Earlier this week I dug up a load of dandelion roots so I cleaned them and dried them so I could have a go at dandelion coffee. I dug out my copy of Richard Mabey's Food for Free and it was very vague so I looked up a few websites for more info.
In the end I roasted the roots at gas mark 6 until they were dry and crumbly (but they hadn't gone very dark), ground them up in a pestle and mortar and ended up with only 1 tablespoon of bits.
I put the bits in a jug, poured over a cup of boiling water and left it a few minutes before straining into a cup. I think I probably needed more roots because the drink was a bit weak but most noticeably it didn't resemble anything coffee-like at all (I am reminded of Arthur Dent and his cup of something which was "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea").
The flavour was like a cross between unsalted potato crisps and something a bit like parsnips. I'm not sure whether to try again the next time I dig up some roots but my first attempt wasn't great. At least it was better than the cornsilk tea or the hyssop tea, which were my previous attempts at drinks from the garden.
I saw these giant custard cream biscuits in the Costa near work and had to buy one. I photographed it next to a few normal sized ones for scale.
Back in 2010, I attempted to cook a new recipe every week. I am going to try to do the same this year. I received a total of 5 recipe books for Christmas so I will have plenty of scope for finding ideas and inspiration.
My final recipe of 2012 was a turkey pie, made in the style of a pork pie. I first came across the idea a while ago but it was only last week when I finally got around to having a go at making them.
The filling was made using turkey mince, turkey bacon, a finely sliced leek, a pinch of salt and a pinch of mixed spice. I tried to cook the pies in the traditional pork pie fashion, based on the method in a recipe from the Great British Bake-Off. I used well oiled glass tumblers as the 'pie dollies'. Although the pastry didn't stick to the glass, it didn't slide off easily because it formed a vacuum at the base. Even after half an hour in the fridge, the pastry was very soft and it collapsed slightly while I was filling it.
The resulting cooked pies tasted very good. The pastry was a bit thick but had a good 'pastry' taste to it. The filling worked very well too. I'll try again sometime but might use a pie dish so the pies hold their shape a bit better.
24 hours later, the pastry crust had gone crispy on the outside and the pie tasted even better. Apart from their saggy appearance and the soft base, I would have to describe them as a very successful first attempt.
Emma made these muffins, based on this recipe. One of the comments on the original post mentions how vague a 'large courgette' is as an ingredient. Since we had an enormous 'almost marrow' in the fridge, we thought that might be a bit too big. We didn't have any sun-dried tomatoes left but yesterday we bought a huge bowl of cherry tomatoes from the market so I cut some of those in half and put them in the oven for a few hours.
This year we seem to have a house full of chilli plants. There are several on the windowsills in both the upstairs and downstairs front rooms. The upstairs chilli plants get a bit more sunlight during the day and were the first to start to ripen.
This afternoon I noticed there were 3 bright red chillies so I harvested them to add to our regular saturday night pizza. They seem to have a decent amount of heat and flavour. There are a lot of green unripe chillies on the plants so it looks like it might be a good chilli harvest this year.
It has been a long time since I've been to Wing Wah (the all you can eat Chinese restaurant) in Coventry, so when Emma said she was meeting some people there for lunch and asked me if I wanted to join them, I agreed.
The food doesn't seem to have changed in the intervening period but people don't go there for a constantly varying or challenging menu. People go there because it is a great value eatery with good quality food (as good as you can reasonably expect for £s; 7 during the day).
One area where Wing Wah do sometimes get a bit imaginative is the presentation of their desserts. A few years ago I had a jam tart with a sprig of parsley on top so when I saw a jelly with what looked like a green bean on top, I expected the worst.
It turned out to be a sliced jelly sweet - the long tube shaped sweets with a fondant filling.
A few weeks ago I planted two pots of rocket and left them on the windowsill in the front room so they would get plenty of sunlight. I had two different packets of seed and thought it would be a good idea to compare them. Unfortunately I forgot to make a note of which pack went into which pot so now the rocket is grown, I have no idea which is which.
One of the packets is clearly doing better than the other, with the plants growing at roughly double the rate. Unfortunately this is the year when I forgot to label most of the things I planted. I have several different types of chilli pepper and tomato growing in various rooms of the house and in tubs in the garden but in most cases I have no idea what is growing where.
