No-knead spelt bread

A mystery visitor changed my life last Friday. I went out for a few hours and returned home to find crumbs all over the kitchen floor and a tea towel draped artistically over the stovetop. Now, neither of these things are that unusual – our floors are usually so covered in crumbs it looks like Hansel and Gretel have been passing through and tea towels are often appropriated by a pair of small hands to make doll beds or princess dresses. But the strange formation of these crumbs, and the teatowel’s odd positioning, spoke of something else. All at once it dawned on me – the oven man had come! I jumped up and down on the spot beside the oven, both in utter joy and to test whether or not the door was going to fall open. It didn’t budge. I pulled on the door handle and it reluctantly opened, eager to spring back into position. I was so excited I took a video of myself opening the oven door and sent it to my beloved. “This is one of the nicest things you’ve ever done for me,” I wrote.

You may think this indicates that a) I need to get out more and b) that my relationship is in serious trouble, but if you’d spent the last 18 months grappling with an oven that didn’t close properly, you’d be excited too. I’ve spent all weekend marvelling at how easy it is to cook things when the oven door doesn’t fall open at whim and how quickly the oven heats up now that half the heat isn’t escaping. One of the first things I made was a spelt version of my ye olde DIY Vogels bread. Here’s how I did it.

Slices Of No-Knead Spelt Bread

No-knead spelt bread
I’m on a bit of a spelt kick at the moment, not least because I can buy organic spelt flour from a great shop just minutes away – but most supermarkets stock it now too. If you can boil a kettle and stir (not simultaneously), then you can make this bread. I use my own toasted muesli – like this one or this one – when making this but any decent bought one will suffice. If you leave it out, consider throwing in some seeds instead.

300g white spelt flour
300g wholemeal spelt flour
120g toasted muesli
2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp honey
300ml milk
350ml boiling water

Put everything into a large bowl and mix well – it will be like porridge. Scrape into a very-well oiled and lined large loaf tin (internal measurements roughly 20cm x 10cm x 8cm).
Put into a cold oven and turn the dial to 50C. Leave for about 25 minutes, until the dough has risen to the top of the tin. Turn the heat to 200C and bake for another 40 minutes, until crusty on top and hollow when you tap it on the bottom.
Turn out to a rack to cool. This makes excellent toast, or you can cut it into canape-sized bits and have it with cream cheese and pickled ginger or smoked salmon.

What was the best thing that happened to your kitchen last week?

Treat me: Ginger cider cake

Two of my favourite redheads have birthdays this weekend – so in their honour I have devised a ginger-y cake. You don’t have to have redhead or suffered years of school yard torment to enjoy it, but it helps if you like light, lovely cake studded with nuggets of crystallised ginger and walnuts. Who’s in?

Ginger cider cake
This is an adapted version of a cake in Margaret Fulton’s ‘My Very Special Cookbook’, a book worth hunting for in your next charity shop raids. I used a bottle of Rekorderlig Orange-Ginger cider (which is actually very drinkable, for once you can believe the hype), but you could use any cider or beer and change the fruit/spices accordingly. It makes a very big cake suitable for baking in a bundt tin – but make sure you grease and flour it really well or you’ll suffer the consequences. I can confirm the cake is still edible when it comes out of the tin in two pieces, but it’s less suitable to present to someone as a birthday treat.

250g soft butter
400g brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
100g crystallised ginger, roughly chopped
100g walnuts, roughly chopped
500ml beer or cider, at room temperature
450g plain flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and/or line a large bundt tin.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy – easiest done with a stand mixer or food processor – then beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the ginger and walnuts.
Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and spices together then add about a quarter of it to the butter mixture. Fold in, then add a quarter of the beer or cider. Repeat until all the ingredients are combined.
Scrape into the prepared tin and bake for about 45 minutes, until the cake is well risen and a skewer plunged into the centre comes out clean.
Leave in the tin for 10 minutes to cool, then carefully turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Little House polenta porridge

When I promised this week would be free of pink food and party cakes, I didn’t quite anticipate spending the weekend eating very little. I’ll draw a veil over the nasty details, but suffice to say two-thirds of our household spent part of the the weekend in the clutches of (or recovering from) an unpleasant stomach ailment. If this was a different sort of blog I’d be posting selfies of my resulting washboard-ish stomach – but instead, here’s a recipe for a soothing sort of warming winter breakfast.

