August 29, 2011

Sea Salt and Rosemary Focaccia

As I sit here and write this, I’m a bit exhausted.  What a weekend!  Nothing really spectacular took place, but I did have a bit of a cooking frenzy, preparing a feast on Sunday.  

Thinking about this focaccia makes me smile.  You know when you follow a recipe and it works out so well that you feel amazing?  I’ve still got that feeling 24 hours later.  I think it’s more the art of making bread.  Getting the yeast to activate, kneading the dough.  In the end you have bread.  It amazes me.  I am more excited and happy when I make the basic things than when I cook tricky recipes. 

It’s the same feeling as when I made fresh pasta. 

I want to tell you about this focaccia, more so about the yeast.  I’ve made recipes using yeast a couple of times, and in my experience, I’ve never been that successful at getting yeast to activate.  It should be easy right?  Yesterday it finally was!  And my trick was putting it in a warm oven.  Just warm enough that you can still touch the wire racks.  Like 40°C warm.  And then storing the dough in the same oven temperature to rise again.  I love this. 

And then the yummy oil, rosemary and salt topping.  I have this drinking glass on my windowsill that has fresh rosemary sprigs, well it was fresh weeks ago.  It has dried out so nicely that they crunch when you eat them.  They worked perfectly on this focaccia.

Ok so the recipe.  It comes from The Food of Italy.  I followed the basic focaccia dough recipe to a tee (except it had quantities to make two, I only needed one) and their recipe called for green olives as well.  I just had a thought – garlic would have been amazing on top of this, mixed in with the olive oil.

Basic notes to this one – use the best olive oil you can get (virgin, not extra virgin) and sea salt flakes.  It will make a big difference. And another note, eat this the day you make it.  Focaccia goes a big tough the older it gets, it's best eaten straight out of the oven.

Adapted from the Food of Italy
¼ teaspoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon dried yeast (7.4g)
400ml warm water (you may not need all of this)
500g plain flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Extra olive oil
Fresh or dried rosemary
Sea salt flakes

In a small bowl, add the sugar, yeast and 60ml of the warm water.  Mix well and set aside in a draught free area for 5 minutes for the yeast to activate.  I like to put the yeast mix in a warm oven (40°C) to ensure it activates.  If the yeast does not activate, throw it away and start again.

In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, olive oil, yeast and three-quarters of the warm water.  Mix with a spoon to bring all the ingredients together.  Add a bit more water at a time until all the ingredients are well combined and a solid dough starts to form.  You may not need to use all the water.

Lightly flour a clean surface and place the dough in the centre.  Knead the dough for 8 minutes until it is nice and soft and elastic, and springs back when touched. 

Rub the inside of a large clean bowl with a little olive oil and place the dough in the centre.  Brush the dough with a little olive oil and make a cut along the top.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a damp tea towel and place in a draught free area for 1.5 hours to rise.  I like to place the bowl back in the warm oven.

After 1.5 hours the dough should have doubled in size.  Remove the tea towel and plastic wrap and push down to release the air bubble.

Line a baking tray with baking paper and place the dough on the tray, pushing it out to the edges using your fingers.   Cover the tray with plastic wrap and the damp tea towel and let it rise for another 1.5 hours in a draught free area (or back in the warm oven).

After 1.5 hours the dough should have risen again.  If you have used the oven to store the dough, remove now.

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Drizzle olive oil on the dough (be generous) and sprinkle the rosemary and sea salt flakes.  Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes or until golden.

Drizzle a little more olive oil on the focaccia (it will soak it up quickly) and let it rest on a wire tray.  Serve warm.

August 22, 2011

Seafood Risotto

I’ve been flipping through cookbooks a lot lately, tagging pages, writing down notes, drooling.  I find whenever I’m in a bit of a rut with my cooking, just flipping through books helps me get back into the right frame of mind.  There's one book in particular that has inspired me lately, and to be honest it’s not mine.  It’s my mum’s.  It’s this big Italian book that my dad and I bought her years ago as a present.  I’ve been looking to buy my own copy so I can give hers back, but so far no luck.

The book is called “The Food of Italy” and although there are new versions out there, I want the original.  Yeah, I’m difficult like that.  I don’t exactly follow the recipes, they mainly just give me ideas.  The other day while flipping through it I came across a seafood risotto recipe.  Ahh.. yes.  I made a really good seafood risotto not long ago.  Sitting on the couch I thought, I need to make this again. 

Yesterday while out at breakfast Colin came up with the idea to make it for dinner (he gets a lot of credit on this post, mainly because while I was setting up to take the photos, I left him to cook this dish).  We went to a near-by seafood shop and bought some marina mix that was already marinating in chilli and parsley (tick; don’t need to buy those two things).

