Apr 092017
 

I made these loaves yesterday using kefir as a leaven. I received quite a few questions on Instagram about how I use the grains, so I thought I’d put up this post with some ideas. I’ll also include below the recipe for these particular loaves.

What is kefir?

Kefir is very interesting stuff and very useful.
Milk kefir grains
Here’s a picture of the grains. They feel sort of rubbery – a bit like Copydex when you make it into balls (you -did- do that didn’t you?). They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some big flat discs, some little bobbles.

It’s a very special sort of organism called a ‘SCOBY’: a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts. The bacteria are mostly lactic acid bacteria and these coexist and work together with the yeasts.

The lactic acid bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. The yeasts do the same, producing carbon dioxide and very small amounts of ethanol.

The acidification of the milk means that the curds and whey separate out. As you can see starting below.
Kefir milk drinkHere’s our breakfast drink production. This is about 500ml of milk with the grains. Here the milk has been on the grains for about 5 hours. We strain off the grains in the morning and top up the milk and leave at room temperature. In the winter, we often flavour the milk drink with home-made rose hip or blackberry syrup. The drink is slightly tart and sometimes a little fizzy. The kefir is also great used to make smoothies.

The grains readily multiply. So we either give excess grains to friends or pop them on the compost heap.

It’s the actions of the lactic acid bacteria and the yeasts that mean you can use the kefir to leaven bread. Instead of feeding on the sugars in the milk, they feed on the flour.

Kefir bread recipe

I’ve previously posted about this here. But for these loaves I changed the process slightly. I made plain white bread using Shipton Mill No 4 flour as I wanted to make bacon sandwiches the next morning. White bread is always best for bacon 😉

This makes enough for 2 loaves of approximately 750g each.

Ingredients

Poolish

Live strained kefir 285g
Strong white flour 215g
Date syrup (or honey) 50g

Dough

Poolish from above 550g
Strong white flour 650g
Fine sea salt 15g
Warm water 280g

Method

Start the poolish the afternoon before you want to bake.

Mix all the ingredients together in the bowl you’ll mix the dough in (saves on washing up). Cover with plastic or a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm place until the next morning. The date syrup or honey gives the kefir a quick sugar rush to get the leaven started. By the morning, you should see the poolish slightly bubbly.

Then add the other ingredients and knead in your Kenwood Chef or similar for 6 minutes or do it by hand.

Cover again and allow to rest for 2 hours or so. Then fold as I show you in this post for pain de campagne.

Cover and rest for an hour: fold again. And finally cover and rest for another hour and then fold. Cover and rest for an hour.

Divide the dough in two. Shape to your fancy – there’s some shaping tips in a video in the pain de campagne recipe above.

Allow to prove for about a couple of hours. And while this is happening, preheat your oven to 230°C.

Slash the bread artily. Bake the bread for 15 minutes at 230°C with some boiling water in a tray at the bottom. Then take out the tray, turn down the oven to 190°C and bake for a further 30 minutes.

Other uses for kefir

I use the kefir to culture cream to make cultured butter. My recipe for this is here. You can also use the cultured cream like crème fraiche.

If you culture milk/cream until it splits into curds and whey you can make cheese.

Strain the curds through muslin until you achieve your desired consistency. This is like a ricotta/labneh. It’s very good made with goat’s milk.

You can add salt and herbs, chilli or other spices to taste.

If you press the cheese in a strainer or cheese basket (use a cheese press or some heavy weights like a bagged brick or tins) you can make a hard cheese which you can age.

The kefir grains will also ferment other ‘milks’ such as coconut and almond.

If you want to delve deeper into the mysteries of kefir, visit Dom in Australia who is a mine of useful information and bad puns. Here’s his page on Dom’s kefir cheese pages to get you started, but do explore further.

