A little blog about food with recipes, reviews, commentary, and honesty.

I also offer event catering and private chef services; check out Earls Barton Eats! for more details.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Food Porn: Home-Made Italian Pizza

Tomorrow it's Holiday Eve! Like the night before Xmas; only with more frantic packing, list checking, and car sweet stockpiling. Car sweets are damn important. 

So today's been busy and I wanted something for dinner that was quick, easy, and that I could just slam into the oven at the end of the day. I chose to make proper pizzas from proper Italian dough. 

Clearly this wouldn't spring to mind for everyone thinking 'Quick, Easy Dinner', but pizza dough is brilliant because you spend a minimum amount of time preparing it and then leave it for pretty much the whole afternoon. 

Then there's the toppings, on in 3 minutes flat. And the cooking? 15-20 minutes in a hot oven. 

Yes yes, you could order a takeaway pizza or bung a frozen one in the oven. But this way is healthier, lighter, and, in T's humble opinion, much tastier. 

Ingredients to make dough for 2 8" pizzas: 

325g of '00' flour
Half a 7g sachet of yeast (3.5g) 
1 tsp of salt
2 tbsps of olive oil
3 tbsps of milk
Roughly 150ml of warm water 

You can either mix the dough by hand in a large bowl or in a food processor; it you want to make it easily and in less time, I recommend the food processor. 

Add the flour, yeast, salt (Tip: Keep the yeast and salt separate in the bowl as the salt will damage the yeast), oil, and milk into the food processor and mix together. While it's mixing slowly add the warm water until a dough forms. 

Remove the dough from the food processor, place onto a well-floured surface, and knead for around 5 minutes. The dough will start off a bit stiff but as you knead it will feel looser. After 5 minutes the dough will feel soft, smooth, and will be more elastic; if you poke the dough with your finger the indentation will spring back. 

Place the dough into a large bowl and cover with a clean, damp tea towel. Leave the dough for about an hour and a half to rise; in this time it'll double in size and will feel light and soft to the touch. 

Now for knocking the dough back (the fun bit). Take the dough out of the bowl and back onto a well-floured surface and then pummel it all over; it's cheap anger-management. Knead the dough again for a couple of minutes, shape into a ball, and place back into the bowl and cover with the tea-towel. This time leave the dough for another hour, and then it's ready to use. 

To make 2 pizzas divide the dough into two equal pieces using a knife, then shape each piece into a small ball. To shape the dough I use a combination of rolling and stretching; firstly roll out the dough with a rolling pin into a rough circle (Please note; my pizzas are never circular, I like to call them 'artisan'). Then stretch the dough; place one hand into the centre of the dough and use your other hand to stretch out the dough from the centre outwards, all the way round. It's up to you whether you make the base deep-pan or stretch it out further to create a thin and crispy base. You can also create a crust by rolling the edge of the pizza inwards all the way round. 

And there you go; pizza base ready. 

Basic pizza prep involves spreading tomato passata all over the base and adding mozzarella, and basil if you'd like. After that the toppings are up to you; you can go with the traditional to the out-there. Tonight I did one base with Hungarian pepperoni and sliced red chilli, the other with prosciutto and sliced chestnut mushrooms, and finished off both with grated parmesan. Try to add a bit of texture into your toppings so that your pizzas aren't flat and dull; I scrunch up the prosciutto and for an extra crunch add fennel seeds to the pepperoni. 

You can cook the pizzas a number of ways; either on a flat tray, a specialised stone, or straight onto the oven shelf. I prefer the oven shelf option as it makes the bottom of the base crispy without addition washing up, but remember to place a sheet of baking paper onto the shelf first under the pizza or it'll fall through the gaps! It's also easier to place your dough onto the baking paper/tray/stone before you add the toppings. 

Then cook in a 220c/220c fan oven for 15-20 minutes, until the base and edges of the pizza are crispy and the toppings are cooked. The resulting pizza base will be light, airy, with a good crunch! 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Food Porn: Coconut Panna Cotta with Pineapple Salsa

I'm so very sorry that there haven't been any new posts for a while. This is because of two factors: firstly I've been busy planning and establishing my new catering business Earls Barton Eats! (EEP MY OWN BUSINESS!) and secondly my brain has been a bit all over the place recently and it can't seem to be able to focus on more than one thing at a time. 

