Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Weekly Shop

Yesterday we went on a 7 1/2 mile walk after lunch, stopping at SuperValu on the way home to pick up some milk. While we were there, we checked out the clearance shelf and got some stuff there. Seems like later in the day, they reduce things further--they must start in the morning with one price and then put new stickers on as the day wears on--most of what we got had two or three stickers on it.

Today it's stuffy and warm, so we didn't feel like going too far, but we did want to walk a little, so we decided to do a weekly shop. We had to return some books to the library, so on the way home from there, we stopped at SuperValu again and picked up some sale stuff. We came home and put that away, had some iced tea, and headed out to Tesco, where we picked up a few more things. The total of the three shopping trips was 40 euro (currently $54). This should do it for the week.
The photo above does not show the frozen pizzas we got yesterday, which we ate for supper last night. I have to say that the frozen pizza we've had here has been surprisingly good and far better than any pizzeria pizza we got in the four years we were in Brunswick! The kielbasa is in the freezer and a package of the pancetta will probably go in there as well. I used the tikka chicken in tonight's supper and have two packages of chili/lime. I might freeze one of those as well. I already had garlic and onions from previous weeks.

Tonight for supper I made a Thai curry, using diced sweet potatoes, diced carrots, chopped onion, minced garlic, chopped bell pepper (half a yellow and some leftover red), some frozen peas, leftover chicken from the slow cooker the other night, and the tikka chicken. I stirred all this around in some olive oil a bit and let it sweat, then I added a little water and let it cook until the sweet potatoes were tender. I added a can of coconut milk and a dollop of red curry paste. We had this with brown rice and have enough left for tomorrow's supper.
I forgot to add some basil leaves from my plant in the kitchen window--will try to remember tomorrow.

On the way home from Tesco we passed the field where some horses hang out. Last week when we passed the little one was on the ground and seemed to my clueless self to be breathing heavily (I know nothing about horses). But today she was up and eating, so all seems to be well.
So we got a bit of walking in today--2 miles according to Bill's pedometer--and we got our weekly shopping done. Yay!

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Little Slow Cooker That Could

I put the slow cooker to work last night. I had a package of chicken in the freezer that I’d gotten on the clearance shelf a while back. It was a half a chicken with a ginger/chili/lime coating on it--not a lot, but some. I’d gotten some sweet potatoes on sale last week (and that sale continues for another week, so I might just get some more), so I washed and poked them and fitted them in the bottom of the crock. I put the chicken on top. I sliced two onions, a green bell pepper, and a yellow one and laid those over the chicken. I had enough room next to the chicken to add one more sweet potato, so I did. At about midnight, I turned the slow cooker on the low setting. Based on past experience, it seemed to me that this one does not heat up as much as my other ones did, and last night confirmed that. When I was heading off to bed an hour after I’d turned it on, it didn’t feel very hot, so I turned it up to high and went off to bed. At six I was up for a few minutes and turned it back down to low for another hour and a half. I removed everything, placing the peppers and onions in one container and the sweet potatoes in another--the skins slip right off when they are cooked this way. The total cost of this meal was about 3.20 euro (about $4.34 as I type). We will have this for supper and there will be stuff left to use in another meal as well. Nice to have it all done. This slow cooker is working out nicely, even if it is really small. I am glad I bought it.
The library had a brand new slow cooker cookbook yesterday, so I checked it out to see if it contains any good ideas.

We stopped at Tesco while we were out walking today so I could get more plain flour for the sourdough. I made pancakes for supper last night. I had a couple of bananas that needed to be used, so I chopped them up and stirred them into the batter. We had the pancakes with fruit and turkey sausage. Today when we got home, I got some bread going with some of the remaining starter. I used 3 cups  of starter, porridge oats, some wholemeal flour, a little bit of plain flour, milk instead of water, and a bit of salt. The loaf is rising as I type.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Iced Coffee and Other Cold Drinks

Well yesterday turned out to be a quite unpleasant, unproductive and wasted day. Both Bill and I were exhausted and had gotten little sleep the night before and were up at 5. We knew the day was wasted by 10:15 and were able to spend half an hour of that time walking back to the main part of Galway, but then had 6 hours and 45 minutes until the bus left to come back to Ballinrobe. It was not a nice time and unless you are someone who enjoys sitting outdoors enveloped in a cloud of cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes, looking at litter, listening to music blasting from an unknown location nearby, and dodging the spraying water of teenagers having water bottle fights, I would suggest that you avoid Eyre Square on hot, sunny, summer days. I still have a headache.

