Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Wednesday 27 May 2015

Birthday Cake

To celebrate a recent birthday, I made one of our new-favourite cakes: the America’s Test Kitchen Lemon Layer Cake.  After making it a couple of years ago, it quickly became a family favourite as it is full of lemon curd, dreamily light frosting and moist sponge – what’s not to love (even if it is the oddest cake batter you’ll ever make)?!  In a change from their recipe (because it was simpler), I made a proper Italian meringue topping, using 115ºC sugar syrup and egg whites to make a stable meringue that would work as a topping and – believe it or not – not be too sweet.  The lemon curd wasn’t a hard set as I didn’t let it refrigerate the amount of time recommended as I needed to get it finished (my bad), which is why the cake is sloping and not in perfectly-even layers (the first one was!).  However, despite that little hiccough, it was absolutely delicious and much-appreciated.  It is one of those cakes that definitely has quite a bit of wow factor on the dinner table :)

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Experiments in Wild Yeast

I like to make my own bread, but the urge to do so comes in fits and starts.  There will be months where I only eat homemade bread and then something will happen to prevent me from getting into the kitchen and I will revert for a few months to the mindless ease of buying bread from a bakery or supermarket. This is something that I’m quite serious about trying to make a daily part of our lives, not least because Mr VP and I (and my mother, who gets some of the goodies!) prefer it and I like it particularly because I can control exactly what goes into each loaf.

For years I’ve been meaning to have a go at making a sourdough starter from scratch; after all, it’s not difficult and would yield bread that contains more beneficial substances than the sum of its parts.  But for some reason, getting around to actually doing it has never quite happened – until a couple of days ago.  In a kilner jar, I put some Doves Farm organic wholemeal einkorn flour (one of my favourites) and added enough water to make a thick paste, following the Guardian’s recommendations.  I covered it with a paper towel and popped it somewhere so that it could be forgotten for a couple of days.  In this starting phase, the wild yeasts present in the (organic – it really has to be) wholemeal flour will get to work, their enzymes will break down starches into sugars and the yeast will use these as food.  After a few days, I added more flour and water, stirring and repeating until the starter was ‘alive’ and filled with lots of little bubbles of gas to show that the yeast was active.

Until I could use EinaMay-2015 (don’t tell me you don’t name your sourdough starter too!), I was adamant that I’d get to grips with my basic wholemeal bread recipe with baker’s yeast.  I’ve had a lot of success with Delia’s stellar, reliable recipe, but I also find it lacking something and I know that it was to do with the amount of water it contained.  So ever-curious, I set off to improve my bread.  I made two different loaves, one with a mix of Allinson wholemeal bread flour and einkorn and the other with Doves Farm organic wholemeal and einkorn, each very similar, with slight changes to the amount of water, yeast and the length of the kneading and rising stage.  It turns out that, as this article suggests, the amount of water is crucial to the development of the bread, as is the length of kneading a wholemeal dough.

Through my research, I found that here’s something called a ‘baker’s percentage’ of water that professionals use when it comes to making bread.  In the case of wholewheat bread, as the whole grain absorbs so much more water than white flour, it is advisable to use 105% water (more water than flour!) and not be too vigorous when it comes to kneading.  I cheat on the kneading front and use my Kenwood as it makes the job of kneading an extremely sloppy dough easy, but the key is that you don’t knead vigorously or for too long.  Why?  Well, the sharp pieces of bran in the dough can slice into the gluten and shred it, stopping it from making the long, springy strands that you need to provide lightness.  Butter (not oil, it doesn’t work as well) your tin and bake at 220ºC for about 20 mins and then another 20-25 at 190ºC.  I use my anodised aluminium loaf tin, as it provides the best heat conductivity and also doesn’t release PTFE or PFOA when heated to very high temperatures, gaining its non-stick patina instead from regular use.  Taa-daah – prefect bread (no photos as I have been a bit lax on that front – but it looked like the most lovely wholemeal loaf you can imagine!).

So having sorted my regular wholemeal bread recipe, I had given enough time for the starter to really get going (through regular feeding and attention), now it was time to use it.  Following the Guardian recipe, I added 150g of the starter to 500g strong white flour and 370ml warm water.  I put it into the Kenwood mixer and brought the dough together.  I left it to sit for 30 mins before adding the salt and then kneaded it in the machine for 30 seconds (15 didn’t seem enough), leaving for 15 mins and then repeating the knead-rest cycle once more.

I wasn’t keen on using the usual (Continental/European) method of baking it free-form, as I prefer a) loaves for slicing and b) the ease of rising and forming the loaves, which the tin does for you.  With that in mind, I opted to bake the loaves in my normal loaf tins.  Apparently the folding malarkey that the Guardian article talks about is quite important, which I hadn’t realised before (this site explains the process), so I did the suggested three folds with time in-between and then let it sit in the tin to rise for another hour because the heating isn’t on and it wasn’t a particularly warm day.  Preheat oven to a whopping 240ºC and bake for 35-55 mins.

Taaa-dahh!  The photo was taken whilst it was still warm and not great for cutting – it is less raggy and a much cleaner slice this morning.  It had the proper sourdough smell and flavour and a crust that saves you needing to visit a dental hygienist – just like a proper French loaf!  Next loaf I will change the amount of water I use, as I thought that I’d make it a little wetter than the recipe to increase lift, but instead it made it a little on the doughy side.  I will also remember to grease and cover or wet the top of the dough to prevent the skin forming which led to the top of the bread ‘separating’ when it was baked.  I would also like to try other flours, such as organic spelt and organic rye starters, to see if they yield a different flavour or rise. But yay for wild yeast!

