Wednesday, 4 July 2012



I think its the weather.  All this recent heat has left me wanting food from warmer climes; Indian, Thai, North African... 
There seems to be some kind of foodie correlation between the rise in temperature and the frequency with which I cook these kinds of dishes.  Maybe its because, if I sit in the sun, eat exotic food, and close my eyes, I might fool myself long enough to think that I'm sitting on a Keralan river boat or in a Bedouin tent.  If I close my eyes tightly enough.  And ignore the traffic.  

I need a holiday. 

Anyway, Hummus.  I love the stuff and could quite happily munch my way through a whole pot. Some shop brought hummus is very good, but its much cheaper and easier make your own.  I guess, strictly speaking this isn't traditional hummus, as it doesn't contain any Tahini paste, but I'm not always one for tradition.  

Serves 4 or so
1 Tin of Chickpeas
1-2 Cloves of Garlic sliced
Good Pinch of Black Pepper
Scant Tablespoon of Sherry Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon of Smoked Paprika (Pimenton de la Vera), plus extra for sprinkling over
Juice from a Lemon, to taste
Salt to taste
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus extra for drizzling 
Fresh Coriander

  1. Empty the entire tin of chickpeas (and it's juice) into a pan over a medium heat.  
  2. Add in the sliced garlic and Sherry Vinegar, and bring to the boil.  
  3. Turn down the heat and let it bubble gently for a few minutes (don't let the pan dry though).  Add in the Smoked Paprika.  
  4. Using a stick blender, whizz the chickpeas until they become a consistency that you like.  Add in the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and stir in the olive oil.  If the hummus is looking too watery, let it gently bubble in the pan and it will thicken.  
  5. Take it off the heat and let it cool before serving.  
  6. Drizzle over some more olive oil and lemon juice, and scatter over the Smoked Paprika and Coriander.  
  7. Serve with Pitta Bread, Vegetables or whatever takes your fancy.  

Friday, 1 June 2012

Cardamom and Chili Chicken and Dal

Cardamom and Chili Chicken with Dal

Dal never looks good in photos (or in real life). No amount of vibrant coriander will make it pretty.  It is the ugly duckling of Indian food. But look past its unfortunate appearance (I think its problem lies in its texture... and maybe colour), and you will find a delicately spiced rough diamond.  This unsung hero of Indian cuisine is surprisingly easy to make - no fancy ingredients and no labourious cooking methods (hurrah!).

If fact, the Cardamon and Chili Chicken skewers are also super easy to make too.  You can leave the chicken marinading for up to a day and then just thread it on to skewers when you're ready to cook.   Superb grilled or cooked on a BBQ they can be eaten hot or cold.  Spicy and fragrant, the bashed Cardamom pods release a wonderful scent that perfumes the chicken.

Whoever said Indian cooking was hard, time consuming and labourious was fibbing.

On a side note, Cardamom also goes amazingly well with chocolate.

Cardamom and Chili Chicken
Makes enough for two

4 Chicken Breasts diced

For the Marinade
2 Garlic Cloves crushed
1 Tablespoon finely chopped Ginger
Large pinch of Black Pepper
5 Cardamom Pods, bashed
2 Green Chilies, finely chopped
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon  Ground Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
4 Heaped Tablespoons of Plain Natural Yoghurt
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil or Olive Oil
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon

Wooden Skewers
Lemon, for squeezing over the cooked chicken

  1. In a bowl (not a metal one), combine all the ingredients for the marinade , then add the diced chicken.
  2. Cover with cling film and leave to marinade in the fridge for a least two hours (but up to 24 hours).  
  3. Using the wooden skewers, thread on the chicken.
  4. Set your grill onto its highest setting, and grill the chicken skewers until cooked and nicely charred on the edges.  Alternatively, BBQ these bad boys.  Squeeze over a generous amount of lemon juice and serve with rice, dal, naan bread, dips, poppadoms and any other Indian accompaniments that take your fancy.

