Tuesday, 31 January 2012

My chicken and mushroom pie

We had a huge roast chicken for lunch on Sunday and even though I'm generous with the amount I put on everybody's plates, there was plenty of meat for left overs. The children were delighted, they thought it meant they would be having chicken rolls in their Monday lunch boxes so their faces fell slightly when I announced that I would, instead, be making a chicken and mushroom pie for Monday's supper.

Pies are good at any time of the year but especially in winter. They offer comfort, warmth and bolster the senses when making and eating them. Perhaps the best part is making the pastry - even if you make it in a food processor like I do, you still need to use your hands for the last part; the rolling, the draping, the piecing together and the crimping. Very tactile and very satisfying.


300g shortcrust or puff pastry,
olive oil
a large knob of butter
3 sticks of celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped into fairly small dice
left over chicken, at least 300g, torn into large chunks
a couple of good handfuls of mushrooms, chopped into fairly large chunks
2 tbsps plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 pint of chicken stock
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 190 degs C/180 degs C fan/gas mark 5

2. Add a lug of oil and the butter to a large pan over a medium heat. Add the celery and carrots, stir to give them a good buttery coating. Add a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper and then pop the lid on, turn the heat down and let them cook away for about 15 minutes until softened.

3. When the vegetables are ready add the chicken and stir. Add the flour, mix it in well, pour in the stock and stir again. Finally add the mushrooms, turn up the heat and bring everything up to the boil. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary, then turn off the heat.

4. Pour the chicken mixture into a fairly deep pie dish...

...and roll out the pastry into a big fat disc to sit on the top. Tuck the ends under or crimp the edges, brush with the beaten egg and pop into the oven for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden.

5. Serve with potatoes of your choice and some buttery peas. Enjoy!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Nigella's Chocolate gingerbread

I haven't made a large cake since the end of November when I made our Christmas cake. In the immediate days and weeks following Christmas, I opted to make muffins, cupcakes and other small delights in order to make up for all those Christmas indulgences. However, as much as I love making small cakes, they tend to disappear very quickly and I wanted to make something that had a little more longevity. This chocolate gingerbread seemed the perfect solution. It's the "daddy" of gingerbreads, an old fashioned gingerbread...moist, dark, sticky and intensely rich, hence you have to cut it into slabs rather than small, dainty slices. It's deeply chocolatey too and the addition of chocolate chips makes it full of tiny chocolate nubs. It's topped with a gooey icing of cocoa and ginger ale which tastes better than it sounds.

For a late winter dose of heat and chocolate indulgence, you don't have to look further than this beautiful cake. The recipe can be found here.

The melting pot...

Dark chocolate chips remain crunchy and nubbly when cooked...

Ready to go in the oven...

Just out of the oven, don't worry about the cracks...

Ready for eating...


Sunday, 22 January 2012

Date, pistachio and almond flapjacks

We all love flapjack in our family and it's one of those treats that you can knock up a batch of really quickly and easily. For years I have tended to use the same recipe which is just the basic oats, butter, syrup and sugar. However, after watching the fabulous Nigel Slater at Christmas, I was inspired to ring the changes and this is my take on his recipe for Festive Chocolate flapjacks.


50g pistachios
60g dried, pitted dates
30g pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp ground almonds
50g butter
100g caster sugar
2 tbsps golden syrup
200g porridge oats
100g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degs C/170 degs C fan/gas mark 4

2. Roughly chop the pistachios and dates then add to a food processor along with half the pumpkin seeds. Add the ground almonds and blitz together for just long enough to leave nice sizeable chunks of the fruit and nuts. Tip into a large mixing bowl with the rest of the whole pumpkin seeds.

3. In a pan, melt the butter with the sugar and syrup over a low heat.

4. Once melted, mix in the oats, and add to the fruit and nuts...

...then spread the mixture out evenly in an oven tray (mine was 25cm x 20cm and lined with baking parchment) and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.

5. Leave to cool in the tin. When cold, turn the flapjack out and cut into squares, rectangles or triangles. The size depends on how big you want your pieces to be...I made about 16 squares.

6. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water...

...and dip the flapjacks in as far as you dare. Allow to chill in the fridge for 20 minutes so that the chocolate goes lovely and crisp.

7. Serve and enjoy!

Banana and Cinnamon muffins

This is my own recipe and is a great way to use up those forlorn looking, over-ripe bananas that I always seem to have in the fruit bowl. I've made banana muffins many times before, they're a great snack to go in the children's lunchboxes, but I've usually succumbed to their chocolate cravings and added at least chopped chocolate, and sometimes cocoa too. This time, though, I wanted the muffin to be all about the banana, but to give it a little extra kick, I added cinnamon. My (sometimes fussy) nine year old son declared them a success...I take that as the ultimate seal of approval.


Makes 12

175g plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
half a tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsps ground cinnamon
125g unsalted butter, melted
150g soft light brown sugar
2 large eggs
4 small ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract


1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsps demerera sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degs C/170 degs C fan/gas mark 3

2. Put the flour, baking powder, bicarb and cinnamon into a medium sized bowl and combine well.

3. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar, and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time and then the mashed bananas and vanilla.

4. Add the flour mixture and stir well.

5. Line a muffin tin with paper cases and fill each case with the mixture, until about two-thirds full, and sprinkle the tops with the sugary cinnamon.

6. Bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out on to a wire rack. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Mac & Cheese

As much as I love cooking, sometimes I don't want to be spending lots of time in the kitchen on a Sunday morning preparing a roast, casserole or pie. Last Sunday was one of those days when I wanted to bask in our sunny conservatory with coffee and the papers, feeling good that my morning wasn't going to be dominated by food. The fact that I ended up sorting out my car insurance and going through my bank statement is a moot point. OK, it was papers of a different kind but still accompanied by coffee!

Flicking through Lorraine Pascale's book, Baking Made Easy, earlier in the week, I had decided to make this glammed up version of Macaroni Cheese. I haven't made the less glammed up version for years as our nine year old has always been a bit sniffy about Macaroni, but this dish looked so inviting in the book, I just had to give it a go. It's quick, easy and incredibly tasty, and the verdict from us all? A real winter warmer winner!


340g macaroni
salt and freshly ground black pepper
80g pancetta, diced (I used bacon)
1 small handful of fresh thyme leaves (I used 1 tsp dried)
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
100g breadcrumbs
1 handful of chopped fresh parsley


40g butter
40g plain flour
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tsp mustard powder
200ml milk
285ml double cream (I opted not to use any cream and used 400ml milk instead)
200g cheddar cheese
115g fresh parmesan

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degs C/gas mark 6

2. Cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling salted water. It needs to be cooked to just under what you would normally do, as the pasta will be cooked again in the oven. Drain, return to the pan and set aside.

3. Fry the pancetta/bacon in a medium frying pan over a gentle heat, until it just starts to brown and crisp up, then add the thyme and spring onions and cook for a further 3 minutes...

...remove the pan from the heat and add its contents to the pasta.

4. To make the sauce, you can follow the proper method in Lorraine's book, but I always use the cheats method. It works brilliantly and saves an awful lot of time, and if Jamie and Delia make their sauces this way, then I'm absolutely going to as well!

Put all the ingredients, except for the cheese, in a saucepan set over a medium heat and stir (I use a small balloon whisk) until all the ingredients have incorporated. Keep stirring all the time until the sauce starts to thicken. Once it's bubbling, keep stirring until it's nice and thick, then remove from the heat. Essentially, the trick here is to stir continually from start to finish...I guarantee there will be no lumps!

Add two-thirds of both cheeses to the sauce while it is still hot and combine well. There may be a few lumps at this stage but that is fine. Season to taste and add to the pasta mix. Stir everything together and spoon into a shallow casserole dish or 4 individual large ramekins.

Sprinkle the top with the rest of the cheese and the breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and the topping goes crumbly and brown. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve while hot.

