Beef and Parsnip Pie

Beef and Parsnip Pie

Wotchers!

This is one of my very favourite winter dishes. So much so, that I frequently make it at other times of the year also. I love it because of the combination of ordinary ingredients which come together in a gloriously rich and flavourful meal-in-a-dish. Which is another reason to love it – zero effort in the evening when you’re tired, cold and hungry. If you make this in individual ceramic dishes like in the top left of the picture, you can freeze them and just pull one out in the morning before work. At night you can heat it up in the microwave and toast the top under the grill and be sitting down to dine in less than 10 minutes. Beautiful.

I can’t even put my finger on precisely what makes this such an enjoyable meal. I think perhaps it’s just the combination of the brightness of fresh tomato with the beef in combination with the carrots and the buttery parsnip: rich, sweet and as comforting a Cottage Pie, but with a savoury twist.

Mighty Mince cookbook

This is an adaptation of a recipe in Mighty Mince (1980) by Jane Todd. It is packed with terrific recipes like this once for every kind dish, both British and from further afield, using beef, lamb, pork and veal mince. I would even go so far as to deem it Invaluable™. It turns up with surprising regularity in my local charity shops and car boot sales and I always buy every copy I come across and pass them on to friends and family, because it’s such a joy to have on the shelf.

Back to the recipe – it’s a root vegetable feast. Which means you can also play fast and loose with which ones you use. As already mentioned the carrot and parsnip are a particularly fine pairing, but don’t forget about swede, turnip, beetroot and celeriac. I’ve only tweaked this slightly – adding in some Worcestershire Sauce and sprinkling the topping directly onto the beef filling.

It’s especially popular with the young, with even my reluctant vegetable consumer daughter recently declaring  (despite having eaten it many times in the past) “It’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be.”

And if that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is!

Beef and Parsnip Pie

500g beef mince
1 onion chopped fine
2 medium carrots, chopped small – I se a mandolin
2 tomatoes – peeled and chopped
150ml beef stock
2tbs Worcestershire Sauce
1kg parsnips
50g butter
2tbs milk.
2 slices of bread made into breadcrumbs
3tbs grated cheese

  • Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and add the beef mince.
  • Stir until the beef has browned and is starting to caramelise in places.
  • Lift out the meat and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan.
  • Add the onion and stir gently for 5 minutes until softened.
  • Add the carrots and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  • Return the meat to the pan and add the tomatoes and stock.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Peel the parsnips (or not as you like), cut in thick slices and add to a saucepan.
  • Cover with cold water an bring to a boil. Cook for 15-20 minute until tender.
  • Drain the parsnips and mash until smooth, together with the butter and milk. Season to taste with black pepper.
  • Taste the beef mixture and adjust the seasoning if required.
  • Lightly butter an oven-proof dish (or dishes) and spread the parsnip over the bottom and sides as if it were pastry.
  • Spoon the beef mixture on top and smooth over.
  • Mix the cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top.
  • If you’re making this for the freezer then allow to cool, cover, label and freeze.
  • To bake immediately, preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan and bake for 30-35 minutes for a large pie, 20 minutes if small.

Herb & Pumpkin Pie


Wotchers!

This recipe is inspired by one of the earliest Pumpkin Pie recipes in print. Robert May’s The Accomplish’d Cook (1660) includes the following recipe:

Now, I’ve tried making this recipe according to my own personal rule, of abiding by the text as written, at least for the first time, and I have to be honest, it didn’t sit too well with my 21st century palate. It starts off interestingly enough, with the pumpkin flesh and the herbs, then suddenly we’re getting sugar, eggs, apples, currants and so on until it becomes a real jumble to the point where it is unclear whether it is supposed to be a sweet or savoury item. I decided to cherry-pick the ingredients that appealed to me and make a version that, if not completely authentic, is certainly less erratic than the above recipe, and so I went with the savoury half of the instructions only.

