Tag Archives: food

June sunshine and red currants

It is warm at the moment, today I was away from Birmingham for work in Oxford. I walked from my meeting in the centre of town to the office I work in just outside of Oxford city centre. I support the operations of the team who are based there. It was a sweaty walk, touristy too. Summer attracts a lot of people from all over the world into Oxford – visitors marvel at the architecture, history and academia on show. It is a beautiful city which feels more like a town, the limestone spires are enchanting and fairytale like.

My work also allows me to see the more hidden aspects of the UK, I have not mentioned this on Self and Roots before but as a job I work with the homeless, people who have to sleep on the streets, people who live in hostels or people who live on their friends sofa. I manage three services in three cities which is part of a small but busy national charity. The contact I make with homeless people is a daily occurrence. It is a tough job that is hard but thankfully at times very rewarding, even in the Summer heat the shine of a town isn’t present for me all the time and I do notice the harder lives people are living even whilst appreciating the charms of provincial England. Working in the homelessness sector gives you a juxtaposition of England and its many paradoxes – beautiful cities and towns where sadly there are people in these cities that are living such hard lives they do not have the time or the outlook to enjoy them.
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I got home today and sat in the garden, glad to be in the shade – I had a reheated bean stew with a poached egg from the chickens, it was nice to be calm for a while. Not really thinking but just being quiet. The red currants at the back of the garden are about to go red, the 2 bushes could do with cutting back and pruning this year, the red currant season is so short it will probably be this weekend that I harvest them.

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The gooseberry bush that I moved to a sunnier part of the garden has fruited also and has fruited all it’s going to fruit this year. These garden growths are blessed distractions and in truth are petty far from the real world I know of in my day job. I am glad that I have these things in a world which seems fairly nuts at the moment. Even though the red currants are just red currants, I am still truly thankful.

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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.

Meadowsweet

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21/05/2015

This Meadowsweet is growing in my local area in a small area of public grassland which is not tended by Birmingham City Council. Meadowsweet is a perennial plant growing native to Europe but also found in North America. It is a commonly used as a hedgerow herb which is more well-known for its small yellow clouds of flowers, at present this plant was not flowering but the leaves could be used to flavour wine, beer and vinegars. I will go back to this patch of grassland to pick the flowers which will then be used to make a cordial.

 

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 ?

An April evening

23/04/2015

This has to be the driest April since I can remember, Spring so far has not felt like a flash in the pan but more a seasonal event which has stayed with us. Today I walked through Oxford city centre to a work meeting, the last of the magnolia flowers were showing from the university gardens and it was truly warm, it was almost t-shirt weather.

With this kind of weather I made a gardeners risk two weeks ago with planting some butterhead lettuce seedlings in the raised bed, my overly eager gardening intuition had worked thankfully, the anticipated frosts had not come which could have killed them. The eight lettuces (good for small spaces too) are starting to grow well. Last weekend I also filled a container with a greek salad mix for the summer months, these salad leaves will be cut and come again and will serve the kitchen with leaves that are full of tastes, textures and colours.

When I eventually did get home tonight I checked the lettuces and gave them a water, in the container the seedlings had germinated in the short time of five days which also indicated to me that the soil has warmed up nicely. Due to this I decided to sow two rows of carrots in the sunniest part of the garden, these rows I hope will have as much luck as my salad leaves.

To be able to come home to Birmingham from a busy and overly packed late train and to have a little potter in the garden was calm inducing. The birds in the wood near to a house were also singing their roosting songs adding to a beautiful evening of quiet peacefulness.