Sunday, 30 August 2009

food blogging madness

I am coming to realise that I could not have chosen a worse time to start a food blog.
I am trying to lose some of the weight gained after several months of cake and biscuit recipe development for work. So my focus outside work is exercise, sleep and more exercise. Not exactly inspiring for anyone to read about! Couple this with the hottest few days for a while and my inspiration is drying up fast. So I was grateful to my daughter last night for suggesting a simple post-gym supper of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and wilted spinach. Even more delicious as it can be knocked together in ten minutes whilst sipping a tiny glass of chilled fino sherry.

Photo used by kind permission of CursedThing of Flickr
As i stirred the eggs and felt my body unwind from another stressful working day I thought about some of the recipes that I have been working on that haven't made the cut so far.  Creating recipes is the most lovely part of my job, it is time to let loose my imagination and experiment with ingredients and ideas. Sadly though, the next part isn't such fun. Having created taste explosions, delicate crackers and iced fancies, I have to work out which, if any, can be made in our bakery and will stand the packaging, shipping and in-store handling that they will encounter to arrive on the shelves of supermarkets up and down the country. And that is before the final journey from shelf to home cupboard or fridge.

We are keen to avoid over-packaging our foods so the idea of polypropolene frames to corset our creations inside cardboard boxes doesn't really fit for us. And we are so concious that such packaging often costs as much, if not more, than the ingredients themselves and really, that irks. The packaging is thrown away when the product is consumed, so surely we should focus our budget on the best ingredients, not more packaging? Of course, this does mean that we limit the type of products that we can sell on a wide scale. We have stopped doing farmers markets at present too so creativity is limited to robust products that taste great but can be handled without care.  So that leaves us working with the concept of great tasting foods made with high quality ingredients, and isn't that just the way it should be?

Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon & wilted spinach  (more of an idea than a recipe!)

Per person -
2 large freerange or organic eggs
black pepper
60g smoked salmon
100g fresh spinach per person
1/4 lemon

Wash the spinach and shred if required (supermarket bagged baby spinach will wilt whole but farm or home grown spinach should be shredded). Put the spinach in a pan with a dribble of water and a sprinkling of salt over a very low heat with a lid on.

Crack the eggs into a bowl.  Using a half shell from a cracked egg, measure out a 1/2 shell of milk for every egg you use.  Add a little pinch of salt per serving.  Beat the eggs and milk together with a fork or whisk until you break down the stringy white (albumen).

Grab a plate for each diner and artistically position the salmon on the plate. Quarter the lemon and put a piece on each plate.

In a thick bottomed saucepan melt a knob of butter, then pour in the egg mixture and stir gently but constantly with a flat bottomed spatula sliding along the base of the pan to ensure the egg mixture doesn't solidify on the bottom.  Check the spinach to make sure it is steaming, add a little water if it is too dry or drain off liquid if  you can see lots of juice in the pan. Keep stirring the eggs & the mix will gradually thicken and become creamy.  Take the eggs off the heat when they are still slightly runny.  This means that it will not overcook whilst you serve the spinach.

Drain the spinach and serve up followed by the soft scrambled eggs.  Serve with the lemon squeezed over both salmon and spinach and a grinding of black pepper.

Photo by kind permission of cursedthing of flickr.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

what to do with the windfalls?

I was gazing out of the window at home, looking into our next door neighbour's garden.  This is a care home and though the patio is lovely, the main garden is just laid to lawn which lays all summer yearning for someone to walk, laze or play football on it.  There are 2 mature apple trees on the western side,  laden with fruit, it looks like a bumper crop.  Last year I watched them fall to the ground and rot slowly into the long grass around the trunks.  This year I am going to ask if they will let me collect some of the windfalls to bake and preserve.

I remember as a child being sent out to pick up windfall apples.  We lived in a suburb to the north of London. Houses and gardens were fairly uniform in size all around us, but our garden snaked up longer than every one else's then wound down the back of 4 or 5 houses. It was difficult not to be nosey as you wandered past everyone else's garden, peering over the fences and beyond the compost heaps at the end of their gardens.

photo courtesy of richiesoft
To run to the end of the garden and back was 800m. Unsuprisingly that proved to be my best distance at school, but long before that I would creep up the garden on early autumnal evenings following instructions to collect windfalls from the old bramley the right behind number 102 or from my favourite trees - the 2 coxes behind number 100.

