Me and a big girl named Brenda.

Brenda has been by side for more years than I can remember. She has never let me down, she’s plain and honest and I would hate to be without ever trusty Brenda. I know that the day I got married my mum was doubly sad; not only had I left home, but I took Brenda with me.  Who actually is Brenda? What role does she play in our lives.

Let me begin in the beginning. I’m not sure how old dear Brenda is. One day I was looking through a book of facsimiles published by the Ministry of Food, circa 1941, and I spied a picture of Brenda. I was astounded. I knew she wasn’t exactly in her prime; my maths failed me. She can’t be that old, she is still working. I showed the photo to Joseph and Stephen, they were both as shocked as I had been. ‘She can’t be that old.’ Stephen sounded concerned.
Joseph was worried  ‘shouldn’t we… Is it safe to…?’ He was concerned for our safety. I had to think hard. Was it time to retire lovely Brenda? I just can’t. She is working as hard as ever. Just this weekend she proved to be invaluable, as always, when I made a huge batch of haggis ragu. More of that later.
Now I think it’s time to reveal the true identity of this marvellous workhorse we have lovingly named Brenda. She was given to my mum by an elderly friend. Now that her own family had grown up and flown the nest, she had no use for a pressure cooker, without the weights which had been lost years ago. Mum was delighted with the gift and we named this pan after its previous owner; so meet Brenda the ancient, Presto, pressure cooker. Yes her handles may be a little loose and I’ve no idea what she’s made of but every time I use her I smile when I think of the real Brenda, who was funny, unreliable, always in debt, generous, sometimes care worn like many who had lost their youth to a war. Once she saw how useful ‘Brenda’ had become I think she regretted ever giving her away. However, she went to a good home and the real Brenda shared many meals, days out and friendship with my cookery mad mother; have you ever tried making a cheese cake icing with cottage cheese? Just don’t go there. It was one of Mum’s hare brained ideas that just didn’t work on any level.

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'Brenda'. Joseph made the sourdough which is cooling in the background.

I digress. As we were buying the chicken for Sunday’s dinner, in Scalloway Meat Company, Stephen spied a haggis that took his fancy. In the car home I hatched up a “cunning plan” to turn this fine haggis into a Scottish style ragu this would mean that the humble haggis would probably form the basis for at least three meals for four adults. This is where beautiful, big Brenda fits in. Just what is a Scottish ragu? Basically it is a bolognese sauce using haggis instead of mince. At New Year, we always make a cottage pie using haggis. It all started when Joseph and Samuel were younger and the thought of eating offal didn’t inspire them  or appeal to them. Not being content to let prejudice overcome flavour I thought if I made up a ‘Scottish lasagne’ they would eat that. It worked! Now Joseph says he prefers cottage pie made with haggis. Result!!!

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Haggis pasta bake, with some planned leftovers for lunches.

Returning to work after a break is always difficult which is why I decided to do a batch cook at the weekend; making a haggis cottage pie, a haggis chilli with rice and a haggis and pasta bake. This was inspired by Nigella’s Venetian lasagne and a recipe I’d recently seen @ Elizabeth’s kitchen diary. I took the idea of layering a meat ragu with  pasta tossed in a cheese sauce, instead of the spiced lamb Elizabeth uses, which is delicious by the way, I made use of my haggis ragu. As well as being very economical this ragu is very flavoursome.
Once you have made up your batch of ragu it is a doddle to make up this pasta bake. This is a two part recipe :- the ragu and how to assemble the pasta bake. I used a 750g haggis but I’ll give the quantities for the more usual 450g one.

For the haggis ragu

2 medium onions, finely diced
2 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2,  450g tins chopped tomatoes
450g haggis, casing removed and coarsely chopped
Salt to taste

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Haggis ragu not the most picturesque sight

Heat the oil, on a moderate heat, in a large pan add the onions, carrots and celery and cook for 5 mins, stirring from time to time.
Add the tinned tomatoes, stir and cook for a few more minutes until all the veg have softened. This could be up to fifteen minutes.
Add the chopped haggis, continue to break up the haggis in the pan. When you are happy with the texture of your sauce cover your pan and cook on a low heat for 45 minutes.
Test for salt and season to taste. You probably won’t need any peppers as haggises are usually well seasoned.
Now your ragu is ready to use.
It can be served with potatoes and vegetables, it makes a superb cottage pie base. I use it just as I would a beef ragu, with pasta, in a lasagne or in jacket potatoes or with polenta.

The haggis pasta bake
Half quantity of the above sauce
500ml cheese sauce- I make it in the microwave
120g ball mozzarella, ripped into small pieces
500g pasta shapes, fusili works well
100g freshly grated parmesan

Butter your shallow oven proof dish and preheat the oven 190°c (170°c for fan ovens)

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Greasing the smaller dishes for lunch time

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Tip the pasta in, when the water comes back to a rolling boil follow the timings on the pasta packet. 9- 12 mins

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Add the pasta to the boiling water.

Drain and run under cold water to stop the pasta cooking any further.

Make your cheese sauce
Mix 75g cornflour, in a microwave proof jug,  with a little milk until it is a smooth paste. Make up to 500ml with milk, or a milk and yogurt, or milk and single cream depending on how decadent you feel. Stir to combine.

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Sauce ready to be cooked.

