Hip to be square…once in a while.

A dumping ground for leftovers and a chef’s favourite for Monday night specials, soup can be a disappointment if made without love.  Call me sentimental (at your own risk), but no amount of butter can make up for soup that has been made without love.

This has nothing to do with speed, however.  Making soup need not be a lengthy or laboured process.  It should be a fun and essentially satisfying experience.  It should begin with simple, fresh ingredients and end in a bowl that provides sustenance and a little of the season’s best.

I’ve mentioned my sinful tampering with perfectly good recipes, but today I wanted to show that I too can create something simple and honest.  A bowl of something that is proud of the ingredients it contains.  A spoonful of something that doesn’t need dressing up.  A mouthful of something that tastes exactly as you’d expect.  I’m serious!

The nights are drawing in.  The temperature is falling.  Salads just aren’t called for.  The season of soup has begun.  My love of chestnut mushrooms means it is time for me to share my version of a classic soup.  No twists and no surprises.  Just bags of flavour.

Classic cream of mushroom soup.

500g chestnut mushrooms (sliced)

1 pint chicken stock

quarter of a pint of semi-skimmed milk

40g butter

2 tblspoons plain flour

tonnes of black pepper

sea salt

a little double cream to serve

First of all, you’ll notice that there’s no onion, no garlic and no alcohol in the ingredients list.  This soup tastes of one thing and one thing only- mushrooms.  It’s creamy, it’s tasty and it needs no craziness.

Melt the butter in a soup pan and fry the sliced mushrooms on a high heat until they begin to brown.  At this point I like to grind lots and lots of black pepper over the mushrooms.  You can do this to taste.  I like a lot.  Don’t add salt yet.  If your butter is burning, add a drop of olive oil.

Next, add the flour and coat the mushrooms.  Cook it for a couple of minutes and then pour in the stock and milk.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for a few minutes.  You may need to whisk the soup to get rid of the lumps of flour.

Take the soup off the heat and blend with a hand blender.  Don’t make the soup too smooth; it’s nice to have the texture of the mushrooms.  Place the soup back on the heat and add salt if necessary to taste.

Ladle into bowls and pour some double cream in to serve.

Fairtrade chocolate brownie cake with Bailey’s butter cream.

As soon as the words had left my mouth, I felt deep and utter shame.  What had I become?  Who was this slightly overweight individual who looked for opportunities to terrorize his arteries with butter and chocolate milk?  Why had I let myself turn into someone who could conceive of such a sentence.  Brownies are not boring.

I know, I know.  The sentence left my mouth before I’d had time to think of it.  N managed to barely conceal her disbelief behind a veil of disapproval.  The dog looked at me as if to say, “Shame on you.”  The fact is, that food blogging can push a person to look for more and more unique food ideas.  Not a bad thing altogether, but it can make a food lover look beyond the simple things and that is where sentences like the one I blurted out, can find themselves released into the open kitchen air.

N wanted to know why I’d used my brownie recipe to construct a cake?  Why had I made a butter cream filling and sliced it up?  Essentially, why had I not just made brownies?  My answer was unforgivable.

If you’ll continue to read, however, I can assure you that what follows is a chocolate-filled delight and one with a conscience.

I used a favourite brownie recipe and simply cut the whole baked brownie in half so that I could sandwich the butter cream.  I used Fairtrade sugar and Fairtrade chocolate and it only took a matter of minutes to whisk up the brownie batter.  A splash of Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur gave everything a new dimension.  Brownies are fun and delicious and so many things to so many people.  If you aren’t up for something like a cake filled with Bailey’s butter cream, I can highly recommend my brownie recipe as it is.  You’ll still end up with moist, rich brownies that have a thin, flaky crust and a chewy centre; and there’s nothing boring about that.

Faritrade chocolate brownie cake with Bailey’s butter cream.