This recipe comes from Baking Made Easy by Lorraine Pascale


Saturday, 14 January 2012

Treacle Tart

I haven't made a Treacle Tart for years and I'm not exactly sure why. A great, old-fashioned treacle tart is the ultimate comfort food, especially on a chilly winter's day. Unctuous, sweet and oozing, what's not to love? So, having been bought Lorraine Pascale's "Baking Made Easy" by my husband as a sort of post-Christmas present, I set about making her Treacle Tart so we could all enjoy a rare pudding.


FOR THE RICH SHORTCRUST PASTRY (Makes 400g - sufficient for a 30cm pie dish)

185g plain flour
95g softened butter
95g caster sugar
1 egg
pinch of salt
30ml water


450g golden syrup
Finely grated zest and juice of a lemon (leave this out of you like a really sweet treacle tart)
60g butter
1 tsp ground ginger
250g breadcrumbs


23cm loose bottomed tart tin (I used a 30cm pie dish and this worked perfectly.)

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degs C/170 degs C fan/gas mark 4

2. To make the pastry, blitz all the ingredients in a food processor until the dough forms a ball. Leave in a cool place for 30 minutes.

3. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick and use to line the tart tin. Prick the base lightly with a fork.

4. Take a piece of baking parchment and cover the pastry. Top with some baking beans and "blind bake" the pastry case in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the edges are slightly coloured and the base is dry to the touch. Remove the baking beans and paper and return the pastry to the oven for a further 5 minutes, until golden. Set aside.

5. To make the filling, put the golden syrup, lemon zest and juice, butter and ground ginger into a large pan and melt gently over a low heat.

Stir in the breadcrumbs...

...and tip the mixture into the pastry case. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned and set. Serve hot, warm or cold with clotted cream, custard, ice-cream or just on its own. Enjoy!

This recipe comes from Baking Made Easy by Lorraine Pascale

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Winter wonderland coconut cupcakes

I don't often make cakes with coconut in them, because the children have always been a bit "anti-coconut" but I had a nearly full packet of dessicated coconut in the cupboard and I didn't want to waste it. I've made Nigella Lawson's coconut cake before which my husband and I loved (the children weren't quite as enthusiatic!) so I thought I would use her recipe as the basis for my cupcakes, then dress them up with an enticing topping. Hey presto, it worked and both children are now coconut converts!



225g unsalted butter, softened
225g caster sugar
half a tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
200g self raising flour
25g cornflour
half a tsp baking powder
50g dessicated coconut soaked in 150ml boiling water

2 muffin tins lined with paper cases


225g icing sugar
120g unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degs C/170 degs C fan/gas mark 4.

2. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until you have a soft batter.

3. Spoon the batter into the paper cases until about two thirds full...

and bake for 15-2o minutes or until a skewer comes out clean...

4. Leave to cool in the tin for a while before transferring them to a wire tray to cool completely.

5. To make the buttercream, place all the ingredients in a food processor, with 2-3 tbsps of milk, and blitz until smooth.

6. Pipe, or spoon, the buttercream on to the cupcakes and sprinkle with dessicated coconut and silver balls.

7. Enjoy with a cup of tea!

This recipe comes from How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Leek Risotto

I love everything about risotto...its unctuousness, versatility, simplicity and plumpness. Best of all, though, I love making it...risotto is one of those dishes that shouldn't be rushed so I always find it a really therapeutic meal to make. This risotto, which we had last night, is one of the brilliant Nigel Slater's, and is one of our staple suppers. I tend to make it when the children have had a separate supper as neither of them are huge fans (although I'm working on this!), and when we've got a glut of homemade chicken or turkey stock, which we have at the moment being post-Christmas!

Serves 2


2 medium leeks, sliced
thick slice of butter
3-4 tarragon stalks, leaves only (or a teaspoon of dried tarragon)
200g arborio rice
175ml dry white wine (I use vermouth)
1 litre of chicken stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 heaped tablespoons finely grated parmesan

1. Scatter the chopped leeks into a large, shallow pan, add the butter and tarragon and cook over a gentle heat, stirring from time to time, until the leeks soften and become translucent but not coloured, about 10-15 minutes.

