Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Italian Chicken and Sausage Tray Bake


Chicken and sausage Italian Tray bake, one tray cooking, originates from the Italian Tuscan Hills with enormous Mediterranean flavours. This is an adaptation of Nigella Lawson's Italian Traybake recipe from her Nigellissima cookbook, published in 2012. This cookbook still stands proudly on my bookshelf. I can't remember how many times I have baked this dish since I first bought this book shortly after it was published, and it has never failed me. In fact I am more of a fan than ever. 

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Rosemary Sourdough Focaccia Bread

It's the "Silly Season" when Focaccia bread is perfect to serve to friends with a Grazing Platter or a Charcuterie board and to take to a Christmas party. I've taken a long break from breadmaking for a number of reasons, and consequently I haven't been feeding my Sourdough "Mother" as often as I should. Trying not to eat too much bread which is impossible when I make my own, lack of time, lack of availability of the flour I like to use, travel, all of these things meant that I have sometimes fed my sourdough Mother sparingly just enough to keep her alive in the refrigerator. That sounds awful doesn't it? However, a few days ago I decided a good place to start with breadmaking again would be to make Focaccia. It's delicious and substitutes perfectly for crackers and biscuits. It makes a really nice change. We have an old and faithful rosemary bush growing in our front garden which keeps soldiering on and produces wonderful flavours in so many dishes, and particularly in this bread, and a batch of focaccia doesn't take as long to make as a sourdough loaf does. It's a perfect choice at this time of year.

I fed my sourdough Mother jars with plain flour and water, I have three Mothers now, as she has grown over the years. I placed two jars back in the refrigerator and left the other one out to ferment, and two days later she rewarded me by bubbling away happily. This is a refresh of a post I wrote a few years ago, and hopefully will inspire me and you too my friends to start baking some sourdough as a weekly tre in the New Year, to not only stretch the budget, but to also keep healthy as sourdough is great for the gut. 

I was recently told by a dietician friend, that sourdough bread is most nutritious if baked long and slow, like most foods, so that is one of my projects for 2023, to research the best way to bring the best sourdough qualities out in my bread. Even though the dough has a slow overnight rising process, apparently the bread needs to bake long and slow as well, for maximum health benefits. I'd love to hear from you if you already bake your sourdough loaves this way.

Let's Bake some Sourdough Focaccia Bread:

This is how I make my Sourdough Rosemary Focaccia Bread. There are also plenty of recipes around for how to make this with instant yeast if you don't have a sourdough starter which will still be delicious. To substitute instant powdered yeast for sourdough starter, replace 100 g of starter with 5-7 grams of instant powdered yeast, or 12-15 grams of fresh bakers yeast.


Steeping the rosemary: 12 hours
Mixing and kneading: 15 minutes
First rising: 2 hours
Proofing: 1 hour 30 minutes
Baking: 15-20 minutes


Makes 1 large focaccia, about 940 g., leftovers can be frozen. It reheats well.
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 30g (2 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 500 g (4 cups) plain flour
  • 295 g (1 1/3 cup) lukewarm water 
  • 100 g (1/2 cup) liquid sourdough starter that is very active and bubbling, or substitute 5-7 grams of instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant powdered yeast (which I used) or if you can get it, use 7 g (2 1/2 teaspoons) fresh bakers yeast, in addition to the sourdough starter
  • 10 g (2 teaspoons) salt
  • Sea salt flakes for sprinkling
The night before, remove the leaves from the fresh rosemary sprigs and mix them with the olive oil. Leave them to steep overnight at room temperature. If you forget to do this the night before, add the rosemary to the olive oil the next morning, and warm up the olive oil and rosemary together in your microwave. This will help to soften the rosemary.

I kneaded my dough by hand so I will give instructions for using a stand mixer and for doing it by hand.


Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a large well in the centre. Pour in half the water, then add the sourdough starter, yeast, and salt. Mix well, then add the rest of the water and knead until all the flour has been incorporated. Add the rosemary and the steeping oil. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. If you think the dough is a little dry, wait until you've added the oil and rosemary before adding more water.

I always knead my sourdough by hand, however there isn't really much kneading needed for this recipe. If you prefer to use the dough hook in your Stand Mixer, here is a method for that process. 


Put the flour, water, sourdough starter, yeast, and salt in the bowl. Knead with the dough hook for 5 minutes at low speed, then for 10 minutes at high speed. Add the rosemary and the steeping oil around 3 minutes before the end of the kneading time.

Shape the dough into a ball, cover with a damp cloth, and leave to rise for 2 hours in a warm spot. Midway through the rise, deflate the dough by folding it in half. By the end of the rising time it will have increased in volume.

Put the dough in a shallow baking pan lined with baking paper. 

Stretch the dough with your hands to make a flat piece that fills a 40 x 30 cm pan, or 16 x 12-inch pan. I used one of my old baking dishes. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to proof for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Ensure the pan is deep enough for rising.

Place a baking tray on the bottom shelf of your oven and preheat to 230 deg C. (or 450 deg. F.) Use the tips of your fingers to press small holes over the surface of the focaccia. Pour a little oil into the holes and sprinkle with salt flakes.

