JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Veg box awards

If you have a veg box, here's a link to the 2007 Veg Box Awards.

If you don't have a veg box, you may be interested to know that Guy Watson of Riverford has calculated that his boxes are often cheaper than the same selection of non-organic supermarket vegetables: last week's comparison with Tesco/Sainsbury/Waitrose showed you'd be out of pocket by 27% for a minibox, 72% for a small box, 55% for the medium, 74% for the large, 40% for the fruit and veg, 42% for the summer box. All this before we try to put a value on the freshness and quality. Which is light years ahead of anything I've ever bought in a supermarket.

Lots of people say they don't subscribe to a veg scheme because they don't know how to cook unfamiliar vegetables ... here are links to recipes at Riverford and the awards. But there's not much that's unfamiliar - and that which seems unusual often isn't really: I"m thinking particularly of kohl rabi, which I would never have bought because it looks so weird, and which supermarkets don't sell because it's the ugly duckling of the cabbage family .... but the taste is sublime, like a really fine and refined broccoli - and last year, I had a note from a man who drives long distances to stock up on kohl rabi during the season.

If you don't have a veg box, here's a good reason not often cited: it puts vegetables at the heart of every meal ... you think, what shall we have with the butternut?

Oh yes, and someone said to me that subscribing to a big scheme like Riverford was as bad as using a supermarket. No, no, no and no again. One, the local schemes round here were all oversubscribed when I tried to sign up. Two, Riverford doesn't airfreight anything. Three, it is much much more environmentally friendly to have one van doing a regular round to, say 20 customers, than to have those 20 customers all get into their cars and go to the supermarket. Four, Riverford grow vegetables all over the country. Five, everything is seasonal and organic. Six ... well, you get the picture.

Guess who I've voted for!

I'll get off my hobbyhorse now ... but DO give it serious consideration

Apple crumble

Apple crumble is, by my standards, is a pretty indulgent pudding - especially if you add custard. I know that it's got lots of fruit, which is always a good start, but crumble is really a form of sweet pastry: butter, flour, sugar.

Years and years ago, at a Boxing Day family gathering, my sister-in-law Clare opened my eyes to the possibility that crumble doesn't have to be that good-but-unexciting white sugar / white flour combination. Hers used soft brown sugar and, I think, nuts. I remember she said it was Delia, but I can't find anything in the Complete Cookery Course that chimes with my memory.

Apple crumble is Alfred's favourite pudding. I've tried a few times to make something truly heart-friendly, and each time he's given me a kind but withering look that spells failure. So I decided that I'd keep the fat (Flora, as butter is completely off limits), but add in other ingredients which would mean less Flora was required, and also help me feel that I'd balanced things out a little. So ... ground almonds to keep down the Flora, and oats because they'd add texture and the goodness of a superfood. Also dark brown sugar.

I was really pleased with this: the nuts and oats meant that I could cut down the Flora, the dark sugar gave fantastic taste, the little bit of plain flour lightened it. The apples came from the garden, so I didn't spice them, although they'd have been good with cloves, or cinnamon, or nutmeg. It was DELICIOUS. Alfred looked encouraged, took one mouthful and said: couldn't you have used white sugar? Another mouthful: it's nice, but I like the school one better. Okay, I can't claim total success for Alfred, but at least I didn't get the withering look.

On the other hand, Lucius and I both thought it was wonderful.

Nutty apple crumble, for 6

6-10 apples (depending on size and condition)
100g muscovado sugar
100g rolled oats
100g ground almonds
50g plain flour

Peel, core and slice eating apples to half fill a small deep dish. Sprinkle them with a little granulated sugar (more if you are using cooking apples, but Bramleys, the most widely available, cook to a fluff).

Measure the muscovado, oats, almonds and flour into the food processor bowl. Give it a quick pulse to make the oats a little smaller. Then add Flora. A conventional recipe would probably use 100g, but you're aiming to use less. I think I probably used about 50g. I added it spoon by spoon, pulsing each time, and stopped with the mixture began to clump.

When you've got it right, spread the mixture over your apples, and bake in a moderate oven, 190C, for half an hour. I then kept this warm in a low oven, 80C, for a further half an hour. If I had known there was going to be a delay over supper, I probably would have cooked it at about 120C for the full hour ... crumbles are pretty forgiving.

Try it ... Alfred is not a reliable guide here. I found myself reflecting that there was a time when I was satisfied with crumble made with white flour and white sugar ... this really is a much better alternative. I'm sure Alfred will one day agree!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lady Diana Cooper's spiced cabbage

Last week I met a cheesemaker, Mary Quicke, famous on at least three continents amongst lovers of properly made Cheddar. We talked about a presentation she had to give (I think she's probably given it by now) at a gathering of West Country "food heroes". Her general gist was that being labelled a food hero made her feel uncomfortable, and that she subscribed to the slow food movement's idea that the eating of good food is a community of interest, and that the consumer is as much a co-producer as the farmer or the cook. (This beguiling idea has made me decide to join.)

There's a bit of me that agrees with Mary ... on the other hand, I do have one or two food heroes, and one of them is the source of this recipe, Guy Watson, the man behind Riverford organic vegetable boxes. A food hero if ever there was one. To me, and probably countless others. Even if it turns out that he, too, dislikes the title. And I very much like the idea that I am a co-producer at Riverford ... even if it is baloney.

This recipe came with this week's box. There wasn't a cabbage in mine, so I bought one at the market. I wanted to make it because I found it rather hard to imagine the socialite and glamorous Diana Cooper eating cabbage, let alone having a recipe for it.

Diana Cooper's Spiced Cabbage

1/2 a white cabbage, shredded (or use a whole January King)
4 tbsp sesame oil
one small onion, chopped
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
good pinch of caraway seed

Heat the oil in a large pan, and gently fry the onion and caraway. As it starts to brown, add the cabbage. Cook as if it was a stir fry - keep it moving, and when it's done to your liking, add the vinegar and salt to taste.

We ate this with our Sunday roast pork. Lovely. But I still can't imagine Lady Diana Cooper eating such a peasant dish.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ballymaloe Brown Bread

Following my post last week about our daily soda bread with yoghurt, I had a very useful note from John Curtin, Spade Work: From Plot to Plate, about his breadmaking: Soda bread is delicious but it doesn't keep....that's if there is any left over. We regularly bake a quick no-knead yeast bread Ballymaloe Brown Bread aka Doris Grant Loaf. Only eat shop bought in an emergency!

Years ago, I used to make the Doris Grant Loaf - somewhere I've got a copy of her wonderful book Your Daily Bread. I'd never heard of Myrtle Allen, or her Ballymaloe Brown Bread, which is a variation of the DGL. Both are good tasty loaves, full of flavour - the molasses gives a complex depth which is particularly good in toast. Both versions are little trouble to the cook - just what's needed for a daily or near-daily chore.

