Beating the baguette and the summer of 2012

I know I’m not the only one to consider this the best summer yet – perfect in so many ways: Team Sky brought home the Tour de France yellow jersey, the Sky Velo contras smashed the Alps and the Pyrenees, London showed the world what a fantastic place it can be, the shorts grew ever more fun, interesting and inspiring and Puggers kept us all busy winning awards. I think it’s fair to say that the summer of 2012 is going to be, as my hard-fi friends would say, hard to beat.

And to top it all, after months of half-arsed attempts, I finally managed to beat the baguette (and not in a rude way). It’s not completely the right recipe, because I don’t do the whole overnight starter thing, but I think it’s pretty good and well worth a try:

As usual, I’m not great on quantities, but I’m not sure it’s hugely important as long as you get the right consistency. Take about 400g of organic plain flour, add a couple of good teaspoons of salt and a little more dry ready-to-use yeast. Then add enough cold water (yes cold – the whole warm water thing is fallacy) and few good glugs of olive oil to make a fairly wet dough – firm enough to be able to work and knead it, but wet enough that it’s still sticky (this is the thing I always got wrong – I always made the dough too dry).

Knead the dough for 10 minutes and then stick it in a bowl covered in cling film and put it somewhere warm for an hour (I don’t have an airing cupboard so I stick it in the oven at the lowest possible temperature). Take it out and then divide into four and roll out onto floured baking trays. Cover them again in cling-film and put then on the top of the oven. Turn on the oven and start getting it up to about 250c – the warmth of the oven as it heats will help them rise again. After about 15 minutes, they should have already risen a little. Knock them back, and roll them out again (They should be about 2-3cm in diameter, no more) and re-flour the baking trays before laying them out, scoring them diagonally across the loaf with a bread knife and covering with cling-film again. Now put a baking tray half full of boiling water into the oven to get a good head of steam going. After 30 mins, put the bread in the oven and just before you close the door, chuck in half a glass of boiling water – preferably not on top of the bread. After about10 minutes, chuck another glass of boiling water into the bottom of the oven – all that steam is what will make the bread beautifully crusty.

After 20 minutes, remove the tray of water and let the bread cook for a final 5 minutes (although best give it a quick check in case it’s already done). Tale it out once it’s ready and let it cool for about 20 minutes on a wire rack.

Eat them, all of them.
Yes, all four loaves (we did)

What makes a pizza a pizza?

I’m not really sure. Must you have the tomato base and/or some sort of cheese to be able to call a pizza a pizza? Either way, these two little beauties are, in the first case, a recipe taught to me by Marco and Elisabetta Nervi back in France (so I’m going to suggest that it is a pizza) and in the second case, some sort of approximation to pisaladiere, but without the olives or anchovies (and therefore probably not a pizza). They both are lovely though and well worth trying.

In other news, Wimbledon is on and every tennis court in the land is feeling the love of the two-week-a-year tennis pros – tops off, bellies out and ball skills severely lacking. Oh, and a big thanks to London for the BBC Radio 1 Hackney weekend last Sunday – what a fantastic day.

Courgette Pizza

So simple. Use a standard pizza base and roll it very thin (with semolina for extra crispiness). Then lay thinly sliced courgettes across the whole base slightly overlapping, along with whatever herbs you like (I’d go for thyme, finely chopped). generously season and give it some good olive oil action. For extra excitement you could add a little finely chopped red chilli and garlic. Cook in the hottest possible oven for about 10 mins.

Onion Pizza-ish

Even simpler: Same base. Whole chopped onion. Same herbs. Same seasoning. Same olive oil. Same option on the chilli-garlic flourish. Same oven. Same temperature. Same time. Same adoring crowd…


Double yolkers

What are the odds? Two double yolkers in a single pan? Actually not so low as it turns out – if you get one double yolker, you’re rather likely to get another. Something about hormones apparently…*

So in the spirit of gaiety that this experience has created here in the DATW household, I’m going to attempt to write something positive and positively un-ranty.

Just hearing on Radio 4 about Jackie Green who, on his 16th (her 0th) birthday was the youngest person to undertake a sex change operation. He flew out to Thailand and a few days later, she flew back. She’s now entering Miss UK 2012. I can’t help thinking that if I’d triumphed over such adversity, just like Jackie, the very first thing I’d want to do is to find the event that represents the pinnacle of female trivialisation and try to win it. Looks like you can’t completely take the man out of Jackie after all…

You have to love Radio 4 though. It doesn’t matter who is talking and what they are talking about, it takes you to a safe place. I don’t know whether it’s the microphones they use or the acoustic effects they apply to the audio, but it’s lovely. I don’t think I take a car journey without it, and my kitchen is forever immersed its rich tones. And I’m sure that’s why people think John Humphries is a such clever man.

