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.

 

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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!

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.

In search of sandwich heaven.

Is there a food more versatile than the mighty sandwich?  It can be all things to all people and after years of being a favourite snack for those on the move, it is still being used as a testing ground for flavours and textures.

If the quiche has been blighted by mass production, then the sandwich has often fallen foul of plain apathy.  We take the sandwich for granted.  We don’t always take the time to prepare sandwiches with quality bread or quality ingredients, but by golly, it is so worth the effort when we do!

Cafes and even supermarkets have certainly picked up on the demand for inventive flavour combinations and well-sourced ingredients.  Nowadays, England is no longer full of train stations with wilting tomato sandwiches on rubbery white bread.  Ingredients are hand-picked, sun-blushed, vine-ripened, oak-smoked, oven-roasted, lightly salted, gently aged and freshly prepared for the discerning consumer.  Add to that a description on the packaging that would be quite at home in a H.E Bates novel and you’ve got a fairly accurate snapshot of the English attitude towards food right now.  People want basic food with a touch of luxury.  Simplicity coupled with quality and effort.

With our little boy napping and a natural lull in the rhythm of the day, I realised that it was way past lunchtime and we were due some sustenance.  I knew that I wanted a sandwich and seeing some fresh baby spinach in the fridge, I recalled a tuna melt that I used to buy from the same place that got me hooked on smoothies.  Their tuna melt was made with mozzarella, baby spinach and some red onion.  I decided I could easily top that with just a few of the ingredients at hand.

I wouldn’t make this sandwich too often because it takes time and care, but with the rain coming down in grey sheets and nothing else to pique my interest, I was more than happy to devote a little time to constructing this delightful treat.  The flavours are full without being overpowering and the textures are a joy.  The tuna melt is not a new invention and in the past I’ve gone for the bigger is better approach.  However, this toasted sandwich is going straight into the top 5 of a sandwich chart that I haven’t compiled, but probably exists somewhere in my food subconscious.  It’s nothing short of awesome, so simple that it’s hardly a recipe and definitely worth your time.

My perfect tuna melt (This will make two generously proportioned sandwiches)

4 slices wholemeal bread

1 tin tuna in sunflower oil

1 onion (sliced into rings)

2 handfuls fresh baby spinach

6 tblspoons grated Red Leicester

6 tblspoons grated mature Cheddar

3 tblspoons grated Grana Padano

3 tblspoons mayonnaise

1 tblspoon dried oregano

2 tspoons Dijon mustard 

half tspoon Cayenne pepper

butter

black pepper

I began by finely grating the cheese and tossing it all together with the oregano and plenty of black pepper.

Next, I drained the tuna and mixed it in a small bowl with the mayonnaise and Cayenne pepper.  Meanwhile, I gently fried the onion rings in a little olive oil until brown and almost crispy and set them aside.

I spread a slice of bread with Dijon mustard and lay the baby spinach on top in a thin layer.  Using a fork, I spread a very generous amount of tuna mayo onto the spinach and topped it with the fried onions.

Now the sandwich was ready to receive a pile of the finely grated cheese mix.  I pressed the pile of grated cheese onto the sandwich with the palm of my hand to keep it all from crumbling and then did the same with the final slice of bread.  I gave it a quick buttering on the outside before laying it onto a hot griddle.

A couple of minutes on each side and the melt was ready to dive into!

What’s your perfect sandwich?

God save the quiche.

Too many people say that they don’t like quiche.  In my experience, quiche gets a rough press and often deservedly so.  The problem is that there’s an abundance of bad quiche out there.  Who’d want to bring children into a world where so many crusts are soggy, fillings are meagre and texture is akin to a fritatta left out in the rain?

Join the fight then, to bring taste and texture back to the long-besmirched picnic regular.  Champion the cause of quality quiche!

For my own part, I’m focusing on three key areas that will ensure a quiche that anyone would be eager to polish off in one sitting: A dry and crumbly base, a firm, yet creamy filling and as much flavour as you can pack into every bite.

