Monday, 2 June 2014

It's coming home

The start of the world cup is racing towards us yet again, has it really been 4 years? I am pretty sure that 4 years ago I’d resigned myself to the fact that by the next world cup I would consider myself so old I was practically dead and yet here I am again, while a lot has happened, I don’t feel that much different at all. Wiser maybe, a few lessons learnt and many mistakes made but a hell of a lot of laughter along the way too, seriously I have the lines to prove it.

Is this really a blog about football I hear you cry, well the simple answer is….No. I’m far from a hardcore footie fan, I don’t have a love of the beautiful game although I can, just about, explain the offside rule with the help a salt and pepper mill and a sugar bowl. So it’s not so much the football that interests me when it comes to the World cup. It’s the camaraderie, the magical way that our country seems to unite in tournaments such as this…well until we get knocked out anyway.

But on a serious note it’s true, whatever people say about us Brits we do have a remarkable way of pulling together to celebrate. Over the last few years we’ve enjoyed a Royal Wedding, the Queens Jubilee, the amazing Olympics to name just a few. As a nation we pulled together and put on a bloody good show, if I do say so myself. During these times it really is a joy to live in the country, even if it is raining the whole time, get an umbrella and quit moaning.

I particularly like these events as not only is the country in a bubble of happiness but there is a lot of emphasis on FOOD! (and there’s the rather tenuous link) The media bombards us with food adverts, offers, ideas, recipes and much, much more. We are actively encouraged to eat drink and be merry. Suddenly everyone is having a garden party, BBQ, buffet for friends and I think that this is brilliant. Sharing food, fun and laughter with friends, family and even strangers is what makes life enjoyable and so any event, be it football or not, that promotes this united feasting gets my seal of approval. So come on England, just this once, let us carry on the celebration right until the end.

Having friends over for footie? A Brazilian theme is essential. These little empanadas can be customized to whatever fillings you fancy, they are essentially little pasties and so are perfect for eating in front of the football with your hands.  Grab a bag of tortilla chips too as they are the perfect partner for any leftover guac and salsa. The usual lager, even with a wedge of lime, just will not cut it. Instead try these Caipirinha’s. That way even if we lose, you’ll still have a big smile on your face. Good luck England!

Spicy Beef & Feta Empanadas with Salsa & Guacamole
Makes 12

Either 500g block ready made shortcrust pastry or make your own. (I know that you’re thinking how rubbish and lazy it is that I haven’t even made my own pastry, well I am sorry to disappoint you but I HATE making pastry. Weeks and weeks of pastry making at cookery school has scarred me for life. I know I CAN make it, I just don’t want to, so there :-P!!)
300g minced steak
1 corn cob
1 clove garlic
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp chipotle paste
2 tsp dried oregano
75g feta cheese, crumbled
1 red pepper, seeds removed and diced
15g coriander 
juice ½ lime
1 egg, beaten, to glaze
3 large ripe tomatoes
1 small red onion or long shallot, diced
15g coriander, finely chopped
1 tbsp vinegar from a jar of jalapenos, serve the chillies along side the dips
2 limes, juiced
2 really ripe avocados, halved, peeled & stones removed
1 clove garlic, crushed
dash tobacco

1 Make the filling. Heat a large non-stick frying pan and brown the beef with a good pinch of salt and pepper. You shouldn’t need any oil and the fat will release from the beef. While it cooks break it up using a wooden spoon so no large lumps remain. Once brown tip into a bowl and set aside.

2 Tip the spring onions, pepper and corn into the pan and soften for a couple of minutes, then add the chipotle paste, vinegar, smoked paprika, garlic and oregano. Stir and cook for 1 minute more then return the beef and cook everything until caramalised. Remove from the heat and cool for a few minutes then stir in the coriander and feta and squeeze over the lime.

3 Heat oven to 220C/200Cfan/gas 7. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface Until about 4mm thick. Use a 10cm or 12cm pastry cutter to stamp out 12 circles, re rolling the trimming if you need to. Take each circle in your hands. Brush the border with a little beaten egg, place a spoon of filling on one half and fold over. Press to seal then crimp the edges together with your fingers. Glaze with more egg then place on a baking tray lined with non-stick parchment. Chill for 15 minutes, then remove, glaze again and bake for 16-20 minutes, until golden.

4 Meanwhile, for the salsa quarter each tomato and then cut out the seeds, discard these. Cut each quarter into thin long strips then dice, set aside a heaped tbsp for the guacamole. Add the rest to a bowl, squeeze over the juice from one of the lime, the jalapeño vinegar and add half the red onion and half the coriander, season with some salt and pepper and set aside.

5 Mash the avocado with the juice from the other lime, tobacco and some salt and pepper. Mix in the garlic, reserved tomato, rest of the coriander and other half of the red onion. Taste and adjust seasoning if you need to.

6 Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with a bowl of chips and the dips all on a big platter and dig in.

Makes 4

6 juicy limes, cut into wedges then each wedge cut in half
4 tbsp raw brown sugar

240ml of Cachaça  or if you really, really can’t find this use rum, but try…

lots of crushed ice
You can also flavour these with different fruits, muddle in some chopped strawberries, raspberries, passion fruit or mango as well for a fruitier drink.

