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!

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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.

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

Classic Lemon Cheesecake

cheesecake

I’d never made a cheesecake before, but it was really easy. I combined bits from two recipes I have according to what I thought would taste best and and it worked well.

Ingredients

For the base:
About 10 digestive biscuits
About 25g butter

For the filling:
700g cream cheese (Philadelphia is good)
150g sugar
Grated rind and the juice of half a lemon
1tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs, beaten

The Cooking

You need a deep cake tin approximately 8 inches/20cm. Grease it well with butter and then you need to put it on some foil and press the foil all around the sides of the tin. This is so that when you place the cake in water (which you will) the water won’t seep into the cake tin and the cake.

Pre-heat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas mark 3. Get a large roasting tin and fill it with water to a depth of about an inch. Put the roasting tray of water into the oven. This is a bain-marie.

Now bash up the biscuits. Put them in a plastic bag and hit them with a blunt instrument. Try not to do yourself an injury. Cut up the butter finely and mix it with the biscuit crumbs with your fingers until it’s all mixed in and there are no big lumps of butter. Alternatively, just whizz the whole biscuits and butter in the mixer for a minute.

Press the crushed biscuits into the bottom of the cake tin in an even layer.

Now beat together the cream cheese, lemon juice and rind, sugar and vanilla essense. When it is smooth, add the egg a bit at a time, whisking it through so it is all smooth. I used a handheld blender.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin on top of the biscuits. Put the cake tin, protected by the foil, into the bain-marie. Bake it for about an hour, then turn the oven off and let it sit in the oven for another 45 minutes or so. Take it out, let it cool, then gently remove it from the tin, running a knife around the edge to loosen it if you need to.

Chill it well before serving, and you can make it look pretty by sprinkling some icing sugar over the top. My mother in law liked this cake very much.

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!