Place in the microwave for a minute, stir and cook for another minute, stir. It should be starting to thicken now. Cook in blobs of 20-30 seconds until the sauce has thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add half the cheese.

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Combine the pasta with half the cheese sauce in a large bowl until the pasta is well coated.
Place half of the pasta in your dish and scatter half the mozzarella over it.

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The mozzarella draining

Cover this with your meat sauce, in this case haggis ragu.

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Smooth the sauce out over half the pasta

Cover this with the remaining cheese pasta. Pour the rest of the cheese sauce over. Scatter the mozzarella over it and the other half of the parmesan.

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Freshly grated parmesan.

Bake for 30 mins until golden.

Serve with a crisp green salad and some crusty bread.

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A nice sourdough to mop up your sauce and salad dressing.

Brenda is used on a regular basis and I hope when I’m the same age as big, beautiful Brenda I’m still cooking up a storm!

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Scouting around for a good guide for brownies!

Oops! Just couldn’t resist getting some Brownie puns in.

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Really Gooey Brownies

Another disaster neatly averted. After a fifteen week absence from work my days of lounging around at home are coming to an end. Really, I should be doing something practical such as stocking up the freezer. Boring! After years of being sensible, enough is enough I decided to follow Marie-Antionette’s advice and “let them eat cake”. I know the general consensus is that she was referring to either brioche or pain de mie; whereas brownies are what I feel like whipping up.

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Assembling all the ingredients.

I can’t remember when brownies first entered my cake radar. I had a friend who moved to America who mentioned them in her, at first, frequent letters. What she described was a chocolate tray bake surely? No, no, no! I now know what brownies really are and in the cakey and gooey debate I’m with the gooey lobby.

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Lots of yummy bits of chocolate.

I digress. Where is the disaster that’s been averted? It all started with an innocent question ‘I feel like making some cake, Niela would you like me to make you some?’ Niela’s spinning wheel abruptly came to a halt and her eyes had that mischievous sparkle that often appears when either ‘gin’, ‘cake’ or something ‘wooly’ is mentioned. After some deliberation we decided that a lemon drizzle cake would go down nicely, but only half a batch. After all we are both ‘watching our weight’. Then Niela had a thought, ‘t’other half prefers chocolate cake.’ Well I like to please everyone especially if it involves making more cake. After more serious debate we fixed on brownies, easy. That is unless you know my passion for baking. We then had to discuss whether to include chocolate chips. ‘Yes’ with that look that says it all; i.e. they aren’t brownies without chocolate chips. Next problem: do you want it iced? Sorry ‘frosted’ I keep forgetting across the pond they ‘frost’, rather than ‘ice’. With some more serious discussion we fixed on half a tray of plain brownies and half a tray with a melted minty chocolate topping. As you can see we are really watching our weight. Those of you of a more mathematical inclination will have noticed that ‘only half a batch’  has now expanded, like my elasticated waistband, to one and a half trays each.

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Putting the wafer thin mints on the hot brownie

I go home with a spring in my step. Cake! Lots of cake. Its easy to see why I’m no longer svelte. At the end of the working day, Stephen usually phones to see if I need any extra groceries. I’m sure his eyes must have lit up when I asked for six bars of plain chocolate and two boxes of chocolate mints. It could only mean one thing; After Eight Brownies. Except I use Tesco’s own chocolate mints, they’re thicker and make a better icing in my honest opinion. Ingredients assembled. ‘Let’s bake’.

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A minty topped tray of brownies.

All went well, or at least seemed to, until I put the mixture into the lined tin. It just didn’t look enough and I’d run out of cocoa. I decided to make another batch to add to this batch using more melted chocolate instead of cocoa. While the chocolate was melting I decided to taste the gloop – in my largest baking tray. Something was not right. It felt grainy, the mixture wasn’t smooth and unctuous. (I’ve watched too many episodes of Masterchef with Michael Roux Jr.) I then looked at the unopened tubs of butter. Whoops! At this point I’m so glad it was just me and the pooches in the kitchen. The next job was very messy. Very, very messy. I’m afraid the dogs may have sampled some of the chocolate gloop that ended on the floor. All the cake mixture had to be scraped out of the lined tin back into the bowl. If you recall there is another batch being made to add to this one. This was going to be a really hefty batch of brownies at this rate. Most of the mixture went into the bowl. I managed to avoid spilling any on my new camera. Yes some lots  ended up on the floor, work surfaces and me. Seriously, have you ever tried to scrape cake mixture out of a parchment lined baking tray? The paper flapped about, the mixture dripped and splashed. I flapped and fumed, I did manage to salvage most of it. All was not lost, I mixed the chocolate brownie mixes together and I can safely say we all will be eating cake, lots of cake this weekend. I can also safely say that there will be a few (albeit happy) people in Hoswick  who wish,  like Mr. Creosote, they’d said ‘no’ when the phrase;  ‘finally… a wafer thin mint’,  topped brownie, was uttered.

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Less than 24 hours later, nearly all gone!

