About Dimitri @ The Last Piece of Cake

A greedy Greek boy who shares his passion for food and recipes on his blog, thelastpieceofcake.com

Courgette & ginger turkey burgers.

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I’m butter’s biggest fan.  It’s no secret.  Well, not since my waistline decided to advertise the fact.  My road to summer is going to be one filled with salad and fruit.  Yes, I’m going to do my best to eat better, so that I can spend my summer days eating in true Last Piece of Cake style.  I’m still going to post recipes that hit the right spot, but just to mix things up, check out what’s been on my menu recently.

I’m sharing a recipe that has a real summer freshness about it and I think I’ll be rustling up these courgette and ginger turkey burgers while the sun’s out.  Okay, it’s not a peanut butter or chocolate fest and you won’t find any melted cheese around, but trust me when I say that these burgers will take you down to flavour town.

Courgette & ginger turkey burgers

500g turkey mince

1 courgette (chopped)

1 egg

1 red onion (quartered)

1 garlic clove

thumb-sized piece of root ginger (peeled)

3 tblspoons dark soy sauce

1 tspoon chili flakes

It couldn’t be easier.  Put everything except the turkey mince in a food processor and blitz to a puree.  In a bowl, pour the puree over the turkey mince and combine everything thoroughly; I use my hands for this part.

The water content of the courgette is high, so you may find that the mixture is not very firm.  I used a large spoon to drop the turkey burgers into a frying pan containing hot oil; the mixture was too loose to handle.  It’s easy to shallow fry these burgers and press them flat with a fish slice once they’ve been turned once.  Towards the end of cooking, press them firmly to release excess moisture.  They only take a few minutes each side and you can get around ten little patties out of this recipe.  They’re great with a crisp salad or in buns with mayo and sweet chili sauce.

A month of sundaes- The Jaffa Cake Sundae.

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If you’ve never eaten a Jaffa Cake, there’s still time!  Despite its biscuit-like dimensions, the Jaffa Cake is just that; a cake.  Don’t believe me?  Simply leave one on the side for a day or so, and it’ll go hard, not soft like biscuits do.

If you’re still wondering what a Jaffa Cake is, well it’s a round little sponge cake containing orange jelly and topped with a thin layer of chocolate.  Actually, that description really doesn’t do any favours for what must be one of my most beloved treats.  There are few other snacks that I devour as quickly (popcorn, pretzels, honey roasted nuts and crisps are up there).  Jaffa Cakes are just so easy to eat and so much fun.

So where do they come into the realm of recipes?  Well, with spring beginning to gain momentum, I’m looking forward to the return of ice-cream and treats that refresh rather than stodgy puddings.  A recent meal at a nearby pub inspired me to come up with a fun sundae that I could enjoy.  Pubs have started to shift their focus toward good value meals and several chains have revamped their menus to include desserts topped with this and that and tagged with a catchy name.  Sadly, I’ve yet to taste one that lives up to the lively description in the menu.  My sundae arrived with little fanfare and amounted to three pieces of honeycomb floating in a pool of melted vanilla ice-cream.  Hardly the show-stopper pictured on the glossy menu.  I knew I could do better.  I knew my kids could do better.  Enter the Jaffa Cake Sundae.

It’s become something of a trend to use branded confection to sell below-standard food to the brand-loving consumer.  I wanted to avoid this kind of unimaginative approach.  I didn’t want ice-cream simply topped with a bar of my favourite chocolate.  Instead, I wanted components that would work together to give an overall taste and texture of things that I love.  The chocolate, orange jelly and sponge of a Jaffa Cake could be an interesting experiment.  With that in mind, I decided to load up on simple items that could create a satisfying sundae based on Jaffa Cakes.

What follows is less a recipe and more a description of what I did with several shop-bought items.  It’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t do it before and it’s delicious!

Jaffa Cake Sundae

Packet of orange flavoured jelly (prepared according to packet instructions)

Madeira cake

Vanilla ice-cream

For the sauce

50g dark chocolate

50g milk chocolate

Lyle’s Golden Syrup

butter

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This is an out and out assembly job, hence the lack of detailed measurements.  In truth, you can add as little or as much as you like of each ingredient to suit your taste and whatever you are choosing to serve your sundae in.  This time, I chose a chubby tumbler to stuff full of Jaffa goodness!

Begin by making the chocolate sauce.  In a bowl, melt the chocolate with a little butter and a good table spoon of golden syrup.  Stir and set to one side to cool slightly.

Next, slice a thin piece of Madeira cake and press onto the bottom of the glass.  Add a generous layer of jelly.  Top the jelly with a few scoops of vanilla ice-cream and pour plenty of the sauce over it all.  You can repeat these layers if you’re using a tall glass.

This is now my new guilty, summer pleasure!

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Soutzoukakia.

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As Europeans begin to ask more questions about where their meat comes from and sales of supermarket beef drop, I think it’s a good time to share a recipe that champions good quality beef in a very comforting way.

I love meatballs and there are some great recipes out there.  Already, I’ve shared my recipe for Keftedes (Greek meatballs), but today I want to share one for soutzoukakia (soo-zoo-ka-ki-yah). These are usually little sausage-shaped meatballs which are more like kofta and are served in a tomato sauce.  They’re gorgeous and a little spicier than ordinary meatballs.

My mum makes killer meatballs, maybe the best, but my recipe comes close; certainly close enough that I feel no shame in sharing it with you.  These beauties melt in the mouth and will permanently stain whatever clothing they touch, so cover up when you tuck in.  They’re great with all kinds of food, but I love them with a fresh cabbage salad and chunky chips.  They freeze well too, so make a big batch and then tub it up for a rainy day.  We had some on pasta recently and it was a real treat!

Soutzoukakia

For the meatballs

750g minced beef

2 large onions (quartered)

1 slice of white bread

handful of fresh coriander/dill (chopped)

12 fresh mint leaves (finely chopped)

3 tblspoons dried oregano

1 tblspoon ground cumin

3 tspoons cayenne pepper

2 tspoons ground cinnamon

half tspoon ground nutmeg

salt

pepper

For the sauce

3 tins chopped tomatoes (about 400g each)

10 garlic cloves

1 glass red wine

1 cup beef stock

1 tblspoon tomato puree

2 tspoons cinnamon

1 bay leaf

1 tspoon dried oregano

salt

pepper

Make breadcrumbs with the white bread and pour into a large mixing bowl with the beef.  Puree the onions and garlic in a food mixer and add to the beef.  Next, add all of the meatball ingredients to the bowl and use your hands to squeeze everything together until fully combined.  This takes some time and is best done when the minced beef is at room temperature.

You can leave the mixture overnight to let the flavours develop, or you can get on with making the meatballs.  Wash your hands well and leave them wet if you are going to make the meatballs immediately.  This prevents the mixture from sticking to your fingers.  Break off small chunks (or whatever amount you would like) and roll into a little ball.  Set to one side ready for frying.

