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macarons
Salted Caramel and Chocolate Macarons – a topic to breach around a festive period

Welcome to my blog! I am a fourth year sciences student who loves to cook but if you wanted to know about me, you would have visited the about tag!

This blog is designed for students and those who are less comfortable in the kitchen. It will be linked to the British academic year of September through to July and will consist of weekly updates of recipes. The content will be split into two halves, there will be “Cooking From Basics” as well as a Baking section.

Cooking From Basics will follow the academic year and aims to teach skills in the kitchen. It will start off with simple meals requiring little effort and will progress to teaching new techniques as the year goes on. As it is aimed at students, I will be providing a cost estimate per portion (based on my local shop’s prices) and also, where possible, I will explain how to make the recipe both vegetarian and possibly vegan!

Bread
Herb fougasse inspired by the Great British Bake Off. These little loaves caused more trouble than expected when the oven went out of commission last minute and the dough had to be carried to a friend’s house to bake!

Baking has been a passion of mine for a long time now. I love the creativity and freedom that comes with it and I always spend far too much time baking than I really should. The baking section of this blog will follow the things that I have been making and will provide recipes and if possible, troubleshooting for them.

cake 2
Galaxy themed mirror glaze cake with devil’s food cake inside. Created for a Promenade concert and inspired by Mahler’s Seventh Symphony – Night music

I will aim to alternate between the Cooking From Basics and Baking posts but some recipes may just fall into both!

I hope you enjoy the blog and I will be back with your first instalment next week!

Pea Soup

Pea soup is fantastic. Its fresh taste and bright colour make for an amazingly summery dish which is light and silky to eat. The additional effort required to strain the soup is most definitely worth it as it results in a smooth, velvety mouth feel; garnishing with a little herb oil (mint, thyme or garlic work best) gives a delicious, restaurant standard dish for very little extra effort.

Peas have been cultivated for almost 7000 years with records of them reaching back to the 5th millennium BCE in Egypt where they grew in the river delta of the Nile. Over the next few thousands of years, peas slowly migrated all over Asia. By the Middle Ages, the pea had made its way to Europe and nowadays they are everywhere.

The legume family, of which peas are a part, has formed a huge part of the human diet for millennia. From soya and broad beans to liquorice and peanuts, legumes permeate our lives and not just in their edible forms. Pernambuco, more commonly known as brazilwood outside of the classical music world, belongs to the same family as the common pea but is one of the most valuable woods on the planet with top end violin bows (which weigh less than 100g) costing thousands if not tens of thousands of pounds. Pernambuco was so in demand that there are currently severe restrictions on the cutting down and exportation of the wood to let the population replenish after years of over-harvesting.

Retuning from that tangent, there are several different species in the fabaceae family which are eaten; one of the most interesting to me is the butterfly pea. This strain is more known for its flowers than the peas it produces as the flowers are a vibrant shade of blue. They are used in teas along with other foods but the most fascinating thing is that the blue dye contained in them is an indicator. When in the presence of an acid (such as lemon juice) the dye turns from a deep blue to a bright pink. As a result of this, the butterfly pea flower has become incredibly popular in molecular gastronomy and in gimmicky drinks such as blue gin which turns a lurid shade of pink when the tonic is added.

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Butterfly pea flower tea with with lemon (left) and without lemon (right).

The soup recipe below gives a way for the flavour of the pea to shine through. It is very easy to overpower it with stock (a mistake you will make only once) but it is simple to prepare and will wow you and any guests you serve it to. Like any vegetable soup I make, I love to serve it with something bready for dipping. This time, I tried making green onion flatbreads which were delicious but it would probably have been easier to buy some nice sourdough from the local market. I also like to garnish my soups with a little flavoured oil and this time, I infused a little bit of olive oil with garlic and thyme by warming it gently and then letting the oil cool before straining out the solids. The thyme really does lift the soup to the next level!

I hope you like the recipe!

