Food: Getting Inventive with Veg ft. Roots Collective

One thing I’m definitely guility of is seeing vegetables as an after thought. Don’t get me wrong, we eat a decent amount (more often than not I get my 5-a-day in) but they are a side dish. An ‘essential’ mainly put there to get the good stuff and vitamins in. I can’t honestly say I always enjoy eating them!

 photo Roots Collective_zps5d2ribmy.jpgHowever when we moved in together, W and me set ourselves the challenge of being a bit more inventive with veggies. We eat vegetarian dinners once or twice a week, we try new things (hence my new loves for beetroot and butternut squash!). Recently though I’ve taken it one step further. Roots Collective challenged me to add even more veg into my diet whilst getting creative with their blends.

Now, let’s just get this off my chest. I didn’t think these worked as a juice. Too herby, too bitty (I have no issue with orange-bits in my OJ, but green stuck in my teeth was not attractive!). What I did love, however, was using them as an ingredient.

 photo Roots Collective Blends 4_zps5pasahbk.jpg photo Roots Collective Blends 3_zpsqgrrd1ns.jpgThe beetroot juice (which was surprisingly the most palatable to drink) ended up being my absolute favourite out of the bunch. Whizzed up with chickpeas or butter beans, some garlic and a spot of seasoning, it made an extremely yummy and vibrant dip. It was such a gorgeous colour that really brightened up my lunchbox (and my study notes – as it turns out my Monday morning brain isn’t great at closing lunchboxes properly…). Excellent with carrot sticks, ever better with homemade pitta. I kind-of ignored Roots Collective’s recipe, instead leaving out the oil and replacing the tahini with a spot of peanut butter (don’t judge!).

Yep, note to self: post recipe for homemade pitta bread soon. Trust me when I say you’ll never look at shop bought ones in the same way again!

 photo Roots Collective Blends 1_zpszl3joift.jpg photo Roots Collective Blends 2_zpsbjtutyzt.jpgThe cucumber-y one was another fave, partnering really well with salad. I did a couple of different types. A Mexican bean salad (black beans and onions sauteed wih chipotle paste, served with lots of lettuce, coriander, cheese and a few cheeky tortilla chips) – yummy, and the juice added the freshness I would usually get from soured cream. It also went really well as a dressing for couscous. Served with my homemade falafel this was the perfect lunchbox for a few days!

 photo Roots Collective Blends 15_zps40fy2qei.jpg photo Roots Collective Blends 9_zpsnnfub2wq.jpgThe others I made into soup. Sure, they still need veg adding, but it was a super quick way to add extra flavour without faffing around. Just add the chopped veg to a small amount of water, simmer until soft, drain, add the juice and blend. My current thrifty tip is to make soup out of a broccoli stalk – it’s something that would otherwise get thrown away, but it’s perfectly edible and just makes good soup. Add some blue cheese and you’ve got a happy girl over here!

So, what are Roots Collective Blends? To be brutally honest, I’m still not quite sure! Not a juice. Not a smoothie. The entire bit of veg ends up in the bottle, cold-pressed without any added fruit juice to lock in all the vitamins. They can be drunk straight from the bottle (personally I don’t recommend it!), or eaten us with a spoon (I reckon they are too thin for this – but maybe I’m just a messy eater!). I think they come into their own when used as a sauce or a soup. Oh, and I’m definitely trying this risotto recipe sometime soon!

What’s your favourite veggie dish?

Recipe: How to Make the Perfect Crisp Sandwich

Yep, I’ve gone completely mad. I’m writing a whole post on how to make a crisp sandwich. Officially insane.

Let me justify myself for a minute.

 photo Crisp Sandwich_zpsqlg5x3fo.jpgWay back in October I suddenly had a craving for a crisp sandwich (because carbs + carbs = happy Chloe). Yet every one I had was slightly disappointing. It genuinely took several attempts to make THE PERFECT crisp sandwich. And that is what I’m presenting to you here.

Soft, plastic-y white bread. Good flavoured, good quality crisps. A small amount of moisture. A bit of extra seasoning. A towel on your lap to catch the crumbs (there is no lady-like way to eat a crisp sandwich).

This is another study-day favourite, though one for where I’m either being really productive (and so don’t want to cook, or have left it too late and h-anger has set it). Or where I’m doing nothing and need to prevent myself baking up a storm. It’s filling, satisfying, a good combo of textures. It feels like a treat, yet takes (if you’re really slow) five minutes to make. Perfect.

 photo Crisp Sandwiches 4_zps9w8tlq4r.jpg photo Crisp Sandwiches 9_zpsqjn2rxyy.jpg(oh, the cake in the photos it’s my S’mores Brownie. So bad but so good!)

