An Italian style roast chicken and vegetables.

The first time I cooked this meal was for when some friends visited us about a year or so after we moved to Italy. I needed to make something easy, child friendly and likely to appeal to a demi – vegetarian and a fish hating, confirmed carnivore.  Not much of an ask then. Above all I wanted the meal to have an Italian feel and the same time feel familiar. Kids can be fussy and I hadn’t seen one of them since he was a toddler. Meanwhile, I had to be the hostess with the most- ess whilst coping with very little sleep. Youngest son did not develop the habit of sleeping for more than a couple of hours at a time, or on his own, until he was four. For some unknown reason his older brother wasn’t too keen on having this noisy, projectile vomit producing wee darling sharing their his room! Being two months premature and living in a country where there were no health visitors to hold our hands we knew it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride.

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The potatoes and veg waiting to go in the oven.

Something involving some kind of fowl seemed to be the answer, probably chicken, was my thought. I didn’t know how well partridge, pheasant or poussin would be received. The ‘ubiquitous chick seemed an obvious choice. My Italian being rather ropey when it came to reading Italian recipe books, not that there were many available at the time. The cult of celeb. cookery books didn’t exist in Italy;  I had to find something from the couple I’d ordered from a mail order company, the almighty Amazon had yet to become popular.  I had a copy of Carluccio’s  ‘Italian Feast’ or one of Anna del Conte’s books to choose from.  So the winning combination was Pollo Arossto and patate al forno. In plain language that’s roast chicken, which by the way doesn’t see the inside of an oven, and oven baked vegetables and potatoes.

At least we had the weather on our side and the largest ‘paddling’ pool that we could safely fit in our sloping garden. Everything, well almost anything, seems better in the sunshine looking out over the heat haze towards Monta Rosa. With parents happy sitting on the covered patio sipping something cool and refreshing taking it in turns to sit  with a three year old, a four year old and an active almost walking baby in the pool. I don’t think anyone would really have noticed what meals we had; the weather was glorious, the wine plentiful, the company good and the children were content, most of the time. Or maybe my sunglasses were as rose tinted as the mountain that greeted us every morning when we opened the shutters.

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Not very pretty to look at - but delicious.

I digress! That is how this meal has become one of our favourites. It has been a regular all through our  sons’ lives. It has been the choice for birthday meals. It was what my husband chose to have on the last day of the Easter holidays. Another bonus is that the chicken only needs one glass of wine; which means I feel less guilty at opening a bottle of decent wine, as we get to have a glass with our meal.

The recipes for this meal aren’t really recipes at all.
For the chicken
2 tbsp butter
Some herbs- a sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves
2 or 3 cloves garlic
1 chicken about 1.5 kg
1 lemon, unwaxed halved
Olive oil, a couple of tablespoons
A glass of white wine.

Place the herbs, 1tbsp butter and garlic into the cavity of the bird, rub the chicken all over with the lemon  halves, place one piece of lemon in the bird, grind some pepper over it and sprinkle with salt.
Heat the oil and remaining butter in a large flame proof casserole and brown the chicken all over. I often miss this out as once the chicken is carved you don’t notice its peelie – wallie exterior.
Pour over the wine, bring it up to the boil, place the lid on and simmer gently for between  1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Test by pricking the thigh, the juices that run out should be clear. If the wine has evaporated, add a little water.
Place the chicken on a caving board and squeeze the juice from the other half of the lemon over it and cover with tin foil. Leave for a few minutes and then carve.
Serve with the cooking juices.

Patate all Forno
This really can’t be called a recipe.
Use as many vegetables as you want, this is what I often use for four adults.
Preheat oven 200°c /180°c fan

2 large onions, cut into wedges
2 peppers cut into large chunks
600g tomatoes either cherry tomatoes left whole or larger ones cut into wedges
600 – 800g potatoes cut onto thick slices
A few cloves of garlic, unpeeled
100ml olive oil
Good bunch woody herbs, rosemary, thyme, sage..

