Category Archives: The Ordinary Cook

Veg Patch Kitchen

I have been neglecting this poor blog. Not because I want to, but because life has been busy. My cookery school, Veg Patch Kitchen, has overtaken my time and energy. I am really pleased with its progress in its first eighteen months. We have had lots of successful and well received bread making classes at my sister’s house in South Shropshire, at a village hall local to me here in Ironbridge, at Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre in Craven Arms and at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm. I have also run a few classes, on a voluntary basis, for a brilliant local project Let’s Grow Telford.

I absolutely love teaching people the pleasure of making your own bread. It’s wonderful to get an email from someone that has attended a class giving me an update on their bread making adventures and telling me how bread making has become an important part of their routine.

Last month we decided to take the plunge and make better use of our outbuilding. This particular outbuilding was piled high with plant pots, tools, furniture that we neither wanted but couldn’t bring ourselves to get rid of and general junk. Being natural hoarders it was easier to add something to the growing pile in the shed than make the decision to take something to the tip. So we braced ourselves, Mr OC and I, and emptied it completely. Most of the stuff made it to the tip. Some of it made it into the adjoining garage. Enter our garage at your peril! If the chiminea doesn’t get you, the old bench will.

The plan is to make this former dead space into a kitchen that we can use for the cookery courses. Having it on the doorstep will make it so much easier to run more courses and to still be here for the girls.

My Dad has been working all hours and like a trojan to help me with the electrics, the plumbing, putting kitchen units together, etc, etc. He is a very talented man my Dad and can pretty much turn his hand to anything.

Everything is rolling along very quickly and hopefully the classes can start to run from here very soon. I am very much looking forward to welcoming people to Veg Patch Kitchen headquarters. Although, the garden and in particular the eponymous veg patch needs some attention first. If you come, can you promise not to look too closely at the weeds?  Oh, the irony.

This is all happening because of this blog. If I hadn’t started The Ordinary Cook back in 2009 then I wouldn’t have developed my passion for bread, and it would never have occurred to me that I could pass on my knowledge and skills to other people. I am very grateful that The Ordinary Cook has created a new path and a new adventure. It’s funny how life takes its twists and turns and offers you opportunities that you would never have expected. If you had told me, back in 2009, that in 2016 I would have my own business running a cookery school I would have looked at you askance and backed gently away. Back then I was working in economic development, helping other people to achieve their dreams of growing their small business.

Once the kitchen is complete and the courses are up and running, I hope to find time to come back here with new recipes, but for now, please be patient with me. I will be back, but not just yet.

Kath x

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Hotel Chocolat treats for Christmas

I have been holding off from using the word until at least November. I am the sort that starts to think about Christmas about mid November-ish. But I think about chocolate most of the time. Hotel Chocolat kindly sent me a selection of the gorgeous treats that they have available this Christmas. To be honest when I was asked which chocolate I would like to try I couldn’t make up my mind. My youngest had no such problem. Straight away she asked if we could try the marzipan and the mint selections. She is very different from me in many ways, as all children should be, but we have the exact same taste in chocolate. Here is what arrived in a beautifully presented gift bag.

Hotel Chocolat

The youngest dived straight in and she and I both agree that it would be hard to choose between the marzipan or the mint if we had to. The little solid Santas would also be lovely to find tucked under the tree come Christmas morning.

Hotel Chocolat

Which would you choose?

Disclosure: I was sent these items free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions are my own and honest. 

 

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Baked bean and ham pie

Branston bean and ham pie

Autumn is most definitely upon us, the nights and mornings are chillier, the gloves have been dug out from the back of the drawer and the lawn is more leaves than grass. It’s time for dinner to be warm and comforting once more. One of the comfort foods we always turn to in this house is baked beans so I was thrilled when Branston asked me to develop a recipe around their beans.

Branston baked beans

Branston launched their baked beans 10 years ago this month and they have been rated by the Good Housekeeping Institute as the best tasting beans of all the leading brands and in taste tests 4 out of 5 people prefer the taste of Branston’s beans. This might be something to do with Branston putting more tomatoes into their sauce.

This pie makes a substantial family meal, with the beans as the star. The beans’ tomato sauce means that there is no need to make a gravy. I served it with a swede and sweet potato mash that was perfect to soak up the juices, but really all you need is the pie.

