Irish soda bread

As much as I enjoy making yeasted bread, sometimes I just don’t have the time to wait three hours for a loaf. This is where I find soda bread comes in as it can be ready in under an hour. I’ve tried a few recipes but never found one I’ve loved and wanted to repeat. That was until this weekend. This recipe will be repeated in my kitchen very soon. The recipe is from this month’s Sainsbury’s magazine and is from Richard Corrigan. I had to adapted the recipe slightly as it was a last minute decision on sunday morning to bake bread for lunch and I had to use what was in the fridge/cupboards. I substituted the treacle/honey for golden syrup and as we had no buttermilk in I used half semi-skimmed milk and half low fat natural yogurt. I love the flavour of the bread and the texture from the seeds, oats and mix of half plain/half wholemeal flour. This makes quiet a big loaf so for just the two of us I will be halving the recipe next time.

Irish soda bread

250g plain flour
10g salt
15g bicarbonate of soda
250g wholemeal flour
150g jumbo oat flakes
1 tbsp clear honey
1 tbsp black treacle
500ml buttermilk
1 tbsp mixed seeds (optional)

  • Heat the oven to 390F/200C (fan 180)/gas mark 6. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment or grease and line a large loaf tin.
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, then pour in the honey, treacle and buttermilk, working everything together lightly with your hands until you have a loose, wet dough.
  • With floured hands, shape the dough into a round and lift it onto the lined baking sheet or into the tin. Use a knife to mark a cross in the top (there’s no need to do this if you are using a tin). Scatter with seeds if using.
  • Put into the oven and bake for around 45 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base.
  • Transfer to a wire rack, drape a slightly damp cloth over the top and leave to cool.
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Fresh tomato sauce

The other weekend we made a trip to our local market. We came away with a good selection of fruit and vegetables for the week for under £10 and an entire box (see just how big in this photo) of cherry tomatoes for just £2.50.

I used the tomatoes to make a whole load of tomato sauce for the freezer. I made some roast tomato sauce and also some just cooked down on the hob (using a simple recipe from Rose Prince’s Kitchenella). Both sauces are delicious but the roasted tomato sauce just had the edge in terms of depth of flavour. That said, both sauces are far better than any sauce I have made using tinned tomatoes. I’ve been using the sauces a lot in pasta dishes and pizza’s so I’ll have to keep an eye out for another box very soon.

Roasted tomato sauce

Cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Dried oregano
Garlic
Salt and pepper

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan).
  • Wash the tomatoes.
  • Halve the cherry tomatoes and place cut side up on a baking tray. Leave some room around each tomato (i.e. don’t pack them too close together).
  • Add a few cloves of garlic to the tray.
  • Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle over some salt, pepper and dried oregano.
  • Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the tomatoes release their juices which begin to caramelise and some of the skins  will have blackened.
  • Allow to cool briefly. Pour the tomatoes (and roasted garlic) and their juices from the tray in to a food processor and blitz to a sauce consistency.

I also oven dried some of them and made my own “sun” dried tomatoes. They were good but I can’t see myself making them again as they didn’t keep well (even in the fridge).

Fresh from the oven – June 2010 – Turkish Pide

It’s been a few months since I have participated in a Fresh from the oven challenge so I felt I really had to try to fit it in this month. However time got a way from me and I found the 28th arriving before I had chance to bake. I had planned to make the bread after returning from a weekend at my parents yesterday (whilst my boyfriend was watching the world cup) but a drive that should have taken an hour and a half took 4 hours. So not only did the bread not get baked but we ended up sat in a traffic jam in scorching temperatures listening to the match on the radio. Anyway I had the day off work today so a bit last minute but at last I  baked this months challenge.

This months challenge was hosted by Pei Lin a.k.a Mrs Ergü, whose blog can be found here. She chose Turkish Pide. Pide is almost like a national bread in Turkey (after Simit). Quoting Iffet from her blog – My Turkish Kitchen:

Pide is the special Turkish bread for Ramadan. During the holy month of Ramadan, you could see long lines in front of bakeries. Those people wait to have one of these breads to break their fast with it. The smell of pide ‘force’ you to get one even you don’t think about buying it.

