Toad in the Hole for British Sausage Week

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole

This weekend I visited two south-east London markets in one day.  ‘Double-marketing’ as my friend Jassy called it.  I went to the brand new Peckham Market and then walked down the Queens Road, through New Cross and on to Brockley Market, one of my long-time favourites.  Needless to say I ate far too much.  More on that later…

At Brockley Market, right on the far side, is a stall called The Butchery, at which I am a frequent visitor.  Their moniker can leave you in no doubt as to what they sell, but gives little clue to the fact that they are one of the best butchers in London.  To discover that, one has to try them for themselves.  I first discovered them when their shop appeared on Forest Hill’s London road a couple of years ago, before that they had a pop-up shop that was part of the SEE3 project, supported by Mary Portas, to regenerate parts of Forest Hill and Sydenham.  Since then, I have visited them mainly at their stall at the market which has a good selection of their full range.  Their excellent bacon makes it into my shopping bag with some regularity, and I find I can pick up some excellent cheaper cuts too, like the beef shin I used in my beef shin, black bean and chipotle stew.

This weekend, I was after some good sausages, with this week being British Sausage Week.  I must have been on the same wavelength as my fellow shoppers as, by the time I had arrived at Brockley Market and scarfed down my lunch (beef short rib braccos from The Roadery, if you’re interested) there was only one packet left in the whole market:  a packet of some rather sizeable pork sausages from The Butchery.  So large were they, in fact, that the cost of £6.60, nearly double that of supermarket sausages, barely caused me to bat an eyelid.  I was happy to pay this and to take them home.

These sausages had a very special purpose:  they were going to be made into one of my childhood favourites, a dish that I had not eaten in some time but had been craving ever since the weather turned cooler.  Toad in the Hole.  With such an unappealing name, it is easy to see why those who are unfamiliar would turn up their nose.  For the rest of us, mainly those of us who grew up in Britain, went to a British school or have British relatives, the combination of sausages and Yorkshire pudding, doused in gravy, is the ultimate in comfort food.  My mother, undisputed queen of all things batter, makes an excellent one.  Her secret is to make sure the fat in the pan is very, very hot before you add the batter.  She also makes excellent yorkies and pancakes using the same principle.

There’s not much else I can add except to say to use the best sausages you can find.  Make friends with your local butcher.  If you’re making a veggie one, Cauldron sausages are by far the best.

Toad in the Hole

6 sausages
Olive oil
150g plain flour
2 eggs
2 egg whites
200ml whole milk
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºc and lightly oil a tin or baking dish large enough to accommodate all of the sausages with some gaps in between.  Whilst the oven heats up, make the batter.  Beat the eggs, egg whites and milk together in a jog.  Place the flour in a bowl and gradually whisk in the wet ingredients until you have a smooth batter.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Place the sausages in the dish, add a little more oil and shake gently to coat.  Bake the sausages in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove the sausages from the oven.  The fat should be spitting hot.  Stir the batter a couple of times and then pour it into the tray around the sausages.  Return to the oven for 20 minutes until the batter is puffed and golden.

Douse with gravy and serve with green vegetables.

One Year Ago:  Instagram Round-Up: October 2013

On Autumn and Squash

image

Autumn leaves in East Dulwich

I feel I have to warn you that this is yet another post about butternut squash.  I understand if you want to stop reading right now.  I also feel that I should state an additional caveat: this probably won’t be the last one this year.

I am, as you may have already figured out, addicted to squash.  The big orange pumpkin-like ones, the reddish-brown cricket ball ones, the green ones that look a bit like marrows, and the humble butternut.  Few things signal the arrival of autumn than the sight of these piled up in baskets at the farmers market, still caked in a little bit of mud.