 

 

 

Pea Soup

Serves 4 or 5

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Cost per portion: around 25p

 

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion

2 large garlic cloves

1 litre weak vegetable stock (make it up to half strength as you don’t want to overpower the taste of the peas)

500g peas (fresh or frozen)

Pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme (optional)

Salt and pepper

 

Thinly slice the onion and place into a large pan with the oil.

Add the garlic and sauté for five to eight minutes until the onion goes soft.

Add the stock and bring to the boil.

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Once the stock is boiling, pour in the peas and cook for two/three minutes – check the peas to see if they are cooked through.

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When the peas are cooked, liquidise in a jug blender or using an immersion (stick) blender.

Strain through a fine metal sieve a cup at a time. Use a spoon to push the blended soup through the sieve and you will be left with a thick mush comprised of the pea skins which can be discarded.

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Season with salt and pepper and serve piping hot with bread for dipping.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you like soup, you should check out my recipes for butternut squash, curried parsnip and red pepper and tomato soups or if you would rather have something sweet, check out my recipe for lemon drizzle cake.

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for a delicious apple crumble.

H

 

Lemon Drizzle Cake

When talking about classic cakes you must not forget to mention the lemon drizzle cake. Classy, sophisticated and packed full of tangy lemon flavour, this cake is sure to make frequent (although possibly short lived) appearances in your house. It freezes magnificently and can be defrosted whilst retaining all of its flavour.

The recipe I present below is far more like a Madeira cake than a Victoria sponge; it has the classic crack along the top and a denser texture which I have found holds up better under the deluge of syrup poured on top. Whilst you want the cake moist, you do not want it soggy and although you could use a standard Victoria sponge recipe for the cake mix (check out how to do that here, just replace the vanilla with some lemon zest), the cake can get a little mushy if there isn’t enough of it to evenly soak up the drizzle. An added benefit of the syrup is that if the edges of the cake dry out a little in the oven, they will absorb more liquid and end up just as soft as the rest of it.

Drizzle cakes are quite “in” at the moment. An appearance on the Great British Bake Off in the signature challenge a several years ago created a significant spike in their popularity as it showed that many variations are possible. I have seen bright purple blueberry drizzle cakes, vivid pink raspberry drizzles and even made a gin and tonic flavoured one. Citrus fruits are the safest way to go as the sharpness of the juice contrasts with the sweetness of the syrup giving a balanced flavour but as long as you make sure your drizzle is suitably tart, you should be fine.

Everyone says that their recipe is the best; theirs gives the most interesting and moistest results however yet again, the recipe I use is very similar to the one my mum uses when she bakes lemon drizzle cake and I have never found one that can compare. There is no sugar crust on the top and the syrup gets all the way through the entire cake thanks to the holes poked in before the drizzling commences – which must be done while the cake is hot! This results in a very even spread of syrup with a little more around the edges (but who is going to complain about cake with extra flavour?) Although they are traditionally baked in loaf tins, I like to make mine in a Bundt tin as it gives a beautiful shape to the cake and makes it particularly easy to portion out. It also allows me to turn the cake out onto a plate and give it a thick lemon glaze which does not sink in and gives the cake an appealing finish.

I like to eat my cake with a nice cup of tea during a work break or after a good meal. Let me know when you like to eat your cake be that as a treat or just whenever you possibly can – which is totally understandable and relatable.

Enjoy the recipe.

 

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Prep time:  20 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

 

Ingredients:

8 oz. (225g) butter

8 oz. (225g) sugar

12 oz. (337g) self-raising flour (or plain flour with 3 tsp baking powder)

4 eggs

60 ml milk

Zest of 3 lemons

 

For the drizzle:

Juice of 3 lemons

4 oz. (112g) icing sugar

2 tbsp. Water

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.

Grease the Bundt tin and line with flour – or use two loaf tins.

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Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Add the lemon zest and beat again to incorporate.

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Add the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon of flour after each to prevent the mix from curdling.

Add the rest of flour and beat until combined.

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Pour the mix into the tin(s) and spread out to an even layer. Give the tin a few bashes on the base by lightly dropping it onto a countertop to remove any air bubbles.

