Fresh Focaccia, Comin' Atcha'

Click this to go straight to the recipe

Click this to go straight to the recipe

Before the summer just gone (‘18), I had never been to Italy. I’m not really sure why, because my family love sunshine and food and those two words encapsulate everything that is great about that country. Anyway, the summer of 2018 had not one, but TWO trips in store, to the beautiful land of pizza and pasta. Because that’s the only relevant cultural significance of Italy right? Pizza and pasta? (Sidenote: if you believe the ridiculous statement above then your stomach is about to get woke by the recipe that ensues). So a road trip from the North of Italy (Genoa) to the South of France (Nice) with a few stop offs in between was what the Cheung clan had in store and it was beautiful. We visited some really pretty places and had a great time, but food wise it was eye opening. In fact, both trips to Italy were. Since becoming a vegan I was so used to going on holiday and having to order fries and a side salad, and thanks to my lactose intolerance, even before my opting out of meat and dairy I was constantly having to ask about ingredients and cooking techniques. (France is like a minefield of hidden dairy products). But Italy is different. You cross the border and suddenly asking if they cooked their mushrooms in butter is offensive because of course it would ever be olive oil. In fact olive oil was used almost universally in place of dairy products like butter or cream with the exception of cheese. But cheese is much easier to spot than melted butter.


So here I was in a new country thrilled by the opportunity to actually eat like a local and not have to order a customised salad that left you with a bowl of iceberg and tomatoes with a side of chips. Instead I could wander into a focacceria and choose from a wide selection of freshly baked focaccia that was lathered in olive oil, not butter. In fact, they were almost exclusively vegetarian so all I had to dodge was the cheesy ones and that wasn’t too difficult. It felt great to eat something that was such a staple for locals without having to alter it in any way at all. The same applied to a surprising amount of pasta dishes that relied on good quality tomatoes and fresh herbs for their powerful flavours. It wasn’t even frowned upon when I ordered a pizza with no cheese, (pizza marinara) which was apparently one of three original Neapolitan variations.

Kitten looking absolutely smitten

Kitten looking absolutely smitten

This is Teo

This is Teo


The second Italian adventure of the summer was a completely different experience and one that involved even more focaccia than the first. It came about thanks to the pride of my Italian housemate Matteo (Teo) who wanted to give us the local’s tour of his hometown, Piacenza. His family were kind enough to have us for the entirety of our stay and his wonderful mum made all nine of us dinner, every night. (We love you Amanda!). This was awesome because it meant we got to see what genuine Italian family dinners looked like. Strip back the fancy restaurant experience and you are left with some incredible food. There were slight variations made to certain dishes thanks to the extensive veganism that pervades our student house but all in all most things were left unchanged. Amanda’s fresh pesto was a personal favourite of mine, made from basil she grows on the windowsill!



We explored a lot and did some travelling, staying the night at Lake Garda before moving on to Verona. And all those long sweaty train journeys had one thing in common. They were fuelled by focaccia. Everywhere we went, Teo ensured there was an abundance of focaccia weighing down our rucksacks, god-forbid we ever got stuck somewhere! And I think this is where my love for the stuff comes from. Of course it’s delicious and incredibly therapeutic to make but I think it’s the joyous memories of holidaying in the sunshine with some of the best people I know that makes this bread so special to me. I find myself making it more and more and cannot wait to return to its beautiful country of origin to get myself the real deal once again.

Focaccia on tour

Focaccia on tour

DSC_0083.JPG


The recipe I have included below is for the base bread and a couple of variations that I love to make, however the options for toppings are endless. I often do a roast veg one which is pretty easy, just cut whatever veg you want into fairly small pieces and roast whilst you let the dough prove. It’s better, if you are pre-roasting anything, to leave it a bit on the under done side as it’s going to be going back in the oven on top of your dough for another session and you don’t want it to burn or dry out. You can do sliced olives, sliced onions, garlic and rosemary, cherry tomatoes or even plain with lashings of olive oil. The combinations are endless.

DSC_0253.JPG


P.S. Sorry for the length of this post, I got carried away…


J

Stir Fry

A stir fry is an absolute go to for me. Once you get the technique nailed it’s such an easy, quick and cheap dinner that can be made really impressive, maybe even ‘gourmet’ with a few special touches.