I think my love of them came from my years of vegetarianism, when they were in just about every dish I ate.  I remember the first time I tried one, however, I was not too impressed.  My mother, who cooked swede with Sunday lunch since the beginning of time (and still does!) brought one home from the supermarket ‘for a change’.  After eyeing it suspiciously for a while, she peeled and de-seeded it, cut it up, boiled it and mashed it with a little butter and some black pepper – eactly as she did with the swede.  Needless to say I was not fussed, however that was before I discovered that you could puree it into soup, roast it with allspice and even turn it into dessert.  Now I could never be without it.

Now it seems to be making its way into my cooking with some regularity.  This week I made two dishes of butternut squash, although one was to use up the leftovers of the other.  First, I made a warm salad of butternut squash, lentils, walnuts and feta, all roasted up with a bit of curry powder.  This was concocted simply because I had a lot of lentils and walnuts – my cooking really is inspired by little more than what I happen to have in the kitchen at any particular time.  As this did not use up all of the squash and feta I bought, the leftovers made their way into a simple galette, which was sliced up for lunchboxes.

Somewhere between both of these, I started making plans for a butternut squash curry.  I think I need to branch out a bit more.

Warm butternut squash and lentil salad with feta and walnuts

Warm butternut squash and lentil salad with feta and walnuts

Warm Butternut Squash and Lentil Salad with Feta and Walnuts

½ large butternut squash (you will use the other half in the other recipe), peeled and cut into 1inch pieces
1 large eschalion shallot, finely chopped
Olive oil
2 tsp curry powder
100g green lentils
125g chopped walnuts
100g feta, cut into small cubes
Handful chopped coriander leaves
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  In a bowl, toss together the squash, shallot, olive oil and curry powder until the squash pieces are coated.  Spread them out over a baking sheet and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the squash is tender.  Set aside to cool a little.  Meanwhile, cook the lentils according to packet instructions and drain.

In a large bowl, combine the warm squash, lentils, walnuts, feta, coriander and lime juice.  Check for seasoning before serving.

 

Butternut squash galette

Butternut squash galette

Butternut Squash Galette

For the pastry
175g plain flour
Pinch salt
100g cold butter, cut into cubes
50ml sour cream
2 tsp lemon juice
50ml water
Beaten egg, for glazing

For the filling
½ large butternut squash
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
100g feta, cut into small cubes
Parmesan, to finish

To make the pastry, combine the flour and salt in a large bowl then rub in the butter with your fingers until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Mix together the sour cream, lemon juice and water in a separate bowl, and gradually add enough of this mixture to bring together a soft dough.  Transfer the dough to a floured surface, shape into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour until needed.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200ºc.  In a bowl, toss together the squash, olive oil and salt until the squash pieces are coated.  Spread them out over a baking sheet and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the squash is tender.  Set aside to cool a little.

Heat some more oil in a large frying pan and gently cook the onions over a low heat until they are very soft and translucent, but not browned.

When you are ready to roll out the pastry, transfer it to a floured surface and roll out to a 30cm circular shape.  Carefully pick up the pastry using a rolling pin and place it on a baking sheet (it may hang over the edges a little at this point, but this is OK.  If it overhangs by more than two inches, you will need a bigger baking sheet.)

In a large bowl, combine the squash, onion and feta and check the seasoning.  Spoon this mixture into the centre of the rolled pastry and spread out, leaving a two inch border around the edge.  Fold the excess pastry over the filling, leaving the middle open.  Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with a little grated parmesan.  Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes until the pastry is browned all over.  Serve in slices.

One Year Ago:  Brioche Burger Buns

Apple and Stem Ginger Crumble

In the days since I last wrote, there has been a birthday.  On Saturday night, eleven friends gathered in Honor Oak to wish our friend Dan many happy returns.

