Gorgeous Grissini Galore!

It’s been a proper soggy start to Summery June, especially this week (it’s been raining since Monday morning & barely stopped).  The weekend gave us some glorious sunshine & the opportunity to mow the lawns, pot some plants & generally have a tidy up around the garden.  The plants are loving the damp weather, flourishing & flowering all around (especially the peas who have pods on their vines!).  Although we all moan about it, the gardens need a proper downpour every now & then to keep them hydrated & healthy.

On days like these, I like to make my own sunshine & bake some beautiful treats!  Lusciously light sponge cakes, peachy fruit-packed pastries & velvety chocolate chip cookies all do the trick, especially with their heady perfume wafting through the house & the anticipation of tasting them later.  Recently, I rediscovered a treat that we have not made for quite some time: the gorgeous grissini!  These spindly, slender sticks of crisp, handmade bread are delicious with a few juicy olives, sundried tomatoes & of course a pan of my homemade tomato sauce for dunking.  After a long day at work or as pre-dinner nibbles for your guests, these make the perfect carpet-picnic fayre to tide you over until dinner is ready – substantial enough to take the edge off being hungry, but light enough to not affect appetites too much.

Now I’m not going to give you false hope here – they are one of the easiest & tastiest treats to make, but you will need to set aside a whole morning or an afternoon (which is perfect for soggy days!).  As each breadstick is handmade, there is a degree of patience required – you can’t rush this & I personally find it quite relaxing, therapeutic almost.  No machine required, this is all done by pure elbow grease – in fact, the only thing I will recommend is a pastry scraper (an inexpensive flat, flexible piece of plastic that will multi-task in a number of baking jobs, including wiping up worktops afterwards).  If you’re doing this alone, it can take a couple of hours to make a whole batch, so I would highly recommend getting the whole family involved (especially the children – this is great for helping them learn a basic life skill).

This recipe makes about 80-100 grissini, depending on how thin you roll them & I will tell you that the thicker ones have the most deliciously chewy texture, with just enough exterior crispiness too – these taste amazing dunked in a little aged Balsamic Vinegar & olive oil.  Grissini are definitely a ‘prepare in advance’ snack, not for those requiring instant gratification, but the results of your hard work will be rather satisfying.  Ready to get started?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

570g Strong Bread Flour (with extra for rolling out, etc)
50g Fine Semolina Flour
350ml Lukewarm Water
12g Dried Yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground Sea Salt
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Optional toppings:
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for brushing)
4 tablespoons Sesame Seeds
4 sprigs fresh Rosemary, chopped finely (just the leaves, not the stem) – you can use dried Rosemary, approx 2 tablespoons

What to do:

Firstly, mix the yeast with the lukewarm water to dissolve it.  It should go a muddy, light coffee colour.

Tip the flour & semolina into a large mixing bowl, add the sea salt & stir well to combine everything.

Make a well in the middle & pour in the olive oil, followed by the yeast water.  Stir everything with a fork, until it comes together into a nice big ball of rough dough.  Make sure you wipe it around the inside of the bowl thoroughly to pick up any leftover ingredients, until the bowl is virtually clean.

Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Keep the bowl to one side.   Start to knead the dough by placing it in front of you, pushing down & away from you with the heel of your hand.  Then pull it back onto itself, give it a half turn on your worktop & repeat.  Try to get into a rhythm, working at a nice pace & keep the dough moving (if you’re moving too slow here, the dough will stick to the worktop,  so just slide the pastry scraper underneath & flip it back).

Give it a good ten minutes of kneading, as shown in the pictures here, using a little more flour if you need to, but try to avoid it if you can – a sticky dough is a stretchy dough & you need that stretch later on!

After ten minutes, your dough should be elasticated & have a bit of boing to it – roll it into a ball, press your finger gently on the top & if it springs back, it’s done.

Dust the inside of your bowl with a little flour & place the dough inside, giving a little dust of the fine semolina or flour on top.  Smudge a little olive oil onto a sheet of cling film, cover the bowl loosely oil-side down & place in a draught-free, warm place for an hour (warm airing cupboards are brilliant if you have one).  If you don’t have cling film, use a sheet of greaseproof paper oiled in the same way & cover with a tea towel.

While your dough is proving, pre-heat the oven to 220*C  – you want it scorching hot for bread-making & this will give crispness to your grissini.

Prepare a few tins (you’re going to need them) – lightly dust a few flat baking trays with a little coarse semolina flour, just as you would for pizzas.  You don’t need any fancy non-stick stuff, just a regular baking tray should suffice.  Set to one side, ready for your grissini.

