Rosemary Focaccia

Rosemary Focaccia 

This is a very easy bread to make and is ideal party food. Serve with some good quality Italian meats and cheeses as party grazing food. You can get lovely Bresaola beautifully sliced from http://www.vallebona.co.uk . It is also very good with a substantial home made soup for weekend lunch or supper. The dough is wetter than your usual loaf, so add the water gradually if making by hand. You can also use the food processor for mixing and for the first rise. See Tips, below. Happy Baking!

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Ingredients

500g/1lb 2oz strong white bread flour

2 tsp salt

2 sachets dried easy blend yeast

2 tbsp olive oil

400ml/14fl oz cold water

olive oil, for drizzling

sea salt crystals

fresh rosemary

Equipment – I use a  23 x 33cm (9″ x 13″) Swiss roll tin for my loaves. It needs to be at least 2cm deep.

Method

  1. Place the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and 300ml/10½fl oz of the water into a large bowl. Gently stir with your hand or a wooden spoon to form a dough then knead the dough in the bowl for five minutes, gradually adding the remaining water.
  2. Stretch the dough by hand in the bowl, tuck the sides into the centre for about five minutes.
  3. Tip the dough onto an oiled work surface and continue kneading for five more minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave to rise until doubled in size. This would normally take an hour in a warm place, or longer if you put it a cold area.
  4. Tip the dough out of the bowl and spread onto the baking sheet, pushing to the corners, then leave to prove for one hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Press your fingers into the dough to create little hollows. Drizzle the loaves with oil, sprinkle with the sea salt crystals, and put small sprigs of rosemary into the holes you have created. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

TIPS:

  • I find half a loaf does a dinner party for six, so I cut it in half and freeze half of the loaf for another time.
  • It is quite a wet dough, so if you have a Magimix or food processor, you can make the dough in the bowl with the dough blade. Whizz for about a minute. Switch off and leave the dough to rise for an hour in the bowl. Then once it has rise to twice it’s size, whizz again with the dough blade for another minute or so to “knock down”. Once the dough has been knocked back, you can tip it into the baking tin to rise again. Continue as per the recipe above.

 

Hollywood Glamour cocktails

I devised a couple of new cocktails for the recent Hollywood Christmas Party. The White Liz was named for the hostess who loved it as it is stylish, tasty and packs a punch! The quantities are per cocktail and both designed to be served in a martini glass. Quantities for larger numbers are given on my White Christmas Cocktail post  http://cookupaparty.co.uk/white-christmas-cocktails/

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THE WHITE LIZ

2oz Gin

1oz Cointreau

1/4 oz Velvet Falernum

1/4 oz lime juice

1 x fresh lime leaf finely chopped

Mix in chilled cocktail shaker with finely chopped lime leaves and crushed ice. Shake and serve in a Martini glass.

Garnish – glace cherry on cocktail stick

 

THE RED CARPET

This is a beautiful raspberry red colour and dangerously delicious!

2oz White rum

1oz raspberry puree

1/4 oz lemon juice

1/4 oz raspberry liqueur

Fresh lime for garnish

Mix in a cocktail shaker with crushed ice. Shake and pour into a Martini glass

Garnish – thin slice of lime on side of the glass

Bars Open!

 

Is your daily loaf making you ill?

What exactly is in our bread?

Surely we should be able to buy a loaf of bread and believe that it is a simple and necessary food. However many of us are turning away from bread due to bloating, feelings of lethargy and a general belief that carbs are bad for you. On the other hand, as a staple, bread should be the staff of life. Shouldn’t it? Unless we have the facts presented to us it is difficult to make a judgement.

The Real Bread Campaign exists to raise awareness as to what actually goes on in the bread making industry and to promote independent bakers. The Real Bread Campaign is part of the charity Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming and much of their work is raising awareness.

The nasty bits

The campaign has deep concerns about additives. They believe that people should be aware of the possible side effects from the long list of permitted additives allowed in bread. The Food Intolerance Network claims of propionates (an additive commonly found in packaged bread) that: “Reactions can be anything from the usual range of food intolerance symptoms: migraine and headaches; gastro-intestinal symptoms including stomach aches, irritable bowel, diarrhoea, urinary urgency, bedwetting; eczema and other itchy skin rashes; nasal congestion (stuffy or runny nose); depression, unexplained tiredness, impairment of memory and concentration, speech delay; tachycardia (fast heart beat); growing pains, loud voice (no volume control); irritability, restlessness, inattention, difficulty settling to sleep, night waking and night terrors.”  That might well make you think again when snatching a loaf of pre-packed bread from the shelf. Propionates (E280) are just some of the permitted additives.

