Friday, 29 February 2008

Daring Bakers - French Bread

This is Sarah reporting for the Daring Bakers the time - 15:00, the date - 29th Feb, the challenge - to make French Bread that takes about 10 hours and blog about it today!!

Step by Step

Bread & I are not friends. I can make a fab no knead loaf and a brilliant low GI seed loaf but they both have one thing in common - they are easy. They represent no challenge to anyone, you simply mix, leave to rise and then cook. Julia Childs French Bread on the other hand is a long winded as a French lunch break.

15:05 - I have messed up already. I have halved the recipe as we don't eat much bread and I am not certain enough to give any away. I forgot to halve the water. I was wondering why the hell the dough was sloppy, its because I used double the amount of water I needed. Instead of being intelligent and just making up more yeast and measuring the flour I have been daring (stupid) and just added until it feels right. Oh God this is going to be a disaster but for comedy's sake I will continue with the challenge.

15:24 - maybe everything will be fine I have battered the dough gently with my dough hook and it feels silk soft maybe a little tacky but my add flour instinct may be right after all. I am putting my baby to bed for the first rise, I will walk the dog during this period.
15:25 - Maybe everything won't alright I have no plastic with which to cover my bowl to enable my baby to rise. I hope aluminum foil will work just as well....

16:30 - It rises! It rises! I couldn't resist peaking, I am nervous and excited what if I don't love my baby?

16:50 - I am going to need drinks to see me through this long dark night. I am thinking raspberry daquiris and lemon drops will help. I am going out for supplies.

17:30 - I have my first bubble. I can't stop peeking which may of course ruin the end result...

17:35 - My first bubble has deflated. I must stop peeking...

18:30 - It appears to be growing warts, I am not sure I am going to love my baby...

18:54 - Dough deflated and turned into a puffy, yeasty pillow. Have sent boyfriend to collect drinking, I mean baking buddy for the evening. I can not leave such a young baby on its own.

19:00 - I must make supper, starting to chop tomoatoes for salsa, need to make burgers, potatoes and salad. Must also make a start on cocktails oh yeah must do that!

19:30 - 1 lemon drop down, 1 bag of chips with guacamole and 1 quesadilia. Oh yeah baby is rising again tough little sucker!

20:00 - Another lemon drop, scared but take a peek at baby. Its time. I remove carefully whilst Claire makes more drinks. The blender is off putting but I manage it without mishap. I shape the soft baby into 2 vague rounds. (Lemon drops are potent, 2 shots of lemoncello & triple sec in each). Now I must, no they must rest....

20:30 - Another lemon drop. We eat homemade burgers, a little dry, with rosemary potatoes, a little overcooked, I forgot the garlic - damn. I must not cook when drinking!

20:40 - Rise my pretties. Rise.

20:50 - Another lemon drop.

21:10 - another lemon drop.....

21:20 - another lemon drop.....must rise, please rise....

22:03 - must put in oven, must have another lemon drop. Have now turned doughy pillows and placed in oven hoping for the best. Bugger have also burnt my finger. Double bugger have also drunk best part of a 2 bottles of booze. Also burnt thumb, I hate my baby.

22:21 - last lemon drop. Me & Claire now tired need sleep, bloody baby keeping us awake. Could do with another lemon drop or hot chocolate with cream and whiskey.

22:35 - Finally it is done. History will either celebrate or curse me. I can not try it until tomorrow .

22:54 - I am tired. I must go to bed. Please excuse the poor pictures but the professional photographer I live with has left his cameras in a safe at work. The shame. I will update tomorrow after tasting the unattractive baby.

Goodnight and sweet dreams. X

UPDATE: My bread was surprisingly good! The crust was crispy and it had a nice crumb and good flavour. I always get a great deal of satisfaction making bread but it was a very long recipe! Thanks so much to Mary and Sarah who must have spent hours making it such an easy to follow recipe and for challenging us with an 11 hour recipe, I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Muddy Landslide Cupcakes

It was the American's birthday smack bang in Lent. She has given up all things sweet for 40 days & nights but she relented for the big day and demanded cupcakes - she is from New York I think they are demanding. I couldn't make just any cupcakes as this was her one shot at sweet heaven before lent rules applied again so I figured mix together her favourite cocktail and cupcakes and there is a pretty good chance they will go down well.

