Fruit, nut and seed bars

breakfast bars

These are great. They’re similar to flapjacks, but because they’ve got fruit in, you can call them “breakfast bars” and say they’re healthy.

Ingredients
Makes 16

140g light muscovado sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
140g butter
250 rolled oats
150g walnut pieces
150g mixed dried fruit (I used a mixed dried berries pack)
50g sesame seeds or mixed seeds

The Cooking

It’s really easy. Pre-heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas 3. Pop the butter, sugar and syrup into a pan and heat until they’re melted. Meanwhile put all the other ingredients into a large bowl. Once the sugar, syrup and butter have melted, pour it over the rest of the ingredients and mix it until everything’s coated.

Spoon the combined mixture into a square tin (about 23cm x 23cm or thereabouts) and then pat it all down so it’s compacted. Put it in the oven for 35 minutes.

Leave it to cool completely, then cut up into bars. It’s that simple!

Hasselback Potatoes

hasselback potatoes

Sometimes called saddleback potatoes, this is kind of a cross between roast and baked potato. Something a little different for an ordinary midweek dinner. Plus it looks pretty.

Sorry about the rubbishness of the photo. You get the idea though.

Ingredients

Potatoes. However many you’d like. Big, small or medium. Medium-sized are the easiest to cut.
Olive oil
Salt

The Cooking

Heat the oven to about 210C/410F.

It’s up to you whether you peel the potatoes. I don’t, because the skin is where the goodness is, so says mums everywhere. Now cut the potato in slices, making sure you only slice about 3/4 of the way through. Handy hint: put the potato in a big spoon or ladle and the edges of the spoon will prevent the knife from slicing all the way through.

Pour over some oil and rub it all over the potatoes, trying to get some in the slices. The potato won’t fan very easily but don’t worry it will once cooked. Sprinkle over some salt. Put the potatoes into the oven and cook them for about 45 minutes. Halfway through give them a bit of a shake and a little more oil, which should now slip into the slices more easily.

That’s it! You could grate some cheese over it if you like, or sour cream, or whatever you like. I had mine with ham in parsley sauce. Very nice.

Peas with bacon

peas with bacon

A simple side dish that takes 5 minutes to make, to be served with pretty much anything you like, because bacon goes really well with peas.

Ingredients

Peas, frozen or fresh
Cubed/chopped bacon or pancetta, about 1/3 of the amount of peas
1/2 an onion, chopped finely
Chicken stock

The Cooking

Ok, in a non-stick pan fry the bacon to whatever consistency you like it. Just cooked or nice and crispy, up to you. Once it’s as you like it, add the chopped onion and fry until soft but not coloured (about 2 minutes), then throw in the peas, give it a stir and pour in just enough chicken stock to moisten the whole thing. Cook for a couple of minutes and you’re done! This is excellent with a nice Sunday roast.

A Magical Bread Recipe for Novices That Works Every Time

white bread

It’s so satisfying. It’s just a plain white loaf, made by hand. But it works every time and it’s ridiculously simple. If you think you can’t do bread, you can. This will work I PROMISE.

Ingredients
500g white strong bread flour.
7g dried yeast sachet.
1tsp salt
300ml water
3tbsp olive oil. Plus a bit extra.

The Cooking

Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl. Pour in the water and the olive oil. Mix with wooden spoon until it’s together enough to take out of the bowl.

Kneed on a floury surface until the dough feels elastic and silky smooth the the touch, and bounces back slightly when prodded. This should take about ten minutes.

Place in a warmish area and leave to rise until doubled in size. This should take about one hour.

Knock back the dough and kneed for a minute or so. Dough will be elastic and bouncy when prodded. Mould the dough into a round-ish shape or put it in a loaf tin. Slather the surface with olive oil (this will give a soft, chewy crust).

Leave to rise for another hour or so on the tray or in the loaf tin which you are going to put it into the oven.

Pre-heat oven to 220/200 fan/gas mark 7. Bake dough for 25 – 30 minutes until a nice golden colour.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Ta dah! Seriously, try this recipe. Your friends will be astonished at your baking prowess.

Creamed Leeks

This is an extremely simple side dish which is a bit more interesting than the usual peas/carrots/potato combo we always seem to end up with in our house. You can even do it low-fat by using spray olive oil instead of butter and low-fat crème fraiche instead of cream. I prefer crème fraiche anyway, it’s more tangy.

