pumpkin seed loaf

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Ingredients – makes a small loaf

  • 350g strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp caster sugar
  • 212ml hand-hot water
  • Olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Pumpkin seeds, to top the loaf

First: I am still definitely revising!! In fact, the bread making has been quite therapeutic. It feels like a long time since I thought about someone who hasn’t been dead for over 2,000 years. Emperors Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, (skipping over Nerva), Trajan and Hadrian. And Hellenistic dynasties, too: Seleucids, Attalids, Ptolemies, Antigonids and the coming of Rome. Greek poets, Latin poets, Latin poets in English translation, Latin poets in actual Latin; timeo Danai et dona ferentes. Cicero in Larinum, laying out before the judges the facinus Oppianici in lists of threes with a lot of sarcasm. The Roman Near East – distant client kingdoms of Commagene, Nabatea and Herod vying for Imperial recognition, being gradually annexed into the Roman Empire. Ancient Syrian elites aligning themselves with the Empire with Greek writing, architecture, fesvtials; ancient Syrian villages grinding olives and wine on stone rollers, eating sheep and goats. In short: my mind needed to take a break from Classical civilisations, and making bread was a brilliant way to do it!

Pumpkin seeds give a delicious extra crunch to the bread. If you have them finely sliced dried red chilies and sprigs of rosemary would be delicious alongside the seeds! Be careful whilst it’s in the oven though. Pumpkin seeds crisp very quickly, and you don’t want to risk a burnt top! Put the loaf in the middle of the oven, and watch it like a hawk (..or just check it doesn’t burn).

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees.
  2. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the yeast, salt and sugar, and fold with a wooden spoon.
  3. Create a well in the middle of the bowl by pushing the flour mixture to the sides. Pour in the hand-hot water, and drizzle in some olive oil. Stir well to combine. If the mixture is too runny, add a little more flour; if it needs more liquid, drizzle in a little more oil.
  4. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured side. Knead the dough – starting from the centre of the dough, push outwards with the heel of your hand. Then, fold the pushed out side of the dough back into the centre. Rotate the dough clockwise and repeat the process.
  5. The kneading will be complete when the skin of the dough begins to have a slightly blistered appearance – this is the presence of the gluten network, which will make it rise and have a fluffy centre.
  6. When the dough has been kneaded fully, place it in a clean bowl. Lightly oil some clingfilm; cover the bowl with the clingfilm, oil side facing the dough. Leave to rise – it should double in size. This can be done overnight at room temperature, or, if you’re short of time, leaving it in a warm place can speed up the process. It is important to not leave the dough in too warmer area, because this can kill the yeast and it will not rise!
  7. When the dough has doubled in size, the air needs to be knocked out of it. You can do this by simply punching the dough in the bowl. This will cause the dough to return to its original pre-risen size.
  8. Then, transfer the dough to a lightly greased loaf tin.
  9. Cover the tin with the oiled clingfilm once more, and leave to rise again. This is called proving, and it will give the bread a better texture.
  10. Once it has risen, remove the clingfilm. Lightly brush the top of the loaf with a little beaten egg. I used the back of a spoon to spread out the egg, to ensure the top of the loaf stayed smooth. Worked quite well! Then, scatter over the pumpkin seeds; they will stick to the egg yolk. Brush a tiny bit more egg over the seeds, to ensure they stay in place. Then, put in the oven and cook for 20 – 30 minutes. Pop the loaf out of its tin, and knock the bottom of the bread – it should make a hollow sound, and this will confirm it is cooked. Leave to cool, and serve in thin slices.

rosemary and garlic bread

Homemade bread has that amazing taste that you just cannot find anywhere else. Deliciously crusty on the outside, and soft and light on the inside, homemade bread is the one. I’ve said it before, but I will say it again: don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s sold in IMG_20130213_134545abundance in all supermarkets, that it is something beyond your culinary capacity. It isn’t. Bread is incredibly simple to make, and once you’ve got the knack for it, loaves of all shapes and flavours will begin appearing in your kitchen! It needs few ingredients, and even fewer minutes of your day. The time spent baking bread is the time it needs to rise, and then cook. Time within which you can read a book, have a bath, or do whatever you want, really! This isn’t a stew that you need to actively stand over for hours and hours, stirring, seasoning, tasting. Bread does the work itself – all you need to do is wait, and enjoy.

And don’t forget, homemade bread is your blank canvas. There isn’t any need to spend ages searching for your perfect loaf, and then hand over a small fortune for the privilege! Those little bread knots filled with herbs, spices, or olives, can be made at home. Honest! Especially nowadays, when money is tight, back-to-basics bread is a brilliant money saver, but doesn’t scrimp on taste. At all! Here, rosemary and garlic add a little something special, making this the best sandwich you’ve ever eaten on a Wednesday afternoon.

Ingredients – makes a large loaf 

  • 700g strong bread flour
  • 1 sachet of yeast (7g)
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp golden caster sugar
  • 425ml hand-hot water
  • 2-3 teaspoons of dried or fresh rosemary
  • 1-3 cloves of garlic (medium to large in size) OR 1-3 garlic cloves from the ‘Olive counter’ of a supermarket – the amount of garlic you use will depend on your personal taste! 1 clove = hint of garlic; 3 cloves = more intense flavour 
  • Olive oil