2. Stir in the rice to coat the butter, then add the wine/vermouth and let it bubble until the liquid has pretty much disappeared...

Little by little add the hot stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time at the most...

When the rice absorbs the liquid and starts to diminish in the pan, you can add another ladle or so, stirring the rice often. Continue cooking until the rice has become plump and creamy but still has a little bite left in it, about 20 minutes (so don't worry if you have some stock left over.) Season to taste, add the parmesan and knob of butter to add some gloss.

3. Plate up, sprinkle liberally with more parmesan, a twist or two of black pepper and add a trickle of extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy!

This recipe comes from Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Apple and Cinnamon Cupcakes

For my first baking session of 2012 I wanted to make something seasonal (hence the use of cinnamon. I love the smell and taste of cinnamon at any time of year but especially in the winter) and something that the children could take to school in their lunchboxes. I also had some Bramley apples left over from when I made my Christmas puddings and not wanting to see them go to waste, I set about making these yummy cupcakes.

The recipe is adapted from Apple and Walnut Cupcakes in the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book. I didn't have any walnuts, although I did have some pine nuts which work just as well. I also didn't want to add the frosting (a bit messy when the cake is to be stuffed into a lunchbox!), so instead added some demerera sugar half way through the baking time to give a really satisfying, crunchy topping.

Makes 12-16 cupcakes


80g unsalted butter, softened
280g caster sugar
240g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
a quarter tsp salt
1 and a half tsps cinnamon
240ml whole milk
2 large eggs
2 Granny Smith apples (I used Bramley)
50g walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 190 degs C/180 degs C fan/gas mark 5 and line a muffin tin with muffin cases.

2. Using a hand-held electric whisk or an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon on a low speed until the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.

3. Place the milk in a jug with the eggs and whisk by hand until combined, then pour three-quarters of the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix on a low speed to combine. Increase the speed to medium and keep beating until smooth and thick, adding the scrapings from the side of the bowl, then pour in the remaining milk mixture and continue to mix on a medium speed until all the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth.

4. Peel, core and chop the apples into 1cm pieces (the total weight should be about 200g), then stir into the batter with the nuts. Spoon the batter into the paper cases to fill them by about two- thirds. If any batter is left, it can be used to fill up to four more cases in a second muffin tin.

5. Bake the cupcakes for 10 minutes and then remove from the oven. Sprinkle each cupcake with a liberal amount of demerera sugar and put back in the oven for a further 10 minutes or until the cakes bounce back when gently pressed. Allow to cool in the tin a little, then remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely. If you can't wait that long, they are delicious when still warm!

New Year's Eve Curry

We are all curry lovers in our family, including our nine year old son. If cooking a family curry, as opposed to a curry a deux, I tend to err on the side of caution with the spices I use and have therefore always relied on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Baked Chicken Curry which is mild-ish but extremely tasty.

For New Year's Eve, and to celebrate Rebecca being back home, I wanted to make a curry but was looking for something different. I'd spotted a recipe for Coconut Chicken in a recent copy of Waitrose Kitchen magazine so decided to give it a go. It's quick, easy and delicious!

Serves 4


a lug of olive oil
1 onion, sliced
a couple of garlic cloves, finely chopped
a tsp grated fresh root ginger
1 and a half tsps curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
half a tsp chilli powder
6 chicken thigh fillets, cut into quarters (I used chicken breasts, 1 per person)
400ml can coconut milk
200g long grain rice (I used basmati)
250g spinach
1 lime, juice (optional)

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 10 minutes until soft and starting to go golden, then stir in the garlic and ginger.

2. Mix the spices and use to coat the chicken. Turn up the heat and add the chicken, cooking for 2-3 minutes until browned. Pour in the coconut milk and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.

3. Cook the rice according to the pack instructions. Stir the spinach into the chicken and simmer for 2-3 minutes until wilted. Add the lime juice (if using), season, scatter with coriander and serve with the rice.

4. Enjoy!