Category Archives: food

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs. A part of me thinks that doing a blog post about breadcrumbs is a bit strange, I mean what can we really say about breadcrumbs that we haven’t already ? They come from bread and well errrrrrm are then turned into crumbs which can be used in cooking. Blog post over, or maybe not.

In the spirit of Self and Roots and the fact I bake usually 2 to 4 loaves of sourdough bread a week, there are times when there is bread which has hit the stale point. It’s easy to have the odd bit of bread still in the bread bin, perhaps over a weekend we haven’t been in much to use the bread for toast. The bread may be then used for croutons or crositini. If not, at the very end of my bread life my loaves are then turned into breadcrumbs.

Fresh breadcrumbs are easy to make, all you have to do is use a box grater to grate the bread, these crumbs can come in handy for all manner of dishes, a favourite is to use the crumbs by seasoning them with olive oil, salt and pepper and thyme – they are then topped on a casserole or a stew and are then cooked in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes to add texture to a dish.

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Dried breadcrumbs useful as they keep well in the freezer and you can use them for up to 3 months. To do this I slice the bread up, tear it into golf ball sized bready pieces and then put the bread in a low oven (around 120c) for 2 hours. The bread is then left to air dry for an hour to make sure every last bit of moisture has left the bread, I then put the pieces in a food processor and make the crumbs. They are then stored in a sealed bag in the freezer ready to be used whenever needed.

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Another point without being evangelical (as I did in my sourdough blog post) with regards to real bread, if you do make your own bread you avoid the many emulsifiers and treatment agents in shop bought crumbs. A really nice way of using the crumbs is to make a peasant type pesto, chopping up 2 handfuls of mint, parsley and basil with half a clove of garlic, olive oil, seasoning and a handful of crumbs makes a pleasant crunchy pesto that can be used in all the usual pesto ways.

A DIY approach in the kitchen cuts down on food waste, makes more ingredients for cooking and is a lot cheaper on the wallet. Go forth and breadcrumb.

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Chooks

We have had our chickens since April 2014 so they have just turned one. I am not sure why I have not put a blog post up yet on the chickens, maybe its due to the chooks just being about all the time and not popping up like plants do in the garden, but I do sense I should be celebrating our two little hens via Self and Roots as they are very special to us. We also have a goldfish in the house who is named J Gilla (a play on names from a personally much-loved hip hop producer J Dilla) so Beck and I have our own little platoon of creatures that live with us, well three animals and us two but it feels that way.

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Our chickens came with trouble when we had them, my dad hatched the hens at his home and we inherited three chicks which lived contentedly until one started to crow, the evening my dad dropped off the chicks he warned us that he thought one might be a cockerel, his animal intuition came true and we faced an issue of having to rehouse a cockerel in a world where cockerels are not needed as much as hens are.

We did find a home through a small holding forum eventually and the cockerel was sent to a large small-holding in the Midlands on a warm Sunday morning, there were tears from Becky and a feeling of responsibility and a little shame with being blinded with cuteness and rearing little chicks as they were so endearing. In reality we should have got point of lay hens, we were delivered with our first lesson in animal care with having to rehouse an animal which wasn’t very cool.

We got home that night, moved on to being more optimistic but only for another twelve hours as the next hen the following morning started crowing. It felt like a bit of a shitty joke nightmare at first, within two weeks we had to re-home two of our hens.

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Then we had to find another hen as hens can’t be left on their own, on the second guilty drive home we went to a hen breeder in South Staffordshire and picked up a Maran hen and settled her into her new pen. The only hen from the three first chickens established a pecking order quickly by starting a tussle with the new hen, the maran won the pecking order and by the first week had established her role as the dominant hen. It was a reasonably taxing couple week but once the blame disappeared and the hens became acquaintances we felt back on track.

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Without over humanising the chickens, they are good friends and spend all day together – we let them out in the morning and in the evening when we get back from work. They are not much hassle, we use an Eglu to keep them housed and they have a run which is extended with additional Eglu fencing.

