Wednesday 12 June 2013

Simple Dough Recipe

Perfect for mini garlic and herb flatbread or an Alsace-style tarte. Or even pizza!


I have a tried and tested pizza base recipe I use already, one from Phil Vickery, but this dough recipe is by Alice Hart and is featured in the cooking section of July’s Homes ad Gardens. I thought I’d give it a go as the things she made with it looked delicious. It was really easy to make, then the point was to rest it in the fridge for 1-3 days to prove slowly.

Those who know me will also know how impatient I am, so for the first batch, I couldn't wait that long. I split the recipe and used half wholemeal flour for one batch to make pizzas for my little one. I proved this as usual, rather than the 3 days, and they turned out perfectly. For the second half of the dough I stuck to the white flour recipe, leaving some in the fridge, and using some immediately to make the Garlic and Herb flatbread. Again, this I left to prove as usual in a warm place for about an hour, then followed the recipe to add dimples, drizzle with olive oil infused with garlic and rosemary and cooked.

One of the tips given was rather than put the oven to, maybe 200, just whack it up to full. And also to place the dough on the base of the oven to bake. This is the thing that seems to have made it perfect. The mini flatbread turned out brilliantly, (although with the second lot of ‘proved’ dough, wasn’t exactly flat, more of a focaccia!) as did the the pizza. As for the tarte, well I used red onions but that, for once, was my only change.


Here’s the DOUGH recipe…makes 6 ‘rounds’ for 6 pizzas.

650g strong white flour

2 tsp sea salt flakes

1 heaped teaspoon instant yeast (7g packet)

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

440ml cold water

Combine the dry ingredients, add the wet then knead for ten minutes on an oiled work surface.

split into 6, then place each inside an oiled freezer bag, securing the top, and pop into the fridge for 1-3 days to prove slowly.

Use as required.

At this stage, you can freeze the dough for up to 6 months and defrost overnight in the fridge .

Leave at room temperature for a couple of hours before using.



Divide the dough into small rounds, flatten, then leave to prove. This is where Alice and I differ. She suggests you top them before proving, whereas I think that after proving retains more of the oil. So, up to you really. To make the oil, simply use a pestle and mortar to squish as much garlic, salt flakes and rosemary and thyme as you fancy, then add extra virgin olive oil. Leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes. Use your finger to make dimples in the dough, pour over the oil, then bake on the oven floor for about 15 minutes.




I’m not really sure where the ‘flambee’ part of this recipe comes in…maybe you could add some white wine to the onions and lardons and set it alight? As it is, it’s another really simple idea. Flatten the dough into a circle onto a non-stick sheet. Or put into an oiled tarte tin. Smooth a few tablespoons of crème fraiche over it, then top with softened (but not browned) onions and fried-off crispy lardons. Sprinkle some thyme leaves over the top and bake for at least 15 minutes on the oven floor.


I used red onions, which is why looks a little on the burnt side!I also covered the top after 15 minutes and left in for another 10 as the middle of the base wasn’t quite cooked through.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Oxo French Press - review

We all love our coffee on a weekend morning (who has time for real coffee midweek?) so I was pleased to receive this beautiful looking French press from Oxo in the post. What makes this one different from all the others is the fact that it has a ‘Groundskeeper’. A little tray, squidged at the bottom on a stalk to pull up and empty the grounds after use.


Now in our house, the cafetière NEVER gets cleaned. It sits on the side after use until the next time someone needs it. The reason being, in my opinion, that no-one can be bothered to either, a) scrape out the grounds into the compost / bin, then swish the remaining ones out before cleaning or b) fill with water, empty contents down the sink, then try to capture stray grains that are clinging to all side of the sink. I was hoping that the Groundskeeper feature of this new one would solve that problem and my mum would no longer feel the need to write a poem entitled ‘Why does the cafetière never get cleaned?’

Unusually for me, I read the instructions, although the only main difference being to place the Groundskeeper inside before adding coffee and remove it once finished. This I did. I also warmed the French press, as instructed, something I would never normally bother with. Other tips enclosed included letting your coffee ‘bloom’ (adding a little hot water to cover the coffee, then stirring, before adding the rest), stirring in a ‘cross’ pattern rather than in circles, and breaking the crust to let most of the grounds sink before plunging.


