Give us this day our daily bread…

I make our bread several times a week. I enjoy the process and now that I’m using my starter Hercules, Son of Priscilla (thanks Celia!), my loaves are going from strength to strength. I confess that most of the time I make my usual sourdough loaf, starting the process the night before and baking early evening of the next day.

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Other times I use Celia’s overnight sourdough recipe which gives fantastic results and I took on board her tip of dusting the loaf in semolina flour for a crunchy crust. Clearly, as she’s my bread making heroine/guru and I am her keen student/bread making stalker, I also made some teeny tiny loaves (like she did) using some small loaf tins I had bought to make cakes in but had never used. They turned out wonderfully and were the perfect size for a hugely filling lunch roll.

Bread 001

The last few weeks have given me time too to do a little experimenting and for Easter Sunday my father requested a loaf with whole eggs baked into the top of the dough, as this is what his mother used to make when he was a boy. I Googled Calabrian Easter bread and most of the recipes led me to make a slightly sweet bread, gently flavoured with anis and made using eggs and milk. The least said about the egg dyeing the better, but everyone enjoyed it. We all felt that it was like milk bread or pan de leche as it’s called in Spain and would probably prefer to eat it as a breakfast or tea time bread. I’m going to experiment making it again in small rolls so once I’ve perfected it, I’ll post the recipe.

Italian Easter Bread 001

The most recent experiment was to use my sourdough starter to make a whole grain loaf. I wasn’t really sure what sort of results I’d get as wholemeal flour tends to rise more slowly than white flour and give a heavier bread. Combined with a slow rising, heavy sourdough loaf I was a little concerned I’d end up baking the cornerstone of our next building project, but using a mix of a flour which contained wholemeal, wheat flakes and bran with a strong white bread flour, I got fantastic results. The bread was malty, tangy and chewy and delicious spread with butter or drizzled with olive oil. I followed the same process as my usual loaf, but didn’t add olive oil. I added an extra knead and a slightly longer bake.

Ingredients

For the sponge

  • 100ml of unfed sourdough starter (mine is fed with the same volume of flour and water)
  • 250g wholemeal flour with flakes and grains
  • 300ml water

For the dough

  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 10g salt

The night before you want to bake (or fit this into your usual baking routine), mix the ingredients for the sponge, cover and leave overnight or for about 8 hours. Don’t forget to feed your original starter to replace what you took out!

Bread 006

The next day, add the remaining flour and salt and in a mixer with a dough hook (this is quite a wet dough) knead for 10-12 minutes until the dough looks stretchy and elastic.

Turn it into a large, oiled bowl and cover with oiled cling film. Leave it to double in size, mine took about 5 hours, but it will be different for everyone. Turn out of the bowl onto an oiled surface, knock it back, form it into a ball and put it back into the oiled bowl and cover again. Leave to rise again, this should only take a couple of hours, and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. I didn’t use semolina but feel free to use whatever you like best.

Knock back and shape either onto a round or put into a floured banneton (which is what I did). Cover with a tea towel and leave to double in size.

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Just before you are about to bake, turn your oven on to heat at top “volume” with an oven tray inside if you are going to turn out from a banneton. Once the oven has reached its temperature, carefully take the tray out and turn your loaf onto it. Slash with a very sharp or serrated knife, put it in the oven and turn the temperature down to 150C (Fan) and bake for about 55 minutes until nicely browned and it sounds hollow when tapped on it’s lovely wholemeal bottom.

Drive yourself crazy for a few hours while it cools with the wonderful smell of your freshly baked loaf and enjoy whichever way you most enjoy bread!

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Calamares Rellenos – Stuffed Squid

When you´re away from home, although now we seem to have two homes (and how very lucky and blessed we are to be in this position) there are things that you miss. Of course, the most obvious is loved ones, but with technology, keeping in touch, even face to face phone calls and cheap flights make the distance shorter.