So I got to work. Easy. But the finished loaf sunk in the middle. Well, I was using my old tins, AND I didn't have any wholemeal flour, so I was using spelt. Perhaps that was it. New pan, followed the recipe to the letter. It rose too fast, flowed over the edges - and sunk in the middle, a depression where there should have been a dome.

Meanwhile, I'd ordered Myrtle Allen's Ballymaloe Cookbook (from Abe, it cost less than the postage), hoping that I would find more detail than on the internet. No such luck - although it's full of lovely dishes, so not a waste of the few pennies it cost.

I'm giving the recipe here ... but I'd be really glad if someone who is familiar with this method could give me a few pointers. Just so's you know, I'm using dried yeast (not instant); I haven't been putting a tea towel over the dough as it rises, because I'm always afraid it will stick, and I didn't want to flour it (I'll try that next); and the kitchen is about low 60s F). Any ideas?

Ballymaloe Brown Bread

3 1/2 tsp dried yeast
400 ml water
1 tsp molasses or black treacle
500g wholewheat flour
2 tsp salt

Grease a large loaf pan and warm it in the oven at 120C for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle the yeast into 150ml of water; allow to dissolve before adding the molasses. Leave until frothy (about 10 minutes), add the rest of the water (250ml), stir.

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture to a well in the middle, and stir into a thick batter. Keep stirring until it forms a soft and very sticky dough, but leaves the sides of the bowl. Put this into the prepared tin. Cover with a dish cloth and leave until it rises to the top of the pan, which should take no more than half an hour.

Bake at 220C for 30 minutes, then at 200C for a further 15 minutes. (I always take the loaf out of the tin for the final five minutes, whatever I'm baking, to get an all-over crisp result; this may reflect on my poor-quality tins.) Use the tapping-test to check that it's done.

Baking pans

Thank you all for so much wonderful advice about baking pans ... I'd have wasted quite a bit of money without it. As it is, I'm having a hard time spending any money at all, because it's proving so hard to find good quality baking kit. There's an opening here in the UK for a really good speciality shop for everything a baker needs - online would be fine, too.

I wanted to buy ceramic coated pans, several in two sizes, and perhaps one Pampered Chef form for a change (I'm like Amanda, not too keen on washing up). And then a couple of silicone muffin forms. Some of this I haven't yet been able to source in the UK, others - well, there wasn't very much choice.

I've been shopping online and through the door ... what you see in the photograph is all I have bought, one non-stick heavy duty 2-lb loaf tin from John Lewis, just to see how it does, and a John Lewis muffin form. I don't want to sound spoilt, but I really really wanted it to be pink (making muffins and cupcakes is such a girly activity). Black was all they had.

The loaf tin seems fine. Unexciting but fine. I've cooked a couple of new breads in it, so it's hard to tell (especially as neither turned out perfectly). Today I'll bake one of my "usual" breads and see how that goes.

In the meantime, if anyone can give me a contact for a UK Pampered Chef dealer, I'd be very glad. And I'll keep looking for ceramic coatings. Oh yes, and THANK YOU Marie (no blog) for the tip about the Richard Bertinet shop for scrapers. Also courses. I think I'm going to enrol on a day course ... anyone for a bloggers day out in Bath?

PS I've just remembered that, decades ago, I had a flowerpot I used to use for baking brown bread ... perhaps I'll go back to that, it was very good, providing you obey the instruction to temper the flowerpot before you first use it for dough, otherwise the bread will never come out ... I hope you can tell that I am speaking here from experience

Sunday, October 28, 2007

HotM 8: Baking round up

Well, as usual, I'm running to catch up with myself. This month's excuse is that it's half term, and we've been busy - but who isn't busy with everyday life? Apologies, especially to those of you who responded quickly to my cri de coeur for help with low cholesterol heart-healthy baking.

That means NO butter and not much marge. Not many egg yolks. No cream. No cheese to speak of. Not a lot of oil, even if it is olive oil. You see the problem. Off the top of my head, we're down to meringues and macaroons. As we're all after a healthier lifestyle, and as SO many food bloggers like to bake, I feel sure that you've all got at least one delicious yet low-fat cake or biscuit recipe that you use in your kitchen ... you'd be doing me, and countless others, a huge favour if you'd share it.

Almost immediately, I had an email from Janette (no blog link attached):

I don't have a recipe but I do have a book suggestion.
Only seen it at Amazon and on the shelf at the bookstore
and library...

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes
for Cupcakes that Rule by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Terry Hope
Romero, and Sara Quin (Paperback - Sep 26, 2006)

Now I know that there are people who are irritated by the stridency of the vegan bloggers network, but this month I noticed particularly how vegans have got low cholesterol baking cracked - no butter, no egg yolks ... all the same problems. And anyway better by far than the sour message I received (which I can't now find, so I think I must have deleted it) saying the best thing to do was not to eat baked goods. Yes, well, thanks for that. Luckily, most bloggers like nothing better than an excuse to get out their baking pans ... so here, without further ado, are their delicious - and heart-friendly - results.

Bee started by making her own nut butter (actually, a really good idea, just look at the ingredient list of your favourite peanut butter if you don't believe me ... full of stuff you can hardly believe is necessary). She used this to make heart-healthy almond cookies, flavoured with cranberry and orange ... but this master recipe could just as easily be used to make peanut, cashew or hazelnut biscuits.

Lakshmi at The Yum Blog says that Zero Butter low fat cooking opens up a whole world of amazing possibilities - Cakes and Brownies can graduate from a “once in a while” indulgences to a routine snacks. She does this by using apple puree instead of butter ... in this post producing healthy chocolate brownies. Not just a one-off, but an approach that you can adapt to all your favourite indulgent recipes.

Gillian Law (no blog) sent this link to Molly Cake, a moist and fruity cake which contains no refined sugar or fat. It’s also free of eggs and dairy products, which means it’s suitable for vegans, or anyone trying to cut down a little. Once tested, all who have tried it want the recipe.

Check out Ilva's grape foccacia ... this is an end-of-summer treat for Italians, to use up the last of the harvest. Ilva (my HotM co-host) says you don't need a recipe, you can use your own bread dough - but she gives one, as well as beautiful photographs.

Nupur's banana bread
is healthier than most, because it uses fiber-rich whole-wheat flour and the fat is mainly peanut butter, a rich source of protein, micronutrients and "good" fats. More egg whites instead of any yolk, and apple sauce. Chocolate chips, too.

Here's a link to my home-made vanilla essence. Mine is still in the early stages, although it will be ready in time to use for baking in December. I've included it because when you take the egg yolks out of your baking, you're taking quite a bit of the taste too ... this is a lovely way to put in a vibrant fresh taste.

