To put it simply, I was having major withdrawal symptoms after gorging on focaccia everyday for 5 days and then going cold turkey for 2 weeks. I woke up today just KNOWING that I had to put an end to this deprivation.

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Focaccia served when I was on holiday

Focaccia is one of Italy’s gifts to the flat bread world and it is pronounced foh-cacha.

Usually I avoid making yeast based baked foods but today, I took the bull by the horn like a brave matador and I cowed this Leviathan. At the end of it all, I couldn’t quite believe how easy and relatively fuss free the whole process was and the results were uh-mah-zing!

Right now in my head I have nothing less than 500 hundred varieties that I intend to bake before 2014 runs out.

Here’s the recipe, simple and easy. The fluffy softness of the bread belies the lack of butter in this recipe, yes you heard me right, not an ounce of butter!

I hope the step by step guide will encourage you to make this bejeweled fluffiness.

Ingredients
2 teaspoons rapid-rising dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 to 4 cups flour
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Cornmeal, for dusting

Toppings:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove (cut in half horizontally and roasted)
1/4 cup slivered sun dried tomato
1 tablespoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dry rosemary
2 tablespoons dry chives

Directions
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, proof the yeast by combining it with the warm water and sugar. Stir gently to dissolve.

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Let stand 3 minutes until foam appears.

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Turn mixer on low and slowly add the flour to the bowl. Dissolve salt in 2 tablespoons of water and add it to the mixture then pour in 1/4 cup olive oil.

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When the dough starts to come together, increase the speed to medium. Stop the machine periodically to scrape the dough off the hook.

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Mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary. I ended up using 3 3/4 cups; it’s really up to you but be sure not make the dough too dense, do not exceed 4 cups.

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Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold over itself a few times.

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Form the dough into a round and place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire ball with oil so it doesn’t form a skin.

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Cover with plastic wrap or damp towel and put in a warm place (I used my oven after warning it for a minute) until doubled in size; about 45 minutes.

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Coat a sheet pan with a little olive oil and dust with corn flour. Once the dough is doubled and domed, turn it out onto the counter. Roll and stretch the dough out to an oblong shape about 1/2-inch thick.

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Lay the flattened dough on the pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 15 minutes.

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Now time to prep the toppings.

To be honest you can pretty much use whatever catches your fancy on this bread but I kept mine simple this time around.

You could roast the garlic ahead of the dough preparation, by simply halving a whole clove of garlic without peeling it. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 15 minutes in the oven. Alternatively you can peel and the chop garlic and sautée in a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil over low heat.
I had some roasted garlic to hand already from a whole roast chicken I made yesterday.

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Preheat oven to 185 degrees C. Uncover the dough and poke with your fingertips giving the dough lovely dimples for the olive oil and garlic topping to nestle in.

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Brush the surface with more olive oil and then add roasted or sautéed garlic, sundried tomatoes, chives, salt, pepper, and rosemary.

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Bake on the bottom rack for 15 to 20 minutes. Watch it closely after the 15minute mark to ensure it doesn’t burn.

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It was thrilling to see the final results. The sundried tomatoes and garlic were like rubies and pearls studding the bread.

We had focaccia sandwich for brunch and every single person loved it; the munchkins included! It was worth every single minute!

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After this meal we all took naps! Lol!

FFF Tip of the Day: Don’t be afraid to customize the toppings for this recipe. Just ensure that you keep the flavours balanced.

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I have never been keen on slaving over hot stoves, cookers, burners, hobs and ovens…….this includes hot pressing irons….which is why I am happy to pay to get my clothes ironed……but I digress….

A quick easy way to prepare meals is to use a variety of complementary spices in making the dish. Pilau rice is a fantastic example; it is big on flavour and requires minimum effort to throw together.

The spices I used in making it comprise of cloves, cardamon, pepper corns, cassia bark, cinnamon, cumin and dry coriander and ginger. Some mixes may include, chili and turmeric. It sounds like a lot but with balanced proportions these aromatic ingredients lend themselves beautifully to the dish.

In some parts of East Africa such as Tanzania, pilau is served only at special occasions like weddings. This so because spices like cloves are highly valued in that region and in fact are exported globally as cash crops.

