Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

Recipe: Olive and rosemary focaccia

While I’m on a cooking-and-blogging bender, I thought I’d share this focaccia recipe. It comes courtesy of my friend Ellie, who bought it to a pot-luck dinner party at a friend’s place. I’ve always been quite confident in the kitchen, especially when it comes to baking, but I’ve always been a bit scared of breads, for some reason. I did once make a fairly successful Irish soda bread, but that’s not a real bread: it’s made with bicarb instead of yeast, so it’s basically a savoury cake.

Anyway, my fears were mislaid. This recipe is so easy. It’s a bit time-consuming, because the dough needs to rise three times, but that gives you time to clean up after yourself (or so my mother would have me believe). It’s tasty, versatile, and very impressive when you bring it to a dinner party. (I know, I was one of those impressed individuals.) Furthermore, it’s so satisfying to make something like this. It always seemed like the kind of thing I’d buy, its manufacture beyond my abilities, but I’ve mastered it! I often serve it to accompany my veggie meatballs, or devour it greedily on its own.

Olive and rosemary focaccia

1 1/3 cups grated or mashed potatoes (Don’t add butter or milk or the stuff that you add when serving mashed potato as a side – just boil them, peel them and grate or mash them. I’ve tried it with grated and mashed, and it makes no difference to the resulting texture.)
1 tsp dried yeast
2 tbsp olive oil (+ 2 tbsp for oiling the bowl and pan)
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups plain flour
fresh rosemary, kalamata olives, whatever you want, really: this would be nice  topped with finely sliced sweet potato, for example

Make sure your potatoes are ready to go before making the starter. Just combine the yeast with 1/2 cup of the flour and 1/2 cup of very warm water. Whisk it with a fork, cover it and set it aside in a warm place. (It’s winter and I live in a draughty apartment, so I put my oven on for a few minutes, turn it off and then put the bowl in there.) After 20 minutes, it will have started to bubble and look like this.

Add another 1/2 cup of warm water, 2 tbsp olive oil, the mashed potato, the salt and the remaining 3 cups of flour. Your arms are going to get a workout at this point! Once it’s all combined and looks doughy, transfer it to a floured surface i.e. a bread board dusted and rubbed with flour. Knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic. (I don’t know what kneading really is. I just punch and drop and massage and throw the dough around on the board. You’ll probably need to reflour the board a couple of times during this process.)

When you can roll the dough into a large ball without it sticking to your fingers, put 1 tbsp olive oil in the bowl then add the dough ball. Roll it around to coat it with oil, then put it somewhere warm for 20 minutes or so to rise again.

Oil a baking tray a further 1 tbsp olive oil. Once the dough has doubled in size, put it in the tray and push it to the corners. Let it rise again (!!!) and, when it’s fluffy, poke your fingers all over it, making little dents. Sprinkle it with sea salt and rosemary, stud it with the olives and you’re good to go!

Whack it in a 220 degree oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Let it cool, flip it out, slice it up and guzzle it like the greedy guts you are.


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Recipe: Veggie Meatballs

It’s the Monday of a long weekend, and I’ve hardly left the kitchen. It’s been great! I’ve made ontbijtkoek (Dutch spiced breakfast cake), olive and rosemary focaccia (look out for that recipe soon), spinach and potato gnocchi, and this, my veggie meatballs. I used to make spaghetti bolognese a lot, imagining meatballs to be difficult, for some reason. They aren’t, and they’re much tastier! The meat becomes so tender. Oh yeah, the name is a little misleading: they aren’t a vegetarian alternative; rather, they’re crammed with vegetables.

I don’t like or eat a lot of meat. If it wasn’t for chicken and the gamier red meats (venison, kangaroo and duck), I’d gladly go vegetarian. I usually cook vegetarian meals for myself, and if there’s meat involved, it’s counterbalanced by plenty of vegetables.

Not so my boyfriend, whose diet is built around carbohydrates, dairy and meat. (That said, he recently introduced peas to his repertoire.) He’s a uni student, so it’s to be expected, but I do worry about his health. He’s been at home all weekend, working on his final major assessment for this semester, so I’m taking the meatballs to him for dinner tonight. It’s a recipe I’ll keep in mind for when I have nieces, nephews or kids of my own to feed, because the vegetables are well-hidden, so the kids don’t even know they’re eating healthy food! Mwahaha!

Another bonus is that the veggies make the meat go further, making this an economical meal. I get three or four servings out of the quantities below.

Veggie Meatballs

For meatballs:
Half an onion
A small carrot
A small zucchini
A handful of mushrooms
250 grams minced meat of your choice (I usually use veal and pork, today I used beef)
A small handful of grated cheese (parmesan or romano are best)
Two tablespoons breadcrumbs (optional)
An egg (optional)

For sauce (or use your own standard tomato pasta sauce recipe):
Half an onion
Two cloves garlic, crushed
One tin crushed tomatoes
One cup beef or vegetable stock
Two tablespoons tomato paste
Splash of soy sauce (optional)
Handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (optional)
Two large bay leaves (optional)

Grate the vegetables and put them in a bowl. Add the meat. (It’s about half of a standard Australian supermarket packet. I know I should be a food wanker and only use hand-ground meat from an organic butcher or some shit, but it’s a half hour walk to anything like that for me, so fuck that noise.)

Mush them all together with your hands. At this point, you can add the cheese and/or the egg and/or the breadcrumbs. This helps the meatballs to hold their shape, and the cheese is just tasty. You can also add some fresh or dried herbs if you feel like it, but it’s not necessary: these babies really draw up the flavours of the sauce. Salt and pepper the mix, and mush it all together some more.

Take a half-handful of the mix and roll it into a ball. Repeat until you have a tray that looks like this.

Now for the sauce! Chop your onion, and saute it and the garlic together with a little olive oil. Add all the other ingredients, stir together and simmer for about five minutes. Give it a grind (or twelve, if you’re like me) of pepper. Then, drop the meatballs in like you’re poaching them. Spoon some sauce over them, cover, and simmer for about half an hour. Alternately, you can pop them in a casserole dish, pour the sauce over them and whack them in a moderate oven for half an hour.

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