Saturday 25 April 2015

Saturday Morning Breakfast

I don’t know about you, but I try to make at least one ‘proper’ breakfast for Mr VP and I at the weekend and we usually settle for eggs, pancakes or croissants.  That said, I’m not really a huge fan of bacon, but there are rare times that I really do fancy some and so we visited a local butcher and got a couple of slices, which I served with pancakes and homemade blueberry jam.  It was absolutely gorgeous, if a little decadent ;-)

Wednesday 25 February 2015

In the Kitchen

I haven’t done much food photography recently and I blame my general blogging malaise and poor lighting conditions for it!  I have every now and then managed to snap some of our meals, however, and so I thought I’d post a snapshot.  Quiches are a family staple for all seasons, whether served in spring with Jersey Royals and salad or winter with mash and root veg.  I have been craving eggs recently, so made two bog-standard cheese and tomato quiches, which were extremely well-received all round.

Another favourite meal was this epic salmon salad.  I know it’s not salad weather, but I really have been desperate for a break from the non-stop root-veg that is in our veg box and welcomed a little bit of variation.  It was a salad that was piled high, full of peppers, apple, avocado (can’t get enough!), cucumber, tomatoes, gherkins and soft baby leaves.  It was absolutely delicious, as was the organic salmon that we baked en papillote in the oven with lemon and thyme.

The next meal was a tiny bit of beef mince, fried until cooked with some garlic, fresh tomatoes and a bit of ras el hanout.  We served them in these really great little tortilla ‘boats’ with a crunchy pepper, gherkin and avocado salsa.  It doesn’t look anything special, but it was delicious and really quick as a weeknight meal.

Last but not least was a recipe I saw posted on a blog (original recipe here).  I couldn’t be faffed with deep frying things and we used turkey instead of beef.  I also massively changed the quantities of the things in the sauce and added vegetables like peppers and peas for a bit of colour.  The end result was a spicy (from the ginger) and tangy, absolutely amazingly delicious meal that I could’ve eaten twice over (it was that good!).  Yum.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

The View From Here

It has been snowing on and off all day.  One moment it is bright and sunny, with wide blue skies and the next a dark grey pall saps the light and small, angry snowflakes fall quickly.  The wind is blowing; enough to make the wind bitter and the snow drift and stick to any upright surface it comes across.  It is the tail-end of January so this weather is to be expected and we have been fairly lucky so far, in that we’ve not had any snow until now.  I am, however, eagerly anticipating the start of February and the move towards longer (and milder) days to come (though I have definitely enjoyed January!).  Mr VP has worked from home today because the snow was threatening to start just after lunch and he didn’t want to get stuck in a snowdrift.  So I made cheese scones and parsnip, celery and leek soup and kept him hydrated with cups of tea.  To keep us both toasty, I laid the fire with the last of our wood stores and have revelled in the glow and the heat from our stove.

I’ve been attempting to make the most of the days by keeping busy in the house.  After receiving a note in our veg box a couple of weeks ago notifying us about the availability of organic Seville and blood oranges, I eagerly ordered some and waited for their arrival.  When they arrived I pored over tomes of recipes, trying to decide whether I should do the whole-orange method, the two-day method or whether I should follow Delia’s sage advice and go with her recipe.  I went with Delia in the end, as her recipes are always good, and the house now smells like Spain in summer (or a Tropicana factory…).  I can’t wait to find out what it is like when finished!  I can tell you that I might never get the smell off my hands, though!  This January hibernation thing is turning out pretty nicely.

Monday 12 January 2015

Menu Planning

One of my goals for 2015 was to get back into the habit of menu planning.  I used to do it religiously and then I got out of the habit.  I really missed its practicality and how it takes the hassle out of wondering what we’re going to have for dinner each night.  It also makes budgeting and shopping so much easier!  Thus once a week (usually on a Sunday), I flick through cook books and lists of meal ideas and then decide what we’re going to have for the week.  I have long since realised that planning for specific days doesn’t work for us, as I often don’t fancy what I’ve planned for that evening, so I now plan in a seven-meal rota and as long as those meals get cooked, then I’m okay with not necessarily having them on a particular day.

I was flicking back through the VintagePretty archives and looking at meals I’ve cooked previously and regret not posting these menu plans as a sort of archive of what we eat from season to season and year to year.  So from now on, I’m going to endeavour to post more, if not all, of what we eat at Chez VintagePretty, more as an aide memoire rather than for any other reason.  We tend to eat a lot of vegetarian/vegetable-based food, as I seem to prefer it (and I’m glad I do after this little bit of scientific research came out recently!) and Mr VP doesn’t mind what I cook as long as it’s tasty!

This week’s menu:

Last week’s menu:

  • Delia’s Piedmont peppers.
  • Veg-packed tomato pasta.
  • Delia’s curried nut roast and veg.
  • Stirfry & noodles.
  • Take-away.
  • Tuna pasta.
  • Roast chicken and veg (at Mum’s).


Monday 29 December 2014

Days of Christmas

Our Christmas veg were certainly colourful this year, courtesy of the veg box scheme.  We collected our local (organic) turkey from the same place and were amazed that true to their word, it cooked in half the time of a normal turkey (and was delicious)!  The pudding was a Delia recipe, made in haste only a couple of days before Christmas and with a few changes to the recipe – flamed in brandy, it was delicious (and we have one more still to go!).  The days that followed Christmas were far less hectic.  We took Mum’s dog out for a long walk where we worked on her recalls and met some really lovely people (dog walking does increase one’s social circle no end!) and we wrapped up for a bitterly-cold walk on the beach, where we struggled to stop the shivers as the icy wind blew.  I never really thought much to the whole twelve days of Christmas before – it seemed to be that the magic disappeared after the 25th, but as I get older, I realise that really, the magic and the peace and quiet is only just beginning.

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