Marinated peppers

marinated peppers

I am sharing these here as they are a staple of the lunch that I provide at my bread making courses. They are always a hit and I have been asked for the recipe more times than I can count. So here it is.  This is a simplified version (and in my opinion tastier) of one I have posted before. It’s very simple and can be jazzed up with a sprinkling of herbs, or capers, or sun dried tomatoes, depending on your mood. Try the peppers in the simple version first though and play around later.

I make them the day before I need them to give them time for the flavours to mingle, (but you could just eat them straight away if necessary), and they are good to eat for a few days, so they are handy to have in the fridge. I like the colours of the different peppers but if you prefer red peppers to green peppers feel free to make them with the colour that you prefer.

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 green pepper
salt & pepper
half a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil

Method
Preheat your oven to 220°c, gas mark 7, or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga. Line a baking tray with foil (not absolutely necessary but makes cleaning easier). Place the peppers on the tray (or if using an Aga just spread the foil directly on the floor of the roasting oven) and roast them, turning every ten minutes until they get nicely charred on all sides. This can take 30-40 minutes.  Once charred place them into a bowl large enough to hold them all and cover immediately with cling film.  Leave them to steam and get cool enough to handle. The steam helps the skin be easily peeled off.  Once cool enough to handle, peel away the skins, whilst holding the peppers over a bowl to catch the juices.  Remove the core and the seeds and rip the pepper flesh into strips. Place into a serving dish and pour over all the juices.  Season with salt and pepper.  Squeeze half a lemon over the top and be generous with the olive oil.

 

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Elderflowers and feeling glad to be alive

This is more of a philosophical post than my normal recipe posts but I did just want to share with you my walk the other morning.  I have started to do a pilates class on a Thursday morning. For several years now, each time I get up from a chair I make an audible groan.  My back aches, my hips ache, I generally ache. I decided in March that I should finally tackle it head on, so I joined a pilates class. I drop my daughters off at their respective schools and then head up the road to pilates. If I park near my youngest’s school it’s a ten minute walk up the hill. I have started to really enjoy this walk. I take it at quite a pace, like I do most of my walking. I am not a stroller, I am more of a power walker. Slow walking frustrates me. But because I drop my daughter off at school at 8.45 and the class doesn’t start till 9.30 I normally have an extra half hour to kill. I love where we live, it is surrounded by woodlands and these all have public footpaths weaving through them maintained by a wonderful local charity. So I take a diversion. I can usually find somewhere or something new even though it is only a stone’s throw away from where I have lived for over twenty years.

So, this Thursday… The girls are on half term and so were at home with Dad. I left the car in the normal car park and walked up the hill. It’s a back road so only has a few cars passing me and this week not even that as there was no school run. I could wander at ease and even at my usual faster than normal pace I could properly appreciate my surroundings. What hit me was the fizz of elderflower. The smell of the elderflower was intoxicating. There had been a storm the previous evening and the air still had that post-storm humidity and atmosphere that was holding the scent close.  It was like wandering through a jar of lemon sherbet.  Then, a little further up the hill, the atmosphere changed and this time it was the dying wild garlic that filled my nostrils. This smell is powerful, it fills your nose and you begin to wonder if your clothes have taken on the smell. I don’t dislike this powerful stench though, it still smells good and seems to hold a promise of good things that will come again next year when it pushes up its new sweet smelling (and tasting) new growth.

The walk to pilates always manages to invigorate me and it warms me up ready for the powerful stretches the pilates teacher puts us through. I am pleased to report, as an aside, that I have stopped groaning at every move and feel much better, taller and stronger as a result of the last three months of the weekly pilates class. I can recommend it.

I left pilates refreshed and ready for the day ahead and I knew that as soon as I got home I would have to don my wellies and go foraging for enough lacy flower heads to make elderflower cordial. So that’s what me and the youngest did.  We now have 1.5 litres of cordial sitting in the fridge and we are enjoying its refreshing zing. Every time I pour some out I am taken back to my walk through the woods.  Mr OC says that the smell of it makes his nose tingle, I said that it was because it is like drinking pollen.

