Sunday 30 May 2010

Pizza Napoletana – May’s Fresh from the Oven Challenge.



I know this post is slightly later than expected, but having been away with 58 Year 6s for 8 days in Liege, I think I can be forgiven for not writing in the last week or so. Anyway, during that time, I realised I should have already posted my entry to this month’s Fresh from the Oven challenge, hosted by Lauren from Coffee Muffins. So, upon returning, decided that it would be better late than never, so got on with the initial stage of dough making. The recipe is taken from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice and makes 6 9-12 inch pizzas so the recipe below has the amount for 1/3 quantities given in brackets.

  • 4 1/2 cups or 20.25 ounces (6.75 ounces) of unbleached high-gluten bread flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons or 0.44 ounces (0.14 ounces) of salt
  • 1 teaspoon or 0.11 ounces (1/3 tsp) of instant yeast (if using active dry yeast you will need to increase this by 25%)
  • 1/4 cup or 2 ounces (0.67 ounces) of olive or vegetable oil, optional
  • 1 3/4 cups or 14 ounces (4.67 ounces) of ice cold water

Stir together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a large bowl. Then stir in the oil and water until all the flour is absorbed. Mix by either hand or a mixer with dough hooks and you should end up with a smooth dough which is a little sticky. It should clear the sides of the bowl but not the bottom. If it isn't clearing the sides then add a little more flour and mix again. If it clears the bottom then add a couple of drops of water, and mix again. This was a tip I hadn’t heard before, but worked a treat.


The finished dough should be springy, elastic and sticky but not tacky. If you use a thermometer it should register somewhere between 50 to 55 oF.

Now prepare a sheet pan with baking parchment and spray oil. Flour your counter and remove the dough on to the counter. Using a metal dough scraper (or your hands) create 6 equals sized pieces of dough. Or 2 if you’re using third quantities.

Flour your hands and shape each into a ball, if your hands stick add more flour and try again. Place each ball onto your sheet pan, spray each piece of dough with oil. Once all pieces of dough are on the tray, enclose it in a food-grade bag and pop it into the fridge, or spray the inside of separate bags and place one ball in each.


The next day, a couple of hours before you want to cook them, remove the dough from the fridge. Dust your counter with flour (and your hands) then spray oil on top. Place each ball on the counter and gently press each into a flat disc about 1/2 inch thick. Top each with a little flour and oil and cover with another bag. Let rest for 2 hours.


At least 45 minutes before cooking put on your oven on at it's maximum temperature up to 800oF. If you have a baking stone put it in the oven now. If you don't have a stone then you can use a normal baking sheet, just don't preheat it first.

Now comes the tricky part: stretching out your dough, dust your peel or sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Coat your hands in flour including the backs and your knuckles. Gently lay the dough on to the top of your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion. As it starts to spread out you can move to the full toss method. If it sticks to your hands at any point lay it out flat and re-dust your hands, continue stretching until it is the desired width.


Once you have reached the desired width, place the stretched dough on the peel or baking sheet, top with your preferred ingredients and flavours (I made a tomato frito to use as the tomato base, then topped with thinly sliced chorizo and cheddar cheese), and transfer the pizza to your oven.


It should only take between 8 and 10 minutes to cook. You might want to turn it 180 degrees after 2 minutes, if you think it might over cook on one side.


Despite the oven being on its hottest, my dough was, unfortunately, not cooked properly in the middle, while the topping was bubbling and close to burning. I covered the tops and left them in for another 5 mins or so, but couldn’t quite get it right. Like I said, it may have been to do with the oven not being hot enough, or the fact I topped them, then waited 15 minutes before putting them into the oven, so the base had the chance to get a bit soggy. Whatever the reason, the pizza was still tasty, with crispy, crunchy edges, and I’ve eaten worse than uncooked dough!  

     SDC12272  SDC12276

Jules is posting the round-up shortly, so don’t forget to go Fresh from the Oven to check it out.