Labelga in Brussels gives a recipe for lovely chewy oatcakes with dried fruit ... it's an obvious way forward for those watching cholesterol, yet many off-the-shelf products, and even recipes are not that healthy. This one uses olive oil and no eggs, the moisture comes from the fruit itself, which needs a good long soak (I'd use fruit juice rather than water, and perhaps tea for the spelt ...).

Over at Foodblogga you'll find Heart Healthy Date, Fennel, and Pistachio Scones - wonderful flavours, and using cottage cheese rather than apple sauce because of an unfortunate attempt at apple sauce muffins.

Dhivya at Culinary Bazaar has baked us a delicious ricotta dessert with berries - again, egg whites only, low fat cheese, plenty of fruit.

Check out Zlamushka's Polish carrot cake. She uses margerine (fine, there are some good heart-healthy ones out there), and the cake is packed with fruit and vegetables, as well as whole flour. The icing is tofu and honey with vanilla or jasmine essence.

You'lll find cranberry and pistachio biscotti at Fun and Food - something lovely to dip into your coffee without feeling guilty!

Over at Tasty Palettes you'll find a guilt-free apple crisp ... one of the comments says that it looks like apple crumble, and that's something my son really loves, so this is definitely one to try. Apple sauce instead of butter in the topping - clever.

Christine's daughter in law gave her a useful tip which she passes on to us at Christine Cooks - one banana may be substituted for one egg in most baked vegan recipes. And that's what she's done in her experimental chocolate brownie recipe. Don't they look good?

Chris at Mele Cotte immediately thought about using vegan recipes for this baking challenge, and modified a peach cake recipe. Her post describes how the first experiment didn't really work out - but she took this version to the office to share. The exquisite decoration is halved grapes.

Lauren bakes apple (or pear) muffins to take to work to snack on in the afternoon (SO much better than a Mars bar!). This is her first entry for Heart of the Matter, and she says she's been a long-time lurker on various food blogs - so thanks for sharing, Lauren, and welcome!

Linda has made Kruidkoek - that's Dutch spice cake. It's one of those cakes that's better made a day or two in advance, but Linda confesses to eating her third fresh slice as she was posting! Yoghurt, honey, flour, muscovado sugar, spices - and that's all.

Deeba is passionate about baking, and has made a spicy apple crumble using oats and marge for the topping.

I found Tanna's email apologising for being late when I started work on this roundup. So I emailed back and said that I was even later, and please would she send her post - her baking is a constant inspiration, and I know I'm not the only one to be inspired. This month, she's made blueberry polenta muffin tops. Mmm

SO many good things to try ... thank you ALL for taking part. This one has been especially good for me, because it's an area where I haven't had much success, where I feel I need a few fresh ideas - and I've certainly got lots to work on now. Let me know if the links don't work, or if I've left you out, as my usual system didn't work so well this month.

And watch out for the announcement of next month's Heart of the Matter, from Michelle (who has joined us as co-host) at The Accidental Scientist ... I'll leave her to tell you what we've decided on!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Baking tins - what do you recommend?

I'm looking for some advice, please. As you see, my baking tins are past their best, and I need to replace them. I bought them cheaply several years ago when baking bread was an occasional indulgence, rather than - as now - a daily delight. Technology has galloped ahead since I last shopped for bakeware, and I don't want to find I've wasted a lot of money on something everyone knows is no good.

I'd really welcome your comments on which pans work for you - and, specifically, I'd like to know what you think about those floppy (plastic?) ones that come in bright colours and are extremely tempting (but also possibly a hugely expensive mistake).

And ... does anyone know where in the UK I can buy a baker's peel, and a couple of those plastic scraper/cutters that all serious bakers seem to use?

Thanks ...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Nigel Slater's top-10 recipes

In the Observer Food Magazine yesterday, Nigel Slater printed his top-10 recipes ... I've got six of these books, and I've only done one of these recipes. I don't even remember reading the other five, although I've read all six books from cover to cover.

I know all the names on the list bar one; and I'm struck by how many of them appear on television. I don't think any of these people inspire me to cook in the way that other food bloggers do. Which would make it hard for me to come up with a list like this ... a lot of my top-10 recipes are either grubby bits of print-out, or clippings in my feed aggregator.

The only two dishes on this list that I'm really keen to cook are the salt cod croquetas, and the onions. The rest I either don't want to make (rice pudding with double cream? no thank you), or know how to do without looking at a book (roast grouse, devilled crab).

Here's the list in full (and a link to all the recipes):

1. Nigella Lawson's steak bearnaise, from How to Eat

2. Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray's wood-roasted porcini, from River Cafe Cookbook Two

3. Fergus Henderson's devilled crab, from Nose to Tail Eating

4. Jamie Oliver's wok-fried crispy bream, from The Return of the Naked Chef

5. David Thompson's kaffir-lime juice dressed prawns, from Thai Food

6. Rose Prince's poached chicken with leeks, from The New English Kitchen

7. Sam & Sam Clark's salt cod croquetas, from Moro: the Cookbook

8. Ruth Watson's Afghan Rice Pudding, from The Really Helpful Cookbook

9. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's roast grouse and bread sauce, from The River Cottage Meat Book

10. Skye Gyngell's panade of slow-cooked onions with gruyere, from A Year in My Kitchen

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Baked pears with pine nuts

Delicious, easy ... good enough for dinner, lovely for breakfast with yoghurt.

Baked pears with pine nuts

100g raisins
300ml Marsala
7-8 pears
lemon juice
40g soft dark brown sugar
the seeds of a vanilla pod
40g pine nuts

Heat the oven to 180C. Soak the raisins for half an hour in the warmed Marsala. Halve the pears and scrape out the cores. Put the raisins in the bottom of an ovenproof dish, lay the pears on top, cut side up. Squeeze out the juice of a lemon over the pears, sprinkle with sugar and vanilla seeds, then add the Marsala.

Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes, adding the pine nuts after half an hour. They should be soft when you take them out of the oven ... serve at room temperature.

This is pretty similar to a recipe by Diana Henry published in the Times recently. If you don't know her book Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, have a look at it next time you're in a library or bookshop, it's full of unusual and good tastes - Middle Eastern, North African and Mediterranean-ish ... but not your run-of-the-mill Med-diet=tomatoes-and-olive-oil+pasta

Saturday, October 20, 2007

All-day fresh corn bread

If making my daily soda bread is a pleasurable chore, this yeasted corn bread with fresh kernels is the fun side of baking. And, besides, it's another recipe from my friend Tanna, who baked the bread for the crew while crossing the Atlantic in a small yacht. More than once.

This is an enriched bread, light and golden, speckled with corn kernels. Unlike most enriched bread, not a hint of butter - instead, eggs and honey, as well as the kernels. So not an everyday bread ... a special, autumnal treat.