Ingredients

  • 2 slices of ‘plastic’ white bread. None of your fancy sourdough stuff. I favour Warburton’s Toastie here (no collaboration at all!)
  • 1 packet of crisps. Salt & Vinegar is my ultimate in a sandwich, though I do like the occasional Smoky Bacon. And it’s got to be Walkers. I’m a Leicester gal after all!
  • 1/2 teaspoon (if that – only a small amount) of mayonnaise (and mustard if using Smoky Bacon!)
  • Salt & Pepper

Empty half of your crisps into a bowl, and roughly crush. Spread one slide of bread very thinly with the mayo and mustard (if using). Don’t use butter. I find the crisp-butter combo too greasy. Top with the crushed crisps. Add a few whole crisps for good measure. Top with the second slice of bread (this will be dry – no spread!).

Serve with the rest of the crisps to add in as necessary, or crunch on separately. Devour. Crunch. Get a bit crumby. Enjoy.

 photo Crisp Sandwiches 7_zpsqnbcokdr.jpg photo Crisp Sandwiches 5_zpst54wadm5.jpgI find the Salt’n’Vinegar version works well with a cup of tea. And if you want to make that combination even better? Add a couple of grilled fish fingers. Seriously. Fish finger and salt’n’vinegar crisp sandwiches are my ultimate sandwich. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.

Are you a crisp sandwich fan?

Recipe: Pitta Pizzas

A super-easy recipe post from me today, in fact it’s so easy I wouldn’t call it a recipe really.

 photo Quick Pitta Pizzas_zpsllixmtme.jpgWhat it is, however, is my current favourite speedy lunch. Spending one day a week at home studying (I favour Wednesdays, because two two-day weeks is far better than a five-day working week in my opinion!) means I need a few go-to lunches. Something which fills me up, satisfies me (because nothing causes more procrastination that the biscuit tin!), and at the moment warms me up. Our flat isn’t particular warm to just sit around in.

I do love salads. I really do. But study days make me crave comforting carbs. And so I give you…the Pitta Pizza. Carby, cheese goodness with portion control. Having on of these alongside a green salad keeps me away from the biscuits and full up until dinner time – and yet it won’t completely ruin my diet. It’s a great way to use up odds and ends in the fridge, just choose whatever toppings you have lying around…

 photo Quick Pitta Pizzas 7_zpsuduxotnd.jpg photo Quick Pitta Pizzas 6_zpsbchwqfur.jpgIngredients

  • 1 white pitta
  • ‘Saucey’ topping – i.e. pesto, caramelised onions, leftover bolognaise (try it, soooo good!)
  • Veggie toppings – thinly sliced courgette is my fav
  • Cheese – anything from mozzarella to goat’s cheese

Simply layer up your toppings on your pitta (I keep a stash of pitta breads in the freezer and assemble from frozen), then pop under the grill for a few minutes – until warm, crisp and the cheese is bubbling. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then slice up and enjoy with a salad.

 photo Quick Pitta Pizzas 4_zpssnbnggew.jpgLike I said, not really deserving of the word ‘recipe’ – but so delicious all the same!

What are you favourite pizza toppings?

Recipe: Chocolate, Orange & Ginger Cookies

One of my favourite festive treats (who am I kidding, I love everything festive as long as it doesn’t contain dried fruit!) is a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. The combo of zingy orange and creamy chocolate is one I’ve loved for as long as I can remember, and these cookies captured that AND took it up a notch. Adding ginger and a touch of cinnamon gave a warmth and kick to each bite that really brought these cookies to another level.

 photo Chocolate Orange Ginger Cookies_zpsqeg8azcp.jpgThis recipe came about way back at the beginning of December, when I attended an event put on by the Co-Op and Sorted Food to address the Cooking Gap. The ‘gap is basically young people showing a massive lack of cooking and food skills. Having lived in halls for a year of my university life, I totally get this – one of my housemates bought a BBQ chicken pizza from Asda, left on the kitchen side for a week, popped it in the fridge for another week, then cooked it. Didn’t smell great! I know I didn’t get much cooking skills from school (though they did teach me how to make a white sauce, so eternally grateful there!), and I didn’t do a whole lot of cooking with my mum either. For a completely self-taught 23 year old I would say my cooking skills are pretty good, but I know so many people who just don’t cook. At all. Fingers crossed the guys at Sorted manage to change that!

