Sunday, June 29, 2008

daring bakers - apple and ricotta danish

After a night at the opera last month, I said to a fellow DB’er, Danish would be good.

Voila – Danish. No - seriously.

This took some getting together in terms of time, but was pretty straight forward. Here is the recipe provided by Kellypea at Sass and Veracity for the challenge (BTW: check out Kellypea’s recipe for buttery garlic knots. Looks fabbo to me!):

Hang on, it’s a long one!!!

DANISH DOUGH
Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

Ingredients
For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

DOUGH
Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

BUTTER BLOCK
1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.


APPLE FILLING
Makes enough for two braids

Ingredients
4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 - 8 minutes. Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.

DANISH BRAID
Makes enough for 2 large braids

Ingredients
1 recipe Danish Dough
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves

For the egg wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.
2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

Proofing and Baking
1. Spray cooking oil onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.
2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

Wow, that’s a mouth full. Here’s what went wrong for me:

Forgot to read the back of the last page of the recipe (where it talks about proving time) so didn’t leave enough for a wintery house, so it didn’t really rise at all.


Here’s what went right:

It’s pretty easy to do and totally, totally delicious, despite the proving issues. I use the recipe for apples for the filling, but put them on a bed of ricotta. Once again I took it to work and it got eaten in a second. Although some refused to believe I made the dough myself. Really…….

barossa weekend

Have just got back, literally, from a weekend in the Barossa Valley. It was meant to be a riding weekend, i.e. we were supposed to ride there, but I’ve had a couple of days off sick this week and am totally wet and useless and sooked a bit so we drove up instead.

We staying in the pub in the town of Tanunda, which is a lovely place to see but my travelling companion finds noise a problem when trying to nod off, so found the antics downstairs very distracting. Not me, I can sleep through guerrilla warfare so I’m feeling the most rested I have in months, which is lovely.

(in the lap of luxury at the Tanunda Pub. Bathroom across the hallway)

I was planning on spending not very much money this weekend at all. Mmmmmm… well it didn’t quite work out that way.

(Barossa vinyards between Nuriootpa and Angaston)

A Saturday ride to Angaston found me buying jars of homemade chutney, full kilo bags of prunes (you know you’re getting old when you’re excited by the price of prunes) and some Salvation Jane honey. Salvation Jane is a real weed in Australia that costs farmers thousands, so it’s nice to see someone making the best of a bad situation. I also got an icing pen and a funky new glass ring, met a sulphur crested cockatoo named Bruce and eyed off a new Madonna in the junk shop in the old church hall and a couple of nuns at the local craft shop (I went in looking for bed socks).

(all the teddy bears and old lady stuff you can poke a stick at, in the Angaston craft shop)


Also had pizza at a café that claimed to have been awarded the best pizza in SA. Don’t know about that – but is sure was prewdy pizza.

(top: lamb and kipfler potato, bottom: feta and caramelised onion)

Sunday (today) on the trip home I managed to buy an old greengrocer’s scale in Tanunda, more nuns, lots of coffee, pies, a trip to Maggie Beer’s Farm (just to look, I’m not interested in buying anything I said) saw me come away with jam and wine and bbq sauce and jars of dukkah. Great dukkah. Best I’ve had in a long time. Then the at the Lyndoch Lavender Farm I also bought skin cream, for my horrible old lady ankles, and bath salts and lavender lollies.

Good thing I came home. Weekends away suddenly get very very expensive.

Friday, June 27, 2008

what to do?

first France were out.

So i decided to switch alliances to my arch nemesis Italy.

.....gone.....

Turkey seemed like a good idea.

It was hopefully until Germany put their third goal in late in the game.


So, now it's down to Germany and Spain in the final. Honestly, I could never support Germany (sorry BBITW), and Spain's a nice place for holidays.

Va Espana!!!!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

oh my god, they worked!

YES! FINALLY

I managed to make biscuits that actually worked. hurrah hurrah hurrah.

and i almost didn't make the deadline this month. the days were ticking away, and I'm supposed to be going away this weekend and I thought all was lost.