Other things like a special pillow, or a favourite garment which was left behind sometimes make you feel nostalgic. For me though it’s all about the kitchens. If I could combine the contents of both kitchens and magically transport them with me backwards and forwards….but well, that’s just silly. Although I can look up favourite and remembered recipes on the internet, it’s not quite the same as flicking through a well loved cookery book, often late at night propped up in bed with that comfy old pillow.

Calamares Rellenos (1)

Getting back to Spain allowed me to become reacquainted with some old ‘friends’. Most recently it has been Moro, the Cookbook by the husband and wife team, Sam and Sam Clark. Must get confusing in their house when someone rings up.

The first recipe for the moment was inspired by one of theirs for stuffed squid – of course, I made a few changes based on what I had available, here’s my version. This is a fabulous dish for entertaining (although easy to prepare for an everyday meal) as you can prepare it ahead up until the final griddling of the squid, which only takes about 5 minutes.

Calamares Rellenos (6)

To serve four as a main course

  • 8 medium squid (no larger than about 30cm) I used to enormous ones to serve 2. These should be cleaned and the tentacles and wings separated from the body
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I crushed)
  • ½ red pepper finely diced (not in the original recipe)
  • 2 fresh bay leaves (or use dried)
  • 200ml fino sherry (or a dry white wine)
  • 1 large buch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon of hot pimentón (not in original recipe)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Finely chop the squid wings and tentacles (I kept the tentacles whole and cooked them on the side).

Gently fry the onions and peppers (if using) for about 15 minutes until soft and the onion is starting to turn brown. Add the bay, garlic and chopped squid and cook for about 3 minutes then add the seasoning, half the parsley and the fino. Cook for a further couple of minutes until the wine has almost evaporated then remove from the heat. Remove the bay leaves and stir in the chopped egg and most of the rest of the parsley, check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Use this mixture to stuff the squid, securing with a cocktail stick to keep the filling in. When you are ready to eat, heat a griddle pan until it is smoking hot and cook the squid for about 5 minutes, turning to ensure that it is charred all round.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a piece of lemon and the rest of the parsley sprinkled over.

Bean meaning to mention…..

Beans! Well, not just beans but Winter salads.  Winter doesn´t have to mean an end to fresh delicious salads, but the colder weather means we probably want something a little more robust but no less fresh and delicious to eat as a light meal or to accompany grilled meats, fish or whatever takes your fancy.

Especially after Christmas, and all that heavy food, these are welcome light meals to ease the strain on the waistband. And talking of Christmas, belated greetings to you all and apologies for the silence. Almost regular service will be resumed this week, and I hope that you all had a wonderful time with your loved ones, I will be slowly catching up with your blog posts over the next week or so.

Anyway, back to the food.  We´ve been trying to support local shops as much as possible and to buy locally grown, seasonal vegetables in the absence of our own veggie garden or store cupboard. Sometimes though, you just have to give into cravings and buy things that are out of season or grown elsewhere. Green beans seem to be everywhere in the supermarkets now, along with mange tout and runner beans. Maybe it´s my body craving something fresh and crunchy that makes me respond to the vibrant green colour. Who knows, but the beans were delicious!

Ingredients are flexible in these two tasty dishes, they´re just meant to inspire you, not dictate to you. Use what you have available, enjoy the fresh flavours.

Bean & asparagus salad (1)

Green Bean and Asparagus Salad

  • Blanch green beans and asparagus until just tender, then run under cold water to stop them cooking further. Chop into bite sized pieces, add halved cherry tomatoes, a chopped avocado and some hard boiled egg. Sprinkle over some sliced jamon or grilled bacon (leave out for a veggie version) and dress a mix of with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, English mustard, a pinch of sugar and seasoning.

 Potato, bean & caper salad (4)

Potato, Roasted Red Pepper, Bean and Caper Salad

  • Mix together cubed boiled potatoes, strips of roasted red peppers, green beans and halved caper berries.  Make a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and zest and salt and pepper. Mix the salad gently. As a little added luxury, drizzle over some truffle oil.