Balls, I did it again didn’t I…

* I just did a quick google search on double-yolkers and came across a chicken rearing community – my god there are some interesting people out there: “Ever seen a fat woman drop a mop and grab a chicken and then go straight to the vet….Could just grab that skin left behind hanging out of her vent and pulled it out… lucky I saw her.. the other hens would have pecked at her vent to get that skin and could have cause a prolapse or worse”

I suddenly feel a little too normal…

Does Mark like it crispy?

Facebook just IPO’d and I expect Mark Zuckerberg is probably just a little bit shitters right now. I hope he is anyway – I would be. It’s not too long ago that he refused an offer from Yahoo for $1Bn and everyone thought he was arrogant and deluded. Now Facebook has a $100Bn market capitalisation. Over a thousand FB millionaires were created today and Mark Zuckerberg is worth over $20B. News like this used to make me jealous – now I just love it. And while it’s a little disconcerting that a twenty-something in a hoodie runs one of the largest businesses in the world that has deeply personal information about over 900 million people, it’s just amazing to think that all this can have been over the course of 8 years. We do live in exciting times.

As an aside – if I ever use the phrase serial entrepreneur in any circumstance apart from the next paragraph please kill me immediately. Put me out of my misery as quickly as you can. The only time it is ever acceptable to use such a phrase is if you build a business empire from the ground up selling a new form of coco-pops that actually have some nutritional value. And even then you would have to spell it differently. I mean honestly – what does it even mean? You were an entrepreneur, and then you became an entrepreneur, and after that you were an entrepreneur? How about just calling yourself an entrepreneur (which, let’s be honest, is pretty wanky on its own without the serial bit)? People don’t call themselves serial bank managers, or serial mechanics, or serial hairdressers, even if they manage more than one bank, fix cars in more than one garage or cut hair in more than one salon, so why the fuck should anyone call themselves a serial entrepreneur? Seriously.

As it turns out, that’s the trick to a getting a really good crispy pizza base. That and rolling the pizza dough out very thinly. and putting it into a really, bastardly hot oven.

So this is what you do: Make a strong white bread dough as normal, but add a good handful of finely ground semolina. Divide it into balls that are about the size of oranges, wrap them individually in cling film and stick them in the fridge. Leave them in there until you want to make your pizza. I’ve left them in there for up to a week and they’ve been fine (and as the yeast gets to work expanding the dough within the cling film, they turn into something looking not too dissimilar to rather substantial breast implants – great fun to play with). Now when you roll out the dough, instead of flouring the surface, use semolina again, and remember to roll it very very thinly.

For the tomato base, I get a tin of tomatoes, a clove of garlic, a chopped onion and handful of oregano or basil and whizz them together in a blender along with plenty of seasoning.

Now get your oven hotter than hot, stick your rolled-out pizza dough on a large baking tray and chuck a bunch of tasty things on top.

This time I used a few spoonfuls of the tomato base along with some torn mozzarella and olive oil, whacked it in the oven for 5 mins, brought it out and added a pack of good prosciutto, scrunched up a little over the top of the pizza and whacked it in again for another 5 mins. Then I took it out, covered it in rocket, more olive oil and a little more seasoning. Perfect.

Cannelloni and green fingers

I think I may be getting a little better at gardening. And I think, in a small way, it beautifully illustrates a simple flaw in human nature. The garden that was here when I arrived at my modest mid-terraced house (in a vaguely attractive corner of an otherwise nondescript part of what has become a completely homogenised North London) wasn’t mine. I think that was the problem. It was here when I got here and as such it was someone else’s creation. I had no part in its conception and I therefore had little interest in its upkeep. I can imagine bringing up someone else’s kids might feel pretty much the same. And while I understand that the livelihood of a small child is more important than that of a Magnolia Stellata, I think there are similarities nonetheless. Similarities that I don’t think I should go into on this blog for fear of being set upon by my own little Daily Mail rapid action response and becoming ostracised from quasi-polite, middle-english society (although thinking about it – that would be a wonderful achievement).

