Sourdough Starter

Quite a few people have been asking me about Dave recently. This household pet that brings so much joy to my life isn’t a cat or a dog, it’s actually a natural yeast culture, cultivated right here in the Cotswolds. I made him by exposing an organic flour and water mix to the elements to collect the wild yeast spores that blow around on the wind. It really is as simple as that. The crossing of fingers helps a little too, but these dormant spores are even present in the flour itself.

Starters or leavens like this are beautiful things, as they’re unique to their surroundings in terms of their taste and behaviour. They’re also alive, and as such require a degree of husbandry. My sourdough bread is merely a combination of Dave, flour, salt and water. The most vital ingredient in good bread is without doubt, time. All bread used to be made with wild yeast, but mass produced commercial yeast is faster and much easier to store and control.

Now, I skip over the fact that our starter is called ‘Dave’, as I’m quite used to it now, but I must stress that it wasn’t my choice of name. Much akin to Boaty McBoatface and Brexit, be careful when asking children to make important decisions.

Fancy making your own starter? Just follow these basic instructions.

Ingredients:

  • organic flour of your choice (spelt, white, wholemeal, rye)
  • water

Method:

  1. Thoroughly mix together 50g of flour with 50ml of water in a bowl and cover it with a cloth or a shower cap. Leave it at room temperature for about 24 hours. (covering it will prevent a dry crust forming).making a sourdough starter
  2. Feed your starter with another 50g of flour and 50ml water, whisk thoroughly to incorporate plenty of air, cover and leave for another 24 hours.
  3. By this point you should see small air bubbles forming and notice an odour developing. Don’t be alarmed by what it smells like – it will change dramatically as your starter culture matures. fermentation in action
  4. Tip half of your starter away and feed it with another 50g flour and 50ml water, mixing well. Cover and leave for another 24 hours.
  5. Transfer your starter to a large glass jar or Tupperware pot. As your starter becomes more active it will froth up and expand, so make sure your receptacle isn’t too small… otherwise you may find yourself in this position: dave the sourdough starter
  6. Feed your starter each day for a week, discarding half before whisking in another 50g flour and 50ml water.
  7. At this point you’re good to go.
  8. If you’re baking frequently, you’ll want to keep up this daily routine of tipping half away (or using it to make bread, pancakes, whatever) and then feeding your pet with a 50g/50ml flour and water mix, however you might want to pop it in the fridge (with the lid tightly secured) as this will slow the fermentation process down so that you only have to feed it once every week or so. You’ll save plenty of flour this way, but you’ll need a couple of days of feeding at room temperature to get it back up to speed. This is all about yeast farming, and to make really good bread you’ll want your culture to be really active and lively. 

Dave is born

Remember that keeping your starter small (in volume) means that it’ll be easy to manage; the bigger the volume, the more flour it will need at feeding time.

I’ll write a further post covering my favourite bread recipe (at the moment), but please do make good use of your sourdough starter instead of dried yeast in whatever bready adventures you embark on.

Check out: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/12/18/sourdough-2-0

Prithvi

Indian food, but not as we know it. The unassuming and understated entrance to Prithvi leads you into a welcoming and convivial environment inhabited by swans of the hospitality industry. Unexpectedly small, but perfectly maximised like an Ikea showroom space, my first impressions leave me feeling relaxed and excited at the prospect of what’s to come.

prithvi

My wife and I are at Prithvi for the first time thanks to a kind invitation to sample their new Autumn menu at a VIP lunch. How cool is that.

I’m very quickly appreciating why this Cheltenham restaurant is listed as No.1 on TripAdvisor, regularly referenced by my friends and colleagues as their go-to venue for a special occasion, and the source of eternal consternation as it’s so hard to make a reservation within the same decade.

Jay is the main man – move over Fred of First Dates fame. What a wonderfully professional and thoughtful host. Service at its absolute best; I was tempted to get up from the table just to see how quickly one of the lovely staff would appear to refold my napkin. There’s a point at which this becomes OTT, but in the finest of establishments as I would regard this one, you don’t even notice their presence until you need them.

