Salt and Pepper Pork Tenderloin

I had a fancy for something tasty. Actually, what I really had a fancy for was our local takeaway’s Salt and Pepper Squid, which is probably the most delicious salt and pepper squid anywhere. And I should know – just ask the Bear. Wherever we go if I see it on the menu, I ask for it.

I’ve eaten it in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Hobart in Australia; in Honolulu and on Kauai in Hawaii; in Florence, Barcelona, Dublin, Copenhagen, and Lisbon. I’ve eaten it in smart restaurants in the UK and in cheap ones, but somehow, nothing beats our local takeaway. They cook everything in an open kitchen and the food is spankingly fresh.

The batter round the squid is light and lacy. The squid is never chewy and the salt and chillies are perfectly balanced. The only annoying thing is that whenever I order it, people who HAVEN’T ordered it (because they don’t like squid… or chillies… or whatever else..) suddenly decide they want to try and it and then they take mine!

Anyway, despite wanting it so much that my fingers itched to phone an order in, I decided to try and stick to our vague diet. No salt and pepper squid for us that night.

But the thought of salt and peppered something just stuck in my mind.

I’d worked out a salt and pepper seasoning that didn’t involve deep frying or batter and I’ve used it on prawns and steak. Because you almost dry fry whatever protein it is you are using,  the calorie count drops significantly.

There you go, then, I thought. Perfect justification to make something tasty for supper. I WAS going to have salt and pepper after all. And I could still say we were on a diet.

I like to make lots of salt and pepper seasoning because whatever I don’t use, I keep in an airtight jar ready for my next night of craving. I had some left but I needed to top up my supply.

First of all, toast some salt in a large frying pan – yes, this sounds bizarre but it is essential. You will see the colour change slightly and it takes less than a minute. I used a couple of heaped tablespoons of crushed Maldon (I have to crush it in the pestle and mortar because the crystals are large and I need to end up with a smooth spice mix) Take the pan off the heat until you have the spice mix ready.

See those? They are Szechuan pink peppercorns. Not real pepper of course but they add that hint of authenticity.  They need to be pounded along with the same amount of black peppercorns.

I didn’t have any star anise but I did have some Chinese 5 Spice Powder so a good dessertspoon or so of that was added to the mix

You end up with a fine mix.

Add that to the salt in the frying pan and toast again – beware of the aromatic fumes though, they can be a bit strong. Just a minute or so is all it needs, so stir it round so it toast evenly and leave it to cool. Once it is cool, put it in your jar and wipe the pan out.

And that’s it.

On to the next step – the meat.

Tonight I was going to use pork tenderloin, which is, amazingly, a very inexpensive cut of meat. Even more inexpensive if you, like I did, manage to call in at the supermarket on the way home and find it reduced for a quick sale.

Now the spice mix is cool, put some on a plate and roll it round, pressing down so it sticks to the outside of the meat.

Put your pan back on the heat with a scattering of oil in it (maybe a teaspoon or so… we ARE dieting you know!) and once it is hot pop in the tenderloin.

Roll the tenderloin  so the spice mix browns and crusts beautifully.

Once the crust looks good, turn the heat down and let the meat cook through for ten minutes or so.

Let it rest for five minutes then slice it into medallions….. Delicious.

Healthy and tasty, oh so very tasty. Quick and easy and low in calories. pretty much of a perfect supper, eh?

You can serve it with anything you like – let it cool and serve it with salad leaves or add some vegetables. If you aren’t dieting serve it with rice… or potatoes, maybe. Well, we were dieting and potaoes were off limits. I wanted to eat it hot so I made broccoli to go with it.  And yes, the Bear was eating  with me, so I made broccoli a Bear would eat.

And when served with broccoli it becomes heaven on a plate!

Salt and pepper prawns

I can always be tempted by salt and pepper dishes from our local Chinese restaurant and when the Bear returned home clutching  raw king prawns and a bottle of rose it seemed that this would be the night to make salt and pepper prawns. I didn’t want to do a deep fried dish (lovely though that is) so I decided on a more or less dry fried way of cooking so I could at least say I was giving a nod towards healthy eating.

The rose went into the fridge to chill – that lovely pink fruitiness goes so well with spicy seafood – and I started on the spice coating.

All you need is salt, black peppercorns and Chinese five spice powder. Well, actually you should use Sichuan pepper as well, but I didn’t have any.

