Mixed spring sourdough grissini

One of the things which seems to mark out people who care about their food is a love of proper bread. In some respects I came round to this rather late. Although we grew up enjoying bread from wee bakeries in Northern Ireland, with lovely batch loaves, bloomers, wheaten bread and more; we also ate a lot of cheap sliced loaves at home. I used to be a demon for toast, and sliced pan loaves were the only option to sate my cravings as a growing teenager.

Throughout student life cheap sliced loaves were a staple. After graduating I shared a house with a mate who never bought a loaf of pre-sliced bread. His stance wasn’t dogmatic – no deeply ingrained opposition to the Chorleywood process – he just liked half-decent bread, and the pleasure of being able to cut your own slice, to whatever thickness you desired. Thanks to him, I kicked the habit of rectangular loafs wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. Since then I’ve made an effort to try and buy decent bread (Barbakan in south Manchester was a particular inspiration), and I tempered my toast habit a bit…

Unlike Miss South I’ve never been particularly drawn to baking – a few experiments in the past led to some reasonably unimpressive loaves – and so have stuck to flatbreads, pizzas, coca bread and of course those Norn Irish staples we both grew up with. I’ve always been impressed and daunted in equal measure by tales of friends growing their own sourdough starters, but never made the leap to doing it myself.

However our mum gave me a bit of her starter earlier this year (a mother from my mother seems appropriate) and so I’ve been giving this sourdough malarky a go. I work at home, so I’ve been able to accommodate the routines of this relatively undemanding pet: feeding, stirring, growing, nurturing. Loaves have turned out pretty well, and I can relate to the satisfaction one often hears described which comes with slowly proving a loaf with rewarding, complex flavours. However there are lots of folk out there who bake sourdough bread much better than I do… so this is about other things made with sourdough instead.

Sandor Katz’s monumental ‘The Art of Fermentation’ was a recent welcome birthday present, and as I leafed through the inspiring recipes and writing I was immediately drawn to his suggesting of using up excess sourdough starter for savoury pancakes. It’s dead simple: to help stimulate your starter to grow, you need to chuck out the majority of the flour and water mix so you can feed the remainder with new supplies. Most sources advocate using it for baking, or chucking it away, but the waste-not, want-not approach which Katz outlines is great.


sourdough pancake and starter

They’ve become a firm favourite in the last few weeks, providing an easy and welcome vehicle to use up a bunch of fresh and not-quite-so-fresh things from the fridge. I love the slightly sour tang from the starter; it’s like an quick and dirty hybrid of injera and a Staffordshire oatcake, and they’re great for a quick lunch.

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Just pour out some of the sourdough ‘batter’ into a hot pan, and do like you would with traditional pancakes. Then fill, and wolf them down. Below are a couple of recent lunchtime five-minute wonders: blanched cavolo nero, diced salami and a squirt of sriracha in pancakes flecked with chives; and home-made slaw, salami and leaves. The contents are dictated only by your taste and what you have in. The only downside; roll ‘em like wraps and they disappear in no time.

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Outside, our rosemary bush has been flowering over the last few weeks. I’ve always wanted to make the most of these delicate, beautiful lilac flowers but never settled on the right option. They wilt and fade when roasted with lamb; they’re a bit much for a salad… but then I thought I’d try and pair them with smoked roast garlic and sea salt.

bumblebee on rosemary flowers

That, plus it being the tail end of wild garlic season in the Pennines, meant a making a brace of big umami-laced flavoured breadsticks. Which, oddly, don’t seem to last long in our house, especially when there’s a bottle open. Of the two, the rosemary flowers and smoked garlic was the standout for me. Well worth making…

Wild garlic, smoked garlic, rosemary flowers and sourdough mix

Spring sourdough grissini, two ways

(makes approx. 24 breadsticks)

  • 325g strong white flour
  • 150g sourdough leaven
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 220ml slight warm water
Rosemary flower, smoked roast garlic and sea salt 
  • 3-4 tablespoons of rosemary flowers (you could alternatively use dried ground rosemary leaves)
  • half a bulb of smoked garlic, roasted slowly for 40mins in an oven at approx. gas mark 4 / 180°C
  • a few tablespoons of sea salt to roll and coat the grissini in
Wild garlic, anchovy and black pepper
  • a fistful of wild garlic leaves, finely chopped
  • 6-8 anchovy fillets
  • fresh ground or crushed black pepper
  • olive oil

Roast the smoked garlic slowly. When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool. You should be able to squeeze out the delicious garlic purée from the cloves. Chop the wild garlic leaves finely, mixing with a splash of oil and chopped anchovies in a bowl to create a paste.