Of course, there's a story.....

this morning i had a fantastic breakfast at a new place in the city. Well - Pranzo's not new, I've just never been there before so it was new to me. for an upcoming work celebration staff were invited to suggest a venue and a time. Having recently been introduced to this menu by other means i suggested a staff breakfast there. everyone thought i was joking when i mentioned black pudding bruschetta and apple risotto.

Philistines.

needless to say my nomination was not successful (it'll be pies and pasties in the boardroom. how imaginative), so i went to pranzo for breakfast with a current colleague, the opera singer, and a former employee, housing girl. both firm food fans with a little bit a class.

i had the pudding (i LOVE black pudding), opera boy had the risotto and housing girl the poached pears with ricotta. all were a hit. the pudding was soft, as the Europeans do it, and the eggs perfectly poached with just a peppery hint of chili.

anyway, all was in fine form. opera boy is regularly hilarious (i have been known to cry and pee simultaneously when he's on a roll) and we hadn't seen housing girl for a while. so the three of us snorted and chuckled through breakfast before heading off to the office.

about an hour later opera boy mentioned that my voice had become decidedly sexier. twenty minutes after that it had gone completely and i was sent home.

after five hours sleep (oh yeah, sounds good, but how on earth will i nod off tonight???) i was at a loose end. having all the required ingredients in the house i set about baking. Here's a recipe:

Snickerdoodles (thanks to Kate at the Clean Plate Club. She rocks)

Ingredients
  • 240gm butter
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups plain flour
  • 2 tspns cream of tartar
  • 1 tspn baking soda
  • 1/4 tspn salt
  • 2 tblspn ground cinnamon mixed with 1/4 cup sugar
method
1. preheat oven to 180 degrees
2. cream butter and sugar until creamy and then combine eggs
3. sift in dry ingredients
4. roll into small balls in the palm of your hand and then roll them in the cinnamon sugar
5. bake 5cm apart on a lined tray for 10 minutes, turning once
6. when ready they should have spread and cracked down the centre. they should not brown.

sounds easy.

and for once it was. they took about 10 minutes to get together, and about that long again to cook.

I've learnt that they're much nicer once they've cooled and hardened (I'm useless at resisting hot food). The only thing I changed from the recipe (and it's minor change) is that my sugar had a vanilla bean in the jar, which was lovely for me as vanilla is one of my favourite flavours.

I'm just so pleased that after a long, long list of failures I've finally be able to complete a cookie carnival challenge successfully. actually, all this typing has made me tired. maybe i can go back to bed. it's nearly 6 after all.........

oh yes, a PS: Good luck to Turkey in the Euro 2008 Finals! They're playing Germany - they'll need it!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

what 'cha watchin'?

as you can probably tell from posts full of screens, I'm a bit of a youtube fan. and by fan i mean addict. i can spend hours and hours watching nothing very much at all. I'm sure it's some sort of government plot to keep us all passive and to repress thoughts of revolution.

aside from national anthems (which are really interesting, you should have a go) and old monty python sketches these are some of the other things i've been looking at the last couple of days:

If you are a youtube 'fan' like myself, please send my some links to broaden my experiences.

one day soon i will stop wasting my time on youtube and will do something more exciting to write about. maybe

Thursday, June 19, 2008

au revoir mes bleus

well france are out of the european cup. all i have to say is sod you italy. you'll get yours one day. i'm glad rome week is over - i couldn't face eating your food. every bite would rip through my heart.

here is france in their hey day. zizu. le boeuf. and the best national anthem ever.

may their impure blood water our fields.

indeed

Saturday, June 14, 2008

pompeiian risotto

i know, i missed a day yesterday. i've been really tired lately and yesterday friday just got the better of me. it was all i could do to re-heat some pasta and crawl into bed.

but today is saturday and i've been to the bike shop for a new pannier rack for tom, done some shopping, weeded and mulched the veggie patch and now i'm ready for a nap.

but first a little rice and some dating advice.

first the rice. mushroom risotto is one of my favourite things to eat, well any risotto really. that mixture of rice, stock, butter and cheese is irresistible! i've always just made risotto up as i go along, but this time i thought i try a real risotto recipe, from Maurizio Terzini's Something Italian.

