1. Ode to Sourdough Bread

    I just did two weeks without gluten just to see what would happen. Nothing, thank gawd. My respect goes out to all those with a real gluten problem, I know it’s not pretty and it’s sure as hell not easy!!! 

    Anyway since I’ve been thinking about bread nonstop for 14 days but not been able to eat it, I thought I’d eat it with my mind, so here are some ramblings on sourdough. Thank you heaven and earth for letting me have it again…. 

    It all starts with yeast, this really fabulous one celled organism that reproduces quickly and converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. It’s a delicious bubble making machine and we have been using it for centuries (we’re talking Neolithic era, as early as 4000 B.C.) to make booze and bread – still two of the consumable pillars of our society. Yeast is essentially man’s first industrial microorganism. Respect! 
    Sourdough is made using natural yeast and lactobacilli, those fabulously useful bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut.

    Fermented foods are responsible for feeding and multiplying all the good bacteria that play a vital role in balancing not only our digestive system but possibly all of our body, even our mind. (Double wow for sourdough!) According to growing numbers of experts in the medical field, “microbes (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways”(1). Pretty great stuff!

    IMG_5078 I am a seriously lucky woman in that my husband took up baking sourdough bread as a hobby a few years ago – I showed him the New York Times ‘No-knead bread’ recipe (still a go-to) by Mark Bittman and said, “Here honey, give this a try!”. The result has been freshly baked sourdough almost every weekend! 

    Sometimes he even lets me join in the fun of the process. The above photo is a loaf I made recently. I won’t pretend it’s as perfect – you get used to analysing the rise and texture of a loaf in our house but at least we’re only really discerning about taste. But here is the greatest thing about baking sourdough at home – it’s rustic defined, each loaf looks a little different and perfection is to taste – some like it soft and some like sour to the max (like me!), but there is no wrong way.

    It’s fun to play around with different recipes, experiment with different methods, hydration levels, flours and yeasts. It’s really a messy science. Once you’ve got it down though, it doesn’t have to take too much effort, just a bit of time around the house to work the dough, and being nearby when you’ve got to throw it in the oven. That easy and it’s lovely knowing that you’re creating something in your kitchen that humans have been making for eons. A little bit of history right at home.

    I have played around with four methods and recipes: Richard Bertinet’s ‘Sourdough Baguettes’ from his book ‘Crust‘, an old sourdough recipe card I found in a battered file filed by a woman from the 1940’s on, a handout from my time at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, and our household favourite – Tartine by Chad Robertson. I’ll share it with you soon, but it’s still in the testing stages.

    If you haven’t gathered yet, sourdough can be a bit complicated… but the good kind of complicated. For me it has been a love affair turned into a marriage – something I’ll be working on for a long time and from which I will enjoy wonderful benefits.

    Stay tuned…

    (1) A. Selhub, A Logan, A. Bested, Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry (J Physiol Anthropol. 2014; 33(1):2, published online January 2014.

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  2. Carrot soup with sour cream, dill and pine nuts

    This carrot soup has a certain farm-like decadence to it. It is rich while nourishing and looks beautiful. You can make it vegetarian if you wish, but the chicken stock does add another layer of flavour. Punchy caraway and mustard seed add depth of flavour to the sweetness of the carrot while the garnishes – sour cream, dill and pine nuts – add a creamy richness.

    Carrot Soup

    I imagined myself eating this dish at an outdoor table on a warm summer evening, watching the stars begin to glimmer. However, as it is made from a lasting root vegetable it is also seasonally versatile – it just happens to taste the best when the carrots have been pulled straight out of the ground. Serve with a cool glass of California chardonnay.

    CARROT SOUP WITH SOUR CREAM, DILL AND PINE NUTS

    Serves 3-4

    INGREDIENTS

    1kg carrots, peeled and cut into 1inch rounds

    2 sticks celery, cut into chunks

    3 banana shallots, sliced

    2tbs olive oil

    Splash of white wine

    500ml chicken or vegetable stock

    1tsp dried dill

    1tbs mustard seeds

    1tbs caraway seeds

    salt and pepper

    To garnish

    4 dessert spoons sour cream

    4tbs pine nuts

    4tbs fresh chopped dill

    METHOD

    Start by sweating the vegetables and dry spices in a medium saucepan in a dessert spoonful of olive oil with a teaspoon of salt stirred through, which helps the vegetables break down. It’s great to get a bit of colour on the shallots as their caramelised flavour lends beautifully to the sweet carrots.

    Once the vegetables have a bit of colour on them, pour in the white wine followed by the chicken stock. If the vegetables aren’t covered with liquid, top it up with water. Bring the pot to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Cook until the carrots are completely soft, about 30-45mins.