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Bake for 45 minutes. If the top starts to brown too much, cover it with foil to prevent it from burning.

 

Remove the cake(s) from the oven and leave in the tins to start to cool.

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Once the cakes have been removed from the oven, heat the drizzle ingredients until a clear liquid is formed.

Use a skewer to make lots of small holes all over the cake(s) ensuring that the holes go all the way to the base.

Slowly spoon the hot syrup over the top of the cake and let it be absorbed. If you are using a silicone mould, you can pull it away from the edges of the cake to let the syrup get all the way to the base.

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Leave the cake(s) in the tins to cool.

Remove the cake(s) from the tin(s) and serve.

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If you fancy, you can always garnish the cake with candied peel or a thick lemon glace icing (made from sifted icing sugar and a small amount of lemon juice).

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This cake goes amazingly well with all sorts of tea and is super moreish. The moist crumb is quite dense but doesn’t go soggy resulting a cake that is both flavourful and a wonderful texture.

For another treat that goes fantastically well with a cup of tea, check out how to make my fluffy buttermilk scones or if you are looking for something a little more savoury, why not make yourself a hearty chicken pie?

 

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with another recipe for a delicious soup – though this one is a little bit more summery!

H

 

Chicken Pie

Hands up if you have ever made puff pastry. Now keep them up if you have made it more than once. Chances are, 90% of the people who own up to making puff pastry have only made it once because let’s be realistic, nobody has time to make puff pastry at home unless they are trying to show off. It’s one of those things (like croissants) that you do to be able to say you have done it and never again.

The difficulty with puff pastry is how easy it is to go wrong. Patience is the key but even that only goes so far. The pastry must be kept cool – but not to cold otherwise the butter will seize and crack – and you must let it rest between every single fold. It takes a whole day. Some people call it a labour of love. I call it proving a point so when that one difficult person at your dinner party asks if you made the pastry yourself, because they have been watching too much Come Dine With Me, you can say that you did with a clear conscience.

Puff pastry is comprised of many incredibly thin layers of dough sandwiched with layers of butter or shortening. The fat stops the layers from adhering to each other so that when it goes into the oven, the steam created in the pastry can push the layers apart creating the flaky texture we all know and love. Of course, if your heart is set on making the pastry yourself, there are plenty of recipes out there but for most of us mere mortals, buying premade pastry is just fine.

The same process of lamination – creating the alternating layers of butter and dough – is performed when making croissants however unlike puff pastry, Danish pastry dough and croissant dough contain an extra leavening agent: yeast. This gives the dough a larger rise in the oven and results in a far softer finish. Puff pastry is hard and flaky but Danish pastries are soft and flaky. To be fair to the puff pastry, it’s still less time consuming than making croissants which, if you follow some recipes, will take days to prepare.

The recipe for my chicken pie is a relatively universal filling. For this one, I have given a basic pastry topped pie however the same filling can be used with a fully lined pie dish and I also use it for filling hot water crust pastry when I make giant chicken pies. It takes a little time to make but it keeps in the fridge so you can make it the day before and just pop on the pastry before it goes into the oven. The filling is delicious and is a good way to make a little chicken go a long way. When using hot water crust pastry, I can stretch the two chicken breasts to eight big portions

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Hot water crust pastry chicken pie

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Chicken Pie

Serves: 4

Prep time: 45 minutes (must be done in advance as the filling has to cool)

Cook time: 20 minutes

Price per portion: around £1.50

 

2 large onions (around 400g) – finely diced

2 large carrots (around 400g) – chopped into 1cm cubes

4 cloves garlic – minced or finely diced

2 chicken breasts – chopped into 2cm cubes

200ml strong chicken stock

200ml milk (can be replaced by water or 100ml milk and 100ml cream for an extra creamy filling)

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup cornflour mixed with ¼ cup of water

Salt and Pepper

Puff Pastry

 

Optional:

Egg wash

200g chorizo

 

 

For the filling:

If using chorizo, finely chop it and add to a pan with a teaspoon of oil (just enough to stop it sticking and burning).

