Cabbage and Noodles

Cabbage and Noodles

Wotchers!

I have for you today a simple but ridiculously tasty dish that has become a firm favourite in this house, not least because it requires so little effort to make.

The combination of buttery, peppery, al-dente greens with buttery, peppery, differently-al-dente noodles is, as I have already mentioned, ridiculously tasty. Bonus is that it reheats well with a zap in the microwave, and so the initial chore of all the chopping is offset with easy side dishes/meain meals for several days.

It is based on the Eastern European dish Haluski. This version has been tweaked from the original and traditional method of making which was, if anything, even easier to prepare, involving just one pot to bring it all together. The original has everything fried in butter – delicious! – but a bit much for me, so I’ve opted for steaming the cabbage (to keep the glorious colour), cooking the noodles separately, and then just using a pan to mix.

This version is vegetarian, but it can easily be embellished into a simple main meal – although I can happily eat this as a meal just as is – with the addition of some protein: bits of bacon/ham seems to be the most popular, but chopped, cooked chicken, chorizo, hardboiled eggs are also simple to stir through the pan just before serving.

I have used white cabbage, savoy cabbage and brussels sprouts (because I love them) to add interest in both colour and texture, although using just one is fine. The noodles are actually fresh pasta ribbons: again, any shape is fine, and on reflection, smaller pasta shapes would make the dish easier to serve/eat.

Aside from my tweaks above, there seem to be a couple of other ‘rules’ when it comes to Haluski, which I can also vouch for with this version, viz.

  • Proportionally, have more cabbage than noodles.
  • When coating the greens with butter, have them ‘catch’ a little (brown at the edges) which will give a fantastic flavour boost to the dish.
  • Season generously with lots of black pepper.

Deviate from these at your peril!

Before we get to the recipe, a word or two about cooking cabbage – and indeed all brassicas.

  • Cook/steam for no longer than 4 minutes.

Yes, I agree, this does seem a ridiculously short amount of time, but it is genuinely all you need. Any longer, and you’re heading into the realms of school-dinner-boiled-cabbage-funk aroma that we all know, to our horror. The greens end up cooked, with a pleasant texture on the teeth,  and retain their glorious colour fantastically well.

Steaming is my preference, not only for the brightness of colour it is possible to retain, but it also prevents the vegetables from becoming waterlogged. Simply cut out any hard stalks (especially from kale, cavolo nero, Savoy) and shred the leaves finely, and halve or even quarter brussel sprouts.

Cabbage and Noodles

This is, essentially, a quantity-free recipe. Precise measurements are not required, and it will be all the more delicious – and quicker – without them.

1-2 onions
butter
cabbage/greens/sprouts
fresh egg noodles or egg pasta
black pepper
salt

  • Peel and chop the onions. You casn do this by hand and make the onion pieces similar in size to the greens, or you can thrown them into a food processor and blitz to a mush that will blend in with the rest of the ingredients. Both are fine.
  • Melt some butter in a large pan (because everything with end up being added to this pan) and fry the onions until softened and golden, but not crisp. Be generous with the butter, but don’t go overboard (some especially rich recipes I’ve read end up using 250g or more) – about 50g is plenty.
  • Prepare the greens by removing any hard stalks and shredding the leaves finely. Steam for 4 minutes and drain through a sieve.
  • Cook the noodles in boiling water according to instructions and drain through a sieve.
  • When the greens have drained, tip them into the butter and onions and toss gently to coat.
  • When the greens are evenly coated with the buttery onion mixture, add in the noodles and combine. Add more butter to taste. You want everything nicely coated, but not swimming in butter.
  • Season generously with black pepper and a little salt.
  • Serve at once.

The Week Long Chicken

Wotchers!

Here’s a little something I hope proves useful in these trying, lockdown times.

We get a lot of fast food leaflets through our door and I am always shocked, as I watch them tumble into the recycle bin, at the cost of the food they’re offering compared to the cost of the ingredients. Recently, I was very disconcerted to see that a single person southern fried meal cost more than an entire chicken at the supermarket.

I appreciate that the price includes wages/utilities on top of the cost, but it still seems very poor value for money, so I decided to see if I could present an alternative to demonstrate the versatility and frugality of cooking at home. It’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while: whether a whole supermarket chicken can be made to last a week.

This post is about the cooking of a large, standard, supermarket chicken – one chicken, seven meals. Great for the single person, but obviously, for even a small family, one chicken isn’t going to last a week. My hope is that one or two of these meal ideas might inspire you to make your chicken go just a little further than usual.