But I think I’m right aren’t I? I mean, I did look after the garden when it wasn’t mine. I weeded it every now and again. I even pruned the odd branch and cut it back from time to time, but it was usually only when ordered to by the estate agent (acting as proxy for the landlord who was too chicken to tell me to my face that my front garden needed a trim). So I did care for it – but only I think through a basic sense of duty (or contractual obligation?) and often under duress (divorced mothers up and down the country are now quietly crossing me off their eligible bachelors list as they read this. I’m mortally wounding my chances of any association with a whole cadre of the female population in one blog posting – nice work)…

Anyway, the good news is that as soon as it became mine all of that changed, as I ripped everything out and laid the garden bare ready to sow my own seed. I lovingly prepared the ground, carefully selected and planted my progeny and now I nip outside every hour or so to see how they are doing. I know every little plant and shrub in there by name and I fully intend to nurture them and tend them as my own, watching them flourish, caring for them from season to season until the day when they are fully grown and they make me truly proud.

So what does this all say about human nature? Bugger all I expect, but it seemed to make sense as I was writing it… It’s certainly true that in almost every walk of life, when people (you know who you are) come into a new situation, they invariably believe that the only way they can feel a sense of achievement is to rip out everything that preceded them and start again. And while their little front garden might look fresh and new and full of promise the day after they’ve planted it, the likelihood of it bearing any fruit is no higher than it was before they started, and I’ll bet my life that in a couple of years time it will be full of bloody weeds again… amen.

So, as ever, that has nothing at all to do with what I cooked tonight for the shorts. And why should it? If all I did was post recipes on here I suspect it would get even less views than it gets now. And that’s not easy to do I can promise you…

Cannelloni with Ragu

This is really simple. First make your ragu – standard lasagne style – as follows:
Take 500g of beef mince and fry in batches until it caramelises and then stick it in a large saucepan with a tin of chopped tomatoes (and a little extra water). Now gently fry a finely chopped onion and a few cloves of garlic in olive oil and again add to the saucepan. Deglaze the frying pan with a glass of red wine, and into the saucepan with it. Now season with salt and pepper and and a big handful of finely chopped fresh basil and/or oregano.

Now make the bechamel. in another saucepan melt a large knob of butter (25g) and add four tablespoons of plain flour, mixing it well, Gradually add milk constantly stirring until you have a thick smooth paste. Now, keeping it on the heat, add more milk and single cream until you have the consistency of thick double cream (as you cook it, it will get thicker). grate in a third of a nutmeg and again season with salt and pepper. The sauce should taste rich and creamy.

Ok, by now the ragu should have cooled, so you take your cannelloni and stick them in the pan with the ragu so that you force it gently into the tubes. Use you fingers if you have to. Once each one is filled, lay them in an over proof dish, filling the bottom with a single layer of the cannelloni. Once you’re done, put the rest of the ragu over the top (hopefully you’ll have almost 1/4 of it left) and let it fill in all the gaps between the tubes. Then pour over the bechamel and finely grate parmesan on top.

Cook it in a hot (180c) oven for about 40-45 mins and serve with a green salad and plenty of good bread. Oh and check out the image in full screen – looks even tastier.

Shorts happy. Shrubs happy.

Ten big ones…

Oh yes. As it turns out, this week saw the 10,000th page view on dad at the weekend – which, while I am intelligent enough to know is minuscule in most blogging terms, still managed to give me a not insignificant amount of trouser excitement as I watched the counter tick over into quintuple digits.

And what better way to mark ten thousand views on the blog than to cook ten over sized chocolate cookies with the boys? (Yes, I know there are only 9 in the photo, but I defy you to cook these and not nab one – impossible).

So, without wanting to support the trend for upping the ante on the amount of different types of chocolate you can cram into a single cookie (M&S are certainly the worst offenders here), but still trying to build some sort of connection with the monumental blogging achievement I had just reached, I thought quintuple chocolate cookies would be rather apt. But then the thought of sending my children to an early suger-and-fat-induced grave (and the fact that each cookie would probably cost over a tenner) I decided to tone it down a little and keep it simple. “Shame and poop!” I hear you cry, and I agree, not exactly a great celebration, but thinking about it, it’s not really a great achievement so probably fitting…

Ten big bastard chocolate cookies (with M&Ms)

Loosely based on a Nigella recipe this one – and very simple:

In a mixer, beat 125g of butter and 100g of golden caster sugar until the mix is light and has almost lost its colour. Now, into the mix add 100g of melted chocolate, an egg, 100g of plain flour, 50g of ground almonds, 40g of really good quality cocoa, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Gently bring the mixture together (you can still use the mixer for this) and once it has reached a sooth consistency, add a large bag of chocolate M&Ms.

Give it a final whizz and spoon out the mix in large blobs onto a baking tray covered in baking parchment. Make sure you give them room as they will spread out during the cooking process. Stick them in the oven at 175c for about 19 minutes. When you take them out they will look undercooked – that’s good – you must make sure you don’t overcook them as you want them to be a little crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle – all this will happen when they cool (on a rack please).

