Saturday, 27 September 2008

Daring Bakers: Lavash Bread

Saturdays, I'm reliably informed, are meant for fun. That's what Mr A&N keeps telling me today, as we pass each other in the hall between rounds of dusting furniture, vacuuming carpets, washing floors, and generally trying to chase away the dust left by the builders currently making our somewhat peaceful and mostly orderly lives go topsy turvey. The builders are back on Monday but since I asserted I couldn't live in the post-apocalyptic dust bowl we currently call home, we've spent a fair portion of the day doing cleaning which we know will all come undone with the first footfall of a builder as he enters the house.

Between the dusting and cleaning and the "Where's the fun?" queries today, I've also tackled this month's Daring Bakers task of making lavash bread. Lavash is a middle eastern bread and (at least according to wikipedia) can be used as a sandwich/kebab wrap when rolled out very thin and served fresh, or served as crisp crackers when cooked longer and left a bit thicker. The DB task was to treat the bread as crackers, as well as to make a dip or spread on the side to eat with the crackers. The only other requirement was to make it vegan, and the option was there to make the crackers gluten-free as well.

I embraced the gluten version, though found the dough wasn't as elastic-y as other bread doughs tend to be. Reports on the Daring Bakers message board were that people wound up kneading the dough for 20 minutes or more (rather than the recommended 10 minutes), and I did the same. Though it did turn silky in the end, it tended to stay in a ball rather than stretch far. I had used less water than was suggested since the dough seemed wet enough without it all added, and perhaps this lack of water gave i
t the texture I worked with - a bit like a big ball of bubble gum, chewed and left to sit on the counter for a few hours before you go back to chew it again.

I topped the crackers with ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice mix), sesame seeds, and smoked sea salt. The crackers smelled wonderful cooking, and both crisped and browned perfectly, and I appreciated that we were given a recipe that could reasonably be started and finished in a couple of hours. For my dip, I made more beetroot hummus since that's now a high-demand foodstuff in the A&N household.

After he was finished hanging up our second load of laundry for the day (the dusty clothes, towels, and cleaning cloths that fell victim to the building works), Mr A&N came in to try the lavash with hummus.
"That's good" he affirmed. "I think the fun can begin now."

Thanks goes to Natalie from Gluten A Go Go and Shel from Musings from the Fishbowl for setting the challenge. The recipe for the Lavash can be found at either of their sites.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Jasmine Saves Our Beetroot

My weekly vegetable box delivery continues to be a race between best intentions and slowly rotting organic produce. Eat the most perishables first (courgettes, tomatoes, mushrooms, leafy green things), leave the heartier goods to fend for themselves/win my affections (carrots, cabbage, potatoes). As the week draws to an end, I often make soup. This week's possible soup is a lettuce soup since we can't seem to get to the leafy green stuff quickly enough. The possibility of this lettuce soup has made Mr A&N suddenly 'remember' that he agreed to be out tomorrow night. To play poker, it turns out, and generally be more masculine than sitting at home eating lettuce soup.

The real problem vegetable in our weekly delivery has been beetroot. We'
ve had such a regular supply of it that it's threatened to become this summer's cabbage - so abundant and with so few ideas of what to do with it that I've nearly banned it from our box for a week/a month/indefinitely. I've held off banning it, always sensing that beetroot could do grander things than we were letting it do (and, er, I'd forget about updating my preference list). Luckily I've discovered that grander thing.

In stepped the wonderful Jasmine from Confessions of a Cardamom Addict to save our beetroot. The answer, it seemed, was beetroot hummus. Roast the beetroot, put it through the blender with a bit of oil and as much horseradish as you like, throw in a bit of garlic and lime juice (if you have on hand) and revel in
its beauty and flavor. It really is that simple and that wonderful, and has been on the weekly menu since I've been enlightened. The roasting turns the beetroot incredibly sweet, and putting it through the blender intensified the sweetness by taking away the complication of having to chew it and fight your way toward this flavor. And gosh isn't it look pretty.