The following recipe is straight from the book


Risotto con porcini e grana
  • 2 litres chicken stock
  • 200g dried porcini
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 200ml olive oil
  • 400g shiitake, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 200g field mushrooms, cut into bite sized pieces
  • freshly picked thyme leaves
  • 1 large onion roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 500g arborio
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 300g grated grana padama
  • 1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley
1. bring stock and porcini to boil and then reduce to simmer
2. in heavy based pan melt 50g butter and half the oil until the butter has melted. had shiitake and field mushrooms and thyme and gently fry 5-6 minutes, until soft. remove from heat.
3. in a large, heavy based pan fry the onion and garlic in 50g butter and the rest of the oil until soft, but not coloured. add the rice and stir gently until combined
4. add wine and simmer gently until liquid has evaporated. season.
5. add a ladlefull of warm stock/porcini at a time until the liquid has evaporated, until rice is al dente.
6. add the mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes until rice is cooked and the liquid reduced. remove from heat and stir through cheese, parsley and remaining butter


now there are a couple of things i changed:
i only used 20g of porcini (this was dried, maybe once re-hydrated their weight increases drastically). due to them being exorbitantly price i also only used 200g of shiitake. but i don't think it was a problem. the risotto still had plenty of mushroom taste. i probably used more butter too, but maybe less cheese...... i must be ill.

also this is listed as serving 4. this is probably true if you're hosting three very large men who have just come down from Everest followed by a few quick laps around the football oval in the pouring rain. or red army members just in from the long march, or so forth. i got a VERY large portion for dinner and then five lunches out of this. so the cost of the mushrooms was worth it. it was also seriously, seriously good. really really really. i suspect i will only ever make mushroom risotto this way from now on.

now for the history part of Rome week. Pompeii is a really fascinating part of ancient history, and one that most people are familiar with, to one extent or another. most people know that mount Vesuvius, near the bay of Naples, erupted on 24 August AD 79, covering the city of Pompeii with ash and pumice, and the neighbouring city of Herculaneum with lava and mud.

one of the interesting things about the explosion is how much we can learn from it. firstly from a first hand account from Pliny the Younger, written up by the historian Tacitus. of course from an archaeological point of view it offers a snap shot in time. the cities are preserved pretty much as they were on that fateful day, including houses, public buildings, the locals and their dogs, all buried under the ash or mud. and for archaeologists it is a great dating tool. wall paintings survive that allow pretty much spot on dating tools (up until the end of the first century AD of course), and regardless of location wall frescoes are described as first, second, third or fourth Pompeian style. it also tells as a lot about daily life, preserving sites that would have decayed and rotted away, or be destroyed during military conflict in so many other settings. of course there are also the gruesome casts of those who died, and the nudie pictures from the brothels that either hold either shock value or titillation for so many. there are also many lessons to be learnt about how to totally bugger up excavation and conservation.

tomorrow is the last day of rome week. have not decided what i'll go about then. will be eating minestrone, but not sure about the history

Thursday, June 12, 2008

*sigh*

i've just realised that since Rome week started my daily readership's gone from about 20 to 2. come on guys, it's not that boring history girl! is it?

but that People's Front of Judea clip from earlier has had me surfing youtube, and i came up with the one below. funniest film ever quite possibly. this centurion's not quite like my old Latin professor, but maybe you've had a teacher you can relate it to.

