Advertisements
RSS Feed

Author Archives: The quirk and the cool

Pizza on the Barbecue

Summer in Sydney is fast approaching, and it’s time to think about some different ways to use the barbecue apart from grilling steaks, chops and the obligatory snags!

Pizza on the barbecue is a great invention. I developed these recipes a while back, and they are so much easier than cooking pizza in a conventional oven. If you haven’t got a pizza oven, wood fired or otherwise, give the barbecue method a go! But you do need a barbecue with a hood, as this method relies on creating a really hot oven environment to cook the pizzas quickly.

Making pizza on the barbecue is really easy as I discovered when I made one for the first  time. I make lots of pizzas – home made is always nicest – but I was delighted with how quick and easy grilling the dough on the barbecue is.

You make a normal pizza yeast dough – then grill it for a minute each side on the bars of a very hot barbecue. Then dress the grilled pizza with your toppings of choice, place on a baking tray and heat on the barbecue on medium heat, with the hood down to simulate an oven.

Fresh, hot, grilled pizza made right in front of your friends! You could even do “make your toppings” with everyone customizing their own pizza!

Ingredients
Dough 

2 ¼ tsp dry yeast
1 cup warm water (40.5 – 46 degrees C)
2 to 2 ½ cups Tipo 00 flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil

Toppings
Roast Pumpkin, Avocado, Cherry Tomato, Sugar Snap Peas, Spring Onion and Taleggio Pizza

1/4 butternut pumpkin, baked in pieces, skin on
1 avocado, sliced
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
A few sugar snap peas
2 spring onions finely chopped
A few slices of taleggio cheese
Rosemary sprigs to garnish

Pear, Artichoke and Blue Cheese Pizza

1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 spring onions finely chopped
1 pear, sliced
2 -3 artichoke hearts, sliced
A handful of crumbled blue cheese (to taste)
Rosemary sprigs

Method
Pizza
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in most of the flour and the salt, stirring until smooth. Continue adding the flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until the dough comes away from the bowl but is still sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with lightly floured hands. Knead the dough until it is smooth, elastic and soft, but a little sticky, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to bowl lightly oiled with extra virgin olive oil, turn to coat. Cover with cling wrap and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume, about 2-3 hours. Press it with your finger to see if it’s done; an indent should remain.

Remove the dough from the bowl, divide in half and shape each half into a ball. This quantity makes 2 small pizzas. Or leave as 1 ball for 1 large pizza.

Brush with more oil and set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat your barbecue to very high.

Stretch and shape the ball/s of dough into a rectangle or round – or any rustic shape! Brush the top/s with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let rest for 15 minutes. Place on the grill directly on the bars, oiled side down, and grill until lightly golden brown, about 1 minute. Flip over and grill for 1 minute longer.

Place the pizza/s on a baking tray and apply your toppings:

For the Roast Pumpkin, Avocado, Cherry Tomato, Sugar Snap Peas, Spring Onion and Taleggio Pizza:

Scatter over the roast pumpkin, avocado, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, spring onion and taleggio.

For the Pear, Artichoke and Blue Cheese Pizza:

Scatter over cheddar cheese, spring onions, sliced pear, sliced artichoke hearts and crumbled blue cheese.

Return the pizzas to the barbecue, turn down the heat  to medium, close the cover and cook until the cheese has melted and the pears/veggies are crisp and a little charred – about 2 or 3 minutes.

Remove the pizzas from the barbecue and garnish with rosemary sprigs. Slice and serve piping hot!

Advertisements

Shetlandic Sourdough

Eshaness Shetland

It’s August 2019 and I’m in Shetland, seeking out the unique wildlife of the islands and finding out more about its Norse heritage. And doing some sampling of the food of the islands too.

So what has this got to do with sourdough you may ask? Quite a lot actually!

I have been making sourdough for a couple of years, but have been actively practising this particular sourdough recipe throughout this year, making loaf after loaf, every other day, trying to get a loaf that ticks all the boxes. I am by no means there, but I feel happy enough to write up my latest efforts for this post.

