Food and Recipes

mince pie porridge

 It’s everything you think it will be.

It’s everything you think it will be.

Friends, I’m writing this from the hotel near Heathrow Airport where Tom and I are spending our last night in the UK!

In a matter of hours, I’ll swapping winter for summer - and this breakfast won’t exactly be seasonally appropriate. But with Australia’s changeable weather, you never know! I made up this breakfast last year, as the first snow was falling in London and I wanted something hearty and warming but indulgent for breakfast on one of my work-from-home days. It was so delicious I simply had to share it! I’ve never seen anyone else make this so I guess it’s a PM original, haha! You can probably tell by the lack of approximation in the recipe I’ve given below. I’m just a whack it all in kind of cook, and I’m assuming you already know how to make porridge, so this is easy!

It has become my favourite thing to eat for breakfast this time of year in the lead up to Christmas. It’s festive, indulgent and delicious! If you’re a mince pie fan, give it a try. You will be delighted from the first mouthful to the last.

Mince pie porridge

Serves 1 hungry or 2 less hungry people

2 cups rolled oats/porridge oats (I have used Sainsbury’s organic Scottish porridge oats)
Milk of your choice (I like to use oat or almond) - quantity will depend on runny or thick you like your porridge
An appropriate sprinkling of festive spices to your taste - I use a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, but just mixed spice is fine if that’s all you have
Pinch of sea salt
Flaked almonds, or other nuts or seeds you have lying around (I like to add chia) (optional)
2 mince pies
Greek yoghurt or soy cream to serve

Place oats, milk, spices and salt in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Place the pan on a medium heat and stir regularly as it heats up, the oats cook and the porridge thickens. Add more milk if you need it. Add more oats or some chia seeds if it’s too wet!

When it’s nearly ready, add any nuts/seeds (if using) and then crumble the mince pies into the porridge mixture, stirring well. Leave on a low heat, stirring constantly, almost whipping it, to break up the bigger bits of pastry and filling (but be careful!). Once it is all well combined, check for the consistency you like (I sometimes add a little more milk at this stage if it’s got too thick) and then pour into your bowl/s. If you’re feeling very indulgent, you can place another mince pie on the top.

Drizzle with yoghurt or soy cream (my favourite!) and eat! Preferably with Kate Rusby’s Christmas album The Frost is All Over playing softly in the background and watching snow fall.

What’s your favourite festive breakfast?


inner mary berry bakewell slice

bakewell-slice-tea

With the baking hot weather (no pun intended) we've had in the UK this summer, I have barely turned my oven on. Meals have been mostly salads, breads, cheeses, dips, anything that involved minimal cooking. Vegetables picked from my garden which required blanching in boiling water at the most. 

But then came the most welcome cool change, and I found myself basically turning into Mary Berry last Sunday, baking a cake and a slice to use up the last of the butter, sugar and jam that had found their way into my kitchen after a wonderful visit from my parents. 

In fact, it was my mum who suggested a Bakewell slice to use up all the jam. I'm very partial to a Bakewell, so immediately thought this was a brilliant idea. But, as I say, had to wait for the all-pervading heat to dissipate slightly before I could even entertain the idea of turning the oven on.

I love almonds but I'm not overly fond of a strong, synthetic almond taste that you often find with marzipan and the like. So I used up a bag of ground almonds very happily but forwent the almond essence that was in the original recipe. By all means include it instead of vanilla if you're an almond lover! 

After Tom and I had enjoyed this fresh out of the oven, I knew the solution to avoiding temptation all week was to take the rest of the slice into my office on Monday to share with my colleagues. I don't often take my baking in, as I use a lot less sugar than most people are used to, as that's what I prefer. But to my surprise, the slice was hoovered up and I got so many compliments. So if you're looking to win some brownie points in your office, seriously, make this slice and take it in. I have already been asked to make it again! 

 

Bakewell slice

Adapted from this recipe

1 sheet ready-rolled shortcrust pastry
Roughly 1 cup (a little less is fine) jam of your choice (I used a mixture of raspberry and strawberry)
200g organic unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
4 eggs
150g ground almonds
100g self-raising flour
Dash of vanilla extract
Flaked almonds for the topping

Preheat the oven to 180 C (fan). Unroll your pastry sheet, roll it out a little with a rolling pin and then place it, including the baking paper it comes with, into a baking tray of roughly 30 x 20 cm size. Spread the jam over the pastry.

Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until well combined. Add the almonds, flour and vanilla and stir well. Spread this cake mixture evenly over the jam and pastry.

You can either scatter the top with flaked almonds now and just keep an eye on it and cover with foil once the almonds get brown, or you can add the almonds when the slice has about 10 minutes baking time left. If you choose the latter, they won't be embedded into the cake as much as the mixture won't be wet any more. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. For me, I can't stand a burned nut so I'd rather go with the second option and err on the side of caution! 

Place the tin in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown and the cake has risen nicely. If you choose the second option with the flaked almonds, remove after 20 minutes and scatter the flaked almonds over the surface, then return to the oven for the rest of the cooking time.

Allow the slice to cool in the tin. You can ice it, as the original Delicious recipe suggests, but I was happy (and found it sweet enough) with just plain flaked almonds on top. 

bakewell-slice

Cut into slices, take it into your office and watch your popularity soar! It's absolutely perfect with a hot cup of tea or coffee. 


 

 

 

summer couscous salad

couscous-salad

You know how you go through phases of not eating something for years - perhaps a decade - and have written it off in your mind as a bit boring, but then you rediscover it and think "why did I ever stop eating this?!" That is the story of me and couscous.

Twenty years ago, when I first tried couscous, I thought it was the best thing ever. My uncle made a lovely dish with it, lightly spiced, full of fresh herbs and studded with dried apricots. My favourite dish at a local trendy restaurant - Rockefellers, I think it was called - was their roast vegetable couscous salad. Every time I cooked it myself at home, I pretended I wasn't a bored 17-year-old living at home with three rowdy younger siblings, but some sophisticated trainee journalist in her Sydney or London apartment (clearly I thought trainee journalists living in such places were loaded). But like so many things, I had it so often that I got couscous fatigue. After a few disasters where it ended up clumpy and gross rather than fluffy and perfectly cooked, I threw in the towel and hadn't bought couscous since. 

I'm on a mission to clean out my pantry at the moment, dragging all the packets that were flung to the back when they were hopefully bought in 2014 or 2015 (eek) out to finally fulfil their culinary destiny. I found a packet of couscous, amongst the packets of kombu and nori when I was going through my making seitan from scratch phase, and felt a pang of nostalgia. Why not, I thought. 

It has also been uncharacteristically hot here this past week or so. For the first time in my 11 years here, London is experiencing a proper summer. Not just one or two hot days and then cloudy grey skies for the rest of the season, but full on 29 degrees every day for well over a week now. It's a miracle. I'm loving it. 

So any meal that involves not having to turn the oven or stove on is a winner during a heatwave. But there's only so many baby gems and packets of rocket and watercress you can eat. So this is where couscous is a GODSEND. All you have to do is boil a kettle. 

And after eating this salad, it's safe to say couscous won't be off my menu any time soon. Couscous and I are friends again and I couldn't be happier! 

It's seriously sensational. You can make this for a barbecue, as part of a mezze where you serve several salads, or just have it on its own. Cook the whole packet so you can pick at it all week during the heatwave.

Summer couscous salad

Serves 10 if served as a side, makes 5 generous portions if served alone

500g couscous
4 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra if needed)
800ml vegetable stock made with boiling water and stock powder

Rocket, as much as you have/want
Watercress, as much as you have/want
2 large pieces of roasted red pepper (out of a jar), chopped
Cherry tomatoes, as much as you have/want, halved
Sugar snap peas, as much as you have/want, halved
3 tablespoons capers
200g feta cheese, crumbled or cut into small cubes
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 small bunch dill, chopped
Salt and pepper

Dressing:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons basil pesto

Place the couscous in a large bowl, preferably a clear glass one so you can see once all the liquid is absorbed. Add the oil to the top. Boil the kettle and make the stock. Pour the stock on top of the couscous and oil, stirring briefly to combine. Cover the top of the bowl with cling film and leave for 15 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is cooked.