"domus? nominative? go home, this is motion towards boy!" hilarious!!!

rome week. i'm so excited

we're more than half way through Rome Week and today is two of my favourite things in the world: roman baths and saltimbocca.

i first had saltimbocca in a little restaurant in the via del govorno vecchio in rome. it was divine. it was magical. i was in love. foolishly i returned to that restaurant a few years later to have it again. it was not nearly as good. in fact it has never been as good as that first time, but i still love it. saltimbocca means 'jump in the mouth', because this is what it does - jumps in your mouth saying 'hey baby, i'm soooooo delicious'. basically it is veal scaloppini, dressed with a single sage leaf, covered with a slice of prosciutto before being lightly dusted, fried in butter and oil and finished off with marsla, or a white wine. there's a more detailed recipe here. but this is how mine looked tonight before i cooked them


and this is what they looked like after they came out of the pan


they're so quick and easy to cook it took me longer to steam the vegetables.

now to baths. baths really are one of my favourite things, and one of the reason's they're so great is that they combine the wonders of roman engineering with a great social commentary.

most roman city had a bath house, or thermae. Rome had several, including two whoppers built by the emperors Caracalla and Diocletian. little bit of trivia - if you're been to Rome you've probably been through the stazione termini, the main railway station. it's so named because of the baths of Diocletian next door (not because the place can drive you terminally insane. but that's also a possibility).

(Baths of Caracalla, Rome)

Most bath houses had a hot room (caldarium) warm room (tepidarium) and a cool room (fridgidarium). the floors of the hot room were suspended on columns creating a space under the floor that was heated by a furnace (this is referred to as a hypocaust), and some had hollow tiles that would transfer the heat up the walls. baths might also have pools, gymnasiums, even libraries. some had different sections, days or times for men and women, but most free Romans would visit the bath house for a good clean, but more importantly a chin wag and a gossip.

you might have taken along your slave who would have cleaned you with a strigil (a metal hook that would scrape of applied scented oils as a cleaning method before soap came along)

(a strigil. gooby!)

or you might have just caught up with your mates or business acquaintances for something to eat and drink. when visiting Pompeii i took off my shoes and walked around on the floor, known that Pompeian citizens would have gone about in their bare feet on those very tiles. it really was one of the biggest thrills of my life. I'm a sad old git ain't i???

but talking of eating and drinking reminds me of wolf nipple tips and dromedary pretzels.

tomorrow, minestrone and wall paintings

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

tertius. carthage and cannelloni

greetings all rome weekers! today we see the fall of Carthage and some vegetarian delights. hhmmm... which first? well you've sat through the history first so far, so let's eat!

when my father visited for dinner the other night i made vegetarian cannelloni. very simple, but tasty and doing better on the health stakes than my previous history week posts.

First up get yourself a bunch of spinach and set it in a sink of cool water to get clean. meanwhile finely chop an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and fry them off in a little oil.

remove the spinach from the water, remove the ends of the stems and then finely slice the spinach. add to the pan with, putting the sliced stalks in first and then the leaves. there should be enough water on the leaves that it will steam the spinach for you.
once the spinach is cooked bring it off the heat and allow to cool before crumbling about 500g of ricotta cheese into it and seasoning.


and mixing it all together well. this is the filling for your cannelloni. simple fill a piping bag, but leave out the tip and pipe this filling into the pasta tubes.

lay the filled pasta tubes in a baking tray and cover with a sauce made by frying some garlic and then adding pureed tinned tomatoes that have been reduced to a thick sauce. then top with a bechamel, just like a lasagna. to make bechamel melt a large knob of butter in a saucepan. add enough plain flour to make a thick paste. cook this until it becomes a deep golden colour (this makes sure that the flour is fully cooked). then add warm milk and thicken to make the quantity/thickness of the sauce you desire. you may need to whisk it a bit to get rid of lumps. then melt in some grated parmesan cheese.

so you have filled pasta shells, covered by tomato sauce, covered by white sauce. cover with tin foil and cook in a 180 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the pasta is cooked through. remove the foil and return to the oven for about 10 minutes to brown.

i was going to take some pictures of the left overs the next day when the light was better. but we ate it all!!!

has all that talk whetted your appetite for some history? good 'o. let's talk about Carthage.