For the most part, these are recipes without recipes, with a sprinkling of suggestions. If you need clarification, please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment.

Sunday – Roast Chicken & Stock

Method 1 – Oven

  • If you can afford it, roast two chickens in the oven at the same time. It’s more economical and you’ll have more cooked chicken to use/freeze.
  • Put the chickens on a rack over a large roasting pan. Or use the solid shelves that come with your oven, and put the chickens on the rack oven shelf.
  • Add about 1 litre of water to the roasting tin. This will catch all the meat juices and stop them gumming up your pan over the long roasting time, and be the basis of your gravy. During the cooking, it will also keep your chickens moist as the oven heat turns to steam.
  • Put your pan into a cold oven and turn the heat to 140°C, 120°C Fan.
  • Cook your chickens for 4 hours. They will be basted to a delicious tenderness by their own fat, and the skin will crisp to parchment thinness.
  • While the chicken is cooking, prepare your potatoes/stuffing/vegetables. Peel your potatoes and cut into even-sized pieces. Boil for 5 minutes, drain then allow to dry in the warm pan. When dried, shake the pan to roughen the edges, which will make for extra crispiness. Cauliflower and broccoli are simple to prepare and cook quickly and the combination of cauliflower and chicken gravy is sublime.
  • After 4 hours, remove from the oven, lift the rack off the tin and cover the chickens in foil. Cover the foil with a clean cloth. NB To keep the skin crisp, remove it and set aside before covering with foil. The chickens will stay hot for quite a while, certainly long enough to roast your potatoes/cook stuffing/steam vegetables.
  • Turn the oven up to 200°C, 180°C.
  • Put some lard or dripping in a roasting pan and put into the oven to melt/heat. Coat your roughened potatoes with the hot fat and roast for 45 minutes. Put your stuffing in at the same time.
  • Get a steamer pan ready for your vegetables.  Carrots can be peeled/cut into batons and cooked in the boiling water under the rest of the vegetables (give them a 5-minute head start, for 15 minutes total). French beans boil in 7 minutes/steam in 10. Broccoli and cauliflower also steam in 10 – put the cauliflower in the steamer pan under the broccoli.
  • Pour the water from the chicken pan into a saucepean, together with any bits that have fallen in. Taste  to see if it is flavoured well enough. If not, then add some bouillon or boil fast to evaporate some of the liquid. Serve as a jus or thicken with flour if preferred.

Method 2 – Slow Cooker

For one chicken

  • Get 1 large onion, 2 large carrots, 3 sticks of celery.
  • Peel the carrots and cut in half lengthways. Cut the celery in half across the width. Cut the onion in half, no need to remove the brown skin.
  • Arrange the vegetables on the bottom of the slow cooker. Add fresh herbs if liked.
  • Put the chicken on the top.
  • Put the lid on and cook on High for 4 hours, Low for 5 hours. No need to add any water. There’s enough moisture in the vegetables and chicken to keep it moist and make a very flavourful jus.
  • Finish as above.

Before bedtime, take a few moments to set up your stock so it can work it’s magic overnight.

Stock

chicken carcase(s)
1 onion
2 carrots
3 sticks celery
1tbs black peppercorns
2 bayleaves

  • Take off all the meat from the carcase(s) and set aside. Put everything else into a pan or slow cooker.
  • Chop the vegetables and put all the remaining ingredients into the pan.
  • Add sufficient water to just cover.
  • Cover and cook in the slow cooker overnight on Low, or cook on the hob on 1. The low heat will make for a clear, flavourful stock, and the brown onion skins will give it a great colour.
  • The next morning, switch off the heat and allow to cool until just warm.
  • Put a colander over a bowl and pour the contents of the pan through, to remove the bones and vegetables. It will need to drain for 15-20 minutes.
  • Repeat, this time using a fine sieve to remove smaller particles.
  • If you’re keen, repeat a third time, either lining the sieve with wet muslin, or using a coffee filter, to ensure your stock is crystal clear.
  • Allow the stock to cool completely, then chill in the fridge or freezer. When completely cold, remove the fat that will be resting on the top.
  • Portion out your stock and freeze. 500ml is a useful quantity to have to hand.

