February 10th, 2012
I’ve been making my own pizzas for a long time. I remember when I was still at school, trying to recreate the awesome pizzas at Croma with shop-bought pizza bases. I mean really, why did I bother? Those bases are so gross, anything would have been better. Even an old school baguette pizza.
I moved slightly up in the world when I discovered that flatbreads make a pretty acceptable pizza base and I still make them now when I can’t be bothered going all out.
But when we started making bread, we started experimenting with homemade pizzas as well. We usually make sourdough pizzas (and if you want to try, make the recipe here), but I find that any old bread dough will work.
The key to really good homemade pizzas is to go sparingly with the toppings (which I’ll cover later) and to cook the pizzas at as high a temperature as possible. This is where pizza stones come in and they need to be preheated in the oven until the oven is as hot as it will go. This helps to give that characteristic chewy crust. (Remember to dust the stone with a little semolina to stop the pizza sticking.)
Unfortunately, our trusty pizza stone broke recently so this time we experimented with frying the pizza for a few minutes first (to cook the base) and then finishing it under the grill. I have to say they worked out brilliantly – no soggy bases and the grill gives the pizzas that lovely burnished look.
As for toppings, I like olives, grilled pieces of aubergines or courgette, pine nuts, sliced chillis, really good salami or bacon. Once it comes out from the grill, I also like to top it with some rocket leaves dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. My other favourite is a white pizza, I spread the pizza base with crème fraîche and top with softened leeks or fried mushrooms and thyme. Oh, and for a totally legitimate breakfast – top the finished pizza with a fried egg.
For the pizza geeks among you, Dan Lepard wrote an excellent guide to making pizza and there’s also the Guardian’s How to make the perfect pizza.
February 5th, 2012
I recently discovered caramelised white chocolate – sounds pretty weird right? Wrong. Caramelising it takes white chocolate from sweet and sometimes cloying to something similar to dulce de leche or (with a pinch of salt) salted caramel, but still with a hint of white chocolate at the end.
Starting to sound better? The idea is to break up some white chocolate and bake it in the oven, taking it out every so often to smear the molten white chocolate over the tray. After a good 50-60 minutes, it will change colour to a deep golden-brown and this is where the magic is.
The first recipe I made, the caramelised white chocolate gets swirled into ice cream which I served with a jelly made with homemade blackberry liqueur and let me tell you, it was one of those truly awesome dessert experiences.
Since then, I’ve made the ice cream a few more times (and you should too), but I’ve also been thinking about what else I could use the chocolate for and of course, cake came to mind. In particular I thought it would make an awesome icing.
I’ve based these cupcakes on my favourite fudgy chocolate cake recipe, but tweaked it slightly to make them less sweet and with a richer chocolate flavour. They act as the perfect foil for the butterscotch-like icing. You know what I like most about these cupcakes? I actually like the icing, usually it’s too sweet for me and there’s always too much of it, but here it works perfectly with the cupcakes.
January 20th, 2012
This is the kind of thing I make for dinner when I’m home alone. It’s quick, healthy and most importantly, tasty. I would eat this with brown rice and a poached egg on top, but you could have it with salmon instead for an extra dose of healthy oils. And while I know that brown rice isn’t exactly quick food, I try to start cooking it as soon as I start thinking about dinner, then by the time I’ve finished faffing and chopping, it’s good to go.
I’ve used Brussels sprouts, and the key here is to shred them very finely, but you can use any other cabbage, or kale instead. I love cabbages at this time of year (in pasta, colcannon and coleslaws) – they’re so cheap and seem to keep indefinitely in the fridge.
1 tbsp cashew nuts
1 tbsp sunflower oil
10 sprouts, outer leaves removed, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp oyster sauce
- Heat a wok until hot and toast the cashew nuts, shaking the wok frequently, for a few minutes or until the nuts are golden. Tip onto a chopping board and chop roughly.
- Heat the oil in the wok until hot, then add the sprouts and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Add a splash of water, cover with a lid and steam the sprouts for a few minutes, or until just tender.
- Add the garlic and stir-fry for another minute, then stir in the oyster sauce.
- Serve the sprouts with the cashew nuts sprinkled on top.
December 22nd, 2011
If you’re panicking a little about some last minute presents you need to buy. I am here to help! (Hopefully.) I’ve written a blog post over on BBC Food about last minute homemade Christmas presents. I don’t think you can really go wrong with homemade chocolates or biscuits and if you want a really easy idea, just bake a batch of brownies, cut them into little squares and put in a gift bag (Sainsburys have started selling lovely gift bags and boxes in their baking section). This year I’ve made a load of this tomato and chilli jam (with cans of chopped tomatoes) and a Christmassy version of this granola.
I’ve also written something on Christmas brunch ideas.
Merry Christmas! I hope you get to make (and eat) lots of good food. xxx
December 16th, 2011
I’m really starting to feel the effects of Christmas, it’s not that I have a tonne of Christmas parties to go to, but there have been a few too many birthdays and special meals. Couple that with the cold weather and I’ve been tempted to eat mash for every meal. While this would make me pretty happy temporarily, I don’t think I would be when my jeans no longer fit and I succumb to all the Christmas bugs going around.
This is where I turn to soup, I love the fact that even if I’ve been really disorganised I can make a soup out of pretty much any of the dregs in the salad drawer. I usually add a can of cooked beans or a handful of red lentils to make it a little more filling (beans and lentils count as one of your 5-a-day too) and dinner can be on the table, or more realistically my lap, in less than half an hour. If you’ve time to go shopping, try Jamie Oliver’s delicious pumpkin soup with rice or this bean and noodle soup from 101 cookbooks. If this still doesn’t sound like a proper meal to you, just add bread, even better, make it cheese on toast. Or pop a poached egg on top.
