Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sainsbury meatballs and mash

I think this is the worst so far. And the real culprits are the meatballs. Overprocessed pink mush with an aftertaste of pepper, they haven't even been browned, so they're like boiled cheap sausage (they have a meat content of 66% - and I wouldn't want to know exactly what parts of the animal go into that). The mash is overprocessed, too, and the gravy is predominantly salty. Nasty. What's worse is this meal is high in saturated fat and salt. In eating it, I've had 57.3% of my daily salt allowance. Something this bad for you ought to taste better than this. And the picture's a liar - there's nothing red and comforting in the gravy.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Waitrose spinach dal

Back on Waitrose's Indian range, this probably would work better as a side dish, but I've just had it for lunch. It is different from the others, though, with a more astringent spicing, using mustard seeds (today's telltale ingredient) and fenugreek, which is why it probably would complement well the sweeter, tomato-based dishes. More than the others, though, this has a misleading pack photo. Here's how mine looked.
It seems almost axiomatic that these things turn out wetter than photographed. Also, I don't know what the pink things were in the pack photo, but I haven't got any. And, inevitably, the spinach isn't as bright green. But it's ok, you know. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sainsbury's spaghetti meatballs

This really shouldn't work and it doesn't quite. Everything's a little bit worse than you'd like - the pasta's slightly too soft, the meatballs are too finely textured, and the sauce, as always, is gloopy and generic. But it wasn't bad, just not exciting in any way.

On the whole, with these meals, I'm eating them as they come. Which means, in this case, no parmesan sprinkled on top, no basil allowed to wilt for a minute or two.

I wouldn't buy this if I had a proper kitchen. Spaghetti with meatballs is so easy to make, it really wouldn't be worth it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Waitrose chicken jalfrezi

I ought to move on from Waitrose's Indian range. Although it's very good, there's a certain similarity about the sauce you get with each one. Today's meal continues the trend of being roughly as good as a take away, but with that pre-cooked homogeneity. It becomes apparent that the whole cardamom and clove are quite deliberate and semiotically precise: they're a sign of authenticity. The flavour they give could be simulated, and probably for some markets would be. Some people would find it irritating to have to spit out a cardomom. Waitrose makes a virtue of it. They say on the pack that "as a result some whole spices such as cardomom, cloves and cinnamon may still be present". Clever Waitrose.

The only other thing that I don't like about this is that the chicken is no doubt not free-range. I would never buy chicken to cook that was intensively reared. This is at least British, so it's not part of the awful international market in pumped up chicken-like meat product.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Waitrose channa masala

Not quite up to the standard of the previous meal, but still perfectly acceptable - as good as you'd get in a takeaway, for sure. The main problem is that the sauce is a bit one-dimensional in flavour - all the flavouring is homogenised into a pleasant enough background. That's really the difference between this kind of meal and freshly cooked food, of course. I ate this unaccompanied, for lunch, with a little brinjal pickle. Actually a poppadum would have been a good accompaniment.

(I'm probably making my life too easy by going for Waitrose products all the time. There has to be some real rubbish out there, like Tesco value range, which I ought to try. But I've got one more Waitrose product in the fridge, with an expiry date of tomorrow, so I'll do that first.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Waitrose cauliflower and broccoli masala

This, on the other hand, was really very nice. The sauce had genuine flavours, and there were real curry leaves, cardamoms and a clove, proof that it's not made from some generic curry powder. It was rated as medium hot but was spicier than that normally means. The picture's actually quite realistic, perhaps a bit drier than the real thing. Only slight niggle was that the broccoli hadn't stood up well to the cooking process and it probably would be better if they replaced it with more cauliflower, which would also seem more authentic as an aloo gobi.

At a price of £1.89, it's obviously intended as a side dish, but there's easily enough here for a lunch.

I'd certainly buy this again, even when I have a proper kitchen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Instead of bread

There'll be no bread for a few weeks. My kitchen is being refitted, and while that's in progress, all I have is a microwave oven. So this means I'll be eating more cook-chill food than I'd like. But it gives an opportunity to review the products I taste, so you don't have to.

So here's the first: Waitrose "deliciously different pearl barley and seafood risotto with yellow cherry tomatoes, salmon, king prawns & crab". This is the kind of thing I really ought to like. It's a worrying sign that the pack has to explain what pearl barley is. The meal is low in salt, fat and sugars, which of course means that you have to add salt to make it tasty. It's much too liquid to be called a risotto. There was a decent amount of salmon, and three or four prawns. I have to accept there was crab in there somewhere. Generally it was pretty tasteless, although the liquid has a bit of an aftertaste of bisque, which was quite nice. I forgot to take a picture of the cooked meal, but there was a bunch of rocket included, which was a bit mushy after the 4 minutes microwaving, and the tomatoes were of course pulped by it.

So, not impressed. If I were to buy this again, I'd remove the rocket and tomatoes before cooking, and add them back on serving. I'd add salt before cooking, and if possible get some sort of bread to mop up the liquid, and I'm sure some basil on top would help too.

This cost £2.75, reduced from £3.99 as today's the expiry date. It'd be really poor value at the higher price.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Another Italian bread

As we've seen, the variety of Italian bread means that I can bake anything and say it's Italian, especially if it's made with 00 flour. So I've now baked a very standard bloomer, but I shall call it bluma.