Now the favoured cocktail is the mudslide - Tia Maria, Bailey's, Cream, Vodka - all perfect ingredients for a cupcake. Full of anticipation I made Tia Maria chocolate cupcakes but foolishly I used a new cupcake recipe instead of sticking to faithful Magnolia Bakery's. They were bland, they tasted like store cupcakes not home made, organic delights. I couldn't taste the coffee even though I added half a cup of Tia Maria and espresso powder and I couldn't taste the chocolate. You won't be getting the recipe - yuck!

My tasters did think they were good - Bobo however thinks anything someone else has cooked is good and same goes for Sam (I also think they are a little afraid of me). In light of this I figured a strong tasting frosting would be just the tickets so Baileys was the way to go. I was wrong. I did all the usual bits creamed butter added Baileys and sugar and more Baileys and again yuck. Too sweet, and strangely bland as well. Then it started to split and look very unattractive. I didn't take photos. Some poor souls ate them.

I was going to leave it at that but I also wanted to enter Cupcake Hero and knew my first efforts would not make the grade. The down side was I had already baked that week and Bobo tries to keep my efforts to a minimum - organic ingredients + yummy baked goods = shrinking wallet & growing tummy. I had to be sneaky, I planned and plotted and waited until he went out then I raided the kitchen with my well executed plan.

This time round I stuck to the Magnolia Bakery and tinkered adding ground almonds, Amaretto and almond extract. Oh these ones are good! The I made a chocolate buttercream and added Baileys to that and I have no idea how but it was the best textured buttercream I have ever made. Sadly I had made a half batch of these but they all went and Bobo managed 3!

Muddy Landslide Cupcakes (Chocolate and Amaretto Cupcakes)

(Adapted from Magnolia Bakery Cookbook)

1 Cup plain flour

1 Cup ground almonds

1tsp Baking powder

180g 70% Cocoa solid chocolate (I use Green & Blacks organic)

245g Soft salted butter

1 Cup golden caster sugar

1 Cup firmly packed soft brown sugar

4 large eggs

1/2 Cup milk

1/2 Cup amaretto

2 Tsp Almond extract

1 Tsp Vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180C.
In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour and the baking soda and add the ground almonds, then set aside. Place the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water on low heat for about 5-10 minutes. Stir occasionally until completely smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar till really fluffy and light, about 3 minutes on the medium speed of an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down and mixing well after each addition. Add the chocolate, mixing until well incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the combined milk, Amaretto and extracts, beating after each addition until smooth.

Fill your cupcake liners about 3/4 full and bake for between 20 - 25 mins, it really depends on your oven or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Transfer them to a wire rack and let them cool completely.

Chocolate Baileys Buttercream Frosting

340g Soft salted butter

280g Really good dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

250g Icing sugar sifted

5 - 6 tbs Baileys Irish Cream or similar

Melt the chocolate over hotwater as before and let cool for 5 - 10 mins so you don't melt your butter. (Although melted butter mixed with chocolate is filthy and gorgeous and I won't tell anyone if you don't).

Cream the butter for a min until smooth then add a spoon or two of the icing sugar. Pour in the melted chocolate and on a lowish speed mix until well combined. The point of the low speed is so you don't add air, you want a dense and velvet smooth frosting and lowish speeds and patience will help. Add a tablespoon of Baileys, mix (low speed) until combined then add a little more icing sugar. Keep going like this until you have added all the Baileys you want (keep tasting!) and all the icing sugar you want. I keep this fairly open as I like less sugar than most people and quiet a bit of Baileys but everyone is different thank God!

Frost your lovely little cakes and eat the left over frosting till you feel ill - I did...

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

No one is more commited... the idea of peas but peas from you in these circumstances is unacceptable. Very old joke that makes Bobo and Harry fall about laughing every time I cook peas. The joke must be done in your best Irish accent as it harks back to the days of Jerry Adams and Ian Paisley when they were trying to thrash out a peace (peas) deal.

