Mashed potato adds to flour power!


Russian potato bread: one-third mash but you’d never know

WELL. who would have guessed we have so many secret home bakers in Sheffield, judging by the way all the flour has disappeared off the shelves in the Coronavirus panic buying sprees?

Those of us who bake bread regularly and who obeyed the government’s pleas not to raid the supermarkets are now having to rethink. It’s not staying on the shelves  that long.

You can’t do without flour but there are ways to eke out your supplies of strong white.

For a start, plain or self-raising can help but you wouldn’t want to use more than, say, four ounces to every pound of bread flour. Portuguese breads get their distinctive yellow colour from maize, polenta or semolina which you can use in a 2:1 ratio in favour of bread flour.

If you have rye, add a little of that, or whiz your porridge oats in a blender to make flour.

And then there are spuds.

Russian potato bread uses mashed potato and I have just baked a very successful loaaf, weighing just under two pounds, using eight ounces of mashed to one pound of bread flours (12oz white, 4oz wholemeal), a ratio of 2:1 which is a significant saving.

You couldn’t tell the difference unless you knew. This makes a very pleasant moist bread which toasts well and has good keeping qualities.

You can find plenty of recipes on the web but mine came, adapted, from the book Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter {Hermes House).

It assumes you start from scratch, cooking your potatoes then reserving some of the water to knead. I already had the cooked potatoes so simply warmed them in milk (the equivalent of the reserved water), mashed them and carried on from there.

A couple of points. I needed more liquid than suggested but do be careful not to add too much. It felt heavier to handle and did not rise much while proving but came out fine. I made it on a baking tray rather than in a tin.

This is what you do. Peel and dice 8oz (225g) of spuds in unsalted water until soft. Drain and reserve a quarter pint (150ml) of the cooking water and mash the potatoes.

Put 12oz (350g) of strong white and 4oz (115g) of wholemeal in a bowl, adding 7g (quarter ounce) easy bake yeast and two tsps of salt.

It called for an ounce (25g) f butter to be rubbed in but I used olive oil. You can also add caraway seeds if you like.

Now add mash and potato water (probably best reunited beforehand) and work to a soft dough. This is the bit you adjust as you go but keep kneading before you add any more liquid.

As I said, it is not so light a dough to handle and less responsive in rising.

It was baked for just over 30 mins in a fan oven at 200C and is pretty good.

It doesn’t have to be potato. In Madeira they have the a griddle bread made with flour and sweet potato, baked as a flatbread on a hotplate. When the taters run out I’ll give that a spin.


It’s got a lovely, moist crumb




No Flummery, tell me what you think!

I AM being quite sincere about this, I think there should be more flummery on our dining tables.

It’s nothing to do with being polite about the food and murmuring meaningless praise but the dish itself. It’s as old as the hills but hasn’t been seen around much since Victorian times.

Flummery is what you get if you mix oatmeal with some water, let it sit for a couple of days, strain off the liquid and boil it down then pour it into a dish to set, which it will.

I have been fascinated by flummery ever since reading a brief account on page 521 of Dorothy Hartley’s excellent Food In England (1954) which, if you haven’t got means you are not a proper ‘foodie.’

Here is the recipe she quotes from 1700.
“To make a pretty sort of Flummery. Put three handfuls of fine oatmeal into two quarts of water, let it steep a day and a night then pour off the clear water through a fine sieve and boil it down until it is as thick as hasty pudding. Put in sugar to taste and a spoonful of orange flowerwater. Put in a shallow dish to set for your use.”

And that is what I did although I scaled quantities down to two tablespoons of porridge oats, not oatmeal, in 450ml (one pint) of cold water and left it in the fridge for over two days as I quite forgot about it.

I boiled the clear liquid down by two thirds. It didn’t taste of much, just faintly oaty, but perked up with the juice of an orange, seeds from two green cardamom pods and a dessert spoonful or two of sugar.

It’s not bad, reminding me of blancmange. All the oats do, of course, is provide a setting agent. The flavourings are up to you. I have seen recipes where cream and eggs are added but that would up the calory count.

Flummery is known by many other names. A ‘Wash Brew’ from 1623 was made the same way, adding honey for flavour. Hartley herself suggests boiling with butter and milk, after steeping and straining, until it reaches the consistency of double cream.

“Continue to cook it slowly and rest a little on a cold plate, and when it ‘sets’ pour it into shallow bowls. It is a pleasant, roughish brown cream like junket and makes a cool summer breakfast cereal – with cream and sugar.”

