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Bake-Off Fougasse

Story location: Home / Blog / tv /
01/Oct/2016

We have been fans of the Great British Bake Off since it first started and occasionally I cook something inspired by the programme. This week they did a Fougasse, which I hadn't heard of but looked good. The version on the programme was flavoured with herbs but I thought I would start with a plain version then try flavoured ones another time.

I followed the bread part of the recipe precisely, scaling it down a bit since I didn't need two loaves.

  • 300g (2¼ cups) of bread flour
  • 6g salt
  • one sachet of yeast
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 200 ml warm water

The method involved adding ¾ of the water at the start, then slowly adding the rest, using a food mixer with a dough hook. I followed it to the letter, including the 8 minute mixing time.

I actually split the dough in 2, adding extra flour to one half to use for a pizza base. The other half I left as-is and shaped into an approximate leaf shape and cut down the middle and diagonally from the centre.

After about an hour or so proving, I transferred the bread, still on the baking paper, onto the pizza stone and baked it (at gas mark 7) for 15 minutes.

Fougasse

It looks a bit irregular (or informal as Mary Berry might say) but that was mainly because it slid off the tray while I was getting ready to transfer it to the pizza stone. We ate it with some dips. I made the cheese and courgette dip again, but this time using cream cheese and pecorino instead of goats cheese. The fougasse was good. The outside was crispy while the inside was soft and fluffy. The dip was cheesy and went well with it.

Next time, I will add some extra flavours to the bread. Possibly garlic and chilli or parmesan/pecorino. We have some fresh herbs in the garden (and more chopped in the freezer) so I could also do Paul Hollywood's herb version too.



Reverse Gear

Story location: Home / Blog / tv /
01/Jul/2013

I was watching the new episode of Top Gear on the BBC iplayer and I noticed something slightly dodgy during one sequence. Co-presenter Richard Hammond was pretending to hide from one of the guests (Mike Rutherford from Genesis) when I noticed the picture had been reversed.

Top Gear in Reverse

I wouldn't have noticed if it hadn't been for the 'SONY' boxes on the floor and the box of kitchen foil on the table.



The Indian Doctor

Story location: Home / Blog / tv /
04/Mar/2012

Earlier today we finished watching the Indian Doctor, which is a BBC TV programme which was on every day last week. I don't know why the BBC decided to show it during the day on weekdays, when it would be much more suitable as a Sunday evening show, and would almost certainly have higher audiences. At least there is the iPlayer on-line catch-up which let us watch it without having to bother setting the video.

The series features Sanjeev Bhaskar as the eponymous doctor, working in a Welsh mining village. The second series covered a smallpox outbreak in the village and features a lying hypocritical preacher, fresh from work in Africa, who tried to hinder the doctor at every step. I can almost imagine the Daily Mail newspaper working itself up to a fury over the storyline with its pro-vaccine and anti-christian sentiments.

The Daily Mail seems to be the UK representative of the American right wing, being very pro-christian and anti-science. The paper regularly contains stories dismissing global warning and sneering at any scientists who believe in it. It is also very favourable towards alternative medicine even when there is no evidence to support it, and regularly espouses the benefits of 'detox', even though the latter is based on myth and lies and is no better than simply eating healthily for a while.

At least the paper doesn't appear to have joined the anti-vaccine movement though. A quick search of vaccine related stories on the website all seem to be in favour of vaccines to prevent disease. For that we should at least be grateful.



A second go at making sourdough

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
18/Feb/2012

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.

Sourdough Rising

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 Finished Sourdough

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.



Cheese Sauce and Sourdough Bread

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
05/Feb/2012

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.



Heston's Cheese Sauce

Story location: Home / Blog / tv /
01/Feb/2012

We were watching the latest episode of How to cook like Heston on Channel 4 and he was demonstrating his method of making a cheese sauce and then using that to make a macaroni cheese. I was in the middle of cooking a chicken, sweet potato and butternut squash curry but I thought "I'd rather be eating that instead".



Not Following Heston's Roast Chicken Recipe

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
29/Jan/2012

We both really enjoy roast chicken so when Heston Blumenthal's latest TV series (How to Cook like Heston) covered chicken in last week's episode, we had to see it. He presented a novel way of cooking a chicken which began with an overnight soak in brine, in a similar manner to cooking a ham. The actual cooking was done at a very low temperature (gas mark ¼) instead of the usual gas mark 6.

We didn't plan our chicken roasting in advance and hadn't done the brining, so today I just did my normal roast chicken recipe. The only real similarity with Heston's is that we both remove the string which trusses the chicken so the heat can get to the legs and side of the breast better. I filled the cavity with a few cloves of garlic and a sprig each of thyme and rosemary to give a bit of extra flavour to the meat. I rubbed vegetable oil on the skin and sprinkled some stock granules all over.

We have a roasting tray with a rack inside and a lid, so I put about half a centimetre of water in the bottom of the tray, sat the chicken on the rack, put the lid on top and put the chicken in the middle of the oven at gas mark 6 for an hour. The water will create plenty of steam which will keep the meat moist while it cooks.

