Saturday, 31 October 2015

Halloween spiced ginger cake

I love a really sticky and spicy ginger cake. It's the sort of food that seems so appropriate for this time of year, when the clocks have gone back, the temperature is dropping and the landscape is changing from the lush green of summer to the austere bleakness of winter.

It's also a time for celebration with Halloween and Bonfire Night just a week apart. And it also provides a gentle introduction to the spice fest that is the Christmas feasting period.

I made this cake earlier in the week and decided to give it a Halloween feel by adding skull and bone marshmallows that I found in a local shop. However I normally serve it on its' own, with a cup of tea or coffee and snuggled down beside the fire.

One word of warning however, do not serve this the day you make it. It will be quite dry and uninspiring. What it needs is to be wrapped in foil and stored in a cool place for at least three days to allow the flavours to develop and the cake to take on its' sticky moreish characteristics. If you can bear to wait a full seven days, then even better.

Because I like a really ginger taste in mine, I have used both dried and fresh ginger. If you are using fresh, then you can be as daring as you want, my quantities are just a guideline. If too much spice is not your thing,then you can just stick to the dried spices. Anyway I hope you enjoy and look forward to receiving your comments.

I made my cake in a 7 inch tin; you can make it in an 8 inch but it will be slightly flatter.


175 grams of black treacle
40 grams of soft brown sugar, either light or dark but dark will give you a fuller flavour
75 grams of unsalted butter
175 grams of plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon of mixed spice
A 20 gram of piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
100ml of whole milk
2 eggs, beaten


First of all grease and line the base of your cake tin and heat the oven to 170 degrees (fan)

Next place the treacle, butter and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until melted and combined. You will need to stir a couple of time to prevent the butter and sugar burning and sticking to the bottom. Set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile sift the flour, ginger, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl.

Grate the ginger into the treacle/butter/sugar and stir well. Pour into the dry ingredients.

Next add the milk, followed by the beaten eggs. Mix quickly and thoroughly as the bicarbonate of soda will start working once the wet ingredients are added. Pour into the prepared cake tin. Do not worry at this stage, the batter will be very liquid.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for between one hour and one hour and fifteen minutes (test after and hour). The cake is cooked when a skewer comes out clean.

When cooked remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, before removing and leaving to cook on a rack. When cool wrap in foil and leave in a cool place for a minimum of three days.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Storecupboard sweetcorn fritters

I've been making sweetcorn fritters for a while. They are really quick and easy, children love them and they are really great for lunchboxes. They also make a good addition to a buffet or barbecue for any vegetarians. And children seem to love them, at least the children I cook them for that is.

Now I love sweetcorn but my husband does not, or so he says. He'll have it in a chowder and likes home made popcorn but as for the stuff on the cob, we'll that is a complete no go area. So I often have either tinned or fresh corn that I need to use.

Most, if not all, the ingredients are staples in my fridge or cupboards. You can adapt it to suit you, take out the coriander if you are cooking for a coriander-phobe and substitute for parsley. Likewise the chilli if you have small children who may find it too hot for their palates. To be honest I adapt it all the time depending on what is available.

You can either serve them hot from the pan with a salsa, salad or ketchup or just leave them to go cold and refrigerate for another day. And of course of you are cooking for a crowd just increase the quantities. You don't have to be gluten free either - regular flour and baking powder works just as well, I was just experimenting with the gluten free alternative as part of my decision to cut down on gluten. It worked perfectly and to be honest I could not tell the difference.

The quantities below will make 10 fritters using teaspoons to measure out the batter. If I use dessertspoons I tend to get about six large ones. If you have a flat non-stick griddle pan then you won't need to use any oil to cook them.


200 grams of tinned sweetcorn or 2 ears fresh with the cobs cut off
2-3 spring onions, depending on thickness
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh coriander, or any other herb of your choice
1 egg, beaten
Half a red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
50 grams of plain flour, either gluten-free or regular
Half a teaspoon of baking powder, either gluten-free or regular
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
Olive oil, for cooking


Non-stick saute pan or flat griddle pan

Combine the corn, onions, herbs, egg and chilli if using in a food processor with the blade attachment. If you don't have a food processor then you can use a hand blender. Process until you have a rough mix, you still want pieces of corn.

Add the flour, baking powder and seasoning and mix with a spatula to combine.

Heat either the saute or griddle pan. If using a pan pour a thin film of oil to coat. When hot, dollop spoonfuls of the mix in and cook for 2-3 minutes before flipping and cooking for another two minutes. Remove and drain on a kitchen towel, then repeat the process until all the mix has been used.

Either serve straight away or keep in the fridge for a couple of says. If reheating, then I suggest you put in a 160 oven, instead of microwaving.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

20 minute vegan chilli

I've been experimenting with meat-free meals that can be pulled together quickly using store cupboard ingredients. The sort of thing that can be prepared at the end of a long day, or when you need to cook for unexpected guests and discover that they do not eat meat.

I am also looking at ways of deceasing the amount of gluten in my diet for health reasons. With that in mind I decided to make a revised version of one of my favourite chilli recipes. This one will serve four people, but can be scaled up or down accordingly. The spices I used were labelled as gluten free on the pack, it is always best to check however that the manufacturer has not added an anti-caking agent containing gluten.

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 or 2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped depending on how hot you want it, seeds removed.
2 x 400g tins of lentils in water, drained and rinsed
1 x 400g tin of mixed beans in water, rinsed and drained
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons of Hendersons Relish, or equivalent. If you use Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce it won't be either gluten free or vegan.
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a saucepan or saute pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for around five minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the tomato puree and cook for a 2-3 minutes followed by the cumin, coriander, paprika and chillies and cook for a further two minutes.