It takes all day, though the yeast does all the work. Tanna started at 10pm and was taking the bread out of the oven at 5am. I am not an early-morning person, so I started at 11.30am with the idea of eating the bread for supper, but got side-tracked in the early evening, so it came out of the oven at 10pm ... we've just eaten some for breakfast, and it'll be brilliant with the soup we're having for lunch. But like all bread, you can adapt the timings to suit your life ... & actually, if you start the first step at 10pm, you could leave the mixture in the fridge, and do the second step at breakfast, rather than at midnight. (And I could have baked my loaves in the morning, again by putting them to rise overnight in the fridge.) Yeast cookery is very forgiving.

I'm giving a link to Tanna's posts about this bread, because they are very inspiring, and because they've got photographs of all the steps, which are useful for anyone who hasn't made much bread. I'm just going to give outine instructions and notes on the changes I made to the original recipe, mainly for my own benefit, because I will want to do this again. The method is just like any other yeast bread. I don't know if you could do this in a breadmaker, I'm afraid, because I've never used one.

Tanna's corn bread

strong white flour
dried yeast
instant polenta
one corn on the cob
two large eggs
olive oil
chili powder

1. Make a poolish by mixing together:

190g strong white bread flour
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
190g water at room temperature

Leave for two hours. When you return to it, it will be bubbling full of life. I put water straight from the cold tap, because I knew it would be three hours before I got back to it.

2. Add 160g water at room temperature to the poolish.

3. Then mix the dough. Put the following ingredients into the bowl of your mixer:

375g white bread flour
140g polenta (I used the instant sort which is all you can easily buy in a British supermarket)
the kernels cut from one cob
two large eggs
40g honey (2 tbsp)
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

Add the poolish. Mix with the dough hook for about five minutes until you get a smooth, soft/sticky dough. Tanna says she had to add 2 tbsp of bread flour to get the dough to be manageable, but I found it was fine. But don't start adding flour until you've kneaded it (by machine) for at least four minutes, and then add it a teaspoon at a time, because you don't want this mixture to get too dry (then you'll get hard bread).

At this point Tanna added 2 tbsp salt and 1/8 tbsp Chilpotle Chili powder. I didn't do either. Partly by choice, but also because next time I'd put them in at the same time as the poolish for a better mix. We like to keep salt out of our diet if possible, so I was keen to see how this would turn out without it ... the answer is that it's fine, but another time I'd probably put a pinch of salt. And I'd also put in finely diced fresh red chili.

4. Leave to double. Tanna has a glass bucket with volume markings that she uses, so she knows exactly when the dough has doubled. I'm less scientific, although if I see a similar bucket on sale, I am sure that I will sleepwalk my way to the checkout.

5. Knock the dough back, divide it in two, shape it and put it into two large loaf tins. Let it rise to the top. Brush with beaten egg (I didn't do this, and it was a mistake ... the top caught slightly after 40 minutes in the oven - but, by then, it was cooked anyway).

6. Bake in the oven at 180C for 50-60 minutes, but start checking after 40 minutes.

Thank you Tanna .... this is lovely, a lovely project for a beautiful and delicious autumn treat. And another bread which reminds me of a great day in London filled with laughter and fun.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our daily soda bread, with yoghurt

I can't remember the last time I bought a loaf of bread, and most of the bread I have been baking has been this remarkably quick and easy soda bread - no yeast required, on the table in under an hour. We haven't got bored with it, because I make it with a variety of different flours ... wholemeal, spelt, five-grain, white, malted - if it looks good in the shop, I'm happy to buy it. This makes a change from the no-knead yeasted oat bread I've been making for the past few weeks.

I used to think that this was second best .. because it's a soda bread, because there's no yeast. Not any more. It's absolutely first-rate, with the added bonus of making baking with yeast seem like a pleasure to look forward to, rather than something else to feel guilty about not doing.

The recipe is a hybrid, using cup measurements for the flour, and a jug measuring mililitres for the liquids - it works for me, so that I can sort out the ingredients in a matter of moments. That's the key - anything to make it easier than going out and buying a loaf in a plastic bag. So it's worth taking the time to work out the easiest way for you to measure this out ... and then you'll find you make a variation of this all the time.

Soda bread with yoghurt

3 cups of flour
granulated sugar
baking powder
400 ml skimmed milk
Greek 0% yoghurt

Heat the oven to 180C

In a large bowl, mix one cup of ordinary white flour with two cups of fancier flour. Add a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of baking powder. Measure 400ml of milk into a jug, and mix in one large tablespoon of Greek yoghurt. Add this to the flour and mix well by hand (10 seconds - there's no kneading with soda bread). Pour into a large greased loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes.


* If you don't have American cup measures, the flour should weigh 420-450g. It will save a great deal of time if you can equate the amount of flour to a utensil in your kitchen, such as a mug.

* If you like, you can use 400ml beer instead of the milk and yoghurt mixture.

* The mixture I like best is Bacheldre Watermill Malted 5-Seed flour (from Waitrose), which contains sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, golden linseeds, sesame seeds, and fennel seeds. The fennel is particularly noticeable, and I am going to experiment using fennel with other flours.

* It doesn't keep forever, but it's fine the next day.

* If I use buckwheat flour, I reverse the ratio, and use two cups of white, one of buckwheat ... otherwise it makes rather a solid loaf.

* Here's a link to other breads I make - none of them are complicated (this one will come up first until I post about bread again, just scroll down past it to find other ideas).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Poached barley with herbs

I had a hard time knowing what to call this ... poached barley seems to be the best description, but it could just as easily have been barley risotto. This is a fabulous wholefood accompaniment to lamb stew (I made one last night with the end of a joint of lamb from the weekend, with three times as much onion as meat). It's also good alone, if you make it with good stock.

Now I don't know about you, but I have a bit of a horror of the idea of wholefoods as a concept. It puts me in mind of the 70s - brown food and unkempt beards. And yet I love many of the ingredients that are covered by the word wholefood.

Barley is a case in point - it's one of those underrated ingredients that tend to be ignored by most of us. Certainly it's years since I've cooked it. At school we were given a rather grey lamb stew made with scrag end of neck eked out with lots of flabby barley. (Why did they call it pearl barley?) So, above all, I wanted to avoid overcooking it. And even though it's about as cheap as food gets, I wanted to treat it with care and attention. I've overcome the brown look, taste and texture by chopping in a huge handful of herbs at the end ... yum.

Poached barley with herbs

Pearl barley
Marsala or other wine
A big handful of herbs

I used a handful of barley per person (it enlarges with cooking, but not alarmingly so), then stirred it around my risotto pan in a little olive oil, exactly as if I was making risotto. When it was nearly sticking, I splashed in a glug of Marsala to loosen it. Then chicken stock to cover. I simmered this for half an hour, without covering, and stirred it from time to time, although no need to stand close by as if making risotto. I topped up the stock after a while, but this is emphatically not a little-and-often topping up as for risotto - this is more of an oops, should have put in more in the first place.