My version is based on the recipes of James Morton, the Shetlander baker known for his bread making skills and in particular for his passion for, and scientific approach to sourdough. His latest exploits on Instagram @bakingjames are a fascinating diary of a keen bread maker!

It seems appropriate, therefore, to be blogging about sourdough while I am actually in Shetland. 

My sourdough procedure is based on James’ recipe from the book Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World, co-written with father Tom Morton, but also on his original sourdough recipe from his book Brilliant Bread. I’ve got my own take too, on these recipes, and what I am blogging below is as much about my experience of the pitfalls of sourdough as well as its exquisite joys.

Shetland is utterly beautiful. I am gobsmacked by its rugged coasts and verdant pastures, and its birds, otters and seals. I am also quite smitten with the sheep of Shetland – picture perfect flocks, more romantic than our more prosaic Australian sheep! 

Today I’ve been in Hillswick and in Eshaness, walking stunning cliff tops and enjoying the local food at the St Magnus Bay Hotel and writing my sourdough post.

So here’s my take on James Morton’s recipes for sourdough, blogged on Shetland. 

Note: This recipe calls for baking the bread in a cast iron pot or casserole. It’s an amazing way of cooking the bread, allowing you to cook at quite high temperatures. I also use a bread proving basket. Not quite as necessary as the cast iron pot, but a really good investment if you’re a bread maker.

Sourdough Starter 

Ingredients 

100g organic stoneground flour

100g fresh orange juice 

Method 

Mix the flour and fruit juice together in a glass jar, big enough to hold at least triple the amount of the original starter. Leave this for about  5 days, or until the mixture is bubbly and frothy but has begun to settle. Now you can feed the starter with equal parts flour and just water. For the feeding stage, I use 125g flour:125g cooled boiled water. 

Leave for 12-24 hours until the starter is bubbly and has expanded in size.  It’s now ready to be used.

Keep on feeding every day in this way. If you’re not baking bread, you will need to discard a lot of the starter, to make room for more flour and water. You should have  only about 200g of starter in the jar left before feeding. 

If you don’t want to feed your starter every day, you can put it to sleep in the fridge and feed it just once a week.

Sourdough Bread 

 

Ingredients

250g tepid water

200g sourdough starter 

400g strong white flour

10g or 1.5 teaspoons salt

Method

Pour the tepid water into a large bowl.

Add the sourdough starter and stir together with the water until the mixture is loose and just mixed. It’s so loose it’s almost like soup!

Add the strong white flour and salt on top of the water/starter mixture. Use your fingertips to mix the salt into the flour, then a wooden spoon to mix everything together into a dough that is quite rough and sloppy.

The bowl needs to be covered and left for half an hour. I use a plastic shower cap, the kind you find in hotel rooms. I collect them just for this purpose. Or you could use cling wrap or a large plastic bag. Leave somewhere in the kitchen where it’s not draughty.

Remove the cover, and with the tap running, wet one hand, (to stop your fingers sticking to the dough), fold the edges of the dough over and into the middle. The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this for about 30 seconds.

Put the cover back on the bowl. 

You need to repeat this stretching and folding of the dough 3 more times. I make the time interval in between stretching and folding suit whatever I am doing on the day. The minimum time is 30 minutes. I often leave the dough 2-3 hours in between stretching and folding if I’m busy during the day. As James says: “Timings aren’t that important, as long as the stretching is done.”

After the last stretching session, cover the bowl and leave for 2  hours.

Sprinkle a work surface with some flour. 

Flour a proving basket. Proving baskets are great for shaping your loaf! If you don’t have a proving basket, put a tea towel into a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with flour.

Turn the dough out onto the floured surface, making sure there is enough flour on the working surface so the dough doesn’t stick.

Now here is the interesting part. That is, how to shape your bread. I have used the James Morton method very successfully, as described below. I also discovered another way on an Instagram video from @season_adam.  I suggest looking up this Instagram video as it’s well worth the look. It’s too tricky to try to describe here.

