2011 bread experiments #1

So what was loaf one then and how did I select it? I used a random number generator which lead me to Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf p161, which has a picture on…so i flipped forward to the first recipe after that to find on p163


Sounded yum. It uses the usual Dan Lepard low knead technique that I’m a big fan of and have written about here.

It was pretty easy to make and came out with a lovely soft crumb. It made fantastic cheese sandwiches and wonderful toast.

Definitely one to repeat.

I haven’t found the recipe online anywhere so just some pictures this time.

Asparagus Rolls

I love asparagus. Really love it. I could eat it everyday for the duration of its short season and not get bored. In fact I would probably have it nearly the same way each time, nice and simple with good butter or oil. I might steam it, roast it or chargrill but I’d still dress it simply. I might have it with some cured ham or hard tangy cheese. But in the main I’d let the asparagus do all the talking.

And once the season was over that would be it. No more asparagus for a whole year. Because even more so than other vegetables asparagus loses much of its taste if its transported any distance. Not for me asparagus flown in from Thailand or Peru or Chile, it just doesn’t taste good enough to justify its price or its carbon footprint. The perfect situation for me would be to grow some in the garden but we don’t really have the space to create raised beds and London clay doesn’t make asparagus happy. I might dare to try it in a large tub and see how I get on; even a few home grown spears would be a wonderful thing to have. Until then though I’ll buy at local farm shops and PYO to get the best flavour. And I’ll eat and eat it until the season is done.

The short season usually starts in late April (traditionally St George’s Day) and lasts through to mid June though of course this is dependent on the weather during winter and early spring. Anywhere with sandy soil is good for asparagus growing and each well-known area from Formby in the North West to East Anglia and the Vale of Evesham stake their claims for being the best. Of course the best asparagus is what you can find that has been picked very recently and arrived in your kitchen quickly and landed on your plate ready to eat with minimal fuss.

Asparagus has always been prized and ‘The Neat House Gardens’ relates how the early market gardens surrounding London vied to produce asparagus as early as Candlemas by use of hot-bedding techniques and the liberal application of horse manure sent out from the city with the forced vegetables being sent back for consumption by the rich. Up to at least Mrs Beeton’s time asparagus continued to be forced and available from January. But at some point forced asparagus seems to have disappeared so either it didn’t taste much good or the cost became prohibitive, by the time Jane Grigson is writing about it in the 1970s there is no mention of it.

Times have changed in terms of cooking as well. Modern books suggest it takes about 8-12 minutes to steam whereas in the 1800s Acton, Beeton et al were saying 20-25 minutes of boiling and Grigson says it can take anywhere between 20-40 minutes. Goodness knows how big the spears needing 40 minutes were! Maybe the varieties grown have changed and we certainly seem to prefer our vegetable with lots more crunch than in the past but still 40 minutes seems extreme unless the aim was to make puree. Also common was to serve asparagus on toast to soak up some of the water from the boiling, steaming of course gets rid of this problem. And naturally the Victorians’ had special asparagus tongs for serving, mind you I think they had special cutlery for serving just about everything you can think of.

Recipe wise asparagus is often paired with eggs: hollandaise, dipped in boiled eggs, in omelettes, with fried egg in tapas, in tarts and quiches. Salty cheeses and cured meats also make great partners. Then there is the classic soup (which I have to confess I’ve never tried). Oh and of course with salmon or crab or chicken or….well almost endless possibilities. Googling ‘asparagus recipes’ gives 3.3 million hits so there is no shortage of ideas out there. One site I do recommend though is Fiona Beckett’s http://www.matchingfoodandwine.com/ which will help you pick the right wine to enjoy with your treasured asparagus; focus on how you are serving it to help you make a good choice.