Now enough of the blethering, I digress – again. I searched through my collection of cookery books.  I settled on Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, and a favourite recipe from BBC’s Good Food online recipe bank. The beauty of Mary’s recipe is that it’s just a weigh, mix, pour it into the prepared tin and then bake it. The results are very good, when I’m doing a big batch bake this is the recipe I tend to use. However the Good Food recipe I use does make an even more lush version. This was a tough one. In the end I used the more extravagant ingredients from Oralndo Murrin’s recipe and the Berry baking method. As my mum would say ‘laziness is nowt unless its well carried out’ .

Now let’s get serious.

For a single batch
You will need:-

Greased and lined with baking paper,  20cm square brownie tin.

185g butter
185g plain chocolate, not cooking chocolate melted either in a heatproof bowl or in the microwave (check every 30 seconds)
85g plain flour
45g cocoa
100g chocolate,  chips or chopped into small nibble sized bits
3 large eggs (whisked, if you want a lighter feel to these chocolate beauties, with the sugar)
275g caster sugar, or light brown for a fudge brownie.
1 box ‘wafer thin mints’  either ‘after 8’s’ or similar.

Now the hard bit – I lie
Preheat oven 180°C 160° fan oven, gas mark 4

In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together until well mixed. I usually use an ancient hand held mixer to do this. Pour into the prepared tin.
Bake for 20- 25 mins for gooey and 35-45 for cakey brownies.
For gooey when you test it, by inserting a thin skewer, the skewer should come out fairly clean and the top should have only just lost its wobbliness. For cakey, the cake tester should be clean, unless you hit some molten chocolate.

For mint topped brownies place the mints, at regular intervals, on top of the hot cake. As they melt spread the molten mints evenly over the cake. Allow to cool and cut into as many squares as you feel like. It should make 12ish.

If you want to go for the more involved method. (Only to be attempted if you have someone else who is prepared to do the washing up. I find even with a dishwasher everything needs a good rinse before it sets on the bowl. However; young or even older, children can be persuaded to lick scrape the bowls clean.)

In a small bowl, simply melt the butter and chocolate together, allow to cool
Into a medium bowl – Sieve the cocoa and flour together.
In a large bowl Whisk the eggs and sugar together, until at least doubled in volume.
Carefully pour the buttery chocolate into the whisked eggs and sugar. If you pour the mixture down the sides of the bowl this will be gentler and you want to save all your air bubbles.
Fold in the flour and cocoa.
Gently stir your chocolate chips into your mixture.
Pour into your prepared cake tray
Bake for 20-25 mins for gooey and 35-45 for cakey brownies
For mint topped brownies cover the hot cake with the chocolates, as they melt spread to make an even topping/ icing /frosting.

The brownies in the photos, once I’ve persuaded Sam to transfer them from my camera to my tablet,  were made by the weigh, mix, spread, bake and eat method, using Mary Berry’s all in one recipe. For the big tray, 37 x 22cm, in the photo I made up a double size batch. For the smaller tray, 32 x 22,  I used 1 and a half times the ingredients.  I really am talking about a lot of brownies here.

Enjoy but don’t tell your doctor where you found the recipe, they might know my Dr. I didn’t eat many, really. Then I’ve never been very good at maths!

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In Search of the Perfect Pizza

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Pizza ready to be sliced and eaten.

Every Friday was, and now is once again, Pizza Night. Almost every Friday night of the almost  ten years we lived in Bella Italia was Pizza night. Or that’s what is, rightly or wrongly, fixed into my memory. I suspect the year after Sam was born, two full months, prematurely things may have been a little less organised. Early every Friday evening, well by Italian standards, we’d pack the ‘pizza bag’;  no not for ferrying the goodies  back home, rather as my boys were only young at that time, it was full of paper, pens, whatever electronic device that was on the go- PSPs, Nintendo DS, Gameboys of various hues. (I can’t tell you how useful these little gaming machines were on that long car journey from Milan to Glasgow, via Northampton) Friday night pizzas  were one of the highlights of our week.

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The dough after a couple of 'rests'.

All good things must come to an end as  those individuals of a pessimistic inclination will tell you. Stephen’s ten year contract with the European Schools was up, our time in Italy was quickly coming to an end. Soon a large, very large, removal truck negotiated our narrow drive. Box after box was loaded into the van. Every box was numbered and the contents listed. One of the last things to be packed was the computer, as I desperately struggled to list the contents of the final boxes as they were packed. Precious possessions to be placed in store until we could find a home of our own in Shetland. Little realising it would be a full year until outgrown toys and clothes were reunited with their owners.

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Stretching the dough.

A new phase on our lives had begun, it soon became evident that if we wanted an Italian style pizza we would have to make them at home. “No problem”, to quote Sam’s catch phrase. We tried all manner of things to get that thin and crispy base that still managed to be crisp, chewy and still felt like bread. We tried pre –  baking them. They were thin and certainly crispy, but they could not be described as ‘bready’ no more like loaded pitta crisps. Back to the drawing board. Luckily, I don’t know what drew me to it, I discovered the Pizza Pilgrims. I had one of those light bulb moments. Pan- fried pizzas made with a scone type base work well for a quick pizza type hit. Why not try the same method with a dough based pizza?

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Folding the dough.

