Here we are in the third chapter of the Holiblogs (holiday blogs) with Olaiya from Milly's Kitchen. Originally I had a completely different idea for this post. But then– bread happened. Okay wait, first my period happened and then bread happened. Because I want one hundred slices of bread, then chocolate (and repeat for five days) during my period. And just like that, the universe demanded it from me. And when the universe (or your period, is it the same thing?) requests bread so intensely, you do not refuse. Olaiya has brought us a slow roasted pork this week, but more importantly some pertinent questions to ponder over the holidays regarding what truly feels good and what we do out of habit or obligation. If you are feeling stressed and running on autopilot, take five minutes and give it a full-attention read. In the same vein, I've got some more holiday party tips in this post that help you plan a menu with the goal of ease. Let's remove the stress around entertaining and bring it back to some good old fashioned fun and wearing lamp shades on our heads.
This week I'm bringing you an easy-to-make potato cheddar focaccia. Bread is more than a food. To me, it's the most human of all foods because of the history, love and comfort that radiate from every loaf. We share more than food with people when we “break bread"– we share time, an experience and thoughts or ideas. Someone's “bread and butter" is their livelihood or sustenance. “A crust of bread" has sustained countless people throughout human existence. There is nothing more I love than a warm slice bread with a pad of butter and sprinkle of salt. It never gets dull because it's simple in the most delicious way. Imagine a world without sandwiches, pizza, bagels, or cake. And what would we do without avocado toast?! I mean, I don't even want to think about it.
Bread is a perfect addition to any holiday feast, a snack between meals or a gift for a gathering. This is a no nonsense bread. It's uncomplicated and a success every time. You can change up the toppings with whatever you like. It's dairy free with removal of the cheese, bacon is always welcome or a simple herb/spice mixture on top will do fine.
Holiday Party Tips (section three)
Planning The Menu
The most important thing about creating a menu is to plan ahead. This results in less stress, more time and energy to enjoy yourself with loved ones. I say less is more at a dinner party. Keep it simple and consider the following when planning your menu.
Will the menu be seasonal or is there a theme?
Are you going for your traditional holiday foods? Or from somewhere else? How about Swedish Christmas? Smorgasbords, baked goods with cardamom, glogg, meatballs, pickled herring and gravlax. Or if you're feeling those English vibes– yorkshire puddings, a turkey (or roast) + gravy, pigs in a blanket and a classic Christmas pudding for dessert. One year my family did a Seafood Christmas. We shucked oysters, seared scallops and shrimp with lots of sauces and fresh salads. It was a nice change from turkey dinner and took very little time to prepare. Plus we didn't end up in a turkey-potato-wine induced coma. A theme is a good place to start if you're feeling lost.
What is your budget?
This feels like a hinderance when I'm initially dreaming up my diamond crusted lobsters with caviar served in a shark's mouth (for effect!). But deciding on a budget can be fun because you have a chance to be creative within a limit. Many low cost dishes can be impressive without being labour intensive. You can opt for cheaper cuts of meat and stew them down for hours so they melt in your mouth. Add small amounts of high flavour ingredients like capers, bacon, infused oils, etc. Although these things can be a little more expensive, small amounts go a long way.
Are there any dietary restrictions of guests?
(More mentioned in section one of Holiday Party Tips). Making dietary adjustments to dishes can be easy and a good learning experience. Many dishes can easily become dairy free, gluten free, nut free etc.
Number of guests
This will help you decide what style of food to serve. Any more than four people and I opt with serve-yourself-style meals. Almost all the prep and cooking is done before the arrival of guests. Food can be dished on to plates in the kitchen if space is tight. More than six people and I like paper plates and platter style foods with simple drinks (wine/beer or punchbowl) opposed to making cocktails. All the food can be laid out before everyone arrives and at most heat up a dish or two when ready to eat. This cheeseball from the previous post is perfect for any size gathering and works as an appetizer or part of the spread.
What can be prepared before the gathering?
A good goal is to spread out the work so you don't become overwhelmed or too tired to enjoy yourself. Plan a meal where all the shopping is done at once, prepare a few dishes (or at least parts of them) before the day of the party. It is best to plan for dishes that are easy to cook or assemble the day of. Then you can focus on other things like cleaning up, adding decorations or picking a great playlist.
How many dishes to serve
This all depends on what kind of food you serve. If choosing platter foods you can have as many items as you like as they're served cold or at room temperature. Make sure the flavours match well as people will put a little of everything on their plates. If making a full dinner, I suggest one main and two sides. People always prefer a few delicious dishes, opposed to an array of mediocre ones. You can have small plates such as olives, pickles, bread or cheese to start. All can be arranged before guests arrives. Consider buying one element of the meal locally (eg. a dessert from the great bakery down the road) to save yourself some time and energy.
How to create contrast in meals
Contrast is key. Always consider your colours and textures throughout the meal planning. Most brown foods are delicious, but nothing looks more frumpy than a plate of soft beige and brown foods. Choose foods with an array of colours. Suggestions:
Add chopped green herbs or green onions to a bland coloured dish.
Slices or wheels of citrus can brighten a plate.
Radish in a salad makes for complimentary colours while also adding a crisp texture.
Top meats with a sauce for flavour and colour.