This press makes coffee like all the others, there’s no difference there, but as I said, I was hoping the process of cleaning it may be easier than normal. So, when it came to it, I gently removed the tray containing the grounds (the Groundskeeper slid out easily, much more so than expected as it is quite a tight fit with a rubber seal) and popped them into my composting bin. I’ve also heard that if you tip them down your sink, they help keep the drains free, and that you can use the grains as an exfoliator…this would take some careful preparation though, unless you’re thinking of taking the Groundskeeper up to the shower / bath with you?! There were still a few grounds left in the bottom and around the edge, and these still needed to be swished with water and ended up, as usual, around the sink. In the end, the Groundskeeper ended up being just another part to clean, with the recommendation being to hand-wash every part.

As with all Oxo products, this is a very stylish press, and the Groundskeeper does it’s job fairly well, although if you have a few grounds left at the end that need swishing, you may as well swish the whole lot. This is now our ‘press of choice’ in the house, but the funniest thing was watching my husband attempt to use it for the first time without instructions – hilarious! He had absolutely no concept of the Groundskeeper, tipped the grounds out first, then removed the keeper!

Disclaimer: Although I was sent products to try for the purpose of this post, all views and opinions are entirely my own, truthful and honest.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Jamie’s Asian Tuna, Coconut Rice & Jiggy Jiggy Greens.


If you only cook one thing from scratch this week, make it this: Jamie’s Seared Asian Tuna, Coconut Rice and Jiggy Jiggy Greens. I’ve had a copy of his 15 Minute Meals book for a while now, and this week, decided I was fed up of all the boring usuals I was cooking, so decided to go ahead and plan for two of the meals.

Now, being a seasoned Jamie fan, I know the flavours always work well, but I’m also aware that if I even attempted to cook this in 15 minutes, my kitchen would look like a bomb site afterwards (see my 30 minute post!) and I’d spend at least half an hour cleaning it up. So, I decided to do it all in ‘bits’ as and when I had time, and record the time taken actually doing the chopping, pouring, cooking etc.


It really is a simple recipe, and I’m going to summarise here rather than give you a definitive list: for that, there’s an app! I did everything out of order as I was preparing everything I could beforehand so when the OH arrived home, I could just do the ‘cooking’ parts. So to begin, I measured out half a cup of basmati rice, half a cup of reduced fat coconut milk and got the water ready to boil in the kettle for half a cup of that. I prepped the greens too using spinach, broccoli and little gem lettuce. They just needed shredding, adding to a pan with some sesame oil, crushed garlic and seasoning. (If you don’t have a Jamie Oliver range garlic press, I’d highly recommend it: works like a charm and you don’t even have to remove the skins.) Next I ‘created’ the serving platter, scattering pickled ginger and it’s juice, chopped spring onions, freshly squeezed pink grapefruit and chopped red chilli over a plate. I then coated the tuna steaks in sesame seeds, missing out the green tea as we didn’t have any and I’d already been to the supermarket twice! Everything was now ready to cook later. This preparation aspect took about 12 minutes, which didn’t include time spent gong back and forth, getting out ingredients, tidying as I went along etc. I also took out everything I’d need after cooking, such as chopped coriander and soy and teriyaki sauces for drizzling over things.

When the OH arrived, it was simply a case of adding the milk and water to the rice pan and boiling for ten minutes; searing the tuna, then slicing, adding to the plate and covering with soy and chopped coriander; and tossing the greens over a high heat for a couple of minutes before adding teriyaki sauce to taste.


It really didn’t take long, providing you have all the ingredients, and took no longer than 35 minutes all in all, including tidying the kitchen, which I think is pretty good from scratch. As expected, the flavour combinations were spot-on: this was one of the nicest meals we’ve had in ages: delicious.

Monday 4 March 2013

The Art of Cooking (and the science behind it)

There are recipes I follow without faltering, but they are few and far between: I’m hard-pushed to actually name one, and generally collect ideas, use one recipe, then alter it as I go. On the other hand, I always follow dessert recipes to the letter.