 

Monday – Cold chicken salad with baked potato

Chicken Salad with Baked Potato
This meal harps back to my childhood. We always had a Sunday Roast – chicken, beef, pork, lamb in rotation – and Monday was always washing day. This was back in the days before modern, front-loading machines, when the best we had was what was known as a Twin Tub. Bedding had to be soaked in a barrel, then thrashed about with a copper washing dolly, or what we used to call an ‘umpy-tump’ – because that was the sound it made splooshing up and down on the sheets. These were then rinsed and finally passed through the mangle. All of which is a huge digression, but my point, my POINT is…..Mondays were a bit busy, so there was little time for cooking meals. The quickest and simplest was to have cold slices of meat from the roast and a baked potato. Salad scattered with some chopped mint from the garden and a splurt of mayonnaise, and it was ready in no-time. Choose whatever part of the chicken you like, but the pale breast does both look and taste delicious.

 

Tuesday – Chicken and Veg Pie with crunchy stuffing

All the flavour of Sunday Roast Chicken – inna pie! Using the leftover vegetables and gravy means it comes together in minutes and the crunchy stuffing ‘crumble’ sets it off beautifully. Can be made without pastry as a ‘bake.’

cooked chicken – a mix of light & dark
chicken gravy
cooked vegetables from the Sunday roast such as carrots, french beans, etc.
frozen peas
leftover stuffing
baked shortcrust pastry tart shell(s)

  • Chop the chicken and vegetables into 1cm  dice.
  • Moisten with the gravy.
  • Freshen things up with a handful of frozen peas – no need to cook first.
  • Spoon the mixture into the pastry shell(s).
  • Blitz the stuffing in the food processor or chop coarsely.
  • Sprinkle over the top of the pie to give a savoury crumble topping.
  • Put pie(s) into the oven and turn the heat to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until thoroughly heated through and the topping is crisped and browned.

Wednesday – Chicken Sandwich

Now you might be forgiven for thinking that this is a bit of a cop-out ‘recipe’ – A recipe for a chicken sandwich? I hear you exclaim. Well yes and no. On the one hand, no-one needs a recipe for a sandwich – bread, butter, filling, bish-bash-bosh, job done! But here I’d like to offer a few suggestions to take your chicken sandwich game up a notch or two, without having to resort to fancy-schmancy breads, etc.

  • Bread – Whatever you fancy. I’d like to suggest that you toast it, but only one side. I’ve opted for wholemeal brown and you can see from the picture that just the outside is toasted. This is to give crunch texture, something I’ve come to value more and more in recent years. It will also give a great contrast to the soft, creamy filling.
  • Butter – Actually, no. Better in this context to go with mayonnaise. I alternate between a low-fat mayonnaise, and making a dressing comprised of half mayo, half plain yogurt, with coarse-ground black pepper and a dash of lemon juice to add a little zing. Use either of these instead of butter on the untoasted side of the bread. Then, on each slice, add a light dusting of finely ground white pepper and a scattering of a pinch – literally between index finger and thumb – of salt.
  • Filling – again, choose whatever part of the chicken you like. I’ve gone for thinly (5mm) sliced chicken breast. You don’t need much to make a decent sandwich. Arrange the slices on one piece of bread and press the other slice lightly on top. Cut into quarters.
  • Put together a little salad and arrange on a plate alongside the cut sandwich and enjoy.
  • If you’re in need of something more substantial, try pairing your sammich with some Leek and Potato soup, made with your delicious stock.

 

Thursday – Chicken Tetrazzini

A bowl of Chicken Tetrazzini

Recipe can be found here.

If your supply of chicken is dwindling, add more chestnut mushrooms, whose meaty texture goes so well with the sauce. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, make a full batch of the sauce, because it is fabulous, and portion/freeze it for a quick meal later.

Friday – Berbere Chicken

Berbere Chicken

Here’s something a bit different. Berbere is a fabulous aromatic Ethiopian spice mix. It is available both in shops (Bart do a tin) and online and you can even mix up a batch yourself and have it be tailored to your own personal taste. If you can’t find any berbere, you can substitute your favourite curry powder or garam masala.

3tbs ghee
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
3 plum tomatoes
3tbs tomato paste
2tbs berbere
500ml chicken stock
salt & pepper to taste

cooked chicken

  • Peel the onion and chop finely.
  • Melt the ghee in a pan and add the onion. Cook over medium heat until the onion has softened and is starting to brown.
  • While the onion is cooking, chop finely (in a food processor if liked) the garlic and tomatoes.
  • Add 1tbs of berbere to the cooked onions and stir for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
  • Add the chopped garlic and tomatoes, tomato paste and stock.
  • Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Use a stick blender or liquidiser to puree the sauce smooth.
  • Taste and add more berbere, salt and pepper if liked.
  • Add the cooked chicken and heat through. Serve with noodles and rice or mujaddara.
  • Extra sauce can be refrigerated/frozen for use another time.