Because you can easily find so many ways to serve asparagus I thought I’d offer you something a little different. Flipping through various books I found a recipe from Hannah Glasse in 1747. Here it is (complete with archaic spelling and quirks):

Asparagus forced in French Role

Take three French Roles, take out all the Crumb, by first cutting a Piece of the Top-crust off; but be careful that the Crust fits again the same Place. Fry the Roles brown in fresh Butter, then take a Pint of Cream, the Yolk of six Eggs beat fine, a little Salt and Nutmeg, stir them well together over a slow Fire, till it begins to be thick. Have ready a hundred of small Grass boiled, then save Tops enough to stick the Roles with; the rest cut small and put into the Cream, fill the loaves with them. Before you fry the Roles, make Holes thick in the Top-crust to stick the Grass in; then lay on the Piece of Crust, and stick the Grass in, that it may look as if it was growing. It makes a pretty Side-dish at a second Course.

Inspired by this I did:

Asapargus and Egg Rolls:

Serves 1 for lunch

1 crusty French roll or half a small baguette

8 spears of asparagus

1 large or two small eggs

Mayonnaise (fresh or your favourite shop bought)

Cut the top off the roll, remove some of the crumb or else you will face the dangers of squirting egg mayonnaise everywhere. Hard boil the egg(s) and make into a light egg mayonnaise with as little mayonnaise as will just bind the eggs. Part steam or blanch the asparagus and then finish on a chargrill. Slather the egg mayonnaise on both sides of the bread. Put the asparagus on the bottom part of the roll. Put the top of the roll back on. Serve with salad. Watch out for escaping egg mayonnaise.

This article was first published in Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in May 2010.

Coming together

I love it when things just seem to come together in the right way and its one of the things that I’m starting to love about blogging and tweeting. You swirl around the blogosphere, you play about on Twitter and suddenly a whole bunch of influences collide to make you spot a new dish that resonates for you or triggers fond memories of something you haven’t had in simply too long.


And so it was earlier this week that the influences of Browners’ National British Sandwich fun, Fran39’s watercress post and the #livelocal challenge came together to make me think of a lunch I hadn’t had in probably 10 years (yes really)  – chicken and watercress with mayo on really good bread.

So I plotted a treat, my husband is not a fan of watercress he pulls a face at the very word, the ideal opportunity was to have said sandwich on a day when I was working from home. Mmmmm. I made fresh bread rolls yesterday to have with burgers and I’d found some red watercress in the supermarket and at 11am I was roasting 2 chicken legs with a dousing of lemon and olive oil.

At the appointed lunch hour I moseyed to the kitchen, sliced open a couple of rolls, slathered them with my favourite mayo, piled in freshly roast chicken and topped with watercress, squidged on the top.

And tucked in. Heaven in a bun.

National British Sandwich Week

Apparently, according to Jonathan (aka @Browners) who writes a Sandwichist slot, its National British Sandwich Week this week. Right. Yes. You already knew that didn’t you?

Anyway Mr Browners is fed up with pre-packed sandwiches and I’m fed-up with look-a-like Pret’s all over the place. Pret was good once (honestly) back in the days when it was just starting and only had a few stores, it was a revelation as well as independent. Like many good things they expanded and expanded then they needed big corporate money. I guess there might a place for that kind of thing when you visit a town you know nothing about and are desperate to eat and have no time to find real recommendations – it makes acceptable food on such occasions, but day to day it get a little dull.

But there are LOADS of independent sandwich shops out there (some good, some bad) plus you could always try your hand at making something yourself. Browners asked for people to go in search of great sandwiches – so we did.

I decided to do not just one but two sandwiches. One from a shop, one homemade.

First up the shop one. Its from Caradell in Red Lion Street, WC2. Caradell is a nice little deli close by where I used to work so I’ve been there often but having moved on job wise I’d not been in nearly a year – time to try it again. What I always liked about the place is that its busy, service is fast, the sandwiches are made to order and, most of all, pretty much everything is a variation on the classic ham and cheese. Well that might not be quite right but in my view you can’t easily beat ham (or salami, or chorizo, or jamon etc etc) and cheese so maybe I just home in on those choices. On this occasion I went for proper British cooked ham off the bone with Emmenthal (no British cheeses in sight boooooo) with Cumberland Sauce – on bloomer of course. 