Fry the chorizo for a few minutes to allow the fat to render out of it.

Remove the chorizo from the pan and set to one side. Keep the oil for frying the onions in.

If you are not using chorizo, add 2 tbsp oil to a large pan and add the onions. Fry until translucent.

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Add the carrot and the garlic and fry for another 5 minutes.

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Push the vegetables to the side of the pan and add the chicken into the well in the centre.

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Stir the chicken until it’s all sealed (white on the outside).

Add the stock and the milk and stir everything together.

Simmer for 10 minutes to soften the carrots.

Add the parsley and half the cornflour slurry stirring it through to thicken the sauce.

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If it is still very runny, add more slurry a tablespoon at a time until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. It should flow slowly as you want a gravy but you don’t want it to go everywhere when you cut into the pie!

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer for another five minutes and then pour the filling into a pie dish and leave it to cool.

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Once the filling is cold, preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (2100C).

Roll out your puff pastry. Half a block/half a sheet should be enough to cover the entire pie if rolled out enough. (The rest of the puff pastry can be frozen or made into another pie or little snacks like cheese straws or palmier.)

Place the pie crust over the filling and tuck it down the sides so the pie bulges in the middle.

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If you want to do an egg wash, beat an egg with a tablespoon of water and then lightly brush the top of the pie. You can also use the egg wash to bind any off-cuts of pastry on as decorations.

Bake for 25 minutes turning about halfway through.

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Serve hot with potatoes and probably something green.

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Sometimes the green doesn’t make it but Hasselback potatoes always will!

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy a beef pie instead, my recipe for a saucy cottage pie is divine and you can easily replace the mash with puff pastry as above or if you are looking for something a little bit sweeter, then check out how to make a delicious batch of scones!

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for a tangy lemon drizzle cake.

H

Fluffy Buttermilk Scones

There are many things that create conflict in this world. From politics to religion, people will always find something to argue about but one thing that is always guaranteed to get messy is: how do you prepare a scone. Cream then jam or jam then cream? This is not something that can be discussed in order to convince the other person you are correct, this is a matter of right and wrong. Despite following the Devonshire tradition of cream first, I appreciate that other people are welcome to follow the Cornish tradition of jam first. Of course, I also respect other people’s right to be incorrect but that is totally unrelated to this.

Scones are of course a particularly conflict inducing food because not only is there dispute about how to eat them, there is dispute about how to even pronounce their name. Is it scone or scone? The differences in pronunciation originate from both regional dialects and the old British class system. Scone as in gone tends to be more prevalent in northern England, Scotland and Ireland whereas scone as in cone is the normal pronunciation in both the south of England and the midlands.

Traditionally scones form the middle course of an afternoon tea; between the smoked salmon or cucumber sandwiches and the miniature cakes and pastries. They are bready and filling but not too sweet and are an easy way of getting the cream and jam to your mouth. Eaten around 4 o’clock afternoon tea emerged in the 1840s in the upper classes but by the end of the 19th century it was customary for the middle class to enjoy it too. Nowadays, going out for afternoon tea is a treat. That is of course, assuming you are not the Queen of England. She enjoys afternoon tea every day and is particularly partial to a slice of chocolate biscuit cake with it.

The recipes below are for plain, fruit and cheese scones but I wouldn’t advise using the last for an afternoon tea. When cutting the scone dough, it is important to use the sharpest cutter you can to avoid pinching the edges as this will prevent a vertical rise. You also want to work the dough as little as possible as overworked scones lose their fluffiness. Luckily, scones are very easy to make and of course, are absolutely delicious!

 

 

Scones

16 oz (450g) self raising flour (or 16 oz plain flour with 8 tsp baking powder)

4 oz (110g) butter

Pinch of salt

3 oz (85g) sugar

5.5 oz (150g) raisins with ½ tsp baking powder (optional)

284ml buttermilk (or 140ml yogurt with 140ml water)

Milk to glaze

 

Cheese Scones

16 oz (450g) self-raising flour (or 16 oz plain flour with 8 tsp baking powder)

4 oz (110g) butter

Pinch of salt

100g grated strong cheese + 25g to go on top

Pinch of cayenne pepper

½ tsp mustard

284ml buttermilk or 140ml yoghurt with 140ml water

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (2200C).

