Thursday 29 November 2012

Sourdough Loaf With Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds

I was quite pleased with my previous effort at baking bread. Especially with getting past my own fear of trying something new or different. And I am getting withdrawal symptoms!

So the decision went to making a sourdough loaf with sunflower and pumpkin seeds. I consulted my copy of Classic Sourdoughs, Revised by Ed and Jane Wood for ideas. The normal recipe requires all-purpose or white bread flour, but I opted for one cup of rye which I used for the starter, then added two cups of brown bread flour to this. Some salt followed, along with the ¼ cup each of sunflower and pumpkin seeds. I used the seeds raw, as per the recipe. I made bread, using sweetcorn before, which was edible but not really something you want to do often. The taste does not warrant the effort. Better to make a corn loaf with some maize flour added, then use the sweetcorn as an addition.

In this case I think that I am on relatively safe ground, having a recipe for a loaf with sunflower seeds. I have also seen other recipes on the internet using the same mix of seeds that I am using. There seems to be a division of thinking about whether to roast the seeds before using or not. I sucked a thumb and decided to go the raw way. Simply because I feel lazy today.

The starter was made by decanting some of the first wash mix of my sourdough, then adding a cup full of rye flour. This was left on the work top for six hours. Once it started smelling like a live sourdough and developed some extra body, I mixed the dough.

On the topic of washing, it is something I do to the sourdough every time I use it. Take it out of the refrigerator and let it thaw. Then add normal tap water to the top of the container. Stir the mix to get proper dilution, then decant 80% of the contents. I used some of this for the starter, the rest went down the drain. This gets rid of 80% of the acid and the populatiomn. But the gene pool is intact, so the sourdough grows back merrily in the less acid habitat that you just created. The 20% of the sourdough that is left gets fed with some rye flour and a little additional water, then sits and develops a new population, after which it goes back in the refrigerator to lie dormant until my next baking exercise.

Back to the loaf. The starter basically got the same treatment, except the starter got more rye. I need a large population to leaven the loaf. I also added two dessert spoons of brown sugar to the starter. Hopefully this will make a difference to the end result, where the seeds may not be overly sweet.
The loaves were baked at a temperature of 180ºC/350ºF for 40 minutes. Remember I have a fan in the oven and get a more even temperature gradient. If your oven does not have a fan, up the temperature by 15-20 degrees. I had the usual little pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to generate some steam.

The last rise of the loaves in the pans did not look to good but I persevered. As expected, the loaves did not rise much in the oven (very little oven spring.) I was very worried by now, wondering what had gone wrong.

The loaves came out the oven promptly after forty minutes. The longer baking time was to allow for the thicker dough. The loaves sounded nice and hollow to the knock and had a very crisp and firm crust.

After another twenty minutes' worth of cooling and developing the crust, I cut the first loaf. My fears were immediately allayed. The crumb had nice uneven fermentation holes and was nice and elastic with a slight moisture. The fermentation holes were also large enough for me to feel more positive about my effort. I was very worried that the dough had collapsed. This dough was mixed specifically a bit soft and moist. This experiment is a success, but with a lesson or two learned. I think to use a bit more fine flour (white bread flour). This lot had very little fine flour and I suspect that this gave rise to leakage of the fermentation gases. Also, the dough may have been a bit on the moist side, rather like dough for a baguette. This may not work well with a coarser mix of flour.

Other than the above, there are now regrets. The bread came out exactly to the taste and form that I intended, except for the rising.
And the seeds in the crumb makes for a wonderful taste experience. I shall do this again!

This post also linked to Yeastspotting! 

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

Saturday 24 November 2012

Korma Curry, Boat Style


I have often thought about the difference between what I do versus your standard urban food blogger, cooking in his or her five star kitchen. Complete with all the electricity and associated equipment. I have also thought at length about what I call in Afrikaans “afskeepkos”. Food made in negligence. I have gone so far as to post (or is it “pose”?) the question on my FaceBook wall, with some reaction.

The answer is not easy to find, as the term “afskeepkos” is a neologism, even in Afrikaans.

The proper answer needs to be researched and pondered, if you will.

The gist lies in the application of the mind in preparing food. Whatever food it is. Leftovers may look and taste like, well, leftovers. Or you can apply your mind and use those same leftovers in an altogether new dish.

Or you can use some of the stuff that you munch on before dinner as part of the dinner dish ingredients.

We are not here to discuss the vagaries of language and application of the mind, we need to cook up something simple for dinner on board. Using two pots and one burner. Perhaps this one will go down in history as having applied the mind.

