Is it just me or are there a lot of chefs on TV? Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets, Heston's Mission Impossible, Michel Roux Jnr on The Great British Food Revival. Even Jamie's Dream School. In years gone by, I would be lapping it up, but I am left a bit disillusioned by it all. Are the margins in top end catering really so poor that these talented chefs have to be making TV programmes of such dubious quality?
I like Raymond Blanc. He is genuine, funny and conveys his enthusiasm for food. But I don't get the point of the programme. He is hardly revealing Kitchen Secrets and the recipes he demonstrates are just too complicated to tempt many viewers to try them.
I think I still like Heston Blumenthal. His devotion and idiosyncrasy are unique and inspiring but he is the wrong person to be attempting to improve catering standards in the UK. He is too whacky to revive institutions such as the NHS and British Airways. In his previous series, he came across well only by contrast to the odious Ian Pegler, the Managing Director of Little Chef. In this current series, he is even more pie in the sky and I can't tell whether its the producers egging him on. Either way, the social agenda and demonisation of a bureaucratic antihero is hackneyed, patronising and irritating.
And yet another programme called "The Great British Something". I support TV programmes that educate consumers and promote sustainable food resources, but I felt last week's episode was clumsily done. For a start, it paired Michel Roux (on artisan bread) with the Hairy Bikers (on cauliflower). For me, Michel Roux's message was confusing. On the one hand, he was arguing that artisan bread has very few ingredients and is simple to make. On the other, he presented a loaf that contained flour, milk, butter, golden syrup and yeast and told us that there were "no short cuts".
The good news is that bread really is simple to make. What surprises many people is that no kneading is required and no bread machine either. Bread machines definitely fall into the category of impulse purchase that will take up space first on your countertop and later in your cupboard as the novelty wears off. All you need is a mixing bowl and a saucepan with a lid. I learned all of this from my friends Jon and Helen, who first introduced me to "No knead bread" in the New York Times. They have evolved their own recipe and process.
Making your own bread isn't going to save you a lot of money (before you even fire up the oven, a 1.5kg bag of flour is pushing £2). And although the method is very straightforward it does need several hours to rise so you can't really make it on the spur of the moment. But it is satisfying and a nice thing to do at the weekends. Left to rise for too long, the dough will smell boozy and taste yeasty - so don't leave it any more than 12 hours. I try to make the dough last thing on a Friday night, leave it to rise overnight, allow it to prove first thing in the morning and bake it for breakfast or brunch.
500g of Strong White Flour (plain flour just won't work as well)
1 teaspoon of dried yeast (about 7g)
1 teaspoon of salt
375g of luke warm water (use 75% water to flour as a rule of thumb).
1. Mix all of the ingredients using a silicone spatula for about a minute until you have a ball of dough.
2. Cover with cling film or a damp cloth and leave to rise for a minimum of 4 hours.
3. When the dough has doubled in size, fold it over a few times. Dust it in flour, cover and leave for a further 20-30 minutes.
4. Put the saucepan in the oven and heat it up to 220 Celsius.
5. Make sure the dough ball is coated in flour and put it into the saucepan. Put the lid on and bake for 15 minutes.
6. After 15 minutes, take the lid off. The dough should have risen but will still be white. Bake for a further 20 minutes to allow the crust to brown and caramelise slightly.
7. Leave to cool on a cooling rack.
Give it a go, take a photo and let me know how it goes. Make sure your saucepan is oven-proof. I melted the handles on one pot that was meant only for use on the stove! A cast iron Le Creuset pot is ideal!