Just before you put the focaccia in the oven, pour 1/4 cup or 50 g of water into the baking dish in the bottom of your oven.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Remove from the oven when beautifully browned, turn out the focaccia , and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Slice into squares or tear apart. Mr. HRK loves the rustic approach by tearing a Focaccia loaf into pieces, no photo available unfortunately. Focaccia pieces are also delicious dunked in good quality olive oil, and then into Dukkah. This is a very simple way to eat it.

However one time he excelled himself and cut it into perfect shapes. 

Stay safe, healthy, and Covid free, it's on the rise again unfortunately.

Warm wishes,


Thursday, December 8, 2022

In My Kitchen, December 2022

This is the Christmas Edition of In My Kitchen, and 'tis the season for baking. This also means my friends, that it's the season for Mangoes and Lychees here in tropical North Queensland. Bowen Mangoes which are the best to buy in our humble opinion, were costing $15.00 a bucket at our local market last Saturday. Just this morning we picked up a bucket for $12.00 from a roadside stall, and a bag of lychees. Bowen is just a couple of hours North from us. The lychees were a bit more expensive, the first of the season, but we couldn't resist them, they are a precious commodity, and for Christmas holidays only. We'll be freezing, dehydrating and eating mangoes for the next month, and then eating frozen mango with ice cream and yoghurt for the rest of the year. Dried mango is great for just snacking on. We'll also be looking out for the Common mangoes from backyard trees, strictly for making delicious Mango Chutney with, which we traditionally eat with our Christmas ham.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Vanilla Custard made from Scratch

There are so many beautiful things involved with cooking your own custard. The result is just delightful. Making your own, without a packet of Foster Clark's custard powder to be seen is a labour of love, but so well worth it. Allow an hour max to make it. On the day of THE big event such as Christmas lunch, if you making it to have with Plum Pudding or dessert or even for an evening dinner, I would suggest making it first thing in the morning, even before you open the presents, and then it's done. In my part of the world in North Queensland, that's how we beat the heat on Christmas Day. Your custard will keep in a covered jug, on your kitchen bench until you are ready to serve it. This recipe is Part 2 to my previous post on how to cook your own Christmas Plum Pudding. This is the perfect custard recipe to serve with your Plum Pudding, with Apple Crumble, or another type of fruit crumble.

Using a precious Vanilla Pod is very special and gourmet in cooking, and brings a unique flavour to the custard. However, Vanilla Custard was made from scratch many years ago before we had access to vanilla pods, so good quality vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste will still work beautifully. It is definitely acceptable to substitute vanilla extract for the vanilla pod. However, vanilla essence can be of poor quality, so it is preferable to use a teaspoon of vanilla extract, not essence, or a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste will still disperse those beautiful flavours of vanilla through your custard.

 Did you know you can make your own vanilla extract quite easily by steeping 3 vanilla beans in 1/2 a cup of cheap vodka for about 4 weeks. This is all that vanilla extract is. You can find out more about how to make your own vanilla extract in a previous post I have written, at this link.

Before I made this jug of custard I compared Jamie Oliver's recipe to my family recipe, the one that we always used at home, and the only real difference was the use of the vanilla bean. There are many fancier ways of making vanilla custard from scratch, and Jamie Oliver has a great video and recipe which uses cream and milk and serves more people, but I am happy to use this more cost effective one, using more full cream milk and without the bottled cream. On Christmas Day, a custard without even more calories suits me just fine. It still tastes delicious and with a beautiful consistency.


Makes 500 ml, and serves 4-6 people. Allow an hour cooking time

600 ml full cream milk

4 large and very fresh free-range egg yolks

1 vanilla bean

2 tablespoons caster sugar

1 tablespoon cornflour


Halve the vanilla bean down the middle lengthways and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites, and if you don't intend to use the whites in the short term, I suggest you store them in a covered container in the freezer for that pavlova you are making in the future.

 Add both the bean and the seeds to a saucepan on a medium-low heat, pour in the milk and bring the milk just to the boil. You will know this is starting to happen when light steam evaporates off the milk.

Take the saucepan off the stove, and leave to cool slightly, then remove the vanilla beans.

Meanwhile whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and cornflour until pale. (I started this before I heated up the milk.) My eggs never became really pale as I used large, organic, free range eggs from a local supplier. They were expensive, but I thought it was worth it.

Pour a ladle of milk into the bowl and whisk well.  

Then gradually add the warm milk, a ladle at a time, whisking well each time.

Pour the milk mixture back into the saucepan and cook gently on a low heat for about 20 minutes or until thickened, lightly whisking continuously in a figure of 8 motion. Please don't leave the stove or allow yourself to be interrupted during this process. It's only for 20 minutes at the most. Your reliable kitchen apprentice could help with this. 

To check if the custard is thickened, dip a wooden spoon into the custard, and run your finger along the back of the spoon. If this leaves a line through the custard it is thick enough.

This custard is delicious served with Christmas Plum Pudding, and any type of fruit crumble. You can find the link to my recipe for Christmas Plum Pudding here.

To quote Mr. HRK and our beautiful daughter, you can never have too much custard.

Warm wishes