The main problem with pumpkin, as I see it, is the lack of flavour, which can be improved somewhat by getting rid of as much excess moisture as possible. However, enclosing it in a pie prevents evaporation, to a certain extent, so partially cooking the pumpkin beforehand would help avoid sogginess as well as boosting the flavours.

I opted for a dough crust, as opposed to pastry, as it can be a lot more forgiving with moist fillings than pastry.  In addition, I made a lattice lid, which curls itself snugly around the filling, almost self-sealing during the cooking, thanks to the rise afforded by the yeast. Despite being enriched with milk, eggs and butter, the dough is wonderfully light and savoury and complements the filling very well.

Inside Pumpkin

Herb & Pumpkin Pie

Dough

500g plain flour or white bread flour
1 x 7g sachet of fast-action yeast or 25g fresh yeast
1 tsp salt
200 ml of milk
100 g of butter
2 large eggs

500g pumpkin flesh, cut into 2cm cubes
50g butter
1 sprig of fresh rosemary – leaves stripped & chopped
1tbs fresh thyme leaves
4tbs chopped, fresh parsley
2tsp fresh marjoram, chopped – or 1tsp dried
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 nutmeg, grated
pepper & salt

1 large egg for glazing

  • Put the flour, yeast and salt into a bowl.
  • Cut the butter into 1cm dice and melt in 100ml of milk.
  • Add the remaining milk to cool the mixture down to blood temperature, then beat in the 2 eggs.
  • Pour the liquids into the flour and mix for 10 minutes with a dough hook on the slowest speed.
  • Mix on fast for 2 minutes, then cover with plastic and set aside to rise for 1 hour.

For the filling

  • Melt the butter in a pan and add the diced pumpkin.
  • Cook gently over low heat until the cubes have softened and are half-cooked. Set aside to cool.
  • When cool, add the herbs and spices and season to taste.

To assemble

  • Tip out the dough and deflate.
  • Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Set one aside.
  • Grease a 24cm spring-form tin.
  • Roll out the other piece of dough to a thickness of 5-10mm.
  • Line the tin with the dough, allowing the excess to hang down over the rim.
  • Add the cooled filling to the tin and spread evenly.
  • Roll the second piece of dough to a similar thickness, and cut into 1cm strips. I find using a pizza wheel to be the most effective utensil for this, as it doesn’t drag the dough.
  • Dampen the edges of the pie using a pastry brush dipped in water.
  • Use the strips of dough to make a lattice top. I find it easiest to start from the middle of the pie and to work outwards. This page has step-by-step images of the technique.
  • When the lattice is complete, dampen the edges again and cut a final extra-long strip of dough. Press this strip firmly around the edge of the pie, covering the ends of the lattice strips, then use a sharp knife to trim off the excess dough.
  • Brush with beaten egg and set aside to rise while the oven heats up.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from the tin and serving.

Baguettes

Baguettes

Wotchers!

Behold the best baguettes I have ever made! Aren’t they pretty!?

Having enjoyed the luxury of freshly-baked bread whilst on holiday, I decided to see if I could capture all that crunchy goodness myself. I’ve had a few attempts over the years, but nothing has been particularly successful, the main fault usually being the consistency of the dough: it’s either to tight and bakes heavy, or it’s too lithe and bakes flat.

So I turned to the internet and found a genuine Frenchman who not only explained the legal requirements of the composition, i.e. since 1993 the “baguette de tradition française” must be made from wheat flour, water, yeast or levain or both, and common salt. It may contain up to 2% broad bean flour, up to 0.5% soya flour, and up to 0.3% wheat malt flour, but he also had a video demonstrating his method, which is what produced the fab loaves at the top of this post.

Caveat: The method is simple and straightforward if you have a mixer with a dough hook and an oven that will get really hot. If you don’t have both, then this is not the post for you.

Don’t be tempted to tweak the recipe – I have been there and done that already, so I’ve saved you time. Don’t get lazy with the measuring of the ingredients, or try and rush the rising time. Just follow the instructions as they are written and all will be well.