Next add the lentils, beans, tomatoes and Hendersons Relish (or Worcester Sauce). Turn down the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes until the sauce has reduced slightly. Season to taste and serve with plain boiled white rice.

If you have more time, this mixture also works well as a filling for enchiladas made with either gluten free or regular flour, or cooked for longer to thicken the sauce and used to stuff red peppers.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Masala mashed potatoes

Now that I have given up work full time and am doing my own thing, as well as pursuing my culinary passions, I have started to play around with new ideas for old favourites.

Mashed potato is, in my opinion, one of the ultimate comfort foods. Hot and steaming, with loads of butter and milk (or cream if you are feeling in need of some extra comfort), it is guaranteed to make you feel good. And of course you can make it even more comforting by mixing in some cheese or leeks like I do when I am using it as a cottage pie topping.

As delicious as it is however, it is not the healthiest of foods, especially if you are watching your weight or need to follow a low fat diet for health reasons. With that in mind, and some herbs and spices in the fridge which I needed to use up, I wondered if I could do something a little healthier.

I originally used this mix to stuff peppers as part of a vegan and gluten free dinner, but have since discovered that it goes equally as well with sausages, roast chicken or stuffed into flatbreads or dhosas and served with chutneys. It is also great served in a bowl on its' own!

The quantity below fills four peppers generously, but you can scale the quantities up if serving as part of a meal.

300g potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
3tbsp sunflower oil or light olive oil
½tsp yellow or black mustard seeds
½tsp cumin seeds
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 fresh green chilli, finely chopped. Take the seeds out if you prefer a milder chilli heat
½tsp ground turmeric
1tsp garam masala
50g raw peanuts or cashews, chopped
1tsp salt, or to taste
2tbsp fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
1tbsp lemon juice

Place the potatoes in a pan with water, bring to the boil and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until soft. Drain and allow to cool slightly. When cool place in a bowl and mash roughly with a fork, what you want is a textured mash. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wide, shallow frying pan. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, place the lid on and allow the seeds to pop. Do not be tempted to lift the lid as the seeds will fly all over the place.

Next add the onion and chilli to the pan and fry for 10 minutes until soft. Then add the tumeric, garam masala and nuts and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, taking care not to burn the nuts.

Add the potato, salt, coriander and lemon juice to the pan and heat through before serving.

Monday, 31 August 2015

20 minute chocolate chip cookies

There's many an occasion when I am asked to produce something sweet for visitors, or last minute trips to family.

Now the only trouble with this is that you need to have an array of ingredients to hand. What I do is keep a small, but select number of staples to hand so that if required, I can conjure up a batch of cookies quickly either to eat immediately or to transport to friends. It is so much quicker and easier than making a cake and you can always have the staples on hand for when required. This recipe makes between 14 and 16 cookies, they are also the soft kind but freeze really well for those of you who like to exercise self-control over their sweet tooth!

My default recipe is:

125 grams of unsalted butter
175 grams of sugar, I tend to use half caster and half soft brown, but you can do all caster or a mix of the caster and soft brown in any proportion you like
1 large egg
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
150 grams of plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
100 grams of chocolate, roughly chopped. This can be either dark, milk, white, or any combination of these three

To start, preheat the oven to 190 degrees fan or gas mark 5

Next, melt the butter on a saucepan over a low heat. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes.

In the meantime, weigh out the sugar(s) into a large mixing bowl. Then add the melted butter and mix well until everything is combined.

Next add the vanilla extract, followed by the egg. Mix well until thoroughly combined.

Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder and add to the wet mixture. Mix until the dry ingredients have been fully incorporated, but do not overmix. Finally fold in the chopped chocolate.

To shape the cookies, drop dessertspoons of the mixture on to two large baking sheets lined with either baking parchment, or if you are like me bake-o-glide. Leave space between them as they spread when cooking. If you want to have even sized cookies, you can use an ice-cream scoop, but I prefer the more rustic looking cookie.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden. If you are using a higher proportion of brown sugar, you need to check after 8 minutes to avoid burning. Remove the cookies from the oven, allow to cook on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool. The cookies will harden as they cool, but remain soft set.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Smoked haddock pilaf

A pilaf is something that I turn to often. When I've had a long day at work, or arrived home after a few days of hotel food and want something comforting, a pilaf is a quick and easy option. Once you have done the preparation, it looks after itself leaving me to unpack, have a shower, etc before dinner. Sometimes I use quorn chunks when I want a vegetarian alternative, but more often or not, it tends to be smoked haddock.

You can vary the recipe considerably. Nigella Lawson has a wonderful version containing chicken and nuts in her Nigella Summer book. Some people like to put hard boiled eggs into theirs, but that makes it more of a kedgeree. And you can vary the herbs too, if I have enough chives hanging about in the garden I tend to snip those in. If not then if I have some parsley or coriander in the fridge then that is what I'll use.

Now I'm not a keen egg eater. I use them in baking and general cooking of course, but generally it is a rare occasion when I will tuck into a fried egg or omlette. However my husband is partial to a soft poached egg, so I tend to add one to the top of the dish so that he can tear it open and allow the runny yolk to sink into the rice. If you wanted to do so, you could poach the eggs in advance, shock in cold water and then reheat on top of the dish during its' resting time.

My version is below. I hope you will give it a go and maybe even enjoy it. It's easy enough to scale up for more people, all you need is a bigger casserole dish.