Ad nauseum, I went on and on about their method. Stephen was now becoming ecstatically delighted. I had  almost convinced him to build a pizza oven in the garden. Almost. I think he can’t have been listening to me when he’d agreed, then showing him some plans online must have struck an alarm bell somewhere. He did have a point; in Shetland,  where the rain is often horizontal, what chance did a pizza oven have of being used more than once a year. I think Stephen realised he’d be the one who’d be in charge of the oven. He is after all  something of a pyromaniac, more about that another day. Those who haven’t glanced at the Pizza Pilgrims book or at the brilliant pizza book ‘Franco Manca’ have a look, this revolutionary method is so so easy. You simply cook the base of the pizza in a heavy based frying pan, top it while the base cooks  then whack it under a ferociously hot grill. Simples.

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Topping the base with passata.

Now once again pizza night is one of the meals we most look forward to every week. It’s a meal that has a great buzz about it. Preparations begin much earlier in the day, usually before midday. For this recipe we use  very little yeast and just let it take its time. Joseph usually makes the dough. Once I’ve worked how to upload the photos from my new Sam’s old camera it’s his hands that are dexterously folding and shaping the dough. You can make a dough and use it straight away, I have done in an emergency before and it will still be a lot better than a takeaway pizza. We just like the rituals of pizza night.

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Adding pancetta. No time to hesitate

Around seven o’clock it’s all hands on deck. The surface dusted with flour. Cast iron baking stone heating up, the grill turned to its highest setting. Mozzarellas drained and halved. Passata opened, a small amount poured into a dish. Utensils out i.e. rolling pins, heavy oven sheet, spatula and oven gloves. Pizza boxes made, yep we’ve got the pizza bug really bad! Any other toppings. Last week’s pizza was a sausage and rocket one; I think its my favourite. The sausage is fried, allowed to cool, casing removed and then sliced.

The assembly line then kicks into gear; Joseph deftly and alarmingly accurately rolls out perfect discs of dough. I then transfer it on to the hot pizza stone, wait for the surface to bubble, once it has I put no more than two tablespoons of passata on the base and swirl it around. Meanwhile, as the next base is being rolled out, I add the rest of the toppings to the pizza. It always amazed us how little was on a pizza in Italy, it is definitely a case of ‘less is more’ in terms of flavour. This pizza is then put under the very hot grill and is watched by who ever is going to eat it. By the time that one is cooked the next one is ready to go under the grill. I’ve tried doing it all on my own but it doesn’t work so well. The kitchen gets too hot and the dough waiting to be rolled out becomes too relaxed and stretches all over the place when you attempt to lift it onto the pizza stone. With all four of us working together it really doesn’t take long, it can get a bit frantic at times but it’s great fun.

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Topped with pancetta and brie ready to go under the grill.

Do give this way of cooking pizzas a go. They’re as close to an authentic Italian pizza as you can get. We could almost be sitting at our favourite pizzeria in Italy, well almost.

The dough will make four 10″ pizzas.

(The pictures are of last week’s pancetta and brie pizza)

500g strong white flour.
2-7g of instant yeast. (Use smaller amount if you plan to make the dough in the morning and the larger amount if you make the dough a couple of hours before you want to eat.)
15g of salt. You can use less, but you’ll need to season your tomatoes.
325g water, lukewarm (22-27°C)

Place the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and combine.
Pour in the water and work the dough together using your fingertips.
Lightly dust your working surface with flour and tip your dough onto it.
Knead the dough lightly to make sure everything is all mixed together. Let it rest for a few minutes 10 – 15
Rinse your bowl and lightly oil it.
Place the dough back in your bowl cover with a damp cloth or cling film.
Leave for an other 15 mins and then carefully stretch the dough and then fold it back up. Turn the dough a quarter turn, stretch and fold again , do two more quarter turns and stretch and fold.
After the fourth turn, stretch and fold shape the dough onto a ball and put the dough back in the bowl. Leave for 15 mins and then repeat the stretching, folding and turning. Shape into a ball
Return the dough to its bowl, cover the bowl once more.
If you have used the small amount of yeast leave the bowl somewhere cool for 8-12 hours
If you’ve used the larger amount of yeast, leave somewhere warm for an hour.
The dough should have doubled in size
Lightly dust your work surface with flour, carefully ease your dough onto the work surface.
Divide your dough into four equal pieces, shape into balls, place in either one very large, lightly oiled, plastic box or two smaller ones.
Leave until doubled. Depend on the heat of your room it could be between 30-60 minutes.

Now the fun begins!
Get everything you will need ready, toppings, baking sheet, spatula.

Margherita
4 balls of pizza dough-  see above
Flour for dusting

Passata, 8 tablespoons
2 x 120g balls mozzarella, drained and torn into pieces
Basil, a small bunch

Pre heat your grill, place the rack in its highest position
Place an oiled heavy frying pan, or cast iron baking stone/ griddle on the hob on a medium high heat.

Dust your work surface with flour and roll the first ball of dough into a disc just smaller than your pan.
Pick your pizza base up and plop it into the hot pan. I use a small rolling pin to lift it. Spread it flat.
As soon the top begins to bubble spread 2 tbsp of passata onto the base with the back of your spoon. Put 4 or 5 basil leaves on top and distribute a quarter (60g)of the mozzarella on top.
Cook the pizza for 3-4 mins, keep checking the base, use a spatula to lift it up to see how it’s browning.
Transfer onto a baking sheet and place under the grill for 3-4 mins.
You can put the pizza in the pan under the grill, if it has a heatproof handle. Cook for 3-4 mins.
Once ready garnish with a few more, small, basil leaves and serve either sliced or whole.

