Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Flippin' Fabulous Focaccia! - Focaccia Con Pancetta e Cipolle, of Focaccia with Crispy Pancetta and Onions

I am so loving making bread at the moment. I really can't put my finger on why but I out of all the cooking disciplines that might exist, making and baking a loaf of bread gives a real boost to this person's culinary ego and, cliche ridden though it may be, it's hard not to feel some sort of heart warming emotion as you carefully remove your loaf from the oven, all risen and golden and smelling just divine. If you're anything like me you are nicking a bit off the side with a knife before it is even cool enough to eat, but that's bread for you. It's the staff of life and if you are not on one of those carb free diets, (perish the thought!) then bread makes you extraordinarily happy.
Regular readers of this blog may know that some of my recent bread making exploits have come from 'Italian Home Baking' by Gino D'Acampo and this is also one of his wonderful recipes. I had intended to just make his Gorgonzola and walnut rolls but a flick over a few pages and this recipe was just 'speaking' to me. What the hell, I'll make both. So I did. I am sure the rolls will make an appearance in a blog near you sometime soon, for they were also gorgeously tasty and sustained me this week by being dunked into soup whilst on my lunch break. But more of them another time.
I think this is the best bread I have made in a long time. I think, on occasion, my bread is sometimes a little doughy but I am still very much a novice and I know that there is so much nurturing and cajoling needed to produce a decent loaf. This one though had an amazing texture, heavier than anything you might buy at the supermarket but not oppressively so. I think 'satisfying' is the word I am looking for. The addition of the bacon and the onion was to die for. My mum used to make cheese and onion bread in terracotta pots (no wonder I am deranged) and the way that the sweet sauteed onion almost melts into the bread is seriously divine. Amazingly good. And even when the bread is no longer warm it is a joy to eat. I spread some soft cheese on it and I was happy all over again.
Make this bread. It's 'buonissimo!' And Lola and Finn were crazy for it too.
Focaccia con Pancetta e Cipolle, or Focaccia with Crispy Pancetta and Onions, from 'Italian Home Baking' by Gino D'Acampo
Serves about 10 if you've a crowd coming round.
2 tbsp salted butter
250g diced pancetta
1 large onion, finely chopped
7g fast action yeast (one of those sachets, basically)
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus extra for brushing
300ml of warm water
2 tsp fine salt
1 tbsp sea salt
Start by brushing a large baking tray and a bowl with oil.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry off the pancetta and onions. This should take about 10 minutes. You could of course do this whilst the dough is rising, if you are of a mind to.
Sift the flour into a large bowl (not the oiled one) and stir in the yeast. Make  a well in the centre and pour in three tablespoons with the water (actually, I just added the oil to the water and then poured it in) then add the fine salt and bring the mixture together with a wooden spoon until well combined.
Transfer the mixture to a floured surface and begin to knead the dough. Knead for about 10 minutes and by then you should have a smooth, soft and elastic dough. if the dough is still sticky, then add a little more flour.
Once kneaded, mould the dough into a dome shape, tucking the ends in underneath as much as possible. Place the dough into the oiled bowl and brush the top with oil. Cover with cling film and then leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or so until it doubles in size. Mine took an hour and 15 minutes.
Slide the dough onto the oiled baking tray and work the onion and pancetta mixture into the dough as evenly as you can.
Use your fingertips to make indentations into the dough and at the same time flatten and shape the dough into an oval shape which is about 3cm thick.  Leave to rise again for about 40 minutes or so until the dough has doubled in size once more.
Preheat the oven to 220c. Gas 7.
Once the dough has risen, make some more indentations into the top and then drizzle the remaining olive oil over it. Sprinkle with the sea salt.
Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes until golden all over. (A confession - I did this, and the top was golden and evidently cooked, but the bottom was a bit soggy. I flipped the focaccia over and put it back into the oven for about five minutes and everything was just fine. You are obviously a better baker than me and you won't need to do this...)
Serve warm. We, being an unsophisticated lot, had this with lasagne and we dunked it into the tomatoey, meaty, cheesy mixture. With what was left over the next day, we spread cheese on it, dunked it in minestrone soup - and it was all good.

