Sunday, February 19, 2012

Veggie lasagna (spinach, mushrooms and peppers)

I make several types of vegetarian lasagna depending on what I have in the fridge that needs using up. This time we had some mushrooms that were starting to go a bit funny and half a bag of spinach. I supplemented these with some tomatoes and roasted red peppers. We'd run out of regular olive oil so I ended up using basil flavoured olive oil and from that came the idea of adding lots of basil. Just remember that basil should be added just before the end of cooking so it retains its flavour.

  • 250g mushrooms, sliced (the usual button mushrooms)
  • garlic (I wasn't bothered crushing some so I used 2 tps garlic granules so I'd say use 4 cloves-ish)
  • 200g spinach
  • 1 large roasted red pepper, diced (from a jar)
  • 200g (i.e. one tub) cream cheese
  • about 1 tbsp dried basil (if you have/can get your hands on fresh stuff use that coz it's way more flavourful though usually the opposite is true of dried herbs)
  • A packet of lasagna sheets (how many you'll use will depend on the size of your tray (I made 4 layers using 3 sheets for each)
  • 2 balls of mozzarella, slices
  • 2 tomatoes, slice
  • some parmesan 
Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Fry the mushrooms in some olive oil until just cooked add the spinach and red pepper, season with a bit of pepper. Give it a stir so the spinach wilts then add the cream cheese and basil. 

Start layering in your chosen baking dish (I like the pyrex ones so you can see the food inside). Start with some  fairly liquidy bits from the sauce (to ensure the pasta doesn't stick) then pasta, then sauce, then pasta and so on until you run out of sauce. Finish with a layer of pasta. Top with the mozzarella then the tomatoes and sprinkle with some parmesan. 

Bake for about 30 mins. If you're feeling fancy serve it topped with rocket.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Peanut butter jelly breakfast muffins

Years ago I read and interview with Kate Weatherell in a food magazine where she talked about her book Sugar and Spice which intrigued me. Today, on impulse, I went into a bookshop and saw it there (on sale btw). I have a cookbook addiction...

The following recipe is inspired by her "raspberry and cinnamon breakfast muffins".

I tried to seal in the jam as much as possible but since I was sure some would leak out I baked them at 165 degrees instead of her suggested 190 degrees as I hoped that would prevent any escaping jam form caramelising/burning thus sticking the muffins to the tray.

Makes 12

  • 160 g plain flour
  • 110 g caster sugar
  • 100 g oats
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 heaped tsp cinnamon
  • 180 g Greek yogurt (or creme fraiche or regular yoghurt, to be honest you could probably use flavoured yoghurt and it would work fine)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 60g butter, melted (let it cool a bit so it doesn't scramble the eggs)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 2 large spoonfuls for peanut butter (be generous)
  • 50 g chopped nuts (totally optional but I used a mix of pecans and walnuts)
  • about 12 tsp jam (I used raspberry)

Grease you muffin tray. Mix all the dry ingredient then add all the wet ones except the peanut butter and jam. Stir in the peanut butter. Put a spoonful of the mix into each muffin hole (you'll have to spread it out a bit), add a tsp of jam and seal it in (as much as possible) with another spoonful of mix (a bit bigger than the first one). Bake at 165 degrees for about 25 mins (check if they are firm). Cool on a rack. Delicious warm but not hot coz hot jam is like LAVA :)

Red pepper, tomato and paprika soup

This soup tastes like chorizo! You can get a massive jar of roasted red peppers in Lidl (Aldi has a little jar of bits of roasted red pepper) and they are quite big. You can roast/grill some peppers yourself but that takes time and effort. If the red peppers from your jar are a bit on the small side put in another one coz the ones I used were massive.

Makes about 2 litres of soup (1.5 L when blending then I watered it down to 2).

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • a handful of chopped celery (I keep a bag of chopped celery in the freezer) or about 3 stalks
  • 2 large carrots chopped,
  • 5 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 3 heaped tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 roasted red peppers from a jar, chopped
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • a couple of stock cubes (not essential but add flavour)

Sweat the onions, carrots and celery (I added the celery first to defrost while chopping the carrots, added the carrots, chopped the onions and added them so the ingredients that needed more cooking were in for longer) together for about 5 mins. Add the garlic and cook for a further couple of mins (do not burn the garlic!) then stir in the paprika (off the heat coz it can burn very easily) and add the rest of the ingredients and a splash of water. Simmer for about 30 mins (use the carrots to judge when everything is cooked) then season to taste and blend. I'd say you could leave it chunky if you want. After blending you can add some water to make it the right consistency.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Greek salad

This doesn't really taste the same here (the tomatoes are the main problem) but it's still delicious and with the addition of the feta and a bit of bread makes a great light lunch.

In Greece this is what's know and a country salad. They use green peppers but they are a different variety than the bell peppers you mostly get here and so are a bit sweeter, as such I used red peppers. It also should include olives but I really don't like them.

