Eat positive: happy hormones and a fig focaccia recipe

Fig focaccia recipe by Ink SugarSpice

Two years ago (two years!! Blimey) I looked at analogue hobbies, that was all about putting down your device and doing something mindful and encompassing.

Lately, I’ve been reading extensively into the four ‘happy hormones’. These chemicals are neurotransmitters; chemicals that transmit messages from a neuron (typically but not always) across the brain to a target cell and directly affect our mood in a positive way. Conversely, a lull in the availability of these neurotransmitters can have detrimental effects on us. Although there are also some instances where an excess can be problematic too, in general it’s great for positive mental health to look to ‘activate’ or increase these four neurotransmitters.

These four are:

  • the “feel good” or “runner’s high” hormone: dopamine;
  • the “love” hormone: oxytocin;
  • the “happy” hormone: serotonin, and;
  • the “pain relief” hormone: endorphin

Of course I’m no expert whatsoever, but this is what I’ve gathered together on food/eating and “happy hormones”. At the end of this article I’ve included a recipe for a focaccia which includes many ingredients experts have identified as promoting or producing one or other of these hormones.

It is possible to identify activities, foods and more that encourage the production of these neurotransmitter chemicals. This can help us better understand what makes us happy, contented, relaxed and help us promote those positive feelings.

After each round of up the hormones, I’ve given links to more scholarly and in-depth articles so you can research more and read advice from experts.

Dopamine

Dopamine is produced in situations where we’ve rewarded ourselves, it makes us feel great and contented and is there in evolutionary terms to help us to repeat activities that are safe and enjoyable (and therefore stay away from things that would imply danger).

Dopamine triggers in circumstances such as being told we’ve been praised but interestingly also when we praise others. So, start spreading the joy and pass on a nice, genuine compliment (hopefully karma will ensure you receive similar in return). We feel dopamine’s effects when we indulge ourselves in some self care or ‘me time’ or treat ourselves with food. Listening to our favourite music or participating in a celebration of some sort also raises your dopamine levels. In short, it’s a chemical pat on the back.

No foods actually have dopamine, but foods do look for foods that are rich in an amino acid called l-tyrosine, which is crucial to the body’s functions that produce dopamine. Foods rich in l-tyrosine include:

  • Unprocessed meats and fish
  • Dairy foods
  • Nuts
  • Chocolate (specifically dark chocolate)
  • Eggs
  • Peas, beans and pulses of all kinds
  • Dark green vegetables (particularly the leafy ones)

Studies show that low dopamine may be associated with addiction, perhaps because the individual is always chasing that great feeling. Dopamine is also beginning to be linked with ADHD and Parkinson’s disease.

Links

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/basics/dopamine

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/what-dopamine-diet

https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/food-facts-food-and-mood.html

https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/information-and-support/what-causes-parkinsons

https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-neuroscience-101/

Fig focaccia bread recipe by InkSugarSpice

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is often described as the ‘love hormone’ as our bodies release it when we have those intimate, compassionate or empathetic moments. Although it is released during sex, it’s not all about that – think of the good feelings you get when spending time with your pet, bonding with your children (including apparently during childbirth to facilitate bonding and it also is brings on contractions), hugging a friend a walk in an oak forest on a sunny day. They’re all instances when oxytocin is released and you feel that rush of warmth and contentment.

There have been recent studies to research whether oxytocin can help those with anorexia and eating disorders/body dysmorphia and that it may help those with an autism spectrum disorder to overcome social anxiety.

No foods directly contribute to the production and release of oxytocin, however there is a food link: oxytocin can be produced when preparing food together, eating a family meal, going somewhere romantic to eat, sharing food and meals with children and enjoying a glass of something with your loved ones. All these situations help release oxytocin. So, if oxytocin be the food of love, play on!

Links

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5868755/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-26543427

Current findings on the role of oxytocin in the regulation of food intake – University of Birmingham

Oxytocin, feeding, and satiety – University of Edinburgh

https://www.nct.org.uk/labour-birth/your-guide-labour/hormones-labour-oxytocin-and-others-how-they-work

Serotonin

The mood stabilising or ‘happy hormone’. The relationship we have with the production of serotonin is mood regulation (including lowering anxiety), keeping to balanced sleeping patterns and feeling that sense of happiness.

You can easily boost your own serotonin levels but spending some time (safely) in the sun, getting some exercise, being meditative or, similar to oxytocin, getting our into nature and really appreciating it.

You can’t actually eat foods that directly affect serotonin levels but do find foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which has a direct correlation to oxytocin production (similar to the dopamine-L-tyrosine relationship).

Foods rich in tryptophan include:

  • honey
  • chicken and turkey
  • dairy produce
  • mushrooms
  • brassicas and legumes
  • figs, bananas and avocados
  • eggs
  • olives/olive oil
  • leafy green vegetables
  • sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • nuts

Links

Chichester Wellbeing Weight Loss

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/

Nottingham Trent University student guidance

https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/food-and-mood

Endorphin

This is the one that can have a euphoric effect, despite being only nicknamed the pain relief hormone.

Do you experience ASMR? Auto Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a very pleasing tingling effect starting on your scalp and moving down your neck, shoulders and into your back when one or more of your senses is triggered. Scientists are tentatively beginning to link the release of endorphins as a cause of these pleasant sensations in individuals (not everyone experiences ASMR).

Even if you don’t get ASMR, an increase in endorphin levels will make anyone feel great. It’s believed that they are the body’s response to help you manage pain and as a reward system when you do something good. Evolutionarily speaking, it soothes when times are difficult or stressful and encourages you to repeat positive experiences by linking them to a natural high.

Simple things can boost endorphin levels from having a good laugh, indulging in your favourites scents and smells, exercise and being kind to others (what a fabulous way! That’s a win:win situation) .

Foods that encourage the release of endorphins:

  • Chocolate – the darker the better
  • Wine, specifically red wine
  • Spicy foods

Links

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-increase-endorphins

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320839

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-athletes-way/201709/one-surefire-way-release-endorphins-your-brain

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0196645

Recipe

Taking in to consideration as much of the above as possible, I’ve come up with a little recipe incorporating happy hormone encouraging ingredients. I hope you enjoy: on many levels!

Fig focaccia

Pleasingly alliterative as well as delicious!

Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Scales
  • Sharp knife
  • Baking tray
  • Rolling pin
  • Clean tea towel/cling film/food safe bag for proofing time

Ingredients – dough

  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 200ml water
  • 1 teaspoon of dried yeast
  • 15ml of a good extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling and preparation)
  • 8g fine salt
  • 20g of seeds (such as sesame, linseeds, pumpkin etc)

Ingredients – topping

  • 2 figs
  • 1 tablespoon of pine nuts
  • 6-8 walnut halves
  • 1- 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs, such as oregano, marjoram and rosemary (these are the three herbs I used)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • Semolina, chickpea or other coarse flour for dusting (if you don’t have any of these extra bread flour can be used)

Method

  • Mix the ingredients for the dough (flour, water, yeast, oil, salt and seeds) in the large bowl until it’s a rough mix. Leave for 10 minutes
  • Tip out on to a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes until the dough is glossy and smooth
  • Oil the bowl and place the dough back in. Cover the bowl and leave for about 50-60 minutes for its first proof
  • Dust the baking tray thoroughly and have close to hand
  • On a surface dusted with the semolina (or whatever you’ve got instead), tip out the dough and knock it back (that is press down with your fingers to burst the larger air bubbles)
  • Press out the dough with your hands or a dusted rolling pin into an oblong shape. The dough should be quite thin: no more than 1cm / less than 1/2 inch high
  • Carefully transfer to the baking tray
  • Slice the figs into four (at least) and place on the dough
  • Cover the dough and leave to proof a second time, for about 30 minutes
Fig focaccia bread recipe by InkSugarSpice
  • Warm your oven to 110C (fan) or 120C (conventional/non-fan)
  • Uncover the focaccia and place the walnuts on, sprinkle over the soft leave herbs (marjoram and oregano) and drizzle over the honey and then the olive oil

Fig focaccia bread recipe by Ink SugarSpice
  • Once the oven is up to temperature, place the focaccia in and bake for 20 minutes
  • After 20 minutes, retrieve the focaccia and sprinkle on the pine nuts and rosemary leaves
  • Place back in the oven for another 5 minutes (if your focaccia already looks done, turn off your oven when putting the focaccia back in for the last five minutes)

To maximise the happy hormones, serve with a leafy green salad

Fig focaccia bread recipe by Ink SugarSpice

Rosemary crackers

Hello, it’s March already. Where did February go? It’s not like I’ve been doing anything other than working and staying home. Hope you are safe and well.