If you can make these in secret without the kids seeing, smelling or most importantly, tasting them, all the better…

Not quite Magnolia Bakery…

…but you have to start somewhere.

This was going to be a post about a father and his daughter making cupcakes together, but it just so happens that it’s going to be Valentine’s day in about half an hour so  I think I’ll have a crack at that instead.

Honestly. Does it get any worse? That grown ups, in any sort of relationship need to be reminded to be nice to each other once a year. Doesn’t it make your skin crawl? Don’t you find it even slightly nauseating? I’d almost like to be in a relationship right now, and, starting on 15th February, be the most attentive and loving person for 365* days in a row and then, just for the heck of it, on the 14th February, be a complete and utter arsehole – just to show how much scorn I have for the whole misguided affair.

The amount of arguments I have had in the past about that one year when I apparently did “sod all” on Valentine’s day (and it’s not even true by the way – I cooked dinner – I remember it distinctly) – makes me even more hostile about the whole thing. As far as I’m concerned St Valentine can go and stick his dozen red roses and his bloody chocolate truffles up his arse…

If however, you think differently to me, and you want to offer a gift of love to the partner who you’ve been unfaithful to with alarming regularity over the last twelve months and you think that a few cakes will make it all ok, then have a crack at these little beauties (and try to be a little more artistic than Immie and I were with the icing).

Oreo cupcakes

For the cakes, mix 225g of unsalted butter, 225g of caster suger, 225g self raising flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 4 eggs and a teaspoon of vanilla essence in a bowl and whisk until the mixture has become light in colour and fluffy. Then mix in 10 crushed Oreos.

Spoon the mixture into cases in a muffin tin and bake them the oven at 170c for about 20 minutes. Check them for the last 5 minutes – you really don’t want them to overcook. You’ll know when they’re done by sticking in a cocktail stick – it should come out almost clean (if there’s a little bit of goo that’s good as they’ll continue to cook a little once you take them out). When they are done, let them cool on a wire rack.

Now for the icing – mix 375g of icing sugar and 225g of unsalted butter in a bowl and whisk as before, until light and fluffy – break another 10 broken oreos into the mixer for the last 30 seconds or so. Spread the icing over the cakes and you’re done.

If you don’t want to turn into the size of a house with all that butter, try them without the icing – they’re still pretty good (and let’s be honest, even without the icing each bite still contains more fat than 10 slices of thickly buttered toast).

* 2012 is a leap year. Smartarse.

Chick and Dal

We might not have left the house for more than a couple of hours but that’s not to say that we sat on our arses all weekend watching 35 episodes of The Office. Far from it. In fact, we sat on our arses most of the weekend watching 35 episodes of The Office and then we got up and did a little cooking. Next week I’m going to get on the bike if it kills me, but in the meantime here’s a really good curry to keep you warm over the winter months…

Chicken curry and Dal

First, a disclaimer – I don’t pretend any of the following dishes are done in the correct way. All I can say is that I think they taste good – so if you read this and you start to become irate because I’ve missed something, or I have used the wrong spices then I apologise – I really am truly sorry that you feel that way. And do feel free to tell me about it.

Let’s start with the Dal – take about 250g of red split lentils and put them in a saucepan with plenty of cold water and put it on the heat. As the water starts to boil, spoon away the frothy scum that forms on the top – let it boil gently for about 15 minutes, ensuring the pan doesn’t boil dry. Now chop an onion, a thumb of ginger, four fat cloves of garlic and half a red and half a green chilli (seeds removed) – fry them all in oil along with the following, all pounded in a pestle and mortar: a quarter of a cinnamon stick, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, peppercorns, a tablespoon of salt, garam masala and turmeric. Once the onions, garlic et al are soft, add them to the cooked lentils with a little more oil, a knob of butter and a large handful of chopped coriander leaves. If at this point it’s a little too gloopy, just add a little water.

Now for the curry – the base of the curry is pretty much the same as the dal, just with more chilli (and with the seeds) – so start with the spices, heated in a dry frying pan, then put them into you casserole dish with a tin of tomatoes and a little water. Then as with the Dal, fry onions, garlic, chilli and ginger and add to the casserole. Then take 6 chicken thighs, pare away the flesh and fry in batches until golden brown and add to the curry sauce. Add  a handful of chopped coriander leaves and let it cook slowly for about 35 minutes. Just before serving, add another handful of chopped coriander leaves (and do the same with the Dal).

For the rice, follow my Iranian rice recipe – works every time…