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Friday, 27 January 2012

Bread Making and Sourdough Wild Yeast Starters

When the weather is frosty, as it was this morning, I like to make bread.  Bread is one of my favourite foods, but I have an ulterior motive for baking bread when it’s cold outside.  Our house is old, draughty and the heating system barely takes the ice off the rooms.  So I like to supplement our heating with warmth from the oven as I bake.

As you can see from the photo above, I use a cane banetton to proof my dough. It’s  a great way to support the dough and it also gives your loaf a nice swirled design.   I started a wild yeast starter (or sourdough starter)  last summer. Even if I’m not making sourdough I always include a ladle full of my wild yeast starter in my dough with the “normal” yeast.  I think it’s nice to personalise your bread with your own yeast that you’ve “captured” from the wild.  A wild yeast starter sounds daunting, but it’s really simple to make and simple to keep alive. Here’s how I made mine, and what I do with it to keep it happy.

Sourdough / Wild Yeast Starter
Yeast needs sugar, warmth and moisture to reproduce, so here’s how to grow your own little yeast pot.

To start :
150g of flour and 250ml of warm water.  I use spelt flour, you can use any sort, but spelt or wholemeal is best because white flour is a bit slow to get going. Whichever you use, it doesn’t make a difference to your final loaf. You’ll need a non-metallic container with a lid, I use a Tupperware pot. Make sure there’s enough room for it to grow & bubble up. So go for something four times bigger than your initial batter. Mix the flour and water together and then whisk for as long as you can stand!. If you’ve got an electric whisk use this, the idea is to get as much air into the mixture as possible (because the yeast is in the air). Put the lid on, then leave somewhere fairly warm. Keep checking it, at some point you’ll get bubbles or holes on the surface. How long this takes depends on how much air you whisked in, how much wild yeast was hanging about in the air and the temperature.

First Feeding
When you see nice big bubbles or holes on the surface, feed your starter by adding another 150g of flour and another 250ml of warm water. Put the lid back on and leave it somewhere warm again.  The next day, check to see if you have more bubbles/holes on the surface. When you do, you can start the maintenance feeding.

Maintenance Feedings
Tip out half the starter and replace it with 150g of flour and 250ml of cold water (note it’s cold now). Put the lid back on and leave somewhere coolish. Repeat this step every day for a week, then  you can put the starter in the fridge and do this step once a week. I sometimes leave mine for two weeks. You can tell when it’s getting desperate for another feed because the smell changes from nice yeasty smells to something that has a little tinge of acetone to it. Remember though, to take it out of the fridge the day before you want to use it so it’s active and bubbling again.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Borlotti Beans

Last year we grew borlotti beans for the first time. I’d previously believed all the advice that it wasn’t possible to grow them in England. Perhaps it was beginner’s luck, but they did really well for us (even though they were in quite a shady area of the veg plot).  I loved the huge scarlet-flecked pods that adorned the plants all summer, growing veg is all the nicer when they're pretty.  

 This is how they looked as seedlings in the garden back in May last year.

We dried the beans, still in the pods, indoors for a few weeks and then stored them in airtight jars. I was hoping that they’d see us through the winter but I’m using the last of them today so I need to grow far more this year. This is my usual excuse for going over-board on seed buying and scavenging.  This is my seed tin. It’s organised by planting month but I have so many seed packets crammed in there that I can’t close the lid and some packets occasionally spring out and make a break for it. I gave lots away at our allotment society lunch in December, but I still have far more seeds than I have growing room.

As these are the last of our borlottis I’m making my favourite recipe with them. Slightly adapted from a Delia Smith recipe, I love it. It’s also a compromise, The Husband would eat nothing but sausage, chips and tinned Heinz baked beans if given the chance. So I meet him half way with this recipe, much healthier and I don’t think he misses the chips and tinned beans too much.

 Borlotti and Sausage Cassoulet  (serves 2)

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 good quality sausages

8oz (225g) dried borlotti beans (soaked overnight in cold water, boiled rapidly for 10 minutes and then drained)

4oz (125g) diced smoked pancetta

1 onion, diced

1 stick of celery, diced

1 medium sized carrot, diced

1 clove of garlic, very thinly sliced

10 fl oz (275ml) of dry white wine

10fl oz (275ml) water

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

Salt & black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1, 275°F (140°C).

Heat the oil in a large pan or casserole dish (one that you can use both on the hob and in the oven & one that you have a lid for) over a medium heat and brown the sausages. Turn them every few minutes to make sure they’re brown on all sides. There’s nothing less appetising than anaemic sausages. Take them out the pan and put to one side. Increase the heat and fry the pancetta, until it’s golden brown at the edges. Remove it using a slotted spoon (to leave the delicious bacony oil behind). Turn the heat down again and cook the onion, celery and carrot, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes (until soft). Add the garlic and remove from the heat (the garlic only needs about a minute in the residual heat if you've sliced it thin enough & you don’t want it to burn or it’ll be bitter) add the beans and then nestle the sausages into the pan. Then add the chopped sage, the wine and the water. Season with salt and black pepper and bring it up to a gentle simmer. Put the lid on and put in the oven for 3 hours. Your kitchen will be warm and smell delicious. I like to make wholemeal bread to serve with this; a couple of crusty chunks are just the job to soak up the lovely unctuous juices.


Sunday, 15 January 2012

About Me, Let's Get This One Over With

This is my first blog post, so I’m going to use it to get the introductions done and dusted.  This bit feels a bit awkward as it’s not about anything other than me.  I’ll be glad to get it over with so I can start properly.

I’m a free-lance photographer and  I licence my images through and I mostly photograph my obsession – growing and cooking food . I grow my own fruit and vegetables and spend a ridiculous amount of time cooking or thinking and reading about cooking. And, of course, eating.  I’m always in search of really good restaurants. In our house every Friday is No Cook Friday, so I’ll also be sharing the good the bad and the ugly of our finds.

Let’s also get out the fact that I'm a pagan out of the way, because my beliefs affect how I grow food (organically) and what I eat (organic food, and if it’s meat it needs to have been compassionately farmed – or better still, not farmed at all) and my general outlook on life. I mention this not because I will be blogging particularly about religion, just because if you’re bigoted then I’m not sure we’ll be getting along.  Don’t let my broomstick hit you on the way out.