I like to be seasonal when I cook, but in winter you don’t want to eat only turnips and sprouts so you just have to preserve a few things from the garden if you don’t want to buy supermarket stuff that’s been shipped halfway round the world. And, of course, what’s seasonal here in England is not necessarily seasonal in Cincinnati or Sidney or wherever you foodie fools live, so I’ll post these tips here and now and if it’s the wrong time of year for you then you’ll just have to write them down and stick them to an appropriate domestic appliance with a colourful and amusing fridge magnet.

Fresh green coriander (cilantro) seeds. This is a favourite ingredient of mine, so this year in your herb garden, patio or balcony sow coriander seeds. They are so easy to grow in most climates. Sow them in well drained soil in sunny position, and thin the seedlings to about 4-6 inches apart. After you’ve munched all the yummy broad leaves the plants begin to form the taller, more feathery leaves which will need some support with light canes to stop them collapsing.

As the seeds grow plump harvest them while still green, bag them up and freeze them (and, of course, use them fresh). They are super delicious. Use them as you would the leaves, adding them towards the end of cooking any Indian or Mexican meal, and in a salsa (finely chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, oil, lemon juice and green coriander seeds). You get a wonderful intense coriander hit bursting in your mouth.

They freeze well for a few months and you will wish you’d grown more. You will next year.

Garlic is at its best when fresh and juicy in June and July, but the stuff you buy later in the year has been stored for a long time and soon starts to shoot, giving it a bitter taste. So when it’s plentiful I like to roast the whole heads and freeze them. They last well, and give you lovely sweet, sticky cloves throughout winter which are easy to peel and require no pre-cooking. Keep them in the fridge after defrosting.

Sweet chestnuts. If you live near a sweet chestnut tree gather the delicious nuts as soon as they start falling in quantity. (If the prickly cases are cutting into your hands roll them with your foot and the nut will pop out.) When you get them home cut them in half, peel them and lay them in an ovenproof tray. Roll them in olive oil and salt them as liberally as the salt police allow, then roast them in a medium oven for 15 minutes or so. They make brilliant beer snacks. If you have lots of them you can pack the surplus into a sterilised preserving jar, pour over more oil to cover and seal. As you use them keep topping up the oil to cover them and they will last through to Christmas (if you haven’t already scoffed them all by then). Use them when cooking game, especially roast partridge, or add to any autumn/winter casserole.

Ginger. Here’s a cracker. When ginger is lovely and fat and juicy it’s so hard to resist buying a large lump of it, which you will use liberally in every meal for a few days and it will keep fresh in the fridge for a week or so before it starts to get all dried up and wrinkly (much like myself in many ways). Don’t throw it away or watch it shrivel to nothing. Peel it with a spoon (this leaves you no waste at all) and slice it to usable sized pieces, bung it into a preserving jar and cover with Chinese rice wine vinegar. It lasts for ages and is always there for those store cupboard meals, especially Chinese and Indian.

Broad bean tips. As your broad bean plants approach full size there is a danger that the tips will get attacked by blackfly which, if left, will decimate the whole plant. So just nip out the growing tips, but instead of throwing them away use them in a salad. If you don’t believe me eat them as you nip them out. Delicious.

Making bread

February 12, 2010

I love making bread, although I only got back to it relatively recently. I’ve tried in the past but always found that I’m turning out these very heavy bricks of inedible tooth breaking dough stuff. But this time I was just that bit more determined to get it right, so when my first loaf that I made a couple of months ago turned out a bit dense I decided to explore and experiment with the technique to find out what I was doing wrong.

I found two main things; I wasn’t letting the dough rise long enough in the final stage after it was shaped, and I was putting the bread into a preheated oven at 230º which had the effect of killing the yeast too soon.

So, now I make it like this and it really does work:

BILLY’S OWN BREAD RECIPE

This bread recipe is easy and is intended to start in the morning and be ready for lunch. Its light, its delicious and it works.

INGREDIENTS:

675g or 1 ½ lb strong bread flour

10ml or 2 tsp salt

15g fresh yeast or 1 level tablespoon dried yeast

430ml or 15 fl oz warm water

TECHNIQUE:

Mix the yeast in 150ml of warm water. Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl with the salt and make a well in the centre. When the yeast has fermented add the remaining water, pour into the flour and mix.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead well for 10 minutes (or use the dough hook in a mixer for 6 minutes and finish by hand). Lightly oil the inside of the bowl and return the dough, covering the bowl with oiled cling film, to prove for two hours or until double in size.

Knock back the dough, turn out onto floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. You can use dough hook but I find hand kneading gets the air into the dough much better and also gives you a feel for the moistness. The dough must not be too sticky as this tends to make it rise outwards instead of upwards, so slowly add more flour if necessary.

Prepare a greased baking sheet. For a bloomer type loaf roll the dough into a rectangle, then roll back into a swiss roll shape. Place it seam side down onto the baking sheet, cut a few deep diagonal slashes in the top using a sharp knife (or bread knife).

Leave to prove for 30 – 40 minutes covered in the oiled cling film.

Boil some water, pour into a shallow dish and place on the lower shelf of the oven to create a steamy atmosphere, which gives a lovely crust.

Put the bread into the middle of the cold oven then turn oven on to 220º (200º if using fan oven) and bake for about 40 minutes (or until golden brown). Check by knocking the base to feel if it sounds hollow. If you want an extra crusty loaf spray with water immediately after removing from the oven.

Transfer to wire rack to cool.

This is today’s loaf (not bad, huh):

I’ve found that putting the dough into a cold oven helps the dough to fully rise as the oven slowly warms up, therefore making a very light and crusty loaf. The baking times will vary according to how fast the oven warms up.