Saturday 29 May 2010

Pea Shoots


I’ve recently been inspired by BBC’s The Edible Garden programme and couldn’t wait to try growing the pea shoots from a packet of dried peas. And how easy it was. Have a look at The Cabbage Patch if you don’t believe me!


I simply popped them into compost, quite close together as I’d be using them when they were very small so they don’t need much room, and within 14 days they were the perfect size!


Now the question was how to use them? What I really wanted to do was have them over my Scallops with Chorizo and pea puree, but, not having any scallops in, I opted for using them to garnish our grilled salmon with warm potato salad. They’d be perfect with any fish (hot-smoked trout or mackerel pate), or on top of a risotto to add a new texture and fresh flavour.

Why not use the comments feature under this post to add you own ideas for using them?

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Asparagus Season

Yep – we’re in silly season again. One of the shortest, surely, harvesting seasons of the year, but also one of the most delicious! Now, asparagus, as it turns out, isn’t that easy to ‘get going’, as you’ll see if you read ‘How to Plant Asparagus’, but once it’s had its few years settling in period and you’ve done all the hard work, it really couldn’t be easier! The season begins, generally, in May and lasts until mid-June. You shouldn’t pick after then as the plants need time to regenerate and get ready for the next year, so leave any spears to grow tall and into foliage.

The main reason I planted more this year was because I was fed up of only having one or two spears ready at a time: who can make a meal out of that? So I’ve planted several crowns in the hope that not next year but the year after, there’ll be an abundance, all in one go!

As I’m still waiting, I bought two large bunches of asparagus grown on the south coast as soon as it came into the supermarkets this year. The first bunch I served simply pan-fried with salt and pepper and drizzled in mayonnaise. For the second bunch I opted for a Nigel Slater recipe from ‘Tender’ (Volume 1). It’s called simply Asparagus with Pancetta.

First, cook your asparagus in boiling water until just tender. Then place in a shallow ovenproof dish.


Next, fry off either pancetta, or chopped smoked bacon, in a little butter and olive oil until crispy and the fat is rendered. I found I had to pour out the water from mine and melt a little more butter in later. Once crunchy, tip them over the asparagus.


Grate some Parmesan over the top and pop into a hot oven (200 degrees c) for 10 minutes or until the cheese is crispy and bubbling. 


Ok, not very healthy I know, but really delicious!

Saturday 15 May 2010

Meat for a Week, from Allens of Mayfair

Those of you who are regular readers may remember that late last year, the OH visited Allens of Mayfair for a butchery course and arrived home with many delicious looking cuts of meat. Well, since I don’t line or work in London nad can’t just pop along to Borough Market, or into a restaurant quality butchers, the nearest I can get is ordering meat online and this week was the first time I’d done it. I was prompted by an advert in Good Food magazine which had an extra discount with Allens for their Meat for a Week box. SO, what do you get? Is it really meat for a whole week? Well, yes. You get enough meat for two for a meal a day, plus extra. For example, the mince pack is plenty for four servings and the beef joint enough to serve at least four for Sunday lunch. On top of this, you know the meat is of excellent quality.


If you ordered over £70 worth, the delivery is free, so, since I had (read: made) space in the freezer, I decided to order two boxes, each box being £36. Originally £59.65 if bought separately, then reduced online to £45 as a box and with an extra discount, this really was excellent value for money. Jut to compare prices, I put all of the items into a supermarket price comparison site and the baskets ranged from about £34 to £39. With the extra quality and source knowledge of Allens, you really couldn’t get better. Contents comprised of:

2 x 200g Sirloin Steaks
2 x 220g Pork Cutlets
2 x 190g Cornfed Chicken Breasts - skin on
5 x 120g Lamb Loin Chops
6 x Cumberland Sausages (454g pack)
950g Beef Topside Roasting Joint
454g Steak Mince

The chicken that arrived was actually supreme of chicken, so you had the extra advantage of the wing )?) as well, and the whole breast. I was a little disappointed the sausages didn’t appear to be their own, but haven’t investigated fully to find out if the meat is from Allens and made elsewhere under a different company. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

The box was ordered on Sunday and arrived Tuesday morning, before 8.30 am to the delivery address requested. No hassle, no worrying if and when it would arrive. Perfect. Inside was a leaflet recognising that the polystyrene box and ‘keep cold’ strips did constitute rather a lot of packaging but that one could recycle the box and reuse the cold strips. Not actually being able to chat to the butcher himself, I did find myself wondering where the meat was sourced. It would have been lovely if, alongside each package of meat, there was a little card or note explaining which farm it came from, what breed the animal was, etc. Just for interest really and to know a little more about what we were going to be eating.


