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This focaccia recipe has a lot of history in our house.

For years, it was the boys’ go-to school lunch. And it was a tricky one to make – Dan Lepard’s original recipe from The Handmade Loaf required that I change the hydration of my starter for it, work the oil into the dough in stages, give it multiple stretches and generally coddle it along. But every single time I made it, it was smashed. So I kept making it until Emilie’s much simpler all-sourdough recipe appeared in Artisan Sourdough Made Simple.

However, the one big advantage of the old recipe was that it was relatively quick to make. Because it used a little bakers yeast with the sourdough starter, it was usually ready to eat within a few hours, providing I’d remembered to prep the starter to a different hydration the night before.

Fast forward to 2020 pandemic baking.

On a whim, I thought I’d make this focaccia again, but I didn’t have any ripe starter (at any hydration). I also didn’t have any regular extra virgin olive oil. Hmm.

I rummaged through the pantry and found the weirdest assortment of flavoured oils you could imagine. Mango-infused olive oil anyone? No? What about Orange, Rosemary and Fennel?

Throwing caution to the wind, I pulled my tub of starter out of the fridge and dolloped cold, flat starter into the mixing bowl. Then I added the orange and fennel oil, and a little extra dried yeast. The end result was very good indeed – the starter masked the flavour of the bakers yeast (which none of us like very much) and the loaf was on the table in time for lunch. In hindsight, I’m not sure we’d have noticed the yeast flavour anyway over the citrus oil.

I’ve tried this a couple more times with pleasing results. The Lemon Myrtle oil version was particularly nice!

Here’s the recipe:

  • 175g – 200g sourdough starter. Use whatever you have, cold from the fridge if necessary.
  • 330g water
  • 80g oil – again, use whatever you have.
  • 500g bread/bakers flour
  • ¾ teaspoon dried yeast
  • 10g fine sea salt
  • Extra oil, for drizzling
  • Flaky salt for scattering on top

Note: I used 175g of flat starter for one batch and a 200g mix of flat and active starter for another. Both worked equally well.

1. In a large wide mixing bowl, mix together the starter, yeast, water and oil. Add the flour and salt. This is a very wet dough – just mix it all together well with a spatula. It will form a shaggy mass. Cover it with a wok lid or a shower cap and let it rest.

2. After an hour, come back and give the dough a few folds, leaving it in the bowl. I use my spatula for this, dragging up the side of the dough, stretching it up and then flopping it over the top. Then I rotate the bowl 90° and repeat, doing this four times in total for a complete rotation.

If you can remember, repeat the 4-step folds a couple more times over the next two hours. Let the dough rise until it’s seriously puffy (usually four hours in total). It’s worth mentioning that at this point, I haven’t put my hands into the dough yet.

3. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and scrape the dough onto it. Oil your hands and gently flatten the dough into a rectangle.  You will probably need to get your fingers under the corners and give it a gentle pull to get it into shape. My pan was 40cm x 28cm.

4. Preheat the oven to 220C (425F) with fan.  Drizzle oil over the dough and spread it with your fingers, then scatter over the flaky salt.  Allow the dough to rest for a further 15 minutes or so while the oven heats up.

5. Dimple the top of the dough with your fingers, pushing all the way down to the bottom. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until golden brown. I usually rotate the tray at the 20 minute mark. Transfer to a wire rack to cool (if you can – otherwise, scoff it warm).

. . . . .

I used the gorgeous Italian flour that our friend Steve sent us, and it resulted in the most magnificent open crumb…

Small Man was so happy to have this back on the menu that he ate HALF of the first loaf I made in a single sitting, which makes it a winner in my book. Not sure what he’ll make of the mango-infused oil version though. Trying that next! ♥

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I haven’t bought cookies for a long time.

Not because I’m particularly fussy, it’s just that bought cookies are boring. I don’t know their backstory. I know what you’re thinking … do cookies really need a backstory?

Let me explain.

These are the quarantine cookies that I made for last Sunday’s neighbour bake. And as I was making them, it occurred to me that every ingredient had its own tale to tell.

The organic unsalted Belgian butter was a gift from our friend Chef Graeme who lives across the road. As an aside, can I just say how happy we are to have someone so knowledgeable close by? He’s incredibly patient too, putting up with my endless texts for advice at strange hours of the day.

