Monthly Archives: August 2010

Testing testing

I’ve installed various things on here and this is just to see if they work. Which I’m sure they won’t. If anyone understands Google Analytics and/or how to get my ‘subscribe to this blog via email’ thing to actually work, please tell me!

Starting to experiment pt1: white sourdough 36 hr prove

Now that I’m getting a bit more cocky confident about sourdough bread making, I’m starting to experiment a bit more. I know that the bread geeks might poo-pooh at my experiments, and how tame they are. But I’m new to all this and hoping to help other rookie bakers, not really teach anything to anyone, let alone seasoned bakers. Although if I manage that, too, then hoo-RAH.

I wrote in another post about long proving of loaves. I regularly prove our ‘house bread’ (Dan Lepard’s Mill Loaf) for 72 hours now. But thus far I’d only proved white sourdough for about ten hours regularly, and 24 hours max.

So the other day, my partner (I’m so fed up of saying boyfyhusband, it sounds so fucking twee) was going to London and I decided to send my Italian Daddie – who lives there with my Italian Mamma – a loaf of my bread.  He’s the sort of man who eats bread at every meal and he buys his baguettes from the supermarket, and I think they’re a poor substitute for the sort of bread he grew up with.

He likes his bread to be white and crusty. So I made a batch of sourdough, shaped one into a round for us, and one into a baton for him, proved it overnight and got up at FIVE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING to cook it as my partner was leaving at 6am. I kept the other loaf and cooked it yesterday morning, after a 36 hour final prove in the fridge at 4 degrees.

I am pleased to report that it was splendid. I cooked it for only 20 mins, 15 mins at 250 and 5 at 220, as I was after a slightly softer crust than the usual blackened, sour crust I go for. It was delicious, delicate and here it is, photographed in the morning sunlight.

White sourdough, cooked after a 36hr prove.


One of the reasons I started this blog, was that, being a consumer journalist, I get a fair amount of calls/emails from friends asking me about stuff they want to buy: “Should I buy this, should I buy that, what’s the best one to get” etc. Or, from  my friend Mark (I was SO going to name you in full but shan’t) “do I need an electric food steamer? (no, just use a pan with a steamer on the top); do I need an electric rice cooker? (no, just use a pan FFS); do I need a cappuccino machine (yes).

I’m not complaining, it’s a privilege, etc, but when you’ve got two young children, it’s not always easy to chat. So much easier to say “go look at my blog”.

Many moons ago, I used to write a column called Dear Annie in the Independent on Sunday (and, for a bit, the Observer); it was like being a doctor at a party (except SO much more important). I’d get people coming up to me saying “I need a dress for a wedding a week Saturday, what do you suggest?” I still get emails from readers asking me about clothing issues, even though I stopped writing the column some years ago. When I was fishing correspondent of the Independent I used to get people phoning me up in a panic at the supermarket: “Can I buy cod?” “The prawns are from Madagascar, is that okay?” “What is it about farmed salmon that I should know?”

Now that I’ve neatly told you some of the things I used to do, as a by the by, I can also slip in another one, as co-founder of a parenting website (no not that one, this one: I’ve been hugely fortunate in learning lots from other mums. Nothing like a bit of collective wisdom is there? And one of the things I learned, luckily fairly early on, was that steam is a valuable tool in the fight against snot.

This is relevant because the question I’ve been asked three times so far this week is about babies or children having colds. Now, do I need to point out, (do I really need to? I guess so) that I’m not at doctor. I have no idea if you should take your child to the doctor or not. But when my children have colds one of the things that helps is a steamer. You know, a slightly more sophisticated approach than standing over a sink full of boiling water. Which is a perfectly acceptable thing to do except it’s not a great mix: young children and boiling water. And anyway, you get only a short amount of time between the water being so hot you can’t get near it or too cold.