Actually, I didn’t have ordinary salt, either, which meant I had to crush some….

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So, about 2 tablespoons of salt are put into a dry frying pan and toasted…. you will see the salt change colour slightly

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In the meantime, crush a  teaspoon or so of black pepper corns

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And then pour in a teaspoon of Chinese 5 Spice powder and stir it well. If you had the pink Sichuan peppercorns then add a teaspoon of them and grind them

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Once everything is smooth and fine, add the spice mix to the salt and toast. Again you will see a colour change

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You can see it smoking in the pan… a word of warning – aromatic though that is, it doesn’t half make you cough if you breathe it in

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Leave it to cool and then remove it from the pan and get your prawns out. A spring onion, finely chopped and a squeeze of lemon juice will set them off beautifully.

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You can see they are grey and raw…

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put the minimum of oil in and get it hot and then throw them in

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Thirty or so seconds later they are pink and opaque.

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Scatter over some of the salt and spice mix

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………………….then serve with a scattering of spring onions and a squirt of lemon juice

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And the chilled rose is just perfect along side it.

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The Bear, who has always been hesitant about prawns and only bought them to please me… ate his portion with gusto and decided he liked prawns after all. I’m not sure that is such a great result.. on the one hand, it is lovely that we both like prawns but on the other… well, I have had to share!

A nice bit of crumpet…..

A couple of weeks ago I was reading “Bread” A River Cottage Cookbook

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and today it was chilly and foggy…

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and I remembered that I said I would make crumpets.  What could be better on a cold, grey afternoon than hot buttered crumpets, dripping with honey?

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To make crumpets you will need a heavy based frying pan or griddle and some metal rings to cook them in. If you don’t have rings then just pour the mix on and make pikelets, instead.

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So, into a bowl with 450g of plain white flour,

350ml of warm milk and 350 ml of warm water

5 g of powdered yeast

10 g of salt

1 tsp baking powder

Some sunflower or vegetable oil

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And whisk it all together. It makes a thin batter, like single cream. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it to rest and do its yeasty business for at least an hour until it is lovely and bubbly. I left it for three hours as we were going off into town.

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When I looked it had expanded beautifully and looked smooth and frothy

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Now you need to warm your griddle, or heavy pan on a medium to high heat and while that is warming, whisk in the baking powder an salt.

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Whisk it…

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Put some sunflower oil on some kitchen paper and rub it round the inside of the metal rings

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Try making a test crumpet first, the book says. Good thing too… Ladle in some batter mix to just below the rim of the ring

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It was fine, at first…..

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The book said leave it for 5 minutes or so till the top is just set then flip it over….

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Just goes to show that a test run is the way to go. That griddle was obviously far too hot. I turned it down and let it cool just slightly (that was cast iron, just turning down the heat wasn’t going to radically change things in seconds) and then tried again

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It was good.. it was working

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You can start doing them all now.

Soon be time for tea…..

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Spread those hot crumpets with butter….

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And…….. take a bite! They were good enough for a Bear, apparently.  You can see the size of the bite he took…….

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Time for tea, indeed

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A perfect afternoon tea in autumn.

Another cuppa, anyone?

Bone Idle Bread

Sometimes a simple breakfast is all we want… maybe tea and toast. And sometimes we want a sort of fruity nutty feel to the toast, and Nigella’s Lazy Loaf is just the thing.

Like most things I make, this is simplicity itself – we call it Bone Idle Bear Bread because it is so easy.

All you need is bread flour… I have been working my way through a range of seeded and grain bread  flours… some yeast, some muesli, a pinch or so of salt  and milk and water.

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To bake it in you’ll need a loaf tin and one of those silicone paper liners. Either that or line the tin with greaseproof paper but that is so fiddly, so go and buy some liners… you will thank me for it

In a big bowl, put 200g of muesli (we particularly like Dorset Cereals Really Nutty) and 325g of bread flour. This week I am using Allinsons Seed and Grain Flour and stir it round…. put a sachet of yeast.. or a teaspoon or so in

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 and stir round, adding a pinch of salt

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You’d better do this before you add the 250 ml of milk and 250 ml of water… you get a better mix

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That’s just under a pint, mix the milk and water together and pour straight in

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Stir it round.. it becomes a gloopy mix very quickly

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Then pour it (I tell you, this is pourable.. don’t panic!)