Photo by Claire Chapman

Photo by Claire Chapman

The venue was Sodo, a new(ish) restaurant specialising in sourdough pizza.  There is a lot of good pizza in London right now, and although I was reprimanded by our waitress for my use of the ‘F’ word (Franco Manca), they are among those who lifted it from late night junk food to respectable dining option.  Others include the magnificent Pizza Pilgrims, Homeslice‘s gargantuan offerings and, my personal favourite: The Gowlett in Peckham.  The pizzas at Sodo were also very good, with that charred and flavoursome dough that comes with using a sourdough starter, and good toppings.  We shared a classic anchovy/caper/olive pizza and one from the specials menu with five cheeses.

The following day, after both a late night and a troubled one (I blame the cheese), Ollie and I decided to have a quiet day at home which, for me, always means spending some time baking.  I had some Bramley apples in the fridge, given to me the weekend before by my lovely friend (and apple dealer) Aimee, which would go to ruin if not used soon.  With the dark nights drawing in and nothing to do except watch television, I decided to make a crumble.

Nothing screams ‘autumn’ like hot crumble and cold custard.  I have this rule that a hot dessert must be accompanied by something cold (cold custard, cold cream, ice cream) and vice versa.  Never hot-with-hot or cold-with-cold.  Many disagree, but that is how I like it.  This crumble is a very simple combination of chopped apple, chopped stem ginger, a little syrup from the ginger jar and a sprinkling of sugar, topped with an oaty crumble.  I used four pieces of stem ginger as we both like it fiery.  If I was making this for others, I would probably tone it down to three.  Feel free to use a different crumble mix if oats aren’t your bag, or a ready-made one if you’re feeling super lazy.

Apple and stem ginger crumble

Apple and stem ginger crumble

Bake in your favourite dish.  This crumble will serve about six people, perfect for a large family lunch.  If you, like we, are a family of two, there will be lots for leftovers.  Eat straight from the fridge with (hot) custard.

Apple and Stem Ginger Crumble

650g bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into cubes
4 pieces stem ginger, finely chopped
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp syrup from the stem ginger jar
75g rolled oats
100g demerera sugar
100g plain flour
75g butter

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Lightly butter an ovenproof dish.

In a large bowl, combine the apples, stem ginger and sugar.  Mix with your hands and arrange in the bottom of the buttered dish.  Pour over the ginger syrup.

In a separate bowl, mix together the oats, demerera sugar and plain flour.  Rub in the butter until you have a rough crumble, then sprinkle it over the apple mixture, covering it completely.  Pat the crumble mixture down gently with your hands and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling at the edges.

One Year Ago:  Nan’s Tea Loaf

A Soup of My Leftovers

Roast chicken, kale and lentil soup

Roast chicken, kale and lentil soup

In the last few days I have spent a considerable time complaining about three things:  being ill, having a sprained shoulder and that our precious Mk1 Golf GTI has broken down again.  It seems 30-year old things break down occasionally, myself included.

On Sunday I made the simplest roast chicken: half a lemon in the cavity, a little olive oil and a lot of sea salt on the skin to make it really crispy, roast for two hours. That’s it.  I always buy a large chicken, even just for the two of us, as I love to have leftovers.  Even once we have made a huge dent on the breast meat and thigh meat, and have devoured a wing each (the best bit), there is usually still enough for another large meal and a couple of sandwiches.  I have made a number of chicken pies with the leftover meat, especially in the colder months; in the summer it ends up in salads, like my chicken and bread salad with harissa and pomegranate seeds.  This time, it was destined for a soup – just the thing for a warming weeknight supper.

This soup is, as the best chicken soups are, based on a broth of chicken stock.  Home made, of course, is best, but if you don’t have it, stock cubes are fine.  This time, my broth was a mixture of both.  I usually decant chicken stock into old plastic soup containers, which hold about 600ml of liquid.  I only had one left, and the soup requires about 1200ml of stock, so I made up the rest with a cube.

Also in this soup is a healthy mixture of kale, onions, celery, green lentils and pearl barley.  It can be made in under an hour and is best served with crusty bread.  The crustier, the better.

