Feeding the new ‘pet’!

Today, like most mornings I have to feed the new pet. While it feels like a new pet, because it feels like it’s just another mouth that needs feeding. This ‘pet’ is my sourdough starter, all sourdough starter’s need regular feeding and care. I have read instructions on such activities, most insist that you throw away half the starter before you feed it each time. This to me is such a waste and I cannot bring myself to be throwing half a jar of fermenting flour down the drain, just to add more flour to it, to then throw away half again tomorrow. A friend suggested that I make pancakes with the excess, I have not tried this yet as I prefer to keep it and just add to it. I am quite sure there is a reason for this but as my starter works for me I will stick at what I know as my way.

So every morning, well nearly every morning, I take a folk and stir in 2 spoonfuls of plain flour, strong bread flour. I stir it into the jar that sits on my windowsill partly hidden in the ceramic pot that I made in the pottery class many years ago. The jar that I use once contained shop bought mayonnaise, in the dark days of not making my own.

Hungry starter
Feeding the starter
After an hour of feeding!

Nothing in our house goes to waste if we can help it, and up cycling jars is one of the things we try and do. In the understairs cupboard is a large box into which freshly dishwashed jars with lids are placed in readiness to be used for some preservative or occasionally art project. So into this jar where the starter lives I add the flour. I use a fork because unlike a spoon it doesn’t clagup with dry flower against the moist gloopy ‘gunk’ that has a strong aroma of cider. I think it smells of cider because I originally started off with some apple peel (another later blog). I also add a little water just so that it has the consistency of thick paint. After an hour you can notice that activities have restarted in the jar. When the jar is almost full of starter, we will needing to make new bread.

My morning in the kitchen wasn’t going to be ‘a morning in the kitchen’, I was hoping to do other things before I set to work making food. However the starter for sourdough got me thinking about tonight’s meal, but my large box of vegetables, that had been decanted into the fridge, was there ‘weaving’ at me when I went to get some more milk, I decided that maybe it would be vegetables for tea. So I came up with the idea of making a mixed vegetable pie.

I collected up different vegetables that I thought would taste nice together and began to prepare as follows. Warm a little oil, about two tablespoons in a frying pan, you can add three tablespoons if you want. I sliced one red onion, being careful to always remove the top of the onion first. I can’t remember where I picked this step up from but onions weep through their roots so if you remove the stalk and leave the root intact until you have finished slicing you get less cry-age, plus the onion stays together.

Leave the roots on until last helps to stop tears and keeps the onion from slipping

I used a red onion because I had more of them plus I like the colour. Colour is very important to me especially in the food we eat, I try to eat a rainbow everyday. To that I added three celery stalks, washed and chopped. Now I’m not frying these I am sweating them. Frying would mean you would cause the vegetables to turn brown colour. I am looking for no colour change at all, or a more vibrant colour change. Sweating the vegetables enhances their flavour. I remove these and put them in a large ceramic dish, I’m using the one I serve vegetables at my table, this is so I can use a dinner plate to cover it rather than wasting clingfilm or foil, a plastic foodsave with lid might work too, but I don’t like using very hot food into plastic.

Sweat the veggies
Place in serving dish
Dice carrots
Wash and potatoes. Leave on the skins they are good for you
Sweat the veggies

It is very important to keep things covered as much as possible just in case insects fall on them. I then add to the pan a little more oil then add a large roughly diced carrot and a roughly diced large potato. I then sweat these out too. At this point it is important not to let anything stick to the pan. However while doing this this morning I had a dog emergency and neglected the pan slightly and the potatoes began to fry. All is not lost I simply jumped to my last stage ahead of the middle one. I added flour, about two large tablespoons, salt and a bit of pepper, I mix this into the oil potato mixture. Then I took some milk and added it to the mixture stirring all the time. What you’re making is a white sauce with the potatoes and carrots this has an effect of deglazing the pan and removing the stuck on bits which increases the flavour. I place these into a serving bowl and cover for later.

Add plain flour with salt and pepper
Add milk
Deglaze the fried on bits
All fried on flavours are now in sauce

Into a clean pan (as I have messed up my other pan), I then fry up my quartered mushrooms and broccoli. My tip for frying mushrooms is to add cold oil and cold water and sit the mushrooms in the water oil mix. Mushrooms have a habit of drinking everything in the pan before they start to cook. If you just add oil they suck up all the oil and then burn or become slimy. If you give them water and oil they suck up the water, then they release the water as they cook, the water evaporates and they fry nicely. I have been using this method of cooking mushrooms for about 15 years and have had 100% success rate. I then added the broccoli at the frying stage and the two gently fried together. The mushrooms don’t need to be sweated they need to be fried and so does the broccoli need to be slightly browned not cooked. I placed all of this into my serving bowls and covered with a dinner plate. They will now sit on the work surface waiting for my pastry.

Cold oil and cold water mix
Add ‘thirsty’ mushrooms
Mushrooms have now ‘drunk’ the water and the water has evaporated leaving oil to brown
Fry gently
Covered food

My shortcrust pastry is made with plain flour and fat. The ratio is double the weight of flour to the fat. Today I used butter, because I have a lot of butter in the house right now. Sometimes I make pastry with butter and dripping, sometimes with lard, never with margarine. But because this is a vegetable pie and because I am making more than one vegetable pie, therefore putting one in the freezer for future visitors or meals, it would then be suitable for the vegetarians of my family. My pastry was made with 10 ounces plain flour and 5 ounces of butter I diced butter up, and added it with the flour into my 30-year-old food processor. Once crumbed, I gently added enough water to bind it I then pressed it with my fingers together into a bowl and placed in the refrigerator to rest. I will roll that out later with my vegetables have cooled.

Diced butter
After making crumbs add a little water to bind
Press together gently and leave to rest in the fridge

Not wanting to waste my food processor usage I had decided to use the same container without washing, for a batch of wholemeal shortbread. You might think this was pretty disgusting but shortcrust pastry is flour and fat, shortbread is flour fat and sugar. The sugar would have been the different ingredient, it was then important to use the container for the shortbread after the pastry making. The double usage means I have saved on dishwasher space. And though you might think this is a petty thing to worry about, if we all thought about these little things we would together save our environment and our planet. I sad wasted space with my potato mishap but a frying pan takes up lest space that a food processer.

Shortbread crumbs

Today’s shortbread, and I say today’s because I don’t have the full ingredients for the Scottish recipe that was handed to me through my in-laws. Today’s shortbread was made with 12 ounces of wholemeal flour, 4 ounces caster sugar and 8 ounces of diced unsalted butter. It is important to dice the butter because otherwise it just spins around in one big gloopy lump in the food processor. If it is finely diced it will process far quicker and you get a much more even mix quicker therefore not over processing the flour and saving the planet. (I could do this by hand and have but the time in the machine is very quick and as a granny my arms are not as they used to be). I do not add anything else to my shortbread it is like fine grains of breadcrumbs. I tip this dusty mix into is lined 7 inch square baking tin, and gently press, this I will leave to be baked together with my pie. I tried always to have an oven full when cooking as again this helps towards saving our planet and our valuable resources.

Shortbread ready for oven later

My morning was not finished at this point as I was notified by my lovely hubby that certain areas of our garden were flooded. The weather has been extremely wet here in County Durham in the last few days and although the Sun is now shining I am forever reminded that autumn is somewhat wetter than in years gone by. I hurriedly dug drainage trenches running across the garden so that certain fruit trees will not be sitting in water. Once the dormant season arrives I will be digging up my new trees and planting them higher in the ground on an elevated mound in the hope that they don’t get their feet too wet as this will eventually kill them.

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