Sunday, January 30, 2011

Heston's Pea and Ham Soup

On Friday, I made pea and ham soup using Heston Blumenthal's recipe for Waitrose, more or less.

Here's a summary.

Prepare some mint oil by blanching mint, then liquidising it with "grapeseed or groundnut oil".

Fry shallots, garlic and bacon in a little butter. Add vegetable stock and simmer. Add the defrosted peas and some more butter and immediately liquidise. Sieve, then add more peas and some pulled ham hock.

Serve the soup with a drizzle of the mint oil.

There are features about the recipe I don't understand. First, why does he defrost the frozen peas "completely" before using them? I didn't. Did that ruin the dish? Then, why blanch the mint? I thought this might be for health reasons - to kill any bacteria before the mint is put in the anerobic environment of the oil - but it just seemed to blanch out the mint flavour. You'd be worried about those bacteria if you were going to keep the oil for long, but not, like here, when you're going to use it straightaway.

Anyway, it was very tasty and generally faffless. The weak point was the mint oil, which really didn't add anything. Someone on the Waitrose site has suggested using minted yogurt instead, and that sounds like an improvement to me.

I haven't got a photo. The colour wasn't as vibrant as in the Waitrose photo, probably because of the stock I use. Home made, using quite a bit of onion skin, it's obviously too dark for this purpose.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I don't believe I haven't made pitta before - at least not for many years. It's such a useful bread to have around: you can use it as an accompaniment to any sloppy main course, and a filled pitta is probably a much more convenient package than a normal sandwich to take out. Maybe it's the fact that there's a decent Turkish food shop and bakers near me, whose pittas always used to be really good.

150 g plain flour
100 g very strong white flour
2 g salt
160 g water including a tiny amount (around 1 g) of dried yeast

All this mixed up at midday yesterday. The tiny amount of yeast meant a long - overnight in the fridge - rise, and at noon today I rolled the dough into four pieces, and let them prove for 20 minutes before 20 minutes in a very hot oven.

The one on the left came out about 5 minutes before the others - that's why it's less brown, but it was also softer and moister, which may be more like pitta should be. There's a good case for slightly undercooking them, so they can be toasted immediately before use later.

I can't remember what I was thinking to use so little salt. There should be more. I also think a slight amount of a darker flour would help the taste- maybe 10% wholemeal. But they are of course as nice as any you'd buy from a supermarket and I'll work on the refinements.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


See this woman? Lovely or what? She's Lorraine Pascale, currently fronting a cookery series on BBC2 called Baking Made Easy.

Unsurprisingly, she used to be a model, but when that career was coming to its end she looked around for other jobs and decided to go into food. You get the impression she always loved eating and cooking - to the extent that life as a skinny model must have been really difficult for her.

She rose to attention on the back of the cupcake boom with her shop Ella's Bakehouse in Covent Garden, but I first became aware of her when on Twitter about a year ago she promised to give £1000 (I think it was) to the Haiti earthquake appeal if she got 1000 (I think it was) followers. So I followed, expecting to unfollow once the target was reached. But she scuppered that plan by making the donation anyway. She seemed nice, so I stayed following.

And, confounding our expectations of someone who used to be a model, she is nice. Very friendly and inquisitive, with an infectious enthusiasm. But what I hadn't expected is how well she comes across on tv. Obviously the camera loves her, but she has bags and bags of simple charm, including a way of breaking eye-contact with the camera that suggests a certain shyness. And her style is warm and supportive - she'll say that perfection isn't necessarily important, and that a little variation if you don't have all the ingredients is fine.

Last night's show included sun-dried tomato palmiers, and that's what I've attempted today. The recipe really is easy; the only real work was in chopping up the tomatoes. Here's the result. Obviously my food stylist is on holiday but they are tasty little morsels.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Oats and honey

One of the nicest loaves I made for Christmas was a 100% kamut loaf. I really like that flour - it has a light texture and a lovely sweet nutty taste. But it is relatively expensive. So what happens if you use it as part of the mix? Another thing I've been wanting to do is use oats in the mix. So here's the possibly over-complicated list of ingredients:

140 g kamut flour (ie the amount left in the bag)
230 g very strong white flour
50 g oats
4 g salt

300 g water
3 tsp honey
1 tsp dried yeast

I mixed all this up using traditional kneading, and let it rise near a radiator for 5 hours (which, for me, is almost instant). Knocked back and formed into a bloomer, which I proved for 45 minutes. Slashed and sprinkled with more oats then into a 240C oven for 15 mins then 220C for 25 more. I used a tip from Lorraine Pascale and put ice cubes in the tray below the shelf, to give more lasting steam. It's also quite a bit safer than splashing water around!

Here's the result. It's got the typical kamut colour, but I think the most striking thing about the bread is that it's a bit too sweet. Less, or no, honey would have been better. There's also a bit of a split along the sides near the base, which might mean it didn't prove long enough. But the texture seems fine and I enjoyed eating those first two slices. Will probably match strong cheese pretty well, or something saltier, like taramasalata or tapenade. I'll try tomorrow.