Saturday – Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup

As the end of the week approaches, you might be down to your last few shreds of chicken, so a great way to make them stretch is to make a soup. There is a very basic version, and then a list of additions which you can add according to taste/necessity.

2tbs butter
1 onion – finely chopped
2tbs plain flour
250ml milk
250ml chicken stock
1 tin sweetcorn – drained
cooked chicken – chopped small.

Optional Additions
bell peppers – seeded and diced
cooked potatoes – cubed
garlic – to taste, finely chopped, or garlic powder
ham/bacon – to taste
spring onions – sliced
fresh parsley – chopped
croutons
cooked vegetables – whatever you have to hand
celery

  • Melt the butter in a pan and add the chopped onion. Cook until softened and translucent.
  • Add the flour and cook, stirring, until it thickens into a roux.
  • Add the milk and stock and continue stirring over medium heat until thickened to the consistency of cream.
  • Simmer for 5 minutes to cook out the flour. Taste, and if it tastes floury, simmer a little longer.
  • This is the soup base. If you like a smooth soup, you could puree it now, either in a liquidiser or using a stick blender.
  • Add the rest of your ingredients according to taste and simmer gently until heated through.

Pickle Pasties

Pickle Pasties
Wotchers!

I’m a big fan of minimalist recipes – three or four ingredients that work perfectly together and need no embellishment. So hot on the heels of the recent three-ingredient recipes, I have another recipe which will surprise and delight in equal measure.

As some of you may recall, my search for the delicious knows no bounds, and I frequently find myself on blogs and message boards in far flung places. Recently, it was Russia, where I found multiple variations on a theme of Tasty Stuff Wrapped In Bread Dough™. Amongst them was a version of the recipe I have for you today, with a filling of onion, potato and pickled gherkins.

No, wait!

Come back!

It’s delicious, I promise!!

The potato provides body, the onion savouriness and the pickles both crunch and zing. Using yeast dough instead of pastry keeps it low in fat, although you absolutely can use rich, buttery, puff pastry to add a level of luxury.

I’ve opted for wholemeal flour, but white is also fine, as are any other favourite yeast doughs.

Perfect for packed lunches and picnics, substantial without being heavy, they are also both vegetarian and vegan (depending on your bread recipe). They are also a proportional recipe – another of my favourites – so you can make as much or as little as you like. Perfect for small test batches.

I do hope you’ll give them a try – you might be pleasantly surprised.

Pickle Pasties

risen bread dough
2 parts cooked baked potato (warm)
1 part pickled gherkins (crisp and whole)
1 part chopped onion

  • Remove the cooked potato from the skins and mash. You can use a ricer, but don’t go too fine and sieve it, as the filling needs the bulk of the potato to avoid collapsing during baking.
  • Weigh the potato, and then portion out half its weight in pickled gherkins and onion. Slice the gherkins in half lengthways and each piece lengthways in half again. Cut into 1cm pieces. Chop the onion into similarly-size pieces as the gherkins.
  • Heat a little oil in a pan and add the chopped onions. Sprinkle with a little salt (the pickles are also salty) and black pepper. Cook just until the onions have softened, without letting them take on any colour. Set aside to cool, then mix with the potatoes and pickles. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  • Roll out the dough and fill as you would pastry for regular pasties. Be sure to seal the edges tightly and fold/crimp if liked. Trim off any excess dough and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Poke two vent holes in the top of the pasties with the tip of a sharp knife.
  • When the last pasty is ready, set aside to rise for ten minutes and heat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan. The short rise time will help the baked pasties hold the filling snugly: in the heat of the oven, the outsides of the dough will bake first and harden, leaving the only direction for the dough to expand as inwards, around the filling. A traditional-length rise would mean ending up with gaps between the dough and the filling.
  • For a rich, golden colour to your finished pasties, brush the dough ith beaten egg. For a vegan finish, dust with flour, which will help keep the dough from becoming too crusty.
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the pasties (small/large), until well browned on top and starting to brown underneath.
  • Wrap in a clean cloth (if a soft crust is preferred – I do) and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Checkerboard Tarts

Cauliflower and Broccoli Checkerboard Tarts

Wotchers!

This recipe is all about simplicity, and enjoying the delicate flavours of two of my favourite vegetables: beautiful florets of cauliflower and broccoli nestled in crisp shortcrust pastry, delicately seasoned with a light and creamy egg custard.