Divide the vegetables, garlic and herbs between two large shallow roasting tins,  pour the olive oil over them and, with your hands, give everything a good mix up to make sure everything is coated with oil. Place in the oven and cook until the edges of the onions are beginning to caramelise and the potatoes are soft. In my oven this usually takes one hour. Check after 45 mins.

This still remains one of our meals and it is one that seems as though a lot more effort has been put into it than it has. Serve with some good crusty, HOME MADE bread.

If you want to turn this into a full scale Italian meal serve a small portion of risotto or pasta with a sauce as a first course (the primo). Serve a salad after the chicken, potatoes and veggies (the second) and a simple desert (dolci) such as fresh fruit.

I’m now going to finish the leftovers, cold, with a salad for my lunch.

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A big sourdough loaf and another helping of Niela’s buttocks.

The mania goes on and the freezer is now officially  overfull full. As my Dr. has categorically told me that baking is therapeutic I shall carry on regardless. Hmm, she also said something about going out for long walks too. However, I didn’t quite catch that. Selective deafness isn’t confined just to the young, or so it seems. One day fairly soon, I realise, I’ll be heading back to the chalk face and our tightly packed freezer will be worth its weight in gold. Well that’s what I tell my husband and sons anyway. Does any one remember the Krypton Factor? Packing our freezer and cupboard shelves with various bakery products is like one of their challenges.

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Still, I needn’t worry as even though the bread has only been out of the oven a couple of hours there is only half of it left!  Its not in quite as bad as it sounds as a friend had a quarter. As usual we all had to sample it as soon as it was cool enough to be cut.

Yet again it has been quite a busy day. Lemon curd made to have with the challah crescent rolls for breakfast tomorrow. The sourdough was shaped and baked this morning (and tested) and a batch of Glasgow rolls have been made to go with the burgers, using freshly minced lamb from The Scalloway Meat Company,  that my husband is making as I write. Saturday is his cooking day so he normally makes something to go with triple – cooked chips. Funny how anything with chips always appeals to the men in your life, me too if I’m being truthful.

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Sourdoughs, although quite easy to make with a little patience and practice, does mean following a long list of steps. That I think I’ll leave to another time. What I want is to talk about those little delights known as Glasgow rolls which I met for the first time when I met my in-laws for the first time. As James Morton mentions in Brilliant Bread they make an ideal vehicle for transporting, another Scottish invention, square sausage from your plate to your mouth. Although they look similar to any other wee roll, they’re not. The crumb should be pillow soft and the outside should have the nearest hint of a crust- not crackly or crunchy, just a thin almost chewy crust. You’re looking at a roll that is neither a crusty roll or a soft one. It makes an ideal blanket around a Lorne sausage or a homemade burger. Here goes
For a batch of six rolls that are the ideal size to go with a quarter pound burger. With square sausages I would divide the dough into 8 pieces.
Ingredients
500g strong white bread flour
7g yeast, instant variety
20g sugar
10g salt
350ml low fat buttermilk.
Note
The original recipe says 330ml of whole milk. I was short of milk but had some leftover buttermilk from making soda bread. It is a substitution I intend to repeat. When we toasted the cut side of the buns,on the blisteringly hot cast iron griddle, they quick took on the characteristics of bread toasted over an end fire nicely flecked with deep dark, almost charred flecks, without the bread drying out at all.

Method
In a large bowl combine all your ingredients, mix thoroughly to combine and shape into a rough ball. Place back in your cleaned and lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth or cling foil.

Leave for 20 minutes, wet your hands and slide them under the dough at one side, stretch the dough and fold it over itself. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the stretching and folding. Repeat twice more 4 times in total.

Leave for another 20 minutes and do another set of stretching and folding.

Leave for another 20mins and complete the final set of stretching and folding.  Form the dough into a ball. The dough should be a lot more elastic now.

Return the dough to your, cleaned and oiled bowl. Leave for one hour to prove. Your looking for it to double in size.

Lightly flour your work surface and gently tip your dough onto it. Divide your dough into either, 6, 8 pieces or even 12 for dinner rolls or for mini burgers- I just can’t call them sliders, I’m a middle aged English, English teacher after all!

