Category Archives: Vegetarian

Beating the baguette and the summer of 2012

I know I’m not the only one to consider this the best summer yet – perfect in so many ways: Team Sky brought home the Tour de France yellow jersey, the Sky Velo contras smashed the Alps and the Pyrenees, London showed the world what a fantastic place it can be, the shorts grew ever more fun, interesting and inspiring and Puggers kept us all busy winning awards. I think it’s fair to say that the summer of 2012 is going to be, as my hard-fi friends would say, hard to beat.

And to top it all, after months of half-arsed attempts, I finally managed to beat the baguette (and not in a rude way). It’s not completely the right recipe, because I don’t do the whole overnight starter thing, but I think it’s pretty good and well worth a try:

As usual, I’m not great on quantities, but I’m not sure it’s hugely important as long as you get the right consistency. Take about 400g of organic plain flour, add a couple of good teaspoons of salt and a little more dry ready-to-use yeast. Then add enough cold water (yes cold – the whole warm water thing is fallacy) and few good glugs of olive oil to make a fairly wet dough – firm enough to be able to work and knead it, but wet enough that it’s still sticky (this is the thing I always got wrong – I always made the dough too dry).

Knead the dough for 10 minutes and then stick it in a bowl covered in cling film and put it somewhere warm for an hour (I don’t have an airing cupboard so I stick it in the oven at the lowest possible temperature). Take it out and then divide into four and roll out onto floured baking trays. Cover them again in cling-film and put then on the top of the oven. Turn on the oven and start getting it up to about 250c – the warmth of the oven as it heats will help them rise again. After about 15 minutes, they should have already risen a little. Knock them back, and roll them out again (They should be about 2-3cm in diameter, no more) and re-flour the baking trays before laying them out, scoring them diagonally across the loaf with a bread knife and covering with cling-film again. Now put a baking tray half full of boiling water into the oven to get a good head of steam going. After 30 mins, put the bread in the oven and just before you close the door, chuck in half a glass of boiling water – preferably not on top of the bread. After about10 minutes, chuck another glass of boiling water into the bottom of the oven – all that steam is what will make the bread beautifully crusty.

After 20 minutes, remove the tray of water and let the bread cook for a final 5 minutes (although best give it a quick check in case it’s already done). Tale it out once it’s ready and let it cool for about 20 minutes on a wire rack.

Eat them, all of them.
Yes, all four loaves (we did)

What makes a pizza a pizza?

I’m not really sure. Must you have the tomato base and/or some sort of cheese to be able to call a pizza a pizza? Either way, these two little beauties are, in the first case, a recipe taught to me by Marco and Elisabetta Nervi back in France (so I’m going to suggest that it is a pizza) and in the second case, some sort of approximation to pisaladiere, but without the olives or anchovies (and therefore probably not a pizza). They both are lovely though and well worth trying.

In other news, Wimbledon is on and every tennis court in the land is feeling the love of the two-week-a-year tennis pros – tops off, bellies out and ball skills severely lacking. Oh, and a big thanks to London for the BBC Radio 1 Hackney weekend last Sunday – what a fantastic day.

Courgette Pizza

So simple. Use a standard pizza base and roll it very thin (with semolina for extra crispiness). Then lay thinly sliced courgettes across the whole base slightly overlapping, along with whatever herbs you like (I’d go for thyme, finely chopped). generously season and give it some good olive oil action. For extra excitement you could add a little finely chopped red chilli and garlic. Cook in the hottest possible oven for about 10 mins.

Onion Pizza-ish

Even simpler: Same base. Whole chopped onion. Same herbs. Same seasoning. Same olive oil. Same option on the chilli-garlic flourish. Same oven. Same temperature. Same time. Same adoring crowd…

 

Carrots

I’ve done cabbage. Now it’s the carrot’s turn. It is of course an easier sell than the poor old cabbage, but I still believe that our pointy little orange friend is more often than not underused and overcooked.

I once spent a summer drinking carrot juice every morning before work – not only did it taste great, but my skin took on a rather fetching orange hue – maybe I should be sharing this information with some of our less intelligent minor celebrities – would save them a fortune on fake tan. The only slightly annoying thing about it is that in order to make enough juice to fill a glass, you end up with a mountain of unusable dry matter that you have to scrape from each element of your juicer, thus requiring you to disassemble, rinse and reassemble everything every time you fancy a glug. So it can be a pain in the arse. That said, if you can be bothered you should try it for a sustained period – I’m also led to believe that it’s good at cancer too…

Carrot and coriander salad

This salad has a clean, sharp taste and goes really well with fish, chicken and lamb. It’s so easy: grate the carrot, chop some coriander, add a little red onion if you like, season generously, squeeze over the juice of a lime, sprinkle over a handful of pumpkin and sunflower seeds then add either olive oil or sesame oil depending on which you prefer.

