Thursday, 15 March 2012

Quiche & Bread tips and reminders

I'm writing this post mainly to remind myself of some tips, but they may come in handy to you too!

A couple of days ago I was given some whipping cream and eggs to use up, so the first thing that sprang to mind was a quiche.  With some bacon in the fridge and an overload of frozen peas I went about Googling a suitable recipe.  I came across this rather nice Pea and Mint Waitrose version and make a few adaptions to suit my ingredients.

Now I have always baked blind with pastry bases before, so was a bit hesitant about putting the filling straight into a chilled case.  But it gave the nicest pastry we've had so far.  Pale in colouring, but crisp (not dry) melt in the mouth pastry.  Scrumptious.  The pastry recipe I tend to like to use is an Annie Bell one I got from a magazine recipe for a spinach, feta and tomato quiche.

225g plain flour
Pinch of salt
150g Unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 medium egg yolk

Blitz the flour, salt and butter in a food processor until it resembles breadcrumbs, add the egg, then dribble in icy cold water a little at a time until it comes together into a ball.   Pop in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill, then follow the rest of the recipe as it.

Except..........  I used a 23cm quiche tin, used whipping cream rather than single cream and had only a tiny amount of mint.  It also only needed about 40 minutes as in a shallower tin.
One delicious quiche, firm and held its shape when you held a piece up.  Afraid it all got eaten before I could take a picture :)  Best allowed to cool to appreciate the flavours better.

Had another go at the Peanut Butter and Choc Chip cookies today.  The recipe has been updated to suggest using the oven at a 180c fan-oven setting.  This I duly did, but best using the middle shelf.  The tray on the top shelf browned far too quickly, so may be better cooking in two batches to avoid over-cooking.  They can't be that bad though as 3 have gone already!  Some packaged up to give as a Get Well pressie.  Ever get the impression where theres a camera, theres my cat!

Whilst having a poorly neck, I thought I would have a go using the Kenwood food processor's dough hook to make a batch of Sourdough, rather than kneading by hand.  Mental notes for next time, only use for a 500g batch, so did it in two go's this time.  Also better for a batch of bread mixing all the ingredients from the start, rather than using the sponge method, such as Sourdough.

Used the above basic recipe with but made a 1kg batch.  The sponge I used 1/2 wholemeal and 1/2 rye flour and white bread flour for the loaf.  600ml of water and no oil.  The rye gives it a nice rustic taste.  The bread still came out well, despite not being hand-kneaded, but it was a real guessing game to know when it was properly kneaded.  Kneading in a Kenwood should be quicker than by hand so you have to watch it all the time, still saved the neck some aggro.

Finally got around to plying the gorgeously bright Laalbear Blue-faced Leicester batt on my spinning wheel.  I think I will name it "Fire starter".  Destined for some chunky socks.......

A final last ramble, I have been delighted this Winter / Spring with the bird life in our town garden.  As well as the usual Blue tits, Robins, Sparrows and Blackbirds, we are getting regular visits from a family of Goldfinches and also Long-tail tits.  They really warm the soul.  The bulbs are poking through in the garden, the seeds are germinating in the propagator......... I think Spring has Sprung

Happy baking.........................

Monday, 12 March 2012

A magical weekend at Cowslip Workshops

Now, let it not be said that I don't like to take my sock knitting with me most places, just in case I get the chance to add a few rows.  Time is precious you know. 

As my poor Mum will confirm, I always get the socks out on train journeys, even removing footwear sometimes to check sizing.  I have been known to get them out at the Ballet (well, it was only in the interval, honest!) and made the most of long car journeys across France and Spain....... OH was driving honest.

So, en-route to Cornwall, I stopped off at the lovely Kingston Lacey for some late lunch and a stroll around the gardens to stretch the legs. 

And yes, I am afraid I sat looking at the countryside and knit a few rows!  I am addicted to socks

I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon the delightful Rezare Farmhouse B&B, whilst researching somewhere to stay.  With handmade quilts on the beds, a slice of homemade cake and a cuppa on arrival and a breakfast menu to die for, it really couldn't have been better suited for me.  Set in the beautiful hamlet of Rezare, it is perfect for visits to the stunning Tamar Valley.  I also got to pick Nanette's brains on a few baking tips.  Such as the delicious homemade shortbread biscuits in your room made just that little more crispy with the addition of rice flour to the mix.