After the hour was over, I removed the lid and let the chicken carry on cooking for just under an hour to let the skin go crispy. The end result was a well-cooked tender chicken with thin crispy (and tasty) skin. The juices which collected in the bottom of the tray, along with the herbs and garlic, will be used later on when I make a chicken stock.

The chicken legs and wings (along with some of the crispy skin) are going to be blitzed with some mayonnaise and a sprinkle of salt to make a sandwich spread for tomorrow's lunch.



Starling Number Six

Story location: Home / Blog / tv /
15/Aug/2011

I was watching the third episode of the BBC series The Code and the presenter, Marcus du Sautoy, was watching the movement of a flock of starlings. All of a sudden the birds formed the shape of a number 6. The event went completely unnoticed by the presenter but from the screen grab below it looks like he had his eyes closed at the time.

Starlings making a number 6

The event occurred at 12m23s into the programme.



Being in Chicago

Story location: Home / Blog / usa /
31/Mar/2011

I'm in Chicago for a week, attending a conference. We got here on tuesday but our luggage didn't arrive until last night thanks to our 1st plane being late and the airline not having enough time to transfer the luggage over to the 2nd plane. Unfortunately my laptop charger was in the luggage so I had to restrict computer use because I didn't want the battery to run down and leave me unable to do any work.

I'll upload some photos eventually but I'll just waffle on slightly at random for a few minutes first.

There seem to be a lot of 'news' style programmes on in the mornings and I found myself watching a lot of 'Good Morning America' on ABC but I had to give up because they were spending so much time talking about the upcoming Royal Wedding. I'm sure I've seen more about it here than back home.

I really can't watch Fox News. It seems to be aimed at 10 year olds, or at least aimed at people who like inane comments and slightly stupid sounding presenters.

Why did CNN give Pierce Morgan the Larry King job? Surely they could have found someone better, or at least less annoying.

About half the adverts seem to be for pharmaceuticals of various types. A lot of these have a spoken warning at the end which seem to imply that one of the side effects might be death. I know they have to be careful and try to cover all eventualities but that would put me off wanting to take some. Also I mocked an advert for a product aimed at people who couldn't produce enough tears and so needed something to lubricate their eyes. I really wouldn't have thought there was a huge need for such a product and couldn't understand why it was being advertised so much. That was until I spent 2 days in an over-air-conditioned conference centre which seems to be sucking all moisture from my body. Now I understand. If most offices are as bad as that then there is definitely a need for the product, but surely a simpler solution would be just to turn the air conditioning down a little. Where I am right now, there is a bridge between the conference centre and the hotel and there is often a howling gale blowing though, probably caused by an imbalance in the air conditioning in the two buildings.

OK, I spent longer prattling about medicines and air conditioning than I really intended. One thing which has impressed me about Chicago is the public transport. The buses and trains are cheap at $2.25 for a journey or $23 for a pass which is valid for an entire week. This even includes a trip from the airport to the city centre. The buses also have a loudspeaker which gives the name of the next stop or road junction, which makes it really easy to find out where you are and when you need to get off. This is so much better than the buses in Coventry, which are expensive and not part of a properly 'integrated transport' system and half of the drivers don't seem to know their route very well so if you try to ask them if they go past a particular place they can't or won't answer you. The 'Travel West Midlands' company which runs most of the Coventry bus service can't even be arsed putting prices on its website so as an infrequent bus user it's a pain finding out the prices because all the buses are 'exact change only'. The Chicago buses are also exact change, but since all journeys are the same price and that price is well publicised, it's a much friendlier system.

Beer is quite expensive here with pints being between $5-8 depending on bar and type of beer, but a lot of bars seem to stock a good range of 'proper' beers and not just industrial factory-made tasteless lagers. I've been impressed with the beer selection in most of the places I've been to so far.

Food in bars is reasonably priced and of course the portions are enormous. We've not been disappointed by either size of quality. Food in shops is quite expensive, with fruit often costing $1 a piece and snack bars are at least that much too. I was terribly disappointed with the american Tropicana juice. Back home, Tropicana is a premium brand and is nearly all 'freshly squeezed' or at least not from concentrate. All the juices I've seen so far here have been made from concentrate and have other flavours added, usually listed as something like 'Naturally occurring flavours not from Orange' or something similar. The flavour is nowhere near as good as the UK Tropicana.



Rocky Horror Picture Show

Story location: Home / Blog / films /
13/Feb/2011

Last week we watched the episode of Glee which featured the cast performing songs from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It made me want to watch the film again, which we did last night. I have mentioned in the past that I'm not a fan of musicals but the Rocky Horror Picture Show is one exception. The less said about the sequel, Shock Treatment,the better.

I got our old VHS video recorder set up so we could watch the old tape of Shock Treatment, just to remind myself how bad it is compared to RHPS. The songs are very lacklustre (apart from Bitchin' in the Kitchen), and the story (mainly a parody on TV taking over society) isn't as interesting. The film is trying too hard to be quirky and could really do with a strong character such as Frank-N-Furter.