I urge you to find a quiet road with an elder hedgerow or take yourself off into the woods and breathe in the lemony fizz deeply and feel glad that you are alive.

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The Shropshire Cook Book

I have been sent a review copy of the latest cook book to feature Shropshire restaurants, cafes and producers, The Shropshire Cook Book.

Shropshire Cook Book

I love Shropshire. I was born and raised here and although I have tried to move away a couple of times (Cardiff for Uni and Broadstairs for love) Shropshire has always called me home (thankfully the man I moved to Broadstairs for is also Shropshire born and bred so I met with no argument). It’s an unassuming county, and there have been many times when people have asked me where I live and my response has been met with blank stares. It’s a county that hides its light under a bushel. The countryside is breathtaking, with its valleys, hills, meadows and farmland. It has some wonderful market towns with thriving independent shops and restaurants and the facilities on offer in Telford to growing families are second to none.  I doubt you will ever get me to move from Shropshire again.

This cook book is a treasure trove of local restaurants and producers, some of which I am familiar with and have tried and some which are now on my list of things to do. The book showcases the people behind the business, their background and ambitions and then gives one of their recipes, so that you can get a taste for their cooking style at home.  This book is more than a recipe book, (although there are 35 recipes within its pages) it’s also about encouraging you to venture away from your own kitchen and to try some of the restaurants on your doorstep or to incorporate some of the local produce available from the farm shops and the producers that are making the county proud.

What this has highlighted for me is how wonderful the food scene is in Shropshire. You can sometimes take these things for granted, but when you see all of these wonderful chefs and producers gathered together in one book it really proves that Shropshire has a wonderfully vibrant food culture that we can be very proud of and I know that there are many more out there that haven’t been included here. A comprehensive directory would run to many, many pages.

This is a great book for those that are planning a visit to the county as much as for the local that wants to explore more of the wonderful eating opportunities that are abound in this beautiful county of ours.

There are other books in the series too, covering other counties and cities, so it might be worth a look to see if your region has a similar book available to introduce you to some restaurants and producers that you aren’t yet familiar with.

The Shropshire Cook Book is available for £14.95 from the restaurants and producers featured in the book as well as selected gift shops and book shops. You can also get it direct from the publisher.

I was sent a review copy for the purposes of this blog post. All opinions are my own and are honest. 

 

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Bara Brith – the yeasted version

Yeasted bara brith

Sliced whilst warm because I couldn’t resist (naughty!)

It’s funny how much life can change in four years. I last wrote about Bara Brith in 2013. In that post I said that I hadn’t enjoyed the yeasted version as much as the cake version of this traditional Welsh treat because of the denseness of the yeasted version.  The Bara Brith started life as a yeasted loaf, a treat that was made to cook in the dying heat of the traditional wood fired bread ovens. In latter years the cake version has become more prominent.

Since 2013 I have become obsessed with yeast cookery, to the extent of setting up a cookery school to teach others the joy of making your own bread at home. A friend mentioned Bara Brith to me in the school playground and it set my brain whirring with memories of that experiment that I staged back in 2013. I started to wonder why I hadn’t enjoyed the yeasted version as much as the cake.

I revisited the recipe that I used back in 2013 for the yeasted version and now with experience of baking wholemeal breads it occurred to me that it would benefit from being mixed a lot wetter than the original recipe specifies. Instead of the ¼ pint or 150ml of warm milk specified, I added ½ pint or 250ml milk to the flour. I also used a mix of wholemeal and white flour to lighten it up further. As an aside I used freshly milled Shropshire Soissons grain, because I am also obsessed with using my Komo mill at every opportunity, but I do realise that not everybody is as obsessed as me, so any wholemeal flour will be fine, although stoneground is always a better choice.

