Monday, 1 July 2013

Stilton, Potato & Caramelised Onion Tart

Whenever we go into a cheese shop the first thing my 2 year old son will do is ask for stilton.  Usually at the top of his voice, much to the amusement of anyone in earshot.  He's well known at both of our local cheese haunts - The Cheese Block and Mootown (whose Bermondsey Spa he is also quite partial too, especially when eaten straight off the knife) - for his adventures in strong, mature and stinky cheese.

It's hardly surprising though given the quantities of blue cheese I used to demolish as my parents pushed me around the market on a Saturday morning in my pushchair whilst they did their weekly shop.  My personal favourite was Danish Blue at that time, or so my Dad tells me.

Back in February we spent a week holed up in a converted barn in the foothills of the Black Mountains.  It was the sort of holiday where we sheltered from the freezing temperatures outside, ate copious amounts of cheese and pottered around the kitchen baking focaccia, coconut breakfast cake, cinnamon buns and savoury tarts. 

This tart, packed with new potatoes, caramelised onions and stilton, is what I'd refer to as a substantial tart.  The sort you only need a simple salad with in summer.  I'd had the idea for it in mind for quite a while, so baked it for the first time that week in Wales and more recently for my Tea Room at the Sunday Art Salon in Brockley.

I like it best when it's served cold for lunch or a picnic the next day.


For the pastry:

225g plain flour
110g unsalted butter
pinch salt
125ml cold water

For the filling:

5 medium onions
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp sherry vinegar
100g-150g good stilton, broken into pieces
6 medium new potatoes, cooked and sliced
300ml double cream
2 medium eggs
salt & black pepper


Start by making the pastry.  Put the flour, salt and butter in a mixing bowl and rub together with your finger tips until they resemble breadcrumbs.  Add the cold water, a little at a time, and bring together to form a ball (you may not need it all), handling the pastry lightly and as little as possible.  Flatten into a patty, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Peel and halve the onions, then slice into 'half rings' about 5mm thick.  Heat a heavy based frying pan over a low heat, add the rapeseed oil and fry the onions for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often, until they are golden brown.  Don't try to rush this, they need to cook slowly to develop the flavour.  Add the sugar and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the sherry vinegar and cook for another minute.

Roll the pastry out to about 3mm thick and line a greased 23cm fluted, loose based tart tin.  Prick the surface of the pastry on the base of the tin gently all over with a fork, taking care not to push through to the tin.  Chill again for 10 minutes.  Line with foil or baking parchment and fill with baking beans.  Bake blind for 15 minutes, then remove the beans and foil / parchment and bake for another 5 minutes until the pastry has dried out and the base is cooked.

Reduce the temperature of the oven to 180C.

Spread the caramelised onions over the base of the cooked pastry case.  Top with the cooked potato slices and then the stilton.  Whisk the eggs and cream together and season with a little salt and plenty black pepper.  Pour over the onions, potatoes and stilton until it nearly reaches the top of the pastry.

Cook the tart in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes until set and the pastry cooked through.  If the pastry around the edge is cooking too quickly you can cover it with foil.  

Leave to cool in the tin before removing to serve.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Spicy Prawn Noodle Soup

Who knew there are calories in ground cumin?

I watched Michael Mosley's Horizon documentary, Eat, Fast and Live Longer, on BBC2 last year with interest.  Michael Mosley set himself the challenge to live longer, stay younger and lose weight. Goals that many of us can identify with.  His research concluded that intermittent fasting could help achieve those goals and settled upon the 5:2 way of eating.  That is 5 days of normal eating and 2 days of fasting (when you limit the calories you eat to 500 calories for women or 600 calories for men) each week.  I'm no scientist, but the potential (not yet proven in humans) health benefits seem to make sense and, for that reason, I decided I was willing to take a punt and give it a go for a little while.

I have never counted calories before in my life.  A little naive maybe, but I had no idea that foods like cucumbers actually contained much in the way of calories. Aren't cucumbers about 90% water?  Don't get me wrong, it's not that I've never had to reign it in to lose the pounds that have crept on, but I've done that by reducing portion sizes, cutting out snacks, limiting my monstrous cheese intake and laying off the booze (...well, just a little).  Never has the way I've eaten been so scientific.  And believe me, for someone who abhors maths, all the calculating and counting had my head in a bit of a spin at the beginning.

