Tea time

tea

Today is international tea day and what better way to celebrate than a nice cuppa Ceylon Assam with a piece of homemade chocolate cake. As a tea junkie I am all for celebrating this wonderful beverage and find that even in the most stressful situations tea has a calming effect.

cake

Meanwhile it has been a busy week on the cooking front so here are a couple more food porn photos to drool over.

fruit

Fresh fruits of the forest (Supermarket actually) with whipped cream and my first homemade meringues using some left over egg whites. The meringues turned out perfect, light and powdery crispy. It won’t be the last time. Below a loaf I made earlier in the week, which turned out to be the best so far but there is still room for improvement.

bread

Nettle soup

As I wandered down to check on the sheep this morning a vast expanse of stinging nettles growing out of control caught my eye. Waist high they stretched for hundreds of yards. For a brief moment I wondered, ‘what are we going to do with them!’ The sheep are clearly not interested in them, having acquired a taste for brambles and yellow flowers, which I am still trying to identify (common broomweed maybe).

The wilderness here is an ever present challenge, especially as the sheep roam freely and there are many hazards, particularly the fast growing brambles. Still, I was preoccupied with a myriad of other tasks and thought no more about it. Just another thing added to my mental ‘to do’ list, which fades into infinity.

Later that day I was looking at YouTube videos on how to make meringue and came across one video on nettle soup. WOW! I thought that could be the answer. There are enough stinging nettles to start a nettle soup factory. I had heard about nettle soup but it was the sort of thing no sane person would make these days when you can buy a nice carton of asparagus soup at the supermarket. Nevertheless nettle soup seemed to have a lot going for it and not just because it was virtually free. It was supposed to taste very good and came with lots of goodness, such as vitamin C.

nettle-soup

I decided I had to try it and promptly returned to the stinging nettles to harvest some for a soup. Meanwhile I had learned that springtime was best time and to only pick the young top leaves and avoid flowering plants. Well, it’s almost summer now and most plants had begun to form flower buds. I may have been a week or two late but with such a large crop it was not difficult to find enough young leaves for the soup. I returned with a bucket full, picked out the smaller leaves and put them into a bowl of water to which I added a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.

I then followed (loosely) the YouTube recipe: YouTube video (Atomic shrimp)

  • Sauté chopped onions in butter or olive oil,
  • Dice two potatoes
  • Boil vegetable/chicken stock and add diced potatoes and onions
  • Once potatoes are almost done add washed nettles.
  • Cook for a further 5-10 minutes
  • Puree
  • Add whatever you fancy, I added some leftover whipped cream, but sour cream, milk, non dairy products could also be used.

This recipe used the potatoes as the thickener but a roux could be used instead or corn flour.

Verdict: It was great! Three further portions went into the freezer and tomorrow I will have one and take a photo of it for this post, which I forgot to do today.

I made a cheese souffle today to follow the soup …

cheese-soufflee

Apologies for the formatting on this page. WordPress have introduced a new interface called ‘Block’ (exciting name) which as usual is a pain to use, never does what you want it to and screws up everything you have done.

They call it progress! These programmers need to do a course in ergonomics instead of spending all their time with their heads buried in code language.

UBO

loaf

Is it a brick or is it a block of PU foam?

It’s hard to tell at first glance but this was in fact my first sourdough loaf and it certainly left plenty of room for improvement. Where did it all go wrong, if it did indeed go wrong at all. Gorging on ‘how to’ YouTube videos left me brain fogged so that instead of following one recipe carefully, I mixed various recipes together, a sure fire recipe for disaster.

– Was my sourdough starter ready? Well, it did float in water.

– Was it a mistake to prove it overnight in the oven rather than the fridge?

– Did I knead correctly and for long enough? Well my biceps are twice the size now.

– Was it a mistake to keep adding flour because the dough was so wet? (probably)

The final proving (after 24 hours) was done in a bread tin where it did, much to my delight, manage to rise to the rim (300gm flour). However it subsided somewhat after I slashed the top soon after putting it in the oven, having forgotten to do so beforehand. This may well have been a bad move, particularly as the knife was not too sharp and the sticky dough was dragged rather than cut cleanly.

Through the oven window I watched with mild despair as it sank in the middle, normally a sign that it had not been kneaded for long enough and lacked structure.

After cooking for 40 minutes at 210C, plus curing and leaving it to cool for half an hour, it did have a reasonable crumb but the crust was hard as apposed to crisp. It tasted OK but overall it was far from what I had hoped for and had all the visual appeal of concrete rubble.

Having had a run of less than reasonable successes recently I was really on the verge of abandoning the whole idea of baking my own bread. What makes it all the more frustrating is eight years ago I was baking bread in the same place and having nothing but successes. Could it be my oven? My age? Or maybe just bad luck. Certainly I am more forgetful these days, which does not help. At least I have sussed how to make a sourdough starter so there is hope yet for a perfect loaf in the future … with no yeast available and the lock-down continuing there is nothing else to do but try again.

Pizza janfe

pizza

It’s only the second time I have had homemade pizza but I have to say both were better than anything I have ever had in restaurants. In my twenties I spent many lunchtimes in and around Munich eating pizzas and have had them in Turin and Milan, although I have never eaten one in a Pizza hut or similar establishment. Once in Turin I ate one that was claimed to be the best pizza in the world. None of these came close to my homemade ones. So here is my recipe:

Firstly, NO Mozzarella! … The long rubbery strands of chewy cheese I can really do without and maybe that is why I prefer my own homemade ones to those in restaurants. The only way to eat Mozzarella is sliced uncooked with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, basil and vinaigrette together with a buttered French baguette.

My pizzas may not be 100% authentic but who cares if it tastes better.

Homemade dough:

Plain flour, yeast, salt, sugar, oil, water.

Topping :

Tomato: Tinned squashed whole tomatoes*/ whatever, fresh, tinned, sauce…

Cheese: Cheddar, Parmesan, Allgäuer*/ variable, whatever, just no Mozzarella

Onion: Shallots*/ or whatever type you prefer, red, white, green, spring …

Salami: Chicken salami*/ whatever … pepperoni

Chili: Chili peppers aka peperoni*/ whatever, depends on how hot you like it.

Black olives and capers*

* Indicates ingredients in the pizza pictured.

Normally I would have also added oregano but as I had none I added a few fresh basil leaves instead.

Had I known beforehand that I was going to post it on my blog I would have spent a bit more time on its visual appearance but that’s for another time.