Dal - Makes enough for two.
3 Cloves of Garlic
1 Teaspoon finely chopped Ginger
1 Teaspoon of Ground Coriander
1 Teaspoon of Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon of Cayenne
1/4 Teaspoon of Ground Turmeric
1/2 Onion finely chopped
2 Medium Tomatoes chopped
100g Red Lentils
500ml Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Handful of Fresh Coriander, chopped

  1. In a pan over a medium heat, fry the Onions for two minutes, then add the ginger and garlic and cook for a further two minutes
  2. Add the spices and stir well, cook for a further one minute
  3. Add the tomatoes, stir and cook for another four minutes
  4. Next, add in the lentils and the Stock.  Stir and bring to the boil.  Then turn down the heat to low,  and cover with a lid, for 15 minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes, take off the lid and stir.  The lentils probably won't be done, so leave them uncovered for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add more stock or water if the lentils seem to be drying up. Test the lentils, they will be cooked when they are completely soft.  If not done, leave cooking for another 10 minutes and test again.
  6. Once cooked, stir in a handful of fresh coriander and serve. 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Roast Belly of Pork with Fennel Seeds

Roast Belly of Pork with Fennel Seeds

Pork belly is criminally underrated. One of the few cuts of meat that can stand being roasted without risk of it drying out, it's tender, moist, and you get crackin' crackling with it.  Despite all this, it's also one of the cheapest cuts that you can buy.  Why? Because, it has a decent amount of fat on it, and, as we've all become fat-phobic, terrified of even a smidge of the glorious white stuff, pork belly all dressed up in its bountiful layers has been condemned to the food sin bin.  But the fat in the belly keeps the meat moist while cooking, which means that you can leave it in the oven for a while before it needs any real intervention.  Once it does come round to serving you will find that most of the fat will have melted away during cooking, leaving wonderfully tender and flavourful meat.     

If you want crackling (who doesn't?!), score the pork skin with a very sharp knife (but not into the actual meat) and rub with a good pinch or two of salt.  I've used Fennel seeds along with salt and pepper to season the pork, as the aniseed flavour works superbly well. 

I have deliberatly not specifed precise quantities of ingredients, for example, how many potatoes you'll need is dependant on how many people your serving (and what else you're serving it with i.e veg). 

Pork Belly (Approx 300-400g person)
Salt & Pepper - Good few pinches
Fennel Seeds - 1-2 Tablespoons
Onions, sliced, enough to create a 'bed' for the pork (roughly 2 or 3)
Potatoes, Peeled and cut into chunks, enough for everybody

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C / 200 C Fan / Gas Mark 7
  2. Slice the onions and put them in a roasting tin so that they make a bed for the pork to sit on.  This will stop the underside of the pork from burning. 
  3. Score the skin of the pork belly with a very sharp knife and rub in the salt and pepper. 
  4. Scatter the fennel seeds over the pork.
  5. Peel and chop the potatoes into rough chunks and place around the pork.
  6. Place the belly into the oven and cook at 220C / 200 C Fan / Gas Mark 7 for 30 minutes.
  7. Turn down the oven to 170C / 150 C Fan / Gas Mark 3 and cook for about two or three hours.  Check the pork every so often just to make sure that its ticking way nicely. You don't need to be too precise with cooking times as it is unlikely that the belly will dry out.  
  8. The potatoes will probably be done half way through cooking, so take them out and keep warm for serving later.  
  9. It is unlikely that the cracking will be done by the time it comes round to serving, so heat the grill and place the pork ( still in the roasting tin) under the grill.  Keep a watchful eye so that it doesn't burn.  Grill until the crackling has crackled.  
  10. Serve with the potatoes, veg and gravy.  

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Spicy Moroccan Lamb Stew

Spicy Moroccan Lamb Stew

This stew is essentially a Tagine, albeit without the fancy cooking pot. It takes very little fuss to prepare, a bit of chopping, the opening of some tins and a gentle bubbling in a pan for a few hours.  It all results in a meltingly tender lamb, fragrant, spicy and wonderful. 

The cut of lamb used is fairly important; it needs to have a bit of fat on it, so I use Lamb neck fillet.  The fat eventually melts after a long cooking, but too much fat is not good, so any large bits of fat need to be trimmed off. 
I use typical Moroccan spices to flavour the tagine, such as cumin, coriander, ginger and cinnamon, along with three spices - cayenne, chili flakes and the brilliant Pimenton de la Vera (Smoked Paprika) to give a hot smokey kick to the stew.  Leave out the chili flakes if you prefer a milder flavour.  