Here is James Morton’s method:

Using lightly floured hands press the dough out slightly flatter. Next you want to roll up your dough as if rolling up a Swiss roll or a Persian rug really tightly.

Turn the rolled dough 90 degrees and roll it up again.This time it will be harder – it will feel tight and try to spring back. You’ll now have piece of dough with a seam on the top and a smooth surface on the bottom. You want to keep this smooth surface on the bottom and sit the dough in your proving basket or prepared tea towel in a bowl.

The dough should be proved again in the proving basket or bowl. Put the dough in the proving basket or bowl in the fridge to rest for a few hours, or overnight if you reach this stage at night. This fridge prove is important as it allows the bread to develop flavour.

Heat the oven to 240 degrees C half an hour before you want to bake the bread.  Place the cast iron casserole pot, lid on, into the oven to heat up over the half hour.

After 30 minutes, carefully remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid.

Turn your dough out into the pot, so the smooth side is on top and the seam side is on the bottom. This can be tricky, but be bold – and careful – and turn the dough out as deftly as you can.

Score the dough with a sharp serrated knife or lame. This is a sharp razor blade attached to a handle and is really useful to have if you bake a lot of bread. Replace the lid and put the pot back in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. After this time turn the oven down to 230 degrees C. Then carefully remove the lid  from the pot and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the loaf is very brown. The loaf needs to be a really dark brown colour. Don’t be afraid to go an extra 5 minutes to get that colour.

Once cooked, remove the loaf and turn out onto a wire rack to cool. You need to wait an hour before slicing as the bread is still cooking!

Serve with lashings of butter and homemade jam. Sourdough toast is lovely with a boiled egg too!


Special note re oven temperatures! 

The temperatures given work well for me in a fan forced oven. I have read several recipes which also use similar high temperatures. And I have made this recipe countless times using these temperatures. However, you know your oven and whether the suggested temperatures would work for you.

The magic of any bread, but particularly sourdough, is seeing how much the bread rises. I am always nervous on lifting the lid after the first part of the baking to see how much it has risen. But it’s a fantastic feeling to see that beautiful risen loaf in the pot! And when you take the bread out of the oven after the final bake there is another moment of triumph when you see your brown risen sourdough loaf in all its glory. 

Sourdough bread is so worth the effort to make!

And the sheep of Shetland are pretty good too.

Whitely the Opera – Iconic Sydney

A chilly winter night in July in Sydney did not dampen the spirits of this avid theatre goer as I made my way to the Sydney Opera House for a performance of Opera Australia’s Whitely, the new opera by Elena Kats-Chernin and Justin Fleming, in its opening week.

I love visiting our icon of the “Harbour City”. A performance in January, the height of summer is pure magic. A balmy night – the lights of Luna Park, the ferries, a cruise ship, those dark depths of the harbour, and the Bridge. And glistening like pearls in the moonlight, those imposing, beautiful, awe inspiring shells of the Sydney Opera House. But even in winter the experience is magical; the air is clear and crisp and the cityscape more sharply defined.

I am aware of having been part of something quite special when attending the performance this week. Brett Whitely is one of this country’s greatest artists. How to encapsulate his life and his art and his legacy into a work that, because of the vagaries of live theatre, will never remain constant, will always be evolving?

But that is the metaphor. Whitely’s child like insouciance and his will-o’-the-wisp life spark can be conveyed best by performers and musicians, and indeed theatre technicians, producing a highly complex performance night after night, each performance with different nuances, and the audience each night adding its own unique reaction to the work.

I loved the experience. The story unfolds simultaneously through sung narrative, music and visual imagery. All seamlessly flow, propelling the audience through the journey of a life, flamboyant, brilliant, and by no means virtuous. David Freeman as director has created something that will have a life outside of, and long after, this Sydney Opera House season.

While I am not a musician, Kats-Chernin’s score is arresting. This is not an opera to “hum along to”, this is a poignant, beautiful soundtrack to a life. As Kats-Chernin says, in order to capture an unconventional life in music, she had to find something unexpected. “It’s a bit like cooking – you can pair unpredictable things. Salty and sweet together.”

