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April 24, 2012

Oh the joys of being a student again, trapped by piles of papers and books and feeling the pressure of deadlines and assessments! I decided I needed a non-study activity and set myself the challenge of baking slabs of focaccia bread, an Italian flatbread often dimpled on top of the crust, something I put off for ages after watching a BBC programme last year called The Great British Bake Off. It’s a brilliant show where amateur bakers try their hand at weekly challenges and one of these that intrigued me was focaccia.

If you’ve watched the focaccia episode, there was much hesitation and unfamiliarity from these amateurs as  they were handling the dough. The contestants are given an outline of the recipe each week but they are supposed to use their own knowledge and instinct in preparing each weekly bakery challenge. Apparently, the dough should be very sticky and wet which is different from making a typical loaf of bread so inevitably, some of the contestants didn’t add the required amount of water and some added more flour to the dough mixture as they thought it was too wet. After the dough was baked, expert baker Paul Hollywood sliced each of the contestant’s focaccia and he described that the sign of a well-made one is the appearance of lots of uneven bubbles in the crumb. Unsurprisingly, some of the contestants did badly on this challenge and some baked breads that were too flat and dry but some managed to pull it off making a focaccia with a golden crust and bubbly crumb.

Hmmmmmmmm…….this focaccia does sound like a challenge as I don’t have much experience baking breads. Paul Hollywood published his recipe on the BBC but it doesn’t have pictures to show you how gooey and difficult the dough is to work with. Luckily, I found a masterclass by Paul Hollywood which is very good and shows you what the dough looks like and how to handle it.

After watching the video, me and a friend had a go at making focaccia and it is fairly easy, you just have to be patient and wait for the magic to happen. We used a simple topping of rosemary leaves and sprigs to flavour one of the loaves and chopped black olives with cheese on the other one. I infused extra virgin olive oil with a couple of cloves of garlic for a few hours before using this to drizzle over the breads before baking, certainly gives your kitchen a Mediterranean aroma! It’s well worth the wait of letting your focaccia rise slowly and got the bubbles in the breads, RESULT! You don’t need much accompaniments because the breads are so flavoursome, just need balsamic vinegar and your best olive oil to dip your bread in, absolutely gorgeous….NOM NOM NOM.….

Here’s the BBC focaccia recipe with slight changes and photos for clarity:


Make 2 loaves

500g/1lb 2oz strong white bread flour
2 tsp salt
2 sachets fast action yeast (2 x 7g)
2 tbsp olive oil
400ml/14fl oz cold water
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
fine sea salt


  • Place the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and 300ml/10½fl oz of the water into a large bowl. Gently stir with your hand or a wooden spoon to form a dough then knead the dough in the bowl for five minutes, gradually adding the remaining water.
  • Stretch the dough by hand in the bowl, tuck the sides into the centre, turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat the process for about five minutes.
  • Tip the dough onto an oiled work surface and continue kneading for five more minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise until doubled in size.
  • Line two large baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Drizzle some olive oil on the paper so the dough doesn’t stick too much to the paper. Tip the dough out of the bowl and divide into two portions. Flatten each portion onto a baking sheet using oiled fingers and push down with them so the depth of the dough is about 3cm, drizzle a little olive oil on, then leave to prove for one hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Push more dimples with oiled fingers and drizzle the loaves with oil, sprinkle with sea salt then bake in the oven for 20 minutes until golden.
  • When cooked, drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve hot or warm.

Step 1. Mix dough ingredients in bowl, add the water gradually, the dough should feel very wet and sticky. Then knead for 5 min on an oiled work surface.

Step 2. Dough left to rise in an oiled bowl

Step 3. Check for bubbles forming in the dough - this is a good sign that your yeast is working and will create a bubbly aerated crumb

Step 4. Check the dough has doubled in size, this may take about 1-2 hours as it depends on the yeast, also cold water was used as this slows the yeast for prolonged fermentation

Step 5. After preparing 2 lined baking trays, drizzle a little oil on them. Divide the dough mixture into two and spread out on the trays till they are about 3cm in depth. Use oiled fingers to push dimples in before drizzling oil on and leave dough to rise again for 1 hour.

Step 6. Sprinkle topping on - this one has rosemary, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and scatter sea salt over

An alternative topping with chopped olives and small cubes of cheddar cheese and black pepper

Step 7. Bake in a pre=heated oven at 220 deg C for about 20 min until golden on top. Drizzle extra virgin oil on top before cutting into portions, then EAT!