Friday, 16 November 2012

A Spanish Quiche from a French Website. Confused? Don't be! Quiche Andalouse, or Andalusian Quiche

I have been weaning myself off buying cookbooks because it is becoming a worrying obsession which not only threatens to bankrupt me, but ultimately might result in my moving out to live in the garage because there is no room left in the house. We are not at the state of hoarding just yet but many more years of impulse purchasing and it will all end badly. It has to. You can get too much of a good thing. So, I have been getting my 'new' recipe fix from the Internet and I have become a fan of the French website, Marmiton, in which I can peruse thousands of yummy recipes, sat at the computer with a mug of tea and a sense of culinary adventure. The added bonus is that I get to practise my French as I translate the recipes into English, thus hopefully leaving me confidently chatty for when I buy my little corner of France with a garden of fruit trees, a veg plot, a light and airy kitchen, a Summer of blue skies and a pretty much constant stream of French wine from the local vineyard. I can live in hope, and there's always the lottery. Don't stop believing!
So, I like quiche. It's the thing I gravitate towards at buffets and I can eat far too much of it. You can keep your vol-au-vents, quiche is where it is at. I also find it a way of using up stuff and a way to cheat if needs be and that is what I did here. If I were anything close to a dedicated cook I would have made my own shortcrust but, yes readers, I bought it. (Good stuff actually - if you buy a good quality one it is like making it yourself but you can hurl together a meal in 10 minutes or so and slam it in the oven. Not bad for a school night tea)
I had (and always have) chorizo in the fridge because everybody in this house adores it, and it was after a rummage in the freezer that I discovered a bag of prepared peppers, covered in something resembling permafrost which would benefit greatly from being sauteed in the burnished oil left behind from cooking the chorizo. The original recipe says use ordinary peppers and skin them but, you know, life is sometimes far too short. I added an onion to the recipe too.
This is a lovely dish. The meaty, salty, richness of the chorizo is cut by the sweet, clean taste of the sauteed peppers, all enveloped in an unctuous creamy eggy custard. Yum.
Quiche Andalouse or Andalusian quiche translated and then adapted from the Marmiton website
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad twice
A block or packet of ready rolled good quality shortcrust pastry (I lined a 25cm flan tin with this and had some over to make another tart. Happy days! Freeze what you don't need.)
2 red peppers
1 green pepper (or a generous handful of ready prepped or frozen peppers)
20 slices of chorizo (I used a packet of cooking chorizo, sliced into rounds)
one onion, diced
6 eggs
300ml cream
Salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 170c and put a baking sheet into the oven to heat up.

Prepare your flan tin and then line with the pastry.

If you need to, dip the peppers in boiling water for 5 minutes to peel more easily. Cut into thin strips.

Precook the sausage in boiling water a few minutes to degrease (optional, but I fried mine off a little to take the rawness away and decanted some of the oil).

Remove the chorizo from the pan and then fry the onion and the peppers in the residual oil until starting to soften a little. Remove and combine with the chorizo in a bowl.

Mix the eggs with the cream. salt and pepper. Stir in peppers and chorizo. Taste the mixture for seasoning.

Pour the custard mixture into the prepared tin and then carefully place into the oven, onto the baking sheet.


Bake for about 25 - 30 minutes

Leave to stand for about 10 minutes or so. A hot quiche can do untold damage to the roof of the mouth!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Happy birthday Finn - Elderflower Cake with added Angry Birds!

Finn is now five years old. I am frankly amazed at where the time has gone (as is any parent from what I can gather) but every single day of my life since his arrival has been blessed with his smile, his charm, his energy. Like his sister Lola, his very presence in my world is special, wondrous, the things miracles are truly made of.
  A grainy baby Finn, newborn
So, when it came round to the subject of birthday cakes, I asked him what he would like dreading the word 'dinosaurs' as last years' birthday cake offering looked more like a pigeon than a T-Rex. He said 'Angry Birds' and I really got to wondering just what sort of mess I would make of them. Well, I did better than expected. They might be a bit rough and ready but you know, from a distance, if you squint, they look a little like those pesky little birds that I have catapulted at piggies whilst having an idle moment or two. yes, even mums like Angry Birds!
The sponge cake recipe is an elderflower cake recipe taken from Fiona Cairns' 'Birthday Cake Book' which is so, so pretty. I am not surprised that she was chosen to make William and Kate's wedding cake. I have often looked wistfully at her beautifully perfect cupcakes ensconced behind the glass in Waitrose. Each twirl, each curl, each delicate flower so splendid in its execution. I can only dream of being so adept. But it's not only her fantastic decoration that I am a fan of, it's her actual cakes which are innovative and interesting. I liked the idea of an elderflower cake and whilst I might not have achieved the total effect as I went my own way in terms of decorating the cake, it was still a nice cake to make and to eat.
The original recipe suggests a filling of elderflower flavoured cream with additional strawberries to bring out the summery elderfloweryness (yes, I invented a word!) but my only addition apart from angry birds was to spread a generous dollop or two of strawberry jam to sandwich the two cakes together. I think I may have missed out on the wow factor of elderflower and strawberry combined, but I needed to adapt the recipe and method to suit my purpose.
The recipe below is for the cake only. As far as making Angry Birds goes, it's quite hard to demonstrate but my plan of attack was to print out some pictures of the birds and then use sugar paste to create them. I cut the basic shapes out with a knife and then cut or modelled the remaining details and stuck them on after moistening the sugarpaste with a dab of water. I covered the cake with sugar paste and then stuck the birds on whilst everything was soft and pliable, only then allowing the paste to dry out.
Finn was impressed. His opinion was the one that mattered.
Elderflower cake, taken from Elderflower and Strawberry Cake in Fiona Cairns' 'The Birthday Cake Book'
Serves 24 (so I halved the recipe below to serve 12)
450g (1lb) self-raising flour
450g (1lb) really soft unsalted butter, diced
2tsp baking powder
8 eggs, lightly beaten
Finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
450g (1lb) golden caster sugar
4tbsp elderflower cordial
The Angry Birds:
Red, yellow, black, green, blue, orange sugarpaste
A black edible marker pen
Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/gas 4. Butter three 20cm (8in) round cake tins and line the bases with parchment. (I used 2 sandwich tins)
Cream the butter and eggs then add the sifted flour and baking powder, lemon zest and sugar and beat well, adding the cordial towards the end.
Pour into the cake tins and bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave for a couple of minutes, run a knife around the rims and turn out onto a wire rack. Remove the papers and cool. Trim the cakes flat.
Sandwich with strawberry jam and place on a flat plate.
I put some 'grass' to try to disguise the imperfect way that I decorated the sides of the cake!
Roll out the sugarpaste, on a surface lightly flowered with icing sugar, to an even depth, then place over the cake. Smooth the edges as much as possible and trim.
Make your birds as described above. Once made place them onto the top of the cake.
Serve, preferably adorned with candles, to an excited five year old.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Oh. My. Word. I love you more than I did yesterday - Chorizo and Chickpea Stew

