Monthly Archives: May 2014

How I make porridge

People are quite often scared to cook pasta for me, on account of me being Italian. I think they think I spend my whole time at home making pasta from scratch and that my kitchen is covered with spaghetti drying from the ceiling.

I never really understood this intimidation, until I started getting into porridge. For such a simple food, there seem to be an awful lot of rules about how you should make it. Porridge features not at all in the Italian diet, so I didn’t have any claim to it.

All I knew is that whenever you read about how to make porridge it would say forceful things such as “all you need is water and salt, anything else isn’t porridge”.

But I don’t like porridge made with water and salt and it’s taken me years to admit this. Furthermore, feeling that that’s the only way to eat porridge isn’t really helpful because porridge is really good for you, so it’s worth working out how YOU like to eat it. After all, I know some people who eat pasta with ketchup and do I judge?

You guess.

Anyway, this is how I make, and eat, porridge.

For one portion. I put the saucepan directly on my digital scales and weigh everything.

30g porridge oats

100g of milk

150g water

a pinch of salt

half a teaspoon of cinnamon (I didn’t think I liked cinnamon but it really works)

Some berries

Maple syrup

Nut butter of your choice

Weigh the porridge, water and milk straight into a saucepan, then add the cinnamon and salt and put on the stove. It seems quite a lot of liquid but this is the key (I’ve found) to making a lovely creamy porridge.

Simmer and stir for quite a long time, 5-10 mins. You can leave it periodically and come back to it and I find it meditative and I like to think about the day ahead whilst doing it. Also whilst doing it I can’t POSSIBLY do anything else so I say to my partner “the children need breakfast, I can’t POSSIBLY do it because I’m stirring my porridge”.

Once the milk and water has been largely, but not totally, absorbed – you will still have a fairly wet porridge – take it off the heat and leave it for a minute whilst you plate up your berries and nut butter. I nearly always have blueberries. In the winter I buy frozen ones and stick them in the porridge for that last minute standing time.

I also add to the plate a large – very large – tablespoon of nut butter, usually cashew or almond and always Meridian as it’s the best by far AND I LOVE IT. This is because, contrary to popular opinion, porridge on its own does not, and never has, filled me up til lunch time. If I eat porridge with no protein in it (i.e. the nut butter) I am as hungry as a pregnant woman in the first trimester by 10am. Sometimes 9am. But adding a huge dollop of nut butter not only adds useful nutrients and good fats, but helps fill me up.

On top of the porridge, berries and nut butter I add a teaspoon of maple syrup. A teaspoon of maple syrup has 30 calories which is nothing really, but it really adds to the yummyness of the porridge.

This is how I make porridge.

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Iced coffee

This was inspired by an ice cream recipe which didn’t so much go wrong, but which I didn’t like.

I have a book called The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. A great book absolutely crammed full of great and inspiring recipes for ice cream, sorbets and the like. I bought it after I tried Lebovitz’s Torrone Ice cream which is one of the best ice creams ever.

In the book, Lebovitz has a recipe for Vietnamese Coffee Ice cream. I made it and it wasn’t really my thing. Too ‘icy’, and not creamy enough for the sort of ice cream I like. What could I do with it I wondered? Then I remembered how my father used to make iced coffee in my parents’ cafe and I thought “a-ha” I’ll use it as a base for iced coffee. And so this is what I did. (I’ve slightly adapted the recipe here by altering the proportions.)

When you’ve made the ice cream, store it in the freezer and then when the mood for iced coffee takes you, just add a scoop of the ice cream to some milk and whizz it up in a blender. I use my Dualit milk frother on the ‘cold milk’ setting and it works perfectly (put the milk and ice cream in the machine at the same time, sometimes I do have to run it twice to make sure the mixture is smooth).

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You need about a scoop of ice cream per small glass of milk, although experiment and see what suits you and if you prefer a more creamy or stronger coffee taste. My children go mad for this drink; obviously I have to ration it out as all that caffeine…

It’s a great drink for this lovely hot weather and, once you’ve made the ice cream, the whole thing is ready in minutes. Serve with ice cubes if you wish, but I don’t find there’s any need.

Iced coffee ice cream:

397g Waitrose Condensed Milk (for those, like me, who boycott Nestle, it’s great to know that Waitrose now makes its own condensed milk and it’s cheaper than Nestle’s)

250 – 300 ml of espresso or very strong coffee

80ml single cream

A pinch of ground coffee

You basically mix everything together, chill it and then put it in your ice cream maker.

Or, if you plan to make lots of iced coffee over the next few days, just store it at this stage, in the fridge and use half a cup every time you want to make an iced coffee, topping it up with milk (and an ice cube or two if you want it really ice cold) to suit your taste (so more iced coffee mix to less milk if you like it very strong/sweet, more milk if less so).

I love to top this up with almond milk. This doesn’t, of course, give you a dairy free iced coffee as the cream and condensed milk are dairy, but it does lower the dairy hit and gives a lovely nutty taste.

Iced buns for a Wednesday

There are many other things that I should be doing. I am in the middle of a piece about Death, I interview somebody in an hour, I have a study that looks like a store cupboard nobody cares about, and everybody chucks their stuff into. I should be researching, planning and tidying to enable a more structured work routine.

But all I want to do is write about buns. Iced buns. I don’t even, particularly, like iced buns. I never wake up and think “I really fancy an iced bun”. But they are a perfect, unassuming little cake. Very English (to my Italian mind). And humble. My partner, who is English going back to the beginning of time, said that “iced buns were what you bought your children when they really wanted a doughnut”. I have no idea if this is true

This is how you make them. It’s a recipe from a Jamie Oliver magazine from a few years back, the method of which I’ve adapted slightly. The recipe says it makes 12, but you could easily make 24 small ones (and even then, not that small). These were, actually, iced ‘fingers’ but I prefer the word bun. I made 12 and they were as oversized as the eyes on a Bratz doll. Next time I’d make them smaller.