I am going to keep on experimenting with this. The quantities I used only make enough for one dish. But it strikes me there must be a restaurant kitchen out there which can see the possibilities. And just think of the mark-up for a handful of oats.

I almost hate to say this but it is one dessert which can be totally vegan.

Give it a try. It hardly takes much effort. Then tell me what you think. And, please, no flummery about this flummery if you don’t like it.


It sets like blancmange

Marmalade? I’ve got whisky in my jars!


Lucky 13 jars – with and without whisky

I HAVE to do it. Although I still have jars of marmalade from previous years in the cupboards and cellar I have to make some more the moment I see Seville oranges in the shops.

And every year, although I seem to keep saying it, this seems to be earlier than the one before.

There are plenty of recipes available like this one here  so I’ll just give a few tips.

Don’t buy more than a couple of pounds at a time. One pound of fruit requires two pounds of sugar and two pints of water and that will give four or five jars. Adjust the water, more or less, if you want a thinner or thicker preserve.

Sevilles freeze well if you can’t make your marmalade immediately.

Preserving sugar is a waste of money: use granulated or caster, a brown sugar for a darker colour.

Making marmalade is rewarding but tiresome. Spread it over two days to avoid it monopolising your whole day. I normally wash, halve, reserve the juice and pips and pith separately, then shred the peel with a sharp knife. Patience is all. Then soak the shreds in the water and juice overnight to soften.


Seville oranges make the best marmalade

Remember to take the volume of juice into account when calculating the amount of water. You’ll also need the juice of at least one lemon per pound for pectin. Theoretically Sevilles don’t need it but I find they do.

Next day tie the pips and pith into a secure cheesecloth bag to dangle into the pan, then bring to the boil and simmer until the peel is soft. Only then add the sugar, after removing the pips.

Add it bit by bit to ensure all the sugar has dissolved.

Bring back to the boil, stirring every so often. The liquid will reduce somewhat until, when it reaches the correct volume at the right temperature with the right amount of pectin, thicken to become marmalade.

But very often things don’t run that smoothly.

Put three or four saucers in the freezer.

When you think it might be ready (the mixture thickens, coats the back of a spoon, starts sticking to the sides of the pan, or, irritatingly, none of this), about 15-20 minutes in, take out a saucer, scoop out a spoonful off liquid and leave it in the fridge for five minutes. meanwhile, turn off the pan.

Then check. If it wrinkles or drips slowly off the spoon it is ready. If not, try again.

Some people swear by jam thermometers but I swear at them as they always lie.

If it hasn’t set by the second saucer add the juice of half a lemon.

When it has, stir to distribute the shredded peel, allow to cool slightly and add a tot of your favourite whisky. if you want to make a jar or two of marmalade without booze, fill these first before adding the spirit.

Don’t worry about any scum. You can skim it but it usually disperses. If it doesn’t, stir in a knob of butter. If that doesn’t work scoop it into a bowl or jar for your own use. The scum will rise to the top and can be spooned off.

Beginners may find the shred slowly rises to the top of the jar. This means it hasn’t been stirred properly or was potted too soon. This generally works: invert the jars so they rise again. Then keep doing it until the little buggers give up and are more or less evenly dispersed.

Marmalade can be eaten as soon as made and keeps very well.


The orange peel, water and sugar is bubbling nicely





Heaven is a baked banana

WHENEVER we have a barbecue I always check that we have at least one banana in the fruit bowl. Because it’s going to end up on the grill as the coals die down for a very special dessert.

No one else seems to like it but I can’t understand why. If you could eat silk this would be it.

Wait until the banana peel has uniformly blackened, take it off the grill and let it cool slightly. Then, with the tip of your spoon gently ‘unzip’ it from end to end. It should hardly need any pressure.

Inside the flesh has cooked ultra-soft and has caramelised to an almost perfect sweetness, neither too much or too little.

Now scoop it out and eat it slowly and carefully, relishing the texture and marvelling how anything so simple can be that good.

But it is!

A sloe way to pass the Port

IF YOU want the Port you pass to be your own here’s a little ruse to make an acceptable substitute that might not fool a connoisseur but will bring you and your friends a warming glow.

This is a little bit ahead of the sloe picking season but it does give you another option on what to do with all those alcohol-soaked berries after you have made sloe gin.

Rather than simply throw them out I normally use them up in a ‘Mother’s Ruin’ chutney or as boozy truffles but it is a messy, fiddly and time consuming job stoning the blighters. Then I came across a recipe for using them to make a faux port.

