If at first you don’t succeed!

Success at last. For several years, whilst in the French Alps I have tried making bread, with or without a prepared mix, with very much mixed results.

When we first came here, about 13 years ago, the bread man came on by every morning, but with so few residents here it proved not to be worth his while and came no more.

For many years Himself would then drive down the 7 hairpins to the Boulangerie, The trouble with this was a) in the winter, 7 extra hairpins in the snow before the snowplough had been and b) baquettes go stale very quickly.

Finally I resorted to a bread machine. I made bread using standard ingredients and dried yeast or I made bread with a ready prepared mix. But with mixed results. What to do, what to do? It was a bit of a conundrum. Buy bread on a weekly basis, pop into the freezer and defrost when needed.

Last summer I spent extended periods, making sourdough starter. All seemed to go well until cooked and then disaster. But then I discovered in the UK Sourdough bread mix! Ok not exactly the same and cheating to boot, but how would it work in the mountains.

With all of this bread making attempts in the mountains, I learnt a very valuable lesson. Baking at altitude is not the same as at sea level. Adjustments have to be made.

Lower air pressure at altitude causes air bubbles trapped in the mixture to rise at a faster rate. When this happens the cake/ bread rises very fast and high, and then collapses, result disaster, dense and dry. Cakes and breads with yeast, rise quickly, so proofing times need to be reduced as well. Only fill tins, if cake making half full as they can easily overflow.

Our Mountain home is at an altitude of almost 4000 feet and so several adjustments have to be made.

  • For cakes:-
  • Reduce Baking Powder by 1/8 tsp for each tsp needed
  • Reduce sugar by 1 tablespoon for every 4 oz
  • Increase liquid by 2 tablespoons for every 200 mls
  • Increase oven temperature by 25 F

The higher you are the more adjustments have to be made.

So today, using my English sourdough mix and a bread maker ( just for the kneading process,) I tried again and YES! It worked. I increased the water, and I used olive oil instead of butter. The machine kneaded for about 1 hour 30. I set the oven at 220 put in the cast iron pan to reheat so that it was hot and ready to go as soon as the bread machine beeped. Popped the dough in the hot pan, put on the lid, waited for about 20 minutes, removed lid and returned to the oven until the bread was a beautiful shade of brown !

Cheating Yes! Easy Yes! Way forward, Yes, here for sure !

Pea Soup

This is really weird, I read the other day a short recipe from the award winning restaurant chef, Skye Gingel. It said, that she had always made pea soup, the same way that she made other soups, cooking peas in stock until tender, purée them etc etc. Well that is exactly what I have been doing, it seems like since forever! Now she puts forward the idea of just using frozen peas and blitzing them, before adding stock etc.

As Himself has been poorly, soup is the lunchtime answer. BUT, I had no soup in my multiple freezers. He had “gone off “ soup in recent times, even through Lockdown # 1, Lockdown #2 and Lockdown #3, soup was not on his agenda. But now he is more or less confined to Barracks, No Golf, No Driving and the worse of all No Housework ( as if !) I had thought of making the simplest of tomato soup, using canned tomatoes, but then I thought, Umm, pea soup! A quick trip across the road, bypassing the myriad of Deliveroo, Just Eat, ( the market leader in food delivery) and Uber Eats, there the cycle, electric cycle and moped deliverers amass. Why do they amass near where I live? Baker Street is full of fast food outlets, some better than others, but there are residents here in my building who order, breakfast, lunch and dinner from these outlets. (And for many of them, it is Maccy DJ’s morning noon and night)

To make this very simple but oh so delicious soup is ease itself, I deviated from her suggestions, but the basic idea was worthwhile. This quantity makes enough soup for 6-8 and once cooked ( reheated and cooled it maybe frozen for future use.)

  • 1 kilo of frozen peas ( petit pois are best)
  • Up to 1 litre of vegetable stock, I used the above above, so easy
  • A large handful of fresh watercress
  • A small bunch of fresh mint
  • 300 mls plain yogurt
  • Crème fraîche and basil leaves to serve.

This is simplicity itself.

Start off by semi defrosting your peas, much easier to process if marginally soft. Tip the peas into a food processor and process on high until it is a purée. This is made easier by adding some Luke warm stock. Add the yogurt ( or cream if you fancy). Blitz some more add stock and or cream, / yogurt until you reach the consistency you desire. Add the watercress and mint. Blitz some more.

For serving, it can be served hot or cold but for storage ( and I’m needing freezer snack type foods) cook first, leave to cool before bagging for the freezer.

My original version of Pea Soup included Baby Gem Lettuce but not watercress but I am fine with this version, it is worth giving variations a try.


More Indian Food ….. Parsi Omelette

Himself has been a bit in capacitated this week and so haven’t been cooking. I become a bit of a slob and just grab something, or nothing as the case maybe. Which makes me think of my Mother. She was a widow for 34 years, but standards never slipped. She would always cook for herself and set the table, always do the dishes ( no dishwasher). She would always peel her new potatoes ( didn’t like skin) as well as her tomatoes ( didn’t like skin), this puts me to shame. Mental note to oneself……. Must do better.

I have a new cookbook ,well two or three, or maybe even four, but the one I am currently in love with is Chefs at Home. This is a compilation by 57 chefs in aid of Hospitality Action, a charity which supports the hospitality industry.

There are many recipes and ideas in this book which have piqued my interest, so much so I must have bought Amazon’s complete stock of sticky page markers.