Roast Chicken, Kale and Lentil Soup

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Large pinch chilli flakes
1 bay leaf
1.2l chicken stock
100g pearl barley
100g green lentils
Leftover roast chicken
75ml natural yoghurt
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Two large handfuls kale, shredded
2 tbsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the onion, celery and garlic until translucent – about five minutes.  Stir in the cumin, cinnamon, chilli and bay leaf and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Add the chicken stock, pearl barley and lentils, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until the barley and lentils are tender.

Add the roast chicken and the yoghurt and heat through without boiling.  Season with salt and black pepper.

Toss the kale in a little lemon juice then divide between two large bowls.  Ladle the soup over the kale, the heat will wilt it.

Serves two with extra for leftovers.  Adapted from a recipe by Gourmet Traveller.

One Year Ago:  Allspice-Roasted Pumpkin with Chickpeas and a Tahini-Lemon Dressing

A Chocolate Beetroot Cake for Chocolate Week

Chocolate beetroot cake

Chocolate beetroot cake

This week, 13th – 19th October, is Chocolate Week, and I’m struggling to find anything I don’t like about this.

Right now I am a bit of a sorry picture.  I have a bit of a cold and a bout of asthma, so am sat wheezing away on my big couch under a blanket.  The weather in south east London has become even more dismal – all grey skies and rain lashing against the window.  Thank goodness for Netflix and Green & Black’s Maya Gold: the two things that are making today somewhat bearable.

Chocolate is a wonderful thing, for it always has the power to make you feel better, whether your woes are emotional or physical.  A neighbour of my grandmother’s use to give us chocolate when we fell off our bikes and went running to her with grazed knees and dirty tears.  It sounds silly, but it worked.  Now, in my thirties, I tend to reach for a bar when I’ve had a bad day at work.  It has the same effect.

I tend to use chocolate in baking mainly for special occasions, for huge, multi-layered birthday cakes or decadent desserts for massive family gatherings.  With my lurgy keeping me from any kind of company, I needed to bake something far easier, more wholesome and more humble.  I had a bag of mixed beets I bought for a mid-week salad, so decided one could be spared for a cake.

I remember a while ago when the idea of using vegetables in cakes became big, spurred on by the resurgence of the carrot cake.  Suddenly we were all baking from the vegetable patch, with varying degrees of success.  Two such cakes that have survived in my repertoire are the lemon-courgette cake and this chocolate beetroot cake.  Adding vegetables certainly gives cake a new dimension, plus has the added benefit of getting more veg into your diet.  Speaking of which, a friend of mine writes a very good blog about getting your children to eat more vegetables by sneaking it into their food.  It’s called Sneaky Veg and has some brilliant recipes.

This chocolate beetroot cake is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks.  It has quite a few processes and is a little time-consuming, but the end result is worth it.  It’s not too sweet but has the richness of chocolate and the sweet earthiness of beetroot.  The topping is a simple smear of creme fraiche topped with poppy seeds, although I used mascarpone as the shops of East Dulwich only had half-fat creme fraiche, which is far too runny.  Don’t bother using the expensive varieties of beetroot for this cake, as you don’t really see them once baked.  The good old purple kind will do just fine.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

250g beetroot
200g dark chocolate
4 tbsp espresso (I used Workshop Coffee’s Cult of Done)
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 eggs
190g caster sugar
135g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder
Creme fraiche or mascarpone
1 tsp poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Spray a 20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s) and line the bottom with a circle of greaseproof paper.

Cook the beetroot whole in a pan of salted water until tender.  Remove and cool under cold running water.  Peel and blitz to a rough puree in a food processor.  Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the espresso.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl.  Leave them there for a few minutes to allow them to melt.

Separate the eggs.  Set the yolks aside and whisk the whites in a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, and whip until stiff peaks form.  Add the sugar and continue tho whisk until glossy.

Stir the chocolate mixture so the butter is fully incorporated.  Beat in the egg yolks then fold in the beetroot puree.

