24/04/2011

The Hot Cross Bun mission.

Yes, it has indeed been a mission. I was determined to make some for no reason other than I wanted to make some. I know you can buy them for silly money but it's not quite the same, plus the house smells so nice when they are baking. I never remember to get around to Greek Easter baking, but I thought I could at least make the effort and uphold the Brit part of my ancestry. Also, I have concerns with my baking prowess. I don't have any and I want to get some!

I tried one recipe twice and I think the dried yeast was old because the dough was just not elastic at all. They tasted good though.



Then I tried another one, with different yeast - dried but not the fast action one - and they were better. I used wholemeal strong bread flour so they were heavy, but tasty. I used golden marzipan to make the crosses and that was incredibly nice but I still wasn't satisfied.



Then, oh joy of joys, a friend had ordered some fresh French bakers' yeast to try and she very kindly split it with me, so today that's what I used. I found a recipe that my friend Mark gave me, because I know it works, and off I went. (Mark put pentagrams on his, I have little patience for piping crosses, let alone anything more complicated!) I did tweak it a bit as I had all that wholemeal bread flour to use up.

The yeast is wonderful. The dough had a gorgeous elasticity, the buns rose, and they have a lovely, airy texture whilst still having a substantial feel to them. A well rounded, proved dough is a wonderful thing.

Hot Cross Buns: The Revisit 4.0

Ingredients
The Wet Bit
1 Egg
8 fl oz Milk (I used half whole milk and half water)
2 oz Butter (melted)
1 tsp runny honey
1 ½ tsp Yeast (fresh)

The Dry bit
12oz Strong wholemeal flour
4 oz Plain white flour
Pinch Salt
1 tsp Mixed spice
1 tsp Cinnamon
2 oz Caster sugar
5 oz Sultanas
1 oz Chopped mixed peel

The Cross Mixture
3 tsp plain flour
1 tbs water (or enough to make a thick paste)
1/4 tsp vanilla essence (yes, essence, it has a sweeter taste)

I melted the butter into the milk, let it cool to hand hot, then beat in the egg and added the honey and the yeast. Then I ignored it. It raised a pale yellow, fluffy foam that looked like whipped egg white so I emitted a small cheer.

In a large bowl, I mixed all the dry ingredients together, added the golden yeast mixture, brought it together with a butter knife and then tipped it out onto a floured surface and gave it a good kneading. About ten minutes or so I think, adding a touch of flour if it got too sticky. When it started to spring back, it was time to divide it up into balls. I even weighed each one so I knew they were the same size. Next time I will make them smaller. This made 8 large buns.

I placed the buns onto a baking tray lined with silicone non stick baking parchment (Thank you Lakeland!), covered them loosely with cling film and then went away again. An hour later and they were proved. Rounded and smooth and plumptious.

I made the cross mixture up in a small ramekin, tipped it into a small ziplock bag, twisted it up into a cone, snipped the corner off and rather inexpertly piped on the crosses.

Into the oven they went (170C fan/200C non fan) without a glaze as neither of us like the stickiness of that and then 20 minutes later (with one turn because my oven cooks unevenly) there they were. Light, airy, golden brown and delicious. No longer tasty hockey pucks, but proper, actual BUNS. Buns of spiced joy. Oh yes.

 This phone photo was taken and sent to my man Col because I was so excited I had to share!


Mmmmm....buttery....


I added vanilla essence to the cross mixture as flour paste just isn 't that tasty on its own. 

I really want to make some more, but I need to go to the shops tomorrow as I have used up all of the mixed spice in the house. I can see this yeast bakery thing becoming an addiction, quite fast.
 

23/04/2011

Total Greek Yoghurt Masterclass

A few weeks ago I received an invitation from Alison at Total Greek Yoghurt to ask if I would like to attend something called the Total Greek Yoghurt Masterclass. Now, anything with the word Greek in it appeals to me greatly. Add yoghurt in and there I am, sold. Add to that the fact that it was being held at a cookery school and you can imagine that I didn’t hesitate to say yes. It was quite handy that the email arrived while we were sorting out holiday allocations at work, so it was a matter of mere seconds to add another day to my booked time off. Inbetween squeaking about being, like, a real food blogger and everything anyway.