You will also need a large container to store your dough in the fridge for the required time, with enough room for it to expand – I have a 5 litre plastic box with a lid that just squeezes onto a shelf.

If you’d like to watch the video, you can find it here.

Aside from translating from French, I have not changed this recipe at all.

Baguette Crumb

Baguettes

The method for this dough does not require much effort, only time. Be sure to allow each stage its full allotment of resting time. One batch of this dough is just enough for five standard baguettes, although I have been making just four, and adding the remaining dough to the next batch of baguette dough, as a levain.

Stage 1 – autolyse

1kg strong white flour
650ml water

  • Put the flour and water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix on slow for 4 minutes.
  • Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.

Stage 2 – mixing the dough
20g salt
8g fresh yeast, or 1 sachet fast-action yeast
70ml water

  • Add the salt and yeast and mix for 8 minutes on slow.
  • Add the water and mix for 3 minutes on fast. The dough will now weigh almost 1.8kg, so unless your machine is heavy-duty, you might want to hold it steady for this part. At the end of the mixing the dough will be soft, elastic and very shiny.
  • Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and allow to rest for 1 hour.
  • Deflate the dough – I use a few turns of the dough hook.
  • Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  • Transfer the dough to a box, cover and store in the fridge for a minimum of 6 and up to 48 hrs.

Stage 3 – dividing the dough

I recommend watching the video above to see how to handle the dough – it’s a controlled ‘tip’ and gentle initial shaping of the dough.

  • After a minimum of 6 hours, tip out the cold dough and divide into standard baguette pieces of 350g. You can just bake a single baguette at a time and store the rest of the dough until needed. You could divide the whole batch, and then keep the loosely shaped pieces of dough in your covered box until required. Sprinkle the dough being stored with flour to help prevent  crust from forming.
  • Gently draw the dough pieces into a soft cylinder and allow to relax for 15-30 minutes.

Stage 4 – shaping the dough

  • Even though the loaves above look OK, my shaping skills still needs refining. Nevertheless, they improved greatly after watching these two videos which can show you far better than I could explain: Video 1, Video 2.
  • Sprinkle a baking sheet with semolina and lay your shaped baguette(s) on it.
  • Sprinkle the top of the baguettes with flour to help prevent them from drying out, cover with a clean cloth and allow to rise for at least 1 hour. Now that the warm weather has disappeared, and depending on the temperature of your kitchen, you might want to allow it a little longer to rise.
  • Put a baking tray in the bottom of your oven and pre-heat it to 300°C, 280°C Fan. No, that it’s a typo. You need a roaring hot oven to bake these. If you don’t think your oven can get that hot then just crank it up as high as it will go.
  • Have ready a jug of warm-hot water.
  • When your baguette is risen, just before putting it into the oven, slash the top four times to allow the dough to expand neatly as it bakes.
  • Put the dough into the oven, pour the water into the hot baking tray underneath, and bake for 20 minutes. NB Even though my oven DOES go up to 280°C Fan, the bottom of the baguettes sound ‘heavy’ when tapped after 20 minutes, so even at this temperature I still need an extra five minutes (for a total of 25) to get that nice, hollow, well-baked sound.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

 


Khachapuri

Wotchers!

Bread and cheese is a classic pairing. With these two ingredients, you know you’re in for something tasty, and khachapuri, the cheese-stuffed Georgian breads, are a fine example of the very best dough-based snacking/carbohydrate comas that these ingredients can offer.

That said, there’s also a great deal more to khachapuri than just bread and cheese, and after years of gathering both recipes and information, I’d like to present a modest collection of just ten of the wonderful variety of dishes available under the khachapuri umbrella.