INGREDIENTS (Serves 2 plus leftovers):
2 Tablespoons oil
350g Lamb Neck Fillet, trimmed of unnecessary fat and diced into inch cubes

1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika (Pimenton de la Vera)
1/2 Teaspoon Chili Flakes

1 large Red Onion, thickly sliced
1 large Carrot, peeled and cut into inch cubes
2 Fat Garlic Cloves squished
500ml Chicken Stock
1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Tomato Puree
1 Tin of cooked Chickpeas, washed and drained
Lemon Juice
Couscous to serve with the stew
Fresh Coriander chopped

  1. In a large pan, heat the oil until hot.  Add the trimmed and cubed lamb, and fry until browned all over.  
  2. Add in the spices (Cumin, Coriander, Ginger, Cinnamon, Cayenne, Smoked Paprika and Chili Flakes) and stir the lamb so that the pieces are fully coated.  Continue to fry for 2 minutes.  
  3. Add in the squished garlic cloves, onions and carrots, turn the heat down and cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.  
  4. Add in the chicken stock, tomato puree and the tin of chopped tomatoes, stir and turn the heat down low.
  5. Cook for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more stock or water if the stew becomes too dry.
  6. About 20 minutes before you want to serve, add in a can of drained chickpeas. 
  7. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.  
  8. Scatter with chopped fresh coriander and serve with a mound of fluffy couscous

Friday, 11 May 2012

Thai Pork Burgers and Lettuce and Lime Salad

Thai Pork Burgers and Lettuce and Lime Salad

These Thai inspired beauties are the new favourite in the house, lighter than a classic beef burger, they are beautifully fragrant and spicy.  They are also a doddle to make, and most of the ingredients for the spice paste were already lying around in my kitchen, so no long searches for obscure ingredients.

These little burgers go superbly well with chunks of roasted sweet potato and/or fragrant Jasmine rice,  and the lettuce and lime salad.  This salad is crisp, bitter, refreshing, salty and zesty, a cleansing balance to the meaty spiciness of the burgers and is pretty delicious.  Close your eyes and you could be in Bangkok.... 

Thai Pork Burgers (makes enough for 2 greedy people):

500g Minced Pork
Thumb sized piece of Ginger, peeled
4 Garlic Cloves, peeled
2 Chillies
1 Fresh Lemongrass Stalk, outer skin peeled off
1 Small Red Onion
Zest and Juice of one Lime
1 Tablespoon Light Soy Sauce
1 Small bunch fresh Coriander, stalks and leaves roughly chopped

  1. In a food processor, blend the ginger, garlic, chillies, lemongrass, red onion, soy sauce and lime zest and lime juice until it becomes a paste.
  2. Add this to the pork mince with the chopped Coriander and mix with your hands until thoroughly mixed.  
  3. Form into small burgers and fry in a little oil until brown and cooked.  Serve with Jasmine Rice and/or roasted Sweet Potato chunks, and the Lettuce and Lime salad.  

Lettuce and Lime Salad

Crisp white lettuce, washed and roughly chopped
Small handful of Coriander, leaves and stalks
10 (or so) Mint leaves
Juice of half a lime (or to taste)
1-2 Spring Onions finely sliced
1 Green Chili, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
Good pinch of Salt

  1. Roughly chop the lettuce and place in a large bowl
  2. Finely chop the Coriander, Mint, Spring Onions and Chili and toss with the lettuce leaves.  
  3. Squeeze a generous about of lime juice over the salad and a good pinch of salt.  Taste and add more lime juice or salt as necessary.  Serve with the Thai Pork Burgers

Monday, 7 May 2012

Fresh Pasta and Basil Pesto

Fresh Pasta and Basil Pesto

It was my Domestic Goddess blip (see Coffee and Walnut Cake post) that had me making my first ever batch of fresh egg pasta.  Previous to this, I had never attempted to make my own pasta, probably because I was under the impression that I needed a whole host of equipment and ingredients that I didn't have, didn't want to buy and didn't have the space for.  Oh how wrong I was.  No need for a pasta machine here - as long as you've got a solid rolling pin, your laughing.   

You will need special "00" pasta flour though, but you can find this in most decent supermarkets.  It is even super easy to work out quantities - for every 100g of flour you will need to use one medium egg.  The 100g flour and one egg mix will make roughly enough pasta for one person, although I did 300g flour and 3 eggs to serve two very hungry people.  Just work out how many people you need to feed and adjust accordingly. 

When you come to roll out the pasta you will need to get it as thin as you can - no thicker than a penny, and then using a sharp knife or pizza wheel like I did, cut it into strips.  How wide you want the strips to be is up to you, mine were about 1cm, but you don't need to be too precise.    