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The hens eat our greens and kitchen scraps that we give them; they enjoy meal worms and provide us with compost for the garden. They also have sweet personalities and their own social order, the maran is so soft to hold, pleasant to be around and loves being fussed, the white hen who was the runt of the chicks is a little smaller and ballsy, she doesn’t hesitate to peck us now and again to let us know if she is hungry and she is also willing to demonstrate how she wishes to be next in line with the order and dominance in the garden even if it’s against me and Becky.

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Their rent is paid through glorious eggs which are poached for brunch, scrambled for breakfast, frittata’d (is that a word?) for dinner. We flipped a lid when the first eggs came and we are so appreciative to be provided with not only a great learning curve in animal care but also produce which could be used by us in the kitchen. They were in our lives before the eggs came and even then they felt they were more than worth keeping. Keeping hens like all living things thrive when they have food, water and a pen to be safe in – they do need to be cared for, checked on a daily basis and you have to be interested in them. What cost us initially a few hundred pounds to set up has been a worthwhile experience, an experience that we cherish on a daily basis.

White Ladies go in

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For the past two years I’ve planted out runner beans on this bank holiday weekend. This year the White Lady variety have gone into the raised bed which is in a different part of the garden from last year to avoid disease, I’m using the raised bed for fill in crops – things like salads, radishes and now 6 runner beans plants that will climb a garden cane wigwam. I love planting these beans out and hope that the comfrey tea and a dig in of chicken manure into the soil 2 months ago will kick-start a good growth spurt. Summer for me just wouldn’t be Summer without a plate of runners, tomatoes and herbs.

Food Banks in 2015

One of the things that really hurts to see reported in the mass media is learning about how people are suffering with food poverty in the UK. Food poverty is on the rise and as a result we are seeing more food banks opening across the UK, the statistics provided by Oxfam in their yearly food poverty reports state that although the UK is the seventh richest country in the world many people are struggling to afford food and to stay nourished.

We live in the western world and fundamentally I feel food should be available to all, food should be cherished and respected and in essence it should be in a well looked after supply chain where food goes to every mouth in the country without people going hungry. We have the finances to do this, but we don’t do it and as a result 1 in 6 parents have gone without food to feed their children, 2 million people in the UK are malnourished and 3 million people are at risk of becoming malnourished.

Distribution of food in the community food banks can not build a culture of dependency but can only fight fires and these fires are hungry stomachs – people with low-income, benefit sanctions, destitution, people facing homelessness, loss of earnings – the list goes on. It is easy to see the food bank donation bins in supermarkets and walk past without considering where this food is going and who it is going to, it may be to the family in my area that I walk past when walking up my high street with my bags of shopping in my hand. This concerns me. I am lucky, I have a wage and as a result I can have food.

But people do not have wages and people go without food. Joanna Blythman in The Guardian on Thursday bought to readers attention ‘this pursuit of the hungry’  and how Paul and Kerry Baker a couple from Sunderland who became so desperate in their lives ended up stealing from the bins of their local Tesco. Tesco made an example with the couple by charging them both with thievery and sending them to court. Thankfully the district judge chucked the case out whilst also asking society how people like the Bakers were supposed to live and how the state had failed them.

We need solutions, we need to find ways of helping our local communities so we do not have people like the Bakers facing the problems of having to fend for themselves, communities need to understand that resource distribution is for them and not for wealthy corporations or government, the power is in our pockets even if their pockets are empty and that the right to eat isn’t just a human right but is a social right too. Yes, think about putting the UHT milk in the bin to help the poor sod who cant afford milk, think about also who you can speak to about making positive social changes in your area.

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To see the flyer above go through my door and for me to supply tins of food and pasta has made me think, it has made me angry and it has made me realise the supply change of food is momentarily fucked. I need to be part of the solution, I can’t just sit there and fend for myself in my own backyard. I need to think compassionately about my local area and the mouths that need feeding. Self reliance is not just about me or you, it is about everybody.

