Friday, 5 September 2014

The Perfect Pizza

Let's face it. Good pizza is awesome. Do you even know anyone who doesn't like pizza?! For a cheapo dinner date with mates it's perfect, but made at home it's somehow more special (and seems healthier somehow?!). I would define a good pizza as being so thin it almost can't bear the weight of the topping, and talking of toppings, I have learnt over the years that less is more. Cover your pizza in a greedy mish mash of toppings and you will have a soggy mess. Adorn your pizza sparingly and you will have a delicious light crispy mouthful of heaven. Pizza is getting really good in the UK now, finally steering away from deep pan and stuffed crusts (HOTDOG STUFFED CRUSTS, WTF?????). The most memorable slice of pizza I had was in a train station cafe in Riccione on the way to an Italian girlfriend's hen do. I decided then and there that I should probably be living in Italy if that was what you got in the station cafe. Soggy overpriced croissants and extortionate crap tea this wasn't.

As usual, I digress. Below is what I reckon to be a great pizza recipe, yes it's a slight effort to make it from scratch but make a batch on a rainy day (oh lots of them this AUGUST) and freeze what you don't use. I thought it might be a it of a lie that you can freeze the dough but it's true! And you look completely badass when you can just whip up home made pizzas with half an hours notice. This is based on Jamie Oliver's recipe which I have used forever.

Makes 6-8 massive pizzas. I hate floury mess so I like to throw all the dry ingredients in a bowl to mix and knead but do what you want. Sieve 1kg strong bread flour/00 flour/plain flour if that's all you've got into a massive bowl/clean work surface with a teaspoon of salt. In a jug mix 2 of those nifty 7g sachets of yeast with 650ml lukewarm water, 4tbsp olive oil and 1tbsp sugar, mix well and leave for a minute. Pour into the well. Make a well in your flour, and using your fingers/fork/wooden spoon gradually swirl the wet into the dry and once incorporated get kneading, for about 5 ish minutes until you have a really nice smooth springy dough. Dust a bowl (can be same one) with flour, plop your dough in, sprinkle a little flour on top, cover with a damp tea towel and leave somewhere warm to prove until doubled in size (about an hour). This is where a fancy proving drawer seen recently on GBBO would come in handy but seriously who has one of those? Pre heat oven to max temp and put in a large baking tray/sheet.

Once all puffed up, take out of the bowl and on a floured surface 'knock it back'. I always like this bit, basically gently knead the air out of it. Break off a (girl sized) fist sized ball (at this point portion out the dough and individually freeze what you don't need in clingfilm) and roll it out into a really thin circle. Get it onto the now piping hot baking sheet and quickly smear some tomato sauce* and your toppings. Go easy remember! Shove back into oven and cook for about 6 minutes until golden and crispy. I won't tell you what to put on your pizza because half the fun is creating your own, if you have an awesome base whatever you put on will be great. Except pineapple, anything but pineapple.

* for tomato sauce I simply let a tin of chopped tomatoes, a squirt of tomato purée and a smashed garlic clove with seasoning, bubble down to a really thick sauce which takes about half an hour if that.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Get Dressed

The humble but divine vinaigrette
How many bottles of various salad dressings do you have in your cupboard? I bet there is at least something with sweet chilli and one with whole grain mustard and maybe something poncey and artisanal that you've never opened. And they are all gross because salad dressing should be made at home. Practically free and one million times better than something bought. For years I've been trying to emulate my Dad's recipe, the problem being it's not really a recipe as he just makes it on the spot, a little taste here and there, until 'Aaah, just right'. I'm no salad hugger, but along side a juicy steak I want nothing more than a perfectly dressed salad. And chips. Lots of chips. When eaten with something on the heavy side, like a risotto, a perfectly dressed salad is a necessary and complimentary accompaniment. Friends have often asked how I make my dressing so I figured, yes, dressing does matter! How awful is a thoughtless splash of screamingly tart Balsamic vinegar over a beautiful salad? How is it so acidic and so sweet at the same time? 

You don't need fancy vinegars to make a decent dressing, lemon juice and olive oil works perfectly, but below are the ingredients I use to make what I reckon is a pretty near perfect lick for otherwise, lets face it, boring salad leaves.