I love food. I love cooking. I love creating new recipes. So I saw this as a challenge. Making nutritious food that is both delicious and low in calories.  After eating the 5:2 way on and off since Christmas (with a big break thanks to pneumonia) I've found that the best way of approaching fast days (for me) is to abstain from food all day and then have a decent sized main meal in the evening, which means that sometimes I can even have carbs.

This is one of the tastiest, most satisfying fast day dinners I've had so far.  A huge bowl of comforting, spicy soup.

Serves: 1
Prep time: 15 minutes (excluding making the stock)
Cook time: 10 minutes
Calories per portion (approx): 360


100g king prawns (peeled weight - approx 4 large unpeeled prawns), peeled & deveined
100g pak choi, sliced
50g mange tout
50g beansprouts
30g oyster mushrooms, sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
1-2 bird's eye chillies, finely sliced
2-3cm piece fresh ginger, finely sliced
300ml good vegetarian stock (see more below)
1/2 tsp brown miso paste
1 tsp fish sauce (or soy sauce)
fresh coriander
50g glass noodles (cooked according to packet instructions)


Put the stock in a pan with the miso paste and fish sauce and heat through.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.  Blanch the pak choi, mange tout and oyster mushrooms for 1-2 minutes, remove from the water and set aside.  Then cook the prawns in the same water until pink and cooked through and set aside (again 1-2 minutes depending on the size of your prawns).

Put the glass noodles, vegetables, prawns, spring onions, chillies and ginger in a big bowl and pour over the stock.  Add some roughly chopped coriander to serve.

Good vegetarian stock:

I use this recipe from Kellie's blog Food to Glow to make vast quantities of vegetarian stock which I then freeze in 1 person portions so that I have some to hand whenever I fancy noodle soup.  I then add in whatever other flavours  and seasoning I want before I use it.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Spanish Mackerel with Chickpeas & Pearled Spelt

There are times when I wander into the fishmonger with not the foggiest idea what I'm going to buy.  Although probably a little frustrating for everyone queued up behind me as I um and ah, it does mean I'm not constrained by a recipe or an idea.  I can pick whatever looks the best or comes recommended.  Last week it was the shiny, bright eyed Spanish mackerel which caught my eye at Moxons

A rare glimpse of sunshine meant I was craving salads and summery, holiday food.  Warm, sunny days are the perfect time for lazy family lunches and big platters of simple salads...

Pearled spelt (or farro) is one of those ingredients that I bought on impulse, after seeing a photo on Instagram of a gorgeous salad which Elly Curshen made for Pear Cafe.  These grains of spelt with the outer husk removed have a nutty flavour and work well in place of rice, bulgur or couscous in salads.  

Serves 2 adults and 1 hungry toddler for lunch.


1 large mackerel or 2 small mackerel, filleted
50g pearled spelt
200g cooked chickpeas (or 1 tin good quality chickpeas)
2 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
150g small ripe tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 dessert spoon sherry vinegar
2 dessert spoons olive oil (plus extra to cook the mackerel)
salt & black pepper
freshly squeezed lemon juice (to serve)


Cook the spelt according to the packet instructions, then drain.

Make the dressing in a large bowl by mixing together the sherry vinegar and olive oil with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the cooked spelt, chickpeas, spring onions, tomatoes and parsley and mix well.  Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Heat a frying pan over a moderate heat.  Wash and dry the mackerel fillets, rub a little olive oil on each side of the fillets and season with a little salt.  Cook the mackerel fillets, skin side down, for 3-4 minutes, then turn and cook for a further minute or two until just cooked.