Using a large metal spoon, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, being careful not to knock out too much of the air.  Do not overmix.  Finally, sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder and fold this through.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake in and put in the oven, turning the heat down to 160º.  Bake for 40-50 minutes until the edges start to come away from the sides of the tin.  There may be a slight wobble in the centre, but this is OK as it will solidify as it cools.  Leave it to cool completely in the tin before removing.

Spread over the creme fraiche or mascarpone using a palette knife and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

One Year Ago:  Pumpkin Pie

Cherry Oat Bars

Cherry oat bars

Cherry oat bars

I’m writing about sweet things again.  I apologise.  Despite how it looks here, I can assure you that I do eat proper food. Promise.

One of the things I love about the street I live on is the cats.  Almost every other house has one and they can often be seen parading up and down, jumping on walls and hiding under cars.  Being surrounded by pets reminds you that you are in a part of the city where people actually live.  Real people, not just those with a city bolthole they use from time to time.  My favourite cat is a fluffy ginger one that lives at the end of the street.  Regardless of what time I am arriving home, he always seems to be there to greet me.

My friends John and Heather have just got a cat, and on Friday we popped over to meet him.  He is just too cute and, despite my being allergic to his fur, we became firm friends.

I baked these cherry oat bars to take for them as a little gift.  I seem to be making quite a lot of cake bars at the moment – I think it’s because I seem to be transporting bakes across town, and are more robust than a cake or cupcakes.  These are a cake bar combined with a fruit flapjack, with an oat crumble baked into the topping.  Cherries have recently gone out of season, but the tinned ones work well. Just make sure that they are well drained as the coloured liquid will spill into the base and ruin the effect of the layers.  If you don’t fancy cherries, other fruits will work equally well.

Cherry Oat Bars

For the bottom layer and topping
185g plain flour
100g icing sugar
Pinch salt
1 tsp lemon zest
175g butter, at room temperature
90g rolled oats

For the filling
400g tin black cherries, drained and halved
2 large eggs
175g caster sugar
40g plain flour
125ml natural yoghurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Spray a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s).

In a medium bowl, combine the plain flour, icing sugar, salt, and lemon zest.  Rub in the butter until you have a smooth dough.  Separate a small handful of the dough (about half a cup) into a separate bowl, this will be used later to make the topping.  Press the remaining dough into the base of the tin, spreading evenly to cover.  Bake for around 15 minutes until brown at the edges.

Arrange the black cherries over the crust.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, caster sugar, plain flour, natural yoghurt, lemon juice and salt until well combined.  Pour this mixture over the cherries.

Add the rolled oats to the reserved dough and rub together to form a crumble.  Sprinkle this over the top of the tin and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until set.  When baked it should have a very slight wobble.  If it is too wobbly, return to the oven.

Adapted from a recipe by Joy the Baker.

One Year Ago:  Street Food Saturdays:  Viet Van, East Dulwich

The Warm Embrace of Nostalgia

Malt loaf

Malt loaf

Last night was a very special Band of Bakers event – the first of its kind.  Due to my inept scheduling, I had accidentally planned the event for the same night as The Great British Bake Off final, so we decided that, instead of cancelling the event or forcing everybody to miss the show, we would instead create the ‘Band of Bakers/GBBO Final Mash-up’.  Our venue, The Clockhouse, kindly allowed us the use of their television and we all sat down together to watch it.  Congratulations to Nancy, a very worthy winner and my favourite all along.

The theme for last night’s event was ‘Childhood Favourites’, so we invited our bakers to delve into their memory banks and bring something along that is a part of their past.  Since starting Band of Bakers a couple of years ago, I have always found nostalgia to be a really big part of baking – people will often bring along old family recipes, or something that reminds them of a particular time.  The things we loved as children may not be the best tasting or most accomplished bakes, but they are often those that give us the best memories.  It is also interesting to see how bakers of different age groups work with this theme – those who grew up in the 1970s, for example, will have a different repertoire to those who grew up in the 1990s.  What is also interesting is the influences in the baking of those with parents of other nationalities.

