Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Brussels Sprout, Goat's Cheese & Bacon Frittata

I am really pleased with this recipe… because it uses up ingredients that I would probably have thrown out eventually but also because it tastes so darn delicious! Now; I fully realise that some people detest Brussels sprouts and that very little could persuade them otherwise, but I urge you (and them) to give this recipe a go. It really is incredibly tasty.

In a general sense, frittatas are great vehicles for using up those ingredients that you have hanging around, but this doesn’t mean that they should be dumping grounds for all the food odds and ends that you have lurking at the back of the fridge. As with most things, less is more and I would advise using ingredients that complement each other rather than using the frittata as a metaphorical blank canvas on which to express your culinary creativity.

I had some sprouts and a few strips of lightly smoked bacon in the fridge and wanted to use them up. Luckily the subtle smokiness of the bacon is a perfect foil for the earthy sweetness of the sprouts so I already had the foundations of a tasty dish. I added a finely chopped onion, a few eggs and some creamy and slightly salty goat’s cheese that was also left over after Christmas. Originally, I had considered making a savoury tart, but didn’t want to faff around making and blind baking pastry, so decided to keep it very simple and make a frittata.

The frittata was absolutely delicious and was fresh tasting but satisfying to eat at the same time. The most amazing thing was that the ardent sprout-haters in my family thought it was lovely, which as far as I’m concerned was a real result!  With some salad on the side the following recipe easily served 3-4 people.


Olive oil
4 rashers of smoked bacon cut into lardons
1 medium onion, diced
1 sprig of thyme
12-14 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
6 large eggs, beaten
50g soft goat’s cheese, crumbled
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper


1. Heat a tiny amount of olive oil in a medium sized non-stick, oven-proof frying pan and fry the bacon and thyme over a moderate heat until just beginning to get crispy and the bacon fat has rendered down slightly. Remove the bacon and thyme with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Discard the thyme. Leave the remaining oil in the frying pan.
2. Add the chopped onions and Brussels sprouts to the frying pan. Add a good glug of olive oil (about 25ml) and let everything and fry over a gently to moderate heat (almost as if it is poaching in the oil) for approximately 10 minutes until the onion is translucent but not coloured and the Brussels sprouts are beginning to soften.
3. Add the beaten eggs and return the bacon to the frying pan. Season well. Give everything a brief stir so that everything is evenly mixed. Sprinkle over the goat’s cheese and let cook over a gently heat for approximately 12-15 minutes until the eggs have set around the edges but are still slightly wobbly in the middle.
4. Place the whole frying pan under a hot grill for 3-5 minutes to until the frittata puffs up very slightly and is golden brown. Remove and serve cut into wedges.
Serves 3-4.


Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Mincemeat & Marzipan Madeira Cake

Well… Christmas is over for another year, and we still have the New Year’s celebrations to look forward to. Doubtlessly, on New Year’s Eve there will be more feasting but until then I’m still using up the leftovers from the Christmas over-indulging!

Each year, I promise myself that I will not buy too much food to see us through the festive season, but I have yet to keep to that… mind you, this year on foot of plaintive requests from my gang who weren’t looking forward to the prospect of turkey curry in the days after Christmas, I did buy a small turkey, which was enough for the dinner on the Big Day and for a few sandwiches later that evening!
I still had leftovers however, and loathe to throw them out or to consign them to the back of the fridge wherein they would lurk, waiting to be re-discovered sometime in the next millennium, I have made a concerted effort to use them in more inventive and thrifty ways this year!
Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I love baking and can quickly knock-up all manner of cakes, buns, pastries and other baked goods and also that I rather enjoy doing this…. So when faced with half a jar of homemade mincemeat and a lump of marzipan, I decided that I would make a very basic madeira cake, but use these in it instead of the more usual lemon zest only.
Initially I had toyed with the idea of mixing the mincemeat thoroughly through the cake batter, but then I decided that I would much prefer having blobs of mincemeat and little nuggets of marzipan in little pockets through the cake. I was a bit concerned that due to the weight of both these ingredients, that they would sink to the bottom of the cake as it cooked, but I decided to risk trying it on the basis that the batter for madeira cake is stiffer than other sponge-like cakes and would prevent this. Luckily, I was correct and I was delighted with how it turned out. The finished cake has a close crumb but was still light and fluffy to eat and I loved the fact that both the mincemeat and marzipan had retained their essential characteristics.
There was something quite plain looking about the cake when it was baked, despite the fact that I had sprinkled the top of it with some flaked almonds prior to baking, but luckily I had a small amount of icing sugar at the bottom of a packet, so used this with a little water and a drop or two of almond extract, to create an icing which I drizzled over the cooled caked. Although you could omit it, I strongly recommend that you do include it as it finished of the cake perfectly
This is a very festive cake full of appropriately seasonal flavours, was absolutely delicious and is one that I will definitely be making again.