For two people:

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of garam masala
125 grams of basmati rice
1 bay leaf
Zest of half an unwaxed lemon, peeled
1 green chilli finely chopped, or quarter of a teaspoon of chilli flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
190ml of chicken or vegetable stock
250grams of smoked haddock, preferably undyed and skin on
half of a small bunch of spring onions, finely sliced, using all of the white parts and as much of the green as possible
1 tablespoon of chopped herbs of your choice - it could be chives, parsley or coriander
Lemon juice, to serve
1 soft poached egg per person

Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4

Start by heating the oil in a casserole dish. When the oil is warm, add the garam masala and gently cook for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir to ensure that all the grains are coated in the mixture.

Add bay leaf, lemon zest and chilli followed by the stock. Bring to a simmer and place the fish on top. You may need to cut the fish into pieces to fit in one layer. Push the fish into the stock, place a lid on a put in the oven for anywhere between 15 to 20 minutes. I tend to check after 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to stand, with the lid on for five minutes.

Take off the lid, skin the fish and break up into flakes. Gently stir in the spring onions, herbs and fish with a fork. What you do is ensure that the grains of rice remain separate. Place a clean tea towel over the dish, replace the lid and leave for another five minutes. This ensures that any excess moisture is absorbed and you are left with fluffy rice.

While the rice is resting bring a pan of water to a simmer. Add a drop of vinegar, stir with a fork to create a swirling motion and drop the eggs in, one at a time. When poached to your liking remove and drain.

Serve the pilaf in warm bowls and squeeze over some lemon juice. Top with the poached egg and serve.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

A new family favourite

I'm a big fan of Yotam Ottolenghi. Any chef who is a self-confessed meat lover and writes a book totally devoted to vegetarian recipes demands respect, when you consider that the likes of Gordon Ramsey has said that veggies should be shot. And a lot of top chefs seem reluctant to embrace a meat free lifestyle, even if it is only for the odd day or so.

I need to make a confession here, for the best part of 20 years I was a strict vegetarian. However numerous trips to France and getting sick of either omlette or salad for dinner meant that I had to think seriously about whether it was a viable full-time option. There was no moral reason behind it, I would regularly cook meat and fish for friends and family but not eat it myself.

Well I started dipping my toe into the flesh eating water, so to speak, with a delicious dish of perch baked in a salt crust, in a restaurant in Angouleme. And I was hooked. I then went on to seafood and then chicken, but red meat is something that I still do not eat or enjoy the taste of. That said I am still predominantly vegetarian, aided and abetted by my husband who made a conscious decision before I met him to decrease his meat consumption.

Anyway, back to Yotam. A couple of years ago I was given a copy of his book "Jerusalem" by my step-daughter as a Christmas present. So I started working my way through it. One recipe that caught the attention of my eye, and stomach, is roasted chicken with clementines and arak. It might sound strange, but the combination of aniseed and citrus works perfectly and makes for a wonderful one tray dinner. I do not add anything but you might want to serve with a salad or some couscous to mop up the juices. And the leftovers taste even better the next day.

If you don't have arak, don't worry, I don't either. What I have used is Ouzo which sits in our drinks cabinet, a gift from one on my husband's PhD students. You can also use pastis too, just make sure that the booze is aniseed flavoured.

I have also amended the recipe slightly, Yotam's recipe calls for a whole chicken, but as finding an organic whole one can prove problematical, I have started using either leg or thighs and drumsticks. If you can marinate overnight then that is preferable, if not then a couple of hours will be fine.

The recipe, courtesy of Mr Ottolenghi, and broadly reproduced from his book is below:

100ml of arak, ouzo, pastis etc
4 tbsp of olive oil
3 tbsp of freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tbsp of lemon juice
2 tbsp of grain mustard
3 tbsp of soft brown sugar
500 grams of fennel
1 organic chicken divided into eight pieces, or equivalent quantity of chicken legs or thighs and drumsticks. The total weight should be 1.3 kilos.
4 clementines, unpeeled and sliced into 0.5cm slices
1 tbsp of thyme leaves
2 1/2 tsp of fennel seeds, lightly crushed
salt and black pepper
chopped flat leaf parley to garnish

Start by combining the first six ingredients in a large bowl together with 2 teaspoons of salt and one and a half teaspoons of black pepper and whisk to mix.

Trim the fennel and slice in half lengthways, then cut each half into four, keeping the root on. Add to the marinade.

Add the chicken pieces, clementines, thyme, fennel seeds and mix well. Cover and leave to marinade in the fridge overnight if possible, but if you are short of time then a couple of hours will do.

When you are ready to cook, preheat an oven to 200c/200c fan or gas mark 7. Transfer the mixture to a roasting tray large enough to accommodate everything in a single layer. Make sure that the chicken is skin side up. Place in the oven and cook for between 35 and 45 minutes, until the chicken is coloured and cooked through.

Remove the chicken, fennel and clementines from the tray and place on a plate. Cover with foil and keep warm. Place the juices in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer until the mixture is reduced, you should be left with about 80ml. Pour the sauce over the chicken, garnish with parsley and serve.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Lentil Chilli

I have been playing around with a few different vegetarian chilli recipes for a while now.

Through trial and error, I seem to have found a combination that my husband loves. I thought that I would share it with you.Please feel free to feedback if you like.

So my chilli tonight is:

1 white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of tomato puree
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of coriander
1/2 teaspoon of chilli flakes
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon of Worcester sauce
100ml of red wine
200gran pack of beluga lentils

Start by frying the onions in one tablespoon of olive oil until soft and golden.

When soft, add the garlic, coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, and tomato puree. Cook on a low heat for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, red wine and Worcester sauce and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the lentils, mix well and simmer for another 10 minutes.