Underneath the eye-catching exterior, it is a broccoli and cauliflower quiche, but with a slightly different approach and a few minutes devoted to presentation, it can be quite the showstopper.

The pastry base is baked completely, for maximum crispness, the creamy egg filling is poured in and the briefly blanched vegetables are then arranged in a delightful checkerboard pattern. Covering the whole with a tight seal of foil allows the vegetables to cook to al-dente perfection while the custard sets, without becoming discoloured from the heat of the oven. The vegetable stalks, nestled in the creamy filling, cook through perfectly, and the florets gently steam in the resulting moisture, retaining their bright colour.

It can be served warm or cold, as an accompaniment or a side dish. It slices beautifully and thus can be enjoyed as an an usual addition to a picnic hamper.

Cross-section of Checkerboard Tart

Best of all, although possibly not for those of you who love the rigid formality of recipes, it can be made in whatever size and shape you like. Originally, I only planned the large size, but in trimming the florets to even sizes, found myself with numerous smaller, but still perfectly-formed florets, and so made smaller tarts, and even tiny individual ones too.

Small Checkerboard Tart
Individual Checkerboard Tarts

The only limit is how prepared you are for the sometimes fiddly process of arranging the florets. My solution for minimising the Faff™ is to, in the first instance, arrange the florets in the empty pastry case, then remove them in rows and lay them neatly in order to one side, add the filling to the tart case, then lift the florets back into position in rows. Should you have a mishap, and one or more of your florets tumble into the filling, take a moment to rinse off the egg mixture otherwise the overall effect will be spoiled.

A mentioned above, the main enjoyment comes from the delicate flavours, but you could also add other ingredients to the filling, if you’d like to turn up the taste volume.

Checkerboard Tarts

The quantities are, to a large extent, dictated by the size and number of tarts you want to make. The unused vegetables can be stored in the fridge for several days and then steamed for a just five minutes before serving as accompaniments to other meals. Be sure to get the freshest, whitest cauliflower and the firmest, crispest broccoli (the florets should not move when you poke them) for maximum colour and visual impact.

1-2 fresh, white cauliflower
2-3 large florets of broccoli
shortcrust pastry – I prefer my cornflour shortcrust.
egg-white for glazing
500ml low-fat crème fraiche
2 large eggs
salt and pepper

  • Cut the vegetables into large florets and steam for five minutes over boiling water.
  • Put a clean cloth on a baking tray and lay the vegetables on top to cool. Set aside until required.
  • Prepare the baking tin. For the large tart I used a deep spring-form tin and laid the pastry only half-way up the sides. The vegetables also sat neatly inside the sides of the tin. For shallower tins, the vegetables will sit a little higher.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Roll the pastry out to a thickness of 5mm and line your baking tin. Trim the sides to a height of about 3cm. Poke holes in the bottom to let out the steam, using a fork.
  • Line the tin with parchment and baking beads/rice and bake for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the parchment/beads/rice and return to the oven for another 8-10 minutes until cooked through.
  • Whisk the egg-white until frothy, then use a pastry brush to ‘paint’ the inside of the tart with it thoroughly.
  • Return the tart case to the oven for two minutes to cook the egg-white. Set aside to cool.
  • Reduce the oven heat to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
  • Trim the vegetables to florets of even sizes of about 5cm. The exact size will be dictated by the size/shape of your tin. You want them to fit snugly together, to hold their shape.
  • Once the pastry case has cooled, arrange the florets in a pattern until it is full, to ensure you have sufficient florets prepared. You will probably need to trim the stalks to no longer than 3cm.
  • When your tart is full, carefully remove the florets and set them aside in rows, so they can easily be returned to the tart once the filling is added.
  • Whisk together the crème fraiche and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. If the tart is to be eaten cold, be generous with the seasoning, as flavours will be slightly muted when chilled.
  • Pour the filling into the pastry case to within 5mm of the top of the pastry. Arrange the blanched vegetables back into place.
  • Cover the tin tightly with foil and bake until the filling is set. For a large tin, this will be about 45 minutes, smaller tins around 35 minutes and mini tins 25 minutes.
  • Allow to cool slightly before removing from the tin(s).

 

 


Snow Crisp

Snow Crisp

Snow Crisp – dusted with milk powder(L), showing the jewel-like sides of each portion (R)

Wotchers!

Something a little different today, with a recipe that is simple, quick, delicious and easily made gluten-free.