The timing was critical. Too early after school and the wasps would still be busily gorging themselves on fallen feasts. I happily admit I am no friend of wasps - not since one crawled between my fingers and my violin neck and stung me in orchestra practice. I tried to be cool but lost it completely after 2 stings (I wasn't tough - I was nine!) and burst into tears. Ever since then, I have tried to keep my distance from wasps. Anyway, when the shadows were looming and the wasps disappeared in their drunken late night stupor, it was my job to dash up the garden to the ancient 'apple store'where the garden tools lived. Reaching in through the door at floor level (don't open the door, it creaks and squeals) my hand would flap around till I felt the plastic edge of a dusty trug. Ease it out of the door without stepping foot inside or knocking any leant-up tools over and run on down the back straight of the garden to reach the particular tree.

The reason for the stealth was simple. Our garden was built on an Elizabethan (Elizabeth the 1st, not the 2nd) kitchen garden and the tall brick wall which formed the southern boundary of the garden was haunted. Yes really. My older brother swore it was, he'd seen a ghost - a knight in shining armour that clanked and dragged a chain. Believe me, at that age, even the slightest hint that the story may be true was enough to set my overactive imagination into hyperdrive. The ghost might linger in the apple store till it was dark enough to roam free so don't open the door and disturb him.  Carrying the trug (a classy 1970s khaki plastic number that bruised and grazed your knees as you bumped it against your legs) I bolted up to the end of the garden and eased myself past the 3rd and biggest compost heap to the old cox tree on the right hand side.

I think if you saw these trees in winter you would never imagine the beauty of the fruit they produced. Two knarled branches forked from a low trunk - maybe only 3 foot high. The branches reached out like ancient out-stretched arms offering a slightly scary hug. There were no more branches or even twigs for another 4 foot or so on either branch save a small leaf cluster part way up. At the end of either branch there was another fork then a cluster of weak and almost bare twigs.

When I was a little girl the autumn crop would be 15 maybe 20 small apples in a good year, but by the time I was grown up this crop had reduced to 3 or 4 (these trees were really in the autumn of their life). A pale yellow hue to the skin with faint pink or red stripes running vertically the apples. The tree on the left produced more fruit but not so stripey. The gnarled old tree on the right, though, produced these few amazing fruit. You could smell the fruit on the ground, a rich scent, a touch of alcohol from the older fruit missed and rotting on the ground and mingling with the smokey hues from the autumnal bonfires and the odd end of season barbecue. The day's windfalls would be tucked into the long grass around the tree. You couldn't really see the apples but there would be a gap in the grass tops were the apple had fallen - you could reach into the hollow and grasp the little apple deep inside. There wouldn't be more than 5 or 6 at a time, sometimes none at all but you had to crawl round the whole tree and sweep the ground maybe a metre and a half from the trunk, smoothing down the grass to check no treasures lay hidden beneath the surface.

Gathering the few apples into the trug along with a few bramleys if I happened to stand on them as I passed, I would shoot back down the garden attracted to the light at the back door like a clumsy moth. Without care, the apples would bounce and tumble from the shallow trug as I ran but on a good day I would arrive intact, briefly dazzled by the bright electric lights.  A pause in the kitchen to off load my spoils, a quick dip into the biscuit barrel for one last home made biscuit and off with a book to bed.

By morning, the kitchen would be clean and tidy but the apples would be gone.  Dad would check over the apples. Bruised eaters couldn't be stored so would be kept, or more likely swapped with neighbours or friends. The prize though, went to the perfect apples. Unbruised, without any knicks or cracks to the waxy skin, these apples would be carefully wrapped in wax paper and stored in ancient wooden trays in the apple store till Christmas.

Bramleys may be stewed and frozen but Dad's favourite recipe was for apple cheese. He would hold onto bramleys until the jam pan could be filled, then chop and trim the apples, into the pot they would go, core and all. Boil them down then through the pureeing sieve on mum's old kenwood mixer. Back in the pan, add as much sugar as apples then boil gently and stir, stir, stir. When the mixture was thick and bubbling like porridge, stir in a little fresh apple juice then decant into warmed sterilised old jars. Topped with circles of waxed paper and lidded, this was our standard breakfast spread.
"That'll put hairs on your chest" said Dad (almost every timethe jar left the cupboard).
Thankfully, I can report, it doesn't!

Apple Cheese
I love this recipe, it requires so little prep and lots of cider! Do take care when you are reducing the sweetened puree, the mixture really holds the heat and can hurt lots if you get spattered on bare skin.
Makes about 1kg

1 litre dry cider - my favourite to drink is Addlestone's here
 2/3 small stick of cinnamon
1.6kg cooking apples, unpeeled- just washed and trimmed of bruises

Sunflower oil (for oiling the jars)

Granulated sugar

2 sterilised jam jars (around 300ml) with sterilised lids, oiled after sterilising.

2 wax paper discs, cut to fit just inside the neck of the jar.

Using a non-corrosive pan (not aluminium or uncoated iron – enamelled casseroles are fine), boil the cider with the cinnamon stick until the cider has reduced by 1/3.