 Posted by at 13:13

Stuffed sardines recipe, sarde a beccafico

 Autumn, Dairy, Recipes, Seafood, Seasons, Spring, Summer, Winter  Comments Off on Stuffed sardines recipe, sarde a beccafico
Mar 232015
 

Stuffed sardines

Stuffed sardines recipe

These sardines just melt in the mouth with a burst of herby flavour. They are a doddle to prepare and only take 10 minutes to cook. They are ideal as antipasto, as part of a buffet or a main fish course.

I developed the stuffing from ingredients I had left over from the foraging workshop I did locally. So it was a real case of the available ingredients driving the recipe.

In Italian ‘beccafico’ means ‘fig pecker’ a name for small, sweet plump birds. The dish is meant to mimic the taste of these birds. The stuffing is traditionally made with pine nuts, currants, anchovies, parsley, bread crumbs and lemon/orange juice and garnished with bay leaves. The fish tails are left to poke up out of the dish to simulate the perky birds’ tail feathers.

This quantity would serve 4 as antipasto.

Ingredients

8 plump sardines
150ml fresh ricotta (see here how to make your own)
50g of dried breadcrumbs
handful of wild garlic leaves, finely chopped
large sprig of fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 lemon zest finely grated
1 lemon, sliced
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

Method

Pre-heat an oven to 180°C (350°F).

If it’s not already been done, cut off the head of the sardines and gut them. Wash & gently dry them.

Cut from the gut to the tail to make it easy to butterfly bone the fish. If you fancy, cut or snip out the dorsal fin and cut off the tail. Put the fish belly down on a board so that the back is uppermost. Press down firmly on the length of the backbone and feel it separate from the flesh. Turn the fish over and remove the backbone and rib bones, with luck they will come out as one. Use a small knife to help you if you need to.

Mix the remaining ingredients apart from the extra virgin olive oil together so it makes a thick paste.

Divide the paste evenly across each of the sardines. Roll up the sardines. If you want to mimic the birds’ tail feathers roll from the wide end first: otherwise it’s easier to roll from the tail end.

Put the fish tightly in a baking dish so they don’t unroll and put a slice of lemon between each. Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes.
Baked stuffed sardinesThe fish can be eaten warm, I prefer them at room temperature.

Buon appetito!

 Posted by at 12:23
Apr 022013
 

Evernote Camera Roll 20130322 220654

I love the way Twitter works. In particular how ideas get propagated: across the world in an instant and inspiring new networks of enthusiastic people. And also how physical things are shared too.

This kefir bread is the result of both such things. My apologies for the pics – they’re taken quickly on an iPhone and the bread didn’t last long enough for me to take anything posher for you.

I sent Joanna at Zeb Bakes in England some kefir. As part of her experiements, Joanna (a great baker) decided to make kefir leavened bread blogged by her friend Cecilia. Joanna has written a very instructive blog post about her experience. And Cecilia is a Kiwi (New Zealander) living in mid-west USA.

So, with all this helpful stuff to read, I had to have a go at this.

As you can see from the pictures, the loaf turned out very well indeed. It was a soft bread (apart from the crisp crust), slightly sweet with a background tang. It makes lovely sandwiches and toasts well (browns very quickly). We had it au naturel, with marmalade and toasted with cheese and it went well with all of them.

You need to think a couple of days ahead as you need live kefir milk to start fermenting a flour ‘sponge’. You then add this sponge to a bigger quantity of flour to ferment the final loaf.

I’ve tweaked the recipes that preceded this to use a higher amount of kefir in the sponge and reduced the water to match. To see my recipe, please read on…

 Posted by at 17:36
Mar 312013
 
Herbed and salted Smen

Kefir grains on the left; on the right the finished Smen,

Morocco has a special place in my heart as that’s where I had my honeymoon well over 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve maintained a keen interest in Moroccan & other North African cuisine.

One of the ingredients that is traditional to this part of the world is Smen (also called smansemneh, or sminn) which is a cultured, salted and flavoured butter which keeps for ages. It’s normally made from sheep or goat’s milk. You’ll see it used to spread on flatbreads, to flavour tagines and cous cous. Jamie Oliver uses it for his recipe for mechoui lamb that I wanted to cook, so I decided to see if I could make my own smen.