I came across it whilst browsing Chinese language food blogs (see the lengths I go to, to bring you the cutting edge of fashionable recipes??). Anyhoo – this recipe seems to be riding a sizeable wave of popularity, which is understandable for all of the reasons I started with, plus the ease with which it can be customised. I’ve ‘interpreted’ the Chinese name to the most suitable translation, the variations I came across whilst researching being many and varied, e.g. Snowflake Cakes, Snow Puff Pastry, Snow Q Cake, Snowflake Crisp, Dry Snow Cake and my favourites – Reticulated Red Snowflake Pastry, Swept Eat Snowflake Crisp Circle & Delicious Non-Stick Tooth Nougat Failure.

Mmm.

It is like a cross between Chocolate Salami and nougat –  fruit and nuts are mixed into melted marshmallows, with the addition of crisp biscuit pieces for added texture. The biscuits also ‘lighten the bite’ and prevent it from being either too sweet or too cloying. Once formed into a slab, it is dusted with dried milk powder to give it a wintery effect.

I would recommend having some latex gloves on hand, no pun intended, to help with shaping the warm mass, but it is also possible to make-do without.

When your block has set firmly, you can slice it into serving portions and dust all cut surfaces with milk powder if liked, but I must confess to preferring to see the contrast between the powdery top/bottom and the crisp and sharply delineated sides showing the embedded jewels of fruit and nut. You can even omit the milk powder altogether, or substitute with desiccated coconut, but I would recommend at least trying it to begin with – maybe cut off a slice or two and just dust those.

Chocolate Snow Crisp

Chocolate Snow Crisp – dusted with cocoa

In terms of variations, the most popular I have found are chocolate (cocoa) and matcha. Being in powder form, they are easy both to add to the melted marshmallows and use for dusting – although changing the overall colour means you do lose the whole ‘snow’ theme somewhat. That said, it does allow you to use non-white marshmallow, if packs of all-white are difficult to find.

Fruits and nuts are entirely to your taste, but bright colours and whole nuts make for attractive shapes when cut through. If you make your own candied peel – and as readers of this blog you all do, obvs (no pressure 😉 ) – it can be substituted for some or all of the dried fruit, and a mix of seeds can replace the nuts.

The quantities given are sufficient for a block of about 20cm square – you can, of course, shape it however you prefer. They are also easy to remember, as I have made them proportional, and thus fairly straightforward to scale up or down, as required.

The biscuits you require should be crisp and dry. In the UK, Rich Tea biscuits or Arrowroot are ideal (regular or gluten-free), although you will have to break them into quarters for ease of shaping. If you’re a fan of the pairing of salty and sweet, you could even substitute Ritz crackers – the mini ones being perfectly sized to leave whole. Crisp and salty pretzels are a further option.

Snow Crisp

50g unsalted butter
200g white marshmallows
50g dried milk powder
50g dried fruit – cranberries & orange peel/blueberries/apricots
50g mixed nuts – pistachios & walnuts/almonds/cashews
200g crisp biscuits – Rich Tea/Arrowroot/gluten-free/Ritz, broken into quarters if large

Extra milk powder for dusting

  • Put the fruit, nuts and biscuits in a pile on a silicone mat.
  • Melt the butter in a non-stick pan over a very low heat.
  • Add the marshmallows and stir gently while they melt. This will take some time. Do not be tempted to turn the heat up, as they will quickly start to turn brown and caramelise.
  • When the marshmallows have melted, add the milk powder and stir until fully combined.
  • Pour the marshmallow mixture onto the fruits and biscuits.
  • Put on your plastic gloves and thoroughly mix everything together. Use a series  of gentle lifting and folding motions. You want the marshmallow to coat everything and hold together, without crushing the biscuits into dust.
  • Once the mixture is holding together in a mass, you can use a non-stick tin to help mould it into a rectangle. Press the mass into a corner of the tin to help form two square edges, then turn it around and repeat, pressing it gently by firmly into the sides.
  • When you’re happy with the dimensions of your slab, wrap it in plastic and put into the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes.
  • When the slab has firmed up, dust with more of the milk powder, making sure the whole surface is covered. Turn the slab over and repeat.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut the slab into serving sized pieces – about the size of a matchbox is good – it’s allows the edges to be seen and admired, and cn be eaten in just 2 bites.
  • Store in an airtight box.

