Pizza and Focaccia

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Since I moved to the UK almost four years ago, from a large kitchen to a very small one, I learnt to make do with the basics. I wasn’t sure if I would get used to being cramped in a small space. I got some equipment with me but I left most behind, especially my very much missed Kitchen Aid. However, I now beat almost everything with a normal whisk or with an electric hand whisk, which (when working well) is a life-saver. (I must admit though that recently, I beat some zabaglione by hand. Then I swore I would never do that again!)

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One thing which I didn’t have at all is a bread maker. I’m just an amateur cook so you chefs out there please forgive me for owning one, even while you cringe. But now, we can enjoy freshly baked bread everyday. That is what J enjoys most. Long-life super fluffy sliced bread isn’t an option. I have to say though that most supermarkets now have their own bakeries in store that offer good-quality bread and that’s great, but I still prefer making our own. I wouldn’t recommend using it to bake cakes. However it’s perfect for fruit loaves.

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Thanks to our bread maker I’ve been making pizza on average once a week, especially on Saturday evenings. I love the feel and elasticity of pizza dough and it’s so easy to roll out. It beats shortcrust pastry, not in taste obviously, but I don’t have to worry about it falling apart on me. Fact is that pizza dough is easy to make with or without the machine. *With* means less mess; all you need is a little flour for rolling it out onto your working surface. The ingredients remain the same for whichever method you prefer.

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A note before you start: there is the need for salt in this recipe. Omitting it here is not an option. For two square pizza trays you’ll need:

  • ½ teaspoon dried active yeast (I use Allinson)
  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 170ml water

The above is the order in which the ingredients go in the machine. By hand try the following:

  1. Prepare two trays sprinkled well with semolina. This will help you to slide the pizza easily onto your serving plate later.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas Mark 7, but consider more if you’re using a non-convection oven.
  3. Combine the yeast with the water (warm this up, not too much), olive oil and salt in a large bowl and stir until the yeast and salt are dissolved. After a couple of minutes add half of the flour and mix well. Add the rest of the flour and mix well with your hands.
  4. Put the dough on a clean floured surface and work it well. This dough can take it! Then leave it to rise in an oiled bowl or tray, covered with a damp towel. Once it’s doubled in size take it out of the bowl on to a surface once more and divide it into two. Roll each piece of dough and place on the two trays. (You could use pizza stones instead of the trays. These will work better in a very hot oven.)
  5. Top your pizzas with anything you like. I am partial to mozzarella or goat’s cheese, some mushrooms, slices of chorizo and onions, oregano and some more olive oil. I generally slice some tomatoes as a base when they’re nice and fresh instead of tinned passata or polpa. This is obviously a guide. Do whatever you want!

If you want to make focaccia, then all you need to do is to spread all the dough onto a well-oiled baking tray and leave it to rise a little (leave out Step 3). Puncture the dough with some fresh rosemary when you can find it. If not prong it with a fork, spread some more olive oil and top it with some onions and again with anything that you like. There’s your Saturday evening dinner sorted. Enjoy!

Rob x

Cookies with Cranberries and White Chocolate

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So during the last few weeks I have had one main aim in life you might say, i.e. to use up all the food in my fridge and pantry. It’s the classic situation really, I’m always tempted to purchase one or two ingredients for a particular recipe. Then I end up with a gazillion packets of dried fruit and nuts. Now one thing which I absolutely hate is to throw away food. When it’s bad there’s no other option of course, but when it’s good then the possibilities are endless…well, that’s what I keep telling myself…and it’s true.

There’s no doubt that these cookies are delicious, if you like cranberries and white chocolate that is. I know that not everyone likes white chocolate, but I guess it would be easy to use milk or dark chocolate instead. This recipe comes from Nigella’s Christmas. I have thought about waiting until the holidays to include these lovely little bites here, but I couldn’t wait that long and really you can make them any time you want. (White chocolate and cranberries remind me of Christmas though.) I made these three times and when it comes to any kind of cookie it’s always a party especially for J (and if you know him then that goes without saying)!

