Oven victory! Woo hoo! The anti-Nigella (that would be me) has successfully baked bread! Only minimal swearing was required, and rather than being scarred by the experience, I am actually inspired!
Aren’t gardeners meant to be good at cooking their produce? I was vegetarian for nine years, and though I’m not at all queasy when it comes to slaughtering our chickens, I am not confident when cooking them. In the kitchen I am known for my incredible slowness and ability to burn everything, including myself.
Rice is my favourite thing to ruin – burnt-bottomed glug in the pot! Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? I had a stovetop triumph about two months ago – cooking perfect rice for the first time ever. A bittersweet victory given that, having been a poor uni student for many years previous, I’ve been cooking rice – badly – for a long time. I was so pleased when I tasted the rice and the grains were just right, I did a victory jig, complete with self-cheering sound effects. I reckon you’ve got to give yourself a cheer every now and then – no one else will!
Needless to say, I’m not a natural in the kitchen, more like an indentured labourer. There’s a few things that I like to bake, like cookies and muffins. Technically, I only “like” to bake them because I like to eat them at the end – the only enjoyable parts of the process are the taste tests and the escalating profanities. At tea time, I’m pretty good at bunging something together Macgyver-style when the cupboard appears bare… But if I only need to cook for myself, when my partner is away working up north, I’ll quite happily plonk myself down on the couch to watch Masterchef, and eat milo cereal for dinner. What kind of aspiring farmer does that make me? I am proud of the things I grow, but shouldn’t the mere sight of over-ripe tomatoes on the vine inspire me to get cooking and canning?
Bread making seems like such a fundamental basic skill to have – I love the idea of making my own and eating it hot. It’s a way of living more independently – making my own if I run out of store-bought bread, and being able to leave out the preservatives and chemical additives. But the kitchen can be a daunting place for someone slow and uncoordinated. Along with the burning, I’m also quite good at cutting myself, grating myself, and slamming parts of myself in drawers.
One part of cooking that is satisfying is the swearing. For me, cooking always involves swearing, out of pure necessity. I have Scottish ancestry, so cursing furiously as I bash ingredients together hopefully counts as “cooking with love”. The amount you care about someone is reflected by how angry you get at them!
Anyway, I would much rather be outside shoveling manure than stuck in the kitchen. I actually enjoy making up the horses’ dinners – sweet smelling chaff, pellets and bran and mineral supplements, just add water and mix. Lovely.
Of course I love eating good food, but I’m certainly not a foodie. Anyway, if “foodie” isn’t a derogatory term by now, it should be!
So I’m not keen on food snobbery, but I do enjoying growing things you can eat, and I would dearly love to gain some more cookery skills. I envy my partner’s kitchen confidence – he’s the Masterchef around here. Ben has been encouraging me to try making bread for almost as long as we have been living together, and prior to last night, I had done it just the once.
I braved the scary yeast voodoo about a year ago, facing it with full faith in Ben’s instructions but little in myself. I can make muffins, but bread is a bit different. Kneading is required – eek! I was petrified I would end up with a rubbery loaf. In the end, the bread I made was really good, dense yet fluffy, but it took hours. Hours of hovering anxiously, waiting for the bread to burn or morph into a granite boulder while my back was turned. Daunting. Scary. Not even the smell of fresh hot bread has been enough to tempt a second try from me.
UNTIL… I discovered a recipe for “beer quickbreads” in one of my mum’s old cookbooks. BEER BREAD! Given my love of beer, I was instantly intrigued. At first I was skeptical. Bread? Quick? Whenever speed and ease are used as selling points, it is usually anything but. But it actually sounded super easy! And it turned out to actually be super easy!
The recipe only called for half a cup of beer, so naturally I had to drink the rest of the bottle (and then some). A recipe that invites you to enjoy a nice cold brew while you cook?! It was like the cookbook knew exactly what I needed to get me through a bout of cooking. I used our current favourite, James Squire One Fifty Lashes (pale ale). To my amazement and thrill, my four little bun-loaf-things did not turn out like little granite lumps! They were perfect and soft on the inside, with a crunchy crust. I had been so anxious about kneading the dough into rubber, I had hardly handled it at all. The worry paid off, for once, and I feel encouraged to make more! A good way to use up some of the James Squire Nine Tales (amber ale) we have sitting in the pantry (previous fleeting favourite – we’re over it now, it’s too heavy for summer anyway). Maybe it will be awesome in bread?
Here are the tasty results! We had lovely warm buttered bread for tea, with herby vintage cheddar and homegrown grape tomatoes. I had mine with pesto and fresh basil as well. As much as I can’t stand the pretentious “Ner ner look what I’m eating!” shot, I’m so stoked with my prowess I can’t help myself. This sort of kitchen success just does not happen for me.
Since my first bready foray, I have also baked savoury roll-ups, with herbs, spring onion and cheese filling – the cookbook calls them crescent scones, which sounds a lot more fancy. They were all different shapes and sizes, but they still tasted good. Me and mum enjoyed them for morning tea the other day – they didn’t last long!
Okay, so I might be using self-raising flour rather than making dough from scratch with yeast, but if it gets a culinary hazard like me confident enough to try baking, it’s well worth the short cut.