Chilli Thins (or, an alternative to coco pops)

When the going gets tough, the though stay home on a Friday night and make crackers. Or something. 

This week, work has been a bit difficult – just in terms of unpredictability and the additions that brought to my To Do list, rather than anything especially terrible. My upstairs neighbour seems to have a new partner and they are enjoying throwing each other onto the bed with full force at regular intervals throughout the night, while my downstairs neighbours have rediscovered their love of thumping dubstep at any and all hours of the day. So, I’ve been a bit tired and it’s been a week of mostly having coco pops for tea. 

So it’s a quick update this week – these fiery wee chilli crackers, which are simple and for a small amount of ingredients yield a massive amount. They are also still quite delicious even if you burn them a little bit since you nodded off during the cooking time. I’m quite glad to have them on this blog because, despite it’s other endless virtues, the internet is not a good resource for cracker recipes. 

Crackers are one of those things it maybe seems a faff to make yourself, but a) a chilled dough needs a good hammering, which is good after a stressful week and b) they are customisable and so can be adapted to whatever you want. This recipe is adapted from the fennel seed thins in Richard Burr’s BIY (actually a super handy cookbook), essentially with slightly less stuff and, y’know, chilli. Eat with a mild, creamy cheese or stuff them into your mouth in much the same way one might with crisps. 

Chilli Thins
Fiery little biscuits.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 250g plain flour
  2. 1 tsp baking powder
  3. 1/2 tsp salt
  4. 1/2 tsp ground black pepper (or, a lot more, if you are a fiend for this)
  5. 1 - 1 1/2 tsps dried chilli flakes (I used the latter, they were spicy - adjust to your taste)
  6. 1/2 tsp paprika
  7. 60g unsalted butter, chilled
  8. Some extra sea salt flakes
Instructions
  1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, chilli flakes and parika in a bowl.
  2. Cut the butter into small cubes and pop in the bowl. Rub the butter into the spices and flour until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Add in 100ml of cold water, get your hands in and bring together to a smooth dough. Don't overmix or knead.
  4. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 20 mins (or up to 4 days).
  5. Cut the dough in half. Between two sheets of baking parchment, roll out on half of the dough until it is only about 1mm thick.
  6. Cut out small biscuits using the cookie cutter of your choice, then place the cut crackers on a lined baking sheet. Using a fork or similar pointy thing, stab the crackers all over to create small holes. Place the cut crackers in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat over to 170°C.
  8. Remove crackers from fridge, place in oven for 18 - 20 minutes, or until a light brown (do not use my pics as a guide because they are a bit over). Once cooked, transfer to a wire rack to cool. I also sprinkled some extra sea salt flakes over them t this point.
  9. Repeat steps 5 onwards for the other half of the dough.
Adapted from Richard Burr
Adapted from Richard Burr
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Brussel and Bacon Risotto (or, not at all self-care)

The last time I wrote about risotto on this blog, I wrote about self-care. In retrospect, I think it might’ve been bollocks. 

Recently, I got a copy of Self-Care Bear by Lottie Pencheon. It’s this really great comic about a woman who has had a rough day at work, and self-care bear pops round and joins her in a series of lovely activities – lighting scented candles, having a nice bath, drinking hot chocolate – but caught up in the loveliness she doesn’t do the work she’s supposed to because it’s tough and so not self-care – there are consequences, but the bear still has tricks up his sleeve to delay reality a little more. I’ve maybe not described it well, but it’s this really sweet, sharp critique of the way we’ve started to talk about self-care and how it might impact us – and I was being a bit of a self-care bear when I was talking about how risotto is all lovely and calming and blah. 

Self-care is supposed to be about using certain techniques to manage, maintain or improve your mental health*. There are things I do in life which I think do fall into this: showering regularly, getting enough sleep, occasionally going outdoors and always making a shopping list before I go to Sainsburys so I don’t get overwhelmed, have a panic attack and then only buy smoothies. 

But risotto isn’t one of these tactics and I think in calling it so I was contributing to a wider sense that self-care is becoming synonymous with luxury. That last recipe (still a tasty thing to make) contained white wine, goat’s cheese and kale – it was a shopping list of middle class ingredients that I was confusing with some sort of method of looking after myself. Honestly, if you are dealing with mental illness and I come along and say ‘making risotto will make you feel better!’, then I’m being a condescending prick. While I personally find cooking soothing, I don’t want to be part of a trend that takes a term that is meant to cover things that might help those recovering from or dealing with mental illness and turns it into an advert for buying more nice things and so makes out that self-care is only for people with disposable income. I don’t want to make out like self-care is easy, either – if you’re unwell, sometimes getting small stuff done is really hard and you need time to bolster yourself up for them. 

(there’s an article here about how self-care is sometimes a radical act, because it allows people to find and appreciate their own self-worth when the rest of the world might be denying it – but I, a middle class cis het white woman, am largely not denied much based on my identity, so again calling self-care in my previous post was just a bit flippant and really trivialised it as a thing). 

So, this risotto – which, like most risottos, is creamy and rich – is just a good thing to make for your tea. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys cooking, it’s nice to have something to stir for half an hour and this is a good way of getting crispy bacon. It’s tasty but it’s not self-care, I don’t think – for proper self-care chat head to Mind’s website if you need to. 

*even in trying to describe what it is, I feel like I’m doing a bit of a diservice – it’s not really mine to claim and I have no authority in this knowledge, so really I should just shush. 