After straining the berries pop them in a sterilised preserving jar and add sugar and a bottle of red wine, shake it regularly to dissolve the sugar and strain again after a couple of months, adding some brandy to fortify the wine (as is the case in Portugal). It’s not bad!

I did this back in April, left it in the cellar then forgot about it until this week, so that’s longer than eight weeks but I am sure it was all the better for it.

My recipe:

500g sloes

100g sugar

75cl good red (preferably Portuguese) wine

200ml brandy

I got enough to fill one full bottle and an empty brandy hip flask

I did have hopes of using the berries a third time but found two lots of alcohol had by now leached out all the flavour. You can also do this with damsons if you’re making damson gin.

Everything but the quack!


Pappardelle with duck ragu

SOMETIMES you wonder about supermarkets. Waitrose are currently selling two duck breasts for £9 but whole roast in the bag 1.25kg ducks at £8.35. So that means any sharp-eyed cook with a sharp knife can get the breasts, plus two legs and the carcase for free and still finish 65p up on the deal.

Or even more. “I’ve got a £1.50 voucher for any duck product,” said my wife as she disappeared down the aisle. I did the maths. That meant I – or she – was only going to pay £6.85 for that quacker.

Which made up, in part, for the laughably high prices she insists on paying when she could go to more inexpensive supermarkets.

I’ve done it before (without the voucher) and the legs normally finish up as a confit. Sadly, this is where things go wrong – I sometimes roast them too dry or to a crisp when I dredge them out of their fat some months later. There had to be another use apart from a stir-fry.

There is: duck ragu.

What follows is an amalgam of several Venetian recipes, which concentrate on flavourings such as bay, thyme and sage and, in one case, cinnamon. So I used all four and added rosemary for luck.


My cut price duck, ready for butchering

All the recipes I consulted stipulated using one leg per person or a whole duck (in which case you roast it) but I found two legs gave quite enough ragu for four. And I prefer cooking on the stove top rather than in the oven because it is less wasteful of energy. And cheaper.

You need:

2 duck legs, oiled and seasoned

1 small onion, 1 stick of celery, 1 large carrot, all chopped small for a soffrito

125ml red wine

125ml chicken stock

1 tin chopped tomato

tomato puree

herbs as above

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tbsp plain flour

1 dessert spoon ground cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste

Butchering was relatively easy. Dislocate the leg and wing joints first before cutting and work your knife carefully along the breastbone.

Brown the duck legs in a heavy casserole for about 10 minutes. I added the tops of the wings – not much meat but they will add flavour.

Remove the meat with tongs and pour off all but 1 tbsp of duck fat. I poured the excess into my duck fat jar.

Gently cook the vegetables, herbs and garlic gently for as long as you can be bothered (but at least 10 mins) then add the cinnamon and flour and stir in for a minute or two.


All chopped and ready to go

Now add the wine, chicken stock, tomatoes and puree and return the meat to the pan. It should be just submerged. Bring to boil then turn down to a simmer and leave, stirring occasionally to stop things sticking. You want the meat to be really tender.

Then remove it to a plate and allow to cool. Then, with two forks, carefully remove the skin (don’t both if you miss bits, it will be very soft) shred the meat from the bones and return to the pan.

A cook’s treat is to suck, guzzle and gnaw the bones clean before discarding.

It tasted wonderful although I might go a bit easier on the cinnamon next time. It’s going in the freezer until I need it (as a sauce with pasta) because we are having those duck breasts, pan-fried, first.

I also boiled up the carcase as a stock, also destined for the freezer, and while all this was going on I gently fried little two inch squares of snipped skin from the carcase in a heavy-based frying pan. Sprinkled with salt and pepper, they made another little treat.

And, of course, they yielded even more fat for the jar. And I even finished up with a little duck ‘dripping’ which went well with my breakfast toast.

I’m feeling pretty pleased with it all. That duck gave us eight main meals in total: breasts, four plates of ragu and two bowls of soup, plus all those little extras. We ate everything but the quack.

When you’re married to a Waitrose Wife you have to stretch those pennies, don’t you?

Yet another wild garlic recipe!

WHEN the wild garlic appears I go demob happy from winter and high-tail it down to my favourite spot to gather armfuls of it. But there is only so much pesto one couple can consume.

I have a jar in the fridge and more in the freezer and it’s been in soups, as a dressing for new potatoes, inside ravioli, spread on braised pork chops but, as it happens, not very much as a pasta sauce. A few fresh leaves have found their way into tonight’s bubble and squeak.