Now I love risotto, and when I make it I add loads of parmesan because well, I love that too.  Seafood risotto is a different story.  There’s a debate on whether you add cheese to any type of seafood pasta or risotto.  My book told me not to.  My mum says not too.  My Zio in Italy, he does.  Although most will say no.  I decided not to, and even without it the risotto was still so creamy and delicious. 

Adapted from the Food of Italy
1 litre vegetable stock (you can also use fish stock)
400g marinara mix (prawns, squid, scallops, mussels)
Olive oil
2 knobs butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 red chilli, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

A handful of parsley, chopped
Sea salt

Heat the stock in a pot and keep hot throughout cooking.

In a separate pot, heat a good slug of olive oil, and quickly fry off the seafood in batches for a minute or so, taking them out as soon as they turn opaque (you want to make sure that you only just cook the seafood as it will continue to cook when it is added to the risotto).  Set them aside.

In the same pot, add a bit more olive oil and 1 knob of butter, then add the onions, celery, garlic and chilli, and fry on a medium heat for about 15 minutes until the vegetables have softened.  Turn the heat up and add the rice, stirring until all the rice is coated with the oil.  Add the wine and keep stirring to cook out the alcohol.

Once the wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a simmer, and keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring the creamy starch out of the rice.  Allow each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next.

Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, use boiling water.  (You don't want the rice to be completely cooked / soft before you add the other ingredients because when you take it off the heat, the risotto will continue to cook)

Remove from the heat and add 1 knob of butter, the chopped tomatoes, parsley and seafood, and stir through.  Place the lid on the pot and let it sit for a couple of minutes to help the the tomatoes cook and the liquids come together.  You might want to add a little more liquid if the rice absorbs it all. 

Serve immediately.  Serves 4.

August 15, 2011

Banana Muffins

When I told people I made banana muffins this weekend, their first response was “how much did the bananas cost you??!”  Since the floods in Queensland, I haven’t bought a banana.  No, the bananas I used in this recipe were from my freezer.  Is it ok to use frozen bananas that have been tucked away for over 6 months?  I hope so. 

As I write up this post I’m munching away on one, and old bananas or not, they are pretty darn tasty.  I always freeze bananas because I never get around to eating the whole bunch when I buy them.  Baking with frozen bananas is so ideal that it’s a blessing in disguise.  I’ve written bananas too many times.

I was watching TV not long ago when Donna Hay make these really quick blueberry muffins on her new series, Fast, Fresh, Simple.  I clearly remember her saying that the base recipe of the muffins could be adapted to any other flavour.  So I jumped on the internet, found her recipe (you can find the book here), and yep, it really is a great base recipe.

I didn’t change anything besides omitting the blueberries and adding banana.  Oh, and I adding some crushed up white chocolate bits on top because I had some left over from my last lot of muffins.  You could also add crushed up nuts, like almonds or walnuts, on top of the muffins. 

Adapted from Donna Hay
2½ cups self-raising flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup caster sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 egg
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 over ripe bananas, mashed
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.

In a large bowl, add the flour, baking powder, sugar, oil, egg, milk and vanilla.  Mix well with a spoon.  Add the banana and continue to mix.

Fill the paper cases with the mixture, and sprinkle a little of the granulated sugar on top.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when tested.  Cool on a wire rack.

August 12, 2011

Help where it is needed..

It seems the news today is filled with issues relating to money - whether it's the crash of stock markets, housing prices and interest rates, or even the thugs currently rioting in the streets of London, stealing off others because they feel they deserve it (don't even get me started on this).

What fails to get a mention are the more important things, in particular, the famine in Africa.  I'm not one who usually comments about these things, but when I feel that the general public need to step up and give attention to the people who need it most, I'll do something.  

I want to use this blog as my opportunity to say something, and even if it only encourages one person to donate, then I'll be happy with that.  I have put a banner on the side of the blog which with a simple click you can donate.  Hey, it might mean that you have to give up buying lunch at work one week - but isn't it worth it?

We are so blessed to have the freedom to do what we want, when we want, provide shelter and food for our loved ones, and live a generally comfortable life.  I for one couldn't imagine my life without the freedom to eat the food I love, after all, this is why I started this blog.  I think it's time to think about those who will never have that freedom, and share something we take for granted.

I chose to use Oxfam on my blog, but there are many places you can donate.  You can click here for more information.

Tash x

August 8, 2011

Baked Eggs

Most Saturday mornings I wake up to the words “cook the man some eggs”.  At first I started taking this as offensive and would reply with “f-off, make your own eggs!” until I learnt it was from the movie Once Were Warriors.  I also learnt that many guys are obsessed with this movie.  Me, haven’t seen it.