    When the carrots are soft, take the soup of the heat and blend it until it is a fine puree. Let it down with a bit of water until it is the desired consistency. You don’t want it to thick, nor too thin. Think the of the body of double cream, that’s what you’re going for. Add plenty of fresh cracked pepper and a bit of salt if the flavour needs a bit more oomph.

    To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with a little olive oil and add a dallop of sour cream in the middle, laying it down gently so it rests on top of the soup. The sour cream really boosts and balances the flavour of the sweet carrots. Sprinkle over the dill and finally scatter the pine nuts.

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  3. Smoked Mackerel Potato Salad

    I learned a version of this recipe from my mom’s Parisian cousin, so it’s gotta be good. Paris has such style. Even their casual is pulled together, which basically sums up this salad too.

    Great for a BBQ, mid-week dinner or picnic lunch, this is a go-to recipe and it’s so simple a small child could knock it together. Woohoo!

    SMOKED MACKEREL POTATO SALAD

    Serves 4-6 as a side, 3-4 as a main

    INGREDIENTS

    250-300g smoked peppered mackerel

    500g new potatoes, boiled or steamed

    4TBS mayonnaise

    1 lemon

    20g chives, finely chopped


    METHOD

    Zest the lemon into a small bowl and keep it to the side. Juice the rest.

    Cut the potatoes into quarters and place in a large bowl. Skin the mackerel and break it into generous chunks.

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  4. Pizza Dough

    Pizza dough is a fantastically easy bread to make at home. It’s versatile and freezes beautifully. Make pizza, calzones, rolls or breadsticks. Do use ’00’ flour, which is very finely milled and high in gluten to give your bread a deliciously chewy texture. Simply shape, allow to prove for about 20 minutes and then cook in a high heat oven, around 220ºc/420ºf for the recommended time for whatever you are making.

    The classics are always nice, but try to go a little wild with flavours! I, for example, love it with a little rosemary, topped with gorgonzola and pears. The sky is the limit! Well, maybe not anchovies and chocolate…

    Pizza Dough

    PIZZA DOUGH

    Prep time: 20mins plus 1 hour for rising

    INGREDIENTS

    500g ’00’ flour

    500g plain, all purpose flour

    1tsp fine sea salt

    1.5tbs quick yeast

    650ml water, warm to touch

    1tbsp sugar, caster or granulated

    4tbsp extra virgin olive oil

    METHOD

    Whisk the flours and salt together in a large bowl – the largest in your kitchen, big enough for the whole mixture to double in size.

    Fill a jug with the water and add the yeast, sugar and oil. Allow the yeast to bloom out and activate by leaving it for at least 5 minutes. It should foam vigorously.

    Make a well in the bottom of the flour, pour in the liquid and stir with a large fork from the centre to the outside, slowly bringing in all the flour until a smooth, sticky dough forms. When it starts to get to difficult to use the fork, reach in with a clean, floured hand and work the dough together.

    Tip the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface – a countertop is usually the best – and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough becomes silky and springy. There should be some resistance as the gluten starts to develop, which will give it a wonderful chewy texture.

    Lightly flour the bowl you used to mix the dough in and lay the dough in the bottom, dust the top with flour and cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Leave it in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size – it should take about an hour.

    Once risen, scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured countertop and knock back, removing much of the air but not all. Using a scraper or a butter knife, portion the dough into 6 portions for medium pizzas, 8 portions for small.

    Either use immediately or wrap the portions in clingfilm for the fridge or freezer. If freezing, wrap double.

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  5. Good Morning Vietnam!

    It really is morning here in Vietnam, so in this case use of this cliche line is appropriate, and it is absolutely beautiful here on the lagoon where we are staying near Hue.

    The fishing boats wake me up at 4:30AM with their putt-putt-putting and the swooshing of their net very near to our bedroom. I don’t mind at all. The sun is a glowing orb of red, typical of this part of the world and we enjoy being awake when it rises over the mountains in the distance.

    Vietnam is an amazing country. The people are friendly and humorous and they work incredibly hard everyday. The landscape is magical and the history is fascinating. I feel I’ll never want to leave.

    Naturally one of the biggest parts of this adventure is the food. Vietnamese has been a favourite of mine for many years, being a staple in Seattle and an slight obsession of my step-dad, but eating the real deal here surpasses any expectations I could ever have dreamed up.

    I plan to write more posts about Vietnam and the fabulous food adventure I am having here because my obsession just got deeper!

    Let’s start wish breakfast, a steaming bowl of Pho Ga ( said Ph-oa G-ah).