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Then… you won’t believe it but this is right.. put it into a cold oven

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THEN, and only then, turn the oven on to 110 degrees C and walk away for 45 minutes. This allows the bread mix to start to rise…..

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At the 45 minute stage, turn the oven up to 180 degrees C and leave for an hour.

Then.. take it out and leave it to cool on a rack

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This is a substantial bread…

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And it is wonderful toasted…..

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Put the kettle on for a nice cup of tea while you wait.. then spread your bread with butter…

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And then, because the Bear loves the taste of Marmite on fruited and nutty bread, a lovely mix of sweet and savoury….

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Try it with jam.. or honey….but whatever you do, try it. Easy as anything and that, my friends, is all we ask!

Mayo… mmmmmmmayo

It’s always handy to have the makings of mayonnaise in the house. In just a few minutes you can have a lovely thick, tasty dressing that you can modify in all sorts of ways to match whatever you want to use it with.

 I made fish and couscous and wanted something to tie it all together. I know that Bear would have been happy with tomato sauce but I wanted something nice. Lemon mayo, I thought, would be just the thing. So….

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Two eggs were separated (the whites can go into something else tomorrow) and the yolks put into a jug.

Stir a sparse teaspoon of mustard (very, very sparse if you are using English mustard as that is hot, maybe just a touch… but I was using Dijon which is mild) into the yolk and blend it. Add a pinch of salt and then, if you are feeling energetic, whisk it fiercely. I stuck the balloon whisk on the end of my blender and whizzed away.

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You can see it start to thicken slightly and change colour a bit

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And then you trickle in some oil. Use a flavourless oil, like sunflower, rather than olive oil as that can make it taste just a bit too strong. I have saved the oil from jars of roasted peppers or sunblush tomatoes (you know how there’s always loads left and it seems such a waste to bin it) and used that before as an addition to the sunflower oil. That just gives it an extra taste dimension – useful if you are making it for a specific dish.

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Suddenly it thickens even more and the colour lightens…

I wanted a lemony mayonnaise to go with the fish so I added the juice of a lemon

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Whisk, whisk, whisk! Add more oil and maybe a couple of teaspoons of white wine vinegar. Taste it to see if you have the flaovouring right.

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You’d be surprised how much mayonnaise you can make if you keep adding the oil. In one of my favourite books, ‘ The Curious Cook’ Harold McGee experiments with just how much oil can be emulsified with just one yolk. Make as much as you need.. just keep whisking and adding the oil slowly.

You end up with a wonderfully thick, unctuous, deliciously flavoured mayonnaise. Less than ten minutes (I made it while the fish cooked) and you have something to be proud of. This was lemony and savoury and oh-so-right for that fish.

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In fact, it was so nice that the Bear went and got an extra spoonful and he’s not a mayonnaise lover. Mmmmmmmm…

Tomato and chilli little loaves

Making bread is quick and easy and doing it yourself means you can tailor it to make the perfect match to whatever you are cooking. Because I was making pumpkin soup for Halloween I thought that some tomato and chilli mini loaves would be just the ticket…. a hint of chilli to liven the bread up and some sun dried tomato to round out the flavour.

So… get your flour out – you will need 350g for 8 mini loaves.

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I had dried a chilli that was left over… oh, OK, I had forgotten about a chilli that was in the kitchen fruit bowl (no, I don’t know why it was there) anyway, it had dried beautifully. Waste not want not, I always say

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So. I cut a bit of it off and chopped it finely

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Put that with the flour in a bowl with a 7g sachet of yeast… or two scant teaspoons if you are using a packet.

Add a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, a couple of dessertspoons of oil and 200ml of warm water and mix well…. either by hand or by mixer

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Whizz that round and round until it comes together into a smooth dough (or knead together by hand until you get the same effect)

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While that is kneading, chop some sundried tomatoes

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and knead them into the dough on a well dusted board. Cover the dough with cling film and leave it to rise

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I bought some tiny loaf tins (I don’t know where but they are easily found) and after an hour the dough had risen nicely. As I had 8 little loaf tins, I cut the dough into 8 pieces – how about that for logic?

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Leave them to rise again and preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

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There they are going in and after about 15 minutes, out they came….

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Perfect little white loaves studded with bits of sundried tomato and the tiniest hint of chilli. Just right for that pumpkin soup…. mmmmmhmmmmmm…

Cauliflower – puree perfection

Actually, I have a bit of a problem with cauliflower. There’s always the potential, I think, when it is served in whole boiled pieces, that you could bite into it and get a mouthful of hot water….. Even making cauliflower cheese doesn’t really help. The cheese is OK, but underneath? Cauliflower.