My bake for this event is something that has been a favourite of mine ever since I can remember: malt loaf.  And there is, of course, a bit of a backstory.  I spent a lot of time at my Nan’s house growing up in the late 80s and early 90s.  Like many grandmothers, she would often allow us more treats than we would get at home.  She would also allow us to eat our lunch in front of the television, something we were seldom allowed to do in our own house.  She would make us sandwiches of corned beef or polony, cut into eight tiny triangles, and would give us slices of malt loaf, thickly spread with butter.  It sounds fairly ordinary, and I suppose it was, but the memory of it always makes me smile.  Nan passed away a couple of years ago and I would trade any of the beautiful food in London for a corned beef sandwich and a slice of malt loaf in front of her old television.

Despite being an excellent baker and home cook, it would never have occurred to Nan to make her own malt loaf.  Having such a large family, she baked more for necessity and sustenance than for pleasure; desserts for Sunday lunches, tea loaves to give to visitors and pies for weeknight suppers.  Malt loaf came in those yellow packets from the supermarket, and that was the way she liked it.

I love those too, but I wanted to try my hand at making my own for the first time.  This recipe by Paul Hollywood looked like the most authentic and straightforward.  This recipe is very simple to do and, if you allow the usual time for proving, is fairly quick to make.  The biggest difficulty was finding malt extract, an ingredient I had never used before.  I had heard that some supermarkets do stock it, but seemingly none that I went to.  Luckily, the wonderful bakers of Twitter pointed me towards Holland & Barrett, who did indeed have a jar.  It’s very thick, a bit like honey and after the first use, you will forever have a sticky jar in your cupboard.

This malt loaf does not look much like the ones you get in the supermarket – it is far lighter in both colour and in texture, however the nostalgic taste is there.  Glaze it with honey, slice it up and spread thickly with good Irish butter.

Notes:  I made this malt loaf in a freestanding mixer as, to quote last night’s GBBO winner Nancy, I don’t have the strength to pummel it around.  You can make it in by hand if you wish, just knead it for a bit longer.

Malt Loaf

1 tbsp demerera sugar
3 tbsp malt extract
2 tbsp black treacle
25g butter
350g strong white bread flour
100g strong wholemeal flour
Pinch of salt
2 x 7g packets instant yeast
225g sultanas
250ml warm water
1 tbsp honey, to glaze

Prepare a 1lb loaf tin by greasing it with butter or spraying it with cake release spray.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat together the sugar, malt extract, treacle and butter over a medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted.  Set aside to cool.

Combine the flours, salt, yeast and sultanas in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.  Add the warm water and cooled malt extract mixture and mix using a dough hook until the dough comes together.  Continue to knead with the dough hook for an extra couple of minutes.

Scrape the dough into the prepared loaf tin, it should come up to about ¾ inch below the edge of the tin.  You may not need all of the dough.  Place the tin in a plastic bag and leave to prove in a warm place for a couple of hours.  The dough should rise up just slightly above the tin.  Preheat the oven to 190ºc.  Smooth off the top of the dough to the top of the tin and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until browned and risen.  Leave to cool a little in the tin before transferring to a wire rack.

Heat the honey in a small saucepan over a low heat until it loosens in consistency.  Brush over the warm malt loaf using a pastry brush.

One Year Ago:  In Praise of Banana Bread

Leek and Cheddar Pie

Leek and cheddar pie

Leek and cheddar pie

I have a bit of a confession to make.  One of my favourite topics of office conversation to have at those pivotal points where the seasons are changing is the inappropriate attire of my fellow commuters.  It is barely ten degrees in central London today and I saw three people on Regent Street in summer dresses and sandals.  They must have an incredible immunity to cold or not look out the window before leaving the house in the morning.