1. Make one at a time. Put ¼ of the limes in a tumbler with 1 tbsp of the sugar. Muddle with the end of a rolling pin until the limes release the juice and the sugar dissolves. Pour in 60ml of  Cachaça , stir then add a handful of ice to fill up the glass. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients and serve with straws.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

There’s not mushroom in ere….

 So it’s almost June and I’m at home on a very wet and grey day…it’s so cold in fact I am more than a little bit tempted to wack the heating on. Good old Blighty eh, we had a scorching hot March and an arctic end of May….way to regulate the heating bills. So in an attempt to keep warm without taking the easy option I decided to embark on a spot of baking old chum, I was hoping it might lift my weather imposed grey mood too… well fingers crossed anyway.

I had rather a lot of mushrooms leftover from a recent freelance job I’d just finished and my sourdough starter was more than overdue a use. Mushrooms and bread…I certainly wasn’t feeling very inspired so far. Hmmmm. Still nothing. Maybe I could just put the heating on for a bit after all….

When suddenly out of nowhere (I Google imaged ‘mushrooms and bread’) I came up with this interesting idea…..all by myself. How creative I am. There was amazing looking cheesy, mushroom pull apart bread that sounded incredible but was made using a bought loaf so I figured I could combine those ingredients into the bread itself and it would be even more delicious. I had visions of me eating it with a steaming bowl of homemade soup for the next few days. So I began concocting my recipe.

I started with basic-ish dough; I used half the amount of yeast and added some of my starter along with some honey and low fat yogurt because, well basically, they were leftover too. This would be a bun made from the remnants of my last job and emptish fridge, much better than going to the job Centre I imagined. A good way to clear out the fridge, keep warm and begin the week again. Just call me Miss.Thrifty. On closer inspection the mushrooms were, shall we say, past their best. Meaning they were covered in mould and slime, delish. So I axed them and instead sweated some shallots, garlic, rosemary, thyme and bacon. I added some finely chopped Gruyere and parsley to the mix and hey presto my bacon and cheese buns were done. I was warm. The house smelled like freshly baked bread and bacon. I think we can all agree I’d great result all round.

Here’s the recipe, you could fill yours with whatever you like best, or whatever you have left over but this combination is a good one. I reckon they’d be all right with mushrooms too ;-)

P.s. These would make AWESOME burger buns. AWESOME.

Bacon & Gruyere rolls
Makes 8

450g very strong flour
8g salt
15g fresh yeast
30g honey
120g low fat natural yogurt
about 200ml cold water
4 rashers smoked bacon
2 long shallots
10g fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 sprig rosemary, chopped
1 sprig thyme, chopped

1 Make the dough. Put the flour and salt in the bowl of a food mixer with a dough hook fitted. Mix the yeast, honey and starter in a jug. You need a jug so you can measure the amount of water in a bit. Put the motor on and add the yeasty mix, then fill the jug up to 250ml, stir to incorporate any residual yeast mixture . Add the water little by little until you have soft but not sticky dough. Knead for 12 minutes on a slow speed. Oil a bowl and leave to rise for about 3 hours, until doubled in size.

2 Meanwhile chop the bacon and cook in a non-stick pan until crispy, add the shallots, rosemary, thyme and garlic and cook for 5 mins more, until softened and caramalised. Allow to cool a little.

3 Butter or oil 8 empty small baked bean or spaghetti hoop cans or holes of a muffin tin. When the dough has doubled in size divide into 8 equal sized pieces. Flatten each one out slightly and spoon some bacon and cheese into the center. Bring the edges of the dough into the middle so that the filling is encased. Smooth out with your hands until you have smooth, pert buns J.

3 Pop into the greased tins, cover with lightly oiled cling film, rise again until doubled, let’s call it an hour. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Bake for 18-20 mins until risen and golden. Cool I n the tins then run a knife around the edges to release the buns. Eat with soup or however you wish.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A Pizza' the Action (Sorry)

Well I’ve had an amazing two days; the sun even came out for a few hours too- which was a bonus! I feel very lucky to be here, the family who run the school have been so kind and generous and I haven't, even for a second, felt lonely. Biagio, the Italian chef, is such an awesome character; he really makes the whole experience even more magical.

What I’ve loved about the whole thing is just how integral food is to the family life. Mealtimes are long, social and highly enjoyable. We cook each day and at around 7-8pm people congregate either in the bar area, or the tables in the cookery school and we all eat, chat and have a drink together. Not once have I ever been asked to pay (although I have tried) for anything. You instantly feel part of the family and although I can’t speak Italian I have felt so comfortable and at home. These are good, honest people, willing to share all they have with you, for nothing in return. The food is simple, homely and delicious and nothing goes to waste. Every last scrap is used up somehow.

I have learnt so much already, not just about pizza either, things I’m certain I’ll never forget and wouldn’t have learnt from years reading books or watching YouTube videos.