Mix the flour and leaven together in a bowl, then slowly add the water. Sprinkle the teaspoons-worth of salt in as you add the water. Mix roughly in the bowl, then leave for ten minutes. After ten minutes, divide into two equal portions, and work each separately. It should be slightly wet and sticky.

Mix the rosemary flowers into one of the portions in a bowl, then add the roasted garlic purée. Knead and mix until the ingredients look evenly distributed, and you can feel the dough changing in your hands. I slap it around briefly for a few minutes, then left it, before returning after a suitable length of time (preferably at least 4 hours). The mix will have risen slightly and proved well.

With the other, stir in the wild garlic mix. You may find you need to add extra flour as the water from the wild garlic leaves makes the dough more liquid. Mix as above until it’s uniformly green and has changed texture, then leave as above.

When the proving has completed, divide each in half, roll into a rough sausage shape, and then divide further into six equally-sized pieces. Roll these pieces, one by one, between your hand to make long breadstick shapes. Be careful they don’t snap… and don’t sweat it if they are uneven. They should look pleasingly rustic. Keep each dusted lightly in flour, and place on a dusted baking tray.

I sprinkled sea salt on a baking tray and rolled the rosemary and smoked garlic grissini in these, so the crystals stuck roughly to the dough.

Bake in batches for 12-15mins in a pre-heated oven at 220°C / Gas Mark 7. Check to see they’ve firmed up and taken some colour. They should be firm enough to break rather than tear. Leave to cool, then enjoy with a drink or two!

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Pineapple Creams

by Miss South on May 13, 2014

pineapple cream I am obsessed with Northern Irish traybakes and home baking. I’m obviously having some kind of childhood regression, homesickness or strong desire to bring such delicacies to a wider primarily English audience.  Basically it makes sad that there are people have never eaten a fifteen or a top hat until now.

However having introduced several friends and readers to these entry level traybakes and got them hooked on the sugary delights of Norn Irish cuisine, I’ve been leafing through some prized local cookbooks to look for more niche items to feed to them.

Often these books are collected by a local church, parish or community organisation like the WI and while it’s tempting to giggle at the old fashioned recipes involving tinned fruit juice or glace cherries, these pamphlets and books have grown ever more fascinating to me as I’ve been working on Recipes from Brixton Village. Both capture a certain place and community in its time and introduce you to people’s lives through food, conversation and friendliness.

Books like this are a snaphot in time, a glance at history, fashions and people’s celebrations. They tell you as much as family albums and concentrate on home cooking rather than restaurant trends. They welcome you into their community and wider family and they appeal me to much more than the TV tie in cookbooks of recent years, leaving you feeling like you know something about the person who made the food as well as the dish itself.

I think people will enjoy dipping into Recipes from Brixton Village and feeling like they are getting to know the traders through the recipes and Kaylene Alder’s illustrations as much as I enjoy flipping through The Belfast Cook Book by Margaret Bates and seeing the environment my extended family were raised and lived in. I’ve learned things about my Protestant background in Belfast and mid Ulster from the church and WI books I’ve collected recently that I never noticed as a child (mainly that the traybake is a distinctly Prod way of eating…) Food is a very effective way to communicate no matter where you come from.

A recipe that just leapt out at me on this traybake inspired cookbook meandering was the now somewhat unfashionable pineapple cream. A small pastry tart case filled with crushed pineapple and whipped cream before being topped with pineapple water icing, these were a real favourite of me and my granny when I was wee. Trips into Lurgan town centre on market day weren’t complete without two of these in their little foil cases from one of the fantastic (and sorely missed) home bakeries every Northern Irish town centre had in those days.

Shelves at places like O’Hara’s, McErleans, Jeffers or Kennedy’s groaned with baps, farls, pan loaves,  gravy rings and sweet buns, biscuits and tarts. You couldn’t miss the pineapple creams with their vivid yellow toppings and we brought two home in a white paper bag to be eaten with a cuppa at the kitchen table. Strangely I don’t remember eating them with anyone’s else except her and I’ve certainly never heard of anyone making them at home, so it seemed time to try both.