Rub the butter into the flour and stir through the salt.

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Plain (at the back), cheese (left) and fruit (right) scones all ready to be mixed into a dough.

Use a blunt knife to stir in the raisins/sugar/grated cheese and cayenne pepper.

Use the knife to stir in the buttermilk (and mustard if you are using it) until the mixture starts to come together.

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Once you cannot combine the dough anymore with the knife, pour it onto a surface and gently knead it together into a homogenous ball.

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Roll out the dough to ¾ inch  (2cm) thickness.

Cut out the dough into 3 inch circles and move onto baking parchment.

Use a pastry brush to brush a little milk onto the top of each scone. Make sure not to let it drip down the sides as this will stop the scones rising properly.

For plain and fruit scones, sprinkle a little caster sugar over them or for cheese scones, sprinkle the reserved grated cheese on top.

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Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes, or until the scones are all golden brown on top.

Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

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Serve plain and fruit scones with lashings of clotted cream and jam. Cheese scones go very well with a nice soup or piled high with grated cheese and chilli jam.

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Fruit scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam.
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Cheese scones with sliced cheddar and habanero pepper jam.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are considering making an afternoon tea, why not use a classic Victoria sandwich cake with it and maybe even make the sandwiches with some exciting artisan bread? Looking for a hearty dinner? treat yourself to a fantastic cottage pie. It serves four so you get leftovers too.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a great filling for a chicken pie.

H

 

Cottage Pie

Cottage pie is a classic British dish. It has been around for centuries with the name dating back to the 1790s. Like shepherd’s pie, it comprises of a meat and vegetable filling – sometimes cooked in gravy –topped with mashed potato. Originally synonymous, shepherd’s pie is now used when referring to a minced lamb filling while cottage pie is used for minced beef. This is a staple meal at home and my mum has made cottage pie for dinner for years (though obviously not every day)! It’s utterly delicious and so easy to cook!

Making cottage pie go further is simple. All you have to do is bulk it out with more veg. Celery and carrot are common additions as are peas and sometimes mushrooms. If you want to add these, small chunks of carrot and celery should be added at the beginning and fried with the onion. When adding extra ingredients, you must take into account any liquid they will bring for example mushrooms will release a lot of juice which you have to account for when cooking. Peas should always be stirred through at the last minute before the filling is poured into the dish to ensure that they keep their colour and aren’t turned to mush. It is also easy to make cottage pie vegetarian or even vegan by using Quorn or soya mince instead of beef.

I have provided two recipes below. One is a dry recipe which does not have a gravy on it and the other is a saucy recipe which includes the gravy. The dry recipe is much faster and still utterly delicious but is far more basic so if you are less confident in the kitchen, it’s worth trying this one first and working your way up to the saucy recipe. There are two different versions of the mashed potato topping which are interchangeable. Again, the dry recipe topping is a bit more basic whereas the saucy recipe is topped with a creamy garlic mash. If you want to give your dish a little bit of that restaurant flare, you can pipe the mash on to provide a beautiful topping and even stir through some chives for a herby flavour.

Check out the recipes below and enjoy!

 

 

Dry recipe

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Cost per portion: about £1.00

 

Ingredients:

500g minced beef

2 cloves garlic

2 onions

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (if you have any)

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp oil

 

For the topping:

500g potatoes

25g butter + 10g to go on top

salt

 

Peel the potatoes, roughly chop them and add them to a pan of cold salted water. Cover with a lid and turn on the heat beneath it. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer until a skewer or fork can go straight through the potatoes and they are soft. Once they are cooked, drain the potatoes and set aside.

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Turn the oven on to gas mark 6 (2000 C).

 

Dice the onions and place into a large pan with the oil.

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Mince the garlic, add to the onions and fry until the onions go translucent.