It was a happy moment when we got on the bus that would bring us home and an even happier moment when we walked through the door. I was glad I had planned ahead and made some iced coffee--it hit the spot at the end of a crummy day!

I drink a lot of iced coffee in the summer. There's no real recipe for this--I just brew coffee and pour it into saved jam jars or peanut butter jars. I avoid pouring the coffee or making iced tea in plastic because it tastes different to me, so I am diligent about saving my jam jars :-) I let the coffee cool on the counter for a while before placing the jars in the fridge. Then when I want iced coffee, I can pour it into a glass or my stainless steel insulated coffee mug, which keeps things nice and cold. I used to just pour it out from the fridge and add some chocolate soymilk and drink it like that. I have also frozen chocolate soymilk and added the cubes to the coffee, but they took a little longer to melt than I liked. I've also used the soymilk cubes to make frappuccino-style drinks by popping some cubes into a blender, pouring the cold coffee over them and blending. I made other smoothies, too. I have no blender at the moment and won't be getting one anytime soon. I also have less freezer space, so I won't be making smoothies anymore!

Since soymilk of any kind is not abundantly available, the chocolate soymilk is no longer an option for the iced coffee, so I just made it the way I've had it occasionally in coffee shops. I took the chilled brewed coffee and poured it over a few ice cubes. I didn't need many because my stainless steel mug keeps things really cold and in any case, I don't have many, because I have one regular sized ice cube tray and one that makes little tiny cubes. I then added some milk. I drink my coffee black when it's hot and I don't use sugar in it, so I didn't add any to this. If you like your coffee with sugar, then I should think you could just add some to the jars while the coffee is hot and stir to dissolve. Or you could flavor it with those flavored syrups, if you live somewhere where such things are available!

I make a lot of iced tea in summer, too. I had a bunch of dedicated iced tea jars in Maine that I would pack away at the end of each season and get out and wash to get ready for the next.  I like plain black tea and lemon tea quite a lot. Tazo tea makes a blend called Zen which is a mix of lemongrass and spearmint, which is lovely. I also used herbs--a sprig of mint or rosemary and lemon juice are quite refreshing and tasty. I'd just stick a sprig in the jar, pour the boiling water over, let steep, remove the herbs, let cool a bit and then stick the jars in the fridge to chill. It was an easy way to get some variety.

Infused water is another option, of course. The Portland Press Herald has a great story on ideas for that this week.

We still have a couple of jars of chilled coffee in the fridge, which we can enjoy later. Much of the country is under a high heat warning from Met Eireann (the national weather service here), but happily Mayo is not on the list of counties affected. It will still be hot, but I guess not as hot. It'll be hot enough for an iced coffee, though.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer Supper

Summer has arrived in Ireland. This is apparently a big deal because when Galway broke the 20C barrier--one of the newspapers tweeted the momentous news. That's 68F. It did get up to 71F here today and supposed to be in the mid 70s tomorrow and Wednesday, before heading back down to the mid 60s on Thursday.

We walked to Tesco today--we're heading to Galway tomorrow on the bus, so I can go to the Western Regional Garda National Immigration Bureau office to register and get my passport stamped. We'll be gone all day and want to bring some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in case of hunger, so needed bread. I found some reduced and also got a bit of information from another bread shopper who was going through the pile. She said they'll reduce stuff a few times a day, so the loaf of bread that I paid 67 cents for at noon would be cheaper still at 3 and if I showed up around 7 or 8, stuff is going for 10 cents. Next time I need bread, maybe I'll go at 7 just to see if she's right!
By the time we got home we were hungry, so I threw together some sandwiches and salads. Bill had chorizo, cheese, pepper strips, tomato, and red onion slices. I had the veggies with cream cheese and some of the smoked mackerel with cracked black pepper that I'd found reduced at Tesco. We both had our sandwiches on the seeded rolls we like so much.