Other favourite toppings (in addition to the basic passata and mozzarella)
Sausage and rocket, precook and slice the sausage . Scatter rocket over the cooked pizza.
Salami and gorganzola
Sliced chorizo and goat’s cheese
Anchovy, olive and caper
Griddled asparagus and  mozzarella, drizzled with melted butter when cooked. OMIT THE TOMATO.

Remember have a light hand with your toppings. One pack of pancetta, 120-150g, does four pizzas.

Ciao ciao.

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In Search of the Perfect Pizza

image

Pizza ready to be sliced and eaten.

Every Friday was, and now is once again, Pizza Night. Almost every Friday night of the almost  ten years we lived in Bella Italia was Pizza night. Or that’s what is, rightly or wrongly, fixed into my memory. I suspect the year after Sam was born, two full months, prematurely things may have been a little less organised. Early every Friday evening, well by Italian standards, we’d pack the ‘pizza bag’;  no not for ferrying the goodies  back home, rather as my boys were only young at that time, it was full of paper, pens, whatever electronic device that was on the go- PSPs, Nintendo DS, Gameboys of various hues. (I can’t tell you how useful these little gaming machines were on that long car journey from Milan to Glasgow, via Northampton) Friday night pizzas  were one of the highlights of our week.

image

The dough after a couple of 'rests'.

All good things must come to an end as  those individuals of a pessimistic inclination will tell you. Stephen’s ten year contract with the European Schools was up, our time in Italy was quickly coming to an end. Soon a large, very large, removal truck negotiated our narrow drive. Box after box was loaded into the van. Every box was numbered and the contents listed. One of the last things to be packed was the computer, as I desperately struggled to list the contents of the final boxes as they were packed. Precious possessions to be placed in store until we could find a home of our own in Shetland. Little realising it would be a full year until outgrown toys and clothes were reunited with their owners.

image

Stretching the dough.

A new phase on our lives had begun, it soon became evident that if we wanted an Italian style pizza we would have to make them at home. “No problem”, to quote Sam’s catch phrase. We tried all manner of things to get that thin and crispy base that still managed to be crisp, chewy and still felt like bread. We tried pre –  baking them. They were thin and certainly crispy, but they could not be described as ‘bready’ no more like loaded pitta crisps. Back to the drawing board. Luckily, I don’t know what drew me to it, I discovered the Pizza Pilgrims. I had one of those light bulb moments. Pan- fried pizzas made with a scone type base work well for a quick pizza type hit. Why not try the same method with a dough based pizza?

image

Folding the dough.

Ad nauseum, I went on and on about their method. Stephen was now becoming ecstatically delighted. I had  almost convinced him to build a pizza oven in the garden. Almost. I think he can’t have been listening to me when he’d agreed, then showing him some plans online must have struck an alarm bell somewhere. He did have a point; in Shetland,  where the rain is often horizontal, what chance did a pizza oven have of being used more than once a year. I think Stephen realised he’d be the one who’d be in charge of the oven. He is after all  something of a pyromaniac, more about that another day. Those who haven’t glanced at the Pizza Pilgrims book or at the brilliant pizza book ‘Franco Manca’ have a look, this revolutionary method is so so easy. You simply cook the base of the pizza in a heavy based frying pan, top it while the base cooks  then whack it under a ferociously hot grill. Simples.

image

Topping the base with passata.

Now once again pizza night is one of the meals we most look forward to every week. It’s a meal that has a great buzz about it. Preparations begin much earlier in the day, usually before midday. For this recipe we use  very little yeast and just let it take its time. Joseph usually makes the dough. Once I’ve worked how to upload the photos from my new Sam’s old camera it’s his hands that are dexterously folding and shaping the dough. You can make a dough and use it straight away, I have done in an emergency before and it will still be a lot better than a takeaway pizza. We just like the rituals of pizza night.

image

Adding pancetta. No time to hesitate

Around seven o’clock it’s all hands on deck. The surface dusted with flour. Cast iron baking stone heating up, the grill turned to its highest setting. Mozzarellas drained and halved. Pasatta opened, a small amount poured into a dish. Utensils out i.e. rolling pins, heavy oven sheet, spatula and oven gloves. Pizza boxes made, yep we’ve got the pizza bug really bad! Any other toppings. Last week’s pizzza was a sausage and rocket one; I think its my favourite. The sausage is fried, allowed to cool, casing removed and then sliced.

The assembly line then kicks into gear; Joseph deftly and alarmingly accurately rolls out perfect discs of dough. I then transfer it on to the hot pizza stone, wait for the surface to bubble, once it has I put no more than two tablespoons of passata on the base and swirl it around. Meanwhile, as the next base is being rolled out, I add the rest of the toppings to the pizza. It always amazed us how little was on a pizza in Italy, it is definitely a case of ‘less is more’ in terms of flavour. This pizza is then put under the very hot grill and is watched by who ever is going to eat it. By the time that one is cooked the next one is ready to go under the grill. I’ve tried doing it all on my own but it doesn’t work so well. The kitchen gets too hot and the dough waiting to be rolled out becomes too relaxed and stretches all over the place when you attempt to lift it onto the pizza stone. With all four of us working together it really doesn’t take long, it can get a bit frantic at times but it’s great fun.

image

Topped with pancetta and brie ready to go under the grill.