I served mine with brown rice because my husband likes it, but you could use white rice, couscous or quinoa.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Strawberry and Rosewater ice cream

Last Christmas my lovely husband gave me the most wonderful present. A new KitchenAid to replace the basic model that I had. With a 6.9 litre bowl, it truly has transformed my cooking, enabling me to produce larger quantities of bread, cakes and all manner of savoury things.

With the KitchenAid came an offer of a free ice-cream attachment. Now I had been looking at this for some time and had always decided that it would be one of those things that would sit in the cupboard gathering dust because, to be honest, I had always made ice-cream using the more labour intensive method of freezing, re-whisking and the associated repeating of the process to avoid a granular finished product.

Well all I can say is that it has transformed my life. Ice-cream has changed from becoming something I would make under sufferance when my husband and family requested, to something that I now whip up without even thinking. The only snag, is that the bowl is too large to live in my freezer on a permanent basis, so I do need to put it in the night before, but apart from that the fact that I can whip up a sweet treat within 30 minutes for soft scoop consistency (a little longer in the freezer for a more firmer set) I can also avoid all the additives that the commercial versions have.

Well as part of my experimentation with new flavours and textures, last weekend I decided to make a strawberry ice-cream, with the additional of rosewater to add a Middle Eastern influence for my brother-in-law who was visiting from Iran. I left some of the strawberries aside to add in at the end, but if you prefer you can blitz the entire lot. I just like the contract of the ice-cream with tiny pieces of what becomes strawberry sorbet. Well the taste testing is complete with wider family and friends involved, so I feel it is only fair to share the results. The quantities below make enough to fill a one litre container.

I might look like I have overdone it with the rosewater, but once frozen the intensity diminishes and you are left with a subtle aftertaste.

I quantity of basic ice-cream custard (see previous post for pannetone ice-cream)
400 gram pack of strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped with 8-10 set aside
4 teaspoons of rosewater

Make the custard in advance, cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool thoroughly.

Puree the strawberries, setting the aside the ones to mix into the ice-cream later. Sieve to get rid of any seeds.

Add the puree to the custard mix, stirring to ensure that both mixtures are combined. Add the rosewater. Place into the ice-cream maker and churn until just reaching the soft scoop stage, then transfer to a container and store until in the freezer until needed. If using the chopped strawberries, chop into small pieces and fold in just before placing in the container. Allow to "ripen" in fridge for 25 minutes before serving.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Savoury crackers

I think that there is nothing more satisfying that a humble supper of either bread or crackers and cheese. If there's a bit of chutney lying around and some salad even better, but this is my go-to dinner if my other half is out at a working dinner, or I am on my own and have arrived back late from my travels with work. And travelling far and wide is something I do far too often for my liking.

I used to buy crackers but always felt disappointed that they did not quite hit the spot, or give the cheese a run for its' money. That is until I was browsing through Niki Segnit's "The Food Thesarus" (one the few books that has space in my tiny kitchen). I couldn't believe why I had not thought of making my own before. The recipe below is taken from her book, but adapted for my poppy seed take on her fennel seed crackers.

I've since branched out and now make a wide variety, caraway, cardamom, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seed. When making the pumpkin or sunflower ones, I tend to put three quarters of the seeds in when mixing the dough and press the rest into the top of the crackers just before placing in the oven.

They are really easy and quick to make and I would urge you to give them a try. Unlike store bought, you know exactly when is in them and can adapt to make more salty/peppery etc to suit both your individual taste and cheese. And doubling or trebling the quantities below makes no difference at all, in fact I often do it at Christmas or for family gatherings where the meal is a relaxed grazing affair.

This recipe makes approximately 24 crackers, more if you roll the dough thinner. Pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees or gas mark 3 and have baking sheets lined with either Bake O Glide (or equivalent) or greased.

125 grams of plain , not bread, flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Now add your flavourings of choice in the following quantities:

2 tablespoons of poppy seeds
2 teaspoons of either fennel, caraway, cumin or seaame seeds
2 teaspoons of whole cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon of ground caradmom seeds
1 tablespoon of either pumpkin or sunflower, with another tablespoon for topping

To finish:

25ml of olive oil
Up to 125ml of water, added in increments of 15ml

To make:

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl or food processor bowl with the dough hook attached. Add the seeds of choice and mix thoroughly.

Add the olive oil and 45ml of the water. Start to mix, adding more water as and when required to achieve a soft dough like consistency. depending on your flour you may need more or less water. Mix until well combined and tip out onto a floured surface.

Roll out to a thickness of approximately 5mm, remembering to ensure that both the work surface and rolling pin are well floured to avoid sticking. Then use a 5cm cutter to stamp out rounds and place on the baking tray(s). Re-roll any excess and continue to stamp out rounds, although the first rolling provides the best results.

Place in the pre-heated oven and cook for 25 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. When cool, place in an airtight box. The picture below shows a selection of poppy and fennel seed crackers.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Pannetone Ice Cream

A few months ago, I made my first ever pannetone. A couple of batches later, Christmas very much in the past and with leftovers and I was wondering what to do with the candied fruit and flavouring that I bought from one of my favourite websites, Bakery

Well I was planning on making another batch of vanilla ice cream last weekend, when suddenly these left over ingredients came calling to me. And I wondered if it was possible to make a batch of ice cream that tasted like, and had some of the texture of pannetone. Hence pannetone ice cream. The recipe is based on a basic vanilla ice cream recipe, albeit with a couple of specialty ingredients from Bakery bits, although you could use a mix of finely chopped candied fruits such as the ones that are around, and tend to be left over after Christmas fruits. My husband did some initial taste testing, and has struggled to leave it alone ever since. Two teaspoons might seem a lot of the pannetone flavouring, but as it freezes the flavour will lessen so you really do need to do the more is more approach in order to achieve the right taste in the finished product.

