… I must be, that is the only way to explain why I decided to take part in the Women’s Institute cookery competition at Sheffield Food Festival. Yes, I might be a punk and yes, I know my way around new technologies, but deep down I suspect I might have an old soul. Nothing can stand between me and that rosette, I thought, not even radical feminists that don’t shave their armpits and old ladies that smell like moth balls. Needless to say I got lots of laughs from my friends. (May I sincerely apologise to radical feminists who don’t shave their armpits and old ladies that smell like moth balls , as well as Women’s Institute members for this outrageously offensive stereotyping. I’ll get to that point shortly.)
I decided to enter the competition on Saturday, when I could enter my two preferred categories: Pickle, Relish or Chutney and Savoury Picnic or Street Food. Sadly I was not eligible to enter Under 14s decorated cupcake, but looking back at the entries my butt would have got royally kicked anyways. Sunday offered further three categories: Victoria Sandwich, Bread and Jam, Preserve or Curds. The jam category just seemed too hardcore for my half hearted efforts to date, I have only just started to gently dab my toe into the murky waters of jam making. I did not have the time to commit to making bread as it should be made (I come from a family of bakers) and, as a self-professed baking retard, I have never made a Victoria sponge. The choice was clear.
My strategy for the competition was to come up with something the old ladies on the WI will never have experienced and surprise them with new flavours. This was a flawed premise. WI sure isn’t what it used to be. Not one mothball smelling old lady or hairy armpit in sight, only young girls, about my age, dressed very fashionably in pretty dresses, sporting beautiful haircuts. I was ashamed to realise how wrong my presumptions were and how stereotypical and narrow minded I was throughout. And really, who am I to judge anyone anyways? But back to my creations.
Claudia Roden is an absolute legend. For reasons unknown I am naturally predisposed to love Middle-Eastern and Jewish cuisines, but Claudia (as if we are on first name terms) has introduced me to a wealth of strange, surprising and mind blowing flavours. Plus I really love aubergines. Brinjal Kasaundi aubergine pickle comes courtesy of Claudia, a recipe from Leon no2 that I slightly tweaked with the help of tinterweb.
Claudia’s Aubergine Pickle (Brinjal Kasaundi) (makes 1 large jar)
1 fresh red chili, deseeded
5cm piece of fresh ginger
8 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp tamarind paste
100-150ml white wine or malt vinegar
250ml toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp black onion seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
6 curry leaves (I didn’t have these and used kaffir lime leaves)
1 tsp turmeric
First you’ll need to sterilise your jar(s). My post on Rhubarb Chutney tells you how to go about it. While the jar is getting its soak, cut your aubergine in half, then in slices (Claudia only slices them but I would find that tricky when dealing with larger aubergines). Blend the chilli, ginger, garlic, cumin and tamarind paste with a little of the vinegar in a food processor.
Heat 3 tbsp of the oil in a large pan and add the mustard, onion and fenugreek seeds. When they start to crackle, add the curry leaves along with the paste. Cook until the mixture becomes a golden colour. Add the turmeric, sugar and remaining vinegar and stir well. Add the aubergines, season well and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until the aubergines have cooked but not to a complete pulp. Check the seasoning and sourness – perhaps add more tamarind on sugar, depending on taste.
Allow the mixture to cool, then pour into your jar. Top with the remaining oil – you might actually need more then stated, depending on the jar you used. This should keep in the fridge for a few months. Job’s a good’un.
I made my aubergine pickle on a Wednesday night, absolutely stress free. My picnic food had to be made on Friday afternoon/night after my first trip to the food festival, and was considerably less stress free. Actually, it was pretty stressful. Mainly because there was no recipe and I was experimenting with two different types of dough. One of my favourite things that my mum made when I was a child was a bastardised version of pierogi, Polish ravioli. Well, my mum’s version is as far from the real deal as it gets. What my mum calls pierogi is a pie stuffed with sauerkraut and smoked ham. I thought this would translate particularly well into pasty like pies made using simple bread dough. I had no idea about quantities or cooking times, which definitely showed. I managed to pull it all together in the end, even though I did not avoid an epic.
I could not get hold of my mum who was on holiday, so I turned to my grandma. Grandma offered a fairly standard bread dough recipe which however suggested using a large amount of water and this worried me a bit. So I scoured the internet to find a different dough recipe using eggs. I decided to get a start on the one my grandma recommended, adjusting the amount of water used. However, trying to add more water to the mixture I ended up with a lumpy mess which I thought could not be salvaged. I sighed, covered my failed effort with a tea towel and decided to start afresh, using the egg recipe this time. This was not perfect either, for the amount off eggs the recipe recommended I had to add about another 100g flour. But experimentation paid off. I let the dough prove for about two hours. When I came back to have a look, I was surprised to find that both doughs have done their thing (doubled in size) and there was no unappetising lump in sight in my first creation. It had started to dawn on me again that I am an idiot.
Following a bit of a pondering and a test run I decided that I preferred the eggy pastry because of its smoother texture. The downside of experimental cuisine is that you sometimes wind up having ludicrous amounts of leftovers. Sometimes they are a complete failure that gets flung in the bin, other times it is perfectly good stuff. This was perfectly good stuff. My crazy diet does not permit any bread, but this could not even pass off as mild cheating. We are talking about 10 pizza bases worth of dough. In the end I decided to make little bread cakes, and the bakery girl I am, knotted buns.
I wanted to prettify my pierogi somehow and I decided to adorn them with little fennel seed stars. This was ridiculously labour intensive, but I was labour of love. Fennel seeds went very well with the filling so while I would advise against making these little stars unless you absolutely want to, I definitely recommend sprinkling the filling with a few seeds before you fold the pasties over.
Neither Polish nor Russian Pierogi (makes about 20)
For the pastry:
500g plain flour
1 sachet of yeast
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
a glug of oil
For the filling:
an inch high cut of smoked ham
a 1l jar of saurkraut
1 egg – for the egg wash
Mix the yeast with the sugar and some tepid water. Allow it to stand for a few minutes to froth up. In a large bowl, combine 1/3 of the flour and the salt, make a well and pour in the yeast liquid. Combine to make an elastic dough, kneading for a while, then cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for 2-3 hours.
Now add the rest of the flour, milk and eggs. Combine all to make a smooth dough, adding more flour if necessary. Work in a little bit of oil and keep kneading. Allow to rest again for about 2 hours, or as long as you can be bothered – it rises fast. In the meantime, combine all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl.
Tip the dough onto a floured surface, cut in quarters, roll out the quarters in cylindrical strings and cut these into a couple of similarly sized chunks. Roll these out very thin (about 2 mm) and cut out circles. I used a 10cm diameter bowl for this. Make sure your surface is floured well and nothing clings and sticks if you want your pasties to be really pretty and uniform.
Preheat your oven to 200°C. Carefully transfer your discs onto a baking tray and scoop a bit of the filling onto them. You don’t want too much as it might be hard to properly fold the pasties over. Wet the edges of the disc with your egg wash and carefully fold over. I did not crimp the edges, I only pressed it down with my finger. Smear the pasties all over with the eggs wash and bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack. And that’s that. I selected four of the prettiest ones to be presented to the judges. They did not win me the rosette, but I came in second and got a highly commended certificate. Ah, all that effort…
Leftover dough made these bread cakes and knot buns. For the knot buns, you always start with 4 strings, threading them through as though making a figure of 4 with them. I baked these for about 10 minutes.