Some notes before you start: the mixture yields around 30 small cookies or 15 large ones, depending what you prefer. I made the latter. No news there I’m sure! Also you could use less chocolate if you like, as I did the first time I made them. However it’s tricky to mess about with an already good recipe. You could leave out the salt though, which I did the third time round.

You’ll need:

  • 150g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 75g rolled oats (not instant)
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 75g dark brown sugar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 75g dried cranberries
  • 50g pecans, roughly chopped (works also with walnuts)
  • 150g white chocolate chips or chunks
  1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4 and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Place the flour, baking powder, salt and oats in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl place the soft butter and sugar and beat until light and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix well.
  4. To the above mixture add all the ingredients in the large bowl, then fold in the dried cranberries, nuts and chocolate chunks.
  5. Using your hands roll the dough into roughly golf ball size and place them on the baking sheet. (You will need more than one tray to make the cookies in two or more batches). Push them down with a fork if you prefer.
  6. Bake the cookie dough for 15 minutes, and when done they will be too soft to lift from the tray so let them cool for around 5-10 minutes after taking them out of the oven. Then leave them to cool on a wire rack.

As in the previous cookie recipe, you can freeze the dough for up to three months so if you’re serving these at a party you can prepare them way ahead of time and bake them two days before. They are super easy to make so why don’t you give them a go?

Enjoy!

Rob x

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Cookies are not very difficult to make. It’s easy to bake a good quality batch at home, but I guess they can turn out bad if not made with care. As with almost all sweet things that need chocolate, it’s important to have a cool environment. I make these cookies regularly throughout the year but in the summer I just freeze the chocolate chunks or chips beforehand just to make sure that they won’t melt while I handle them. That did happen once and although they were good, the chocolate just melted in the mixture. Another thing which helps is to use chunks instead of chips. I can’t find decent sized chocolate chips here so I make my own. I place one or two 100g bars of the stuff into a plastic bag and bash it with a rolling pin until I get small chocolate cubes. I must admit they still end up being large-ish but the larger the chunk, the larger the cookie, so who’s in?

I tried and liked many chocolate chip cookie recipes, so what I will give you is the most recent one I came across and made. This is taken from Nigella’s Kitchen with minor changes. They are a treat. I managed to make a batch of 18 large cookies out of this. You’ll need:

  • 150g soft unsalted butter
  • 125g soft brown sugar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, cold from the fridge
  • 300g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 300g chocolate chunks
  1. Preheat your oven to 170ºC/Gas Mark 3 and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper or silicone sheets.
  2. Melt the butter either on the stove or in the microwave in short blasts. Be careful not to burn it. Put both sugars in a bowl with the cooled melted butter and whisk.
  3. Beat in the vanilla extract and the eggs till the mixture is creamy. Slowly mix in the flour and the baking powder and gently mix everything again. Now is the time to fold in the chocolate chunks.
  4. Using a small ice-cream scoop or a US ¼ cup measure (or your hands if you like and if they’re not too warm), drop the cookie mixture down onto your lined baking trays. Make sure you place them around 6-8cm apart because they will expand in the oven. Try to keep the cookie dough bowl in the fridge to keep it cool in between batches.
  5. Bake for around 17-18 minutes. Keep an eye on them and take them out as soon as their edges turn a little golden. Leave to cool for a while before turning them on a wire rack. Do not over-bake.

Note: Uncooked cookie dough will keep for 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container or sandwich bags. What I do is this: set aside a small batch of formed cookies on a tray and insert these in the freezer. When set, take them out and transfer them into a large sandwich bag. When needed put them back on a lined baking tray and bake into a preheated oven for around 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Random thoughts, books…and a recipe.

So, yesterday I made a huge mistake. J and I went to the University of Surrey for an event with Professors Jim al-Khalili and Brian Cox. No, that is *not* it…the mistake I mean. The interview was fantastic and we really enjoyed watching these two great minds discussing physics, music, broadcasting and the likes. What has all this to do with food? I didn’t have anything to eat before heading out and I was hungry. While waiting in line, J was tweeting away and I was deciding whether to leave the long queue to get myself a sandwich or starve for a couple of hours. A small sacrifice for the opportunity to watch your two heroes on stage, no? Yes. Then it was question time. After an hour of cheerful banter between the gentlemen, someone handed over to them a pile of questions for Prof. Cox to answer. The cards were in a sort of fruit bowl. Was it or was it not? I still have my doubts but that did it for me. So even though it was surreal to see the Professors on stage, I was not totally there. Pathetic of me, I know. Then someone asked Prof. Cox whether he liked Marmite. That’s what I would like (I thought): a big bowl of Spaghetti with Marmite (see Nigella’s Kitchen page 49). Here it is with some changes. The lesson is now learnt.