Shape your dough by tucking any staggly ends in and putting your cupped hands round it and burling the dough around to make a ball. (If I’m making burger buns  I’ll flatten them out a bit). Place them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
Leave to rise, they should nearly double in size. Depending on how warm your kitchen is this could be between 30 to 60 minutes.

While your rolls are proving preheat your oven to  220 °c \ 210 fan

When the rolls look nicely puffed up put them in your preheated oven. Your looking for quite a dark bake this should take between 10-14 minutes.

Take the rolls and place them on a cooling tray. Leave for at least 20 minutes before you eat them.

We’ve just had our burgers and they were even better than usual. Just settling down for the evening to start watching the box set of Twin Peaks. Started it last night but we fell asleep hope we have more success tonight. Tomorrow I’ll just have to tackle Niela’s buttocks!!

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Getting back into the swing of things.

After several months of not feeling like making bread,  resulting in a nearly empty freezer, I’ve got back into the baking habit. Yesterday I thought it was time to have another look at some of my many bread making books. My collection just keeps on growing, this one click shopping is just too easy. I wanted to make a range of breads, savoury, everyday, and something a little richer for Sunday breakfast.

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I made a large batch of sourdough for toasting and to keep the family going while I concentrated on the less practical breads. The savoury bread was the first one to grab my attention – onions and caraway could it work? Maybe so. For this one I more or less made the New York Deli Rye that features in Peter Reinhardt’s ‘The Baker’s Apprentice’. That loaf didn’t last long- hence no photos. Next time I’ll try and get some photographs of the breadmaking stages. That’s going to be fun, I could will probably end  with a camera all gunged up with dough.

A bread that I had never heard of, until I began making bread, was challah. It is normally eaten on the Sabbath in Jewish households. It is delicious and it is really straightforward to make. It’s not as rich as a brioche and not as messy to make. It also looks pretty amazing. It rises spectacularly when you’re proving it and even more so in the oven. It also delicious as toast, if there is any left it makes wonderful Pain Perdu, Eggy Bread or Gypsy Toast; whichever name you call it using challah makes it truly scrumptious. If I’m feeling good I’ll add some fresh berries along side it as well. It also makes a wonderful base for a chocolate chip bread pudding. Recipe for this can be found in Nigella’s Kitchen I think. It’s worth looking up.

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Now back to the main event how to make challah. From these quantaties I made the large loaf and four crescent rolls, these are destined for Sunday’s breakfast with some homemade lemon curd. The large loaf will be put in the freezer for a rainy day, i.e. a day when I don’t feel like making much for breakfast but want to seem as though I have. I find these days occur more often in the holidays, definitely after Up- Helly- Aa (the Shetland fire festivals held in the first few months of the year)

Don’t be put off by the lengthy instructions, they’re just very detailed.

Ingredients

900g strong white bread flour,
1 tbsp salt,
2 packets of instant dried yeast, 14g
250 ml tepid water
250 ml tepid milk
3 tbsp sunflower oil
2 large eggs, lightly mixed
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 beaten egg for egg wash.
Poppy or sesame seeds for decoration