Most of the recipes for it that I have found on the web and in my book involve clarifying butter. This is then kneaded with salt and an infusion of herbs (oregano or fenugreek). The butter is then packed and sealed and stored to mature. In others unclarified butter has the salt & herbs added and it’s then clarified.

The web tells of Berber herds people who will bury a sealed container of smen on the day of a daughter’s birth, aging it until it is unearthed and used to season the food served on that daughter’s wedding. I’ve no idea if this is true.

I’ve been playing with milk kefir grains for a while now. I wondered if I could use them to make smen from scratch with cream without the need to clarify already made butter. Read on for my story about how this might have happened in North Africa and for my method…
Continue reading »

 Posted by at 10:44
May 102012
 

Asparagus, tarragon and piave cheese tart

People have enjoyed the luxurious taste of asparagus for millennia. The Ancient Egyptians ate it. And it appeared in The Roman Cookery of Apicius in the late 4th & early 5th Century CE.

Asparagus seasonal right now but only for a short period. Also in season is the wonderfully aromatic, anise flavoured french tarragon. As with many things that are seasonal at the same time, these two ingredients make perfect partners. We grow both of these ingredients on the smallholding, so I had a ‘free’ meal in the making when paired with eggs from our chickens.

In this recipe I complemented these ingredients with some wonderfully sweet and full tasting, 24 month’s old, piave cheese. This is a cow’s milk cheese from a small area in Italy with the same name. I was lucky enough to receive some from my Twitter friend in Rome, Carla Tomasi.

The finished tart tasted really smooth, rich and special. The fragrance of the shoots, herb and cheese was subtle: our senses were gently stroked. We had the tart with new potatoes lightly dressed in wild garlic mayo and steamed brassica shoots the first day; and with lemony cous-cous and tarragon marinated tomato salad the next.

If you’d like to know how to make this tart and see some tips for how to grow your own asparagus, please read on…

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:18
Mar 092012
 

Panzannella - winter bread salad
If you make or use much good bread, you’ll have bits left over that are a shame to waste. Sourdough is great for this because it lasts without going mouldy much longer than yeasted bread. So you can collect a little stash. The bread needs to be a few days old and dry or drying.

Many people know about the summer panzanella made with juicy & fragrant tomatoes. For this winter salad, I made the bread into crispy parmesan croutons and added some raw and roasted vegetables to make a big, punchy & pretty salad for a main meal.

52 week salad challenge bannerI was asked on twitter if it’s filling enough for hearty appetites. Well this made enough for three hungry gluttons with some left over for a lunch the next day.

This is an ideal way to continue to have salad through the darker parts of the year. It’s another contribution from me to the 52 Week Salad Challenge.

It’s a very simple recipe, read on to find out more… Continue reading »

 Posted by at 09:06
Jan 292012
 

Pasty served with home-made canned baked beans

This week’s Short and Tweet Challenge was a dream recipe for me. That’s because it gave me the chance to use so much home produced or foraged ingredients.

The recipe was for Dan’s Spinach and Ricotta Pasties. A gorgeous ricotta/mushroom/spinach/garlic/chilli/oregano filling is encased in a tomato & cheese dough.

I changed the dough recipe slightly by using all wholemeal spelt flour. This was to intensify the colour and because I love the nutty/wholemeal taste of spelt. The dough was very easy to handle and Dan’s quick 10 second kneads make light work of it.

I had great fun with the filling. I was able to use my own dried chillies and oregano both preserved from the 2011 harvest. Instead of ricotta I used brocciu I made from goat’s milk that I first used in this chestnut ravioli. Instead of the spinach, I used foraged nettles that I’d frozen from last year.

Pasty ingredients: brocciu, lemon zest, mushroom mix, hazelnuts, nettles
In addition to those ingredients, I added 75g of toasted and chopped hazelnuts for taste & to give some crunch to the filling. Finally, I thought the mix could do with a little lift and so added the finely grated rind of an unwaxed lemon.