I am happy to report that this new experiment has proved that the yeasted Bara Brith can outclass the cake version every time. So, this recipe will get added to my Croissants and sweet dough class that I have on Saturday, I hope my students enjoy it as much as I do (NB. It’s even had the thumbs up from my girls!).

300g wholemeal flour (I used bread flour, but if you don’t have it then don’t worry)
250g white bread flour
1 sachet of easy bake yeast or 15g fresh yeast
8g (or 2 scant tsp) of fine sea salt
50g sugar (you can use caster or dark brown, whichever you have to hand, the dark brown sugar will make a richer loaf)
1 tsp mixed spice
25oml milk
75g butter
150g dried mixed fruit

Glaze:
40g caster sugar
40g water

Method
Place the flours in a large bowl. If using fresh yeast crumble it into the flour like you would butter into pastry. If using easy bake yeast just mix it in the flour. Add the sugar, salt and mixed spice and stir in.

Cut up the butter and add it to the milk in a small pan and warm to tepid, so that the butter is just melted.

Mix to a softly sticky dough. Cover with clingfilm and leave to stand for ten minutes.  Uncover and use the fold and stretch method to improve the gluten. To do this take half the dough, stretch it up and fold it over the top of the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the stretch and fold. Keep repeating this until the dough starts to resist you or threatens to tear. Cover again and let rest for another ten minutes. Repeat the stretching  and folding. Cover and rest for ten minutes and then do one last round of stretching and folding. Also feel free to knead the dough however suits you best (but don’t flour the surface) or use a stand mixer.

Cover the dough and let rise until doubled in size.  Add the dried fruit and fold in until evenly distributed.

Butter a loaf tin. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and press gently into a rectangle with your fingers. Roll down from the longest edge, seaming the dough as you roll. Place the dough, seam side down, into the loaf tin. Cover with oiled clingfilm or a large inflated bag and leave to rise until it has proved. To test press a finger gently into the dough, if it comes back within two seconds it is ready for the oven.

Once you have shaped your loaf, preheat the oven, with a baking tray on the shelf to 200°c.

Place the loaf on the preheated baking sheet in the oven, mist with a few sprays of water (using a plant mister). Bake for 15 minutes, turn the oven down to  180°c and continue to bake for another 25-30 minutes until it sounds hollow when tapped on the base.

Whilst the loaf is cooking make the glaze. Put the sugar and water in a small pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer for three minutes until syrupy.

As soon as the loaf comes out of the oven, brush all over with the glaze. Leave the loaf to cool completely before enjoying spread with butter.

 

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Wild Garlic Bread

Wild garlic bread

Wild garlic loaf sliced

We are lucky enough to be surrounded by wild garlic as far as the eye can see at this time of year. It has been whirring round my mind about how it might taste in a loaf. So we popped our wellies on and went a walk. We could have picked it out of our very own garden borders but we have two dogs… So I wanted to find a corner which might be unadulterated.  (I still gave it a good rinse though, just in case).

Wild garlic is fairly distinctive, so get yourself a field guide and if you are unsure then the strong garlic smell gives it away. Always follow the rules of foraging. Be sure what you are picking. Ask permission of the landowner. Only pick something that is prolific and not protected. Only take what you need for your personal use. Give it a good wash before eating it.

When I was mixing and handling the uncooked dough, the garlic smell was very strong and I was worried that I had perhaps overdone it a bit. However, once cooked the garlic had mellowed and imparts a subtle and surprisingly sweet hit of garlic. It makes a delicious loaf, that is very good with soup or, in fact, anything that you happen to have for your dinner.

Makes 1 loaf

500g white bread flour
5g easy bake yeast
8-10g sea salt
320g water
20g olive oil
a couple of handfuls of wild garlic, chopped

Method
Place the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl (keeping the yeast and salt separate, as the salt will kill the yeast). Add the water and olive oil and mix with a clawed hand until well mixed. Cover with a large bag or clingfilm.  Leave to rest for twenty minutes. This allows the flour to absorb the liquid and start to make gluten before you have to get involved. The dough should be softly sticky, if it isn’t add a bit more water. Don’t be tempted to add more flour. A wetter dough is better than a dry dough.