Khachapuri Dough

Whilst the regional differences of this dish can be quite startling, for the most part a great number of them can begin with one batch of dough. Whilst I have tried several over the years, this one is my favourite for the delicious softness and pillowy-lightness of the end result. To a certain extent, it is rather vague, as the flour quantity might well vary, depending on the moisture content of the other ingredients. For best results, allow the dough to mature in the fridge for 2-3 days, but you can also use it after only one night if you’re impatient

1 litre plain, fat-free yogurt
50g butter
40g fresh yeast
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tbs sugar
1tsp salt

Strong white flour to mix

  • Put the first six ingredients into a large bowl and mix to combine.
  • Gradually sprinkle in the flour until the whole comes together into a soft dough.
  • Knead thoroughly, until the dough is smooth.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic film and a clean cloth and allow to rise for 1 hour.
  • Tip out the risen dough and knock back.
  • Transfer to a suitable container, cover and chill in the fridge for up to 3 days, or until required.

 

Cheese filling

As previously mentioned, a great number of regional khachapuri can be formed from the one dough. A number also feature a mixture of local soft Imeruli and Sulguni cheeses. If you have no access to these cheeses, you can make your own mixture from those you do have to hand. A popular pairing that provides both the tang and melting qualities of the original is equal proportions of crumbled feta and grated/diced mozzarella. My own preference is for equal quantities of feta and Taleggio or Reblochon. The quantities required are, of course, dependant on the size and quantity of khachapuri you are making, but a generous 100-200g of cheese per 100g of dough is a very workable guideline.

Imeretian/Imeruli

From the central Georgian region of Imereti, the Imeruli khachapuri is a circular loaf with a cheese filling, and is the most common form of khachapuri.

For 1 Imeruli khachapuri:

100g risen and chilled khachapuri dough
100-200g grated cheese mixture
a little beaten egg (optional)
20g cube butter for glazing

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Put the dough onto a flour-covered surface and using your fingers, press out into a 20cm diameter circle.
  • Pile the cheese mixture into the middle of the dough. You can use a little beaten egg to bind it together if liked.
  • Fold the edges towards the middle and gather them together, pinching them closed. Try not to trap any air inside as it will cause bubbles during the cooking.
  • When the dough is sealed around the filling, turn the dough over so that the seal is underneath.
  • Using the hands, gently press the dough out to a circle of about 20cm, taking care not to rip or tear the dough.
  • Transfer to a lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until the dough is cooked and speckled with brown.
  • Stick a fork into the cube of butter and use it to rub the butter all over the surface of the cooked bread to glaze.
  • Cut into wedges and serve.

Mingrelian/Megruli:

As above but with an additional 50g of cheese sprinkled on top before baking.

Adjarian/Acharuli/Adjaruli:

In the south-west corner of Georgia, Adjaria lies on the coast of the Black Sea and has close geographical and cultural ties with Turkey. The Adjarian khachapuri is boat-shaped, and filled with cheese. Towards the end of cooking, an egg is cracked onto the bubbling cheese and the loaf returned to the oven until the egg white is cooked and the yolk warmed but runny. A  pat of butter is added just before serving.

For 1 Adjaruli khachapuri:

100g risen and chilled khachapuri dough
100-200g grated cheese mixture
1 large egg
20g cube of butter
additional butter for glazing

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Put the dough onto a flour-covered surface and roll out to a rectangle 30cm x 15cm.
  • To form the sides of the boat, starting at one end, roll the dough towards the middle. Repeat for the other side, so that the dough then resembles a scroll.
  • For each end, cross one end over the other and pinch the edges together firmly.
  • When both ends have been pinched together, hold the dough at each end and push towards each other gently: this will force the rolls apart and thus form the boat shape.
  • Add the cheese into the boat and transfer to a lined baking sheet.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and stir the cheese filling. If liked, you can use the tines of a fork to scoop out any underdone dough from underneath the thick sides before cracking the egg onto the hot filling.
  • Return the khachapuri to the oven until the egg is cooked to your liking.
  • Glaze the edges of the pie with butter, add the cube of butter and serve.
  • You can tear off pieces of the edge to dip into the middle.

 

Ossetian/Osuri:

Ossetia straddles the border between Georgia and Russia, with Northern Ossetia under Russian control, and South Ossetia lying within Georgia’s borders. The Osuri khachapuri is circular, with a filling of potato and cheese.