The Vicks Warm Steam Vaporiser, about £30

For the night time, this steamer by Vicks is really worth getting (it makes a great, if boring-looking, new baby present). Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s anything special: it ain’t. It’s a big hulk of plastic that sits on the floor, heats water up and lets warm steam out. There’s a little compartment where you can put essential oils ‘n’ stuff. When the water runs out, it switches off. The lid is sort-of locked down but I still wouldn’t risk it with very young children (what I found was that the steamer was great when they’re babies and trapped in their cots, and when they’re older and you can say “look it’s hot, don’t touch it” but there’s a period in the middle, where they’re mobile but have no sense, where you might not be able to use it). You put it on at night and it fills the room with warm steam, making it easier for them to breathe. It’s not a miracle cure, but it can really help, especially with coughs.

For older children, and adults, this electric steam inhaler by Vicks is a good addition, you put your face right over it and inhale. (Note: I have no experience of the site I linked to, I got mine from Amazon but it doesn’t seem to sell it anymore, or at the moment.) It’s highly recommended if you have sinus problems (I find steam, and sinus massage one of the few things that work when my sinuses are inflamed and I can feel my teeth). And especially useful when you’re pregnant and get a cold/sinus inflammations and can’t take much.

It holds a small amount of water – enough for about fifteen minutes of steaming. It heats it up and lets it out a consistent temperature, and you can control how fierce it is by shutting down some vents. Or something like that. You do have to stand over the counter top (you can’t really do it whilst watching TV unless you get an extension cable out), but it’s really great to do before bed as it helps you breathe. I use it on my six year old when she has a cold but she gets bored after about ten seconds.

I hate to think about the seasons changing and colds a-visiting. But it looks like they might be and when you’re bunged up you can’t really eat or enjoy cake so much.

The Flour cupboard

We re-did our kitchen last year. Where once there was carved, dark oak cabinet doors there is stainless steel. Where once there was a dark brown (yes) sink with dark brown tap (yes) there is stainless steel. Where once there was the ‘smashy floor’ as my eldest called it (tiled and mean) there is wood. Where once there were three rooms: kitchen, loo, my study, there is now just one great, big muthaloving kitchen.

I joke that, had I got into bread baking before the kitchen was done, I’d probably have had an entire bakery area. It’s only part-joke since if I had the space, I’d surely do this. But I don’t do too badly. I have an entire cupboard dedicated to flour, all labelled. People laugh when they see this except they don’t seem to understand I do all this cos I’m lazy. I’m too lazy to be faffing around searching through identical-looking packets of flour, held chaste with Klip-its. I find organisation comforting, or as I often say to my boyfyhusband:

Organisation brings you freedom.

I find nothing odd in Monica from Friends behaviour. I have a labeller, too. With a labeller chaos is tamed.

Organisational beauty.

So anyway. I have these Lock and Lock Counter Top boxes which store about two bags of flour . I have four of these, for the four flours I use most and keep a stainless steel scoop inside to make life even simpler (do you have ANY idea how hard it is to find stainless steel scoops these days?). And then for the flours I use less frequently, such as rye and barley, I have the 1.8 Lock and Lock, which is incidentally, also the size I keep my sugars in. But they’re all in the Sugar Cupboard, which has no place here.

If you think I’m mad, have a look at this:

These are Martha Stewart’s ‘Creative Containers’.
You think these scissors ever get out of control? On the right are small spice jars containing glitter. Imagine IMAGINE if someone spilled any.

If you’d like to see more of Martha’s Craft Room, and believe me you do, then go here. If ever I feel like the world is too big and things are getting on top of me, I go and look at pictures of Martha Stewart’s estate and it makes me feel better knowing that in a large corner of Connecticut, a staff of 127 can keep order. Don’t forget to check out the ‘equipment barn’ whilst you’re there.

Cherry Bakewell Slices for a picnic

The Bakewell slab, before it was liberated into slices. Please note how crumbly my pastry is thanks to my super cold heart and hands.

We went to Southwold at the weekend, and central to this, central to most trips in my life, was a picnic.

We had everything other than something treaty to take with us (like sourdough bread, home made coleslaw and pork pie aren’t treat enough, spoiled bastards that we are). I had some ground almonds I wanted to use up and decided to make individual little clafoutis, until I found out that mostly the recipes I had for clafoutis didn’t really involve ground almonds and anyway I didn’t have enough cherries. But I did have a can of ‘black cherries in syrup’ and lots of ground almonds.

What could I make?