Chicken Korma is one of the more well-known dishes in India. It is made with onions and cashews, along with the requisite spices. And it is extremely simple to make. If this dish takes more than fifteen minutes in preparation, you are doing something wrong.

The nominal recipe is to use the ingredients in the list below. There are a myriad variations and even my own version differs between batches. But they all taste exquisite.

This one is normally made in the kitchen at home, where you have access to a stick blender or equivalent. Aboard a small yacht there is none of that, hence this adaptation.


For the chicken

500 g (1 lb) de-boned chicken.
3 medium sized onions. More is better for this dish.
½ cup whole cashew nuts. Or one whole cup, but then the dish becomes very rich.
1 clove fresh garlic
1 fresh hot chilli
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
5 black peppercorns
1 cardamom pod, shedded
1½ teaspoon medium masala powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
Small stick cinnamon bark
1/4 teaspoon aniseed seeds.

Or combination of the above. The chillies, garlic, onions and cashews are not negotiable.

1 teaspoon green masala paste (recipe here)
1 teaspoon garum masala
bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
spritz of fresh chives, chopped
some salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter

For the rotis

½ cup white or brown bread flour. I used brown bread flour
½ inch slice of a brick of butter
pinch of salt
¾ cup lukewarm water


For the Chicken Korma

Fry the cashews in a dry pan until they are nice and brown. It works better if you have a cast iron saucepan or pot, because the pot heats the food from the side as well. The heat retention also helps with the rest period at the end. I used my 20cm Le Creuset saucepan for this.

Take them out and crush them as fine as you can get it. I used a coffee mug and the back ends of my kitchen knives. Keep the crushed cashews to one side. Add a dollop of butter to the pan and fry the dried whole spices until the flavour comes out. I use my mortar and pestle to grind the whole spices a little before frying them.

Add the grated onions and fry until they are nice and translucent, beginning to turn brown. This may be difficult as the onions will be very watery because you grated them. Add the chopped fresh chilli and and garlic and fry for another two minutes, then add the dry powder spices. I crushed the cashews while frying the onions to save time by multiplexing. Fry for another minute, then take it off the heat. Add the crushed cashews and a little water to make a batter-like sauce. Then put it back on the heat and bring to the boil.

In the home version you chop the onions coarsely, then fry them until they are brown. The spices are added as above. When everything is ready, the fried whole cashews are added back to the mix and blitzed with a stick blender to make the sauce, adding water as required.

The sauce can be quite thick, leading to burning if careless, so watch it. Add a little water if you get worried.

Now add the chicken. I cut the chicken into thickish slices, as opposed to cubes. They cook faster if they are thinner. Cook slowly until the chicken is tender. Add salt as required. Make sure you don't use too much water. The dish needs to be almost just runny when done. If it is too watery it becomes a mess to eat and most of the flavourful parts get left in your plate. When the dish is nicely done, add the garum masala, the chopped coriander (dhania), and the chopped chives. Put the lid on and set this lot aside to rest.

For the Rotis

This was one of my more successful experiments. The internet is a wonderful place if you understand that different folks have different names for the same stuff. Like rotis. Some call them flat breads, others call similar bread tortillas, even though they may not be made from corn flour.

Whatever the case, I used an idea from a recipe for tortillas. You rub the butter into the flour and add the salt to the warm water. Then add the water little by little to the flour making a very soft dough. This dough will be nice and elastic for only a short time, so work diligently. Knead the dough for five minutes until it becomes satiny. Then roll it into a long sausage about two inches thick (50mm). Cut this into 50mm sections to make small balls.

Roll each ball out into a small disk about 4mm thick. Bake in a dry pan on medium heat until it starts to puff, then turn over. You will know that it is done when it starts to burn in spots. You get a production line going, baking one at a time and rolling the next one while you wait. I used my 24 cm non stick frying pan from Le Creuset, it works a charm.

In the meantime, the main dish is resting and developing flavour. Don't worry. If you used a cast iron saucepan it will not even cool down to edible levels while you are making the rotis. Else heat it a little as required.

You can dish up straight from the saucepan at the table. Two rotis per person is more than enough, there will be leftovers.
And it is accepted practice to use the rotis to wipe out your plate.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2013-07-06

Monday 12 November 2012

Baguettes: Are They Really So Difficult To Make?

I was scared of making baguettes for a long time. For no apparent reason, just an eerie feeling of awe. Perhaps the whole reputation of the baguette got to me.

Until today. I decided that this is just another bread recipe and I am quite able to make bread. In fact, I have been researching and practicing the art for almost a year now. About time for the leap of faith, don't you think?