In a large casserole, gently heat enough olive oil to cover the base.  Add the meatballs in batches and get some nice colour on them before removing them.  Let them drain on kitchen paper in a bowl.

When all of the meatballs have been cooked, keep the heat low and add the red wine to deglaze the casserole, stirring all the time with a wooden spatula or spoon.  Get all of the bits of meatball off the base and add the tomatoes and the beef stock.  Bring to a rolling boil and stir gently for around two minutes; just enough time to burn off the alcohol in the red wine.

Lower the heat and stir in the puree.  Bruise each garlic clove before throwing into the sauce.  Finally, add the dry ingredients and stir.  Once the sauce is simmering, gently add the meatballs and add enough stock to cover them.  Keep the sauce simmering for at least an hour with the lid off to reduce the liquid.  Stir from time to time and stop cooking when the sauce is nice and thick (or to your liking).  Taste the sauce and season it if necessary.  Remove the bay leaf before serving.

The good news is that soutzoukakia can be served with all kinds of things.  As I said earlier, I love them with chips and a crunchy cabbage salad, but they’re just as good with mash, roasted potatoes or in a hot baguette with some grated cheese on top!  You gotta love meatballs!

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All the trimmings.

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I’ve written before about my love dips and there are a couple of recipes on this blog that I use regularly.  A new favourite is this smoked salmon dip.  Me and N were looking forward to our wedding anniversary recently and I said I’d make us a nice breakfast.  Smoked salmon is perfect for occasions and I decided to make a tasty dip with some that could also be spread on bagels.

It was a perfect choice for breakfast because it was fairly light and great with some toasted bagels.  Later I made some bagel chips by slicing a bagel and toasting the pieces on a baking tray under the grill.  These were fun when I got into a dipping mood…and you know how that goes.

This dip can be made with some basic ingredients and the addition of smoked salmon trimmings makes it easier on the pocket.  In my opinion, using the finest smoked salmon you can buy for a dip like this would be wasteful and foolish.  The flavours are still just as smokey and delicate with trimmings and the result sublime.

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Smoked salmon dip

300g cream cheese

150ml double cream

150g smoked salmon trimmings

12 cornichons (sliced)

1 tblspoon fresh chives (chopped)

1 good handful fresh dill (chopped)

1 heaped teaspoon horseradish sauce

sea salt and black pepper

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You’ll love how easy to prepare this dip is; five or six minutes, tops!  In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the double cream until it just begins to stiffen.

Add the cream cheese, horseradish sauce, dill and pepper.  Combine using the mixer and finish by adding the cornichons and salmon trimmings.  Mix together and then taste.  Season with sea salt and plenty of black pepper.

However you choose to serve this, finish it by sprinkling a generous amount of freshly chopped chives on top.  It’s not just for colour, the faintly onion flavour goes so well with the salmon and helps keep everything light and fresh.

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Caramel Tiramisu.

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If you’re of Italian descent, look away now.  I’m going to share a recipe for tiramisu, but not as you know it.

It would probably be fair to describe Italy’s cuisine as the most popular in the world.  Can the contribution of pizza really be surpassed?  I think not.  Perhaps most appealing is the versatility of Italian dishes.  The U.S has taken the basic concept of pizza and taken it to another level, though sometimes with questionable results and much to the horror of Italians, I’m sure.

Today, Italian flags are used to sell all kinds of food products in a bid to attract those with an eye (and a palate) for the authentic.  Italian food is predominantly marketed by relying heavily on tradition and the heritage of the food in question.  It seems that the public would much rather buy food with a long history and preferably a lineage that guarantees reliable production techniques and a family feel to the branding.

I can certainly identify with that preference.  Buying from a family-run company with history and heart makes for a much more satisfying purchase.  However, you can have too much of a good thing.

Bound into the long-standing traditions of many an Italian recipe, are conservative attitudes that can border on severe.  What is a traditional pizza?  When is a pizza not a pizza?  What is the definitive recipe for [insert popular Italian dish with highly disputed ingredients and/or cooking methods]?  At one time, questions like these would have mattered to me.  However, I’ve eaten enough to know that in the end, what matters most is the taste.

For some, twists, variations, innovations and improvements are unacceptable in certain recipes.  Much to the chagrin of any conservative Italian readers, I would like to share a recipe that would not perhaps qualify as a tiramisu in certain circles.  You can call my recipe whatever makes you happy.  I call it my Caramel Tiramisu and it’s about as good as a pudding gets.

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Caramel Tiramisu

250g mascarpone cheese

395g sweetened condensed milk

2 Daim bars

6 sponge fingers

4 shots of espresso

20ml caramel syrup

cocoa powder for dusting

I made 3 individual pots using the quantities shown above.  Daim bars are widely available in the UK and parts of Europe, but may not be easy to find in America.  They are a buttery almond caramel coated in milk chocolate and they’re delicious!

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I used an electric mixer to blend the condensed milk and mascarpone cheese in a bowl.  I used a pestle and mortar to crush the Daim bars into a caramel rubble and then stirred them into the cheese mixture.

Next, I put the coffee in a shallow bowl, stirred in the caramel syrup and dipped the sponge fingers in.  If you let them soak up too much coffee, they’ll be very soggy.  I used two sponge fingers for each individual pot.  To begin with, I broke a sponge finger in half and pushed it into the base of the pot.  Then I added a big layer of the cheese mixture and gave it a good dusting with the cocoa powder.  I then put another layer of sponge finger on top and repeated with the cheese mixture and plenty of cocoa powder to finish.

The pots went into the fridge overnight.  You have a choice:  You can eat the tiramisu immediately and the Daim bar pieces will be crunchy OR you can do what I did.  Wait until the pots have been in the fridge overnight and then enjoy the caramel swirls created by the Daim bar pieces that have dissolved.  This creates a truly delicious treat!

A warning- this is an extremely sweet pudding.  If you prefer a lighter dessert, you may wish to double up the quantity of mascarpone.  Yes, that will increase your yield, but it will also make the result less rich.  It goes without saying that I would not dream of doing any such thing.

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Peanut butter cheesecake. Let’s do this!

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Summer is here again, though not for my good friends in Melbourne.  As the ice begins to cover my friend’s truck, sun bakes the ground dry around my olive tree and feeds my mint until it is waist high!  Regardless of the weather, there’s always an opportunity to share a good peanut butter recipe and tempt you back into the kitchen.

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I don’t need to dress this bad boy up at all.  It is quite simply a combination of a no-bake cheesecake recipe and the salty goodness of peanut butter.  I spent quite a while getting this just right, so my hope is that you try it and love it as much as I did.  The recipe below makes a rather large cheesecake; plenty for all the family.  Rain or shine, it won’t last long at all!