I make a really superb (look, there’s no immodesty in the truth) Bakewell Tart, the recipe for which came from the Waitrose magazine long ago. Believe me when I say you don’t need to search for any other bakewell tart recipe as the Waitrose one cannot be beaten.

But I didn’t want a bakewell tart. I wanted little individual things to pick up. So I thought: bakewell slices.

So I adapted the recipe slightly. First I made the pastry:

200g plain flour
2 tablespoons icing sugar
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 egg yolks
(you may also need a bit of extra water).

I whizz the flour, sugar and butter in my Magimix, then add the egg yolks and a bit of water if necessary. Don’t overdo it with the water and try to keep the pastry so that it’s just holding together, it shouldn’t be all smooth and one big ball. If you haven’t got gadgets of course you can do this with your fingers and then use a fork to mix the yolks in or something. I don’t know, it’s ages since I didn’t have gadgets.

I never roll out pastry. Life is too damn short. It’s not too short to make your own pastry though cos shop bought really isn’t the same and how long does it take to weigh out a few ingredients and slam them in a blender?

When it’s blended, I just take bits of the pastry and flatten it out into the bottom of whatever tin I’m using, welding it all together with a thumb like a giant pastry jigsaw. In this recipe I used a small Mermaid roasting tin which is about 30cm by 23cm. I lined it first with baking parchment/paper.

Then when you’ve covered the bottom of the tin with pastry in this piece meal but completely acceptable fashion, chill the pastry for about half an hour (perfectly do-able to chill for longer of course).

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 190C. When the pastry has rested, cover with foil, pour on baking beans (sorry, apparently you can use rice too, never tried it, I’ve had baking beans since I was seven, I’ve always been very serious about pastry). Bake blind (this means with nowt in it but the baking beans on the foil) for 15 mins. Then remove the beans (take care they’ll be hot) and bake for a further five minutes.

The filling part 1

Now I have a problem with jam. It’s just too damn sweet. The only shop bought jam I really like is Bonne Maman’s apricot conserve, although I can’t eat the chunky bits of apricot as they scare me. When I make my Bakewell Tart, I use strawberry jam, very thinly spread. But I had that can of black cherries in syrup that I was determined to use up.

So I poured the whole contents of the can into a saucepan and boiled it until it was mush. This takes about 10-15 mins. It makes for a really nice fruity layer which isn’t too worthy (it has got syrup in it after all) but isn’t as teeth-jarring as jam. *See note at bottom. Just use jam or compote if you don’t have cherries in a tin.

Whilst you’re reducing the cherries in syrup, make the filling pt 2:

125g caster sugar
100g very soft unsalted butter
3 eggs
half a teaspoon of almond extract
150g wonderful ground almonds (I LOVE ground almonds)

Mix the butter and sugar together until it’s light and fluffy, this is quite a good work out for your arms and you’ll expend about 12 calories to offset against the calorific value of these slices, then add the eggs, one at a time, mix well, la la la,  then the almond extract and finally fold in the ground almonds.

Spoon the black cherry mush onto the pastry case, then on top spread the topping. It looks like you might not have enough but unless you’re using a giant tin, in which case you haven’t read my instructions, you’ll be fine.

I also like to top it all with flaked almonds, like a handful scattered on top. You can never have enough almonds, rich in protein (so they bring down the GI of anything), calcium and essential fatty acids. How can you go wrong. Unless you’re allergic to nuts of course.

Cook for 25 mins or so, the top should be definitely golden, not pale blonde. When out, tie your hands behind your back and dive in face first. Or alternatively, slice into Mr Kipling type slices, big or small depending on what suits your psyche. You can also drizzle some icing on in that fancy filigree way (50-75g icing sugar with a few teaspoons of water, do it slowly so you have a fairly thick mixture, not too runny but not so thick it blobs on). I do like icing, but remember you’re adding on a whole heap of sugar for that bit of icing, so go easy.

These keep lovely in an tin for a few days and make lovely treats. My boyfriend cries slightly when he eats one.