Ingredients
Serves 3 or 4

1 leek.
3 tablespoons double cream/crème fraiche (low-fat if you like, it works just as well)
A knob of butter
Salt and pepper to taste

The Cooking

Slice the leek fairly finely (ie, not great big chunks). Someone asked me recently whether it’s okay to eat the green bits on leeks and I reckon they’re fine to eat right up into it separates into leaves. Wash the leek carefully because there’s often mud inside them.

Melt the knob of butter in a small frying pan (or a couple of sprays of olive oil if you’re being low-fat) on a medium heat. When it’s melted, chuck in the leaks and soften for about three minutes. Now add the cream/crème fraiche and let it bubble for a couple of minutes until it’s thickened a bit. Have a taste and add salt and pepper as you think it needs it. That’s it! Serve it up. Well easy!

Paris, Venice and Florence

My honeymoon was AWESOME. The wedding was brilliant, being on holiday with my very best friend who I love very much was brilliant, and the food was BRILLIANT.

A brief photographic journal:

Courgette (zucchini) flowers with courgettes, tomatoes and lettuce. I love this photo, it makes me want to EAT IT ALL.

food

Soupe a l’oignon, in Montmatre. This is the best soup I have ever tasted. I made the waitress get the recipe from the chef. It involved a lot of cheese.

onion soup

The fish market in Venice.

fish market

fish market

Pizza

pizza

The mercato centrale in Florence

mercato centrale

mercato centrale

Ribollita, Florence bread and bean soup, from Gozzi.

ribolita

Tuscan antipasti from Il Gatto e La Volpe, in Florence.

antipasti

Bistecca alla Fiorentina from Il Latini

bistecca alla fiorentina

Ice cream!

a fool with ice cream

The Hogster, who was thrilled to have us home.

unhappy cat

How To Make Butter

butter

I made butter! How brilliant is that? You can get some cream… and turn it into butter. In your house. It’s like magic!

Why would you bother making your own butter? Well, firstly because you know what goes into it – it’s great lesson on how our food happens (kids LOVE making butter). And secondly, because it’s fun to make stuff. Making butter gives me cooking joy! Butter!

Ingredients

Double cream. That’s it!

I gather that double cream is not widely available in the US/other foreign parts so if you are there get the cream with the highest butterfat you can. Double cream has a 48% butterfat content and the closest in the US seems to be heavy or whipping cream, which is 30-40% butterfat.

If you want to add salt, you can. However much you like. Mix it in after the buttermilk and fat have separated but before you squeeze and pat it.

The Cooking

“Cooking” is a bit of a misnomer. All you need to do is pour the cream into a container that you can seal tight = a (clean) jam jar, or bottle, or tupperware. And then shake it. For AGES.

At first it’ll slosh about, and then it’ll get thicker and seem like it’s not doing anything (but it is). Persevere – it should take anything from 10 minutes to three quarters of an hour. Shake it, shake it, shake it like a polaroid picture. Shake it above your head, shake it down by your knees, roll it along the ground, work those triceps.

Eventually, suddenly, you’ll hear a slosh. The fat and the buttermilk has separated. Hurrah! Now you need to rid the fat of all the buttermilk. Drain the liquid off (but keep it, it’s useful for making other things) and then rinse the butter throughly. Keep rinsing until the water runs completely clear, and then squeeze the butter. I just squeezed the butter in my hands, but you could use some muslin or cheesecloth, which would be less messy. More buttermilk will come out and it’s important to get it all out because if there’s any left in it can cause the butter to go rancid.

Use the back of a wooden spoon or spatula to shape and pat the butter, draining any more of the liquid that comes out in the process. Wrap it in grease-proof paper and ta-dah! Home-made butter!

Pickled Onions

Pickled onions

Pickled onions! I’m making jars of pickled onions as Christmas gifts – they’re cheap to make, involve no actual cooking, and are always appreciated by those who like them (although of course you need to check that your intended recipient wouldn’t turn green at the thought of them). They need to be made now as they need time to mature, but once ready will keep for many months. You can use old jam jars for the rustic version, or do them nicely in kilner jars (as above). Giving them personal labels is a nice touch too.

The process takes a couple of days but you only need to be actually doing something for about an hour of that time.

Ingredients

Pickling onions or shallots.
Pickling vinegar (malt vinegar)
225g Sea Salt (not table salt)
2.8 litres/ 4 pints Water
Pickling spices. You can either just buy ready-selected pickling spices or you can put together a teaspoon each of mace, cinnamon, allspice berries, black peppercorns and 4 cloves and 1 chilli.