An alternative focaccia topping of olive and cheese

Key tips:

  • When initially mixing the dough, add about three-quarters of the water first and mix before adding the remaining water. Apparently if you add the water all in one go, the result is a horrible mess.
  • Apparently, the water should be cold as the yeast should work slowly resulting in a slow rise – this improves the flavour. (Some people leave their dough in the fridge overnight for a long fermentation process to add depth to the flavour but I’ve not tried this yet to check the difference).
  • The dough mixture should be very sticky and wet, which helps produce the uneven aeration. Don’t add flour when kneading the dough otherwise the aeration in the crumb will be too even like normal bread.
  • Don’t be too scared of adding olive oil when drizzling it over the dough, extra-virgin olive oil adds flavour and stops it becoming dry during the second rise on the baking trays.


January 23, 2012

First of all to my readers: “恭喜發財!”


I hope 2012, the year of the dragon, is a great and prosperous year for all!

To celebrate, I’ve been munching my way through spring rolls so far and decided to make my own egg fried rice, something which I rarely eat or make as it’s not an everyday food for me, steamed/boiled rice is my usual type of carbohydrate. OK, so had to ring my mother for a bit of advice and she gave me a few pointers:

  • Cold cooked long grain rice is better than hot rice as the moisture has evaporated and doesn’t make the rice mushy – that makes sense
  • Make sure the wok is hot and the oil as well, should be smoking at the start before adding ingredients so you can get the “wok hei” aroma
  • Break up the cold rice before you stirfry it – minimises the chance of burning while you’re quickly trying to stirfry and break up rice grains
  • Get all your ingredients ready and make sure you’re not distracted while cooking – that’s true as things happen so quickly
  • Do not overcook the egg, it will be cooked in about 1 minute and you should then quickly scramble it before adding the rice
  • Keep stirfrying to get the rice grains evenly coated in the oil and heated thoroughly
  • Optional: If you’re Chinese, you’ll know what I mean when certain foods are “yit hei” where fried foods are “warming” so if you eat too many of these, you’ll get an imbalance in your system and get a sore throat and pimples. My mother says to counteract this, drink coca cola?!!

Stirfry the prawns, peas and spring onions for a couple of minutes

Stirfry the egg and rice thoroughly to evenly coat the rice grains in the oil

I don’t have a gas cooker but I do have a large 14 inch flat bottomed seasoned carbon steel wok to do my “wokking” or stirfrying. I like peas and prawns in my egg fried rice and it’s a great way to use up leftovers. Ingredients are down to YOUR personal style or improvisation, put whatever bits you like in the rice as long as you have cold rice, oil and beaten eggs. Some people may add ham or even Spam meat or other vegetables, just make sure they are not too big so they cook quickly. Long grain rice is fine to use, basmati is unnecessary and too expensive to use in this dish.
I found it very tasty, moreish and I could easily have eaten a whole plate of fried rice on its own, love finding the little flecks of fried egg and it’s so quick and easy to make.
Hope you have fun trying this out!
Egg fried rice
Makes 4 bowls of rice
2 tbsp groundnut oil
1 tbsp light soy
500 g cold cooked long grain rice
2 eggs, beaten with 1/2 tsp salt added
6-8 raw king prawns, peeled
A handful of peas
4 spring onions, chopped
  • Break up the rice with a fork.
  • Heat up a wok until hot before adding 1 tbsp groundnut oil and heat on high until the oil starts to smoke.
  • Add the prawns, peas, most of the spring onions (reserve some for the garnish) to the wok and stirfry for a few minutes
  • Push the wok ingredients to the side and pour the eggs into the centre of the wok and let it cook like an omelette until it almost looks set (should be less than 1 minute). Quickly scramble the egg with your wok spatula and push to the sides of the wok.
  • Add the remainingg 1 tbsp groundnut oil and let it heat until it starts to smoke.
  • Add the rice and quickly stirfry everything together.
  • Add 1 tbsp light soy and keep stirfrying until the rice is hot. Taste and season with more salt if required.
  • Garnish with spring onion and serve immediately.


October 23, 2011

Wow, it’s a been a while since I last posted my previous recipe as a few changes have happened in my life that have kept me supremely busy! Due to the sudden drop in temperature and the beginning of winter, I found myself hankering after some sort of stew, this time I wanted to attempt something different and new. A few years ago, I holidayed in the Dominican Republic and had an amazing time there. Really enjoyed eating their national food of rice and bean stew, there was just something satisfying and simple about this dish. So taking inspiration from this, I decided to concoct a simple version of feijoada which is a Brazilian stew made of black beans and pork meat such as sausages.

