At home with Jessica Nguyen

 

Pour yourself a spritz, sit back and relax as we transport you to the most idyllic Italian inspired feast by talented home cook Jessica Nguyen (aka @jessica_nguyen_). Jess has been on our radar since the start of the year when she popped up on our feed with her super tasty, easy to follow recipes (absolutely perfect timing as we headed into lockdown). Today Jess shares a step by step recipe to create the most swoon worthy floral foccacia inspired by our Meadow White table linen, and shares her hot tips on styling the summer table of your dreams.

 

First up, thank you for being a bright spot of the a year that is otherwise a bit of a cluster f*ck. You’ve obviously been cooking for a long time, but 2020 was quite the turning point for you. Can you tell us about it?

 

Oh my absolute pleasure! So up until March this year I was working in the beauty industry as a Marketing and PR Manager. I was made redundant just as COVID-19 was announced as a pandemic. With everyone being forced to self isolate at home end of March, I decided to cook more and share all the dishes I’ve wanted to make as step-by-step recipes on my Instagram whilst trying to find a new job but accidentally, this paved the way for an unexpected career change and has now become my new career.

 

You’re in Melbourne, which has faced some extreme lockdowns this year as the world wraps it’s head around the best response to COVID-19. How has cooking helped you find some sense of normalcy in this crazy time, and what type of food (or alcohol!) do you find helps most?

 

I think lockdown has made people realise that cooking is a form of comfort, nourishment and love which is really how I’ve always seen it. I’ve always turned to cooking as a creative outlet and a way for me to unwind from a busy day or week, because its forces you to be present, get your hands a bit dirty and most of the time you generally end up with a tasty output that you can share with others.

Cooking some of my favourite dishes transports me to memories of wonderful holidays and destinations where I tried some of those dishes for the first time, so it’s also a form of escapism and lockdown longing which is why I think others have comfort in cooking during lockdown.

In terms of comforting food, anything indulgent with carbs so think pastas, breads like focaccia and roti, rice dishes etc. In terms of alcohol, I always pair the drink to the food I’m eating, so it might be a glass of Prosecco to celebrate, a fun cocktail like a margarita to go with a Mexican style dinner, a big bold glass of red wine to go with a French-style steak or a slightly sweet Riesling to go with some spicy Asian food.

 

 

We LOVE eating out, but this year has really made us crave intimate, meandering conversations or slow meals without any pressure to move on to make room for the next sitting. So we’re excited for a summer of at home entertaining! What’s your key tips for styling up the ultimate dinner party?

 

  • A fun and bright tablecloth like Kip&Co's Meadow print is the quickest way to transform a table. Looking at it instantly makes me feel happy.
  • A fun themed playlist. Here’s my Italian Playlist if you want some inspo.
  • Fresh flowers whether they’re a bunch bought from the market of a few branches clipped from your garden, flowers lift our mood and bring a table to life.
  • An easy ‘throw it all on a plate’ platter of cheese, dips, meats and bread that you can quickly place down and guests can nibble on
  • Lots of ice! As the weather get warmer you want your white wines, beers, rose all chilled and plenty of ice to shake your favourite cocktails.

 

What’s next for you?!

There are so many exciting things on the horizon but the most exciting one that I’ve been furiously working on the last few month is a new business I’ll announce very soon. It’s been the most challenging but fun project to work on, especially with other people involved in it. I do think I’m crazy to try to start a new business during lockdown and there are days were I ask myself why I decided to do it, but if this year and my circumstances have taught me anything, it’s that anything is possible and if you truly love what you do, you’ll find a way to make it work.

 

We love following your cooking tips, but who you do YOU love following for some tasty treats?

On Instagram, I actually love seeing what my friends are cooking at home on a daily basis but I follow people like @juliaostro for home cooked deliciousness, @pastagrannies for pasta inspo and therapy.

I love Netflix Food shows and documentaries like David Chang’s Ugly Delicious, Jon Favreau and Roy Choi’s The Chef Show series, Chef’s Table.

On Youtube, I love watching Binging With Babish, Josh Weismann, Sohla El-Waylly as well as 90’s and naughties throwbacks of Gordon Ramsay and Nigella Lawson.

 

Floral Foccacia

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 packet (2.5 teaspoons) of dry active yeast
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar or honey
  • 625g (5 cups) all-purpose plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 7 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan plus more for hands
  • Flaky sea salt

Your choice of toppings

  • Vegetables like: cherry tomatoes, olives, capsicums, red radish, yellow capsicums
  • Herbs like chives, oregano, basil, rosemary, dill, thyme, mint, spring onions, red onions, capers, sesame seeds
  • Cheese like: parmesan, grana padano

 

METHOD

 

  1. Mix and dissolve the honey and yeast in a bowl with 2.5 cups (625ml) for 10 minutes until it starts to activate by becoming creamy or foamy on top. This happened because the yeast is feeding on the sugar.
  2. Whilst you’re waiting for the yeast to bloom, sift your flour into a bowl and add your salt.
  3. Pour your yeast mixture into the bowl of your flour and salt and mix using a silicone spatula until a shaggy dough forms and there are no dry patches.
  4. Generously coat a clean bowl or pot that is at least double the size of your dough with oil and transfer your dough to it. Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm spot to rise for about 3-4 hours. If you want to do this the day before, you can cover it with cling wrap and place in the fridge for 8-24 hours or until it doubles in size.
  5. Generously oil a large baking pan with at least 4 tablespoons of olive oil and transfer the dough into it. Transfer your dough to the baking tray. Now gather up edges of the dough farthest from you and lift up and over into center of tray. Give the tray a quarter turn and repeat the process. Do this 2 more times as you want to deflate dough while you form it into a rough ball.
  6. Allow the dough to rest and rise again for another 1-3 hours or until it has filled the pan and doubled in size.
  7. Preheat your oven to 230 degrees Celsius. To check if the dough is ready, poke it with your finger. It should spring back slowly, leaving a small visible indentation. If it springs back quickly, the dough isn’t ready. Lightly oil your hands and gently stretch out dough to fill the tray. Dimple the focaccia all over with your fingers reaching your fingers all the way to the bottom of the pan, creating very deep holes in the dough.
  8. Decorate the tops of your focaccia by drizzling the remaining olive oil, your choice of toppings and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. You can keep it simple with some rosemary and a shaved grada padano cheese, add olives or do a cherry tomato and basil combo. If you want to be really fun, chop up your vegetables into small slices/pieces and create ‘foccacia art’ with them. You can create flowers by using chives as stalks, herbs like dill and basil for the leaves, slices of radish or capsicum for the petals and capers or a slice of cherry tomatoes for the buds. Just make sure what you put down is sliced thinly so that it will cook. The focaccia is truly your canvas!
  9. Bake focaccia until puffed and golden brown all over, 20–30 minutes.

 


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