The Cooking

First, a note: don’t use copper or iron pans for this – the acid reacts with the metal which spoils the colour and flavour. Also, you need to sterilise your jars in order to avoid the pickles going mouldy. This is quite simple – wash them in hot soapy water and then dry them in the oven on a low heat.

Okay, to begin with you need to brine the onions. Heat the salt and water slowly until the salt has dissolved. Allow this to cool and meanwhile peel the onions. You can make them easier to peel by plunging the skin-on onions into boiling water for one minute (although to be honest, I didn’t bother. I just peeled them). Once cooled and peeled, prick the onions to allow the liquid to soak into them and put the onions in the cooled brine.

Put some kind of weight on top of the onions to make sure they’re all submerged in the brine – I used a plate with a mug full of water on top. Now you simply set it aside for a couple of days and go about your business.

After a couple of days, drain the onions and pat them dry. Pack them into your steralised jars and pour over the vinegar and sprinkle in a couple of teaspoons of the mixed pickling spices. That’s it! Ta dah!

After 4 weeks or so they should be mature enough to be edible, but you may want to wait a couple of months to be sure. Eat them yourself with some strong cheddar, or stick a bow on the jar and give them to your dad as a present. Dads love pickled onions.

Pork Won Ton

Look at my hands busying away there. Proper little chef, me. I’d been meaning to have a go at making won ton for ages but kept putting it off, thinking it would be fiddly. But it was suprisingly easy. Yes, the wrappers did tear a couple of times but that doesn’t matter really, this recipe makes loads. It is courtesy of my friend Sheo.

Ingredients
Makes about 40

A packet of won ton wrappers

450g minced pork
300g or so of Chinese greens – pak choi/bok choi is what I used.
100g chinese chives (although I just used ordinary chives, not having an Asian supermarket handy. You could also use spring onions (scallions)).
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon rice wine (I didn’t have this so used red wine vinegar, which worked fine)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornflour or superfine flour

The Cooking

Okay, finely chop the pak choi or whatever greens you’re using, sprinkle them with salt and set them aside for 30 minutes or so. This is to draw the water out of them.

Meanwhile, chop up the minced pork even more, you want it really well minced. Once the greens have sat with the salt for a bit, squeeze them really firmly over the sink to get all the water out. I was surprised how much there was.

Now mix together all the ingredients apart from the wrappers and put about a teaspoon-sized lump in the middle of a won ton wrapper. Wet the edges of the wrapper with your finger (that’s what I’m doing in the above photo) and then draw the edges together and make it into a little purse shape, twisting the top slightly thusly:

That’s it, just keep repeating this until you’ve run out of the mixture. Keep the made-up wontons covered so that they don’t dry out.

You can cook these one of two ways: you can fry and steam them or you can boil them and make wonton soup. Boiling is probably easier but I steamed and fried them to be eaten as a starter.

Heat some oil in a non-stick pan and when hot, add the wonton parcels with the twists upright. Fry them for a couple of minutes and then thow in a cupful of water and put a lid on the pan. Leave it to steam for 4-6 minutes, by which time the water will proably have been absorbed and it will be cooked. Serve straight away with some dippy sauce like soy sauce or sweet chilli sauce or whatever you fancy. Very nice.

How to sweat onions and mushrooms, etc

The process of sweating food means exactly what you think it means – making them release water. Almost all cooking methods involve releasing water from food, but when you’re given the instruction to sweat something in a recipe, it generally means that you need to keep the released water from evaporating to a certain extent.

For example, when sweating onions or mushrooms, you need to put a lid over the pan in which you are frying them in order to trap the condensation. This means the water doesn’t evaporate, they don’t dry out, and they end up cooking in their own expelled water. As long as you have them on a low heat, they can go on stewing in their own juices for quite a while, intensifying their flavour.

A good guideline as to when onions or other ingredients have been sweated properly is when they’re soft and floppy but not swimming in their own juices. If a massive amount of water is released during the cooking and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, just take the lid off and let it evaporate, stirring often. It’s not ideal, and if your ingredient is letting out loads of water, you may want to investigate why it’s got such a high water content.

For example, when you fry cheap bacon, you get loads of watery rubbish released from the meat because it’s bulked out with saline solution. But good bacon releases hardly any water, because it’s mostly meat and fat. It’s worth looking out for.