300g 00 Flour
200g Badoit, inc 1g sugar, 2g dried yeast
pinch salt
wholewheat flour for coating

Really basic procedure. Mixed and then raised for 6 hours, then shaped into a bluma, proved for 30 mins, slashed and baked on the stone with steam. And omg it's gorn mad!
There's going to be huge caverns in there. Slicing later.

Monday, April 12, 2010


As far as I can see from wikipedia, Ciabatta's about as traditional as the ploughman's lunch. And the great Marcella Hazan doesn't even mention it as a pseudonym in The Essentials of Italian Cooking. Instead, she has a recipe for "Olive oil bread - Mantovana", which uses a wet dough and a fairly small amount of oil. I'm sure it's heading towards the same end product.

To recap from yesterday, I mixed 200g of 00 flour with 200g of water, containing a little sugar and a teaspoon of yeast. I let that sit in the fridge overnight.

Today, I've taken it out, let it come to room temperature, then added 110g more flour, 4g salt and 20g olive oil, and kneaded that quite sloppily. What I should have realised before now is that when you've finished kneading a wet dough a tiny amount of dry flour on the surface will make it much more shapeable, without seriously affecting the mixture. So this dough is now (1130) very shallowly coated with wholemeal flour, formed into a ciabatta kind of shape, and proving.

Update and verdict
It's Italian, right?
I put the bread into a G8 oven at 12:00 for 20 mins, then G5 for 5 mins on its back. Here's the outcome. It's less holey than I would have liked. I might have been able to prove it for longer, but it felt ready to go in. Probably a little less oil would be a good idea. Or would it? because this tastes very nice indeed. The crust is quite soft, as is the crumb, and of course the oil adds to the taste.

Meanwhile, on the question of authenticity, I've looked at Italian wikipedia's bread article. You don't need to be able to read Italian to realise the huge variety of breads listed there. Ciabatta's not among them! The other point about this list is that it enables anyone to claim that virtually any bread they make has a propa Italian model (except maybe Chorleywood white sliced).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

00 Flour

As previewed, I've now got a back of 00 flour. It's McDougall's flour, and I'd like to put a link to the appropriate website, but there isn't one. All they have is a holding page, which could well have been there for months.  What there is suggests that McDougall is the Cinderella of the Rank Hovis household, and I suppose the brand is intended to suggest cake and pastry, rather than bread. The packaging reflects that, too. It's a background of burgundy with a thin white stripe, suggesting an apron, dotted with pictures of little cakes and some pasta. You'd think by now someone would be selling something labelled as pasta flour, even if it was exactly the same on the inside.

Anyway, I think I'm going to try a ciabatta, so I've mixed a biga of 200g flour with 200g liquid, inc a little sugar and yeast, and I've put it in the fridge. My note to myself is to remember to add salt and oil in the morning.

In the meantime, I've also used the flour to make pastry. I've got a very bad record at making pastry. I think I used to over-work it at the rubbing-in stage. The instructions always say it should look like breadcrumbs. That never happens. So I stopped myself and put the fairly lumpy dough in the fridge. It's the rolling that does most of the work, maybe.

So 100g flour, 50g butter, about a tablespoon of sugar turns out to be really good. I've made three apple tarts, and a turnover, which was terrific. I'd rolled the dough out quite thin. Not filo thin, obv, but close, and it came out crisp and tasty.

I'll update on the bread tomorrow.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Banana cake (2)

So I've had another go at this, with new packs of Sodium Bicarbonate and Cream of Tartar.

200g apf
80g caster sugar
100g butter
2 large eggs
2 mashed up bananas
1 tsp sodium bicarbonate
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp allspice
flaked almonds, to top

Usual cake method: cream butter and sugar (I did this very badly) then mix everything apart from the almonds. Sprinkle almonds on top, and some extra caster sugar. Into oven G4 for 40 minutes, after which it passed the skewer test with total ease.

And despite my lack of technique, it's light and lovely. Actually, possibly too fragile in structure, but that's a good problem

Kamut (2)

I haven't been bread-free for the last two weeks: I've just repeated various breads, so there's been nothing worth writing about. Even today, I'm basically repeating the earlier kamut mix, but I might go for a different shape. The big excitement will come later, since I've now bought some 00 flour. This is, I believe, very finely ground and most commonly used for pasta. In fact the packaging doesn't mention bread at all. But it has a protein content of 11%, which should be ok.

I've also been thinking about the "perfect loaf" programme. One of the striking things the baker said about his loaf was that it would be at its best after three days. That's counter-intuitive; our first thought these days is that the fresher the better. But it depends on the kind of loaf you're making, and the kind of purpose you have in mind. French bread notoriously only lasts for half a day, but a wholemeal loaf may well benefit from being baked too moist, with the intention that it dries out a bit before eating. The last loaf I baked was a bit of a disaster. It was a basic strong white flour mix, but wet, so at baking time I decided to use a tin. I then didn't bake it for long enough, so it came out (with difficulty) a bit damp and floppy. A day later, though, it was much better.

Another thing mentioned in the programme was that during the war bakers weren't allowed to sell fresh bread; it had to be at least a day old. This was a kind of rationing; people would eat it less greedily if it was a little less fresh. This may undermine the point I've made so far; or perhaps this led British bakers to produce bread that fitted this method. And maybe the London bloomer story isn't as far-fetched as I thought. All bakers seem to agree that a long rising period produces a longer-lasting bread. There are probably good chemical reasons for this, maybe to do with more of the starch turning into sugar.