Whilst this is happening, you can wash & trim the apples. Once the cider has reduced, put the apples (yes even the pips and cores) and simmer until the apples are mushy – this should take about 1 ½ hrs.

Remove the cinnamon. Push the apple pulp through a fine sieve or mouli and weigh the puree you produce. For every 500g puree add 350g sugar (or slightly less if the apples are sweet).
Heat the puree and sugar in a pan and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Then, put on a long sleeved top, cover your knees & your feet and turn up the heat!

Bring the mixture to the boil and stir, and stir for around 25 minutes. You want to make a puree so thick that you can see the clean bottom of the pan as you stir. Don’t forget that this mixture will spit and pop so really do protect your bare skin (I totally speak from experience!). When the puree is ready, ladle (or decant with a jug) into the prepared jars, lay the waxed paper over the surface of the apple puree (waxed side down) and seal the jars with the lids and label them. This should store for up to one year.

I'm dreaming of eating... apple cheese on gluten free waffles with vanilla ice cream.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Gadget-love (from a decided non-gadget lover!)

I am going to sound so fickle now - only yesterday I was declaring my love for the musings and recipes of David Lebovitz.  Now here I am falling in love with a machine.  I have room in my heart for many food related people and creations so don't think these are just mere crushes, I am true to them all!

My latest object of desire, just a glance of a photo on the back of a catalogue wrapped in plastic and almost obscured by bills in the bundle of post on my colleague's deak, is a Kenwood Chef but not quite as I have ever seen one before.  This is a Kenwood Cooking Chef as available in the UK through Nisbets.

I am a Kenwood user, I haven't yet been able to work out how to put the bowl on a kitchenaid (and that makes for embarassing moments in the John Lewis home appliances department)!  And I am not a natural gadget collecter, apart from the ice cream maker I have only bought a hand beater for my kitchen in the last twelve months. My mum was given a white and pale blue Kenwood Chef as a wedding present way back in the 60s and it was on this that I first starting mixing biscuits as a little girl.  This same machine was the one toiled with me over endless cookie and cake mixes to create the first of my own recipe creations when I first started baking with the thought of farmers markets as the pinnacle of my career.  Sadly relegated to the back of a cupboard but not yet thrown away, this has been replaced with several Chef Pro mixers which I use for recipe development along with a small army of Hobart mixers in the bakery.  So I have a soft spot in my heart for Kenwood mixers, any machine that can still perform after 45 years has to be venerated in our society of built-in obsolesence.

The Kenwood Cooking Chef, well, I am not sure where to start.  Kenwood are being very shy about the machines attributes so that leaves me to guess ... A mixer that cooks?  Not an obvious choice for a baker initially but I am sure that i can justify it somehow.  What about for tempering chocolate, a low temperature heating the chocolate kept gently moving in the bowl?  A hollandaise sauce?  Icing? To be honest, I don't even know where to start, and whilst my imagination is yearning to be let loose, i have work deadlines so pressing that I have to put this to the back on my mind for now and concentrate on the task in hand.

If you want to see this in action, Kenwood are hosting a series of launches across the UK in September and October, you can find details on their website here, you will need to check back for the dates as they haven't been posted yet.

I have to get back to the business in hand for now and will leave it to you to dream on my behalf!

I'm dreaming of eating... smoked haddock kedgeree leftovers for lunch

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Caramelised white choc ice cream with salted almond caramel

I think I am in love!  In fact my daughter thinks I am in love too, and I think she rather approves, I'm not sure what my husband thinks though!
Earlier this summer, I did something very out of character for me, and bought an ice cream machine. I blame this completely on the rather wonderful food hero David Lebovitz.  I feel as though reading his blog has subtly influenced me and suddenly the urge to buy one overpowered me!
This is out of character for me because although I am a confectionery baker by trade, I am inclined towards savoury rather than sweet foods and I am not one to buy gadgets on a whim.   About the venerable DL I will eulogise another day, but if anyone hasn't yet found his blog, you must visit him (though not until you have read to the bottom of this post)!
Before I go any further I should clarify the icecream maker isn't a bells and whistles freeze-on-the-counter number, but rather this nifty ice cream maker by Philips bought at Lakeland.  The magical thing about this machine is that you don't need to freeze the bowl.  Instead there are inserts which go into the bottom of the bowl which you freeze instead.  This means that you don't need so much room in the freezer as with the bowl, and could justify, as I did, buying 2 discs (one in use, one ready to roll).  
Armed with an ice cream maker, I have discovered a new passion.  I have never really thought of ice cream as a food, let alone one that you can be creative with, but I have been amazed at the flavour combinations you can achieve.  This was definitely helped by a trip to Nice earlier in the summer with several visits to Fennochio's.  