The eggs came from our darling neighbour Jane, who is trying to support a free range producer who lost most of his wholesale business as a result of the lockdown. Jane buys 180 eggs every couple of weeks, shares them out with the whole street, and refuses to take any money for it. She’s an absolute rockstar.

The cacao nibs were made by Chocolate Ninja Jess who has just opened a bean to bar chocolate factory at our local shops. Lovely Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella wrote this post about her a couple of months ago and at the time, she said to me “I think you’d be really interested in what Jess is doing”. She was so right! The business is set up as a social enterprise, with every purchase helping to support growers in the South Pacific.

The vanilla extract was homemade, using beans that my incredibly generous friend Dotti gave me last year. The aroma is incredible!

I used the whole wheat Viva La Farina Italian flour that Steve, who is still stuck in Italy, had delivered to me from Lario International. I’ve been baking loaves and also sharing this wonderful flour with friends and neighbours. Its nuttiness really adds to the cookies…

Many of my baking supplies come from Southern Cross Supplies, and I’m keen to keep supporting them at this time, as so much of their wholesale business has dropped off. They’ve now moved to much larger premises in Lidcombe. I bought my cranberries, currants, dried figs and sultanas from them, as well as the Australian dark brown sugar and rolled oats.

The Olsson’s flossy sea salt, harvested in South Australia, also came from Southern Cross, in a giant 25kg bag no less. If you haven’t kept up with our salt adventures, you can read about them here and here.

salt1

When lockdown began and there was a run on salt at the supermarkets, I turned to Pete and said…”ha! Who’s the nutter now, then?”

Seriously, if that man’s eyes roll any further back in his head, there’s a chance they won’t come back out…


And finally, the Sao Thome 70% dark origin chocolate callets were bought from the truly gorgeous folks at Chefs’ Warehouse. I’ve been buying from them forever and popping in to their store is like visiting old friends. They’ve relocated to a large deconsecrated church in Redfern, and they too could really use your support now if you’re looking to buy supplies…

. . . . .

See why I find it so hard to buy a cookie these days? Every bite of one of these connects me to folks that I know personally – friends, neighbours, and suppliers that I’ve been buying from for years.

“Know where your food comes from”, we’re constantly being told. I can’t always manage that, but when I can, it’s incredibly rewarding. And this time, I knew where my food was going as well – to feed my fabulous neighbours. I left loaves and cookies on the back deck and they all came to pick up! ♥

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Barramundi

I have several friends who will only eat fresh, locally sourced fish. I completely respect their position. But this post is about frozen, imported fish, so if that’s not your thing, then please skip this one, and I’ll catch up again with you tomorrow. x

Last week, Carol called to tell me about a fish wholesaler in nearby Lilyfield who was newly opened to the public.

As I was on my way to get groceries (we’d made it nine days between shopping trips), I told her I’d check it out.

Prestige Fisheries is a wholesaler of frozen imported fish, supplying to cafes and restaurants. When the lockdown happened, 85% of their sales stopped overnight. So brilliant Gina opened all her 6kg boxes and invited retail customers to buy in smaller quantities. On my first visit (I’ve since been again), I came home with two frozen barramundi, each weighing about 700g. The fish were grown in Taiwan and snap frozen immediately after being caught. Each fish only cost me $7 (no, that’s not a typo)…

Like many people, I’m a bit wary of frozen fish. But a few years ago, I realised that a lot of the produce I was paying top dollar for at the fish markets had been frozen and then defrosted for sale. Which is the case with nearly all prawns, both green and cooked, so it’s quite important not to bring them home and re-freeze them without checking their provenance first. Much of what I was buying was actually imported, which only became apparent after changes in regulations required sellers to clearly state where the seafood originated from.

I also realised that the fresh fish I was buying, popping into my freezer and then defrosting, was cooking up perfectly. The trick seems to be to defrost in the fridge overnight – if you try to rush the process by putting a frozen fish in the microwave or hot water, the texture turns to mush.

. . . . .