Variations

  • Chocolate: Add 15-20g cocoa to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with cocoa.
  • Matcha: Add 15-20g matcha powder to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with a mixture of matcha and milk powder, or just matcha.
  • Fruit variations: Add 15-20g freeze-dried fruit powders (available here) to the pan together with the milk powder, use whole dried fruit in the filling and dust with extra fruit powder.
  • Coffee: Add 15-20g espresso coffee powder to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with a mixture of coffee & milk powder.
  • Oats: Replace half of the biscuits with toasted, rolled oats.

Staffordshire Oatcakes

Staffordshire Oatcakes with Cheese and Bacon
Wotchers!

Staffordshire Oatcakes are, quite possibly, the best regional speciality you’ve never heard of.

In fact, that is much more of a generalisation than you may realise, because they’re specifically regional to North Staffordshire, centering on the region around Stoke-on-Trent.

It’s historic origins are mixed, with some anecdotes suggesting they originated from soldiers returning from India and trying to reproduce the chapatis they had eaten, with local produce. A more likely scenario, is as one of the various traditional ‘bakestone’ items found in workers cottages all over the country. With wheat being a valuable commodity, most people used flour from cheaper oats and barley, and with a cooking time of mere minutes, they are surprisingly sustaining.

They can be eaten hot from the pan, but as with other griddle bakes such as muffins, crumpets and pikelets, they can be made in batches, and then toasted as required, making, if anything, an even speedier snack.

Oatcake shops used to be small and plentiful, with sales being made through open windows. Alas, the last of this kind of  shop, the Hole In The Wall in Stoke-on-Trent, closed down due to re-development of the area in 2012. Commercial producers are still churning out batches in 6s and 12s, and they are even stocked by some of the large supermarket chains, but they taste best when home-made. Obvs.

Before we get to the recipe, a word or two about ingredients…

  • These oatcakes are made mostly of oats, in the form of oat flour. If you want to hunt out some oat flour, then have at it, but I’ve found, through trial and error, that whizzing some steel-rolled oats in a spice grinder is both easier and cheaper. You could probably use a blender as well, as they too have the off-set blades necessary to chop the oats into a suitable fineness. Whatever is easiest being the main order of the day.
  • You can use instant yeast, but I must admit, the batter made with fresh yeast always tastes better to me.
  • I’ve read a lot of recipes and watched many a documentary clip on Staffordshire Oatcakes and I’m going to confess up front that this recipe might be viewed poorly by oatcake devotees. It makes a batter that is rather thicker than the traditional, which results in a thicker oatcake. In my defence, it makes for a more durable oatcake which I can then turn easily in the pan without it breaking, and it ‘laces’ beautifully, with the surface becoming dappled with the characteristic pockmarks and holes seen also on pikelets and crumpets. The thickness also allows for a wonderful contrast when toasted between the crisp outsides and the fluffy insides. If all this is a heresy to you, feel free to dilute the batter down to your liking after the 1-hour rise.
  • If you have a decent non-stick pan, you can cook these fat-free.

Staffordshire Oatcakes

280g oat flour – ground from steel-rolled oats
110g stoneground wholemeal bread flour
110g strong white bread flour
1tsp granulated sugar
1tsp table salt
20g fresh yeast, crumbled or 1 sachet fast-action yeast
450ml whole milk – warmed
450ml warm water

  • Put everything into a large bowl and whisk together with a balloon whisk. Alternatively, use a stick blender.
  • Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise.
  • Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. If your pan is in need of a little help, use a sparing layer of fat (bacon fat or lard) to help prevent your oatcakes from sticking.
  • Gently stir your oatcake batter. The yeast and rising time will have turned it into a liquid with the consistency of frothy double cream.
  • Put 1 ladle/cup of batter into the middle of your pan and tilt the pan around until the batter has spread fully. Don’t be tempted to use the back of your ladle/cup to spread the batter out, as it’s very easy to spread it too thin and either make holes in the middle, or edges so thin they begin to burn before the middle is cooked.
  • The moisture in the batter will soon evaporate, leaving a lacy surface of holes and craters where bubbles from the batter burst.
  • Allow the oatcake to cook until there is no moisture visible on the surface – about 2 minutes.
  • Using a spatula or slice, loosen the edges and then the undersides of the oatcake until it is freely sliding around in the pan.
  • Flip the oatcake over and cook for another 2 minutes or until the surface is starting to brown (see photo).
  • When done, slide out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool.
  • Continue until all the batter is used up. This will make a batch of about 10 sturdy oatcakes.

As the oatcakes cool, they will soften and take on the appearance of a floppy pancake. Wrap in plastic and store in the fridge until required.

