Saturday, April 9, 2011

Homemade baked beans

I got back from a great day at the beach and, although Gemma had supper in hand, my creative juices were flowing so I decided to have a bash at making my own baked beans. (I can buy the Heinz variety here, but they are fiendishly expensive and my gastronome kids refuse to eat them anyway.)

Kitchen impro
I wanted something that was sweet, salty and a little spicy, and this was what I came up with. I was pretty pleased, as it was exactly what I had been aiming for. Like all my best kitchen improvisations, I started with a clear idea of what I wanted the final dish to be like, then paused for a few minutes and thought about how to get there. A lot of perfectly competent cooks rarely improvise, and I think part of the reason why is because they get stuck between two extremes: carefully following a time-honoured recipe, or more or less randomly throwing together whatever ingredients they happen to find in their fridge and cupboard. Of course, if you take the second approach then nine times out of ten what you produce will barely be worth eating and you will slink chastened back to your cookbooks, but the solution is just to gather your thoughts before you get going and to think about how the ingredients you use will combine together.

olive oil
2 small onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
4 tsps paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp hot chilli sauce
1 tsp salt
2 tbsps dark soy sauce
2 tbsps honey
3-4 tins of cannellini beans (1200g drained weight)

  1. Chop the onion very finely and fry gently in plenty of olive oil. When the onion is done, add the peeled, finely chopped garlic cloves and continue to fry until the onions are just starting to brown.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes, paprika, ginger, chilli sauce and salt, bring to a boil, turn to minimum, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Add the soy sauce, honey and drained beans, cover and cook at minimum for another 10 minutes or so.

To complete my 'homemade' feeling, I decanted my beans into jars.

English pancakes

I've given up trying to convince the rest of my family of the superiority of Scottish over English pancakes (which, needless to say, are really French anyway). These are the ones Carmela makes for breakfast, although once the first pancake has been plated up she disappears to the living room (at the other end of the house) and leaves me in the kitchen tending to the frying pan.

2 cups of milk
1 cup of plain flour
2 eggs
vegetable oil for frying

  1. Pour the milk into a large bowl. Sift the flour on top and mix well with a whisk. Add the egg, and whisk again until you have a smooth batter. (Don't whisk for too long, though, or your pancakes will become rubbery.)
  2. Heat a large, non-stick frying pan. When it is hot, add a couple of spoons of vegetable oil, swirl it around to coat the pan, and pour off the excess oil into a cup.
  3. Pour a ladle of the pancake batter into the pan, swirl around so it is evenly distributed, and cook over a high heat for a minute or so until it is golden.
  4. Flip over, cook for another 30 seconds or so, and serve with the topping of your choice - lemon and honey, melted chocolate, or just plain sugar.

Monday, April 4, 2011


There is a lot of mystique around pizza - wood-fired ovens, special blends of Italian flour and so on - and while all of these things no doubt help, the key to a good pizza is a well-made dough.

It should be light, so the hydration or proportion of water to flour needs to be reasonably high. And the dough needs time to develop so that the characteristic blisters will form while baking. Finally, while wood is not essential, you do need a hot oven. You can achieve this with any domestic oven so long as it is completely hot, you have a reasonably heavy duty oven tray, and you don't try to cook more than one pizza at a time. Though I say it myself, this pizza was better than anything I have ever bought in Cadiz, and that includes two Italian-owned establishments which pride themselves on authenticity, and a third locally-run effort which boasts a wood-fired oven but whose dough was so lifeless that I suspected it had spent a few nights in the morgue.

Ingredients (makes 4 large pizzas)
480g warm water
750g strong white flour
2 tsps instant yeast
3 tsps salt (15g)
15g olive oil
toppings of your choice - sieved tomato, olive oil, artichokes etc.

  1. Measure the water into a large bowl. Add the flour, yeast, salt and olive oil and mix very thoroughly so that all the flour is fully incorporated. Place the bowl inside a large plastic bag and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
  2. Work using the "stretch, swing and slap" technique for 10 minutes or, using the "stretch and fold" technique, do four stretch-and-folds at 15 minute intervals.
  3. Return the dough to the bowl, place inside a plastic bag, and leave to prove for a two hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. (If you have used the "stretch and fold" technique, it will only need one more hour at room temperature.) 1 hour before you want to bake, turn your oven on to 250oC.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, divide into four portions, and form each portion into a small boule. Gradually roll the boule into a flat disc, giving it a quarter turn or flipping it as necessary to ensure it doesn't stick and is a reasonably even circle. Flour your hands, the rolling pin and the surface as you go if necessary, but take care not to add more than you really need. Transfer the pizza base to a cookie sheet sprinkled with fine polenta.
  5. Now add the topping, resisting the temptation to overdo the tomato or mozarella. Transfer the pizza to the oven, and bake for 5 to 10 minutes.

Carmela's BBQ chicken kebabs

As Sammy has his own kebab recipe, I thought it only fair that Carmela should have one too, so this is what we came up with. We took these camping with us and we didn't get any shots of the food, but I did catch Carmela loosing off an arrow.

1 kg skinless chicken breast
4 tbsps tomato sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp sesame oil

  1. Cut the chicken into chunks.
  2. Mix the tomato sauce, soy sauce, honey and sesame oil together.
  3. Pour over the chicken pieces, mix well and leave to marinade (anything from 30 minutes to overnight).
  4. Preheat the oven to 220oC, and line an oven tray with lightly greased foil.
  5. Thread the chicken pieces onto skewers, and cook in the hot oven for 12 minutes.