Branston beans and ham pie

If you would like the pie to be even more substantial you can crack a couple of eggs onto the filling before you put the pastry on top. I made it with the eggs when Granny came round for tea, but didn’t for last night’s tea as my eldest is away with school for the week and my youngest turns her nose up at eggs. The pie was well received both times with second helpings being devoured eagerly. Even Granny, who said she wasn’t keen on beans before she dug in, ate every last mouthful! A ringing endorsement, I’d say.

For the pastry
250g plain flour
125g cold butter, cut into cubes
7-8 tbsp cold water

For the filling
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1 onion finely diced
350g cooked ham, diced (or you can use bacon rashers, cut into small pieces, or bacon lardons, just fry them with the vegetables)
1 x 410g tin Branston baked beans
½ tsp oregano
pepper to taste

1 egg and a splash of milk for egg wash

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°c, gas mark 6, or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga.

Make the pastry by placing the flour into a large bowl and adding the cubes of butter. Rub in using your fingertips until the butter is evenly distributed. Pour most of the water in (you might not need all of it) and draw a knife through the pastry until it starts to come together. If you need more water add it gradually.  Bring the dough together into a ball using your hands and wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for twenty minutes to chill. You can also make the pastry in a food processor by whizzing the flour and butter together briefly and then add most of the water and whizz until it all just starts to come together.

For the filling, sauté the carrot, celery and onion (and bacon if you are using that instead of ham) in a large frying pan with a tablespoon of oil until the vegetables are soft. This will take about ten minutes over a gentle heat. Take off the heat and leave to cool. Once cool, add the ham, the oregano, a touch of pepper and the baked beans and mix well.

Cut one-third of the pastry off the ball and put to one side. Roll the larger piece on a lightly floured work surface to the size of your pie dish. My pie dish in the photo above measures 20cm. Then line the pie dish with the pastry. Pour in the filling. If you want to add a few eggs then crack them on top of the filling at this point.

Lightly beat the egg for the egg wash in a small bowl or cup and add a splash of milk. Using a pastry brush, brush a little egg wash around the edge of the pastry where the lid will sit to help with the seal. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry  on a lightly floured work surface to fit. Place on top of the dish and, using your thumbs, press all along the edge to make a good seal.  Using a sharp knife  poke two holes in the top of the pie to let the steam escape and trim the excess pastry from the edge of the pie. If there is enough trimmings, re-roll and cut out a few leaves to decorate the top. Place these on top of the pie and brush the entire surface of the pie with the egg wash. Place in the centre of the oven or on the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga and cook for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is piping hot. Leave to stand for a few minutes before serving.

#LoveBranstonBeans

Disclosure: I was commissioned to develop this recipe for Branston Baked Beans. All the opinions are my own and are honest. 

 

 

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Harvest Bread

On Sunday we had a little trip out to Acton Scott Historic Farm. It’s a wonderful place, not least because the Bailiff’s Cottage has the traditional bread oven still in place and still in use. They were having their harvest festival on Sunday and using the oven to bake their harvest loaves. I was very excited to talk to the Bailiff about his use of faggots to get the oven up to temperature and to find out that you can cook up to 18 loaves in the capacious oven.  Whilst I was in heaven talking to the Bailiff about his oven, our 11 year old was doing what 11 year old’s do best; muttering under her breath wondering how her mother could possibly find any of this interesting. One day, she will understand. The nearly 9 year old though still has a year or so before the proper disdain for her mother’s interests sets in, so she was quite interested. On Monday she asked me to make a dough the following day so that she could make a harvest loaf when she got home. I was more than happy to oblige. I have always been a bit put off from making one as they look like you might need an artistic eye and patience, neither of which describe me. But in we ploughed.

It took us about an hour and a half to put together. I was ridiculously pleased with the result of our work and kept taking pictures and telling the youngest how brilliant it was.

For the instructions on how to a make the harvest loaf take a look at Daniel’s brilliant blog Bread, Cakes and Ale. He has made one too and has given detailed instructions as to its construction. Even if you don’t want to make the loaf pop over to his blog anyway for a good read.

And here is a picture of the loaf I was so proud of.