Do give this way of cooking pizzas a go. They’re as close to an authentic Italian pizza as you can get. We could almost be sitting sitting at our favourite pizzeria in Italy, well almost.

The dough will make four 10″ pizzas.

(The pictures are of last week’s pancetta and brie pizza)

500g strong white flour.
2-7g of instant yeast. (Use smaller amount if you plan to make the dough in the morning and the larger amount if you make the dough a couple of hours before you want to eat.)
15g of salt. You can use less, but you’ll need to season your tomatoes.
325g water, lukewarm (22-27°C)

Place the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and combine.
Pour in the water and work together using your fingertips.
Lightly dust your working surface with flour tip your dough onto it.
Knead the dough lightly to make sure everything is all mixed together. Let it rest for a few minutes 10 – 15
Rinse your bowl and lightly oil it.
Place the dough back in your bowl cover with a damp cloth or cling film.
Leave for an other 15 mins and then carefully stretch the dough and then fold it back up. Turn the dough a quarter turn, stretch and fold again , do two more quarter turns and stretch and fold.
After the fourth turn, stretch and fold shape the dough onto a ball and put the dough back in the bowl. Leave for 15 mins and then repeat the stretching, folding and turning. Shape into a ball
Return the dough to its bowl, cover the bowl once more.
If you have used the small amount of dough leave the bowl somewhere cool for 8-12 hours
If you’ve used the larger amount of dough, leave somewhere warm for an hour.
The dough should have doubled in size
Lightly dust your work surface with flour, carefully ease your dough onto the work surface.
Divide your dough into four equal pieces, place in either one very large, lightly oiled, plastic box or two smaller ones.
Leave until doubled. Depend on the heat of your room it could be between 30-60 minutes.

Now the fun begins!
Get everything you will need ready, toppings, baking sheet, spatula.

Margherita
4 balls of pizza dough-  see above
Flour for dusting

Passata, 8 tablespoons
2 x 120g balls mozzarella, drained and torn into pieces
Basil, a small bunch

Pre heat your grill, place the rack in its highest position
Place an oiled heavy frying pan, or cast iron baking stone/ griddle on the hob on a medium high heat.

Dust your work surface with flour and roll into a disc just smaller than your pan.
Pick your pizza base up and plop it into the hot pan. I use a small rolling pin to lift it. Spread it flat.
As soon the top begins to bubble spread 2 tbsp of passata onto the base with the back of your spoon. Put 4 or 5 basil leaves on top and distribute a quarter (60g)of the mozzarella on top.
Cook the pizza for 3-4 mins, keep checking the base, use a spatula to lift it up to see how it’s browning.
Transfer onto a baking sheet and place under the grill for 3-4 mins.
You can put the pizza in the pan under the grill, if it has a heatproof handle. Cook for 3-4 mins.
Once ready garnish with a few more, small, basil leaves and serve either sliced or whole.

Other favourite toppings (in addition to the basic passata and mozzarella)
Sausage and rocket, precook and slice the sausage . Scatter rocket over the cooked pizza.
Salami and gorganzola
Sliced chorizo and goat’s cheese
Anchovy, olive and caper
Griddled asparagus and  mozzarella, drizzled with melted butter when cooked. OMIT THE TOMATO.

Remember have a light hand with your toppings. One pack of pancetta, 120-150g, does four pizzas.

Ciao ciao.

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Oranges and Lemons: well Clementine and Lime Cake

It all started out with a homemade fish supper (aka fish and chips to anyone south of Hadrian’s wall). They maybe a gorgeous Saturday night treat, especially the way Stephen makes them  à la mode de Heston). However; early Sunday morning, feeling fragile, the lingering aroma is less than welcome. I hasten to add the fragility has nothing to do with being ‘worse for wear’.  Alas; due to the ever increasing number of freebies my doctor insists I need to function, anything brewed except tea or distilled is to be treated with caution. I have road tested this advice and I have to totally agree with it.

I digress. One tip I have seen, somewhere, suggests cooking a lemon in the microwave to make it smell fresher. Well if it will work in the microwave why not in the kitchen? Not being one to waste anything, and I mean anything, I recalled baking cakes that used boiled citrus fruit. On Christmas day I made an orange cake from one of  Tom Keridge’s books and in the dim and distant past I’m sure Nigella had a recipe for something similar. I tracked down the recipes and discovered that I did not have the ingredients for either one. Did that deter me? No siree!

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The final product!

The first task was to see what was missing, what could be substituted and what did I imagine it would it taste like. One of my first problems was not enough of any one particular citrus fruit. That was easily solved, just mix ‘n’ match. Into the pan went three clementines, and two limes, that  I must confess, were past their first flush of youth. I kinda figured that after they had simmered for two hours no one would be able to guess how dejected these tangy little monsters had once been. Next task was to overcome the distinct lack of almonds, ground, flaked, whole or blanched. It looked like it was going to have to be good old mix ‘n’ match again. I had desiccated coconut and pistachio nuts to play with. Rather an unlikely combination I must admit. I wanted cake, they wanted cake it’s safe to say we wanted cake. I also figured that with that amount of whole citrus fruits in the cake whichever nuts went in they were not going to be the strongest flavour.  The, now very soft, citrus fruits were chucked into the food processor and whizzed. Next in went 150g of coconut and 100g of pistachio nuts that I’d already blitzed to a coarse powder.  I like a bit of texture! These were hotly pursued by 6 eggs, 225g sugar and 1tsp of baking powder. Just whizz together and pour into a greased and floured tin and that’s it. Simples!