200g Fairtrade caster sugar

100g Fairtrade dark chocolate

3 eggs

70g pecan nuts

50g butter

50g plain flour

1 tspoon baking powder

(For the Bailey’s butter cream)

200g icing sugar

120g butter

50ml Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur

1 tblspoon cocoa powder

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl.  Next, whisk the eggs and the caster sugar together in another bowl and then mix in the flour and baking powder.  Time for the chocolate!  Pour it into the flour and egg mixture and then mix in the pecans.

Line an eight inch tin with baking paper and pour the brownie batter into it.  Bake the brownie at 140 degrees Celsius for forty-five minutes.  I baked mine at 120 degrees because I used my fan oven.

When the brownie has cooled completely, cut it in half ready to assemble the cake.

Beat the butter, icing sugar, cocoa powder and Bailey’s with an electric hand mixer until they have formed a fluffy and light butter cream.  Spread over the top of one of the brownie pieces and then place the other half on top.  Fairtrade chocolate brownie cake with Bailey’s butter cream complete.  Cut off a chunk and switch your phone to silent.  You may be some time…

Don’t shoot the chef!

Today I had one of those moments when everything was perfect and I didn’t want time to move forward.  Curse you Father Time!  Have you ever been eating something that was so good that you stopped eating for a moment to take it all in?  The taste, the texture, the aroma?  Everything being just the way you want it and sadly coming closer to ending with every bite?  What else can you do, but continue eating and be thankful for the pleasure?  Boy, oh boy, was I a silent and contented eater.  I felt like Johnny Depp in that film where he eats the best puerco pibil he’s ever tasted and shoots the chef when he’s finished because “it’s just too good.”  Relax, no food bloggers were harmed in the making of this dish.  Ah, the dish…

A few years ago, I happened to catch a bit of a Gary Rhodes programme that was showing seasonal recipes.  If you’ve ever watched Gary Rhodes cook, you’ll know that he’s a perfectly nice chap with reliable recipes.  He also tends to be quite linear in his approach to food.  Let’s just say that Gary probably considers wearing odd socks to be a rebellious act.  Despite this, I was captivated by his recipe that day.  I immediately took to the kitchen to prepare my own take on what I considered to be a very promising little dish.

Me and N were hooked after that.  I made the dish regularly and tried different ingredients for fun and variety.  It’s been almost three years since I made it, but this week, I bought some duck eggs and my thoughts turned to the recipe I’d fallen in love with three winters ago.  It was time to make ducky egg pots.

Ducky egg pots (adapted from Gary Rhodes)

4 fresh duck eggs

200ml double cream

1 leek (sliced)

100g Cheddar cheese

4 slices prosciutto di Parma


sea salt

black pepper

First of all, you need some ramekins.  This recipe will comfortably make four servings, so you need four ramekins.  Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and have your ramekins ready to fill.

Fry the sliced leek in butter on a medium heat until softened, but not browned.  Season the leeks to taste.  Set aside to cool slightly.  Next, pour just enough of the cream into each ramekin to cover the bottom.  Tear up the ham into little pieces and divide between each ramekin (one slice of ham per portion).  Divide the leek between the pots after that.

Press plenty of grated cheese on top of the leeks leaving at least a centimetre at the top of the ramekin for the egg to be poured in.  I like to grind some black pepper onto the cheese before cracking the egg onto it.  If you press the centre of the cheese down to make a little dent, the yolk will sit nicely in the middle.  (It’s doesn’t affect the cooking, but it’s pleasing to the eye).

So, without further ado, crack your duck egg into the centre.  Finally, pour some cream over each egg until it reaches the edge of the ramekin.  The cream forms a barrier over the egg to stop it cooking too quickly.

Place on a foil-covered baking tray and slide into the centre of the oven for about fifteen minutes.  My fan oven cooks the egg pots quite quickly, so I check on them every few minutes.  The top should be bubbling away and the yolk and white cooked through.  Test one if you’re unsure, by gently digging a teaspoon into the white.  Don’t worry of some of the cream bubbles over the top.

