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.

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!

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!

Portuguese Custard Tarts (pastéis de nata)

This is one of the recipes which I learned at John Whaite’s Kitchen. A bank holiday Monday offered a prime opportunity to see if I could make it work away from his supervision.

The first step is to make the rough puff pastry.

  • 125g plain flour
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 75ml water
  • 1g salt, dissolved in the water

Cube the butter (~1cm), and rub half of it into the flour until it’s like breadcrumbs. Then add the remaining half, but only rub it in ever so slightly – one or two squeezes per cube. Add most of the water and bring the mixture together using a dough scraper, pressing it with the scraper rather than your hands. You may not need all the water.

The resulting mixture goes into the fridge for half an hour, and is then rolled out on a floured surface, folded, turned, rolled out again and folded again before going back into the fridge for another 20-30 minutes. You then repeat the folding and rolling process and chill it again for the same amount of time.

In the meantime, you make your creme patissiere.

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 500ml whole milk
  • 40g cornflour

Put the milk, vanilla and half the sugar in a big pan on the hob and heat until it just starts to boil. Meanwhile, whisk 6 egg yolks with the other half of the sugar until pale and aerated, then whisk in the cornflower. As the milk starts to boil, pour half of it into the egg mixture and whisk vigorously, then transfer the mixture back into the pan with the remaining milk, whisking all the time over a high heat. The mixture will thicken. Pour it onto a plate and cover with cling film to cool.

Meanwhile, roll out your puff pastry once more and roll tightly like a swiss roll. Cut it into 12 pieces, and then turn each one on its end so that as you look down onto it you can see the spiral of pastry layers. Roll each one out flat, dusting with icing sugar to stop them from sticking. Use the pieces to line a muffin tray, and then pipe your cooled creme patissiere into each one (although I just used a teaspoon!).

Bake in the oven – I was aiming for 25 minutes at 200C (fan oven), but found they were just starting to burn after 20 minutes so your mileage may vary.

The end result is, frankly, delicious. They look great and taste amazing.

Boston Cream Pie

When we first set up this website, we used a photo of a Boston Cream Pie I had made as the profile picture – it was something I made a long time ago and posted on my personal Instagram account.

Since it was my birthday recently, I decided to revisit the recipe as my birthday cake. And I decided to make two cakes – one for my workplace and one for the Two Hungry Boys.

This recipe comes from How To Be A Domestic Goddess and features three distinct stages – first you make a batch of Nigella’s Victoria Sponge mixture, then some creme anglais to place between the two sponges, and finally some chocolate ganache to top it.

The resulting cake is amazing – light sponge, sweet custard and a thick chocolatey topping. Very rich and very filling, and it vanished within minutes when I took it to work!

Fruit Scones

The fruit cake I made a couple of weekends ago seemed to last forever, but sweet supplies were running low today and when I asked Mark what he wanted me to make, he said scones.

Despite their simplicity, I’ve never made scones before. I went for a rummage through our recipe books and turned up two recipes – Nigella Lawson has a recipe in How To Be A Domestic Goddess but I was put off it because it needed a few ingredients (namely Trex and cream of tartar) which we didn’t have in the house. On the other hand, Delia Smith has a scone recipe in Delia’s Cakes which is incredibly simple. Butter, flour, a little caster sugar, milk, and an egg. Other than some dried fruit (we had sultanas in the cupboard), that’s it.

It’s actually like making pastry – rub the butter and salt together to make breadcrumbs and then add the dried fruit before combining with beaten egg and a few tablespoons of milk. Roll it out, cut out some discs and then make a few more from the remainder. These only take 12–15 minutes in the oven, so you’ve got a fresh batch of scones before you realise it.

The resulting scones aren’t spectacular but they’re lovely and light and a real treat. Delia recommends eating them when they’re fresh – an instruction which we decided to follow to the letter.

Ginger Cake

It’s been a while since we did any baking – the last real baking was Mark’s spectacular Christmas cake. Since Christmas we’ve been working our way through that cake and a mountain of other treats which seemed to accumulate in our cupboards over the festive season. They’re all gone now though, so I turned to my new copy of The Kitchen Diaries and in the January chapter there is a recipe for ginger cake.

It’s a pretty simple recipe – mostly because there’s no heavy beating of butter required. Dry ingredients get mixed in a bowl whilst the butter and various sugars and syrups are melted together in a pan to produce a gingery kind of toffee. You then mix the two together and add eggs and milk before sticking in the oven. Nigel says you can have this one warm, but if you’re having it cold it’s best to leave for a day to “mature”.

I’m not qualified to judge this one – Mark is the ginger cake superfan, and he gives it a thumbs up so it must be good!

Spaghetti Bolognese

Happy Christmas folks! Part of my present from Mark this year was a fabulous signed copy of The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically a diary of what Nigel cooked for a year – it’s like a set of recipes for what’s in season, but more granular than that.

It may be December, but this recipe comes from the January section of the book. It’s a simple bolognese using nothing particularly unusual – carrots, garlic, onion, celery, pancetta, mince, bay leaf, chopped tomatoes and vegetable stock. It’s seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

What makes it different is the amount of time spent cooking… it simmers for a good hour (Nigel even suggest pushing that to 1 1/2 hours), and then adding some cream or full fat milk and simmering for another 20 minutes. The end result is sublime… far richer and smoother flavours than any other bolognese or ragu I’ve ever made.

If this first chapter of The Kitchen Diaries is anything to go by, we’re in for some tasty treats in 2016.

Fish and Porcini Pie

We’ve had a lot of recipes from Simply Nigella recently, but today we went all the way back to her very first book – How To Eat. I love this book but it’s much harder to find recipes from it because of the way it lacks pictures. That said, every time we’ve chosen a recipe from here it’s been a winner.

In keeping with some other recipes from the book, it’s not the simplest of recipes – several pans and pots were involved, plus jugs and bowls and the whole kitchen felt like it needed demolishing and rebuilding at the end. The other issue with this book is that a lot of the recipes are for 4+ people, but this one scaled quite neatly for two.

End result was a complete winner – thick and creamy sauce, beautiful fish a crispy crust on top of fluffy mashed potatoes. It would probably work better for a larger quantity (our fish was spread thin and I struggled to get full coverage with the potato topping) but this is a rustic looking dish which doesn’t matter if it’s not the most beautiful looking dish.

Mushroom and Chorizo Gratin

Another attempt at a meal from Nigella Express, and also a lesson in reading recipes properly.

I thought that the potato and mushroom gratin would make a nice mid-week supper; something easy to put together, slam in the oven and then have a hearty and filling dish to round out the day. However, after taking the ingredients photo and getting underway I suddenly realised that this recipe was supposed to be a side dish to accompany Nigella’s “brandied bacony” chicken on the preceding page!

Suddenly concerned that this meal wouldn’t be filling enough, I had a rummage in the fridge and found a small unopened pack of diced chorizo. Sorted! So when it came time to frying up the mushrooms in butter and garlic oil, I also fried the chorizo at the same time.

Sensing that I was on a roll here, I also found a bag of grated cheddar cheese in the fridge and mixed a bit of that in too. 45 minutes later, I had a delicious and smokey potato dish. Completely unhealthy but certainly the tasty dinner I was hoping for.