Earlier in the day, I filled the couple of ice cube trays that I found in the cabinet and got them in the freezer. Today, after I toasted some oatmeal, I brewed a pot of coffee, poured it into jars and let it cool on the counter before sticking it in the fridge. I won't be able to have my usual iced coffee with chocolate soymilk this summer, but I can have plain iced coffee with milk.

For supper we had meatless burgers on some of the bread we got earlier. I sliced a green bell pepper and a red onion and minced a couple of cloves of garlic, which I cooked in a puddle of olive oil. I topped the burgers with this and some extra mature cheddar. We found the meatless burgers in Tesco. We don't like beef, and have been unable to find ground chicken or turkey here, so these will work! There are 8 of them in a box and we pay 2.69 euro ($3.65). This compares to meatless burgers in Maine, which cost close to $5 for a box of 4. We had some fresh pineapple and nectarines as well and we finished the bag of chips we got a couple of weeks ago on clearance for 50 cents. They were good--it said fiery sweet chili, I think. They weren't fiery, but they were a little spicy. I have no idea where they came from as I have never seen them until they ended up in the clearance basket. They had 2 bags, so I bought both. This is not the first time that I have not seen an item in the store until it ends up in the reduced price section. It's a very small store, with pretty much one aisle devoted to groceries that are not meat, produce, or frozen/refrigerated--I would have seen this stuff. I wonder where it comes from.
 We have to catch the bus at 7:20 in the morning. Thankfully, it will take us about 2 minutes to walk to the stop--it's just on the corner. I am not thrilled about having to be up and functional so early. We got more coffee while we were at Tesco today, so we have plenty. As long as it has time to drip, I can always fill my Joe Mo before heading out!! We can't usually trust coffee out anymore, because we never know when it's instant. But we got a tip that Lavazza has real brewed coffee and we know where there's one or two of those places in Galway--good to know if we find ourselves in a pinch!! The bus leaves Galway at 5:30 and will get here about an hour later, so it'll be a long day. Should be a nice day for wandering around and exploring, though!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Improv Pizza Bites

It was one of those days. I was hungry, but didn't know what I felt like for dinner and neither did Bill. We halfheartedly tossed out suggestions, but nothing seemed quite right. Then I suggested that I slice some of the sourdough rolls I made the other day into rounds and top the rounds like pizza. He liked that idea, so that's what we had. I sliced a few rolls and placed the slices on my baking sheet. I turned the fan oven to 180ish and slid in the pan. I wanted to just dry them out a bit so the toppings wouldn't make the bread soggy. I did not want to crisp them. When they were dried out a bit, I topped half of the rounds with a tomato slice and sprinkled some oregano on top. Then I added a bit of extra mature cheddar and Parmesan to each round before adding sliced red onion and chopped red bell pepper. I spread the rest of the rounds with a little bit of pesto, topped with the cheese and then added a triangle of sliced chorizo. We had these with a fruit salad.
After slicing the rolls, I had the tops left, so I placed them in the scrap-bread-for-future-stuffing bag in the freezer. We both liked these a lot and I will probably make these or something like it again. They hit the spot, took only about 15 minutes to make, and a trip to the store was avoided. Yay!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Oatmeal Sourdough Pancakes with Fruit

