Focaccia Later

16/08/2009

The best thing since sliced bread is making your own. FACT. I’m a recent convert, but I’ve totally got the bug. Making a loaf of some description has become one of the things I look forward to doing at the weekend. It’s sad but true, but when you start doing it yourself, you discover how bloody satisfying it is.

One of the first loaves I baked was a Focaccia. It’s surprisingly easy to make, and looks pretty impressive. Win win. Here’s how you make it.

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Ingredients

500g strong white bread flour (you can also use Italian tipo ’00’ flour) plus more for dusting

5g powdered dried yeast

7g ground salt

325ml warm water

Teaspoon of honey

Olive oil

Salt flakes and rosemary to garnish

Polenta (optional)

Method

Measure out 325ml of water in a measuring jug and stir in the honey and about a tablespoon of olive oil. When the honey has dissolved, add the yeast to the mixture and set aside while you measure out the other ingredients. This will give the yeast a chance to activate. Measure out the flour and salt in a large bowl and mix together. Then add the liquid to the flour and stir. The mixture will quickly come together, forming a dough. It’s best to get your hands in there now to form the dough into one lump.

When ready, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and start to knead it. The dough will feel silky and and quite giving, but will become more resistant as you knead. This is a sign that the gluten is forming as you work it. If the dough sticks to the surface, dust with more flour. You need to knead it for around 10-15 minutes.

When you’ve done this flatten the dough into a disc around half an inch thick. Then pinch the edge, pull out slightly and then fold over and stick it to the centre of the disc. Do this all the way round, and then turn the dough over. You should have a rough ball. Now make this ball more even by cupping your hands around it, and bringing your hands together underneath, almost pinching the bass of the dough ball. Rotate the dough as you do this. It’s a bit of a technique, but you quickly get the hang of it.

Cover the dough ball in a light coating of olive oil and place in a bowl or proving basket, and put it somewhere warm covered with a damp tea towel or plastic bag for about an hour. Whilst the dough is rising, take a baking tray about 26 x 36 cm and oil it. I then like to sprinkle polenta on the tray, coating the inner surface as it gives the base of the Focaccia a nice finish.

After the hour, the dough should have more than doubled in size. Take it out of the bowl and ‘knock it back’. This basically means knocking the air out of it. Once you’ve done this, place it in the baking tray, and press the dough with your fingers so it covers the bottom of the tray, up to the corners. Cover again and place it in the same warm place.

The dough is now ‘proving’, which will take about another hour. Whilst it is doing this, put your oven on as high as it will go (at least 250ºC). After an hour or so, the dough will have risen again. Take off the towel and make indentations all over the surface by pressing your index finger into the dough almost all the way to the bottom. Then generously drizzle olive oil all over the surface of the dough, filling up the wells you’ve created with your finger. Then sprinkle with sea salt flakes and fresh rosemary.

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The bread is ready for baking. Place it in the oven on a middle or high shelf and then close the door. Don’t disturb it at all for the next 10 minutes and this is when the bread will rise for the last time. After 10 minutes turn the oven down. Open the door and take a peek. If the crust is looking very brown turn the oven down to 180º or if golden to 200º. Bake for a futher 10 minutes, and then remove from the oven. Take the bread out of the tray, place on a cooling rack and drizzle with more olive oil.

It’s best eaten warm, so resist the tempatition of getting stuck in right away. Eat with a griddled aubergine, mozarella, tomato and basil salad. Nom nom nom.

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Turkish Slaw

11/08/2009

My girlfriend and I visited Istanbul earlier this year. It’s a pretty crazy place. Chaotic and a bit ramshackle, but very interesting. One of the things we were blown away by was the food. We had a few memorable meals, but again it was the local places that specialised in certain dishes that came out on top. If you ever go, I can heartily recommend the Sultanahmet Koftecisi near the Blue Mosque. Amazing.

Another discovery that we made whilst there was a spice called Maras Biberi. It’s on the table of most restaurants and seems to be a kind of pepper substitute. It’s a blend of chili, olive oil, lemon juice and salt, ground up and dried. We bought some at the Egyptian Souk to bring back with us; it’s not that easy to get in London, but I have found it in local Turkish supermarkets.

We’re pretty much addicted to the stuff, and it goes into quite a lot of what we eat, including this recipe which is a remix of a healthy coleslaw.

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Ingredients

Vegetables:

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 a head of spring / pointy cabbage, thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, grated

For the dressing:

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

3 tablespoons no fat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon hummus

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Maras Biberi

Juice of half a lemon

50 ml olive oil

Handful of chopped leafy green herbs (mint / basil / tarragon / coriander etc)

Method

Grate the carrots and finely chop the cabbage and onions and place in a large bowl. Mix the dressing in a sepperate bowl by chopping up the garlic and herbs and then adding the rest of the indgredients. Mix well until blended. Add the dressing to the vegetables in the bowl and mix well. Serve with grilled meats (lamb or chicken) or to keep it veggie some griddled Haloumi cheese. Afiyet olsun.