I already crossed the hurdle of having steam in the oven, so that would not be a problem. I also solved the problem of over-baking the loaves, which has to do with the fan in the oven and having a more even temperature gradient in the oven. I now use a temperature setting of 20-25 degrees C lower than what the recipe asks for. After the requisite baking time, I check the status of the loaves and may up the temperature or leave the loaves to bake a bit longer or both. The problem only arises when you already have too high a temperature and things happen faster than one anticipates. Perhaps there is another lesson there.

Be it as it may, I proceeded with my next experiment. This recipe is adapted from a recipe on the blog Take Back The Bread. I decided that I shall be treading the new path very carefully. The recipe asks for 4-5 cups of unbleached white flour. I used the same quantity but substituted 2 cups of stone ground, unbleached, whole wheat brown bread flour. The rest of the ingredients are very simple. Salt, two cups of water, instant yeast. That's it. Mix thoroughly, knead and leave to rise. Don't add more water but have a slightly soft dough. Use a dessert spoon or two of oil on the outside of the dough to prevent it from drying out.

Of course, in my world nothing happens with all the ease that the explanation would have. At first I used some leftover instant yeast stored in the original envelope, closed by folding over the open end and keeping it closed with a clothes-peg. This doesn't work for more than a day or two. My batch of dough did not rise and I had a problem. How do I get more yeast into the mix? After some deliberation I figured it out. Not too much of a problem. 

Spread the dough by patting or rolling into a thinnish sheet, then sprinkle some yeast on the surface. Then fold the sheet several times and flatten again. Repeat the process till all the yeast is in the dough. Hopefully it is now spread reasonably evenly throughout the dough. You also are left with some decent folding and kneading which is not bad for the intended baguette.

This lot I left to rise for another hour, after which it had risen properly. The dough was kneaded down and split into two halves for the shaping part of the process.
The shaping part is also quite easy. Roll out the dough into a rectangle roughly three times as long as it is wide. In my case I used baguette pans, so one of the dimensions was determined already. Once the dough is rolled out, start at one of the short ends and roll it up into a sausage. Make sure that the sausage is tightly rolled, otherwise you may end up with a loosely rolled thin loaf. The sausage now gets put down with the end joint at the bottom. Tuck the short ends in by pulling the top part over the end and tucking it under the end. This will tidy up the loaf. Repeat with the other loaf. Now roll each loaf in some dry flour, just for a small dusting.

Cover with a wet tea cloth and allow to rise for another hour. The loaves should double in volume again. Take a sharp knife and make three shallow diagonal cuts on top of each loaf to allow for oven spring. Leave the loaves to rest for another ten minutes before popping them into a pre-heated oven at 220ºC/425ºF. My oven has a fan that stirs the air inside around, so I use a setting of 200ºC/390ºF, else the oven is too hot. I also put a cup of water at the bottom of the oven to supply some steam for the baking process.

Bake the loaves for 22 minutes or until they are nice and light brown on top. Remove them from the oven and leave to rest for another fifteen minutes. This will allow the crumb to develop and get rid of the last steam inside the loaves.

This time I had real success. The loaves came out with a thin chewy crust and a light crumb. Of course, these were brown, so it looked a bit different from the normal white flour baguette.  Small holes, probably too little water. A lesson for next time.

But the taste was exquisite.

I wonder where my fear went. Probably evaporated when the dough did not rise as expected. Live a little, learn a little. We used the opportunity to have this with some cheese and wine for a light romantic dinner. Wonderful food.

This post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

Friday 9 November 2012

The Ribbed Skillet: Bane Or Boon?