The narrative constructed by playwright Justin Fleming is crystal clear and charts the major periods of Whitely’s life, as well as the relationship with Wendy Whitely, the addiction and the art.

While the majority of the narrative feels very real, in an almost documentary style, the denouement of the opera is less satisfying. Whiteley’s death happens so quickly, before you can take in its significance. The ending, where Wendy creates the Secret Garden at Lavender Bay, is “nice”. But for me and for my opera companion, it seemed somehow to lack the fire and the passion that characterised Whitely’s life and work. 

Visual imagery is lush and gob smacking in its ability to be the partner to the other performance elements. Huge digital screens not only provide the set, they become part of the narrative, the screens moving in and around the space, as images constantly move, grow and dissolve as projections. The towering Whitely works are digitally enlarged on the screens and lose nothing by that enhancement. The exterior and interior location vistas are painterly, and remind us that this is a work about visual art. 

But this is a performance, and it is the performers who really bring this opera to life. The ensemble cast is superb, with so many characters moving in and out of the narrative for a few brief moments each. Julie Lea Goodwin is lithe and athletic, elegant and sexual, reproducing the artistic and eccentric Wendy Whitely, and with accomplished singing.

It was Leigh Melrose’s Whitely that mesmerised me. His highly active performance left me wondering how he could sing from so many tricky physical positions! I could understand every word he sang, and at times I was moved by the sweetness and the poignancy of his voice. He absolutely encapsulated for me the life force that was Brett Whitely.

Whitely at the Opera House on Sydney Harbour. Essential and iconic Sydney.

Whitely : Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Thursday 18 July 2019

Blood Orange Tea Cakes

I love looking over my posts from previous years, in the equivalent month. This post is originally from July 2017. I note that it was a balmy 21 degrees C. Today in Sydney has been a chilly 16 degrees C. Winter in Sydney can really vary!

This is a recipe for friands, very similar to the French financiers. I have called them tea cakes in this post, just as Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, in their wonderful book Sweet, describe little cakes that go well with a cup of tea.

This version features wonderful blood oranges, which have just become available in Sydney.

The recipe is really so versatile, you could add lots of different fruit to the basic recipe. Cherries, pears, raspberries and blueberries work well.

Ingredients

6 egg whites, beaten lightly

75g plain flour

240g icing sugar, sifted

125g almond meal

150g melted butter, cooled

Grated zest and juice of a blood orange

10 tablespoons icing sugar or enough to make a thick glaze.

Optional – some salted pistachio praline to decorate*

Slices of blood orange

Method

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan-forced. Lightly grease 12 friand molds.

Beat the egg whites until frothy with fork in a large mixing bowl.

Sift the flour and icing sugar into the bowl, stir in almond meal and then add the melted butter. Stir in the zest of the blood orange, and the juice of one half of the blood orange.

Spoon the mixture (approximately ¼ cup) into each of the molds.

Bake in preheated oven for 20  minutes until cooked through and golden brown or until a skewer is inserted into centre comes out clean. Sometimes the friands need a few more minutes in the oven to be nice and brown.

To make the glaze, mix the juice of the other half of the blood orange with the icing sugar. You may need to add more or less juice or more or less icing sugar to get the glaze to the right consistency to ice the friands.

Ice the friands with just enough glaze to coat the tops and perhaps to run down the sides a little.

*To make the salted pistachio praline, dissolve a couple of tablespoons of caster sugar in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Don’t stir, or the sugar will crystallize. Once the dissolved sugar has turned to a deep toffee colour, pour the praline over a handful of salted pistachios on some baking paper. Once hard, bash the praline into fragments.

Rustic Pear Tart

It’s winter in Sydney, although for readers in the northern hemisphere our daytime maximums of 19 or 20 degrees C must seem quite balmy!

But winter it is, and that’s why I’m baking pies and tarts. It just seems the right thing to do as the days draw in and the nights become chilly.