Now, there's no point taking time to make your own pasta if your going to ruin it with some crappy shop brought pasta sauce.  Try to see the fresh pasta as a delicious element in its own right, rather than just something that the sauce clings to. When you've made your own pasta you need a really special sauce.  
I had a bunch of beautiful emerald green basil at home that was just calling out to be turned into a pesto. Vibrant grass green, this pesto is a world away from any overly salty shop brought pond sludge.  

Fresh Pasta (per person):
100g "00" Pasta Flour
1 Medium egg (Free-range)

  1. In a bowl put the flour and make a well with your fingers
  2. In the well put the egg(s) and using your fingers mix together.  It may seem a bit dry at first, but persevere and all the flour will be incorporated, so don't add any extra liquid.  
  3. Once it has come together in a rough ball, you will now need to knead it on a lightly floured surface.  
  4. Knead the pasta until it is no longer rough and floury, but smooth.  It took me at least 10 minutes to get to this stage.  
  5. Wrap the pasta tightly in cling film and place in the fridge for at least an hour to rest.
  6. Once rested, take it out of the fridge and on a lightly floured work-surface roll it out using a rolling pin (or if your super fancy, a pasta machine).  It may be easier to do this in batches.  Keep any pasta that your not working with wrapped in the cling film to stop it from drying out.  
  7. Roll the pasta so that it is no thicker than a penny.  Using a sharp knife or pizza wheel, cut out long strips of the pasta.  
  8. To cook the pasta, put a large pan of salted water on the boil.  When it starts boiling, put in your fresh pasta.  As it is fresh it has a much shorter cooking time than dried pasta, but how long you cook it for depends on how thick the pasta is and how much there is in the pan.  Test it regularly. You want it al dente, with bite.  

Basil Pesto (makes enough for four servings):
Large bunch of Basil
50g Grated Parmesan
50g Pine nuts
1 Fat garlic clove (or two small ones)
Juice of half a Lemon (to taste)
100ml Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

  1. In a dry frying pan, lightly toast the pine nuts until just golden.  Take them off the heat and leave to cool.
  2. In a food processor, blend the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic and half of the olive oil together until finely processed. The pesto should have a similar consistency to double cream. You may find that you don't need to use all of the oil - or you may need more.  
  3. Add in the juice of half the lemon and taste, adding more if necessary.  You probably don't want it too lemony just enough to brighten it.  I found that half was just enough.
  4. Stir it through fresh pasta, or use it as a delicious herby salad dressing.  

Coffee and Walnut Cake

Coffee and Walnut Cake

Last Friday was a bit of a Domestic Goddess moment for me, a rare moment where I wake up far too early and spend my entire day making and baking.  We were visiting my cousins quaint new house on Saturday, and alongside the two cushions I had made for her, I decided to bake a cake for tea at hers.  

Coffee cake is a family favourite, and has a near permanent presence at my mothers house.   Normally shop brought, my main problem with these cakes (aside from the vast number of unnecessary ingredients) is the measly size - when I want cake, I want a hunk of cake.  For this, I use a tin that is 22cm in diameter - perfect size for a wodge of cake.  

Because I don't have two cake tins, I have to make and bake the cake in two parts, so I divide the ingredients in two (i.e 120g instead of 240g) and then repeat it.  
240g Unsalted Butter, softened
240g Golden Caster Sugar
240g Self Raising Flour
2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
4 Medium Eggs lightly beaten
Pinch of Salt
2 Tablespoon Instant Coffee dissolved in 8 tablespoons of water.

100g Softened Unsalted Butter
500g Icing Sugar
1 Tablespoon Instant Coffee dissolved in 4 tablespoons of water.
Walnuts to decorate

  1. Preheat the oven to 190c / 170c fan oven / Gas Mark 5.  Line a suitable cake tin(s).  
  2. In a bowl beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
  3. Sift in the self raising flour, baking powder and pinch of salt and beat with half of the lightly beaten eggs until just incorporated.  
  4. Add in the rest of the eggs with several spoonfuls of the dissolved instant coffee (to taste) and mix.  
  5. Spoon into the cake tin and carefully spread to the edges.  Smooth the top and place in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked.  Try not to open the oven door for at least 10 minutes or the cake may not rise too well.  
  6. Leave the cake in the tin for at least 10 minutes before removing and leaving to cool on a wire rack.  
  7. Repeat if necessary (if you don't have two cake tins).
  8. When the cakes are cold you can start to make the icing.  
  9. In a bowl beat the butter until pale with an electric whisk.  
  10. Add in half of the icing sugar and beat until thoroughly mixed.  
  11. Add in a spoonful or two of the coffee and mix.  
  12. Add in the rest of the icing sugar and thoroughly mix.  The icing may be a bit dry so add in a bit more coffee until the icing has reached a spreadable consistency.  
  13. Get yourself a board or plate on which to put the cake.  Spread a small spoonful of icing on the empty dish, and put one of the cakes on it.  This will stop the cake moving about.   
  14. Using a flat knife or palette knife, ice the top of that cake and put the other cake on top of that (so that you've iced the middle of the cake).
  15. Use a small amount of the icing (about a quarter) to carefully ice all the cake (top and sides) and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  
  16. Take the cake out of the fridge and use the remaining icing (you should have about half left) to go over the top and sides.  This should stop the crumbs from going in your icing.  
  17. Top with walnuts and serve in generous wedges.  

