Tag Archives: milk

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.

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)

250ml 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.

Making your own yoghurt

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The reason I started making sourdough was because nowhere near where I live does proper sourdough. And even if it did, it would cost a fortune. As it is, making my own bread costs me about 50 pence per half a kilo of flour loaf. That would cost about £7 in a shop.

There is no such imperative to making your own yoghurt. Sure, once upon a time, you could only get really not very nice yoghurt (thin and sour) but, now, supermarkets are full of them. Thick, creamy Greek yoghurt, drinking yoghurt, yoghurt with naughty corners, yoghurt stuffed full of fruit or delicately flavoured with vanilla or coconut. So there’s not a huge heap of point making your own – I may as well come clean.

But here are some reasons to make your own:

If you eat a lot of it, making your own does save money. I made some today which would have cost about £2 in the shop and cost me about a quarter of that.

You know absolutely what goes into it.

You can use it to make frozen yoghurts and cakes (more on these another time).

I also use rather a lot of yoghurt in Ali’s Oatmeal Pancakes which we are totally obsessed with and top them with yet more yoghurt.

You can also make just what you need.

You make it using almost any type of milk.

If you find you’ve run out of yoghurt, which I realise is hardly a crisis, as long as you have some starter and milk, you can make some overnight and have some for breakfast.

If you get any whey off the top (sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t), you can use it to make sourdough (just use it to replace some or all of the water).

You can use it to make your own drinking yoghurts and save a fortune (I’ll write about how to do this next week).

So if you’ve decided to give it a go you should know that you can make yoghurt using no special equipment at all. Just a flask, or even a bowl wrapped in towels and placed in a warm place like an airing cupboard.

But where would be the fun in that.

Regular readers will know I love a gadget. The yogurt maker I have is an electric one by Lakeland. (£19.99 so it will take a while to recoup savings made on making your own, but isn’t that always the way when you buy a gadget. Note: I get 20% discount on Lakeland products.) I liked the idea of an electric one as the temperature is controlled.

Yoghurt, like sourdough, needs a starter to get going. However, unlike sourdough, I find you can’t use a bit of your ‘old’ yoghurt to make a new batch. I find the cultures in the yoghurt weaken over time. I know some people have written about having a starter going since year dot. But this hasn’t been my experience. So what I do is buy some organic Greek style yoghurt (because that’s what I like) and freeze it in an ice cube tray and then take it out and defrost one cube per half a litre of milk (approx).  I find that one small pot of bought yoghurt provides starter for about eight batches of my own. Probably more. I was never great at maths.

You can make yoghurt using UHT milk, in which case it’s even simpler as you just use the UHT milk (at room temperature) and go straight to the bit where you put it into the yoghurt maker with the starter. Don’t dismiss this totally. I have a litre of organic UHT in the cupboard for yoghurt making emergences.

I’m totally aware of how that sounds.

So this is what you do. Get some milk, about 400ml. Don’t sweat it if you have a bit more or less. I use organic milk; either semi skimmed or whole milk. I have truthfully found no difference at all in the end product and so I use what we have. Whole milk is much better for you (less sugar) but we only get it twice a week so I usually have semi-skimmed and that’s what I use; the yoghurt in the picture was made with semi skimmed and it is so thick and creamy.

If you want to guarantee really creamy yoghurt use two tablespoons of skimmed milk powder. You stir it into the  milk before you boil it (or into the UHT milk before you add it to the starter, make sure it’s dissolved). I always use it.

I do, of course, have a digital probe thermometer which I put in and it’s great as it also has an alert so tells you when it reaches a certain temperature (more on which this is useful in a moment). As soon as it reaches 100C (at which point it will froth up so you have to be on it), take it off the heat and leave it. Note: it takes longer to cool down milk for yoghurt than it takes to heat it up so be prepared.

(Note: all equipment that you use to make yoghurt, such as a probe thermometer etc must be really clean.)

Now, yoghurt is made from milk due to two types of of bacteria: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These multiply when the milk is at a particular temperature. If the milk is too hot it will kill the bacteria, if it’s too cold the bacteria can’t be bothered to work. This is why it is now crucial that you cool the milk to the right temperature. Some people are able to do this by dipping a clean finger into the milk, if it’s right you should be able to count up to ten with your finger in the milk. I have really cold hands so this is hard for me to get right so I use the digital thermometer to tell me when the milk has reached 44C. This is where the alert comes in.