175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
210g plain flour
40g self-raising flour
60ml milk
150g mincemeat
75-100g marzipan, broken into little nuggets
50g flaked almonds
To finish:
50g icing sugar
1tsp boiling water
1-2 drops of almond extract


1. Preheat oven to 160C/Fan Oven 140C/Gas Mark 2. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin and set aside.
2. Place the butter, caster sugar and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl and beat together using a hand-held electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, making sure that they are fully incorporated before adding more.
3. Sieve the two flours together and fold into the creamed mixture, adding the milk as you go. Make sure everything is thoroughly incorporated and that there are no pockets of flour remaining.
4. Spoon one third of the mixture into the prepared tin. Use about half of the mincemeat to drop little blobs over the cake batter. Do the same with half of the marzipan ‘nuggets’. Repeat this with another third of the cake batter and with the remaining mincemeat and marzipan. Finally top with rest of the cake batter and smooth the surface with the back of a metal spoon. Sprinkle the flaked almonds evenly over the top of the cake and bake in a preheated oven for 55 – 65 minutes or until well-risen and a golden brown colour.
5. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing and transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
To finish:
6. Mix the icing sugar, boiling water and almond extract together to create a smooth icing with a thick pouring consistency. Drizzle over the cake and allow to set.
Serves 10-12.


Steamed Mincemeat Roly Poly Pudding

I do love steamed puddings! To me, they represent so much about what food can be; warm, comforting, sustaining and delicious. There is no doubt about it though; they can be rich and heavy to eat, so you really do need to have a built up an appetite in order to fully appreciate them. Also, you don’t tend to eat pudding on its own – it is almost mandatory that they should come with a rich, sweet sauce, loads of custard or if you’re feeling a little restrained, just some softly whipped cream! This is not food for the faint-hearted (or for those counting calories).

Steamed puddings are definitely winter dishes - I’d be hard-pushed to think of one that you would eat at the height of summer - but like so many foods that are seasonal, I think you enjoy them all the more because of the fact that they are not available throughout the whole year.

Although most recipes for steamed puddings these days seem to be for sweet versions, historically, many were actually savoury puddings containing meat and vegetables. A traditional steak and kidney pudding, which is still very popular today, is exactly that – a pudding which is encased in a suet pastry and steamed for a number of hours, during which time the meat is tenderised and a delicious gravy is created.

The most popular steamed pudding must be Christmas pudding, but as I have noted in previous posts, it is not to everyone’s taste as it is laden with dried fruit and is incredibly rich. Personally, even though I absolutely love it (especially when served with brandy butter), it is a rather challenging dish to eat after a large meal and all the feasting on Christmas Day. I often serve a pavlova instead, which is much lighter on the stomach and still finishes off the meal on a sweet note without being so rich. I top the pavlova with clementines or pears poached in spicy mulled wine to follow through with the festive flavours.
There are a number of recipes for steamed puddings using mincemeat (the stuff you use in mince pies at Christmas) and they have always appealed to me because they are less- fruit laden than traditional Christmas puddings but still have all the tastes you associate with Christmas.
This recipe is based on one by the British food writer Simon Hopkinson, who has written a number of fabulous cookery books including one called Roast Chicken and Other Stories which he wrote with fellow food writer Lindsay Bareham and which is regularly cited on lists of the best cookery books. Simon calls this his Swirly Mincemeat Suet Roly-Poly Pudding. The pudding is made by making a suet pastry, rolling it out, spreading with mincemeat and then rolling up again like a traditional jam roly-poly pudding. However, the mincemeat roly-poly is then cut into slices and these are used to line a well-greased pudding basin before being covered and steamed. The slices of rolled pastry make a lovely pattern when turned out and given the fact that steamed puddings, by their very nature don’t tend to be the most elegant looking desserts, I was very pleased with the end result.
As already stated, this is my tweaked version of a recipe by Simon Hopkinson which I found in the on-line version of The Independent. The original recipe can be found here.


25g butter, softened
50g light brown muscovado sugar
250g self-raising flour
125g suet (I used Atora)
60ml cold water
300g mincemeat


1. Grease a 1 litre pudding bowl with the butter making sure that the entire surface, particularly the base of the bowl is well buttered. Use a little extra butter, if necessary (you do not want your pudding to stick when you come to turn it out).
2. Sprinkle the buttered surface of the bowl with the sugar, making sure that it is well coated and set aside.
3. Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, mixing it through the flour so that it is well distributed. Make a well in the centre and add the water. Mix with a fork until, the mixture comes together into a soft dough – if you need to, add an extra tablespoon or so of cold water to achieve the correct consistency.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work-surface and roll into a large rectangle about 30cms x 20cms. Spoon the mincemeat onto the suet pastry and spread out to within 4cms of the edge using a palette knife. Roll up neatly, nut not too tightly along the long edge to create a long ‘roly-poly’.
5. Use a sharp knife to cut the roly-poly into equal sized slices about 1.5cms thick. Use to line the sugared bowl, pressing them well into the sides of the bowl.  Pack the remaining slices into the centre of the bowl.
6. Cover the bowl with a sheet of pleated non-stick baking parchment and then a sheet of pleated aluminium foil and secure both in place around the lip of the bowl with twine.
7. Steam for 2 hours, either in a proprietary steamer or in a large saucepan with simmering water, making sure to keep the water levels topped up so that they come half the way up the edge of the bowl.
8. After the steaming time has elapsed, remove the pudding from the steamer/saucepan and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Remove the aluminium foil and baking paper and upturn the pudding on to a serving plate. Serve whilst still hot with warm pouring custard.
Serves 6-8.