But I still wanted a few more ideas on what to do with ramsons or Stinking Jenny, by far the best folk name for this short-lived spring green. And I found it in my copy of Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi’s The Gentle Art of Preserving,

It’s a recipe for wild garlic wrapped labneh (a soft cheese) preserved in oil. You can use any soft cheese, or goats cheese or feta, but they made theirs with home made labneh and so did I.

It’s rewarding in itself. Just strain a 500g tub of Greek yoghurt through a double layer of muslin overnight (I used a sterilised jelly bag) and by the morning you’ve got, in my case, 270g of creamy, tangy soft cheese. This needs to be mixed with a teaspoon of sea salt for each 150g and chopped herbs of your choice.

Now I gather if you leave it for a day or two the labneh firms up but I’d already picked my ramsons and needed to press on. Don’t select either too small or too big leaves, which will be coarse, but something in between. You will probably need two teaspoons to put a blob of cheese at the bottom of the leaf then roll up towards the pointed end.

I sterilised a Kilner har by boiling it and, when cooled, put a little oil in the bottom. The recipe stipulates extra virgin olive oil but as this was an experiment I used ordinary olive oil. Using tongs, I managed to get the little parcels in without mishap. Then I added a dried chilli and topped up with oil and sealed the jar. I got about nine parcels of varying sizes in.

Normally I’d roadtest* this recipe before blogging but if you fancy having a go you’ll need to collect some ramsons before the season is over. I’ll give them a week in the jar and report back.


* I did. It was excellent.


Did Shakespeare eat this bacon?


Rashers Elizabethan-style

IT IS April 23 as I write, which is both St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday, although some say it was Francis Bacon who really was the Bard of Avon.

I’m having no truck with that. In fact, I’m thinking ‘Did Shakespeare really eat this bacon?’

Recently I’ve been making my own bacon at home to an Elizabethan recipe which uses ginger and caraway in the cure, along with salt and sugar. In the finished product you can’t really isolate either spice but they meld together in a gentle, subtle way. And it’s just the thing Shakespeare could have eaten.

The recipe is courtesy of Maynard Davies, regarded by home bacon curers as the absolute tops, who took the trouble to research the cure. But it comes second hand, being quoted in that excellent book, The Gentle Art of Preserving by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi (Kyle Books, 2013).


The joint has been boned and is ready for curing

Their version of this recipe can be made in a sealed ziplock plastic bag, or similar, without any of that draining and repeated rubbing in conventional dry-curing as outlined here. 

You can use either pork belly (for streaky) or loin (for middle cut) and it’s probably best to ask your butcher to bone the joint for you. I always keep and freeze the bones until I have enough for a stock or feel like boiling or baking beans. I buy mine from Waterall Brothers (, the pork specialists on Sheffield’s Moor Market.

I ask for a kilo of bacon at a time, or just over to allow for the bones to be filleted, which is the size which will fit the bag. If your butcher cuts too big a piece simply cut off what you don’t need and use the meat some other way.

This recipe doesn’t use curing salts (the type which turns bacon a pleasant pink and makes it last longer) but if you care more about flavour than looks then ordinary table salt will do (rock or sea salt will prove more expensive).

For each kilo of boned meat you will need:

35g salt

18g brown sugar

3g each of ground ginger and crushed caraway seeds

Mix them all together in a bowl and with your fingers massage all of the cure into the joint, ensuring most is on the meat side and just 10 per cent on the skin.

Now slip it into a ziplock or similar. I put this bag inside a big plastic bag to prevent leakage and pop that into an empty ice cream container for good measure. Then all you have to do is leave it in the fridge for seven days (date the back with a marker pen), remembering to turn the bag every day to make sure the resultant brine covers all the meat.


Wrap the joint in a plastic bag

When its time is up take it out and discard the bags. Drain the bacon (it will feel much firmer than when you put the joint in) and resist the temptation to rinse it but pat it dry. Now you must dry it for a couple of days. I put mine on a plastic draining tray (so the air can circulate) and put it back in the fridge.

You now need a sharp carving knife with which to cut it, particularly if you want rind-on bacon. If not, carefully slice it off. If you think the slices are too thick simply lay them between two sheets of clingfilm and bash them flat with a rolling pin.

A kilo is a lot of bacon so I freeze my bacon in batches of six rashers so I need to cure bacon only once every three weeks or so.


The finished bacon needs to dry

As far as I can discover, William Shakespeare never mentions bacon once in his plays and poems but that doesn’t mean to say he didn’t eat it.