Harvest Loaf

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Lemon, poppy seed and almond cake

Lemon and poppy seed cake

I am baking this for tomorrow’s bread making evening class. I have been meaning to make a poppy-seed cake for ages and just not got round to it. I love the way the tiny black dots glisten amongst the soft cake. Poppy seeds always make me smile to myself. The first time I put a bread roll  adorned with poppy seeds in front of my eldest, she just stared at it for a long time. I wondered what she was thinking so I asked her if she was ok. “What are these mummy?” she asked pointing to the top of the roll. “Poppy seeds, darling”, “Oh, I thought they were beetles”.  I promise that no beetles were harmed in the making of this cake.

If you don’t want to use ground almonds then just use 175g of flour instead. You need four lemons for this cake. Don’t be fooled by it saying three lemons  in the first section. But if you only have three lemons in the house then no harm will come to the cake if you just use the zest of 2 lemons in the cake itself.

For the cake

175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
Zest of 3 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
125g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds
2 tbsp poppy seeds

For the syrup

Juice of 2 lemons
Zest of 1 lemon
50g granulated sugar
50g icing sugar
1 generous teaspoon poppy seeds

Method
Grease or line a 2lb loaf tin. Preheat the oven to 180°c, gas mark 4 or bake in the middle of the baking oven of the Aga.

Beat together the butter and the caster sugar until fluffy and lighter in colour. I find that if I use an electric whisk to get things started and then go in with my hand like a claw I get a much fluffier mixture. The heat of your hands makes the difference. Add the eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly between additions. Add the lemon zest, juice, flour, ground almonds and poppy seeds and fold in with a large spoon until evenly combined. Spoon the mixture evenly into the tin and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the cake is golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Whilst the cake is baking, mix together the ingredients for the syrup.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven use a skewer to pierce all over and deeply into the cake. Spoon the syrup evenly over the cake. Leave to cool completely in the tin.

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Six years of discoveries

WordPress tells me that it has been six years since I wrote my very first post on these pages. I am very grateful for this blog for lots of reasons.

I set up this food blog for lots of reasons too. It was at a time when I had to make a decision about my future and that of my children. I was working in a job which I loved and which consumed a lot of my day. It was one of those brilliant jobs that really only comes along once in a while. I worked from home most of time, thanks to this marvellous thing called the internet. I was passionate about the project that I worked for – I had spent five years writing a PhD about it. I got to travel and speak to policy makers and at conferences. I loved it. But I also loved my girls who were three and five years old at the time. I had worked through both pregnancies, taking only a couple of weeks off for each birth and getting back to it as soon as I could. I was freelance and self-employed. I needed to work and I enjoyed my job. My employer was very accommodating, understanding and kind. One memorable occasion saw me sitting in an ante-room listening to a meeting in the next room feeding my three-week old and shouting my responses to the discussion happening next door; then taking my three-week old to change her nappy and lifting her up, to have her throw up the entire feed down my blouse. Thankfully the bag I had with me was the one which we had taken to hospital and it still had one of my husband’s t-shirts in there. What was I thinking? Five years on from this messy meeting and six years ago this month there came an opportunity to reassess what I was doing. Did I continue with my career? Or did I take a break and spend more time with the girls? After much hand wringing and into the night discussions we decided I should take a career break. It has been a decision that I have wrangled with ever since.

I have loved every minute of being with the girls, taking them to and picking them up from school, being there for every holiday. But, my oh my, I have felt guilty about not being at work, not earning money and not using that PhD that I sweated over for five long years.

I set up the blog to keep my hand in, teach myself new skills and to share my love of cooking and baking. It has delivered on all of those fronts and more. It has, more than once, saved my mental health by giving me something to focus on; to work towards. It has introduced me to new friends in the UK and abroad. Our friendships may be virtual but they are no less important for that. Each positive comment sends a buzz through my brain. The thought that someone out there baking that cake or making that jam with the process and the result making them happy makes me very happy.  The blog has made me push myself with my cooking skills and knowledge.  I have become a more imaginative and skilled cook.  I have certainly acquired quite a library of non-virtual books, as my heaving shelves can testify. I have become obsessed with bread making and the science of it all; it appeals to the researcher who loves to read in me. And perhaps most importantly of all, this blog has set me on a new career path and one that I am equally, if not more passionate about than the last – teaching others to bake and cook, both through this blog and by setting up Veg Patch Kitchen. I hope that this blog pushes me as much in the next six years as it has in the first six.

A big thank you to everyone that reads or has read this blog, and to those that have commented, over the last six years, you have been my saviours.