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Peanut butter cheesecake

340g peanut butter

300g cream cheese

284ml double cream

160g caster sugar

130g Reece’s Pieces

100g butter

22 chocolate digestive biscuits

12 chocolate covered pretzels

2 tblspoons chocolate sprinkles

I began by crushing all of the biscuits and putting them into a mixing bowl.  I melted the butter and poured it in.  After mixing the biscuits and butter together, I tipped the mixture into a 9 inch springform cake tin and pressed it down to form the base of the cheesecake.  This went into the freezer for about half an hour to firm up.

For the cheesecake mixture, I used an electric mixer to whip the double cream until peaks formed.  I then added the cream cheese, sugar and peanut butter and continued to mix until fully combined.

At this point, I threw in the sprinkles and Reece’s Pieces.  These are optional, but fun.  I spread this mixture over the biscuit base and popped the cake back in the freezer to make it firm before decorating it.

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Once the cheesecake was firm to the touch, I placed chocolate covered pretzels around the edges to make it easy to portion out when serving.  I also drizzled some chocolate and peanut butter sauce to give it yet more peanut butter beauty!  No half measures here.  Now if that isn’t a fun cheese cake, I don’t know what is!

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The taste of home.

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I spent a couple of weeks in Crete rediscovering the tastes and smells from my early days there. It was surprising to find that the food which brought back the most memories was not the most memorable itself.

Sitting at a table by the sea, I looked at the myriad of plates and began to add this and that to my own. There was one dish, however, which I mistook for houmous until I tasted it. I dipped in some beautiful bread and suddenly I was four years old again. The taste was rich and comforting and so familiar. “What is this? I recognise the taste, but I don’t know it’s name”. It was fava.

The reason that I love fava so much is because it is a fantastic vehicle for olive oil. It’s very simple to make and there are very few ingredients. The main ingredient is yellow split lentils. When cooked down to a thick consistency, they carry the flavour of extra-virgin olive oil like few other foods can. If peasant food isn’t your thing, or you don’t care for the taste of good olive oil, this is perhaps your time to bail and return when there’s a pudding recipe (next week). If you are like me and crave the good stuff, then fava is a truly wonderful way to make use of that oil in your cupboard reserved for only your best dishes. Will fava wow your friends at a dinner party? Nope, but your tummy will love it!

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Fava

250g yellow split peas

2 onions (sliced)

1 garlic clove (chopped)

extra-virgin olive oil

juice of half a lemon

sea salt

Rinse the split peas in cold water and then put them into a pan of boiling water with the onions.  Bring back to the boil and simmer.  I usually put just enough water in to cover the peas and then add more as it is absorbed.  When the split peas are thick and mushy, I transfer them to a container that I can use my hand blender in without getting spattered.  I add the garlic, lemon juice and a lot of extra-virgin olive oil and blitz it.  The fava should be soft and full of the flavour of the oil.  Be careful not to add too much lemon juice and then season with a little salt until you’re happy with it.

I like eating fava on its own, but it’s also great served alongside fish and any Greek dishes.  Drizzle more oil onto it just before serving.  Fava refrigerates well and can be brought back to life in the microwave and the addition of (yet more) olive oil.  Serving it warm, rather than hot is the way to go.  So grab a chunk of your favourite bread and dive into my favourite comfort food!

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Spare donuts? Try this!

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What do you do with spare donuts? Who even has spare donuts? Just me then? I bought a batch of ten of my favourite raspberry jam-filled donuts and after a rush of gluttony, I still had four left that were beginning to lose their appeal. There’s no way I’m going to start throwing donuts away; it goes against everything that I stand for. My mind began looking for ways to use the donuts in a new recipe.

Before I knew it, I was making custard and preparing the donuts for their next incarnation as a delightful take on bread and butter pudding. This is such an easy recipe and yet the result is delicious. The next time you’ve got too many donuts, you’ll know exactly what to do!

Donut pudding

4 raspberry jam donuts

200ml double cream

200ml milk

3 eggs

70g caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla paste

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Cut the donuts in half and place in an oven proof dish that’s deep enough for fill with custard almost to the top of each donut half.  In a bowl, whisk the eggs and then add the remaining ingredients.  Whisk thoroughly and have fun pouring the mixture over the donuts.  Place the dish in the middle of an oven at 180 degrees for about 40 minutes.

I left mine uncovered for a little too long.  To stop the donuts burning, cover with foil towards the end of the cooking time.  The custard will be wobbly, but set and the donuts will be hot and very soft.  They’ll simply yield to your spoon.  Yum!

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All you Cannes eat.

Basking in sunshine, Cannes attracts the wealthy and the vain in their thousands each year.  Through the air wafts a heady mix of Chanel and arrogance that almost masks the aroma of fresh bread from boulangeries that line the busy roads.

Between the Hermes-clad stick figures and noisy Ferrari’s, a small family make their way to see a proud grandfather and share some bread and grilled sardines on his balcony.  It’s the simple things that bring the most joy.

My father-in-law grew up in Cannes and still lives there, swimming each day and grabbing bargains from the fish monger.  Cannes isn’t the friendliest place I’ve visited, in fact, the summer heat is matched only by the frosty reception from the bourgeois beach crowd and the crinkly old coffin-dodgers.  However, there’s some good food to be had!

My father-in-law likes to swim in the morning and then return home for a big lunch just as the midday heat is peaking.  Freshly grilled sardines, saucisson, salad, merguez sausages, paella, steak hache, olives, roasted peppers, cheese and of course, baguette.

Just round the corner was a beautiful little boulangerie and patisserie that makes the most delightful baguette.  Crispy, light and fluffy inside.  Parfait!  I became very fond of their bread and brought some home with me.  Traditional French bread recipes do not use preservatives, so baguette should be eaten on the day it is baked.  I had some left over and couldn’t bear to throw it away.  The following recipe is a great way to use up any stale bread and I’m sure that bread lovers will agree with my decision to find a use for the spare baguette.

Spaghetti with bread crumbs

75g dried spaghetti

7 anchovies

half a red onion (chopped)

8 Kalamata olives

1 clove garlic (chopped)

1 tblspoon olive oil

35g stale baguette

a handful of flat leaf parsley (chopped)

half tspoon dried oregano

This recipe is for one serving, but a quick glance at the ingredient list and you’ll see how easy it is to make this for more people.

I made bread crumbs by blitzing the baguette in a food processor.  I then heated a little olive oil in a small pan and fried the crumbs with the oregano until they were a deep brown colour, but not burned.  I put these to one side.

Meanwhile, I began cooking the spaghetti in boiling salted water.  Some people recommend adding a drop of olive oil to the water, but this is completely unnecessary as long as you give the pasta a stir to stop it from sticking.

Next, I heated the garlic and onion in olive oil until cooked and then added the anchovies.  I broke the anchovies up into the onion and cooked them for a further minute or so.  I stirred in the parsley and the mixture was finished.  The anchovies are salty, so I didn’t need to season the mixture.