For 1 Osuri khachapuri:

100g risen and chilled khachapuri dough
100g mashed potatoes
25g butter
125g grated cheese mixture
salt and pepper to taste
20g cube of butter for glazing

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Mash the potatoes while hot and stir in the butter. Mix in the cheese and set aside.
  • Put the dough onto a flour-covered surface and using your fingers, press out into a 20cm diameter circle.
  • Pile the cheese and potato mixture into the middle of the dough.
  • Fold the edges towards the middle and gather them together, pinching them closed. Try not to trap any air inside as it will cause bubbles during the cooking.
  • When the dough is sealed around the filling, turn the dough over so that the seal is underneath.
  • Using the hands, gently press the dough out to a circle of about 20cm, taking care not to rip or tear the dough.
  • Transfer to a lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until the dough is cooked and speckled with brown.
  • Stick a fork into the cube of butter and use it to rub the butter all over the surface of the cooked bread to glaze.
  • Cut into wedges and serve.

 

Kartopiliani:

These pies contain no cheese, being filled instead with a savoury mixture of mashed potato, fresh dill and onion.

For 1 kartopiliani khachapuri:

100g risen and chilled khachapuri dough
150g mashed potatoes
1tbs butter
chopped fresh dill to taste (optional)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2tbs cooking oil
salt and pepper to taste
20g cube of butter for glazing

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Mash the potatoes while hot and stir in the butter. Mix in the dill, if using, and set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions until browned. Add onions to the potato mixture and stir to combine.
  • Put the dough onto a flour-covered surface and using your fingers, press out into a 20cm diameter circle.
  • Pile the potato mixture into the middle of the dough.
  • Fold the edges of the dough towards the middle and gather them together, pinching them closed. Try not to trap any air inside as it will cause bubbles during the cooking.
  • When the dough is sealed around the filling, turn the dough over so that the seal is underneath.
  • Using the hands, gently press the dough out to a circle of about 20cm, taking care not to rip or tear the dough.
  • Transfer to a lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until the dough is cooked and speckled with brown.
  • Stick a fork into the cube of butter and use it to rub the butter all over the surface of the cooked bread to glaze.
  • Cut into wedges and serve.

Gurian/Guruli khachapuri:

Guria is a province in the west of Georgia, on the shores of the Black Sea. To the south is Adjaria, and Imereti lies to the north. The Gurian khachapuri also rejoices in the name of Christmas Pie and, unusually, is crescent-shaped. Baked as part of the celebrations during the midwinter feast, they are filled with cheese and hard-boiled eggs, the shape supposedly resembling the crescent moon or a hunter’s billhook.

For 1 Gurian khachapuri:

100g risen and chilled khachapuri dough
100-200g grated cheese mixture
a little beaten egg (optional)
1 hard-boiled egg
20g cube butter for glazing

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Put the dough onto a flour-covered surface and using your fingers, press out into a 20cm diameter circle.
  • Pile the cheese mixture onto one half of the dough. You can use a little beaten egg to bind it together if liked.
  • Cut the boiled egg in half lengthways and lay, cut side down, on top of the cheese.
  • Fold the edge of the dough over the filling and pinch the edges together. Mould the filled dough into a more crescent shape if liked. Try not to trap any air inside as it will cause bubbles during the cooking.
  • Transfer to a lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until the dough is cooked and speckled with brown.
  • Stick a fork into the cube of butter and use it to rub the butter all over the surface of the cooked bread to glaze.
  • Serve warm.

 

Ossetian

These circular breads are popular in South Ossetia. If you can’t get any beetroot leaves, you can substitute with Swiss Chard, kale, or spinach.