I mentioned in my Mushroom Bruschetta post that I cook an egg dish almost every Saturday morning.  A week or so ago, I cooked baked eggs.  I had seen Ina Garten make some on tv a few months back, so I jotted down the concept on a post-it note, put it on the fridge, and there is stuck.  

It was more of a “what’s in the fridge” kind of dish, because I didn’t actually go back to her recipe to follow any ingredients or instructions.  When I woke up that particular Saturday morning, I found eggs, cream and parsley in the fridge and thought “hmm, this could be a good time to make it” (inside of how my brain works, thanks for staying tuned!).

So here it is.  If you love cream and butter and eggs and parmesan and tasty goodness then you’ll love this!  If you like a subtle taste of richness then I recommend halving the butter and cream.  Oh and hold back on the salt.   The parmesan provides the salt element, so add salt later if you like.

I also learnt from this dish that you need to use a really shallow baking dish.  We put three eggs in one and the whites took longer to cook, which meant half the yolk was cooked.

Inspired by Ina Garten
Thickened cream
4 eggs
Parmesan, grated
Dill or parsley, chopped
Freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Place a knob of butter and a teaspoon the cream into each ramekin.  Place in the hot oven on a tray until the butter melts and the mixture starts to bubble.

Remove from the oven and carefully place two cracked eggs in each dish.  Sprinkle with the parmesan, herbs and pepper, and place back into the oven for around 5 – 10 minutes, or until the whites of the eggs are cooked and the yolk are still runny.

Serve with some crusty bread.

Serves 2.

It is best to use the shallowest ramekin dish you have, this way the whites cook quickly, leaving the yolks runny.  A deeper dish will slow the cooking process.

August 5, 2011

Cherry on top..

Cherries.  Oh cherries.  You make me smile.  To be honest I don't think cherries are in season, it's usually Summer when I see them in the shops, but for some reason I found some beauties down at the local grocer.

Cherries always remind me of Christmas (this may apply to most Australians).  A couple of days before Christmas, my dad would come home with a big box of cherries, which we weren't allowed to eat them until Christmas day.  This was kind of a lie, because I would always catch people sneaking a few in when no one was around.  I did.  

When it came time to eating them there would then be a fight over who had the most.  Papa of course ate the most, then would try and hide his pits and twigs so it didn't look like he had many.  It didn't work.  We all knew.  He's not a good liar.  

So at home with these cherries I thought I should maybe bake something sweet and yummy.  Then I ate one.  Then the rest.

Yeah, maybe next time.

August 2, 2011

Mint, Pea and Yoghurt Soup

After a few weeks of sheer indulgence, I am now on a health kick.  It’s time for soup (sorry if you’re not a big fan of soup, there’s a couple of posts coming your way).  I’m taking a break from the pasta and bread (it’s hard for me to even write that, especially considering I’ve had pizza twice in the past 4 days), and it’s vegetables and proteins all the way.

You see, scoffing half a dozen scones, and some muffins, plus the general day to day carb overload my diet consists of, you start to feel a little sluggish.  Avoiding outdoor activity because there’s a storm outside doesn’t help either.  Who am I kidding, I haven’t done outdoor activity since...  um...  hrmm.

I bought a new book a month or so ago – 100 Best Fresh Soups.  Pretty good book too.  There’s a couple in there that I’m really keen to try out, the Mint, Pea and Yoghurt soup was one of them.

I love peas.  And mint.  And yoghurt.  It’s no surprise that I really liked this soup.  I followed it quite closely except for the 300ml of milk and tablespoon of cornflour they added at the end.  I wasn’t sure about that, and after adding the yoghurt I felt it was creamy enough.  Try the milk if you’re up to the challenge.  I also chose not to blend the ginger.  I could smell the intense flavour it brought just after the boiling part that I decided to take it out.  I was left with a nice subtle hint of ginger.  Good decision I thought.

Adapted from 100 Best Fresh Soups
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
250g potatoes, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1-inch piece of ginger, sliced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon plain flour
850ml vegetable stock
500g fresh or frozen peas
Handful of mint, ripped
150ml plain Greek yoghurt
Sea salt
Black pepper

Heat the oil in a pot over a medium heat.  Add the onions and potato and cook until onion is translucent and soft.  Add the garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin and flour, and stir so all ingredients are mixed well.  Cook for a further minute – this will cook out the raw flour taste.  

Add the stock, peas and mint and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat, then continue to cook on a gentle simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and cooked through.

If you like a subtle ginger taste, remove the slices from the pot and discard.  Process the soup in a blender / food processor.  Pass the soup through a sieve, return to the pot and season with salt and pepper.  Add the yoghurt and stir, and then bring back to the boil.

Serves 4 - 6.

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