Spoon the salad onto a large serving plate and put the mackerel fillets on top, skin side up.  Squeeze over a little lemon juice and serve immediately.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Earl Grey Fruit Loaf with Lemon & Lavender Icing

The best cakes are sometimes the simplest.  A classic tea loaf has to be one of the easiest cakes to bake.  Whether it's Yorkshire Tea Loaf, Bara Brith, Irish Tea Brack or one of the many other regional specialities, it's just a case of soaking fruit and sugar in tea and then mixing in the egg and flour before baking.

It's pretty perfect just spread with butter and accompanied by a cup of tea.  But in this version I've swapped strong tea, for the lighter, more fragrant earl grey from Flint & Co and I've added some icing made with lemon juice and a very small amount of edible lavender (you don't need much as it is a flavour which can quickly overpower everything else).


For the cake:

350g mixed vine fruit
225g light soft brown sugar
300ml earl grey tea
275g self raising flour
1 medium egg, beaten

For the icing:

juice of half a lemon
100g icing sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp edible lavender


For the cake:

Put the vine fruit, sugar and brewed tea into a bowl, stir and leave to soak for 12-24 hours.

Prepare a 2lb loaf tin (one which measures approximately [ ]l / [ ]w / [ ]d) by greasing and lining with baking parchment.

Stir the beaten egg into the fruit mixture and then sift in the flour. Stir until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake at 150C for 11/2 hours. Leave the cake to cool in the tin and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

For the icing:

Mix the icing sugar into the lemon juice bit by bit (you may not need it all, but you may need more depending on how juicy your lemon is). You are looking for a pouring consistency, but not so thin that it all runs straight off the cake!

Once the cake is cool, drizzle the icing across the the cake widthways, using as much or as little as you like. Finish by sprinkling the lavender on top of the cake.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Asparagus, Brie & New Potato Tart

Asparagus is probably in my top 3 favourite vegetables. It definitely comes after aubergines though. They have to be my all time favourite (although technically, aren't they fruit..?). I usually eat my asparagus as simple as it comes, plenty of salt and pepper and a big pot of melted butter to dip each spear in (several times).

I decided to do something a bit different for my Tea Room at the Sunday Art Salon last Sunday, to showcase this wonderful British seasonal vegetable. The brie can easily be substituted if you're not fond of it. A soft cheese or goat's cheese would work well.


For the pastry:

225g plain flour
60g unsalted butter
50g vegetable shortening (eg Trex)
pinch salt
125ml cold water

For the filling:

4 medium new potatoes
16-18 thin asparagus spears
100g brie, sliced
300ml double cream
2 medium eggs
salt & black pepper


Start by making the pastry. Put the flour, salt and butter in a mixing bowl and rub together with your finger tips until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add the cold water, a little at a time, and bring together to form a ball (you may not need it all), handling the pastry lightly and as little as possible. Flatten into a patty, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Whilst the pastry is chilling (or in advance if you're super organised), boil the potatoes in their skins for approximately 20 minutes until just cooked, set aside to cool and then slice. For the asparagus, bring a pan of water to the boil, add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Drain the asparagus and plunge into ice cold water to stop the cooking process.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Roll the pastry out to about 3mm thick and line a greased 23cm fluted, loose based tart tin. Prick the surface of the pastry on the base of the tin gently all over with a fork, taking care not to push through to the tin. Chill again for 10 minutes. Line with foil or baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 15 minutes, then remove the beans and foil / parchment and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the pastry has dried out and the base is cooked.

Reduce the temperature of the oven to 180C.

Cover the base of the pastry case with the sliced potatoes then arrange the asparagus and brie on top, ensuring that it is evenly distributed. Whisk the eggs and cream together and season with a little salt and plenty black pepper. Pour over the asparagus, potatoes and brie until it nearly reaches the top of the pastry.

Cook the tart in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes until set and the pastry cooked through. If the pastry around the edge is cooking too quickly you can cover it with foil.

Serve at room temperature or leave to cool in the tin before removing to serve cold.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Chocolate & Orange Maya Gold Layer Cake

I recently became ever so slightly obsessed with making a gargantuan and slightly bonkers chocolate 1st birthday cake for the Band of Bakers.  Three deep layers of chocolate and muscovado sponge, one layer of hazelnut wafer and one layer of hazelnut meringue all sandwiched together with treacle chocolate fudge frosting and vanilla meringue buttercream, topped off with lots of mini hazelnut meringues.