Do you possess a ribbed skillet? Yes? Have you made friends with it yet?
I happen to have one. And it took me a while until I figured out how to use it properly. About three or four times, to be precise.
We bought such a ribbed skillet from Le Creuset after we relocated to the Western Cape. We were staying in a guest house until our new home was vacated and we could move in. The cookware at the guest house was of doubtful quality and buckled, so cooking became a drudgery. Also, all our cookware were stored with the rest of the furniture, so we simply couldn't get hold of it and had to make another plan. Luckily we found a Le Creuset outlet close to us and were able to at least make living bearable by cooking proper food.
One of the characteristics of this skillet is that it needs to be on the hot to very hot side to work properly. This we found out by trial and error. In addition, it is not necessary to use oil or a marinade with the meat. Marinade will burn or scorch at the temperatures required for the proper grilling of the cut.
I recently decided to grill some steaks as part of my continued competency in the use of the skillet. The specific cut I bought had bones in it. I like to think it is part of the thick rib meat just at the end of the rib cage, but my butcher sold it as club steak. I liked the idea of meat on the bone, as this makes for interesting side effects. The meat tends to receive less heat close to the bone, making the even grilling slightly more adventurous. The cuts I selected were of even thickness. This is important, as an uneven cut will always cook to well-done stage at the thin end before the rest is even medium rare. Something to bear in mind when shopping for a cut to barbecue or grill in the skillet.
The meat was taken out of the vacuum package and left to rest and breathe outside for ten minutes or so. These cuts are claimed to be matured and they certainly looked the part. The meat had a slight grey colour just out of the package, turning a more healthy red as it breathed.
The meat was accompanied by mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and some sweet carrots.
The skillet was heated on the largest burner on the gas hob, the setting at about three-quarters full. You don't want to have hot spots in the skillet, you want an even heat distribution, slightly on the hot side. The meat was placed on the fat side first, standing the two steaks on end and leaning them against each other. This gets the fat in the pan and out of the meat. Also something to lubricate your skillet. Some will say that this is not very healthy, but it works and the only fat on the meat is on the outside. You may cut it off on your plate if you don't want it. You will ingest some fat due to the grilling in the skillet, but that little bit won't kill you, I believe.
When the fat has a nice brown colour the meat is turned down on the flat side for normal grilling. There should be a moderate amount of fat smoke around, so do use your cooker hood extractor, else you may get in trouble with the rest of the household. The meat may be turned every two minutes or so. If there is hardly any smoke from the fat, the skillet may be too cold and the gas flame needs to be turned up. Too much smoke and the gas gets turned lower. You may remove the skillet from the hob if it gets too hot. Mind the handle, it also gets hot. Use a dry towel or glove.
Give the skillet time to cool slightly, then put it back on the burner. The thickness of the cast iron skillet makes for a wonderful heat retention and it does not really play roller coaster with the temperature.
The test for the steaks being done is of course to make a small cut in the steak and pull it open to see what it looks like inside. I normally turn the steaks a couple of times until they are nice and brown on the outside, then make a small cut for inspection. This is where your expertise lies. You need to judge the state of cooking by the colour of the outside. Another sign would be that there is juice seeping out of the top of the meat. This is a clear indication that the meat is getting drier and that the inside is now past boiling point. Remove the meat from the skillet at that stage. It is always a good idea to then let the meat rest for at least ten minutes before serving. You may heat the meat again by briefly putting it back in the skillet. I seasoned these steaks with our standard braai salt, nothing very organic, just the normal braai stuff.
After the steaks were removed from the skillet, the fresh asparagus sprouts went in. These were fried in the juices left over from the steaks. They scorch a little where they touch the ribbing in the skillet, but otherwise they turn a very nice bright green. At this point they are removed from the skillet, else they overcook and go limp.
In the meantime I peeled the potatoes and cut them into medium thick slices. This helps to cook fast. A drip tray over the saucepan contained the julienne'd carrots for steaming. The lid of the saucepan went over it all. The saucepan is also a cast iron one from the Le Creuset series. Nice heat retention and a fast heat-up cycle. And you use the lowest setting on the smallest burner on the hob to do the job once the saucepan has heated up.
The carrots were removed from the steamer and transferred to another dish where I added some brown sugar. This was nuked in the microwave to melt the sugar and get it close to caramel.
The potatoes were mashed, along with some cream and a dollop of milk. Add salt and black pepper to taste and a finger bunch of chives as garnish, chopped coarsely, to round off the mash.
Add a glass of a full-bodied red wine and Voila!, you have a nice quick meal.
This is how I made friends with my skillet. You did you do?

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

Sunday 4 November 2012

The New Kitchen Work Top

Ever wanted a decent looking work top in the kitchen? For no specific reason but some itching? Rest assured you are not alone.

And the itch is not something to sneeze at, no pun intended. It is part of those things in life where you just know something is not quite right, but you can't put your finger on it. There are tomes written on this in the academia, with reference to businesses and so on. I like to think that this is part of your sixth sense telling you that, aesthetically, something is wrong.

Enough of philosophy, how does one get a new work top for very little money? The answer lies in doing it yourself. And with a little planning up front it becomes a relatively easy task.
The existing work top in our kitchen is a post-formed top made of chipboard covered in melamine. An ugly speckled one to boot. Small things lose themselves immediately on contact with the top. Like your car keys, as a prime example. After a short research effort on the internet, I decided on a wooden work top. My choice was confirmed when I saw such a top at our local kitchen cupboard supplier, where they have some examples of kitchen layouts.