If you are using a frying pan, push the onions to the outside edge and add a quarter of the beef to the centre. If you are using a standard saucepan, just push all the onions to one side before adding the beef.

Keep stirring the beef in the centre until most of it has browned and then stir it into the onions.

Push the mixture back to the sides and add the next batch of beef.

Continue this until all the beef has been added.

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Stir through the Worcestershire sauce and the tomato paste. Cook for a further five minutes and then pour into an oven proof dish.

 

Mash the potatoes.

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Melt the butter in the microwave and mash it through the potatoes. This should still be a little lumpy.

Add salt to taste.

Spread the potatoes over the meat and rough up the top a little. The tiny bits of potato sticking up will crisp up faster giving a nice crunch when eaten.

Add a few small bits of butter to the top and bake for half an hour.

 

 

Saucy recipe

Prep time: 1hr 10 mins

Cook time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Cost per portion: about £1.10

 

Ingredients:

500g minced beef

2 cloves garlic.

2 Onions

1 Large carrot – finely grated

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (if you have any)

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp oil

400 ml beef or chicken stock

(If you have it) 100 ml sherry or red wine

4 tbsp flour

 

 

For the topping:

500g potatoes

25g butter + 10g to go on top

60ml milk

2 garlic cloves, minced

salt

 

Dice the onions and place into a large pan with some oil.

Mince the garlic, add to the onions and fry until the onions go translucent.

If you are using a frying pan, push the onions to the outside edge and add a quarter of the beef to the centre. If you are using a standard saucepan, just push all the onions to one side.

Keep stirring the beef in the centre until most of it has browned and then stir it into the onions.

Push the mixture back to the sides and add the next batch of beef.

Continue this until all the beef has been added.

Add in the stock, wine, Worcestershire sauce and the tomato paste.

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Mix the flour in a bowl with 100 ml water until it is smooth and once the beef mixture is bubbling, stir this in.

Make sure to keep stirring until the sauce has begun to thicken and then leave to simmer for 20 minutes.

Squeeze the grated carrot to try and remove as much liquid as possible. Stir it through the filling and let cook for another 10 minutes.

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The sauce should be thick and coat all the ingredients. If it looks a little runny, sprinkle another tablespoon of flour over beef mix and stir it through.

You can set this aside now or leave it to simmer until the topping is complete.

 

 

While the meat is simmering, turn the oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Peel and chop the potatoes.

Add them to salted cold water and bring to the boil.

Simmer until the potatoes are fully cooked.

Drain the potatoes and set aside.

Using the same saucepan, add the butter and let it melt. Tip in the garlic and fry.

The moment the garlic starts to brown or begin to stick, add the milk and heat until the milk is just about to boil.

Remove from the hob.

Mash the potatoes and then add the milk mix. Continue mashing to make a creamy topping.

 

Pour the meat into an oven proof dish and spread on the potato mix.

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Rough up the top of the potatoes and place a few small bits of butter on top.

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Bake for half an hour.

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Serve the cottage pie straight from the oven!

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It’s hard to get a pretty picture of cottage pie!

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy a traditionally British treat to eat for dessert, check out how to make a simple Victoria sponge. It’s incredibly easy to make and tastes delicious! If you aren’t that much of a fan of cottage pie, have a go at making some pan-seared salmon. It only takes 30 minutes but is sure to wow you and your friends.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with another traditional recipe, scones!

H

 

Victoria Sandwich Cake

The Victoria Sandwich is possibly the only time where I will promote putting jam on first and then cream. If one is using a buttercream filling, the jam goes on second but when using double cream, as you should for a traditional Victoria Sandwich, the filling is so soft that putting the jam on top of the cream would mean ending up with an awful mess.

The cake, as you may have guessed, is named after Queen Victoria and was created during her reign to celebrate the invention of baking powder. It differed from the pound cake, which was the standard cake at the time, because the Victoria Sandwich was a much lighter cake owing to the addition of a raising agent. A Victoria Sandwich should have cream, raspberry jam and be dusted with icing sugar. In the recipe below, like the recipe from the Women’s Institute, I use a little caster sugar instead.