    There is something so satisfying about rice noodles in clear broth. It’s the chicken noodle soup of Vietnam but for breakfast, so it really clears your head and mind for the day (and your sinuses, depending on how many chillies you add).

    So here is the rundown for Pho – it’s like any culture’s chicken soup: your mom makes it best, your grandma even better; it starts with great stock; it makes you feel better even if you feel good; it’s comforting; it’s pretty cheap to make.

    This recipe can be adapted to your taste. I learned to make a better version than I have before at a fabulous cooking school near Hoi An.

    (more…)

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  6. I feel this needs a second round… Porter Chocolate Cake – it’s still so good.

    I recently went out for dinner and we had this chocolate stout cake. It was dense, sweet, malty, moist, bitter (maybe slightly too bitter) – but mainly just a delicious piece of cake. Something worth baking at home, with a couple of little changes.

    First thing’s first – it’s the beer that gives this cake depth of flavour by introducing some of its fruity and malty notes, so the beer is one of the most important ingredients to think about.

    In Harold McGee’s book ‘On Food and Cooking’, the beer style chart lists stout as being mainly dark and bitter. Porter on the other hand has a bit of caramel sweetness to balance the bitterness from the dark roasted malt. It also has a bit more fizz, which might help to leaven the cake. I’ll tell you what – it works. I’ll never again bake a chocolate cake without it… and the whisky in the frosting? Well, it’s the icing on the, you know, cake.

    Porter Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Whisky Frosting

    chocolate-porter-cake-whole-after-the-market

     

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  7. Project Wedding Cake – Dave and Mel

    Crafting this rather large wedding cake was hard work but so much fun that I would do it again and again. I thought I would share a few details of the adventure so here it goes! Let’s start with the final result:

    Wedding Cake Kiss

    Wedding Cake Kiss

    Wedding Cake Tiers

    I know you might be thinking ‘it’s only 12 inches, that’s the size of a pizza’, but it’s not like a pizza at all. I have never seen such a large cake tin in my life. You could practically bath an infant in it, though of course I wouldn’t recommend this multipurpose use! The depth feels like an abyss that ingredients might disappear into. If you’ve ever made a cake you might understand the anxiety…

    It fit in my oven by some miracle and by one even greater it cooked through. I can’t express the fear felt as you take a cake out of the oven that is four times an original recipe with lots of expensive ingredients. If doing this at home I recommend classical music, camomile tea and maybe a tranquilliser. Phew!

    12-Inch-carrot-cake

     

    But oh the bliss when it comes out perfect. BLISS. Only 5 more layers to go…

    Frosting is another adventure. I can’t tell you the grief of finding that your go-to icing sugar company had switched to a new emulsifier that doesn’t do its job, yielding grainy buttercream no matter the method. 2 kilos of sugar later and I finally decide to switch from a classic to a Swiss-style buttercream. The result was ace! Soft, cloud-like and sturdy all at the same time. Perhaps the sugar gods had a plan for me after all. I’ll never use another frosting again!

    meringue-whisking

    Essentially, you start with a Swiss meringue, where you heat caster sugar and egg whites over a bain-marie until the sugar dissolves, then whisk to stiff peaks, add flavour and a ton of butter. It turns into a lumpy mess at first but with more whisking you end up with heaven.

    It takes more frosting than you would imagine to cover a wedding cake. I try to go for enough to cover a VW Beetle – I think I might just make it…

    (more…)

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  8. Happy New Year 2016! (and a 2015 round up)

    Now that we are in 2016 (holy moly how did that happen so fast?!) I am feeling a little reflective, a little proud even. I can look back at my many projects in 2015 and see that I really stretched myself as far as I could, though I’ll admit I missed having time to do more of my own writing on this blog. Thank you for keeping in touch via my Instagram and Twitter, I have really appreciated the feedback and encouragement!

    My goals for 2016:

    First – I want to write more and get back to regularly posting here!
    Second – Start on my first cookbook (Yes! But no promises for publishing in 2016…or 2017)
    Third – Learn to sketch.
    Fourth – First pop-up.

    Fingers crossed I can check all those off come January next year!

    To wrap up 2015, here is what I did while I was busy not writing this blog (again, see first resolution for 2016):

    I continued to work for the Good Housekeeping Institute Cookery School, where I have now worked for over a year, helping to run classes and testing tons of recipes. Here I am on the team page of the website among some of the cookery teachers I most admire in London. So proud!

    Picture 2

    At Good Housekeeping I also learned more about food styling and writing for a monthly publication and other nifty things like SEO (Search Engine Optimization). I had quite a few articles published on their website and even had a photo of my cooking published in the magazine’s September issue, on which I worked as a styling assistant. SO MUCH FUN!