I drained the spaghetti, added it to the anchovy and onion mixture and tossed it to make sure that the spaghetti strands were coated.  Finally, I added the bread crumbs and ground a little black pepper over the pasta.  I added whole Kalamata olives at the end, but you could use any olives that you like.  My wife suggested adding squid to this dish which is a great idea.  Maybe next time I’ll use a variety of seafood and a little squeeze of lemon.

Sinfully simple snacks.

It was with some surprise that I finished reading The Picture of Dorian Gray and looked around for something to do.  The story ends rather abruptly, so I wasn’t expecting to be staring at the clock and wondering when my family would be back to break the silence.  The back of my edition is full of notes and reviews from Oscar Wilde’s contemporaries which makes the book look longer than it actually is, hence my surprise at the sudden end to this tale of youthful vanity and sin.  What I needed now was a snack that was quick to make.

Dorian Gray is a young man who wishes that all of his vices are passed onto a portrait of himself rather than his handsome face.  Over time, each of his sinful acts mar the portrait and age it beyond recognition while Dorian himself remains beautiful for all to see and envy.

In the same situation, I think my portrait would be a bloated chap with a chocolate milk moustache, cake crumbs on his chest and buttery fingers clasping a cheese and ham toastie.  It would be a truly grotesque display of gluttony that I’d hide away in the attic lest anyone should see my greedy soul laid bare on the canvas.

Back in my 21st Century kitchen, I was already throwing ingredients onto the worktop and keeping an eye on the clock.  There was just enough time to get some Cheddar and Parmesan biscuits into the oven and tidy up before my little boy burst into the room and cooking became a real challenge.

These little, cheesy biscuits are so easy to make and would work with different cheese and even a selection of herbs.  Try them when you feel like baking, but don’t want anything complicated or messy.  They’re small too, so you don’t need to worry about your portrait becoming hideous after you’ve eaten a few!

Cheddar & Parmesan biscuits

100g plain flour

85g mature Cheddar (finely grated)

50g butter

40g Parmesan cheese (finely grated)

2 egg yolks

2 tblspoons double cream

1 tspoon dried oregano

sea salt

1 egg yolk (beaten for the glaze)

In a medium bowl, stir together the butter, flour, two egg yolks, oregano and all of the cheese.  Season with a few good pinches of sea salt.  The mixture should come to a stiff dough.  Add the double cream and work the mixture gently with your hands.

Wrap the ball in clingfilm and refrigerate it for half an hour.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about half a centimetre thick.  Use a small cutter to make little discs and place them on a tray lined with baking paper.  Add some beaten egg yolk to the top of each disc using a pastry brush.  This will give the biscuits a lovely glaze.

They need to go into the middle of a pre heated oven at 180C for about fifteen minutes.  Keep checking them.  They’re ready when slightly risen and a beautiful, shiny, golden colour.

 

A dip for all seasons.

My love for dips is no secret.  I’m not sure why I can’t resist them, but make no mistake; when there are dips around, I’ll be close by.

Garlic and onion, sweet mustard, sour cream and chive, sweet chilli, satay, tzatziki, taramasalata, baba ganoush…the list goes on.  I’m happy dipping bread and all kinds of things until there’s an empty bowl.

Last week I shared my recipe for a rich beef mole and admitted that I used it as a dip for my tortilla chips.  I just couldn’t help it to be honest.  I’m doing my best to cut down on the nacho action, but as a final word on the subject, I’ve decided to share a recipe of mine for chili cheese dip.  The world is full of wonderful versions of this, but I like mine because it’s creamy, really cheesy and open to the addition of other ingredients if it takes my fancy.  In the height of summer, or the depths of winter, this dip will see you through.

Once you’ve tried this, you won’t make chili cheese dip any other way!  Enjoy.

Dimitri’s chilli cheese dip

5 tblspoons double cream

1 red onion (finely chopped)

1 medium red chili (quartered, then sliced)

55g mature Cheddar cheese (finely grated)

2 tspoons olive oil

1 tspoon smoked paprika

sea salt (optional)

I made this dip in a milk pan.  It was the perfect size for a small bowl of dip, but you can increase the amounts and make the dip in a large pan if necessary.

Begin by cooking the red onion in the olive oil on the lowest heat until it is beginning to caramelise.  This brings out the sweetness of the onion.  Add the chilli and give it a good stir.  Cook it for a further two minutes and stir to stop the onion from burning.

Pour in the double cream and stir.  Add the smoked paprika.  Tip the Cheddar in and stir thoroughly until completely melted.  Keep stirring until the dip is nice and thick.  Taste it.  If it needs a little salt to bring the flavours out, add some a little at a time and keep tasting as you do so.

That’s it! Done!  You could do lots with this basic recipe.  Add more chili, throw in some jalapenos, use different cheese, mix in some chopped Chorizo with the onion, add roasted garlic or stir in fresh coriander at the end of cooking.  Just make sure you have plenty of stuff to dip in because this is delicious!

Beef mole. No, really!

It’s funny what you can end up cooking when you’re looking for inspiration.  What began as a search for a fun chocolate recipe ended as a mini voyage into one of my favourite cuisines; Mexican!

I was looking for some ideas for a recipe that made use of what I already had in the cupboard and I specifically wanted to use some dark chocolate that’s been looking at me for a few weeks now.  Before I knew it, I was reading about mole and beginning to feel inspired.  In Central America, a mole is a thick, often spicy sauce made with numerous ingredients that can include chillies and dark chocolate.  There seemed to be a handful of variations and each of them sounded delightful.  Being a nacho fiend, I was beginning to see a serious dipping opportunity.

Having made the decision to use only what I had in the cupboards and fridge, the mole I made included minced beef.  Mole is especially popular because of its complex flavours and satisfying kick.  I couldn’t wait to experiment with it.  What ensued was an attack on my cupboards as the ingredient list grew and grew.  As always, I’m conscious that the recipe I’m sharing with you today is not necessarily a traditional mole, but one that I came up with over the course of a very hot afternoon.  With that in mind, some of the ingredients may alarm you, but trust me when I say, the taste is not disappointing!  I managed to surprise myself and I hope this recipe surprises you too.

This is one recipe that I’ll be making for years to come and I suspect that I’ll be trying other moles using chicken, pork and all kinds of chilies.  The sauce itself is more like a chilli con carne in consistency and I’m not saying that it can compete with an authentic Oaxacan mole.  It is however, fun to make, delicious and open to all kinds of adaptions.  Get ready then, for something different, something that I wasn’t expecting.  Is it a chocolate recipe?  Well, not exactly, but I hope you love it as much as I do!