Had these peas been on the table they may have been able to sort something out much more quickly. These peas are very, very acceptable indeed as well as easy to make and most comforting after a long hard day thrashing out deals.

I think the comforting thing is the cooking, glass of wine in hand you just chop a couple of things and then stir until you get the right consistency and then you can scoop it in to your mouth without having to cut anything. Perfect!

Just a quick word about rice. There are 3 types of rice suitable for risotto, the usual arborio which I find can go a bit mushy, carnaroli which I use as it holds it shape and bite whilst still being creamy and vialone nano which the Venetians use again it holds its shape but is smaller than the carnaroli.

Pea Risotto

Carnaroli rice - I used 180g for 2 of us
2 pints hot stock - chicken for me and on such a simple risotto make sure the stock is good as it is one of the main flavours. The stock will need to be kept on the heat whilst making the risotto
1 large shallot finely chopped
1 stick celery peeled and finely chopped - optional
1 slug - about 50ml - white wine or vermouth
large handful peas about 100g blanched or just defrosted
olive oil
parmesan cheese - freshly grated

Soften the shallot and celery in some olive oil (about a tablespoon) for 5 mins then add the rice. Stir the rice round until it is a little translucent at the edges then add the wine and stir the rice until it has been absorbed. Now for the exciting part, your first ladle of hot stock! Keep adding the stock a ladle at a time stirring - not all the time but don't leave it - until it has been absorbed before adding the next ladle.

All told this part will take about 10 - 15 mins but you will need to keep tasting the rice to make sure it is cooked the way you want it (a little bite but very very creamy).

Once cooked add the blanched peas and as much or little parmesan as you like stir them in and serve. So good I can't tell you!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Crazy about cake!

I have been lazy about posting some of things I have actually remembered to photograph. I am not sure why but when going back through my photos I found cupcakes and a birthday cake I never got round to putting on my site.

These are my halloween cupcakes:

These are birthday cupcakes for the Fantastic Mr Fred:

And this is Fantastic Mr Fred's birthday cake (you have to have both!):

Please forgive the crappy photos the last two were taken in my car on the way into work!

The cupcakes and the birthday cake are all chocolate - everyone's favourite at work - frosted with either white chocolate cream cheese frosting, chocolate buttercream or vanilla buttercream. I am a creature of habit and for all these used Magnolia Bakery's devils food cake, I love the real chocolate in the batter rather than cocoa which I find a little insipid on its own.

If you want recipes please do leave a comment & I will get back to you....

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Bang, bang Monday

So after Sunday night chicken we had leftovers and lots of them - that chicken was a monster! After making a sandwich of two there was still plenty left for a lightish supper and what better than spicy, nutty, crunchy salad to pep you up during a long British winter...

Bang, bang chicken originates in Sichuan, a small town in China, where street vendors would sell chunks of poached chicken covered in a spicy sesame sauce. Before serving the chicken they would beat it with a wooden cudgel know as a bang hence bang bang chicken.

My version is stolen / borrowed from loads of recipes and is more of the bung it all taste and add more as need variety. However please do try it it is divine, creamy, savoury, moreish, I could go one but I won't.

Bang Bang Chicken

2 Chicken breasts - poached or left overs ripped off the carcass are fine, in fact any bits of chicken you have

Drizzle vegetable oil

2 chillies finely chopped- I used red but any colour will do

2 tsps roasted sesame oil

3 tbs peanut butter - crunchy or smooth whatever you have

1 tsp grated ginger - or half a teaspoon dried ginger although fresh is nicer

1 tsp soy sauce - or more to taste

2 tsps brown sugar

1 tbs rice wine vinegar - or white wine vinegar

1 tsp tahini (optional - don't bother buying specially for this!)

1 tbs sesame seeds - or more!

Salad - I use crunchy green stuff like iceberg lettuce, cucumber, beansprouts, spring onions. For me it must all be green or white but I am fussy like that...

In the drizzle of veg oil fry the chillies and ginger for a minute or 2 being careful not to burn them. Then turn off the heat and chuck in the sesame seeds, peanut butter, soy, sugar, vinegar, tahini and sesame oil. Mix it all together until it forms a runnyish paste, taste and adjust seasoning as you see fit. Shred you chicken and pop on top of your salad then generously drizzle on the sauce. Mmmmm.....