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork

As far as roasts go, pulled pork is pretty epic.  Far simpler and, actually, a lot less faff than your typical beef or chicken Sunday lunch, it is immensly tasty, fun, and cheap. Although it is a bit of an investment in time (and fuel) the results are well worth it - meltingly tender pork with a delicious spicy kick.  

The aim of this game is to cook the pork low and slow, I cooked the shoulder for 18 hours in an oven which was never above 110C / 90C (Fan Ovens) / Gas Mark 1/4, and boy did it turn out good.  We served it with cheap white rolls, wedges, corn on the cob, and several types of chili and barbeque sauce.    The new Tabasco Chipotle sauce goes perfectly with the pulled pork - spicy and smokey, it's frickin' awesome. 

Those who have had proper pulled pork before, will know that this recipe is not strictly authentic.  For one, I don't have a smoker (I don't know anyone in England that does), in which to smoke the shoulder for hours. So, this pulled pork is more of a homage to the barbecue kings of the Deep South and their meaty greatness.  

Makes enough for 5 very hungry people (plus leftovers)
2.5 kg Boned Shoulder of Pork (roughly 500g uncooked weight per person)
New packet of Clean Rubber gloves

For the Spice Rub:
1 Tablespoon of Smoked Paprika - Pimenton de la Vera
1 Tablespoon of Garlic Granules
1 Tablespoon of Ground Ginger
1 Tablespoon of Mustard Powder
1 Tablespoon of Cayenne
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
25g Rock Salt (Not the fine table salt)
60g White Caster Sugar
60g Dark Brown Sugar

  1. In a bowl mix up all the ingredients for the spice rub and set aside.
  2. Carefully wash the shoulder of pork.  Cut the pieces of string that hold the shoulder together and roll out the pork.  Cut away any large pieces of fat.  You want to keep a fair amount of fat on the pork to stop it drying out when cooking.  Besides, nearly all of the fat will eventually melt off the meat. Pat the pork dry with kitchen paper.
  3. Put the pork into a suitable sized roasting tin and generously cover with the spice rub.  
  4. You will need to massage in the spice rub making sure that the pork is completely covered.  
  5. Cover the pork with cling film and leave to marinade in the fridge for about 5 hours or so.  
  6. About an hour before you plan to start roasting the pork, take it out of the fridge, and let it come to room temperature.  This is actually very important, so don't skip that bit.    
  7. Preheat the oven to 110C / 90C (Fan Ovens) / Gas Mark 1/4.  The aim is to slowly roast the pork at a very low temperature.  
  8. Put the pork into the oven and leave to cook for at least 12 hours.  I cooked the pork for 18 hours at it turned out wonderful.  As long as the temperature is low then the pork shouldn't dry out. Don't worry if the rub starts looking quite dark and black - this is normal, it hasn't burnt - its caramelised!   
  9. When the pork is cooked - there isn't really the need to check for blood in the juices if the pork has been cooking for at least 12 hours.  The best way to check is to stick a fork in the pork and twist it - if it turns easily then the pork is done.  
  10. Take the pork out of the oven, cover it with tin foil and a clean tea towel and leave to rest somewhere warm for at least 30 minutes.  
  11. After resting, uncover the pork and wearing your (clean) washing up gloves, start to hand shred the pork.  Discard the skin and any lumps of fat that still remain.  The pork should naturally break off into strands without you having to use any knives. 
  12. Serve the pulled pork with chips/wedges, soft white rolls, buttery corn on the cob and lots of barbecue and chili sauce.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Mushroom and Thyme Risotto with Pancetta

Mushroom and Thyme Risotto with Pancetta

I have a new love in my life.  It is slightly embarrassing, but ho hum, here goes, it's... Morrisons.  Yep, the supermarket.  Let me explain, a couple of weeks ago, I visited one of their newfangled fresh market stores and I was utterly blown away.  On sale was the most varied and interesting fruit and veg I have ever seen.  Things that I had never even seen before! It was amazing and I got stupidly excited.  Ohh and there's mist (!).  Some genius has come up with the idea that by spraying a fine mist over the vegetables, it keeps them perkier for longer.  It also looks like some 80's music video (it's the dry ice effect), which is pretty awesome. 

