Sourdough – it’s about the happy bugs in your house!

I used to remember waking up in my parents’ house to the smell of warm bread in the oven. Yes, sourdough. I love it. Because it is about the happy vibes in my mother’s kitchen.

But asking my mum for any recipe is a nightmare, because she cooks by feel rather than precise measurements – haha, pot calling the kettle black, I do the same too! So I told my friend I wanted to bake a simple sourdough and she laughed at me.

“You?” she said. “You need patience!”

Anyway, where I live at the moment, it costs a whopping £6 for a loaf. So I decided to make my own. OK, what’s beautiful about sourdough is that it does not use dried yeast but airborne microbes to ferment the flour, so you get this lovely, lively starter to bake your bread with. I have lots of happy bugs in the house. It is such a happy house. So why not? I decided to add apples for that lovely background taste to my sourdough (note: use organic apples!)

TO MAKE THE STARTER:

Chop up one apple and mix with 50g rye flour and 50ml cold water.
Mix well and store in a clean jar, covered on top with a clean towel.
FEEDING THE STARTER (5 days)

Everyday, add 1tbsp flour and 1 tbsp water. Mix well.
Cover mixture in jar as per day 1.
On Day 5, it must smell bubbly and doughy. If it smells alien, junk the whole mixture!

STAGE 1: STIFF STARTER

Add 50% of your starter (about 45g) to 85g of strong bread flour (up to you whether you throw away the other 50% or bake 2 loaves) and 45ml of cold water. Mix well.
Store for 8-12 hours.
STAGE 2: THE KNEADING

Put 145g of the starter above in 400mls of tepid water. Mix the starter into a colloidal form in the water.
Add 400g of strong bread flour, 50g of rye flour and 50g of wholemeal flour into the colloid and knead well. Knead for about 10 minutes and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Then add 12g of sea salt and knead again, thoroughly mixing in the salt.
Put the dough in an oiled mixing bowl and leave to rest for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, knead it for a few minutes.
Repeat for 4 kneads and rest periods.
Then line a colander with a clean towel. Put the dough in it and cover with the other half of the towel.
Place in the dough in the fridge overnight.

STAGE 3: BAKING IT

Turn oven up to 250deg (max!)
Warm up a cast-iron casserole dish in the oven for 10 minutes.
Put the dough in there. Dust with semolina, and make two slashes with a knife.
Bake for 35 minutes with lid shut.
Remove lid and bake for another 25 minutes or until browned.
Cool, and leave for a few hours before slicing….though it tastes absolutely delicious when warm!!!!!

Note: I had a fun time with baking this. The whole family got involved with the multiple kneading stages, we sat around and enjoyed it with an Irish friend (with a glass of wine), gave half a loaf to another, and here’s my daughter’s faux pas which is part of our crazy happy household:

PS: The loaf was not perfect and the edges fell apart when I sliced it. But hey, they made a yummy simple aperitif !

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Healthy alternatives: apricot and cranberry flapjacks

I absolutely love homemade fudge, especially those sold in farmers markets in my county.  Unfortunately, fudges are chock-full of sugar, which research tells us is more harmful and more addictive than cocaine.  Indeed, Britain’s love of sugary stuff has plummeted drastically (spending on cake-making ingredients has slumped by £26.8 million) despite popular programs such as The Great British Bake Off (according to analysts Kantar Worldpanel).
So when I was at a farmers market over the weekend, I bought a bag of sweet apricots instead and baked some yummy, healthy flapjacks instead.

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This was how I made my sugarless apricot and cranberry flapjacks:

  1. Toast 1 cupful of organic porridge oats and 1 cupful of nuts and seeds in a 200degree oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle some coconut oil over the oats, nuts and seeds. Watch carefully to ensure that they do not burn.
  2. Blitz 1lb of apricot with 3 tablespoons of honey in a blender.
  3. Mix all together with 1 cupful of dried fruits. I used more cranberries proportionally but it is up to you.
  4. Bake in a greased tray for 20 minutes until firm but still spongy.
  5. Cool and cut into slices.
  6. For extra indulgence, you could top your flapjacks with melted chocolate.

Good for packed lunches!

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Dairy-free, gluten-free breakfast

I was writing and photographing on the topic of healthy breakfasts to tempt small children for my new book Facebook page, and I thought this would make such a lovely dairy-free breakfast.

I love milk and dairy products, and know that perhaps I should just cut down a little.  This base of mango and banana puree is a wonderful alternative to milk for cereals.