 photo 2016-12-06 19.27.23_zps7alwpdtd.jpg photo 2016-12-06 19.26.39_zpsblmovsag.jpg photo 2016-12-06 19.25.49_zpssocdhfwc.jpg photo 2016-12-06 19.23.48_zpsnwyiofpt.jpg photo 2016-12-06 19.09.05_zps3vpebhtj.jpg photo 2016-12-06 19.07.50_zpsovidos5h.jpg photo 2016-12-06 19.01.35_zpstdfukjww.jpgIt was a pretty fab event too. I was super-jealous of their kitchen, got a little too tipsy with Tanya and had a delicious white pizza made for me, then drizzled with honey. Bit of an odd combo, but it totally worked!

Now to the cookies. Soft in the middle, crisp at the edges, sweet, spicy, filling and a good chocolatey hit. Pretty much the perfect cookie…

 photo Chocolate Orange Ginger Cookies24_zpsdooclw9s.jpg photo Chocolate Orange Ginger Cookies23_zpszebjbask.jpg photo Chocolate Orange Ginger Cookies22_zpsml0ot5ok.jpgIngredients

  • 50g candied ginger
  • 50g dark chocolate chips
  • 1 orange (zested, plus half of the juice)
  • 60g butter
  • 90ml sunflower oil
  • 180g soft brown sugar
  • 50g honey
  • 1 egg
  • 0.5tsp baking powder
  • 0.5tsp ground cinnamon
  • 0.5tsp ground ginger
  • 120g plain flour
  • 240g porridge oats

 

Place a clean large mixing bowl on a set of scales and reset the scales to zero using the tare function.

Add the butter, oil, sugar, orange juice and honey to a bowl, then crack in the egg and beat together until light and creamy. Add the vanilla, baking powder, and ground spices to the mixture; beat evenly to combine. Add the flour and the oats, stir, then add in your candied ginger, chocolate and orange zest. Mix everything together well.

Spoon blobs of about a tablespoon of the mixture onto baking trays (line with greasepoof). Roll into a ball and flatten slightly, but leave plenty of space between them as I found they did spread slightly. I also found the mix realllyyyyy sticky, so keeping my fingers damp helped here! Bake for 12-15 minutes at 175C until they are golden around the edges, cool for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

 photo Chocolate Orange Ginger Cookies25_zpsbxo1wmj1.jpgI’m not ashamed (well, maybe a little) to admit that I ate them for breakfast. Though they are perfect with an afternoon cuppa too. Or a post-dinner snack. Or just because…

What’s your favourite type of cookie? Do you think the cooking gap is important to address?

Recipe: Beetroot & Goat’s Cheese Salad

Ah, beetroot. My new favourite thing. I know I probably say that an awful lot when it comes to food, but I do think this is my absolute favourite. For now at least. I love the vibrant colour, the earthy yet slightly sweet taste, and how it goes so well with some of my most lovely ingredients. Pair it with black pudding, mix it up with goat’s cheese, use as a pizza topping, even whip it up into a brownie. Oh, and it makes the best ‘tomato’ sauce substitute I’ve tried, but more on that another day…

 photo Beetroot Black Pudding Salad 4_zpsh4lfhiuw.jpgThe only bad thing? Ringing your mum in a panic one weekend, thinking you have a serious medical issue. Then realising you’ve eaten beetroot six days out of seven…

This salad has become a bit of a go-to when we’re planning meals. It’s pretty quick, nice and light, but still filling. I’m finding it’s the perfect February balance between healthy and comforting.

 photo Beetroot Black Pudding Salad 3_zpsl2wknelb.jpg photo Beetroot Black Pudding Salad 1_zps6hgnzjpo.jpgIngredients (for 1)

  • 2 beetroot, either fresh or vac-packed
  • 50g goat’s cheese (or less if you want to be healthier)
  • 2 handfuls of salad leaves
  • Dressing (makes several servings) – 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon djion mustard
  • Optional – black pudding, green lentils, nuts (hazelnuts and walnuts work well)

If using fresh beetroot, wash, peel and chop into 2cm cubes. Drizzle with a teeny bit of oil, season with salt and pepper and roast for 45 minutes. If using vac-packed, chop, season (you may not need oil) and roast for 20-25 minutes. Mix together the dressing in a small jar; taste and adjust if you like. Cube the goats cheese.