Beef mole

400g chopped tomatoes

250g minced beef

200g tinned kidney beans

2 onions (quartered)

2 Chipotles (soaked in water)

1 red pepper (roughly chopped)

4 garlic cloves

1 medium red chili (roughly chopped)

35g dark chocolate

1 tblspoon smoked paprika

2 tspoons coriander seeds

2 tspoons chili flakes

1 tspoon ground allspice powder

1 tspoon garlic salt

1 tspoon dried oregano

2 tspoons mint sauce

1 and a half tablespoons peanut butter

black pepper

1 tbslpoon sunflower oil

olive oil

sea salt

I began by browning the beef mince with plenty of black pepper in a little olive oil and then setting it aside.

Next, I gently toasted the coriander seeds in a dry pan until they began to release their flavour.  I added them to a container with every ingredient except for the beef, Chipotles, kidney beans, chocolate and sea salt.  Using a handblender, I made a puree and then heated it in a heavy based pot for about twenty minutes on a low heat.  During this time, I added the Chipotles and the water they’d been soaking in, the kidney beans and all of the beef.  I also grated the dark chocolate into the mole and stirred it occasionally so that the sauce didn’t stick.  I removed the Chipotles when the sauce was cooked.

Once the mole was thick, I tasted it and seasoned it with sea salt.  I wanted to use the mole as a dip, so I didn’t add too much salt- my tortillas are already salted.  This mole is not very spicy, but you could add more chilies if you want a real kick.  This has just enough fire to make it fun.  Let me know if you make it.  I’d love to hear what you think!

Cheddar and broccoli soup.

The thing about food blogging, is that you need to make things every week.  It’s fun!  It can also be frustrating when the food you make doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to and there’s an empty screen waiting for a blog post.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve made a gorgeous almond and apricot stuffing for pork that tasted beautiful, but frankly, would kill my blog if I photographed it; a loaf of banana bread that tasted so good when toasted and smothered in Nutella that it was gone before I could get a shot of it; and then there was a baba ganoush that tasted okay, but was not really as delicious as baba ganoush can be.  Yes, writing a food blog can be frustrating.  I may just start reviewing movies instead.

To cheer myself up, I made a favourite soup of mine this weekend.  It’s not as naughty as you might expect from me, but you can double the cheese content if you like and even add a splash of double cream to make it more indulgent.  Either way, it’s a nice little soup to push you on until I post something more sugary.  Aah, it’s good to be back.  I missed ya!

Cheddar and broccoli soup.

1 broccoli stalk

100g mature Cheddar

Vegetable stock

 2 large potatoes

salt pepper

I cut off the brocoli florets and boiled them in water until tender.  I peeled and cubed the potatoes and boiled them until soft (just over ten minutes) in salted water and then drained them.

I placed the vegetables (and the water in which I’d cooked the broccoli) in a large pot and poured in enough vegetable stock to cover them.  I brought the stock to the boil and then took the pot of the heat.  Allowing the stock to cool made it safer to blend up the soup using a hand blender.  Once this was done, I grated the Cheddar into the soup and stirred it until completely melted.

Finally, I tasted the soup and seasoned it with plenty of sea salt and some black pepper.  It’s tastes delicious served with extra grated cheese and some crusty bread!

Tip:  Adding the broccoli water helps retain the nutrients lost through cooking.  Discard the water that you cooked the potatoes in because it often contains impurities and starch and doesn’t taste particularly nice.

As fresh as it gets.

Man cannot live on cake alone.  I’ve tried.  To keep things fresh and light for the summer, I’ve been mixing up the evening meals to include things that make use of the herbs in my garden.  Mint, lavender, parsley, sage, thyme, Greek oregano and lemon thyme are all bursting into life right now, so it would be silly not to take advantage.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is a far cry from the chocolate craziness that I’ve thrown your way before.  It’s really delicious, a doddle to prepare and it goes well with so many things that you’ll easily be able to make it a part of at least one meal.  All you need are some fresh herbs and a few minutes to make this classic crowd pleaser!

Tabouleh

4 tblspoons fresh mint (finely chopped)

1 bunch fresh parsley (finely chopped)

100g cous cous

half a cucumber (chopped)

1 onion (finely chopped)

4 ripe tomatoes (chopped)

juice of half a lemon

4 tblspoons extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

I used cous cous to make my tabouleh which is a deal-breaker for many people.  Bulgur wheat is used in a traditional tabouleh.  Cous cous was all that I had to hand on the day that I made this and I’ve no regrets.  I also added a little more olive oil than stated in my recipe, but it’s really up to you to season this beautiful salad how you like it.

I cooked the cous cous for a few minutes in boiling water until soft and set it aside to cool.  I then lined a bowl with mixed leaves.  In another bowl I added the cous cous and the rest of the ingredients.  I gave them a good mix and kept tasting as I seasoned everything.  A little more lemon juice here, a bit of oil there…it was fun getting a nice balance.

Once everything was nicely combined, I tipped the tabouleh carefully into the bowl lined with salad leaves.

You can serve the tabouleh immediately or cover it and leave it in the fridge for an hour or so like I did.  The flavours were wonderful.  This is a seriously uplifting dish and one that benefits from the use of ultra fresh ingredients.  I can’t wait to serve this with some grilled lamb and lots of pita.

Natural sugars don’t count- Part 3: Banana muffins with honey cream.

I’m not sure if you know this, but bananas are boring.  Who am I to criticise Nature’s most popular yellow creation?  Well, I’m someone who really loves food and I’ve eaten my share of bananas, but I always come to the same conclusion: bananas (despite their nutritional value) are incredibly boring.  Something must be done.

Banana fritters with syrup?  Yes.  Chocolate and banana cake with peanut butter?  Yup.  Muesli with slices of banana on top?  Are you serious?  Never!  To bring a little sugary fun to the dullest fruit on the stand, I decided to make some banana muffins and add a little something to perk them up.  This is such an easy recipe, so if you’ve got any spare bananas and you’re sick of smoothies, give this a go!

Banana muffins with honey cream

4 bananas

300g plain flour

200g caster sugar

1 egg (beaten)

65g melted butter

1 tspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 tspoon baking powder

1/2 tspoon salt

4 tblspoons double cream

2 tblspoons clear honey

Begin by sifting all of the dry ingredients into a bowl and set them aside.  Next, mash up the bananas and mix them with the sugar, butter and eggs.  In a large bowl, combine the banana mixture with the flour mixture.  Keep stirring until there are no dry bits in the bowl.

I told you this was an easy recipe.  Pour the muffin mixture into muffins tins.  Fill each about halfway because the muffins will rise in the oven.  Slide them into the centre of the oven for about twenty minutes at 180C.  When they’ve risen and are golden, they’re ready to rock.

To make the honey cream, whisk the cream until it is quite thick and then briskly stir in the honey.

Once the muffins have come out of the oven and cooled, use a teaspoon to scoop out a little section from the top of each one.  Now pipe the cream (or dollop it with a spoon) into the hole you’ve made.  What?  You thought there was more?  Nope.  Now it’s time to tuck in!  Enjoy!

Baklava.