The cake itself is created using equal quantities of flour, butter, sugar and eggs. It is a very quick and easy cake to bake and, if you are in a hurry, all the ingredients can be placed in a food processor and mixed until a homogenous batter is formed. The only problem with this type of sponge is how sensitive it is to oven times and temperatures. Their sensitivity is so high that they are often used to check ovens and every day before filming the Great British Bake Off, a Victoria sponge would be cooked in each oven to ensure the oven was working properly.

Owing to its simplicity, the Victoria sponge is a fantastic base for many other cakes. It is incredibly easy to adjust to create other cakes – replacement of the vanilla extract with espresso or lemon and orange zest leads to very different but no less delicious sponges. As it is very pale, colouring the batter is simple making Victoria sponge a classic base for rainbow cakes. If you are like me and don’t particularly like chocolate cake, Victoria sponge can be a great way to get your chocolate fix if you replace the traditional cream and jam with chocolate ganache. The cake is sturdy enough to withstand stacking and decorations can be placed on top to make themed cakes, I recently created a Harry Potter Cake!

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As it turns out, fondant wings are quite brittle and don’t always hold up under their own weight! The layers were each coloured with the house colours for Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin

It may be basic but the Victoria Sandwich cake is a classic for a reason.

 

 

Victoria Sandwich

Ingredients:

For a medium sized cake:

170g (6 oz.) butter

170g (6 oz.) oz sugar

170g (6 oz.) oz self-raising flour or plain flour with 1 ½ tsp baking powder added

3 eggs

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

 

For a large cake:

225g (8 oz.) butter

225g (8 oz.) sugar

225g (8 oz.) self-raising flour or plain flour with 2 tsp baking powder added

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

 

To fill:

150 ml double cream

Raspberry jam

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 (160oC).

Butter two eight-inch tins and line the bases with parchment paper. Flour the sides.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.

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Add the vanilla extract and beat again.

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Add the eggs one at a time followed by a tablespoon of flour to prevent the mixture curdling.

Mix in the rest of the flour slowly until the mixture is fully combined.

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Divide between the two tins.

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For small cakes, bake for around 25 minutes.

For large cakes, bake for around 35 minutes until a skewer inserted in comes out cleanly and the cakes are beginning to pull away from the side of the pan.

Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in the tine for five to ten minutes.

Take the cakes out of the tins and leave to cool on a wire rack.

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Once the cakes have cooled, whip the cream to soft peaks.

Remove the parchment paper from the base of the less domed cake and place it on the serving plate. If it is very domed on top, use a bread knife to level it.

Spread the jam over the top of the cake and then pipe the cream onto that. If you don’t have a piping bag, remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the top cake, spread the cream onto that and sandwich the two halves together.

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Sprinkle a little caster sugar over the top and serve.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe and if the sound of coffee or orange cake tickles your fancy, have a look at my Coffee & Walnut and Chocolate Orange cake recipes! If you are a fan of sweet food, check out my fool proof recipe for meringues of if you are looking for something more on the savoury side, why not make yourself some delicious salmon? Its pan-seared, crispy skin and served with a light and fresh lemon couscous.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with another classic batch cooked meal.

H

Pan-Seared Salmon

I am a recent convert to crispy fish skin. If cooked correctly, it can be delicious – great flavour, great texture, what isn’t to like? The one downside is that cooking fish in a pan to achieve crispy skin is a bit of an act of faith. Once the salmon is in the pan, you have to avoid moving it until you are ready to flip it for the best results. It took me a couple of tries to find the best temperature to cook the fish at to ensure both that the fish was cooked to perfection and the skin was no longer slimy. There are few things more disappointing than looking forward to getting a mouthful of delicate fish with crispy skin and discovering that it is still slippery and oily.