So let’s talk about the most important factor – the food.

This is like no Indian restaurant I’ve ever had the pleasure of dining at; they’re taking Indian cuisine to a new level. Exquisite, refined and elegant. I’m so pleased to see the team adapting their menu to the season and making the most of the wonderful ingredients in abundance at this time of year.

We started with an amuse-bouche of crispy curly kale on a rice cracker with mango – so simple, yet so perfectly balanced and delicious.

kale cracker and mangoNext was a panipuri to die for, devoured in one mouthful to avoid the tamarind reduction decorating my shirt. Heaven.

gorgeous panipuri at Prithvi

Next to the big guns. Tandoor baked salmon with beetroot, cucumber and mango. Taking my time and sampling just a sliver of beetroot with micro-herbs as my introduction to this plate took me to somewhere very special. The thoughtfully selected 2015 Charles Sparr Gewurztraminer from Alsace was an inspired choice that balanced the spice like only a semi-sweet white wine can, it’s viscosity culminating in smiles blossoming around the dining room. The fine, fine details that elevate their dishes is what puts them on the map.

tandoor salmon

Welsh lamb, couscous and legumes paired with a delightful glass of Carménère and then the hearty and seasonal venison with butternut squash, ginger and cinnamon reduction. Oh take me back already.

I’m not a dessert kind of customer; give me a tray of starters or a cheese board any day. However.. The plate of sunshine that arrived with the precision delivery we were becoming happily accustomed to, rapidly vanished, much to even my surprise. Passion fruit cream, mango gel, coriander and honey crumble.

Passion Fruit Cream, mango gel, coriander & honey crumble

Honestly, what is this place? I’m starting to question myself and I’m not quite sure of anything anymore. One thing’s clear, I’m smitten. I’m happy, satisfied and remarkably comfortable (unlike as I’m sure you’ll agree, every visit to a regular Indian restaurant).  I headed down the road happy as a proverbial pig in shit. The plates were relatively small, yet they cleverly combined into a neatly balanced meal that left me undeniably content, rather than a bulging and belching all the way home.

I can’t stop thinking about what Jay and his excellent team could accomplish in a slightly larger purpose-built space. I sincerely pray that Prithvi maintains its trajectory as I desperately scrimp and save for our next visit.

For more information, check out bit.ly/lunchwithprithvi

 

Rosehip Syrup

October has brought a distinctive change in the weather, and with it, an influx of sniffles, coughs and colds. We flick the switch on the central heating and the onslaught from the invisible invaders begins; are our immune systems caught off-guard in the ambush?

Our go-to remedy is hot Elderberry Cordial, but I’m not entirely sure what happened to the elderberries this year – whether it was a short season, a poor crop, an influx of birds (or foragers) or just my poor timing, I missed out and had little opportunity to bottle up any of their medicinal goodness.

So here’s another of nature’s hedgerow miracles, the humble rosehip.

wild rose bush

Packed with an insane amount of vitamin C, the little red fruits of the rose family have been used by man for centuries. Commonly used to make tea, I personally recall the bright red hips from my days at primary school in Cheshire, where little hands reached through the fence to harvest them as a remarkably potent source of ‘itching powder’. Every hip is packed full of seeds, each covered in tiny irritant hairs that you really want to avoid. Kids can be pretty cruel to each other at times.

Take care when foraging rosehips as it’s all too easy to shred your hands on the thorny bushes – wear gloves or snip the hips off with secateurs.

Ingredients:

  • 1kg Rosehips, washed
  • 1 ltr Water
  • 500g Granulated sugar

You’ll also need muslin cloth for straining and sterilised jars or bottles for storing.

Method:

I like to trim the hips but it’s not essential.

