May 24, 2009

Dierlike eiwit

Crush lots of garlic with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice, then add a bunch of basil and mash it until you have a rough pesto. Spoon over thin slices of rare steak, on top of lettuce on a slice of fresh bread.

May 23, 2009

Bread is the new black

The ubiquitous English bread appears to be a toast loaf. It has some amazing characteristics: it will last for weeks without the slightest mold; it never loses its spongy texture; it contains no fibre, despite supposedly being prepared from flour made from happy wheat; it will never fill you up and the flavour is as bleak as a gray winter morning. I suspect it is part of the predictability that reigned over palates here. It is finally beginning to change, with more variety, fibre and colour making an appearance in stores. But there is a long way to go still.

When I found rye flour in the supermarket, I bought it. I'd never worked with rye before, although I'm a great fan, so a long period of "experimentation" (aka unexpected bread) followed. My first attempt was dense, had to be baked for more than an hour to be almost done and had a bulletproof crust. The successive attempts increased the amount of wheat flour, but the results were still far from spectacular. Most of them just sat there, not breathing, not moving, stoically rejecting every form of encouragement I could think of.

So read some more. What the dough should look like, how it should behave. Baker's Percentage. Hydration. Learned about shaping loaves. Steam. I think my sense for what will be bread is slowly developing, but the wonder and awe are still there, on every loaf.

The time came to do rye again. And this time, it worked. Beautifully. The secret? Stretch the gluten, then give it time.

I use 2 cups rye flour (quite fine, but not completely) to a cup of strong bread flour. 1/2 teaspoon (or less) yeast, 1 Tbs sugar, as much salt, then 350ml lukewarm water. Mix a bit, until it looks as if all the flour has been absorbed, then add some oil, about 15ml. Take it from the mixing bowl and on a flat surface squash it down and out with the heel of your hand, then fold it back. Turn 90 degrees, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. (For a better description, look at Bread: The River Cottage Handbook 3)

After a few minutes it will change from just being soft and mushy to having texture. It will start to come together, feel smooth in your hand. Knead some more. I usually keep going for 5 minutes - my work surface becomes uncomfortably low if I knead any longer. Gently press the dough down, then fold in the edges bit by bit, turning the dough as you go. This should give you a jellyfish-like mound, turn it over so the smooth side faces up. Place your open palms on either side of the round, move one up and one down to twist it into an oblong shape. Apparently, this helps to get a smooth rise.

Feel the dough, it should be warm, alive and loving at this stage. Then cover and let rise until it has doubled in size. If it looks sluggish, leave it longer, for a day if you need to. Mine usually mushrooms somewhere deep in da nite...

When it is airy and bubbly, turn it out and gently press it flat. Roll/fold/stretch into a snake, press down again. Now fold in a third of your flat snake from the one end towards the middle, the same with the other end. Press down slightly, then roll it up, as tightly as you can, stretching the dough as you go. Roll a bit to get a smooth oblong shape. I then flour my bread, cover, and let it prove. Watch it prove. It might take 30min, or 3 hours, depending one a myriad variables. When it has almost doubled in size, and it feels light and puffy to the touch, the loaf is ready. (It is a loaf now, not dough.) If you're wondering about the incredible amount of detail in kneading, folding and shaping - it's all about stretching the gluten. With the right tension, your bread will behave as expected: rising evenly, gaping along gashes, etc.

The shaped loaf, bursting to be baked

I bake in a preheated oven (240C), usually with a bowl of boiling water at the bottom of the oven for extra moisture. Just before the loaf goes in, I make a smooth cut along its length, to give some room for expansion. Then bake for 30min, turning the temperature down to 200C after the first 10 minutes. It's done when the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.


My loaf didn't rise up as much as it expanded sideways, but it was beautiful nonetheless. It has a fine crumb, is actually quite light, yet filling with a strong nutty flavour I get very excited about. This bread will be a regular.


May 18, 2009

Toasted cheese

I've been eating far too many of these lately. But I like it. And it always lifts the mood.

(dedicated to all felines who feel poorly, and those nursing them back to health)

May 15, 2009

When in Rome..

... do as the Romans do. When in the UK, eat a kebab. Well, other things too. But definitely a kebab. This is not the relatively healthy ancestor sold in Middle-Eastern bazaars; nor is it the German variant with a strong Turkish pedigree; this is authentically and wholeheartedly and chin-wipingly British. Even the umlaut from the original döner has been dropped - a sure sign of anglicisation.