I served this with homemade granola, made from organic oats. According to many website sources (google gluten free oats), non-contaminated, pure oats are gluten-free. They are safe for most people with gluten-intolerance. The main problem with oats in gluten-free eating is contamination. Most commercial oats are processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley, and rye (this is from kitchn.com).

You can make all these the night before for a lovely, colourful breakfast.

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Georgina’s Gnocchi with sage and garlic butter

Gnocchi is so expensive in Asia, though it is made of nothing more than flour and potatoes. My daughter made this, and it was absolutely delicious. That’s with some modification to the traditional recipe (we added some pumpkin because we didn’t have enough potatoes).

INGREDIENTS:

Two cups of diced potato and pumpkin (she used 3/4 potato to 1/4 pumpkin)
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 egg
Salt and pepper

For the butter:

1/2 a cup of butter
5/6 cloves garlic
A sprinkling of dried sage (or chopped fresh ones)

Boil the diced potato and pumpkin until tender (but still firm). This would take about 15-20 minutes. Mash them up and all the other ingredients. Roll the dough out into tubes and cut the tubes into bite-size portions.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Drop in gnocchi and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until gnocchi have risen to the top; drain and serve.

In the meantime, melt the butter in a small pan. Saute the garlic until soft but not browned. Add the sage. Pour over the gnocchi.

True soul food ❤

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Cheap eats

My children’s father came from a family where cash was tight, yet all the children grew strong and healthy. My late mother-in-law (my God, how I miss her) was an expert in making a little money go a long way, and she was famed for her huge family parties which cost very little.

She would spread Sunday roast with stuffing, so that the little meat goes a longer way, fed more people. Till this day, I make stuffing in honour of her. Her sausage rolls too had always been supplemented with breadcrumbs, carrots and apples, all to make the little meat stretch that little more. So even though I am not constraint by finances, my sausage rolls always have lots of additional bits in them, not just meat.

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My mother-in-law never wasted anything. Even carrot shavings had their uses, either in sausage rolls or cakes. I urged her to write a thrift recipe book, because there is something beautiful about ‘free’ food. I hate wastage.

One of the things my mother-in-law used to do with meat carcasses was to boil them down into nutrient-packed broth. Sometimes, she would add pearl barley to make a meal out of it; at other times, she would just make her children drink it. And yes, her children did grow big and strong – my sister-in-law, a marathon runner, was one of the torch-bearers at the London Olympics.

So I continue her tradition. I boil down meat carcasses with vinegar, so that no part of an animal that give its life goes to waste. I normally throw whatever I have lying around into the pot.

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Today, I made a clear broth. Feeling like trying something different, I added ginger, lemongrass stalks and coriander seeds to the pot, amongst my usual leftover fruits and veggie.

I ladled the fragrant broth over this and it was absolutely delicious Asian noodle soup, as well as being healthy and almost free.

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Roasted root veggies -a quick, nutritious sides

My family’s staple is potatoes, and I sometimes get bored with roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, jacket potatoes and oven-fries. Here’s my variation:

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  1. Par boil root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beetroot, parsnips).
  2. Spread on a baking tray.
  3. Add chopped shallots, herbs (fresh and dried) and a sprinkling of salt.
  4. Drizzle generously with olive oil and bake in a preheated oven until cooked.

Because root vegetables grow underground, they absorb a great amount of nutrients from the soil. if you are bored with potatoes the classic ways or are grain-intolerant, try this.

Pie n mash for my ‘arf Cockney child

I am a strong believer in teaching children about their heritage, and as I have half-Cockney children, they must eat pie n mash (though I draw a line at making jellied eels).

There are pie n mash shops all over South East London and the ‘house’ recipe, handed down from one generation to the next, is fiercely guarded. It is said that this recipe can make or break a pie n mash shop, so there is no chance for me to obtain one. Therefore, I did it in the simplest way possible.

The ingredients are of two parts: the meat and the pastry.

The meat:

500 grams of minced beef
1½ tablespoons of plain flour
250 ml of beef stock (I used Bisto)

(no, you can add anything else if you want authenticity – no onions)

Fry the meat, sprinkle on the flour and when browned, add the stock. Cook for a few minutes. There must be thick, slurry liquid in the pan. Cool.