Then one day I read about cauliflower puree. Smooth, tasty and delicious, apparently. Being curious about anything food related, I was willing to give it a try. I love to be proved wrong about food I say I hate and guess what? I was wrong about cauliflower! Creamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 010

You need (obviously enough) a cauliflower, some cream, butter, salt and pepper.

Break, or cut the cauli into florets, making sure they are of an even size so that it cooks evenly

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Put into a large pan of well salted water and bring to the boil. Putting half a lemon into the pan helps keep it white and just sharpens the flavour a little.

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It won’t take long to cook at all, maybe 5 to 10 minutes. Check with a sharp knife to see that it is tender.

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Drain it in the sink and let it dry slightly… all that steam escaping is water you don’t necessarily want in your puree.

Put the cauliflower florets in a bowl and with a hand stick blender, whizz it to a smooth puree – adding in a good knob of butter and some cream to enrich it and some salt and pepper to season it.  Taste it.. it has a rich and earthy depth to it…..

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Doesn’t that look just lovely? That turned me from a cauliflower loather to a cauliflower lover!

(One of my favourite ways to serve it is with black beluga or puy  lentils and some roast lamb….

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Just boil some lentils with some stock for extra flavour…. the drain…. and serve with the puree

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A nice bit of roast lamb on the top and you have the perfect flavour and texture combination)

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So there you have it.. take something you don’t like and make it into something you do like. 

(I blame school dinners, I really do! )

Cracking crackling

What can you get for £3.50 these days that will feed everyone? Not an awful lot unless you are prepared to put just a little bit of effort in… and when I say a little bit of effort that’s all I mean. That and planning to start things maybe 5 or so hours ahead. When  I went North, one of the things I did was go to the  butcher’s and I got a lovely piece of rolled belly pork.

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Belly pork… with crackling…. that has to be good. And the effort involved?

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Pat it dry… and then rub salt in the scored skin. The butcher will do that for you to save you having to run amok with a sharp knife – and let’s face it, he will have sharper knives than you will. Then, put the oven on as high as it can go and get it really hot. Only when you are sure that the oven is heated properly, put the pork in and let that meat sizzle! What you are doing is making a start on the world’s most delicious crackling!

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See? Half an hour or so and it has started to brown and crisp. There’s your  effort… you turned the oven on and kept an eye on the time. Now you can turn the oven down to 120 degrees or so and just leave it to cook slowly for the next 5 or so hours.

You can do what you like for a while then although, I suppose, you do need to think of vegetables to go with it. Not too much work there, either……I decided that shallots and apple would be just the thing to go with the pork – the shallots would be lovely, cooked slowly till they were soft and savoury and some apples (scrumped from my aunt’s tree) added to it to sharpen things up a bit and offset the richness of the pork… and maybe some roast potatoes just to make it all come together?

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       I’d also bought some broccoli that I thought might come in handy … well, I do so love it and if I slide some on the Bear’s plate, he will make a vague attempt to eat it … and I was thinking that maybe steamed and with a sprinkle of oil and lemon juice on? Hmmm? See that WOULD be nice, wouldn’t it?   

We have rosemary and sage growing in pots on the balcony so I went and got a few snippets, stripped the leaves from the stems and chopped it roughly

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 Then I peeled the shallots and the apples, sprinkled them with some salt, oil and the herbs… oh and a red onion peeled and quartered (well, it was just sitting there, asking to be included)

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The potatoes were put in round the meat about two hours before we were ready to eat (remember this is a low oven you have the meat on so they will need a bit longer to cook) … I’d normally steam them and peel them and then roast them in hot fat but all this carry on with my poor old arm meant that I was taking short cuts. They could get in there alongside that meat and cook alongside it.  And cook they did…….

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The broccoli….steamed for 4 minutes then sprinkled with oil and lemon juice…. salt and pepper…

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And now things were coming together.

The pork had been in for 5, maybe 6, hours… it had had that scorchingly hot start that makes all the difference to the crackling and then it had the rest of the time, cooking gently, the fat slowly basting the meat until it was soft and tender.

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Get that out and let it rest while you turn the heat up on the vegetables in the oven to get them beautifully coloured

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Then… slice your meat

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The crackling… oh my word… the crackling………..