It’s okay to let the egg pots cool for a couple of minutes before serving.  The content will be gooey and hot.  The delight that you’ll get from digging through the creamy layers and letting the yolk and cheese ooze onto the leeks is immense.  The salty ham seasons the cream in the bottom of the pot and in return, the cream stops the ham drying out.  Everything becomes one indulgent dairy dance.

Yes you can dunk bread into them.  Yes you can be playful and make buttered soldiers for them.  Goodness, you could even mix it up with Chorizo in the bottom instead of ham and parmesan or your favourite cheese instead of Cheddar.  Truth is, this is my favourite incarnation of the dish.  I prefer it with duck eggs because of the rich flavour that you get from them, but eggs from hens work well too.

It’s taken a lot for me to share this recipe with you.  I have to admit that I thought about holding out on you, but I just couldn’t, dear reader.  These little ducky egg pots are just too good.  All I ask is that if you decide to try them, and you too have that perfect moment, you won’t come looking for me!

And now for something completely different.

It had been a while since I had eaten something for the very first time.  Standing in the fish mongers’ with the baby screaming his head off, I spotted a small box of what I recognised as samphire.  This green and salty marsh plant has been something of a trendy ingredient in recent years and I’d seen it make appearances on food shows that visited coastal towns.  Apart from having what I think is a cool name, samphire really holds no other outward appeal to me.  Having said that, as I collected my change from a purchase of squid, the fish monger followed my gaze towards the samphire resting in a box on the gleaming ice.  “Samphire.  Wanna try some?”  Above the screams of my boy, I said, “Yes, please!” and picked a little to chew on.  Salt, fresh grassy notes, something nearing asparagus?  I quite liked it.  All it needed was butter.  “I’ll have that box too, please”, I shouted nodding at the green strands of something not quite sea and not quite land.

Samphire does not keep for long.  The pressure was on to make (good) use of it.  I had some nice basa fillets which I was sure would be a good starting point.  Basa is Vietnamese cat-fish and is sustainable.  I passed the boy (now quiet) to N and started to unpack my bags.  N was happy when she saw the squid.  She’d asked me to make some more spaghetti and squid, but she had a puzzled look on her face when I pulled out the box of samphire.  “What have you got there?” she said, frowning.  “Samphire!  It tastes of the sea and I’m gonna cook it for us tomorrow!”  N looked at me like I’d just exchanged our only cow for some magic beans.  Yup, the pressure was on to make very good use of the samphire.

Simple is best.  I made a samphire and lemon cream to pour over the basa fillets after I’d steamed them.  I fried the rest of the samphire in butter and served it all with some boiled vegetables.  Apart from the large amounts of butter, it was a well-balanced meal.  Samphire really does love butter.  N was very impressed with the samphire. Probably fearing it would be disgusting, she was pleasantly surprised.  I was quietly smug because the samphire and lemon cream had been perfect for the fish and my decision to make it up as I went along had really paid off.  Now all I need to do is figure out how to stop my son screaming in public and I’ll be living the dream.

Basa fillets with samphire & lemon cream

Basa fillets

150ml double cream

2 tblspoons finely chopped samphire

1 lemon

65g butter

sea salt

black pepper

Drizzle a little olive oil onto a piece of foil large enough to make a parcel around the basa fillet.  If you love olive oil as much as I do, place the fillet on the foil and drizzle a little more on it.  Grind a little black pepper on the fillet.  Place it on a baking tray in the centre of the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for twenty-five minutes.

Meanwhile, melt half of the butter in a milk pan and add the chopped samphire.  I’d already rinsed the samphire a couple of times in cold water before chopping it to make sure that there wasn’t any sand in it.  Cook the samphire for a few minutes before squeezing the juice of half the lemon into the pan.  Next, stir in the double cream and add some pepper.  Taste it.  Samphire can be very salty, so you may not need to add any salt.  I added a little salt because the cream was too bland at this point.  If you need more lemon, add that too.  A little at a time is best.  Taste it after each addition.  You can’t take it out once it is in, but you can always add more (I can hear my mum talking there).

