Archive for December, 2007

All stuffed up : a Post-Christmas Focaccia

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Uh oh. You’ve done it again. When out from the cupboard comes the special plastic disposable tablecloth, you know there’s no turning back. Another Christmas, another case of overeating. You thought you’d be a picture of bird-like restraint this year, but there was a veritable feast laid out in front of you : cold prawns, pickled octopus, deep fried squid, glazed ham, whole fish stuffed with sambal paste, green salad with orange vinaigrette, oysters and lemon wedges, sashimi with soy and wasabi, crusty bread rolls, even pasta arrabiata and then the killer blow, microwaved pudding with vanilla custard, followed by cherries, grapes and blueberries. A hybrid Christmas meal embracing the quirks of our peripatetic tastebuds. Everyone tucking in like it was the last meal on Earth. Or maybe the planet had already blown up, and from it’s different corners were flung this varied meal. The command issued was, “Eat!”, and we obeyed.

Mid meal, you pause to think about the pig. The pig whose leg is caught between your teeth. You wonder whether it was pink and had mud between its toes. If it knew how prized its legs were, like a barnyard supermodel, Elle MacOink. If it knew that one day a quarter of its body would be hacked off, covered with spices and laid out on the altar, that plastic tablecloth. The memory of that leg, then strewn the next day over a soft bread dough, with scrapings from four different cheeses rescued from the depths of the fridge: an Ossau Irraty, Heidi Gruyere, Grana Padano and Piano Hill Ironstone. Baked together, like a glorified jaffle.

Then tasted, and waxed lyrical about. This pig, whose porcinographic leg you posted on the internet. The idea of the filled bread breaks you from your reverie. You pick the stray piece of leg from your teeth, examine it, then silently promise to do justice to the uneaten..

Post Christmas Focaccia aka Focaccia stuffed with Taleggio and Ham :
(serves 6-8; from Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking)

500g Italian 00 flour
7g sachet of fast-action/easy-blend dried yeast
1 heaped teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
100g good quality cooked ham
150g cubed Taleggio cheese, rind removed
40g (a handful) rocket

Make the bread dough by mixing the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. mix the oil with 275ml tepid water and pour into the flour, adding a touch more tepid water if necessary; you should have a fairly soft dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Tip this on to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and place somewhere fairly warm to rise for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Divide into two pieces and roll each out to fit a 23 x 33cm Swiss roll tin.

Place one piece in the tin, top with the ham, cheese and rocket (strewing everything casually over), then cover with the other piece, crimping the edges to sea. Cover and leave for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220′C. Brush the focaccia with olive oil, prick it all over with a fork and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cut into large sections and eat warm while the cheese is still gooey.

[Note for my substitutions, on days when all the shops are closed and what you've got in the cupboard is what you've got : No 00 flour, sub with plain flour. No Taleggio, sub with any other suitable melty cheese. No rocket, sub with other herbs such as thyme, parsley, rosemary, chives, basil and oregano.]

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Christmas Ham & Booty

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This year the ham came from Vic’s Meats, courtesy of work. It was bronzed in the oven with a glaze also provided by work. Last night we carved it up and no one said no to at least one slice. Never had ham tasted this good. I’m already rubbing my hands with glee, faced with the endless potential of ham leftovers.

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Christmas List 2007

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I’ve almost finished all my Christmas shopping, and am nearing the best bit – encasing them in paper, cellotape and bows. Mind you, I’m not a careful wrapper. Where I used to want everything in neat square or rectangular shapes, these days I’m embracing the defiant nature of a box-less bottle, or a pair of sparkly pink fairy wings. It’s almost a cosmic existentialist question of how exactly do you wrap a football?

The build up to my present-wrapping day usually starts with the arrival of Christmas catalogues in the mailbox, or the publication of Christmas wishlists in the magazines I read (like the Good Weekend or Gourmet Traveller); both of which I love flipping through though I invariably never find any of the suggestions useful. This year I thought I’d come up with my own equally useless list. It’s a collection of things I’ve either come across this year that I’ve loved, or things that have really made their mark in my mind in the past year, and that I would recommend to like-minded people. Read it, scoff at it, banish it from your mind. Whatever. To paraphrase Cartman, “It’s my list, I’ll do what I want!”

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1. For a foodie friend, Pier by Greg Doyle, Grant King and Katrina Kanetani is the latest cookbook from the great restaurant Pier and is the cookbook to get this season. All the chefs I know have been drooling over this book ever since it was published. The photography is beautiful and the recipes are, in my opinion, quite accessible as well.

2. For the fiction fanatic, American Gods by Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke are two books that kept me up late at night, happily consuming page after page. In not too distant second place, I would also recommend China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. This sprawling novel that encompasses several genres is fascinating in it’s detail and imaginings.

3. For the musically inclined, I haven’t stopped listening to Beirut ever since that crazy blend of trumpet/ukelele, accordion, guitar, Gypsy music from The Gulag Orkestar album marched and swooned from our stereo speakers. It’s chaotic, startling, beautiful, and best of all, they’re visiting Sydney in March 2008!

4. Further on the food front, I can’t get enough of Simon Johnson’s Panforte. Looking at it, I was initially sceptical, as I’m more used to the dark looking panforte and Simon Johnson’s version is very pale coloured. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s any less of a panforte – this one is fantastically spicy with great depth of flavour, making it one of the best panfortes I’ve tried in ages.

For something a little more indulgent, make that special trip to Balmain and visit Adriano Zumbo for some of the best tasting and best looking cakes and pastries in Sydney.

5. If on the other hand you’re looking to create some edible homemade gifts, I can not recommend highly enough this mince tart recipe by Andy Honeysett who is the amazing pastry chef at Aria Restaurant. If you decide to give it a go, I’d double the recipe because after tasting it, you’ll probably want one all to yourself!

Better yet, dare to try your hand at whipping up a boxful of pretty french macaroons. With Duncan of Syrup and Tang’s very detailed four-part guide to making macaroons, you can’t possibly go wrong.

6. I can’t think of any stand out movies to recommend. We’ve watched so many good ones this year it’s all become a blur. If you need to sit in front of the box, could I perhaps interest you in a glass of wine, a sliver of the above panforte, and the first season of Entourage on DVD? Beware, you might get as hooked as I am on Vinnie Chase and his boys from Queens, in which case, there’s also Season 2 and Season 3. Meanwhile, I’m impatiently awaiting the start of Season 4…

(Can I also point out that thanks to B, I’m hopelessly addicted to Match of the Day? So so sad..)

7. While you’re still on that couch, you might also want to try Katamari Damacy, for the Playstation. I haven’t been this excited about a game since The Sims. While I absolutely adore The Sims, I can’t in good conscience recommend it because I wouldn’t want to be held responsible for anyone falling into a time vortex while playing this game. Loading The Sims into your games console results in unexplained time loss where you suddenly find yourself spending days feeding and showering your Sim, rather than feeding and showering yourself. Lethal!

(Another highly addictive game to keep a sane wide berth of is Guitar Hero.)

8. Lastly, my If Money is No Option recommendation is not a silly big boat, tank or bauble. Rather, it would be two first class return tickets to Tokyo, staying at The Mandarin Oriental, to revisit the country that gave me one of my best holiday experiences ever.

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