Oil base: I always use extra virgin olive oil, don't understand this rape seeds oil stuff, bleurgh.
Acidity: Anything you fancy from lemon juice, cider or white wine vinegar etc etc
Sweetness: this will stop that burning in the back of your throat, the tiniest pinch of sugar, I use whatever is to hand. It's not to make it taste sweet, rather to neutralise the acid a little.
Seasoning: essential, freshly ground salt and pepper.
Heat: I nearly always add a little pinch of English mustard powder or a little Dijon mustard.
Flavour: For a simple salad I always like to let a bashed clove of garlic flavour the dressing.

I never bother measuring but the general rule is one part acid to three parts oil. The rest of it is personal taste but add a little at a time, you can always add but it's annoying trying to take away. I don't have anything fancy to make dressing in, I just use a little glass and give it all a good stir. If using garlic let it sit a while, otherwise you're good to go. Also great for asparagus and globe artichoke.

A nicely dressed salad adds much needed freshness to anything from steak to pasta, go forth and mix, elevate your drab lettuce leaves to something wonderful!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Potato Rosti for Breakfast (and not making a hash of it for once)

Come the morning on weekdays, I gulp down a smoothie, I'm never hungry first thing but if I don't eat, the lure of croissant perfume they pump out of M&S at Green Park will get me every time. Even if I remain strong I have to walk past an Eat and a Pret. So I am screwed if I don't eat before I leave the house. People look at me in horror when I tell them my breakfast smoothie contains a raw egg, my boss told me to try it and I've never looked back. Come the weekend however, there is generally a naughty lie in,  more time and often a little hangover to deal with. The weekend demands a fun breakfast, something you don't have time for during the week, something to kick off two days off in style. But who has the foresight to plan breakfast??! Generally not me, which is why we often end up with soft boiled eggs and soldiers which is a little bit fun, but not overly exciting.

I have been put off making rostis ever since I attempted it with a non-non-stick frying pan. It tasted ok but it was anything but a rosti. I tried again with a new pan and won. It couldn't be simpler. A load of grated spuds with a bit of onion thrown in for good measure, squished in a pan, fried to a crisp, with a poached egg lobbed on top. I mostly have spuds and eggs. No fancy ingredients needed for this one.

Feeds 2. Peel and grate two large potatoes, and one large onion. Put all your gratings into a clean tea towel and squeeze the hell out of it over the sink. Amazing how much liquid comes out. This, you do not want in your rosti, mainly because it won't be a rosti. When as dry as poss, mix in a bowl with plenty of seasoning. Heat plenty of olive oil in a NON STICK frying pan and divide the mix into four. Plop each on in the pan and squidge down with a spatula. After a few minutes have a careful, sneaky look at the underside, you want golden brown, not light brown or indeed dark brown. Flip over, cook the other side (add more oil if it's mostly been sucked up) and serve with a poached egg on top.

There are a multitude of ways to pimp this, just go for it with whatever you have in your fridge/cupboard. I liked it simple. But with harissa on the side, obviously.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Surprise Indian Style Seabass

'On train home. Have you eaten yet? x' was the text I read as I stumbled out of the Bikram studio last night. Which really meant 'What's for dinner?'. Sweaty and tomato-like I had a 20 minute walk home to concoct a dinner plan, I had to use the sea bass fillets in the fridge and was going to roast them on potatoes with a bit of harissa to jazz them up. 'Eurgh. That sounds weird.' Said the Boyfriend, who spent the next 5 minutes hopefully suggesting curry. By the time I got home I had it sorted. Oven on, jump in shower, dress, rub a load of cubed potatoes and cauliflower with spices and roast, pan fry the fish with some more Indian bits and pieces, and bosh. No-one really wants to cook at 9pm knackered from a Bikram class but there wasn't really any choice, and it was really quick and easy, and I even got a 'That was really delicious!' from the Boyfriend, so that's why I'm sharing this recipe. I DONE A RECIPE ALL BY MYSELF!

