Pizza + Beer + Good Friends = WIN

26 07 2009

There’s nothing like having people over for dinner. The preparation, the stress, the anticipation, the company, the conversation, this is what makes entertaining so appealing to me. Then of course there’s the food.

Last night it was pizza, something I’m getting very good at making. I’ve got my own recipe for Pizza Dough which I stole from Jamie Oliver then changed to suit my tastes. A bit of experimentation in the kitchen is always a good thing. I can also recommend getting a pizza stone, they’re not expensive and are also great for baking bread. For the recipe, I’m just going to assume you have a stone, but if you don’t, a pizza tray will suffice.

The recipe:

200 gm semolina flour
800 gm “Superfina 00” flour (normal flour is ok too but the fine stuff is better)
550 ml tepid water
40 gm dry yeast
1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 generous pinch of Sea Salt

1. Mix the flours together in a bowl, then empty out onto your clean working surface. I have a stainless steel bench top which works perfectly for this.

2. Push out the flour and make a large well or depression in the centre, big enough for all the water.

3. Pour in the water, add yeast, salt and oil. Mix together with a fork, gradually bringing in more of the flour as you stir.

4. Continue to mix in the flour until the dough comes together. At this point start mixing with your hands mixing remaining flour int the wet mixture.

5. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. The mixture should be firm and smooth. Put back into a floured bowl and cover with a tea-towel. Let this mixture sit for at least 45 mins in a warm place. The dough will rise to more than double in size.

Pizza Dough before rising

Pizza Dough before rising

6. Open a beer and drink. If you don’t have beer wine will suffice. If you don’t drink, then skip this step.

7. Prepare the ingredients for your pizza toppings. My favourites are:

  • Proscuitto and bocconcini
  • Smoked salmon with capers, dill and goats cheese
  • Mushroom and fetta
  • Roast pumpkin with pine nuts and rocket (add the rocket after the pizza is out of the oven, but before cutting)

8. Preheat oven to as high as it goes, and place the stone in the oven to heat up.

9. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Flatten one to the size of your stone, pushing out with fingers and palms of hands. Don’t use a rolling pin, this pushes too much air out of the dough.

10. Remove the HOT pizza stone out of the oven and place your dough on top. The base will begin to cook immediately. Reduce the oven to 220C.

11. Spread a very thin layer of tomato puree on the base, thicker at the edges. Then top with desired toppings, and return the stone to the hot oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on how good your oven is.

That’s it! It’s really easy, and is the most satisfying feeling to have created it from scratch. Just note a couple of things:

  • The pizza is generally better when the toppings are thinner rather then piling it high.
  • Thin crust is more authentic Italian, but this dough can also be used thick if that’s what you prefer.
  • Experiment with toppings, you’ll never know what you might discover.

Anyway, the night ended with too much alcohol consumed, too much Singstar, and a 3am finish. Try my pizza and share it with friends! Enjoy!


Why I love climbing pt 1

22 07 2009

…or “How I gave up my slothenly ways and learned to love bruised legs, rough hands and stinky feet.”

I’ve never really been much of a “sporty” kind of person. As a kid I played a few seasons of baseball, in the lower division, always outfield, at the bottom of the batting rank, or simply playing “left-right-out”. Played some footy, again in the lower divisions, couldn’t kick well, mark well, or tackle. Tried volleyball, athletics, soccer, hockey, played a couple of seasons of lacrosse, but I pretty much sucked at everything I tried. I was that kid who had a wardrobe full of the paraphernalia from a dozen sports, bundled away haphazardly, a graveyard of forgotten ambitions and half-assed commitment.

However I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, bushwalking, camping, fishing (I’m not very good at this either), and have done these things for most of my life. I was on skis at the age of 3, and remember skiing to school on more than one occasion when the snow was too deep to drive through. I’m not sure if any of this counts as being “sporty” though.

Federation Hut Panorama on Mount Feathertop

Federation Hut Panorama on Mount Feathertop - click for full size

So by the time I was in my mid-thirties, I had pretty much resigned myself to a life of not doing much of anything except the occasional camping trip, preferring to spend my time drinking beer with friends than do anything physical.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I was a complete sloth. I have never been afraid of a little hard work, digging, chopping, whatever. I once spent 16 days straight, from 7am to sun-down stripping off the faux-brick cladding from the boards on the outside of my house. That was hard work! I had some furious tendonitis in my fore-arms after this (screaming barfies), and didn’t sleep properly for days!

But this sort of work is just stuff that simply needs to be done. There’s little “I choose” for these types of physical activity, more the fact that tasks need to be completed. So yeah, I guess wasn’t what you’d call athletic.

I’d heard at family gatherings, Hayley’s brother Luke talk of how cool climbing was, but had a bivvy of excuses as to why it wasn’t for me (“Ooh that sounds like hard work, and I think it might rain, I’m afraid of heights, and besides my knee is really sore right now, so thanks, but no thanks”). However, Hayley took up the challenge as I knew she would.

So off to Nunawadding we journeyed, a place with a 21m wall and a lot of overhang, a great place to learn to crank plastic. My knee was the size of a watermelon that day, and I had dislocated it the night previous, so there was no way I was getting on the wall (that and the wind direction just wasn’t right, and the moon was in Sagittarius).

Afterwards, Hayley announced she was going with her brother Luke and our mentor Rich on an outdoor climb in a couple of weeks time! For some reason I was unable to go, (probably sunspots, or bad hair?) but when she returned with all the awesome stories of climbing a multipitch on her first outing, I had made up my mind it was time for me to take the plunge. This was further reinforced after Hayley returned home one day with a spanking new pair of Red Chili shoes and a Mammut harness. Jealousy of her cool gear, and the fact that I really felt like I was missing out on something special, was what finally got me into the gym, bumbling my way up a Grade 9 (read 5.1 in the American scale), sweating profusely, huffing and puffing like a steamtrain, forearms burning, toes aching, and full of adrenaline.

