Tuesday, 24 December 2013


I've just made this as an alternative to Christmas Pudding (which I don't like). It is stupidly easy to make, yet looks very impressive and professional, and can be prettied up with a dusting of edible gold shimmer for a really festive touch.

The chocolate element is from The Best Chocolate Tart, and the ingredients given will yield a tart which will comfortably serve 8, or 6 generously with seconds. Serve with clotted cream, double cream, vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche.

1 ready made sweet pastry case (such as this one from Waitrose)
1 x 397g tin Carnation condensed milk caramel
A generous pinch of sea salt flakes (I use Maldon Sea Salt)
200g dark chocolate broken into small pieces (I like Waitrose Belgian chocolate; Green & Black's dark is also excellent for this recipe)
250ml single cream
40g unsalted butter
Spread the caramel evenly over the base of the pastry case. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes.
Put half of the cream in a saucepan and once near boiling add the chocolate. Take off the heat and add the remaining cream and the butter. Mix carefully to achieve a smooth, shiny consistency. Pour over the caramel and leave to cool. When cold put in the fridge to allow the chocolate to set.

Of course, if you want to be a real domestic god/goddess, make your own pastry case and caramel.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


I first encountered Reeses Peanut Butter Cups when I was a student at Exeter University in the mid-1980s. An American girl on my corridor in the hall of residence where I lived in my first year had Reeses Peanut Butter Cups shipped over on a regular basis, perhaps to remind her of home, and she would generously share them with the rest of us whose rooms were close to hers. I loved the salt-sweet combination of peanut butter and chocolate. We tried to recreate that special flavour combo using peanut butter and chocolate spread (on toast) but we never quite achieved the glorious moreish sickly-sweetness of the original Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

For a long time, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups were only available in specialist retailers, usually near an American enclave. For example, Garsons Farm, near Esher, Surrey, used to sell them, along with other all-American foodstuffs. It was a bit too far to drive to Garsons Farm just to buy Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, though I would stock up if I was at the farm for fruit-picking. Imagine my delight then when my local Tesco started stocking them and I could buy them whenever I wanted to. My son soon developed a similar penchant for their salty-sweetness and is now a confirmed fan.

While on holiday in France in the summer, we spotted a Ben & Jerry's ice cream made from Reeses Peanut Butter Cups in the local supermarket, which set me thinking: would it be possible to recreate such an ice cream at home using a tried and tested and very simple method? And so last Saturday I created a monster.....

The basis for this ice cream is Nigella Lawson's absurdly easy "one-step no-churn" coffee ice cream. It makes a generous quantity which will serve six, or four greedy people, and because it is so rich, you only need small helpings anyway. And you don't need an ice cream maker either!

300 ml double cream
175 grams condensed milk
2-3 tbsp smooth peanut butter (or crunchy if you like a bit of texture)
9 Reeses Peanut Butter Cups (available in packs of three), roughly chopped

Whisk the cream and condensed milk together, and when the mixture has thickened, add the peanut butter. Fold in the chopped Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. Pour into a container and freeze.

Find the original coffee ice cream recipe here

Saturday, 23 November 2013


I was recently sent a box of foodie goodies by a PR company to help me create "the prefect Bonfire Night feast" - two packs of Spoilt Pig sausages, some deliciously sweet Denhay maple-cured bacon, Tracklements mustard and proper old-fashioned tomato ketchup, and a condiment called 'Bacon Jam'. The sausages and bacon didn't make it to Bonfire Night: my son and I had a fry up and devoured nearly everything in one sitting the day after the food box arrived.

Packaged in a small jar, not unlike caviar, the Bacon Jam went into the cupboard where I keep my condiments and was forgotten about for a few weeks. I wasn't sure what it was for: did one smear it on rashers of bacon as they were cooking, or was it a relish or chutney? One day, my curiosity - and greed - got the better of me and I tried the Bacon Jam, on a spoon. Sweet and smoky, with a distinctly "bacony" flavour, overlaid with sweet onions and, strangely, coffee, Bacon Jam proved to be very curious and extremely moreish. I tried it with a sharply mature Cheddar: it worked beautifully. When my son came home from school, I urged him to try it. He turned his nose up initially: the dark brown sludge in a jar isn't immediately appetising, but once tried, forever converted. We like it so much we now buy it in bulk from Amazon.

It is delicious with cheese: smear a layer on bread, top with a piquant cheese such as a good Cheddar, Emmental or goat's cheese, and grill. It is also a great accompaniment to salami and other cooked meats, and we have had it with roast pork. Our next culinary adventure with Bacon Jam is smearing it on top of a really good, homemade (of course) beefburger. In fact, its bacon content is tiny and it is really a sweet onion chutney, which makes it immediately more palatable. Created by the Eat17 company, it is part of a range of relishes that includes Chilli Bacon Jam (must try) and Chorizo Jam.