Feeds two porkers. Pre-heat oven to 190c. Cube a couple of medium sized potatoes (don't bother peeling) into cubes no larger than 2cm and cut up a cauliflower into florets. Don't chuck the soft inner leaves, they're the best bits when they go all browned and crunchy. Slice two garlic cloves length-ways, not too thinly. That's important, otherwise they burn and go bitter. Put all this in a large baking tray and sprinkle over a teaspoon each of cumin seeds, mustard seeds, garam masala, half a teaspoon of tumeric and salt, one finely sliced red chili a generous glug of olive oil and mix well (hands are best, but then I still have yellow nails and look like I smoke 200 a day so use a spatula if you like). Roast for 20 minutes or so, turning a couple of times so it doesn't stick. You want it to the potatoes to be cooked through and the cauliflower a little browned but with a little bite still. Take two fillets of sea bass and rub with a mixture of the following: half a teaspoon of ground cumin, ground coriander and a pinch of salt and pepper. When the veg is just about ready, heat a non-stick frying pan, add a splash of oil and fry skin down for two or three minutes to make the skin nice and crispy. Turn over and cook for a further minute. Serve with the potatoes and cauliflower, a sprinkling of chopped coriander, and if like us, you need a bit of green, some cooked sliced cabbage tossed with a little fried garlic and mustard seeds.

This was one of those happy experiments that I will cook again. Not like my un-happy experiment the other day (a horrible mess of soggy noodles and cloying peanut butter which was so inedible it actually went in the bin).

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Shakshuka - Pimped with Merguez

'Why have you put little turds in my breakfast?' asked The Boyfriend, when he finally emerged from his bed at midday on Sunday. That was the thanks I got for making a hangover busting feast for him (us). This is a rather exotic version of Eggs In Purgatory, hailing from Tunisia, Morocco, Libya or Algeria* depending on who you listen to and this recipe is an amalgamation of the many recipes out there. I think it's fair to say we have Yottam Ottolenghi to thank for the recent enthusiasm for North African and Middle-Eastern cooking, our cupboards are exploding enthusiastically with za'atar and sumac and what not, and if it means I get to eat things like this on a regular basis, hooray for him. 

Feeds two slightly hanging people who should know better. Grill/fry some lamb merguez sausages, they can be slightly undercooked as they will cook with the eggs a bit later. Just brown them nicely. In a large deep frying pan heat a generous glug of olive oil and gently fry one chopped onion, two chopped garlic cloves and a chopped red chilli (seeds in or out, your choice, it always makes me annoyed when a recipe says 'remove seeds', because what if I don't want to??!), half a chopped red pepper (you can use a whole one but I find it a bit sweet). After about 7 minutes add a tbsp harissa and cook for a further few minutes. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and season well. Let it bubble away gentle for maybe 10 minutes, until it has noticeably thickened. At this point take a spoon, make a little well in the sauce and crack an egg into said well. repeat three times then artistically place the sausages around the eggs. take a spoon/fork and with the wrong end, swirl the egg whites around, mixing into the sauce a bit but don't break the yolks. It can be a little tricky getting the whites cooked before the yolks overcook but keeping the dish uncovered helps. It will take about 6 minutes for the eggs to cook, less with a lid on. Serve strewn with chopped mint/parsley/coriander and a dollop of natural yoghurt or labneh (just strained yoghurt, which I am currently obsessed with). A bit of bread of some description wouldn't go amiss either.

You could pimp this further with feta, spring onions, chorizo instead of Merguez, whatever you have handy. Try not to get sausages that look like little turds though, although they did taste amazing...

*or all of the above. I think it might be like hummus, no-one really knows where it originated. 

Friday, 28 February 2014

'Nduja Linguine - Pasta Sauce for grown-ups

The day I discovered 'nduja (en-doo-ya) was a very happy day indeed. There was a stage when every food writer/journo/blogger was banging on about it so I thought it's probably worth a try. It was worth many tries and I implore you to give it a go. 'Nduja is a spicy, spreadable sausage from Calabria, Italy, and it is made with potentially undesirable parts of a pig's head with a firey whack of chilli. You can buy it in chunks, wrapped in its casing,  (see left) and you can melt chunks of it in purpose made clay erm, melting devices, you can stuff rolled pork belly with it, make scotch eggs with it (I will be soon,) or you can do as I have done here, and very simply melt it in a pan and toss through some pasta. The flavour is unique and really quite punchy, a little goes quite a way.