Serves 2-3.
  • 3 tomatoes
  • Half a cucumber (if not fresh remove the skin, if you are not removing the skin give it a good scrub)
  • An onion (sliced not chopped)
  • A pepper (whatever colour you want)
  • A handfull of olives (optional imo)
  • chunk of feta
  • good extra virgin olive oil
  • oregano

You'll come across all sorts of herb mixes but in Greece they generally just use oregano. The salad itself is lightly seasoned with salt and a bit of oregano, drizzled lightly with olive oil then the feta placed on top, olive oil poured over it and finally it is sprinkled with oregano.

The oil left at the end should not under any circumstances be wasted! Dip some bread into it.

Monday, February 13, 2012


This is a really easy to make dish that has a multitude of uses. It can be eaten as is with just some bread, made into various sauces for pasta, added to lasagna and other baked dishes as well as being a great side dish. It is several of your 5 a day  (depending on how large a serving you have). It's ingredients are variable depending on how much you have and what is in season. I realise that none of these are currently in season but sometimes you need a bit of sunshine in your life and this dish has bucketloads of it. Roast these at 180 degrees as you don't want the veg becoming soggy and tasteless but do remember that undercooked aubergine is disgusting.

To make about 10 portions you need:
  • 4 peppers (I used 1 green, 1 yellow and 2 red)
  • 4 red onions
  • 2 white onions
  • 2 aubergines
  • 3 courgettes 
  • 5 tomatoes
  • oregano
  • olive oil
Chop everything up into bite sized pieces, drizzle generously with olive oil, add a decent amount of oregano, season, and mix. It will look a bit like this.

After roasting for about 30 mins it should be done. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fun with Pizza

Once before I had some friends over for a wii night and solved the problem of feeding them by making individual pizzas (base, sauce and cheese) and letting them put their own topping from a selection in little bowls. It worked really well. This was over 4 years ago and the last time I made pizza. It has been way too long. This time a load of lads turned up to watch the match and pizza was perfect especially as Simon and I had been talking about having pizza again.

 Dad makes pizza all the time. He make a thick base with a similar tomato sauce to mine except that he uses mainly oregano whereas I use basil. He also uses edam instead of mozzarella and it give a very flavourful pizza that is fantastic cold. Mam has a few photos of pizzas he's made over the years and you can see the recipe evolving which is really interesting.

I never understood the Italian aversion to pineapple on pizza until now. Dad's oregano based sauce and pizzeria's rather thin and flavourless sauces are fine with pineapple (it actually work great with the saltiness of the edam). My basil based sauce clashed rather unpleasantly with pineapple but hey it's all about experimenting.

The base was made in me breadmaker. While we're on the topic I cannot recommend a breadmaker enough. If you are able to make your own bread by hand that's fantastic but many people don't have the time or indeed the inclination. Personally I've grown up with homemade bread and it's one of the things I missed the most when I moved out of my parent's. They are not that expensive and definitely pay for themselves in no time (though there is the risk that you'll eat a half kilo of bread everyday). The bread does not keep for that long (no preservatives) but it's great toasted and perfect for bruschetta.

Anyway I made the dough following the recipe in the breadmaker booklet but increasing the quantity of flour to 4 cups and that made enough for 3 large pizzas. I put mixed herbs in the dough.

You can use however much of whatever herbs you want. You can also add garlic (dad always does and it's great) but I wanted to make it really tomatoey.

For the sauce I used:

  • 2 largish onions
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tsp of dried mixed herb
  • 2 tsp of dried basil (remember that the oils in basil are quite volatile and dried basil does not have as much flavour as fresh but it is the other way around for most herbs)
  • a generous squeeze of tomato puree
  • salt and pepper
Sweat the onions in olive oil then add everything else (give the tomato tins a rinse with a bit of water and through that in too). Simmer the sauce for a while (about 15 mins).

Roll out the dough to your preferred thickness and spread with the tomato sauce. 

I used slices of mozzarella balls (Aldi and Lidl both have very affordable ones) for the cheese topping. I had a range of toppings in bowl and Simon and Karl topped the pizzas for me (we totally overloaded the pizza but they were delicious).
  • ham
  • chicken
  • sweetcorn
  • red and green peppers
  • onions
  • pineapple
  • chorizo
  • jalapenos
  • bacon bits (also Aldi/Lidle)
And we baked them at 200 degrees Celsius for about 25 mins (check after 20).

For the first pizza we used bacon, chicken, peppers and onions with sweetcorn on one side (Simon hates it) and drizzled it with BBQ sauce.

For the second we used chorizo and onions with jalapenos on one side (they are a bit too hot for me).

For the third and final one we used onions, peppers and ham with sweetcorn on one half and pineapple on the other (Karl hates pineapple).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Oaty cookies

These can be cooked at a higher temperature (180 with a fan oven) or lower (170 with a fan) depending on how brown and crunchy you like them (higher is more crunchy coz sugar has caramelised). I read loads and loads of cookie recipes, some science of cookies and messed about with the proportions until I like to texture to get the following ratios of butter:wet:sugar:dry:filling of 1: 2 : 1.2 : 2.4 : 1.75 some were rounded to make it easier for me to weigh stuff out. I used a 2:1 ratio of oats to flour.