My first move this morning was to volunteer with my local food bank in Birmingham, any other ideas will be greatly welcomed in the comments box.

Rant over.

Gorse Flower Syrup

05/05/2015

Becky and I yesterday walked for what seemed a long distance but was really only a few miles taking in the views of the Shropshire countryside from the rock hills of Stiperstones ridge, we watched the clouds change with the weather whilst being treated to a natural landscape which reminded me of how beautiful British countryside can be.

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On the decline we picked a carrier bag full of Gorse flowers, it was a warm day so the smell of Gorse was in the breeze which gave off the scent of coconut and Summer holidays. Gorse can be found all over the British countryside, it flowers throughout the year but it’s best to pick new blossom in April or May. It’s also a very spiny bush, we didn’t have gloves but I would recommend using some when picking.

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Today I used the flowers to make a syrup for a cordial or to be drizzled over vanilla ice cream. Below is a simple recipe which has a few different recipes amalgamated off the Internet.

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Gorse Flower Syrup

  • 4 handfuls of gorse flowers or half a carrier bag full
  • 250g of caster sugar
  • 1 lemon juiced and the zest of 1 orange.
  • 500ml of water

Boil on a rolling boil the sugar and water for 10 minutes to create a syrup, after the 10 minutes in a large bowl pour the sugar syrup over the gorse flowers add the orange zest and lemon juice. Steep the flowers overnight or throughout the day. Once the petals have been steeped, place the flowers over another bowl and squash all the flowers through a fine sieve, add as much pressure as possible – there will be around 500ml of syrup with the recipe measurements. Pour into a sterilised bottle and store in a cool dark place.

Sourdough bread, and why you should bake it

28/04/2015

Yesterday evening I refreshed my sourdough starter before dinner and then built a preferment with flour, water and some of the starter. This morning, I woke up and used that preferment  adding flour, water, salt to then make one of my weekly breads. The bread was kneaded and then bulk fermented in my cool kitchen for just under 11 hours, the dough was then preshaped when I got back from work and then rested for 15 minutes. It was then placed in a circular banneton for its final prove until it was baked on ceramic tiles at the temperature of 230c with a first initial steaming for 10 minutes. Over all the whole process lasted just under 24 hours but really in actual ‘doing something’ time it was for about 20 minutes with 40 minutes baking time.

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I have been making sourdough bread and managing my own sourdough starter for just over 2 years. The first few months due to the plethora of information, and a little over zealousness, I got quite a few things wrong but had a few lucky and addictive moments a long the way. However, since learning the basics properly and getting to grips with some simple rules and understanding the management of a sourdough culture it has been a fantastic learning journey of baking real bread.

Sourdough bread is special, in simple terms it tastes incredible and it is bread that has a story far from supermarket bread. Imagine bread that has a full-bodied texture, a crumb which is soft and chewy and a crust that crackles loudly. Sourdough bread has its own character, it has an identity and each loaf from a bakery or a home is different in its own special way, it becomes part of the environment it has come from and the hands it has been made with.

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A lot of people who try sourdough bread baking place it in a  landscape of mythical magic. To be blunt, it is none of these. It just takes time, a little science and a bit of practice. When I make a good loaf of bread it creates in me an internal emotional reaction of pride and ability but also I feel safe in the knowledge I am being kind to my body, avoiding the countless additives and scary E numbers whilst also respecting the world by using organic flours, non chemical salt and fresh water.

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Like all good hobbies, researching and testing out ideas as well as enjoying the process of learning is important in bread baking. I am keen to upload a few recipes or things to try but at the moment I feel it is worth offering some advice and information on what helped me gather my own knowledge. There are some excellent websites, books and courses that have helped me, reflecting back they continue to be gold mines of information. If you do want to know more below are some recommendations on resources that I feel have been invaluable to my sourdough bread making process.