The day dawned sunny and fair. I left BF’s house earlier than planned as East Croydon was having Tram Drama, made it to Victoria quite easily and then tubed it to Oxford Circus. I then did what I always do when I have to travel via Oxford Circus. I turned the wrong way out of the station. It doesn’t matter how many maps I have, that crossroads throws me right off. Luckily I realised my mistake quite fast as I was on the lookout for it, and turned back. Headphones on, a purposeful stride, and more squinting at the map and I arrived at L’Atelier des Chefs. Too early it turns out but that’s better than being late. What a place! So many cooking trinkets, gadgets, knives...

The dear people from Total were in a bit of a pickle as their Ocado order had been delayed by a computer glitch, so I got my name tag and then sat upstairs with a cup of tea and ogled the cookware. There was a whole wall of knives. I held onto my purse for dear life and tried not to look at the shinies.

One by one fellow foodies/bloggers turned up and there was much asking of names/Twitter handles. (I will update this later with names as it’s all a bit of a blur at the moment!)

One thing I will say right now is that the seating – mini bar stool things – are NOT made for those of us who have back problems, or who are rather broader of beam than the average Joe. If you go along to the school at any point, bear that in mind. It made for an awful lot of fidgeting about when the talks were happening.

When all was calm, the day began with a talk about nutrition by the beautiful Hala from Nutrition Rocks. As someone who has always been told to diet, and has dutifully done so because I commit the cardinal sin every day of being overweight, I admit that I had heard most of it before – but something I had never heard a nutritionist say is that “Fat is not bad, okay?” I could have hugged her. It was all very sensible advice, certainly no scaremongering, so that was very good.

Phil from Skinny Latte - http://skinnylattestrikesback.blogspot.com/ - was up next and though I absolutely admire her guts and determination, think that what she has achieved is utterly phenomenal and very much appreciate Phil's honesty about her story, I’m afraid that the whole “I went from fat to thin and now I’m happy” slant made me feel very, very uncomfortable. This may have shown on my face somewhat, which is a little embarrassing as I was right in front of the camera’s gaze.

Touting being thin as a Happy Making Mission is not a great thing for me. Some of us are what we are, and there is nothing we can do about it, no matter what we eat/how much we exercise and when you have been overweight from childhood, despite very healthy eating, there comes a point where you learn to accept yourself for who and what you are. I am conscious of every single thing that I eat, overly so, and face a fight with myself every time. Foods that are bad, foods that are good – it goes on every time I want to eat. I don’t just ‘go grab a sandwich’ at lunch, I agonise. I also battle some difficult health issues and at this point in my life, I am not going to let being overweight stop me from doing anything. If having MS isn’t going to stop me, then extra flab certainly isn’t! To be honest, the weight didn’t stop me when I was younger either.

I debated long and hard whether to write all that, but I am a pretty honest person, and it wouldn't have felt right to miss out a significant chunk of my experience.

But anyway. I shall quit that particular soapbox now, because it’s personal to me, and others did not feel the same way. It touched a few of my nerves I expect.

There is one thing I would like to say – pointing out a beautiful pregnant lady as being a perfect example of pregnancy fitness, because she works out and drinks lots of water, that isn’t actually fair. There are plenty of women who work out and eat well, who do not eat for two when pregnant but if your body decides it’s gaining weight while pregnant, then it’s gaining weight and there is nothing you can do about it. You can try and mitigate the damage but sometimes it is out of your control. The lady in question was utterly radiant and a real inspiration but I know people who had a very similar regime, and they put on a load of weight regardless. Everyone is different. Okay, I’ve gotten on the soapbox again. Still, that is pretty much me.

Moving on! Moving on.

After a break for tea, and me snaffling a banana from the fruit bowl on the disposal before I fainted, we moved on to The Cooking. Oh yay! Chefs and knives and all kinds of everything.