Why 44C? Well the temperature window you’re aiming for is no warmer than 49C (kills the bacteria above this) and no cooler than 33 (bacteria can’t get going). 44C works really well for me.

When it reaches 44C you mix a bit of the milk with the starter and make sure it’s all well combined, then add the rest of the milk, mix gently but well and put in the yoghurt maker following the instructions for your own particular one.

That’s it. It’s usually done after 6-8 hours. For a milder yoghurt leave for less time but sometimes it’s not set after six hours anyway so you have to go longer. When it’s done, put it straight in the fridge and then later decant into another container (if you want to) and use as you wish. I find it keeps easily for five days, we’ve never had to test it for longer.

A few trouble shoots:

If your yoghurt doesn’t set, it’s usually due to one of three things:

Your starter didn’t have enough bacteria in it. This is why it’s really a good idea to freeze fresh yoghurt and then defrost it just before you need it. There’s no reason you couldn’t freeze your own yoghurt I suppose, but I always freeze shop bought as I think that way you’re starting with a really fresh culture.

Your milk was too warm or too cold. Temperature is key.

You may get some whey on the top, either stir through or drain off and use it to water certain plants (blueberries love them, but dilute it, about 1/10 parts water and note I’m not a gardener, this is just what I’ve read). Or as I said above use it to replace water in bread baking.

So to summarise, this is what I use:

400ml of of full cream or semi skimmed milk to make the same amount of yoghurt (i.e a shade over 400ml)

An ice cube size of starter – about 30ml, more if you want the yoghurt to set more quickly and if you want a milder taste (the less time it takes to set, the milder/cleaner the taste, more starter yoghurt means it sets more quickly, in less time).

Two tablespoons of dried milk powder.

Update: February 2014. Since I realised that a teaspoon of maple syrup was only about 15 calories, and the difference such a small amount could make to certain foods, I have been less reticent about using it. Some freshly made, but chilled, yoghurt, with a teaspoon of maple syrup and some soft, squidgy, cut up Medjool dates is really delicious and I’m not one to really say that of yoghurt based desserts.

Strawberry ice cream

Ice cream is very important to me.  Its icy, creamy tentacles spread wide and deep through my family history. My father was an ice cream maker for a while, from when he turned seventy (seventy!) until about seven years ago. But we sold, and made, ice cream long before that.

For years now, I’ve made my own ice cream. And if you’re interested in some recipes I have one for the best chocolate ice cream in the world; mint choc chip ice cream; a rich vanilla ice cream; a lighter vanilla ice cream that uses whole (not just yolks) egg and soon I’ll put one up for possibly my favourite: almond praline. You can read about ice cream makers here and I now also make my own cones (see that cone in the picture? I made that). I know! Madness, but there you go.

The recipe for strawberry ice cream below, makes enough for about four people, possibly two helpings each. It’s hard to say as these days I double the recipe (super easy to do and you should double it too if you’re making it for a gathering as OBVIOUSLY you don’t have to eat it all at once) and that makes LOADS. And as here in England the weather has just exploded and the grass looks greener and all the flowers are bursting into vibrant life and the trees are popping their buds, it seems only right to celebrate with some gelato.

2 large egg yolks, freeze the whites for madeleines

75g granulated sugar

80ml milk, I always use semi skimmed, but don’t go lower than that, so full fat or semi skimmed

250g fresh strawberries, hulled. If you need to wash them first dry them carefully as water is the enemy of ice cream (you’ll get a ‘colder’ ice cream with water crystals if you’re not careful)

120ml double cream

As I’ve said before. You need milk and cream to make ice cream so don’t be tempted to leave one out.

Beat the egg yolks together with the sugar until pale-ish. Add the milk and place the lot in  a saucepan and stir well over a low to medium heat until it thickens. Do not allow to boil but be patient as this bit can take 5-10 mins and you will need the heat to be more than a candle’s worth to get it going. You’re not going for thick like a custard, but it needs to thicken. It will thicken even more as it cools. But don’t boil it as it may split.

Now put the strawberries and the custard mixture into a blender and blitz until really smooth and there are no bits left. Whisk the cream in a separate bowl until thick, slowly fold the cream into the custard mixture or vice versa, whatever works for you. Chill until cold. The colder it is the less work the ice cream maker will have to do. When cold put into ice cream maker.

That’s it. It’s ready to eat when it’s out of the ice cream maker but obviously it will be very soft, so if you like it to be harder then put it in a container, in the freezer, until such time as you intend to eat it.