Who needs a snappy title when you’re posting about baklava?  It’s the sweetest, most indulgent thing I make and it’s about time I stopped holding out on you.

Baklava has many variations, but essentially, it is crushed nuts between layers of filo pastry soaked in syrup or honey.  You can find baklava everywhere from Syria to Serbia served with tea or the thickest, darkest coffee you can imagine.  Baklava seems to have remained in a number of cultures after the spread of the Ottoman Empire and I’m happy to say that the Greeks continued to make it long after the invaders were gone.  Head to a zaxaroplasteion (a bakery that makes and sells lots of sweet pastries and biscuits) and you’ll have a choice of rich and glossy delights.

Recently, my local community organised an International Night at our parish hall.  The idea was to invite everyone in the area to bring food from their culture and share it.  There was African drumming, a food quiz, cheese tasting, chocolate tasting for children and of course, food from around the world!  It was a great evening.  The highlight for me and my son (The Tomato Monster) was definitely the gołąbki (Polish cabbage rolls).  We shared them and were devastated when they were all gone.  N was happy because she didn’t have any trouble getting him to sleep.  A belly full of Polish food ensured a restful night!

Last year I took along a big pot of beef stifado and a tray of baklava.  This year, I was pushed for time and decided to take my orzo and tomato bake and another tray of baklava.  You see, making bakalava isn’t that difficult, but it isn’t cheap and a full dish of baklava sitting in the house just isn’t conducive to a healthy heart.  Therefore, I only make baklava for larger gatherings.  International Night was the perfect excuse.  It meant that I could finally share with you one of the most special recipes from my kitchen.

There’s good baklava to be had in Mostar. The views aren’t bad either!

I’ve had some brilliant baklava in Bosnia where there are large Muslim communities who continue to make it and serve it with a host of other sweet treats.  The best examples were in Mostar which also had some of the most pleasant views.  Predictably, however, my preference is for the syrup-soaked offerings of Greece and so my recipe is closer to what you’d find there.

Get ready for the sweetest thing on the menu!

Baklava

12 sheets filo pastry

600g caster sugar

250g butter (melted)

200g walnuts

200g almonds

120ml golden syrup or clear honey

2 tblspoons ground cinnamon

1 tspoon vanilla extract

Begin by the chopping the almonds and walnuts in a food processor with the cinnamon.  Don’t turn them to dust.  We just need them finely chopped.  I’ve done this by hand in the past, but it takes longer, makes more mess and the results aren’t as good.

Place a sheet of filo on the bottom of your dish or tray and use a pastry brush to cover it in melted butter.  Repeat with another four sheets.

Now begin to sprinkle the nut mixture over the filo.  Cover this layer with another sheet of pastry and brush it with melted butter.  Continue to cover each layer with nuts and add a layer of filo on top until you run out of the nut mixture.  Butter and layer any remaining pastry and finish by brushing the top with butter.

Taking a very sharp knife, carefully cut the baklava into as many pieces as you like.  Some people prefer to cut diamond shapes.  I cut mine into squares.  Cutting the filo at this point will allow the syrup to soak into it every part of the pastry and nuts.  It is also easier to cut the filo without damaging it before you bake it.

Sprinkle some water over the baklava to stop the filo from wrinkling and slide it into the oven at 180C for about forty minutes.  It should come out golden.  If it starts to burn before the time is up, cover the bakalava with foil.

While the baklava is baking, make the syrup.  Pour the sugar and 450ml water into a small pan with the vanilla and syrup or honey.  Bring it to the boil while stirring then simmer it without stirring for a full five minutes and then set it aside until the baklava is ready.

Remove the baklava from the oven and pour the syrup over it while it is still hot.  It looks like there’s too much syrup, but trust me, the pastry will soak it all up.  Leave the baklava to cool for a few hours.  During this time, the syrup will soak in and become firmer and stickier.

You don’t need to refrigerate baklava, but you can if you wish.  Keep it covered and it’ll last for a fortnight.  (Though I have to say, that I’ve never heard of that happening-  baklava is just too good to keep!)

Molten lava burgers.

It was only a matter of time before I posted a proper burger recipe and this is it.  Slow Food is important for a number of reasons, not least because you should end up with a tasty end product that knocks shop-bought items out of the park.  However, I’ve cooked plenty of things from scratch and wished I’d gone to the shops instead.  My burgers, for example, haven’t always been worth the time and effort I put in.   I’m happy to say that I’ve finally made a delicious burger that is going to revolutionise my summer eating!

Forget fast food joints and shiny posters of burgers that don’t represent what you’re actually sold.  Grab some quality ingredients and spend a few minutes making these meaty marvels.  Not only are they really easy to make, they’re very tasty and easy to adapt to your own tastes.  Life’s too short to eat grey patties between sugary bread.  Give dehydrated onions and wilting lettuce a miss.  Instead, go for fresh and fun molten lava burgers!  Hmmm…that sounds like it should be on a poster.

Molten lava burgers

375g minced beef

1 red chilli (finely chopped)

1 onion (finely chopped)

4 tblspoons fresh chives (finely chopped)

45g butter (melted)

2 tblspoons tomato ketchup

1 tspoon smoked paprika

1 tspoon Dijon mustard

half tspoon ground cumin

Cheddar cheese

salt and pepper

I made three large patties, but you could make smaller ones.

I began by putting all of the ingredients except the chilli and the cheese into a medium-sized bowl and mixing it up with a wooden spatula.  Season the mixture with plenty of salt and pepper.  I didn’t work the mixture too much because I didn’t want a tough texture for the burger.

I cut some thick slices of cheddar ready to go into the middle of the patties.  I then took some of the beef and made a large round patty.  I gently pressed the cheese onto the beef leaving a little room around the edges.  I sprinkled lots of the chopped chilli onto the cheese.  Next, I took some more beef and pressed it onto the patty making sure to completely cover the cheese.  I also checked that there were no holes for the cheese to ooze out of during cooking.

Now lots of recipes will recommend searing the burgers in a hot pan and then transferring to the oven to finish.  I didn’t do that, but I got wonderful results.  I fried the patties in butter on a low heat until nice and brown before turning them over.  I basted the patties with butter from the frying pan every now and again to keep them full of flavour.

The slow cooking meant that the meat cooked all the way through and just needed a few minutes in a hot oven at the end to bring it up to 71 degrees.

The biggest tip I can give you is to leave the patties alone while they cook.  Don’t prod them, don’t flip them, don’t lift them every minute for a peak at the underside.  Just let those bad boys cook.  Check them only occasionally to make sure that they aren’t burning.  If you keep bothering them, they’ll begin to crumble, you’ll have bits of burned onion in your pan and there will be smoke everywhere and cheese pouring out of the sides.  Let sleeping burgers lie.

Towards the end of frying, I tilted the pan to gather the butter in a little pool and slid the patties into it.  This helped cook the sides of the patties because they were quite thick.  You may not need to do this.  It just depends on the size of your patty.