This new recipe produces crackers that are so tasty, just the right level of crispy (that is, they don’t dislodge your fillings) and are deceptively quick and easy to make.

It is easiest to make them with a pasta machine, but you can prepare them with a rolling pin, so don’t worry if you haven’t got a pasta sheeting gadget.

One last thing to add, I know not everyone likes mustard (I’m not a huge fan myself) but do try them with the mustard in as it adds a real umami pep to the flavour which doesn’t come across that ‘mustardy’ if you know what I’m trying to say. If you can’t bring yourself to add the mustard powder substitute a hot paprika instead.

Equipment

  • Two large baking trays, lined with parchment/baking paper
  • Large bowl
  • Pasta machine or rolling pin
  • Sharp knife
  • Wire cooling rack

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour (spelt can be used instead of wheat if you prefer)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (each about 6-7cm long)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly milled black pepper
  • 90ml water
  • 35ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Extra flour for dusting

Method

  1. Wash and dry the rosemary (if you think it needs it) and strip the leaves off the stalks
  2. Turn the oven on to 180C fan/ 200C conventional oven
  3. Mix all the dry ingredients together (flour, salt, mustard, pepper) and the rosemary leaves
  4. Make a well in the middle and pour in the oil and water and start combining. You may want to use a fork or a Dutch dough whisk for this, but hands are good!
  5. Bring it together and try not to overwork it – knead just enough to combine it so it forms a ball
  6. Set up your pasta machine or roll out by hand. You’ll probably need a little extra flour for dusting your work surface if you’re rolling by hand, but I’ve found this dough goes through the pasta machine quite well without extra flour. If you think it needs it though as it’s sticking, use a little.
  7. Roll out (either method) to about 1.5mm thickness – with these crackers you are limited by the thickness of the rosemary leaves and the height of the cracked pepper. Basically, roll out as thin as you can
  1. Cut into rectangular strips, about 4cm x 20cm
  1. Lay them on the prepared baking sheets. They don’t need much space between them as they don’t expand much
  2. Bake for 13-15 minutes. The crackers should be starting to turn brown and will have bubbled up in places
  3. Transfer to a wire rack to cool
  4. Great eaten with dips (such as Pesto and roasted butternut squash dip) or olive oil or as a main meal accompaniment

My ‘best’ pizza dough – with a garlic bread recipe

While you can use almost any ‘standard’ bread recipe with a glug of olive oil to make pizza or garlic bread, with a little extra effort you can create a pizza base that’s really special.

You may think that it’s a bit pointless to make a tasty pizza base, given that most people drown their pizzas in toppings. However, this makes awesome garlic bread and if you use restraint with your pizza toppings, making something more classic Italian than loaded American-style, you’ll definitely notice the difference.

So, while I use a little added sourdough starter in this to add a tang and help with the rise (as I reduce the amount of dried yeast used) you can just use all dried yeast if you do not maintain any wild yeast yourself. The wild yeast does, hand on heart, truly make a difference to the taste but its still quite a nice dough with just 100% fast acting dried yeast, and I’ll indicate the swap in the recipe.

For this recipe I have also produced a YouTube video, in which I go on to cook two garlic breads. I have included the additional garlic bread recipe below, after the dough recipe.

As ever, do please leave a comment if you’ve made this or ask me any questions about it – I’m happy to answer recipe and technique questions.

Video – the full recipe and instructions for this!

Notes

  • Makes two 12 inch pizza/garlic bread bases
  • If you can’t get hold of Italian tipo 00 flour use half plain flour (‘all purpose’ flour in the US) and half strong white bread flour.
  • If you don’t make sourdough bread and therefore don’t have a yeast starter culture, use 7g of dried fast acting yeast (instead of the wild yeast + dried yeast).
  • Don’t substitute dried herbs in this – fresh herbs make such a difference here and also look amazing through the dough.
  • If you have those pizza trays with the punched holes in, to crisp the base as it cooks, you will need to line them with baking paper first. I use these trays and you cannot rest the pizza dough for the second proof in them without a baking paper insert: the dough will sag through the holes, so do prepare them. Solid pizza trays, baking stones and baking trays will only need a light dusting of flour or semolina.

Equipment – for the dough

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Pizza trays or large baking trays
  • Scales, measuring cups and spoons, sharp knife
  • Something to cover the bowl (a shower cap, a clean tea towel, cling film etc)
  • Dough scraper or large knife
  • Rolling pin

Equipment – for the garlic bread

  • Knife
  • A mandolin is useful, although not necessary
  • Small bowl, spoon

Ingredients – for the dough

  • 435g of tipo 00 flour (see notes above)
  • 4g of fast acting dried yeast
  • 1 large teaspoon of wild yeast starter culture (see notes above)
  • 10g fine salt
  • Handful of fresh herbs (I’ve used rosemary, flat leaf parsley, curly parsley, broad leaf thyme – but you can use whatever herb/s you like or have available)
  • 1 tablespoon of good quality extra virgin olive oil – I’ve used Filippo Berio here
  • 255ml of tepid water
  • A little extra of the olive oil for the kneaded dough

Ingredients – for the garlic breads

  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature or lightly softened
  • Half a teaspoon of rock salt
  • Two tablespoons of fresh herbs (I used parsley and basil)
  • Half a ball of mozzarella, finely chopped
  • Two or three garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
  • One large waxy potato (such as Jersey Royal or Charlotte), very finely sliced

Method

  • Mix the flour, dried yeast, wild yeast starter culture (if using), salt, olive oil, herbs and water into a rough scraggy mess in your large bowl
  • You can use a fork, a dough whisk or your fingers – make sure all the bits of dough stuck to fingers or implements are put back in the bowl
  • Cover the bowl – using a tea bowl, cling film, a shower cap etc
  • Leave for 20 to 30 minutes
  • Tip out the dough onto a clean surface and knead for about 6-8 minutes, until the dough becomes glossier and smoother. You should not require any additional flour for your surface (if you feel you must use some, please use as little as possible)
  • When the dough becomes glossy and smooth, oil your palms a little and work it into the dough for the last couple of kneading movements and for shaping the dough into a ball
  • A final little olive oil on the hands is required to rub the shaped dough, so that it does not stick when rising. Turn the dough back into your bowl, so the seam side is facing upwards
  • Cover again, and proof for up to 1 hour [30 minutes in very hot conditions, to 60 minutes for cooler]

Please note that because you are not using traditional bread dough, this dough does not rise much during either proofing stage

  • After the dough’s first proofing and resting stage, have your pizza trays ready – see notes above for preparation
  • Tip out the dough onto you clean surface and chop in half (you can weight it out exactly if you prefer)
  • Start shaping the dough with your hands and move on to using a rolling pin once you’ve stretched the dough out. Flip the dough over at least once to work the other side while shaping. Stretch and roll the dough to fit your pizza tray; as mentioned, this will make two 12 inch circular pizzas
  • It’s likely that you will not require any additional flour while shaping, not even for the rolling pin. However, should it really stick, use as minimal an amount of flour as possible on the table and rolling pin
  • Once each pizza base is prepared, lay them on your prepared pizza trays
  • Cover the dough and rest for 30 – 60 minutes (depending on how hot your environment is: 30 minutes for a very hot day, 45 for a typical home environment and 60 minutes if it’s cool)

Again, do note that the dough won’t have risen much due to the type of flour used

  • While the dough is proofing, heat your oven to 240 C fan or 260 C convention (top and bottom heat)
  • If you are making the garlic breads (or are going on to make pizzas), prepare your ingredients and toppings now. For the garlic breads:
  • Mix the herbs, salt, garlic and butter together. Chop the mozzarella up finely and slice the potato as thinly as you can (this is where a mandolin slicer would come in handy if you have one) – keep these separated
  • After this final proofing stage, slather half of the garlic butter on each dough base, leaving a 2cm/1 inch rim around the edge
  • On one dough base, layer over the sliced potato and on the other sprinkle over the chopped mozzarella
  • Bake in the oven for 14 minutes. The crust should be puffed up and brown and the garlic butter bubbling. On the potato garlic bread the sliced potatoes will be cooked and starting to crisp at the edges, on the cheesey garlic bread, the mozzarella will be fairly liquified but starting to brown
  • Serve immediately, although it can be eaten cooled

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Sourdough flatbreads

sourdough flatbreads - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice

These are my gorgeous, tangy flatbreads but they do take some commitment as they are fully sourdough, with a pre-ferment stage.

I’ve been making sourdough since 2001… I was already making bread by hand for many, many years before this, but started as my twin baby sons began weaning. I was a little obsessed with making everything as naturally as possible for them; as they had been very premature I was trying to do my best nutritionally. I don’t often post sourdough recipes, despite how long I’ve been making bread with wild yeast starters. This is because there are plenty of resources out there and there are a few ‘formulas’ for sourdough that can be learnt and used repeatedly and then adapted at home, why add another to confuse people!? Where I have added a sourdough recipe it’s typically for something very unusual that I’ve started from scratch to create the end result I wanted, such as the sourdough pan d’oro I posted about four years ago. There is also my article on looking after and maintaining your starter: Sourdough for starters (or growing your own pet yeast) (which was written in early 2016).

What’s in a name?

If you are scratching your head at all the terms used for the different stages in sourdough making, don’t worry as you’re not alone! There are various terms for the different stages, yet most names appear interchangeable and it’s not clear if there is indeed any differentiation.

For instance, the wild yeast starter – that bubbling mix produced by nurturing just flour and water and naturally occurring yeast present in the air and the flour – has many names. It can be referred to as a starter, mother, chief, chef, head or leaven (and there’s possibly more), though starter and mother seem to be most common.

When making a sourdough bread, it’s typical to take part of that starter and, mixing it with a little flour and water, create an early fermentation stage before you go on to add the remaining full ingredients to make the bread dough ‘proper’ and let it ferment and prove (the wild yeast takes longer to make the bread rise and it’s also this length of time which creates the sour taste). See my article on The science of bread making: how yeast works.

This particular stage has confusing names – is it a biga, a sponge, a pre-ferment, a poolish, a pouliche? Have you come across any other terms in a recipe? They all mean this particular stage and are roughly interchangeable. Some places cite that a biga is firmer (ie with less liquid) than a poolish, but I’ve also read recipes where the hydration for a biga is quite wet and some dry for a poolish. Confuzzled? I’m not surprised.

Modernist Cuisine looked into this and found too that there “seemed to be no universally accepted hydration levels for each variety”. It conducted some experiments about whether it made a difference to have a wetter or dryer pre-ferment stage and concluded it really makes no difference – or any difference was very subtle. Please read the interesting Modernist Cuisine article “Are biga, Poolish and Sponge Interchangeable” here.

An easy conclusion to make then, is that these names are regional – certainly, biga is Italian and poolish is a French nod to immigrant Polish bakers, but again this isn’t a cut and dried answer. Before commercial yeast became available, it appears in the UK that this stage was ‘sponge’ (most commonly) but confusingly now a sponge seems to generally refer to this stage but only when commercial yeast (blocks of live yeast or dried yeast) is used, not a wild yeast starter.

I think then, what does it matter what it’s called? I don’t name my stages when I’m making my sourdough breads at home – I just get on with it the process of bread making. I’ve used “biga” here just because this recipe owes more to Italian cuisine through the use of olive oil and the accompaniments I ended up serving it with. Follow any sourdough recipe, enjoy the process and the delicious results and don’t waste any thinking time on what’s in a name in that particular recipe 🙂

Timing

To make this within a 24 hour period/same day in order to eat fresh with an evening meal, my suggested timings are:

Mix the biga about 6:00 [or do this the night before, leaving it in the fridge until the next stage]

Mix the dough ingredients into the biga and autolyze at 11:00 and then knead

Leave to ferment and rise until 17:00

At 17:00, divide and roll out the dough into flatbread rounds

At 18:00 fry off the flatbreads

one of my wild yeast starters, ready to use - Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice
Bubbly, ready to use wild yeast starter

Equipment

  • Medium bowl (for the biga) plus something to cover it with (a shower cap, cling film or tea towel etc)
  • Large bowl and a cover
  • A dough hook or large fork if you want to use one (or just your hands)
  • A bench scraper or heavy knife
  • Frying pan or cast iron skillet
  • Spatula or tongs for turning the flatbreads whilst cooking

For the biga:

  • 70g of a lively sourdough mother/starter
  • 70g strong white bread flour
  • 70g lukewarm water

Biga method

  • Mix together the starter, flour and water
  • Cover and leave for about five hours or overnight in the fridge

For the dough (results in 75% hydration):

  • 220g strong white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 165g warm water
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

Also…

  • Extra olive oil for the bowl and frying
  • Handful of fresh parsley (or mixed herbs), finely chopped

Dough method

  • Mix and autolyze for 20 minutes
  • Knead for 10 minutes – it is a wet dough but will come together eventually. Only add a little more flour to your hands (not the table) if you are absolutely sure you need to
  • Smooth the dough into a ball using your hands and a bench scraper
  • Wipe a little olive oil into your bowl before placing your dough in and cover the bowl
  • Rest for four to five hours somewhere warm, but not very warm (flatbreads don’t need to rise that much so the dough does not need to be rested fully overnight). Alternatively if you want a very sour sourdough, leave up to eight hours
  • Take the dough and chop into eight equal pieces
sourdough flatbreads - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice
  • Flour the surface you’re working on and your rolling pin
  • Take one of the pieces of dough and start to roll out, flipping it over as you need to
  • The dough will be able to be rolled out to about 16-18cm in diameter
  • When it’s rolled out, sprinkle over some of the chopped herbs, flip it over and sprinkle more on the other side. Pat down or lightly roll
  • Move this dough to the side (on a floured area, on a linen cloth/couche or a piece of greaseproof paper) and finish rolling out the other seven pieces of dough
sourdough flatbreads - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice
  • Once they’re rolled out you can chill in the fridge, but you can cook these immediately
  • Heat some olive oil in a large frying or griddle pan over a medium to high heat
  • Once hot, lift up a flatbread carefully and place in the pan
  • It will sizzle – keeping an eye on it, leave it for about four to five minutes on one side. It will bubble up immensely. Lift up an edge and see if the flatbread has browned nicely – if so, flip over
sourdough flatbreads - how they look after frying on the first side - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice
Frying off, this is how frying on the first side looks
  • Cook the flatbread for four to five minutes on the other side and then transfer to a plate or board and cover with a clean tea towel to keep warm (alternatively pop on a plate in a very low oven)
sourdough flatbreads - how they look when cooked on the second side - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice
This is the flatbread, fried off on the second side
  • Cook the remaining flatbreads as above
  • They’re best eaten warm and soft, but get a nice crunch to them when they are fully cold
  • If you want to use them as wraps after they have cooled, say the day after, just pop them in a microwave for a few seconds or warm up in a oven and they’ll soften again
sourdough flatbreads - copyright Lynn Clark, Ink Sugar Spice

I would welcome your comments, feedback and likes on this recipe (as with all my recipes). Did you make it? What did you pair it with? Did you use different herbs? Did the photography help you? Have you a question in regards to the recipe?

Thank you, Lynn

Flavoured salts – part two

salts2-7

[Updated]

In the first part of this series on flavoured salt mixes, I explained a little about the types of salts available, where they come from, how they’re harvested, what gives tinted salts their colours and how to select salts for different uses. So, if you missed that post I do encourage you to read it first before continuing here as it gives the full background and a much better understanding. You can access flavoured salt mixes part one here.

In this second part I’ve included a couple of absolute classics – Italian and French herbs. However, the Italian mix does include the optional addition of adding dried tomato paste. This kicks the mix up a couple of notches if you can be bothered to try drying tomato paste – I recommend you do try. It’s also a great way of elongating the shelf life of an opened can, tube or jar of tomato paste as it can just be sprinkled into foods while cooking.

On a slightly madder theme I’ve included a “recipe” that involved DRIED MARMITE! Yes, I actually spent one afternoon inventing the perfect dried Marmite. I wanted to include that ultimate umami taste in a salt mix, but of course I couldn’t include it in its normal gooey state. This is an AWESOME mix – I use on tons of things. You’d never know that it is entirely vegetarian! It’s particularly great to give an intense BBQ flavour to vegetarian foods and it brings out an incredible flavour on chicken and steak in particular. There is a BBQ mix on the part one post, which is entirely lovely, but this one knocks your socks off.

Almost equally mad, but not because of an individual ingredient, rather the whole mix is the English Summer Sweet mix. Sweet and salt is not a new flavour combination, but it’s still rather unusual in this form and takes some getting used to. This is a beautiful looking mix, full of pinks, blues and yellows. The trick is to use it for taste but not waste it’s good looks buried inside a dish. It is lovely in a short pastry tart, sprinkled over the top of a pavlova or meringue kisses before they go in the oven or in an ice cream. It also goes nicely sprinkled on the top of a pasta ripiena/pasta in brodo dish or on tapas or similar.

Do you have any salt mixes that you have created yourself, or is there any that you think you’d like to see? Perhaps you use sme pre-made ones, such as those from the Cornish Salt Co, but are itching to have a go at creating your own. Please let me know in the comments below 💙

Notes

  • Anything you add to a salt needs to be dry – very dry! Although that comes with a caveat – in my English Summer Sweet mix below I’ve found that both calendula petals and lavender flowers are perfectly fine putting into a salt mix fresh – the only other thing I’ve found so far that will work fresh is chopped up rosemary leaves. Everything else needs to be dried. Either start with pre-dried herbs or dry out your own ingredients in your oven or de-humidifier. I’ve given the timings and temps for ingredients I use where I can
  • Buy a high quality base salt for these, as cheaper salts do tend to have added extra ingredients (mostly to enable the salt to stay free flowing) and are more processed, thus taking out or negating any beneficial additional minerals
  • I’ve given ingredients and ratios for a typical flavoured salt, but if you’re aiming to use a lot less salt in your cooking then don’t add quite so much as I’ve given
  • Think what you’ll use the flavoured salt for – most typically these will be as a last garnish to a dish. For most of these it will be best to buy a rock or crystal salt, but if you’re using the flavouring within the early stages of a recipe there’s less need for an expensive crystal salt as it will dissolve
  • You can store these in anything that will keep moisture out, such as a click lock plastic tub but they do look really gorgeous in tiny Kilner jars. However, if you’re leaving a salt out on the dining table as a pinch pot, then it really doesn’t matter what you store it in (an old cleaned out jam jar for instance), just present it in a nice little bowl on your table

Equipment

For each ‘recipe’ you’ll need measuring spoons or a digital scale, a small bowl and a sterilised jam jar or Kilner jar. Most will need a pestle and mortar and some other ‘recipes’ need an extra item which will be explained in each method.

Sterilising glass jars

Put pre-washed clean glass jars in the oven at about 130˚C for 20 minutes or put them through a dishwasher cycle on your hottest setting

Be careful handling the hot jars out when done

NB:  don’t put any rubber seal in the oven; it’ll just melt. Wash these in hand-hot water and leave to dry on a kitchen towel or clean tea towel

Drying the herbs

Dried herbs are easy to get hold of and it’s likely that a keen cook will have most of these in their cupboard already. For the unusual herbs that you’ve grown yourself, it’s best to let herbs dry naturally in a sunny, dry spot (I hang mine in my little green house or my kitchen window). However, you can dry them out in your oven enough for these salt mixes. Place a single layer of the herbs you need on a baking tray: that is, don’t overlap them and it doesn’t matter if there are different types of herbs in one go. Bake on the lowest setting for an hour and test to see how dry the herbs are – herbs will dry out at different rates. Leave any in for another hour that have not dried yet. Crush in a pestle and mortar or a quick whizz in a blender (both before adding to the salt).

Tip: if any herbs are proving difficult to crush, add a little of the rock salt or salt crystals to the pestle and mortar. The salt acts as an additional surface to tear the herbs more effectively. Don’t tip all the salt in though, or you will pound this to a fine dust along with the herbs, and you want to keep the integrity of the salt (otherwise you may as well use fine table salt).

“Recipes” – all are vegetarian

salts2-6

Italian herbs

Ingredients are:

  • Rock salt or crystal sea salt – 2 tablespoons
  • oregano – 1 teaspoon
  • rosemary – 1 teaspoon
  • fennel or fennel seeds – 1/4 teaspoon
  • basil – 1 teaspoon
  • thyme – 1 teaspoon
  • lemon balm – 1/2 teaspoon
  • black pepper (freshly ground) – several turns of the grinder to taste
  • dried tomato puree – 1 teaspoon (optional but well worth the effort)

Method: Smooth two tablespoons of tomato puree as thinly as possible on a sheet of greaseproof paper and place on a baking tray. Bake in the oven at 70C for 1 hour. If after this time there are still some ‘rubbery’ bits of tomato puree then put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes and try again. The tomato puree with crisp up and go almost black. When fully baked, leave to cool and then crush or chop finely.

When the herbs and the tomato puree are dried, mix them with the salt and place in your container.

Some uses: in bread baking, for savoury pastry, pasta dishes, risotto and its also a nice addition to most meats and casserole-style meals.

salts2-9

Umami / intense BBQ

Notes: There is a BBQ salt recipe on the part one post, but though that is good, this one is awesome, highly unusual and includes my unique mad-kitchen-scientist dried Marmite powder. It tastes very meaty and rich, but it’s entirely vegetarian (and as such I throw it copiously on any appropriate veggie meals I make).

Ingredients are:

  • smoked sea salt – 2 tablespoons
  • vegetable bouillon – 1 teaspoon
  • garlic granules – 1 teaspoon
  • onion granules – 1 teaspoon
  • smoked paprika – 1 teaspoon
  • soft brown sugar – 1 teaspoon
  • parsley – 1 teaspoon
  • dried Marmite – 1 teaspoon
  • smokey chipotle powder (optional) – 1 teaspoon

Method: spread two tablespoons of Marmite on to a sheet of baking paper and then place on a tray in the oven. Bake at 70ºC fan / 90ºC conventional for about 25 minutes. It will puff up and it’ll really smell (fine if you love Marmite!) – don’t panic: it’s fine! Leave to cool then crumble (with dry fingers) before mixing with the other herbs and spices and the stock cube in a pestle and mortar.

NB: With this salt mix it is better to have finer salt particles that match the other particles of the mix ingredients. I ground the smoked salt with a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have smoked salt, you may as well use normal table salt here, then you don’t have to grind or crush anyway.

Some uses: great as a dry rub, or with a little oil as a wet rub. Also lovely in a chilli, in jambalaya etc, for other Cajun dishes (especially those with prawns) or to brush over meats (mixed into oil) for the barbecue. Just on almost anything savoury and great for livening up vegetarian dishes… this is my total favourite salt mix.

Also – this one is fabulous when mixed in with cornmeal or polenta (ration about 10:1) and used as a crispy coating on chicken or for wedges!

salts2-8

French herbs

Ingredients are:

  • Sea salt flakes/crystals or sel gris – 1 tablespoon
  • tarragon – 1/2 teaspoon
  • rosemary – 1 teaspoon
  • parsley – 1 teaspoon
  • thyme – 1 teaspoon
  • bay – 1/2 teaspoon
  • chives – 1 teaspoon

Method: Chop a dried bay leaf into tiny pieces (it won’t crush with a pestle and mortar well). The other dried herbs need crushing together (take the leaves off the woody stalks of the rosemary and thyme first) before adding to the salt. If you need to dry your herbs quickly see the note above.

Some uses: use in place of bouquet garni or Herbes de Provence. Also useful for fish, lamb and beef (especially steak) dishes.

English summer salt mix recipe e- Lynn Clark / Inksugarspice

English Summer Sweet

Notes: I’ve purposely kept the salt low in ratio as compared to the other ingredients, because of the uses of this mix. Dried borage flowers and rose petals are easily obtained from a Turkish or Middle-Eastern supermarket or online, if you don’t grow them yourself (they are also more tricky to dry successfully in an oven than other herbal ingredients – if you have a dehydrator this would not be an issue. If you don’t have much luck drying these yourself as they’re so tricky, do buy pre-dried).

Ingredients are:

  • Himalayan pink salt, fine sea salt flakes or a good quality table salt – 1 teaspoon
  • calendula petals (edible marigolds) (need not be dried first – see method) – 1 teaspoon
  • dried rose petals – 1 teaspoon
  • dried borage flowers – 1 teaspoon
  • lemon zest (need not be dried fully first – see method) – 1 teaspoon
  • lavender flowers (need not be dried first – see method) – 1/2 teaspoon

Method: the calendula petals and lavender flowers do not need to be dried in an oven, as they are dried by the salt in the pot. The lemon zest can be dried in a 50C oven for 30 minutes at least or just leave it overnight between two sheets of kitchen paper which you have weighed down with a book or other weight. The rose petals and borage flowers need to be oven dried as per the lemon zest (or bought pre-dried) as they are more delicate and are prone to either making the other ingredients wet or looking very dishevelled if you don’t dry them first. Mix all lightly together so as not to crush the delicate ingredients before potting up.

NB:  This is another salt where it is better to have finer salt particles (the hit of crunching into a large piece of salt would be too overpowering in a sweet mix). I actually have a salt grinder with Himalayan salt in, so I just ground the right amount. Also you can use a pestle and mortar. Alternatively, use normal free-running table salt here.

Some uses: sparingly in things like ice cream or meringue. Sprinkle a little on fruit or desserts or use in sweet pastry baking, such as tart cases or shortbreads. Gives a twist to savoury dishes nd particularly good with pasta and fish or sprinkled over salads or tapas for a pretty finish.


You are welcome to use these recipes for your home cooking (that’s why I write these things up online so others can try!)


However, please do not recreate them as a recipe anywhere or pass them off as your own (specially relevant for commercial use eg chefs, cooks, Home Eds, food stylists, restaurants etc). If you show them anywhere on social media you must credit me @inksugarspice.


salts2-5

Flavoured salts – part one

salts2-2[updated]

It’s all the food fashion at the moment it seems to have a pot of two of flavoured sea salt, with salt companies clambering over each other to bring them out. Take a look past the hype and you’ll see that salt mixes are exceptionally useful in the kitchen and can even be used to bring down your salt intake a little.

I’ve been concocting my own for a while now, mostly fuelled by the vast number of different herbs I grow in my garden. (I have to explain that I’ve not got a big garden: most herbs are in single, small pots as they don’t need much space and I’ve done this cheaply by saving seeds, taking cuttings, swapping herbs with friends and buying the occasional herb plant or seed packet. Herbs are for my money the easiest group of plants to grow and you need next to no space to grow four or five of your favourites).

Salt mixes can be costly when bought pre-made but it’s exceptionally easy and much cheaper to make your own. You can use the herbs in your garden, herbs bought from the greengrocer or the dried herbs and spices you already have in your kitchen.

I have a second post planned with some of my more ‘mad’ mixes, seasonal flavours and a couple of absolute classic combinations but you can easily go on to experiment with your own.

Notes

  • Anything you add to a salt needs to be dry – very dry! Either start with pre-dried herbs or dry out your own ingredients in your oven or de-humidifier. I’ve given the timings and temps for ingredients I use where I can
  • Use your own fresh herbs and dry them (timings in the ‘recipes’) or substitute for pre-dried herbs: it doesn’t matter
  • Buy a high quality base salt for these, as cheaper salts do tend to have added extra ingredients (mostly to enable the salt to stay free flowing) and are more processed, thus taking out or negating any beneficial additional minerals
  • I’ve given ingredients and ratios for a typical flavoured salt, but if you’re aiming to use a lot less salt in your cooking then don’t add quite so much as I’ve given
  • Think what you’ll use the flavoured salt for – most typically these will be as a last garnish to a dish. For most of these it will be best to buy a rock or crystal salt, but if you’re using the flavouring within the early stages of a recipe there’s less need for an expensive crystal salt as it will dissolve
  • You can store these in anything that will keep moisture out, such as a click lock plastic tub but they do look really gorgeous in tiny Kilner jars. However, if you’re leaving a salt out on the dining table as a pinch pot, then it really doesn’t matter what you store it in (an old cleaned out jam jar for instance), just present it in a nice little bowl on your table
  • These are the ratios I’ve come to like in my salt mixes, but if you really love a particular ingredient I’ve included (or hate it) adjust to your preference

Salt – a sprinkling

There are 20-30 types of salt in the world, but it’s difficult (or impossible) to get hold of most of these, depending where you live some will be easier than others. Also, realistically, you can live with using just table salt, however if you have a couple of extra types of salt it will provide a few more options. If you want to make your own flavoured salts or use them for different purposes then four to five salts are a good arsenal to have in your kitchen.

All salt is sodium chloride (NaCl). Salt in anything other than small quantities is known to be bad for health. But use it sensibly and it can be included in a healthy person’s diet (anyone with high blood pressure or similar conditions will have been given advice on salt intake by their GP). Food can be entirely bland and disagreeable without it and it serves as a natural preserving agent. By making flavoured salts myself I believe I use a little less overall in my food as I am effectively making a dry stock – adding flavour that’s not all just salt. I don’t think it’s much of a saving, but even a little helps.

Cutting down on salt?

All salts are salty… you’ll be thinking I’m mad writing that here but there’s a preconception that some are much better for us than others as they’re more about the minerals than the salt. Don’t be fooled. Some do have added minerals but that doesn’t change the salt itself: the minerals are ‘extra’ not ‘instead of’. If you want to watch your salt intake further, then do look out for lo salt. It’s a medium-grain table salt but can easily be swapped into all the recipes below if you’re concerned (though of course you’ll lose the texture and some flavourings like the smoked salt). I believe it’s about 1/3 the sodium level of normal salts as it replaces some sodium chloride with potassium chloride and anti-caking agent. Personally I just try to use a little less salt and use other flavourings instead (hence the birth of all my salt mixes).

There are basically only two types of salt – sea and rock. All the myriad variants of salt from the stuff in the plastic salt cellar in the chip shop to Fleur-de-sel to Hawaiian red salt come from either of these two sources. I have added table salt as it’s such a difference kettle of fish because of its addition of other ingredients and its use.

Sea salt

Sea salt comes in various crystalline forms (from small flakes to fascinating pyramidal structures), but it’s all salt harvested from sea water. However all sea salt is not created equally (though in my opinion I don’t think there’s much taste or use differentiation, but I have not yet tried Fleur-de-sel). Most sea salts will be refined to get rid of impurities and ‘nasties’ from the sea water, with companies usually now harvesting direct from the sea and processing in a shore-line plant or an underground plant (see this from the US Salt Assoc.).

See this clip from the Cornish Sea Salt Company on YouTube:

However, the eye-wateringly expensive Fleur-de-sel is a little different. Sea water is driven off into a basin-shaped area and allowed to evaporate. The fluffy crust (the ‘flower of salt’) that forms is scraped off by hand and packaged without refinement. This only produces a small amount at each salt gather (so hand gathering + small amounts = the high price). Fleur-de-sel is not just collected in France, but in other countries too such as Portugal and Southern Russia. Due to its natural state it’s unlikely to be pure white.

After the Fleur-de-sel is taken away, the rest of the water is allowed to evaporate and larger sea salt crystals are formed, this is gros sel, which again is not refined but is more easily harvested and in larger quantities so is about 1/10th the price of Fleur-de-sel. Salt of this kind which has a lot of additional minerals to make it darker in colour is sel gris – grey salt.

Other sea salts have minerals or colours added, such as the red Hawaiian Alaea salt, which is sea salt plus red volcanic (edible) iron oxide-rich clay.

I have (or have used) sea salts from Maldon, the Cornish Sea Salt Company, Halen Môn from Anglesey (I like to keep it British, as you can tell, as far as possible), and interlopers: Falk (Swedish) and the cheaper Tidman’s (which actually is now owned by Maldon but is less expensive for pretty much the same thing – go figure?!) and the budget brand Saxa.

Rock salt

Rock salt is mined halite, a form of sodium chloride – it’s a very different salt to sea salt. Salt deposits that have naturally occurred (mostly but not always from ancient dried up seabeds and salt water lakes) are mined like other aggregates and broken up into usable granules or ground, then purified and recrystallised when necessary. Depending on where the salt is found geographically it will have taken on some minerals and ‘impurities’ from the surrounding area, although the term impurities could actually mean beneficial minerals. Rock salt is refined to remove harmful impurities to make it fit for human consumption, although there are some very pure sources. See this short article from erocksalt.com explaining the extraction and purification: http://www.erocksalt.com/where-rock-salt-come-from/

This is a You Tube video by Colin Morris on the Winsford Salt Mine (Cheshire, North West England):

Rock salt includes unusual salts with differing colours such as pink Himalayan salt, tinted pink from the microorganisms that once lived in the sea water in what is now known as the Punjab (note: not actually the Himalayas! That’s just a marketing ploy, apparently) it also includes chromium, iron, zinc, lead, and copper before refinement.

Kala Namek (often labelled as Indian Black Salt) is the ‘proper’ Himalayan salt as it actually does come from that region in India and Nepal. It is a dark purple to a black colour, and goes purplish-pink when ground. It’s supposed to be a bit smelly as the colour is due to sulfates. I have not tried this salt, but I’ve read that it is used not only in cooking but also Ayurvedic medicine and is considered more akin to a medicinal herb than a spice or condiment. (I’m including kala namek to show the range of colours and properties that can be seen in different rock salt due to the chemicals found in the salt, not because I have used it).

Coloured and single flavour salts

Black sea salt crystals - Ink Sugar Spice

Black (carbon) salt is sea salt which is processed with additional carbon (all edible). It’s no different to other salts but is really for show. I have some myself and I love using it though you do get black fingers after sprinkling it (it does just rinse off). My salt is from Falk, a Swedish company, and I use it on deserts to give a bit of an impact and to top finished foods, like the top of breads, quiches, in salads etc. It’s wasted ‘in’ foods – it just dissolves and the colour dissipates. Relatively expensive, but I only use a minimal amount and of course salt doesn’t degrade (when kept dry) so you can have a pot that lasts for years. It’s basically following the trend for carbonised, black foods but it is a little fun – I like to sprinkle it on as the final flourish on a bright dish for some contrast: it’s basically all about the visual impact rather than any taste difference.

Smoked Sea Salt - Ink Sugar Spice

Smoked salts: it doesn’t sound like smoking salt should be a ‘thing’ but it’s dry smoked so it honestly does work. My smoked salt is from Maldon, the Essex-based company, and it’s got a distinctive, lovely smell and flavour which does carry over in to the food. Great for the smokier salt mixes and I always use this in chilli con carne etc and when barbecuing. It’s lasts a while, though I do go through it more quickly than the black salt (it has more applications) and is a little most costly than normal sea salt flakes, but I think it’s worth keeping on hand.

Table salt

A free-running salt with very small granules. Usually exceptionally cheap and made from sea salt. Table salt comes with an anti-caking agent and sometimes even iodine added to ensure it stays free running, so check the pack and buy a reputable brand – even with a brand name it shouldn’t cost much more. Useful for adding to bread dough (as it’s so fine), adding to simmering water for pasta and veg etc (because of its cheapness) – and for putting round the garden to discourage slugs!! I keep a large packet of Italian table salt, from Amato, as I mostly use this in my bread making and baking, and I’m sure you know I do a lot of that…

Equipment

For each ‘recipe’ you’ll need measuring spoons or a digital scale, a small bowl and a sterilised jam jar or Kilner jar. Most will need a pestle and mortar and some other ‘recipes’ need an extra item which will be explained in each method.

Sterilising glass jars

Put pre-washed clean glass jars in the oven at about 130˚C for 20 minutes or put them through a dishwasher cycle on your hottest setting

Be careful handling the hot jars out when done

NB:  don’t put any rubber seal in the oven; it’ll just melt. Wash these in hand-hot water and leave to dry on a kitchen towel or clean tea towel

Drying fresh herbs method

My method is to bake the herbs on a layer of greaseproof paper in a 50°C oven (or your lowest setting) for 40 minutes, then crush.

“Recipes” – all are vegetarian

Mermaid salt mix recipe on Ink Sugar Spice

Mermaid mix

Ingredients are:

  • Himalayan pink salt or Cornish sea salt – 1 tablespoon
  • Seaweed mix‡ – 1 tablespoon
  • Black or multi colour pepper – ½ teaspoon
  • Dried borage flowers – 1 teaspoon (don’t pack tightly and pick the bluest ones)
  • Dried rose petals – 1 teaspoon (don’t pack tightly)

‡ either a pre-packed seaweed mix or use a mix of dulse, nori, wakame, kelp and/or sea spaghetti (whatever you can find).
I have the Sea Salad mix from the Cornish Seaweed company

Method: the dried seaweed does need to be in small particles to match the salt. If you’ve bought each seaweed separately or the packet mix is large pieces, break up the seaweed in a pestle and mortar, or put it in a plastic food bag and roll a rolling pin over it to break it up. The dried borage and rose petals may need chopping up slightly.

Some uses: in Chinese and Japanese inspired recipes, fish dishes, shellfish dishes, fish pie, great on homemade crisps.

Fiery chilli salt mix recipe - Ink Sugar Spice

Fiery chilli (hot, hot, hot!!)

Ingredients are:

  • Himalayan (keeps the pink/red colour of the mix) or normal white rock salt – 1 tablespoon
  • dried birds eye chilli – 2 chillies
  • paprika – ¼ teaspoon
  • chilli flakes – ½ teaspoon
  • chilli powder – ¼ teaspoon
  • cayenne – ¼ teaspoon
  • black pepper (freshly ground) – ¼ teaspoon
  • onion granules – ¼ teaspoon
  • garlic granules – ¼ teaspoon

Method: pound the dried birds eye chillies in a pestle and mortar before combining with the rest of the ingredients.

Some uses: curries, chilli con carne and other Mexican dishes, paella, mixed with some oil it makes a great rub for barbecue or roast meats and is excellent on wedges or chips.

Mushroom salt mix on Ink Sugar Spice

Mushroom

Ingredients are:

  • Rock salt – 1 tablespoon
  • dried porcini mushrooms – 4g
  • onion granules – 1 teaspoon

Method: the dried porcini mushrooms need to be either whizzed in a blender or crushed in a pestle and mortar. If using a pestle and mortar, put the rock salt in with the mushrooms as it gives extra grip and makes it easier. Do not rehydrate them (keep them dry). Once the porcini are crushed into a powder/small pieces you can mix them in with the salt and the garlic and onion granules.

Some uses: for risotto, for added oomph to vegetarian dishes or meat casseroles, good with chicken and pork.