The only problem was trying to find dried black turtle beans from my local supermarkets, in the end I managed to buy a bag from Waitrose. I love that supermarket, they stock more unusual ingredients and everyone is so well behaved in there, it is not at all stressful shopping in there!

This was a hearty tasting stew, full of flavour from the bacon and chorizo and is served with orange wedges and a dollop of sour cream. Rice is a natural choice to add to the stew to soak up those delicious juices.

Brazilian black bean stew

Serves 4-5

500 g dried black beans, soaked overnight in cold water (approximately 2.5 times the volume of your beans)

2 tbsp groundnut oil

2 white onions, finely chopped

2 red peppers, deseeded, chopped into 2in chunks

2 cloves garlic, minced

250 g smoked streaky bacon, cut into 1in pieces

225 chorizo, cut into 1cm slices

2 bay leaves

2 tsp smoked paprika

Serve with:

A handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped

A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

4-5 tbsp soured cream

1 small orange, cut into wedges

  1. Drain the beans in a colander and rinse them under cold running water and drain well.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and fry the onions until they start to brown slightly. Then add garlic, bacon and chorizo and fry for a few minutes.
  3. Add the beans, bay leaves and paprika and stir well. Then add cold water to the beans so that it is a few centimetres above the level of the beans. Bring to the boil and boil uncovered for at least 10 minutes, otherwise your beans will not be properly cooked and will have a hard texture.
  4. Turn the heat down, cover and simmer for 45 minutes stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the peppers, cover and simmer for another 45 minutes or until the beans are soft and stir occasionally.
  6. Then taste and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve the stew in bowls. Squeeze orange wedges over the stew and sprinkle coriander and parsley over and eat with soured cream and rice.


September 18, 2011

This week, I have a baking treat for you to try out.

In the past, I haven’t done a whole lot of baking because I’m not super confident about making cakes but decided to give it a go after buying a fabulous book “Gifts from the Kitchen” by Annie Rigg. The pictures in that book are very enticing and tempted me to test out one of her recipes “raspberry, lemon and almond friands” even though I hadn’t eaten a friand before.

Friands are little almond cakes originally from France but now the Australians have taken them to heart. They love them and have adapted them to include all sorts of fruits. As usual, I adapted this recipe and made raspberry and almond friands in a muffin tin tray instead as I didn’t have any friand tins (they’re like oval-shaped muffin tins). You can use muffin paper cases for convenience but you’ll miss out on browning and crisping the friands. The air in the whisked egg whites help to make the little cakes fluffy and light and they have just the right amount of cakey richness.

Muffin tin greased with butter and dusted with flour before adding the cake mixture to each hole

Gently ease the friands out of the muffin tin using a palette knife and leave them to cool on a rack

Really enjoyed making these friands except for the egg white whisking bit as it made my arm ache, took me about 10 minutes! Baking them makes your kitchen smell lovely and homely. Eating them was even better, very light and moist in texture, Annie Rigg’s recipe was well worth testing!

If you like raspberries, almonds and cakes, then have a go at making these beautiful little sweet creations. Great to eat accompanied by a pot of freshly brewed English tea.

Raspberry and almond friands

Makes 12

75 g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

225 g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting (optional)

100 g ground almonds

A pinch of salt

135 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

200 g raspberries

50 g flaked almonds

  1. Butter a 12-hole non-stick muffin tin and dust with with plain flour. Then turn the tin upside down and gently tap the bottom to get rid of excess flour. I did this outside in my back garden to minimise getting flour everywhere in my kitchen! Do not miss out this stage as this helps to crisp and brown the friands and helps ease them out of the tin.
  2. Preheat oven to 180 deg C/350 deg F/gas mark 4.
  3. Sift the flour, icing sugar and ground almonds into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
  4. Whisk the egg whites in a clean, grease-free bowl until they look foamy and show soft peaks when you lift the whisk through the egg whites, the peaks should drop down slightly.
  5. Carefully pour the melted butter into the bowl containing the flour, icing sugar and almonds. Then add the egg whites to this mixture, use a metal spoon to carefully fold the mixture together until mixed. Do not mix vigorously otherwise you’ll eliminate the air bubbles from the egg whites and the friands won’t be light in texture.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the buttered and floured muffin tin, filling each hole three-quarters full.
  7. Add 4 or 5 raspberries to each muffin hole and scatter the flaked almonds over each muffin.
  8. Bake on the middle shelf for 15 minutes or until well-risen and golden brown on top.
  9. Leave muffins to cool for about 5 minutes before using a palette knife to carefully lift the muffins out of the tin. Leave them on a cooling rack until cooled. Dust with icing sugar if you prefer.
  10. Store them in an airtight container for 4-5 days.