Ingredients

1 cup basmati rice
2 cups chicken stock or water
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 onion
1 tbs pilau spice mix (ensure that all spices are represented)
1 tbs vegetable oil.
1/2 tsp crushed chili flakes or cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste ( adjust quantity depending on stock or if using using plain water)

The “How To”

Using a shallow skillet wide frying pan ( that has a lid) heat the pan dry and then add your spice mix as well as the chili or cayenne. Toast them in the dry hot pan for about a minute; this “activates” the spices, releasing their oils and intensifying their flavours.
Next, add the vegetable oil and chopped onions, garlic and green pepper stir for about 2 minutes until the onions are translucent; be careful not to burn them. Add the rinsed basmati rice to the pan and coat it completely with the spice and onion mix.

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Pour in the stock/water, turn the heat down and put the lid on. Minimise opening the pan until,the rice is cooked. When it is cooked (between 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the quality of the rice) let it sit for a few extra minutes with a dish cloth over the pan, fluff with a fork before serving.

I was feeling extra lazy the day, I made this meal so it went with some grilled beef sausages and a coconut cream sauce.

For the sauce you need 50 grams of butter, 1 cup coconut milk, 1 tsp corn flour, 1 tsp black pepper and salt to taste.

Mix butter and corn flour in a sauce pan over medium heat until you have a roux. Then slowly add in the coconut milk stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper. It is ready when you have a homogenous sauce that lightly coats the back of a spoon.

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When a dear friend and her daughter came round to lunch the other day, I was frazzled because the munchkins were running me ragged. My guests needed nourishment for their tummies.

Rice and fish came to mind but I wanted it to look like I made an effort. The result? Sunny bright saffron rice and lemony herby fish.

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Ingredients
For the fish
2 large white fish fillets (I used cod)
2 tbs herbed butter
1 lemon
1 1/2 Black pepper
1 1/2 cayenne pepper
1 tbs butter
3/4 tbs salt.

For Saffron Rice
2 cups Basmati rice
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 good pinch saffron threads
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbs butter (optional)
Salt (to taste)

The “How To”

Heat the oven to 175 degrees Celcius
Place the the fillets on a shopping board and pat them completely dry with a paper towel. You may halve them or leave them whole depending on your preferred portion size.

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Sprinkle the fillets liberally on both sides with black and cayenne pepper. Then carefully, and evenly season both sides with salt.

Line a roasting pan with foil ensuring that you have an over hang on the sides to allow to allow you wrap the fish up in a parcel as it cooks. Heat a skillet with the table spoon of butter and sear the fellows for about a minute on each side then transfer them to the roasting the pan and squeeze half a lemon over them. Place a couple of slices of lemon on them and distribute the herbed butter as well. Wrap them up and place in the oven. After 17 minutes take them out and leave them to rest for a further 5 minutes stilled wrapped.

For an accompanying sauce, use the recipe described above for the pilau rice but add the pan drippings to it to infuse with the lemon and herbs.

To make the saffron rice simply add all ingredients except the butter in a skillet, bring to a boil, put the lid on and simmer until the rice is cooked. Least the rice sit for a few minutes in the pot for a few minutes then add the butter and fluff with a fork.

I added a small salad to garnish the plate and cleanse our palates as we dined. It was essentially sliced cucumbers and tomatoes with a wasabi dressing (it’s purely optional).

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Dessert was a berry treat. In my next post I will share the recipe for the 2 berry poke cake that promptly vanished after lunch.

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It was a delightful day and I enjoyed playing hostess.

FFF tip of the Day

Instead of using better as set out in the recipes here, you could replace with olive oil for a healthier alternative. Even your fresh herbs can be preserved in olive. Simply place washed herbs in ice trays and pour oil oil over them. Freeze and use as desired.

There’s a predictability that comes at meal times that can make such periods tedious. Meals become a chore and there’s really no spark at the table. You can turn this around by taking bold chances in the kitchen.

I have been puttering in my Flab (Food lab) over he past couple of months since my last post and I have developed some truly amazing recipes using Nigerian staple foods.

A good example is the ube fruit. Ube is also known as bush butter or African pear. It is native to West Africa between Eastern Nigeria and Angola. Ube can be cooked by steeping it in hot water or roasting it. Traditionally it is paired with corn for a popular Eastern Nigerian snack but my interesting take on it converts it to a delicious nutritious spread or dip; a cross between a guacamole and a tapanade.