Once proved, your dough will have risen to at least double in size & will be slightly domed on top.  Remove the clingfilm & pull the dough out onto a lightly floured worktop.

Using your pastry scraper, cut the dough into four & shape into oval balls – if you’re doing them all plain, just cut a quarter of the dough & leave the rest covered with a tea towel.

Again using that trusty pastry scraper, cut a finger thickness of dough from the ball & roll into a long slender sausage shape, the length of your baking tray.  Use your fingers to pinch the ends off if too long, don’t cut them & keep the ends to one side to make more.  You want your grissini to look rustic, handmade & not just squished out by a machine.  Personally, I like to twist & twirl them to get a nice bobbly sort of  texture when they’ve baked, but it’s up to you how you do it.   Lay each one about half an inch apart, as they grow a little during baking.

You should end up with lots of slender stems of dough on your baking tray.  Place in the centre of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden (if you’re making them slightly fatter, give them 12-14 minutes, but keep an eye on them so they don’t burn).

Remove & lift your grissini onto a cooling rack until ready to serve.  Usually, I tend to bake them on a constant rotation of two trays in the oven while I’m prepping another two trays, until all the dough is used up.

If you’re going to add a little extra to your grissini, roll out as above & lay them on the prepared baking trays.  Brush them with a little olive oil & generously shower with sesame seeds or the Rosemary (or both, which is very tasty).  Bake as above.  One of the best bonuses of this is when all your grissini are baked, there will be a tray of toasted sesame seeds & Rosemary leftover.  These are truly splendid scattered over salads, cheese bakes, roasted tomatoes & even just for dunking a delicious tomato-sauce smothered grissini in.  Keep leftover ones in a little ramekin or glass jar for this purpose.

Once you’re ready to dive into these delectable crisp delights, lay them on a large wooden board surrounded by a selection of petite pots, filled with sundried tomatoes, olives, artichokes & other such delicacies.  If you’re serving these as a starter for a dinner party, add some slices of salami, proscuitto & an array of antipasto.

Make up a small batch of tomato sauce for dipping too (trust me, this is essential with fresh grissini!).  Here’s an easy recipe that you can whip up in a few minutes.  Tip a couple of tins of proper Italian plum tomatoes in a saucepan & squish into smaller pieces (get your hands in there, you’ll wash).  Add a good squeeze of tomato puree, a couple of cloves of freshly chopped garlic, a few fresh Basil leaves (roughly shredded) & a pinch of sugar, along with a few firm twists of black pepper (freshly ground is best) & a pinch of sea salt.  Stir everything together with a glug of olive oil & reduce on a medium heat for a few minutes.  Once it’s all bubbling like glossy hot lava, it’s done!  Turn off the heat, give it a good stir & let it cool for a couple of minutes (as with most hot lava-like sauces, let it rest).  Taste it & adjust the seasoning if you need to, then serve!

Any leftover grissini should keep for a couple of days in an airtight container (I’m being optimistic here, because even though you’ve made what appears to be squillions of slender breadsticks, they will disappear as rapidly as if you only made four).

Next time it’s a soggy day, the kids are bored or you are just out of tasty treats or snacks, just “dough” it & bake a batch of gorgeous grissini!  Heavenly, healthy & handmade – what’s not to love?!  Have a fabulous week & stay hungry!  Aimee  😉 x

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Bake Love!

February has arrived with a flourish, filled with fluttering lovehearts & gorgeousness galore!  St Valentine’s Day is upon us, as shops are carpeted with row upon row of rich red roses, ready to be plucked & packed for someone’s sweetheart.  Fluffy toy animals line shelves, all cute, cuddly & clutching velvet hearts, while pink & red boxes of chocolates wait patiently to be unwrapped & eaten.  Walking into my local supermarket earlier this week, I was greeted by a wall of wine-coloured roses, swathed in cellophane & stacked in ascending buckets (perfect for any “Last Minute Larrys” who may have just remembered on their way home!).  My week has been filled with creating cute chocolate hearts, sculpting them from my homemade modelling chocolate, then dipping in melted chocolate & dusting in pink sparkly sugar.  The white ones resemble smooth, satin covered pebbles, although they are soft to the bite & melt in the mouth (I’ve obviously had to sample a few!).

Although beautiful, love tokens can be a bit expensive, especially if you’re on a tight budget & want to treat your Amour to something special.   This is where a romantic déjeuner à deux is perfect, as there’s nothing more personal than something you’ve created just for them!   All you need is a little preparation & some help from your Fairy Lovemother (OK, she was busy so you’ll have to make do with me).

