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!

Amazing French Onion Soup

French onion soup

This is one of the best soups I have ever made. Truly, it is tastiness in soup form. I made it using a recipe written in my notebook by a waitress in a café in Montmartre which had no amounts, cooking times or instructions. Just ingredients, and my memory of what it tasted like. So I made up how to make it, and it has worked an absolute treat.

The secret is a good stock. If at all possible, make your own stock. Chicken, vegetable or beef, whatever your preference. Mine was made with veal bones (happy, farmer’s market veal), which I roasted and then simmered with carrots, celery, a leek, an onion, some peppercorns and thyme and parsley for 6 hours. You can follow this basic method, but using roasted chicken, beef or veal bones. Ham stock wouldn’t really work here. Yes, I know making stock seems like a real faff, but I swear on my life that it’s worth it. Honestly. Trust me. You know it makes sense.

If you really don’t have the time to make your own stock, get a couple of cans of beef consommé from the supermarket. Baxter’s do a nice one. If you can’t find that, use a tub of fresh stock from the chiller shelf. And if you can’t find that and only have access to stock cubes then you’re not trying hard enough and you should go and sit in the corner.

Ingredients
Serves 4

4 medium/large onions
Butter. A slab slightly smaller than a deck of cards.
About 3 tblsps brandy
A large glass of white wine (about 250ml)
About 2 pints of stock.(see above)
Old bread, best if it’s gone a bit stale. About 2 rolls’ worth, or equivalent.
Gruyere cheese. About 200g, grated
A nice crusty baguette
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

Cut the onions in half lengthways, peel them and carefully slice them (not chopped, sliced into crescents). I say “carefully” because I’ve just bought myself a shiny new Global cooks’ knife and I slipped while slicing the onions and did myself an impressively bloody injury. Happens to the best of us. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and once it’s started foam add the sliced onions.

Make sure the heat is fairly low – you want the onions to soften slowly and not burn. This is to draw out some of the sugar in the onions. Leave the onions to soften for quite a while, giving it a stir every 5 minutes or so. It might take up to 45 minutes for them to get really lovely and translucent and sweet. Keep the faith, it’ll get there. Once they’re all juicy and soft, add the brandy and cook for another couple of minutes, then add the wine and cook for another 5 minutes just to take the edge off the alcohol.

Add the stock and bring the whole thing up to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, add half the grated gruyere and the old bread, broken up into chunks.

onion soup

Let it simmer for 20 minutes or so until the bread has almost dissolved. Have a taste and add salt and pepper as you think it needs it.

Ladle the soup into soup bowls. Put thick slices of baguette on top as croutons and then sprinkle over the rest of the cheese. Put the bowls under the grill on a high heat for 4 minutes or so until the cheese starts to bubble and turn brown. Serve immediately. Moan with pleasure.

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.

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.