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Once the staple of healthy hippies, sourdough has quickly become the best thing since sliced bread!  The superb flavour of a finished loaf cannot be beaten with its tangy, chewy, smoky taste; this robust bread is the undisputed King of Bread for a reason.

Sourdough is on the rise (pardon the pun) and is as trendy as hipsters, beards and unicorn frappuccinos.  Instagram is flooded with photos of artisan slices of sourdough toast with obligatory avocado topping but sourdough isn’t new of course – it’s the oldest form of leavened bread and is thought to have been around since Ancient Egyptian times.

The moreish, tangy taste blinds you to the Sourdough Paradox: it is the simplest and yet most complicated of breads to bake!

Its simplicity comes from its ingredients as all you need is flour, water and salt.  You will also need patience, lots of it.  This is not one of those quick loaves that you’ll knock up one afternoon in time for tea.  Sourdough is not difficult to make in terms of kitchen technique but makes for great weekend baking as you will need time to potter to and from the kitchen letting the dough rest, kneading, proving, etc.  Alternatively, it’s something that can be prepared on a Friday evening ready for baking on Saturday morning.  Whereas commercial yeast will rise a loaf in hours, the sourdough journey takes days, helping develop its flavour and distinct crust and it all starts by making a sourdough starter.

Sourdough Starter

Sourdough Starter 1A sourdough starter is just a mix of flour and water that you leave to ferment in a warm place; its new home, keep your eye on it and feed it every day.  Basically, the wild yeasts feed off the flour and generate carbon dioxide which you want to trap in the bread.  At the same time the bacteria present also feed, multiply and produce ethanol – which can be seen as a liquid floating on top of the batter that gives the starter its sweet, beer smell.  Stir this back into the mixture as this is what gives the sourdough its distinctive taste.

Every day for a about a week, you need to feed your sourdough starter.  Add equal measures of flour and water, give it a good stir and allow it to rest in its warm home.  Alex French Guy Cooking on Youtube uses only mineral water as he believes the chlorine in tap water can kill both yeast and bacteria – I have used tap water without problems.

Paul Hollywood adds slices of seedless grapes to his starter, whereas Nigel Slater has been known to add yoghurt and sultanas to his.  Rhubarb can also work just as well.  Nigella adds a sprinkling of commercial yeast to kick hers off.  I prefer to keep mine plain and true to its ancient roots.  If you are going to use fruit, I recommend you sieve this out after the initial ferment as you don’t want bits of grape/rhubarb in your dough.

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The starter can be as fickle as a tamagotchi pet!  Keep your eye on it as it may seem slow at first and almost as if the thing has died on you but keep up with the ritual of pouring some out, adding equal parts of flour and water as eventually it will bloom.  As long as it doesn’t smell off then you’re ok.  Monitor its progress daily as suddenly it can erupt from its vessel leaving a lava-like spill down the sides of your jar and onto the shelf it’s resting on, which is not as easy to clean as you’d think!  If you think there may be danger of this, pour some of your sourdough starter out reserving at least 75g of starter.  Keep topping up flour and water so that you have 225g of flour mixture to work with.

At any stage you can give any excess starter to friends, neighbours – as I did, however, let them know at what stage of the process you’re at.  The photos below show her results following a Paul Hollywood recipe:

Once you’ve got this going, as long as you feed it every now and again, you’ll never have to make one from scratch again!  Keeping it in hibernation in the fridge will also help prolong its life or even freeze some of it for future use.

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At least 12 hours before you start making your bread, mix 225g of your starter culture with 75g of flour and 75g of warm water so that you have a total of 375g (300g for the loaf and 75g to keep).  Mix well and leave in a warm place.  This is now the “levain” that you will be using to raise your sourdough loaf.

If it’s bubbling away several hours later, you know it’s ready.  One final check is the floating test: put a spoonful of it into some water, if it floats its ready.

Sourdough bread

I followed a Hobbs House Bakery recipe but there are many sourdough recipes that you can follow and youtube tutorials to follow.

Ingredients:

460g of strong bread flour (either all white flour or a mix of spelt/wholewheat/rye)

300g sourdough starter (levain)

10g sea salt

230ml warm water

Method:

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1st: Autolyse: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly using a dough scraper, a food mixer or your fingers.  Let the mixture rest for 30mins so that the flour hydrates fully as this makes for a better dough.  Cover with cling film or a tea towel and keep in a warm place.

2nd: Kneading and Folding: Hold the dough in your hands slap the overhang onto the surface where it should stick, and fold the rest of the dough you are still holding over.  Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat the process for a few mins.

Repeat every 30mins for at least 3 or 4 hours (First Prove) depending on the tackiness of the dough.

