In fact, despite what I say above, I am always pleased to return to the territory of my kitchen after being away from it. I miss my daily pottering and concocting when I am away and am always pleased to don once more my armoury of apron, chopping board, whizzer and wooden spoon. Often, new culinary ideas bob to the surface after being away and I am probably more experimental in the kitchen at these times than at others. It might be the urge to replicate a dish eaten on holiday; it might be an ingredient brought to my notice or one that I've brought home with me; it might be none of these and just a renewed enthusiasm for making the regular staples I always make, like chicken casserole, herb omelettes, minestrone soup or spaghetti bolognese. Reading these pages you might be forgiven for thinking I never cook anything savoury and live entirely off cake, but in fact this is not true. (Despite my best efforts to give it a go!)
Anyway, back from Germany, I have been experimenting with ...
1 Bread making - mixed grain rolls with poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and linseeds added to the dough; attempts at replicating German Mehrkornbrötchen.
Mine are passable, but not brilliant, imitations, I fear. Not as good as the versions I ate in Germany. But still very good with homemade yoghurt cheese and fresh dill from the garden scattered on top.
I've also been making potato bread; potato and rosemary rolls to be precise.
No German influence here, just experimenting for the sake of it. And they are good! You can taste the potato, if you think about it, but if you didn't know it was there, I suspect you wouldn't notice. Regardless of that, they, make wonderful tomato sandwiches, with (more) fresh dill; they partner a sharp cheddar beautifully; they mop up the vivid, tomatoey juices from a casserole perfectly and hold juicy, caremelised barbecue fare efficiently and fragrantly. The recipe is simple, although you do need to have cooked, mashed and cooled the potato beforehand.
I use 400g strong flour and 200g cooled, plain, mashed potato with 1 tsp active dried yeast, 1 tsp salt and about 1 tbsp of finely chopped fresh rosemary. No need for any oil or fat, or anything else for that matter apart from water. You need to reduce the liquid content of your normal bread recipe quite a bit as the potato contains quite a lot of moisture. Where I normally use 350ml water, I only use 250ml for the above quantities, for example. I've found the texture of the results is rather like ciabatta - more open and aerated than my standard white, bread rolls.
I cook them in a hotter oven too - 210 C as opposed to 195 C, which gives them a crunchier crust. They freeze and defrost like a dream. Potato bread recipes were popular during WWII and immediately after, when the restrictions of rationing meant you couldn't always get unrestricted flour to make bread. It's fallen a bit from favour more recently but deserves a revival, I think.
2 Morello cherries have been discovered at the local farm shop, cooked with just a smidgeon of sugar, to take the edge off the sourness, and some water to make plenty of juice, and eaten greedily with homemade yoghurt for breakfast, Berlin-Frühstuck-style. See previous post.
3 One of my purchases at Berlin's KaDeWe, in their chocolate department was this:
Yes, that is what you think it is, pink chocolate! That is to say, white chocolate, flavoured and coloured with dried strawberries and raspberries. I didn't buy a whole block of it; it came in a mixed bag of pieces and the idea occurred to me, while making a batch of chocolate chip cookies for H to take to a friend's, that I might make pink chocolate and strawberry chip cookies using this pink chocolate and the strawberries I dried earlier in the summer. The base is exactly the same but instead of adding 125g milk chocolate and 125g white chocolate chunks to the basic dough, there's 125g pink chocolate and about 50 g dried strawberry pieces.
A bit "off the wall", I grant you, but surprisingly good. And because you substitute dried strawberries for half the chocolate of the original recipe, they are healthier than the original version too. Marginally, anyway!
I've been eating them in the garden with a cup of tea mid-afternoon. Very delicious!
4 This is my new tea cosy.
It's an accident really, as it was meant to clothe my big, blue, enamel, three-pint teapot but I didn't read the pattern properly and it was only when I'd finished the first side and thought, "this looks way too small" that I realised it was destined to be a tiddler and wouldn't even cover the knees of my big teapot. Still, never mind, it's very diddy and summery!
5 Another recent, accidental kitchen discovery is my version of Ruby Tandoh's Ginger Crunch Ice Cream. Looked delicious when I saw it in The Guardian a couple of Saturdays ago and in my newly-back-from-holiday-culinary-enthusiasm, I plunged straight in to make a batch. Unfortunately my ground ginger, spice jar was almost empty and I had nowhere near enough to make up the two tablespoonfuls required for the biscuits. An emergency raid on the village shop, code named, "Ginger Or Else", having failed, I made up my own spice mix of ground ginger (the little I had), ground cinnamon, ground aniseed and ground cloves to flavour the biscuits and it has been a singularly happy variation that I actually prefer to the plain ginger of the original recipe. I've also tweaked the basic ice cream recipe a bit to make it go further and when you've made this and feel you've gone to ice cream heaven, you'll thank me for that! This is a time when less is not more!!
(My alterations to the ice cream recipe are to add a teaspoonful of cornflour to the custard mix to stop it splitting, using 400 ml semi-skimmed milk instead of 300 ml whole milk and 300 ml double cream, not 150 ml. Keep the other ingredients as given.)
6 Homemade blueberry rocket ice lollies. Because. Because it's been hot and because I remember fondly walking home from school aged four, on hot summer afternoons, helping my mother to push my sister, sleeping in our big, old-fashioned pram, and because it was a long walk for a small girl with short legs, being allowed a sixpenny "Rocket" or "Zoom" from the corner shop to ease the way. Stripy; colourful; refreshing. Memory has added something to the flavour I am sure, that I can never recapture but in the meantime these blueberry babies made with fresh blueberries, cooked with a bit of agave syrup, just until the juices run and the berries turn deep purple instead of dusty blue, homemade yoghurt, a squeeze of lime juice and a tin of coconut milk are pretty damn good, (and rather healthier) substitutes. I've had some trouble obtaining the kind of lolly moulds I wanted. The packaging on these ones says they won't go through the dishwasher but, broken out of their rather brittle plastic holder (by the simple application of brute force), I am pleased to report that they do! Without the holder you simply stack the moulds in a plastic box to freeze. Wedge them upright, if need be, with crumpled tin foil. Also has the benefit of making them removable individually for unmoulding.
I like the old-fashioned, wooden, lolly sticks these use, not the plastic handles that many versions come with, especially the "lickety-sip" versions. The plastic handles are very practical, I know, but not "echt"!! Proper ice lollies, (as we all know), come on wooden, (even splintery) sticks that allow sweet, lurid, sticky drips to trickle down the wrists of the unwary and taste of beech-wood when you've finished the lolly. Never mind the original ice lolly, marketing slogan that launched "Orange Maid" (anyone remember those?), as "A Drink on a Stick", it should be "Summer on a Stick! "Summer on a Plastic Paddle" doesn't quite cut it! I rest my case!!
Anyone else come back from holiday and making fresh culinary discoveries? Do share - I'd love to try some recommendations while my culinary mojo is still in experimentation-mode. May provide some better alternatives to my "charcoal biscuit and a vitamin pill" response to the supper menu inquiries too!