The Real Bread Campaign produced a thorough report which took nine months to complete. In “Are Supermarket Bloomers Pants?” they contacted six major supermarkets to get them to come clean about what is in their so-called fresh baked bread. As you can imagine where they got a reply, it was not as full or informative as they would have wished for.

The Real Bread Campaign also state, “It should be noted that loaves, dough or flour imported from or via other EU or EEA member states is not subject to UK regulation.” So there is even less control on what goes into our food, which is particularly concerning when we have limited supplies of flour in the UK, due to the poor harvests caused by extreme weather conditions. The expensive so-called artisanal bread sold in supermarkets is often no more than an expensive rip off. The Real Bread Campaign is asking supermarkets to “stop using ‘artisan’ and similar terms for any bakery products that have not been made from scratch using all natural ingredients and traditional techniques by trained and experienced craft bakers”. What most people don’t realise is that they are not safe spending extra on bread that looks fairly rustic; they still contain the dreaded flour improver, or flour treatment. These are additives combined to improve baking functionality. Flour treatment agents are used to increase the speed of dough rising, which makes more bread, therefore more profit. A proper artisan baker will not use these, allowing their breads to rise naturally. It is commonly believed that this quick rise is the cause of the unpleasant bloating that can occur after eating bread.

Fight back

With this information, would you now think twice about spending your hard earned dough on what is essentially a big con? To make some small protest, seek out your local baker, making bread in the traditional way. Or bake your own. There is nothing more blissful than creating your own bread, either by hand or in a bread-making machine. Choose your flour carefully; many well known brands contain imported flour which is not subject to UK regulations. Doves Farm organic flours and some of the smaller mills produce good quality flour. Just remember to check the label. Bread making is surprisingly easy and the actual making process takes about 10 minutes; it is the proving (or rising) that takes the time and this can be fitted in around other activities. If enough people take up a stance on this, perhaps we can get more accountability for what goes into our bread. See my recipes for a simple way to make your own. The Weekend Loaf is an easy way to make bread for the weekend, cutting down on waiting for it to prove by a slow rise in the fridge overnight. For a really tasty and healthy loaf check out my Spelt Bread. Happy Baking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I loved being a Ransacker!

For ten weeks from April-June 2013 I lived at Ruskin College, Oxford enrolled on the Ruskin Ransacker course. This unique and wonderful course is open for older learners with few or no formal qualifications. Described as an “educational adventure”, it certainly was and achieved the aim of helping us undertake and write-up our research, working for the most part at degree level.
My final project printed and bound The Ransackers Project offers an opportunity for older learners to undertake a ten-week residential term and carry out a piece of original research.  Our group were lucky as we were able to carry out research on our own topics to answer the burning questions we each always wanted to find an answer. Mine was entitled Nourish & Flourish and I explored the reasons for the slide towards obesity in the UK. It was a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience, made possible by the expertise of my tutor, David Bliss, who expertly guided us through the process of study. The opportunity to study in the Bodleian Library and the ability to be residential were central to the success of the course. This meant that the intense 10 week study plan was not hampered by the ins and outs of home life and made it much easier to focus on my study. There were seven of us in the group and each of us benefitted from the experience. Without a doubt the best part was spending time in the Bodleian, studying the books we had sent there and writing up notes. The swearing in ceremony to use the library highlighted the importance of the study process.  I especially liked the upstairs reading room, but also enjoyed the Radcliffe Camera, although this tended to get busy coming up to exam time. Just drifting around Oxford watching the students scuttling about was inspiring, like a dream come true.

Like many Ransackers before me, I got the learning “bug” and am now embarking on an Open University Degree. I left school at 17, leaving my home in Wales to work for the BBC at Bush House. Having subsequently run my catering business for the last 20 something years, returning to study was daunting, and leaving my family to study for three months seemed crazy. However it was such a beneficial and life changing thing to do and I now cannot wait to continue my studies. A lot of things slotted into place for me after this course; like why I’ve always questioned things and wanted to know where people obtained their information. I clearly had a quest for study and finding stuff out in depth, which I simply didn’t know how to do before. The course makes you evaluate and present the information you are reading and is a great preparation for further study. In practical terms,  I shared a small two bedroomed flat with a lovely lady called Felicity, who had taken retirement especially to do the course,  and we both enjoyed walking into Oxford from the Old Headington site through Cuckoo Lane and through the park. This quick 40 minute march each day helped to keep us fit, as did the great yoga sessions in Headington Hall with the lovely Hazel Faithful on a Tuesday evening. We also got up really early to listen to the choir on the Magdelen Tower singing as dawn broke on May morning, as well as went to the different museums, colleges, parks, famous pubs and some lovely walks.