Feeds one: This is a quick dish so start by getting your pasta on the boil, I like to use linguine, something about how it feels on my toungue, ooh err, I just love it, but use what you have. Gently fry half a finely chopped onion and a small minced clove of garlic in a little olive oil, in a medium saucepan and cook until nice and soft. Break off a thumb sized piece of 'nduja and push it round until it have broken up and melted, leaving you with vibrant red oil and tiny nuggets of pork. Drain the pasta when al dente and add to the 'nduja pan along with a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley, I like the freshness of it, although it's not essential. Mix the pasta and sauce really well and flop it into a bowl, topping with plenty of grated parmesan. In 8 or 9 minutes you have a bowl of pasta to be proud of, so twirl away and don't worry about the fact you're eating pig's head. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Chicken Schnitzel - Because everything tastes good crumbed and fried right?

Well maybe not everything tastes better crumbed and fried, but many things do, and this includes chicken
breasts. I almost never buy chicken breasts, tending to favour thighs, for flavour and price reasons, but I wanted to try out a sexy looking recipe involving stuffing the skin of chicken breasts with nduja. So like a complete moron I bought skinless ones by accident. I was genuinely annoyed I couldn't make what I had planned, but then I remembered the old classic Schnitzel. The method of bashing the hell out of the poor unwanted chicken breast, covering it with bread crumbs and frying, keeps the chicken moist and delicious. Apart from using lots of plates, it's very quick, great for week-time suppers when the last thing you want to be doing is faffing around the kitchen with some complicated recipe best saved for an idle Saturday.

Feeds two. Take two unwanted (or indeed wanted) skinless chicken breasts, and between two sheets of clingfilm, bash like you've never bashed before. You want the finished article to be no thicker than 2cm.  Choose your weapon wisely, a thick rolling pin works well, as does an empty wine bottle. You could use a meat tenderiser too, I just remembered I had one and will be using that next time. Doh. Have one shallow bowl at the ready and lightly whisk an egg into it. Put a handful of seasoned flour on a plate, and on a third plate put a couple of handfuls of bread crumbs mixed with a tbsp chopped thyme leaves and the chopped zest of a lemon. Heat up a non-stick frying pan and add a tbsp olive oil. Meanwhile take one steam-rollered breast, dip first in the egg, then the flour and finally the breadcrumbs, making sure you have good crumby coverage. Over a medium heat fry this bad boy, not forgetting about the other one. They only take about 4 minutes each side so do watch that they don't burn, golden is the aim, not charcoal. Flip over once golden and fry the other side. Serve with something green and maybe some spuds* of some description. Really nice with a squirt of lemon.

You could do this with pork loin, or veal would be great too. Just make sure there is lots of flavour in your breadcrumbs, don't burn it and you can't go wrong. 

*I asked the Boyfriend if he wanted some sort of carbs with dinner and he said 'What are carbs?' Oh to be a boy!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

When Hunger these seeded crisp breads

Birdseed never looked so good
When me and my two sisters were at school, unless my Mum had delicious meanwhiles* to subdue our pre-pubescent hunger, there was literally hell to pay. I would get stroppy, middle sister would have what can only be described as a rather petrifying fit of fury, and the little one would sob her eyes out in disbelief. Poor Mum. Usually we got iced buns or lardy cakes from Reeves (a brilliant chain of bakeries located in the South West of England) but on the occasion that she presented us with a crappy packet of digestives there were problems. Not a great deal has changed since then, I don't have babies to feed yet, but I do have a boyfriend who periodically screeches at me, eyes pleading, beak open, demanding food. When his blood sugar levels drop he gets hangry. A subject I find great amusement in discussing with little sister, as one of her besties can transform in the same way, a Jeckyl and Hyde moment. These specimens must be fed immediately.

