Well, I’m going to sign off now for a couple of weeks; off to France on a field course with the University of Manchester. It means, of course, that there’ll be no Grigsons either. Hopefully when I return as a bronzed Adonis, I will make up for lost time. I have made nice things, but I’ve been so busy getting ready for the trip, I’ve not had the time to tell you about them properly…
What YOU should do whilst I’m away as a small project please, is to cook a meal or eat a type of food that you have never sampled before. You may be pleasantly surprised or, indeed, repulsed.
Since as there’s about a million different bread recipes in this Goddam book, I thought I’d better have a crack at some bread-making; I’m also trying to write a paper at the minute and therefore needed a reason to procrastinate. I’ve made bread before but it’s always been a bit arduous and not worth it, since the end result resembles a washing-up sponge in both colour and texture. I thought I’d better start at the start and make a white loaf – (#59) Electric Dough Hook Bread is the piss-easy way to do it, apparently, and if you are wanting to supply your family with home-made bread every day, says, Jane, this is the way to do it:
Measure out 3/4 of a pint of warm water and put half in the bowl of your mixer along with 2 level tsp of dried yeast and 1 of sugar. To the remaining half, add 2 tsp of salt and 4 tbs of lard or oil – Jane says olive oil is the best thing, so that’s what I did. After about 20 minutes the yeast becomes all frothy as it activates and gets going. My kitchen was quite cool, so it would probably only take 10 in a warmer one, I reckon. The salty water was then added along with 1 1/2 pounds of white flour (though you could do a combination of wholemeal and white). Put the dough hook attachment onto your mixer and turn it on low and let the dough form around the hook. When it’s all come together, you can turn the speed up a little, but it only takes about 5 minutes in all – don’t overwork it says Jane, or else!! Next put some Clingfilm over the top of the bowl and wait for the dough to double in size. I have no airing cupboard, so to speed up the process I hugged the bowl and watched telly, allowing my body heat to increase the yeast metabolism.
When that’s done, knock-back the dough by punching it to let all the air out. Roll a pound of the dough into a thick sausage shape and put in a small loaf tin, and pout the rest in a large one. Cover with cling film again – brush it with oil to stop the dough sticking – and allow to prove, i.e. let the dough rise a second time, until it is over the sides of the tins. This takes ages if your kitchen is cool – but don’t worry it will eventually.
Bake at 230 degrees C for 30 minutes, then take the loaves out of their tins and turn them upside down, so the crusts can crisp up. Put the loaves back in the tine and brush the tops with milk to make them shiny. Cool them by laying then across the tins. Phew!
#59 Electric Dough Hook Bread – 8/10. It was a foolproof recipe and it tasted lovely – really (I know it sounds stupid) bready. The flavour of the yeast made it I think. It was quite dense, but I think that was my fault for not letting it prove for long enough. I had a piece still warm with butter on, which I think is the best way to have home-made bread. You certainly don’t need to bother with fillings when bread is this tasty. If only I have time to make for myself every day!
Other than asparagus, the fruit and veg stall had some lovely ripe apricots, at only a quid for 6. So It thought I had to make use of them. Consulting the book, there’s a crumble and a pie. I couldn’t be bothered making pastry, so I went for the crumble. However, I seem to have a mental block when it comes to making crumbles – they are meant to be the easiest pud in the world to make, but when I do them, they end up as mush, as the floury topping gets soaked into the fruits beneath. However, I trusted Grigson to guide me through the crumble-making process. I also used top tips from my Mum. The exciting thing about this dish is that you use the kernels from the apricot stones – a new one on me. They taste like very aromatic, but bitter, almonds. Crack then with a hammer – it worked for me, and the flavour they give to the crumble is beautiful and I shall always take the trouble to do it in the future.
Start by poring boiling water over 18 apricots. After a couple of minutes peel the apricots and slice them. Put them in a shallow baking dish along with the kernels from the stones, 1 ½ ounces of blanched sliced almonds and 2 or 3 ounces of sugar. I like my fruit tart.
For the topping rub together using your hands or a mixer 3 ounces of flour, 2 ½ ounces sugar, 3 ounces of ground almonds and 4 ½ ounces of chilled butter. Pour the mixture over the apricots and bake for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C, and then for a further 20 at 180 degrees. Make sure the top is browned, but not in any way burned. Don’t serve straight away – a warm crumble is better than a scolding hot one. Softly whipped cream is the best accompaniment to this summery dessert.
TOP TIP: My Mum says that for a good crumble topping, don’t rub in your butter too finely; some small lumps of butter make it richer and crunchier, which is good news as this also mean less work!
#58 Apricot and Almond Crumble: 8.5/10. A lovely sweet topping and tart fruit resulted in a substantial but light and perfumed marzipan wonder. The addition of apricot kernels was the genius touch. Plus the crumble topping wasn’t mush. I now have to conquer my other food nemesis Hollandaise sauce.
