Monthly Archives: March 2011

E-cloth-mop

If you are not the sort of person to do their own cleaning, then perhaps skip this post. For it is about mops.

I do have a cleaner. Her name is Rute and she is Portuguese. And even though Portuguese (or Porkinese as my child calls it) is very different from Italian, we converse splendidly. Partly through the international language of Rant.

Anyway, despite me having a cleaner, I still do my own cleaning at times, largely because I think it’s really important to be able to deal with your own dirt.

If you didn’t know this, Italians have a thing about cleaning. Spesh southern Italians. My family in the south are all certifiably insane and wash the kitchen from top to bottom after lunch.

Every day.

I’m not like this. But I do like a bit of Scanda-style which means wooden floors, and wooden floors show up dirt far more than carpets. Dust-bunnies kinda get sucked into carpets. Anyway, this is a fucking mop for Christ’s sake so I won’t go on too much. But it – the E-cloth mop – is fab.

Why it’s good:

  • It’s so simple and it looks good in that pared down way (look: design is important, even in mops)
  • You get interchangeable ‘heads’ which are rectangles of fabric. There are three, a white fluffy one for simply ‘sweeping’, a blue one for washing and a blue striped one for tough stains.
  • They attach via a Velcro-type strip, super easy.
  • They zzzzzp off for washing – bung them in the machine at 60C.
  • Also zzzp it off for dunking in the washing water and wring it really dry before putting it back on for cleaning another bit of floor – because the cloth is so wrung out you can use it on engineered floors (well, I do).
  • It’s a step up from the ‘straccio’ over a broom head that we use in Italy.

That’s it. If you need a mop, this is the one to get.

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Pete’s pizza dough

This isn’t sourdough, and it’s a bread machine recipe. But it’s a lovely pizza dough, and one which Pete, my partner, has perfected over the years.

I don’t understand people who ooh-ahh over the fact that we make our own pizzas. It’s simplicity itself and you can make them in advance.

I make these in two Mermaid trays – but I like them thin. If you like your pizzas thick well, I’m not sure I have much to say to you really. Pizzas shouldn’t be thick.

From start to finish you can have pizzas on the table in about fifty-five minutes. The pizza-dough cycle on my bread machine takes 40 mins, then you just roll out, put toppings on and they’re cooked in 8-10 mins. And for those of you who have children, this is a lovely thing to get them involved in.

Here’s what you need (Pete works in ounces, I work in grams, I’ve kept true to his recipe here):

8floz hand hot water
2tablespoons olive oil
12oz of plain white, soft flour (note: not bread flour)
1teaspoon caster sugar
1teaspoon salt
2teaspoons yeast

You put all the ingredients in your bread machine in the order the manufacturer recommends, above is the order I put mine in as that’s what Panasonic recommends. The pizza dough cycle is, as I said, 40 mins long on my machine. (The regular dough cycle is 2.20mins so that should give you an idea, you don’t want a long cycle.)

The pizza dough before rolling

When it’s done, oil a suitable surface (I use a very large chopping board so that I can move it about if need be) and your hands, and take the dough out. Sometimes this dough is really sticky, other times more manageable. It makes for a better dough when it’s stickier (higher hydration) so there is a compensation.

Because I use the dough across two baking trays, I cut mine in half; but if you’re making – say – four round pizzas, cut into four..etc. I’m sure you can work it out..

Roll out the dough, as thin as you can, to fit your tray/tin. If you can do that thing of throwing the dough up in the air to make it thin, great: do teach me how to do it too!

When it’s rolled out to an approximate size, I lay it on the tray (note: I oil the tray and coat it with polenta/cornmeal), rest if for five mins and then stretch it into the corners/sides.

Now you can, at this stage, go straight into doing the toppings and either cook it or put it in the fridge (naked or with all the toppings on, I put mine in naked). You can also freeze it (in which case cook straight from frozen, just give it a few more mins). I cover mine with cling film place one tray on top of another (if no toppings on) to save space in the fridge.

