The mother of all sandwiches…

•4 July 2012 • 3 Comments

Whew. This is a biiiiig sandwich.  It’s not a towering monster like some that I’ve seen, but it will certainly fill you up.

It’s based on a torta (Mexican sandwich) that Thomasina Miers made on her cookery show (recipe here). I’ve been eyeing up this recipe for a long while and finally got round to making it today. Thomasina’s recipe calls for chorizo, so I substituted halloumi cheese. If you’ve never tried this before, you should! It’s a salty Greek cheese which holds its shape when grilled or fried. Halloumi is easy to get hold of and makes a fantastic vegetarian option, especially at barbeques – take note please carnivores :).

I used my favourite focaccia recipe for the buns, then got cracking on making some refried beans. I added a little smoked paprika to mine to give them a little bit more punch – a lot of recipes call for lard or bacon fat (which I won’t use, of course) and smoked paprika seems to round out the flavours.

Once I’d prepared my beans, it was time to fry the halloumi and toast the buns, then gather the rest of my ingredients together and get ready to assemble. The layers were as follows:

1. Refried beans

2. Griddled halloumi

3. Avocado

4. Fresh tomato salsa (tomato, red onion, lime juice and coriander)

5. Little gem lettuce…

… and it should look a little something like this!

Now the challenge is to get your mouth round it – no point in trying to be ladylike here 🙂

Roasted butternut squash and garlic ravioli

•2 July 2012 • 4 Comments

Making filled pasta is definitely an activity to be saved for days when you have a little extra time. It’s incredibly satisfying, but it does take time and patience. Today I decided to drag out the pasta machine and test out a new filling idea. I’m by no means a pasta expert, I have a lot to learn (as you can see from the picture below!), but here’s how I made my my ravioli.

To make the filling, roast butternut squash and whole cloves of garlic with herbs and seasoning. Don’t balk at using five or six – once roasted, garlic becomes wonderfully sweet and really mellows out. After roasting, squeeze the garlic out of the skin and mash the ingredients together.

Then take your pasta dough and roll it out as thinly as you can. Place small amounts of the filling onto the sheet of pasta (be stingy – you really don’t need much filling for each ravioli) and run a wet finger around each blob of filling to help the pasta layers stick together.

Place another sheet of pasta over the top and press down firmly around the filling, squeezing out any air. Use a fluted cutter (or a ravioli stamp if you have one).

After I’d cooked my pasta I served it simply with lemon, basil, goats cheese and a good sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper. The ravioli filling is sweet, so a nice sharp goats cheese provides good contrast.

Here’s the recipe for the filling. I won’t go into detail about how to make the pasta dough, as there is plenty of information available on the internet, but I found that using 1 1/2 cups flour and 2 eggs for the dough gave me the right quantity.

Roasted butternut squash and garlic

Butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about half of a butternut squash should be fine)

5 cloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

A sprinkle of dried thyme (or other herb of your choice)

Salt and pepper to taste

A generous squeeze of lemon juice

A drizzle of olive oil

Pasta dough

1. Place all the ingredients in a roasting tray (leave the skin on the garlic) and give everything a good shake. Roast at 220ºC for about 25 minutes.

2. Leave everything to cool slightly. Squeeze the garlic out of its skin and remove the bay leaves, then mash everything together so that the filling is smooth. Leave to cool.

3. Roll out pasta dough and fill, as described above.


In a small frying pan, gently warm olive oil with some lemon zest, a good squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add some shredded basil and drizzle over the cooked pasta. Crumble some goats cheese on top and add some freshly ground black pepper and a few extra basil leaves.

A little bit of carb on carb – boulani

•1 July 2012 • 2 Comments

These have been on my Pinterest board of recipes to try for a loooong time and we finally got round to it today. According to my (somewhat limited!) research boulani originated in Afghanistan – they are simple turnovers, lightly spiced and usually filled with potato or spinach. This recipe uses pink peppercorns to add interest and colour to the potato filling.