After half an hour, I took it off the heat and let it stand for nearly an hour. I did this mainly for my own convenience, but it had the effect of allowing the grains to absorb more stock without overcooking. Then I reheated it for 10-15 minutes. At this point I chopped in a huge handful of chopped herbs, what I could find in the garden ... parsley, sage, tarragon, a tiny bit of oregano, chives. Rosemary would have been good too, but I didn't think of it as I passed the bush.

Really good; springy grains sweet with the flavours of the stock and the wine, given piquancy by the last of the summer herbs.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Frozen roast potatoes

We're having a bit of a water crisis here - multiple leaks. Thankfully in the garden, but water pouring out of various pipes. We think Thames Water must have changed the pressure, otherwise why would so many taps and pipes spring leaks simultaneously?

Lucius is hard at work mending them ... it's a struggle, because he's had to work out where the pipes go (we hired a machine which was a 21st century take on a water diviner - our mains water comes in diagonally under the house, and there's a leak in the pipe) ... then dig deep holes, then pump out the water, and only then start sorting out the problems. And so the water is often switched off at weekends. Which makes life tricky in the kitchen.

Roast lamb for lunch today. Couldn't make roast potatoes - you need water to wash off the grainy red earth which locates them as lovely Devon produce. Panic. Rushed out to the supermarket and bought - frozen roast potatoes. I couldn't bring myself to look at the ingredients until I'd got them home and into the oven.

Potato 88%, vegetable oil, batter (wheat flour; modified potato starch; modified tapioca starch; rice flour; salt; skimmed milk powder; dextrose; Colours: curcumin, capsanthin), hydrogenated vegetable oil.


Not very inspiring, somehow.

I didn't tell the others what I'd done. I asked them what they thought. Good golden colour (although Horatio thought it was suspiciously uniform). Fake. Despite being made from real potatoes (what other kind are there?). Not as nice as yours (phew!). Funny texture. A little like that story Nigel Slater tells in Toast about how he came home from school looking forward to mash for dinner, and found that he was eating a form of wallpaper paste - his stepmother had bought Smash for the first time.

So we won't be doing that again. Next weekend, I'll make sure I've prepared the potatoes before the water goes off - you can peel potatoes a couple of days in advance and keep them covered in water in the fridge, although it's a good idea to change the water after 24 hours. Useful if you've got a huge crowd coming.

Having said all that, I was intrigued by the idea of coating roasties with batter. It reminded me of recipes where the parboiled potatoes are rolled in semolina to give them extra crunch. So I'll try that next time we have roast potatoes ... although if anyone has tried it, I'd be pleased to hear their thoughts.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lentil soup with ruby chard

Lentil soup for lunch ... which needs careful cooking, because Lucius thinks he doesn't like lentils. He liked this soup, though. It's the autumn version of something I make quite often for a quick, cheap lunch - bosky with mushrooms and vibrant with chard.

Lentil soup with ruby chard

2 medium onions
5 handfuls of red lentils
splash of Marsala or other alcohol
dried mushrooms
good stock

Chop the onions and fry gently in olive oil until golden. Soak a few dried mushrooms in boiling water. Add red lentils - about the same quantity as onions. Stir. Add a splash of Marsala (or wine, or brandy, or whatever you've got - but don't worry if you haven't got anything suitable, it's not essential, but it does add a layer of complexity to the end result).

Drain the mushrooms and add them. Then pour in stock to cover all this, enough to fill two bowls. Measure it in your serving bowls if you like - this works because some of the liquid will evaporate as the soup simmers and cooks. I used chicken stock, which I make virtually every week, an effortless chore which produces something cheaper, better and tastier than anything you can buy. But this is not a competition, it's lunch, so use whatever you've got - homemade, cube/powder, water (and I'd use water in preference to powder/cube).

It takes around 15 minutes for the lentils to cook. During this time, shred some chard or other greens. Add them to the soup when it's ready, they only need to be wilted.

We ate this with a little rosemary citrus salt. Lucius remarked on the complexity of flavours, and barely appeared to notice that he was enjoying lentil soup.

Sorry, once again no photograph. This time because of incompetence: I forgot to switch off the camera yesterday, so the battery was flat, and I don't have a spare. Shame, because the ruby chard made it look so pretty, not that boring brown that is the look of so many lentil dishes.

Smoked haddock for breakfast

There weren't any kippers left by the time I got to Waitrose yesterday evening. They're our favourite Saturday breakfast. What to do? Then I spotted some lovely white smoked haddock ... a little piece cost pennies. Delicious baked with some slow-roasted tomatoes fished out of their oil and a poached egg on top.

Too sleepy to take a photograph. Sorry.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Haddock and prawn stew with saffron

This is chowder-ish ... and fabulous food for tired cooks in a hurry. 30 minutes start to finish (20 if you cheat / have prepared ahead). Fat free, yet deliciously creamy. I made it when I got back from a day in London - having bought the fish at Paddington Station on my way home, which is a bit last-minute if you plan to cook from scratch. I'm not giving amounts, this is a method ... you know how much you eat.

Lucius said it was the best fish stew I'd ever made. Partly the saffron, but also, I think, down to using fresh sweetcorn stripped from the cob with a knife - the work of seconds, as I am sure American cooks know, but British cooks may not. Much better than soggy out of a tin - if that was the only option, I think I'd leave it out.

Haddock and prawn stew with saffron

Chopped onions
Plain flour
Potatoes (I used salad potatoes)
Skimmed milk
White fish (I used haddock)
Prawns (if you like)
Saffron (use whole stamens, 4-5 at least)
Corn on the cob

Chop the onions and stew them gently in a little oil. Use a wide pan. When they are soft, stir in a little flour. Add chunks of potato and just cover with milk. Add several pinches of saffron (if you like, soak them first in warm water, in which case tip in the water too). Simmer gently until the potatoes are nearly cooked. Add chunks of fish and the kernels of sweetcorn. When the fish is nearly cooked, drop in the prawns (I'm talking about the little pink peeled and cooked ones here; this is a midweek supper, nothing too fancy or expensive). The prawns will only need warming through, so take the pan off the heat after a couple of minutes and leave it to stand for another couple of minutes before serving.

The two things that make the difference here are fresh corn, and the saffron - the finished dish is a lovely golden colour, and the smokey musky taste of saffron gives the dish a lift out of the ordinary. It's a dish that's easy enough for midweek, special enough for a party, and versatile enough to cook for a crowd (you could prepare ahead up to putting in the potatoes, stopping after they'd cooked for a couple of minutes, because they'd carry on cooking as the liquid cooled).