A week or two ago I skimmed over the post about caramelised white chocolate on David Lebovitz's blog.  I tried really hard not to read it properly as I have been avoiding replacing the empty 3 kg bag of white choc callets in my cupboard.  I haven't yet read any scientific studies which confirm the need for white chocolate in the diet to prevent any know diseases, and as my one true sweet vice I try to avoid having any white chocolate in the house.
All the same, I haven't been able to put the thought of caramelised white choc ice cream out of my mind.  So this morning i took off to the gym via the cash & carry to pick up a 3kg bag of Callebaut White Choc callets.

I don't usually make a custard based ice cream because 
(a) I am too impatient to wait for the custard to chill before churning, and 
(b) I am too impatient to wait for the ice cream to warm to a spoonable consistency when taken out of the fridge!   So that means that I make a raw egg version and take my life in my hands!  
In the UK all eggs that are sold with the lion mark are certified as being free from salmonella, so my last comment isn't really true.  I know lots of people avoid raw eggs, so for safety, this is a cooked custard recipe.

All ingredients

340g white chocolate (around 30% cocoa solids)

3 whole eggs
300ml whole or semi skimmed milk
100g sugar
1/8th teaspoon sea salt
250ml double or whipping cream
20ml creme de cacao

100g golden granulated sugar

75g whole almonds
3/4 tsp smoked sea salt

Caramelised white choc   (please see David Lebovitz's post here).
Spread the whites chocolate out over a non-stick baking sheet (line with foil or baking parchment if yours is inclined to stick).
Bake in an oven at 120deg C.
Check every 10 minutes and stir the chocolate carefully before replacing in the oven.  Don't forget to use an oven timer. 
Each time you take it out, the chocolate is initially harder (presumably as the moisture on the surface evaporates) but stir through and the choc will become liquid again.  
It took 40 minutes before the chocolate started to turn,  the colour became slowly a darker yellow before gaining those rich caramel tones we are looking for.  If you remember Caramac bars - that is exactly the shade you are after (boy, I miss caramac!).
Please don't do this the way I did:  I didn't notice that my oven had been turned down around 1 hr in, then spent another 50 mins checking and wondering why it wasn't working!   Because of that, it took me 2 hrs and 40 mins to caramelise this chocolate. 

Ice cream
 Whisk the eggs in a heat proof glass bowl until they are just foamy.
Put the sugar,  whole milk  and 1/8th tsp sea salt together in a saucepan and warm until the sugar has dissolved.
Pour half the warm milk over the beaten eggs stirring all the time.  
Once the eggs and milk are mixed,  pour them quickly back into the saucepan and stir vigorously.  
Over a very gentle heat, keep stirring with a heatproof spatula or whisk.  
The custard will slowly thicken.  As we have used whole eggs you may notice a little graininess in the custard but this is nothing to worry about as long as you keep stirring!  
Plunge the pan of custard into cold or iced water and keep stirring until it is cold.
Now if you have time, chill this in the fridge.
Measure the cream and creme de cacao into a heatproof bowl.  
Add 300g melted caramelised white chocolate to the cream and mix thoroughly.
I found I had to use a whisk to bring it all together quickly.  
Again plunge this bowl into some chilled or iced water to cool it quickly and stir it to help it cool.

Set up your ice cream machine as per the manufacturers instructions.  
Once the chocolate mix is cool add it to the chilled custard and into your machine and leave to churn as per instructions.

At this point I tasted the ice cream, and to be honest, I was a little bit disappointed.  I think I could have let the chocolate caramelise even longer.  I paused for thought, mesmerised by the rotating paddle of the ice cream maker.

Then I remembered caramel!  
Caramel has been popular in the blog community over the summer and several sites have featured recipes and concepts.  Having nothing to lose, I weighed golden granulated sugar into a saucepan and put it on a very low heat.  
Whilst this warmed I roughly chopped  almonds and toasted them off in a saucepan.  This is one of those rare, almost cartoonlike, moments when you end up with a pan in each hand gently shaking the contents over the heat.  I almost felt like a proper cook! 

The sugar melted without catching (phew) and I let it reach a middling brown colour (I thought that you might need a bit of extra oomph to taste the caramel in the ice cream).  

Tip the caramel onto some baking paper on a lipped tray and then pour the nuts over.  
I recollected something else DL said and dug to the back of a cupboard to find a pot of oak smoked salt.  
I sprinkled a very generous 3/4 tsp smoked salt over the caramel and left it to set for 5 minutes.  
As soon as this was set, I chopped it into 1cm squares and added it to the ice cream machine.
Five minutes later the icecream was decanted into a pot which is now chilling in the freezer.