Anyways, I took a trip there (upsettingly, none of these stores are close to me, so it was a special trip) and came across some cool 'shrooms.  I got giant King Oysters, dainty egg yellow chantarelles, and... wait for it... BLUE mushrooms.  Blue! I just had to have them.  

With such ace ingredients I had to make something that would put the mushrooms center stage, so what better way than with a delicious mushroom risotto.  At home, I had some chestnut mushrooms, and also some dried mushrooms waiting to be used, so I added them to the mushroom mix.  The risotto with the mushrooms, thyme and pancetta turned out to be damn good.  Try it.  It's yum...

Make enough for two, plus left overs

Knob of Butter
1 Stick of Celery, finely chopped
1 Medium Onion, finely chopped
2 Fat Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
150g Arborio Risotto Rice (Roughly one mug full)
Small Glass of White Wine
The leaves from a few springs of Fresh Thyme
500ml Hot Stock (Chicken or Vegetable)
Roughly 500g - 700g of Mixed Fresh Mushrooms, chopped.  I used Chestnut, King Oyster, Blue Stalk and Chanterelles.  Use the most interesting you can find - not the boring white mushrooms!    
Small Handful of Dried Mushrooms 
Freshly grated Parmesan
2-3 bits of Pancetta or Smoked Streaky Bacon per person

  1. In a mug put the dried mushrooms and pour in some just boiled water to about halfway.  Stir and leave to soak for at least 30 minutes (or see packet instructions). 
  2. Put the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and add in the celery, onions and garlic.  Stir regularly and cook for about 5 minutes, without letting it colour.  
  3. Stir in the rice and let it cook for 2 minutes, constantly stirring. 
  4. Add in the white wine and stir.  Let it bubble for 3 or so minutes.  Keep stirring so that the rice doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan
  5. Add in the chopped  fresh mushrooms. the sprigs of thyme and half of the stock, stir. 
  6. Drain the soaked dried mushrooms but reserve the mushroomy water. 
  7. Finely chop the soaked mushrooms and stir into the risotto along with the mushroomy water. 
  8. Keep stirring the risotto every minute or so.  When most of the stock in the risotto has been absorbed. add in the rest of the stock.  
  9. In a frying pan, fry the pancetta or bacon until crispy, drain and cut up into pieces.  
  10.  By the time most of the stock in the risotto has been absorbed, the risotto rice should be cooked.  If not, add a bit more stock (or water).  You want the risotto to be quite oozy, so if it looks too thick, add in some stock or water to loosen it. 
  11. Take the risotto of the heat, stir in a good grating of Parmesan, fresh black pepper and taste.  Add more pepper, and salt if needed.  
  12. Scatter over the pancetta pieces, few thyme leaves and a bit of grated Parmesan and serve. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes with Marshmallow Fluff Frosting

Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes with Marshmallow Fluff Frosting

Last Christmas, I was given a jar of Marshmallow Fluff (lucky me), and not knowing quite what to do with it, I popped it in my baking cupboard where it has sat, lurking there ever since.  Quite possibly the most unhealthiest thing ever to grace my kitchen cupboards, Marshmallow Fluff is diabetes in a jar.  Jawachingly sweet, it sticks to the roof of your mouth (and anywhere else that I manage to get it) like superglue.  Surprising then, that it's actually quite tasty (I've been sneakily eating it by the spoonful.. shh).

Well, the 'Fluff is nearly out of date and I needed to use it up pronto.  Aside from making a Fluffernutter (google it... its not as rude as it sounds), I wanted to turn it into a frosting to top some lovely cupcakes.

But what flavour cupcakes? I couldn't decide on just one... So I decided to make Vanilla AND Chocolate (ooh how extravagant)...

The cake mix below will make approximately 18 cupcakes.

