Wheaty me

Fruit bread

It’s snowing.

It’s bloody March 23rd and it’s snowing.

I have a 270km bike race in four weeks and I’ve been on Old Red twice since Jan. And it’s snowing.

I know it’s an idiotic exercise to use this as evidence to attack the general understanding that the planet is warming up, but I’ve had enough – I’m going to write a puerile letter to the Daily Mail and have a rant. Along with the other idiots.

Anyway, while I enjoyed being wheat-free-me for a month, I found myself this morning with time on my hands (given the lack of other options, due the fact that it’s snowing) along with a jar full of dried fruit and a mind to experiment, so it was time to throw off the anti-gluten shackles.

Fruit loaf

I don’t really know if this is a real recipe, but it really worked for me, so I’d recommend it. Here’s how it goes:

Mix about 300g of good quality organic wholemeal flour with yeast, a few tablespoons of caster suger, milk and yoghurt, in quantities that will give a dough of good kneading consistency. then add a few handfuls of dried fruit and almonds – I used sultanas, rasins and dates. Once you have kneaded for ten minutes, put the dough back into the mixing bowl covered with cling-film and leave to prove in a warm place for at least three hours. Once proved, set the oven to maximum heat, reform the dough into your preferred loaf shape and place it on your baking sheet. Score the top, dust it with flour and cover it again with the cling-film. Once the oven has heated up, the bread will have completed its second prove. Chuck it in the oven along with a glass of boiling water (just throw the water into the bottom of the oven) and close the door quickly. After about 10 minutes, throw it another glass of boiling water, and after thirty five minutes, the bread should be perfect…

Best served toasted with lots of butter – it’s a bit like a cross between bread and pannetone. Bene.

Wheat-free me

Or fad at the weekend perhaps? I hope not…

Thanks for the photo Sally

Those of you who know me will be familiar with a florid range of rather unattractive nasal challenges that I seem to have to deal with on an almost daily basis. It’s always been like this, from waking up every morning as a teenager at school adorned with other people’s pillows, shoes, books, porn mags (in fact, anything to hand that they could throw at me in the middle of the night to curtail my incessant snorting), to (as I found out recently) whole swathes of staff and colleagues at EMI and News International over the last 10 years firmly believing I had a nasty habit (I don’t. I mean, I do have plenty of nasty habits, but none that make me sniff incessantly).

And without getting into too much detail, I have, from time to time over the course of my life, taken a variety steps to try to do something about this socially debilitating affliction but to no avail – making me slowly but surely come to the conclusion that I must accept my fate as a terminally snotty man.

So, while chatting to a friend of mine a few days ago and answering the question that I get asked on a pretty regular basis: “why do you seem to have a constant cold?”, it dawned on me that I really needed to sort this once and for all. And as luck would have it, it turned out that she had an approach that could indeed help me. Not with surgery or medication, but by removing certain things from my diet and making a few other simple life changes. Never one to shy away from a challenge I thought I’d give it a go – and as I journey through the process, I’m going to bore you lot with all the details – a problem shared and all that…

These are the instructions that she gave me:

1.       Nutrition – no grains, no wheat, no gluten, no dairy, no legumes, no sugar. So for 2 weeks your diet will be made up of good wholesome natural foods: meat, fish, eggs, veg, seeds, nuts and limited fruit (1 piece a day max) Make sure you have protein with every meal (protein shakes are a good snack) and try to get your carbs from green veg (kale is amazing as is broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts) Sweet potato is a great source of starchy carbs and as you’re burning lots of calories cycling you might want to make sure you add these to your diet.

2.       Probiotic – healing the gut is key to good health. Here’s one I recommend. http://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/shop/for-daily-wellbeing.html Its great value.

There are other things I have to do, but they are less relevant to a food blog, and to be honest, they will probably put you off eating for a good day or two, so I shall omit them for now.

Day one started badly, as I nipped into the supermarket to grab some provisions for breakfast and lunch, and went to pick up things that I might normally grab for a quick bite at work:

  • porridge – nope
  • yoghurt – naha
  • bacon sarnie – nein
  • falafel wrap – non
  • pasta salad – no way
  • bean salad – no
  • croissant – no
  • bagel – no
  • cappucino – no

and on and on and on.