100g risen and chilled khachapuri dough
The leaves from 4-5 beetroot
100g cheese mixture
salt and pepper to taste
20g cube of butter for glazing

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bring a pan of water to the boil and drop in the beetroot leaves.
  • Allow the leaves to simmer for 3 minutes, then drain.
  • Repeat the blanching, then drop the drained leaves into a bowl of cold water to refresh.
  • When cooled, dry the leaves on kitchen paper and cut away the fibrous stalks. Chop the leaves finely before mixing them with the cheese.
  • Season to taste.
  • Put the dough onto a flour-covered surface and using your fingers, press out into a 20cm diameter circle.
  • Pile the cheese mixture into the middle of the dough.
  • Fold the edges of the dough towards the middle and gather them together, pinching them closed. Try not to trap any air inside as it will cause bubbles during the cooking.
  • When the dough is sealed around the filling, turn the dough over so that the seal is underneath.
  • Using the hands, gently press the dough out to a circle of about 20cm, taking care not to rip or tear the dough.
  • Transfer to a lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until the dough is cooked and speckled with brown.
  • Stick a fork into the cube of butter and use it to rub the butter all over the surface of the cooked bread to glaze.
  • Cut in

Lobiani Khachapuri:

Lobio is Georgian for kidney bean and lobiani is a seasoned, savoury paste makes a very popular khachapuri filling. Obviously, home-cooked beans will taste the best, but if you’re only making one khachapuri, then you can use ready-cooked, tinned beans. The recipe for cooking your own lobio is given below, and includes bacon, but this version is vegetarian.

For 1 Lobiani khachapuri:

100g risen and chilled khachapuri dough
1 x 400g tin of kidney beans
1tbs butter
chopped fresh savory to taste (optional)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2tbs cooking oil
salt and pepper to taste
20g cube of butter for glazing

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Tip the beans into a pan and slowly bring them to a simmer to warm them though.
  • Drain the beans and mash thoroughly with the butter and savoury.
  • Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions until browned. Add onions to the bean mixture and stir to combine. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  • Put the dough onto a flour-covered surface and using your fingers, press out into a 20cm diameter circle.
  • Pile the bean mixture into the middle of the dough.
  • Fold the edges of the dough towards the middle and gather them together, pinching them closed. Try not to trap any air inside as it will cause bubbles during the cooking.
  • When the dough is sealed around the filling, turn the dough over so that the seal is underneath.
  • Using the hands, gently press the dough out to a circle of about 20cm, taking care not to rip or tear the dough.
  • Transfer to a lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until the dough is cooked and speckled with brown.
  • Stick a fork into the cube of butter and use it to rub the butter all over the surface of the cooked bread to glaze.
  • Cut into wedges and serve.

 

Rachuli khachapuri:

Similar to Lobiani, but with the addition of meat in both the cooking of the beans, and the filling itself. The method is the same as above, so the recipe here is for cooking and flavouring the beans yourself. This makes a generous quantity, but the mixture can be frozen if it is not being used all at once.

For the seasoned bean filling:

500g dried kidney beans
250g smoked gammon or bacon
4 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic
50g unsalted butter

  • Soak the beans overnight.
  • Drain, add the beans, meat, bay leaves and garlic to a pan and add enough cold water to cover.
  • Bring the pan to a boil for 15 minutes. This is important in order to destroy the toxin present in the dried beans.
  • Cover and simmer until the beans are thoroughly cooked through. This will vary according to the age of the beans: about an hour for relatively fresh beans, longer for older.
  • When the beans are tender, drain and discard the cooking water, garlic and bay leaves.
  • Set the meat aside and mash the hot beans with the butter.
  • Chop the meat into fine dice and stir into the bean paste.
  • Season and proceed as above.

Penovani khachapuri:

The Penovani khachapuri is the easiest, simplest and speediest of all the regional variations. Together with the cheese mix of your choice, all that is required is some puff pastry and a little egg.

1 square of puff pastry
100-200g cheese mixture
beaten egg to bind and for glazing

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Lay the square of puff pastry on a floured surface.
  • Pile the cheese mixture into the middle. You can use a little beaten egg to bind if liked.
  • Fold the corners of the pastry towards the middle and pinch the edges together to seal, envelope-style.
  • Brush with beaten egg to glaze, then bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on the size, until the pastry is puffed and golden and the filling melted.
  • Serve at once.