The pastry:

350 grams of plain flour
200 grams of suet (I used Atora)
½ teaspoon of salt
Water (at least 400ml)

Method: Sieve the flour into a large bowl and carefully mix in the suet using a knife. Mix in the water. Knead until it feels like clay. Leave in the fridge for 30 mins. Then roll it out to about 2-3 mm thickness, line a pie dish with it. Spoon the meat into a pastry. Add a lid. Pierce some holes on the lid for steam to escape. Bake at 170 degrees until browned.

And there you ‘ave it, them bleedin’ good pies. Bees’ knees, they are.

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Quick mini mince pies

For us, mince pies are the taste of Christmas. I don’t even like them, if truth is to be told, but they are so evocative of Christmas that I couldn’t resist making my cheat’s version (as I am unable to buy mince or suet where I am).

Ingredients:

1 portion shortcrust or puff pastry

4oz raisins

4 oz sultanas

4 oz currants

4 oz brown sugar

Grated rind of 1/2 an orange and 1/2 a lemon

2 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

3 tbsp brandy

Apricot jam (for the pastry)

How to:

Mix the ingredients and allow to soak overnight. Roll the pastry and cut into tiny cups. Brush with warmed and sieved apricot jam. Spoon the soaked mince meat into the cups. You may decorate the cups with left0ver pastry. Brush with milk and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees) until browned.

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“Best-est” pizza

We’d probably sit on the beach and eat a slice of cold pizza (washed down with some beer) for dinner. I can think of nothing better. I made this pizza 🙂

When my children were young and we lived in London, we would go for a treat to a restaurant called Made In Italy on the King’s Road for the “best-est pizza”. The pizza at this traditional, small restaurant wedged between two shophouses, was simply delicious – doughy base, oozing with olive oil and fresh flavours.

This is my pizza dough:

500g pizza flour (I used Farina brand)
One 7g sachet of yeast (I used Allinson’s)
10g salt
water

For topping I typically use: tomato passata or homemade pasta sauce, pesto sauce, ripe tomatoes, onions, lots of mozzarella and whatever cheese I have in the fridge, lots of fresh basil and occasionally some meat (bolognaise, salami, tuna).

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
The flour, salt and yeast have to be accurately measured, whilst we can be more flexible with the water.
Make a well with the flour.
Sprinkle salt round the crater.
Make a paste with the yeast.
Pour the paste into the crater.
Mix with water, adding water slowly, as required.
Knead for about 15 minutes. It feels ‘bouncy’ when it’s kneaded enough (if you press gently on the dough with a finger, it should spring back nicely).
Let it rise for 3 minutes: put the dough in a bowl and wrap the bowl with cling film.
Pour olive oil into a pizza tray and rub it all over. Roll the pizza dough into the tray. Add tomato paste and mozzarella cheese. For that pizza flavour, sprinkle dried oregano on top.

Garnish with the topping of your choice. Bake for 20-30 minutes, ensuring that the dough is cooked through. Serve topped with more fresh basil and olive oil.

Note: the secret is in the quality of the olive oil and the fresh ingredients.

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An Asian Christmas Cake

Nothing like a rich Christmas cake to evoke the spirit of Christmas!

Being in Asia, it is either impossible or expensive to buy some of the key ingredients for the traditional Christmas cake, so my friend Jane and I modified the classical recipe slightly. I also used more fruit and more alcohol to prevent mould from growing (since I am in a tropical country):

2lbs dried cranberries
12oz sultanas
12oz raisins
4oz glace cherries
4oz candied ginger
An eighth a bottle of Cointreau, to soak the fruits in
1lb wholemeal flour (I like the heaviness)
1/2 tsp salt
1tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1tsp mixed spice
4oz almonds
1lb soft brown sugar
3 tbsp treacle
1lb unsalted butter
8 eggs
2 oranges, rind grated (careful not to add the white bits)
2 lemons, rind grated (careful not to add the white bits)

The easy method:

Soak the fruits the night before. If you are teetotal, use orange juice though the cake won’t taste the same obviously and will probably not last that long.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Carefully grease and line the baking tin with parchment paper (the quantities above will yield a 11 inch cake).

Cream the butter and sugar.

FOLD in the flour and the other powder stuff, alternating with the beaten eggs. Don’t beat it, or the mixture will trap air.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Transfer to cake tin. Cover with more parchment paper and bake for approximately 4 hours, until it is cooked through.

Cool in a wine rack. Once every three days or so, feed the cake with Cointreau until Christmas. If you smash one by accident, they taste good as rum balls.

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The mixture is soooo tasty raw!! You can see the goodies that went into each cake ❤

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