When you’re ready to cook, if you haven’t already, put on whatever toppings you want. For the tomato bit on the top, I use Waitrose Sundried Tomato paste – a tiny amount spread on the pizza base (it’s quite salty so go carefully). Then I put on artichoke hearts, salami slices, olives, ham, mushrooms, mozzarella, asparagus if in season etc. Or just the tomato paste and some mozzarella for those who like it really simple (boring..) Just before it goes into the oven, splash some olive oil on it and cook it for 7-10 mins. My oven is very hot and has a pizza setting, yours might too. You can tell when it’s done as it will have bubbled up and be golden.

Take out and slide onto a chopping board, slice up, eat and feel very virtuous. Pizza doesn’t have to be unhealthy..or at least whilst not pretending this is a health food, it’s as healthy as pizza can be.

La pizza, I put the rocket on after it came out of the oven

Le Couronne, or the loaf with the hole

I got really excited when Patrick from Bakery Bits, tweeted to say he had a new banneton in stock in a couronne, or ring shape. It was in cane, which I’ve never used before (all my bannetons are wicker and lined in linen).

I’ve a healthy collection of bannetons that I’ve built up over the last year, but in baton and round shapes. I really fancied a couronne shaped one. (I’ve been obsessed with round bread with a hole in it since my purchase of a Tortana from Flour City.)

So I bought one, and also took the opportunity to replenish my Aroma Panettone, which immediately transports me back to my childhood (you seen that scene in Ratatouille where whathisface the restaurant critic, goes back in time to his mother’s kitchen? That’s what this does to me).

Anyway, I was EXCITED about it. Made a batch of my every day bread, put it into the fridge for a retarded proof and got up in the morning.

First thing: the dough stuck to the banneton (the middle bit is wood). Not a good start. I slashed and cooked it and the hole completely closed up so that I ended up with a round loaf with a tiny dimple.

Not good.

I emailed Patrick. He recommended rice flour to aid non-stick (I had used rye). That remedied the sticking situation, but I just couldn’t get the hole to keep. (Sadly no pictures of bread proved in this banneton as I just never had a camera handy.)

When you cook bread, you want it to rise, but you can’t choose where it rises, so any hole you make (like in bagels) has to be bigger than you want it to end up with. But I just couldn’t get the hole to stay.

I knew the fabulous (and far more experienced baker than I) Joanna from Zeb Bakes had also bought one, so I asked her what she thought. She was also struggling with it. We both thought the middle bit should be thicker.

Patrick was v.helpful and kept going back to the manufacturers who said it should work. But it didn’t. Patrick got another banneton in, this time in linen lined wicker. He sent it to me free of charge. This banneton just looked much better, the middle bit was thicker and the whole shape was more promising.

It worked much better, too. Here is the loaf I made that first time. I did however, enlarge the hole once it was on the baking tray, which isn’t for the nervous. I haven’t fully got the hang of slashing the dough however (any thoughts anyone?) as I find it quite hard to make slashes on such a small ring of dough, such as it is before it puffs up.

First loaf using linen-lined wicker couronne banneton. V.nice.
Second loaf in the couronne, this was a white dough

Second time I made a white loaf but was more gung-ho didn’t enlarge the hole on the tray. This is what happened:

Hmm.

The third time I tried sticking a muffin ring in the middle. This did indeed hold the middle open, but a) the middle didn’t crust up properly and b) the ring sort of got swallowed into the bread. It was fine, and a really great loaf. I’m going to carry on experimenting with a tin in the middle and maybe even – gasp – put ice cubes in there. Just till the bread has developed a crust and then remove the tin.

In the meantime, if you’re careful you can get a really nice ring shape, but you need to play around with the dough on the tray. I do love the couronne bread shape however as you get maximum crust, not great for children who are fussy about these things, but good for me, who does.

Any more experienced bakers out there with any tips, I’d welcome them. Grazie!

The Kindle

When the Kindle launched in the UK last September, I had one on pre-order. I quietly fretting for days about its purchase, feeling distracted with the guilt of it, and then cancelled it. But the urge never went away.

Here is the Kindle, in its cover, open. This is it in its sleep mode, it throws up random literary pictures which are rather nice.

