Bran Loaf

This recipe for Bran Loaf comes from my gran’s recipe book, but to me it’s synonymous with my mum because she used to make it regularly when I was a kid. It’s a ridiculously easy recipe to put together – the recipe is done by volume, and requires equal parts of each ingredient (except salt). Using 1 cup, or 250ml, of each gives a decent sized loaf.

  • 250ml self raising flour
  • 250ml caster sugar
  • 250ml dried fruit (e.g. sultanas)
  • 250ml All Bran breakfast cereal
  • 250ml milk
  • A pinch of salt

First up, put the All Bran, milk, sugar and fruit together in a big bowl and give it a stir. Leave this for at least 2 – 3 hours.

Next, stir in the flour and salt until you have an even mixture. Pour it into a loaf tin and bake in the oven. My gran’s recipe calls for a “moderate” oven for 1hr 15mins. We went with 180C fan oven and it took about 45 minutes.

You must eat this sliced and smeared with butter. It’s fabulous.

Chicken Pie

We had a few requests on social media to post the recipe for this, so here goes. It’s basically the same as Diana Henry’s “Bird Pie” which can be found in “A Bird In The Hand“, but was a bit more of an impromptu affair. The pastry making technique is the one we learnt at John Whaite’s Kitchen. This is being written from memory, so I hope it’s accurate! If all else fails, consult Diana Henry – she’s the master behind this, although she uses puff pastry and we made shortcrust.

First, the pastry!

  • 100g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 200g plain flour
  • 2g salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 – 4 teaspoons cold water

Begin by rubbing the butter into the flour and salt with your fingers. Keep going until you have something resembling breadcrumbs. Then make a well in the centre and add the wet ingredients, then use a dough scraper to cut everything together – keep going until it begins to come together as a dough. Finish off by hand, then chill for about an hour.

Whilst that chills, you can get on with the filling:

  • 30g butter
  • 30g plain flour
  • 250ml milk
  • 3 tsps dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 2 tsps capers
  • 1 large leek
  • lots of cooked chicken!

Begin by melting the butter in a saucepan and adding the flour. Mix well so that they are well combined. Take off the heat and gradually add the milk a little at a time, mixing to make sure you end up with a smooth mix without any lumps. Then put back on the heat for a few minutes to cook the flour – it will thicken quite a lot. Then add the mustard, capers and creme fraiche and mix together. Set to one side off the heat whilst you cook the leeks. Cut them into discs and sauté in butter, then add a splash of water, cover and cook for a little longer.

Finally, combine the sauce, the leeks and the cooked chicken and heat everything through.

Now you can roll out your pastry, line the tine and fill it with your filling. Use some milk or egg yolk to glaze the top so it goes glossy when cooked. I guess you could be fancy and do a lattice lid but we didn’t bother and just did a plain one. We cooked it for about 30 minutes at about 200C.

I love this pie so much… I hope you do too!

Thai Green Fish Curry

This recipe comes from Nigel Slater’s The 30 Minute Cook, a book which has yielded many successful recipes – but I can’t recommend this particular dish.

I think the first mistake was my choice of fish – plaice – which just sort of dissolved into the sauce as it cooked. The end result felt like we were just eating sauce with nothing in it.

The other problem was the creamed coconut which gave the whole dish a really gritty feel. Maybe I used an inferior brand of creamed coconut (I’ve no frame of reference). Maybe it’s because I skipped the step to strain the liquid through a muslin cloth… but to be honest if you have to do that then this is getting away from the kind of convenience I expect from a 30 minute meal.

On top of all that, my sauce split. Sad face.

Italian Veggie Cottage Pie

A nice and easy vegetarian dinner here, and an interesting take on cottage pie from BBC Good Food.

Pretty simple to throw together – cook the diced aubergine first, then add the garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and some of their oil plus some oregano. Cook for a little bit then add the spinach and let it wilt down.

Add some flour and stir it in, then add some milk and grated cheese and bring to the boil. Let it bubble and reduce so that the sauce thickens, then transfer it all to a pie dish and cover with mashed potato and a bit more cheese. Warming, filling and tasty – plus a good wodge of vegetables!

Traditional Homemade Mince Pies (and mincemeat)

December is here, so time to legitimately eat our own bodyweight in mince pies! I’ve been thinking about making mince pies for a long time – my gran used to do so, as did my mother but over time that changed. Home made mincemeat was replaced with shop bought, and ultimately my mum started buying her mince pies rather than buying them.

I wanted to have a go at making my own, but my mum was unable to track down my gran’s recipe for mincemeat. I was then going to have a go at making Nigella’s cranberry and port mincemeat but couldn’t find any fresh cranberries, so I decided to have a go at making up my own recipe! Fortunately, it was a success.