I usually pile my burgers high with all kinds of silliness, but not this time.  The burgers were so tasty that I simply housed them in a toasted cheese-topped bap and served them with salad.  The chilli cheese was a real treat, but the flavour of the burger itself was the best thing.  You can’t beat slow food.

Got a sweet tooth? Okay, prove it!

Nothing is too sweet for me.  Have I said that before?  Probably.  I’ll eat every last mouthful of every sugary delight you care to serve me.  Chocolate dome cake, caramel fudge, mud cake, baklava, treacle tart, butterscotch this and praline that;  do your worst.  My brother draws the line at halva, my mum stops at dulce de leche chocolate mousse cake.  All the more for me, I guess.

In my opinion, if a cake leaves you wanting more, it has failed.  A cake should satisfy every sugary urge and leave you wanting nothing.  If I didn’t have such a sweet tooth, I would suggest that the recipe I’m sharing this week achieves this and more.

Peanut butter and chocolate are a popular combination right now and the internet is awash with all kinds of cakes that bring together these two favourites.  One thing that I noticed was the lack of chocolate log action in this department.  Enter The Last Piece of Cake.  I tested the best components from a number of peanut butter and chocolate recipes to come up with a cake so delicious, it would surpass my previous efforts.  The result was a peanut butter and chocolate log of epic proportions.

Essentially, I made a chocolate log filled and covered with a fluffy peanut butter icing and then coated in a darkly decadent peanut butter and chocolate ganache.  This approach has been made popular by the American cake recipe book, Sky High.  My version holds true to the decadence of the original idea.  I’ve noticed, however, that some famous blogs warn readers to cut only the thinnest of slices because of how sweet the cake is.  Pathetic!  To these bloggers I say, “Halt your feeble whimpering and let the people enjoy a huge slice of one of the tastiest cakes in the blogosphere!”  To you, dear reader, I say, “Have a go at putting together this  joyful  bundle of ingredients and rest assured that it will bring a peanut butter and chocolate smile to every face that tries it.”

Peanut butter chocolate log

(For the cake)

115g caster sugar

45g melted butter

40g Fairtrade cocoa powder

4 eggs

Icing sugar

(For the icing)

250g smooth peanut butter

250g icing sugar

110g softened butter

double cream

(For the ganache)

200g dark chocolate

3 tblspoons double cream

2 tblspoons golden syrup

2 tblspoons smooth peanut butter

To make the cake, put the eggs into a glass bowl over a small pan of water and heat gently.  Whisk the eggs continuously.  Take the eggs off the heat when they are foamy and tip them into a mixing bowl.  Use an electric mixer to whisk the eggs for another five or six minutes.  Keep going on the highest speed until there are no bubbles left and the texture is silky and smooth.

Sift the flour and cocoa into the eggs and fold them in gently with a spatula until they are combined and there are no dry bits.  Gently mix in all of the melted butter.

Pour the batter onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.  My tray is about nine inches by fifteen inches.  Make sure the batter is spread equally so that it cooks evenly.  Put it into the middle of a hot oven (190C) for about ten minutes.  When a skewer comes out clean, you’ll know the cake is done.

To roll it, you’ll need to get some baking paper ready on your work surface.  Dust it with plenty of icing sugar.  This will prevent the cake sticking to the paper and breaking up.  Tip the cake out onto the dusted paper and carefully roll it up.  Take time to roll it carefully because it is hot and also delicate at this point.  Leave the roll to cool down on a wire rack.

Now it’s time to make the icing.  Yum!  Clean your electric whisk and use it to mix together the peanut butter and the softened butter.  Add the icing sugar in stages until fully combined.  Don’t put it all in at once, or you’ll finish up looking like Casper The Friendly Ghost.  If the icing gets too dry, add a little double cream.  Keep going until there is no more icing sugar to add and the icing is a nice, thick and creamy consistency.

Now it’s an assembly job.  Unroll the cake and peel off the paper without breaking it.  Using roughly half of the icing, spread a thick layer all over the cake right up to the edges.  Roll it all back up and put it on a plate.  Use a spatula to spread the rest of the icing all over the log.  It should be completely covered in the peanut butter icing incuding the ends.  There might be just a little left in the bowl for you to enjoy!  Put the log in the fridge for about half an hour to an hour to firm up.

Once the icing is firm, make the peanut butter and chocolate ganache which will coat the log.  Melt all of the ingredients together in a glass bowl over a small pan of water and mix it well.  Let it cool a little before you use it.

Okay, so I had a slice before the ganache had set. I just couldn’t resist!

The ganache should be thick and spreadable.  Pour it onto the log and spread the ganache all over.  Place the log back in the fridge for the ganache to set.  I’ll admit, I couldn’t wait and I had a slice while the ganache was still melted.  The cake tasted far better once the ganache had set, but it’s your call.

When you can tap the top of the log and it has set properly, it’s time to dig in.  My advice?  Cut a beautifully thick slice and let your cares float away!  Let me know what you think…

The Tomato Monster.

Tomatoes are one of the best foods you can eat regularly.  They contain lots of lycopene which behaves in a similar way to antioxidants and can help fight cancer.  Eating ten servings of tomatoes each week can reduce the risk of lung cancer by up to sixty per cent.  The good news is that those ten servings can be in a variety of forms.  We can enjoy the benefits of lycopene by eating pizza, adding ketchup to food and even including tinned tomatoes in our diet.  This is because the cancer-fighting qualities of lycopene are not reduced by exposure to high temperatures.  In fact, cooking tomatoes in olive oil increases the amount of lycopene that is absorbed by the body.  French, Italian and Greek cooking feature numerous tomato-based dishes, so it’s no wonder that cancer is less prevalent among the mediterranean population.  Tomatoes feature heavily in our house too.

I’ve nicknamed our boy, The Tomato Monster.  He eats everything in sight and has yet to refuse any type of food that we’ve offered him.  However, tomato dishes provoke extra approving groans and lip-smacking from him.  He just loves tomatoes and we love watching him eat plenty of dishes containing that most glorious of fruits!  Today, I’m going to share two great recipes full of tomatoes that are brilliant for a family meal.

On a day when the sun was splitting the trees and a summer atmosphere prevailed in this normally rain-soaked region, I decided to cook up a tomato storm to enjoy in the garden.  N and the boy were out for coffee and cake (or water and baby rusks) all afternoon.  This left me free to make a complete mess in the kitchen and play my music as loud as I liked.  By the time the family was assembled for dinner, I’d managed to make a herb bread with tomato and a baked orzo dish full of tomatoes, beef mince and a cheesy, golden bechamel topping.  Me and N enjoyed a glass of wine with the food and felt like we were somewhere on the Northern coast of Crete.  The Tomato Monster savoured every bite of bread and every mouthful of orzo with extra satisfied grunts and spent the rest of the evening beaming.  In my book, that’s reason enough to put tomatoes on the menu every single day of the week.