Kath x

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Butter Buns

Butter buns

These are the buns that I dream of. I do actually dream about them. When I was young you could buy these from an Italian family bakery that had shops in Shrewsbury and other local towns. They were my all time favourite cake and one that I would choose every time I saw them on their stainless steel platter. The memory of the taste has stayed with me and when the café doors were closed for the final time, it remained just that, a memory. Many times in recent years I have thought about how I might go about making them, but I couldn’t get my head around how you might layer the bun and enclose all that buttery goodness.

A few weeks ago a lady contacted me asking if I had the recipe for the Shrewsbury Butter Bun. Before she contacted me it never occurred to me that  the butter bun was a local phenomenon. Of course, now I realise it is.  A few weeks prior to this I found out that a friend’s husband had family connections with the café and I was considering whether she might think I was mad if I asked her if he knew the secret to the butter bun. The two things happening so close together felt like fate and I knew that it was time I got my act together and found out how I could go about making the butter bun.

I haven’t asked my friend’s husband. I thought it best not to ask him to reveal family secrets. But I did find an entry for butter buns on the internet which revealed the folding technique. At last, the answer to all my dreams. I can’t find the link again, which is frustrating, but if I do I will post it here. I have used the recipe that I teach for all my enriched dough recipes on the bread making course. It’s a recipe that can be adapted for a fruit bun, chelsea bun, iced finger etc.

I have trialled these twice now, with success each time. I was frustrated with the first batch that all the sugary butteriness oozed out during the baking. With the second batch I tried sealing the bun with a little milk to prevent the leakage. I now realise that you just can’t seal them, and this is the point. All that sugary, butteriness gathers in the tray and encrusts the bottom of the butter bun. May it ooze for all its worth, enough of the filling manages to stay in to create the delicious buttery layers.

These little beauties are now going to be one of the choices for students to make during the enriched dough part of the bread making course so that I can share the butter bun love with as many people as possible. I urge you to get out your flour and make some as soon as you possibly can.

Makes 10 buns

Lightly grease two baking trays. Oven temperature, 220°c, gas mark 7 or the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga.

For the buns
300g strong white flour (bread flour)
250g plain white flour
10g fine salt
7g easy bake yeast (instant yeast) or 10g fresh yeast (the fresh yeast can be dissolved in a little of the warm water that you will be using for the recipe)
50g caster sugar
150ml warm milk
150ml warm water ( I add boiling water to cold milk and that way both get warm, just make sure that the liquid is only hand hot or you will kill the yeast)
50g butter
1 egg

For the filling
100g softened butter
150g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla paste or extract

For the glaze
50 ml milk
50g caster sugar

Method

In a large bowl mix together the flours, salt, yeast and sugar. Pour in the water, milk, egg and add the cubed butter. Mix together well ( I use my hands like a claw) and then tip out onto a work surface (no extra flour needed) and knead for about 10 minutes until feeling smooth and elastic. You can of course use a free standing mixer to do all of this for you. The dough will be sticky during the kneading process, which is fine. Better sticky than dry.

Form the dough into a ball, and place into a bowl and leave to rise until double the original size, covered with a large bag or lightly oiled clingfilm. With all of the sugar, milk, egg and butter this dough will take longer to rise than a bread dough. In a cool kitchen expect this to be about two hours, less in a warm kitchen.

In a bowl mix together the softened butter, caster sugar and vanilla paste for the filling.

Place the sugar and milk for the glaze in a small pan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium and bring to the boil. Set aside.

Once the dough has doubled in volume, take it carefully out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a sausage shape and cut into ten equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Take one ball and roll out thinly into a circle. Place a teaspoon of the filling mixture in the middle of the circle. Fold over the circle to create a semi-circle. Flatten the dough over the butter and press the seam down well. Place a second teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the semi-circle. Fold the dough over to create a triangle. Flatten again and press the seam well (See pics below). Place onto a lightly greased tray and repeat with the other balls of dough. Leave to rise for 20 -30 minutes. Place on the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga, or onto the middle shelf of an oven preheated to 220°c, gas mark 7 for 15 minutes until golden.  Glaze the buns whilst hot with the sugar and milk using a pastry brush. Leave to settle on the tray for ten minutes, in this time they will have sucked back up some of the sugary butteriness that has oozed out, and then lift onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Butter bun fold, stage 1

Butter bun fold, stage 1

Butter bun fold, stage 2

Butter bun fold, stage 2

Butter bun fold, stage 3

Butter bun fold, stage 3

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