 I'm dreaming of eating ...  there is another 2.7kg of white chocolate to use up, so next up is this delicious looking white chocolate and strawberry mousse from Chele at The Chocolate Teapot.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Shock and awe, the making of a gluten free pizza!

Oh my, what have I let myself in for?
It took ages for me to pluck up courage to start writing a blog. I read endlessly around different genres, thought deeply about how portray myself, how to find my true voice (without swearing, that is!).  But I have just discovered that I didn't actually think about the process of documenting my cooking processes and how that would work.
And that is where the awe kicks in. I have just had the briefest glimpse of how difficult this process is.  I am blown away by all the bloggers out there who put themselves through this experience on an almost daily basis, on top of their working and family lives, for my, and many others, entertainment.
Thank you so much!
It is far more difficult than it looks to create a recipe from scratch (maybe this was my mistake, I am not inclined to follow recipes whilst I cook), to remember what ingredients you use (and when), and then take useable photos as you go along.  It has just taken me 1 3/4 hours to get 2 pizzas on the table so another lesson learnt there - never, ever do this when you are hungry.  I have just learnt that my stomach rules my style and the closer I got to getting the gf pizza into the oven, the less important style became.  In reality that has also been by biggest mistake. I rushed greasing the tray for the gluten free dough / paste and it stuck. I baked at 235 deg C but it still stuck in the middle. I am going to give this recipe another go tomorrow, and I will see if i can cure it then. Otherwise it may be a case of reducing the amount of liquid. If you should try this and have any ideas, please let me know!

Quick Thin Crust pizza base
(gluten free, of course)

The recipe.
My base owes much to every gluten free blogger I have ever read. I have benefitted hugely from all their experiences and so when I came to make this, I was able to reach into the cupboard and guess at the ingredients. My baking cupboard is a tip.Ingredients are squeezed into every space on a double level cupboard, so the lazy person in me grabbed the 1st 3 gluten free flours I found. I think I could just have easily used sweet rice flour, gram flour (garbanzo bean flour), teff flour or a ready mix such as Doves Farm. As it was I found rice flour, sorghum and tapioca.
In my professional life I don't use tapioca at all as I meet so many people who can't tolerate it. But I don't have a problem as long as I use it in moderation. Sorghum flour only reached my shelves a month ago. I have read often of glutenfreegirl's successes with sorghum but could never find a gluten free source in the UK. Having trailed round many ethnic shops in London, harangued all our work suppliers and still had no joy, a flash of inspiration came in the form of Taj Mahal in Hove. A desperate drive over for work testing rewarded me with the last 4kg on the shelves and fun in the kitchen. It hasn't proved to be the holy grail that I was hoping for, but to be honest, I know that I was being unrealistic to hope for everything in one grain. I don't eat sorghum often either but that is because I am unsure whether this particular brand is 100% pure. When we get some testing facilities in the bakery I will test a sample and then let you know. I hope it does turn out to be clean as it is a real bonus to the UK gluten free baker's repetoire.

                                                    100g rice flour
50g sorghum flour
50g tapioca flour
3.5g (1/2 sachet) yeast
2.5g (1/2 tsp) baking powder*
5g (1 tsp) salt. I am sure you can use less, I just got carried away.
2.5g (1/2 tsp) sugar
250ml warm water
15ml (1 tbsp) olive oil

Simply chuck everything in together and stir. It will be lumpy at first unless you have sieved all your flours (for yeasted doughs I don't often bother).
  *If you are using a retail brand baking powder you may find that it is activated by the warm water. The brand I use is commercial and it only reacts at temperatures of more than 45 deg C, I think most retail brands react at cooler temperatures. If you do find that your brand is triggered by cool water, you could put your yeast, sugar plus 50ml warm water (at blood temp - 38 deg C or slightly higher if you are in a rush) in a separate cup and stir until dissolved. Mix the remaining 200ml water with the rest of your ingredients and add the yeast mixture once it has started to form a few bubbles.

After a couple of minutes vigorous stirring, you will find your pizza base looks smooth and, well, paste-like. It won't look appetising but that doesn't metter yet.  I don't recommend tasting it though, most gluten free doughs are not pleasant raw!

Grease (really thoroughly) a baking tray approx 12" x 8" and spread the batter over the tray, right up to the edges.. Now sensible people will grease some film and lay this over the batter.  However I got distracted by the phone at this point and forgot, I chucked the tray into the oven (as it had been used about 10 mins before) and chatted to my mum for ten minutes.

