German vollkorn bread

Food & drink
German vollkorn bread

‘Vollkorn’ is German for ‘whole grain’.

This bread is not a whole grain bread. It’s an approximation of such that’s lighter and not quite as dense as a full whole grain loaf. It’s not really ‘vollkorn’, but it’s very good indeed.

Germany would not be happy, but might eventually get over it.

All that said, this loaf comes from the same stable as all those dense, heavy Northern European ryes and whole wheat loaves, thick and substantial loaves baked long and slow to a dark crust. This vollkorn substitutes the rye for white bread flour, and packs in a bewildering variety of seeds and grains that bring body and a certain heartiness.

This backbone of seeds and grains is the main point of the loaf – start with a large bowl and add 25g of wheat grains, 25g of rye grains, 25g of whole barley grains, 20g of chia grains, 20g of jumbo rolled oats, 50g of sunflower seeds, 20g of linseeds, 15g of coarse polenta, and 15g of sesame seeds, along with 150ml of hot water.

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Tajine tfaiya – tagine with almonds and eggs

Food & drink
Tajine tfaiya – tagine with almonds and eggs

There’s something satisfying about chucking a few ingredients into a big pan, heating it all up slowly for a few hours, and emerging with a sublime casserole or stew with the absolute minimum of effort, and this particular tagine is a fine example of that form of (dare I say) lazy, one-pot, slow-cooking.

The key thing that stands out about this method is the literal simplicity of it.

When I wrote a few lines ago about ‘chucking a few ingredients into a big pan’, that’s exactly what happens. The whole lot goes in right at the start, to be gently fried for a while, covered with water and allowed to slow cook for a couple of hours.

It really could not be any simpler.

The result is excellent – a mild tagine of lamb that disintegrates at the slightest touch, wrapped in a rich, brightly coloured sauce and set-off by the crunch of almonds.

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What to Bake and How to Bake It, by Jane Hornby

Books
What to Bake and How to Bake It, by Jane Hornby

I’d describe most cooking as an art of sorts, something that allows the cook a certain freedom of expression in the design and construction of a dish, some latitude to interpret a set of instructions into something new and different.

I don’t think that about baking.

That’s a science

It’s a set thing that does not change. Deviate from the recipe at your peril.

This shows more about my lack of confidence when it comes to baking than it does about the discipline itself. I’m terrified of messing up something that’s destined for greatness by fiddling with the ingredients, which stops me, quite successfully, from experimenting or straying from the well-trodden path at all.

That said, I did chuck some mixed nuts into a banana bread last week, with surprisingly good results, so maybe there’s a shade of the radical left in me yet.

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Flourless chocolate cake

Food & drink
Flourless gluten free chocolate cake

I made this for Christmas Day because, pretend as we do, nobody in this family really likes Christmas pudding.

There’s no point persevering with the lie anymore, so we did something different, and it was a vast improvement on the traditional bowl of stodge.

This is our new Christmas pudding.

The absence of flour makes this particular cake light, but richer than normal, as if the chocolate flavours become more concentrated because of the lack of flour to dilute them. A splash of very strong coffee draws out and bolsters the cocoa taste even further … this is the sort of cake that you’d naturally eat alongside a good cup of coffee, so why not add a little to square the circle?

The body of the cake is made from ground hazelnuts. You’ll be lucky to get skinned hazelnuts in the shops, and you don’t need or want the skins in this cake, so do the skinning yourself, you must.

Methods for doing this litter the Internet, but only one of them works – cover the hazelnuts in water in a pan, and add a couple of tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda. Bring to the boil and simmer for three minutes before draining … the skins will just slip off the nuts very easily. It’s a little laborious, but it works.

If you can’t stand the hassle, try ground almonds instead.

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Egg, by Michael Ruhlman

Books
Egg, by Michael Ruhlman

Fried, scrambled, poached, boiled?

This is going to be difficult, isn’t it?

No, no. It’ll be fine. Eggs = breakfast, right?

Yes, that’s right. They do equal ‘breakfast’, but that’s the mere tip of the iceberg. All of those ways are superb ways to eat an egg, but egg-appreciation can’t just stop with a couple of rashers of bacon alongside. There’s much more to the humble egg than just that.

Think of an egg as a spacecraft.

A spacecraft?

Yes, a spacecraft.

You’ve got to realise exactly what an egg is, and what it’s for. An egg is an incubator. It’s a container that holds the very essence of life itself, with everything that life needs to get a kick-start … protection, food, energy. It’s just like a little self-contained spacecraft, except without the whole rocket and orbiting the earth bit.

I see. A little far-fetched perhaps, but there’s a good point in there somewhere …

There sure is. The fact that an egg has all the things on board that are needed to give birth to life means that it’s the most primordial and essential of food. Those nutrients that are intended to nourish a chicken embryo give us a powerful dose of protein, amino acids, minerals and vitamins in a handy, portion-sized shell, and on top of that, it’s so very versatile.

Micheal Ruhlman, in the introduction to his new book, Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient, writes of a conversation with the author and TV presenter Alton Brown, who mused that he thought of the egg as the Rosetta Stone of the kitchen, something that ‘unlocks the secret language of the kitchen’. The egg is more than just a breakfast staple – it’s the glue that holds the kitchen together, the gateway to truly wonderful cooking:

Learn the language of the egg – understand completely the amazing and beautiful oblong orb – and you can enter new realms of cooking, rocketing you to stellar heights of culinary achievement.

Blimey! I’d better up my game with them there eggs. Where do I start?

Funny you should ask. I’ve been engrossed in Ruhlman’s book for weeks now. It’s a superb place to start if you want to find out more about cooking with eggs and the colossal range of things you can do with them.

Ruhlman has some pedigree – his earlier book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, is my most often recommended introduction to curing and preserving meat. That book gives open, no-nonsense, practical guidance on a very tricky subject indeed, and I’ve had some huge successes through using it. Egg is just the same, a comprehensive and well-researched volume of recipes and information that’s both accessible and informative. More…

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