The main reason for my trip down to Cornwall was to return to the amazing Cowslip Workshops, run by the very talented Jo Colwill,  on the outskirts of Launceston.  I came here about 18 months ago for their Christmas Bonanza weekend and came away full of ideas and with projects to finish and show-off.  So I was very unsubtle in suggesting a workshop here would be a perfect Christmas pressie for me.  This weekend was a hand applique workshop and again I came away with many new ideas and techniques to work on.  Jo is full of enthusiasm and just can't wait to offer tit-bits of incredibly useful info.  Plus the shop is to die for........ might have bought a few bits!

Good job I twisted Mum's arm to go back in November for another Bonanza weekend!

My spring garden quilt in the making......................  should keep me busy for a while!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Granola Bars

Spurred on by my lovely Swedish friend, Lydia (Malinky), to bake something to get her taste buds going after a bout of being very poorly, I thought it was about time I rolled out a trusty recipe for Granola Bars to show you.

I must confess I used the recipe very loosely this time as I was on a cupboard clear out mission and there was no way I was going to buy new ingredients if I could substitute an item that needing using up!

So, to the ingredients:-
Oats - tick
Sunflower seeds were in a packet of dried fruit and seed mix - so tick
Almonds -  no, so used up the desiccated coconut instead
Honey -  only a little bit left so made up the rest of the amount with golden syrup
Sugar - tick
Butter - tick, but only salted so didn't add the salt
Vanilla essence - tick
Dried fruit - tick, mainly cranberries. 

So you get my drift, I used the recipe very loosely.   Still, they came out nice and chewy and full of yummy goodness.  A tasty, sustaining, simple recipe, great for a mid-morning snack, breakfast or even hiking.

Plus it must be good for recouperating right??

Finally got around to photographing my lovely DyeSpinKnit yarn, that my generous Mum got me at Christmas.  The pics don't do them justice as all, least because you can't feel the softness.  Now what to make with them?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Sourdough Loaves - They're alive!!

I've probably bored you before with tales of my trip to River Cottage back in 2010, where I participated on their Bread Making Course.  Well not long after I begun the process of making my own Sourdough starter.  Its a bit of a labour of love, as its takes 7 - 10 days to get it going.  After that you have to nurture it by feeding it regularly.  Now, there is no two ways about it, I neglect my starter beyond belief.  The recipes tell you to feed it every day, but really that's only necessary if you are baking fresh bread every day.  To create a sourdough loaf you need a very active starter.  In between, I think it can have a little rest.  Well, we all need one of those from time to time don't we.
Sometimes my starter sits on the side for a couple of weeks without feeding.  Opening the lid its probably gone grey in colour and stinks badly, but tip a little away, add some new flour and water and off its goes again in a couple of hours bubbling away.

Making a Sourdough loaf requires a bit of time, a bit like the ciabatta loaves, so best saved for the weekend.  I have linked a River Cottage recipe here for a Starter and a Sourdough loaf.  Sourdough Recipe including the Starter

The version I have made is half wholemeal / half white.  I started it off last night by putting the wholemeal flour, sourdough starter and water in a big bowl.  Stirred it all around, covered it and left it overnight.

This morning I was greeted by a bowl of bubbling froth, so I guess its hungry again! 

I added the white flour and salt, mixed it all together then kneaded it for about 10 minutes or so and popped it back in the bowl.  A couple of tippings out and re-shaping later and its plumped up quite nicely.

Rather than proving in baskets, I decided to try them free-form straight on lined baking sheets.
They looked like flat splats when they went in to the oven, so I was pleasantly surprised to see them puff up in the oven.  I would always expect any type of loaf with a high wholemeal content to be not that airy, but half and half seemed to work well.

You can always add a bit of Sourdough Starter to your regular bread mixes in addition to the fast action yeast.  If gives it extra flavour and rise.  Or give some away to friends and encourage them to give it a go :)    ytghrfdcgv..........blinking Cat just walked across the keyboard!  I think he wants to go Global.................................

Friday, 2 March 2012

Gooseberry & Almond Cake

So what do you do when you have lots of fruit left over from last years allotment pickings still in the freezer??