It was certainly worth the wait. It was simple to make (apart from the measurements being in cups, I much prefer to measure flour using scales when baking) and tasted delicious (but it is quiet rich because of the butter content). I had to improvise slightly, we had no black sesame seeds in so had to use poppy seeds.

Turkish Pide
adapted from Iffet’s My Turkish Kitchen, PİDE

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups (to 5 cups) Plain flour
  • 1 and 3/4 cups Warm Water
  • 1/2 stick (60g) Butter ( melted )
  • 1/2 tablespoon Instant Yeast
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon Salt

Topping:
Black and White Sesame Seeds

  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients
  2. Add melted Butter and Warm Water into this mixture and knead. The dough should be sticky
  3. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and keep it in a warm place for rising
  4. Let the dough rise to double its size
  5. Knead the dough again until it is bubble free
  6. Place a parchment paper on a 13″ by 10.5″ baking tray
  7. Take the dough to the tray and make it flat with your hands until it cover all of the surface of the tray
  8. Dampen your hands with Water if the dough stick to your hands on this step
  9. Then take a knife and give the dough square shapes going deep down
  10. Sprinkle some Sesame Seeds on top
  11. Preheat the oven to 350F
  12. Let rise the dough for half an hour
  13. Bake it for 30 minutes or until the color of pide turns light brown
  14. Take the pide out of the oven and let it cool for 20 minutes and cover it with a clean kitchen towel to keep it soft.

Cook book review – Tiffany Goodall Form pasta to pancakes The ultimate student cookbook.

This is a great introductory cookbook for students. It’s the kind of book I would have like to have when I was at university. I left university only 4 years ago so remember my student days quiet well. I never had a student cookbook or any cookbook for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t live on take aways and pot noodles! I think I ate quiet well for a student (I dread to think what my boyfriend lived off!) but I didn’t cook anything which required a recipe either. My mum taught me the basics of how to cook meat and 2 veg before I left home. In addition to this I ate pasta with sauces from jars, frozen pizzas and the occasional ready meal (yes I’m a shamed to say I even ate the frozen Sunday roast ready meals!).

I received my review copy of this cookbook one morning last week and had a quick flick through the book before heading off to work. First impressions were good, lots of bright, colourful pictures and the food all looked delicious. I did initially think some of the recipes were very basic (boiled egg and soldiers, boiling pasta and baking jacket potatoes) but then I remembered my flatmate who set a jacket potato on fire in the microwave! or my boyfriend who admits that his parents tried to teach him to cook before going off to uni but he just wasn’t interested in learning.

Since those initial first impressions I have had time to sit down and have a good read through the book and also my boyfriend tested a couple of recipes. This is a really good book for students or anyone moving out of home for the first time and having to learn to cook for themselves. As well as the real basics there is a good variety of recipes. From risottos to curries, smoothies to vodka watermellon and even a birthday cake. All meals are covered breakfasts, packed lunches, quick suppers, meals for friends and baking. There is even an introduction to basic kitchen equipment, store cupboard ingredients and basic hygiene. The format of the book is very unique with easy to follow comic strip style recipes with photos of every step of the process. Great for anyone completely new to the kitchen.

At the weekend my boyfriend tested out the chilli con carne recipe and followed the instructions in the book for cooking rice (something he had not cooked before). The chilli recipe serves 8 so is great for cooking for a group of friends or in our case freezing in to portions of 2 for when time is short. The result was delicious and his feed back was that the recipes were very clear and easy to understand.I would not hesitate to recommend this book to some one heading off to university this autumn. It’s easy to follow, assumes no prior cooking skills (yet doesn’t sound patronising or preachy) and is packed full of delicious recipes for every eventuality.

For more previews of the book see here.
Thanks to Quadrille Publishing for sending me my first review cookbook!