If you have an ice cream maker, or like I do an ice cream attachment for my KitchenAid, then it's a case of pouring the cold mixture into the machine and churning. If not, then you will need to place into a tupperware or similar container and whisk up every hour to get rid of any ice crystals.

If you want to make it, the recipe is simple:

For the custard

300ml of whole milk
300ml of double cream
1 capful of vanilla extract
6 egg yolks (use the whites for meringues)
150 grams of caster sugar


2 teaspoons of Aroma di Pannetone (available from Bakery
2 tablespoons of finely chopped candied fruits


Heat the milk cream in a saucepan until almost at boiling point. Turn off the heat, add the vanilla extract and allow to infuse for 30 minutes.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a bowl until combined, then add the milk and whisk until fully combined. Place the mixture into a clean saucepan and heat over a low heat, stirring all the time until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Pour into a clean bowl, cover with clingfilm and allow to cool completely.

When cold, place in your ice cream maker, add the Aroma di Pannetone and churn according to the instructions on your ice cream maker. When ready, add the chopped fruits and churn for another minute to fully disperse within the mix, then turn into a container and place in the freezer until you want to eat it. If you do do not have an ice cream maker, you will need to take the container out of the freezer every hour and whisk until smooth.

To serve, take the container from the freezer and place in the fridge to ripen for 30 minutes. You could serve it on top of a slice of warm toasted pannetone, or on its own, with some additional chopped candied fruits on top.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Pre-Nowrouz meal

My husband is Iranian so Persian New Year, or Nowrouz, is a big deal for him.

Traditionally, the start of the festivities is marked with a meal of fish and rice, but I thought it might be nice to do a variation on a theme this year. I replaced the rice with lentils and decided to roast the cod in a coating of home made curry powder and oil. My recipe (which resulted in hubby asking for seconds by the way), is as follows. There were only two of us, scale the quantities up if you are feeding a crowd.

For the spiced lentils

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
2 x tins of green, or puy lentils, drained and rinsed
lemon juice, to taste
3 tablespoons of chopped coriander

For the fish

2 x 250gram pieces of cod loin (you could also use hake or another firm white fish)
1teaspoon of curry powder
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Start by preparing the fish. Mix the curry powder and oil into a paste. Brush over each side of the fish and season with salt and pepper. Place in a baking tray and set aside. Heat the oven to 200oC.

Heat the olive oil in a wide saute pan. Add the onion and cook on a medium heat until softened. Then add the garlic, chilli and cumin and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until soft.

Add the lentils, mind cook on a low heat for 5 minutes. Add enough water to make a thick sauce and bring to a simmer.

Whilst the lentils are cooking, place the fish in the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Just before the fish is ready, add the lemon juice and coriander, together with salt and pepper as required. Cover with a lid and set aside.

When the fish is firm, but still opaque, remove from the oven and allow to rest for five minutes.

To serve, place the lentil mix on the plate, or as I have done, the bottom of a wide bowl. Place the fish on top and serve.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Doris Grant Loaf

I know so many people who would like to make their own bread, but are put off by the whole kneading, proving, shaping and rising prior to baking. They think it's long, complicated and something resembling the "dark arts".

Of course there are many breads that can be made quickly and easily, think soda bread or flatbreads to go with a curry. There's also cornbread but that is more of a cake than bread in my opinion. But what would you recommend to someone who wants to dip their toe in the breadmaking water, that promises fairly fast results and is foolproof.

Everyone who knows me also knows that I make all my own bread, whether that be a simple pain de mie for sandwiches, bagels for a weekend breakfast or speciality breads such as brioche or using spelt or rye. There is always a loaf (or two or three) in the freezer ready to be eaten. However in the last couple of weeks I've been fighting off the tail end of a nasty infection as well as a very busy work schedule. So my breadmaking has played second fiddle. I realised yesterday that I was all out of bread and needed something fast to tide me over until I could make a batch to see us through for the coming week. Enter the Doris Grant loaf.

Before I give you the recipe I used, I thought that it would be useful to explain the history behind the loaf and Doris herself.

The bread itself was an accidental creation by Doris Grant (1905 - 2003)
who was a baker and nutritionist.  She was concerned about the wellbeing of the workers in the munitions factories during the second world war and encouraged healthy eating following the principles of Dr William Hay whose diet she used in her youth to relieve the symptoms of crippling arthritis. Whilst teaching herself to bake, she realised that she had not been following the traditional way of breadmaking. However it seemed to make no difference to the overall quality of the bread, and  proved easier and quicker than the traditional methods, so she included her ‘mistake’ in her 1944 book Your Daily Bread.

The recipe I use is a variation of both the original and Lorraine Pascal's version. Due to a digestive condition I have to be careful in the amounts of fibre I can have in my diet, so the 50/50 mix of white and wholemeal flours are ideal for me. The first time I made it, I realised that I did not have any dried yeast, so used the fresh yeast I had instead. And I sometimes swap all water for 50/50 milk and water. A word of warning however, this is a heavy loaf, but toasts beautifully.If you like the taste and texture of pure wholemeal loaves, use all wholemeal flour instead.