Here’s a link to the recipe we used from The Spice Spoon – a really straightforward recipe. The dough casing ends up being both crispy and chewy and the final frying gives a beautifully fluffy potato filling. We served ours with a simple minted yoghurt dip and thoroughly enjoyed them. We didn’t include the white pepper in the filling, but I think perhaps we should have compensated by adding some extra pink peppercorns as the filling could have done with a little extra kick. I can’t help but think that these would be fantastic for a picnic, so let’s all keep our fingers crossed for some more dry weather…

Not-so-red velvet cupcakes

•26 June 2012 • 4 Comments

I’ve been contemplating trying my hand at red velvet cake for a while now. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little daunted – mixing vinegar and raising agents, then getting the mixture into cupcake cases in super-quick time before the reaction fizzled out? Hmm.

Finally I decided that the time was right. I turned to my most reliable source of baking recipes, The Joy of Baking and braced myself for a culinary disaster…

… and it all went surprisingly smoothly.

The recipe was straightforward enough to follow. I have to admit though, I balked at adding a whole tablespoon of red food colouring. My red food colouring is, of course, vegetarian and made with natural alternatives to cochineal (who want squished bugs in their sweets, right?). The downside of this is that it smells distinctly beetrooty so I completely wimped out and only added half a tablespoon to the mix. The result? Orange velvet cupcakes. Like a sort of mutant carrot cake.

Luckily they tasted absolutely fine. I had no cream cheese in the house, so I deviated from The Joy of Baking’s recipe and made a vanilla mascarpone icing that I had spotted at Lulu’s Sweet Secrets.

As the cakes are made with buttermilk, they are wonderfully moist. The small amount of cocoa powder means that they are lightly chocolate flavoured and not too rich – perfect for afternoon tea. The mascarpone icing is creamy and not too sweet, making it ideal for people like me who don’t like buttercream. I’d definitely recommend giving these a go!

Crispy bites

•24 June 2012 • Leave a Comment

This weekend we had a load of tofu that needed using up quickly. Normally we’d whip up a Thai curry but as there was no Thai curry paste in the house it seemed like a good opportunity to try something new. Tofu is not known as a flavourful ingredient and consequently many tofu recipes call for a list of spices as long as your arm. I really didn’t feel like making anything too complicated, so I started searching for something simple.

I began to think about deep-fried tofu and when I came across this recipe from Fresh Tart I knew I had found the answer. The tofu cubes have incredible texture, soft and moist on the inside but deliciously crispy on the outside. By themselves they have very little flavour so this dish relies on a tasty dipping sauce. I used a soy-based dipping sauce, but you could really choose anything, I can imagine a sweet chilli sauce being particularly good. I tweaked the recipe to adjust for my own tastes and what I had available in the cupboard, and here it is:

Crispy tofu

Block of firm tofu

A little rice flour

Chilli powder (optional)

Oil of your choice for deep frying

1. Drain the tofu well to remove any excess moisture. Use some kitchen paper and a clean tea towel to absorb excess liquid. I often place my block of tofu between two chopping boards and add a weight on top to help squeeze out the water.

2. Cut the tofu into bitesized pieces. Mix the rice flour with a little chilli powder in a large bowl, then toss in the tofu cubes and shake to ensure that they are well coated with flour.

3. Heat oil either in a deep fryer or a large saucepan – you only need enough to just cover the cubes. We put ours in the deep fryer for 4 minutes. If using a pan, make sure that you turn the cubes occasionally so that all sides are browned. Remove from the oil and place on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil.

Dipping sauce

3 tbs soy sauce

3 tbs sherry + a pinch of sugar (use mirin if you have it, I had to substitute!)

1 tbs water

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

2 cloves crushed garlic

1 tsp finely chopped ginger

1. Add all the ingredients to a small saucepan and simmer for about 5 minutes to cook off the alcohol. I strained mine before serving, but this is not essential.

A Middle Eastern treat – pitta and labneh

•17 June 2012 • 2 Comments

It’s been a while since I found the time to update the blog, so my apologies for the lack of posts over the last few weeks. Finally this weekend I had the opportunity to do some cooking and amongst the recipes that I tried were these two.

I spotted this recipe for labneh on Tomayto Tomahto a little while ago. Labneh is a sort of cream cheese made in the Middle East – it’s simply made from strained yoghurt and can be flavoured in a variety of ways. It is often sprinkled with za’atar – a spice blend including sesame seeds and wild thyme but the possibilities for flavouring are endless. I’ve even come across some sweetened versions of labneh with honey and ginger. For my own, I simply added a sprinkling of dried mint, a little salt for flavour and a little olive oil to help it keep longer. This is a good option for calorie-counters as (like mine) it can be made with fat-free yoghurt and flavoured however you like. It should keep for a week or two, so it’s a good lunchbox option if you fancy a change from boring old sandwiches (as I frequently do).