River Cottage Handbook – Bread

Written by River Cottage HQ baker Dan Stevens this book examines the ingredients and equipment needed to make bread, it explains the bread making process and also teaches you how to bake different types of breads including sourdough. What I found most valuable was the breakdown and steps of the bread baking task and the explanations of shaping and dough management. I used this book for months on end to make bread which was mainly with shop bought yeast but the lessons of bread science were invaluable. I always refer people to this book if they want to learn to bake bread, quite honestly it was a game changer for my kitchen, allowing me to understand bread baking and why it is so important.

Weekend Bakery Website

When I got to the point where I needed to stop making just OK sourdough bread I found The Weekend Bakery website through a recommendation on twitter, similar to the River Cottage handbook this website teaches the keen baker on improving their skills and developing as a home baker. Weekend Bakery refers to being ‘serious about artisan bread making. We have our own ‘at home micro bakery’. Making bread in small quantities with time and attention will deliver great and rewarding results’. I have never had an issue or problem with the WCB sourdough pain naturel bread recipe and I feel this is due to recipe instructions being clear and easy to understand without technical lingo. The website also has excellent photos, videos and a great comments section which is useful to gather a further understanding and sharing of information. I’d also recommend the rye starter plan and tips, I have followed the initial measurements with my own wheat starter which has kept it bubbling away nicely.

Andrew Whitley – Bread Matters: Why and How to Make Your Own

Andrew Whitley is a real bread evangelist, hero and campaigner. He teaches the reader about bread in its current state in the world but also flips that information to how the reader can make healthy and nutritious bread at home. 25 years of baking has led him to sharing his skills with passion and authority. He explains the science and offers a large amount of recipes, rye breads, sourdough, festive breads and also enriched bread too.

Real Bread Campaign

I love the Real Bread website it is a vessel of information. I love their page on what is real bread especially. It has information on baking groups, recipes and also a real bread bakery finder map. I would also urge membership subscription if possible.

Learn to bake Real Bread on a course

I have attended 2 bread baking courses, both of which were invaluable to understand the basics and understand what is needed to make bread well. Being taught from a baker in a group setting and learning the skills with a hands on approach (some of which are generations old) to bake bread helped me develop confidence to bake at home, going on a sourdough baking course taught me the finer details as well as the importance of understanding skills like water temperature management and starter maintenance.  If I can make only one recommendation for learning this  I feel would be the most useful.

I am keen to hear from other people who are interested in baking sourdough bread, to answer any questions/share tips, or just to chat to people who are baking bread too. Have you made sourdough bread, do you have any tips for readers or information to share ?

Wild Garlic

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25/04/2014

On the cycle home from work yesterday I picked a handful of Wild Garlic from the shady banks of the River Rea in Cannon Hill Park. Wild Garlic is growing in abundance at the moment and some of the shoots are now starting to flower, you can identify the plant by its scent as the air hangs with a light garlic smell where it is growing, it’s usually a stronger smell when the weather is warm and it is sunny. I’ve used the thin green biennial herb leaves in pesto and added the buds to pasta dishes to provide a pleasant onion taste.

image From March until it flowers at the end of May (sometimes as late as June) it’s worth grabbing a few handfuls to add to salads, or perhaps chopped up into mustard sauces for spring lamb or chicken. Go for the younger leaves and use the flowers to garnish soup like you would with chive flowers also. Wild Garlic is a fairly adaptable wild herb which offers a lot in cooking as much as a punch.

Wild Garlic Pesto

  • 50g of pumpkin/sun flower seeds
  • 75g of wild garlic, washed and then chopped
  • 30g of parmesan
  • Zest of lemon and juice to season
  • 100ml of olive oil
  • Seasoning

Toast the seeds in a dry pan until you can smell the seeds roasting, be careful as they can burn this will take around 3 minutes and you will hear a cracking sound once they are ready. Add all of the other ingredients to a pestle and mortar and breakdown the ingredients with the pestle until the it become a rough paste. Add the oil slowly until it becomes a sloppy puree. Add more lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Place in a clean jar, it can last for a few days if kept in the fridge.