This weekend I made a sweet tart. This rustic pear tart is easy and a relatively quick tart to make. I say quick – I added to the process by making my own rough puff pastry. It’s totally worth the effort, but using good quality bought butter puff pastry is probably the sensible way to go! I will include the recipe for both puff and rough puff pastry in another post.

You can whip this up in the afternoon for dinner that night. Or have it as an afternoon tea treat.

Oh by the way, you could use other seasonal winter fruit such as apples or quinces.

Ingredients
3 pears (any kind, I like Beurre Bosc)
2 tablespoons regular sugar + 1 teaspoon for sprinkling
1 quantity butter puff pastry (or you could make your own)
1 free range egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon of honey

Method
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C fan forced. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

Thinly slice the pears, leaving the skin on. This is a rustic tart! Scatter the sugar over the pear slices. If you’re worried about the pears going brown, squeeze a little lemon juice over the top.

If you’re using bought puff pastry, you will need to roll out the pastry on a floured surface to make a rectangle about 35cm x 25 cm. Depending on the brand you have bought, you will either be rolling a block or sheets. For block pastry, roll the block to the required rectangle size. If rolling sheets, you may need to cut a large sheet down to size, or amalgamate 2 sheets to make the rectangle. You can do this by putting the edge of one sheet over the other sheet and rolling with a rolling pin to make them stick together. Then shape into the 35cm x 25cm rectangle by rolling and cutting as necessary.

If making your own pastry, roll the pastry on a floured surface into a rectangle about 35cm x 25cm.

The size doesn’t have to be precise – you just want a rectangle that fits neatly onto your baking tray.

Fold over the four edges about 2cm and crimp down with a fork. Make an egg wash by beating the egg and milk together. Brush the pastry, edges included, with the egg wash.

Place the pears on the pastry, in any design you like. Sprinkle with the additional sugar.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden brown. Take the tart out of the the oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.

Drizzle with honey and serve with thick cream or ice cream or both!

Ham, Leek, Cheese and Walnut Pies

I was given a present a while back of some beautiful ceramic bowls, great for serving soup in, but also a perfect receptacle for individual rustic pies.

This is a really simple recipe, the filling for which can be adapted to suit your individual taste.

I had some chunky ham pieces and a leek in the fridge so decided that they would be the basis for some simple pies. I also had a lovely washed rind cheese, soft and melting, that I thought would go beautifully with the ham and leek. I’m a huge fan of nuts, so it was a no-brainer that I decided to put some walnuts in the pies as well. They added a lovely crunch and texture to the pies.

All these ingredients were stirred into a white sauce, piled into the bowls, topped with puff pastry and baked in the oven.

I made my own puff pastry, which was a little time consuming. I’m not including the recipe here, I actually can’t remember where I sourced it from!! Looking back on past posts on my blog, I see that I usually make rough puff pastry. So I’m not quite sure why I decided to go the full puff on this occasion. I recommend using a good bought butter puff pastry for the recipe.

I decided I would put a rim of pastry around the edge of the bowls, but this didn’t really work. I’m not quite sure what I did wrong. I have included the photo, as I like to be honest about what works and what doesn’t in my cooking. I’ll know next time to do some more research about how to fix this issue!

The recipe makes two substantial deep bowl pies. You could double the quantities for a larger pie in a conventional pie dish.

Ingredients

1 large leek
A knob of butter to cook the leek
Salt
200g ham chunks
50g any soft washed rind cheese
A small handful of walnuts or to taste

White sauce
25g butter
25g plain flour
600ml milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 sheets of butter puff pastry or the equivalent ( I normally use the Careme brand, readily available in Australia, when not making my own)

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon milk, for glazing

Method

Cut the leek into small slices. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the leek with a good pinch or two of salt. Cook on a low temperature until the leek slices are soft, about 10-15 minutes.

Chop the ham into bite sized pieces and roughly slice the cheese. Chop any whole walnuts into smaller pieces.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.

For the white sauce, melt the butter in a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the flour and stir for 1-2 minutes, to make sure the raw flour taste is cooked out.

