Friday, 22 August 2014

Nevs amazeballs

Our world is now one where it’s normal to have seen your friends and families holiday snaps before they even fly home. You will know what your cousin Alice got for her birthday before she has even had time to tell you herself and hell you probably even saw what I had for dinner last night before I even tasted it. Yep social media means that we are now more connected than ever and while it can be a pain in the ass at times (‘the oh so inspirational’ quotes or subtle digs that you don’t have to be a genius to figure out have a hidden meaning) it’s pretty amazing too as well. I love that I can keep in touch with friends all over the globe and see their wonderful pictures and posts. My nieces and nephews grow so quickly and with the help of social media I feel that little bit more connected. I feel lucky I can share those precious moments with them, that wouldn’t have always been possible. Plus, lets face it…I do actually really want to know what you had for dinner last night too.

The wealth of information can seem a little overwhelming and there are times when you feel like you’ve definitely seen more than you would have chosen to. The trick is to try not to let it influence you too much, although this is sometimes easier said than done. When life does occasionally get me down though or I have something troubling on my mind and I just want to switch of for a few hours and get away from the world I find the best thing to do is put down the technology and get into the kitchen and cook. Quite handy really considering my job! Naturally I’ll post a picture afterwards too, of course. Recently I had a go at making some iced doughnuts, kind of a traditional jam filled doughnut meets an iced bun in an attempt to cheer myself up one day.

Iced buns have always been my favourite. I don’t really have a sweet tooth so could go a whole year without eating a slice of cake or a chocolate bar but I’ve got a lot of time for the iced bun. Definitely not the most refined or interesting of baked goods I’ll agree but there’s something so charming and reassuring about their simple deliciousness that I just can’t resist. I’m guessing it must stem from my love of bread. It’s basically a wonderful combination of bread, jam and icing. These will never disappoint. I had a lot of different sprinkles in my baking cupboard (left over from other projects) and so I spent the afternoon covering balls of dough, piped full of Nutella or jam with a multitude of colourful sugary treats. My kitchen was covered. I was covered. The doughnuts were covered. Even the dog was covered in a film of sugar but by the time I’d finished my mood had been lifted to something way past happiness.

This doughnut recipe might not be the most technical, impressive or refined but I guarantee you once you finish you’ll be happy, even if they look a bit rustic. I have come to the conclusion it’s impossible to be unhappy when the kitchen floor crunches with hundred and thousands under foot and you have a still warm, icing dripping, jam drizzling doughnut in your hand.

So basically what I am saying is this. Instead of brooding and filling my day with unhappiness, worry and stress I choose to make doughnuts. It took my mind of things, cheered me up but not only that it stopped me ruining any more moments by being in a bad mood. The trouble with being pissed off is this; it’s not just the moment you spend being unhappy, it’s all the happy moments you miss out on, that’s the real loss. It may sounds stupid and oversimplified but it works, make these doughnuts and you’ll find out. Hope you have all a happy bank holiday.

Mini iced doughnuts (Nevs amazeballs)
Makes about 20

300g strong white bread flour
10g fast action yeast (1.5 sachets)
2 tsp almond extract or vanilla extract
2 tbsp golden caster sugar
1 large egg (must be large)
110ml semi-skimmed milk
About ½ jar of jam or nutella, use smooth jam or the fruit will clog up the piping bag
250g icing sugar
Sprinkles, loads, whatever you have lying around, or nuts, anything really that will stick

1 Heat the milk, butter, vanilla until melted. Allow to cool a little (about 5 mins) and stir in the egg and the yeast, leave for about 5 mins or until it looks frothy. In a machine with a dough hook fitted mix the flour and yeasty mixture until smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes, or by hand mix then knead for about 10 minutes. Leave in an oiled bowl covered with oiled Clingfilm until doubled in size. You can pop it in the fridge overnight or leave at room temperature for about 1 hour 30 minutes.

2 Once risen lightly punch back the dough and divide into about 18-20 balls. Weigh them. I know you think this is boring and a waste of time but they will look so much better. You want them between 26-30g each, it’s not that tough, just divide into 18 ish rough balls, weigh one by one adding or taking away a little until you have the correct weigh. Simples. Shape. Basically take each piece and you want to pull the sides into the middle so the surface is smooth and rounded. Once you have that use your hands as a cone to complete the ball shape.

3 Place on a parchment lined tray, with a little space to grow, cover with oiled cling film and leave for about 45 mins, or doubled in size. Meanwhile heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Bake for about (my oven is hot so keep an eye on them) 12 mins, check after 8. Until golden and risen.

3 Allow to cool for about 10 mins under a tea towel to keep the crusts soft. Use a skewer to poke a hole in each and wiggle a little to make room for the filling. Mix the icing sugar with enough water to form a stiff but slowly pourable consistency. Fill a piping bag with a small nossel with jam, or warmed nutella (this makes it more pliable) and pipe into each bun. Place on a wire rack or tray lined with parchment (it gets messy, the parchment helps operation clean up!). Spoon the icing onto the middle of each ball, enough so it runs down the side and coats them. Sprinkle!!!!!! Smile. Breath. Feel happy. Eat!

Best eaten the day you make them. They wont be around for more than a few hours anyway.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Pizza on the must be smokin'

Like most good ideas, this one happened by chance. With the ongoing absence of a wood oven in my life I’d become quite creative (and perhaps a little obsessed) in my quest to create a delicious and authentic pizza at home. I’d made the dough enough times now to be confident that it was a winner but I wasn’t fully satisfied with my cooking method, which I’d borrowed from the incredible Pizza Pilgrims. (Who, it must be said, I can’t speak more highly of, they’re like my pizza idols.)

The base would start off in a smoking hot dry pan then it would be topped and left to puff up a little before flashing under a smoulderingly hot grill to melt. The result was good however, I had 2 issues with this method. The speed at which it had to be topped coupled with the fact that I had to transfer from pan to tray to be able to fit it under my grill meant I had to be very meagre with the toppings. Although an authentic pizza didn’t have a lot of toppings on it trying to explain this to hungry dinner guests who wanted the works on their pizza never seemed to end too well.

Secondly, I have an incredibly sensitive smoke alarm, and live in an apartment with lots neighbours. Said smoke alarm was not a fan off pizza nights in Nev’s kitchen and felt the need to voice this dislike at several intervals during the night. The particularly offensive alarm could only be soothed into remission by one of my dinner guests standing below it waving a tea towel up and down like a banshee for at least 30 seconds. While admittedly this is a great way to burn off some of the calories from the impending carb overload it didn’t make me particularly popular with either my guests or my neighbours. Something had to be done.

I inherited a little BBQ a few weeks ago. Some of my neighbours who were moving house had decided to leave it behind so I adopted it. At least I’d assumed that was the reason it was gifted to me….However, now looking back, it seems more likely this was a subtle hint. An act undertaken to encourage me to start cooking more outside- due to their suspicion that I had an intrinsic inability to cook anything without setting it on fire. At least this way, if I did set it on fire then I was outside anyway and more importantly well away from the dreaded smoke alarm.  Alas regardless of reason I was now the owner of a neat little BBQ and so began to wonder….could I cook my pizza in this?

The verdict? Well put it this way I’d still give my right (actually better make that left) arm for a wood oven but I think it’s a great way to cook a pizza; it’s quick, the base was crisp and no noisy alarms! Win! Also it’s a brilliant way to entertain a few friends, the style of cooking and eating lends itself really well to the BBQ and outdoor atmosphere, and although you can only cook 1-2 pizzas at a time you’re all in the garden together and people can always share, choose their own toppings and generally get involved. Make a couple of garlic pizza breads to start for people to nibble on while they wait or throw together a big antipasti board as a starter for sharing. I’d fully advise having a go instead of your next traditional BBQ! Enjoy.

NB I have created this recipe for people who wish to make and eat their pizza the same day, but If you want to make the authentic Naples style sourdough pizza then see the recipe at the end, great if you have a wood oven or use the frying pan/grill method if you’re lucky enough to have a normal smoke alarm!

Mini BBQ Pizzas
Makes 7-8 small pizzas, garlic pizza bread or pesto breads

NB if you have a sourdough starter, use this instead of the yeast, or add a little yeast as well if you’re short on time, but don’t forget to add less water.

500g Canadian very strong flour
10g sea salt
7g sachet fast action yeast
about 300ml water, you may not need it all
400g can really good plum tomatoes, use San Marzano if you can
Sea salt, pepper
Fresh basil leaves
2 x 125g balls mozzarella, patted really dry (or the pizza will be soggy) and cut into small cubes
grated fresh Parmesan

Then you decide, nice options include: 2 tbso of soft butter mashed with 1-2 cloves of crushed garlic, sliced salami, broccoli red chilli, sautéed mushrooms, prosciutto, ricotta, egg, wilted spinach, roasted peppers, marinated artichokes…..The possibilities are ENDLESS!

1 Make the dough

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, add about 200ml of water then while the machine is mixing add enough water to form soft dough. Continue on a slow speed for 7-8 minutes, until you have shiny, soft dough that feels elastic, smooth and soft but not sticky.

Remove the ball of dough and shape into a rough ball, put on a lightly floured surface cover and leave to relax for about 20 minutes before shaping.

2 Shape

Using a dough scraper or knife to cut into balls, about 120g each (about 200g for individual size not mini). Shape into round balls. Place on a well-floured tray, spaced apart as they will spread, cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours at room temperature or about 12 hours in the fridge for a slow rise. If it’s a hot day cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm and shady place.

3 Get the BBQ going

Light the BBQ about 45 minutes before you want to eat and make sure your toppings are all prepped and organized nicely. Also have a plate with about 150g of flour on top; this is for shaping the pizza base. A bottle of olive oil and some black pepper ready.

4 Make and cook the pizza

Place your pizza stone or good quality pizza tray straight onto the hot coals (once they are white) add the lid and allow to heat up. Take each base in turn and place on your circle of flour (see pics to help) gently press out with your fingers to form wider circle with a rim for the crust. Spread on some sauce then your chosen toppings, not too many if you want a really crispy base. Slide onto the hot pizza stone, replace the lid and cook for about 4-5 mins, until crispy and melted. If you want a really bubbly crisp top you can flash under the grill as well just before serving. Repeat with the rest!

For a calzone, place fillings on one half, fold over to seal, brush with garlic butter and cook for a few mins more, then  brush with more butter before serving.

Proper Sourdough Pizza
Makes about 10 x 10inch pizza bases

Day 1:

500g Canadian strong flour, or strong bread flour
25g fresh yeast
100g natural yogurt
500ml cold water

Mix together, cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2:

1 kg Canadian strong flour, or strong bread flour
20g salt
about 400-600ml cold water

Weigh out 200g of your starter, you don’t need the rest but you can freeze it, or keep it in the fridge if you’re making pizza again soon, or sourdough.

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor with the 200g of starter. Start with 400ml of water then add more as you need to while the dough is mixing.

Using a dough hook mix the ingredients in the food processor on slow speed for 7-8 minutes, until you have a shiny, soft dough that feels elastic, smooth and soft but not sticky.

Remove, cover and leave for 20 minutes to rest.

Shape into balls, about 200g each. Place on  floured tray, spaced well apart as they will spread, cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours but up to 48 hours. Continue with recipe above

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.