In a large bowl, mix the yeast with the warm milk and water, add the eggs, oil and sugar and lightly mix together.
Add the salt to the flour and stir to combine
Add the flour gradually to the yeasty mixture, a couple of large handfuls at a time. At first it will be quite lumpy but it will become smoother as you add more flour.
Stir for a couple of minutes, don’t worry the mixture will look quite scruffy and will be quite sticky.
Cover your bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave in at room temperature for about 20 mins.
Lightly flour your work surface and gently tip your dough out.
Rinse your bowl and lightly coat it with a flavourless oil.
Give your dough a light knead, no more than a minute is needed. If the dough is really sticky incorporate a little flour into it.  Gather the dough into a ball and place it into the oiled bowl, cover it and leave your dough for another twenty minutes.
Gently knead your dough and place it back in the bowl leave for another twenty minutes  and do a final brief knead. Form your dough into a ball place it back in your oiled bowl and cover again.
Return to your dough in about an hour it should have doubled in size, if it hasn’t leave it for a while longer till it has.
Divide your dough into two large pieces.
Place one of the pieces back in your bowl and cover it.
Challah is normally braided, if you don’t feel up to doing a complicated plait, just divide this piece of dough into two- these will be the strands of your braid. Roll and stretch each strand until its about 25 – 30cms.  Pinch the two stands together at one end. Twist the two stands together. You can now place this on an oiled baking tray,  coil it onto a crown or carefully place it in a 900g loaf tin with the ends neatly tucked underneath. Do the same with the other piece of dough. If you feel like doing something fancier go for either 3, 4, or 6 strand braids. I won’t add instructions but if you need some help look for Tori Avey’s online tutorial.
Turn your oven on to 200°c\ 180°c fan oven 400°f
Carefully cover your dough with either oiled cling film or a damp cloth. Leave your dough until it has doubled on size, probably about 40 mins. Wash your loaves with the beaten egg. Use a soft brush to lightly coat the loaves. Sprinkle with the seeds.
Bake the bread  for 35 mins then rotate the pan bake  for another  10 – 25 mins. The bread should be nicely golden and sound hollow when gently tapped. If you use a probe thermometer it should be 85-90°c in the middle.
Cool on a wire rack and try to wait half an hour before slicing and sampling.

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This is what we will be having on Sunday with a section of jams and some nice butter. If you have a go at making this I’m sure you’ll love it as much as we do.

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Some wholesome German breads and a big batch of Italian loaves.

image Thanks for looking at this, my first post. My daytime job is teaching English. So does my OH. In our twenties we decided we wanted to work overseas and set off on an European adventure. We lived in Germany for nearly five years and developed a taste for good wholesome Germanic bread. With an excellent bakery about 200m away we woke up to the aroma of freshly baked bread. Bliss!

The wanderlust took hold again and we packed our growing collection possessions and moved to near the Italian lakes. Somewhere on the way we had acquired a twenty month old, very articulate toddler, who knew what he liked food wise.  Italian bread is wonderful to eat with a meal or to munch on. However, have you ever tried making a cheese and tomato sandwich from a ciabatta? Its delicious as long as you have a full set of teeth to deal with those crackly crusts. I began making bread in Italy, at first with a bread maker. Once I’d taken it to its limits I bought some fresh yeast and began a bread making journey of my own. At first it was just the odd loaf to supplement the local bread we still enjoyed.

After ten years in Bella Italia the teaching contract with the European Schools ended and we had to move back to Britain. After months of ‘debate’ we ended up in Shetland.  Somehow or other we had acquired another son to add to our collection. I, no we, were appalled at the bread that is generally accepted here in Britain. So a hobby turned into a necessity. There was no way we were eating the doughy pap that passes for bread, now the only time I eat bought bread is on holiday, or in a chip butty – homemade bread just isn’t pliable enough to keep the chips encased properly.

I’m also a keen cook and on a few occasions I’ve catered for events that a local knitwear designer, Nielanell, has hosted. I think she’d heard about my bread and cooking through my son, Sam, who has helped her out in her studio for years. Now I make some bread for Niela as well; she is always willing to try some of the wackier breads that I produce and has even been persuaded to keep a journal with her thoughts on our baking efforts. The beer barm bread was ‘a delight’  as was the Sultana and cider – is there a theme developing here? I jest, just ask her about Niela’s buttocks though- it was two buns baked in a loaf tin – if you were wondering.

I would love to set up a bakery, at 56 I fear it will remain a hobby. I hope that my oldest son will do something in the bakery line. In the meantime look out for the journeyman bakers. It was a chance meeting with a local photographer and food blogger Elizabeth @ Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary,  who has inspired me to start a bakery blog. I realise this is a little longer than the couple of sentences needed to introduce this blog.  Feel free to read as much or as little as you want. My fingers just seem to run away with themselves. It’s a bit like when I begin a baking session, I never know when to stop – I just hope there’s enough room in the freezer.

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