    Maggie Rayfield Food Styling

    Good Housekeeping UK, September 2015, p. 261

    Good Housekeeping has been an amazing experience and I met the goals I set for myself from the start of working there within a year. A couple of my online articles that got the highest number of hits for food on their website that day, I learned to teach and run classes and events in a high end cooking school and I met loads of interesting people in the field that I can look forward to doing work with in the future.

    In addition to my work at Good Housekeeping, I also started branching out with my own projects. Working as a freelance chef has opened up doors to fantastic opportunities. Oh have I been busy!

    Most rewarding has been teaching autistic kids to trust their abilities through cooking at a special needs school. They are absolutely brilliant and it’s a joy to see the immediate reward they get from finishing a dish. I also started teaching at a snazzy school in Clerkenwell called Food at 52. I love the team there and get to teach some of my favourite cuisines – Italian, Vietnamese and South Indian.

    I have also worked in corporate catering, cooking for chairmen, directors and team members of private banks and firms in the City of London. Playing with fabulous ingredients and allowing my creativity to flow has been so awesome.

    One of the most exciting (and down right terrifying) opportunities I was given in 2015 was to make my first wedding cake. I’ll tell you about that soon!

    IMG_9585

    In between the hard work I got to go to Amsterdam and Paris (spoiled I know!) and in both countries cheese seemed to be the centre of attention.

    IMG_4615

    But their markets came close second. The fruits and vegetables on the continent are absolutely incredible.

    IMG_4927

    By the way, don’t let anyone tell you that all Parisians dislike Americans again – I was eyeing up some delicious looking apples at a stall and asked the lady running the stand (in my best possible French,which is borderline OK but not great) how much it would be for one apple, as I’m so hungry I can’t wait for lunch. She smiled and said, “Thank you for trying to speak properly, have it for free.” So there you go – it does pay to try!

    IMG_4987

    You  know what Eleanor Rooseavelt said – “Do one thing everyday that scares you”. Well, I’ll tell you what, I spent a lot of days rolling on that mantra in 2015. What the universe passed to me in exchange was incredible! I plan to keep it up this year and I can’t wait for the adventures 2016 will bring.

     

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  9. Apple and Pear Crisp with Oat Praline

    Were it not for waning sunshine, Autumn would be my favourite season. I love jeans, sweaters, scarves and boots. I love Halloween and all the pumpkins that come with it. I love the colour orange, crisp morning air and crunching leaves. I love that subtle quiet that comes when all the tourists head back home. Well almost – this is London after all, they tend to keep on coming! More the proud am I to live in such an awesome city.

    Speaking of ‘crisp’ and ‘crunch’, how about apples and pears coming into season? How about apple and pear crisp?! Or crumble, for the British lexicon. Crisp and crumble are one in the same and yet another reason to absolutely love Autumn!

    Any of you who have searched out a recipe for crisp or crumble will know that there are a million and one ways to make it. Everyone has their own version and is usually at least slightly sentimental about it. It is nuanced dish and rightly so, as is true with any ‘family recipe’.

    Sweet and tart with a hint of salt, this staple dessert can be as simple as chopping up some fruit and chucking it into a baking dish with a layer of buttery crumb on the top, but it can also be something a bit more special…

    I am dressing mine up a bit by separating out the components to create a more beautiful dish with a blast of colour, suited to a dinner party rather than a standard weeknight supper. I cook the fruit in one step, the crumble in another and then add a couple of very easy bits to make the final dish even more gorgeous.

    apple-pear-crumble-after-the-market

    Apple and Pear Crisp with Raspberry Coulis and Oat Praline

    Serves 6

    Preheat oven to 180

    INGREDIENTS

    Filling

    3 eating apples, cut into chunks

    3 conference pears, cut into chunks

    50g butter, cubed

    40g light brown soft sugar

    40g caster sugar

    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

    1/2 tsp good quality vanilla extract

    1 lemon, zested

    grating of nutmeg

    Praline

    50g pecans

    50g blanched almonds

    50g caster sugar

    Crumble

    250g butter

    250g flour

    1tbsp caster sugar

    100g oats

    Raspberry Coulis

    300g frozen raspberries

    2tbs icing sugar

    1tsp lemon juice (to taste)

    METHOD

    For the filling:

    Mix spices with sugar. Toss chopped fruit and cubed butter in spiced sugar, vanilla and lemon zest and spread evenly in a roasting tin. Bake on the middle level of the oven until just soft and lightly golden, stirring occasionally. It should take about half an hour to fourty minutes.

    Take the raspberries out of the freezer.