Having tasted these delicious pitta breads on my last visit home, I decided it was time to have a go at making my own. These were very straightforward to make and tasted infinitely better than shop-bought pitta bread, I’d highly recommend trying these.

The recipe is from an old bread book we have at home, I’m not quite sure which one, but here it is with one or two tweaks:

Pitta Bread (makes 8-10)

8 oz strong white bread flour

4 oz strong brown bread flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp fast action dried yeast

1 tbs olive oil

7 fl oz warm water

1. Mix the flours and salt together, then mix in the sugar and yeast. Make a well and add the oil and water. Bring together the ingredients to form a moist dough. Knead for about 10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic.

2. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Leave to rise for about an hour – the dough should have doubled in size.

3. Knock the dough back and divide in 8-10 balls. Cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into an oval shape until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick. Place each oval onto a lightly floured tea towel and sprinkle with a little more flour. Cover the dough with another tea towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes.

5. Whilst the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F and place two or three baking sheets in the oven to warm.

6. Place the ovals onto the baking sheets and bake in the oven for 5 minutes. Take a peek through the oven door and watch them puff up – it’s incredibly satisfying 🙂

7. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for a few minutes, then wrap in a tea towel to keep warm.

8. Eat them while they’re fresh!

Cinnamon swirls for weekend brunch

•12 May 2012 • 2 Comments

Round the corner from my family home is an independent bakery (it’s called Cinnamon Square if you happen to live in that neck of the woods) and amongst many other lovely things they make a speciality cinnamon bun with cream cheese frosting. Since I’m far away from home I’ve had to resort to making my own…

I haven’t tried to recreate the cream cheese frosting yet, as these buns seemed quite naughty enough on their own. They’re definitely best for an occasional treat I think! One of the best things about these buns is that you can do all the preparation the evening before then just pop the buns in the oven in the morning so that they’re lovely and fresh. I only made a half quantity of the dough, but I still ended up with the dozen buns that the original recipe creates so I can only imagine that if you make a full quantity of dough you’ll end up with ENORMOUS buns…

The dough is rolled into a rectangle, then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and rolled up like a swiss roll. This roll is cut into twelve sections, which are left to rise…

Finally the buns are baked in the oven, then finished with a sugar glaze.


Cinnamon Swirls from Bread Revolution by The Thoughtful Bread Company

2lb strong white bread flour

2 tsp sea salt

3 1/2 oz  caster sugar

3 1/2 oz unsalted butter (softened)

3 tsp dried yeast

6 fl oz lukewarm water

9 1/2 fl oz milk

2 eggs

9 oz soft brown sugar

10 tsp ground cinnamon

For the sugar glaze:

1/4 cup of sugar

1/4 cup water

1. Combine flour, salt and sugar in a bowl, then rub in butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs and sprinkle in the dried yeast. Make a well in the centre and add the warm water and milk (I warmed my milk slightly to help activate the yeast, although the original recipe doesn’t call for this). Add the eggs and bring the mixture together into a wet dough.

2. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, then place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise for an hour. Then place the dough in the fridge for a further 30 minutes.

3. On a lightly floured surface, knock the dough back and roll into a rectangle about 12″ x 17″ – it should be about 1/2″ thick.

4. Mix together the cinnamon and the brown sugar. Mist the dough with a little water and then sprinkle over the cinnamon sugar so that the dough is covered with a generous layer.

5. Roll the dough tightly into a swiss roll – brush the seam with a little water to make sure that it sticks.

6. Slice the roll into 12 equally sized pieces, then place them onto a lined baking tray and cover with lightly oiled cling film. Leave to rise for an hour. (If you’re preparing these the evening before, place the buns in the fridge now and leave overnight. In the morning, take them out of the fridge an hour and a half before you want to bake them)

3. Preheat the oven to 190°C and bake for about 15 minutes, until the swirls are lightly golden. (You can brush the buns with an egg wash before you bake them – I omitted this step).

4. Place the buns on a wire rack to cool and brush with the sugar glaze (see below) whilst still warm.

For the sugar glaze:

1. Heat water and sugar together in a saucepan until the mixture starts to thicken to a syrupy consistency.