Beetroot Hummus (an approximate recipe)

  • As many fresh beetroot as you need to get rid of
  • Olive oil
  • clove of garlic
  • Horseradish
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F / 200 C
  2. Clean the beetroot but keep the skin on. Rub each beet lightly with olive oil.
  3. Place the beetroot in an oven-proof tray. Cover with foil, and roast for about 40 minutes or until a fork stuck into the beetroot goes through it.
  4. Allow the beetroot to cool down enough for you to handle it, then peel them.
  5. Roughly chop them up, and put into a blender. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and the clove of garlic and whizz up.
  6. Taste for flavor. Add more olive oil if it needs a 'richer' taste. Otherwise, add the horseradish until the balance of flavors is right (about 1 Tbs per 3 beetroot tastes right to me).

Monday, 8 September 2008


This summer has been busy and tiring - not just for me, but for friends, family, and plenty of other bloggers who seem to be taking blog breaks for short spells. Case in point was meeting up with Mr A&N's brother and wife to celebrate my birthday...two and a half months after the date. The catch-up was multi-pronged (celebrate my birthday, celebrate brother-in-laws birthday, see how both pregnant ladies - due within 6 days of each other - were on the bump front). Lucky me, I was also given in two spanking new pizza stones that promised to transform my at-home pizza eating.

The stones were given in memory of a trip the four of us took to Italy 3 years ago. The house we rented had an outdoor pizza oven, and the memory of the food that came out of it can still turn all of us misty-eyed. I had heard that the best way to mimic the brick-built pizza oven experience in the kitchen was to get a pizza stone or to pick up a large ceramic tile from a tile shop and pop that in the oven when it was pizza time. I never got around to food shopping at my local tile store, so the pizza stones were a gift received with genuine thanks.

I've tried out two pizza dough recipes since getting the stones, one that I've had for ages (and am not sure from where I got it) and one from Giada de Laurentis I found on Epicurious. I tried the Giada recipe first, and though the dough looked good and crisped up nicely, both Mr A&N and I found it very ordinary. Ordinary in the way that cheap frozen pizza can be ordinary, so perhaps not even deserving the praise of 'ordinary'. It was a bit tough and tasteless in a cardboardy way, and once we ate all the toppings we left the crusts uneaten, without being tempted to finish them off and push ourselves past our fullness limit (as a good pizza crust ought to do).

Having my friend Alex and her family around for lunch this last weekend, I decided to turn it into a pizza event and to go back to my normal pizza dough recipe. I wanted to engage 3 1/2 year old Freddie with the food making and give him as much involvement as he wanted so he could have fun when it came to eating thigns. He wasn't keen in getting his hands dirty by shaping and rolling out the dough (his mother, on the other hand, loved it and vowed to make pizza herself some day soon), but he fastidiously decorated his pizza with the toppings of his choice (which bravely included capers as well as his beloved black olives).

These pizzas turned out wonderfully well, with a crust that both crisped and puffed up slightly, and made you want to leave nothing left on your plate. Freddie ran into the kitchen after his first bite to tell me he thought it was delicious and he was very happy. Although his number of bites didn't go much higher than 10, he did eat all his toppings and saved just enough room for his cupcake afterwards. Parents and adults all managed to gorge themselves on both the pizzas and the cupcakes, but didn't then have the same energy as Freddie to run around the garden chasing a football after the eating was done. We instead flopped out on the sofas, which is a much more grown-up thing to do.

Pizza dough
makes about 6 crusts

  • 1 packet fast action yeast
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs salt
  • 2 C warm water
  • 6 C bread flour (you can swap in 1/2 C of wholemeal flour for one of the half cups if you wanted to make it a bit healthier)
  1. Combine the yeast, sugar, olive oil, salt and warm water. Stir well.
  2. Add in about half the flour, stirring well.
  3. Add in the rest of the flour, stirring for as long as you can and mixing with your hands if stirring becomes impossible. The mixture should be slightly wet but not overly so - you may need to add more flour to balance it.
  4. Knead for a few minutes.
  5. Turn the dough into another bowl which is lightly oiled (with olive oil). Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise until double in height (about 1 1/2 hours).
  6. When nicely risen, turn out of the bowl and knead very lightly on a well floured surface before dividing the dough into balls and shaping them into pizzas.
  7. Cook on pizza stones or ceramic tiles - pre heat the oven to as high as it will go with the stones/tiles warming up inside. Slip the crusts with their topping onto the heated stones and cook until cheese is melted and crust is golden (time depends on how hot the oven is).