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.

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!

Haddock in Anchovy & Tarragon Breadcrumbs

It’s not all that long since we had our posh fish finger sandwich from Booths, and this is a variation on that theme. Some nice pieces of haddock in breadcrumbs, but Nigel Slater’s Appetite provides the twist.

The breadcrumbs are made from panko (Nigel uses fresh bread, but we had panko in the cupboard) and is given some extra flavour in the form of tarragon and anchovies. Dip the fish in flour first, then beaten egg, and finally the breadcrumb mixture before frying in a pan.

The anchovy is the star here – it adds a really nice salty tang to the breadcrumbs and makes this much more interesting than everyday breaded fish. My one criticism would be that the anchovy is so flavoursome, the tarragon ends up being somewhat lost.

Mushy peas on the side because, why not?

Lemon and Thyme Bundt Cake

We keep going back to bundt cakes ever sine we got a tin and this week is no exception. Fortunately Simply Nigella contains quite a number of these, and we seem to be working our way through them with this lemon and thyme bundt cake. If you want to find a copy of this recipe online, you can find it at Chatelaine.

The cake is pretty easy to make – basically bung it all together and stick it in the tin (or at least that’s my recollection!). It rises enormously though – this was by far our biggest bundt do far! We topped it off with some lemon icing (badly) and sugar stars. It looked pretty enough and the slices were huge!

It was a hugely substantial and hugely satisfying cake, but the flavour wasn’t quite as strong as we were expecting. This is possibly because I didn’t put enough thyme it, and possibly also because I forgot to add the juice of one of the lemons (I just added the zest). The result was more like a Madeira cake with a hint of lemon – but that’s certainly no bad thing and we demolished the lot!

Roast Chicken in Turmeric, Paprika & Cumin with Corn Cakes and Mashed Avocados

The list of ingredients here is pretty long but a lot of it is storecupboard stuff – and if you’ve cooked any number of Nigella Lawson recipes you’ll probably have most of the rarer items anyway (I’m looking at you, polenta). The recipe itself is from Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand.

The recipe is actually three dishes. It looks like it takes a lot of time and preparation but actually it’s really simple. First you make the batter for the corn cakes, which basically means put the ingredients in a food processor and blitz them together.

Next you make a spice mix for the chicken, rub it all over and bang it in the oven for 45 minutes.

When the chicken is nearly ready, mash the avocado with a fork and add sherry vinegar and lime juice. Then fry your pre-prepared batter in a pan to make your corn cakes and serve the whole thing up.

I think I under-did the seasoning in the corn cakes and chicken, and overdid it with the sherry vinegar in the avocados. But the overall result was highly impressive. Presenting three home made items on a plate for dinner makes you look like some kind of domestic wizard!

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chunk Cookies

A chance trip into Waitrose to pick up some milk saw me grabbing a copy of their free weekend magazine, and in amongst various articles and recipes I spotted this one for Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chunk cookies. Since we had some peanut butter left over from the recent chicken and peanut stew we made, this looked like a good opportunity to use up some left overs.

The ingredient list is actually really simple, and the only thing we needed to buy in was a bag of chocolate chips. The method is incredibly simple too – I won’t repeat it here, just follow the link above. The only thing that’s a little tricky is shaping the balls of mixture since it’s a little on the sticky side but it’s not too bad and certainly doesn’t make much mess. They also take no time at all to prepare and cook, so are perfect if you need to produce something at short notice.

I’ve never really had much luck with making cookies and biscuits (except for that shortbread!) but these worked out incredibly well. The resulting cookies have that perfect combination of firmness and softness, and the peanut butter and chocolate flavouring is wonderful. It required all our willpower not to eat these in one sitting!

Tofu and Miso Gratin

Continuing our Japanese theme with Kimiko Barber’s Cook Japanese at Home, we picked this recipe out to give our first major try at cooking tofu. It’s not a food that we’ve really ever had much of before – and my attempts at cooking it in the past haven’t been all that great or successful. It seems the trick is to make sure it’s properly drained before cooking so that it’s firmer… so let’s give it a go.

There’s a fairly long list of ingredients for this recipe, but it’s not actually all that hard to put together. You dust the chicken in flour and then fry it for a few minutes. Then the vegetables get added to the pan, chopped into bite sized chunks. Next you add the dashi stock (again, we used instant dashi for ease) and the mushrooms. After it’s simmered for a bit, add some miso paste and tofu and simmer it some more… then transfer the whole thing to a buttered gratin dish and sprinkle parmesan over it and bake it in the oven for a little under 15 minutes.

There’s lots of protein and vegetable in this, but not very much carb. As Kimiko suggests, we served it with some crusty bread which worked really nicely for mopping up all those umami juices. I expected this to be a really heavy meal but it wasn’t at all. I’m not saying that I’m 100% sold on tofu yet, but this was a really tasty and satisfying meal.

Shortbread Biscuits

We came back from our holiday to Japan with a little treat to ourselves – we always try and pick up a fridge magnet and tea towel from our travels, but we also found some cute little katakana stamps for biscuits. It’s basically an alphabet set so you can clip the letters you want into place and then stamp them onto what you’re making.

I decided to spell out “Hungry Boys” in katakana. An online tool told me it was ハングリ ボイズ, but I’ve since been informed (thank you, eiichinyc!)that it should be ハングリーボーイズ . Not too far off, anyway! Now we needed a biscuit recipe which would hold the imprints of the letters, so we turned to good old traditional shortbread.

The Guardian has a great article on how to make the best shortbread, and they favour adding some rice flour to the plain flour. However, it also mentions Sue Lawrence’s recipe using cornflour and I realised we actually had the book this recipe came from on our shelf – Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking. We also had cornflour in the cupboard, so no trip to the shops was necessary.

The shortbread recipe is practically perfect – it produces some truly scrumptious biscuits. They also held the imprint of our stamp really well. We will be making many more batches of these, I believe!

Tomato and Bacon Quiche

I’d love to post the recipe for this, but it mostly comes from one of those recipe cards you can pick up in supermarkets (it was Waitress for this one).

The recipe calls for a pack of shortcrust pastry, but we followed the techniques picked up from John Whaite and made our own.

The filling was chopped cherry tomatoes and some slivers of streaky bacon which had been fried. Once the pastry had been blind baked, these were added to the tart case. I then mixed 4 large eggs, 150ml of double cream and about 100ml of milk and poured this into the tart case over the other ingredients.

Into the oven at 190ºC for about 35 minutes and it came out looking beautifully brown on top with a little bit of a wobble. We had to hefty slices for dinner and there’s more left over to reheat tomorrow.

Years ago, before I really started cooking, supermarket bought quiche was my go to “I can’t think of anything to make” dinner. Not any more!

Chocolate and Orange Biscuits

Biscuits to us Brits, or cookies to the Americans. Either way I’ve never really had much success making either of them, but I decided to give it another go using the recipe in Delia’s Cakes. Yes, it’s weird that the book with “Cakes” in the title has recipes for biscuits, but never mind.

The recipe is pretty easy to put together, although I found the dough a bit dry and I added a little extra orange juice to bring it all together.

The resulting cookies look great and are very uniform in appearance, but they are too hard for my liking. It’s quite likely I overbaked them, but I also found the orange and chocolate flavour to be lacking. Not a big win in my book, but Mark seems to like them and tells me that they are even better when dunked in a mug of tea.