For example, this morning I went shopping for the ingredients to create this panna cotta. I thought all was going fine until I got home and realised I'd forgotten the most important ingredient; coconut milk. 

So I returned to the supermarket once more and bought said coconut milk. Then got home again and realised I'd forgotten the second most important ingredient; pineapple. Stupid brain. 

So after three trips to the supermarket, here it is... 

Ingredients to serve 3-4: 

1 tin of full-fat coconut milk
200ml of full-fat milk
100g of caster sugar
1tsp of vanilla extract
1 sachet of powdered gelatine
1 small tin of pineapple chunks in juice (you can use fresh if in season)
1 lime
1 stick of lemongrass
5-6 mint leaves

This will be easier than you think, I promise. Panna cottas can understandably be intimidating because of the will it/won't it set drama. But get the ratio of liquid to gelatine spot on and you have nothing to worry about. 

Firstly gently heat the coconut milk, milk, caster sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved, then turn the heat up and bring to the boil. When boiled turn off the heat immediately. 

Pour 200ml of the hot liquid into a jug or bowl and sprinkle in the gelatine; always add gelatine to liquid not the other way around! Whisk together until the gelatine has dissolved then pour the 200ml of liquid back into the saucepan with the rest of the liquid and stir together. 

Immediately pour the liquid into dariole moulds, making sure you fill right up to the rim. It's useful to put the moulds into a tray before you start for easy transportation to the fridge, otherwise the moulds will be too hot to move easily after you pour the liquid in. These measurements will make roughly 3 1/2-4 panna cottas if you're using dariole moulds, but easily 4 if you're using ramekins. Place all the panna cottas into the fridge to set for at least 3 hours or ideally as long as you can up to 24 hours. 

To make the salsa pulse the lemongrass and mint together in a food processor and place into a bowl. Add the juice of half a lime and the zest of a whole one and mix together. Then add the pineapple chunks, drained of their juice, and mix all together. Place into the fridge for the pineapple to marinate for about an hour. 

When the panna cottas have set (they'll be firm on top and jiggly when you shake them) remove them from the fridge. For easy turning out dip each mould halfway into a bowl of boiling water for around 10-15 seconds, then place them onto the worktop and put a plate on top. While holding the mould to the plate, turn upside down. You might need to give the mould a bit of a shake to release the panna cotta but you can hear when they're released from the mould as they'll make a squelching noise. If they don't release first time, just dip the mould back into the boiling water for a few seconds. 

Serve on a plate with a spoonful of the pineapple salsa. The panna cotta will be glossy and creamy, working nicely with the fresh zing of the salsa! Perfect to finish off a spicy and hot South-East Asian meal. 

Friday, 10 August 2012

Food Porn: Spinach and Ricotta Mezzaluna

Someone commented recently that my blog didn't feature many vegetarian recipes. Well I've had a look and it does appear that I am quite the carnivore. 

I partly apologise for this obsession with meat, but on the other hand I sort of don't because I find meat awesome; FLESH! 

BUT I do love vegetarian food; it's amongst my favourite things to eat, honest. AND I do cook vegetarian food quite a bit actually, I just haven't shared any of it. 

Until now... 

Ingredients to serve two and make about 30 mezzaluna

To make the pasta: 

190g of '00' flour
2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks
2 tbsps of virgin olive oil

To make the filling and sauce: 

50g of ricotta cheese 
50g of parmesan, grated (Use vegetarian hard cheese if required)
1 whole egg
3 tbsps of spinach, finely chopped (I use frozen for freshness but you can use fresh if you'd like)
3 tbsps of mascarpone cheese
1 can of chopped tomatoes in juice
1 tsp of dried oregano
1 tbsp of basil, finely torn
1/2 a tsp of ground nutmeg
2 tbsps of olive oil
1tbsp of tomato puree
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper

Right; PASTA! Making pasta is quicker and easier than you'd think, and I find that the taste of fresh pasta far exceeds that of dried. It will be easiest to use a pasta maker, which looks like a mini mangle, but you can roll your pasta out super thin with a rolling pin if you don't have one. 