The sort of cake you only ever make once (like the campervan cake I made for my son's 2nd birthday...never again).

This layer cake is far more refined.  Perfect for a celebration, but equally wouldn't look out of place on the table for afternoon tea.  With three layers of gently spiced rich chocolate fudge sponge and about a gallon of Maya Gold chocolate fudge frosting it isn't for the faint hearted.  But it's made with dark chocolate which is ever so good for you.  And oranges, they count towards your five a day.

You will need to start by making the confit orange a couple of days (or more) before you want to make the cake.


For the orange confit:

4 oranges
500g caster sugar
500ml water

(This is the recipe from Paul A. Young's book Adventures with Chocolate, but I make a big batch so that I have lots of leftovers - they keep well in am airtight container for up to 3 months)

For the cake:

160g unsalted butter, softened
150g dark soft brown sugar
150g light soft brown sugar
100g Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate
50g Green & Black's 70% dark chocolate
40ml sunflower oil
3 large free range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp glycerin
50ml soured cream
250g plain flour
50g Green & Black's cocoa
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground mixed spice

For the frosting:

2 tbsp golden syrup
150g light soft brown sugar
4 tbsp Green & Black's cocoa
4 tbsp cornflower
300ml milk
150g Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate
100g Green & Black's 70% dark chocolate
2 tsp vanilla extract
50g unsalted butter, softened

(This almost identical to my current favourite chocolate frosting recipe, which is in Dan Lepard's book Short & Sweet, except that I have swapped the treacle in his recipe for golden syrup and used Maya Gold in place of some of the dark chocolate.  If you don't have Dan's book, you should have!)


For the orange confit:

Wash the oranges, then score the skin from top to bottom so the skin is in 4 equal pieces.  Gently peel the skin away from the flesh and slice each piece into 3 or 4 lengthways.

Bring a pan of water to the boil and simmer the orange skin for 3 minutes , then drain and discard the water.  Repeat twice.

Put the sugar and water into a pan and bring to the boil.  Put the orange skin into the sugar syrup and turn the heat right down to a very gentle simmer.  Simmer for 3 hours then leave in the syrup to cool.  Once cooled, gently lay the strips of orange skin on a cooling rack and leave for 24 hours, or until the sugar crystallises.

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Grease and line the bottoms of three 20cm sandwich cake tins.

Beat the butter, dark and light sugars with an electric mixer (I used my Kitchenaid Mixer) until pale and fluffy.  This will take about 4 or 5 minutes.

Whilst the butter and sugars are mixing, melt the Maya Gold and 70% dark chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Take care not to let the water touch the bowl or the chocolate.

Beat the eggs, oil, vanilla extract, glycerin and soured cream together in a jug.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice.

Once the butter and sugar mixture is pale and fluffy, reduce the speed of the mixer and slowly add the egg mixture, about 1 tablespoon at a time.  If the mixture starts to curdle, add a spoonful of the flour mixture.

Beat in half the flour mixture, then the melted chocolate and then the rest of the flour mixture.

Divide equally into the 3 tins and bake for about 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  The cakes should be quite level on top once baked, which is perfect for layering them up with lots of frosting.

For the frosting:

Put the golden syrup, sugar, cocoa, cornflower and milk in a pan and beat until smooth. Bring the boil, stirring all the time.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  Beat until smooth.

Once the mixture has cooled slightly, beat in the vanilla extract and the butter, a little at a time.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

My Tea Room at the Sunday Art Salon & a recipe for my favourite Carrot Cake

My first ever Tea Room.  In a little kitchen and dining room, way up in the eaves, overlooking the glorious Hilly Fields in Brockley.  A whole day spent serving freshly baked cakes, tarts and tea and chatting to some wonderful people as the sun streamed through the windows.

The Sunday Art Salon is the perfect place to spend a lazy couple of hours on a Sunday.  Browsing contemporary art, vintage paintings, collectables and antiques.  Meeting and networking with artists, locals and collectors.  Listening to music.  Relaxing with the papers over a light lunch or tea and cakes.

