  And well… if you count your mental health, it does have a health benefit.  Like, you know, keeping you from throwing objects or crying when you have PMS.  For that, it works wonders, even in small doses.  (Yes, I’ve tried it for that.)  Oh and – for this sort of quality, it’s also really inexpensive to make, so it makes your wallet – and you – happier.  Beat that!