Tomato, chilli, rosemary and mustard jam

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Despite this time of the year not being the best for fresh tomatoes, this Tomato, chilli, rosemary and mustard jam makes a nice Christmas present as it goes well with cheese or ham. It’s a good relish to accompany holiday snacking. The recipe came from a great little cookbook Movember people produced a few years back and they’ve named it ‘Man jam’. I’d given it for Christmas before albeit in tiny jars and the main comment was that it went too quickly so this year I made more. It’s very easy to make, first you sweat red onions, then add chopped red peppers, red chillies, peeled, cored and chopped tomatoes, turmeric, rosemary and grain mustard. Cook this for about 45 minutes then add salt, sugar and white wine vinegar and cook for another 15 or so minutes. It’s delicious, with a good chilli kick.

We have an early Christmas get together with Beloved’s Pater Familias today and I’ve made a few other things to take to eat including a bread to go with cheese, Plum pudding (instead of a traditional Christmas one) and a whole load of mince pies. Shall try to take photos and post later on.

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Just read Stoner, John Williams

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Stoner by John Williams got a lot of attention earlier this year. It is not a new book, it was written in the sixties and recently reissued by Vintage Classics. Daunt bookshop sent it to me as one of the monthly fiction subscription books just at the time when reviews started popping up. The reviews were unusual, I thought, book reviewers don’t really have time to review all the new books let alone reissues so I thought it must be good.  Yet I didn’t think the story was really something I like reading about because it is about a man and his life in which nothing much happens. I’d picked Stoner up in early September or thereabouts, having just read a whole load of books where lots of things happened and I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind for it. I’d read about 50 pages then left it and got back into non-fiction, history reading for the course I’m doing.  Not long ago, a friend asked if I’d read it and I felt a bit guilty for just leaving it and also for saying that it wasn’t really the sort of book I liked. So I picked it up again two days ago, I felt calmer than I have in a long while, finally feeling the stress levels from work and study over recent months beginning to subside. I thought maybe Stoner and I could get on now. And we did, as soon as I picked it up again, something clicked immediately. This is a deliberately deceptive book, it is almost as if the author wants to put you off the story at the start by saying how nothing really happens to Stoner, the main character and perhaps compared to some other people’s lives, Stoner’s life is inconsequential but at the same time, it is a remarkably rewarding read. Beautifully written, very clever and life affirming. At one point, I thought it reminded me of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, the life affirming thing, but where Boyd’s book is vibrant and vivid, Stoner has a quiet intensity no less gripping. I think it’s a wonderful book to read over Christmas holidays, blanket, fireplace (if you have it, I read most of it on the bus) and all that. I was very wrong to assume Stoner would be a bit dull and this is what I liked about the book the most I think – sometimes it’s good to persist with something you think you don’t like at first because you may be surprised.

Walnut, cardamom and orange cake

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Taking a break from study of right-wing extremism this morning (as you would on a Sunday morning) to post a not very good photo of this surprisingly good Walnut, cardamom and orange cake from Nigel Slater’s Tender II. The photo is not very good as I took it on iPhone late yesterday afternoon, late afternoon photos never come out very good. The surprising bit about the cake is that it is somewhat like an angel food cake – no flour or fat. Instead it uses breadcrumbs and ‘gravel’ ground walnuts (by ‘gravel’, I mean not totally ground, some bits remain – a couple of very brief pulses). It also uses whole eggs, yolks and sugar beaten together, whites folded in at the end. It came out beautifully but Dear Nigel forgot to mention that cake should be cooled upside down (suspended) or it would sink in the middle (there is no baking powder) and I also forgot about this completely so it sank by the time it came to apply frosting. I didn’t actually do a proper frosting (with clementine and lemon juices + lots of icing sugar) as I don’t like set icing unless it’s a celebration cake. I used much less sugar so the ‘frosting’ was more of a soak and I’ve ended up with a wonderfully moist cake full of flavour.

I love the basic recipe with the breadcrumb and nut mix (this also included orange juice, zest and ground cardamom) especially because I always have sourdough crusts leftover and this is a great opportunity to use them up + I know exactly what’s gone into those breadcrumbs. You could use pistachios I think, with the same flavour combination (and this is a very good flavour combination, I love cardamom) or almonds. I wander if it would also be possible to use a fruit coulis or puree – raspberries, for example would go well with almonds and apple with pecans and cinnamon. A lot of potential for experimentation but first I’ve got to get on with those pesky extremists. And make mince meat – I know I’m a bit late with this but at least Christmas puddings were done on time.

Just read The Man Who was Thursday, GK Chesterton

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I made a mistake of picking The Man Who was Thursday up to read in bed and kept falling asleep after every 2-3 pages. As a result, it took longer to get into it than I would have liked. It actually took me a long while to read it and it’s a pretty short book. It is very funny though, surprising and unexpected. I didn’t know anything about it beforehand other than that it being a classic that perhaps defied easy classification – Beloved actually picked it up in a second hand bookshop, not me but, being on The Guardian’s 1,000 books list, which I follow on and off, I knew I wanted to read it at some point. It was classified under sci fi and fantasy, a broad catch-all. I may have also read a Father Brown novel and a bit about Chesterton when I worked to promote a publishing company reissuing certain old authors many moons ago. This was at the start of digital printing and I found that nobody really seemed to care about old authors, which was a bit sad.