225g white bread flour
225g wholemeal bread flour
1teaspoon of salt
7 grams of dried yeast, or 4grams of fresh
1 tablespoon of clear honey
300ml of warm water, or 150ml water and 150ml whole mlik
vegetable oil
milk for brushing the loaf
small bowl of chilled water

To make the loaf, sift the flours and salt into a bowl. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the wheatgerm left behind after sifting (to use as a topping later). Add the yeast followed by the honey and either mix by hand or in a food processor with the dough hook attached. The dough will feel quite stiff, this is completely normal.

Flour a baking sheet. Form the dough into a round and place on the sheet. Cover loosely with a piece of oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200oC. Slash the loaf with a sharp knife and brush with the milk. Sprinkle over the reserved wheatgerm. Place the bowl of chilled water in the base of the oven and put the loaf in to bake. Bake for 30-40 minutes (check after 30 minutes) until the loaf is brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the base.

Allow to cool on a rack and enjoy!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Friday night comfort food

I've been more than a little under the weather in the past couple of weeks. And it has had an effect on my appetite. It's hard to eat, let alone summon the enthusiasm to cook, when you can neither smell or taste anything.

Well I'm feeling a lot better now, but after a hard week at work, it was time for some well deserved comfort food. I have been experimenting with various lentil cottage pie recipes recently to come up with one that my husband really likes and makes him feel like he is not missing meat. We've had similar experiments with other recipes, where I have started to swap quorn for pulses. There was a tin of green lentils lurking in the cupboard and the vegetables needed using up before they became fit for nothing else but soup. So here it is

1tbsp of olive oil
175 grams of carrots, topped and tailed and roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1 onion, halved and sliced
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
200ml of red wine
2 teaspoons of vegetable boullion (I use Marigold)
1 can of green lentils (mine was 400g), drained

900grams of sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
25grams of unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

50grams of strong cheddar

Start by heating the oil in a pan, then add the onions and cook until golden. Add the carrots, celery, thyme and oregano, cover with a lid and cook gently until softened. Add the wine, tomatoes and vegetable boullion and cook on a gentle simmer for 10 minutes.

Then add the lentils and cook for a further 10 minutes until the mixture has thickened. Season to taste.

Whilst the lentil mixture is cooking, peel and chop the sweet potatoes. Boil for 15 minutes, or until soft. Drain well and mash with the butter and seasoning.

Place the lentil mixture in an ovenproof dish and top with the sweet potato mash and cheese. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, or 40 minutes from chilled if you have made in advance. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving, this will allow the pie to firm up and make it easier to portion out.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Not quite so chilli, chilli

Most people who know me, know that I am not the greatest heat/spice fan. I'm getting used to it courtesy of my Cuisinart spice grinder, that allows me to customise my blends to suit my palate. However slowly, but surely, I am increasing the amount of heat in my diet, albeit if it's not quite in line with other peoples' interpretation of hot.

However this week has seen me laid low by a dose of the flu (and believe me just getting from bed to bathroom has been a monumental effort) followed by its' not so lovely friend conjunctivitis, so to say that I have been completely off my food is an understatement.

I've been launching myself out of bed to cook an evening meal, if only to save myself from my husbands' offer of shop bought ready meals which as someone with an existing digestive condition, does not bode well. Well today I had to go to opticians to get my eyes sorted, so en-route home was wondering what the hell I was going to cook that I probably couldn't taste that well, would tick the boxes of a heat lover, but still use up the food we bought at the weekend not anticipating my incapacity. I thought about chilli and came across some spring onions in my local greengrocers and the ideal came to me, a not so chilli-based chilli, with a Mexican inspired side of couscous containing spring onions and a stray Romano pepper found in the fridge charred over an open flame. You could also create some sides of sour cream, home made guacamole and tortillas if increasing the quantities and cooking for a crowd.

My recipe for two people therefore was:

For the chilli

1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
pinch (or two or more if you like) of dried chilli flakes
175 minced quorn (or meat if you prefer)
1 tin of plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon of Worcester sauce
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 small tin of kidney or cannelloni beans
Coriander, to garnish
Fresh red chilli, finely chopped, to garnish

For the couscous

150 grams of couscous
3 spring onions
1 Romano red pepper, chargrilled and skinned (you could use a regular red pepper instead)
1 teaspoon of vegetable stock
300ml of boiling water

To start, first of all char-grill the pepper. I normally do it over an open flame as I have a gas hob. But if you don't, or do not feel as brave, then you can place it under a grill, turning regularly until blackened on all sides. Put into a bowl, cover with cling film and allow to cool.

Next, chop the onion and garlic and place in a pre-heated pan containing a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add salt and pepper and cook over a medium heat until softened. Add the tomato puree, cumin, coriander and paprika and cook on a low heat, covered, for 10 minutes to allow the puree to cook out. Next add the quorn or meat and brown, followed by chilli flakes to taste (or not as might be the case)

Once the quorn or meat is browned, add the kidney beans, plum tomatoes, Worcester sauce and balsamic vinegar. Chop the tomatoes with a pair of scissors and then bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cover with a lid. Allow to cook for 20 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle.

Whilst the chilli is simmering, place the couscous in a bowl, add the vegetable stock and cover with the water. Cover with either a lid or cling film and allow to plump up. Meanwhile skin and de-seed the pepper and chop roughly. Finely slice the spring onions. When ready, fork through to separate the grains and then gently mix in the onion and pepper.

When ready to serve, place the couscous into a warmed deep bowl followed by the chilli mixture. Chop the coriander and use to garnish. And if you feel that you want a little more heat in your chilli, add the fresh red chilli, to taste.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Madam Sophia's Birthday cake

My husband and his grand daughter have birthdays four days apart. My husband is a Valentine's baby which means that it is impossible to forget his day, but allows me to push the boat out and cook something really special to celebrate both occasions. However little girls are a different matter. Last year we held a small celebration with close family and friends, the occasion being marked with a decadent chocolate fudge cake to please children and adults alike.