Bacon and Brussel Risotto
Serves 2
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
55 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
55 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 rashers of streaky bacon
  2. 2 big fistfulls frozen brussel sprouts
  3. A knob of butter and a splash of oil
  4. 2 small onions, finely diced
  5. 2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
  6. 180g risotto rice (arborio, carnoli, or in my case pudding rice)
  7. Roughly 750ml chicken stock
  8. About half a cup parmesan cheese grated
  9. Another knob of butter
Instructions
  1. Take a moment to sort yourself out. Chop your onions, crush your garlic, grate the cheese, etc.
  2. Preheat your oven to 200°C. Put the brussels on a roasting tray and put them in the oven.
  3. Line a second flat roasting tin with baking parchment. Spread the bacon out on the tray, then sort of smooth it out a bit. Put another piece of baking parchment on top, and smooth over the bacon so the top sheet sticks. Put this in the oven.
  4. Remember to keep an eye on both of these things as we keep going, I did burn my bacon a wee bit - it will need about 20 minutes, start checking after 15. We want crisp, golden bacon and slightly charred brussel sprouts.
  5. Keep the stock hot in a saucepan over a medium heat.
  6. In a frying pan over a medium high heat, melt the butter and heat the oil. Once the oil is foaming a little, add the onion. Stir, cook until starting to go translucent - about 6-8 minutes.
  7. Add the garlic, give a good stir and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  8. Put the rice in the frying pan and stir - this is toasting the rice. Once the rice has started to go a bit clear (maybe 4 or 5 mins), add the wine and let this cook down until syruppy (about 5 minutes).
  9. After this, it's all repetition for a while. Add a ladleful of stock, cook until it has nearly all been absorbed by the rice - about 3 or 4 minutes - stirring the whole time. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock and cooking down and stirring until the rice is nearly cooked - just a little al dente.
  10. Add final ladleful of stock, plus add in the cheese and second knob of butter. Stir, and cook until your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper as you please.
  11. Plate up. By this point your bacon and brussels should be done (if they are done earlier, just remove from the oven when they are and set aside. Pop some brussels in with your risotto - I like to leave them whole but your call. You should have bacon you can crumble, too - so crumble that on there and tuck in.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Pizza Cake (or, happy birthday to me)

This is a monstrosity and absolutely worth your time. For my birthday get-together (which involved wine, quiplash and the five people I know in London all coming to sit in my front room), I made Pizza Cake. 

Pizza Cake is not cake but a stuffed, generally slightly soggy bread cooked in the confines of a cake tin. It is glorious but still very much a work in progress. 

I first read about this on James Morton’s site, and I think I tried it a few weeks later. This first time I made it, I followed Morton’s method pretty much to the letter. I was still quite new to bread baking – this was over 2 years ago now – but it was good. The middle was a bit too undercooked and I think I’d used way too much sauce, but it was good enough that I tried again (here is a picture of attempt one). 

A year later I revisited pizza cake. This time, I reduced the sauce a whole lot more and cooked it for a whole lot longer, and the result was better. The innards were still a little bit gooey, but it was more successful. There’s a picture here

This was my third pizza cake and I think I accidentally stumbled into improving it. There were some things I did deliberately, though. Firstly, I reduced the sauce for about an hour and a half until it was thick. In his recipe, James mentions that you could just use tomato puree which I think would work, but I feel like you won’t get the richness of flavour, so instead I just boiled it down until was nearly the thickness of tomato puree. Secondly, I decided to use pre-grated mozzarella instead of the ball stuff, as it carries less excess liquid. 

It’s important to note that during the assembly of this beast, my flatmate Alice was deep frying blocks of macaroni cheese (which I would say you should also do because holy shit, it was good*). Our kitchen is tiny – we have very minimal surface space, so trying to roll out dough, spread sauce and assemble a ridiculous pizza into a tin is challenging when you’re also trying to avoid knocking over a pan of hot oil. Since we were also doing fried mac and cheese (which seriously I cannot recommend enough), I took a cupful of the sauce out, added a splash of water and this became the mac and cheese dip. Due to the crowdedness of our wee kitchen and the slightly lower quantity of sauce (plus I didn’t buy enough pepperoni), this particular iteration was maybe 1 or 2 layers thinner than past versions (I think I had 5 including the lid). But actually I think this meant it retained the thick, meaty juiciness of the thing, but it did help with making sure it was cooked through. The recipe’s sauce and dough quantities here will allow you to cook one with more layers (you’ll need more pepperoni and cheese, possibly), but in retrospect I think thinner is ok. 

Also important – by the time this was in the oven, I was basically half cut on red wine. So between trying not to get oil burns and being just a tiny bit smashed, I did not even think to check my camera settings. Normally on this blog the photos are not great, but that’s why on this occasion they are **particularly** bad and really quite orange. Fortunately, the method is still very much the same as James Morton’s recipe (as are the ingredients, let’s be honest) – so you can use his for instruction. 

This is the most ridiculous show piece and so I think worth doing. It’s that kind of unholy but satisfying food, you know – like, when you eat a full spoonful of proper cake mix, not even waiting until you scrape the bowl, or the fried chicken you get at 3am on a drunk walk home and then eat ravenously in front of Netflix, knowing you won’t remember what you watched in the morning. It’s messy and gooey and gorgeous and I can confirm it’s also good the following morning when you are a little hungover. 

*As a bonus, here’s how to do this: make 1.5x the quantity of Anna Mae’s original mac and cheese recipe (or your preferred macaroni recipe), spread it over a pan and refrigerate for a few hours. Once cold, cut into strips, dip in beaten egg and then coat in breadcrumbs, before frying in a deep pan of sunflower oil until golden and crispy. Serve with a little cup of the tomato sauce used in pizza cake for dipping. Picture of the finished product here

Pizza Cake
Serves 6
Layers of pizza, cooked in a cake tin. Gooey, sloppy and tasty.
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For the dough
  1. 500g white bread flour
  2. 1 x packet instant yeast (about 7g)
  3. 10g table salt
  4. 40g olive oil (cheap and cheerful is fine)
  5. 325g tepid water (this is about 325ml, too)
For the sauce
  1. Two tins of chopped tomatoes
  2. Some oil
  3. 4 -5 cloves crushed garlic
  4. 2 tbsp tomato puree
  5. Some finely chopped fresh basil (optional, I just happened to also be making bruschetta so had some)
  6. Splash balsamic vinegar
For the other filling
  1. 200g grated mozzarella
  2. A pack or 2 of Pepperoni slices
  3. Anything else you want to put in but try to keep moisture to a minimum
For the dough
  1. In a bowl, measure out the flour. On one side of the bowl, add the yeast, then add the salt on the opposite. Tip in the oil and flour and mix to form a shaggy dough.
  2. You can then do one of two things - the first, leave the dough to rise for one hour, unkneaded and covered with cling film, then return to it an hour later. When it is risen, wet two fingers, slip them into the side of the bowl and fold the dough back in on itself. Rotate the bowl, repeating the finger slip technique until the air has been knocked out. Recover, leave for a further hour. The alternative, knead the dough for ten minutes until smooth, then leave to prove for one hour (I did the no knead method, mostly out of laziness).
  3. If using the first method, put your sauce on after the first prove, if using the second, put sauce on after kneading.
For the sauce
  1. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and add the garlic. Stir a little and cook until fragrant, then add the tomato puree. Stir again, and let cook for a minute or two.
  2. Tip in the tomatoes and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and leave to cook for an hour or so, or until thick.
To assemble
  1. Heat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Line the bottom of a loose bottomed cake tin with parchment paper.
  3. When the dough is risen, knock it back. Roll out a small piece of dough (a piece that is slightly smaller than a fist is a good start) into a large circle a little wider than the cake pan. It should be thin sheet - so thin you can see light through, but not so thin it breaks. A good way to do this is to roll the ball out a little bit, then hold it at the top and let it's own weight stretch it, moving your hands around the edge so it stretches evenly(ish). Lay it on the cake pan.
  4. Spread a small amount of the tomato sauce across the dough. Add pepperoni and a small amount of cheese.
  5. Roll out another piece, and repeat, always leaving some excess dough around the edge of the edge of the pan. Essentially, lay a bunch of pizzas on top of each other. Continue until you have two small pieces of dough remaining and a few tablespoons of sauce.
  6. Take one piece of dough, roll out as before, place on top of the pile but do not add sauce or toppings.
  7. Grease the sides of the cake pan with a little butter.
  8. Cut the excess dough off the sides of the pizzas you have built up.
  9. Take your final piece of dough and roll it into a long strip. Wrap this strip around your existing layers, creating sides. Tuck it under the base if you need to and fold it slightly over the top, or trim it if it's way too wide.
  10. Put the sides back on the tin, then put the cake into the oven for one hour.
  11. Take out the cake, add a final layer of sauce to the lid, plus your toppings, then return to the oven for a final 15 minutes. Once it's done, cut into slices and dig in.
Adapted from James Morton
Adapted from James Morton
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Whipped Feta with Slow Roasted Tomatoes (or, celebrating with a big plate of cheese)

I have been in London for 4 entire years. 4 years since I quit uni, went home for one week then got a job in a grotty pub in Clapham on a whim and had to move before I even had time to think it through. In those 4 years I’ve lived in Peckham, Tooting and Islington with a total of 6 flatmates. I have had 5 jobs, seen over 200 shows, breathed really very little clean air and only had one major breakdown. I’ve seen the giraffes at London Zoo, the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace, that really awesome Pangolin in the Natural History Museum and the goths in Camden Town. I’ve been to talks about feminism, cooking classes in the Docklands and down a path of singing trees in Kew Gardens. I’ve stood at the top of St. Paul’s and spent hours trying not to catch the eyes of strangers half a mile underground; been to meetings at the BBC and carried industrial bags of popcorn around the various universities in the East End. 

…and things are, well, good. Great, sometimes. I feel settled and comfortable and if you plopped me down somewhere in zones 1 – 6 I could probably find a bus home. I’ve lived here longer than I lived in Edinburgh, and even though I still pine for Scotland a little bit, I almost can’t imagine leaving London. 

So I’ve been celebrating, sort of. I think with comfort, safety and security – all things I have somehow found in this chaotic jumble of a city – comes the ability to explore a bit and try new things. Cooking new things, wandering around and finding new corners and new neighbourhoods. When celebrating and when trying new things you can’t really do better than finding a fresh way to prepare a shedload of cheese.

I recently signed up the Domestic Sluttery newsletter and it is GREAT. In the last week I have received a recipe for Tunnocks Tea Cake fudge and a history of women’s involvement in the creation of the periodic table. It’s a really lovely thing to get in your inbox each day. 

So this recipe – which is rich, creamy, salty and absolutely delicious – is pretty much just a recipe nicked from them, with a few modifications to method (I hate cleaning the food processor) and quantity. When I saw it pop into my inbox, I needed to make it – it sounded so simple but so luxurious, and it absolutely is. Whether dolloped onto pasta animals – as pictured here – or drizzled over toast, it is delicious. 

Slow Roasted Vegetables with Whipped Feta
Serves 2
Roasted veg, massive plate of cheese.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
1 hr 30 min
Total Time
1 hr 40 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
1 hr 30 min
Total Time
1 hr 40 min
For the Whipped Feta
  1. 200g greek yoghurt
  2. 300g feta
  3. Juice of half a lemon
  4. 1 crushed clove of garlic
For the vegetables
  1. A punnet of cherry tomatoes
  2. 4 red peppers, deseeded, destalked and cut in half
  3. 1 onion, cut into quarters or eighths
  4. A good shake of chilli flakes
  5. A few drizzles of the best olive oil you can get
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 180°C. Lay the cut peppers, the onion and the tomatoes on a tray. Drizzle over the olive oil, sprinkle on the chilli flakes and maybe a few grinds of pepper (add salt, too, if you like - but go easy, the whipped feta will be salty as). Mix everything up with your hands to make sure everything is coated in the oil. Put in the oven, and roast for about an hour.
  2. Towards the end of your roasting time, combine all the ingredients for the whipped feta in a bowl (add some pepper, too) - I whisked and whisked and whisked, and though it clumped a bit after a while I got a mostly smooth texture I was happy with. DS does this in a blender which would also be fine.
  3. Sort out whatever you are serving this with - make some toast, cook some pasta, prepare a cheese funnel etc.
  4. Remove the vegetables from the oven, put them over your additional serving bits, dollop on the whipped feta in massive quantities. Add coriander if you want.
Adapted from Domestic Sluttery
Adapted from Domestic Sluttery
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Chorizo and Broccoli Pasta for One (or, a loveletter to my freezer)

When me and my flatmate Alice were looking for a new flat the size of the freezer became a sticking point. As single, busy-ish women who mainly cook for just themselves, our lives are basically a series of tiny races against time before the food we have bought expires and is left to decay in the bottom of the fridge. Or it would, were we not both so hopelessly devoted to our freezer. In the flat we eventually settled on there is a four drawer (two drawers each!) marvel of a freezer, rarely with an inch of space to spare, bursting with half loaves of bread, single fillets of chicken breast, ziplocked bags of bolognese, ice cream and delicious oven chips. 

(I feel like oven chips are one of those things that you probably aren’t supposed to mention if you are trying to be *serious* about food. But hot, crispy oven chips – maybe with a fried egg and bacon – are undoubtedly one of the great joys of this earth and making them from scratch is a faff and they probably wont be as good anyway. If you think this is untrue, pop to your local big Sainsbury’s and buy a bag of frozen American curly fries – the slightly confusing vibrant orange kind – pop them in an oven and then shove them in your face and try to tell me it wasn’t incredibly satisfying. Maybe get some frozen chicken nuggets while you’re out.)

It’s difficult to shop as a single person, because supermarkets sell in bulk. I cannot explain the glee I feel when I got into a shop and it’s the kind that sells courgettes individually instead of in a pack of three. Three is an unhelpful number of courgettes. Buying bulk bags of carrots would mean I could just eat carrots for a week and still have carrots fucking everywhere on Friday. Chillies, as well. Rarely do I need 10+ chillies, but that’s how they’re sold. This type of shopping leads to wastefulness, and my reluctance to take out the bins means I try to avoid wastefulness. 

And so: the freezer. A thing of beauty and of bounty. At all times I store bags of the following: brussel sprouts, sweetcorn, fine green beans, broccoli florets and peas. I also tend to have sausages, because combining them with any of the above makes a meal. I will cut up extra veg (those fucking extra courgettes, or leeks – also often sold in threes), pop them in bags and freeze them, too. Chopped herbs and chillies in there. My most recent freezer revelation is that you can freeze fresh ginger, and grate it as needed without peeling. This also works with lemons and limes. 

It seems worth pointing out – as is important in these times of Bad Food Science – that frozen vegetables are as healthy as fresh. Nutrients are not lost in the freezing process, it does not make food worse and it is not in someway unclean. Freezing is a good way of making things go further, so you don’t have to buy more stuff. 

So, this pasta – which is creamy, a little spicy and very delicious – it not so much made up of store cupboard staples as freezer staples (did I mention when I go to markets that sell cooking chorizo I stock up and fill the freezer? I do, it’s the good stuff). It has minimal ingredients but tastes delicious – the kind of thing that’s good to make after a long day where you need comfort (ie cheese), but also speed. This dish is a loveletter to my freezer and to the vegetables it stops festering, to the money it saves me and the waste it stops me producing, and ultimately for being the thing that allows me regular access to ice cream and facilitates my love of oven chips. Freezing is ❄️ cool ❄️ 

Chorizo and Broccoli Pasta for One
Serves 1
Spicy, silky pasta with pops of green.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
25 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
25 min
Ingredients
  1. Half a cooking chorizo sausage (I used these - http://www.brindisa.com/store/spanish-ham-chorizo-spanish-meats/spanish-cooking-chorizo/alejandro-chorizo-barbacoa/ - so probably like, 60 - 70g?), diced into small morsels
  2. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  3. About 75g uncooked pasta (I used tagliatelle and used 3 of the nests)
  4. A good amount of parmesan, grated as finely as you can - amount 1/3 of one of those triangular wedge, or enough to form a mound on your chopping board a couple of centimeters high)*
  5. Two fistfuls frozen broccoli florets
Instructions
  1. Take a minute to cut up your chorizo and mince your garlic. Maybe grate
  2. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook your pasta according to packet instructions. For the final five minutes of cooking time, add the broccoli.**
  3. Meanwhile, heat just a drop of oil in a frying pan over a medium high heat. Chuck in the chorizo, and cook until it releases a beautiful orange oil and starts to smell fragrant (about 4 - 5 minutes), then add the garlic and cook for a further few minutes.
  4. When the pasta and broccoli are cooked, drain them, reserving a cup of the water it was cooked in.
  5. Remove the chorizo pan from the heat (a residual heat is enough for this next bit), then throw the pasta and broccoli into the pan. Add about 1/3 of the cheese, and some of the water, and mix slowly. The cheese should melt and coat the pasta. Add more cheese, then the same again - add water if needed to assist in the melting and coating. It is best to add cheese in batches, as this helps keep it creamy - add it all in one go and the temperature will drop too quickly and the parmesan will clump. It'll taste fine but won't look as nice.
  6. Add a little salt and pepper if desired and then serve.
Notes
  1. *Apologies for these deeply imprecise measurements, but my advice when dealing with cooking for one is to follow your heart - use the quantities of meat, pasta, cheese and garlic that you alone desire
  2. **Frozen florets are sometimes massive, so I have been known to fish them out of the pasta water once they are mostly cooked and cut them up into bite size chunks.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Lemon and Honey Hot Cross Buns (or, sun’s out, bun’s out!)


Happy Easter and happy hot cross bun season! 

Quite often, this blog is a bit doom and gloom; self care, cooking for colds, Rory Gilmore is terrible. But not today! Because let me tell you: everything is coming up Millhouse. 

It has been 3 and a half years since I moved to London, which means it’s been 3 and a half years since I needed somewhere to live and lied about how good I was at baking to get people to like me enough to let me live with them. 3 and a half years since I had to learn to bake to come good on that lie (my first Easter in London I made creme egg brownies which did go down well). 

Without wanting to sound like a total wang, I am SO PROUD of how far I have come in those years. I’ve gone from working in a bar for minimum wage (in some ways the most important experience of my life) to someone who has to go to management team meetings in a big-ass theatre. I got a job I like that pays me enough money to live in and enjoy London, and I worked hard to get there and I am so happy about it all. 

Perhaps most importantly, I am allowing myself to be publicly proud of myself. To think (know?) I am good at things.

See, I have also gotten good at the baking thing. No longer a lie, I can knead with the nearly-best of them, and these hot cross buns are a sunny celebration of the fact that I am a vaguely successfully human being. And of the fact that in the last two weeks there has been actual sunshine and drinking in parks and generally good things. They are laced with a lemony flavour, which makes them taste a bit fresher, lighter and sunnier. 

Lemon and Honey Hot Cross Buns
Yields 8
Fresh and zesty buns for a celebration
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Total Time
3 hr
Total Time
3 hr
Ingredients
  1. Half a cup of lemon juice (fresh or the bottle kind), plus another few tbsps for the cross)
  2. A few good fistfuls of raisins and candied lemon peel (I had about a cup and a half full)
  3. 250ml milk
  4. Zest of 2 lemons
  5. 50g butter
  6. 500g bread flour (plus another 100g for the crosses)
  7. 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  8. 85g caster sugar
  9. 30g runny honey (plus 2 tbsp for glaze)
  10. 10g salt
  11. 7g sachet instant dried yeast
  12. 1 egg (plus another for an egg wash, if desired)
Instructions
  1. In a wee bowl, soak the fruit and candied peel in the lemon juice. Set aside.
  2. Gently heat the milk until warm but not hot. Take off the heat and add in the butter and lemon zest. The butter should melt without needing extra heat. Set aside to cool a little.
  3. In a big bowl, add the flour, cinnamon, sugar, salt and honey. Then add the yeast on the opposite side of the bowl to the salt (if you dump it right on there and kill the yeast). Add the egg and the milk mix and bring together into a dough.
  4. The dough will be shaggy and quite loose, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 - 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Don't add more flour if you can help it.
  5. Lightly oil the bowl (I tend to use sunflour oil), pop the dough back in and cover with cling film. Leave to prove for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  6. When proved, add in the soaked fruit and knock back for a minute or two.
  7. Shape into buns (I did 8 big ones, but do however many you like at what size you like). Prove for 1 hr or until doubled in size.
  8. Prehet oven to 180°C.
  9. Mix the other 100g of flour with 2 - 3 tbsp of lemon juice until you get a paste that is pipeable.
  10. When the dough is proved, do a quick egg wash and then pipe crosses onto each bun (I cut the corner off a sandwich bag. I m terrible at piping).
  11. Bake for 30 mins (adjust depending on size - smaller buns will need less time), or until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  12. While they are still warm, mix 2 tbsp honey with 1 tbsp water, then brush on the buns to make them shiny and sweet.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Peanut Butter Noodles (or, I Am Not Rory Gilmore)

I have fallen into a Star’s Hollow Spiral; a big Gilmore Gulf. I have been watching Gilmore Girls ad nauseum for a while. 

Originally, it felt like something that would be comforting in the dark winter nights, like Friends but without the homophobia. It was, for a while. It was easy, simple television where people talked about food all the time. There was always this underlying feeling that I didn’t actually like the show much – that Lorelai is kind of forcing Rory into a friendship, that Luke is a plaid shirt both inside and out, that Rory is a bit wet and that the whole show should be Paris and Kirk going on a roadtrip anyway  – but the silliness and slightly saccharine plot lines were nice enough to have on in the background.

But then, as I reached Season 5, I was hit with a sad realisation: I am Rory Gilmore. I am not fiercely independent Lorelai or dependable Dean, I am not angry, imperfect, endlessly entertaining Paris – no, I am Rory. 

I should imagine if I’d watched this show when it was on the early noughties, I would’ve wanted to be Rory. Bookish, clever, unpopular-but-unfussed Rory, with her good grades and unusual disinterest in any kind of contemporary fiction. Now, of course, I’d choose to be Paris. But I am Rory.

I read something that said as the seasons trudge along, everyone makes uncharacteristic decisions because of some plot – including Rory’s choice to leave university after she learns she might not be good enough to follow the career path she’s dreamed of. 

But it just didn’t seem uncharacteristic to me. Rory has been told her whole life she’s so good, and her performance in everything corroborates it. So when she isn’t, it all collapses, and she reacts in an extreme way because it suddenly seems like everyone’s been lying to her and she’s actually been hopelessly inadequate all along. And, well… I am a bit Rory Gilmore. Without sounding like an arrogant twat, I breezed through school on a wave of merits and As and then got to uni and fucked it. Uni was hard and I wasn’t good enough and so I quit because I wasn’t used to finding things hard (there are some footnotes to the situation I could add here but let’s leave those for now). I am Rory Gilmore, because sometimes I just can’t cope with not being good enough. In the months Rory spends living at her grandparents lamenting her very existence, I found so much of myself in her.

But I’m also not Rory Gilmore. Because I actually learned to cook, because once I’d well and truly failed at the thing I thought I was meant to do, I needed to learn to take care of myself or risk wallowing in the depths of self-pity for the rest of time. So I did, and that involves stuff like these Peanut Butter Noodles, which are quick and delicious and I love them so much that I often make them in big batches so I can take them to work with me and enjoy the nutty, silky, vibrant flavour at my desk. I might be a Rory in terms of my ability to handle failure, but I’m a Sookie St James wannabe in the kitchen.

Oh, and I’m also not a Rory Gilmore because I will literally never think someone is cool if they try to impress me with a magic trick. Never. 

Peanut Butter Noodles
Serves 2
Smooth and nourishing nutty noodles.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 tbsp peanut butter
  2. 3 tbsp soy sauce
  3. 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  4. 1 tbsp honey
  5. 1/2 - 3/4 cup water (depends how "wet" you like a stir fry)
  6. A glug of oil (sunflower or sesame oil is good)
  7. 2/3 cloves garlic, minced
  8. Thumbnail sized bit of ginger, minced
  9. 3 or four handfuls of veg (I used carrot sticks, two peppers and sugar snap beans for this one - but bamboo shoots, tenderstem broccoli, mushrooms.... it's all good)
  10. 2 nests of noodles (I used the straight to wok ribbon kind here)
  11. 2 or 3 spring onions, sliced
  12. Juice of half a lime
Instructions
  1. In a wee bowl, mix together the peanut butter, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, honey and water, along with a little salt.
  2. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan until it's proper hot, then add the garlic and ginger. Stir it about for a minute, without letting it burn, then add in the veg (carrots take longer to cook unless sliced well thin, so maybe give them a bit longer before adding in the rest). Keep it moving until the veg is nearly cooked through.
  3. Add the noodles to the pan, along with the sauce*. Keep moving for about 2 minutes until the noodles are cooked through and the sauce is hot. Stir through the spring onions, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Notes
  1. *If you're not using the straight to wok kind, cook the noodles according to pack instructions before throwing them in.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Sausage and Bacon Mac and Cheese (or, new year, new mac)

2017 is here! And riding on the waves of the rolling calendar comes an Amazon Top 10 full of books on how to slim down; office one-upmanship on how little everyone has eaten in their quest to be good; and a new vigour behind talk of clean eating, wellness and weight loss. 

And I am here, too, with a recipe for sausage and bacon mac and cheese that is oozing with calories, comfort and beauty. See, the start of a new year is all about reinventing yourself, and that often seems to focus on reinventing yourself as a thin person. 

I am a size 18. I am also 5ft11 and was given Doc Martens for Christmas so I’m cutting quite an imposing figure of late. I am not thin; I am plus size in both directions, and like so many on the heftier end of the scale, January is an absolute slog. We are knee deep in diet culture, wading through bad science and pictures of slinky women on billboards telling us we just aren’t hot enough.

If there is one thing I began to accomplish in 2016 it was a sense of self-acceptance. I am learning to feel comfortable in my own skin and to recognise my own greatness in even the smallest measures. And it is hard, but it is great. I go to the gym and I run on the treadmill (assisted by my best love of 2016: the Hamilton soundtrack) and I do not care if my arse jiggles because I am just running and I am not throwing away my shot. I eat coco pops because I want to. I will wear loose tops or tight jeans if I want to and I will feel great in either. This is hard, because this time of year all of the advertising world has turned and is trying to make me different. This onslaught *might* make you want to try to shed some weight, but it can also chip away at you until your mental health is in shreds. 

My mental health is improving. It’s better. But it falters a little everytime an outside source tells me not to trust myself, or tells me I could be better. Diets, detoxes, whatever – they don’t care for mental health because mental health can’t get you dem washboard abs, they tell us to use sources outside of our body to determine how to deal with it, rather than taking cues from the thing itself. And everytime I falter, I fight to remind myself that food is gorgeous, and I fight to ensure my relationship with food is based on nourishment and not guilt. 

So, this mac and cheese. This is to nourish you. Diets pop up in the new year, but it’s still winter. A few weeks ago we were all about pumpkin soup and big stews and quality street for breakfast. It’s still winter and comfort food is still good and comforting. You can heat your house while you cook up some sausages, and feel the warmth rise from the bubbling white sauce as you stand over the cooker, stirring. It is a little gooey, with a little crispiness from the baking, a little crunchiness from the nuts, and a deep, hearty meatiness from the sausages and bacon. It will make you feel good enough, and happy enough, and it will give you the nourishment you need to be whoever the fuck you want to be in 2017. 

(This recipe is based on the stuffing mac and cheese in Georgina Hayden’s lovely Stirring Slowly. You can read Georgina’s thoughts on food and self care at The Pool – she is sweeter and less sweary.)

Sausage and Bacon Mac and Cheese
Serves 6
Nourishing.
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Total Time
40 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 - 5 garlic cloves
  2. 75g butter
  3. 100g flour
  4. 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
  5. 750ml milk
  6. 150g mature cheddar (plus a little extra for the top)
  7. 50g parmesan (again, plus a bit more for the top)
  8. 500g pasta (I used spirali, any tube pasta will do)
  9. 6 pork sausages, cooked and cut into chunks
  10. 4 rashers of bacon, cooked and cut up
  11. A few sprigs of rosemary - some finely chopped, some left in little sprigs
  12. Handful of walnuts, roughly chopped*
Instructions
  1. Cook the pasta a few minutes short of packet instructions - it should be al dente. Reserve a cup of the pasta water. Heat the oven to 180°c fan.
  2. Over a medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for a minute until you get a lovely garlic fragrance. Add in the flour and beat, it will form a thick, sort of rounded paste called a roux. As you beat, it should pick up all the flour from the pan, leaving it clean - when this has happened, add in the milk.
  3. Stir the milk and flour-y mix, until it is lump free (use a whisk if you're getting persistent lumps) and a bit thicker. Once it has thickened, chuck in the cheese, mustard and chopped rosemary and continue to stir until the cheese has melted.
  4. Mix the drained pasta into the cheese sauce. If it seems a bit too thick, add in some of the reserved pasta water. Pour into an oven safe dish. Scatter some walnuts and the sprigs of rosemary on top. Add a little extra cheese - grate on some extra parmesan and cheddar.
  5. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden and crispy on top. Serve - maybe with a salad or some roasted kale.
Notes
  1. *These are nice and really do a lot for the texture and taste, though they are the sort of thing you can cut because they are a bit expensive. You could put some dried rosemary in at the same time as the mustard to get a bit of the flavour.
Adapted from Georgina Hayden - Stirring Slowly
Adapted from Georgina Hayden - Stirring Slowly
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Prosciutto Pinwheel (or, showing off)

Prosicutto Pinwheel
The chief exec at my former job once said ‘If you really want to intimidate people, make your own bread.’

She is a formidable woman – someone who has the ability to lure money from the grasping hands of the elite to fund the arts with the right bit of schmooze, who radiates confidence and rocks a set of John Lewis dress in colourful print like no one else. There were rumours flying around the she had once been a spy. She makes knockout millionaire’s shortbread and is known, apparently, for her sterling dinner parties.

She was leaving work early one day to prepare for one of her dinner parties. During the patter before staff meeting – the point where you’re still waiting for people to show or settle down with a brew – she told us about it, and mentioned bread.

‘If you really want to intimidate people, make your own bread.’

Prosciutto Pinwheel

Now, I am often the opposite of formidable. I am a little meek, a lot awkward. On this particular day I had brought homemade bagels to work. A colleague caught my eye and said ‘That’s why Rosie is so intimidating’, before cackling. I was asked about bread and confirmed I did indeed often make it, and the chief exec looked at me with an expression that suggested I had just shattered her entire world view.

This bread – which is rooted in the pear and walnut pinwheel in Richard Burr’s book BIY – is showing off, but it’s also more than that. It looks like a technical feat, but it’s simple enough. A simple dough, split in two and rolled flat, filled with stuff and then cut a bit. 

Bread is old. Bread is historically and culturally significant around the world in its different forms. Bread is the basic necessity of our nutritional existence; we are looked after by ‘bread-winners’, ‘mana’ descended from God came to the Hebrews in the dessert, semen means ‘seed’ in Latin. Bread is life, and as such bread is for sharing and for enjoying. Not completely for showing off. 

If I was intimidating, this would be an Intimidating Bread. It would strike fear into the hearts of my social inferiors, would leave them weeping at the sheer inadequacy of their own dinner parties. But to me that’s not the spirit of the thing – it’s cut to be a sharing loaf. This loaf should be ripped apart and eaten while still steaming, different hands fighting to tear it up. The caramelised onions bring sweetness, there’s a tang from the goat’s cheese, and the meatiness means a slice is basically a full sandwich. This is a filling loaf – good for a crowd. 

(I forgot to take a proper picture at the end, so here’s an instagram)

Prosciutto Pinwheel

Prosciutto Pinwheel
Yields 1
Bread for sharing.
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For the dough
  1. 300g strong flour
  2. 200g wholemeal flour
  3. 50g walnuts, roughly chopped,plus 5 or 6 left whole to decorate
  4. 1 sachet quick yeast
  5. 10g salt
  6. 310g water
  7. 15g oliver oil
For the filling
  1. Spinach - two big fistfuls
  2. 2 red onions, thinly sliced.
  3. 1 tsp sugar
  4. 125g soft goat's cheese
  5. 12 slices prosciutto
  6. 1 egg, beaten
Instructions
  1. Make the dough.Put the flours in a bowl, then the yeast on one side and the salt on the other (putting one on top of the other might kill the yeast). Add the walnuts, water and olive oil - you can do this gradually, and mix as you go, though I like to tip it all in immediately and get my hands straight in. Mix it all together until the flour comes away from the sides and it forms a coherent dough.
  2. Tip out the dough onto a clean work surface* and knead for 10 minutes (if the walnuts fall out just poke them back in), or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  3. Lightly oil a bowl, pop the dough back in and cover with clingfilm. Set aside at room temperature for 1 - 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.
  4. Meanwhile, heat some oil in a frying pan over a low heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the sliced onions and stir to coat. Cook for 15 mins, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar, and stir to coat. Keep cooking and stirring until they caramelise. This might take about 30 minutes. When done, set them aside.
  5. Line a big square baking tray with parchment paper.
  6. Take your risen dough, and cut it into two. On a lightly dusted surface, roll one piece out to be a big circle - as big as your tray will allow. It's a good idea to transfer this circle to the tray now, since it will be trickier when it's stuffed.
  7. Paint a few centimetres around the edge of the circle with the beaten egg. Then, lay the spinach out, keeping the leaves quite flat, within the egg circle. Cover this with the onions, then the goat's cheese. Lay the prosciutto over everything. I like to make an extra big pile of prosciutto in the middle
  8. Roll the second half of the dough to a circle of the same size, again on a lightly floured surface. Flip this onto the top of the spinach-goats-cheese-meaty goodness.
  9. Place a mug in the middle of the bread, and then use a sharp knife to cut outwards from the mug into sixteen segments.
  10. Gently pick up a segment and twist twice. Repeat for all segments. Using a sharp knife, cut a corner off each segment (this is just for presentation, not necessity).
  11. Heat your oven to 220°C. Leave the bread for 30 minutes.
  12. Once its risen a little, brush the dough with the rest of the beaten egg, place 5 walnuts in the centre if you wish to, then bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden brown.
Notes
  1. *You can flour a surface, but you don't need to, because as you knead the dough will pick up all the dough left on the counter. Do it lightly if you feel it helps.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Mango Meringue Pie (or, the alternative birthday cake)

mango-meringue-pie-3
I turned 25 on Wednesday. While I’m not much one for going off the rails or getting wild, I did spend a whole day baking stuff, which could certainly be viewed as a sign of a quarter life crisis. I made a polenta cake, party rings, an elaborate bread (watch this space), brownies and a pizza cake. And, of course, this: the Mango Meringue Pie. It was the sweetest, the sickliest and the very best.

mango-meringue-pie-1

I really love mango. I put that shit in salads and in stir fry and generally in my face at any opportunity. Recently, when I was at a music festival, I nipped out of the festival grounds to a local village and bought a wee pot of mango. Amidst the heavy, hearty festival food it was heaven. I sat and ate it in the door of my tent, and some high guy came, sat with me, and just started eating the mango. When he took the last bit I was more quietly filled with violent rage than ever before in my life. So, yeah. Mango – I love it. When I randomly saw something on pinterest about mango curd I knew exactly what I needed to do. This recipe for mango curd is the product of about an hour of internet research of different curds and weights and such.

mango-meringue-pie-5

My love of the sweet, stickiness of mango is rivalled only by my love of the kitchen blowtorch. Those of you who know me in real life may feel a real sense of fear descend upon you when you learn I own a blowtorch, but own a blowtorch I do, and I wield it with glee. I’ve made meringue a few times and creme bruleed a rice pudding into submission, though I do mostly use it to melt mozzarella onto bruschetta (or cheese onto anything). But the discovery of mango curd meant it was time to venture back to meringue. Also because blowtorch. This meringue recipe is this one. The pastry – just to make sure I properly attribute – is from James Morton’s brilliant bible of a cookbook How Baking Works, but with a zesty twist. 

mango-meringue-pie-4

Meringue pie looks impressive – a perfect pile up of pastry, curd and meringue – and so it seemed ideal that I would make this for my birthday – a proper decadent, ostentatious show off of a thing to celebrate my quarter century of existence (which has been the exact opposite of decadent and ostentatious, given that I made my own cakes and watched GBBO).

mango-meringue-pie-2

Mango Meringue Pie
Ostentatious, ridiculous, amazing.
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Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
30 min
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
30 min
For the mango curd
  1. 2 big mangoes
  2. 160g unsalted butter
  3. Juice of 1 lime
  4. 160g caster sugar
  5. 4 eggs, lightly beaten
For the pastry
  1. 125g unsalted butter
  2. 75g icing sugar
  3. 1 egg
  4. A dash of vanilla extract
  5. 250g plain flour
  6. Zest of 1 lime
For the iltalian meringue
  1. 4 egg whites
  2. 140ml water
  3. 250g caster sugar
Instructions
  1. Start by dealing with your mangoes - peel them, and cut out the stones, then roughly chop the flesh. You should have about 2 cups of mango flesh. Puree it in a blender or food processor until smooth (mine was a bit lumpy, and still fine, because my blender is terrible).
  2. Make the mango curd. Boil a bit of water in a pan, then place a heatproof bowl over it to make a ban marie (don't let the bowl touch the water). Leave the pan over a low-medium heat. Put the butter in the pan and melt.
  3. When it has just melted but is not yet *hot*, add in the lime juice, caster sugar, eggs and mango pulp. Cook, continually stirring, for 8 - 10 minutes, until thick. It should coat the back of a spoon. When it's thickened up, cover it with cling film (to stop a skin forming), then put it in the fridge.
  4. Pastry time! Weigh out the butter and icing sugar and beat them together until they form a smooth, pale paste. Chuck in the egg and vanilla and beat in. Mix in the flour and lime zest (don't overdo it!), then form into a dough, using your hands if necessary. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to chill for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 180C. When your pastry has chilled, roll it out to be about the thickness of a £1 coin. Grease a 23cm tart tin, then place the pastry into the tin, with a cm or so of dough hanging over the rim. You can use a small piece of dough to press it into the corner. Prick the pastry all over with a fork. I made this on a VERY hot day - if you are doing similar, place the tin in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  6. Place some baking paper over your pastry, then fill with rice or baking beans. Put in the oven and bake for 15 mins, then remove paper and baking beans and bake for 15 mins more, or until golden brown. While it's still hot, trim off the excess pastry. Set aside to cool.
  7. When your pastry has cooled, pour in the mango curd and spread evenly. Return to the fridge.
  8. Make the meringue. In a stand mixer (a hand one is fine if that's what you have, but be careful), put the egg whites in the bowl and mix on high heat until it forms stiff peaks.
  9. While the meringue whips up, heat the water and sugar until just starting to boil. Once the meringue has reached soft peak stage, pour in the sugar syrup slowly while the mixer is still running. Leave to mix, until the bowl is cool and the meringue is glossy.
  10. Remove pie from fridge, pour on meringue. Drag a fork through it until it cover the pie and looks vaguely attractive.
  11. Fire up your blowtorch and torch the meringue until it browns a little. It will look lovely.
Adapted from Really Nice Recipes / How Baking Works
Adapted from Really Nice Recipes / How Baking Works
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/