Even after making the rolls yesterday, I had plenty of sourdough starter (known hereafter as “The Beast”) left, so this morning I decided to make a double batch of sourdough pancakes. I think the flavor is even better after they’ve been sitting a while, and it’s easy to pop them in the microwave in the morning for reheating. I measured out 4 cups of The Beast and placed it in my smaller mixing bowl. I added the other ingredients as indicated in the recipe along with a couple of grated apples. I mixed it all together and realized I’d forgotten the oatmeal. I turned to get it from the cabinet and when I turned back to the bowl, the batter was puffing up and threatening to spill all over the counter. I’d forgotten that the baking soda can react with the starter and cause things to expand. I quickly moved my remaining 3/4 cup of The Beast from my large bowl to a measuring cup and dumped the pancake batter into the big bowl. I dumped in some porridge oats and stirred it up. The batter deflated and I proceeded to make the pancakes. Today we had it with a nectarine sauce I made yesterday. I just cut up several nectarines and put them in a pot with some water, letting everything cook until the fruit was soft.
Below is week’s worth of Beast baking--a lot of rolls, a double batch of pancakes, and 3/4 cup of Beast left to start the process all over again! I have read that some people add equal amounts of flour, water, and starter when they feed their beasts. I can see how that would quickly get out of hand. I’ve been adding 1/2 to 1 cup at each daily feeding. The night before I made the rolls, I must’ve had about 8 cups of starter and I did add 2 cups then, because it was smelling quite tangy.
Oatmeal Sourdough Pancakes with Fruit
--2 cups sourdough starter
--1-3 tablespoons sugar--white or brown
--2 tablespoons oil or melted butter
--1teaspoon baking soda
--1 egg
--1-3 tablespoons of milk or water (or more if needed--just enough to make the batter the right consistency--it’ll depend on how loose your starter is)
--1/2 to 3/4 cup rolled oats (old fashioned or quick in US terminology--in Ireland, I’ve used both jumbo and porridge oats at different times and both work well--jumbo/old fashioned oats will make the pancakes a bit chewier)
--a grated apple (or add some berries, chopped banana or other fruits, or some dried fruit, like raisins)
--sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired
--chopped walnuts or sliced almonds, if desired

Put everything in a bowl. Make sure there’s extra space in the bowl in case the soda reacts with the starter and the batter puffs up! I use a ladle to pour some batter into a pan (or use a griddle) and then cook over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges of the pancake. Flip and cook the other side. Cook until both sides are golden brown. Top with jam, honey, maple syrup, or fruit sauce.

I make fruit sauce with whatever I have. Strawberries and other berries, apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, or a combination of any of these work well. Just wash the fruit (I don’t peel it), remove any pits or cores, then cut up, if necessary. Put in a saucepan with some water and just cook until the fruit is soft. Add more water if needed so fruit doesn’t stick and/or burn.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Jazzed Up Sourdough Rolls

The sourdough starter had grown and bubbled its way to a "use me soon" quantity this morning, in spite of the batch of pancakes I made midweek. There will be another batch of pancakes tomorrow, but for today, I used some starter to make sourdough rolls.

I've been feeding the starter with plain (all-purpose in the US) flour, but I got some wholemeal (whole wheat) flour to use in the breads. I also added some of the porridge oats. These may be the equivalent of quick oats in the US. Here if I want what I knew as rolled oats, I have to get jumbo oats. I have some of those, too because they're better for toasting and for Bill's muesli-style soaked oats, but I figured I could go ahead and use the porridge oats for baking. They are really small oat flakes and pieces of oat flakes. They make a lovely porridge which we both like and ate most mornings when it was cooler, and since the larger flakes would just be broken down anyway, they seemed fine for this purpose. They are also a bit less than half the price of the jumbo oats.

I'd decided ahead of time what I wanted to do with these rolls, so after breakfast, I got started. I was reminded that I will need to get another large bowl for mixing and kneading. I got the big bowl to keep the starter in, but then when I want to use it, I need to measure out what I need for the rolls, then transfer the rest to yet another container, before moving what I measured back into the big bowl to mix and knead! When I am all done, everything gets washed and the saved starter goes back into the big bowl.

I just used the recipe I saved last time for the plain bread and riffed on that. It called for 2 1/3 cups of starter, and that worked well last time, but since I planned to add the oats and use all wholemeal flour, I decided to add more starter, so I went with a little over 3 cups. Whole grain stuff takes longer to rise and it doesn't rise as much, thus the extra starter. Then I tossed in about 2 1/2 cups of wholemeal flour and a cup or so of the oats. I added a teaspoon of salt and mixed everything, adding a bit of water as needed. The recipe called for 1-1 1/2 cups of water and I did not use anywhere near that either time. In fact, after a splash, I needed a bit more flour and oats, but that's always the case when doing bread--you never know how the flour will behave, so the measurements given are just suggestions, to some degree.