I loved being a Ransacker and being at Ruskin College and feel very privileged to have experienced this amazing opportunity. It was truly a life changing experience.

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May morning, Oxford

HOMEMADE PEA AND HAM SOUP

A very quick and tasty soup to make for lunch. You can also use up bacon if you have a couple of rashers in the fridge, rather than the ham which makes it a cheaper option for students.

Serves 2 as main course or 4 as a starter

 INGREDIENTS

1 Tablespoon mild olive oil (or butter if you prefer)

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 large potato, peeled and cut into cubes

400g frozen peas

400ml chicken stock (made from 1 x Knorr gel stock pot)

200ml milk

100g packet ham hock (cooked, diced ham)

 

METHOD

  1. Heat the oil or butter in a large saucepan on low or medium heat, then add the onion and potato, season with salt and pepper, then stir to coat the vegetables in the oil.
  2. Put a lid on the pan, cook on a low heat for 8-10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the onions are soft and translucent.
  3. Make up the stock by adding 1 x gel stock pot to 400ml of boiling water. Add the peas and stock to the pan, then bring to the boil. Cook for a couple of minutes until all of the peas have floated to the top of the stock and are tender and bright.
  4. Take the pan off the heat. Using a stick blender, process the peas until very smooth. Add the milk and process again.
  5. Bring the soup back to a simmer, then season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Both the ham and the stock are fairly salty, so you may not need to add salt.
  6. Stir the ham through the soup and serve.

Approx. cost = £4.50 (this pea soup without ham would be £2.50, so you could consider using up some rashers of bacon. Simply cook off and add at the end in place of the ham)

Black Olive Tapenade Recipe

A taste of summer and perfect on crostini with a glass of chilled pink wine. A regular free treat in South of France restaurants to keep you going whilst you peruse the menu.

INGREDIENTS

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 lemon, juice only

3 tbsp capers, chopped

6 anchovy fillets, chopped

250g/9oz black olives, pitted

small bunch fresh parsley, chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

METHOD

Very simply combine all ingredients in a food processor. Blitz slightly for a chunky texture, or for a smoother texture blitz for a bit longer. Spread onto slices of stale baguette, brushed with olive oil crisped in the oven. Alternatively serve as a dip with raw vegetables. Enjoy.

Tangy Marinaded Pork Salad for a Hot Summer’s Day

The perfect cook ahead recipe for a hot day. This recipe was gleaned from a book called Deep France by Celica Brayfield, an account of her living in France in monthly diary form, along with seasonal recipes. This recipe is deeply savoury and very handy when you don’t want to spend too much time cooking in the heat of the day.

For 6-8

500g/1lb 2oz pork fillet

3 tsp five-spice powder

salt and pepper

2 Tbsp soft brown sugar

1 Tbsp lemon thynme leaves

3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

3 large mild red chillies, deseeded and chopped

3 Tbsp soy sauce (I like the Kikkoman low salt)

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

3 Tbsp oil

METHOD

1. Marinate the pork fillet whole in all the other ingredients for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.

2. Rub the marinade in well and turn the fillet in the marinade several times. Cover and leave in the fridge.

3. When ready to cook, allow the pork to come to room temperature for half an hour

4. Preheat the oven to a high temperature. Put the pork on a piece of foil in a roasting tin, pour over the marinade and cook on the maximum heat for 5 minutes.

5. Turn the oven down to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Baste the pork again, with the marinade  and then roast the pork for a further 15-20 minutes, basting and turning twice more.

6. Remove from the oven, baste again and allow to cool.The outisde of the meat will be a deep glossy brown. When the meat is thoroughly cold, slice into thin medallions and serve with the salad below.

SALAD

2 limes

1 tsp sesame oil and 2 Tbsp light olive oil

2 tsp caster sugar

pinch of salt

1 Little Gem lettuce or half a cos or romaine lettuce

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced into fine batonms

a handful each of mint, basil and coriander leaves

4 spring onions, halved and shredded into strips

2 Tbsp toasted peanuts

METHOD

1. Juice one of the limes and mix the juice with the oils, sugar and salt

2. Peel the other lime and cut the flesh into segments.

3. Tear up the lettuce and put in a flat salad bowl. Mix in the cucumber, lime segments, herb leaves and spring onion strips. Chill until ready to serve.

4. Toss the chilled leaves with the lime dressing, Pile the slices of pork in the middle of the salad and glaze with a little of the leftover mariande.

4. Sprinkle over the peanuts and serve.

SERVE with a tray of olive oil roast potatoes.