14g dried yeast

150ml milk, tepid

500g strong white bread flour

50g caster sugar

2 teaspoons of salt

40g very soft butter, unsalted

2 eggs

140ml of water straight out of the tap

For the icing: 300g icing sugar, 2-3 tablespoons of water

Stir the yeast into the milk and set aside. You don’t need to wait for it to froth up or anything.

Mix together the flour, sugar and salt together. Now stir in the yeast/milk mixture and the rest of the ingredients, mixing it all together.

You’ll have a very wet dough that looks almost unmanageable. Leave it in a bowl for 10 minutes.

Oil a work surface or board (wooden boards don’t work so well for bread kneading, I use a Top Gourmet one which is made of recycled cardboard and it’s brilliant for all my bread making) and tip the dough out. You may need to scrape it up with a scraper to begin with but don’t be tempted to add flour and don’t panic. You can do this. It’s buns you’re making, just think of that.

Knead it very lightly for about 10 seconds, then cover and leave for ten minutes.

Do this twice more. By the end you should have a smooth dough that is slightly more manageable. Now leave it, covered in an oiled bowl, for about an hour and a half. It should have doubled/risen quite a bit.

At the end of this time, knead it lightly one more time and cut bits off it and roll into either circles (I used flour for this last bit) or sausage shapes. If you want to be really precise, weigh the whole dough, work out how many buns you want, then divide one by the other so you end up with buns the exact same size.

Place whatever size/shape bun you’ve made onto a parchment lined tray. The buns shouldn’t be touching yet – they reach out to each other as they rise.

Cover and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes. I left them at room temperature – 20c – for 90 minutes (not on purpose, I got held up) and when I came back they’d blown up to enormous proportions. All was fine, I had very big, very light, very fluffy buns. But it was touch and go until I got them in the oven. I’d say give them an hour at an average room temperature.

Into a preheated oven of 200C, place the buns for 10 minutes or so. You want them to be lightly golden. When done, take them out and cool completely. They’ll be all squashed up against each other and you’ll have to tear them apart to reveal their inner fluffy softness.

Now  mix up the sugar and water to make the icing and spread it on top. The icing won’t be pouring consistency – it’s much thicker than that. So you need to spread it on with a knife but as it dries it smooths out so don’t worry about it not looking lovely and slick when it first goes on.

Don’t store these in an airtight container. The buns need to breathe or the icing will slide off. So you may want to freeze half (un-iced in which case make half the quantity of icing) as these make rather a lot. But they are fun to give away. Everyone seems to like an iced bun.

These are great for school fetes for that reason – children and adults like them – and they are not overly expensive to make. I think, and my eldest agrees, that these taste even better the next day. They didn’t last into a third though.

 

Chollah bread

Where I grew up, in Bayswater London W2, there used to be a bakery called Grodzinski and we would buy our bread there. I’d be fascinated – what child wouldn’t be – by the slicer, that they fed your whole loaves into if you asked for it to be sliced.

Sometimes, we would buy chollah bread. I loved its eggy sweetness and my favourite filling for it would be mortadella. Some years later, when I was telling my partner, he pointed out that perhaps using pork in a traditional Jewish bread wasn’t the BEST thing I could have done. (Sorry.)

Anyway. A few years ago, I attempted to recreate this wonder bread at home and I was amazed at how well it worked. This is an amalgamation of recipes that I found and it works for me, I’m not sure how authentic it is (be interested to know). It makes one good loaf. I don’t attempt to knot it or shape it into anything fancy. A Jewish friend of mine who regularly bakes says that, in her opinion, the dough is either dry enough to shape, but that results in a dry bread, or too wet to shape, but this results in a tastier bread. This was also my experience. So I always go for a higher hydration loaf in a simple boule shape. Be warned: it’s the sort of bread you can’t stop eating. Any that you miraculously have left over and goes stale (you won’t have any) you can make into French toast.

420g white flour – plain gives a better texture but you can also use strong white

7g of dried yeast

60g caster sugar

240ml of water, warm

a teaspoon of salt

1 egg

60ml of olive oil or oil of choice (you could also use melted butter)

You need an extra egg to glaze with, or milk. And poppy/sesame seeds if you like to sprinkle atop.

Mix a heaped teaspoon of the measured out sugar, with the yeast, into the warm water. Mix it up well and leave it to froth up. This takes about 15 or so minutes in my kitchen.

Mix the remaining sugar with the flour and salt into a large bowl and mix with a fork. When the yeast/water/sugar mixture has become nice and bubbled up, add this to the flour mixture and mix together using a fork until you get a sticky dough. Now add the egg and oil and mix it all together. Leave it for ten minutes.

Now tip it out onto an oiled surface and knead it very gently. Cover with a bowl and leave it for ten minutes. Repeat this twice more. The dough should be fairly smooth by now. When you have kneaded it gently for the third and final time, put it into an oiled bowl and cover with a cloth in for two or so hours.

Heat the oven to 200C, take your dough out knead gently and shape into the form you want it to be (as I said, a boule is really the only thing I can do with it) and place it on the baking tray you’ll want to bake it on. Leave for a final 20-30 minutes to rest.

Before it goes into the oven, brush it gently with beaten egg/milk and sprinkle with seeds if you so wish. Bake it for 20-30 minutes and leave to rest until completely cold before cutting it. (Yeah right.)