There are a lot of recipes out there for mincemeat, but they vary widely. Many use suet, although Mary Berry prefers the taste of butter. There’s usually cinnamon, but after that the spices vary from recipe to recipe. There’s usually some nutmeg and either some allspice or some mixed spice. After a bit of thought and indecision I came up with the following recipe, which makes enough to fill two jam jars with mincemeat, or 24 mince pies:

  • 75g of unsalted butter
  • 125g of soft brown sugar
  • Zest and juice of a clementine
  • 75g dried cranberries
  • 400g seedless raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • About 1/2 of a nutmeg, grated
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons of port
  • 1 tablespoon of brandy

The method is really simple. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan over a low heat. When they’re well mixed, add the spices and the dried fruit and stir well – I cooked this for about 10 or 15 minutes. Finally, add the alcohol and mix in. If it seems a little too wet, you can always leave the heat on for a little longer – but as the butter cools the mixture will thicken up.

I then made a batch of sweet shortcrust pastry (125g unsalted butter, 50g caster sugar, 1 large egg, 200g plain flour, 2g salt) which was enough for 18 small mince pies using half the mincemeat, and 12 slightly larger pies using the other half.

Delicious! I definitely recommend making your own mincemeat – it’s surprisingly easy and the above recipe seems to work really well!

Chicken Korma

We’ve not yet made anything from Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand which hasn’t been anything short of delicious. That said, we’ve tried lots of recipes for curries over the years and often find that there’s something missing… so we were curious to see what Diana’s recipe for chicken korma turned out like.

First thing you need to know here is that this recipe takes a long time. I think end to end I was probably in the kitchen for about 2 hours. This is because there are quite a few separate things you need to do, some of which take quite a lot of time. You have to salt some chopped onions and leave them to drain for 30 minutes; you also have to soak some saffron for a long time… none of it is especially hard, but there are just a lot of things keep track of.

You also have to use the food processor a few times – firstly you fry the onions and then you have to blitz them into a paste. Separately you have to soak some nuts in hot water and then blitz those into a separate paste. It’s certainly enough to keep you busy!

But as I said none of this is hard, and the end result is definitely worth it. Is it the most authentic tasting curry I’ve ever made? Hmmm… probably not, but it’s tough to say with a korma because it’s such a rich rather than spicy dish. It certainly tasted close to the real thing, and it certainly tasted delicious. Time consuming, but worth the effort.

Sage and Mushroom Gnocchi

Whenever I see a recipe in John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients, I struggle to reconcile the idea that so few ingredients will yield an impressive meal – but every single time we’ve used the book he’s proven me wrong and this meal is no exception.

So basically you cook some onions and mushrooms, then add some sage followed by some white wine (although we used vermouth) and reduce. Meanwhile you fry up some gnocchi – they go nice and crispy on the outside, it’s a technique Nigella uses to create a sort of mock roast potato.

When you’re done, throw it all together and serve. You can also fry some sage leaves and add them for a bit of extra crunch. It’s quite carb heavy this meal but it’s tasty and easy to throw together.

Prawn Jalfrezi

A quick burst of heat for dinner on a cold winter’s day comes in the form of this prawn jalfrezi, the recipe for which is available online at the BBC Good Food website.

There were a few panics whilst making this – particularly when I realised we had no tinned tomatoes in the cupboard and I had to run to the corner shop on a particularly cold and windy night. The recipe also calls for you to cook the onions and spices, then add the chopped tomatoes and water and blitz with a hand blender. I tried to do this in the pan (heat turned off, obviously!) but the depth wasn’t sufficient to do without spattering so I had to decant everything to a pyrex jar, blitz it, and then put it back in the pan.

Also, the recipe called for one 400g tin of chopped tomatoes plus half a tin of water – I suspect the water wasn’t needed because our sauce was quite wet even after reducing down for a long time. The recipe said cook uncovered, but we took the lid off in an attempt to try and make things a bit thicker.

Despite that, the end result was really nice. Not a 100% authentic jalfrezi, but a nice and spicy sauce with a fresh taste.

Mushroom, pesto and cream lasagne

This great big plate of vegetarian delight comes from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries.

It’s something of a cooking marathon his – I think that beginning to end took about 2 hours. That’s because you have to cook the mushrooms and onions, plus you have to make the pesto, and in our case we also had to make béchamel sauce. None of these tasks are particularly strenuous, but together they add to the time and coordination required.

Once you’ve got everything ready, alternating layers of pasta and mushroom filling are put into a dish, and then topped out with the pesto and finally the béchamel. It takes about 40 minutes in oven at the end, so this clearly isn’t a quick thing to throw together but the end result is a really nice take on lasagne and despite being vegetarian it completely satisfied us two omnivores.

A friend of ours managed to cut down the prep time by using ready made pesto and béchamel sauce which still produced something tasty – you can check out the evidence on his Instagram here.

Chicken and prawn xinxim

Yet another Diana Henry recipe today from A Bird in the Hand, and it’s a spicy one!

http://instagram.com/p/BM2HkR8hgTl/

I’d never heard of xinxim before but it sounded like an interesting recipe and I’m absolutely delighted that I tried it. The whole dish was a spicy delight – I’m not sure why, but it seems that added ground nuts to curry type dishes really works well (I’m thinking of the peanut stew which we made a while back).

http://instagram.com/p/BM2HzKWhg6t/