    For the crumble:

    Whiz up the cubed butter, flour and a pinch of in a food processor, or alternatively cut in and rub in until like fine breadcrumbs. See my ‘Shortcrust and Cherry Pie’ post for instructions. Mix through the sugar and oats, spread over a baking sheet and bake on the top shelf of the oven for twenty to thirty minutes until golden and crispy, a bit like crumbled shortbread.

    For the praline:

    Oil a baking sheet and set aside. Turn on the extractor as cooking sugar always creates smoke, put the sugar and nuts in a frying pan and gently melt the sugar over a low heat. Once fully melted, swirl and cook to a caramel. It should be a dark golden but not burned.  Pour the caramel and nuts onto the oiled baking sheet and allow to cool.

    Once cooled completely, whizz up in the food processor or put in a plastic bag, wrap in a tea towel and bash up with a rolling pin. Don’t be tempted to do this while warm, you’ll end up with a sticky mess!

    While the caramel is cooling, check the fruit and the crumble. If done, break up the crumble and leave both it and the fruit in the oven, turned down to warm.

    For the coulis:

    Whizz up frozen raspberries, now close to defrosted, with lemon juice and sifted icing sugar. Because the raspberries are still half frozen, the coulis should look a bright pink colour rather than deep red. Think of a smoothie. The ice crystals have this affect by creating tiny bubbles as they cut through the fruit. Let out with water to desired consistency. Put into a squeeze bottle. If you don’t have one, a spoon will do the job too.

    For the styling:

    Start by squeezing a design on the bottom of the plate. Think of a messy grid. Do leave a border around the food as a frame, it will make the whole dish look more appealing.

    Next spoon the apple and pear mixture into the centre, making sure there is some height to the middle – always good for any dish.

    Sprinkle over a layer of crumble and then the praline.

    Serve with an optional jug of cream or custard on the side, or if you’re me – a neat little ball of vanilla ice cream in a small glass.

    There it is – the humble crumble, but so much better.

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  10. Jumbo Oat and Chia Seed Porridge with Maple Syrup

    Back in London to the grey and rain after a wonderful weekend in Amsterdam. Have you ever been? I highly recommend you go.

    When you do, don’t go for the legalised substances and the liberal attitude to sex, though these are both fascinating culturally to observe. Go for the art, the scenery, the architecture and the fabulous bike rides on roads made for cyclists with a side of cars. I can’t tell you how free it makes you feel to ride a bike everywhere. Bliss! And of course the magical canals with beautiful bridges.

    Oh and if you are wondering, yes I did go to the red light district but only at 11am and yes I did see those little windows and no I did not linger. Though I will tell you it made me a little cheerful to see so many shapes and sizes available, demonstrating that most people are not turned on by sticks. I also went into a coffee shop, and though I don’t smoke anything as I have asthma, I liked how civilised it was – like a specialist tea shop, nothing more exciting than that.
    Speaking of civilised, the art really was fantastic and one of the paintings, a bucket list viewing for me (just look at the use of light and colour!), actually made me crave a wholesome food I imagined I would find inside that kitchen…


    (The Milkmaid – Vermeer)

    Oatmeal is one of those breakfasts that people either see as slop or comfort – usually dependent on whether it was served at school or by a caring parent on a cold day. Lucky for me, it has always been comfort. Here is my recipe for porridge success:

    Ingredients

    (Per person)

    50g jumbo oats

    1 tsp chia seeds

    100ml water

    100ml milk

    Pinch salt

    Knob of butter

    1 tbsp maple syrup or honey

    Pinch of cinnamon

    Method

    The perfect oatmeal takes time, but not much effort! Start by putting 50g of jumbo oats per person in a small saucepan, cover with 100ml water and soak either overnight or while you start your coffee – about 10 minutes for best results

    Turn on a medium heat and add 100ml milk, a pinch of salt and 1 tsp chia seeds. Bring to a boil then down to a simmer and stir a lot for a minutes then occasionally, cooking for 10 minutes or as directed on your oats packet.

    Turn off the heat and cover, leaving it for a few minutes (I do 5 but I know every minute counts in the morning). This does three marvellous things – the porridge continues to soak up liquid while cooling slightly to stop you burning the top of your mouth off and, most importantly, it magically unsticks from the bottom of the pan (what I am sure is the only real reason any haters hate).

    Serve in a bowl with a knob of butter, maple syrup or honey and a pinch of cinnamon. Some people like to add more milk but I think it’s creamy enough.
    Voila! Perfect porridge! Not to hot, not a bit cold, not crunchy or too chewy, not to dry or too wet, not too sweet or salty, and with a bit of added chia protein to get your through the (we hope) most productive part of the day!

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