As you’d expect the history of Carthage is a long and involved one – the histories of cities normally are. Carthage has an almost mystical feel to it. It rose, it fell, it rose, it fell. Its general rode an elephant. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

The North African city was originally founded by the Phoenicians, probably sometime in the ninth century BC. For many centuries Carthage was a successful, oligarchic city. Its religion, as was usual at the time, was a polytheic one, with a mix of Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Egyptian deities.

Slowly Carthage expanded, and at one point or another, its empire included parts of the north African coastline, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and bits of southern Spain. Needless to say this caused a few barnies with the locals, and wannabe rulers. Squabbles with the Greeks and the Sicilians were fairly much common place, but 264 BC marked the first of the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. There were three Punic Wars all up, most widely known for the general Hannibal who crossed over the Alps to Italy using elephants during the second Punic War. You’ll all be amazed to know that elephants didn't do so well in the Swiss Alps, and this slowed the Carthaginians down a tad and by the time the army made it to Italy they must have been a bit despondent. However they did put up a good fight and Hannibal’s cunning and bravery are known from this period. Unfortunately Hannibal eventually came off very much second best and was recalled to Carthage. He faced Scipio Africanus is the third, and last Punic War, which saw Carthage raised to the ground.

However the city, always a survivor, managed to re-group and enjoyed prosperity, and invasion, on and off over the years, including the Vandals and the Arabs. Today the city, which has been well excavated, is almost part of the suburbs of Tunis, in Tunisia. I would very much like to go there one day! Hannibal was eventually sent into exile, and fought against the Romans with the Phoenicians and other Levantine nations. The Romans hunted him down, eager to do away with their nemesis. Rather than suffer the ignominy of capture, Hannibal took his own life by swallowing poison.

come back tomorrow, when it's roman baths and saltimbocca (it'll be tastier than poison)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

rome week continues. the brother gracchi and the best pasta you'll ever eat

it's quite ironic that this is rome week, but i'll get to that later. today are two lessons, one on making the most divine spaghetti with roast chicken sauce, and the other on republican agrarian law reform. no, it's more interesting that that i promise.

in the second century BC the romans were in a spot of bother. roman society and politics was governed by a rather complicated set of titles an positions. i have horrible trouble trying to remember if a quaestor outranks aedile, so don't worry if you don't get your head around on the first read. but as is the case with most civilisations, the power of rome relied heavily on the strength of its army. and to be in the army you had to own land. now during this period there were a lot of greedy sods around who were buying up land at a rate of knots, and putting small land holders out on their arses. ahhhhh.... capitalism. gotta love it.

so along comes Tiberius Gracchus, and the Populares party. now old Tiberius came from good stock - his grandfather was Scipio Africanus, the sacker of Carthage (sounds familiar? it was the first scene in the Colosseum in the movie Gladiator). Tiberius, as a tribune, sought to reform land tax and land law to increase the number of land owning citizens and also therefore the number of citizens who could be conscripted.

without going into too much detail this was very very unpopular with many of the land owning patrician families, and in the process of trying to get himself re-elected, Tiberius was killed.

so everything trundles along for about a decade, when Tiberius' up-start of a brother, Gaius, comes along. He's got these crazy ideas in his head about redistributing land to the poor, and allowing citizenship to more of the empire's inhabitants, decreasing the duration of conscription, and curtailing taxes that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. sounds like socialism to me. terrible thing. and the romans certainly thought so and Gaius and his political allies were hunted down or chased out of rome.

and of course all these centuries later there is obviously debate as to whether the Gracchi had the needs of the poor of Rome at heart (which as we have noted in the current political climate is wrong), or whether they were just out to make a name for themselves and increase their power in the senate (good thing, apparently).

at any rate a few years, and battles, later along come the Caesars and voila - Empire. and it's all milk and honey for a few centuries, and then it goes to hell in a handbasket. mercy - i've just put the rise and fall of the Roman Empire into a sentence. if you need pictures with this, just watch the Star Wars films. it's basically the same thing (but Harrison Ford is cuter than the Gracchi).