Yes, London is under its familiar clouds once more.  It takes little more than a sharp gust of wind for me to start swaddling myself in knitwear and putting on the heating.  I think I have become more like this the older I get.  I love the cold weather, I just don’t like to be cold.  This is one of the reasons I am grateful for the abundance of coffee shops in London – a great, if slightly expensive, handwarmer.

Last night I was faced with three leeks and a defrosted pack of puff pastry that I took out of the freezer for some apple turnovers that never were.  There was nothing else for it but to make a pie.

There are a lot of debates flying around the internet at the moment about pie: most notably about whether it is a real pie if it has only a top crust.  Purists believe a pie should have both a top and a bottom crust to be given the moniker, claiming that a pie without a pastry bottom is merely a stew with a pastry lid.  Although I am inclined to agree, both do have their place, and the latter is often a good way to use up a small amount of leftover puff pastry that would not stretch to a top and a bottom.  Whether my pie would please the purists, I don’t know, as it is made on a baking tray and not in a pie dish.  However, it does have a top and a bottom.

This pie is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, despite my inability to grow my own produce.  Grouping the recipes by ingredient, not by course, really helps give you some inspiration for leftover vegetables.  It is an incredibly simple pie to make – just perfect for a week night.

Leek and Cheddar Pie

650g potatoes, sliced ½cm thick
3 large leeks, white and light green parts sliced
50g butter
Olive oil
200g creme fraiche
175g mature cheddar, grated
A pinch of ground nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Boil the potatoes in a large saucepan of lightly salted water until tender.  Meanwhile, heat the butter and olive oil, in a deep frying pan, or chef’s pan, and add the leeks.  Stir, cover and cook over a low to medium heat for about 10 minutes until tender.  Transfer both the potatoes and the leeks to a large bowl.  Allow to cool a little.  Stir in the creme fraiche, cheddar, nutmeg, sea salt and ground pepper.

Divide the puff pastry in half.  Roll out one half on a lightly-floured surface and use to cover the bottom of the baking sheet.  Spread the filling out on top of this, leaving a border of an inch on all sides.  Roll out the second half of the pastry and lay over the top of the filling.  Pinch and crimp the edges to seal in the filling.

Brush the pastry with egg wash and then use a sharp knife and any pastry trimmings to decorate.  Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until the pastry is golden.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

One Year Ago:  Southampton: a Tale of Two Burgers

Butternut Squash, Curry and Cider Soup

Butternut squash, curry and cider soup

Butternut squash, curry and cider soup

This weekend, I was back in Southampton and went to the excellent 7Bone Burger Co. for dinner.  I’ve written a bit about this place before.  If very, very good burgers are your thing you should definitely go.  This visit was the best yet and I have written about it on my other blog, 607 Square Miles, here.

One major downside to eating a double cheeseburger of that size and a side of chilli cheese fries and a scoop of coffee ice cream from Sprinkles on the way home, is that you enter the following day not being able to face eating anything.  Being off my food is something of a rarity for me, and I am seldom ever completely full, but in this case it was 7pm the following day before I could even think about a meal.  I subsisted the entire day on coffee.

Such an indulgent feast requires something healthy and restorative to follow it.  I decided to make myself some soup.  Autumn really is the best season for soup, and not only because it is getting cooler; the crop of beautiful root vegetables make it so delicious and comforting.  Walking home from the market with arms full of big amber pumpkins and gnarly parsnips, I cannot help but think soup.  Especially good if you have some freshly baked bread in the house and a good blanket.

This particular soup is autumn itself: butternut squash, apples and onions, given warmth with a few spices and then cooked in cider.  The smell alone will be enough to rid you of any chills.  You can use other types of squash, or even pumpkin, if you prefer.  I used Gala apples as they have a good flavour, but any would work really.  Eating in front of a good movie or your favourite box set is essential.