This is the difference between science and art.

The former is the definitive recipe and the ideas behind it that make it work. For example, the quantities of ingredients to get the balance right; knowing that if you grease the baking tin, things are less likely to stick; if the oven’s too hot, the outside will burn and the inside remain uncooked.This is why desserts, pudding and baking usually fall into this category – it’s a scientific process that needs accurate quantities and correct temperatures and times if the magic is to happen: The batter to form a light cake; the egg to set and not curdle; the yeast to do it’s job.

But with a savoury recipe, does it matter if the balance of ingredients is right? Surely it’s all a question of taste? And that, in my opinion, is Art. If you want a crispy topping on something, then yes, turn the oven up at the end, just make sure the middle is cooked through first! If you dislike bitter green peppers, leave them out or substitute for something else. It won’t matter, and if you haven’t cooked the original recipe before either, you’ll never know the difference! This is yet another point on which John Thorne and I agree it would seem. He managed to change a Fusilli with Tomato and Green Olive Sauce recipe containing anchovy, garlic, tomatoes, capers, green olives, basil and oregano, to Gemelli with Red Onion, Yellow Bell Pepper, Black Olives and Tuna: oregano, garlic, capers and basil being the only similar flavourings! His view is, however, slightly different as he tends to see through a recipe to ‘a dish wildly signalling to [him] on the other side, begging to be let out.’ Something he’s been waiting to cook, using the general idea to create his own. I’m nowhere near that stage yet, probably because I have nowhere near as much cooking experience or as good a palate. I still need the general main idea, but I’m beginning to play around more adventurously than I used to.

The science definitely helps…if you’re familiar with cooking methods, appropriate temperatures, why certain ingredients behave in certain ways, then the chances are, you’ll have far greater success with the dish you’re attempting. Thorne suggests that ‘Kitchen science may explain why eggs fried the one way or the other end up the way they do, but it takes no positions on which we should prefer. In fact, knowing both schools of thought gives us a richer conception of what a fried egg is.’

For now, at least, I’ll stick to this rule…

Savoury Dishes = Art         Desserts = Science

And there’s no chance of me messing with Science!


Quotes are taken from The Reviewer and the Recipe, Simple Cooking, Issue 75. John Thorne.

You can find John Thorne online here, but he has, unfortunately for me and many others, decided to ‘wrap things up’ at Issue 100 of his popular subscription ‘Simple Cooking’. Having only just discovered this food-based newsletter I will definitely be subscribing to the remaining issues. At least there are nearly two-years worth of quarterly reading remaining!


Monday 25 February 2013

A Question of Taste

I begin as usual: reading the ingredients; checking I have everything; looking through the method; pre-heating the oven…you know the ritual before you begin to cook. Especially when you’ve never made it before. Except, as usual, I don’t have some of the ingredients required, or the time necessary to complete the cooking, or indeed the desire to actually make the final product. So what is wrong? Well, nothing. This is how most of my cooking and recipe following usually goes. Especially the part about never having the right ingredients. I either think I’ve got everything, begin, then find I don’t, or can’t find quite the right product at the supermarket, so choose what I believe will be a suitable alternative: It rarely is!

Goodshoeday (Linda) over at With Knife and Fork, tweeted recently that she was programmed never to follow a recipe properly and can’t resist tweaking each one. I feel much the same. It’s not that I don’t want to follow it: I prepare and embark on each recipe with all good intentions, much like John Thorne, one of America’s most loved food writers, who states that he was propelled straight to the stove after learning the science behind the cooking in Russ Parson’s ‘How to Read a French Fry’ (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2001), and was ‘ … sincerely expecting to stick to Russ’s recipe.’ (The Reviewer and the Recipe, Simple Cooking, Issue 75) Like him, however, what we actually end up eating often varies considerably from the original idea.