It’s important to do this and the subsequent stirring in of the milk with a wooden spoon.

Gradually stir in about a third of the milk, making sure the milk is incorporated and there are no floury lumps. When the sauce has noticeably thickened, add another third of the milk and repeat the process. Add the last third of the milk and cook until the sauce is nice and thick. Simmer gently for 5 minutes and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Stir the ham, leek, cheese and walnuts into the white sauce in the saucepan. Pile the mixture into the individual bowls.

Cut out circles of puff pastry that are larger than the diameter of the bowls and will be enough to completely cover the tops. Brush the tops of pies with the beaten egg.

Place in the preheated oven and cook for about 20 minutes until the top of the pies are golden brown and puffed up.

Serve piping hot straight from the bowls!

The Dismissal – Oz Musical Satire at its Best

The Dismissal in 1975 is one of the seminal events in Australian politics, at least for me, forging my political beliefs and engendering an interest in the mechanics of government in this country.

People often ask the question – where were you when a significant event happened? The assassination of JFK, the first man on the moon in the last century, 9/11 in this current century.

Two historical events have affected me deeply, and I can pinpoint my location for both. In 1975, the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam of the Australian Labor Party was dismissed from office by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, and the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser of the Liberal Party, was commissioned as caretaker Prime Minister.

Another tragic event five years later in 1980 affected me as deeply – the assassination of John Lennon in the archway of the Dakota building in New York City. Both these events sent me into a period of mourning for lost freedoms and values on one hand and the senseless loss of a hugely influential figure in music and culture on the other.

So it was with some trepidation that I regarded attending the Squabbalogic performance at the Seymour Centre of The Dismissal last Friday night. I certainly didn’t want that particular event trivialised and sent up. It was just too significant in the history of this country and in my own personal history to treat so lightly.

Squabbalogic has a reputation for theatre that’s innovative, clever, and not afraid of a challenge. This production is all of the above. Wow! What a night! We were led to believe this was a kind of workshop performance, trialling the musical for another more fully developed run. All I can say is that audiences at the seven performances in this short season agree that The Dismissal is a brilliantly written, sophisticated satire that also showcases some pretty fine acting, singing and dancing!

What has been achieved is a really funny musical. And surprisingly, the explanation of the facts of the dismissal are clearly set out. My rather rusty knowledge of some of the events was brought into sharp definition by the entertaining narrative. The “Loans Affair” with the shadowy figure of Khemlani at its centre was a good example.REPORT THIS AD

But it was the startling characterisation of the main protagonists that was so effective. Gough Whitlam (Justin Smith) and Malcom Fraser (Andrew Cutcliffe) were believably portrayed: humorous, yes, but not belittled by caricature. Sir John Kerr, played ably by (female) Marney McQueen, was part character, part caricature. However the villain of the piece was the outrageous vulture like Sir Garfield Barwick (Blake Appleqvist), an unforgettable caricature straight out of a Victorian melodrama.

While the musical accurately reflected the accord that existed in the latter years of Whitlam and Fraser, it had a few kind words for Kerr too. Not so for Barwick.

The show was hosted by Norman Gunston, aka Gary McDonald, who is remembered for being on the steps of Parliament House on that memorable day in 1975 when Whitlam spoke to the nation. Norman Gunston, played by Matthew Whittet almost stole the show! I say almost, because everyone is so good in this production. He WAS Norman Gunston. The look, the voice, the physical mannerisms, and the ability to ad lib – we were back in the seventies watching the man himself.

Undoubtedly accolades must go to the creative team who gave birth to the musical – the book written by Blake Erickson and Jay James-Moody, and the music and lyrics by Laura Murphy. And a big shout out for the outstanding direction by Jay James-Moody too.

The show had a standing ovation the night we went, and I believe that happened at other performances as well. The future of original musical theatre is in great hands if this Squabbalogic production is anything to go by. I loved this funny and yet respectful satire on such an important political event.

The Dismissal: Seymour Centre Friday 21 June 2019

%d bloggers like this: