Leek and butter bean soup with crispy kale and bacon.

This is a lovely soup. What I also love about it is that you can leave the bacon off and it instantly becomes veggie/vegan. It’s stuffed full of probiotic-friendly leeks. It’s from the BBC Good Food magazine.

You need

4 tsp olive oil

500g leeks sliced

4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

2 x 400g cans butter beans

500ml vegetable stock (or chicken if you like)

2 tsp wholegrain mustard

half a small packet of flat leaf parsley

3 rashers of streaky bacon

40g chopped kale, stems removed

25g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

You do

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan, add the leeks, thyme and seasoning and  cover and cook over a low heat for 15 mins until soft, adding a splash of water if need be – don’t let the leeks stick.

Add the butter beans with the liquid from the cans, the stock and mustard. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 mins until hot. Blend with a stick blender in the pan (or put in a blender). Stir through parsley, check seasoning.

Put bacon in a large frying pan, medium heat. Cook until crispy, set aside to cool. Add the remaining 1 tsp oil to the pan and tip in the kale and hazelnuts. Cook for a few minutes, stirring under the kale is wilted and crisping at the edge and the nuts toasted. Cut the bacon into small pieces and stir into the kale/nuts.

Reheat the soup, adding a bit of water if too thick (or have both operations going on at once) and sprinkle the bacon/nuts/kale on top.

Apricot and cinnamon breakfast muffins.

Of course, you can eat these beyond breakfast time. I made them because I was told I am borderline anaemic the other day, and apricots are a good source of iron. Not as good as a rare-cooked steak served with green leafy veg and washed down with a Guinness and an orange juice, but possibly easier to carry in your bag. These are very filling, not particularly sweet and keep me going if I can’t be bothered to eat lunch. Well, until about 4pm. I love how chewy the top apricot goes.

This recipe is from the free little newspaper Waitrose provides each week.

It makes 12 and you need to allow a little time for soaking the apricots.

You need:

250g dried apricots, I prefer the organic variety here as they have less stuff on them, it does mean they are quite dark though and not all zesty bright.

1 large orange, juice and zest

275g self raising flour (I used some wholemeal too)

2tsp baking powder

2tsp cinnamon

75g porridge oats, plus a bit extra for sprinkling

150g caster sugar

285ml buttermilk or kefir milk if you make it

2 medium eggs

50g butter, melted

3 tablespoons of apricot preserve

You also need a muffin tin lined with muffin cases.

Method

Reserve 12 of the apricots. Roughly chop the rest and put them to soak in the orange juice and zest. I do this the night before, but 30 mins is fine.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, oats and sugar. In a separate large bowl mix together the buttermilk, eggs and butter and add the soaked apricots sand orange zest/juice. Now add the dry ingredients and mix until must blended.

Divide amongst the paper cases – you’ll find the mixture is quite up to the top but don’t worry as it doesn’t rise much (despite the self raising flour AND baking powder). If you like use those fancy tulip-shaped muffin cases that look like someone artfully folded some baking paper, the ones that cost about £20 for ten (exaggeration).

Place a whole apricot atop each muffin and sprinkle with some porridge oats (this makes the muffins look good!). Cook in the oven for 18-20 mins. When still warm, mix the apricot jam with a tiny bit of boiling water and brush over the top for a lovely glaze. I wish I could tell you my children loved these. They didn’t. But my partner did!

 

Fresh sourdough, from frozen

Making sourdough, once you know what you’re doing, isn’t laborious. Sure, I hate the beginning part: all that measuring out and refreshing (I am so lazy) – and have to gear myself up for it. But once the dough is formed, it’s just a matter of revisiting it for a little fumble every now and again. Until you need to shape and put it to bed in the couche cloth or banneton, for the final prove.

That said, there are some days when you just don’t have the time to do it. And often it is the days when you are the most busy, that you need to be eating good, home made food – but you don’t have time to make it.

I’ve long thought of experimenting with sourdough, to see if you can freeze it after final shaping. And you can.

Straight after final proving, flour it well, and freeze it. Your exact method may need some tweaking. I tend to make baguettes, so I shape, put on a tray, flour well, open freeze for a couple of hours then transfer into a plastic bag. If you have a boule shape you can freeze it in the banneton (well floured) but do set a timer to take it out and put it in a plastic bag – your bannetons probably won’t like being frozen.

The night before you need your bread – or a few hours before – take the shaped dough out of the plastic bag and transfer either back into a well floured banneton or a well floured couche cloth. Just as if it were ‘fresh’. I put it in the fridge to defrost til morning and have it’s final, final prove. You can leave it at room temperature if you are in more of a rush.

Remember that frozen and defrosted dough is far stretchier, so handle it as little as possible (hence all the flouring). You then do everything as per normal – heat up the oven with a tray in it, transfer the dough when it’s time to cook, slash, ice cubes, bake. This is where my flipping board, or planchette, comes in really handy for transferring it to the baking tray as the dough is harder to handle than fresh dough.

The one you see here suffered all sorts of indignities – I didn’t flour it, it was so stretchy I had to peel it off the planchette, it went into the oven full of injury and I didn’t hold out much hope for it. But sourdough is a miraculous thing and as forgiving as the best mother can be: 10 mins at 250C, 10mins at 220C and out it came: a perfectly wonderful loaf of bread, with an excellent crumb and a great taste.

White chocolate and amaretti cake

I don’t often have cake failures. I’ve been baking since I was seven. But when I do, they hit me hard.

The first time I made this – a Donna Hay recipe – it went wrong. It looked fine, coming out of the oven, but when you cut into it there was a hole running the whole width of the cake, so that each slice had a hole right through it. The sort of thing which, if you’d tried to achieve, would have been impossible.

It tasted delicious, but it was a failure. I whizzed the whole sorry thing up in a food processor and froze the crumbs. They will be delicious on some ice cream, as a topping, or put in milk shake mix ins.

I had a rare afternoon nap and then it came to me: I had forgotten to put the milk in. I had made it in a bad mood, and got distracted. The original method is also a ‘bung it all into the food mixer’, which is where I also went wrong as I lost track of the ingredients.

This is a simple cake – simple to look at, simple to make, but the ingredients add up. It has nearly £5 of white chocolate in it. Of course, you could put any old white chocolate in it, something cheap, but I think good quality white chocolate makes a difference. I use Green and Black’s white cooking chocolate. Then there’s the amaretti. The rest is regular baking fayre: butter, eggs, flour. Oh and milk.

I have adapted this so it’s all done by hand. I felt I got a better result. If you want to, you can bung everything save the amaretti crumbs into a food mixer and mix away until smooth, then rejoin the recipe at the putting into the tin stage.

Because this recipe contains amaretti – almonds – it is not suitable for anyone with nut/almond allergies.

This is what you need:

185g very soft unsalted butter

220g caster sugar

3 eggs

a teaspoon of vanilla extract

250g melted white chocolate, slightly cooled

300g self raising flour

310ml of milk

160g crushed amaretti biscuits

A few amaretti, crushed, for decoration after cooking.

This is what you do:

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and flour a 3l bundt/ring tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar, add the three eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla extract. Now gently mix in the melted chocolate. Then add the flour and, little by little, the milk.

Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle the amaretti crumbs (I pulse them in a food processor) over the cake mixture. I use a skewer to gentle feather them through the mixture, but you don’t have to. Now top up with the rest of the cake mixture.

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Bake for about 45 minutes. Check with a skewer to make sure it’s cooked. Make sure it comes out clean.

Leave to cool for ten minutes, then turn out and sprinkle a few crushed amaretti over the top if you’d like.

This cake fills the kitchen with amazing Viennese coffee house smells as it cooks. It’s even better the next day. The white chocolate gives the sponge an amazing lightness and a taste you can’t quite put your finger on. And the amaretti crumb layer is just amazing and marzipan-ish in taste (so absolutely no good if you hate marzipan).

 

Chorizo and kale cheesy gnocchi

I adapted this from a Delicious magazine recipe. There is 200g of kale packed into this recipe. And you could substitute spinach if you wanted to.

This is really tasty, wonderful  autumnal dish that’s easy and fast. And if you have a cast iron frying pan that can go in the oven, you can cut down on the pots and pans needed.

Serves four.

You need

200g curly kale or spinach. If using kale take the time to shred it into smallish pieces and cut out the bigger stems.

500g potato gnocchi

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Olive oil for frying

125g approx of chorizo – a bit more if you really like it. Slice in half length ways then finely slice so you end up with half moon shapes.

200g passata

a handful of basil leaves

100g grated or sliced mozzarella

Method

Oven to 200C. Bring a very large pan of water to the boil with a dash of salt in it and drop the gnocchi and kale in, together. Cook for just 30 seconds, drain into a colander and rinse through with  cold water.

Gently heat the olive oil in a frying pan (if it can go in the oven make sure it is quite a large one that can hold the whole dish), now gently cook the onion until it’s soft. Add the chorizo for a few minutes, until the onion takes on the colour of the chorizo. Now add the passata and the basil and cook for three minutes.

Add the gnocchi and kale into the frying pan if it will fit, and mix to combine everything; if not transfer everything to an oven proof dish of about 1.5litres. Mix everything through well. Add some ground pepper (I think the chorizo has enough salt but add a bit more if you like). Sprinkle over the mozzarella or place the slices on top and put in the oven (uncovered) for a scant 15 minutes until golden and bubbly.

 

Lovely leek and broccoli fish pie

This is, hands down, the tastiest fish pie I’ve ever had. It is more of a work-day dinner than a dinner-party piece, but it is just tasty-gorgeous. It is from the Donna Hay magazine which is worth every penny of the £5.20 an issue I pay for it.

Ingredients

200g fresh sourdough crumbs (I keep a bag of left-over sourdough pre-grated in the freezer then you can use it when you want)

Half a bunch of tarragon (so about 12-15g)

150g unsalted butter, melted

salt and pepper

2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

300g broccoli florets, cut into smaller florets

800g of thereabouts of firm fish (fresh not frozen as in it can’t be cooked from frozen!). I have used all cod, or a combo of cod and salmon and smoked haddock. See what you like. Cut it into 3cm pieces – this is important as it gets only 10 mins in the oven.

1 tablespoon of plain flour

250g sour cream

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

125ml water

Method

Oven to 200C. Place the breadcrumbs, half the tarragon, half the butter, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix to combine. Then place on a large oven tray and cook for ten minutes – until golden.

While the breadcrumbs are toasting, heat the rest of the butter in a large ovenproof pan over a high heat – the pan will eventually go in the oven with the whole fish pie in it. Add the leek, garlic and broccoli to this pan and cook, uncovered, for about five minutes or until the veg is softened.

In a separate bowl, place the fish, flour and more salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add this fish mixture, the remaining tarragon, the sour cream, mustard and water to the pan and stir to combine. Top with the breadcrumbs and cook in the oven for another ten minutes in the oven until golden brown and the fish is cooked through.

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I serve this with peas. It is so much tastier than you think it’s going to be.

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I want to say “my children lap this up.” But they pretty much hate it. But I still make it.

(Don’t forget how good leeks and garlic are for gut bacteria!)

 

 

 

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Polenta ‘pizza’ with cherry tomatoes and some sort of cheesy topping.

This is not, of course, pizza. But it is delicious.

Polenta featured large in my father’s home cuisine – northern Italy. But it didn’t feature in my mum’s – southern Italy. And because my mum was the cook when we were growing up, I feel I can safely say we never had polenta. I would hear about it, but I could not get my head around what it was. Sometimes it was a powder, then it was solid, then like mash.

When I got older I tried making polenta and it was a disaster. Since then things have improved and it features in my home cuisine and I always find it comforting.

This recipe is from Delicious magazine. I like that the making of the polenta doesn’t involve loads of butter and parmesan – sometimes you want that, but not all the time. Of course you can vary the topping to have what you want on it. Because my children aren’t so keen on dolcelatte I bought some brie with truffles in it as a treat.

Anyway this is just delicious. It easily fed four of us and I had the left overs for lunch the next day (heat up for a few minutes in a dry frying pan, if you can cover it to catch the steam) and it was wonderful.

2 courgettes, sliced thinly (I used a potato peeler)

200g or so of cherry tomatoes, halve them

Olive oil for drizzling

600ml of milk

400 ml of chicken stock, either your own or made from a cube

250g instant polenta

50g cheddar, grated (or use some other cheese it’s okay)

80ml of passata

80g of dolcelatte or brie, thinly sliced

a handful of basil leaves to scatter

Method

Heat the oven to 200C. Spread the courgettes and tomatoes over a large baking tin, drizzle with the oil, season with salt and peper and roast for 10 minutes. This bit is important as you won’t be cooking the finished pizza for long enough to get the courgettes and tomatoes sufficiently roasted. When done set aside but leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, put the milk and stock in a large sauce pan and bring to the boil. Put the polenta in a jug and when the liquid boils, pour the polenta in a stream and stir continuously with a wooden spoon or large whisk. You want the mixture to thicken and bubble on the surface, like larva. Now turn down the heat and stir in the cheddar and season well.

Pour the polenta mixture onto a baking sheet (I find some baking parchment helps but is not essential), spread out thinly to a circular or rectangular shape. Spread the passata over – it will be very thin. Top with the roasted courgettes/tomatoes and the thin slices of cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Scatter basil leaves atop.

You can serve this with a salad but I like it on its own, with one fork, and my feet up on the sofa.