Tomato Soup and a Toasted Sandwich

Tomato soup & Toasted Sandwich

Wotchers!

Simplicity is the order of the day with today’s post – the ultimate comfort food of tomato soup and a toasted sandwich. But just because it is simple, doesn’t mean there should be any compromise on flavour, and these recipes have maximum flavour with minimum fuss. Not as minimum as opening a tin, I grant you, but for just five active minutes of your time, this soup can be supped in just under an hour and is so simple, after the first time you won’t need to refer to the recipe ever again.

But do keep coming back to the blog, because I’d miss you otherwise!

Tomato Soup

This soup is extremely low in fat, gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan.

Tomato Soup and Oatcakes

Tomato Soup and Oatcakes – on a less gloomy day than the top photo!

Makes approx. 1.5 litres

2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes – Aldi ‘Sweet Harvest’ are best for colour/flavour/value
2tbs vegetable oil
1 onion
3tbs concentrated tomato paste
1 litre vegetable stock or water + bouillon
1 large potato to make 300g once peeled/cubed
salt & pepper to taste.

  • Pour the chopped tomatoes onto a shallow ovenproof fish and spread out into a thin layer.
  • Place in the oven and turn the heat to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, stirring thoroughly after 15 minutes, or until no excess liquid is visible.
  • While the tomatoes are baking, peel and chop the onion.
  • Add the oil to a saucepan, then add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. The object is to concentrate the flavour through evaporation, without allowing the onion to caramelise.
  • When the tomatoes are done, scrape them into the saucepan with the onion, and add the tomato paste, stock and cubed potato.
  • Cover and simmer on medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until the potato is cooked.
  • Use a stick blender to puree the soup.
  • Rub through a fine-meshed sieve for extra smoothness.
  • Return to the pan and warm through.
  • Taste & add salt and pepper as liked.

Variations

  • Add garlic: peel up to 6 cloves of garlic and toss them in the oil. Lift out and stir into the tomatoes to roast in the oven.
  • Spice it up: red pepper flakes, cayenne, paprika or herbs such as rosemary or basil.
  • Crunch time: Make some sippets by dicing bread into 1cm cubes and either frying them in a pan with oil or bake in the oven until crisped and brown.
  • Meatify me! : Make some little meatballs from beef or lamb mince, fry them in a pan, drain on kitchen roll and add to each bowl before serving.
  • Creamy: Add a little double cream or creme fraiche if liked, but in all honesty, it doesn’t need it.
  • Fast Forward: If you need this even more quickly, this can be ready in as little as half the time. Once the tomatoes are in the oven, put everything else in the saucepan and simmer while the tomatoes bake. When the tomatoes are ready, stir everything together and blitz smooth.

Toasted Sandwiches

Regular listeners will recall that over the winter I was without my oven, which included the grill I used for making toast. Yes, my kitchen is so small, I can’t afford to sacrifice the counter space for a toaster. So I used this method to make toast in a large non-stick pan, which makes delicious and perfect toast if you are prepared to wait the 10 minutes it takes to brown.

More usually, I use this method for toasted sandwiches because kitchen….small….no counter space…..etc, etc. but also because the toasted sandwiches it make are so much nicer than the ones I see made elsewhere AND it gives me a chance to have a bit of a rant, so here goes.

  • Butter on the outside of the bread.
    So greasy, and so messy too. I mean come on, people, we’re living in the 21st century with all its wonderful technological advances and more kitchen gadgetry than you could shake a stick at, which includes non-stick pans! There’s simply no need to go slathering on great schmears of butter on every available bread surface. Lay a slice of bread in a dry non-stick pan over heat, and it will brown, no fat needed.
  • Squished bread
    Whether by panini press or, if you’re old like me/in the UK/ both, by those electric sandwich makers, I’m just not a fan of bread being compressed and then welded together by melted cheese the temperature of LAVA. If you need industrial equipment to force your sandwich down to a manageable height for your mouth, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Squished fillings
    I like to savour every one of the additions to my melty cheese sandwich filling, which is tricky to do when it is squirting out the sides from being squished by some gadget.