Some of the chilli plants are doing quite well and have a few flowers on them but the tomatoes aren't doing very well. A lot got eaten by slugs and some seem to have been affected by the bad weather and haven't grown an inch in several weeks. The courgettes seem to be doing ok so far so at least there will be some veg from the garden this year. The less said about the strawberries, the better. None of the seeds germinated. Same for the parsley. I will have to buy fresh seeds for next year.
My sourdough bread making experiments are continuing and this week I had a go at this recipe, which sounded interesting. I scaled it down a bit since it called for more starter than I had, and I only have a 400g loaf tin.
My scaled down recipe contained:
- 250g plain flour
- 30g rye flour
- 280g starter
- 1tsp turmeric
- zest of 1 orange
- juice of 1 orange (came to 70g)
- 20ml water
I did not need to add much water since my starter was quite runny. The original recipe called for '75% hydration' starter but I have no idea what the 'hydration' of mine is, since I add flour and water in a fairly irregular manner without keeping track of the exact amounts of each. This is the first recipe I have used which specifies a particular hydration of starter - equal weights of flour and water give 100%, which is how mine started off but over the weeks it will have changed quite a bit.
I deviated from the original recipe with the proving and rising steps too. Instead of putting it in the fridge for 9 hours, I left it in the cold oven overnight. The weather has recently turned cold again and the kitchen temperature is around 18c, significantly lower than the 23-25c specified.
I baked the loaf for about half an hour at gas mark 7 (equivalent to about 250c). The texture was good, with a hard crust on top and soft underneath. The orange flavour came through quite well but the turmeric was less noticeable. The only other times I have made spiced bread has been when I put chilli flakes in a pizza base. I will have to experiment with other spices and flavourings.
A couple of weeks ago I made a German Friendship Cake which was used a sweet yeast based starter. After making the cake I gave a portion of the starter to my mum so she could have a go at making it, and kept the rest of the starter going by repeating the feeding and stirring process.
I had read somewhere that the starter can be used to make pancakes. Since today is Good Friday, and the end of Lent, I thought it would be a good time to have a go at making them, so that Lent started and ended with pancakes.
I poured a few tablespoons of the starter into a hot oiled frying pan and cooked for a minute or so on each side. The pancakes started to bubble nicely and looked quite promising while they were cooking. The end result wasn't quite as good as I was expecting, they were still a bit doughy in the middle. I added a bit more milk to the mixture and gave it a second attempt.
The plain pancakes were a bit sweet but they went well with a bit of lemon juice. I didn't get the cooking time or temperature sorted properly since each pancake was still a bit soft in the middle. It was an interesting experiment but I will stick to the traditional pancake batter in future.
Just over a week ago I exchanged sourdough starters with a colleague in work. I gave her some of my wild yeast starter and in return I was given a tub of Herman starter.
The Herman starter mix is made using flour, sugar, milk and yeast. Unlike the traditional bread starter, which ideally should be fed every day, the Herman starter is only stirred each day and fed on the 4th and 9th days. The feed consists of equal quantities of sugar, milk and flour.
On the 10th day, the cake is ready to make. Take 1 cup of starter and add all the other ingredients, mixing well to make a stiff batter. As usual, I made a few substitutions based on what we had in the house at the time. I used:
- 1 cup of sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cups of plain flour
- ⅔ cup of vegetable oil
- 2 medium eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla essence
- 2 medium sized apples, chopped but not peeled
- 1 cup of dried mixed fruit
- 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp of mixed spice
- 2 tsp baking powder
I poured the mixture into a couple of loaf tins and sprinkled them with demerara and a little melted butter. I then covered them loosely with foil before baking them at gas mark 4 (180 °C). One of the cakes was ready after an hour, the other was in a deeper tin and took nearly twice as long.
The apples help to keep the cake nice and moist. I think it would work just as well with pears, and possibly using apricots instead of the mixed fruit.
Last year I bought a pack of seeds from Garden Organic at Ryton. It was described as 'Edible Leaves, Roots and Shoots' and contained a collection of wild plants which are commonly described as weeds but which are edible. I planted the seeds in a tub in the garden and last year I made some crispy seaweed from some of the leaves, and managed to save some Wild Mustard seeds from one of the plants which grew.