Baking with fresh yeast. Milk loaf

When I was a child, my mother would cook regularly with fresh yeast. We would have pizza every Friday night, which she would  make in a large rectangular tin; leaving one small section free of tomato sauce for me, as I didn’t like it.

Then the local supermarket stopped stocking it and we bought it from this ‘exotic’ – at the time – little shop that was a Chinese health food shop and I’d have to go far into the back to find the small squares of fresh yeast.

These days it seems impossible to find commercially. Which surprises me given the resurgent interest in baking. Those who do buy fresh yeast either beg it from the bakeries of huge supermarkets or order it in in bulk.

I believe it was the latter that my friend Wendy did, as she took delivery of 2K of yeast. Wendy cooks and bakes ALOT and hangs out with professional bakers and really knows her shit where food is concerned (and antiques). Generous to a fault, she offered a large chunk of this purchase to me and thus it was that on Saturday, the postman delivered half a kilo of fresh yeast to my Suffolk mail box.

(n/b: Wendy tells me you can also get fresh yeast from local bakeries, but I have none near me.)

It had been decades since I touched fresh yeast. I’d forgotten how squidgy it is. But I immediately set about baking with it. When I first bought Dan Lepard’s The Homemade Loaf, the book that set me off on my sourdough journey, I was disappointed to see how many recipes called for fresh yeast. Dan helped me convert fresh yeast = dried yeast but the moment I have to substitute an ingredient for another I feel like I’ve failed (it’s okay, I’ve had years of therapy).

I have never cooked with fresh yeast so I started off with something simple, which is Dan’s Milk Loaf in the Handmade Loaf. It uses plain and strong bread flour, butter, milk, maple syrup and fresh yeast. It was so easy to make. Minimal kneading, then a final prove of an hour and a half. As it was very cold in my kitchen yesterday, I let it go a little longer. I’m so used to being upstairs working when my timer goes off for sourdough. And being able to play loose with timings, and just ignoring the timer, that when I came down to see the loaf, I was a bit shocked to see how much, and how fast, it had risen and for a moment worried that I had let it overprove. But no.

It came out gloriously. It looks like a pair of breasts (a friend thought this was why it was called milk loaf..) this is because you put it in in two ball shapes, although you could do it in whatever shape you want; and the crumb is superb. Wendy tells me this is not a traditional shape for a milk loaf, that it should be cooked in a cylindrical tin with ridges but I do not have one.

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We all had the most delicious ham sandwiches made out of it. It’s an old fashioned taste and not like anything you could buy. I adore my sourdough, but it was so nice to be able to have a loaf on the table in time for lunch, having just thought about baking it in the morning.

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Because I understand how incredibly frustrating it is being given a recipe which ingredients you don’t have, here are Dan’s milk loaf recipes containing more readily available dried yeast. I might try his chocolate chip milk buns next…

I froze the rest of the fresh yeast, in 15g batches in little sealed bags. Weighing it out, tipping them into those little bags. My eldest helped so we had quite a production line going.

Update. I made them into rolls and divided up half and put chocolate chips in them. The rolls make great sandwiches for picnics, the chocolate rolls make a nice, not too sweet alternative to a pain au chocolat, dipped into caffe latte.

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Day after notes: This bread stales up pretty quickly. It makes great toast/toasted sandwiches though, so no fear. Also we just had it several days old made into French toast and I can report that it was excellent.

Hot chocolate pops

A hot chocolate pop

I cannot lay claim to this. Hot chocolate pops are all over the place. But I’d never tried them before and I gave them a go.

Here’s what you need:

Some milk or plain chocolate. I used plain, 70% cocoa
Some white chocolate, I always use Green and Black’s
Some marshmallows
Something to make them in, either cake pop moulds or something similar. I do, of course, have a special mould just for these which is just a round chocolate mould but bigger than what you’d use for chocolates.

Put the marshmallows at the bottom. Small ones work best so you can pour the chocolate around them.
Melt the dark chocolate (either milk or plain) and pour on, half way up the mould.  Put sticks in, I put mine so they stick out at the side (as seen) not so they come out perfectly at the  centre as I have no way of keeping them upright and I like the off-centeredness. Set in the fridge.
Melt the white chocolate, pour on til it comes to the top. Fridge until set.

When ready to eat, heat some milk and dip in. I can’t pretend it’s the best hot choccie you’ll ever have as the chocolate melts in bits and it’s not all homogenised. You could, I guess, whizz it up. But really the fun here is in half licking, half stirring the melting pop.