These days I enjoy writing up a menu and taking orders from it as if I were a restaurant host or something. It is like playing dolls or role-play, which was my favourite games in my childhood because I was a shy and timid kid, who would retreat to the room and narrate to myself. I sometimes wonder if I am an inate actor. I used to love being on stage, dancing or acting.
I should have chosen dance for my career. I formed a dance group and led it throughout my school years and I studied plays and received a best performance award at university. Uh hmm…sometimes shouting out self-praise is needed when the world doesn’t recognise your talent.
Here is the menu for the Scampi Dinner last weekend.
I love making things from scratch. I make chicken stock, fish stock and demi-glace, and also soak dried beans and grind nuts into flour. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? But I absolutely love the process! I haven’t bought any tinned-food or biscuits for years. Once you know how great home-made stuff is, you can’t put the commercial and artificial stuff in your system.
I’ve become fond of baking bread ever since I discovered the No-Knead Method Bread, which save me from growing arm muscles and knuckles from kneading. With this method, I don’t need to worry about that! The only problem with this method is that it requires a long waiting; it can’e be rushed so it needs to be planned a day in advance.
I baked two batches: Olive and Rosemary Bread and Fig Hazelnut Caraway Rye Bread. Honestly, baking bread wasn’t in my original plan but it came to me when I was writing the menu and realised there was a Russian in the guest list. So I rushed, hoping that 8 hours would still do the magic, with the help of a little extra yeast. For the 18-20 hours of long fermentation, it needs only 3/4 teaspoon of yeast instead of 2-3 teaspoons required for conventional bread recipes. The tiny yeast will work its way, creating a sour aroma that fills the space where the dough is kept to rise.
I love eating cheese with fruity nutty bread, especially goat cheese and blue cheese. Back in my glorious years in Sydney, my favourite past-time was visiting bakeries and wine shops. Oh, how I miss you, Bourke Street Bakery! When I moved from the street, my obsession made me go on a 2 hour-journey to the bakery every Sunday. I also miss delicious pastries as well as date&walnut sourdough and rye caraway sourdough at Central Baking Depot, where I got my lunch time treat during the week and grabbed a loaf on the way home after work. There is nothing more comforting than the smell of baking and the taste of bread fresh out of the oven.
Even though its rough crust got a bit burnt and denser than I’d expected because it got deformed while I was sliding it onto the hot tray and had only half the rising time, the bread was so delicious with cheese and even by itself, and the Russian guest recognised the sweet aroma of figs and anise – I couldn’t find caraway or fennel. But can you tell the difference between the three and cumin seeds? Cumin seeds are the easiest to pick out by smelling, and the way to tell fennel, caraway and anise is the shape and colour. Anise seeds is smaller and stronger than fennel seeds and caraway seeds are darker and stronger than fennel seeds, which have a long aftertaste when chewed on. So I prefer fennel or caraway seeds.
The bread could have turned out better if I’d waited longer and hadn’t made the mistake while transferring it into the pot inside the oven. Nevertheless, I hope my dear guests understood what I was trying to do. I will just remind you about the no-knead method and leave a link to a page with very helpful step-by-step instructions. This is for now and I will write about Plum Cardamom Up-Side Down Cake in the next post.
Fig Hazelnut Caraway Rye Bread
Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)
3 cups rye flour
3 big dried figs, chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds or caraway seeds
3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool water
A guick guide: Mix the ingredients in a bowl and form a dough and forget about it for 24 hours or until you feel like working on it.
A detailed guide: Follow the steps on this page and replace olives with figs and nuts.