*update. March 2014. I made these today and I did exactly what it says up there. But. I found that this time, the cherries weren’t enough to cover the base. I’m not sure if the tin was smaller (I don’t think so). I did use a different make so maybe they were just different. Anyway, the point is that I realised that not all tins are equal and I’d hate for you to make this and it not work. So have some jam or compote on stand by just in case, or you know, FORGET THE GODDAMN cherries in a tin altogether and just use jam or compote. It’ll be cheaper, too.

Chanel’s Paradoxal nail varnish: the new Rouge Noir.

I have about thirty bottles of nail varnish in my fridge*. Nearly all of them Chanel. I’m a total sucker for its nail varnishes. I love the colours. I love the bottles. I love feeling a bit posh for having it.

But of all its shades, the one I still go back to, again and again, is Rouge Noir. That gorgeous black/red colour perfect for girls such as I who just don’t do, and never did do, bright red. (Tis the shade Uma Thurman wore in Pulp Fiction. When it launched in early 1994, it sold out almost immediately, and then there were waiting lists of up to a year; it’s still Chanel’s best seller in terms of units sold.)

Each time I get a new shade I think “this might be the new Rouge Noir” but it never is. I’ve done the blues, and the greys and the pinks. I’ve done the glitters at Christmas (always a bugger to get off) and they’re all lovely. But they’re not Rouge Noir. The thing about Rouge Noir is that it’s perfect. It doesn’t look too dressed up, whilst still always looking groomed and fabulous.

This Friday, Chanel launch its latest shade: Paradoxal. I’m guessing, so named cos it’s hard to label. In certain lights it looks violet, or metallic purple, then grey, then brown. I love it. (Yes I have some, I’ve been wearing it for a few weeks now.)

Okay so it probably won’t trump Rouge Noir, but nothing else has come this close in sixteen years.

*they last longer that way.

Chanel’s latest nail polish launches this Friday 13th August. And yes it’s important.

Beetroot salad dressing

I’ve been meaning to post this up for ages, as it’s my current favourite salad dressing. But I couldn’t remember where I’d found it. It was getting pressing as it’s coming into beetroot season now (er, I think, at least ours are being harvested).

When I like a recipe that I see in a magazine, I tear it out and put it in a Muji folder that has clear sleeves, so you end up making your own recipe book. It works really well: you can change the order round, very easily get rid of recipes you don’t end up using much, and the plastic sleeve that encases every page keeps them clean of cooking splashes.

Here is the one of the pages from one of my many recipe books using torn out magazines put into Muji PP folders. It just so happens it’s a pic of some chocolate cheesecake ice cream cookies..also I know that when I post this on Facebook this is the picture that will come up, and I bet more people will read it thinking it’s about biscuits/chocolate rather than vegetables.

If I really like a recipe and use it lots, I write it out in my Travelling Cookbook, which is so named as we take it with us when we go away and is a large Moleskine book, much used, much loved and I like that it’s all handwritten (I have romantic ideas that my daughters will one day inherit this book and say things like “look, that’s Mamma’s famous chocolate mousse recipe“). This is what I’d done with the beetroot dressing recipe, which is why I had no idea whose it was. I have about 10 of those Muji folders, each housing 60 sleeves, ergo 120 recipes, so I kept meaning to go through and find the original.

You get the point.

Finally, as is the way of these things, I found it whilst looking for something else. It was by Yotam Ottolenghi, who is fantastic. He gives it as part of a bigger recipe involving gorgonzola, radiccio and toasted almonds, but you can put this dressing on almost any type of salad. Drizzle it on (use one of those squeezy bottles chef use if you have one) as if you actually toss the salad in it, whilst it will still taste delicious, it really won’t look so hot.

This dressing makes a fair amount – I’d say enough for six very greedy people, it keeps for a day or two but not much longer so make less if there are less of you.

One small beetroot, cooked (I buy mine precooked, otherwise roast it til soft)
20g honey
15g Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove (I tend to leave this out)
25ml cider vinegar
salt and pepper
120ml extra virgin olive oil

Yotam (cos we’re on first name terms, I wish), suggests you blend everything together (I use a mini blender, the one that attachs to my Braun Multistick thing, really useful piece of equipment) and then add half the oil, mix up and then other half. I have to say I just bung it all in and it’s fine.