Stir fry is a really vague term. Like technically anything that’s put in a pan, fried and stirred is a stir fry right? Right. But all stir fries are not born equal and in this recipe I endeavour to show you the light. I mean to be fair, I have absolutely no position to dictate what a good stir fry is or is not but all I know is there are a few things you have to do every time if you want a final result that is authentic as well as tasty.

There are a few key things that you have to remember and you will be rocking. The first comes with prep. You need to think about how you are cutting your veg because some veg is harder than others and therefore cooks quicker than its thinner counterparts. There are a few ways to address this issue: either cut the hard veg (e.g carrots, green beans) small so they cook through at the same speed as the softer veg (peppers, mangetout etc…), or add the hard veg to the pan first and give them some extra time on the heat. If you are feeling extra particular about the texture of your finished stir fry or have some time to spare, you can pre-blanch things like broccoli which cook better with more water or steam but it’s absolutely not essential.

DSC_0002.JPG
DSC_0003.JPG

Another thing to consider when cooking a stir fry is seasoning. If you grew up in an asian household you’ll be familiar with a lot of the seasoning I use, but if you did not, some may be a bit alien. Although all of the ingredients included in this recipe most definitely bring additional elements to the dish, there are only a few that are essential and are mostly store cupboard classics. Garlic and ginger is so readily available from supermarkets and greengrocers and brings fresh and savoury flavours that you cannot replicate with pre-bought sauces. You can add as little or as much as you like (particularly the garlic) depending on who you might be seeing that evening.

DSC_0011.JPG
DSC_0020.JPG

Soy sauce is another ingredient that most people have already sat in their cupboard but should be used sparingly. It should be present for the sake of its flavour rather than its saltiness because too much soy sauce can really ruin a dinner. In this recipe you will see both light (traditionally what you would have at home) and dark soy sauce but the dark can be left out, it’s only really present to add colour and a bit of sweetness.

Sesame oil is not so common in a western pantry but it’s not expensive, is usually available in supermarkets and creates a much more authentic tasting Chinese vibe when included.

The final decision that needs to be made when stir frying is what carby base one wants to go with. In this example I’ve obviously used noodles which I incorporated in with the veg in the pan before serving, but rice also works perfectly well. If going with rice, however, you might want a wetter stir fry to give some sauceage to your pearly white base.

In this recipe I use some marinated jackfruit which can be substituted for any meat substituted or simply left out, just don’t forget that if you choose to leave it out this dish is pretty low in protein. Tofu works equally well!

That’s enough waffle, let’s get to it.

DSC_0023.JPG


Recipe: (Serves 1-2)

Ingredients

  • Any quick cooking veg you want, but I went with:

    • 1 Red Pepper

    • A handful of mangetout

    • A handful of green beans

    • ⅓ head of broccoli

    • A handful of mushrooms

    • Some cherry tomatoes (absolutely unauthentic but needed using up…)

  • 1 tin of unripe Jackfruit

  • 2 cloves of garlic

  • 1 inch of ginger

  • Seasoning:

    • 1 tsp light soy sauce

    • ½ tsp dark soy sauce

    • 1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine

    • 2 tsp sesame oil

    • 1 pinch of salt

    • 1 pinch of sugar

    • ½ tsp white pepper

  • Garnish: (all optional)

    • Spring onions

    • Sesame seeds

    • Coriander

    • Chinese pickles





Method:

  • If you are having rice, cook it the way you usually do (I will address this enormous can of worms in another post one day) and if you are having noodles you may need to prep them too. I use fresh udon because they can come straight out of the packet into the pan but if your noodles are dry then you may need to soak them according to the packet instructions.

  • Open the jackfruit tin and slice it into smaller bite size pieces. Some brands leave the seeds in, if so remove as many as you can. Set the jackfruit aside in a bowl with a splash of sesame oil, soy sauce and a pinch of salt and sugar to marinate whilst you prep everything else.

  • Peel and mince the garlic and ginger

  • Cut the rest of your veg into bitesize pieces (remember chinese food should always be bitesized thanks to the chopsticks it will be eaten with), taking into account what I said earlier about the hard/soft veg.

  • Put your biggest frying pan/wok onto a high heat and get the pan really hot before adding a splash of vegetable oil.

  • Once the oil is smoking hot, throw in the garlic and ginger, stirring constantly for 30 seconds until fragrant.