Once everything is combined it should have been a simple matter of baking, cooling and eating. Once I’m off script I really go off script. For some unknown reason I decided to make this in a bundt tin. This bundt tin, with all its little nooks and crannies, for this dense mixture to become attached to. Gorilla glue couldn’t have made it stick more.

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My bundt tin, not THE cake though

I wish I could say this is the cake, it’s not. The cake in question came out of this tin in at least six pieces of varying dimensions. At this point most sane people would have given up. I’m not sane and I hate waste. In the cupboard there was 200g of icing sugar and loitering on the chopping board was half of a lemon. Et voila another bonding agent. I stuck the cake together I iced the cake. There were still visible joins. Distraction tactics were needed. In the snack box there was a wee bar of dark chocolate. Hey presto a chocolate drizzle was born. What surprised us all was that through a serious of unfortunate events I had created an exceedingly good cake. For my husband’s birthday meal I’m thinking along the lines of a lime and coconut concoction, then there’s an orange, hazelnut and chocolate cake to consider. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

I’m not certain about using pistachio nuts again the colour was interesting to say the least.

The cake as it should have been, I’m giving a brief summary of the Ingredients that could be used

375g citrus fruit, either 2 large oranges or 5 or 6 clementines
250g ground almonds, or other nuts
225g sugar
6 large eggs
1tsp. Baking powder

Prepare a 23cm spring form cake tin, grease and lightly flour it.
In a medium pan place the fruit, cover with water and simmer for two hours.
Preheat oven 190°c / 170°c fan gas mark 5
Cut fruit in half and remove any pips, do this over a bowl so you don’t lose any precious juice. Place in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz until well mixed.
Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 40 mins. Check after 30 and cover with foil if its baking too quickly.

This really is baking alchemy.

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No post is complete without a picture of the pooches.

This really is a simple cake; it makes a delicious dessert served with vanilla ice cream. Last night we added a tablespoon of homemade lemon curd and it was, well for once words fail me!

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You’re Crackers mi’Lady

What do you do if you run out of crackers? Silly question really, you either hop in the car and nip into the local shop or the nearest supermarket. Right?

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My canine hoovers, also known as Filska and Heath.

Or, you put your sensible walking shoes on, go into the outhouse pick up the dogs’ harnesses, collars, coupler and lead?  You then take all the walking paraphernalia into the house; calm the dogs down. Quickly tog Filska up, chase Heath around the sitting room; when you pretend to go without Heath he obediently sits in front of you, looking at you with his big innocent brown eyes as though butter could not melt in his mouth. I don’t know if he doesn’t like having all this gear on, because he certainly loves going out for a walk, or is he just being playful? The latter I suspect. Now back to the matter in hand do I, a confirmed baker-holic, go to all the bother of getting the dogs ready just to go out for a few minutes walk just to buy some savoury biscuits?  Would you? Nipping out in the car is out of the question, it’s in Lerwick and I’m at home. I suppose we could do without. No, impossible! I don my apron, turn on the oven and get cracking.

I’ve been itching to make some savoury biscuits for a while. The last batch I made was months and months ago, well Christmas was nearly four months ago after all. The family declared I was evil at that point as there was no way that they could resist homemade parmesan and cheddar biscuits.

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The madness begins with weighing up all the ingredients.

Today I decided to test their resolve again; however I was going to lighten them up a little: by using no cheese and less butter. My next baking experiment is savoury spelt crackers with a hint of rosemary and smoked paprika to perk them up. The uncooked crackers are quite a lurid orangey colour before they cook but they change to a nicer golden hue as they bake.

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Rolling them out; the first of five or six trays!

If there are more than a dozen left by the time I get up tomorrow I’ll be astonished (and slightly less svelte than I already am).

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Lead us not into.....

Don’t they look so easy to eat, so crisp, so savoury so small and so many too.  ‘Eat me’ is just written all over them.

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Spelt, Rosemary and Paprika Crackers.

300g spelt flour, or wholemeal.
40g sugar
1 TSP salt, I used an extra half of a spoonful more
1/2 TSP pimenton or ordinary paprika
1/2 TSP dried rosemary
100 g butter
100 – 110ml cold water

If you have a food processor place the flour, sugar, salt, butter, paprika and rosemary into the bowl and give everything a quick whizz around.
Slowly pour the water on through the feed tube until everything clumps together. I accidentally added 120ml of water and it was well past the clumpy stage, more pasty really – I added a couple of handfuls of plain flour to make it less tacky to touch. Opps!

Grease, or line several baking trays with baking parchment. I just used silicone mats.

Preheat oven to 200°c or 180°c fan

To make by hand mix the flour, sugar, salt, paprika, rosemary together rub in the butter to distribute it. Gradually add the water until all can be combined onto a ball.