Monday, 4 February 2008

Sunday Night Chicken and a lecture...

I love chicken, bronzed, crispy skinned and juicy. You can't beat it for Sunday lunch or Sunday evening with loads of bread sauce. I mean how beautiful does this little, well quite large really, bird look:

This is one of Waitrose's Poulet D'Or chickens. They are bred from slow growing French birds (a little like rare breed meat) so must be left for a minimum of 81 days so they taste like real chicken. They are fed corn and cereals as well as having unlimited daylight access to the outdoors to forage. They are kept in large barns overnight (1,300 per barn) and whilst they are chicks so it is not ideal but it is a close as I can get until Bobo earns more money and we can have a small holding.

Chicken welfare has been thrown into the public eye in the UK lately with celebrity chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstale and Jamie Oliver trying to persuade the UK public to only by free range. The majority of chickens sold in this country are raised in large sheds which they never leave until slaughter time after 39 days of life. The chickens raised in these sheds have been bred to grow quickly in order to maximise profit and reduce costs. The problem is with rapid growth and unnatural conditions the chickens begin to suffer problems with their legs, lungs and hearts. This leads to about 5% of all chickens raised being culled before their 39 days are up, these chickens will never see a vet. These chickens also live about 40,000 to a shed.

It is well worth looking at the Waitrose web site to learn more about their chickens, they have videoed their 'Farm Assured' chickens to show how they are raised. Interestingly they have made improvements - increasing the natural day light, giving more room (although they do not say how mch more room) and they add things like straw bales to help with boredom. However the video does not show them once they get near to slaughter date so they seem to have lots of room and if you look at the chickens they all look shabby - feathers missing etc and quite lethargic.

Take a look at the organic free range chickens and you see a different story, you see real chickens running around plump and happy looking. These guys get to spend half their lives outdoors and aren't slaughtered for at least 70 days. They use a 'slow' growing bird - really a bird that grows at the right speed - so they do not have the issues with legs, heart and lungs (running around also helps these problems disappear).

What we should remember when buying chickens is they are all commercially produced so the conditions will never be a nice as we would like. At some point they will be cramped, many will die due to unnatural conditions and they will never taste as good as they will from a farmer that has only a few that get lavished with love. BUT you can and should know how your food is produced before you buy it so that you can decide if a chicken should cost £5.00 for 2 or if it should cost £10.00 for a free range bird or £19.00 like the Poulet D'Or ones.

Because I want taste and comfort that my chicken had tons of room in his shed and field and as long a life as possible I go for the Poulet D'Or ones every time. I just have less and use every last bit carcass included so a £19.00 chicken will feed the two of us 5- 7 meals roughly £3.00 per meal.

I think that as a nation we have become very lazy with the way we cook and eat because food is so cheap. We have become fat and unhealthy and very out of touch with nature if we think that a chicken should be 39 days old at slaughter and a pig at 3 months. Meat should be a treat not an every day necessity and so I think supermarkets should put their prices up and we should all think a little bit more about what we eat.

End of lecture! Please excuse the rant however this topic really winds me up! Anyway here is a piccie of Bobo about to tuck into the tasty chicken which I served with spicy lentils (GI diet thing) and peas because I was too lazy to do anything else....

The spicy lentils are really easy and although they look brown and uninteresting they are really sooo tasty.

250g Puy lentils

1 Onion

2 cloves garlic - finely chopped

1 - 2 chillies (however many you want) - finely chopped

Few strands rosemary - finely chopped

Glass red wine

1 Pint chicken stock

Wash the lentils, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 10 mins until soft on the outside but still hard in the middle.

Finely chop the onion and fry in a little oil, when translucent add the garlic, rosemary, garlic and chilli. Fry all these for a few mins and then add the red wine, let this bubble away until you have about 2 tablespoons left then add the drained lentils. Stir them round and then add the stock, check for seasoning and chilli then leave the lentils for about 10 - 15 mins until they are al dente and most of the chicken stock has gone.

These are also great cold with cold chicken and salad....