I did lots of research into the Kindle. Canvassed my friends that had one. I was curious about just how much they seemed to love it, which seemed odd. I love books, especially picture books or ones you can dip in and out of. But I don’t read (didn’t read..) fiction, not since the heady days of going to Callosa D’Ensarria with my girly friends and devouring Jackie Collins in between tormenting the local boys.

I read loads, but just not fiction.

My best friend, Emma, regularly devours novels. She loses herself in them. I see people on the train lost in paperbacks, chunky as bricks. The odd time I have picked up a novel and managed to finish it, I’ve loved having this whole other world to escape to.

But I’m not what you might call, a natural novel-reader.

So what the fuck would be the point of me having a Kindle?

This was why I cancelled my order. But then, but then..

So I ordered one again and before I could cancel it, it arrived. And God, I love it.

It’s not an iPad. I mean, that’s obvious, but if you’re wondering “should I get an iPad or a Kindle”, you really haven’t understood the difference at all. The Kindle is rudimentary compared to the iPad, it’s nothing like it. Whereas the iPad is what it is – like the screen of your computer that you hold in your hand, and able to do more or less what your computer can do, the Kindle is an electronic reading device in black and, er, grey. You can read newspapers on it, but really, this doesn’t work (yet, I’m sure it will). You’re much better off reading newspapers n’ stuff on line, on a regular computer/laptop/iPad/iPhone type thingy.

Here’s a Kindle page. It’s not back-lit (like the iPad or a computer screen is, so easier on the eye).

So the Kindle is, really, for books. Word books. I can’t imagine anyone buying a cookery book for the Kindle, that would be really wrong I think. So the Kindle is not going to replace you having to buy any books, but if you read novels: great.

Here are some observations on it, some of them are obvious but heck, I’m gonna make them anyway:

  • You can store loads of books on it.
  • You can change the size of the font or spacing of lines – brilliant if you’re short-sighted.
  • No wastage. No ‘what do I do with this book now that it’s read’, although no lending to friends, either.
  • Not every book you will want is available as a Kindle version, yet.
  • Books that are out of copyright are free.
  • It’s not good for pictures, but great for older children – in fact I think its use for older children has been underplayed.
  • It has an inbuilt dictionary – which I find super useful, children will too.
  • You can make notes and see notes others have made.
  • It automatically notes what page you last read, no matter how many books you have on the go at once.
  • Although the ‘turnpage’ buttons are on the left and right, the up and down controls are bottom right, left handed people might find this frustrating (I don’t know, I’m right-handed). I’m thinking there should also be a LH version.
  • You can download various Kindle apps for your computer/phone and it all syncs so you can access your books anywhere, if you’re desperate. 
  • The battery lasts for weeks.

If you’re fairly wealthy, I think it’d make a great present to load up a Kindle with the sort of books you think your friend would like. The novelist and journalist India Knight did this for a friend (although to be completely accurate I think she loaded up her own Kindle) who was poorly, which I think is a great idea.

I wouldn’t, personally, get the 3GS version. Honestly how desperate do you have to be to get a book? Most places have Wi-Fi, so save your pennies. What I would spend money on is the official Kindle cover that Amazon does which is an EXTORTIONATE £50. But it’s fabulous. Leather and has an inbuilt light which is just great if you read at night (you can’t read the Kindle in the dark, it’s not back-lit like the Ipad is, which is also why it doesn’t give you eye-ache after a while).

Here’s the Kindle, in its cover (chocolate brown since you asked) with the inbuilt light. The actual light shining on the Kindle is actually from an overhead light so don’t be confused. The Kindle light is plenty sufficient to read by.

I’ve started reading voraciously (so anyone who wants to buy me a present: Amazon vouchers are a good idea) and I love having my Kindle to escape into on the train. Plus with the cover it looks more like a book so you don’t feel as much of a wanker on the Tube. It’s invaluable, for me, when I’m breastfeeding in the middle of the night/trying to get the baby to sleep, as I just don’t mind if she wants to feed for an hour, as I can just read read read.

The Kindle, all snug and safe in its cover, it has a rather nice elastic band fastening with tab, which you see above.

I love it…in a way that’s curious..

ps: I forgot to add, you can get sample pages from the Kindle store for free, so a try before you buy kinda thing.