As you can see its pretty chunky and not for the delicate – its quite hard to eat (all their sandwiches are packed full of filling). It was a great combo but I’d prefer there to be some British cheese as an option. The Cumberland Sauce was nice and tangy, so good stuff all round. At £4.60 its pricey (but it is big and its quality ingredients) and in my view worth it.  I can also vouch that their other ham/cheese variations are also excellent.

And on to today when I decided to rustle up a quick sandwich myself. I went for all English using Village Bakery Pain de Campagne (sourdough), Hawkston cheese from Suffolk (a bit like mild Lancashire), glass grown tomatoes from the Isle of Wight (via Waitrose) and some Stokes Lemon Mayonnaise. Yum – and probably not £4.60!

The great bacon butty vote

The votes are in.

We asked whether people preferred their bacon butty with ketchup, brown sauce, neither, or as the mood took them.

First of all thanks to everyone who voted – this was only my second blog poll and I’m pleased to have increased the voting level by 350% (from 4 to 14 – ah well). As the week progressed I watched the poll avidly and the ‘brown sauce’ gang got off to a flying start picking up many of the early votes. But ketchup caught up as the week progressed just nudging ahead at the final count.

The results were:

Ketchup: 42% (6 votes)
Brown Sauce: 35% (5 votes)
Neither: 7% (1 vote)
Go with the mood: 14% (2 votes)

Not in the least scientific with such a small electorate but it did make me wonder whether the red’s vs the brown’s had anything in common other than their choice of sauce (boys/girls, north/south, working class/posh). Perhaps for another poll another day. 

And a couple of quotes that were sent to me direct:

“But I have my bacon butty with brown and red and there isn’t such an option?!”

“…it’s “a no brainer”. When I think of it, I’m about as likely to vote Tory as I am to put red sauce on a bacon sandwich.”

Well there’s no accounting for taste is there but thanks for letting us know.

Oh and by the way it’s ‘Bacon Connoisseur’s Week’ from 16 March (as spotted on Aidan Brooks: Trainee Chef) – like we need an excuse to eat bacon?

A good bacon butty

For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘butty’ the OED defines it as follows:

butty (also buttie) noun (pl. butties) informal, chiefly N. English a filled or open sandwich: a bacon butty. – ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from BUTTER+-Y.

Or perhaps think about Ken Dodd for a moment and the jam butty mines – or maybe don’t. Also, of course, there are chip butties and cheese butties. In essence any kind of sandwich can be called a butty although I’m not sure you’d apply the term to something filled with chicken and avocado or crayfish and rocket or cucumber…..now there’s a thought a cucumber butty – a new slant on afternoon tea.

Anyway back on the bacon butty trail – this morning I had a great example rustled up for breakfast from some beer cured back bacon, some sautéed portobello mushrooms, a good dollop of ketchup (my favourite Stokes Real Ketchup – yum) and 2 slices of properly chewy wholemeal

It was great.


But then I’m probably biased as I made it.

Mmmmm mushrooms

I’ve been thinking about my favourite foods recently, listing, considering, adding, subtracting, juggling, testing…….although I’ve not quite got to my top 5 just yet I’m getting close.

But one thing that has just got to be on there is MUSHROOMS.

I love them in all their different guises. From elegant looking oysters to hearty portobellos and every stop in between, they are a (very) regular feature of my cooking.  Stews, stir fries, omelette, risotto, pasta and fry ups.

But I’d stake a lot on the two best ways being:

1. Sauteed in butter and eaten on toast (rye or sourdough for preference)
2. The thing that makes a bacon sandwich truly great (oh joy)

And here are some big fat organic field mushrooms cut into generous sized chunks being sauteed in butter – wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. 

Try some yourself soon.