1)    Make jam!  Made a rather scrummy blackcurrant and gooseberry jam of rather sloppy consistency due to lack of sugar (didn't check in the store-cupboard), so not enough sugar to set fully.  Still its lovely and tart and great smeared on toast or to use in cake fillings.  If you do make jam with a less than usual sugar content, keep it in the fridge, so it doesn't go mouldy.  I do feel better scoffing it down if it has less sugar and I'm sure part of my 5-a-day yeah??

2) Another option is to bake a cake......... of course!  Now I have to say you don't see many Gooseberry cake recipes flying around, even googling didn't give many options, but squirrelling through my recipes books I found a recipe I had cut out of an unknown magazine a few years ago.  So I thought I would share it with you, if you ever have a gooseberry glut and want to try something other than Gooseberry Fool.

Gooseberry & Almond Cake Recipe

125g Softened butter
200g Castor sugar
3 Large eggs, beaten
75g Sifted plain flour
75g Ground almonds
3/4 tsp Baking powder
350g De-stalked gooseberries
35g Flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 190C / Gas mark 5 or adjust for a fan oven.  Beat the butter and 125g of the sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs a little at a time and blend well after each addition.  If the mixture starts to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour.  Fold in the rest of the flour, the ground almonds and the baking powder.  Scrape into a buttered 20cm spring-form tin.  Toss the gooseberries with the remaining 75g of sugar and spread over the top of the cake.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Sprinkle over the flaked almonds and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.  The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin.  Remove the ring and base and dust with icing sugar.  Then devour!

Now me being me I was using up the store-cupboard.  So I added an extra 15-20g of ground almonds as there was no point leaving such a small amount in the packet.  Plus I didn't have any flaked almonds.  Also the gooseberries were defrosted, so perhaps my cake topping looks a a little soggier than it should.  Adding the flaked almonds would have probably helped with this too.  This was also deceiving in the cooking process as the cake top didn't brown off too much.  Convinced I hadn't cooked it enough, although the skewer came out clean, I took the risk and took it out of the oven.  Once cooled and removed from the tin the sides and bottom were nicely cooked.  It was a lovely moist cake and the gooseberries sink through as the cake cooks.  Next time I will try it with fresh gooseberries and the almonds on top. Plus maybe a smaller tin, to see whats its like as a deeper cake.  A great glut-buster!  Perhaps not suitable as a gut-buster though?

The will be more unusual baking recipes as the allotment gets going, so stay posted!

A couple of weekends ago I took my Mum up to the V&A Museum in London for a Birthday treat to see the Golden Orb Spider Silk Exhibition.  It is just amazing to think that the rich golden colour is produced naturally by the spiders.  Stunning!  Well worth a visit.  Had fun wondering around some of the other exhibits including the jewellery rooms and the gorgeous fabrics of Asia.  After a scrummy Lebanese lunch we swung through the food halls of Harrods where I headed straight to the Patisserie section.  Imagine my delight to find Portuguese Custard Tarts or "Pastel De Nata" to give them their correct name.

I bought a little box full for OH to do a taste comparison and then gave them another attempt at home a few days later.  Sadly soggy bottoms made them not my best attempt (probably due to using defrosted pastry???), so yes I'll have to try them again.  Harrods version were apparently nice, but the pastry was too dry and the filling not sweet enough.  Now there's a challenge to improve on mine :)

It always amazes me how commercially produced baked items are always so uniform, even from smaller producers.  Whenever I bake an item, even when I may have made it a few times before, it usually varies in appearance.  I guess if you think about it, its not rocket science.  I like to use eggs from ducks or hens raised by friends, so they're never going to be uniform in size (but boy do they taste good).  Or I use flour from different suppliers, butter that is more softened than at other times, varying room temperatures affecting a bread rise.  Despite weighing ingredients exactly, they are never going to be filling such strict criteria as in a commercial kitchen.  So whilst I might not have exact replicas every time, I am usually happy with my attempts.  Practice makes perfect right?

And so it seems Spring is on the way...........

Photos taken a couple of weeks ago at the lovely Heale Gardens just north of Salisbury, well worth a visit.  The snowdrop walk is stunning.

Having sprained a ligament at the top of my neck, I've been banned from hard labour, running and knitting by my lovely Physio for the next couple of days......... its torture.  So perhaps I need to take the nudge from nature and go sow some seeds for this years vegetable and flower crops.

Happy sowing!