3rd: Shape the dough into a ball by folding from the edges of the dough to the centre and invert this onto your surface.  Use a dough scraper, cleaver or your hands and try to create some surface tension over the surface of the ball of dough by pulling the dough towards you, rotating the ball and repeating.  Once you have created enough surface tension it is ready for its overnight prove.

4th: Second Prove (Overnight prove): Use either a proving basket called a banneton, or line a Pyrex bowl with a clean dishcloth and liberally dust with flour to stop the dough sticking to the basket/dishcloth.  Place the dough ball upside down in the bowl and cover. Allow to prove overnight in the fridge.IMG-0171

5th: Take the proved dough out of the fridge at least 2 hours before you bake it so that it comes up to room temperature.  Before you are ready to bake, place a dutch oven or large casserole pot into the oven and preheat to 250˚C.

6th: Very gently take the dough out of its proving basket / pyrex bowl by upturning it onto a floured bakers peel, tray or board.  Taking care not to burn yourself, sit the dough in the dutch oven and spray liberally with a water bottle.  Clamp on the lid and place in the oven.  Bring the temperature down to 230˚C and bake for 20mins with the lid on and then another 20mins with the lid off.

If you are not going to use a dutch oven/casserole pot, then spray water directly into the oven or put a tray of boiling water into the oven as the steam generated in the oven is what gives the Sourdough its magnificent crust.

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Once the bread is baked – you can check this by tapping the base, if it sounds hollow it’s ready; allow it to cool on a wire rack for at least 40mins before you cut into it.

Toasted sourdough and butter is great for Weekend breakfast as is the trendy avocado and quail’s egg or salmon combo.

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Sourdough Planner

1. Sunday night create your sourdough starter.  Remember to feed it every day as explained above.

2. Once you have an established starter culture: Thursday night take your sourdough starter out of the fridge and give it a feed.

3. Friday morning prepare your levain as explained above.

4. Friday evening complete stages 1 to 4.

5. Saturday morning complete stages 5 and 6.

I know that all this sounds much more complicated than going to the shops and buying a sourdough loaf but in Gibraltar, we suffer with the terrible affliction of bad bread!  Everything is mass produced and plastic wrapped, frozen bread.  We have few if no legitimate bakeries.  Going through the process of baking your own delicious bread from scratch is not just rewarding; it feels right.  It would be great to see your results.

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Chocolate Mousse

Posted: March 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

2 medium eggs

65g dark chocolate

2 tspn sugar

1) melt the chocolate

2) separate the eggs

3) whisk the egg whites and add the sugar

4) add the yolks to the melted chocolate

5) fold the egg whites into chocolate mixture taking care not to lose the air you’ve whisked into the whites

6)pour into teacups, espresso cups, bowls and chill

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Pancake Day aka Shrove Tuesday aka Mardi Gras

Shrove Tuesday is once again upon us and everyone will be stocking up on flour, eggs, milk to make their runny batter and have a gluttonous sugary feast before being shriven of these excesses in diet as well as in life.

As a child, I was brought up with the tradition of crêpes scattered with sugar and a squeeze of lemon. I never really went in for the jam, chocolate spread, ice cream concoctions which many favour now but I dare say if you’re going in for one full on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) kind of blowout, the lemon-sugar variety does seem somewhat austere.

For me it wasn’t necessarily about the pancake eating, even though I had more than my fair share of them, but more about the sheer fun of the evening spent watching everyone have a go at tossing the pancake and then regaling everyone at school about how high we managed to successfully toss the pancake into the air; or alternatively any hilarious anecdotes.

Normally I have supper followed by a pancake tossing session for dessert but recently I have tried to make the pancake my evening meal.  Hence why I’ve been trying to find alternatives to the standard runny batter crêpe to enjoy on Shrove Tuesday.  In the past I’ve made American style pancakes, savoury courgette and cheese ones and last year enjoyed an avocado and banana pancake. This year, I’ve attempted making banana pancakes with only 2 ingredients. Yes. Only 2 ingredients. Eggs and bananas.

Literally blitz 2 eggs and 2 bananas in a blender to create the batter and then fry the pancake dollops on a lightly buttered skillet. They have a foam-banana sweet taste and smell. If you don’t like bananas give these a go with a splash of vanilla extract or cinnamon. The eggs soufflé the banana mixture making these incredibly light and fluffy. Take care as you flip them as they have a tendency to break as you turn them. Seriously given these a go. Please, just try them.

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Drizzle them with maple syrup, sprinkle cinnamon or icing sugar and sliced bananas.