I too have been left saddened after tasting another soggy shop-bought cheese and onion quiche.  My memories of the worst buffets include a quiche covered in soggy tomatoes and a bendy base.  I’ve eaten more watery quiche Lorraine than I’d care to mention and always with the feeling that someone had picked all of the bacon out of my slice just before I got to it.  No, quiche is at the very bottom of many a food list.  Something has to be done.

The recipe I’m posting today is a favourite of mine.  I first made it about four years ago after deciding that I wanted a quiche that would sate my hunger for a really cheesy flavour and the freshness of chives.  I didn’t want a mere hint of cheese, I wanted an unmistakable celebration of it.  With that in mind, I present to you, my first (but certainly not the last) volley in the battle for great quiche!

Chutney? Don't mind if I do.

Dimitri’s double cheese & onion quiche

500g shortcrust pastry

260ml double cream

150g Red Leicester cheese (finely grated)

100g mature Cheddar cheese (finely grated)

5 spring onions (sliced)

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

1 bunch chives (finely chopped)

1 tspoon black pepper

1 tspoon sea salt

Grating the cheese finely ensures plenty of cheese in every bite.

I use frozen pastry, but feel free to make your own.  I begin by rolling it out on a floured surface until it is just less than a centimetre thick.  I place it in a nine-inch sandwich tin (which I normally use for cakes) lined with baking paper.  You can use a quiche dish or anything similar as long as it is at least an inch deep.

If you don’t have baking beans, pour in dried pasta or any type of dried bean so that they cover the base.  Bake the pastry in the oven at 180C for about fifteen minutes on the middle shelf.  Remove the beans and return the pastry to the oven until the base is golden.  This will ensure that you avoid soggy pastry.

In the meantime, beat the eggs, yolks and double cream together in a large bowl.  Add plenty of salt (so that you don’t end up with a bland quiche) and black pepper.  Next, add the spring onions and chives and finally the cheese.  Mix it all well so that the thick mixture has an even distribution of cheese, onions and chives.  You can use other types of cheese that you like.  I chose mature Cheddar for sharp flavour and the Red Leicester for colour and a mellow aftertaste.

If your pastry was overlapping, now is the time to trim it with a sharp knife.  Pour the filling into the pastry and cook in the oven for about forty-five minutes.  The middle needs to be set, so test it with a skewer after forty minutes.  If it comes out clean, the quiche is set.  Cover the quiche with tin foil if it begins to burn on top.

Let the quiche cool slightly before tucking in.  This will help it to set nicely.

You can serve the quiche hot or cold.  Either way, you’ll convert a lot of quiche naysayers.  I guarantee it.

You ain’t from around here, are ya, boy?

In Texas, people have been shot for serving nachos incorrectly.  Okay, that’s not true.  Sorry.  Closer to the truth, is the fact that those in the know will not pile a plate high with tortilla chips and a mountain of melted cheese and call themselves a Texan.  A cursory glance around the world of online nacho appreciation will reveal that discerning nacho lovers prefer their chips to be dressed and served individually.

This came as something of a revelation to me.  Granted, I’m a Greek-born, British citizen, raised on a combination of shepherds pie and olives (though not together), so there’s no reason that I would have any expertise in the nacho department.  That sounded odd, but stick with me.  I have always been ignorant in my cheese-melting bliss and have spent hours chomping through plates full of cheese-coated tortilla chips.  To my credit, I always spread the chips in a thin layer so as to coat each one with cheese, but still, there wasn’t a great deal of care involved.

With enough pulled pork in my fridge to feed my extended family, I knew it was time to try something fun with it.  I’ve seen other bloggers dress their nachos with cheese and a jalapeno and I’ve seen some pulled pork with cheese and barbecue sauce too.  As usual, I stacked the nachos my way.

I chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) and sprinkled it onto each chip.  Next came the pulled pork followed by gorgeous Cheddar cheese and topped with a slice of jalapeno.  Straight into the oven until the cheese had melted and then straight into my belly!  They were very satisfying.  The sweet smokiness of the pork, the freshness of the coriander, the comfort of the cheese, and the crunch and spice of the jalapeno and the tortilla chip.  I have been converted.  It took a little bit of love and care, but it was so worth it.  Is it authentic?  I don’t know.  If you’re reading this and you’re from Texas, please don’t shoot me…