For the Vanilla Cupcakes:

4oz Golden Caster Sugar
4oz Butter
2 Medium Eggs (lightly whisked)
3 1/2 oz Self Raising Flour
1/2 oz Cornflour
Small Pinch of Salt
2 Teaspoons of Vanilla Extract (the proper stuff)

For the Chocolate Cupcakes:

4oz Golden Caster Sugar
4oz Butter
2 Medium Eggs (lightly whisked)
3 oz Self Raising Flour
1/2 oz Cornflour
1/2 oz Cocoa
Small Pinch of Salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C Fan / Gas Mark 4
  2. Line a muffin tin with cases - you will probably need to cook the cupcakes in two batches, unless your luckily enough to have two cupcake tins.  
To Make the Vanilla Cupcakes:
  1. In a bowl beat to together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (this will take a few minutes).
  2. Sift in the flour, cornflour and salt mix and half of the lightly whisked eggs, and gently beat in to the butter and sugar. 
  3. Add the rest of the eggs and the vanilla extract and beat until fully mixed.  Take care not to over mix.
To Make the Chocolate Cupcakes:
  1. In a bowl beat to together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (this will take a few minutes).
  2. Sift in the flour, cocoa, cornflour and salt mix and half of the lightly whisked eggs, and gently beat in to the butter and sugar. 
  3. Add the rest of the eggs and beat until fully mixed. Take care not to over mix.
To Make the Marbling:
  1. Using a dessert spoon put a dollop of the chocolate mix into each of the cupcake cases.
  2. Then, using the vanilla mix put another dollop into the cases, on top of the chocolate mix.  
  3. Using a sharp knife, gently swirl the mixes together.  You don't want to totally mix them up or you'll lose the marble effect.  
  4. The two spoonfuls of cake mix (one vanilla, one chocolate) should fill the cases about 1/2 or 3/4 way full.  If not, top it up with a little bit of either cake mix, so that they are (no more than) 3/4 full.

5. Put the cakes into the oven for 15 minutes or until done (put a skewer through the biggest one and it should come out clean).  Resist the temptation to open the oven door for at least 10 minutes or your cakes may not rise so well.  

6. Leave the cakes to cool for several hours (or overnight) or the frosting will melt.

For the Marshmallow Fluff Frosting:

1 Jar of Marshmallow Fluff
60g Unsalted Butter, cut into cubes
400g Icing Sugar, sifted
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons (or so) of Milk
Gel food colouring (optional)

  1. Scoop (as best you can) the Marshmallow Fluff into a bowl and beat for a few minutes using an electric whisk.
  2. Beat in the butter, one cube at a time, until it is all fully incorporated. 
  3. Sift in half of the icing sugar and the vanilla extract and mix.  
  4. Sift in the rest of the icing sugar and beat.  You will probably need to add in a drop of milk.  Add a little at a time until you reach a good piping consistency. 
  5. If you are going to colour the icing, then add in the food colouring and beat until fully mixed.
  6. Pipe (or splodge onto the cupcakes) 


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Spaghetti

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Spaghetti

There are some days when the compulsion to spend a long time cooking is lacking (basically I can't be bothered), when time is limited (the baby needs a feed) and I need to throw something together quickly.  Pasta, is often the store cupboard saviour.  Pasta (and something) is the staple of most diets - not that that's a bad thing, especially when the '...and something' is as good as this.

In this recipe, the garlickly Olive Oil is the pasta's "sauce", so it is important to use a really good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Don't however have the spaghetti swimming in oil.  That's not nice for anyone.

One Handful of Small Tomatoes (per person), cut in half
1-2 fat cloves of garlic (per person), thinly sliced
Few sprigs of fresh Thyme
Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Parmesan / Grana Padano

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/ 170C fan / Gas Mark 5
  2. In an ovenproof dish put the halved tomatoes, the sliced garlic, sprigs of thyme and a generous splosh of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  
  3. Place in the oven for about 25-30 minutes.  Check every so often and give it a gentle stir, making sure the garlic doesn't burn and the tomatoes don't turn too much into mush.
  4. When the tomatoes are nearly done, cook the spaghetti in a pan of boiling salted water. 
  5. Take the tomatoes out of the oven, and if needed add a splosh more of olive oil and give it all a stir scraping up all the delicious caramelised bits at the bottom.  
  6. Drain the pasta when it is cooked (but still has some bite) and stir in the tomatoes and garlicky oil. 
  7. Grate over a generous amount of Parmesan (or Grana Padano) and a good grind of black pepper and serve.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Plum Crumble

Plum Crumble

I love fruit crumbles.  I really, really love crumbles.  If I could, I would have one every day. For me, they are not just something to eat for dessert.  I can eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner or any time in between.  Warm or cold I am happy when I'm eating a crumble.  I'm rarely fussy when it comes to the filling of a crumble either; apple, plum, rhubarb, berries of various descriptions, on their own or in combination, it's all good.  