So there you have it. Minimal work,  just a little bit of preparation – again, for less than a fiver you have a meal that would serve 4 easily and even leave some meat over for sandwiches the next day. Or, if you were any kind of a friend, you would make sandwiches for your friends who were drooling over this……and had had to listen to you crunching on the crackling.

So… get cracking for the best crackling ever! The meat’s not bad either 😉

No Knead Bread and the one armed cook

One of my favourite things is making bread. I love the smell of it as it bakes and the

way the smell filters everywhere.

It’s when I bake bread that I feel that I am doing a good job of feeding the Bear.

Sometimes, it is just what I need to do to make up for any housewifely transgressions.

I’m a better baker than I am a housewife and he forgets my faults when he sees

a lovely fresh loaf.

I’d seen various people talk about The No-Knead Bread,  by Jim Lahey at the

Sullivan Street Bakery  in New York

 and found links to it in the New York Times by Mark Bittman – and thought

that I would give it a go.

Read those articles. Trust me, it works.

And it works well enough that we prefer it to any other bread we can buy here.

The plus point is that there is no kneading. A good enough reason in itself to

try it, but it will be especially useful this week.

Tomorrow I will be in hospital having an operation on my arm to repair a

damaged tendon and I will be unable to do anything much with it for some time.

I have a feeling things might get tricky……

Anyway, back to the bread. It takes time to do – 12 – 18 hours but the thing is,

it isn’t 12 -18 hours of work.

The yeast does the work…. very slowly. All you have to do is mix the dry

ingredients together, add water and then leave till the next day.

Then stick it in the oven. How easy is that?

Right then

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Get some decent bread flour

and some yeast

and some salt.

The recipe  uses American cups – most of us have cup measures in the house,

failing that, remember that American measures are based on volume,

not weight, so if you use, say a teacup,

remember to use the same measure throughout.

 Get a big bowl and measure into it 3 cups of the bread flour.

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Sprinkle over that a quarter teaspoon of dried yeast and

one and a half teaspoons of salt.

Stir them all together.

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See, easy so far, eh?

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Then add one and a half cups of water

(the original recipe says one and five eighths,

so put an extra spoonful in)

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Stir it together

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And then it looks like this. Rough and ready. Lumpy, even.

But it doesn’t matter!

You don’t have anything more to do other than cover it in cling film

and leave it to one side for 12 -18 hours or so.

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Because you use so little yeast it is very easy to digest –

none of this partially fermented stuff you get in shops.

This is a long slow rise……..

The next day, flour a board thoroughly and take a look  at your bowl.

The dough seems impossibly wet  and

people have been known to feel slightly panicked at this stage…

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That can’t be right, you are thinking……

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Look at it pulling… but is IS right. See those bubbles,

stretching and tearing?

They are going to transform this wet and sticky lump of dough into

the most delicious bread…

You have to tear it out of the bowl

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It is incredibly wet and sticky but don’t worry about that,

it is just how it should be.

Roll the messy lump in the flour and it magically

transforms itself into this lovely smooth ball.

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 Just roll… no kneading…..leave it for ten minutes or so,

covered in the clingfilm you took off the bowl and then…

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….dust a tea towel with flour, or, as I am using here, cornmeal (fine ground polenta)

I like cornmeal because it does give a light crunchiness to the crust and also

 because it looks so very pretty! 

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t got any, just use flour.

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See, a good dusting of whatever you are using and then wrap it

lightly in the tea towel

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Then just leave it for two hours to finish rising gently.

After one and a half hours, turn your oven on to just over 200 degrees C/ 392 degrees F

and put in your lidded casserole. You need a lid because it traps the steam

and helps turn the crust into the most delicious chewy gorgeousness…

and you need to get your pot hot. Very hot.

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Then, using oven gloves, (that pot will sizzle your fingers otherwise) get the pot out of the oven

and take the lid off…..then chuck in the dough.


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Still no kneading. Give the casserole a shake to settle the dough,

then put the lid back on and put it in the oven for 30 minutes.

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After half an hour, take the lid off and just look at that……

Then, back in the oven to finish off and get brown.

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And there you have it. Get it out of the oven  and leave it to cool.

I know that is hard because it really does smell gorgeous but

cooling is essential. 

That truly is the most delicious bread – all you have to do is give it time to make

itself. Even a one armed cook could make that.

Well, if a one armed cook had someone to get the pot out of the oven, that is.