Not blogging

It’s been so long since I have posted that while chatting to somebody this week I remembered that I used to occasionally post to this blog. The fact is that my life has changed and continues to change since I last posted. To summarise the following events have occurred:

Mrs W had our second child
I got seriously fed up with my job, cooking and life in general (this phase lasted quite some time and wasn’t particularly dignified so my sincere thanks go to Mrs W for her tolerance and understanding)
I decided to do something about the job
I got a new job in a new country
Mrs W started work on our third child
I moved to said new country without Mrs W to start new job

And that’s just about where things stand. I’m still in a bit of a cooking rut but that has more to do with having nobody to cook for (cue sad music!) allied to the pathetic kitchen facilities in my pokey studio flat than anything else so once the family is over and we have moved into our new house with our new kitchen I imagine my enthusiasm will return. In the meantime I am enjoying my new food culture in Germany. Yes I have moved to GERMANY … land of black forest gateau, currywurst, leibkuchen, glühwein and variations on themes of cabbage. My children will be going to a real KINDERGARTEN.

I miss my wife and my girls … It’s lonely out here… Welling up… Enough said.

Foodwise I didn’t know quite what to expect but I have been very pleasantly surprised. The bread here is really is fantastic, the quality and variety is amazing! It just goes to show what utter rubbish we buy in the UK. With the bread i’ve also been on a bit of a soup kick recently…the Germans take soup very seriously. During my limited shopping forays (new job means i’ve been doing long days in an effort to get myself established so not too much time for shopping) I have been very impressed at the produce…fresh porcini in the supermarket? Mmm….yes please!

Drinkwise ….it’s bloody GERMANY so of course the beer is good beyond my wildest imaginings.

So things are looking up, I’m enjoying the new job and will (due to the enlightened attitude of my new employers to flexible working and no work commute) have significantly more time to spend with my family in our new house and hopefully plenty of time to rediscover the cooking bug.

And when that happens maybe I’ll get off my fat arse and post about it…. Although we are going to Spain for a holiday quite soon so perhaps I’ll just post up some some gratuitous ice cream photography before then.

Thai Green Papaya Salad

Well here we are, waiting for arrival of baby version 2.0 and Mrs W. is now well overdue.  All credit to her though as she is bearing the strains of late pregnancy in good humour.

We made a Thai green papaya salad in the hope it might move things along. I didn’t have the hoped for effect but it did taste fantastic. The salad was adopted from a recipe in Gourmet Food For A Fiver by Jason Atherton.

The trick was to taste and balance the sweet (palm sugar), sour (lime juice), salty (fish sauce) and hot (red chilli) flavours.  Dried shrimp brings a savoury background note, tomatoes and coriander add freshness.  Topped with crushed peanuts this bowl contains an explosion of textures and tastes.

The image is from my new Olympus EP-1 camera which I am slowly getting to grips with.

So our tribe should be one person larger by the weekend… here’s hoping all goes smoothly.

Summer Sourdough Breads

The weather really picked up in sunny Northern Ireland. We have spent the  ‘good’ weekends eating barbecue and salad picked from the garden…bliss!   The gooseberries, blackberries, raspberries and broad beans have been and gone (although the next wave of broad beans are just ready for picking ). I also have a years supply of garlic ready to be harvested!

To be honest when the weather is this nice I often don’t feel like cooking (although the world cup may have had a bit to do with it as well as well as my spell of Saturdays working in a REAL kitchen …more of that another time!).  However interesting breads fit into the summer vibe perfectly so I have been baking in bits and pieces.

I love sourdough breads, although they take a bit of commitment to make. Apart from a more complex flavour, they keep very well and make the best toast you will have ever eaten. Sourdoughs are also very good breads for busy folk as they rise slowly so can fit around your weekend activities only requiring occasional TLC.   The process of making a starter takes quite a bit of time but not a whole lot of effort.  Dan lepard’s recipe is one of the easiest and resulted in the bubbling beauty below after just a week! Once you have your starter made it is just a case keeping it in the fridge and ‘refreshing’ once a week (the best way to do this is to make bread).  Even if neglected a starter can be restored to its former glory by a couple of refreshments so if you go on your hols all is not lost.

‘Mill’ Loaves made using a combination of white, wholemeal and rye flour in a 6:3:1 ratio. My shaping of a baton needs some work!

Sourdough rye crispbreads adapted from this recipe by Nigel Slater (use sourdough starter, rye flour and water in a 1:2:2 ratio to replace the flour and water in the recipe) and were a huge hit with C. who called them “crack bread”. They were flavoured with either fennel seed, linseed, nigella seed, whole cumin or caraway. One tip on making these is to be VERY generous with the flour when rolling them out as the dough will be VERY sticky.

The sourdough resulted in a nice open texture to the bread.

These crispbreads, served with artisan cheeses added a special touch to a memorable family supper.  Apart from getting used to working such wet dough they really were very easy to make.  Now we are waiting for our second child to arrive so I have been busy making industrial quantities of lasagne, curry and chilli for the freezer! Hopefully the new arrival will still allow me a bit of time to cook!

Breads submitted to yeastspotting.

Daring Bakers: Croquembouche

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri. The recipes I used for the choux buns and the pastry cream were from the BBC good food website. The more observant of you may have spotted it is now late July and I am posting this challenge about 2 months late… this is a result of abject laziness, an intense couple of months of work and the impeding arrival of our second child.

Compared to making a suet pudding this looked to be a real challenge for me as delicacy and precision are not my fortes generally when handling the sticky stuff. However C.’s  second birthday was coming up so it made an ideal project for a pretty party cake. In order to make and assemble the various elements during the working week I made the Croquembouche over the course of 3 days.

Day 1

Making the choux pastry was easier than I expected although I initially forgot the water which resulted in my pastry resembling nothing more than a superheated roux.  Remembering to add the water resulted in a near miraculous transformation and the rest of the process of choux bun creation was simple enough.  My piping bag tips were a bit fine for this so I just used the locking ring on the end of the bag with no tip attached and this worked really nicely. To get my buns uniform I placed a  macaron template under the baking parchment.

As soon as the pastry was cooked I made a 1cm slit on the side of each bun to let the steam escape. (This stops them turning soggy as they cool).The buns were returned to the oven for a further 5 minutes to dry them out,  transferred to a wire rack to cool and then stored in tupperwares.

I made a pastry cream to fill the buns but flavoured with lemon zest and Cointreau (flaming all the alcohol off the booze before adding to the pastry cream as we would be serving to kids).  This was also stored in a tupperware overnight in the fridge, the surface of the cream covered with a circle of greaseproof paper to prevent a skin forming. So far… so good…

Day 2

The buns were crisped up in the oven and then filled with the pastry cream.  This sounds hard but is actually very easy.

Mrs W. used her engineering prowess to construct a suitable cone shaped mould from 2 pieces of A2 card lined with foil.  This would allow me to assemble the cone from the top down by placing the mould upside down in a large Pimms jug (so the tip was facing downwards) and packing with the filled buns. Melted white chocoalte was  applied generously to cement the bus together. The filled cone was placed (still upside down in the jug) to set in the fridge overnight.

Day 3

The next morning the whole assembly was turned out. The best removal tactic was to cut the mould along one edge and peel it off VERY carefully! Cue drum roll…….

Success! Now it was just left to to decorate with sugar flowers and spun sugar.

Like macarons, this initially looked an intimidating project but given a but of planning was actually fairly easy as each element that comprises the dessert is fairly simple.  I was really pleased with the results and I may well do another one for Christmas!