I find it easiest to make the pasta in one batch at a time. Start with a clean, cool surface (I use the work surface covered in greaseproof paper) and make a mountain shape out of 95g of '00' flour. Then make it into a volcano by making a well in the middle with your fingers. Into this well crack a whole egg and an egg yolk, and add 1 tbsp of virgin olive oil and a 1/4 of a tsp of salt. 

Then, using your hands, draw the floury sides of the volcano into the well in the middle and mix the flour together with the wet ingredients. Once the wet and dry are mixed together into a sticky lump you can start kneading this into dough, using your hands this will take about 10 minutes. The dough should end up smooth and silky to touch. Make sure that you flour the surface with a sprinkle of '00' as you go or the dough will be too sticky. 

When your dough is kneaded wrap in cling film and set aside in a cool place for 30 minutes; if it's a warm day it's best to put it in the fridge. Repeat for the second batch. 

For the filling first sauté your spinach for a couple of minutes in a saucepan with a knob of butter and then wring out any water. Whisk the egg in a large bowl and beat in the ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg, seasoning, and then the spinach until mixed together. Place in the fridge to firm up while you roll out your pasta. 

If you've left your pasta in the fridge remove it 5 minutes before you plan to roll it out to allow it to return to room temperature. If you're using a pasta machine set it up at one end of a long section of working space, as the pasta will get very lengthy when it's rolled out thinly. 

Start with one batch of the dough and shape it in your hands into a rough rectangle. Set your pasta machine on the thickest setting and roll the dough through. Then move on to the next setting down and roll out once more; repeat until you've rolled out the pasta on the thinnest setting. Make sure once again that the surface is well floured with '00' to prevent the pasta from sticking. 

Once the pasta is rolled out to it's thinnest take a round cutter (about 8cm in diameter is ideal) and cut out the rounds of pasta to make the mezzaluna. You can cut out as many as possible but each batch should make about 15 rounds. Place the rounds on a well-floured tray to dry a little before filling. 

To make the sauce place the tomatoes, garlic, oregano, tomato puree, and olive oil into a pan and bring to the boil. Then turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 30 minutes until the sauce is reduced. When the sauce is thick add the seasoning, basil, and mascarpone and stir in thoroughly. 

To fill the mezzaluna place about 1/2 of the filling mixture in the middle of one side of the pasta round. Using your finger smooth a little water all around the edge of the pasta round. Then roll that side of the pasta over, away from you so that the filling is neatly in the middle, into a half-moon shape. Then press down the edges firmly from the middle outwards, so that any air is expelled. Pick the mezzaluna up to make sure the edges are sealed down properly otherwise it may burst open when cooking. Place the mezzaluna back onto a well-floured tray. Repeat for all the pasta rounds. 

Boil some water in a large saucepan and add a little sea salt. I find it really helpful to use a small frying basket placed in the saucepan to cook the mezzaluna in, as they're far easier to remove when they're cooked. Otherwise you can gently place the mezzaluna into the saucepan of boiling water one at a time. They'll only take a couple of minutes to cook; you'll know when they're done because they'll float to the top of the water. 

In a deep pasta plate spoon a little of the sauce in the bottom, then when the mezzaluna are cooked serve them on top of the sauce. You can then spoon a little bit more of the sauce on top of the mezzaluna and finish off with more grated parmesan if you'd like. 


Food Porn: Layered Cheesecake Bites

You must think I'm obsessed with making food that's square. Really I'm not, I make round food too and sometimes dodecahedron if the mood takes me. 

Recently every week I've been baking for T's colleagues because they're hard-working chemists and need sweet sustenance on a Friday morning. Baking bite-size delights in a rectangular tray and then serving cut into squares is the best way to feed a crowd like this. 

This recipe is for a New York style baked cheesecake, because frankly they're the best kind. 

Ingredients to make one batch in a 20cm x 30cm tray: 

600g of soft cream cheese
250g of mascarpone
225g of digestive biscuits - substitute for GF digestives if required
100g of unsalted butter, melted
2 whole eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
175g of caster sugar
4 tbsps of self raising flour - substitute for GF self-raising flour if required
2 tsps of vanilla extract
200g of milk chocolate

First preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan and line the tray with greaseproof paper, leaving an inch around the top to make it easier to lift out the cheesecake afterwards. 