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Ingredients for Ube spread/dip
12 ubes
½ lime (just the juice)
2 tsp ground black pepper
3 tbs olive oil
½ cup of fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt (optional)
½ cup Flaked cooked fish (preferably a mild tasting one) (optional)
3 spring onions

METHOD
Steep ubes in boiling hot water for 5 minutes, drain and carefully scrape the cooked flesh into the a blender or food processor. Juice half a lime and add it in with black pepper, chopped spring onions, parsley, peeled garlic, flaked fish (optional).
Blend all ingredients in the blender/food processor until it forms a paste and then carefully add in the olive oil pulsing the blender/food processor until the paste loosens and becomes smooth. Taste for salt and serve.
This spread works well on a tortilla (or any flat bread) with a salad piled on: pictured below or as a delicious dip for your favourite snacks.

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You could also try stuffing tomatoes with the dip for an instant delicious snack or canape.

Stuffed Tomatoes Ingredients
6 firm ripe tomatoes
4 tbs of soft any soft mild cheese (like brie)
2 spring onions
4 tbs of sweet corn
4 tbs Ube spread (see recipe above)
Ground Black pepper

Method
Halve the tomatoes vertically and scoop out the pulp. Chop the spring onions and set aside. Then scatter some sweet corn at the bottom of each tomato reserving some for the topping. Scoop even portions of the ube spread into each tomato shell. Then add even bit of cheese, sprinkle with the reserved sweet corn.

Garnish each stuffed tomato with the chopped spring onions. To finish off, sprinkle each tomato with freshly ground black pepper. Now enjoy!
This spread really makes for a guilt free indulgence!

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Another great Nigerian food is plantain. The plantain is a staple meal in every Nigerian home and is so versatile that you can eat it ripe or unripe, boil, roast, and fry it. Boiled plantain serves as a great base for the Nigerian pottage, which could include any combination of yams and beans.
When fried plantain is known as dodo; a beloved meal by almost anyone who has eaaten it. Roasted plantain is a snack commonly enjoyed with a side of peanuts; roasting it intensifies its flavour.

But have you considered using it in a curry? The results might surprise you.

Ingredients for Nigerian Flair to a curry
3 tbs hot curry powder
2 onions
3 cloves of garlic
4 cups chicken stock
2 blades of lemon grass
3 potatoes
2 ripe plantains
2 tbs vegetable oil
4 hard-boiled eggs.

Chop onions and garlic finely. Peel and cube plantains and potatoes (keep the sizes even). Heat a pan with the oil; add finely chopped onions and garlic. After 2 minutes, add plantains and potatoes and give it a good stir.
Make a thick paste of the curry and add to the pan, coating the contents evenly. Then pour in the chicken stock and add the lemon grass. Let simmer for 20 minutes.
Serve over boiled eggs with cooked rice of your choice.

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Please note: the Curry powder used in this recipe was quite spicy and the chicken stock was well seasoned so no salt was required. Adjust your recipe according to the salt required.
In the serving suggestion below, the curry is served with jasmine rice and a side of cucumber which helps to cool and cleanse the palette.

Another amazing experiment was the one I made with pap. Also known as ogi or akamu. A fellow foodie friend (Dooney) and I loathe the stuff so we challenged each other to come up with recipes that we could abide. She made a creme brûlée inspired dessert and I made a pudding type dessert that was surprisingly good.

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Substitute yams for potatoes as I did in the recipe below; or use both potatoes and yams.

Crispy Rosemary Chicken and Fries
Ingredients
8 chicken thighs
4 potatoes, quartered
3 slices of yam cut lengthways into chips
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Place chicken yams and potatoes into a large bowl. Pour olive oil over them, and stir to coat. Scatter the chicken and potato pieces in a large baking dish, or cookie sheet with sides. Sprinkle with rosemary, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, uncovered. Baste during the last 15 minutes for extra crispness.

Please note that the original recipe I followed called for chicken thighs but I used boneless chicken breasts which cooks a lot faster. So my cooking time was reduced.
Serve accompanied by a salad and dip of your choice.

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These recipes are so easy to follow that it should be a crime not to attempt them. So go on and add a surprising twist to your meal times.