How to cook carrots 

I think this is important. It’s so easy to cook carrots in a way that keeps them beautifully sweet and crunchy – there is no excuse to boil the life out of the poor things. This is how I nearly always do them:

Firstly, you don’t need to peel them. You also don’t need to cut them lengthways into little batons – the 90’s are long gone – get with it people. Simply chop the carrots into discs slightly thinner than a pound coin and drop them into a pan of cold water until you need them. 10 minutes before you want to eat, drain all the water apart from about a cm in the bottom of the pan, season with salt and pepper, add a large knob of butter (and maybe even a teaspoon of caster sugar) and put it on the heat with the lid on for about 5 minutes, Then remove the lid and let the liquid reduce for a couple more minutes. Keep trying them and as soon as they are the almost right for you, take them off the heat. Nothing lost – just sweet, tasty and perfectly cooked…

I think I’ve cracked it…

The shorts are back in London and we’re stuck at home through a mixture of extreme cold and complete laziness. Netflix is being hit hard (still 15 days left on the free trial) and we’re slowly cycling through the first 5 seasons of The Office USA. It’s pretty much the only thing we’ve found on there that isn’t already available in the HMV remainders bin. Incidentally, if you have a spare minute or two and you really have nothing else to do, check out their “New Releases” – I think it’s fair to say that if their interpretation of the phrase were any looser, it would be turning tricks for five quid a pop down a Norwich back street.

So it’s back to bread making and we pretty much have it down now. Rather than churning through the whole process (already covered last week), I thought it would be a good idea to pick out a few things that might mean the difference between mediocre and really great bread.

The basic recipe for the bread this time was a basic bread dough, green and red olives, jalapenos and finely grated gruyere and parmesan – the jalapenos really worked well.

dad at the weekend’s top bread-making tips:

  1. Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes – don’t be lazy…
  2. Get the salt quantity right – too little and it has no taste, too much and it will affect the rising process
  3. Add a little honey to your warm water to help the yeast and give the bread depth
  4. Allow the bread to rise twice – once for at least an 90 minutes, in a very low oven (less than 40 c) and with a damp tea towel covering the bowl. The second time again for at least half an hour. Don’t cut corners here…
  5. Sprinkle a little flour over the bread before you put it in the oven
  6. Make sure the oven is at least 220c and put a tray of water in there to create a good steamy atmosphere

 

And another loaf we made today with strong white flour and poppy seeds…

 

It should be easier than this…

What was it that made me believe that baking bread was easy? Maybe it is easy and I am just incapable? Is it like being green fingered in that you either have it or you don’t? (For someone who likes to think that he’s quite good at stuff, it frustrates me to the core that I am utterly useless at keeping plants alive: herbs, chillies, carrots, spuds, flowers, trees – I’ve killed them all) Maybe that’s what it is – I’m really good at killing plants and making rather ordinary bread.

I think I am getting better, but it still doesn’t come naturally to me at all – I really have to try hard, and even when I do, I only just about manage to produce a loaf that is kind of edible, eatable, whatever – I mean, you wouldn’t single it out if it were offered to you in a bread basket at your local Italian restaurant, but you’d probably just about force it down if I served it to you when you came over for lunch. That’s how good my bread is. It’s about as good as I was at rugby when I was in the third form (that reminds me – does anyone who was at school with me remember Mr Mullineux and the way he had to strap it to his leg when he wore shorts in rugby training? – my god that was revolting…)

Anyway – I tried particularly hard today, and, with Immie’s help, I think we may have pulled off a minor coup – we made a loaf of bread that is not only edible, but you can just about take a photo of it and post it on a blog – result. And here it is…

Gruyere and olive bread

So I start with 500g of this really good “organic oak smoked stoneground strong malted blend flour” (I know – what a bloody mouthful – but it’s pretty good). To it, add a 7g sachet of yeast, a good pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of honey dissolved in about 300ml of warm water. Mix the whole lot together and knead for about 10 minutes then leave in your mixing bowl in a warm place with covered with a wet tea towel for at least an hour.

In the meantime chop a couple of handfuls of olives and grate a decent sized chunk of gruyere (really as much of each as you like).

When the dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl and fold in the cheese and olives with your hands, divide and shape into whatever forms take your fancy and then put it onto a floured baking tray back in a warm place, covered with the damp tea towel for at least another half hour.

Heat your oven to 225 degrees and into it put a tray, half full of water. When you’re ready, put the bread in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes or until it’s golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. That’s it.

Now cue the comments that are going to tell me what I did wrong and why I keep screwing up my bread. Bring it on people…

Vegas and Huevos

So, another trip to Vegas – and if you want the details, read last year’s report, because if there’s one thing you can rely on with that place, it’s that nothing (apart from the skyline) ever changes. It lures you to into a metronomic journey from meetings to drinks to more drinks to breakfast to sleep to brunch, back to meetings and on and on…It carelessly does away with the traditions of morning and night, workdays and weekends – they simply blend into a shiny plastic amorphous blob, punctuated only by manhattans and eggs, cooked any style – so much so in fact, that in four days we somehow managed to consume breakfast eight times, lunch once and dinner twice – my body is confused. The only thing that brought me back to normality were the huevos rancheros and a little ride in the desert.