So why is it many of us, it seems, have tens, if not hundreds of recipe books which we regularly browse, but never seem to follow? What is it that makes us think we know best? Again, like John, I prefer to find my own way to solve the problem set rather than follow another’s method, which is why I rarely add amounts or definite ingredients to my blog recipes – I believe (rightly or wrongly) people just want the initial idea. When at school completing my Art GCSE and A-Level I could never ‘get started’. The inspiration often wouldn’t come. But once I had an idea, it grew, developed and metamorphosed along many, often divergent, paths to several ends. I find now that my cooking replicates this method…I begin by trawling recipes for the same, or a very similar outcome, much like Simple Cooking suggests as a ‘best way to learn more about a dish’, however, John also wonders whether ‘recipes for entirely different dishes might have something to say to each other’, which I had never considered. Should I be searching for recipes with similar main ingredients, cooking methods, or country of origin to see if there are common factors, then creating my own ‘combo recipe’? I don’t think so: I’m in agreement that a recipe should be a starting point painted in very broad brushstrokes.

One of the keys to successful cooking is, in my opinion, remembering to record key factors of a dish if it goes right and is particularly tasty. At least that way, you’ll know how to make it again perfectly. I was trying to come up with a take on Mince and Onion Pie and ended up throwing in, as I usually do, whatever needed using up from the bottom of the fridge. Ingredients included sweet potatoes and carrots as well as the more usual fare, but the thing that really made it tasty was the spicy pepperoni and cheddar cheese topping before adding the puff pastry. After eating, I quickly scribbled the main ideas down, just in case I forgot next time. Now when I make it, I don’t divert from these because it suits our tastes just as it is.

So, if you’re trying out a recipe and choose not to follow it to the letter, don’t worry. As long as you enjoy it, that’s what’s important: it’s all a question of taste.


You can find John Thorne online here, but he has, unfortunately for me and many others, decided to ‘wrap things up’ at Issue 100 of his popular subscription ‘Simple Cooking’. Having only just discovered this food-based newsletter I will definitely be subscribing to the remaining issues. At least there are nearly two-years worth of quarterly reading remaining!

Many thanks to Linda for suggesting delving into John’s archives, so to speak, and to John himself for the prompt response with exactly the right article. Thank you.

References: Simple Cooking, Issue Number 75, Sept. – Dec. 2001, John Thorne

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Root Vegetable & Chicken Risotto–Toddler Teatimes

I still find I cook different meals for the LO and am trying to incorporate making our meal with hers, but this is still something I struggle to do as we never eat at the same time. To make things easier, cooking up a large batch of something that you can have later and she can have earlier is something I’m trying more and more to do. After I saw how quickly my 20 month old wolfed down a Little Dish risotto, I decided that I could make a big batch of similar, freeze it and, fingers crossed, she’d do the same with a much cheaper version. As it’s quite sloppy, and there’s not much chewing involved, this is now a firm favourite for Frankie and both of us, even if we don’t eat together: Something that I always feel guilty about.


It’s a simple recipe. Chop whichever root vegetables you fancy into small cubes. I used butternut squash and sweet potato. Add a few chopped tomatoes and some tomato puree and fry off. Once they cubes are beginning to soften, add some water and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make a basic risotto. Use finely chopped onions, risotto rice and homemade or child-friendly chicken stock. I cheated and used half a stock cube with about three times the water, then added bundles of herbs and pepper. Once the rice is soft, stir in the root vegetable mixture, adding grated cheese and tiny pieces of cooked chicken. I often make this on a Monday using the leftover roast trimmings. If you want to freeze portions and the chicken has already been cooked, add this when the risotto has cooled and before freezing.

Friday 15 February 2013

Croque Madame Lunchtime Muffins


After watching the fabulous Rachel Khoo again on Sunday mornings, I wanted to give her take on the Croque Madame a go for a Saturday lunch. An alternative to eggs on toast, she adapts the ingredients for a classic Croque Madame and turns them into a crispy, béchamel/mornay stuffed treat, perfect for all the family.

I can’t compete with the beautiful photography and wonderful writing of this little gem of a blog from ‘Eat, Little Bird’, but this is where I found the recipe. It’s a simple combination and you can really add whatever you’d like. Since it was also for my toddler, I left salt and cheese out from the béchamel as there was to be cheese on top.

You’ll need:

milk, flour, butter, grated nutmeg and Dijon mustard for the béchamel.

ham/bacon, small eggs & cheese for the filling

sliced white bread and melted butter for the cases.