She is known affectionately by me as Little Madam, mainly because she has a very strong personality, in the nicest way possible. She has a very healthy interest in food and cooking and for her age (she is now four) asks some incredibly mature questions. She came to cook with me just before Christmas, we made some pastry for a quiche and she was questioning why the pastry needed to go into the fridge to rest, why it needed another resting after rolling out, why I was using baking beans etc. We also made a Victoria sponge, with balsamic strawberry and cream filling and she was well and truly the chief taster, telling me that she thought the strawberries needed more flavouring, before declaring them "yummy"And she is very opinionated about what she will and will not wear so at this stage it's a toss-up between chef and fashion designer!

This year it has been different. She is now at the age when a proper children's party, complete with the usual sugary and generally unhealthy foods are de-rigeur. Like most little girls at the moment, she is totally in love with the movie Frozen, and has a whole host of Frozen related items to boot. As her party clashed with Valentines day, celebrations took place across two separate weekends, with this weekend being a family celebration. This did mean however that the lucky girl ended up with more than one cake; the children's party was a generic Frozen themed affair, together with themed cake, with my contribution this weekend being a variation of the Primrose Bakery's triple layered confetti cake, albeit made more grown up with the addition of rose water to the cake mix and buttercream covering. I also tried to make it a little more adult with the addition of edible rose petals and pearlescent sprinkles on top. The rose water is not overpowering, instead it lends a very subtle flavour and aroma to the cake and icing, but don't be tempted to go over the top.

I'm pleased to say that it went down a storm, although Sophia went straight for the icing first. My take on the Primrose Bakery original is below.

Cake mix (makes one 3-layer 20cm cake)

315g self-raising flour
35g cornflour
1 ½ tsps baking powder
335g golden caster sugar
6 large free range eggs
335g unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tbsps whole milk
2 tbsps rose water
1½ tsps vanilla extract
¾ tsp red food colouring
75g hundreds and thousands

Pink rose and vanilla buttercream icing:

230g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120ml semi-skimmed milk
2 tsps vanilla extract
3 capfuls of rose water
1kg icing sugar, sifted
pink food colouring (I prefer to use the paste as you get a more vibrant effect without diluting the buttercream
edible rose petals
white sugar pearls


Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Then put the flour, cornflour, baking powder and sugar in a mixer and combine.

Add the eggs, butter, milk, rose water and vanilla extract and mix until combined, but do not over mix as the batter will become tough.

Divide the batter between three identical bowls. Weigh them to ensure you end up with three equal-sized sponge layers. The best way to do this is to weigh the empty mixing bowl before you start, then weigh again once you have made the batter. Subtract one from the other, then divide by three and you'll get the correct weights you need. Add 25 grams of the hundred and thousands to each bowl. For the different shades of sponge, add ¼ tsp red food colouring to one bowl, ½ tsp to another and mix thoroughly. Leave the third uncoloured.

Pour the batter into three greased and lined 20cm sandwich tins and put in the pre-heated oven. Cook for 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted into each tin comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool.

For the icing, beat the butter, milk, rose water, vanilla and half the icing sugar for a couple of minutes until it’s a smooth, creamy consistency. Add the rest plus enough food colouring to reach the desired shade of pink and mix.

When the cakes are cool, remove the greased paper and put the first layer of sponge on a plate or cake stand. Spread with 1 cm of buttercream. add a second layer of sponge and repeat to make a three-tier cake tower.Finally, cover the sides and top of the cake with buttercream, spreading evenly with a spatula. To finish decorate the top with the rose petals and sugar pearls.

If not serving straight away, or if it is a warm day, it is a good idea to place in the fridge for 30 minutes or so to allow the buttercream to firm and and make the cake easier to slice.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Comfort food for a grey day

It's been wet, cold and windy today. And very grey too. So I felt in need of something to lift my spirits.

I love cauliflower, eaten raw, steamed, roasted with cumin or in one of my favourites, cauliflower cheese. However I do like to make mine a main meal, with a little salad or bread on the side. This is my favourite way of doing it, I hope that you like it.

For four people (or in my husband's case two greedy ones)

1 medium cauliflower (pull the leaves apart when buying, what might look like a generous cauli can turn out to be disappointing in my experience)
1 medium head of broccoli
1 pint of whole milk
2 bay leaves
5 whole black peppercorns
2 cloves
50 grams of butter
50 grams of plain flour
1 teaspoon of mustard powder
125 grams of grated hard strong cheese of your choice, It can be cheddar, red leicester, cave aged Gouda or anything else of your choice
2 slices of bread, preferably stale, toasted
25 grams of parmesan

Start by bringing the milk almost to the boil with the bay leaves, peppercorns and cloves. Leave to 30 minutes and then strain to remove the aromatics.

Next cook the cauliflower and broccoli under just tender. You can either boil or steam. Place in a colander to get rid of the excess moisture.

Next make the sauce. Put the butter, flour and milk in a saucepan. Heat slowly until starting to thicken, whisking all the time, then add the mustard. When starting to bubble on the surface, add the cheese and allow to melt. Let simmer gently for 10 minutes to let the flavours mingle.

In the meantime, blitz the bread and parmesan to make coarse crumbs and set aside.