Butternut Squash, Curry and Cider Soup

50ml olive oil
1kg butternut squash, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cardamom
275ml dry cider (I used Weston’s Stowford Press)
1l chicken or vegetable stock
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground white pepper

Heat the oil in a very large saucepan and add the butternut squash, apples and onion.  Stir to coat in the oil and cook for 10-12 minutes until the onion is translucent.  Add the spices and cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cider and bring to the boil.  Cook for three minutes before pouring in the vegetable stock.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the squash is tender.

Remove from the heat and blend using a hand-blender (if you do not have one, you can use a regular blender, but you will probably need to do it in batches).  Once smooth, return to the heat, stir in the seasoning and cook gently for a further five minutes.

Ladle into individual bowls, top with a swirl of cream and a few pumpkin seeds.

Serves six.  Adapted from a recipe by Orangette.

One Year Ago:  Band of Bakers Short and Sweet Event

Blueberry and Brazil Nut Baked Porridge

Blueberry and brazil nut baked porridge

Blueberry and brazil nut baked porridge

I am fickle about many things, but never breakfast.  Even when I have been through phases of not eating meat, limiting carbs and doing just about every diet imaginable, I have never, ever considered skipping breakfast.  For me, the day does not begin until I have had, at the very least, a cup of strong tea and something small to eat.  In recent years I have reluctantly embraced brunch, but found waiting until late morning to eat a bit of a struggle.  I just need a jump-start like you wouldn’t believe.  It comes, as many things often do, from childhood.  My mum was adamant that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and we were not allowed to go anywhere without having something to eat first.  It is a habit that has stuck.

Breakfast during the working week is usually something that can be prepared and eaten very quickly as, let’s face it, none of us give ourselves enough time in the mornings. Toast is my default option of choice, mainly because I can eat it whilst walking around the house (a habit that my husband despises); or cereal that can be eaten quickly.  At the weekends there is much more time to make something delicious that can be lazily devoured over the newspaper supplements.  Only under very extenuating circumstances will I have breakfast at my desk.

I can just about manage porridge, although I no longer have a microwave, so it does require a bit of watching and stirring, which is a bit of a drag.  Recently I read a blog post on baking oats rather than boiling them, and became intrigued about how this could work in the morning.  The basic principle for this is that the liquid (milk) and flavourings are added to the oats in the same way, but cooked in the oven for about half an hour rather than in a pan for a few minutes.  Yes, it does take longer this way, but it doesn’t need any further attention after the oven door has closed.  If you can bear to get up early enough, you could pop this in the oven and go back to bed (provided you had a reliable enough alarm clock to get you up afterwards!)

This particular porridge is cooked in a mixture of milk, golden syrup and egg. The syrup gives it some much-needed sweetness (I still cannot abide plain porridge) and the egg sets it a little in the dish.  You can add just about anything you like to the mixture; mine contains half a punnet of blueberries that I had left in the fridge and the last of the brazil nuts, left over from the double espresso and Brazil nut cake I made last week.  Use very ripe blueberries if you can as they disintegrate in the oven to form little jammy pockets within the oats.  Finely chopping the brazil nuts gives them the grainy texture of coconut, which works well with the softness of the porridge.

For the second batch of this porridge, I made it the night before and reheated it the following morning in the oven for 10 minutes with a splash of milk.  It wasn’t quite as good as cooking it fresh, but it does save you 20 minutes.  You win some, you lose some.

Blueberry and Brazil Nut Baked Porridge

150g rolled oats
Large handful of brazil nuts, finely chopped
125g ripe blueberries
85g golden syrup
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 large egg
435g whole milk
30g melted butter
1½ tbsp coarse Demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Lightly grease a large baking dish with butter.  Scatter in the oats, Brazil nuts and blueberries.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the golden syrup, salt, cinnamon, egg, milk and melted butter until smooth.  Pour over the oats mixture and gently stir to ensure everything is evenly distributed.

Sprinkle over the Demerara sugar and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until just set.

One Year Ago:  Street Food Saturdays: Brockley Market