I, however, do not suffer from hanger. Instead, when I get in from work, starving and desperate for food, I tend to pick away at the fridge until that nagging emptiness is gone. This is a terrible thing to do for several reasons: it undoes all the good work I have done at Bikram, I nearly always have cheese in the fridge which is what I grab first, and then I'm not that hungry for ages so we eat later than we should. At Christmas, the Boyfriend's Mum gave me some of these seeded crisp-breads that she'd made, and holy moly are they good for those just-got-in-from-work-need-a-nibble-now moments. Savoury and crunchy and delicious they fill the gap before dinner is ready. The funniest thing is that the Boyfriend won't touch them, as they are 'full of bird seed' so he has to make do with the minging multi-pack of baked crisps he bought by accident, thinking they were normal Walker's. Ha.

This makes a huge batch but they will keep in tupperware, and I'm going to bring some to my friend's house later when we go over for dinner. She's preggers so I thought it would be a nice change from a bottle of Schloer.

Preheat the oven to 200c. Mix the following in a large bowl: 100g each of porridge oats, sesame seeds, linseeds (yeah I know! I've never eaten them either, just marvelled at the pretty blue fields of them in the summer), sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, 350g flour (any flour, go crazy, experiment), 1tsp baking powder and 1.5tsp salt. Now add 200ml water and 125ml oil (I used plain old vegetable oil) and mix really well, it will get quite stiff but do mix it up properly. Take a third of the mixture and roll it out between two large pieces of non-stick baking paper, you want roughly the thickness of Ryvita. Peel the top layer of paper off and cut into your desired shape. I went for rectangles. Original. Carefully place the sheet onto a baking tray and cook for about 15-20 minutes until slightly browned. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

I reckon you could get pretty creative with these, maybe a little cayenne pepper or Parmesan or both? I look forward to playing with this recipe. It was entitled 'Linda's Delicious Crisp Bread' but I don't know Linda and the Boyfriend's Mum is called Brenda so they can be Brenda's.

These are seriously good warm from the oven, so that's your little treat as chef. In fact I ate so many that I didn't need lunch, much to the Boyfriend's horror, when I suggested he make himself cheese on toast for lunch. Cheese on toast for lunch? Perish the thought.

*a snack to tide one over until dinner time

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Chickpea & Chorizo & Parsley Soup

No carrot & coriander here...
I completely mullered a pan of chickpeas the other day. I cooked them for so long they were pretty much ready made hummous by the time I remembered to drain them. My intention was to make a curry with them, but their sad soggy texture lent itself to one thing only, soup. I have a mean opinion of soup in general, for me it is for lunch, for when you're ill, to re-fuel with and warm up with, but not necessarily to excite. I find it baffling when people tell me how they made this 'amazing soup', what's that? You cooked some onions and garlic up, added veg, stock, boiled it and blended it? Well that just blows my mind. Except it doesn't. At all. This soup changed my mind a little, it's different, it has bulk and what are essentially meaty croutons (yesssss) and beats boring old leek and potato any day. It's based on a recipe from Casa Moro, I changed it to suit what I had (the original used little white beans), which was soggy chick peas, lots of them.

Amounts are quite loose, you can have it thicker or thinner, just add stock accordingly and you can make it stretch. The amounts below feed 3 ish.

Soak 375g chickpeas/cannellini beans overnight with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda (I think it stops the farts), drain, and boil in fresh water for about an hour, until you can easily squish with your fingers. When you drain them, keep the liquid you boiled them in, this will be your base. If you forget (like in a pouring the gravy down the drain moment) jut use some good stock, either way you need about 1.5ltrs of liquid*. Liquidise the beans/chickpeas in their liquid or stock, you want the consistency of double cream, so best to hold back and add more liquid if needed. Now in another large saucepan, heat about 4tbsp olive oil and fry four chopped cloves of  garlic, but be careful not to burn. Add two hand fulls of chopped flat leaf parsley, cook for another minute and add a tsp of hot paprika. Mix in the beans/chickpeas that you just wizzed up. Heat a separate small frying pan, and dry fry a good handful of chorizo (ideally cooking variety) that you have chopped up into little cubes. The oil will soon ooze out. Make them nice and crispy. Season the hell out of your soup, it can take a fair bit of salt, ladle into bowls and top with the chorizo and a generous sprinkling of more chopped parsley.

This soup will be your friend, but it might not make you friends as you may pong of garlic a bit. But who needs friends when you have meat croutons in soup?

*Yes, quantities here are more of a guide, it's soup, not rocket science.