So I end up with a bag of apples, dried mango, fruit juice, a bag of nuts and a crappy salmon salad. Feels like I need more practice…(oh and it cost ten times as much as the croissant)

I had a better start this morning – a cup of coffee and half a smoked mackerel. Most painful though is that I baked this for the kids and can’t even have a mouthful – it’s a sight that I am going to see far less off for some time…

More to come (and I might even post some new recipes up here too – that would be novel).

Bread I'm not allowed to eat

Thanks to Caroline, who’s training to be a nutritionist and who pointed me in the right direction…
(and thanks for the photo Sally)

A few hot prawns

IMG_4252

Two posts in as many days. Perhaps I’m back. Perhaps it’s the fact that I just made a commitment to update this blog more than once a quarter. Or perhaps I’ve finally managed to cook a few new things for a change. Whatever the reason, you’re a lucky reader because this one is a classic and definitely worth the almost zero effort to prepare…

Fried prawns with chilli, garlic and tomatoes

Buy the best quality prawns you can and wash them. Chop a few cloves of garlic, a red chilli and a halve a large handful of cherry tomatoes. Heat a wok as high as you can and pour in a few glugs of good oil. Drop in the prawns and fry them for a minute. Add the garlic, chilli and tomatoes and continue for another couple of minutes. Finally, add a decent splash of vermouth and plenty of salt and pepper and let it bubble away for just a couple more minutes. Finish with a handful of chopped parsley and serve with a crusty baguette and a bottle of Cassis blanc. Your guests will not know what to do with themselves.

IMG_4260

Bread. Perfected.

Jalapeno and olive bread

Ok – ignore any previous posts about how to make bread. I really do think I have it now. And if I’m honest, some of the advice I gave in the past is dubious, and should now be superseded by this latest and not to be beaten advice…

Olive and Jalapeno bread

So here’s how to make the perfect loaf: Start with about 500g of a really good flour – I use a mix of stoneground strong malted blend flour and standard organic wholemeal flour. Add a few table spoons of dried yeast, and a equal amount of good sea salt, then a few decent glugs of good olive or rapeseed oil and a couple of glasses of cold water. Mix it together adding water or flour as required to end up with a dough that is slightly sticky to the touch, but can still be kneaded for at least 10 minutes (I use use a mixer with a bread hook, but I expect it’s even better done by hand)

Now leave the bread in a large bowl covered in cling film (I realise now that you don’t need damp teatowels) in the oven at less than 50c for as long as you can bear – at least an hour and a half but two hours would be even better. This is your first proving – it should at least double in size.

Now roughly chop green olives and jalapenos and mix them well into the bread. Don’t worry that you’re knocking all the air out of the bread – it will come back. You can also add a good couple of handfuls of grated gruyere at this point if you like (in fact, do – it really works well – especially if you’re going to toast the bread).

Now set the oven to its hottest and form the bread into a loaf – I like a round boule, but really you can do whatever you like – just make sure that you put a few scores in the top, sprinkle over some flour, place it on top of the warming oven and cover again in cling film.

When the oven has reached its hottest temperature (usually after about 30 mins) your bread will have completed its second proving and will be ready to bake. Place it in the oven along with a glass full of boiling water, thrown into the oven shutting the door immediately (try to hold on to the glass).

After about 10 minutes, chuck in another glass of boiling water, and another after 20 mins. If you made a single large loaf, it will be ready after 35 mins. If you made smaller loaves then they will be ready faster.

That’s it. The best yet.
And no blabbing on about other things. A simple post about food. Who would have thought?

 

Down I say, Pork Pie

In fact it’s a pork and venison pie, but my copy fitting urges overcame me.