Leave the dough in the bowl and holding the bowl with one hand, stretch some of the dough up and over the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat the stretching and folding. Repeat this for about 10-12 folds.  Cover the bowl again and leave for another twenty minutes. Repeat the stretching and folding motion again.  If the dough starts to resist then stop stretching, if it starts to break then stop stretching. Leave to rest again for another twenty minutes and then fold again. It will need less folding this time and it will feel lovely and stretchy, smooth and satiny.  Cover and leave the dough to prove for at least an hour until it has risen, is domed and has plenty of aeration.

Lightly flour your work surface and turn your dough out of the bowl.  Add in the chopped garlic leaves and fold the dough over the leaves. Shape into a round and place on a floured tray or into a proving basket or if you prefer into a greased loaf tin. Cover with a large bag or oiled clingfilm and leave to prove again.  It might need twenty minutes, it might need an hour. It will depend on the temperature of your dough and the temperature of the room.

Preheat the oven to 230°c and place a baking tray on the oven shelf to heat up with the oven, or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga.

To test if your loaf is ready to bake, flour or oil your finger and press lightly onto the surface of the loaf. If it springs back slowly within 2 seconds it is ready to put in the oven.

Place the loaf on the hot baking tray, spray the oven walls with water using a plant mister (avoiding the glass door and light). This will create steam, so that the loaf has a chance to do its last rise before the crust forms. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until the loaf is dark golden and sounds hollow when tapped. Leave to cool completely on a wire tray before slicing and enjoying.

If you would like to perfect your bread making skills you could always join me for a bread making course at Veg Patch Kitchen.

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Coconut and cardamom cake

Cardamom and coconut cake

17th March – It’s another clothes swap with the book club tonight so I am making cakes to take along as my contribution. I have made a ginger cake, a firm favourite, and I was thinking about what else I could make that is a bit different. I have some coconut flour in the cupboard and I was thinking about how good coconut and cardamom work together in a curry. It seemed to me that it might work in cake. The scent of cardamom as this cake is baking is phenomenal, it promises to be a great cake.

18th March- The cake was a big success. I found the cardamom a little overpowering and might reduce the number of seeds used next time, but I was outvoted on this point by my friends. They all sang the cake’s praises. They might have been being kind to me of course, but they assured me they weren’t.

I iced the cake before I took it along to the clothes swap. I mixed icing sugar with the juice of a lime and a couple of tablespoonfuls of desiccated coconut, until I got a fairly stiff icing. The lime was a good call, emphasising the citrus notes of the cardamom, but if you don’t have a lime in the house using lemon juice or water would work equally well.

175g butter, soft
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g greek yoghurt
25g coconut flour
125g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
15-20 green cardamom pods, shelled and the seeds crushed finely in a pestle and mortar (this makes a very scant teaspoon of ground cardamom)

Method
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy and light. Add one egg at a time, beating well between each addition. Fold in the yoghurt and then the coconut flour, plain flour, baking powder and cardamom.

Once combined, spoon the batter into an 18cm cake tin that has been lined with parchment. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 or the centre of the Aga’s baking oven for 35-45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for ten minutes in the tin, before turning out and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

It will be a good cake without icing, but if you want to make it look a bit more fancy then mix together icing sugar, lime juice (or lemon juice or water) with a couple of tablespoonfuls of desiccated coconut until it makes a fairly stiff icing and spread over the top of the cake.