August 15, 2011

Visited Berlin recently for a couple of days as needed a short break from work. This was not my first visit so I kind of knew what to expect from this city. Was originally surprised that there was so much culture and it felt like there was an underground, hip and fashionable atmosphere with an undoubtedly cool arty vibe. Probably helped as I met up with a few of the local Berliners, very friendly, and loved the cool shops, late night bars and clubs hidden behind unsuspecting doors. That’s what I love about Berlin, plenty of things  to see, often with a touch of kitsch or weirdness. There’s plenty of architecture to admire and museums galore, enough to satisfy culture vultures.

A rainy day at the Brandenburg Gate

Enjoying beers in Berlin

Berlin shop front

Was pleased to read in the news recently that the British press featured a number of pieces about Berlin and it’s infamous Berlin wall. Berliners recently marked the 50th anniversary since they first started building the wall, it really does bring home just how much tragedy occurred during the division of Germany for over 28 years, reports number at least 700 deaths of victims trying to cross the wall

This time on my trip to Berlin, I had a lovely time strolling the streets in the west visiting Tiergarten, Museumsinsel (Museum Island), enjoying German food, they really do like their meat! Drank Berliner Weisse beers which have a cloudy appearance with a sour taste. Usually different flavoured syrups are added, typically raspberry or woodruff which inevitably colours and sweetens the drink and is drank through a straw. Strange, it’s like drinking a cocktail as you can’t taste the wheaty beer flavour at all.

Raspberry flavoured Berline Weisse

Woodruff flavoured Berliner Weisse

Braised pork knuckle with potatoes, salad and cabbage, typical Berlin cuisine, hearty and meaty which fills you up

But what I really really wanted to try again was currywurst.  This is Germany’s famous dish and is served everywhere in Berlin. Currywurst involves cooking German sausage and then a ketchup curried spicy sauce is added with fries served on the side.  During one of my days in Berlin, the heavens opened and out came torrents of rain. What else could I do except eat and drink German food!

Market stalls serving a range of tasty foods including currywurst in Marheineke Markthalle

Caught the underground train to the Kreuzberg district which has a high Turkish population with an old market hall. I found a small but busy currywurst stall in Marheineke Markthalle, a warm and welcoming haven of fresh and preserved European food products including masses of sausages, cheeses and seafood. A much better atmosphere than getting soaked in the persistent rainfall. Well worth a visit to this place as ate my delicious and warming currywurst after successfully ordering it in broken German. I watched the lady at the stall fry large sausages and suddenly felt very hungry as the smells and the sizzling sounds tripped a switch in my brain. She cut the large sausages into large chunks and sprinkled curry powder and paprika over them followed by a large dollop of a ketchup-type sauce. Couldn’t resist buying a bag of German sausages to cook up my own currywurst back at home. Instead of fries, my boyfriend helped me harvest potatoes from my back garden so we cooked up a batch of sauteed potatoes which were very moreish and suited currywurst extremely well. If you want to make sauteed potatoes as an alternative to chips or fries, check out my previous post on how to make these.

Chopping potatoes to saute later with German sausage pictured at the front

Freshly harvested potatoes from my garden

Sauteed potatoes

Preparing currywurst sauce with ketchup, curry powder and paprika

This is my version of making currywurst:


Serves 4

2 lb (900g) German sausage or large, good quality non-German sausages

3 tbsp finely chopped onion

2 tbsp groundnut oil

1 tbsp paprika

3-4 tbsp good quality curry powder

250 mL (1 cup) good quality ketchup

250 mL (1 cup) water

  1. Preheat a frying pan on a medium heat, add 1 tbsp of groundnut oil and fry the sausage until cooked, turn occasionally to ensure the sausage is browned evenly.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by heating 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan and then slowly fry the onion for a few minutes.
  3. Add the paprika and curry powder to the pan and mix with the onion. Cook for 1 min.
  4. Add the ketchup and then the water, stir and bring the sauce to the boil. Boil for about 5 min or until the sauce has thickened.
  5. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Cut the sausage into bite-sized chunks and pour the sauce over.
  7. Serve alongside fries and eat immediately.