Asian style salt mix on Ink Sugar Spice

Asian-style mix

Ingredients are:

  • Black sea salt – 1 dessert spoon (10ml)
  • black onion seeds – ½ teaspoon
  • seaweed mix – 1 ½ teaspoons
  • Szechuan peppercorns – ¼ teaspoon
  • Chinese five spice – ¼ teaspoon

Method: crush the Szechuan peppercorns in a pestle and mortar, including the seaweed at the end if it needs crushing smaller. Mix altogether.

Some uses: Thai, Chinese and Japanese style recipes where you want a little kick (Szechuan peppercorns are quite something!!) or add to a dark soy sauce as an Asian-style marinade for tofu, fish, chicken or pork.

Lynn's Season All herb and salt mix recipe on Ink Sugar Spice

Lynn’s Season-all

Ingredients are:

  • Fine sea salt flakes – 1 tablespoon
  • garlic granules – 1 teaspoon
  • onion granules – 1 teaspoon
  • fresh ground black pepper – ½ teaspoon
  • vegetable bouillon powder – 1 teaspoon (or use a low sodium a vegetable stock cube)
  • dried orange zest  – ½ teaspoon
  • dried parsley (see note above about drying fresh herbs – ½ teaspoon

Method: Zest an orange (or more) and follow the drying method for herbs above. Combine with the rest of the ingredients once the zest is cooled.

Some uses: basically this is a pumped-up vegetable stock cube! Use wherever you would normally use a stock cube but don’t want to add two. Also this is great when mixed with flour or breadcrumbs as a batter or breadcrumb coating for vegetables and meats.

herbsAndSpices

Thai flavours parsnip soup

img_0316Parsnips are not native to south east Asia, but they are growing in popularity in Thailand, and are now both a farmed crop and an import product. I find it interesting that one foodstuff can be pedestrian and common place in one continent can be seen as an unusual treat in another. I wouldn’t go as far as saying anyone thinks a parsnip is exotic however… I’ve seen them on sale in Thai markets next to more traditional veggies like kale and galangal roots, so parsnips + Thai flavours is not as crazy a combination as it may first sound, and it is a really fabulous flavour pairing.

This is a delicious alternative to make as a change to a typical curried parsnip soup. Although I love curried parsnip soup when it’s done well (which, let’s face it isn’t that hard), sometimes it can be a disappointment in a cafe when it’s just plain old boiled-down parsnip with some curry powder lazily tossed in. I’ve combined some authentic Thai tastes here, but I’ve tried to balance it so that you get the Thai flavours without overwhelming the parsnip. It’s all to easy to pile on flavourings and mask the main ingredient when you’re making a veggie soup, but parsnips have a lovely sweet, warming flavour and are deserving of a more delicate touch on stronger spices.

img_0615
Some photos from our last trip to Thailand

Notes

  • If you’re not worried about keeping this vegetarian you can use chicken stock, rather than vegetable stock
  • Remember that not all chillies are created equal, even in the same variety the heat can vary between plants. Two chillies bought in the same batch could be very different, so judge how much chilli you are using if you don’t like it very hot. I can give you two tips on chilli heat: tip one is to cut the chilli and lightly rub it on your lip and see how tingly it is – if it’s going to really upset you, you’ll be able to judge this way. Tip two if you’re less terrified is to blend in only half a chilli at a time before tasting: you can always add all two (or even more chillies) eventually, but taking away heat is not so easy as adding a little more in!
  • Can’t get a fresh coconut? Then a box of coconut milk powder is an awesome thing to keep in your kitchen cabinet: I use this in a number of my recipes. You can buy these ‘fairly’ easily now in the world food aisle in your bigger local supermarket or find a Caribbean store or market stall (brand names I’ve used are Maggi and Tropical Sun – I tend to pick up mine via an awesome local Caribbean market stall). Alternatively, you can use a tin of coconut milk, but drain out the liquid and use this as part of (not in addition to) the 1 litre stock content.

img_0095


Info

Serves about eight portions (this is large, but I’ve given this amount so that you can batch freeze), takes about 45 minutes to prepare and cook


Equipment

  • Large, deep saucepan with a lid (or cover with a plate)
  • Stick blender or stand blender

Ingredients

  • Parsnips – about 5 large parsnips / roughly about 900g
  • Vegetable (or chicken stock) – 1 litre
  • Banana shallot or red onion – 1
  • Garlic – 3 cloves
  • Fresh ginger – about a 1 cm piece, peeled
  • Red chillies – 2 (you need to adjust this according to your preferred heat level!)
  • Lemon grass – one fresh stalk
  • Oil, a plain olive oil or rapeseed oil – 1 tablespoon
  • Coconut, either freshly grated or use coconut milk powder – 1 cup/around 90g
  • Juice of ½ a lime
  • Salt – ½ teaspoon
  • Fresh ground pepper – ½ teaspoon
  • Ground turmeric – ½ teaspoon
  • Coriander or spring onions to garnish
  • Additional chillies to garnish

Method

  1. Chop the shallot/onion, the garlic and the (peeled) ginger – they don’t have to be finely chopped as, of course, they’re going to get blended later
  2. Fry the shallot/onion, garlic and ginger in the oil over a low heat until they are starting to soften
  3. Peel the parsnips and chop them into medium-sized chunks
  4. Add the parsnips to the saucepan and turn up the heat to medium-hot and fry off for two-three minutes until the parsnips are nicely coated in the oil and vegetables
  5. Pour in the stock, add the salt, pepper and turmeric and turn up the heat until it all starts to bubble gently
  6. From the bulb end of the lemon grass stalk, make a long cut along its length but don’t cut it into half – so you’ve split it but it’s still joined by about 2cm at the thin end
  7. Place the lemon grass stalk in the pan
  8. Leave to simmer very gently for about 20 minutes, with the lid on
  9. Chop the chillies
  10. When the parsnips are soft (but before they’re mushy) add in both the coconut and the lime juice and stir until the coconut is melted in
  11. Add in the chillies (or half of them if you want to test the heat level) and turn off the heat
  12. Using a stick blender, whizz up the soup in the sauce pan, or decant into a stand blender
  13. Taste test – add more chillies (or chilli powder) to your soup if it’s not hot enough for you
  14. Serve hot, decorated with more chillies (if you love it hot as I do) and a chopped handful of coriander leaves or spring onions (or even both). other ingredients that are nice sprinkled over this soup are more coconut, crispy fried onions or toasted peanuts/cashews

img_0315

img_0709

Savoury brioche

SavouryBriocheFinishedAngleWhen you think of brioche, you automatically think sweet breakfast rolls or pretty marbled loaves (mmm sliced and made into eggy bread/cinnamon toast). But it doesn’t have to be sweet – a savoury or plainer brioche is a lovely, fluffy, bouncy thing and there are probably more savoury versions than sweet; it’s just what we tend to see sold or made most often. What you may come across is the description ‘enriched bread’ rather than savoury brioche.

You can find below my recipe for a delicious cheese and caramelised onion savoury brioche. It makes the most gorgeous rolls for a lunch, a wintry picnic or to go with some delicious seasonal soup.

So what is an enriched bread? It does what it says on the tin, so to speak. A normal flour, water, salt and yeast dough* is enriched with the addition of at least one (and sometimes all) of the following: eggs, extra fat (usually butter but sometimes a good oil) or milk or quark/other too. For a sweet version there’s also honey or sugar and often in either case (sweet or savoury) there are additional ingredients to add flavour and texture, such as chocolate, dried fruits or cheese and herbs. A laminated dough such as a Danish or croissant pastry can also be described as enriched, although here the fat is layered in to get the laminated leaves, rather than mixed in.  (*enriched doughs can use wild yeast sponges).

There are a number of differences between a straightforward loaf and an enriched loaf. Obviously there’s the taste: the eggs give it a richer, more rounded flavour and the fat content gives a softer mouthfeel. The dough will rise higher (although some enriched doughs use plain not strong white flour and this will be negated) during the proving process and it’s stickier and harder to knead the ingredients together – in fact it can get quite messy. You may want to use a stand mixer, but either way stick with it as it produces the glossiest, shiniest dough with a slight warm tinge from the egg yolks.