For 2-3 people you will need:

  • 250g dried spaghetti
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons Marmite (depending on how strong you want the sauce to be)
  • freshly grated cheese, to taste
  1. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.
  2. Before you drain the pasta and when it is almost completely done, melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the Marmite and around 1 tablespoon of water from the pasta. Mix well.
  3. Reserve another ½ cup of boiling water, drain the pasta and pour the Marmite concoction over it. You could add some or all the water to combine this mixture if needed. Serve the pasta with some grated cheese.

Just a note: It goes without saying that this recipe is very salty. So don’t cook it too often if like me you tend to avoid salt.

(For whoever wants to watch the Brian Cox interview you can watch it now on the University of Surrey’s You Tube channel.)

I’m reading a number of books at the moment. It’s not always about cooking with me, but it so happens that right now I’m flipping through some recipe books and some biographies, one of which is A Taste of My Life. Raymond Blanc needs no introduction. He is a brilliant chef and a humble man with a great smile. He’s also a genius in the kitchen, which helps! In his BBC programme Kitchen Secrets I was completely amazed at the way he constructed an espresso cup filled with a coffee cream. Watch it here – it’s truly remarkable.

I’m about half way through Blanc’s book, so this is by no means a proper review. (And I won’t say anything bad. If a book is on this blog it’s only because I like it.) I love how he peppers the chapters with different recipes, some of which are derived from his childhood experiences with food. Some descriptions of are a bit too squeamish for me (eg. the pheasant incident on pg. 25) but I can live with them, and part of his mission is to raise awareness anyhow. So really, no harm done. J and I also liked the American guest and the lobster story. Now I would have loved to be there when that happened.

Another book which I recently got from the library is Cook by Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers. Now you’ve got to love Thomasina – she’s so cool! I cannot get hold of the book, unfortunately but I really wish they would reprint it once more. I would be the first to get it. I would have liked to see more food pictures (by now my readers know that I like to see the food before I try any recipes). However it’s a lovely book and it’s colourful – I can’t help but think of M&Ms every time I open it – and that’s a good thing!

Some recipes that I will definitely try include her Roast Chicken with Saffron Cannellini Beans (pg. 100), the Sicilian Oxtail Stew with Garlic, Chilli & Chocolate..yes, chocolate (pg. 91) and the Chocolate Ganache Tart (pg. 214), to mention only a few. There is a good selection of exotic flavours scattered here and there in her recipes but the food remains familiar. It’s a great book for all, especially those who love to feed big crowds without the extra stress. You can find Thomasina here.

Rob x

Lemon Cake – Part 2

Lemon-&-Almond-Cake-(4557)

Now there’s no doubt that Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess is full of good stuff. Somehow I find that her recipes here are more refined than those in her other books. To be honest I cannot pin point exactly why; to me they just are. Just try the next recipe, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s one of my favourites: Damp Lemon and Almond Cake. It’s not a flourless cake; you still need some plain flour for this, but if you like almonds like me, you will be completely smitten by this beauty.

If you want to learn from my mistake, I’ll tell you that it is essential that you use baking paper for greasing your cake tin. I didn’t and you can see that mine got a little burnt at the edges. (You will need a 21-23 cm springform tin.) What I can assure you though is this: it was delicious, especially with real vanilla ice-cream! You could serve it alone of course, or with some sort of lemon ice-cream or sorbet, but for me that would be a tad too much. You still don’t know which cake I like best…Let’s start:

  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 50g plain flour, or rice flour for a GF version
  • 225g ground almonds
  • ½ teaspoon almond essence
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons

Preheat your oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a quarter of the flour after each egg.