Oh yes, remember I said you could cheat? Here's something worth knowing about ... a Spanish product which I've only recently noticed on supermarket shelves: Eazy fried onions. My rule is never to buy ready-prepared products containing ingredients I don't keep in my larder: here we have 90% finely selected onions, 9% olive oil, salt, and citric acid. I dare say the olive oil isn't as good as mine, and it's true that you can taste the citric acid, so this is no good for, say, pissaladiere where the onion is the main point of the dish. But as a short-cut when cooking for a crowd, or when you haven't got any prepared onions in the fridge (I nearly always cook double the amount I need to save time later) ... well, they're great.

This post is to celebrate two years of Weekend Herb Blogging, which comes from Kalyn's Kitchen. Kalyn is a most generous blogger - she was fantastically helpful to us when Ilva and I started Heart of the Matter. WHB has become a food blogger's institution, a great place to look for healthy recipes. Thanks Kalyn ... happy anniversary!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chilli and pepper chutney

I made this quickly a couple of weeks ago when I was using up the veg in the bottom of the fridge before the arrival of the new organic box. I gave a bottle to Dick, who loves home-made chutney, and kept the other one. I've only just opened it, so it's only now that I know it's good enough to blog. It is, and there's just time to make some before there are no more peppers for the year.

This recipe came from Jamie Oliver in the Telegraph Magazine a few weeks ago; I've got a feeling it's an extract from his new book. I've simplified the method, to make it quicker.

Chilli and pepper chutney

red chillis (I used 4, Jamie specifies 8-10)
8 red peppers
a splash of olive oil
2 chopped onions (mine weren't red, Jamie's were)
a sprig of chopped rosemary leaves
2 bay leaves
2 tsp cinnamon (couldn't find a stick)
salt and pepper
100g brown sugar
150 ml balsamic vinegar

Start by sweating the onion in oil with the seasonings. Do it slowly, it should take at least 20 minutes until they are soft and golden.

If you want to skin your chilli and peppers, do so; I didn't bother. I took out the seeds and cores, then blitzed them all together in the Magimix (I left a few small lumps, but I was concerned not to leave great big bits of chilli, so it ended up quite finely chopped).

Add the pepper and chilli mush, together with the sugar and vinegar. Cook slowly until there's no more liquid. You should keep an eye on it, but you don't need to hang over it all the time; a little stir every so often will stop it sticking. I don't remember how long it took to cook, but allow an hour. It will be dark and thick when it is ready. Pour into sterilised jars (either run them through the dishwasher, or put them in a warm oven for half an hour or so).

You can use this straight away, but all chutneys improve with a bit of keeping.

Roasting tomatoes

I've roasted a lot of tomatoes this year, because that way we'll have some summer sunshine in the depths of winter. About this time last year I decided that we would never again eat anything out of season, nor would we eat any more air-freighted food. I didn't then realise how boring we would find our winter diet, because I had made no preparations. By spring, everyone was longing for salad leaves, and, above all, for tomatoes (they're just not the same out of a tin, useful though those are).

This year, I am determined that we won't have such a restricted winter palate. One of the things I have been doing is roasting tomatoes for the winter. Some are stored in jars of oil in the fridge, but, this year, while the learning curve is still steep, most are in boxes in the freezer (some are frozen whole, others are already made into sauce).

I've tried several different ways with roasting, and have found that slower really is better. One problem with true slow-roasting is that taking 12 hours to cook a tomato isn't always convenient - you either have to be cutting up toms first thing when you're barely awake, or last thing at night when you'd much rather be brushing your teeth and going to bed. So I've experimented with faster/hotter.

For all these tomatoes, you prepare them the same way: cut them in half, put them cut side up in a roasting pan, sprinkle them with thyme and olive oil. If you like you can add some unpeeled garlic cloves, particularly if you're going to make tomato sauce at the end. If you like you can peel them when they're cooked, but I don't often bother.

Many many people leaving comments on my blog say that they'd like to cook from scratch but don't have time. This is an easy way to begin (and it's not too late to make a start this year, although there's probably only another week or so in southern England). When there's time and energy, a little effort - 10 minutes in two bursts - gives easy fuss-free ingredients for the days to come. You can re-heat them and use them as a vegetable (great on toast for breakfast), or snip them into salads, or onto pasta for an instant sauce.

I've written down the pros and cons of the various ways to roast tomatoes, mainly because I'll have forgotten by next summer, but also to help you with any end-of-season glut. I wonder if it would work with green tomatoes? Please let me know if you have any information on that.

Here's a list of findings:

1. Alanna's slow-roasted tomatoes are the best, the Rolls Royce of tomato roasting. Put them on at 100C max, and they'll take at least 12 hours, depending on their size.

2. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's method given in the Guardian on 18 August 2007, is to put them in a medium oven 180C for 45 minutes to an hour. This is fine if you are in a hurry, but doesn't bring out all the sweetness of the fruit, so makes a slightly uninteresting result (this is the counsel of perfection, they're fine, it's just that you can do better for no more real effort). Great for when you're going on to make ketchup or sauce.

3. Skye Gyngell says that she slow-roasts tomatoes at 100C for 3-4 hours. I haven't tried this, because I can't believe you'd get a good result after so short a time at that low temperature.

4. Nigella Lawson has something she calls moonblush tomatoes. Here, you put them into a very hot oven, 220C, and switch it off straight away. You then leave them for 12 hours. This is best done overnight, because it is really important that you don't disturb them until everything has come right down to room temperature. I did it with small tomatoes, as specified, and had to give them a bit of a blitz in a warm oven at the end. I think you'd need to use cherry tomatoes for a decent result. That said, it's a useful way of using residual heat from the oven if you've been cooking in the evening.

5. When Sarah Raven roasts cherry tomatoes for pasta (with balsamic vinegar and honey added to the usual ingredients specified above), she pricks them all so that she can skin them easily when they're cooked, and she puts them in at 180C for 20 minutes. Hmm. But in her defence, she's not actually cooking these to conserve.

6. Mary Berry's Aga-Dried Tomatoes specify six hours in the simmering oven, which should be 120C. I have done this, and it works. Not so long as Alanna's recipe, so easier to fit into your life. A good compromise.

7. 2-3 hours at 150-160C is even easier to fit into your life, and much better than one hour at 180C.

All of these can be stored completely covered in oil in a sealed jar kept in the fridge. They should last 3-4 months. The tomato-y flavoured oil can be used for cooking. They can also be stored in boxes in the freezer. You can make them into sauce and ketchup before freezing if you like.

Roasted tomato ketchup

I made this earlier in the summer, it's from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Guardian column. Compared to Heinz it was a bit of a disappointment. Not very nice on the side of your plate, mainly because of the inevitable comparison with Heinz TK, which we all know and love. I wasn't going to bother to post it, but I am doing so now because I WILL make it again next year, as I've found it wonderfully useful to add to all sorts of cooking - gravy, soup, stew, etc etc. It really needs another name, to avoid invidious comparisons.