The good news is, you don’t have to suffer any of the above with my patent-pending, counter-space-saving, practically-foolproof method of toasty sammich creation! The outsides of the sandwich are crisp, browned and free from grease and the insides are warm and melty. And so without further ado, on with the method!

The Non-Gadget Toasty Sammich Method

  • Put a clean, dry non-stick pan on medium-low heat to warm up.
  • Take 2 slices of your bread.  Now it can be artisinal sourdough, or pre-sliced from a bag, no judgement here. This method will work beautifully with all types of bread.
  • Lay one slice on something that will help you transfer the sandwich to the pan – a palette knife if your balance skills are good, a cake lifter if they’re not.
  • Add a layer of butter onto the bread (optional). You can use other things such as mayonnaise or chutney if you prefer.
  • Whatever cheese you’re using, add half in a layer over the bread. Either cut it in thin slices or dice it in 5mm cubes. The smaller/thinner the cheese pieces, the more easily they will melt.
  • Add any additional flavourings. Purists maintain there is only ever cheese in a toasty cheese sammich (see top photo) but I am of the opinion that cheese is merely compulsory, not exclusive. There are some suggestions below for fillings that pair well with tomato soup. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
  • Finish with the rest of your cheese. When this double layer of cheese melts, it will gently cradle the rest of your sandwich ingredients and hold them together so that your sandwich doesn’t fall apart, even when cut.
  • Add the final piece of bread, buttered or not, as you like, and press down gently.
  • Transfer the sandwich to the pan.
  • To help melt the cheese effectively, cover your sandwich with a lid, preferably one that doesn’t press down upon the sandwich itself. If you non-stick pan has a lid, then use that. Personally, I use a lid from a small saucepan that sits snugly over the whole sandwich but is deep enough not to compress it. Ensuring the cheese is mostly melted before you turn the sandwich will help keep your filling where it is supposed to be – inside the sandwich. A lid will trap the heat underneath, effectively making a little oven and help to melt the cheese faster.
  • When the underside of your sandwich is browned, (depending on the heat of your pan, around 5 minutes), slide under your utensil of choice and gently turn it over. If the cheese is melted, then you can leave off the lid, which will also keep the toasted top of the sandwich from becoming soggy through trapped moisture.
  • Toast for a further 5 minutes until the underside is browned, then lift out of the pan.
  • Cut your sandwich with either a pizza wheel, or with a sharp, serrated knife: don’t saw at it, make a sharp, forward-and-downward motion with the knife. You can see from the picture below, how beautifully crisp, dry and unsquished the toast is, and how the filling is melted but still held between the bread.
Toasted cheese sandwiches

Smoked Brunswik Ham, Apple & Vintage Cheddar on Overnight Bread (L), Allinson Wholemeal Sliced Bread with Cheese & Brine Pickles (R)

Sandwich Suggestions

  • Overnight Bread, vintage cheddar. If you’re in the UK, I can recommend (black pack) Collier’s Welsh cheddar, Wyke Farms Vintage cheddar (in a green pack) or a newly-discovered favourite Welsh slate-cavern aged cheddar from South Caernarfon Creameries, available at Sainsbury’s deli counters.
  • Overnight Bread, diced Brunswick Ham, thinly-sliced Jaz/Braeburn apple, vintage cheddar.
  • Sliced wholemeal bread, mix of finely diced mature cheddar  & Gouda, thinly-sliced pickled cucumbers/gherkins. NB For best results, be sure they are brined and not in vinegar.
  • Bacon or Bacon Jam, mature cheddar, de-seeded, diced tomato (not pictured).
  • Cheese and chutney (not pictured).

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.