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. If using garlic NOT bought from the Olive Counter: trim one end of each clove, before placing them into a large piece of silver foil. Season with salt and coat in a tiny amount of olive oil. Wrap the foil tightly, and place in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Once cooked, open the foil wrap and leave the garlic to cool slightly. Squeeze the soft garlic out from the hardened clove shell onto a chopping board.
  3. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the yeast, salt and sugar, and fold with a wooden spoon.
  4. Create a well in the middle of the bowl by pushing the flour mixture to the sides. Pour in the hand-hot water, and drizzle in some olive oil. Stir well to combine. If the mixture is too runny, add a little more flour; if it needs more liquid, drizzle in a little more oil.
  5. Add the dried rosemary. If NOT using the garlic cloves from an olive counter, add to the bread mixture using a garlic press, and stir. If you ARE using garlic from an Olive Counter, finely slice the cloves and add. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured side. Knead the dough – starting from the centre of the dough, push outwards with the heel of your hand. Then, fold the pushed out side of the dough back into the centre. Rotate the dough clockwise and repeat the process.
  6. The kneading will be complete when the skin of the dough begins to have a slightly blistered appearance – this is the presence of the gluten network, which will make it rise and have a fluffy centre.
  7. When the dough has been kneaded fully, place it in a clean bowl. Lightly oil some clingfilm; cover the bowl with the clingfilm, oil side facing the dough. Leave to rise – it should double in size. This can be done overnight at room temperature, or, if you’re short of time, leaving it in a warm place can speed up the process. It is important to not leave the dough in too warmer area, because this can kill the yeast and it will not rise! 😦
  8. When the dough has doubled in size, the air needs to be knocked out of it. You can do this by simply punching the dough in the bowl. This will cause the dough to return to its original pre-risen size.
  9. Then, transfer the dough to a lightly greased loaf tin. Cover the tin with the oiled clingfilm once more, and leave to rise again. This is called proving, and it will give the bread a better texture.
  10. Once it has risen, place in a preheated oven at 230 degrees and cook for 35 – 45 minutes. Pop the loaf out of its tin, and knock the bottom of the bread – it should make a hollow sound, and this will confirm it is cooked.
  11. Leave to cool, and serve in thin slices.

moules marinières (mussels in a creamy white wine sauce)

the mussels in Vieux Nice – the beginning of my fish odyssey

The dish I was really inspired to make after my French excursion was ‘moules marinères‘. I had never had mussels before, but when my friend ordered them, I was instantly jealous. Though there was subsequently no hesitation to order them as part of a Fruits De Mer linguine over the next couple of days, I still longed for a big bowl piled high with glistening black mussels, resting in a creamy, garlicky sauce.  As I said, I have never really been interested in sampling fish past the traditional battered type that arrives with chips, and as a consequence, my skills somewhat reflect that limited fish repertoire – I have little idea what I’m doing when it comes to seafood. But it turns out, that despite how impressively posh ‘moules marinères‘ looks and sounds, the cooking is relatively easy, and the results are unbeatable.

orange-hued, plump, and far less celebrated than they ought to be!

A lot of people I know seem to have fallen out of love with fish – its sustainability can be a concern, and it’s often expensive. But mussels ought to be in vogue; although they are shellfish, a renowned expensive treat, they lack a corresponding price tag – they look fancy, but their price is undeniably far lower, making them a far better value option for seafood dishes. The kilo of mussels I used cost just £3.79 – compared with 300g of prawns at the cost of £3.00, mussels have the upper hand; the benefit of 700g ‘extra’ volume, without sacrificing taste or quality. The reason why they’re so cheap is their plentiful nature – unlike some seafood, they are not endangered nor at risk of becoming so. In fact, mussels are the most environmentally friendly shellfish – they are numerically in abundance, and their farming is sustainable across the coastal waters in the UK. This means their price is able to reflect the ease of their farming, making each mouthful guilt-free, and a portion size not restricted by cost! They’re also incredibly healthy – nutrient rich, they contain Zinc, Vitamin B12, Selenium and Iron. This means that as a seafood, they help support a healthy immune system (Selenium), the growth of red blood cells and proper development (B12).

TIP: quickly assessing the bowl of mussels before you, you may notice that using a knife and fork will present some difficulties. Courtesy of my mussel mentor[1], the trick to eating mussels with ease is so: find a first shell that is slightly open, and scoop the inner mussel out with a spoon. Then, use the empty shell as ‘tongs’ to eat the rest of the mussels, discarding each empty shell aside from the first one into a bowl!


 Ingredients

  • 500g fresh mussels
  • 50ml white wine
  • 60ml double cream
  • 1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
  • ½ white onion, diced
  • Sprinkling of parsley
  • Sprinkling of thyme
  • Black pepper
  • Butter
  • Crusty bread, to serve

Method

  1. Begin by washing the mussels. On most of the mussels, you’ll find a brown protruding fibre which is called its ‘beard’. Remove these beards, pulling them until they fall out from the tight shells.
  2. Knock off any barnacles with a large knife, and then scrub and rinse the mussels until they are clean. Ensure that any mussels whose shells are open are thrown away – an open shells means that the meat will be rubbery, as the mussel is no longer alive.
  3. Heat a large pan or wok, which has an accompanying lid, over a low heat. Soften the onion and garlic in a knob of butter, along with some thyme and parsley to taste.
  4. Add the mussels, and coat in the garlic and onion infused butter. Stir in the wine, and place the lid on the pan.
  5. Turn the heat up to medium, and allow the mussels to steam for around 2 minutes. You will notice that the mussel shells begin to open as they steam.
  6. Shake the pan. Remove the lid, and add the cream. Add a sprinkling more of parsley, a crack of black pepper, and allow to warm through. This must be done quickly, as the longer the mussels cook for, the more of the enzymes will break down, and the less palatable they will become. To ensure the mussels remain juicy and not rubbery, do not allow them to overcook at this stage!
  7. Serve immediately into bowls, with an extra bowl per person for the discarded shells, and serve with crusty bread. Bon appetit!

[1] Rob Nutter