Roast tomato ketchup

1 litre of sieved roasted tomatoes
100g soft brown sugar
100 ml cider vinegar
1 tbps ground black pepper
pinch of ground mace
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
2 bay leaves

Put everything into a large saucepan on a low heat. Stir frequently - first to help the sugar dissolve, then to stop it sticking. After about 45 minutes at a gentle bubble, it should be thick enough to bottle.

You should keep this in the fridge; I imagine that it would freeze well, too, although then you might not want to put it into a glass bottle.

There's just time to make some of this with the last of the summer's tomatoes. I wonder what it would taste like made with green tomatoes?

Home-made vanilla extract

Lovely, easy-peasy recipe, the sort you just have to try straight away. Christmas presents (if you start this week). Once you've started, it can go on forever with the smallest effort. Melissa, at The Traveller's Lunchbox, whose idea it was in the first place, says this dark fragrant liquid gets more complex as time goes on. Lovely for baking.

This is what you do:

Get a one-litre jar. Put in all the pure vanilla extract you've got (I had 1/3rd of a bottle). DO NOT use that chemical vanilla essence; if you don't have any extract, leave out this step, it will just take a little longer to brew. Add cheap vodka, or any other spirits (rum? gin?). Chuck in all the vanilla pods in the house (at least six). Seal. Put somewhere cool and dark. Forget it. Add used vanilla pods when you think about it (rinse off the custard first!).

After at least six weeks, but the longer the better, strain off a little of the liquid into a tiny bottle. Add more spirit and more beans. (You can take out some old ones at this point if you like.) Seal. Put somewhere cool and dark. Forget it. Add used vanilla pods when you think about it (rinse off the custard first!). And so on, and so on, and so on.

If you think you might get into large-scale production, here's a link for buying vanilla in bulk in the UK. For the moment, I'm going to stick to buying it in Waitrose.

I'm including this in Heart of the Matter 8: Baking, which I'm hosting this month, because it occurs to me that this strongly-flavoured essence of vanilla would be wonderful for adding complex flavour to baking with little or no fat ... it's a sad fact of life that a lot of the flavour in all cooking comes from fat, particularly saturated fats - which means that, if you take those out of your cooking, you need to work hard on bringing in flavours from elsewhere.

Thanks, Melissa!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Spaghetti con funghi

Sometimes the simplest really is the best. This was Lettice's order of spaghetti con funghi at the little cafe in Valvona and Crolla in Edinburgh in August. Pasta, good olive oil, mushrooms quickly fried in oil, parsley. What more could you want?

Now, of course, is THE mushroom moment - except that it isn't. Normally at this time of year our garden is full of wild mushrooms to pick and eat (especially the puffballs, which appear the size of footballs overnight, and which you can slice thick and fry in oil and eat like a vegetarian sirloin steak). But this year, so far, not a one, and I've looked in all the places we normally find funghi.

My mother-in-law had a novel approach to identifying fungus when she lived here: she had a little pamphlet called Poisonous Mushrooms of Great Britain. If it wasn't in the book, she ate it.

I always thought I'd like to adopt the same cavalier attitude until our friend Richard Fortey came to inspect our garden one warm October. He's a naturalist with many interests, and his advanced knowledge of fungi makes him one of the Oxfordshire county mushroom specialists - for example, the police might turn to him in a case of serious suspected mushroom poisoning. He found something like 17 different types of small fungi on the croquet lawn alone: he laid them out on a plate, some of them so similar it was hard to tell them apart. Two were looked to my untrained eyes virtually identical - well, one was edible, the other highly poisonous. Since then, I've stuck to the ones I know are fine, which we eat every year.

It's pouring with rain here now, for the first time in weeks. Fingers crossed for a couple of warm days once it stops ... and then I'll be out looking for field mushrooms and puffballs - but not on the croquet lawn!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Low-fat blueberry muffins

Help! I've never made a muffin before, and they didn't turn out as well as they should have done: they weren't particularly well cooked through after 25 minutes in a hot oven, and they didn't rise much. However, they were extremely tasty, and with a pretty good texture (on the outside parts that were cooked). So I'll make them again ... if someone can tell me how to cook them better - longer? hotter oven? or just a bit more baking powder? I'd really appreciate some advice ...

Low-fat blueberry muffins

150g plain flour
50g granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs
50 ml sunflower oil
175 ml skimmed milk
finely grated lemon zest

150g blueberries

Sift together the dry ingredients. Whisk together the wet ingredients, and fold this into the flour mixture. Add the blueberries, and spoon into a 12-cup muffin tin (preferably lined with papers, otherwise well oiled).

Bake at 200C for 20-25 minutes.

What could I do better to make these muffins rise higher and cook through?

This post is for Heart of the Matter 8: Baking, which I am hosting this month. I'm sure many of you know the "rules" by now, but here's a recap: all you have to do is to send me the link to your entry at joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk before 23 October, make a link to Joanna's Food and to the HotM blog as well if you like. I'll post the round up on both blogs. In order to keep the focus on heart health we ask you to consider this as a one-entry event, i.e. we prefer that you don't use your post for other events as well.

I'm really looking forward to reading all your recipes and tips ...

PS you CAN include bread in this if you want, but I think we might save that for another time ....

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Spiced chicken livers

These are quick, easy, delicious, low-fat, a treat ... and something you should try even if you think you don't like liver (like my pasta con sarde for sardine haters). The gentle spicing emphasises the creamy sweetness of the meat. I can't tell you what a treat this is, at £1.59p for 400g organic chicken liver in Waitrose (and I think organic is probably a given for liver).

This recipe is from Good Tempered Food by Tamasin Day-Lewis.

Spiced chicken livers

400g chicken livers
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp Maldon salt
1 tsp peppercorns
2 dssp flour

Dry fry the cumin and coriander seeds until they start to brown. Tip them into a bowl and bash them with a pestle or the end of a rolling pin. Add the flour and the rest of the spices. Coat the livers in this mixture, and fry in hot olive oil for a couple of minutes each side.

Serve on a bed of mixed leaves with the juices poured over.

This will do two for a light lunch, or 4-5 as a starter.

PS Some of you may be surprised to see a recipe for chicken liver on this blog, because it is high in dietary cholesterol. This is disputed stuff, but my understanding is that dietary cholesterol is not on the banned list, as it does not translate into the kind of cholesterol that clogs up arteries. Here's up-to-date information on dietary cholesterol from Harvard, where a lot of the research has been carried out.

Meme: change begins at home

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
Edmund Burke

Melanie at Bean Sprouts has very kindly nominated me for her new Change Begins at Home award. Those who live with me know full well how little I deserve this ... I have long thought that my blog makes me sound a lot further down the road than I really am. Smug, even (at breakfast this morning I read in a newspaper someone describe baking bread as a smug activity ... now I am fretting, but I suspect I should really be giving up reading newspapers).

