Friday, May 27, 2011

Bread - Making vs Buying

I made bread last night. Just two small round loaves of wholewheat. Finishing up some bits of flour. I'm really pleased with them. Good crust. Nice crumb. I ate three pieces fresh out of the oven with super yellow salted butter.

And I got to thinking about the value of making bread at home.

1. It isn't always better than what you can buy. It's special, because it's homemade but Eau a la Bouche has better bread. But Tesco (or any big store that is producing hundreds of loaves) isn't going to be as good. So homemade wins against mass produced, but not fancy artisanal.

2. Ingredients: Flour. Flour is cheap. But what about quality flour? What's the difference between grocery store brand flour and the Shipton Mills I have my eye on? The Shipton Mills is twice the price of the grocery store. Will it make that much better a loaf? What kind/quality of flour do commercially produced loaves use? Is that one of the factors in E5 Bakehouse vs Gregg's?

I feel a challenge coming on. Will buy my Shipton Mills basket (currently at ten kilos of flour), make bread and report back. And maybe ask the nice bakery people in the market if they know anything about the flour their products are made from... requires further investigation.

3. Ingredients: Extras. My bread is flour, yeast, salt and water. There is a brilliant double page spread in Richard Bertinet's book Dough - one side is a loaf of homemade bread and the ingredient list. The other side is the store bought bread and ingredient list. Four ingredients versus a long list. No question. Make your own damn bread.

4. Time investment: Not that much really. I mean sure you need to do it but seriously - making the dough takes maybe 20 minutes? Then it's mostly leave it alone until it's ready to be shaped and baked. Hell you can even do the no-knead thing. Total active time investment is probably less than walking to your nearest bakery. Unless you're super lucky. In which case can I come stay with you?

5. Love. Well, there is that.

My Grandma on the Mountain could bake anything but she didn't bake bread. The story is that she made a loaf once and my Grandpa and Great Uncle Malc took it out in the backyard and played football with it. She never repeated the experiment.

The recipe for buns that my mom makes for holiday meals is from her Aunt Jessie who was a fabulous cook. I crave her apple pudding recipe often.

Baking bread at home is special. Maybe not for everyday, but always preferable over big store bread. And it fills the house with warmth and love.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The asparagus season will be coming to a close soonish. I know because I asked the man who I buy it from every Sunday how much was left and how much longer I could expect it. I'm starting to get tired of it (it's only in season a few weeks! You have to eat as much of it as you can!) but I don't want to miss the last bunch of this year because I'm getting bored and decide not to get any one week. Farmer man said that there isn't much left - another week or two - but he's keeping a few bunches aside for me in case I get to the market late.

He also grows cut flowers. Two weeks ago, while C was away, he had the first Sweet Williams. I must have looked sad or something because he gave me a bunch with my asparagus and strawberries. They are still on the table, beautifully scented and holding their colour - he said they sometimes last three weeks. There should be astors soon.

He's just one of a handful of farmers that I have got to know at the markets in the past couple of years. (See I know I'm Lucky) I like that my shopping habits supports them and allows them to continue to bring me excellent products. Virtuous circle.

But you can't get everything from the farmer's market. For some items there is no season in England. So while I don't ever buy asparagus from Peru, I do buy mango, rice, garlic, etc etc from the corner store and the local Tesco. And so I think about the farmers I support by purchasing mangoes. Or frozen peas. If everyone stops buying mangoes what will the mango farmers eat?  (Besides mangoes.) How does buying my ingredients from farmer A in England affect farmer B in Pakistan (where my basmati rice comes from)?

No answers, just the pieces of a conversation I am having in my head and that I would welcome people's thoughts on.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I think it is my second favourite vegetable. Seriously. Second only to peas (both frozen and fresh). Garlic, onions and tomatoes don't quite count. Certain vegetables are only excellent during their peak season and don't have an all year presence, like asparagus, so I'm not counting those either. So yes. Cauliflower is my second favourite vegetable.

How fabulously versatile is it? How many wonderful things can you do with a brassica that is, to be honest, a little dull. It's not something I sneak into the kitchen to nibble on (peas in pods don't last a day in our kitchen and cherry tomatoes are so very poppable) because on its own it is a bit bland. But the flavours it works with! And the processes and things you can do that turn it into magic. Here's to the mighty cauliflower!

The reason I am excited about cauliflowers is because I finally got around to making this sephardic dish of battered and fried caulflower in a lemony tomato sauce. I've had the recipe in my 'Make Me' pile for ages but it seemed like it might be a bit finnicky. It wasn't. You should make it.

You quickly blanch your cauliflower florets then drain them and mix them into a simple batter (half a cup of flour with some salt and pepper, tossed, then two eggs beaten with a bit of water, toss the floured cauliflower with that, then another half cup of flour - get in with yout hands!) then fry them up to golden and lovely. (I also dropped little blobs of batter into the oil.) You slip the crispy golden florets into a very simple tomato sauce with lemon zest and a squeeze of juice and let it barely simmer for ten minutes then eat it covered with parsley.

(Here's a link to the recipe proper on Michael's Herbivoracious blog.)

How good is that?

C declared it was his second favourite way to eat cauliflower. His favourite? Roasted and dipped in spicy ketchup. Yup, we're fancy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Restaurants

There is a new Turkish restaurant going in on Broadway Market, where the old Efes was for about a year. It looks pretty. I popped my head in the other day to sneak a peak. The guy told me that it'll be open in a week or so, Turkish/Mediterranean menu. 

Cool. Will try it out.

Why don't restaurants have little promotional cards for the curious who stop by to peak in and see what's what? Give me a card that gives me a free drink or a dessert or 10% off in the first week. Something. Whatever. But make me feel special and make me excited about your restaurant opening up.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Who said that?  Some of the most beautiful things are fleeting and need to be pounced on while they are in front you for they disappear so quickly.

Asparagus is one of those joys. British asparagus appears to be a Thing. It is special and celebrated. It has a specific season of about 6-8 weeks and during this time everyone seems to be talking and eating it. I love it. I love the limited time only cache of it and the urgency. If you don't get some now you won't get any at all.

Yes I know you can get asparagus year round. But that's not the point, is it? This is English asparagus, grown as it is meant to be grown in the season in which nature intended. Did you know that most out of season asparagus comes from Peru where they are draining the water level to grow it (asparagus needs lots of water) - read this article about it. That's serious stuff. And it can't possibly taste as fresh and grassy and special as the stuff that's grown in your metaphoric backyard. And who wants to eat bland wooden stalks that make you pee funny the rest of the year? Seasonality people. Look it up.

We've been doing all sorts of things with asparagus. Because I buy an awful lot of it while I can. Roasted asparagus (olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper in the hot oven for 11 minutes) is a picnic staple for us - sometimes wrapped in ham, sometimes plain, once with romesco sauce. I eat it blanched and dripping in fancy salted butter for lunch. Grilled with grilled courgette and roasted tomatoes and basil oil a la Ottolenghi. Baked into a puff pastry tart. Munched on raw and crunchy like a carrot.

Tonight we're having it with polenta and cheese a la Guardian Ottolenghi. I figure there's a month left of experimenting and tasting. At the end of it I won't want to look at an asparagus spear. Which is fine and good because I won't be getting any until the official launch of the season in April 2012.