This time of year brings a beautiful variety of vegetables, including the rather underrated but lovely leek.  In those flippy fronds of light green loveliness lie a delicate onion flavour, less intense than their rotund counterparts & worth more than steaming as a side with your spuds.  These little leek filled cheesy crumbles, perched on puff pastry pillows are perfect as a starter or even a vegetarian main course (check with your date before you start cooking, otherwise that steak you’re considering might be wasted).  This recipe is actually one of my Husband’s creations, in honour of a recipe I used to make when we first started dating.   As you know, I prefer to make my own puff pastry & although easy to make, it does need an hour to rest, so use that hour to pamper yourself in the shower beforehand & then your pastry will be ready when you emerge, all shiny & clean (multi-tasking at it’s finest).  If you are using shop-bought, please make sure it’s made with real butter to bring out the flavour of the filling (you’re going to a lot of effort for this evening, so it’s important).  Ready for a little love-baking?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

9-12 small Potatoes (depending on size), skin on & washed
2 Leeks, cleaned & trimmed
2 slices/crusts of Bread (I used seeded for this)
3oz Mild Cheddar Cheese, grated
2oz Parmesan, grated finely
Puff Pastry (see link below if you’re making fresh, otherwise 1 packet)
Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
2 sprigs of Fresh Thyme leaves (pull them through your fingertips to remove leaves easily)

For the crumble:
2oz Butter
4oz Plain Flour

What to do:

If you’re making your own puff pastry, you need to do this first as it needs to rest for an hour (you can do everything else while it’s in the fridge).  Here’s the link to my puff pastry recipe:  http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/puff-up-the-volume/

Pre-heat the oven to 210*C.

Next, grease a baking tray with butter (use a butter wrapper if you have one handy), sprinkle flour over it & tip out the excess.  Set aside for later.  If you’re making a large one to share, just lay a sheet of greaseproof paper on your baking tin, no greasing required.

Blitz the bread into crumbs & set aside for later.

Prepare the leeks & potatoes, as you can cook these together by steaming the leeks over the potatoes.  Chop the potatoes into thin slices & put into a large saucepan (I use a food processor for this, so I can get them wafer thin).  Chop the leeks into thin slices too, discarding the tops if they are a bit tough.  Place in a steamer above the potatoes.

Add a pinch of salt to the potatoes, cover with boiling water & cook for about 4 minutes.  They should be soft enough to get a knife into, but still firm.  Drain & tip into the leeks, placing the strainer over the saucepan to catch any drips & leave the lid off the pan.

Make the crumble – tip the flour & butter into a bowl.  Rub together with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs, then add the grated cheese, half of the Parmesan & all the breadcrumbs.  Stir through & set aside.

Roll out your pastry & cut into either hearts or circles, placing them on your baking tray.  If you don’t have a heart cutter or heart baking trays, just cut one freehand or use a wine glass, cup or jam jar if you want circles (you can cut whatever shape you like, it’s your pastry!).  If you’re making a large one for sharing as a main course, cut to the size of your baking tray & gently score a line around the edge, about 1cm thick.

Sprinkle the base with a little of the crumble mixture (this will stop your pastry going soggy).  Spoon a little of the potato & leek mix carefully onto each pastry base (if making a big pastry, leave the 1cm edge free of filling).

Top with the cheesy crumble mixture & bake in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden & crispy on top.  If you’re making a larger one, give it 25-30 minutes.

Remove from the oven & place on a cooling rack for a couple of minutes (burned lips means no kissing, so be careful!).

Serve these delicate cheesy crumble topped puffed pastries as a starter, or as a larger version to share over a glass of fizz.  If you have any leftover crumble, potatoes & leeks, chuck them all in a bowl together & tip into a greased muffin tin.  Bake them for 10-15 minutes until golden & when cooled, pop them in cupcake cases for tomorrow’s lunch!

For a little suppertime seduction on your romantic rendezvous, try my Husband’s recipe for this delicious delicacy!  Happy love-baking!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

 

Fast Breaks & Breakfasts

So who had breakfast this morning?  No, “just a coffee” won’t do.  I mean food, whether it’s porridge, a bacon butty or a boiled egg, some kind of sustenance to keep you going.  A bit of toast maybe?  Or did you grab something sweet at your local shop or a flat pack snack from the petrol station on your way to work?  Oh dear, you really do need something a bit perkier than forecourt fayre, especially if you’re going to stop your stomach doing dragon impressions at your desk (which is never a good look)!