Herb bread with tomato

400g chopped tomatoes

250g plain flour

120ml warm water

5 tblspoons olive oil

3 tblspoons chopped fresh herbs (mint & Greek oregano)

2 tblspoons tomato puree

2 tblspoons tomato ketchup

1 tblspoon honey

1 and a half tspoons dried yeast

1 tspoon dried oregano

1 tspoon Dijon mustard

This recipe will make a flatbread that can be torn and shared.  Put the flour, salt and dried yeast into a medium-sized bowl and mix in the dried oregano.

Create a well in the middle and pour in the water, honey and one tablespoon of olive oil.  Add all of the fresh herbs.  Mix gently to form a soft dough.  Brush with olive oil and place the bowl in a warm place for the dough to increase in size.  About half an hour will do it.

Mix the tomatoes, tomato puree, ketchup, the remaining oil, mustard and some dried oregano together and heat in a frying pan for a few minutes until you have a thick sauce.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and press it into a baking tray.  Add the tomato mixture on top and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon leaving a small gap around the edges.  Leave the bread for about fifteen minutes and then sprinkle some more oregano on top.  Bake in the oven at 200C for about twenty minutes until lightly browned.  Serve with a fresh salad, or even better, why not pair it with the awesome orzo recipe below?

Orzo & tomato bake

400g chopped tomatoes

250g minced beef

1 onion (chopped)

2 tblspoons tomato puree

3 tblspoons chopped fresh herbs (mint & Greek oregano)

1 tblspoon dried oregano

2 tspoons dried cinnamon

olive oil

salt and pepper

(For the topping)

150g mature Cheddar (grated)

2 tblspoons butter

2 tblspoons plain flour

milk

1 tspoon Dijon mustard

1 pinch of grated nutmeg

salt and pepper

Orzo is pasta that looks very much like rice.  Boil it in lightly salted water until cooked through and set aside.

Brown the beef mince in some olive oil and mix in the cinnamon and dried oregano.  Add the onion and fry gently until it is cooked, but not yet browning.  Add the tomatoes and a little more olive oil and stir thoroughly.  Bring to the boil and then stir in the tomato puree.  Lower the heat and cook gently until the liquid reduces.

Drain the orzo and mix it with the beef sauce in whichever pan is bigger.  Stir in the fresh herbs and transfer it all to a deep, ovenproof dish.  Set aside while you prepare the sauce to go on top.

The orzo, tomatoes and beef before being topped with a cheese sauce.

Begin by making a roux.  Melt the butter in a milk pan and then add the flour.  Stir immediately with a whisk for a few seconds until the flour and butter become a loose paste.  Don’t panic.  Now you can pour in a little milk and continue to whisk.  Keep adding a little milk at a time until you have a thick sauce in the pan.  Now it’s time to add flavour!  Stir in the Dijon mustard, grate a little nutmeg in and then tip lots of grated Cheddar in for good measure.  You don’t really have to measure the amount of cheese you put in.  Add however much you need to achieve a full cheesy flavour and make sure there are no lumps.

Season the sauce to taste and then pour it over the orzo.  Spread it out evenly and then grate a load more cheese on top to cover.  Place the dish in a hot oven until the cheese is bubbling.  200C for about ten minutes is a good start.  I like to finish the dish under the grill to get the cheese golden and crispy on top.  You can serve this dish immediately or play the long game and eat it the next day.  I’d made enough to feed us for two days and I’m so glad that I did.  It tasted even better the next day.  Am I becoming predictable?  Maybe a little.

Note:  I’ve included guidance on seasoning, but I didn’t add any salt when I cooked this dish recently.  Instead, we added salt to our own portions once I’d served it.  This meant that our little Tomato Monster could eat the same meal as Mummy and Daddy without added salt.

Clash of the Classics.

We shouldn’t take food too seriously.  Even if we love it and feel passionate about where it came from, how it was made and where the ingredients were sourced.  We should still take time to enjoy it and have some fun.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at the photograph above.

Having made a delicious, new cake, I could have finished it off with a light dusting of icing sugar and posted the photograph knowing that readers would be greeted by the sight of an elegant creation.  It would be the kind of image gracing only the most refined food blogs.  You know the type; minimalistic, tasteful and effortlessly sophisticated.

Instead, I went for squirty cream and sugar balls.  It sounds like a comedy double act, but in fact, it was just what I needed to lighten up a very tasty combination of custard, cream and fruity jam between vanilla sponge.

Soon, British people all over the world will be celebrating the Queen’s Diamond  Jubilee and this will cause an outbreak of Union Jacks, the like of which has not been seen since the end of the Second World War.  For some, it may prove too much.  For me, it’s an excuse for making cakes, as if I needed one.

I thought I’d post my offering for a jubilee celebration cake before the craziness began in earnest.    It’s my very own recipe inspired by two British favourites: the Victoria sponge cake and custard cream biscuits.  Both are close to the hearts of Brits and both are delicious.  I made a vanilla sponge and cut circles to construct miniature adaptations of the classic Victoria sponge.  I used Morrelo cherry jam and a custard cream made with not only custard, but custard cream biscuits too!  The results were fun and I’m not ashamed to say that the cakes didn’t see the afternoon.

If you decide to forego the squirty cream and sugar balls, you’ll still have a delicious set of cakes that have all the best elements of a classic cake and the morish custard cream biscuits.  Food should be fun.  Seriously.

Jubilee custard cream cakes

(For the sponge)

125g self raising flour

125g softened butter

125g caster sugar

1 tspoon vanilla paste

2 eggs

(For the cream)

2 tbslpoons double cream

2 tblspoons custard

6 custard cream biscuits

1 tspoon vanilla paste

You will also need 3 tblspoons Morrelo cherry jam

Squirty cream and sugar balls (optional)

First, make the sponge.  Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric whisk and then beat in the eggs.  Stir in the vanilla paste and then fold in the flour to finish.  The batter should be able to drop off a wooden spoon.  Add some milk if you think it is too stiff.

Pour the batter into a baking tray (with high sides) lined with greaseproof paper and bake for about twenty-five minutes at 180C.  Let the sponge cool on a wire rack before using a cookie cutter to cut six discs.  These will form the top and bottom of three cakes.

Whisk the double cream until it begins to stiffen and then add the custard and the vanilla paste.  Continue to whisk until the custard is combined and the consistency is thick.  Stir in the custard cream biscuits.

Top one of the sponge discs with a spoonful of cherry jam and then carefully drop a spoonful of custard cream on top.  Place a second sponge disc onto the cream and press down gently.  At this point, you can choose to dust the cake with icing sugar for a classic finish, or get the squirty cream and have a giggle.  Repeat with the other sponge discs and if you have any custard cream leftover, get a spoon and tuck in!