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EasiYo yoghurt maker

EasiYo Yoghurt Maker

Sometimes the stars shine down on you. I have wanted to try making my own yoghurt for ages and over Christmas I was looking at getting a yoghurt maker, but I wasn’t sure it would be worth the investment. Then I get an email asking if I would like to review an EasiYo yoghurt maker. It arrived and I have been playing with it and perfecting the art of making my own yoghurt. Actually you don’t need to do that as you can buy a powdered yoghurt that makes the whole process easy. These powdered yoghurts comes in lots of flavours, including strawberries and cream and pineapple with coconut bits and full instructions for making the yoghurt are given on the sachets. However, if you are a regular reader of these pages you will know that a powdered yoghurt is not really me.

So I have been making yoghurt the traditional way with milk and a live yoghurt culture. Whilst you could do this in a thermos flask, the EasiYo yoghurt maker does make it easier and all I have to wash up is the plastic container that I have made the yoghurt in, rather than a thermos, which I always have trouble getting scrupulously clean (from experience bicarb is the way to go by the way). So in answer to my own question over Christmas then yes, I think it is worth making the investment to buy a yoghurt maker. You can see the full range and buy your own yoghurt maker from the EasiYo online shop.

Bear in mind that when you are culturing milk, hygiene is important. Make sure your pan, thermometer and the plastic container are clean and as a precaution I rinse them all with boiling water.

By making yoghurt this way you can choose the milk that you like best, whether that is whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed, organic or if you can get it raw milk from your local farmer.

Unhomogenised milk is always better than homogenised when making dairy products as it has the fat globules intact. The homogenisation process forces the fat globules through very small holes breaking them up under pressure and the surface area of the fat globules increases to such a degree that they can’t bond back together, meaning that the cream is dispersed evenly through the milk. Unhomogenised has that lovely creamy layer at the top and adds an extra richness to your yoghurt.

Once you have chosen your milk then you just need a starter pot of yoghurt and it needs to be a live yoghurt. The one I use didn’t have “live yoghurt” listed on the pot but it is a pot of plain greek style yoghurt and works well as a starter culture.

You need to heat the milk to almost boiling point (85°c). This will improve the chances of your yoghurt not having the wrong bacteria in it and it will improve the texture, making it richer and smoother. Heating milk unfolds its proteins enabling them to stick to the fat globules and to each other. Heating your milk slowly is always better for the finished yoghurt. Give the milk a gentle stir regularly through the gentle heating process.

Then you need to cool your milk to finger hot (47°c). It is best to do this slowly, by taking it off the heat and giving it a gentle stir from time to time.

It is also better if your yoghurt starter has been out of the fridge and is up to room temperature, otherwise the temperature of your milk will drop quickly and your yoghurt will take longer to get going.

500ml milk
3 tbsp live yoghurt (brought out of the fridge a couple of hours before so that is close to room temperature)

You also need a milk pan, a thermometer and an EasiYo yoghurt maker

Method
Pour the milk into a pan and place over a gentle heat. Place a thermometer in the milk and heat gently to 85°c. Take the milk off the heat and leave to cool to 47°c. Stir the yoghurt into the milk until well combined.

Put your kettle on to boil. Pour boiling water into the EasiYo container that sits inside the insulated container to sterilise. Tip this water into the insulated container to the level indicated on the side. Pour the milk and yoghurt mixture into the plastic container and seal the lid,  then sit it inside the insulated container and put the lid on. Leave to ferment for about 8 hours until the yoghurt has thickened. If you leave it for longer it will be thicker and stronger tasting. When it is how you like it just place the container in the fridge and it will be ready to eat once it has cooled.

I like my yoghurt thick like Greek yoghurt so after it has had eight hours fermentation I pour it into a sieve lined with muslin (or you could use a clean tea towel) and sit it over a bowl until it has drained to the consistency I prefer. It doesn’t take long to do this. Then I place my finished yoghurt in the fridge.

Remember to keep 3 tbsps back for your next batch of homemade yoghurt.

Disclaimer: I was sent an Easiyo yoghurt maker for review purposes. This review is based on my own experience and honest opinions and does not contain any text given to me by the PR agency that sent me the yoghurt maker. 

Homemade yoghurt

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