The choice of wood versus other materials can be quite disconcerting, with lots of pros and cons each way. I made my choice on the basis of aesthetics, cost and the ability to do it myself, thereby saving much overheads in the form of labour cost. This project is something one can do in the span of a week's worth of evenings if you are a working person.
I visited my local exotic wood supplier, which is Rare Woods in the Cape Town area. In the Gauteng area Silverton Timber Merchants will stand a visit. The internet is a wonderful place, full of handy information right under your nose.

So, I duly rocked up at the shop, where the salesperson enquired after my needs. I replied that I was looking to buy a plank. Which raised no end of giggles, but he assured me that he would do his utmost to help. I actually made contact with another human being, forsooth!

After a short discussion, I settled on a 3.6m x 38mm x 320mm mahogany plank. We selected a reasonably straight one without cracks. The wood was then nicely planed and cut to my specifications for a small additional cost. Three days later I went to fetch my plank, which was now reduced to three pieces of the proper dimensions of 1.10m x 310mm x 32mm. The thickness corresponds with the thickness of the existing top, so I don't have to worry about filling the gap between the existing wall tiles and the new top. The length also corresponds with the existing work top.

All that remained for me to do was to glue the three planks together to complete the top. I had some fun and games with a clamping system, until I remembered that one can just bind the planks together by winding thick string around the two planks. I did this in two steps because I did not have clamps. You need ten or more windings and preferably one at each end of the planks to get good clamping. For the second gluing I went and hired long clamps, which of course made the work a lot easier.

Then the sanding started, which of course takes a lot more beer than one anticipates! Jokes aside, this is also something one can do by hand as I did. You don't need electric machines, although they reduce this job to one of an afternoon. I started with coarse sandpaper, around 120 grit, then worked down in two more steps to a 400 grit. After sanding the board, wipe it with a dry cloth to get rid of the dust, then wipe it with a wet cloth to make the grain stand up. When the wood's grain stands up, you give it the once over with your used sandpaper before going to the next finer grit.

The mahogany has a nice grain, but is a bit on the grey side to my tastes. Also, I could not afford a teak plank. So I bought some high quality wood stain. I chose a cherry wood stain, which gave me a nice dark hue with a red tint. The wood goes darker too with application of boiled linseed oil, which is my choice of oil for the initial finish.

The wood sucked up two coats of the stain, giving me a very nice dark auburn finish. This was topped with another two coats of boiled linseed oil, applied copiously on all sides and allowed to dry for two days between coats. The wood also absorbed all of this.

The top was now basically ready for installation.  Installation was a cinch because of my little bit of planning in the beginning. I had to screw out five screws to remove the old top, slide the new one in, then redo the five screws. It took me longer to refit the cupboard doors than to install the work top. There is a dirty part, which is the sealing of the top around the edges, using silicone sealant. My kitchen was in dire need of this anyway.

The new top still needs a light coat of oil once a week for the next four months or so. Until the oil starts to congeal on top. The wood will then be reasonably sealed.
On the topic of the use of wood and its finishes in a food-environment, there is much ado. I had a long conversation with my local pharmacist, which was quite enlightening. The wood in itself is not toxic, unless of course you choose a toxic wood. Bacteria may enter the pores, yes. They don't like the natural oils in the wood and probably will not survive. And the oils that you use to seal the wood has an added detrimental effect to their longevity.

Enter the next factor, which is the use of mineral oil. As far as I could find out, bacteria do not like mineral oils either and will die promptly in such an environment. Good news. Then I went in search of food grade mineral oil. I found it after a lengthy search, sitting pretty on the shelf at the upmarket furniture shop, complete with an upmarket price to match.
Getafix is a proper name for the character from the Asterix stories. My local pharmacist could have a nickname like that. I went to him with my lamentations and, lo and behold, I got a fix.

Food grade mineral oil comes with many names, not the least of which is liquid paraffin. Which is obtainable from your local pharmacy without a prescription, nogal. And in decent quantities as well. It is a by-product of the oil refinery process and is readily available. So I promptly bought half a litre of the stuff. End of hygiene and maintenance problems in the kitchen. This stuff also works for your favourite cutting board and butcher's block. It blocks odours as well as tastes .

Voila! Now my kitchen is aesthetically more pleasing. And the cost of all of this was just over R1000. The plank cost me R780 which included the planing and cutting to size. The stain was R89, the boiled linseed oil R80 and the glue R60. Add a few Rand for the sandpaper to complete the budget.

Well worth the effort, don't you think?

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-06-26