When the sauce is ready, pour one third into the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Arrange the cauliflower and broccoli so that everyone gets
a bit of both when served. Pour over the remaining sauce and top with the breadcrumb mixture. Put on a baking tray and place in an over at 180c for 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Leave to cool slightly and then serve.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The cheat's way to perfect white sauce

I know so many people who do not even attempt to make their own white sauce. The reason for this; well they see chefs on the TV making a roux, adding warm milk a little at a time and coming up with a perfect lump-free sauce. They try it themselves only to not quite get it right, their confidence plummets and they convince themselves that a basic white sauce is the preserve of the professionals.

Now for me, making a roux based sauce is as natural as breathing, but for friends who have not had my culinary training, it seems daunting. Well there is another way of achieving the same result. All it involves is a saucepan, whisk and a gentle heat. And of course the patience to stand over it while it thickens.

When I'm short of time, normally after a hectic day at work when I need to whip up a variation on the white sauce I put everything in the pan, heat gently and keep whisking. After about 10 minutes of gentle heating you will have a sauce that can then be customised; with cheese for cauliflower, parsley for fish, egg yolks for a moussaka topping, nutmeg to create a bechamel to top lasagna, the list goes on.

The default recipe that I use is therefore:

1 pint/568ml of full fat milk
50grams of unsalted butter
50 grams of plain flour
5 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
half an onion, skin on

Start by combining the milk with the peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves and onion. Push the cloves into the onion to make removing easier. Heat until just reaching boiling point and then leave for 30 minutes, to let the flavours infuse. You could do this the day before, strain and chill in the fridge ready for use when you need it.

When you are ready to make your sauce, strain though a sieve into a pan, then add the butter and flour. Heat gently, whisking all the time, over a low heat until the mixture thickens. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes to cook out the flour, after which time add your flavourings and either serve as it is, or use in your chosen recipe.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Harissa, with a twist

I'm not a fan of overly spicy food. I'll say this now, and am ready for the brickbats, I'm not overly keen on Indian food or anything spicy at all. Well I say that, but since I asked for a Cuisinart spice grinder last Christmas, life has changed. I can now make curries and spicy food as hot or as mild as I want. I have even converted my husband to thai style curries, even though he said he was a coconut hater.

Well I was looking for something different to do with some sea bass that was lurking in the freezer and found inspiration from Yotam Ottollenghi. I have the books "Plenty" and Jerusalem" and found a wonderful recipe for fish in harissa. Except that I was not keen on all the ingredients. So I decided to modify the original Yotam recipe as follows:

1 red pepper roasted until the skin is black
1/2teaspoom of coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon of caraway seeds
1 small red onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon of runny honey
1/2 teaspoon of dried rose petals

Now this is where the customisation comes into play, add as many birds eye chillies as you can dare. Remember however that this gets hotter over time so you might want to moderate accordingly.

You need to pan roast the coriander, cumin and caraway until they start to give off their aroma. Then either tip into a spice grinder, or a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder.

Roast the pepper over an open flame until blackened.If you do not have a gas flame then grill turning regularly until the pepper is black. Put in a bowl and leave to cool. Whilst cooling, cook the onion, chillies and garlic until softened.

Add the cooled red pepper and onion mix to a grinder or food processor, together with the spice mix, honey and rose petals. Blitz to a paste and use if your own favourite recipe.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Comfort in a bowl

What can be better in life than a bowl of tomato soup when you are feeling down, or under the weather. Now a lot of people look back on Heinz Cream of Tomato with fond memories, but what could be better than making your own soup fresh to order.

I went to Finland with my husband a couple of years ago, to a small town called Mikkeli. Now Mikkeli is beautiful but despite the abundance of supermarkets,what really struck me was just how expensive fresh fruit and vegetables were. I suppose living in a country where the climate does not lend itself readily to diverse agriculture accounts for this, but it also reminded me of just how important it is not to waste a single thing.

It was on one of these days when my husband, tired of the options in the university cafe, asked me if I could rustle something up if he came back to our apartment during the lunch break. A quick rummage in the fridge resulted in finding a punnet of cherry tomatoes and some basil, about to do from being slightly past their best to unsalvagable. So I decided on soup, putting the tomatoes in a saucepan with little salt and pepper, gently cooking them until they burst and then putting in the liquidiser with the basil and blitzing. That was my original recipe which I have further refined as below:

1 pack of piccolo tomatoes
1 pack on sunstream tomatoes
pinch of salt and pepper
1 pack of basil or basil plant, stalks and all as they add to the flavour

Place the tomatoes in a small saucepan and put over a very low heat. If you want added tomato flavour, place the tomato stems in well, but do not forget to fish out before you blitz.

When the tomatoes have burst and leeched out their juice, take off the heat and allow to cool slightly. Blitz either in a liquidiser or with a stick blender, When still slightly chunky, add the basil and blitz to your required consistency.

You can either eat straight away, or allow to cool and use the next day, after which the flavours will have developed further.

Welcome to my revamped blog

I originally set this blog up in late 2009 with the very best of intentions, To use it as a way of sharing my thoughts and ideas on all things food related, and to discover inspiration from others. However in the intervening years, I got married, acquired stepchildren, faced the prospect of redundancy, ended up transferring to another area of my employer and then found myself spending the bulk of each week in London. Although it's the city of my birth, and I love it very much, it became a millstone round my neck in terms of having a personal or family life, with no energy to pursue my culinary passions as much as I would have liked to do so. Fast forward five years and a personal commitment to spend more time at home and less on the road, and I am giving life to this blog again. It's really a vehicle to share my creative output with people, as well as showcasing the best of local food related businesses where I live, as well as those further afield. Whilst I cannot promise to post every day, or week, I'm looking forward to seeing how it will evolve. I hope you enjoy reading it.