When these have been well combined, gently add the ground almonds, almond essence, lemon zest and juice.

Pour into a very well greased and lined round cake tin and bake for around 1 hour. Mine was done after 55 minutes so every so often please take a look at your cake without opening the oven too much. After 30 minutes cover it with a piece of foil to stop the surface from burning.

After the cake is done remove from the oven and let it cool for around 10 minutes in its tin. Then turn it out slowly onto a rack.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Lemon Cake – Part 1

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A couple of months ago I completed my Nigella recipe book collection by purchasing How to be a Domestic Goddess. When flipping through the pages I found two cakes I wanted to try immediately – two lemon cakes found on pages 12 and 13. I made them both to see which one we liked the most. I will announce the winner a little later.

Here’s the recipe for her Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake. The only thing I left out is the salt. I try to avoid salt as much as possible. Many chefs tell you that salt brings out flavour. I totally get this but when I first tried adding salt to sweet lemon recipes the taste was too strong for me. I will give the recipe as is in Nigella’s book – salt and all. But that is totally optional. I like to call this cake Gill’s Favourite Lemon Cake, in honour of my friend Gill 🙂

For the cake you need:

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • zest of a lemon
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • pinch of salt (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons milk

For the syrup:

  • around 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 100g icing sugar

Equipment: 23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin (or similar), properly greased and lined

Preheat your oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. When you line your tin with baking paper make sure it comes up to around 1cm or a bit more to the sides (see photo). This will make unmoulding much easier.

In a large bowl whisk together the butter and sugar, then add the eggs and lemon zest and beat well. Fold in the flour and salt (you can leave the salt out), and add the milk. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and place it in the oven. In the meantime prepare the syrup (see method below). Bake for around 45 minutes, or until golden and check with a skewer or knife to make sure it’s done.

Prepare the syrup by placing the lemon juice and icing sugar in a small pot over the heat and stir gently until the sugar dissolves. Puncture tiny holes with a cake tester or skewer in the cake and pour the syrup over the cake while it is still in the tin. Make sure the middle part absorbes as much liquid as the sides.

When the cake is completely cold, lift it out from the tin. If the cake is still warm it might crumble.

This cake is so easy and so yummy that it will become a regular treat – you’ll see! Check out the next post for the second recipe.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Lemon Risotto

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For the past few days I’ve been thinking about how nice it would be to have someone else prepare a meal for me during those few days that I’m either too tired to cook or when I’m less inspired or lack ideas. Yes it happens to all of us…*sigh*. In fact today is one of those days. Thankfully I have dinner ready in the fridge so I don’t have to worry about that now. However even though occasionally I tend to keep ready-made pesto for a quick plate of pasta, there are easy solutions for those instances when only a little stirring is required.

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Easy can mean a lot of things; soups, pasta and rice dishes or even a roast would do. Two posts ago I gave you a recipe from James Tanner which is almost too easy to believe, and it beats the usual bread and cheese supper. As for desserts he has a recipe for a Chocolate and Almond Torte which I want to try very soon. This recipe for risotto is slightly adapted from Nigella Bites. You need:

  • 2 spring onions or one small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 60g butter, unsalted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 300g arborio rice
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons grated cheese, parmesan or kefalotiri
  • 60ml cream
  • pepper, to taste

In a wide saucepan, heat the oil, 30g of the butter, onions and celery. Cook this until softened, stirring almost continuously. Add all the rice, again stirring to coat with the onion mixture. Meanwhile prepare the vegetable stock. (I find that using stock powder, like Marigold gives you a more delicate flavour than using a cubes. In an ideal world you would use fresh stock which you can get at the supermarket.)

Pour some stock into the rice and keep stirring till this is absorbed. Repeat this till the rice is cooked. You may need all the stock and add some boiling water from the kettle.

Stir the lemon zest and dried rosemary in the risotto. In a separate small bowl beat the egg, lemon juice, grated cheese, pepper and cream. Remove the risotto from the heat and add this cheesy mixture to the rice and add the remaining butter. You could also add some salt to taste.

Serve on it’s own or with some grilled salmon, which I rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh lemon juice. The risotto serves 2 – 3.

Enjoy!

Rob x

 

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