  1. Roughly chop the rosehips in a food processor and pop them in a large pan with the water.
  2. Bring it to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  3. Strain the hips and their pesky hairs through a double layer of muslin cloth, squeezing out as much liquid as you can.
  4. Strain the liquid again through a couple of layers of muslin cloth into a clean pan and add the sugar.
  5. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and bring the mix back to the boil for 3-4 minutes.

It’s advisable to bottle the syrup in small quantities as it will need refrigerating once opened.

homemade rosehip syrup

Emily Watkins

Chef Proprietor of the award-winning Kingham Plough, Emily Watkins, kindly took time out of her bustling Cotswold pub kitchen last night to demonstrate three of her favourite grain recipes to a room full of eager Whole Foods customers.

Part of the ‘Eat Real Food’ series, this class was laid on as a special event, with all proceeds going to the Whole Kids Foundation which admirably educates local children and families in healthy eating and nutrition.

Emily inspired and captivated the room with tips and tricks interspersed with stories from her fascinating career, training in male-dominated Italian kitchens and working under Heston Blumenthal at Bray’s Fat Duck. Majoring on under-used yet beautifully delicious grains, we had the joy of experiencing how a professional chef glides around the kitchen and improvises to deliver perfect dishes with minimal fuss.

Courgette ‘Spaghetti’ with Millet, Preserved Lemon and Pesto, Heritage Tomato and Pinhead Oatmeal Risotto with a Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil Salad, and Fava Bean and Smoked Bacon Casserole… yes please. Oh how we wished we’d skipped our earlier dinner though.

 

Sourcing gorgeous ingredients from the store, Emily lectured on a concept that’s dear to my heart: “a recipe is just an idea”. You’ve got to approach cooking with an open mind and evolve recipes to suit you and your family – there’s no need to freak out when you’re missing an ingredient, trust your initiative and substitute or simply omit.

If you’re cooking seasonally with stunningly fresh local ingredients, simplicity is king.

Good on you Emily, you’re a Food Revolution hero.

AHL and Emily

 

Chilli con Jamie

Yesterday I had the absolute pleasure of cooking for a lovely group of school mums on their annual get-together in The Cotswolds.

A dear friend had asked if I’d like to cater for the event, and together we hatched a plan to use this as an opportunity to raise awareness for the Food Revolution and Elizabeth’s Footprint – [Natalia Spencer is walking the entire 6,000 mile coastline of the UK in aid of Bristol Children’s Hospital following the sudden and tragic loss of her beautiful 5-year-old daughter Elizabeth.] 

So, deep breath, what do you cook for fourteen…?

I needed something hearty, a little bit special, and above all something that wouldn’t be a logistical nightmare given Chipping Campden is a 40 minute drive from Cheltenham.

Delectable and transportable; it’s got to be a slow cooked chilli. It just so happens that I recently acquired a cast iron, 12 litre, Staub Cocotte (dutch oven)..

Let’s not reinvent the wheel here – I know a man who’s nailed this dish, so please do check out Jamie’s tried and tested recipe here: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/beef-recipes/chilli-con-jamie/

The only tweaks I made were to scale up the quantities to make it go a bit further. I used 3kg of brisket, 5 cans of tomatoes, 750ml fresh coffee and 3 tins of kidney beans etc.

3kg beef brisket

Trimming up the beef takes a little time but once it’s all in the pot you can pretty much sit back and leave it alone for a few hours. If you’re interested, I chose to use a combination of Ancho and Pasilla chillies which were rehydrated in strong coffee.

Ancho and Pasilla chillies

I wrapped a couple of towels around my impractically heavy cast iron pot and carefully stowed my precious cargo in the passenger footwell.

Seeing a rainbow over Chipping Campden as I made my way down the quiet country lanes really made my day. I had to stop the car and take a moment to fully appreciate the world around me, basking in the horizontal early evening sunlight and cherishing every aspect of the quiet, rolling countryside. I wish I could have captured it for you Natalia.

I want to extend a huge, huge thank you to all you lovely ladies for donating a whopping £200 to Elizabeth’s Footprint – I’m so pleased you enjoyed your dinner :o)

Chilli con carne