Makes about 18 cookies.
  • 170g butter
  • 200g sugar
  • 2tbsp maple flavoured golden syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 133g plain flour
  • 266g oats
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 100g mixed berries (cranberries, blueberries and sultanas)
  • 50g walnuts chopped/crushed
  • 150g milk chocolate

Beat the butter and sugar together then add the syrup and eggs followed by the flour and oats and finally the filling ingredient. Place spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet, as the dough is quite dense it needs to be flattened a bit. Bake at whichever temp suits you (I went for the lower one) for about 15 mins (depending on how big you make them: I used a tbsp). Lift to wire rack to cool.

Baked vanilla cheesecake

Cheesecake is very versatile and consequently there are many versions between and within countries. This is a rather basic Irish style cheesecake that can very easily be altered to one's own taste.

The amount of biscuits you need to used depends on the size of the baking tin you use (I used one a bit bigger than the classic 20cm round spring-form tin). On that note if you don't have a spring-form tin this shouldn't prevent you making a cheesecake, I used silicone bakewear and transferred the cake to a plate upside-down then onto another the right way up.

You can easily change the biscuits used to vary the flavour. I think might use cookies with a baileys flavoured filling next, though gingernuts with orange flavoured filling might also be good. Basically it can be changed quite a lot.

  • 9-10 digestive biscuits, crushed
  • 85g butter melted
  • 600g cream cheese
  • 200g (1 tub) creme fraiche
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 175g caster sugar (you can adjust this a bit to taste and according to the ingredients e.g. berries might need a bit more sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 4tsp vanilla essence
Mix the crushed biscuits with the melted butter and press into the tin to make the base. Then beat together the other ingredients and pour into the base. Bake for about 40 mins at 170 degrees Celsius (180 if you don't have a fan oven). Allow it to cool, then remove from the tin and refrigerate.

Spaghetti carbonara

The aim of the dish is to get a wonderfully creamy sauce that is cooked but not scrambled looking. Funnily enough in Italy (in my experience) it is mainly served scrambled. If you do want it scramble simply apply more heat; to get it smooth add the eggs etc. off direct heat, using just the residual heat in the pan to cook it through while stirring/mixing.

It's a really quick and easy meal whose quantities can be easily adapter to suit the number of people.

The ingredients listed below are per person

  • 100g pasta
  • a bit of bacon lardons (or chopped up bacon or similar, even ham will do at a push)
  • 1 tbsp of cream or creme fraiche
  • 1 egg
  • about 1 tsp of grated pasmesan (depending on taste)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or very finely chopped (can be more depending on taste)
  • a bit of pepper

Cook the pasta as normal thought perhaps leave it a bit al dente. Fry the bacon when the pasta is nearly done. If the pan is non stick you won't really need any oil. Mix the rest of the ingredients together. Strain the pasta and return to the still hot pan adding everything else and mixing until you have a smooth sauce. You may need to, very briefly and gently, heat the pan again.

This is a single clove of garlic. I got a small basket of these in Lidl..
It is enough for 2 people.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cooking for Geeks

I'm currently reading Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter ( and it's fantastic. It fun to read and we have a similar approach to cooking. I particularly like where he breaks down a recipe into a chart with % deviation. I've been doing that but with equivalents (I am a chemist after all).

So far I've learned lots of random cooking science but there's one thing I came across that I really want to share:
You can click on the different items in the timeline to get a history of each one. Absolutely brilliant. A lot of work must have been put into this but I think it was worth it.

I'll put up more about the book once I've finished it as I'd like to start including some cookbook reviews.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Orange and chocolate buns

I wanted them to taste like Terry's chocolate orange. The options hot chocolate comes in an orange flavour that's really good especially when made with milk. Kudos to Karl for coming up with the idea of using the orange hot chocolate for the icing. This makes 24 buns.
  • 75g butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 90g soft brown sugar
  • 2tsp orange essence
  • zest of one large orange
  • 3 eggs (the ones I used were quite small)
  • 225g plain flour
  • 65g cocoa
  • 1tbsp baking powder
  • 220ml milk
Beat the butter and sugar together then beat in the eggs, followed by the essence and the zest. 

A note on zesters: get one. It may seem like a pointless piece of kitchen equipment but if you get one you'll find you use it all the time as they give lovely strips of zest.

Anyway, stir in the dry ingredients (putting in a bit of milk if necessary), then the rest of the milk. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 15 mins if making regular sized buns (if making larger adjust accordingly but beware of opening the oven to check too often as you lose a significant amount of heat everytime). Cool on a wire rack. Then ice (see below).
For the icing
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 50g cocoa
  • 50g drinking chocolate (if you have orange flavour use that)
  • 100g butter softened
  • about 5 tbsp milk
Sieve the dry ingredients together and beat in the butter. It should look crumbly, if it doesn't add a teaspoon more. Add the milk little by little until you get a nice smooth consistency.