Flour your work surface liberally and place a quarter of your dough on the surface. Keep your rolling pin well floured and roll out the dough as thin as possible and I mean wafer thin. Keep checking that it isn’t sticking, use a palate knife to ease it up and sprinkle more flour under it.
Cut into small squares -about 2cms. I used a pastry cutter but a knife would do the same job. As you can see mine were not all regular shapes. I’m a home cook and this isn’t The Great British Bake Off after all.
(I sprinkled some with salt and pepper, however this is entirely optional )
Carefully lift them onto your prepared baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake for about 6 to 8 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they will quickly go from golden to dark, deep brown with a hint of carbonisation!

Leave to cool on a baking tray and they will crisp  a little more.
If you find that once the crackers have cooled they’re not crisp, pop them back in the oven for a couple more minutes.

Store it an airtight container. I believe that they could keep for a week. However; savoury biscuits never last more than a couple of days in our house.

I hope you are enjoying the musings and meandering s of this apprentice blogger. If you can please leave a comment. Thank you.

 

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At last the truth about Niela’s Buttocks.

How on earth did a loaf of really tasty bread end up with such an usual name? I can assure you this isn’t the name given to this bread by Dan Lepard;  it is after all, his milk loaf that provides the inspiration for this loaf.

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Niela's Buttocks!!

Are you sitting comfortably? Well, let’s begin.
I am, the day is rather overcast, but the view and the cappuccino are excellent.

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Having a coffee at Fjaro café bar

My youngest son has been helping out and then working for Nielanell, at her knightwear studio in Hoswick, for about six or seven years. I have hopefully helped to instill in him a love of food, whether it’s a healthy or unhealthy interest I don’t feel able to comment on. However; I’ve seen a jar of chocolate or cookie spread disappear with frightening haste, how he is not the size of a a brick kludgey I don’t know. As usual, I digress. At less than busy times or at the end of a particularly tiring day, when their batteries need recharging, talk turns to food. Niela has been entertained, any one who has met Samuel will be able to confirm that he can be very entertaining. There has been chatter about chips; musings about macadamia macaroons and banter about bread. I’m sorry but I’m a sucker for alliteration.

A change of location, yet another café.

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Why worry if the skies are gray... So let's have another coffee.

Breadmaking is an absolute passion and there is usually a lump of dough lurking somewhere in the kitchen. To cut a long story short, I’m also a sucker for sneaking song titles or well known phrases into my writing as well. I digress! Not being blessed with the worlds largest freezer Niela often ends up with some bread to sample. She also provides me with very valuable feedback. A loaf which reminded Niela of a bread she had eaten during her childhood, was a white loaf I made where I substituted milk for the water and then, in my opinion, added too much butter. My thinking that the fat and the extra sugars  would help to give the bread a softer crumb and a darker crust. The first one I admit was a little too similar to a poor man’s brioche. Back to the burgeoning collection of bread making books. I finally turned to well thumbed copy of The handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard. As usual I made one or two alterations to the basic recipe. I did find that you have to watch this bread like a hawk during its final minutes in the oven as it easily over browns. If this happens just turn the oven down by 20°c I have a fan oven; trying to cover a loaf with tin foil just doesn’t work. The foil just hovers, decorously, above the still burning bread. My husband spotted this loaf cooling, commented on its unusual shape, and that is why it’s now known as Niela’s buttocks. I won’t repeat Niela’s retort on learning the new name of this loaf. It did cast doubts upon the marital state of his parents though

My version of a milk loaf.
475g milk , I always weigh liquid, if you don’t its  just the same amount in ‘ml’ instead of grams (I used some buttermilk and skimmed milk in the one in the photo)
2 TSP instant yeast
75 grams butter or sunflower oil
625g stone ground white bread flour
25g honey
2 TSP salt.

My method does take liberties I must confess.
In a large bowl
Mix the dry ingredients; flour, yeast and salt don’t combine until  you’re ready to make the dough
In a jug or smaller bowl
Mix the wet ingredients; butter – melted, honey and milk
Combine the dry ingredients and pour the milky mixture onto it. I get my hands in a mix together until everything is thoroughly combined. It won’t look very promising, all rough and rather sticky, shape onto a rough ball.
Cover with a damp cloth or cling foil and leave for 20 mins.
Oil or wet your work surface, you don’t want to dry the dough out. Tip the dough onto the work surface, rinse the bowl,  give your dough a light and gentle knead a half dozen stretches and folds should do.
Oil your bowl lightly. Place dough back in the bowl, cover and leave for another twenty minutes.
Do a total of three rests and kneads at 20 minute intervals. Leave for about 40 mins until the dough has nearly doubled.
Tip the dough onto your lightly floured work surface, divide into two equal portions. Grease 900g loaf tin, our local wholefood shop has a ‘quick cake release which is what I use.
Shape the dough into two buttocks balls and place in your loaf tin, side by side.
Loosely cover and leave loaf to increase by about 50%. 
Pre heat your oven to  180°c/ 160°c fan
Depending on your kitchen rising time will probably be on 40 – 60 mins.
Place in the oven and bake for up to 50 mins.
Allow to cool before tucking into it.

This lovely loaf can sometimes be found lurking in our nice new bread bin, not for long though. Which you can just about see it in this picture with a couple of my other favourite bits of kitchen paraphernalia: the pasta machine with electric motor and the sides of my Brod and Taylor bread proofer.

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A typical baking session.

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