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.

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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!

Portugal

Last week we had a wonderful holiday in Portugal staying in a villa with family. Our villa was located near Moncarapacho, about a 45 minute drive east of Faro towards the border with Spain. In contrast to the well known resorts in the western Algarve with their hotels and golf courses, the eastern half is relatively undeveloped and comprises traditional fishing port and charming sleepy villages. The weather was gloriously sunny for the whole week and it was nice just to relax and mess about around the pool. The setting was beautiful and all around were citrus groves heady with the scent of blossom.

I didn’t cook all that much as it was cheaper to eat out but we had couple of barbecues including some fantastic local fish (sea bream,  sardines) and tasty, toothsome quail.

There is also a Portuguese speciality where you cook your own steak. The stone is heated to extreme temperatures and you cut pieces off the joint, cook to your liking and thoroughly enjoy.

Lazy lunches were had on the terrace by the pool … we grazed on ham, chorizo, antipasti,  potato salad, and some amazing local breads and cheeses.

I made brioche rolls for breakfast which was a real hit with C. The texture of the bread was very open compared to normal brioche as I had the dough prove all afternoon and overnight before baking.

Lazy Holiday Brioche Breakfast Rolls (posted to Yeastspotting)

75 ml warm water.

3 eggs (+ another for brushing over the rolls if required).

200g butter chopped in cubes.

500g strong white bread flour.

4 tablespoons honey (we were low on sugar!).

1 sachet (6-7 g) dried active baking yeast.

pinch of  salt.

  • Mix the flour,  salt and yeast into a bowl. Make a well in the flour and add the eggs and water. Mix to form a stiff dough (adding more water if required). Knead lightly in the bowl until the dough is smooth.
  • Add the butter to the dough and mix until well incorporated, this will be messy as the dough will be very sticky (I used a fork to do this). Cover and leave to rise in a warm place (a pool terrace in Portugal is ideal!)
  • When dough has doubled in size knock back and knead in the bowl 5-10 times. Recover the dough and leave to rise again.  I didn’t need the dough till much later so I put it in the fridge at this point.
  • Generously grease a muffin tin with butter (grease the whole upper surface of the in as the dough is likely to rise over the edges of the cups).
  • Turn the finished dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead 5 to 10 times. Separate the dough into thirds. Portion each third into 6 even pieces and place each piece into a cup in the muffin tin. Set aside to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (I left mine overnight).
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas mark 4. For a glossy finish brush the top of the rolls with beaten egg (I didn’t bother).
  • Bake in the preheated oven until deep golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  • Leave to cool in the tray then pop out and enjoy!

When we ate out I gorged on seafood which was abundant, especially the most sweet baby clams. The local speciality dish is Cataplana which is a big one pot shell fish stew served with rice and plenty of vino tinto! Eating out at the local restaruants was tremendous value,  3 courses costing typically around €2o per person including wine. 

There is also a Portuguese speciality “steak on the stone” where you cook your own steak. The steak is served barely seared on a stone tile heated to an extremely high temperature and you cook to your liking. Mrs W. was a big fan!