And I did notice that the wholemeal flour here is a different texture than the whole wheat flour I used to get in the States. In any case, I would say I used a total of 1 1/2 cups of oats and 3 1/2 cups of wholemeal flour.

Before I started all of that, I'd chopped a small onion fine, minced a few cloves of garlic, and chopped up some slices of chorizo. These I cooked until done in a small pan. I removed the contents with a slotted spoon so that most of the grease would stay in the pan and then added this mixture to the dough along with a chopped up slice of Mediterranean cheese (a mild cheese with tomato, olive, and basil in it), and a couple of slices of extra mature cheddar. Then I started kneading and kneading. After a few minutes at the counter, I always move the bowl to the table, because that's a better height for me to work at--the counter is a bit too high for that. I think it's a bit higher than the counter top I had in Maine and since I'm tall, it is usually more comfortable for chopping and that kind of thing, but to knead I have to raise my shoulder and I don;t get as much leverage.

After I kneaded and the dough seemed ready, I shaped it into a log and cut it into pieces. I placed these on my baking sheet, covered with a towel and left the rolls there to rise for about 6 hours. I preheated the fan oven to 180C and slid the baking sheet in, letting the rolls bake for about half an hour. When I placed them on the rack to cool, I turned on the burners of the stove and cooked some pierogies and heated some leftover chicken soup made overnight in the slow cooker the other night. Better eat it, because it apparently will not be soup weather this weekend and especially next week, when summer is due to arrive with sun and temperatures in the mid 20sC (mid 70sF). I hope that's as hot as it's gonna get this summer. It's too hot for me, but it won't be as bad as the 80s and 90s and higher that I've been used to in the 10 years since we left Alaska. I hope to never experience those temperatures again--I won't miss 'em!

When I was prepping the soup ingredients to put in the slow cooker the other evening, I used up the last of a bunch of celery. I could not bring myself to toss it, so I grabbed a shallow container, put some water in it, and stuck the end in. Yesterday I was pretty sure I was starting to see growth in the center and this morning it was obvious. Gotta have some celery growing on the windowsill :-)

Anyway, we had the soup with pierogies and rolls on the side. They are really good! They are great with butter and would also work for small sandwiches. I made them dinner roll size, but I could have also made them larger. They had a little bit of tang and just enough flavor from the add-ins. We had a little bit left of the first loaf of sourdough that I made last weekend, so I cut it into cubes and stuck it in the freezer for future stuffing. Tomorrow morning, pancakes for breakfast--and I've already made a sauce to go on them, using some of the nectarines I bought yesterday. Maybe I'll make a double batch.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Grocery Store Bargains

I woke up this morning with a funky stomach, clogged sinuses, and knowing I was in danger of getting a full blown migraine. Since it's kind of a ritual at this point, I know it's coming once a month and I have steps I can take to try and take care of things well enough for me to remain somewhat functional. One of those steps, oddly enough, is to eat chicken and potatoes. I have no idea why this works. I only know that I crave these foods when I feel like this. I have learned from past experience that it is best to heed that craving. When we first moved to Niagara Falls, I got a migraine that lasted for days. It was awful and it would not go away. Four days in, we were going to the library so we could send out emails, letting people know that we were OK. I was in a complete fog, only being aware of the pounding and pressure in my head. I had to squint because my eyes were watering and it felt like they were going to fly right out of my head, pushed from inside. I was quite sure there was some jerk with an ice pick behind my cheek. It was bad. After the emails were sent, we had to do an errand, and there was a Taco Bell in the same parking lot. We went in there and I ordered some kind of chicken burrito and something that had potatoes. Within 15 minutes, I was fine--and grateful. So now I know that even when things are not that bad, chicken and potatoes will usually put things right.