When I got off the phone I discovered the batter had dried out and cracked a little but it had gained a little bit of spring (prod it and see what I mean) so I decided that was enough. I spread reduced sieved tomatoes over it as a base sauce then sprinkled a few slim slices of courgette, mushrom and red onion on top. A short ration of peperoni slices (that is what happens if you attempt blog-cooking hungry!) and fresh mozerella with a few basil leaves finished the pizza off and into the oven at 235 deg C for 20 mins.

Please don't take my word for it on oven timings. I have been using my fan oven for several years, I know what works for me, where the hot spots are and how to rotate trays to get them evenly browned, I don't know your oven so I suggest you use an oven thermometer, check every 5 minutes, and probably rotate your tray each time too.

I've already mentioned my pizza stuck to the tray, but hopefully that will be cured shortly!
The thing is, it tasted great. Ultra thin, crispy you could taste each individual topping, which is just right by my standards.

Just for the record I made some wheat bases for my daughter and friends too - whilst they enjoyed theirs, they decided the gluten free pizza was better - a definite 1-0 to us!

I'm dreaming of eating... more gluten free pizza

Thursday, 20 August 2009

the strawberry patch

the strawberry patch

Remembering back to our garden as a child, brings smells and sounds flooding back into my memory. An odd sweet scent that emanated from the laurel bushes in our next door neighbours garden and the tickly sneezy conifers in between. We used to play tennis half way up the garden, and ran a string from side to side instead of a net. The ball spent more time in those bushes than anywhere else, but occasionally it would hit a little wall and bounce into the herb garden.
It might seem a little bit ostentatious to designate areas in such a suburban garden, but this is just what is was. A walled garden in miniature with roses and herbs, a sun trap for a home made cold frame where tomatoes and beans were hardened off before burying their roots in the chilly spring soil.
We grew everyday herbs near the back door - parsley, rosemary, thyme, garlic chives (a great favourite of my dad's, so eaten with everything!), chives and lavender. But further up in the herb garden were more exotic varieties: rocket,
marjoram, oregano, fennel, borage, more thymes and mint in various guises.
Later on in time, the roses in the herb garden gave way to strawberries and loosing the tennis ball became a pleasure not a chore. I often wonder whether Mum & Dad questioned the productivity of our strawberry plants. Maybe they agreed that we had a terrible slug problem. I guess that they knew if they sent us to pick the ripe fruit we would arrive back with sticky fingers, reddened lips and maybe half as many fruit as they had seen earlier in the day.
Come autumn time, the cupboards under the stairs would be filled with jars of jams and pickles, all shapes and sizes, all varieties. Except one - we never managed to make more than 2 or 3 jars of strawberry jam, regardless of how good the crop had been!

I'm dreaming of eating ... home made gluten free pizza, just fresh tomatoes, mozarella and a sprig of basil. (If I am really organised, this will make my first recipe post with photos).