I was delighted with the combination of flavours. The pastry was thin and crisp and with a lovely cheesy edge from the parmesan. The filling had complex flavours, which blended together beautifully. The nuts and lemon really lifted the filling from good to excellent.

The pasties are incredibly filling. This may be partly because I used a wholemeal flour for the dough. I think you could easily make these pasties into smaller buffet size ones and make double the number of pasties. This will be a firm favourite in our house from now on.

All I needed to serve with it was some home-made (and home canned) baked beans. Make these, they are delicious.

Cut open nettle & brocciu pasty

 

 Posted by at 19:53

Haggis Lasagne Recipe

 Beef, Dairy, Lamb, Pork, Recipes, Seasons, Vegetable, Winter  Comments Off on Haggis Lasagne Recipe
Dec 242011
 

Haggis Lasagna in construction

I made a huge pile of haggis yesterday that we had with pearl barley risotto.

To continue the Hibernian/Italian theme, I ‘ve paired it with home-made pasta today. The roasted tomato passata, dried tomatoes and preserved courgettes are all bounty from the summer: saved for a winter treat.

I’ll add the recipe for all this very soon.

Nadolig Llawen i pawb…

Update: 9th January 2012 – I published a recipe for how to make the haggis element of this dish. I’ll do this recipe to completion nex.

 Posted by at 17:12
Nov 102011
 

Like many English people, I have a love affair with Corsica. It’s partly because of this:

Corsica Mare et Monte

Corsica has a fantastic blend of  Mare et Monte: sea and mountains. It’s why I live  in North Wales, to be with môr a mynydd. But Corsica smells different too: it has the maquis. The maquis is a mixture of fragrant shrubs and herbs that lead Corsica to be called The Scented Isle.

Corsica is also famous for growing and using the fruit of the sweet chestnut tree. Some of the nuts are converted into flour and Corsican cuisine is famous for how it uses this: in a type of ‘polenta’, pancakes, flans, muffins, cakes and pasta.

I loved eating in Corsica and resolved to get a cookery book. It just so happens that the Corsican cookery book is written by an Englishwoman, Rolli Lucarotti. She sailed to Corsica in the 1970s with her husband and baby daughter. She fell in love with Corsica and, like many English people, now lives there. Her book is called Recipes from Corsica. It’s a great read and insight into a unique cuisine that has developed separately from that of it’s French & Italian invaders.

This recipe Rolli calls Panzarotti incu brocciu: cheese ravioli. The pasta is Pasta di castagna: chestnut flour pasta. Brocciu is called The Prince of Cheeses and is the Corsican national cheese. It’s like an Italian ricotta but made with sheep or goat’s milk, so it’s good for the lactose intolerant. Since I had a method for making ricotta, I thought I could make a close replica of brocciu. And I have now found a source of organic chestnut flour.  The recipe calls for calamint (calamentha nepeta) which my friend Carla Tomasi had recently sent to me from Rome where she calls it mentuccia. The recipe also needs eggs & chard. Our chickens produce eggs and we grow chard, so I was in business to make this wonderful dish. Want to know how? Read on… Continue reading »

 Posted by at 13:30
Oct 242011
 

Pizzoccheri layered up

I just love pizzoccheri. The dish is robust & earthy in taste & feel: a true peasant meal. It’s made with buckwheat pasta which is very easy to make or you can buy dried from Italian food stockists.

It’s a traditional recipe of the Valtellina in Lombardy, Northern Italy. Classically it’s made with the buckwheat pasta layered with chard or savoy cabbage, potatoes and cheese all dressed with a garlic & sage butter.

One of the joys of the dish is its flexibility. You can make it all year round with whatever veg is to hand. It’s ideal for using the bits and bobs you might pick from the garden or have in a veg box. This is my interpretation of this classic using a mix of seasonal vegetables from my garden. and I show you how easy it is to make the buckwheat pasta.

Fancy having a go? Read on… Continue reading »

 Posted by at 16:40
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