lordy, all of this political debate has made me hungry. mmmmmmmm..... italian roast chicken pasta. this recipe was given to me by my friend gabriella, who got it from her aunt. her family came to australia, via france, after their part of italy ceased to exist after the war. fascism, certainly a bad thing, i think we can all agree.

to start off with you'll need a whole chicken. please make it a free range, grain feed, hormone/antibiotic free bird. aside from being much, much nicer for the animal before it gives its life for you to eat, it makes the meat taste much better.

start by making slits in the meat and stuffing these with cloves of garlic. then salt the skin of the bird. well. a lotta salt. really. then place large cubes of butter on the bird, in the bird and in the pan. finally scatter around a good quantity of rosemary sprigs, and a couple in the cavity too.

(you can't see the salt in this picuture, but it's there. trust me)


put the bird in a pre-heated oven. how long it takes to cook will depend on the size of the chicken, but allow an hour and a quarter for this part of the process. no one likes their chicken done rare.

as the bird is getting close to done, pour a cup and a half of chicken stock and a cup of white wine over the bird, and return to the oven until it's done.

While the bird is resting cook some pasta. a nice thick spaghetti, or even fettuccine, as it sauce will be very thin and will need something that holds it well.

while that is happening mix a little cornflour with some water and then add this to the liquid in the pan. place on the hob to thicken.

to serve mix the cooked pasta in the pan with the juices and a couple of good hand fulls of grated parmesan. you can either serve the meat separately with some salad as a second course, or do as i do and stir some of the meat through the pasta, and then slice the breasts to place on top.

serve with more cheese.


this really is a heart attack on a stick, but it is so incredibly good, i can't tell you. it's one of my signature dishes, and one that people request when i invite them around. and it's quite easy to do. impress your friends and families today by serving them this, you won't regret it!

but you'll remember at the beginning of this post i mentioned irony. Well Euro 2008 is on a the moment, and last night Italy got their arses kicked by the Netherlands. 3-0!!!! I will have vengeance for what those romans did to my beloved blues in the finals in 2006.

Vive la France!!!!

Monday, June 9, 2008

rome week begins! pizzas and the pantheon

hello all history fans, and welcome to the first day of Rome Week. i hope you're all as excited as i am by the prospect of all of this roman history and culture! a history lesson and a cooking lesson every day for the next seven days. do i know what i've let myself in for? do you? well, probably not on both counts, but let's go. it could be fun.

today is pizza and the pantheon. i trust you all have a vague idea what a pizza is, so we'll start with the pantheon. i know some of you will be thinking: but the parthenon's in greece. it is. this is the pantheon, and it's one of my favourite buildings anywhere. but most history lessons get confused and tangential, so bear with me.

In 31BC there was a battle at Actium, between Cleopatra and Mark Antony (who i'm sure you've all heard of) and Octavian (later to become emperor Caesar Augustus), whose forces were led by Agrippa. as part of the celebration of the victory in Actium, Agrippa built the Pantheon (greek for temple to all the gods), around 27 BC.

Now, like most roman buildings, the pantheon was modified a lot, primarily by the emperor Hadrian in the second century AD. At this stage it went from being a fairly standard roman temple, to a round one with a magnificent domed room, as you can see from the picture below. this was largely due to the improvement in the production and pouring of concrete. now ancient concrete technology is of particular interest to me, but apparently not everyone (i have had people run screaming from pubs after a few minutes standing next to me at the bar), so we shan't go into this particular facet of the pantheon today.


however what would have been incredible about this building, aside from the concrete of course, is that in the second century there would have been other buildings butted up against the temple, unlike in the picture above, so when approaching it, it would have looked like a normal temple, but once you got inside you would have been greeted by this amazing domed roof, open to the heavens. for people who were used to seeing only angular architecture, this must have been totally amazing!