Monday, 2 September 2013


This method for bread came to me via my friend and regular supper guest Nick, who declared, on recently leaving his job, that he was going to "learn how to make bread". The description "no knead" (AKA "minimalist bread") is absolutely apt - the dough requires almost no kneading and relies simply on a long proving time (up to 24 hours), a super hot oven, and a Le Creuset-style cast iron casserole dish. It goes against all the received wisdom of traditional bread-making - the kneading (by hand or in a mixer), proving, knocking back and the second proving. I suspect Paul Hollywood, baking god and co-judge of The Great British Bake Off, would be horrified. I admit I am am rather late to this method: a quick internet search revealed that this simple formula has been doing the rounds for some years now.

The recipe/method was developed by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in the Hell's Kitchen district of New York City . The resulting loaf could easily pass for any "artisanal" or "hand-crafted" loaf you might find in Waitrose, Gail's, the Whole Food Market or indeed French über-bakery Poilane. And the flavour? As good as any of the aforementioned bread makers/suppliers, with a crisp, burnished crust and a good crumb. It also makes fantastic toast. I was so impressed with my first attempt (and I only let it prove for about 6 hours), that I am completely converted to this simple method.

This recipe comes from the Sullivan Street Bakery website. 

3 cups (430g) flour
1½ cups (345g or 12oz) water
¼ teaspoon (1g) yeast
1¼ teaspoon (8g) salt
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)

Two medium mixing bowls
6 to 8 quart pot with lid (Pyrex glass, Le Creuset cast iron, or ceramic)
Wooden Spoon or spatula (optional)
Plastic wrap
Two or three cotton dish towels (not terrycloth)

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add water and incorporate by hand or with a wooden spoon or spatula for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 12 hours at room temperature (approx. 65-72°F).

Remove the dough from the bowl and fold once or twice. Let the dough rest 15 minutes in the bowl or on the work surface. Next, shape the dough into ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with flour. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450-500°F. Place the pot in the oven at least 30 minutes prior to baking to preheat. Once the dough has more than doubled in volume, remove the pot from the oven and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes Then remove the lid and bake 15-30 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is nicely browned.

More about Jim Lahey and his "minimalist" bread method here

Thursday, 4 July 2013


Before Heston Blumenthal, there was Ferran Adrià, head chef of the now-legendary elBulli restaurant at Cajal Montjol on Spain's Costa Brava, a man who brought risk, freedom and creativity to food and cooking, and whose innovative and daring approach has had a lasting influence on how food is cooked, presented and perceived. No longer simply nourishment, food has been transformed into a science and an art form. A new exhibition at Somerset House, the first to focus on a restaurant, celebrates the "Art of Food", and the enduring influence of elBulli. The restaurant has now closed, to make way for a new organization called the elBullifoundation, which will nurture the raw materials of cooking – creativity and talent.

Read my full review for OneStopArts here

(picture source: Somerset House)

Sunday, 20 January 2013


Today marks the start of 'Farmhouse Breakfast Week', and a great excuse to enjoy good old-fashioned breakfast staples such as bacon, eggs, sausages and relishes.

We don't often have "fry ups" or proper cooked breakfasts in this house, tending to prefer "healthier" options such as cereal or yoghurt with fruit. But there's nothing quite like a good "full English" is there? When we go camping (rarely) a cooked breakfast is obligatory, a reward for having got through the night on airbeds and something to set us up for the rest of the day.

Thanks to Denhay Farms Ultimate Breakfast Box, we have enjoyed not one but two Farmhouse Breakfasts this weekend, consisting of Denhay's sweet hand-cured bacon (which my son declared "very very tasty!", Spoilt Pig sausages, and Burford Brown eggs with the most wonderful marigold-yellow yolks. Alongside these hearty delicacies, some delicious Tracklements relishes and real tomato ketchup. Rather than sit around a farmhouse kitchen table (we don't possess such a thing because a) we don't live in a farmhouse and b) we prefer 1960s retro furniture!), we ate our farmhouse breakfasts in bed, with big steaming mugs of tea (me) and coffee (he), and Radio 4 purring away in the background. The cat felt he should share in the feast, and secured a few morsels of sausage by standing very close to us and looking pleadingly into our eyes. We mopped up the runny egg yolks with hunks of my homemade focaccia. All in all, the Farmhouse Breakfast was a great start to the weekend, and perfect fuel for these cold snowy mornings.

Never understimate the value of a good breakfast. Even if you, like me, are following the 5:2 Fasting Diet, you should always start the day with breakfast. For more on the benefits of a good breakfast and Farmhouse Breakfast Week, please visit the Shake Up Your Wake Up website

Some of my favourite breakfasts include:
  • Toasted sourdough bread with French unsalted butter
  • Scrambled eggs on Marmite toast
  • Soft-boiled eggs with Marmite soldiers
  • Sliced, fried tomatoes on toast
  • Toasted homemade Stollen slices
  • Toasted panettone
  • Spanish breakfast of cured meats (Serrano ham, chorizo etc), queso fresca (a young fresh white cheese like Ricotta) and fresh strawberries