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Mrs Crimble's bread

I was very excited to hear that Sainsburys were going to have a fresh gluten free bread on the shelves this summer. It has taken a little while to percolate through the system to the shelves of our local store, but after several un-rewarded visits I was excited to find 3 loaves on the shelf before the weekend.
I know I am inclined to over-analyse packaging and products, it is an undesirable trait but a necessary part of my job, so here goes! I love the feel of the packaging. The loaf is flow-wrapped in a film with a paper-feel bottom and a clear top that you can see the loaf through. This looks and feels good and the lay out is clear and uncluttered like all Mrs Crimble's products. It is always nice to see gluten free foods packed in something other than yellow and purple packaging, you almost feel normal picking this up off the shelf.
The loaf feels quite heavy but you know from the first squeeze that it is not dense in that long shelf life "only-ok-if-you-toast-it" way that most freefrom breads are. The top of the loaf is dusted in flour which gave the 3 loaves I saw quite a murky smudgey look. Oddly 2 of the 3 loaves were dented at one end (I wish I had taken photos) which suggested that the air circulation in the oven or maybe the temperature at the centre of the oven, wasn't quite right.
So deftly avoiding the dented loaves I reached to the back and grabbed the last loaf, smooth and rounded from front to back.
My basket at the check out raised a comment from the operator, "if only there had been bread like that when my little boy was growing up". I heartily agreed though did say that I was yet to to try this particular loaf.
I didn't try the bread the moment I arrived home. I put it in the bread bin, its' packaging intact, next to the burgen and long life white sliced (urrgh) then just watched it ... and felt quite normal for a change!
Saturday morning arrived and as the clouds gave way to sunshine we decided to dash over to the airshow at Eastbourne for the afternoon's flying display. I glanced round the kitchen looking for my normal lunchbox ingredients of cooked brown rice, nori seaweed, pickled veg and smoked salmon- but we had managed to eat all last night's rice without putting any aside. My eyes followed F's hand as he replaced the loaf from his own sandwich making and fell upon the Mrs Crimble's loaf sitting there. Perfect.
I reached it down and clumsily tore the wrapper off (note to self, cut the end off if you want to re use the wrapper). With a fine toothed bread knife I sawed the crust off the end of the loaf and looked inside. The bread is quite close textured but sliced fine. Either end of the loaf produced small slices perhaps just 7 or 8 cm high but the middle of the loaf would be 3-4 cm higher.
I knocked up a couple of rounds with pepper salami and smoked salmon (not in the same sandwich) and shoved them in my bag whilst running out for the train. I think that was my mistake (not the running for the train bit, we made the train no problem!) but the sandwiches didn't arrive in quite such style. Maybe the slices were a bit small, or a bit thin or maybe my lettuce leaf filling was too thick for the bread, what ever it was the bread had crumbled in the sandwich bag and behaved in the same way as most more traditional long life loaves. I stuck the bread pieces back together and, whilst ducking the wasps on the beach and gazing skywards at the flying display overhead, munched my sandwich.
I so wanted to eulogise about the quality of the bread, I had high hopes and great faith in the Mrs Crimble's brand, sadly though, I am not blown away by this bread. It is fine. It is moist, tastes good (far better than the long life versions), but it doesn't quite hit the high standards that have been recently set elsewhere. I think that maybe I was asking too much of it to cope with a journey in the bottom of my bag without the usual protection of a lunch box to hold it together.
Perhaps I am suddenly too spoilt discovering 2 new breads on the market within a couple of months after years of drought. But the other contender can cope with an afternoon in my bag and still envelope my sandwich fillings without collapse. Even though Mrs Crimble's delivers a moist tasty loaf and makes a great fresh sandwich, somehow, I was expecting a little bit more.
By the way, and in case I forget to mention it again, the air show was great. I love this type of flying, the louder the better and I adore the derring-do flying of the red arrows. We found a great spot on the beach for the first half of the show, moved up onto the hill as the time for the red arrows approached and experienced the amazing site of all the red arrows flying down Wilmington Square directly towards us. Politics apart, it was a great spectacle - and we even managed to get back to the station before the crowds too.

I'm dreaming of eating ... err, it is a bit too hot to be hungry right now!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

That's dinner sorted

I have a five minute pause in my working day and am trying to recollect what is in the fridge. I picture myself standing in front of the fridge (strangely located in our messy hallway due to lack of space in the tiny galley kitchen) I have opened the door and felt the delicious icy blast of air dropping toward my toes, but i am finding it hard to peer through the (mental) fog to see what, on the shelves, can be made into a quick dinner tonight.
We have a polish teenage girl staying with us at present. Her schedule dictates that she eat between 6 and 7, so i am trying to conjour up a tasty meal that won't suffer a few extra minutes cooking if she or I is running late. Sometimes (and a little strangely) it seems to take her that long to open the door. We have had several attempts to show her how to use the lock and door handle, there really is nothing unusual about our door, but it does seem to prove a stumbling block to this young lady. We will try another lesson tonight in the hope that we won't, for the first time in a week or 2, be dragged out of bed in the early hours to let her in.
In the meantime, dinner approaches. If my memory serves me correctly we have pork loin steaks, pork sausages (good quality but sadly not gluten free) and salmon fillet. The last 2 mealtimes have already seen sausages and salmon fillet grace her plate so there is little choice but to head for the pork loin steak, however quickly it needs to be cooked.
But what to accompany it? I know that we have apples on the fruit dish crying out to be eaten, cream in the fridge and a touch of brandy in the cupboard but I really don't fancy a heavy creamy sauce on this summer day. There is a big pot of Amora Dijon mustard that could provide the backbone to a mouthwatering basting sauce but again, it is just a touch too rich for today.
A herby marinade, fragrant but not too strong? Growing in the pot of herbs at the bottom of the stairs outside are oregano, marjoram, pineapple mint, sage, common thyme, rosemary & fennel. As I type this I can see some glaring ommissions to my herb growing - and I can't excuse most of it. The basil - unsuprisingly - was eaten by slugs and I know from experience that replacing it in this damp summer will be akin to providing another special feast for these particular monster specimens.
But what happened to the parsley? savory? coriander? or perhaps a few rocket leaves?
I wish I had an answer, but the day that I went to the garden centre I was so distracted by quince trees and cherries and loganberries (none of which I bought, of course) that I managed to arrive home with any of the herbs i set out to buy was something of a miracle.
The menu is looking better, pork loin quickly marinaded with some slivers of juicy fat garlic cloves bought from Plenty (a lovely new addition to our grocery shopping), fresh sage, fennel seeds and olive oil - perhaps a dusting of smokey paprika to serve? Raw shredded kohlrabi (courtesy of my mum's veg box) with a mustardy dressing and steamed rice. There is still a serving or two of homemade mango frozen yoghurt in the freezer left over from the weekend, so dinner is complete.