At the very top of this beautiful home, studio and exhibition space in my little tea room, my first day as host was a whirlwind of antique teacups, boiling kettles, warming teapots and (ever glamorous) washing up.  For lunch there was a Stilton, Potato & Caramelised Onion Tart with salad.  On the cake menu were Carrot Cake, Blueberry & Almond Tart and Coffee & Madeira Marble Cake (made with locally roasted Volcano Coffee).  All washed down with big pots of Flint & Co tea served in teacups hunted down in local charity shops and very kindly donated by Sara Smith who designs stunning teacups and saucers here in SE London.

My next Tea Room will be on Sunday 2nd June 2013 at the Sunday Art Salon at Hilly Fields Studio in Brockley from 11am to 5pm.

There was a lot of love for my carrot cake so I thought I'd share the recipe.  It is based on a Family Circle recipe for Passion Cake which was published back in the 1970s, but has evolved a little over time.  It is probably my most baked cake ever.


For the cake: 

4 large eggs
225g caster sugar
225ml sunflower oil
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
280g carrot, finely grated
225g plain flour
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1.5 tsp baking powder
150g sultanas
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice

For the cream cheese frosting:

120g full fat cream cheese
60g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g icing sugar, sifted


Grease and line two 23cm loose based sandwich tins.  Preheat the oven to 180 C.

Beat the eggs, caster sugar, sunflower oil and vanilla extract for 2-3 minutes until well emulsified.  Stir in all of the other cake ingredients until just mixed.

Divide the cake mixture evenly between the two sandwich tins and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 35-45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tins for 5-10 minutes then carefully remove the cakes from the tins and leave to cool completely on a wire cooling rack. 

Whilst the cake is cooling, make the cream cheese frosting by beating all of the ingredients together until smooth.

Place one of the cooled cakes onto your serving plate.  Cover with about a third of the cream cheese frosting.  Place the other cake on top and then ice with the remaining cream cheese frosting.  Decorate with toasted, chopped nuts.

Serves 12

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Warm Salad of Aubergine, Moghrabieh & Chickpeas

Persepolis in Peckham is one of my all time favourite shops.  What you can't buy there or learn about whilst you're shopping really isn't worth knowing.  Each time I go I seem to pick up an ingredient I've never cooked with before, as well as stocking up on cupboard staples for recipes I love to cook from Sally Butcher's Veggiestan or Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem.

A rather large packet of moghrabieh had been lurking in my cupboard for a while (I would say unopened, but I have a toddler who is rather partial to 'digging' them with his mini digger and liberally distributing them around the house).  Together with an aubergine, half a jar of rather lovely chickpeas and a few lonely tomatoes they made a tasty impromptu warm salad for dinner on a cool May evening.

Serves 2 as a main meal or 4 as a light lunch.


100g moghrabieh
1 aubergine
3 tbsp olive oil (plus a little extra for the tomatoes)
1 tsp sumac
8 small tomatoes
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, halved and finely sliced
200g chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
salt & black pepper


Preheat the oven to 200C / 180 C (fan).

Cook the moghrabieh according the pack instructions (I cooked mine in boiling water for around 15-20 minutes).

Slice the aubergine in half lengthways and then, placing the cut side down on the chopping board, slice each half into 1cm thick semi circles.  Mix with the sumac and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper and then roast for about 20-30 minutes until cooked and starting to brown (you will need to turn them over at east once during cooking).

Put the tomatoes in a small roasting dish, season and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Roast in the oven for 12 minutes, or until the skins are just starting to colour.  Set to one side.

Place a medium frying pan over a moderate heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the cumin seeds and fry for 1-2 minutes until they release their aroma.  Add the sliced onions and cook for 7-8 minutes, until they are starting to brown, then add the chickpeas.  Cook for 5 minutes, then add the ground coriander and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix together the cooked moghrabieh, aubergines, onions and chickpeas and chopped parsley and place on a serving plate.  Top with the roasted tomatoes and their juices.  Serve warm or at room temperature.