As I look back at the goings-on of the last two weeks, it’s hard to remember a period in recent times where there was more happening in the world (or at least the world that I consciously inhabit). New York was turned upside down by Sandy, turning the lights out on businesses right across Manhattan and effectively shutting down the city for over a week, and yet this, which in a quiet week would have been a major news event here in the UK, was largely relegated to a few shots of floating cars and reporters being blown over by the wind. The world held its breath as Obama managed to cling on to power, leaving 48% of Americans unhappy but 99% of the rest of the planet extremely relieved. But the story that seems to have gripped our nation, and that threatens to turn one of our greatest institutions upside down, is that of a grubby little man who died just over a year ago, and who during his life, horribly exploited countless children supposedly in his care. But what stands out for me in all of this, is not so much the ever growing list of accounts that are being surfaced, but more, the way in which (as often seems to have been the case in recent news stories – hacking, expenses for example) the story so quickly transcended the individual that it centred around and exploded with such force that it impacted so many peoples’ lives who were in no way implicated in or impacted by the events at the time. And today, we have reached the point where Lord McAlpine has been wrongly accused of being a paedophile, Newsnight has twice in two weeks been threatened with immediate extinction, The director general of the BBC, (only in his post for 54 days) is forced to resign and now Andrew Marr is debating with the home secretary whether the institution of the BBC itself is now under threat.

What I find sad is the fact that our capacity as a culture to accept honest mistakes seems to have diminished to the point where we simply can’t do anything any more (and to be clear, I’m talking about Entwistle here, not the grubby little man). The cynicism of british journalism is for me, one of the most depressing things about living in this country. What makes it worse is that it seems to have rubbed off on the rest of us to the extent that it’s now become a stubborn stain on the fingers of our national psyche. And you can see it everywhere – we complain about everything. Everything. “But that’s nothing new!” I hear you exclaim. I have to disagree – it may have always been there, but the noise-level of discontent has risen steadily in the past decade to the point where everyone expects everything and everyone expects perfection. At all times. It’s unrealistic folks – get real and start being more accepting of an imperfect world. It will probably make you happier. And of course we should question things, and we should investigate when things go wrong and work out how to make them right, but please – just a little perpective.

I only write these things so that when in a few years time I’m looking for a pork pie recipe, I’ll have a little context to put it in (or I’ll simply scan past the first two paragraphs like you probably just did).

So here goes – Pork and Venison Pie

Just found the gallery feature on here, so click on an image below to see a step by step guide on how I got there…

Recipe coming soon when I have the energy to write it down…

Spice boy


It’s taken me too long to realise that buying spices from a supermarket in those little 40g jars is a really bad idea, for at least two reasons: Firstly and most importantly, it suggests an ungenerous  approach to the use of spices. They are not something that should be added to dishes by the milligram – a couple of grains here, a couple there. They should be used in abundance – you should know when they are being used in a dish. There’s no place for subtlety where spices are concerned – not in my kitchen. You have to be bold.

I have to thank Taimur and his egyptian salad (lettuce, lots of cumin, lots of lemon juice, olive oil, lots of salt and pepper, lots more cumin) for helping me finally understand this – the first mouthful took a big swing and punched me, very hard, in the face. Bugger subtlety – I’d much rather my food punched me in the mouth than blew in my ear.

Secondly, it’s a complete rip off – two quid for a tiny jar of seeds that lasts a couple of weeks. The worst offenders, and the ones that I have so far managed to avoid, are the bay leaves. Two quid for about ten leaves from a tree that grows in every municipal park up and down the country. Twenty pence for a leaf. Honestly.

So I’m going online to buy in bulk – I want a kilo each of cumin, fennel, peppercorns, coriander, star anise, caraway, cardamom and cloves. And I’m buying a bay tree.

Oh – and don’t ever buy the stuff already ground. Just buy a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder you lazy shit.

Anyway – if I do manage to get hold of eight kilos of spices, I’m going to have to up my game, so here begins the first of a possible series on how to better use your spices. I’ll start with cumin – probably the best spice of all, with just a few ideas:

In your bread – a couple of spoons in your bread mix – really good toasted with strawberry jam.

As a dry rub for beef – pounded with salt and pepper and rubbed over beef fillet 10 mins before frying.

In soup – added to cauliflower soup (or squash soup) – along with a few drops of truffle oil.

With chocolate – grind half a teaspoon and add to a chocolate torte or white chocolate mousse.

In chutney – perfect in a chilli plum and onion chutney

In every curry you ever make – how could you without it?

And of course in a lemon and cumin salad dressing – thanks Taimur

—–UPDATE—–

I finally managed to get hold of my spices (see below) – I got the lot – a Kg of each for £40. I then tried to buy the same amount on Ocado in those little jars – would have cost £360. Enough said…

Spices