I'm dreaming of eating...our new gluten free choc chip & raisin cookies, dipped in a steaming mug of coffee (but not till 10.30!)

Monday, 17 August 2009

I am still at work after 11 hrs and am desperate for something cold but definitely not sweet. I still want to go to the gym so a glass of wine is out. Who sells savoury ice cream?

I'm dreaming of eating... savoury ice cream.

Nervous first performance

Rather than launch in with comment or criticism, I think it is probably a good idea to introduce myself and the ideas behind this blog.
After much thought I have finally been persuaded to put fingers to keyboard and write my thoughts down. Since my daughter has been doing most of the persuading I imagine that she has had her fill of my stories and hypothesises over this long summer holiday. She has, I hasten to say, been stuck in an office with me whilst doing some work experience and this lengthy period has been eye-opening for both of us.

Memories tend to revolve around food, and dreaming of warm sunny days and warm sunny beaches reminds me of a pork sandwich. I am dredging back through more than 20 years of memories to a warm spring day on Miami beach. Every moment spent in the USA as a teenage traveller was filled with alien smells, sounds and experiences. It still astounds me that 2 lands with one common language can be so different. Later travels made me think of Australia as a bridge between the 2 countries with its' spacious landscapes and laid-back attitudes reflecting a similar vision to the small American towns I passed through in the 80s.
We arrived in Miami beach at 5am on a Tuesday morning in late winter. I had in my pocket the name of one guy in Miami, no address or phone number, just a name, but a lead for some casual work which we would need within a few days. A friendly American traveller who had been staying in a hostel on Venice Beach had given us the name, having recently made the reverse journey that we were shortly to undertake. It seemed highly improbable that we could do anything with this name, but the scrap of paper was worth it's weight in gold to us at the stage - it was, after all, our only contact.
Knowing no-one else but my travelling companion and having no ideas of what to do, we parked the drive-away Ford Escort (we lucked out - don't do it!) one block back from the beach, and shaking out our crumpled limbs, we smelt the air. Coffee, mmm, coffee. On the opposite corner there was a cafe, open but quiet. Although the coffee smelled great, I was desperate to dip my toes in the ocean. We had driven across the southern states in just 4 days from Los Angeles and the urge to see the Atlantic from 'the other side of the pond' was quite over-whelming.
We walked towards the sun rise and the beach. It was just like Miami Vice - indeed, we were there, on set (almost!) and a few blocks from that iconic police station watching the waves break on the steep sandy beach. It was beautiful, hypnotic but felt even more dream-like than L.A had done. The sea was cold but it felt great to be here. At that moment, I could suddenly feel every hour of the long drive across country and I felt exhausted lying on the beach in the weak morning sun.
We wandered back to the car and across to the now busy cafe. One lonely person sat at the counter but the booths were busy with locals drinking strong thick and sweet cuban coffee. There was a rotisserie grill outside with fat dripping & sizzling on the elements as whole chickens were lazily grilling like the early morning pensioners in the sun. On closer inspection, the chickens on the grill alternated with roasting pork joints and the rich fatty perfume cut through the coffee smells emanating from the hard working machine inside.
We fell into seats at the counter and ordered orange juice and long coffees - the local brew looked a little too strong at first. No matter, as we were served our first, and second cuban coffees. Feeling much stronger, i asked about the pork and what they did with it.
"Not ready" came the reply, "chickens at 10.30 but pork not ready till 11".
We gazed longily at the pillows of long soft bread and mentally set our watches to come back at 11. Ordering coffee number 3 I became aware of the guy next to us at the counter. He had been joined by someone else and seemed to be discussing rosters or schedules of some type. Curious, I tried to evesdrop but not too subtly as he soon glanced over his shoulder to see me peering over his to see what he was reading. Caught! I blushed and we laughed, an awkward pause followed so I apologised and introduced myself, about to launch into a outburst about who we were and what we were doing. Catching me before i started my first syllable, he turned around and reached out his hand "Paolo" he said by way of introduction. We shook hands and exchanged names, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the scrap of paper, "Paolo who?" I asked whilst reading the carefully written name on the paper - they matched! How could that happen?
Less than 3 hours later we had somewhere to stay in the hostel down the street, a job to start the next day and could relax for a while. The beds felt comfortable and cool, sleep quickly over took us, by the time we awoke and wandered back to the cafe, the grills were empty and the pork all gone.
"Tomorrow" said the guy behind the counter,"11am - and don't be late, it sells out quick."