I was going to take some boneless, skinless chicken breasts out of the freezer, but then I remembered that we'd be stopping at SuperValu to pick up milk, orange juice, and sale produce. They also had chicken on sale, so I decided to just pick up another package there. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are one of the few grocery items that are more expensive here than in Maine. I paid 5 euro for 5, which weighed 500g (a bit more than a pound). As for our groceries in general, in spite of the fact that everyone told us that food would be really expensive here, in the grocery store, it isn't. This may be because we came here from Maine and I already had sticker shock there. Had I moved here from Oregon, food would have seemed much more expensive. Anyway, here is what we got today for 23 euro (which is currently approximately $31):
You can see the chicken, oj, and milk there on the right. Next to the chicken is a pan of piri piri potatoes. Piri piri is some kind of African pepper sauce. These are baby potatoes that have piri piri infused oil on them and they are ready to cook. I don't usually buy pre-made stuff, but these are only 2 euro, so they were worth it. The apples (which came in a package of 6), pineapple, and nectarines were a euro each. There are two baskets of nectarines there, one on top of the other, and we'd already eaten a couple before the photo was taken. There are 5 in each basket and I will be getting some more--they will make a great sauce for the next batch of sourdough pancakes! The tomatoes (which came in a package of 6), cucumber (known as "English cucumbers" in the US, but "Irish cucumbers" here), and sweet potatoes were 50 cents each. The stores here all have good produce sales each week and I try to stock up on things when they are on sale.  The other thing I do is to check the reduced sections of the stores. Sometimes there isn't very much there, but usually there's a bunch of stuff. It may or may not be stuff that we are interested in--today we got lucky--LOL. The black packages in the bottom left-hand corner are tomato/basil/mozzarella tortelli--they look like small ravioli. They were half price at 1.50. Behind them is a pile of 4 packages of turkey breakfast sausage. We like this much better than "regular" Irish breakfast sausage made with pork, which tends to be pale, mushy, and bland. These taste better and they have some texture. They are usually 3.59 euro, but were reduced to a euro a package because the date on the package is today. I brought them home and put them in the freezer. According to our receipt, we saved 13 euro on our sale produce (all the produce we bought was on sale) and chicken. We saved an addition 10+ euro on the sausage and another 3 on the tortelli.

I was going to put some of the chicken in the freezer, but I decided to cook it all with some peppers, onions, and garlic. We had some of this on brown seeded croissants with some Mediterranean cheese, which we found in the little corner shop where we got the croissants and decided to try. It's a mild cheese with tomato, olive, and basil in it. We had a salad to start and some piri piri potatoes on the side.
It was just what I needed! And there are plenty of leftovers--yay!

We'll get at least three meals from the chicken. We had some tonight and I can use some in a sauce for the tortelli and some in a Thai curry. I can use some of my sweet potatoes in the curry, too.

I used to do one or two big shopping trips a month, and we might go pick up some sale produce in between. Here, it's more cost effective to buy stuff when it's on sale and stock up. Last week, red onions were one of the produce deals. Packages of one green and one red bell pepper were, too. I got a bunch when they were on sale. Onions keep well and I use peppers regularly. When I find stuff on the reduced shelf, I buy it if it's something we'll use. They even put "use-by" dates on produce here, so that frequently ends up in the clearance section--and other than the date on the package, it looks the same as the stuff that's full price! Last week I got a package of grapes (most produce comes prepackaged, which I'm not wild about--too much packaging waste) for 1.50 euro. A few feet away, grapes that looked exactly the same were 2.50--the only difference was the date on the package. This kind of thing happens all the time. It works out well for me and fits in with the way I cook--improv all the way. I may never know what I will end up with, but I like it that way.

When I first got here, I was filling empty milk jugs with water to put in the freezer so it wouldn't be running empty. Now I don't need them anymore. The freezer is full of fish, turkey sausage, and other stuff, most of it picked up from the clearance shelf for a euro or two. I like that. There is no food pantry here, so I know that once the stuff is on clearance, the next step in to throw it out. When I buy this stuff, I am saving money for us, keeping food out of the waste stream, which is good for everyone; I'm getting good food to cook with and building up a food stash. While we were out and about this afternoon, a menu in a window caught my eye. It was for an "oriental" restaurant and it appeared to have Thai and Chinese food. They had fixed price meals--one was for 2 people and was almost 73 euro. I have spent about 65 euro this week at grocery stores and not only will the food I got feed us now, but a bunch of it will feed us later, too, because I bought it to keep, whether it's in the freezer, the cabinet, or on the counter. So yes, food is expensive in Ireland if you buy it in some restaurants, but not if you develop a system for shopping at the grocery store!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sourdough Pancakes and Bread