Another asparagus recipe; there’s two more, but I don’t think I’ll get them done before I go to France at the end of next week. (I’m going on a field trip to St. Auban, just north of Nice.) I bought the ingredients from the excellent fruit and veg stall that’s outside All Saint’s Park on Oxford Road, on the campus of Manchester Metropolitan University. I think a lot of people walk straight past it, thinking it’s some cheapo stall, but it’s certainly not. It sells seasonal produce – including English asparagus – at a very good price. I knew Joff was coming round and I wanted to make something quick and easy, so I thought an asparagus omelette would certainly fit the bill (and it did).
For 3. Start by trimming and cooking a bunch of asparagus as I did for the Asparagus and eggs. Drain them and cut them into thirds. Save some of the best tips for garnish. Keep the rest warm in the oven sprinkled with Gruyere cheese – a tablespoon per person. Make the omelettes using 6 eggs exactly how I did previously when I cooked mushroom omelettes. Add a third of the asparagus and to the centre and serve with a nice salad.
Make a vinaigrette from olive oil and cider vinegar in a ratio of 3:1, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, sugar and a small clove of finely chopped garlic.
#57 Asparagus Omelette 6.5/10. A very nice omelette, but oddly I preferred the asparagus and eggs I made earlier in the month. Not sure why, because the ingredients are essentially the same.
It is said that the English Springtime officially commenced with the start of the asparagus season. It is a shame that everything we do so far removed from the seasons these days with our constant demand for year-round food. What is the point of eating a chlorosed watery tomato in November, I ask you!? Yet we all do it. Asparagus, however, although I’m sure that it could be provided all year round, isn’t; the season is ingrained there somewhere. Those that eat it would know not to buy at any other time. That said, I saw some in Asda the other day from Peru!
The other travesty is that I have not cooked any this year, and there are a few asparagus-based recipes in English Food. (#55) Asparagus and eggs made use of the left over eggs from the almond tart I’d made previously, plus Greg and I were slightly hungover and scrambled eggs, as far as I’m concerned, are one of the best cures for such a malaise.
For two: Remove the woody bits from about 6 ounces of asparagus. To do this with minimal waste, just hold the asparagus spear in your hands and allow it to snap near the base end, this is the natural breaking point between woody stalk and tender spear. Boil them in just an inch or so of well-salted water for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness. Do not overcook! Test them with a knife if you’re not sure. Salt is a must with any green vegetable as, apart from improving the flavour, it makes the colour much more vivid (also, don’t cover the pan for the same reason). Drain them and keep them warm. Toast some brown bread and butter it well. Keep that warm too. Make some scrambled eggs, using 4 of the lovelies, a tablespoon of butter and plenty of salt and pepper. Stop cooking the eggs before they are ready as the carry on cooking in the pan. I prefer them soft, creamy and pourable, but I know that makes some people want to vom, but please don’t overdo them. Place two-thirds of the asparagus on the toast, spoon over the eggs, and using your best artistic flare, stylishly place the rest of the spears on top. Scoff.
#55 Asparagus and eggs – 7/10. Simple yet effective. It displays the richness of the eggs, and the sweet but slightly astringent taste of the asparagus. Plus it takes only a few minutes to make. Very good.
They say that you are what you eat, and being from Pudsey in Leeds, I suppose that makes me a Yorkshire tart, or something. One of my favourite puds is Yorkshire curd tart, but I’d not heard of a Yorkshire almond tart (if you’ve not heard of a curd tart, go and hunt one down), I had Greg, Joff and my mate from way, way, way back, Lee over for a curry, I had most of the ingredients in, so I thought I’d give it a crack. Have a go; it’s a piece of piss!
Roll out some puff pastry (I bought mine, but there is a recipe for it in English Food; I haven’t plucked up the courage, nor had the spare 5 days or whatever to put aside in order to make it) and line a deep plate, or a pie plate. Whisk up 2 egg yolks, 2 ounces of sugar and the rind and juice of half a lemon in a basin or bowl until creamy. This is not as arduous as it sounds, it happens quickly, I assume because of the citric acid in the lemons stabilising the egg proteins. Add an ounce each of ground almonds and melted butter, and whisk the mixture over simmering water for 8 to 10 minutes, I reckon, until it becomes thicker. Pour the mixture onto the pastry and spread the mixture leaving a good gap at the edges and bake at 190 degrees C for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown on top. Whilst your waiting for that whisk two egg whites and a pinch of salt until stiff, when the pie is done, spread the egg whites over the top and sprinkle over a tablespoon of sugar and return it to the oven for 10 minutes. Eat warm. Foolishly, I forgot to buy cream.
#54 Yorkshire almond tart – 7.5/10. Very sweet, sticky and yummy! This comes as no surprise being a Yorkshire dish. The filling and eggs collapsed rather, and I’m not sure if it meant to – perhaps next time I’ll add the tablespoon of sugar to the eggs to make a meringue that shouldn’t sink. That said, the pastry was crisp, the almond insides were soft in the centre, but caramelised on top, the eggs were light-ish, and the sugar had formed a very pleasing crust. The only other way it could’ve been improved would be to have a dollop of vanilla ice cream with it.