Cut the crusts from the bread (I shoved these in the coffee grinder to make breadcrumbs for the freezer!) then butter both sides. I melted the butter first but don’t think this really matters as it will melt in the oven anyway!

Next, push each slice into a muffin or dariole mould (1), place some torn ham or cooked bacon pieces in the bottom of each (2) and tip a small egg on top (3). If the egg is too big (I used the small ones my chickens have just begun laying again this week) tip a little of the white out into a freezer bag and freeze to use for meringue at a later date.


Make a quick béchamel: Pop a tablespoon of butter into a hot pan and quickly whisk in some plain flour until the mixture begins to form a ball. Slowly, tip some milk in and whisk quickly over a high heat. Pour a little in at a time and continue adding until you have a thick, cream sauce. Add the mustard and nutmeg. You can add grated cheese here too. Pour on top of the egg (4).

Grate a little cheese on top, sprinkle with pepper (5) and place in the oven at 180 oC for 12-15 minutes if you like the yolks runny, and 15-20 minutes if you prefer them more cooked.


The whole process is a little phaffy (especially when compared to poached eggs and ham on toast!) but the end result was lovely: A nice crispy shell, helped, I think, by the fact I used metal cases rather than silicone; and melted insides. I’d add more béchamel next time and reduce the cooking time so the yolk was runny as mine needed a little more moisture as they were quite dry. I’d also add some chopped parsley and maybe some chives for a little more flavour. If you used a smoked bacon, that would be really delicious! I’d do this again as the ingredients are those usually found in the fridge and cupboards, but probably only if I had some leftover béchamel from a lasagne or similar to reduce phaffiness!


Sunday 10 February 2013

Sunday Afternoon Project - Mary Berry’s Bakewell Tart

My Other Half mentioned the other day that his cookery exploits ‘aren’t allowed’ on my blog. Well, this post proves they are, especially when they were as tasty as the Bakewell Tart he made last weekend. In fact, this isn’t the only thing he’s put his mind to recently: Christmas Dinner was a delicious and perfectly rare Beef Wellington; This weekend saw the first attempt at Choux Pastry to make Chocolate Éclairs, although, upon finding we had no chocolate, they were quickly adapted to Coffee Éclairs. And equally delicious. I think many recipes he’s enjoyed trying have been inspired by Mary and Paul from GBBO, and so far, the Bakewell Tart has been the most impressive, both in looks and taste.

Once the ingredients are measured and combined, it’s really a case of tipping it all in, baking and eating. As I didn’t make it, I’m not sure if David made any tweaks to the original recipe which you can find here. I do know though, that our pastry tin is considerable wider than the one suggested, so he made up more of the filling to top it up. He also used shop bought ready-rolled short crust pastry because, as we know, life’s too short!


We at first thought that it could do with a few more minutes in the oven as the filling didn’t look quite set, but were, as usual, too quick for our own good. Once cooled, the filling had just set nicely. Our first slice was for dessert with custard. The next ones, hungrily guzzled cold from the tin. It was just too irresistible, and looked lovely to boot. I haven’t been let into the next Sunday Afternoon project but already, my mouth is watering!

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Wholemeal Pitta Breads

After attempting the Hummus, we needed the homemade pittas to dip! Again, I followed Helen's recipe and they turned out a treat, with the OH even declaring they wee the best bread I’ve ever baked.


They were incredibly easy and the mixture proved nicely, something which I have little patience for usually. They were quite ‘bready’ and only a couple had the ‘pitta pocket’ trademark, but this was my fault, I should have rolled them out thinner, but I didn’t think they’d rise quite so much in the oven. Luckily, they were still thin enough to slice and dip. Phew!


Monday 4 February 2013

Mini Caramel Lattes with Homemade Syrup

012I’m not a latte girl. I prefer a medium strength, boring filter coffee or Americano with a splash of skimmed milk. Before Christmas, however, I noticed that one of those ‘everywhere’ high street coffee shops (we, unfortunately, have very few little independent ones near us) were selling a Salted Caramel Latte. It was cold outside, I was shattered, me and the little one needed a rest, so I stopped  and I promptly ordered one. It was delicious and soon, whenever I passed one of these shops in town, I couldn't walk past without buying. When you total the cost and, not to mention, the calories of all those lattes, I decided there must be a better way to drink your coffee. But Christmas has now come and gone, the weather has turned a little milder, and I still hanker after the sweet salted caramel fix.

