Every blogger made the decision to start their blog. What we wanted to know was how they decided what would be their first post – and to reflect on something that has been hidden in their archives ever since. Sharking for Chips & Drinks are running the feature ‘Back to the Start’ over the next few weeks where we will introduce you to bloggers from Melbourne, Australia and much further afield. These are all great bloggers so I suggest you subscribe to their blog and follow them on Twitter.

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Right. Let’s go back to the beginning. Where were we… ahh. 2011. Having recently quit my job at a Canadian film company, I spontaneously applied for a job as the head-cooking teacher for the local council. Was I a chef? Well, no. A teacher? I had just started a teaching degree, but really, no. Did I have much experience in community service work? A little…

Really? You want to give me the job? Well! That’s great! And so started my new life.

I had always been way more obsessed with food than anyone I knew. My mum could feed me anything when I was a baby (pureed brussels sprouts anyone?). But for some reason, none of us had thought of turning my passion for eating into a career. It was that job at the council that re-awoke those all-consuming, ever-hungry food demons inside me.

I started on a food journey that has led me to working full time as a pastry chef, cooking teacher and food writer. During those beginning days, I just wanted to share these amazing experiences with someone, anyone. It was my beautiful cousin Kathleen, who lives in Arizona, who prompted me to start a blog. She has a gorgeous blog, Yum, Yarn and Yoga (yumyarnandyoga.blogspot.com), where she shares her expertise on those three Y’s. I thought – hey! I could do that!

I somehow had tasked myself with catering a large birthday party for my boyfriend. I thought it might be good ‘beginner’ blogging material. So, after everything I cooked that night, the poor guests had to stand around and wait while I photographed it. It is a tradition that has continued – friends have learned the hard way to never, ever touch the food until I’ve put away the camera. I started with recipes, moved onto stories, food events, traveling, and restaurant reviews. Now fig & walnut is just a big forum for anything food-related.

The name fig & walnut came in to my head one day when I was thinking of names for a potential future café. While that dream is still a long way off, I decided in the interim it would make a great name for my blog. There is something about the combination of those two ingredients that excites the senses. Whether as a savory accompaniment to cheese, or boiled down into a jam with rosewater, they are two ingredients that will always work together, no matter what you do with them – a perfect balance of sweet and earthy, crunchy and soft. Such is my aim with the blog – a mixture of completely different ingredients, all tied together by one integral connection: my intense love of food.

My First Post

THURSDAY, 13 OCTOBER 2011

Pizza Night

 Fig and Walnut Blog

So Eric’s birthday was on the weekend, and I thought the easiest way to cater would be to make a whole lot of pizza dough, prep the toppings, and sporadically place one in the oven. It sort of worked – I ran out of time and didn’t get to roll out the bases beforehand and found myself flouring my party dress every 20 minutes while stretching the dough out. Anyway, everyone loved it – there’s nothing like the smell of fresh pizza baking, and nothing like the taste fresh out of the oven.

I used a bread machine to knead the dough to save time – feel free to hand knead but I really feel it came out the same. Save those hands for eating!

We had heaps of leftovers so last night I threw together some pizza using all our leftovers. They were pretty good!

Let’s start with the dough:

Easy Pizza Dough

200ml filtered water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups organic plain flour
1 3/4 teaspoons dry yeast

I placed all the above ingredients in my bread machine tin, in the exact order above. My machine has a dough setting, but if you don’t have a bread machine I recommend the below hand kneading method.

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Dough should be pretty sticky. Turn out onto a LIGHTLY floured bench – don’t use too much or the extra flour will make your dough tough. Knead by hand for 8-10 minutes.

Lightly oil a mixing bowl and a piece of cling wrap. Place the dough in the bowl and leave to rise in a warm place for around 30 minutes. I’d place it in a very very low oven (aprox 32 degrees celsius) to aid the rising.

Once you have either used the hand method above or the dough setting on your breadmaker, turn out the dough onto a bench. Knead into a long ‘loaf’, and cut into 6 equal sections. I made very thin base pizzas and I actually got around 10 pizzas from it – it’s up to you what thickness you prefer.

Take each of these dough rounds and give them a good whack to start the flattening. Use a rolling pin to slowly and surely roll out to the size of your pizza stone (you can also use metal trays, these crisp the bottom just as well – make sure the tray is oiled before placing the pizza base on it to prevent sticking).

Once your bases are ready – start topping! These are some of the toppings I used last night, but feel free to make a mash up from whatever is in your fridge. The odder the combination the better always seems to work for me!

Quattro Formaggi Pizza

100grams fresh ricotta
50 grams parmesan cheese
50 grams fresh mozzarella
50 grams any other cheese – cheddar, monterey jack, tasty etc..
Organic tomato paste
Fresh basil leaves

Using the paste on the bottom, scatter all the above over the pizza!

Ricotta, Shimeji Mushroom, Caramelised Onion and Olive Tapenade Pizza

Using the Smitten Kitchen recipe for caramelized onions (i’ve gotta tell you – this is one thing you should always have in your fridge – you can store it for up to a week after cooking), we scattered chopped mushrooms, chopped spring onions over the top of ricotta and olive tapenade smeared over the base. This one was my favourite!

Smitten Kitchen’s Red Onion Marmalade (a.k.a caramelised onions)

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups thinly sliced red onions
1 1/2 teaspoons golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sugar. Cook until dark brown and tender, stirring frequently, about 16 minutes. Mix in vinegar and crushed pepper. Cook until mixture is thick, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Season marmalade generously to taste with salt and pepper. 

Sweetcorn, Fire-Roasted Bell Pepper and Ham Pizza

This was an odd one, but it grew on us – try it out with a mixture of different leftover dips.

Sweetcorn dip or relish to smear over the base
Chopped kalamata olives
Roasted capsicum (we just used the stuff from the jar, but you can make your own)
Champagne ham (we used around 150 grams per pizza. It was meaty!)
Parmesan cheese to grate over the top

Try any of your own combinations – that’s the beauty of pizza.

My Italian stepdad has one rule though when it comes to pizza – don’t overload! The fewer toppings, the better it tastes. I don’t always agree with this one but it’s hard to argue pizza with Italians!

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