Friday, 26 December 2014


Christmas baking is very much about spices and dried fruit as evidenced by all the cakes, puddings pies, biscuits and preserves containing these ingredients during the festive season. I love nothing more at this time of year than finding a quiet moment to myself, sitting down with a hot cup of tea, nibbling on something sweet and spicy and just relaxing! Although I am a huge fan of traditional fruit cakes, they can be a little heavy and mince pies can be very rich, so I have been looking for something a little lighter to eat but still sweet and encompassing typical Christmas flavours.
Stollen is a bread-like fruit cake of German origination which also often contains candied citrus fruits and marzipan. The only stollen I have eaten before was the shop-bought, mass-produced variety and I have to admit that despite my great love of marzipan (which all versions I’d previously tried, had contained) I was distinctly underwhelmed! I couldn’t understand why it was considered one of THE classic Christmas bakes.
Those who read my blog regularly will know that I recently re-discovered a love of bread making and that I have been furiously experimenting… baking a whole range of breads and buns recently. Without sounding completely pretentious, there is something so fundamentally life-affirming about baking your own bread and despite the energetic kneading and the time spent waiting for the bread to prove, I hugely enjoy it. Also, of all the things that I cook and bake, the breads that I have made have been the most popular with my three children, who, it sometimes seems to me, are the fussiest eaters on the planet. When you see the people you love enjoying the food that you have made, you feel like a million dollars!
The other day I had quite a lot of homemade marzipan left over from icing and decorating my Christmas cake and wanted to use it up and not let it go to waste.  Without any great level of great enthusiasm, I decided that I would try making my own stollen, merely to see if I could produce something that came near to deserving such popularity…. And let me tell you, I am now a convert! The stollen was SO delicious and will definitely become a staple in my house each year.
As I do when making any fruit cake, I soaked the dried fruit in a little brandy and let it sit overnight to plump up a little and become juicy. If you prefer, you can soak the fruit in the same amount of extra orange juice or even a little bit of tea, but at this time of year, brandy is king as far as I am concerned. In addition to the usual raisins, sultanas and currants, I also added some dried cranberries for some extra Christmas flavour. Dried cranberries have a slightly sour taste, but this is almost welcome when contrasted with the sweetness of the marzipan and the icing sugar with which the finished stollen is dredged.
I made my own marzipan and have included a link to a recipe for it that I previously posted, but to be honest, you can use a store bought version.
I worked and kneaded the dough by hand and whilst it initially feels quite soft, with continued stretching and kneading, it will eventually come together – persevere! You can always mix it using the dough-hook attachment on a stand mixer, but with bread I prefer working the dough with my own hands.


100g raisins
100g sultanas
50g currants
25g dried cranberries
25g candied orange peel, chopped into small pieces
50g glacé cherries, halved
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 orange
30ml brandy
275g strong white flour
25g caster sugar
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp fine sea salt
12g fresh yeast or 7g dried active yeast
125ml whole milk
50g butter, melted
1 large egg, lightly beaten
To finish:
125g marzipan, homemade or pre-bought
Icing sugar, to dredge


1. Place all the fruit, the orange juice and zest in a small saucepan and heat up until the liquid is just beginning to bubble. Immediately remove from the heat, place a lid on the saucepan and set aside overnight to allow the fruit plump up a little. Make your dough the following day after the dried fruit has soaked overnight.
2. Place the flour, sugar, mixed spice and salt in a large mixing bowl and mix together with your hands so that everything is evenly distributed.
3. Crumble in the fresh yeast or sprinkle in the dried yeast and mix through. Make a well in the centre and add the milk, melted butter and egg. Using your hands, start mixing the flour into the wet ingredients until everything starts to come together.
4. Turn out on to a clean work-surface and knead for ten approximately ten minutes until the dough starts to come together and becomes smoother and more elastic and is not sticking as much, (I find a dough-scraper an essential piece of equipment when doing this).
5. Place into a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and set aside to prove for about 1 hour or slightly longer, if needed until almost doubled in size.
6. Turn out the risen dough onto a clean work-surface and start to incorporate the fruit which you has soaking overnight buy gently kneading into the dough. You can lightly flour your work-surface if needed. Once all the fruit has been incorporated, roll it out into a rectangle, roughly 30cms x 20cms.
7. Separately, take the marzipan and form into a long cylinder about 25cms long. Place in the centre of the dough. Brush one long edge of the dough with milk and fold it over the marzipan, encasing it completely. Press the edges together to seal it. Tidy up the stolen by gently shaping it into a soft oval shape and gently life onto a large baking tray lined with non-stick baking parchment. Cover loosely with oiled cling-film and set aside to rise for about 1 hour to rise again until almost doubled in size.
8. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Remove the cling-film and bake the stollen for approximately 30 -35 minutes until well risen and a deep golden colour.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on baking tray for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
9. Dredge with icing sugar before serving cut into slices.

Makes 1 large loaf.