This morning, after I had been chocolatiering all week, I really couldn’t face making anything too elaborate & wanted to make something relaxed, easy & not faffy.  This is one of those “chuck it all in a bowl” kind of recipes that we all love & anyone can make these with ease – the kids or the other half that doesn’t cook (yes, even you!).  I actually put a batch of these in the oven to bake while I had a shower – that’s how easy they are!

Now the kids have finished school for the Summer, get them in the kitchen & making some of these.  They will learn something useful, you get to have a lie in (hopefully) & as these are portable, you can pop a few in your bag for when you fancy a snack!

What you need:

7oz Salted Butter, chopped into chunks
8oz Plain Flour
8oz Light Muscovado Sugar
6oz Porridge Oats
2oz Dessicated Coconut or chopped Mixed Nuts (your choice here)
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 jar of good Jam (use whatever is your favourite or in your pantry)
A little extra Butter for smearing around the dish

What to do:

Turn on the oven to 180*C to warm up.  Grease your dish with a little butter, getting into all the corners – I use a large lasagne dish, so something similar sized will do.  Make sure you grease the sides too.

Tip all the dry ingredients (except the coconut & nuts) into a large mixing bowl & give them a stir to combine everything.

Add the butter pieces & rub in with your fingertips, until you have a crumble mix of what looks like moist chunky breadcrumbs.  Add the nuts and/or coconut, mix in well.  (You can add a few sultanas here or chopped, dried apricots – whatever you like!).

Tip half of the mix into the dish, spread around evenly & gently press down to form a nice layer on the bottom of the dish (make sure you get it in the corners).

Spread splodges of jam all over the top, then using the back of a dessert spoon smooth it out to form a nice fruity layer.

Scatter the rest of the crumble mixture on the top of the jam & press down very gently to form another even layer on top.  Be careful not to press too hard, otherwise the jam will squish out of the sides!

Put the dish into the middle of the oven & bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the top is gorgeously golden & the jam is bubbling around the edges (tip: use a glass lasagne dish, then you can see what’s happening).  If it needs a few more minutes, pop it back in the oven & then check again in five minutes.

Once cooked, it may look slightly risen on top – don’t worry, this will go down as it cools.  Place the dish on a wire rack & leave the whole thing to cool for about half an hour (remember, jam is like molten lava & will melt your mouth, so be patient – go & wash up or something while you wait).  When cool, the jam becomes a thick, gooey & ever so luscious layer of fruitiness, so it is worth the wait.

After it has cooled, run a knife around the edge to loosen the slice & tip very carefully onto a chopping board (it will still be quite soft).  Cut into even sized slices & it’s ready to eat!  If you’re not comfortable with the tipping out method, just cut it in the dish & use a spatula to lift them out individually.  I get 16 good sized slices from one lasasgne dish, so there are plenty for everyone.

They should keep in an airtight container, but I have no idea how long for because they didn’t last that long!   I suspect they will keep for a few days, if you hide them well.  Wrap them up in a bit of greaseproof paper to take to the office, munch at a picnic or eat on the run.  The best thing is you can prepare them in advance & then you have no excuses for not eating breakfast!  They are also great for giving you a bit of a boost in the afternoon when you’re flagging.

If you’re taking them on a picnic, why not add a few ripe raspberries to the jam layer & drizzle swirls of melted white chocolate over the cooled slices.   They make a nice alternative to a dessert & you don’t need plates or spoons, just a napkin (you all know how much I adore washing up!).  These will make you very popular though, so I advise that you keep a small stash for yourself in the back of the cupboard!

So next time you want breakfast fast or a fast break, try making these sumptuous little slices for your family – be warned though, they are very moreish!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

 

 

Hello world!

Hi there!  This blog is the result of my obsession with making real food & my family constantly being asked “hope you’re hungry!” every time I make a meal.  Cooking is not some kind of kitchen alchemy, it’s achievable with a bit of planning (I’m not talking military manoeuvres either!).

After working in a professional office career for years, I still managed to cook from scratch & hated the idea of people coming home to a packet meal, defrosting something & zapping it in a microwave.   So, I decided to share my passion and hopefully inspire other people to try creating dishes in their own homes.

I’m a home cook, self-taught & not chef-y – I live with guys, so there’s no room for fancy frills, just proper food that tastes good.   It doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming.

Food is not just sustenance or nutrition, it’s a chance to sit down with your family & friends, talk to each other, eat a good meal that you’ve prepared & have fun!

A 🙂 x