I nominate Riana at Garlic Breath, whose year of no shopping has evolved into a slow food life ... find the post about the melons she scrumped, it's very funny ... and the one about the death of her father-in-law, no longer at the head of the table, which I found moving because it was so understated.

The award rules are:

1. Nominate three bloggers who epitomise "Change begins at home"

2. Link back to the person who nominated you, and link back to Melanie's original explanation of Change begins at home

3. When you receive the award, you may display the "Change begins at home" button on your blog.

Thanks, Melanie!

Update on yeast in quick oat loaf

The quick oat loaf I made the other day was finished up at breakfast this morning, and is particularly good toasted. However, it was a little too yeasty ... I specified 2 tsp dried yeast, when one would have done. All because I couldn't find the little bit of paper that floats around my kitchen and study with the yeast conversion amounts. Here it is:

10g fresh yeast = 5g dried yeast = 3g fast yeast (the sort that comes in 7g packets)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Free Burma

This post is in support of the peaceful and lawful protests which have been taking place in Burma, a day of action by bloggers lucky enough to live in the free world to highlight the part played by brave Burmese bloggers who have played such a crucial role in telling the world what is happening in Burma.

Free Burma!

There's something clever you can do to turn the graphic into a hyperlink, but I'm not techie enough, so here's the link to Free Burma. Please follow it, and do what you can today to support the people of Burma.

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

Edmund Burke

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Quick oat loaf

I've been making a lot of soda bread recently, in fact I can't remember when I last bought a loaf of bread - if there's no bread in the house, I can have one on the table in less than an hour. Easier than a trip to the shops. But I can't help feeling that making bread without using yeast is cheating.

So I'm making a starter (because the last one died of neglect), and I'm trying this lazy loaf ... it's proving in the oven as I write this.

Quick oat loaf

200g rolled oats
325g spelt flour
2 tsp dried yeast (see update on this)
1 tsp Maldon salt
250 ml skimmed milk
250 ml water

Mix the dry ingredients, add the liquids. Stir to a porridge. Leave to soak for 20 minutes to soften the oats (don't bother if you're in a hurry).

Dollop into a large loaf tin and put it into your cold oven. Switch it on to 110C. After 45 minutes, turn it up to 180C and cook for an hour.

The method comes from Nigella Express, but I've changed the ingredients around so that it's bread, rather than a tea loaf. The oats and spelt make it a healthy and tasty alternative to a wheat loaf.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hokey pokey / cinder toffee / honeycomb

It's not exactly healthy, but it's certainly fat-free ... a low cholesterol treat. It's fun and easy to make, and you don't have to be exact with the quantities, because all the recipes you'll ever find for it vary a little.

Hokey pokey / cinder toffee / honeycomb

100-200g caster sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

Grease a tin. Or use a piece of greased parchment/foil (that's what Nigella suggests). Stir the sugar and syrup together in a large saucepan, then bring to the boil. When it's a nice golden colour (a couple of minutes), take it off the heat and stir in the bicarb. It will whoosh up. Turn this golden cloud onto your greased surface and wait until it's set. Bash it up.

It's hard to find treats for people on low-cholesterol diets - another one worth trying is my pretend fudge - which many people prefer to the real deal!

PS: You could coat your hokey pokey / cinder toffee / honeycomb in chocolate for a do-it-yourself Crunchie (how ON EARTH do they get it so straight?).

Meme: Nice matters

Tanna, bless her, has nominated me a nice blogger. There was a time, in my teens and 20s, when I would have thought that nice was a bit of an insult, but now I regard it as a great compliment. Nice ... I'm not sure what I've done to deserve it, but THANKS Tanna.

This award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world. Once you’ve been awarded, please pass it on to 7 others who you feel are deserving of this award.

Well, of course I'd really like to nominate Tanna for this one, but then we'd be going round in ever-decreasing circles. She's kind, she's fun, her oat bread is FANTASTIC ...

So instead: there's Melanie at Bean Sprouts, who writes about her allotment, her bees, recycling, green issues ... she's a busy lady, but she always finds time to answer questions and be helpful to those who are taking their first steps on a sustainable journey. Nice ..

Amanda at Figs Olives Wine is always there with a supportive comment, and finding a post on her beautiful blog always makes my day. Nice ...

I'm also going to nominate Susan Beth and Kevin at A Year in Bread, because the whole blog is such a nice thing to do: they're each posting a monthly discussion of a particular aspect of baking bread - it makes for fascinating reading, because three master bakers have such very different ideas about the same topic. Nice ...

Everything about Hannah's Country Kitchen is nice - her gentleness, the recipes, the cakes she decorates for her family.

It was nice to find an instant response to my plea for heart-healthy cake and biscuits. It came from Bee, her first comment on my blog. When I followed the link, I found a wonderful site, Dining Hall, dedicated to helping food bloggers with technical issues. Nice? I should say so.

And, of course, there's Ilva, my co-host at Heart of the Matter. Lucullian Delights is the nicest possible start to the day - a beautiful photograph, some thought-provoking words, a fresh-tasting recipe.

Monday, October 01, 2007

HotM 8: Baking

Baking, for those watching their cholesterol and seeking a heart-healthy diet, is a minefield. I am the sort of blogger who would enthusiastically join the Daring Bakers - but all that cooking we can't eat ... it seems a little crazy. All those eggs, all that butter. There's only so much bread you can eat.

In the three years since Lucius's heart attack, I've found delicious ways round lots of the problems - what to do instead of cheese, how to make delicious heart-healthy puds that feel indulgent - but I've never really cracked cake. Or biscuits. I bought by mail-order a book called Low-fat Baking by Linda Fraser. I've never cooked anything from it, or felt remotely tempted to do so. I nearly threw it out last month. Now, this October, I'm giving it one last chance. And I'm going to share the results with you.

You'll have realised by now that this post is a cry for help ... we're looking for heart-healthy baking recipes. That means NO butter and not much marge. Not many egg yolks. No cream. No cheese to speak of. Not a lot of oil, even if it is olive oil. You see the problem. Off the top of my head, we're down to meringues and macaroons. As we're all after a healthier lifestyle, and as SO many food bloggers like to bake, I feel sure that you've all got at least one delicious yet low-fat cake or biscuit recipe that you use in your kitchen ... you'd be doing me, and countless others, a huge favour if you'd share it.

I'm sure many of you know the "rules" by now, but here's a recap: all you have to do is to send me the link to your entry at joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk before 23 October, make a link to Joanna's Food and to the HotM blog as well if you like. I'll post the round up on both blogs. In order to keep the focus on heart health we ask you to consider this as a one-entry event, i.e. we prefer that you don't use your post for other events as well.

I'm really looking forward to reading all your recipes and tips ...

PS you CAN include bread in this if you want, but I think we might save that for another time ....