Frozen assets

I thought I would do a series of posts on what I keep in my freezer, fridge and store cupboards. As I have mentioned before my philosophy on food is that 90% of the time I like to eat healthy food, I have prepared from scratch. Some times I have plenty of time free to cook and bake from scratch and at other times my time is seriously limited. There are a lot of key ingredients I have on hand so I can either cook/bake from scratch when I have time and freeze the results for when time is short. This means when time is short I do not have to resort to supermarket convenience foods. As well as pre-cooked meals I also keep ingredients on hand that I can make quick meals from. Today I am going to start with the contents of my freezer.

Essentials – always in there

Frozen veg – peas, sweetcorn,
Frozen fish – white fish e.g. coley or pollack, salmon and prawns (all bought fresh or frozen).
Home made bread packed down into 4 slice’s per bag for making lunches for the two of us.
Ice cubes of wine – red and white. once frozen they can be removed from their trays and stored in sandwich bags for adding to dishes as required.
Home made bread crumbs – used for coating fish cakes, adding to pasta bakes etc.
Tomato sauce – made in batches and frozen in small portions for using as pizza sauce.
Pasta sauces – again made in large batches e.g. Ratouille
Bolognese sauce – I make a batch to feed around 12 every couple of months and split it into portions for 2 people. This is real convenience food and in busy periods we may eat a batch once a week usually with pasta.
Root ginger – cut into approximately 2cm pieces when bought, frozen and then each piece can be removed when needed.
Home made soup (except in summer) – in containers with enough for 1 person. Great for removing from the freezer the night before to take to work for a delicious, warming lunch.

Not essential – but often in there

Frozen veg – green beans (good for stir fries or an extra veg side dish), squash I have roasted myself when in season (for adding to risottos, pasta or couscous).
Stewed apples – from autumn onwards when I get given a lot of cooking apples from family. Small quantities for adding to porridge and larger portions for a delicious warming dessert (with or without custard).
Meats – good quality (at least 70% meat) sausages, mince, pork chops and bacon portioned out first (sometimes even I will cut up the bacon into small pieces for pasta dishes before freezing).
Caramelised onions – red or white – great on pizza or breads.
Biscuits or muffins – most freeze well and then you can just remove a few at a time when you want a sweet treat.
Other pre-made dishes – stews, casseroles, lasagna all freeze well.
Home made mini calzones – great for lunch at work (just reheat for 2-3mins in microwave). My boyfriend loves them – a healthier version of a pastie.
Fresh pasta dough – I have found it is easier to make enough for 6 people and then divide the dough in to 3 pieces – freeze 2 and roll one out and shape.
Home made stock – when I have time to make any!
Fish fingers – I know these are practically convenience food but even Jamie Oliver has a recipe for posh fish finger butties in one of his books! As well as fish finger butties they are good with home made potato wedges when you just don’t know what else to cook.

I plan for this post to be updated as my cooking changes so will have a link to it in the side bar. I would also love it to be interactive so please post if you have any other things in your freezers that you think are essential or helpful!

Reducing food bills……………….

Whilst catching up on some of my favorite blogs (and searching out some new ones) I noticed there was a lot of discussion going on about eating healthily, cheaply and quickly. I have already mentioned in my profile and in my previous posts that this is a concept I try to stick to, so I thought I would join in the debate and add my view (for what is worth).

Like many people time spent in the kitchen (as much as I enjoy it!) can be limited sometimes. However the health and budget conscious side of me doesn’t like buying ready made convenience foods (apart from the cost and healthy problems, they just don’t taste as good as homemade food in my opinion). Most of my budgeting tips have come from the passion for home cooking I developed over the last 18 months and not as a need to save money in the current financial climate. It does help though! and I know we spend less per week than other couples of our age. The money we save enables us to be able to comfortably afford to eat out occasionally etc and most importantly I have fun cooking.

Here are some of the things I do to reduce costs, improve the health benefits of food and for convenience when needed:

Shop around. We shop regularly at one of the discount supermarkets to buy what we can. This includes fruit and veg that looks good quality, household products and dried goods. Although I personally couldn’t imagine doing a full shop there. The rest of the weekly food shop we do at one of the bigger supermarkets. We have also bought fruit and vegetables from the market which was definitely cheaper and more enjoyable than the supermarket but we just don’t have the time regularly shop this way.

