Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Making your own Stock

I had to do some catering recently to accommodate all sorts of different diets.  I quite often prepare a vegetarian meal for us here, but I don't need to worry about using a chicken stock if I think the dish needs it.  However, I had to make a Cassoulet for the vegetarian contingent at the party and of course I couldn't use my chicken stock.  I finally capitulated to the advertising by Marco Pierre White for his Knorr stockpots.  I added two little jelly pots to my beautiful Cassoulet made of organic vegetables and freshly soaked and boiled pulses and it is safe to say they destroyed the entire dish!  They are poisoned with salt and I had seasoned as I usually would do.  They have a deeply artificial, chemical flavour, created in a laboratory.  You get the idea?  For every "flavour" the first ingredient listed is fat, be it vegetable fat or chicken fat.  I am not sure about anyone else but I have never put fat in any stock and in fact skim it off.

I decided to make some vegetarian stock for my freezer stock-pile so to speak.  I generally have chicken and veal stock frozen into ice cubes and bagged.

When you buy organic vegetables such as onion, carrot, celery, and herbs such as parsley, save the outer skins and/or peelings and stalks until you have a decent quantity and put in a pot with some water.  You can add the peelings from squash and even swede but not the actual flesh.  Fennel peelings are good too.  Do not add cabbage until the very end as if you boil cabbage there is a chemical reaction which gives that horrible smell and taste of overcooked institutional boiled cabbage.  Simmer gently for about an hour and then strain.  Bring to the boil and reduce by half.  Cool and refrigerate.  I find it really handy to freeze in ice cube trays and then next day remove and store in zip-lock bags.

For chicken stock I use the carcass of the chicken and all the bones saved off plates, add your vegetable peelings/stalks as above and simmer for about 3 hours.  Strain and reduce as above and then freeze.

For beef or veal stock I roast the bones for about an hour or until they have been browned it a hot oven.  Then make as chicken stock.

For fish use the bones but also the skins and simmer for less time usually an hour is more than enough. 

The taste of stock made like this is really so much better than anything you can buy.  The preparation time is minimal.  The only drawback is steam in your kitchen however if you are lucky enough to have an Aga or similar you can make stock overnight in your oven.

Homemade Stock Recipe  Vegetable Stock  Meat Stock

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Sour Dough Starter and Bread Recipe

I love sourdough bread.  My first memory of it was when I worked in San Francisco years ago.  Actually sourdough has been "around" since ancient Egyptian times and was more than likely discovered by accident.  The brewery and the bakery were often in the same place and possibly wild yeast spores settled into a dough and caused fermentation.  By trial and error they discovered that some yeasts cultures were more effective than others and could be used as a starter.  This starter was then used to start another batch.  The yeasts metabolise the sugars and starches in the flour converting them into lactic and other acids which gives the distinctive sour flavour.  It is incredibly easy to make your own starter.  I find it is easier in summer than in winter but don't let that limit you.  In summer it is warmer and you have windows and doors open more and there is more air circulation.  Get a kilner jar and put a tablespoon of unbleached, organic flour.  Mix to a paste with equal quantities of water.  Do not completely seal with lid,  just flip it over to cover.  Leave in a warm place (a window ledge).  Next day give it a good stir, throw some away and then add more flour and water.  Repeat this for about a week until you begin to notice some activity which appear as bubbles and a slightly alcoholic smell.  Continue for another few days feeding your starter until it is good and active.  You will notice that as the flour settles in the jar you will have a blackish liquid on top.  This is normal and it has not gone bad.  This liquid is called Hooch.  Some recipes I have seen say throw this away.  But to my mind that is crazy as it contains a lot of the flavours.  Just stir it back into the mixture before you use it.

To make your bread you need to remove your starter and pour into a bowl.  Add 250g of strong unbleached bread flour and 375ml of room temperature water.  Give it a good stir and cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place overnight.  Next day this will be a bowl of bubbles and froth.  This is what is called your Sponge.

Take approximately three quarters of this sponge and add 300g of flour to it as well as a tablespoon of olive oil, salt to taste and enough warm water to make a smooth dough.  Mix on a low speed with a dough hook.  The remaining sponge is your starter and just pop it back into a clean dry jar for use next time.  Remove your dough when it feels smooth and silky and when you stretch it, it feels like bubble gum.  This means the gluten has been stretched and unravelled and is now flexible enough for the bubbles of carbon dioxide produced by yeast metabolism to raise the bread.  You now need to prove the dough which means leaving it somewhere warm and with no drafts for about 8 hours.  Sour dough rises slowly and sedately  unlike commercial yeast bread production.  The longer you leave it the more the flavour will develop.  Remove, knock back and allow to prove for a second time.  This can take up to four hours or longer.  Place in a hot oven on a baking tray or in a tin and place a container with some water in the oven to create steam to help crust development.  Bake as you would a normal yeast dough and then remove and cool.

The portion of the sponge that you have retained becomes your starter and you need to keep this in the fridge for use next time.  However you do need to feed it at least once a week, by repeating the procedure when you first started to make your starter.  Throw away half of it and add more flour and water in equal proportion.  Give it a good stir to aerate it and put back into fridge.  If you have to go away it will survive but just give it a good feed in advance and feed it again when you return. Remember it is a living thing!

Sour dough bread takes time to make but there is not a lot of work involved.  I find if you time it right, it takes very little work on your part.

Sour Dough Bread  Sour Dough Starter  Bread Recipes

Monday, 21 November 2011

Pizza in a Domestic Oven

You always see Jamie Oliver on Tv or other chefs telling you that you can make your own pizza at home very easily.  Well you can't.  The simple fact of the matter is, that unless you have a professional oven you do not get sufficient temperature.  However, there is a way around it.  You need some basic equipment to help boost the temperature.  A pizza stone is a flat, smooth stone which you need to heat in your oven for at least an hour beforehand.  I have tried every way possible to see which works best and even with a stone you still do not get a good bake if you put the pizza in without cooking the base first.  If you heat the stone on a lower shelf at the top temperature you can get on your oven and then place the base on the stone and par-bake it for 7 minutes or until it is easily lifted off the stone and is not browned. 

Then remove the par-baked base and place on a wire cooling rack for a few minutes.  When it has cooled slightly then top and slide back onto your pizza stone but this time on a higher shelf for about 10 minutes.

To make the perfect base is easy if you have a Kitchen Aid or similar with a dough hook.  I just put my flour, yeast, salt and a dash of olive oil into the bowl and then dripple in water until you have a wet paste.  Different flours absorb different quantities of water so there is no point following a recipe slavishly.  Then I leave the mixer running on 2 for about 15 minutes.  After this increase the speed and watch until the paste seems to have formed a more cohesive ball and has cleaned the sides of the bowl.  If it is still gloopy just sprinkle some flour onto it to ease handling.  Place in a bowl, covered with a tea towel in a warm place for about an hour or until the dough is doubled in size.

Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead to knock out the air bubbles and then roll out into your required size.

Baking the base first means that you have a properly baked base that is not doughy and indigestible.

Basic Pizza Dough Recipe (to make two individual thin crust pizzas or one large)

250g strong flour
Half a 7g sachet of dried yeast
Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp. salt
160ml (approximately) of water. *all flours absorb differing quantities of water so add water gradually*

Tags: Pizza  Pizza in a Domestic Oven  Pizza Dough  Food  Pizza Stone