Oatcakes for Breakfast/Brunch/Snack/Whenever

You can put whatever you like in your oatcakes, but a filling of bacon and cheese is not only traditional but forms one of those rare, simple ingredient combinations that border the sublime.

You will need:

oatcakes
back bacon rashers – 2-3 per oatcake
grated vintage cheddar cheese

Sauce – brown or red (optional)

  • Grill your bacon or cook in a pan until beginning to caramelise. Set aside and keep warm.
  • Take your oatcake and put into a hot, dry pan – ideally the one you originally cooked it in. An oatcake has two very different sides, the pockmarked ‘front’ and the smooth, brown ‘back’. Put the ‘back’ of the oatcake into the pan first.
  • Allow the oatcake to heat through for 1.5-2 minutes.
  • Flip the oatcake.
  • Sprinkle the cheese over the hot ‘back’ (which is now uppermost) of the oatcake. It will melt as the other side toasts.
  • When the underside of the oatcake is warmed through and crisp, lay 2-3 rashers of bacon on top of the melted cheese on one half of the oatcake and fold the other half of the oatcake over (as in the photo).
  • Slide onto a plate and enjoy with sauce, if liked.
  • Repeat as often as necessary.

 


Stuffed Muffins

Stuffed Muffins
Wotchers!

Here’s an idea I came up with for a no-mess breakfast sandwich, snack on the go – or brunch whilst lolling around on a Sunday.

Stuffed muffins!

Stuffins!

Soft, pillowy muffin dough is folded around a filling of your choice, and cooked on the griddle (or in my case, a heavy-duty frying pan) for just 7 minutes each side. No more worrying that your filling is going to slide out from between your muffin layers, or spill down your front. Best of all, no greasy fingers!

I opted for a mixture of well-seasoned caramelised onions, chestnut mushrooms softened in butter and a feisty cheddar. It’s a combination that I’ve only recently discovered, having been rather ambivalent about mushrooms for many years, but now I’m slightly obsessed with it. The earthiness of the mushrooms, the richness of the onions and the sharp tang of cheese is seriously delicious. Chestnut mushrooms have a rich mushroomy-y flavour without the black of portobello mushrooms.

You can obviously customise the filling to your own tastes. I would heartily recommend a cheese of some sort – to bind everything together in a delicious, gooey bundle.

Stuffed Muffins

Makes 10

1 batch of fresh yeast muffin dough, after the first rise
6 onions, peeled and diced small
250g chestnut mushrooms – sliced thinly
60g unsalted butter
30ml vegetable oil
pepper and salt
100g cheese of choice

cornflour to sprinkle

  • Melt 30g of butter in a heavy pan over a medium heat.
  • Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt and cook until the mushrooms are softened and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
  • Melt the remaining butter and the oil in the pan and add the onions.
  • Sprinkle with a little salt and stir over a medium low heat until softened and starting to brown. Season with pepper.
  • Drain the excess oil from the onions by placing a sieve over a bowl and pouring the onions into the sieve. Leave to drain and cool.
  • Cut the cheese into small (5mm) dice.
  • Mix together the cheese, onions and mushrooms in equal quantities by volume. Use a cup. Any cup. You’ll have onions and mushrooms to spare. Keep the remainder in the fridge in plastic boxes to brighten up sandwiches and snacks.
  • Tip out your risen muffin dough and divide into 100g pieces.
  • For each piece of dough, fold the edges in towards the middle, then turn over so that the folds are underneath and the top is smooth. Cup your hand over the dough and roll it in small circles, shaping the dough into a smooth ball.
  • When all the dough has been shaped, for each piece of dough, roll out gently to a diameter of about 10cm.
    • Add 2tbs of filling to one half of the dough. Dampen the edge of the dough with a little water, then fold the dough over the filling.
    • Pinch the edges together neatly to form a tight seal.
    • Sprinkle the worktop with cornflour and set the shaped and filled dough aside to rise.
    • By the time you’ve finished filling and shaping all of the dough, the first ones will be ready to cook.
  • To cook the stuffins:
    • Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat until thoroughly hot.
    • Turn the heat down to low and add in 2 or 3 of the stuffins turning them upside down as you do so. By cooking the slightly dried top first, the stuffins will retain a more muffin-y shape.
    • Cover and cook for 7 minutes.
    • Gently turn the stuffins over and cook, uncovered, for another 7 minutes.
    • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Serve warm.
  • To reheat, zap in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, then toast each side for 1 minute in a dry pan.