I left the plants over the winter but yesterday I decided to dig them up so I could reuse the tub for a more productive crop this year. I found two large roots:
This plant turned out to be Wild Carrot. I washed the root and had a chew on a small piece. It was very tough and fibrous but did have a slight carrot taste.
It took a bit longer to identify this but I managed to work out that it was Common Mallow. This is a relative of the Marsh Mallow, which gave its name to the soft and fluffy sweet. It is possible to boil the roots to extract a gelatinous substance which could possibly be used to make a version of the original marshmallow so today I decided to give it a go.
I peeled and chopped the root then simmered it in a small amount of water. I then whisked the slightly gloopy water with some caster sugar, vanilla essence and pink food colouring. The mixture was a bit runny and kept splashing everywhere so I cheated by whisking in some cornflour and returning it to the pan.
The end result was a soft sweet tasting jelly which did not resemble an actual marshmallow sweet at all.
Today is Pancake Day (or to be more traditional, Shrove Tuesday). Our pancake tea consists of Curried Chicken pancakes for main course followed by a couple of dessert pancakes which vary depending on what we have in the house but nearly always includes a traditional lemon juice and sugar pancake. This has been our tradition for at least the last 6 or 7 years.
The pancake recipe has varied but the one we usually do now came from Delia Smith's website and is fairly reliable.
In the past we have often used a tin of chicken in white sauce and added some curry powder but this year I cooked it from scratch by finely chopping 2 chicken breasts and frying them in a little oil. I made a thick roux and added curry powder, cayenne pepper and a little turmeric before stirring in the cooked chicken. The pancakes were filled with a couple of tablespoons of the chicken curry mixture then sprinkled with grated cheese before being rolled up and rapidly eaten.
We shared three dessert pancakes this year. They were filled with chocolate coated raisins, traditional lemon juice and sugar, and golden syrup.
I first tried making sourdough a couple of weeks ago but the results weren't completely successful. It tasted ok but the starter didn't rise very well and the resulting bread was quite dense. Shortly afterwards, the starter had begun to smell a bit vinegary so I decided to throw it away and start again.
I took inspiration from a couple of sources, including River Cottage and the Baker Brothers TV series. The starter consisted of half white bread flour, half spelt flour mixed with an equal weight of water. I dropped a grape into the mixture to provide the wild yeast. I fed the starter with flour and water every day (a tablespoon of each).
After a couple of days the starter was bubbling away nicely so I removed the grape and carried on feeding it, alternating using spelt flour and white flour. After a week, it was ready to use.
The recipe I followed had 300ml of starter, 500g of flour, 200ml of water and a generous pinch of salt. I used slightly less water since last time, the mixture was very sloppy. I left the dough overnight to rise, and cooked it this morning for just under half an hour at gas mark 8.
The resulting bread was much better than my last attempt. It was still fairly dense but had a better texture. I will try to remember to keep feeding the starter and over the next few weeks I'll try some different variations, including a sourdough muffin recipe which I read recently.
A couple of days ago I had a go at making Heston's cheese sauce. The big difference between his recipe and a traditional one is that you don't start with a roux. The sauce base was white wine and chicken stock, instead of milk. The wine was reduced then the stock was added and heated. The cheese was finely grated then mixed with cornflour before being stirred into the wine/stock mixture.
The end result was a very smooth sauce but the stock flavour was a bit too strong. I will experiment further but next time I might use milk and wine or milk and stock.
My next new recipe was a sourdough bread. This was based on the recipe from the Fabulous Baker Brothers TV series. I made the starter last week using spelt flour, and fed it each day with a bit more flour and water.
I made the dough yesterday and left it to 'prove' overnight before baking it this morning on the pizza stone at gas mark 8. For a first attempt I am reasonably happy with the results. Since the starter was fairly young, the 'sourdough' flavour was quite light but it was a good loaf. I have just realised that this is probably the first loaf of bread I have made completely on my own.
Next time I might make the dough a bit stiffer since I think this one was a bit wet and sticky. The bread had a big hollow bit in the middle, like a giant pitta bread, so we sliced it in half horizontally and made a fried egg sandwich for our breakfast.