Now the fun bit - smashing up the digestives! You can use a food processor on pulse, but I prefer to put all the biscuits into a large bowl and smash with the end of a rolling pin. This way you end up with little chunks of biscuit in amongst the crumbs and this gives the base a better texture. Plus it's a great bingo-wing workout. 

When the biscuits are crushed add the melted butter a little at a time and mix well. You should reach the consistency where if you press the back of a spoon against the biscuit it leaves an indentation. Then tip the biscuits into the base of the tin and press down firmly in an even layer. Place in the oven and bake for 5 minutes to firm up, then remove and set aside to cool. 

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, then remove the bowl from the pan and set aside to cool. 

In a large bowl beat the eggs and sugar together until smooth then add the cream cheese, mascarpone, vanilla, and flour. Beat together until the mixture is smooth and silky and then divide half the mixture into another bowl. When the chocolate is cool add into one half of the mixture and fold in thoroughly with a spatula. 

Tip two thirds of the chocolate mixture onto the biscuit base and smooth out into an even layer with a spatula. Then tip the vanilla mixture onto the top and spread out carefully into a layer; some of the vanilla will sink down into the chocolate but this is perfectly OK! 

Tip the remaining chocolate mixture in a line down the middle of the vanilla layer. Take a bamboo skewer and sink into the cheese down to the biscuit base. Then swirl the skewer around the cheese in circles, mixing the chocolate with the vanilla, in order to marble the top of the cheesecake. 

Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the cheesecake has a slight wobble when you gently shake it. Turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake inside to cool for at least 2 hours; this will make the cheesecake dense and creamy. 

When completely cooled remove the cheesecake from the oven and cut into squares! 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Food Porn: Cherry Bakewell Squares

I really love food that looks jolly; forget Michelin-style presentation.

Take the cherry bakewell square: 

Doesn't it just make you smile? I think it's the shiny, patent cherry on top of the white icing; it reminds me of a clown's nose (Apologies to those terrified of clowns). 

I might even rename them 'Cheery Bakewells'. 

WARNING: This is not a nut-free recipe; it is truly packed to the gills with almonds. 

Ingredients to make one batch in a 20cm square tin: 

300g of shortcrust pastry; either ready-made or you can make your own using a gluten-free recipe like this.
1 jar of morello cherry jam
100g of ground almonds
100g of self-raising flour; for gluten-free substitute for GF self-raising flour
4 large eggs
200g of golden caster sugar
200g of unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp of French almond extract
200g of icing sugar
20 glacé cherries
Cold water

Firstly line the baking tin with greaseproof paper, leaving an inch around the top to make it easier to lift out the cherry bakewell afterwards. Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan. 

Roll out the pastry to around 1/4cm thick and cut it to the size of the tin; you can do this either by placing the tin on top of the pastry and trimming round it or making a template out of greaseproof paper. Then place the pastry in the bottom of the tin and press down gently round the sides. Spread the jam all over the pastry, making sure every bit is covered evenly. 

Beat together the sugar and butter in a large bowl until smooth, then beat in one egg at a time with 1 tbsp of the ground almonds. When you've beaten in all 4 eggs add the remaining almonds, the flour, and the almond extract and fold in with a spatula until the mixture is smooth and resembles a thick batter. Spoon the mixture over the jammy pastry and spread evenly with the spatula. Place in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the sponge is risen and golden brown. 

When the sponge is cooked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin. In a small bowl mix together the icing sugar with around 4 tbsps of cold water until it resembles a thick, gloopy paste; make sure there aren't any lumps of icing sugar! When the sponge is cooled spread the icing all over the top with a spatula, making sure that every bit of sponge is covered evenly and none of the sponge is showing through the icing. Place the glacé cherries on top and evenly space them out to be in the middle of where you'll cut the squares later. Then put the entire cherry bakewell in the fridge for at least 2 hours for the icing to set. 

When the icing is set remove the cherry bakewell from the tin and cut into squares, then consume the joy!