And the reason I went back for a second visit? Not because the fish was ridiculously cheap, but rather because it was beautifully clean and well-prepped. The intestinal organs and gills had been removed without hacking into the flesh of the fish, and the body had been scaled without destroying the skin. Someone had taken a lot of care over this $7 fish. The flesh was firm and sweet, without tasting muddy like barramundi sometimes does.

We prepared it very simply – the washed and towel-dried fish was slashed, then rubbed with a little oil, salt and pepper. I sat it on a large parchment lined tray, then tucked a handful of garden parsley and some lemon slices into the cavity. A few lemon slices and a bit more oil went on top. It was then surrounded by sliced and peeled potato and sweet potato, which had been tossed in a little oil and salt. The whole tray went into a preheated 200C fan-forced oven for 30 minutes, and that was it!

I dragged out the cute peacock platter that I’d picked up secondhand earlier in the year at the Salvos (isn’t it lovely?) and plated up…

Small Man and I fell on it like hungry wolves. Pete really enjoyed it too, but as he pointed out, he didn’t grow up eating fish, so he doesn’t crave it madly like the rest of us do. It had been weeks since we’d had anything other than tinned tuna and anchovies, and I didn’t realise how much we’d missed it. Actually, that’s not completely true. Our lovely neighbour gave us a piece of Hiramasa kingfish sashimi a couple of weeks ago and I nearly wept with joy.

So if you live in Sydney’s inner west and you’re interested in some good quality fish for your freezer, do pay Gina a visit. Ask her about her produce – she’s very knowledgeable and has flown over to inspect many of her producers firsthand. She will happily talk your ear off! As always, this isn’t an ad, but these lovely folks are based less than ten minutes from home, and I’m keen to support small businesses in our area.

 

Prestige Fisheries
1 White Street
Lilyfield NSW 2040
(02) 9660 8699

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Ossobuco Alla Milanese

Good morning, everyone! Did you have a good night’s sleep?

I have to admit, I haven’t been sleeping all that brilliantly lately. Menopause isn’t helping, but then again, neither is a pandemic.

Last Saturday, I had a particularly restless night, so I had a nanna nap for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon. When I woke at 5pm, I found that Pete had cooked the dinner I’d planned for that evening – Jamie Oliver’s Ossobuco Alla Milanese. I’d bought the beef shanks a few weeks earlier from Haverick Meats, and had been craving the dish ever since. Here’s a YouTube video of Jamie making it – this particular recipe starts at around the 14 minute mark…

. . . . .

So thanks to that lovely husband of mine, I woke from my afternoon nap to the amazing aroma of slow cooked beef. He then served it up with saffron rice and gremolata made from our garden lemons and parsley, and Diana’s fresh garlic. It was a spectacular dinner that had me literally cooing with delight as I ate it…

My $21 worth of beef shank bones made a huge amount – enough for at least two generous dinners for three adults. I’m thinking I might shred the meat and veg and top it with potatoes to make a cottage pie, what do you think? Or maybe I should make a lasagne? Lots of possibilities there, and an easy mid-week dinner pretty much sorted, thanks to that darling husband of mine. Yup, he’s a keeper. ♥

PS. Decision made! The following night, I turned the leftovers into lasagne…

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Savoury Brunch Slice


I recently received the most wonderful meat delivery from the folks at Black Forest Smokehouse! All of this was just $108, which included free delivery to the Inner West, a free mortadella and … A 4.5KG HAM. It was humungous!

We’ve been buying from Black Forest Smokehouse for years now (here’s my post from 2014) and as my fussy brothers-in-law Ray and CC will tell you, Richard (and now his son Josh) make the best ham in the world. So please order from them if you can, because I really need them to be around at Christmas! I ordered individual items from their website this time but their bulk packs are even better value (especially the breakfast pack, which includes their fabulous bacon). As always, their products are beautifully balanced flavour-wise – not overly salty or fatty.

The day after the order arrived, I turned some leftover multigrain sourdough and a chunk of brioche into a savoury slice, using Jane’s eggs, Dotti’s cheddar, and slices of the ridiculously good BFS ham. I used our easy recipe, but left out the cream and reduced the milk and eggs. It was still divine! ♥

Black Forest Smokehouse
148 Victoria Rd
Marrickville NSW 2204
Phone:(02) 9516 3210
Online Shop

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