Three chefs, one at each cooking station, were showing us how to make three different dishes. Andre Dupin showed us Tartare of Mackerel with Minted Cucumber Soup, Fabricio Cano Davila demonstrated Pan Fried Medallions of Pork with Yoghurt Gribiche and Fennel, then Satyajit Welaratne made Vegetarian Samosas with a Minted Cucumber Dip. I will put the recipes up in a separate post. They were all very, very lovely indeed. After we had watched the demo, and supposedly taken it all in, we got the chance to make it ourselves. Oh yes, let me at those Sabatier knives. That makes me very happy. Also we got to eat what we cooked, and as most of us were starving by that time, everyone was up for cooking! Even Hala got involved I think.

I have to totally admire the patience of Andre while he was being filmed, as being asked to constantly redo things, tilt the bowl this way, tilt it that way, stop, start must have been incredibly annoying, especially when making a caramel! If it’s ready it’s ready, you cannot leave it on there a second longer just to get a shot. Cooking under pressure is what chefs do though, which is why I am just a cook, not chef.

I made the Pork Medallions first, and I have to say, not having control over the heat of the gas flame is incredibly frustrating but I got there in the end. Gribiche sauce is just heavenly. Yoghurt, shallots, cornichons, parsley, chervil, tarragon, capers and grated hard boiled egg make a rich tasting but light textured sauce. I may have made a double quantity and eaten it with a spoon. The dressed fennel salad was so very fresh and tangy, which leads me to think that if I am going to eat fennel, it has to be as fresh as I can get it else the aniseed taste takes over too much.

No photo from me from the day as I ate it too fast but this one was sent to me by Alison from Total.



After munching that, going “Mmmm ohmygoddnessmmmm” and having a bit of a sit down and a good old natter with the other attendees, it was back to the kitchen to make the Tartare of Mackerel with Andre. Raw, chopped mackerel, parsley, shallots, cornichons, yoghurt, ketchup – yes, ketchup – Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and capers. I got some hot knife action going with the cornichons, so that made me feel slightly more cheffy than just adding ready chopped herbs to a dish. Lynne (http://www.clarkagency.co.uk/GreedyPiglet/)  and I teamed up and had a blast making – and eating – that dish. The cucumber ‘soup that went with it lifted the slightly heavy feeling of the mackerel, and made it a lovely, summery treat. I think I would make that again, quite happily.






More sitting down, more scoffing, much more nattering, then back to the kitchen for round three. Samosas this time using feuille de brick pastry, which is like filo pastry but much more malleable. I believe it is Tunisian in origin, and it doesn’t dry out as fast as filo dough so I may get some for the freezer.

We mixed mashed potato, peas, an onion paste, ground cumin, coriander and turmeric, garlic and yoghurt together, piled it onto a strip of the pastry, folded it up into a triangle, then shallow fried it. Lynne and I teamed up again. We had enough mix for two, so we made, er, two. Gorgeously crisp pastry and a very lovely depth of taste to the filling, though if I made them at home I would bake them as the pastry holds the oil a bit too much for my liking. Off it was to sit and eat again.



Then came the desserts. Chestnut Tiramisu Rapide, Yoghurt White Chocolate Millefeuille with Spiced Plums and Yoghurt Drop Scones with Caramelised Pineapple.

I am not a huge pancake fan, and the spiced plums had a lot of wine in them so I steered clear but the tiramisu was going to be mine. I have to say that the smell of red wine added into a dark caramel sauce is utterly intoxicating, and smelled almost of dark chocolate so I wish I could have tasted the spiced plums but I wasn’t taking chances.

The Tiramisu is boudoir biscuits dipped in a coffee/cognac/sugar mixture, and layered up with a yoghurt/cream/chestnut mixture and topped with cream and cocoa powder. Andre kindly got an espresso without sugar made for me so that I could avoid the alcohol and I was so very grateful. I made my dessert and I scraped the bowl clean. I could happily have gone back and eaten another. I will make that again for definite. There was much laughter, and sharing of food ideas, tips and recipes, and for once I didn’t feel like a freak or an obsessive when I took photos.