Last weekend, I was given some sourdough starter. Having never worked with sourdough before, I promptly went online and googled. There was a lot of information, much of it contradictory. Apparently sourdough can elicit some strong--almost religiously zealous--opinions. After a while, I just bookmarked a few recipes and decided to do what I always do--play it by ear. I kept the starter at room temperature, but our flat is usually a bit on the cool side. I started out feeding it twice a day with half a cup of flour and a bit less than half a cup of water. It was bubbling nicely and seemed to smell like it should. By the end of the week, I was feeding more flour and water, but only once a day. It looked like it was ready to be used and I had enough to make stuff, but I had no salt and no baking soda (which my bookmarked pancake recipe said was optional, but would make the pancakes better). Yesterday morning, we ran down to SuperValu where I had to carefully study what was on the shelves to find the baking soda, which was called "bread soda." This makes sense, of course, since people use it to make Irish soda bread. It comes in a bag that looks much like all the other bags of other things that surrounded it. Next we had to look for the salt, which I found near the herbs and spices. It also comes in a bag--a 1kg bag! I now probably have enough salt to last me the rest of my life, since I don't use it in cooking. Since I had salt on the brain when I got home and opened a cabinet, it dawned on me that what I thought were egg cups in there--one white and one black--were actually little salt and pepper cups. The people we visited last weekend had them, but I hadn't connected it with the "egg holders" in the cabinet. I thought it was funny that they were there, since I have not seen the egg cups since I was a kid, but it all makes sense now. You put the salt and pepper in them, then pinch some between your fingers and sprinkle on your food.

I decided to make sourdough pancakes for lunch, so I measured out 2 cups of starter and added the rest of the stuff. We both liked them.
We spread some of the jam on them. I had the couple that were left over for breakfast this morning and I think I liked them even better on the second day. They were quite plain, but the flavor was good.

After lunch, I measured out 2 1/3 cups of starter and proceeded to make a very basic bread dough. I just wanted to see how it went, so I didn't do my usual tinkering. I kneaded the dough and got it shaped on a baking sheet. I was expecting it to take a long time to rise. The websites and blog posts I'd read often did not agree on much, but virtually all of them stated that sourdough bread would take longer to rise than traditional yeast bread. The recipe I was using said 4-24 hours. I covered the dough with a towel at about 1, and I was thinking that it would rise slowly (especially since it's cool in here) and I could bake it in the morning. Or not. It must've been some really good starter I was given, because I went to peek after 3 hours and it was threatening to start puffing its way across the boundaries of the baking sheet and onto the counter. I took it in hand and reshaped it into a more oblong loaf, instead of the round loaf it had been. It kept rising. I preheated the oven and at 5 o'clock, slid the baking sheet in, closed the door and hoped for the best.

This kind of oven is unfamiliar to me--a small fan oven with a heating element only at the top, it took me some bit of figuring and a bit of studying the owner's guide before I knew how to use it. In addition, I had to find a chart online to see how the Fahrenheit temperatures listed in the recipes translated to Celsius. In the process of doing that, I read that if you're using a fan oven, you should set the temperature 20-25 degrees Celsius lower than the conversion temperature. OK, then. All that was done and the bread was baking for 30-60 minutes, depending on size, according to the recipe. It was suggested that I stick a meat thermometer on the bread, which would be done when it had reached 210 degrees Fahrenheit. Or I could just wing it, since I did not have a meat thermometer.

I was checking on the bread regularly since the heating element is on top and I did not want it to burn on the outside before it was baked. The oven has a light that comes on when the oven is on, so I could see without opening the door. I did have to turn the pan a couple of times because it was browning unevenly.

