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A soda bread recipe for the impatient…

I’m quite obviously addicted to baking, which most commonly takes the form of cakes…large and small and of many different varieties! However, every now and again I have a longing to master the art of bread baking. I think the reason I keep putting it off isn’t the technical aspect but the fact that it takes so damn long! I love the (nearly) instant gratification you get from cake baking…mixing up the cake batter, licking the spoon, popping it in the oven and being rewarded by, first it’s divine sugary aroma, and then, a beautiful freshly baked cake, all within an hour (depending on variety obviously). 

I do however, love bread, especially of the wholemeal, seedy, substantial variety! I decided to end my bread baking evasion and meet it in the middle somewhere by trying my hand at Irish soda bread. It doesn’t use yeast so there’s no hanging around waiting for it to rise but has all of the winning bread characteristics mentioned above.

Without a modicum of modesty, I’m extremely proud to announce that my first soda bread attempt was a victory…

I used Rachel Allen’s ‘Brown Soda Bread’ recipe as a starting point but went a bit off piste with my choice of flours. 

To try it yourself you need…

225g wholemeal flour. I used this seed and grain bread flour and it worked a treat.

225g plain flour

1 tsp salt

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

Rachel suggests adding 50g mixed seeds such as sesame, pumpkin, sunflower or golden linseeds but the beauty of using the seed and grain bread flour was that they’d added those for me already! 🙂

25g butter

1 egg

375-400ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees.

Sift the plain flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. There’s not point trying to sift the wholemeal flour as you’re really not going to get very far so just mix it in afterwards.

Add the butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers tips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. 

Beat the egg and buttermilk together in another bowl.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the majority of the liquid ingredients into it. 

Now, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get involved…use a hand to bring the flour and liquid together. It’s a messy old process so just embrace it and get stuck in! If it looks a bit dry, add a bit more of the buttermilk mixture. Your aiming for a soft dough that’s not too sticky. Don’t panic, if it IS too sticky, all is not lost, just sprinkle in a tad more flour.

When you’re happy with it, turn your dough onto a floured surface and shape it into a round that’s about 4cm high and cut a deep cross into the top like so…

Place it on a baking tray and pop it into the oven for 15 minutes. Then turn down the heat to 200 degrees and bake for a further 30 minutes. You’ll know when it’s ready because it’ll sound hollow when you tap it on the bottom and it should look a little something like this…

I made myself wait until it had cooled before tucking in but I can confirm that it was definitely worth the wait!…

I think I’ve found the perfect bread recipe for even the most impatient of people, like me. Prepared, cooked and cooled within an hour and a half and…entirely delicious! I already have plans to make another loaf this weekend as an accompaniment to… ‘Jool’s favourite beef stew’ ,a Jamie Oliver special, which my brother’s cooking up as a special Mother’s Day treat for us all! Yum!

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My first foray into the wonderful world of slow roasted pork belly…

My name is Jo and I’m a pork belly addict! There…I’ve said it! don’t they say that admitting to your addiction is the first step of recovery…in this instance however, maybe I don’t want to recover! If I’m presented with a menu containing a pork belly dish, I get tunnel vision and all the other (probably delicious) dishes pale into insignificance! 

I’ve never attempted cooking pork belly myself…that is until last weekend! I’ve been house sitting for some friends in Cambridge and in my mission for wholesome domesticity I invited my parents and brother over for Sunday dinner and decided to cook them ‘slow-roasted pork belly with the sweetest braised fennel’ a la Jamie Oliver.

I biked over to the market to pick up 2kg of pork belly and was very happy to see that the butcher took on the job of cutting off the pigs nipples for me…I’m not usually squeamish but the though of being presented with the task of lopping off a pigs nipple was a little beyond me! on a more practical note…I also got him to score the skin with a stanley knife before wobbling off home on my bike with very unbalanced handlebars.

To make the slow-roasted pork belly with braised fennel you need…

1 x 2kg pork belly on the bone, preferably free range

2 tbsp fennel seeds

salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 fennel bulbs, cut into sixths

A bunch of thyme

5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

Olive oil

1 x bottle of white wine

Make sure you’re oven is whacked up to its maximum temperature.

Grind the fennel seeds with 2 tablespoons of sea salt in a pestle and mortar until they are a powder (due to my impatience my powder was still fairly coarse but it didn’t prove detrimental to the finished dish). Rub it into the score lines of your pork belly skin.

Put the fennel bulbs, thyme (just the leaves, not the stalks), garlic, a good slug of olive oil and seasoning into a large baking tray…

Lay your pork belly on top…

Put it into the preheated oven. After just 10 minutes, turn it down to 170 degrees and roast for another hour. Apparently putting it into a mega hot oven for a few minutes and then turning it down to slow roast is the key to amazing crackling!

This is what it looked like after 1 hour…

You then drain off any fat and pour the whole bottle of white wine over the fennel in the baking tray and return it to the oven for another hour…

This is what it looked like after 2 hours…

Now you remove the fennel from the tray, transferring it into another dish to either keep warm or, as I did, reheat later for a few minutes in the oven before serving.

It now goes back into the oven for its final stint. I cooked mine for a further hour a half to ensure the crackling was perfectly crackly!

Here it is in all it’s glory after three and a half mouth watering, crackle inducing, tender making hours…

What a beaut! (even if I do say so myself!)

Jamie recommended leaving it to rest for 10 minutes, which I did but then was so eager to get stuck in that any kind of carving finesse went out the window! I served it with mashed potato, the braised fennel and the deliciously concentrated juices that were left in the baking tray…

I’m not sure my photo’s really do it justice but I can tell you that it was absolutely amazing! My family were impressed and with the exception of the occasional murmur of delectation, were rendered uncharacteristically speechless for a good few minutes! 🙂

I encourage all fellow pork belly lovers out there to give this recipe a go!

I’m actually going to The English Pig, a restaurant entirely dedicated to pork dishes, in a couple of days. I hope to be able to indulge my love of pork belly further…but will it measure up I wonder! 🙂

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