So. I thought I didn’t like fennel, and I do. I really thought I didn’t like mackerel and guess what? Yup, I do now. I wasn’t even sure that I liked espresso neat but I do. I also made it out of a cookware shop without buying anything, not even the coconut extract, or the rose extract, though at least I know where I can get them now…


All in all it was a very good day indeed. It was brilliant to meet so many like-minded new people, and yes, there has been a Twitter Adding Frenzy. I felt like a proper blogger and everything.

Huge thanks to Total Greek Yoghurt for making it possible, to Alison and her team for all their hard work and goodie bags and to the chefs at L’Atelier for their kindness and patience.

I would surely do that again, anytime. Next time, I'd like to play with the knives a bit more...

L’atelier des Chefs
19 Wigmore Street
London W1U 1PH


11/04/2011

I cannot abide waste.

I just can't. It bothers me more than a lot of things - and a lot of things bother me. I am a member of this here website http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/ which probably explains a lot. We in the West have so much food, and throw away so much that could be used, it's almost a crime.


I came home tonight after a weekend away and find, just resting on top of the bin and still in their plastic wrappings, a whole bag of spinach with maybe a few wilted leaves, 2 carrots with nothing wrong that I can see, a box of mixed salad leaves that aren't great but would be utterly fine with a dose of good dressing and almost a whole stick of celery, maybe missing a few ribs.

I gasped. I actually gasped OUT LOUD. (There probably isn't much hope for me)

I am not too proud to use stuff that has been in the bin. If the things had touched anything else then no, of course not but they hadn't. They were all snugly wrapped up and just a wee bit tired but then aren't we all?

So now I have a pot of buttery, garlicky spinach rice simmering on the hob which will be lunch for tomorrow and Plans Afoot for the rest. The salad gets used tonight, one of the carrots will probably be grated into that and I will add a good, punchy balsamic dressing. The celery will get chopped and frozen for soup bases.

If I was at home tomorrow I'd probably make lamb, carrot and cinnamon burgers but I'm not, so I can't. Dammit.

Waste not, want not! I may not always succeed, but at least I try. I did reference my hatred of waste back in August of last year, and it doesn't go away.

http://cookwitch.blogspot.com/2010/08/great-british-waste-menu.html

And this was dinner.

03/04/2011

Cookwitch's 'How To Buy A Good Cauliflower' guide

Or 'An Excuse to Post a Photo or Two.'

The leaves of a cauliflower are its protection. They grow curled around the head and keep it shaded. The more white a cauliflower, the longer the leaves have been left on to protect it while it grows. This also helps to keep the flavour in. When you see them in the supermarket, invariably the leaves have been cut back to reveal the head, but that process serves to let the flavour deteriorate and alas the natural moisture in the vegetable dries out. Dear Supermarkets, please stop it. I love to pull back the leaves and peek at the pearly white florets within. It's part of the fun!

This is what a fresh cauliflower should look like, ideally.




The florets should be close together, and be quite hard to separate.



If it's really fresh, you can eat the leaves too. Stir fry with olive oil and garlic, or simmer for a while so they steam, then dress with lemon juice. To cook a cauliflower and keep the most flavour, steaming it seems to be the best way, or gently simmering it in water with added lemon juice. That keeps it white. Roasted cauliflower is gorgeous, and oh my...cauliflower pakoras are to die for. I have steamed a whole cauliflower before and served it with a mild egg and lemon sauce. It didn't need anything else.

And, just for the hell of it, an extra zooming in close up.



After I suggested starting up CLiF (the Cauliflower LiBeration Front) my boyfriend said I needed some sleep. He is quite probably right. *grin*

02/04/2011

A Placeholder

Just to let you know I am still alive, there will be more posts coming soon but my enthusiasm has waned somewhat over the past few weeks due to having to have our beloved feline companion of 18 years put down. Loss of appetite is a great hindrance in the food blogging world.

Yes, I am an utterly sentimental fool, who just can't concentrate on much at the moment. So I apologise, and hope that what passes for normal service around here will be back soon.