After 30 minutes, it looked like it was nearing completion. I left it in for another 10 minutes, then took out the pan and tapped on the loaf with my fingernail. It sounded hollow, so I took it out and placed it on a rack to cool. After half an hour, I cut it, buttered a couple of slices, and we tried it.
It was good, plain bread. It had a bit of tang, but not too much, which is just right for us. I was pleased with how it came out and with both the pancakes and the bread, my mind started tossing out ideas for how to play with these next time I make them. There are a lot of possibilities, but I have to wait for my starter to grow again before I start. After making the pancakes and the bread, I ended up with about the same amount of starter I began with last weekend. I fed it. It bubbled and grew. I'm having quite a lot of fun with this sourdough stuff. Thanks to Ron and Mona at Wise Words for getting me started with starter!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sourdough Starter

Last weekend, I was given some sourdough starter by a professional sourdough craftsman. I have never worked with sourdough before, so have been getting cross-eyed looking at all of the varying and sometimes contradictory advice that I have found online about how to feed and use it! The local library had one book on bread that had nothing about sourdough--it seemed to be more about how to use bread than how to make it! I have bookmarked some pages and will take it from there. I've been feeding it daily and I think I should be able to make something this weekend--pancakes, maybe. I see that people make sourdough pizza crust, too, and that is on my list--I'd make it like foccaccia and add some herbs and stuff. Anyway, so far, so good--the starter is bubbling away! I welcome any sourdough tales anyone cares to share with me!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Crock Pot and Curry

I finally went ahead and bought the 3-litre slow cooker. It's the only one I've seen since I've been here and while I was initially holding out for a larger one, in the end I decided to get this one. I'd been thinking that bigger would be better, since once I got my 6-quart Crock Pot in Maine, the 4-quart that I'd been using was put in a cabinet and used much less frequently. Then I considered that I was cooking for 3 adults then and including planned leftovers when I did so. Now there are two of us and when I made soup in a 3-litre pot on the stove, we still had leftovers anyway. A larger slow cooker might actually be too big for us now. Another reason I got the smaller one was that I have a really crappy oven here and I was limited in what I could do. The slow cooker gives me more flexibility. The oven is a small fan oven with only one heating element. I was looking at the owner's manual and they suggest cooking salmon for half an hour and chicken thighs for 2 hours!!! Not gonna happen! With the slow cooker I can cook bone-in chicken pieces and whole chickens. I can cook dried beans and make soups and I can do it all overnight while electricity (which we are told is very expensive) is on off-peak hours.

Yesterday I tried out the slow cooker for the first time. I used it during the day, just so I could watch it and see how things went. It seemed like it didn't get as hot as my old one did, but whether that is simply because it's smaller, I don't know. In any case, it worked great and I am really glad I got it! I made some Thai curry. I was thrilled to see that Thai red curry paste is significantly cheaper in the Tesco here than it was in the grocery store in Maine. Coconut milk is cheaper, too.

I chopped up an onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, a green bell pepper, celery, carrots, and potatoes and put them in the crock. I had a courgette (zucchini) out, too, but I somehow overlooked it and by the time I saw it, there was no room in the crock, so I wrapped it in a towel and put it back in the fridge for use later in the week. I added a cup and a half of red lentils (not sure why they are called "red" lentils when they are actually orange!) and about 4 cups of water. Then I turned the slow cooker to high and let it do its thing. We went out for a little while in the afternoon and when we walked back inside, the smell was wonderful.

I wasn't sure from looking at it that things were actually cooked, but I checked after about 5 hours and they were. Yay! I added a can of coconut milk and some of the red curry paste and stirred it in. I was going to cook some rice, but we'd gotten some of the seeded brown rolls that we love so much at Tesco, so we had those instead and just ate the curry like a stew. There are leftovers--yay! again--so tonight I'll make some rice and put the curry over that. It's nice to have a slow cooker again. I don't really understand why they are not more popular here. People are very concerned about electricity and there are all of these things they do to conserve--on/off switches on all the plugs, having peak and off-peak times, etc. Slow cookers use much less electricity and they can be used during off-peak times. People here are also big on pre-made meals. Grocery stores are filled with marinated meats in aluminum trays and fish in bags with odd-looking pats of flavored butter--I guess you just throw the fish in the oven bag and all. I chuckle at the whole seasoned chickens with veggies in the aluminum pans--it would take hours to cook in my oven. People here seem to prefer deep-fried food--I can have my pick of several kinds/sizes/brands of deep fat fryers--more fryers than I knew existed! I am only glad that I found my little slow cooker--I'll leave the fryers for someone else!