After the first time, I swore I wouldn’t do it again. Climbing is hard! I was sore, beaten, bruised, blistered. I climbed like shit and I knew it. But only the next day, I was hanging out for another climb. I was hooked! In fact, I started researching shoes, and I bought my first climbing video shortly after this (it was “Pilgrimage”, thus began my extensive collection of #climbingporn).

The North Jawbone at Cathederal

The North Jawbone at Cathedral

The guys organised a trip up to Cathederal, The North Jawbone. They decided on “Spiegal’s Overhang” for my first outdoor climb,  a “very easy” and popular 4 pitch Grade 10 (5.2) with a slabby Grade 14 (5.7) finish. A one and a half hour drive led into a 45 minute walk/scramble up to the base of the Jawbone. Looking up at the climb ahead, I asked myself “What have I got myself into? This looks scary! AND HIGH! I’m going to fall! I’m going to die! Oh my god I really am going to die!”

My Ass on the way up Spiegal's Overhang

My Ass on the way up Spiegal's Overhang

It was difficult, and some of the moves were hard to pull, but I was up to the task. When we arrived at the top, I said to Rich “Seriously, thank you for taking me climbing. THAT was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life!”

I didn’t fall, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t die either. My knee didn’t explode. In fact, since climbing at the gym, my knee was stronger than ever. I had tried and conquered! I was the king of the world! And Hayley didn’t feel too shabby either! It was a brilliant day, and I had a real sense of achievement afterwards. The feeling of the rock, being out in the elements, pushing my body beyond what I thought possible, facing fears, learning, thinking, activating true excitement. This was it… at this moment, at the end of several hours of climbing, I was completely addicted. I fell in love that day, and that was just the beginning of my love affair with climbing! I’d like to thank Luke and Rich for getting us involved in the best thing I’ve ever done.

Luke and Hayley on Spiegal's Overhang

Luke and Hayley on Spiegal's Overhang

Stay tuned for “Why I love climbing pt 2” coming soon to a blog near you!

Soup-Off 2009 – Get your Soup-On!

19 07 2009

The day was clear and cool yesterday, a slight but cold breeze coming up from the north. Soup-off 2009 was set to be one to remember with 11 soups to be tasted, tested and ranked, with only one possible winning soup to REIGN SOUPREME!

The troops arrive!

The crowd started to file into SOUP STADIUM (our place) at 11:30 am, the trepidation and anxious hunger obvious on all faces. Bread, bread, bread, beer, wine and other accompaniments were placed alongside one another in the kitchen, as we readied ourselves for an afternoon of clattering spoons and distended bellies.

We kicked off the competition with a superb white bacalao soup with parsley oil, served with a butter fried crudette created by Andy. This was a brilliant way to start the afternoon,and the flavour of this creamy white delight stayed with us well into the evening. Andy certainly lived up to his reputation as a fine food maker with his entry this year!

Felix and dave washing dishes between courses

Freya came next with her pumpkin soup “with a twist”. A very solid entry though there is still debaste as to what actually the “twist” was. There was definitely bacon in there, which managed to sneak past the lips of a dedicated vegetarian (looking at you Dave) without any complaints.

The third soup was also a bouillabaisse, served over a garlic mayonaise crouton, resembling a consomme. This was a subtle and well crafted masterpiece by Pablo. Very good work son!

Next was Helen’s Zuchini Zipper! This zippy little number left us all wanting more, and more we got. After we’d had our fill of zuchini, Damon and Sassi went the full 9 yards and made handmade wonton soup, both vegetarian and meat versions! The inclusion of a very asian dish at this stage of the afternoon was an inspired choice, and was very popular among the attendees.

Hand made wontons

Following this was Felix & Amber’s chicken, coconut and corriander soup, which fared very well in the voting later in the night. This was a beautifully balanced piece, and I didn’t want it to end.

We all took a but of a breather at this stage, as the amount of food we had consumed was catching up with us. We all watched the sun go down and prepared our swelling bellies for the second half off the soups.

A bit of provincial Italy came next in the form of an Italian style clam and mussel soup served up by yours truly. As tasty as it sounds, filling us up with the flavour of the ocean. Next in line was a second zuchini soup, this time called “Zuchini Mash” by Maria. This was a delightful green, and had us all drooling and wanting more, more, MORE!  Next was the french portion of the evening, with the inclusion of a French onion soup, always a favourite with the punters, served up by Monsieur Mik. Following in the European vein, the next soup was the Peasant Soup by Tanya, which was a simple soup with amazing ingredients including ham hock and duck fat. This was a realt truimph of flavours, and was a real hit, although we were all struggling to fit in any more food by this stage.

The final soup was a dessert soup of chocolate and raspberries, very rich and a wonderful way to finish the evening.

We than sat back and digested, awaiting the voting portion of the evening. We all conversed, compared notes and made our choices. Then we voted.

At then end of the evening’s votes, it was the very first soup, Andy’s Bacolao Blitz which stole the show, he had to leave early so we had to phone the news in to him. He walks away as this year’s Soup-Off champion, taking the crown from last year’s winner Felix, and basking in the glory that is this title. Well done Andy, and enjoy the winner’s wooden spoon!

Helen, Pablo, Tanya and I pretending to be koalas

That’s then end of my Soup-off 2009 report, thanks to all who came, especially the competitors, because without these soups, it would simply be an “off”. At the end of the day, Soup was the real winner here! See you all at Soup-Off 2010!