Eat Me!

07/08/2009

I LOVE New York, and a big part of this has to do with the food. There are obviously lots of great restaurants, but that’s not really what I’m thinking about. It’s the diners, the hot dog stands, the dollar slices of pizza and the local institutions that really get me excited.

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Kenny Shopsin. Photo: ThinkFilm

A couple of years ago whilst planning a trip to the apple, a friend told me that I had to check out this guy called Kenny Shopsin’s place in the Lower East Side. I’d never heard of him, but after a bit of digging I discovered that he’s a bit of a local hero. The best way I can think of describing Kenny is that he’s a kind of gutter Heston Blumenthal. He’s become ‘famous’ for his innovative combinations of foods, but not in a molecular gastronomy way. More thinking laterally about whats really tasty. His menu lists over 900 items, which he creatively names; dishes include ‘Slutty Cakes’ and ‘Blisters On My Sisters’. He’s also well known for his slightly unpredicatable temprament and strict house rules that are supposed to have partly inspired the ‘Soup Nazi’ character from Seinfeld.

Needless to say, I HAD to pay him a visit, and I wasn’t disappointed. The man himself took out order, and luckily seemed to like the cut of our jib. I can’t remember what everyone else had, but I ate a pretty atomic plate of huevos rancheros, which were very tasty, and we shared a plate of the slightly random, but totally delicious mac & cheese pancakes. I know. They sound a bit rank, but trust me. Drenched in maple syrup, they are ridiculous. So in honour of them, here’s the recipe:

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Ingredients

Peanut oil for the griddle

Butter for the griddle and for serving

3 cups of pancake batter (American style)

1 heaped copy of cooked macaroni – tossed with olive oil and warmed before using

1 heaped cup of grated mild cheddar cheese

Warm maple syrup

Method

Prepare the griddle of frying pan and drop on the batter. When bubbles appear on the surface (after about 2 minutes) drop a tablespoon of macaroni onto each pancake and sprinkle with a thin layer of cheese. Use a thin spatula and flip the pancakes over. Turn the heat down to medium, and press the cakes down with the spatula. When the underside is golden (another two minutes), remove them from the pan and place on a plate, macaroni side up. Smother with maple syrup and devour.

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I’ve just finished reading Kenny’s book, where I stole the recipe from, which is part philosophy part cookery book, and is an interesting read. As well as including a small selection of the hundreds of recipes on offer at his place, he charts the progress of his restaurant from a bodega in Greenwich Village to his new-ish home in the Essex Street Market, and how along the way he developed his own style, pallet and attitude to his customers.

Shopsin’s General Store is in the Essex Street Market, New York. His website is here, and you can see Kenny cooking those famous mac & cheese pancakes here.


Hogfest ’09

03/08/2009

Hog Roast

For the past couple of years my mate Ollie has been organising a hog roast, and last weekend was what has now been dubbed as ‘Hogfest 09’.

It’s basically a gathering for friends and family at his folk’s place in Shropshire, culminating in a hog roast. I know it all sounds a bit ‘River Cottage’, but for me escaping London and getting primal with a whole pig, a big fire and bunch of booze is my idea of a good weekend.  Ollie usually lives in Cairo where this kind of pork based entertaining doesn’t go down too well, so for him I think it’s also rare opportunity to feast on pork with impunity.

The preparation process is relatively simple. The pig gets scored all over with a Stanley Knife, given a good rub down with olive oil, and then sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper. No herbs or any other ‘fancy stuff’.

Cooking is a bit more complicated. The fire gets started at 5am, and then at 6 a barbecue pit of sorts is created using 2 sheets of corrugated iron, and by spreading the fire out into a hollow rectangular shape. The hog then gets mounted on a spit (bought on ebay and imported from the States no less)  and turned a quarter rotation every 5-10 minutes.

The fire’s heat should be more intense at the start to get the skin nice and crisp, this is pretty obvious when it happens, and then the rest of the cooking is slow and methodical. I think our pig was about 70 kilos and took around 12 hours to cook.

By 7pm (after a good half an hour resting) the meat was perfectly roasted. I had the honour of carving the beast, but after seeing it cook for so long my meat lust kind of took over and I went at it a bit like a demented cavemen butcher. It tasted amazing. Lovely salty crackling on top, sweet,  smokey, tender meat underneath. Totally worth the time and effort.

Hog Roast 2

There are some more pictures of the lucky pig and the rest of the day here, and if you fancy doing it yourself there’s some ‘How To’ help here.


Eat, drink and be merry…

03/08/2009

…I’m about to pop my blogging cherry.

Welcome to Hand To Mouth, a blog about food. Eating it. Cooking it. Reviewing it. Reading about it. And everything in between.

Depending on how into this I get, I’ll be regularly posting recipes, restaurant reviews and opinion and conjecture about anything food related that grabs my eye. Hopefully there’ll also be a few laughs along the way, and I promise not to cut the cheese.

If you like what you see please let me know, and equally don’t be afraid of throwing a few rotten tomatoes my way if you don’t.