  • Add your veg into the pan at this point. If you have chopped your hard veg small enough you can add it all together, however, if you opted for the multiple stage approach as mentioned before then add your hard veg first until it starts to soften before adding the rest of the softer veg into the pan.

  • Now you can add all of your seasoning and stir through thoroughly.

  • I then add the udon noodles but if you are having rice of course just omit this step.

  • Once the noodles are heated through, everything is done and it’s time to serve up.

  • Dish out the contents of your pan into 1 or 2 bowls depending on how hungry you are and garnish with any or all: finely sliced spring onions, coriander and sesame seeds. I like to add a few chinese pickles on the side with a bit of chilli oil.

Getting Started

So today is the day I start work on what I hope will be a long and prosperous project. I have finally got my act together and shot my first video.

I decided I need to just get on with creating some quality content that included photos, video footage and some written text too. There’s going to be full length YouTube videos, blog posts accompanied by pictures and some shorter ‘Instagram style’ videos to keep the social media lot happy.

All the content I create will appear on my website first and foremost but I will try to link the relevant platforms (YouTube, Instagram etc…) so that everything is as connected as possible.

Anyway…

I decided to kick off the whole foody blog platform thing with a kimchi. It’s something I love to eat but have never made before and so I figured a little experiment would be a nice way to start the journey. I’ve also shot some photos from a simple Jackfruit stir fry I had for dinner which I will write up and have online soon.

In the meantime I am editing the Kimchi video whilst I await its fermentation and will have it up as soon as it’s all ready!

Thanks for reading as always

J

The Beginning

Every good story begins somewhere and I guess for us that would be here.

I have always had a love for food, mainly consuming it, but since moving away from home and commencing ‘adult’ life as a university student things have changed somewhat. There was no longer anybody to cook for me on a daily basis and so I quickly came to realise that in order to fulfil my desire for fat portions of the best munch, I’d have to take on the role of chef myself. This blog is designed as an outlet for me to share my creations with fellow students who are looking for quick and easy inspiration of the culinary kind that keeps them on budget with enough time and money left over for pub related activities.

For 18 years of my life I was a devout omnivore and considered a meal incomplete if there wasn’t some form of animal protein that came with it. Even vegetarian food that swapped meat out for cheese or eggs didn’t really cut it for me. I wanted steaks cooked rare and burgers layered with bacon and extra patties just because they looked better that way. I’ve always had a huge appetite and thought that without the meat, a meal just wouldn’t satisfy me, and then one day in March of 2017, everything got turned a bit upside down. I was on the final push of my English A-level when my teacher decided our class deserved a break and so she put on a new documentary she’d discovered on Netflix. When she told us it was about the environmental impacts of the animal agriculture industry I scoffed and tried to convince her that we should spend our precious ‘reward’ time watching something of more interest. She persisted however and I’m forever thankful that she did because the 20 minutes of ‘Cowspiracy’ that we watched that afternoon ignited in me a desire to know more about the consequences of my dietary choices. I went home that night and finished the documentary and as my mum called me downstairs for dinner (sausages and mash) I told her “I can’t eat those sausages mum”. She laughed at me, knowing how dedicated I was to the meat eating life I had lived since birth but she soon realised I wasn’t joking. I had mash for dinner that night and the next morning we went to Tesco and a new chapter in my life began. Over the next month or so I spent every night watching and reading everything I could find to try and fill what felt like an 18 year wide hole in everything I thought about living. I learned about the health benefits of living a plant based life, how much better it was for the environment, I finally allowed myself to see how cruel eating meat, eggs and dairy was and generally became more aware.

This blog is not going to preach about the negatives of an omnivorous diet. It simply serves to exemplify cheap, quick, easy vegan meals and snacks that my fellow students may benefit from. Veganism is a cheaper way to live and so is ideal for students and I just want to show you that through the medium of food, because who doesn’t like food?

As an student of English Literature, finding the time to cook is not really a big deal. I could spend most of every day in the kitchen if I wanted to but I understand that for my poor fellow students over at Med-school this isn’t the case so; firstly, shout out to anybody doing a real degree, and secondly, I hope you can find respite in knowing that good food doesn’t have to take an age, cost a fortune or be cooked by your mum.

I won’t say much more as of now because I want the food to be the focus but be sure to follow the journey as I try and grow this currently vacant web page into something more mouthwatering.