I always make a big pot soup so I have plenty to take into work for lunch the next day and it freezes well too if you want to make a big batch. Oh yeah, it’s cheap as chips to make too, which my purse is grateful for.
Here are some of my favourite soup recipes:
Bulghur and red lentil soup
A simple soup, filling yet healthy and mostly storecupboard ingredients.
Cauliflower and cannellini soup
Cauliflower is wonderfully creamy when blended into a soup and the cannellini beans make this extra filling.
Split Pea Soup
This simple soup is still one of my all time favourites.
If you’ve never tried beetroot soup, try this version of a classic borscht. A glug of vodka and lime juice cut through the sweetness of the beets to make a rich, earthy soup.
December 13th, 2011
My friend Kat is my long-time cooking partner in crime – we set up a food website together in Oxford, cooked for many Breakfast Clubs and even made a wedding cake. Kat is leaving in January to live in Australia for a few years, so naturally we decided to get together and cook our last meal together for a while.
Planning (and organising) menus is what we do best and we had a great time putting together an extravagant menu with matching wines courtesy of the wine society. Planning a meal like this is such a good way of having a really indulgent meal without spending loads of money. It meant we could go to Borough Market (early!) to pick up cheeses from Neal’s Yard, which is always a real treat, especially as they always let you try lots of cheese before you buy. If you don’t fancy doing all the cooking, share it out between a group of you.
December 7th, 2011
I’ve been making my own sourdough for a while and although it’s much less time consuming than you’d think, it does require a level of organisation that’s beyond me sometimes. I try to make two loaves at a time and slice and stash one in the freezer, but my boyfriend eats so much bread that it doesn’t stay there for long.
This is where soda bread comes in, it’s super-easy to make and most importantly, ready in less than an hour. It’s not a direct substitute for your average white loaf, it is a bit heavier, but full of flavour. I love it toasted and slathered in butter with a simple vegetable soup and it’s a delicious base for a cheese and pickle sandwich.
I’ve been making this oat soda bread a lot recently – I love the idea of adding oat flour for extra goodness. What’s oat flour? Well, you just blend oats to a powder in a food processor. But this version is my current favourite – adding some grated sweet potato (or butternut squash or carrots) to the mix with a handful of walnuts makes this the perfect bread for cheese. (In the picture above, I made a sandwich with some hummus and winter slaw.)
If you’ve never made bread before, then this is a great place to start. No need to worry about yeast, kneading or proving. Simply mix everything together, then bung it in the oven. Once you’ve mastered soda bread, give one of these a try.
November 4th, 2011
I wonder if any of you out there are as obsessed with macaroons as I am? Something seems to happen when you make your first batch of macaroons and the continual search for perfection begins – that perfectly smooth top, neat little feet and squidgy centre. I’ve spent hours poring over beautiful pictures (some of the best are here) and I could hold down a two hour conversation on them if you’re so inclined.
The perfect macaroon - from Serious eats
I make macaroons for nearly all of my catering jobs and someone nearly always asks me if macaroons are difficult to make. Er…yes! I must have made hundreds of macaroons by now. I’ve thrown away more batches than I care to admit and had so many tantrums that my boyfriend scarpers whenever I make them.
So what’s the point then? Well… I’m here to share what I’ve learnt. Below is my chocolate macaroon recipe – an amalgamation of the many recipes I’ve tried with lots of tips and tricks I’ve learnt along the way. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for the perfect macaroon. In my experience there are a lot of steps and they all need to be done correctly. Make sure you have plenty of time and no distractions and read the recipe through before you start cooking.
Fancy some more reading?
Macaroon king, Edd Kimber’s, recipe
Lots of really, really useful posts on macaroons with plenty of troubleshooting advice
Tartelette’s brilliant guide to making macaroons
November 1st, 2011
This is a fantastic winter salad recipe, especially good for using up veg box ingredients. I love it with pittas and hummus for a quick and healthy lunch/dinner (always a good thing), but I’ve also eaten it with ribs and jacket potatoes and loaded onto cheese on toast.
The idea is to finely slice/grate lots of winter vegetables, I use my food processor for this, but a knife and grater will do this job, it will just take a bit longer. Use any combination of red cabbage, white cabbage, savoy cabbage, carrots, swedes and turnips, just beware that it will make a lot of slaw.
I like to store the shredded veggies in a large sandwich bag and dress it as and when. I prefer to use my favourite salad dressing rather than mayonnaise, the mustardy dressing goes really well with the sweetness of the vegetables, but I sometimes add a spoonful of yoghurt or mayonnaise for extra creaminess. You can also spruce it up with a handful of toasted seeds or take it in an Asian direction with chopped toasted peanuts, lime juice, fish sauce and coriander.
October 20th, 2011
My boyfriend is the practical sort – for previous birthdays he’s bought me a sexy camera, gardening gear, foraging books and a coffee grinder. So when he started making secretive phone calls and muttering about how complicated my birthday was to organise, I didn’t exactly think he was whisking me off on a mini break.
After some heavy hint-dropping on his part, I finally twigged. He’d bought me half a pig for my birthday! Not only that, we were going to butcher it…
Pete somehow managed to transport 35kg of pig on his bike (I wish I was there when he turned up at the butchers with his backpack). In the end, they had to cut off the head and leg and he did it in two trips. Meanwhile, he made me go into the other room, then called me into the kitchen to present me with my present…