FOOTNOTE: Maynard Davies is the author of several books on curing bacon, hams and other cuts, beginning with Adventures of a Bacon Curer in 2003. Two others, Secrets of etc and Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer (2007 and 2009) may well be rebranded books. There is a fascinating video of him, interviewed by Sophie Grigson, available at


Have a care for a pear, Eddie?

Poached pears

COMEDIAN Eddie Izzard had a good routine about pears. They lurked in the fruit bowl, he said, refusing to ripen. Then the moment your back was turned they flumped into over ripeness. How true.

There is a way to beat pears at this little game: don’t wait to eat them raw but poach them to ripeness.

I always keep an eye out for a bargain at the greengrocers and currently it’s pears. Most months you can buy bags of small pears, say six for £1.50 or even less. It depends on their size. They will not usually be ripe but that doesn’t msatter.

You take a bit of a chance with their texture but more often than not they’ll be decent enough to make poached pears, a dessert for literally pennies.

You don’t need half a bottle of wine to poach them in. I tend to use orange juice snd water, a tablespoon or so of sugar and whatever combinstion of sweet spices I have to hand. And I might then add a spot of wine if there’s some left in last night’s bottle.


A bag of six small pears cost me £1.50

You can poach them whole after coring and peeling, or cut them in half through the stalk and prize out the core with a grapefruit spoon .

If they are very juicy and I have washed them first I squeeze the trimmings through a sieve for extra juice.

Fit the pears into a pan – I had room of four whole ones – and add the liquids, sugar and spices. I had fresh ginger , green cardamom, star anise, bay and cinnamon. Put on a lid (a bonnet of greaseproof paper or tin foil will keep the steam in) bring to the boil them simmer until the pears can be pierced easily with a sharp knife.

Take them out carefully, clean off any spices and strain the juices back into the cleaned pan. Resume simmering and reduce the poaching liquid to a couple of tablespoons of sauce, tasting as you go, perhaps adding a little lemon juice for sharpness or a bit more sugar. Pour over the pears and allow to cool.

This is a very economical dish. Served with ice cream, the sauce improves things no end. Or dish up with yoghurt or creme fraiche.


When cored and peeled they just fit into the pan

Breast is best with lamb

WHEN I was younger I was skint but had a girlfriend whose stepfather was a butcher. So I got a tip or two about meat.

The one I remember best was to buy a breast of lamb and roast it. It might be fatty and a little greasy but you got a mouthful of crispy skin and sweet meat for just pennies. (Another was to buy bacon bits and misshapes ‘for a quiche’ which always got diverted to Sunday breakfast.)

Years flew by and I was better off and forgot about breast of lamb. As it fell out of fashion it also fell out of the shops, as did another inexpensive morsel, sweetbreads. I seldom saw it on menus except once some years ago at the Wig & Pen in Campo Lane.

I had to ring to make sure it was on that night. As I recall it cost a fortune for something so cheap. Fellow blogger Craig Harris tells me it used to appear on dishes such as ‘lamb three ways’ although that must have passed me by.

I was at Thicketts the butchers on Sharrowvale Road recently and for some reason asked if they sold it. They did but I would have to order it. “Only pensioners ask for it these days and people buy it for their dogs. Younger people don’t know what to do with it,” I was told.

Now that’s a shame because this is the equivalent of pork belly and we all know the good things you can do with that.

The lamb breast, just £3, was ready the following Saturday and I had it neatly boned. I kept them. They went in the freezer along with others for a stock.

I had forgotten how I cooked it so l looked for recipes. There are lots of fancy ways. Ramsay braises his then cuts the meat into noisettes and crisps them off.

I didn’t want things to get too complicated so, after halving it and putting the remainder in the freezer, simply seasoned, made a stuffing of garlic, rosemary and anchovy fillets (I wouldn’t have done that back then), tied it in a piece, browned it off and roasted it at 150C under aluminium foil for two hours till tende. Then I  whacked up the heat to 200C to crisp.

It cut into three roundels and tasted fine. It wasn’t that greasy as the fat had poured off- and the skin was crispy-sweet. The anchovy added a little piquancy. I served it with pommes dauphinoise and purple sprouting broccoli.

My wife didn’t like the sound of it so had a lamb steak.

I might try a classic French recipe with the other half when I am using the oven for another dish. The breast is roasted flat, again slow and low, or braised,  for 2-3 hours until tender, drained, cooled overnight in the fridge, then cut into strips, floured, egged and breadcrumbed, then fried. Sort of lamb, not fish, fingers.