Happy Birthday Robbie Burns!!
Here’s a simple 3 course Burns Night Menu for anyone who wants to give it a go. Auld Lang Syne

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On 25th January, we celebrate the life of Robbie Burns.  Many of us have often gone to organised Robbie Burns Nights where the festivities begin with The Selkirk Grace followed by a procession of pipes, tributes and toasts paid to the haggis before a dinner of ‘haggis, neeps and tatties’ followed by speeches; The Immortal Memory and a Toast to the Lassies with a reply to the Laddies.

Generally there is also much revelling in between and a bit more than a wee dram of whiskey (always scotch) must be consumed.

Finally the evening is called to a close by everyone being asked to stand, hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne.

However, for those of you that want to give this a go at home, without the traditional order of ceremony only need follow my recipe ideas below for a fuss free feast of an evening.  All recipes…

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Gallery  —  Posted: January 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

French Toast

Posted: January 25, 2018 in Breakfast, home cooking, Weekend

The origins of French Toast are very unclear.  The English sometimes refer to French Toast as Eggy Bread, unless it’s the slightly more medieval reincarnation called Poor Knights of Windsor*, the French call it Pain Perdu, “lost bread” more because the bread has become stale and you’ve lost the chance to eat it fresh rather than you’ve misplaced it! The Spanish know them as Torijas, cinnamon French Toast soaked in syrup.   Was it a French chef who came up with the idea or a person called Chef French who in 1724 created this for the first time? To further add to the mystery, over the years there has also been some confusion as to Gypsy Bread and Gypsy Egg, where one should not be confused with the other; the former refers to eggy bread, french-toast style and the latter to Huevos A La Flamenca!

*Poor Knights of Windsor is a dish very similar to French Toast.  However, unlike French Toast, it is sugar and sherry that are stirred into a shallow dish of milk before dipped on both sides in egg yolk and then frying in butter.  These “Poor Knights” are then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served with jam.

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Personally, French Toast makes for the perfect weekend breakfast. 

Just: soak your bread, get your coffee ready, steam your milk, fry your bread and you’re pretty much good to go. 

It’s slightly more difficult than a slice of toast or a bowl of cereals but something quite easy to make at a leisurely pace.  Nothing too strenuous nor stressful and very manageable to put together whilst still wearing your pyjamas. 

I’m not quite sure I’d like to wake up to a boozy version of this, hence why the poor knights might never make it to my breakfast table.

Bread

Of paramount importance.  The bread you choose is pretty much what makes this.  Now is not the time for granary, wholemeal, spelt flour varieties – the flavour would interfere too much with the final outcome.  Pale, light, plastic bread, slightly stale, is probably going to be your best soaking vehicle that won’t disintegrate into a porridgy-crumb but for me it has to be the sweet enriched dough of challah bread – a braided Jewish bread made with eggs – that to me always comes courtesy of Idan Greenberg at Verdi Verdi, Gibraltar.  Sliced challah holds its shape perfectly after soaking in the eggy mixture, maintaining its shape and firm crust as it fries.

Challah bread making at Verdi Verdi, Gibraltar.

Mixture

There are several different variations of the eggy mixture – some people use cream instead of milk in the mixture, others will add spices such as cinnamon and flavours like vanilla, lemon & orange zest, others will use caster sugar in the mixture rather than sprinkling it over at the end, others will make a sugar syrup to dunk the French Toast (torijas) in after they come out of the frying pan.

Personally, I think one egg per person, splosh of milk, cinnamon, icing sugar as this dissolves in the milk and vanilla are your essential ingredients and anything straying from there will depend on what you’re going to eat drizzled or spooned over your French Toast. 

Nothing is wrong and everything is right.

Soaking the mixture varies on the type of bread used, how stale it is and the thickness which you’ve cut the slice.  You can soak it from anything from 30 secs a side to 20 mins; some wait for all the liquid to be absorbed.  I go with my eye as I don’t want the bread to disintegrate on touch!  I usually tend to go for around 5mins a side and if there is too much liquid left I’ll give it an extra few mins for good measure, as you do want the eggy mixture to permeate through as much of the bread as possible to almost soufflé the bread as it cooks.

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Only two options – put it in the oven or fry it – but to be totally honest, oven baked eggy bread sounds as if it might end up dry and leathery.  So for me, it’s frying all the way.

Frying must be in butter but by the time you’ve turned the toast around to fry the other side, the butter has turned brown (noisette) and adds an unpleasant taste to your French Toast and an odd smell to the kitchen!  Adding sunflower/vegetable oil will help stop the butter burning but this is not a guarantee as butter no matter what its mixed with will still burn.  However, a clever alternative is using clarified butter. 

Topping

Cinnamon & Vanilla flavoured French Toast is great as it is but I always like mine topped with some fruit compote or even a drizzle of maple syrup or if I’m being particularly greedy, both.