Buy non-perishables in bulk when on offer. 3 for 2’s, 50% off etc can really add up if you take advantage of these offers on dried goods, freezable food and tins (as well as household products and toiletries). We always have a look at what meat and fish is on offer even if we don’t need it (so long as we have room in the freezer).

Reduce the amount of meat we eat. Personally I prefer to buy free-range chickens and good quality British meat. In order to do this without massively increasing our food budget we look for offers as above, make the most of a chicken (see below), buy cheaper cuts of meat (pork/ham hock and casseroles using shin beef etc have been popular additions to our slow cooker) and have introduced some vegetarian meals in to our diet (risottos and pasta dishes mainly but baked acorn squash stuffed with cous cous was a very tasty addition to our autumn diet).

Meal plan each week before shopping. This is something I did this pretty much from the start of moving out of home, it just made sense to me. It makes writing a shopping list easier and knowing what to get out of the freezer each night. We’re not too ridged with these plans as my boyfriend will often come home without things that were sold out or of poor quality or sometimes he will bring home vegetables, meats or fish that were on offer or took his fancy and the meal plan will change slightly. I cook differently on a weekend or day off to how I cook on week night (especially the ones I work late on or need to study) so it helps to have a basic plan of the week ahead but there is always some flexibility (i.e. we may eat Mondays dish on Wednesday etc).

Make the most of a chicken. As previously mentioned I only buy free-range chickens. Every couple of weeks or so (whenever time permits) I will cook a 1.5kg ish bird on a Sunday along with the traditional roast trimmings. We also have enough for a leftover chicken dish the following night (nachos, pizza or pesto and pasta are favorites but I plan on trying risotto and noodle soup soon) and sandwich filling for the two of us for 2-3 days. When time and energy permits I will use the bones to make homemade stock (or sometimes I poach the chicken for stock with less fuss) but this doesn’t happen as often as I would like but I still think we are getting our moneys worth from an £6-7 bird.

Take our own lunch to work. Buying sandwiches at work can easily add up to £20 a week each and they’re are usually of poor quality both taste wise and nutritionally. We take things like soups, cous cous, sandwiches, mini calzones and left over pasta bakes etc. I often feel uninspired in this area so I am on the look out for new ideas. It needn’t be too time consuming either. We make ours after our evening meal while the other starts clearing away. Things like soups and mini calzones I make in big batches on weekends or days off and freeze in portions for one.

Bake my own bread. We bought a cheap bread maker last spring unsure of whether it would be a passing desire to make our own. A year on we have only bought a handful of loafs since when time has been especially short (e.g. around Christmas and when I was ill). I am convinced the loafs I make have much less salt than store bought ones and with the massive rise in prices I think it works out cheaper (and we eat more variety than just the basic white and wholemeal loafs). I also occasionally make bagels etc which are definitely better than store bought ones. One of the biggest ways we save is by making our own pizza’s and garlic breads. It is easy to knock up a batch of pizza dough and make your own which are easily as tasty as store bought ones but cheaper, healthier and you have more control over the toppings – so get creative. I also bake my own biscuits and muffins as well when time permits (most can be frozen so I make double and freeze for when time is short).

Make meals ahead and freeze them. Every month or so I will make a large batch of bolognese sauce and freeze it in portions for 2 people. Then it makes a quick and tasty spaghetti bolognese when time is short or with a little bit more time can be turned into delicious lasagne’s or cottage pie. I also cook pasta sauces, soups and pizza sauces in the same way. For convienence I also have bags of ice cubes of wine to add to recipes as needed (instead of having to open a new bottle).

Grow your own. Especially herbs! Supermarket herbs are incredibly expensive for what you get and how long they keep for. We have only a small, north facing back garden so are very limited to what we can grow. However last summer we successfully grew a wide variety of herbs and salad leaves in container and even managed to get one crop of mangetout (again grown in a container) before the slugs beat us too them.

On average for the two of we spend about £35-40 a week on groceries which we are happy with, not only that but I strongly believe we eat better for it and I enjoy the time spent in the kitchen cooking from scratch!