Out of preference I tend to have a tarter crumble.  I hardly ever add sugar to the fruit, the exception being rhubarb and maybe cooking apples depending on their sourness.  But this is all down to preference - if you prefer a sweeter crumble then add sugar.  Adding anything else to a fruit crumble seems a bit unnecessary, but, and although I'm not a fan of cinnamon, I do add a dash to a plum crumble.  Plum and cinnamon go spectacularly well together and it makes the crumble sing.

 Making your own crumble topping is ridiculously easy too.  All you need is flour, sugar and butter; all ingredients that I bet most people have in their cupboards and fridge.  And making it takes as much faff as opening a packet of (expensive) shop brought crumble topping.  

I haven't put how much fruit you will need - just work out roughly how many servings you want and find a dish that's suitable size and fill it full of fruit.  The plum crumble I made below, will probably serve 2-3 people and I used 6 plums.  If I were making an apple crumble I would probably use 1-2 apples per person depending on the apple's size.  

And as a final note, a crumble is a great way to use up a lot of fruit, or fruit that is going a bit ropey.  

Plums (roughly 3 per person), stoned and sliced.  
A scant 1/4 teaspoon per 6 plums of Ground Cinnamon (or more if you particularly like cinnamon)
A sprinkling of golden caster sugar (to taste)

For the Crumble Topping (enough to cover the amount of fruit above, but can easily be doubled up):
115g Plain Flour
55g Butter, cubed
40g Golden Caster Sugar

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C / 180C fan / Gas Mark 6
  2. Halve, stone and then slice the plums and place them in a suitable dish.
  3. Sprinkle over the cinnamon (and if using, the sugar)
  4. In a bowl add all the crumble topping ingredients, and using your fingertips rub the butter with the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Make sure there are no big lumps of butter lurking at the bottom.  
  5. Place the crumble topping over the plums and put it in the oven for about 30-45 minutes, or until the topping is a lovely golden colour. 

Awesome Chocolate Brownies

Awesome Chocolate Brownies

There are few foods in the world as decadent as a good chocolate brownie; rich, sticky and devilishly tempting. It is immensely useful as a 'what-ever-the-occasion' treat ; perfect with the afternoon cup(s) of tea or impressive as a sumptuous after dinner dessert.  Most importantly though, there doesn't even need to be an occasion to enjoy a brownie as good as this.

I urge anyone and everyone to try it.  I promise it will satisfy any chocolate craving in an instant, just don't skimp on the quality of the chocolate - try not to use anything under 70% cocoa, it just won't taste as good.  

There is however only one way to eat a chocolate brownie... Warm.  Buzz it in the microwave for a few seconds and you have a treat fit for the gods themselves.

225g Unsalted Butter, cubed
350g Good Quality Chocolate (70% Cocoa Solids), broken into pieces
4 Medium Eggs, separated
300g Light Brown Sugar
25g Cocoa Powder
200g Plain Flour
1 Teaspoon of Instant Coffee dissolved in a couple of tablespoons of water
A Pinch of Salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C / 170C for fan ovens / Gas Mark 5.
  2. Line a tin (approx 24cm square) - I use tin foil.
  3. Sift the flour, cocoa and salt into a bowl together.
  4. In a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, melt the butter and the chocolate.  Try not to stir the mixture, just poke down any bits of unmelted chocolate or butter.  Don't rush the melting stage by turning up the heat - you don't want the chocolate to burn.
  5. In another bowl use an electric whisk to whisk the separated egg whites and sugar until thick, white and glossy. 
  6. Once the chocolate is melted take it off the heat and let it cool slightly, then add it to the egg whites.  Mix well together.  
  7. Add in half of the flour/cocoa/salt mixture and gently mix.
  8. Add in the rest of the flour/cocoa/salt mixture along with the egg yolks and coffee.  Mix gently together making sure everything is combined.  
  9. Pour into your lined tin and bake for 20-25 minutes. Your chocolate brownie should be firm but definitely not cooked all the way though.  Best served warm.