of course it's been fiddled with endlessly over the years, by Hadrian and then Septimius Severus and Caracalla in the ancient world and then by a secession of popes. it is now a church, with decorations by renaissance artists and tombs of prominent italians.

however it's a great, great place to visit, (although the oculus, or hole in the roof, makes it a bit damp in winter), and it's free - which can be quite unusual when touring Europe. there are also ripper gelati joints nearby.

but here are two extra panethon facts. the original agrippan building had caryatids (columns in the shape of women) out the front - see also the erechtheum in athens. secondly is the inscription on the porch of the second century building - M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM· FECIT which all latin buffs will know is short for Marcus Agrippa, Lucii filius, consul tertium fecit, which translate as Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, built this in his third consulship. This was made of bronze, as was some of the other decoration in the building. this was nicked by the artist Bernini in the seventeenth century to go towards the construction of the baldachino, for canopy over the tomb of St Peter in the basilica in the Vatican City.

and you thought history was boring.

of course wikipedia is a good source of basic information on all of this. i have some serious boring history books i can recommend too. or you could just come back tomorrow and see what i'm prattling on about.

but now the food. thank god i hear you all say.

mmmmm.... pizza.

pizza is dead easy. providing you've got some really basic ingredients and an hour or so you can get together a great pizza for about 50 cents. ok, maybe slightly more than that, but a great deal less than you'd pay for it in a pizza shop. and unlike places like pizza hut and dominos, yours will actually contain real food. hurrah!

for enough pizza for a couple of really hungry guys, you'll need:
  • 4 cups plain flour (or pizza/foccacia flour if you've got it)
  • 1 sachet of dried yeast (8gm)
  • approx 200ml tepid water
  • 1 tspn sugar
  • a glug of oil
  • salt
dissolve the sugar in the tepid water and sprinkle the yeast on top (it is important that the water is not too hot, or it will kill off the yeast, but it does need some warmth to activate the fermentation process). place it somewhere warm until it starts to bubble (approx 10 mins depending on how warm it is at your place).

on a clean bench top get the flour together and make a well in the centre, with good strong, high walls. add the other ingredients to the well and slowly mix in flour from the outside of the walls to form a dough. once it has a good consistency (you may need to add more water) knead for at least 10 minutes. people who say they can't make pizza dough are probably not kneading it long enough. or hard enough. get some strength into it people, why do you think calabrese nonne have such strong arms?????

once the dough is well kneaded and elastic (when you stretch it out it should spring back) put it in a large bowl, covered with either cling film or a clean tea towel and place somewhere warm to prove until doubled in size (a car parked in the sun is good for a quick prove. if you're making it in the morning you could even leave it in a cool part of the house until you come home in the evening).

for the sauce just fry off a clove of garlic and a can of pureed tomatoes until it's well reduced, adding stock, wine, chili ect depending on time/taste/budget/ingredients at hand. it needs to be fairly well reduced tho, not too runny.

once the dough is ready, simply cut it into pieces and roll into your desired shape. a second prove at this stage will improve the taste, but is not totally necessary.

place on a baking sheet that has either been oiled, covered with baking parchment or sprinkled with a little polenta. add a thin layer of the sauce (NOT TOO MUCH. it will just make the base soggy), cheese, again not too much, and you're favourite toppings. i like to keep it simple. bacon, red onion and chili is my fave. grilled eggplant is another.

bake for about 15mins in a 200 degree oven. then scoff your face!

having rabbited on about how easy it is to make, here is one i bought last night. it was late, i'd been to the movies and it was my birthday god damn it, so we bought the sodding pizza! it was from Good Life pizzas, tho, so it was organic and very very expensive. this one was roast duck with spring onions and ginger jam. very very nice.


but please have a go at making your own, once you get the nack of the dough it really is simple. so delicious, so cheap, so easy. yummo.

more history and italian food coming to you soon. Tuesday is the gracchi and zia graziella's killer roast chicken spaghetti. don't miss it!!!!