Don't you love those dishes that taste even better the day after you made them? I do, not least because they lend themselves to stress free cooking if you have people coming round and also they encourage you make a vat of the stuff, knowing that you have the day or the day after's meal totally sorted without so much as a second thought.
Which brings me to this gorgeous stew, discovered initially in Joanna Weinberg's 'How to feed your friends with relish', a cookbook with lots more, not just delicious recipes but tips on entertaining, suggested menus and so on. Weinberg name checks the origins of this stew are the Brindisa store/cafe in London, the importer of all things Spanish and wonderful so its provenance is to be raved about.
The original recipe within the cookbook feeds 25 - that's more leftovers than I can deal with - so the ingredients below have been scaled down to feed 4/6 as a main meal, or more if it’s part of a tapas menu. How wonderful would that be? Tapas! The scaling down from the original recipe therefore are approximate with an eye on the things that we like to eat so, a little more chorizo and garlic, as we can't really get enough of either of them.
Lola and Finn quite like this. It looks a spicy dish but it's not really - it's pleasantly warming and is more about depth of flavour than a flash of spicy heat. The fact that it disguises chickpeas into something palatable as far as Lola and Finn are concerned (not me; I love chickpeas) is an added bonus.
I juzzed this up from a simple weeknight meal by adding some sourdough bread for dunking purposes and I opened a bottle of rioja. It's always the right time for rioja.
Rioja – My favourite, favourite rioja. All is well with the world when I slosh some of this into a huge goblet…
As they say in Spain, and this house when I'm on my second glass of rioja, olé!
Chorizo and Chickpea Stew, scaled down and adapted from the original in Joanna Weinberg's 'How To Feed Your Friends With Relish.
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum, Dad and 2 others as a main meal.
250g cooking pancetta, chunkily sliced (I have used a chorizo ring in the past if you can't find cooking chorizo)
150g diced pancetta
4 shallots, chopped (original recipe is red onion - I'm not crazy about it cooked) 1 red pepper - deseeded and chopped
olive oil
3 garlic cloves - chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
300g passata
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained 

100ml white wine
200ml Chicken Stock or water.
A handful of flat leaf parsley chopped (I actually chopped the stalks finely and threw them into the stew when I put the stock in - I hate wasting them!) Salt and black pepper, to taste
Fry the chorizo and pancetta in a large saucepan over a fairly high heat until it begins to colour and releases oil. Remove with a slotted spoon.
 Fry the shallots and pepper in the residual oil left from frying the meat. There should be enough to turn everything a gorgeous reddish hue, but add extra olive oil if you need to.
Return the meat to the pan, turn the heat down, and add the garlic and oregano and fry for a few more minutes.
Add the passata, chickpeas, wine, stock, parsley stalks, a little salt and some pepper.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes or so, though I left it longer as I like quite a ‘thick’ stew. Taste for seasoning.
Add the roughly chopped parsley to serve. Or leave it for a day and eat it then. You will love it!



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