Pineapple Creams (makes one 9″ tart or 12 small tarts)

  • 400g shortcrust pastry (not sweetened)
  • 2 x 425g cans pineapple chunks or crushed pineapple, juiced reserved
  • 400ml double cream
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 100ml boiling pineapple juice
  • pinch of yellow food powder or liquid colouring

I have to admit that I used shopbought pastry for this pineapple cream tart because my homemade stuff shrinks like wool on a boil wash and while I’m trying to work out what I’m doing wrong, I rolled out some commercial shortcrust instead. If you are more pastry proficient than me, this Dan Lepard recipe for pastry is a good basis.

Line a 9″ tart tin or a 12 whole small tart or bun tray and chill the pastry for about 30 minutes before blind baking for 25 minutes on 200°C. Remove the lining and baking beans after this and bake naked for another 5-7 minutes to give a golden finish. Allow the pastry to cool completely.

Drain the pineapple chunks and reserve the juice. These pineapple creams always used crushed pineapple with its soft almost sticky texture but this is much harder to get these days than it used to be. Del Monte sell it or you can simply crush your chunks with a potato masher. Drain off any excess juice after this and layer the pineapple into the tart tin.

Whip the cream and spread it over the pineapple evenly. Smooth the top down as much as possible with a spatula or a palette knife.

Pour the reserved pineapple juice into a saucepan and bring to the boil, adding the food colouring now if using the liquid version. Tip the icing sugar into a large bowl and add the pinch of yellow food powder if using. Pour the hot pineapple juice into a measuring jug and add about 25mls at a time, whisking well. 100ml will give you a loose but not pourable texture, but you might want a drop or two more if it is too stiff to spread. It should be a soft yellow colour rather than looking like the background of a smiley face.

Use a spoon to pour the icing over the cream. It should be thick enough to obscure the cream completely. Allow the icing to set for at least 1 hour before serving. The pineapple will begin to leech its juice after a few hours and the pastry will become sticky and a little difficult to cut in a large tart. No one will notice when they are eating it but don’t make it too far in advance. Serve with tea and a certain amount of nostalgia.

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PS: Recipes from Brixton Village is available from May 22nd. Free P&P at the Kitchen Press website on orders!

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Wild Garlic Skirlie

by Miss South on April 27, 2014

skirlieFollowing on from the fried porridge a few weeks ago, I have a bag of beautiful Flahavans oats in the house and an even bigger urge to eat oats than usual so I’ve been dying to try out a skirlie recipe for a while. Getting given a bag of wild garlic from a foraging friend the other week meant the time had come for a simple filling post Easter dinner.

Skirlie is a Scottish dish where oats are toasted in a hot pan before having water or stock added to plump them up and turn them into a chewy almost risotto like dish. Wholesome and incredibly filling, it’s a great way to use up odds and ends but without the constant stirring of a risotto.

A delicious dish, it isn’t much of a looker if I’m honest and it needs something green and gorgeous to lift it and make it more appetising. I usually wilt some spinach into it but wild garlic seemed perfect as it’s still just in season and adds tonnes of flavour. You could use any green leafy veg such as shredded kale, cabbage or beetroot tops.

Like most dishes a little bacon scattered through it is excellent but if you have some leftover haggis then you are in for a treat. It melts into the oats, adds a peppery kick and lends it all a stunning smooth creaminess that takes peasant ingredients and turns them into a dinner that feels extremely luxurious indeed.

Wild Garlic Skirlie (serves 2)

  • 25g butter, lard or bacon fat
  • 1 large leek
  • 1 small onion
  • 200g porridge oats
  • 400ml water
  • 100g haggis (optional)
  • 200g wild garlic

Melt the fat in a cast iron frying pan or skillet and when it bubbles gently, add the leek and onion and sweat it all down over a low heat for about 10-12 minutes. You could add a little fresh thyme here if you had any.

Once the alliums are sweated down and starting to reduce in size, add the oats in and stir well to coat them with the fat and toast them. Stirring continually, cook them for about 3-4 minutes until they soak up the fat and begin to smell toasty and golden.

Splash in a little of the water at a time, allowing it to soak into the oats each time. Stop and allow it to cook out if the oats start to look sticky. When you have about 50ml left, crumble the haggis into the pan as well. Add the remaining water and stir it all through. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Wash the wild garlic well and put it in the pan with the skirlie. Put a lid on it if you have it and allow it all to wilt down for a few minutes. Serve the skirlie immediately in bowls and eat. Peppery enough from the haggis it needs no more seasoning. Enjoy and marvel at how uncannily filling and simple skirlie is.