My 'first impression' of the film was that it felt like someone trying to make a bad musical but that might be a little harsh. The film completely lacks the 'fun' element which made Rocky Horror great.



Good Food Show

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
25/Nov/2010

We went to the Good Food Show at the NEC today. The ticket included entry to the Saturday Kitchen, a live version of the BBC TV show hosted by James Martin. It featured a lot of the usual items from TV, including the Omelette Challenge (with guest chef Lawrence Keogh) and wine tips from Olly Smith. The celebrity guest today was 80s singer Paul Young (who has started to look a lot like Gary Glitter as he's got older). The chefs cooked a spiced breaded chicken for him (a bit like home-made KFC).

Back to the show, we noticed garlic and chillies seemed to feature prominently. There were a few stalls selling garlic bulbs, including some Elephant Garlic where the individual cloves were bigger then normal garlic bulbs. We tried quite a lot of chilli based foods, including chilli sauces, cheeses, chilli vodkas and liqueurs.

Each year I normally manage to eat something new and different. This year it was a scorpion. One of the vodka stalls had a jar filled with scorpions and the bloke there dared me to try one. It tasted of vodka but it wasn't a very pleasant experience. I had to chew it a lot before I could summon the courage to swallow. The texture wasn't very nice and I'm sure I could feel all the legs as I chewed.

I also 'ate' some gold flakes, but that was much more pleasant. The first bit of gold was from an sample of Goldschlager. I'd never tried it before - I first heard of it several years ago in Wetherspoons. Someone in the queue ahead of me tried to order it and the bartender mis-heard and thought they wanted a Grolsch Lager. The second bit of gold was a sample of a sparkling wine which contained gold flakes.



Week 33: Curry and Naan bread

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / recipe_a_week /
20/Aug/2010

We saw the naan breads being made on the Saturday Kitchen on TV and it looked so easy we decided to give it a go. We followed the recipe from the BBC web site but needed to add a few extra tablespoons of water to get the dough to come together properly. We also found that gas mark 1 was a bit low so turned the oven up to 2 and gave them a few more minutes.

The naan bread tasted like 'proper' bought ones. The black onion seeds are vitally important and give the bread most of its familiar flavour.

Curry and Naan

We served the naan breads with our chicken korma, and washed it down with a glass of Indian wine. The wine was an Indage 'The Grey Count' chenin blanc and went rather well with the curry. The wine was ok on its own but the spiciness of the curry seemed to bring out more flavour if you take a sip immediately after a mouthful of curry.



Moth Potpourri

Story location: Home / Blog / house /
14/Aug/2010

In the second series of the BBC TV series 'Grow your own drugs', James Wong gave a recipe for a herbal moth repelling mixture. We haven't had a problem with moth-eaten clothes but we do sometimes get a lot of tiny moths in the house.

The recipe calls for sage, rosemary and wormwood. We already had sage and rosemary in the garden so I bought some wormwood seeds. It took a few months for the plants to be big enough to pick the leaves but a few weeks ago I picked some of each herb and spread them out to dry.

I put some of the dried herbs in a small bowl in the living room and after a few days it seemed to be working - there are definitely fewer moths in the room. I have since read that moths don't like cloves so I added a few cloves to the bowl first.

This morning I made up some of the moth repelling sachets, adding a couple of cloves to each. I didn't have any muslin so I cut an old tea towel into squares and used that instead. The material was a bit too thick so they were a bit fiddly to make. I put the sachets in the wardrobes and on the bedroom shelf so I will see if they make a difference.



Britains Best Dish

Story location: Home / Blog / tv /
28/Apr/2010

Last week I received an email from someone at ITV - they had seen my blog and thought I'd be interested in entering the Britain's Best Dish competition. I'm not sure whether I should enter - you need to cook a starter, main & dessert but I usually just cook main courses.

I don't really have a 'signature dish' which I could use to show off. Also since I don't make desserts, I would have to choose one I really liked and learn how to cook it.

If anyone does want to take part their email address is bestdish@itv.com or phone them on 0871 62 66 222.



Day of the Aloe Vera

Story location: Home / Blog / tv /
29/Dec/2009

I am currently watching the new BBC adaptation of The Day of the Triffids. It's ok but they have made rather too many changes. It's ages since I read the book so I can't remember all the details but the original Triffids couldn't move very quickly, unlike the ones here. The original ones would kill a victim then patiently wait for it to decompose. They also couldn't reach out and pull people towards them. I never imagined them to look like angry Aloe Vera plants.

The book had slower pacing, which gave time for the characters to develop. They obviously decided to speed things up to make the adaptation more dramatic. The narration in the book helped create the atmosphere, making the events seem scarily plausible. Unfortunately this is lost in the tv version.

I can't remember the exact details of the original ending, so it doesn't matter that I'm posting this before the programme finishes.

Occasionally the programme felt like Aliens: The Vegetable Edition.