Texture + Flavour
Think about having a variety of textures like soft, crunchy, silky, chewy, crispy. You do not need them all, just avoid the same texture throughout all your dishes.
Refrain from using the same cooking method for each (eg. everything fried).
Avoid too many intensely flavoured dishes or it will overwhelm the palate.
Balance a heavy or spicy dish with a bright and light side. (eg. the reason a crisp vinegar slaw works with rich barbecue meats).
A few recipes to consider for your holiday meals
(all can be made the day before)
Blueberry Tarragon Gravlax– very easy and impresses guests.
Stilton Pear Cheeseball with Pistachios + Pink Peppercorns– who doesn't love a cheese ball!?
Beet Pickled Eggs– ideal for a platter style feast or an appetizer.
Pumpkin Chocolate Bread Pudding(dairy free)– one of the most delicious desserts I've made. If making in advance, reheat before serving for 10 minutes. Top with ice cream or whipped cream.
Ginger Hibiscus Switchel– this beverage is a beautiful bright red. Perfect for people who aren't drinking (or on a detox) but you can also add vodka to if you fancy a cocktail.
Tangerine Olive Oil Cake– I've made this cake many times and it's always a hit. Also it's the easiest cake; one bowl, one whisk, and a few ingredients. It lasts for days and is great with coffee or wine. or both.
On measuring flour
I highly recommend to use a kitchen scale when baking. Measuring by the cupful is inaccurate and will leave you with a lot more flour than needed which makes your baked goods dry and doughy. If you do not have a kitchen scale use the following method to measure flour and it will yield you better results.
- Fluff up flour in bag/container with a spoon for a few seconds.
- Using the spoon, scoop flour by the spoonful into your measuring cup.
- Level the top of the measuring cup with a knife or finger. By using this method you end up with a more accurate amount of flour than by scooping directly from the bag since flour will pack itself tightly. This method adds air (an easy sifting method).
On proofing bread (letting it rise)
The yeast in bread will act quicker in warmth and slower in cold. If your dough doesn't rise, the problem is either that the yeast is inactive (here's how to test your yeast to know) or it is too cold. In the winter, I make my bread rise faster by placing my dough (covered) in the oven with ONLY the light on. The oven temperature is NOT on, only the light. This creates an ample of warmth for the bread to rise. In the summer if my apartment is very warm then this is not necessary.
On machine mixing vs hand kneading
This dough recipe requires a stand mixer with dough hook, but it can be kneaded by hand if you don't have access to a mixer. Use this method instead:
Follow step one. Add flour, salt and thyme to a large bowl and whisk until evenly combined. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add yeast mixture and olive oil. Mix and bring together with a wooden spoon. Heavily flour a flat surface (it's a very wet sticky dough). Knead the dough using a folding action. Continue folding the edges into the centre of the dough for about 5 minutes until your dough in springy. Continue steps 3 and 4.
Hoping your week is full of holiday love!
POTATO CHEDDAR + ONION FOCACCIA
inspiration: carb cravings
the feels: soft, chewy, crunchy
eat with: butter, olive oil and balsamic, cold meats, as a sandwich, dipped in soup, fried eggs, salad, pasta, chili oil
might like if you're into: carbs on your period, binging Netflix, lying to yourself by saying you'll have just one slice, winter hibernation, The Great British Bakeoff
makes one large or two small focaccia (8 to 10 servings) || prep time: 40 mins to 2 hours bake time: 20 mins
- 375 g (2.5 cups) unbleached all purpose flour (see notes for measuring flour if you do not have a kitchen scale)
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 + 1/4 cup (310 ml) warm water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (2 for dough and 1 for drizzling before baking)
- 1 small (or half a large) russet potato, peeled and very thinly sliced (mandolin works best)
- 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (for potatoes)
- 1 cup grated old cheddar cheese
- 2 to 3 green onions, sliced in half lengthwise
- small handful of chives
- flakey sea salt (Maldon)
- few sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)
- Add honey to warm water and whisk until combined. Pour yeast on top and mix. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes. The yeast should fully dissolve and bubble.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer add the flour, salt, and thyme. (If you do not have a stand mixer and want to knead by hand, see the recipe notes above). Whisk until evenly combined. Make a well in the middle of the bowl. Pour yeast/water mixture and two tablespoon of olive oil. Attach dough hook to kitchen stand mixer, turn on low and let mix for five minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Dough is ready when it begins to climb dough hook and look evenly combined. This is a wet dough so it will be sticky and will not come together in a ball as other some doughs do.
- Cover with tea towel or plastic wrap and let rise for thirty minutes up to two hours. The dough is ready when it has at least doubled in size. The longer (or warmer) the better. (read recipe notes above on how to speed up the rising process). While bread is proving, slice your potato and toss in 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
- Preheat oven to 400ºF and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Dump dough onto tray. spread out with fingers into one large rustic shape or separate dough and make into two or three smaller shapes. Sprinkle on half the cheddar cheese, lay on thin potato slices, and add the onions, chives, and thyme (if desired). Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil on top of the bread. I brush a little more on the sides of the bread where there are no toppings. Bake for 20 minutes or until bread begins to start turning golden. Remove from oven, add second half of cheese, turn oven to broil and return bread to oven for about 3 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and bread looks crispier. Let cool for 3 minutes and add a sprinkle of flakey sea salt. Let fully cool.