I support the kebab shop with queue of people, hoping that it's less dodgy than the empty one next door. Take a bun, pretend it is pita, grill it briefly. Then use something that looks like an electric sheep shears to shave chunks off a slowly roasting pillar of anonymous meat, letting it drop into the open bun. Chilli sauce? It is red, the colour of All Gold. Then rough slices of onion, cucumber chunks, shredded lettuce and two token slivers of tomato. More of the red stuff. And sommer garlic mayonnaise too. Add a few thin pale-yellow pickled chillies, and you have your doner. I somehow doubt that aesthetic appeal is on the list of priorities.

The result? Something your mother would never buy*. A styrofoam box that tickles you tongue with chili as soon as you open it. Garlic and onion follow shortly after. The flavours are strong, with an RDA's worth of calories, fat and salt. Don't look too closely at the meat, you might realise it really is just a sponge. And eat it before it cools down. It's messy, greasy, very filling and strangely satisfying.

Will it give you heart disease? Definitely. Will it make you obese? Probably. Does it encourage the exploitation of migrant workers? Yes. Does it contribute to climate change? Yes. Will I buy it again? Yes. I just need a couple of months for the arteries to clear.

One day, I'll make it at home: lean grilled meat, fresh bread, onions, lettuce, cucumber, strong chili, lemon and some yogurt perhaps. Coriander would also fit somewhere in the chaos of flavours.

Here's more cholestrolifying reading - I like the "significant" threat to public health part. Almost like swine flu. And a bit of history: note the of questionable body parts...

* Rephrase: admit to buying


Freshly baked bread, hummus, marinated tomato and miscellaneous shrubbery.

May 13, 2009

shibari peking duck

Alhoewel ons eerste poging om self peking duck gaar te maak effe herinner het aan 'n pluimvee weergawe van 'n Nobuyoshi Araki-werk was die eindproduk uiters leuk - sagte eendvleis met crispy skin, wat toegevou word in klein pannekoekies saam met dun repies komkommer en sprietuie.

Om die eend voor te berei is taamlik baie pret - eers word daar 'n broth gemaak van water, heuning, sprietuie en nog 'n ding of wat wat ek nou heeltemal vergeet het, en die eend, wat met chopsticks deurboor is sodat dit lyk of die arme ding gekruisig word, hang dan oor jou pot borrelende broth terwyl jy die vloeistof oor hom skep. Dan word die voël iewers in jou huis opgehang, voor 'n waaier, en sweef hy rond vir 'n paar uur terwyl jou vegetariese woonstelmaat begin heroorweeg of sy regtig so graag saam met jou wil bly. Dan word die oond vuurwarm gemaak, en die eend gebak terwyl jy begin pannekoekies bak. Als word voorgesit saam met daardie wonder van Chinese condiments - hoisin sauce.

Naskrif: Alle foto's: Jvdh. Die hot vingers in die laaste foto is natuurlik myne.

May 12, 2009


Another summer habit, for when I crave something cool with intense flavour: marinated "sun"-dried tomatoes. This time in cider vinegar and olive oil, with a scattering of dried herbs, pepper, salt and a tiny bit of sugar to temper the acid. Leave it a couple of days, then eat on bread, with cheese, in salads or with a slice of medium-rare beef.

May 4, 2009

More bread

I was invited to have lunch with friends. The weather promised a barbecue, but at the last minute the cooking was moved inside. We could still eat outside though, at a wooden table on a green lawn, with patches of sunshine and a pale blue wisteria in her spring glory beside us. Sausages, bread and a potato salad packed with herbs, followed by divine chocolate truffles and cake. And an elegant Australian Shiraz. The cat of course complained at the noisy people invading his garden, but there was little it could do about it.

I baked Die Brood, as it has become known amongst it's disciples. It has the most beautiful rough crumb, it is holey (and holy), with a chewy crust and loads of flavour. The recipe is here. Bake it. Amaze your friends, trade it for cases of wine, prevent pandemics and maybe fix the world economy. Bake it. You really, really should. You will be a better person for doing it.

And when you remove it from the oven, take a minute to listen to the crust crackling and breaking as it cools.

Yes, this was handmade by mere mortals, without fancy equipment. You can too.

(If I seem bread-obsessed, just accept it. I have made my peace with it.)

May 1, 2009

Toast and sunshine

Toasted ciabatta, thin slices of tomato, a chunk of goat's milk cheese, roughly chopped spring onions and a scrunch of pepper.