Anyway, back to The Man Who was Thursday, once I moved it from the bedroom and started reading it during the day, it was a very quick read. I think ‘metaphysical thriller’, the label that springs up on googling, suits the book better. It is funny but also questioning. Chesterton’s subtitle was ‘A Nightmare’, and this made sense although there isn’t anything really nightmarish about it. It is satyrical and allegorical too so it’s really all sorts of things. Difficult to name any in particular without giving away the plot, which I don’t want to do other than to say that involves poets, police, anarchists, false identities, chases, elephants and religion among other things. And a very cutting remark or two about class society. Even though it was written in 1908 it is pretty timeless. It’s a very good, quick read and while it won’t appeal to everyone, I certainly enjoyed it.

It’s also provided me with a much needed diversion and respite from both super busy work and intense study. Work’s always busy at this time of the year but ‘school’ is busier than usual as this new course I’m doing on twentieth century history has so much reading – it’s fantastic but I can’t help myself from wanting to read everything. Not that this is necessary but there is so much fascinating stuff available that I’m finding it really difficult to stop and move on. Intense, in a good way.

This week’s bread

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I accidentally ended up with a huge loaf of sourdough bread yesterday! Have recently been overtaken by a madness of keeping two sourdough starters, the rye, which I’ve had for a year and a half and the white, which I made from the rye a few weeks ago so that I could make some of the artisan breads in Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf. The two behave completely differently (fascinating!) and I used both in the loaf above to the ratio of 200g white to 100g rye. I followed Dan’s method but used my own quantities (400g strong white flour, 100g strong wholemeal, 325ml water and 1teaspoon salt). The dough bloomed beautifully due to the amount of starter I used but I had a major mishap with the water spray (it wouldn’t work) as I was about to put it in the oven and the dough flopped on the hot stone, spilling over. I had to cut a bit off the loaf in order to take it out of the oven! Still, it rose quite well, it has a great crust and the crumb is pretty good too.

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We had some for breakfast with marmalade and it’s quite clear from this photo that I can’t cut straight… I do think this particular combination of starters and flours is very good and this could be my new basic sourdough loaf. Just need to see what happens if I give it a long second prove overnight so it can be ready for breakfast.

Honey and peanut butter granola

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Craving comfort food at the moment as everything seems to have conspired to keep me busy, overworked and stressed. Wish I could say that I had a bowl of freshly made granola with yoghurt and jam for breakfast curled up on the sofa with a blanket and a book, which would be ideal. Instead I had it while working but at least I’m working from home today and I got to make granola.

What I put in it: rolled oats – around 300g, wheatgerm – 3 tablespoons, flaxseed – 3 tablespoons, linseed – 2 tablespoons, pumpkin seeds – 2 heaped tablespoons, flaked almonds – 4 tablespoons, seed mix (sunflower, sesame, more linseed and pumpkin) – 3 tablespoons, smooth peanut butter – 4 tablespoons, honey – 3 tablespoons. You need to soften the peanut butter and honey first in a pan over low heat for a couple of minutes then mix with the seed and oat mix. If the mix is a little dry, add a tablespoon or so of maple syrup. Bake in a low oven (150C fan) for 25 minutes, turning once halfway through.

A batch of this size should last for a couple of weeks. I’ve been making granola quite a bit this autumn. It dawned on me that £2-2.50 a pop on my way to work was really not the best thing to spend money on when it’s so quick and easy to do at home. When I get a little more free time, I’m going to experiment with making and using different nut butters and I’d also like to do a tahini granola, just not quite decided what other flavours to use with tahini. All of these ideas are going on my Christmas list – this is not a list of presents, just an ever growing list of things to do and make over holidays. So looking forward to holidays!

White leaven bread

Tears of joy and oh so proud – it is ridiculous quite how happy a good loaf of bread can make me! I still find it somewhat unbelievable that three very simple ingredients: flour, water and salt can, with a little bit of care and work create something so marvellous as this loaf – here cut in half, look at that air!

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This is my first loaf made solely with white sourdough starter and white bread flour. It took most of yesterday but I had a lot of study so didn’t mind spending the day at home.  I used Dan Lepard’s method from The Handmade Loaf and changed the quantities of ingredients in order to get one decent sized loaf instead of 2 smallish ones. Can honestly say, having sampled a whole load of sourdough bread over the years from places like St. John, Elliott’s, Balthazar (the London outpost, which I did not like other than the bread), local bakeries and all sorts of good restaurants – this loaf is up there. So proud. Even though I didn’t slash it enough (slashed around circumference but my knife was not sharp enough).

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It rose in the oven beautifully and unlike River Cottage method, Dan recommends a lower oven temperature (200C fan instead of 250C or as high as it will go – River Cottage) and spraying the top of the loaf with water before it goes in. Next time I’ll just slash across the top. I’ll also have to figure out the timing a bit better so that it can have a longer and slower second prove overnight and I can have it ready for breakfast. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem in cold weather.

I’m still going to keep my rye ‘mother’ too, it’s been fascinating watching the white and the rye behave completely differently. The rye is just happy slowly bubbling, bubbles throughout the jar and quite a sour smell. The white, on the other hand, tends to have bubbles on the surface and I must be super careful when opening the jar to refresh – it’s almost exploded a couple of times. It also rises more over a 24 hour period. Totally fascinating.