Day 2:

Today we made the starter for the dough we would be using in the wood oven. Traditional Naples pizza contains no yeast, so it takes a long time for the dough to be ready, in fact the dough we were starting today (Tuesday) we wouldn’t be cooking until Thursday. Good pizza takes time, Biagio told me. Unlike the dough we had made before there was no sugar or oil in it, just flour, cold water and salt. Which is why for hundreds of years it’s been a staple food for Italy’s poorest people, it really is so cheap to make. It makes you wonder how come back home we end up paying over £10 for an average, sometimes terrible pizza, crazy really when you think about it. We mixed the starter ingredients, flour and water along with some natural yogurt or fruit juice to start the fermentation and production of natural yeast, then it was left at room temperature, covered, for 24 hours.

After this we got on with making a local specialty made at Easter time using the same dough as we made yesterday, it is called Casatiello or Easter Pizza. I don’t know about you but I’d swap a chocolate egg for a slice of Easter Pizza any day, no contest. The pizza dough was rolled out to a rectangle, dotted with pork fat then filled with a mixture of chopped meats and cheese (whatever was leftover)  and sliced hardboiled eggs. It was then rolled up like a cigar and left to prove in a round tin before being glazed with more egg and baked until golden. The result was an impressive centrepiece for any Easter feast that was simple and most importantly inexpensive to prepare. We ate it for dinner with a simple salad and a delicious dish of homemade pasta cooked with a little garlic, parsley, olive oil and the most delicious mushrooms. It was wonderful. After dinner a few of us wandered into the local square for a few more drinks, where we were given even more food (for free). It was a good job I was spending 3-4 hours a day walking around as well as a daily morning run to burn off all this extra food!

Day 3

I was so excited that today, finally, after years of waiting I, Lucy Nev, would be cooking in a wood oven. It was like Christmas eve as a child, the minutes seemed to drag by so slowly until finally it was 11.30 and we could begin. We used the starter from yesterday to make tomorrows dough, as a rule of thumb you use 200g of starter for every 1 kg of flour along with 20g salt and about 400-600ml of cold water, added gradually and always by eye not amount. The dough was made in the mixer and Biagio just knew, from years of experience, exactly how the dough should look and when it was ready.

That was one thing I was really learning.... to be a truly good chef, or even a truly good pizza chef you had to understand the dough, that could only come through constant practice and experience. The dough was then shaped into balls, about 280-300g each, covered and left in the fridge overnight. The dough we would use today would need to contain some yeast. Biagio explained to me the less time you had the more yeast you would need. We had about 2 hours, so for 3kg of flour (we were making pizza for a LOT of people) we used 75g fresh yeast, about 60g of salt and 2 litres of water. The dough was mixed, shaped into balls and left to prove in a well floured container while we prepped up the toppings and set off to the wood oven, which was in the orange tree filled garden of Biagios friend, Michelangelo.

The oven was lit and took about 1 hour for the wood to burn down to the correct temperature, upon which it was pushed to one side and we were ready to begin. I learn the technique for hand shaping, a lot of flour was used and the dough was first pushed into a round using your finger tips then hand stretched. It was then put on a pizza peel, topped with hand crushed plum tomatoes, a little basil, mozzarella, olive oil and Parmesan. Not too much, or the pizza would be soggy. Once gently eased into the oven it cooked in around 90 seconds. What I tasted today was hands down the best pizza I have ever eaten, so simple yet so delicious. A lightly charred, slightly chewy crust, sweet acidic tomatoes, creamy mozzarella and salty Parmesan and fresh basil served piping hot straight from the oven, with a plastic cup of Sorrento red, of course.

Biagio told me I was a 'natural' and he couldn’t believe I’d never worked in a pizzeria before, maybe he tells all the girls that but hey, it made my day. I truly had had one of the best experiences of my life, as well as THE best pizza. It had been a good day indeed, and it was still only 3pm!

Roll on tomorrow!

Makes 2 big pizza pies, enough for about 8-10 slices per pie

1kg ‘0’ Canadian flour
30g fresh yeast
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp olive oil
20g salt
about 600ml cold water
4 hardboiled eggs
About 2-3 tbsp pork fat, lard or olive oil
Mixture of ham, salami, Provolone, Mozzarella, Parmesan, sausages, ricotta (whatever you have leftover) You need about 4 handfuls, 2 per pie.

1 Heat oven to high, about 180C Lightly grease two round tins with a little of the fat. Make the dough by hand or in a mixture by combining all the dough ingredients. Mix for about 7 minutes, or knead by hand until smooth and soft. Leave to prove in a floured bowl covered until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

2 Chop all the filling ingredients into small chunks.

3 When the dough is ready divide into two, shape into a rectangle by pressing with your finger tips, now roll out using a rolling pin until about 30 x 40cm. Dot with half the fat and scatter n half the filling and two of the eggs (peel and slice them first, obvs). Roll up and transfer to the tin, see pic. Cover and prove for about another 30-40 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.

3 Glaze with egg then bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden, risen and hollow sounding when tapped. Leave to cool a little on a wire rack before serving.