There are a couple of recipes/ ideas that I have been salivating over for the past few days, namely JAMSHEDPUR -STYLE EGG ROLLS and PARSI OMELETTE.

The Parsi omelette led me on a quest to find out more about Indian spices and their concoctions. The recipe called for Garam Masala ( already in my store cupboard) and Dhansak Masala, ( not heard of before ).

I am absolutely not an authority on this subject, but have been reading a lot. There is an Indian supermarket, a very large one, not far from Heathrow airport ( this area of London has a large population from the Indian sub continent). Unfortunately I haven’t been there, since Covid struck but have every intention of visiting again, armed with my various books to try and fathom out the vast array of ingredients, fresh, dried, canned or frozen !

India is approximately 13 times larger and has 1.46 BILLION people. The UK is on the whole fairly densely populated but comes in at 64 million. Thinking of regional cooking, in what is a fairly small country the UK has a lot of regional dishes, so going on from that, just imagine the differences in a country like India .

Masala, is the generic word for various mixtures of spices. Each region has its own special blend, so in the north, where winters can be cold, it is Garam Masala, meaning hot spice. It has a rich warm fragrance and tastes hot and aromatic.

In Maharashtra, the capital of which is Mumbai, and sits on the Deccan Plateau. It has a tropical climate and good vegetation, hence lots of fruits and vegetables. The Masala that is used here is GODA MASALA and is not usually found commercially but made in the home and contains coconut, whereas in the Punjab it is TANDOORI MASALA, it rich in colour, is fragrant and spicy. And then I found GUNPOWDER MASALA and DHANSAK MASALA.

Moving on to the Parsi Omelette, it calls for Dhansak Masala, and had no idea where it could be bought, hence I had to make it myself.

I used half the quantities of spices suggested and even so made a fair amount, which I have stored in a jar. I started out grinding my spices in a pestle and mortar, but it was seriously hard work, moved onto a hand grinder ( now discarded) and finally a high speed jug blender. A small coffee grinder, will work well.

  • 100 grams coriander seeds
  • 25 grams dried red chillies
  • 25 grams cloves
  • 15 grams green cardamoms
  • 15 grams black cardamoms
  • 25 grams stick cinnamon
  • 15 grams black peppercorns
  • 15 grams dried bay leaves
  • 15 grams star anise
  • 15 grams mustard seed
  • 15 grams poppy seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg.

Very simply grind and blend all of the above together. Store in a jar.

I made my Parsi Omelette using

  • 3 eggs beaten
  • A small red onion chopped
  • A green chilli chopped
  • A teaspoon of Dhansak masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon Garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric,
  • some grated cheese
  • Some chopped coriander leaves
  • A chopped clove garlic and some chopped ginger
  • Pinch salt

Gently fry the chilli, the onion, garlic and ginger in either ghee or oil, pour in the eggs and agitate so that the eggs can fall to the bottom of the pan to set, do this a couple of times until almost set. Add the cheese and coriander, salt and pepper and turn over to finish cooking . The easiest way to do this is, to place a plate over the pan, invert the pan so that the omelette tips onto the plate, then gently slide it back into the pan to finish cooking. Fold in half and serve with some salad.

You might want to adjust the seasoning second time around. I think basically one can call this an omelette curry, but the flavours are very subtle. I would have liked it to be a little stronger.

As a footnote, the Parsis migrated from Persia to India in the 7 century. There is a distinct community in Mumbai.

Crab Cakes and Crab Scotch Eggs

I love all things Crabby, from dressed Crab, which I think is very English, to anything to do with crab, cracking the claws, sucking the claws, crab cakes, crab on toast and the latest Crab Scotch eggs!

My all time favourites are Soft Shell Crab and when in New Orleans, Soft Shell Crab Po-Boys! Ok, I’ll have to stop salivating and tell you about Crab Scotch Eggs.

Well, these are OK, but about to be put down as experience., rather than something I would have again, and in fact, having eaten them two nights running, the remaining ones will go in the bin. This is very much against my philosophy, of Waste Not Want Not, but Enough is Enough!

We went to a restaurant the other week, called Kricket. There are a couple of them in London and this one was at the Old Television Studios in White City. I was interested because the owner travelled around India and decided to open an Indian restaurant. I think I have said previously that I was not really impressed, especially when I looking at some of his recipes and found that he used tons of Ghee.

However, I am so glad that I haven’t bought his book and I quote here” the publisher needed my book so I didn’t have time to proof read it “ OOOPS!

But never mind, I had two tubs of crab meat which need using. Himself was under the weather ( much more serious than Man Flu) , but once defrosted it needed using. In the UK crabmeat tends to be claw rather than lump so we have to work with what we have.

I chopped, celery, coriander, shallots, chillies , ginger, garlic, ( I also added some avocado and mango ) and made two piles, one for my crab cakes and one for the Scotch eggs. Soft boiled the eggs. Prepared my beaten eggs and panko breadcrumbs. Divided my crab mixture, formed my cakes, dipped them carefully into the egg and then the breadcrumbs into the frying pan, perfect! Onto the Scotch eggs. Moulding a slimy mixture around a slippery soft boiled egg is not the easiest task in the world and dipping it into the egg followed by the breadcrumbs is even more difficult but I persevered. Finally success, quickly into a pan of hot oil to deep fry.. Done!

Was it worth it? Absolutely not! Will I try again? Most definitely not!

Shame sounded a good idea!