Back to the 70´s – Prawns in Lettuce Cups

Getting Groovy with the Prawns

Do you remember the 1970s? Well, I am sure some of you do, even if you were only babes in arms.  I was a young teenager at the end of the 1970s but it was a time in London when great changes were afoot in the world of food.  The height of sophistication at the time for a dinner party was probably something along the lines of prawn and avocado cocktail, steak with pepper sauce and Black Forest gâteau for dessert. And nothing wrong with any of that I say…but the 80s were soon going to herald the advent of Nouvelle Cuisine (or really tiny portions) and strange mixtures of ingredients such as Loin of some Obscure and Almost Extinct Creature Marinated in a Gooseberry and Guinness Jus. Well, you know what I mean.

Having watched a DVD of Abigail´s Party (I wish I knew how to insert video clips), I was clearly feeling nostalgic and decided to go a bit retro with my peeled prawns. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and accept you´re getting old…

Ingredients for 4 people as a starter

  • Two lettuce hearts (use 8 of the bigger outside leaves and use the rest for salad)
  • 1 cup of peeled prawns, cooked and cut in half if large
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped (not too finely)
  • 1 ripe avocado (chopped into small cubes)
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Half a cup of Marie Rose sauce (I made mine using 3 tablespoons of tomato ketchup, 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 1 heaped teaspoon of horseradish sauce, 1 teaspoon of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and 1 tablespoon of sweet chili sauce)
  • Pimentón to taste

Simply mix all the ingredients together and spoon into the lettuce leaves.  Sprinkle with hot or sweet Pimentón.

Now, put some groovy 1970s dinner party music on the built in Hi-fi, slip into a glamorous kaftan and enjoy the evening….

Sopa de Picadillo – Chicken Soup Spanish Style

Cloudy is good, clear is bad!

The first time I ate a bowl of chicken soup in Spain, I was a little surprised by the way it looked. I was staying in my rented Cortijo in the middle of nowhere, with my lovely, crazy landlords living in the adjacent house and popping in on me at weekends to make sure I was fine. In true Spanish Mama style, my landlady often bought me things to eat, just to make sure I was going to stay nice and well rounded.

One lunchtime she came over with a bowl of chicken soup. I was surprised because in the UK a good chicken stock is clear, transparent…and highly valued for these attributes. What I had been presented with was cloudy, almost a yellowy white in colour. It smelt amazing and the bowl was packed full of other goodies too. Pieces of chicken, fine noodles, chopped hard boiled egg and jamon and some pieces of fresh mint. I was also instructed to squeeze lemon juice into my soup.  Then off she trotted, happy to have kept her (not so) starving tenant alive to see another sunny Andalucían day.

Of course, once I had tasted it, I was in love. Such deep chicken flavours, quite a salty (but not disagreeably so) taste and the tang of lemon and mint. The name of the soup, Picadillo, comes from the verb Picar. This means to chop finely or into small pieces. Hence the final additions of hard boiled egg and jamon.

This is not a recipe, more a method. Spanish chicken stock is made with whole joints of chicken (I use thighs and legs usually), salted pork bones and salted pork belly with plenty of fat on it.  If you can´t get the last two ingredients use a couple of pork ribs and a piece of normal pork belly or a thick slice of pancetta.  Add a couple of bay leaves, about 4 cloves, 1 or 2 dried chilies (optional) and cover with water. I also add in a few carrots and sticks of celery, but this is not typical. If you have not used salted bones, add salt to taste and check again at the end of cooking.

Now boil it fast for about 10 minutes, this is when the water will turn cloudy, then turn down the heat and simmer for at least an hour. Strain the stock and leave it to cool, you will then be able to remove the layer of natural fat from the meat which will set on the surface.

Remove the bones, bay leaves, cloves, chilies and discard. To serve a typical Sopa de Picadillo, boil up the stock, add some fine angel hair noodles and the chicken (pork belly too if you used unsalted)  and cook until the chicken is warmed through and the noodles are cooked. Sprinkle over hard boiled egg and jamon (or use lardons or pancetta) and if you have some fresh mint to infuse in the soup it really adds a special touch. Don´t forget the squeeze of lemon too!

Like most chicken soups, it is claimed to be the cure for all ills, but you don´t need to be feeling under the weather to enjoy it.