To make the fruit compote is very easy: put some fresh/frozen berries in a pan with some water and sugar.  Boil it down until the liquid has reduced and the fruit mixture syrupy.  On this occasion I even added some luscious strawberry jam given to me as a food gift.

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Remember to get your Challah on Friday and surprise someone this Weekend!

Like many families, in my house, we used to refer to Cottage Pie as Shepherd’s Pie.  Beef mince was always available from the butchers and was far more economical for a family of seven than lamb would be.  Topped with golden mashed potato that had caught under the grill; everyone coveting the crispy bits and a generous scoop of baked beans on the side.

And as far as I was concerned, everyone called it the same and served it the same way.

It wasn’t until recently that I was served Shepherd’s Pie without baked beans and felt cheated.  “My Granny would never have served it like that!” I snorted in disgust.  Only to find I was not the only one at the table who thought the same – lo and behold, the others also agreed that baked beans were a very acceptable addition to a serving of Shepherd’s Pie.  Emboldened by this camaraderie I decided to come clean and tell all; as a child, my favourite way of eating this was with a squeeze of ketchup over the mash and then mixing everything together into a plateful of dark, pink-brown gloop studded with baked beans.

As revolting as this sounds to me now – as a child, it was a plate of sheer delight.

Click on the link to see my youtube clip on how to make my easy Cottage Pie: https://tinyurl.com/zxp42sa

I don’t tend to make shepherd’s pie (cottage pie) from scratch anymore, as in I try not to have to go food shopping too often, so make this using leftover beef from the Sunday Roast instead.  In the past I’ve used leftover roast potatoes but to be honest it’s so easy to make good mashed potato to top the pie that it’s really no hardship.  Whereas baked beans would have been my staple side dish, nowadays I try and have something green either in the pie or on the side.  Leftover broccoli, peas and beans are very welcome as is a buttery tangle of spring greens or shredded Savoy cabbage.

The good thing about a Shepherd’s Pie (Cottage Pie) is that you can make the components in advance.  I made the beef pie filling on Monday evening as this can sit in its dish in the fridge until you need to top it and heat it – I’m pretty sure you can freeze it at this stage too.  Take the pie out of the fridge whilst you’re making the mashed potato and top the dish.  Place in a moderate oven for 35mins until the filling is bubbling up the sides and the top is golden in colour.

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I don’t know what the allure of cooking lentils at New Years is for me but I always like to start the year cooking a warm bowlful of them.

It’s not as if I’m looking for something warm and filling as the weather has been sunny and mild over the holiday period and I’m stuffed after eating so much.

So what is it that draws me to cooking lentils at this at this time of year?

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Maybe it’s their versatility? Lentils can be cooked by themselves or added to vegetable, meat or fish dishes. They can be served as a side, as with salmon and lentils or as the main component as in a lentil salad or stew.  They come in a range of colours and with it bring their own textures and tastes.  Some lentils such as red split lentils boil down to the consistency of mashed potatoes whereas other hold their shape and retain their nutty bite even after boiling them for 45mins as with green lentils.  My favourite variety are Puy lentils also called French green lentils – which are slate green/blue in colour and have a peppery warmth to them. 

For some, lentils have a hessian weave hippie vibe about them; vegans rave about them whilst for others they are just austere, peasant food.  After all, the original lentil stew, mess of pottage, was biblical in origin.  Now, I wouldn’t necessarily consider lentils austerity food but after the expense of the Christmas foodathon they are very welcome on my pocket!

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Italians, consider lentils to be lucky as their small coin-shaped form invites prosperity.  Perfectly partnered with pork increases their success; the pig known for pushing forwards, makes it a symbol of progress. Lentils with pork sausages are considered particularly auspicious. 

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But perhaps it’s the ease with which the stew comes together.  It’s so personal it’s not really a case of following a recipe it’s more about getting the quantities right of lentils to water and packing flavour.  And lentils are great at taking on flavour.  There is also very little for the cook to actually do.  After mass catering over the holidays and following strict recipes and cooking times, just throwing things into a pot of water is quite liberating and relaxing.  It’s also a great way to use up veg you’ve got knocking about in the back of the fridge.  There are no stages or steps to follow and other than not letting your lentils dry out as they boil, there really isn’t much danger of the dish going wrong.

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I tend to favour lentils cooked with chorizo as the paprika from the sausages oozes out into the stew giving everything great body and depth – maximising flavour with very little effort.  This time I had a rasher of streaky bacon and two sausages leftover from new year’s breakfast that I decided to add to the pot as well as pumpkin and chorizo.  At the very end of the cooking process I wilted shredded spring greens (leftover from Christmas Eve’s dinner) in the residual heat of the pot.