Polenta porridge
Do you remember the Laura Ingalls Wilder books? I can’t wait for the Small Girl to be old enough to read them. Perhaps then she’ll be keen on having this modern version of Ma’s cornmeal mush for breakfast. This can be dressed up any way you like – the photo below shows it with vanilla paste and a dollop of crème fraiche – but it’s also good with stewed fruit, grated apple, slices of frozen banana (hot/cold, hard/soft) or in true Little House style, butter and proper maple syrup. If you’re in peak health, a splash of cream goes down well too…

For one person:
1/2 cup fine cornmeal/polenta
1 cup water
Flavourings – 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract, 2 tsp butter, a spoonful of honey or the additions mentioned above

Put the polenta in a small saucepan and add the water slowly, stirring all the time. Put it over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until it thickens and begins to simmer like lava. Turn the heat down and continue to cook for five to 10 minutes, adding a little bit more water if it seems very thick. When it’s done, stir through the vanilla, butter and honey, if using, and pour into a waiting bowl. Eat while hot.

The togarashi affair

My husband is having an affair. He’s not even trying to hide it any more. Last week he cooked me this fantastic stirfry and while I was complimenting him on it he dropped a bombshell. Just like that.

What’s even worse is that I know the third party. He introduced us a couple of months ago when we were having a rare lunch together at a little Japanese joint down from work. I thought she was great too, but now I can’t escape her, the fiery little minx.

Dear reader, my husband has become obsessed with togarashi, a spicy, zesty Japanese seasoning comprised of chilli, sesame seeds, ginger, orange zest, seaweed and other sundry ingredients. It’s a bit like the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices, only better. It’s traditionally used in noodle soups (the lovely guy who runs the little Japanese joint we occasionally escape to says it is “only for udon” but I can vouch for the following recipe (as long as it doesn’t end my marriage).

Togarashi chicken
I dragged as much information about the making of this dish as I could from the guilty party, plus watched him make it the other day. This serves two generously with rice.

350-400g boneless chicken thighs, cut into strips
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp lemon juice (lemon zest also good here)
2 Tbsp togarashi (or more, if you are really keen on it)
black pepper
splash of oil
1 bunch spring onions, finely sliced
bok choy or similar vegetables suited to stir-frying

Mix the chicken, garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon juice and zest, togarashi and black pepper together and leave to marinate for 30 minutes out of the fridge or a couple of hours in the fridge.
Heat a splash of oil in a heavy pan, then stir-fry the chicken and spring onions until nearly cooked. Toss in the vegetables until they are just cooked. Serve with hot steamed rice and a cold beer.

Cures for the common cold

It seems to me there are two main topics of conversation at the moment. One: the Olympics. Two: winter ailments. Your enjoyment of a) is directly affected by your experience of b) – and your suffrance of b) somewhat improved by a) – but b) is still a drag.

I have tried all manner of cures and potions to get rid of my current cold but it has Olympic endurance. Yesterday, however, while marvelling at the replay of the women’s triathlon, I remembered my old favourite winter brew. Lying on the sofa while drinking it did seem to help a lot.

Winter cold cure
This is a good thing to drink if you’re feeling feverish and fretful. Make a big glassful, wrap up warm and sweat it out in front of the telly.

Juice and zest of a lemon
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
about 1/4 tsp finely chopped fresh chilli or chilli flakes
2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
2 tsp honey

Mix all ingredients together in a large mug or glass and top up with boiling water. Cover and leave to steep for five minutes, then drink. You can strain it into another glass if you don’t fancy a drink with bits in it.

If you’re over the feverish cold stage but still have a sore throat, this thyme tea is very soothing. And if you just fancy something with honey in it, I reckon these manuka honey brownies will do nicely.

What’s your favourite cold cure? And what’s been your favourite bit of the Olympics so far?