A few years ago, Jon and I watched a Heston Blumenthal programme about MSG. The gist of it was that MSG isn’t some terrible chemical added to bad Chinese food, it is a naturally occuring salt found in many foods that we enjoy for their “umami” properties, such as cooked tomatoes, parmesan (well, I don’t enjoy parmesan, but I hear that it’s quite popular), kombu and dashi. In the programme, Heston experimented with adding extracts of foods high in umami, like kombu (seaweed) to different foods to see what effect it had, and he concluded that it just made food taste more tasty. Tomatoes tasted more tomatoey, apples tasted more appley, and so on.
A couple of weeks later, we sat down to supper at home – I think it was grilled fish and we had oven-baked potato wedges with it. When we had finished, Jon leant forward expectantly. “What did you think of those potatoes?” he asked. “Yeah, pretty good,” I said.
That would have been the end of that, because he does make very good potatoes and I’m not naturally that suspicious. But “did you notice anything different about the potatoes?” he insisted. “Dunno… they were nice, as always…” I said, non-committally. With a glint in his eye, he said, “But did you think they tasted particularly potatoey?” I drew back, starting to regret the speed with which I’d inhaled the potatoes. “What did you put on them?” I asked, nervously. “Just a little secret ingredient!” He went to the cupboard and took out a little sachet with Chinese characters on it and gleefully shook it: “MSG!!!”
For the next few weeks, every time he made anything and I said I liked it, he would get an evil glint in his eye and say, “But did you think it tasted particularly lemony/gingery/peachy?” and he would wave his packet of MSG triumphantly about. Even though I’d watched the Heston programme and realise that there’s nothing particularly wrong with MSG, the weird powder freaked me out a bit. Luckily, the packet split and spilled everwhere, leaving a dust of MSG over all our spices, and that put him off enough not to buy any more, so that was the end of our MSG habit.
What didn’t stop, however, was his love of secretly adding ingredients to things and then saying, with a naughty-toddler style smile, as I try it, “do you taste anything different about this?” And then the big reveal – “mustard seeds!” (in the challah), “fenugreek!” (in the rice), “lemongrass oil!” (in the burgers). I’m not complaining – it’s nice that he likes to try new things, and none of them taste bad. Many of them can’t be tasted at all due to all the other flavours going on, but it’s good to experiment with cooking and through his experimentation and recipe refinement we have together arrived at some really great recipes.
Mustard seeds in challah is one of the few secret additions that has lasted (and if I make the challah and forget the mustard seeds, he’s horrified “It won’t be the same without them!”) I’ll post the challah recipe another time – any time, really, because we make challah and other bread every week. When people say they make bread it always sounds incredibly impressive, I think, until you hear that they’ve got a breadmaker. Well, we have a breadmaker, and as recently as this evening Jon declared it a “must have” kitchen appliance. We make non-Challah bread much more frequently than we used to because Joe has bread most days – peanut butter sandwiches and French toast (no sugar) are two favourites for his supper. He obviously can’t get through a loaf himself, so then we both take sandwiches to work sometimes, and then when the bread is too hard even for toasting, we slice it, put it in the oven to crisp, and then blend it with garlic and herbs and make breadcrumbs. We have a bag of these in the freezer at all times, and it is incredibly useful – I’ll blog about favourite things you can do with breadcrumbs another time.
Jon is generally in charge of breadmaking, and he has honed the basic recipe I gave him down to a perfect multiseed loaf. He has experimented with various random ingredients but the final version doesn’t contain any surprises. It can be jigged around as you like, but don’t use less than 250g of strong white flour because that keeps it from being too dense.
As we have a breadmaker, this is a breadmaker bread recipe. I’m not sure exactly how to change this for handmade bread; if you’re interested in how to convert this let me know and I will find out.
The only real rule with breadmakers is to find out whether yours is one in which you put the wet ingredients first or the dry ingredients. Whichever it is, don’t deviate! Ours takes the wet ingredients first, so you put all of those in first and the yeast last of all.
- 340 ml water
- 2 tablespoons olive (or other) oil
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 550g flour, made up of around 250g and 300g strong white flour, around 150g rye flour and 100g wholewheat flour
- 2 tablespoons mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, linseed)
- 1 packet of dried yeast
- Add all the ingredients to the machine in the order listed above.
- Turn the machine on (we put this on the wholemeal cycle in our machine)
*Approximate nutritional values (1 slice)*
- Calories: 135 kcal
- Carbs: 21.9g
- Fat: 3.4g
- Protein: 3.4g
- Sugar: 0.4g
- Sodium: 160mg