Keep the heat gentle and stir the cream until you’re happy with the taste.  Add the other half of the butter to the sauce and stir it until completely melted.  You can add more butter if you like, but your arteries may not thank you.

The creamy sauce is actually quite light and doesn’t overpower the flavour of the basa.  I served the fish with some samphire lightly fried in butter for two or three minutes.  Yesterday, I read a post over at kidandkitchen about samphire and egg which was great.  I think I might pair it with egg next time.  What do you think?  Have you tried samphire before?

A creamy, comforting, cuddle in a bowl.

Has anything good ever come along and then remained unchanged?  I very much doubt it.  All things change, it’s the nature of our universe.  Besides, people always want to have things their way.  Folk have their tastes and preferences.  Pizza is perhaps the worlds’ most popular take away food and comes in so many different forms.  It has changed a great deal since it was first created.  In fact, many of those “pizzas” offend Italians who often have very clear perceptions of what constitutes a genuine pizza.  Gino D’Acampo finds it all a bit perplexing in Buonissimo!  He encourages readers to make a Margherita and add some ingredients to make it more exciting “as long as it’s not pineapple – what is that all about?”

I’ve touched upon this subject before when sharing a recipe for paella.  One has to be very careful about recipe titles because when it comes to food with heritage, it is very easy to incur the wrath of proud and passionate people.  This is no bad thing.  It does mean that food bloggers need to write sensitively about regional food and be clear about what something is, or in many cases, isn’t.

Pasta Carbonara.  It’s a dish that I actively avoid at restaurants.  I’ve eaten gloopy, eggy, garlicky, salty heaps of the stuff and rarely felt like doing anything afterwards except perhaps having my arteries cleaned.  In its simplest form, Carbonara should be silky and smooth and made with little more than egg yolks and a few simple ingredients.  My own version of this dish includes double cream, which for many, will instantly relegate the recipe to the rubbish restaurant examples mentioned earlier.  However, there are no gimmicks in this dish, only good ingredients and simple cooking methods.  My version is by no means traditional or definitive, but neither is it an attempt to insult or distort the original.  I’m not too worried though, since Pasta Carbonara is a 20th Century recipe and less likely to fire up any genuine anger from would-be pasta experts.  In any case, what passes for Carbonara  in my house, is a creamy, comforting, cuddle of pasta and dairy decadence.  It never fails to satisfy.

Creamy, comforting Carbonara

200g dried pasta (I used spaghetti)

200g bacon lardons

75ml double cream

2 eggs

50g parmesan cheese (grated)

2 tblspoons fresh Greek oregano (finely chopped)

50g butter

sea salt


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I boiled up the pasta as per the packet instructions and then heated a large amount of butter in a separate pan to fry the bacon in.  When the butter had melted, I added the bacon lardons and the oregano.  I fried them until just brown and poured in the cream.  I then took the pan off the heat and stirred everything.  I then ground quite a lot of pepper into the sauce and tipped all of the cheese in before giving it another good stir.

In went the cooked and drained pasta, but I didn’t add any of the pasta water as chefs often make a point of recommending these days.  I tossed the pasta in the sauce before adding the eggs and stirring continuously until everything was silky and ready to devour.  The real beauty of a good Carbonara is the glossy coat that the eggs give to it.  If you make the mistake of adding the eggs while the sauce is cooking, or indeed while the sauce and pasta are still on the heat, you’ll end up scrambling the eggs and getting the same texture as egg fried rice.  It’s really important that the pan is off the heat and also that your eggs are pretty fresh.

All that’s left is to enjoy it with a grating of some more cheese and a good glass of white wine.  Now that’s what I call comfort food!