While you're waiting, prepare the salad vegetables, feta and dressing. Put the dressing ingredients in a clean empty jar, put the lid on and then shake until well combined. Set aside.

Once the couscous is cooked, stir it well with a fork to make it all lovely and fluffy and break up any lumps. If it's too dry, add a little more olive oil. Once you're happy with it, turn it all out into a large, shallow serving bowl.

Add all the salad vegetables, capers, herbs, feta, chilli, salt and pepper and stir well to make sure everything is mixed well together. Finally, dress with the dressing and give it one final toss. 

It will sit happily if you have other parts of your meal that you're waiting on, otherwise dig in! It also keeps brilliantly and makes a great portable lunch for the office.

couscous-salad-2

Seriously, I will happily make and eat this every day for the rest of the summer if it means we can have more weather like this. Alleluia. It only took 11 years but thank you weather gods for giving London a proper summer at last! 

super easy baked eggs

baked-eggs

I wrote off baked eggs from my repertoire a few years back, as I'd had nothing but disasters with them. I think, looking back, it was simply a case of not knowing the strength of my oven (they do tend to vary from flat to flat!). But I've recently been converted, mostly because I wanted a brunch dish that just made serving two people at the same time easier, rather than turning my stove into an omelette station every Sunday morning. It's a bit depressing when you finally sit down to eat yours and your partner has already finished theirs! Baked eggs alleviate this problem, furthering marital togetherness. Try them and I'm sure you'll be a convert! 

Super easy baked eggs

Serves 2

8 cherry tomatoes, halved
6-8 tablespoons of greek or natural yoghurt
1 teaspoon pul biber (Turkish chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper: use plain chilli flakes if you can't find it)
A spoonful or two of crumbled feta per portion
A handful of fresh basil and thyme leaves per portion
2 heaped teaspoons sun-dried tomato pesto
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Boil the kettle.

Butter two ramekins. Divide the halved cherry tomatoes, yoghurt, pul biber, feta and herbs between the two, stirring until just mixed. Place a heaped teaspoon of sun-dried tomato pesto on top, then make a small indent in the centre. Break in an egg and then season.

Once the kettle has boiled, place the two ramekins in a deep baking tin. Pour in enough boiling water to come roughly halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Very carefully place in the oven and bake for about 12-15 minutes but keep an eye on them....you want them just set and the yolks still runny. They can turn from undercooked to overcooked in mere seconds! 

Serve both portions immediately with crusty bread/toast. Preferably in the garden. 

leftover easter* chocolate brownies

chocolate brownies

I'm sure most of you are thinking..."leftover chocolate? Are you crazy?! When does that ever happen? Thank you Phil, rub in my lack of self control!"

Oh, dear reader, I meant nothing of the sort. But if you're anything like me, you might have found yourself over the holidays with chocolate that perhaps wasn't nice enough to eat on its own but could be transformed into something magical via the wonder of brownie batter!

If you're going to have it, make it worth your while. Nothing irritates me more than wasting calories/points/tastebuds/time/money on food that just doesn't satisfy or deliver. And I abhor waste as well. So if that's you too, here you go, you're in luck!

Leftover chocolate brownies

125g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
80g cacao powder
4 eggs
90g fine '00' flour (the kind you'd use to make pasta)
Pinch of salt
Approximately 100g chocolate-box chocolates 

Preheat your oven to 180 C (fan). 

Melt the butter, sugar and cacao in a bowl (not plastic!) over a saucepan of simmering water until combined and the butter has melted. It will look gritty, but fear not!

Beat in the eggs one at a time. Then add the flour. Beat well (use an electric mixer if it all gets a bit much!). 

Pour into a 20cm square cake or brownie pan and dot the chopped chocolates evenly on top. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes. You want a skewer to come out almost clean, but not quite, as you want to keep everything moist. A dry brownie is a miserable thing. You may need to bake for a little longer if your oven is a little cooler than mine.

brownies

Allow to cool and then devour, marvelling at your genius!  

* Full disclosure: I made these in January after the chocolate coma that is (usually) Christmas. Any chocolate you want to use up will work well!