Huevos Rancheros

So as a mark of respect to the most exciting thing that was placed in front of me throughout my stay, I have to include this – and thanks to the Lucky 7 diner for introducing me to it – you have to try it.

The photo is taken from Inside NanaBread’s Head, so it’s only right that you go to her site to get the recipe – here it is… Huevos Rancheros, NanaBread style

Embrace the cabbage

Cabbage is often misunderstood. People see it as the Pat Sharpe of the vegetable world – outdated, with no taste and to be avoided at all costs. Now that may be true of the mullet-sporting, back-stabbing (apparently) amateur DJ (who one of my ex-closest chums likened me to the other day – note the ex), but it certainly isn’t the case when it comes to that lovely round green bundle of crunchy sweetness that I have come to love more and more over the last few years.

As with most food, it’s simply a matter of what you do with it that will mean the difference between you offering your friends a pile of vomitous mess and the most beautiful mouthful of goodness they have ever had the pleasure of consuming.

So, here are two ways I’ve used it over the last few weeks – both of which I wholeheartedly recommend you try…

Coleslaw – really decent coleslaw. nothing like the crap from Tesco

This is so easy. all you have to do is finely chop a spring cabbage (see pic above), a fresh red chilli (with the seeds removed) and few spring onions along with a few grated carrots and a handful of raisins. You can also throw in a few cashews if you like. Now you have a choice: You can either go East by adding sesame oil, soy sauce and a little rice vinegar, or you can stay in Europe and go with olive oil, red wine vinegar and plenty of salt and pepper. Either way it’s fantastic with chicken, lamb and pork, and works really well in a wrap with any of the above.

Braised spring cabbage

This is even easier, and it takes no more than a few minutes…

As above, finely chop a spring cabbage and put it into a large saucepan of salted boiling water. Leave it for no more than 2 minutes and then drain it in a sieve and put it back into the saucepan with fresh cold water. drain again and put back into the pan again with freash cold water, so that the cabbage stops cooking completely.

Now leave it until a few minutes before you want to eat, at which point you drain the cabbage and put it to one side, put a big knob of butter in the pan with a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic and let them soften for a few seconds before putting the cabbage back in and gently cooking in the butter for about 3-4 minutes until it’s warmed through, then season generously. That’s it. Nothing more to see here folks…

If you ever cook a beef stew (see my next post) then you must, must, must have this with it. Consider yourself told.

Tarts

And so it was with nothing but a handful of red peppers, some goats cheese and a couple of eggs I had to whip something up when a friend of mine popped over for a bite to eat and a goss…hold on, what on earth am I talking about? I’m not bloody Nigella and I am not going to get drawn into fabricating scenarios within which to pose a few plates of food. I really don’t understand why she gets this bizarre sex symbol/nation’s sweetheart thing from people up and down the country – she’s very nice and all, but she’s not sexy, she just likes eating. A lot. And why every programme has to end with her, sitting across from a broken-hearted friend and consoling her about her latest aborted love tryst, while simultaneously stuffing her face with massive handfuls of cream cake/pie/chocolate torte or whatever is beyond me.

To be honest – I just wanted to try making a little goats cheese tart, so I went out and bought some stuff, came home and cooked it. So here it is…

Roasted red pepper and goats cheese tart (makes two)

Take a couple of long sweet red peppers, cut them lengthways in half or thirds and lay on a roasting tin, sprinkle with salt and olive oil and put into a hot oven for about half an hour. Keep an eye on them so that they don’t badly burn (a little charring is good though). When you’re done, take them out, let them cool and then peel the flesh from the skin. Chop the flesh roughly and pop in a mixing bowl, making sure you get as much of the lovely salty oil from the roasting tin in there too.

Now take a small tub of mild goats cheese (are they 100g?), add about half (or as much as you want) to the red pepper and mix well with some chopped herbs – parsley actually works pretty well with this – and season well.

Ok – rewind a second – while the peppers are cooking prepare a small batch of shortcrust pastry – you can look it up in any recipe book – just don’t make the sweet variety. Once it’s made pop it in the fridge for half an hour or so…

So now you have you red pepper and goats cheese mix and your pastry has nicely chilled…

Get the pastry from the fridge, roll it out and pop it into a tart mould (I have these cool little stainless steel jobs with loose bottoms and sharp edges – they work a treat). Leave a little lip of pastry over the top of the mould and blind bake (with baking beans or rice to stop it rising) for about 15 mins. Then, before they cool too much, trim off the excess pastry with a very sharp knife so you have a good straight edge.

Now you’re pretty much done and you can leave the tart cases and mixture as long as you like, until you are about 20 mins from serving…

…at which point you fill the pastry cases with the mixture and pop back into a hot oven for about 20 mins, take them out and serve with a rocket salad dressed with a little good olive oil and balsamic vinegar (no drizzling please). I don’t advocate the overuse of balsamic vinegar, but it really does work well with rocket and goats cheese, so it’s allowed here..

I know the pic is poor (as ever) but believe me it tastes very good…