 

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Stuffed Baked Plantain

by Miss South on April 22, 2014

stuffed plantainOh how I love a plantain. They are so delicious and verstaile that they’ve even lured this Irishwoman away from potatoes with every meal. I love the sweet stickiness of a ripe plantain as magic happens when you cook them.

Frying them is the traditional way to serve the plantain but as I’m using only serving small amounts at a time, I don’t like getting the pan out for one at a time. So I’ve been playing around with other ways to get my plantain just right. Coating them with sugar and spices and baking them in the oven before stuffing them with mozzarella gives close to plantain perfection.

Originally published at Brixton Blog…

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Comfort Eating

by Miss South on April 13, 2014

soup scallions and butter

I’ve been having a very quiet couple of weeks. The flu found me just as I finished up the book and I’ve been forced to take to my bed with a pile of pillows and paracetamol. Being a delicate little flower healthwise, I take a long time to bounce back from these things. I had been planning a holiday from as much cooking as I’d been doing, but I’ve gone somewhat from the sublime to the ridiculous and all I want to eat is comfort food.

I know my body should probably be repairing itself with plates of lean meat, leafy green vegetables and a rainbow of fruit for the much needed vitamins. Aside from my first kiwi fruit in nigh on 20 years, I haven’t been craving those things, but wanting to eat biscuits and mountains of mashed potato instead. I’ve been disappointed to discover that pink wafers aren’t as nice as I remember but mashed potato hasn’t let me down.

Every Northern Irish kid grows up on piles of champ, that magical mix of scallions, mash and a crater of melted butter. It was essential to dip each mouthful in the butter but not let the butter pool break down the side of the spuds. Nothing makes me feel better than champ. The memory of a friend making it for me on a truly awful weekend not long after I’d moved to London still warms my soul now and it was the first meal I ever cooked in my new flat after being homeless. It reminds me of childhood and security and being loved. Growing up in the margarine obsessed 80s meant butter equalled true love.

A sickly child, I spent a lot of time recuperating and convalescing. Certain things always helped. My mum made me egg beaten up in a cup, the soft yolked egg mixed with broken up wheaten bread and more butter. It was easy to eat in all the ways that counted. Heinz tomato soup made an appearance. I’m not brand loyal to much but there’s only one type of tinned tomato soup for me. Speaking of butter, put a little blob of it on top of the soup and see it in a whole new light.

My other love was jelly. Something about its soft soothing wobble still comforts me even now. My aunt used to give me cubes of ‘raw’ jelly out of the packet on Sunday afternoon walks in lieu of modern day affectations like Haribo and I was always told it was good for your nails. Some thing about the gelatine strengthening them. I grew up to have beautifully shaped nails of steel that people often mistake for the expensive kind you buy, so maybe the old wives’ tale did have truth in it? I do know jelly was one of the things I missed profoundly when I was a vegetarian teenager.

I’ve been eating pots and pots of it recently and kicking myself I didn’t order ice cream in my Sainsbury’s shop to go with it. I thought the pay off from years of tonsilitis as a kid was the promised jelly and ice cream after the op when I finally had my tonsils removed. Few things have ever disappointed me more than being given a plastic bowl of Rice Krispies next morning instead. Snap, crackle and pain. Raspberry jelly and vanilla ice cream it was not.

You can keep your Phish Foods and Choco-loco-doodahs and fancy schmancy ice creams when I’m ill. Nothing cuts the mustard quite like a proper taste of raspberry ripple whether it comes cut in slices from a block or conjured up yourself with the jelly or frozen berries. My mum even had a Yardley lipstick that tasted of raspberry ripple when I was a kid and I suspect the fact lipstick doesn’t taste like that anymore is why I’ve never owned one, reserving my colour love for nail polish instead.

I’ll know I’m on the mend again when I want colour on my plate. I’ll be sticking with my mashed potato, steaming bowls of porridge and fluffy white rice in the meantime. Simple and easy to make when I lack energy, they taste homemade when there’s no one else to make them for me and of course, they can incorporate butter beautifully… What about you? What food comforts you when you feel ill or wearied by life? Does it matter who makes it or food just fuel when life is full of pressure?

PS: here’s a preview of Recipes from Brixton Village so take a trip to the market with this fabulous video and start counting down the days til May 22nd when you can get your copy!

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