Thursday, 8 March 2012

Chicken & Chorizo Gumbo

Yesterday i was having a productive day. After deciding that i MUST go on a diet i sat down and decided upon food for the week.

Actually when i say diet i lie. Some of my friends recently have lent me WeightWatchers books, calculators etc as I've been moaning about how I'm really hating my body right now and need to desperately lose weight but I'm not sure about 'doing a diet'. They've never worked long-term for me before so i don't see why this time will be different. So am attacking this from a different perspective and will see how it goes. Am trying to eat good food and exercise more. To achieve this i have been out for a walk around Cannon Hill Park this week with my friend Christie from my counselling class at uni. We did 2 laps of the park but i think I'm going to build this up to more over the coming weeks. Christie has also given me a cross-trainer (which I'm using at home, gradually building up the number of minutes i spend on it...currently standing at a measly 5, but its better then nothing) and she has also given me a push bike. The push bike needs a little work doing on it as i cant get the tyres to stay inflated (the air rushes out when i remove the bike pump from the tyre - maybe a faulty valve??) but i cant wait to get out and about on it. After speaking to Birmingham Bike Foundry earlier today, I'm going to drop it in there for them to look at it and perform wonders....

Anyway, last night i made Chicken & Chorizo Gumbo. I started off by making a chicken stock - i roasted some chicken bones for 20 minutes and then put into a pan with carrots, celery, bulb of garlic, peppercorns, onion and simmered for 3 hours. I then strained it and let it cool before removing the layer of fat from the top.

To make the gumbo (which is adapted from a recipe in this amazing book which my wonderful friends, Alex and Katie got me for my birthday last year) i firstly fried off some diced onions, celery (i SERIOUSLY hate celery but i think it helps to make the base of a soup), chorizio (about50g, diced) with half a red and yellow pepper (also diced). I then added some garlic cloves, paprika and chilli and cooked for 5 minutes. The recipe called for sweet smoked paprika and cayenne pepper, neither of which were in stock in the Co-op so i improvised ;) The recipe also called for Bourbon....this is something that i don't have in my drinks cupboard so i didn't bother. I then added a diced potato, diced sweet potato, a load of the chicken stock id made (enough to cover), a bay leaf and some dried thyme...simmered for 20 minutes....had awesome gumbo! It was really sweet from the chicken stock and peppers (definitely worth making the proper stock) and hot from the chilli.

Now for this afternoons task - I'm going to the cinema. On my own. For the first time ever. Those of you that know me well will know that to me this represents a passage into adulthood (at the age of 41...) See you on the other side!!!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

NB: this course will change your life.....

Last week i went on one of the Back to Basics courses run by LOAF. Ive been looking forward to doing a course with them for some time so was very excited.

The course is run by Tom, one of the four directors of LOAF and the powerhouse behind the bread-making, in his home in Cotteridge, Birmingham. There were six of us on the course, none of us knew each other but a shared passion for wanting to make good bread soon got us chatting. The day started in a very civilised manner over the breakfast table with brioche, jam, tea, coffee, white bread and rye bread. Here are some leftovers after breakfast together with an artfully placed Stirchley Community Market mug...

I came to the course having had a go at making some of my own bread before but wanting to make sure that i was 'doing it right' and with the aim of ironing out a few problems. Id been trying to make wholemeal bread but found the mixture really wet and difficult to knead plus when baking my bread i found it hard to tell when it was cooked properly - tapping it on the bottom and identifying a hollow noise isn't as easy as it sounds. During the day Tom answered these questions and many others - I've now been taught the most amazing kneading method which i can easily use with all doughs and as for knowing when its cooked? Use a probe thermometer - its the only surefire way unless you are an experienced bread-maker!

The morning was spent doing all the 'hard work' ie making the dough so it had time to rise before baking it in the afternoon. We learnt about different ways to make the dough - i had never heard of the sponge method before and am actually trying that out currently (my sponge is downstairs doing its thang as i type). We then went onto is a link to the three kneading methods that Tom showed us...i absolutely loved the French kneading method as it really works and you can get up a good speed with it, as well as take your frustrations out on the dough. I then find it easier to finish off using the classic kneading method (2nd in the video clip) as i find it calms me down as i lovingly finish off the kneading process...and one day i may get good enough to do the 3rd example in the video but I'm not there yet! Its really interesting to see that Tom has NO flour on the work surface when kneading - this amazed me and has totally transformed the way i make bread....for the better.

The other thing i found out was that previously i hadn't been kneading the dough for long enough...Tom showed us a really good way of checking if the dough had been kneaded enough...its called the window pane test and it works really well!

During the day we made fougasse (look amazing and are so simple to do), a white loaf, some seeded wholemeal rolls, ciabatta (a really, really wet dough which was fun to work with) and pizzas for lunch. Tom had also mixed some brioche dough that we took home to cook the following day.

Brioche - i baked this the following day

Ciabatta - mine is the weirdly shaped one...i like to think of it as authentic...

Fougasse - stunning to look at (doesn't come up so well on this photo) but so easy to make

White loaf after proving but before putting in oven. note the slits which have been cut in the top - these help the bread to expand whilst baking

Lunch - homemade pizza. I'm obsessed with homemade pizza now - its so easy to make, you know exactly whats going into it, you can make your own Taste Sensation Topping and best of all, it tests SQUILLIONS better than those bought in supermarkets or pizza parlours

Wholemeal, seeded rolls

White rolls


The course was amazing and has demystified the art of bread-making for me. Ive realised that i just need to chill out and have a go...sometimes the dough takes longer to rise or to knead...that's because all flours act differently plus it depends on the warmth of the kitchen, the humidity, all sorts of just have to know what you are looking for and not be afraid. The day course cost £75 which i know has put some people off but i stress that this is a) much cheaper than other bread-making courses and b) will change your life as it will make you obsessed with making your own bread rather than shop-bought nastiness. Plus you can buy gift vouchers so why not ask people to get you those for your birthdays/Xmas etc...??

Following the course i took my spoils home where a hungry Mr A gave his thumbs up to all of my wares...i then went about ordering some equipment to help me in my new love of bread-making... I bought Dough by Richard Bertinet which has the most mouth watering photos and recipes in it. Ive already made the Spicy Moroccan rolls (containing ras-el-hanout, one of my favourite spices - i brought a load in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul) for my friend Tina's birthday - as well as getting her a copy of the book too. Ive also bought a probe thermometer and an oven thermometer, as well as a pizza stone and peel....but the best purchase was the dough scraper tool you can see in Toms kneading video - that is an essential tool, it makes the process so much easier and was the princely sum of £1.50. Bargain!

Here endeth my bread missive.