One other characteristic is that because of the fat and protein content the dough can take a lot of handling so is really great for plaiting and shaping. Many regional speciality enriched breads (sweet or savoury) have their own particular shape. Think of Challah with its definitive plait or the reducing braid of butterzopf.

Bagels, Austrian kifli, German mornhörnchen, Slovakian vánočka, German Zweiback, Japanese milk bread and Italian pane di Pasqua (see my own recipe), pannetone and Pand D’oro (also see my recipe for this) are other examples and there are many more.

Savoury brioche rolls with cheddar, herbs and caramelised onions

Notes

Makes twelve fluffy rolls or can be made into a loaf  (just fold in the ingredients after knocking back the dough and bake for a total of 30 minutes)

Equipment

  • A very large bowl
  • A smaller bowl
  • Knife
  • Casserole dish, about 26cm – 30 cm in diameter
  • Cling film or a clean tea towel
  • Frying or saute pan

Ingredients

  • Strong white flour – 400g
  • Eggs, large – 3
  • Fast acting dried yeast – 1 teaspoon (levelled off)
  • Salt, fine  – 10g
  • Milk, warmed (use semi-skimmed or full fat milk) – 90ml
  • Unsalted butter – 90g
  • Red onion – 1
  • Strong or aged cheddar – 80g
  • Fresh thyme – a small sprig* or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme (about 4-5 cuttings roughly 5cm long)
  • Fresh oregano – a small sprig* or 1 teaspoon of dried oregano (*see note for thyme above)
  • Olive oil
  • Rock salt

Method

  1. Mix the flour, yeast, salt, eggs, milk and butter together in the large bowl – it will be a rather gooey mess!
  2. Now it requires kneading – you can do this by hand but if you don’t want to get too messy it can be done in a stand mixer or on the dough only setting in a bread machine
  3. Knead for around 10 -12 minutes until the dough is glossy and smooth skinned. It is a messy job, but try not to resort to adding too much extra flour as that will dramatically alter the ratios of the ingredients and change the outcome of the bread.  To start off by hand you are more likely to be making a scraping action rather than kneading as the dough will want to grasp hold of the surface and your hands, but do persevere: it will eventually start coming together
  4. Lightly oil the bowl and leave to rise, covered with a tea towel or cling film somewhere relatively warm (but not too hot). Make sure there is plenty of room between the top of your dough and the rim of the bowl or it will rise and hit your cling film/tea towel as it is a vigorous bake (if using cling film you can oil the underside of it to act as an added method to stop the dough sticking to it). The dough will need 40-60 minutes to rise
  5. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion into little shards and gently fry in some olive oil until it becomes translucent – this will be a good 15 minutes (beware instructions that imply softening onions is a quick job! This is slow and low)
  6. Once cooked sufficiently, leave to cool on a kitchen towel sheet
  7. Strip the herbs (if using fresh)
  8. Mix the herbs together in the small bowl – take out about 1/4 of the herbs to sprinkle on the top of the bread and place to one side
  9. Chop up the cheddar and combine with the herbs and the cooled onion
  10. When the dough is risen, place on a lightly floured surface and knock back
  11. Flatten the dough to about 1cm in depth and shape into a large oblong
  12. Lightly flour the base of the casserole
  13. Sprinkle the cheddar, onion and herbs onto the dough and roll up from a long side into a Swiss roll shapeSavouryBriocheFilling
  14. Cut the roll into twelve equal slices and arrange them in the casserole (easiest to place nine round the edge and three in the middle)SavouryBriocheBeforebakingjpg
  15. Cover the casserole dish and leave to rise and fluff up for another 30 – 40 mins
  16. Just before the bread is risen fully, warm your oven to 200º C fan / 220º C conventional
  17. When ready, drizzle over a little olive oil, scatter some rock salt and the reserved portion of herbs
  18. Place in the hot oven for 10 mins, then after this time reduce the temperature down to 180º C  fan / 200º C conventional and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes

SavouryBriocheFinishedAbove

Wild garlic and walnut pesto – and foraging tips

pesto2

Love, love, love wild garlic, or ‘ramsons’ as I was brought up to call these leaves. I do enjoy a bit of foraging; food always seems to be a bit tastier if you’ve gone out and picked it from it’s native habitat (whether that’s actually true or not).

This is not only a twist on pesto because it uses ramsons rather than the traditional basil, but I have also switched out the pine nuts for walnuts.

If I could just work out what British cheese to replace the parmesan with and maybe use verjus rather than lemon I could swap out the original Italian recipe for an entirely British one – maybe that’s a challenge I can look into!

Notes

I have only given a recipe for enough for a small jar full – this should be sufficient to coat enough pasta for a meal for 4 – 6 people or for at least a couple of meals’ use as an added ingredient.

I have done this because you shouldn’t keep it for more than a couple of days. This way you don’t waste the parmesan and the ramsons you’ve taken care and time to forage by making so much it’s in danger of going off before you can use it all. I confess that I am very lucky in that my supply of wild garlic is close to where I work so I can go pick a fresh handful each lunch when I want to cook with it.

Something interesting about ramsons is that the underside of the leaf is hydroscopic – that is, it naturally repels water. Why it’s evolved to have the underside, not the top do this I can’t imagine! However, it does mean it’s a bit tricky to wash 🙂

7 tips for finding ramsons

Ramsons are usually found somewhere damp (but not waterlogged)

They are more likely to be next to a running stream than a static lake, though can be by either

Will be sited somewhere between deep, wooded cover to dappled shade

You’ll possibly smell them before you see them – a woodier-smelling version of garlic

In early-season the leaves are like bunches of tulip leaves

Later on in the season, pretty white flower heads (a ball shape comprised of multiple little-start shaped flowers) appear – these are also edible!

In towns and villages there is often a ‘Ramson Road’ or ‘Ramson Wood’. In times past areas were named after the wild garlic and they’ve usually kept their names to the present day – use this bit of local knowledge as they could well be still growing in that area

If you go foraging, please abide by these four ‘unwritten rules’ to ensure that the area and the plants you take from remain healthy:

take only what you need, no more

don’t over take from the plant: better to take a little from several plants than wipe out one. This includes nuts and berries (not because you’re damaging the plant itself, but because it’s part of the local ecosystem and its fruiting bodies are needed to feed the local wildlife and continue its propogation of new plants

don’t take the original plant (ie don’t dig any roots up) or break it irrevocabl

leave the area as little disturbed as possible

That way there will be some more when you next go back!

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/
ramsons2

Equipment

  • Food processor and/or pestle and mortar
  • Jar, bottle or other container to store in the fridge
  • Grater

Ingredients

  • A large bunch of ramsons (wild garlic), washed thoroughly – about 40g to 45g
  • Walnuts – 40g
  • Parmesan, grated – 40g
  • Salt – a teaspoon
  • Garlic – a small clove, or half a normal sized one, chopped a little (just to make it easier to pound in the mortar)
  • Olive oil – about 6 tablespoons
  • Lemon juice (from a fresh lemon!) – about 1 -2 teaspoons (depending on your taste)

Method

Either use a pestle and mortar throughout or complete step 1 in a food processor.

I have tried to make this recipe completely in a food processor and found that I needed to do the later steps in the pestle and mortar anyway. It never seems to break up the leaves enough for me – they stick round the edges of the processor and under the blade and still need pounding. However, you may have a better performing food processor than I do though!

Processor method

  • Place all the ingredients in and whizz to a medium-fine consistency
  • Taste test and add a little more salt and/or lemon if needed

Pestle and mortar method

  1. Pound the leaves, garlic and the walnuts together in the processor in the mortar (you may need to do this in batches if your mortar is small)
  2. Add the salt and two tablespoons of the oil and bash together in the mortar
  3. Add the parmesan and muddle together with the pestle (if you have a very large mortar you can add the rest of the oil now)
  4. Add a teaspoon of the lemon juice, muddle again and taste – add more salt and/or lemon juice as needed
  5. Transfer to a large jar and mix in the rest of the oil
  6. Keep in a container in the fridge for up to two-three days
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Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

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