It was with the thought of saving money in mind that I then trawled the net to find the perfect homemade syrup idea. I found two main ones: the first being a sugar / water caramel syrup mix; the second being a basic salted caramel using cream and butter. Now it was decision time. Did I opt for the rich and creamy salted caramel, or a more simple syrup? Deciding that the closet to what I enjoyed in the coffee shops was a syrup, I chose that version. I could always add cream on top after, although that sort of defeats the point of being able to control your calorie intake!

I chose this recipe, a simple combination of 2 US cups (450g) white sugar, 0.3 US cups (66g) brown sugar and 2 US cups (473ml) of warm tap water. Tip everything, along with some vanilla essence and the scraped inside of a pod, into a pan, mix and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes. When cool, pour into a sealable bottle.


To make the latte, tip a small amount, (1-2 tbsp) syrup into the bottom of a cup. Add a small espresso and top with milk. To make it even easier, use instant coffee in hot milk and add to the syrup. If you want a lower calorie version, make a ‘mini’ latte, use skimmed milk and don’t add whipped cream to the top, although I must say, this gives a lovely topping through which to drink.

I felt the syrup was a little thin, even after cooling, so I couldn’t use it to drizzle over the top of the cream, Next time, I’d use maybe three quarters of the water and add more if it was becoming too thick. That or rapidly boil for a short amount of time to help it thicken.

After all of that, I noticed (as you may have too) that I forget to ‘salted’ part to this drink. Well, it seemed to be one or the other – a plain syrup, or a salted caramel which would possibly be the wrong consistency to add to coffee, and doesn’t last as long in the fridge. A small sprinkle of salt over the top of the syrup would definitely do the trick though, just don’t overdo it!

Friday 4 January 2013

Hummus New Year

044Firstly, Happy New Year to everyone. Whether you’ve decided it’s going to be a better year than last, take up something new, or simply enjoy every day, I hope it proves healthy and happy. Every year, people make lists of things to accomplish in the forthcoming months. I rarely bother, mainly as I know I’ll enjoy doing the things I enjoy and if I want to do something, I’ll do it, whether its on a list or not.

So, in my head only as I cannot commit them to paper, I am hoping to continue the blog with a little more regularity (I’m sure I said this last year too, but that sort of proves my point!) and get back into the veg. plot, with a little help from Frankie now she’s old enough not to eat the soil!

The first post of the year is Hummus, or however you choose to spell it. This is something I’ve only recently got into so I thought it might be more fun to make it from scratch rather than use the shop bought variety. Especially since it’s something my little one loves and making it myself gives me more control over the quantities of things like added salt. I searched online and found a huge array of recipes based on the basics of combining chick peas with tahini, lemon, garlic and salt. Two main articles inspired me though, and I based my recipe on Helen’s version.

One of the main tricks I gleaned was to remove the skins from the chickpeas to ensure a smooth dip. Now, this seemed like a good idea until I began, whereupon the enormity of skinning 500g worth of the little suckers seemed a little overwhelming! I chose to skin them after about an hour's soaking, rather than after cooking them and this worked well when it came to the speed of boiling them to soften. After a couple of hours, however, and a quick trick of popping a few handfuls into a dry tea towel and rubbing vigorously, they were done. I returned them to soak and went to bed!

When boiling, do as suggested and after ten minutes, remove the ‘scum’ from the pan, rinse, refill with fresh water and continue boiling. I also popped in a little bicarbonate of soda to help the mushability factor. Once soft, it really is simply a case of adding everything to your desired taste and spooning in a little of the cooking water to let it down. I chose to top mine simply with olive oil and paprika.


One was with crispy onions…


…and another with roasted red pepper.


The leftover chick peas were frozen with a little of the cooking liquid to use later. Apart from the skinning of the peas, it really was easy. And the dips are remarkably tasty, but then I did add extra garlic as suggested by @joeleshark! Thanks cuz. 


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