We began with the chicken and made a Mediterranean-type dinner as I hadn’t much time, and tonight it’s the turn of the pork chops, smothered with apple sauce and sprinkled with cheese! Lovely.


Sunday 9 May 2010

Grahams on the Green - Writtle


Having parents over for the weekend does have its advantages, the main one being you can eat loads of food without feeling guilty. And you can go out for a meal so no-one has to cook!

Grahams on the Green has been in the heart of the pretty village of Writtle for several years now, and their newest addition is Grahams @ The Woodpecker in Hutton. The food at Grahams has always been good quality, and the service friendly; last night was no exception. An eclectic mix of staff, from a range of times and cultures (when you visit, you’ll understand what I mean!), all with a friendly attitude to their work and polite manners serve, what is still, excellent food and value for money.

We opted for a main course each, and puddings to share. Mum went for calves liver, despite saying she didn’t really like eating baby cows and refusing to ever eat veal, (no, I couldn’t see the logic either);


Dad had the ever popular fillet steak and chips;


The OH went for seafood thermidor;


Whilst I opted for a starter of scallops on pea puree with crispy bacon and a side of tomato and onion salad. SDC12151

Bread sticks and cheesy crème fraiche dip was served as an apero and a range of bread. Tap water was, as you’d expect but often don’t find, served for free and the range of wine available by the glass was good. The light and fresh Pinot Grigio was soft and fruity and cut through the salty bacon and sweet balsamic dressing well.        


Always good quality at a fair price for the ingredients and portion sizes, service with a smile and a hubbub of activity giving a great atmosphere means that this pretty Essex village of Writtle is lucky to have such a restaurant. And not only that, there’s another good find across the road…but more of that one at a later date.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Salmon with Ginger and Soy


If you’re looking for a quick eat with whatever’s around, then this is for you: the OH cooked it up when we had ‘all that salmon’, and not a lot else in the house. He combined soy, salt and pepper and ginger jam, (yes, I know it sounds odd, but we had a lovely jar of ginger preserve and he, quite rightly, thought it would ‘go’ beautifully).

He then emailed me the concocted recipe, from work, so I could get it ready while he was on the way home, so we didn’t eat at a stupid time! What did I do? Marinated the salmon in soy, then sat and caught up with Corrie. It’s such a quick dish that as soon as he walked through the door, I got started and it was on the table when he’d changed. Simple!

You’ll need:

light soy sauce

ginger preserve

sesame seeds

salmon fillets






Marinate the salmon fillets in a very generous splash of soy sauce and leave for as long as possible.

Once ready, sprinkle a few sesame seeds over the salmon, then spoon on a thin layer of the ginger preserve. Coat again with the sesame seeds and pour over any remaining marinade. If you wanted, you could spice it up even more with chillies, spring onions and lime juice too at this point.

Bake in the oven for between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon.



Meanwhile, cook the rice as per the instructions on the pack.

Whilst the rice is boiling, pan fry the onions, adding in a dessertspoon of sugar, to speed up the caramelisation process.

Once cooked, break in a couple of eggs and stir through so the eggs break up and cook too. Mix with the onions.



Drain the rice and stir it into the onion and egg mixture. This is basically a sort of egg-fried rice! Add a glug of olive oil, turn up the heat, and fry for several minutes.




Serve alongside the salmon, with a flash-fried halved Cos lettuce.



It can all really be cooked once the salmon is in the oven, so should take no longer than 20 minutes, plus spooning things onto the salmon and the time it takes to marinate. Call it half an hour all in – perfect for a weeknight treat.

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