The beautiful thing about pan searing salmon is that the skin acts as an insulator for the fish. This means that the fish doesn’t end up being overcooked and rubbery. The layer of fat between the skin and the fish melts down and helps fry the skin while the flesh of the salmon is gently heated until it is cooked just how you like it. One thing to remember is that if you prefer your salmon on the rare side, you will want to use a higher temperature pan so you do not have to cook it for so long and the skin will still be nice and crispy while the inside is still translucent.

Couscous is an underrated food. It is made by rolling semolina into tiny pellets and sprinkling them with flour to keep them separate. It can be eaten both hot and cold and, owing to its absorbent nature, you can put all kinds of flavourings with it. The lemon and coriander in this recipe helps keep it nice and fresh and the almonds give a good crunch but you can add vegetables to it if you like. Finely chopped pepper, onion and spices can give your couscous a more Mediterranean taste and it isn’t uncommon for people to add small cubes of cooked meat to it. Leftovers can be made into salads or just eaten as a snack!

This recipe uses traditional instant couscous. It is very quick and simple to prepare and is ready in around the same amount of time as the salmon so everything can be served together. I have also used rice to replace the couscous. Personally I prefer the couscous version as rice takes longer to cook and also absorbs flavours differently. Using couscous results in a much lighter meal which is nice as it leaves you able to do things after eating instead of curling up into a ball and going to sleep. That being said, the recipe still works very well with rice which is great if you are gluten free.

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Cook the rice in stock with the juice of half a lemon (or more if you prefer).

Crispy skin brings another texture to the plate and is so wonderful to eat. I hope you enjoy the recipe!

 

 

Pan-Seared Salmon

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Cost per portion: £2.75

 

Ingredients:

2 salmon fillets

30g fresh coriander

150g couscous

190ml weak vegetable stock

2 tbsp olive oil

1 lemon

2 cloves garlic

150g spinach

2 tbsp vegetable oil

salt

30g flaked almonds (optional)

 

Place the almonds in a dry frying pan and heat, stirring regularly.

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Once the almonds look golden, pour them into a bowl and set aside. Keep the pan for future steps, it doesn’t need to be washed up yet.

Finely chop the coriander, place in a bowl and stir in one tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt.

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Finely chop the garlic, zest the lemon and place it all into the frying pan with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

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Turn the heat on and the moment the garlic starts to brown, add in the vegetable stock and squeeze half the lemon into it.

Once the stock is boiling, pour it over the couscous. Stir to make sure none of the couscous is still dry, cover with a plate and set aside.

 

Remove the salmon from its packaging and pat down the skin side to remove excess liquid. Sprinkle with a little salt – if you have sea salt, this is even better than the regular stuff!

Put the vegetable oil into the frying pan. Once the oil is very hot and starts to look slightly shimmery place the salmon fillets in, skin side down. Lay them away from you so if the oil splashes at all, it will splash away from you, so you won’t get burned.

You now have to leave the salmon until it’s cooked about 80% of the way through, you can keep an eye on it by watching the line where the salmon goes from translucent to opaque move up the fish. Do not touch and move it as this will prevent the skin from crisping up.

Once the salmon is in the pan, boil the kettle and start to cook the spinach. If it is fresh, you only need to dunk it in boiling water for around 30 seconds, but if you are using frozen spinach you should place the spinach along with a tablespoon of water into a pan with a lid and cook until the spinach has all thawed, is hot and ready to eat.

Once the salmon is cooked around 80% through, flip it flesh side down in the pan.

Check on the couscous. It should have absorbed all of the liquid by now. If it is a little cool, place it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir through the almonds reserving a few for garnishing the meal.

Place the couscous onto a plate and add the spinach on top.

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Remove the salmon from the pan and lay it skin side up on top of the couscous. Drizzle with the coriander oil and scatter with the remaining flaked almonds.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy a light dessert, why not try making some meringues? They are super crisp, full of air and pair beautifully with cream and fruits. Why not make it a three-course meal and add a starter? My tomato and red pepper soup is wonderfully fresh and will set you up nicely for the rest of the food that’s coming – it can also be a great lunch if you don’t have time to do more than heat something up as it keeps very well in the freezer!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with another cake recipe.

H