This valentines day I cooked my first three course meal! I first started to get passionate about cooking 18 months ago when I moved out of my parents home and in with my boyfriend. I had learnt to cook some years earlier before going away to uni, although back then it was always the basic meat/fish and two veg, with the odd pizza (shop bought) and frozen ready meal thrown in (I was a student after all!). My cooking has certainly moved on a long way from my student days. Now the only “ready meals” I reheat are frozen batches of bolognese, stew etc that I have previously batched cooked from scratch and frozen. Even our pizzas are mostly made from scratch. What started off as enjoying cooking meals (that weren’t a collection of meat/fish, potatoes and veg arranged on a plate) such as pasta dishes (you’ll soon realise that although I try to cook a range of different cuisines my favorite has to be Italian) has spiralled into making my own soups, breads, biscuits etc. Yet I’d never cooked starters or desserts until yesterday.
To start there was a simple antipasti platter consisting of homemade focaccia style bread (recipe to follow) with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sun dried tomatoes, roasted artichokes hearts, parma ham and olives.
To follow there was Theo Randall’s Lamb shoulder (from UKTV food’s Market kitchen), which is a shoulder of lamb slow roasted with white wine, black olives, garlic, rosemary and anchovies. The recipe can be found here. There is no picture as I didn’t feel it would do it justice but you’ll have to take my word for it that it tasted fantastic. The meat was incredibly tender and beautifully flavoured. I served it with roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnips and some sauteed leeks and the fantastic gravy made from the pan juices.
To finish I made individual chocolate pots (recipe). They turned out absolutely delicious but were incredibly simple to make.
My focaccia style bread recipe.
(Inspired by many focaccia/pizza Bianca recipes)
Makes 2 loafs or one loaf and one pizza base.
(I often use this dough as a pizza base using 2/3 of the dough and make a Italian style bread to go with it.)
330ml warm water
1 sachet dried yeast
1 tbsp olive oil (I usually use extra virgin for bread)
500g strong white bread flour
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
I usually cheat and make the dough in my bread machine (but occasionally when time allows I will make by hand) so have included instructions for both methods.
To make in a bread machine (follow manufacturer’s guidelines as order of ingredients can differ).
- Pour 330ml warm water in to bread pan (with paddle in place).
- Add olive oil.
- Next measure out flour into bread pan.
- Place sugar and salt in separate corners of bread pan.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour yeast in to it.
- Place the bread pan in the bread machine and set it to the dough cycle. My dough cycle takes 1 1/2 hours and includes two kneading cycles.
- Remove from the bread pan at the end of the dough cycle and divide the dough.
- Shape into rounds which are around 1 inch thick.
- Place on a baking sheet, use a fork to create dimples on the top of the dough.
- Brush the top of the dough with good extra virgin olive oil (I like to use one with garlic in to to create extra flavour).
- This next stage is where you can get creative with the flavours. Some of my favorites include sprinkling the surface with dried oregano and sea salt (as in this picture) or sea salt and dried rosemary or thyme or try pushing bits of olives or sun dried tomatoes into the dough (or these can even be kneaded in to the dough at the end of stage 7 before shaping the dough).
- Bake in a pre-heated oven (220C, 425 F, gas 7) for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
To make by hand.
- Mix the water, sugar, oil and yeast in a measuring jug and leave for a couple of minutes to activate the yeast.
- Sift the flour and salt on to a clean work surface (I sometimes use a very large bowl) and make a well in the centre.
- Pour half the liquid into the well and start to incorporate the flour using a fork (stirring the flour into the liquid). Add the rest of the liquid and continue to mix the wet and dry ingredients together.
- When you feel the fork is no longer doing the job, use clean, floured hands to continue to work all the flour and the liquid together.
- Knead the dough until it is smooth and springs back when gently prodded.
- Place the ball of dough in a large bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm room for approximately one hour (or until the dough has doubled in size).
- Knead the dough again to knock the air out of it, then divide the dough ready for use.
- Continue from stage 8 above.