Toss the roasted beetroot with the salad leaves, drizzle over a little dressing and scatter over the goat’s cheese and nuts. If you want to eat it cold, let the beetroot cool before adding it to the leaves (no one wants a wilted salad!). To add black pudding to the mix, simply cube and fry until crisp, and toss together with the beetroot. Green lentils are lovely warmed up with some of the dressing stirred through, and taste even better the next day. Basically, it’s a pretty versatile salad!

 photo Beetroot Black Pudding Salad 2_zpsxvm17aqr.jpgThis has fast become a favourite meal of ours, it’s so quick to make after work, doesn’t break the bank (you can often get 4 beets in a vac-pack for around 50p) and is just so tasty. I know beetroot is a bit of a ‘ew’ vegetable, so if you’re not sure about it, I’d recommend trying a different recipe first – I’ve got a great one scheduled for in a few weeks!

Are you a fan of beetroot? What’s your favourite salad recipe?

Recipe: Baked Cinnamon Doughnuts

This is a recipe I really, really wish I hadn’t discovered. This is not the way I wanted to start recipes posts of 2017.

 photo Baked Cinnamon Doughnuts_zpslmuhqtrz.jpgI wanted to start with a good fresh salad, or a zingy stir-fry. Something colourful, healthy, crisp, full of nutrients. Instead I’m posting about dougnuts. Which I absolutely insist must be dunked into Nutella. I’m sorry.

Don’t get me wrong, these are delicious. But my greedy tummy does not need to know that I can whip up doughnuts in just half an hour, with storecupboard ingredients. It makes Friday-night Movie-nights all the more gluttonous. And all the more yummy. That said, these are oven-baked. No frying. No oil. That’s got to count for something, right?!

Soft and moist, spiced with warmth from cinnamon, I like these dipped into a melted pot of Nutella. There’s just something so magical about the combination of chocolate, hazelnut and cinnamon; I could eat them all day.

 photo Baked Cinnamon Doughnuts 7_zpseecdwzej.jpg photo Baked Cinnamon Doughnuts 15_zpsr20jyy93.jpgIngredients

  • 225g plain flour
  • 200g sugar (I like to use a combination of caster and light brown sugar in these)
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 300ml milk
  • 25g butter, melted

Mix together the flour, sugars, baking powder, and cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, and melted butter. Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until combined – but be careful not to overmix! Spoon or pipe the batter into dounght pans (I used silicone ones – if you have regular ones then grease them lightly first), filling each one a little more than three-quarters full.

Bake for 10 minutes at 180C, or until firm to the touch and light golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then carefully remove from the pan – I found my first batch tore quite a bit due to not letting them cool enough, so be patient!

 photo Baked Cinnamon Doughnuts 11_zpsziiiud0z.jpgIf you want to be ultra-indulgent (and let’s face it, if you’re making brownies you might as well go hard or go home…), I recommend covering in a cinnamon-spiked sugar. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in an 8-inch saute pan. Combine 150g sugar and plenty of cinnamon in a small bowl. Dip each doughnut first in the butter and then in the cinnamon sugar. Dip into Nutella. Eat. Done.

Have you ever made doughnuts? What have you been eating recently?

Recipe: Ultimate Cheese Toastie

I know. I know exactly what you’re thinking.

You don’t need a recipe for a cheese toastie. You just make a cheese sandwich, butter the outside and fry. And you’d be right. And it’d be nice. Just nice. Fine. It’d do, it would fill a hole, it would go well with a bowl of soup.

cheese-toastieThis isn’t a cheese toastie you’d want to dip in your soup. This is the ultimate in cheese toasties. The cheese toastie that I wasn’t going to blog about, but it was so damn bloody good that I couldn’t resist. This is the kind of cheese toastie I was still talking about a good week later. The cheese toastie that makes you wonder why you ever ate a plain one in the first place.

First of all there’s the fact that it’s perfectly, perfectly cooked. A perfectly cooked toastie is golden and crisp, with molten gooey cheese that spills out. After far too many burnt toasties, toasties with rubbery cheese, toasties that were pale and flabby – I turned to Jamie. I slowed the process down. Even just doing this method with basic cheese isn’t a quick five minute snack. You have to cook the first side slowly on a low heat until crisp. Then flip and do the same to the other. Then pop in the oven. It’s worth the wait.

 photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 8_zpsahdwsuwl.jpg photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 5_zpsysupz1ml.jpgThen there’s the flavours. It’s packed with cheese. Sliced mature cheddar makes up the bulk, a grating of parmesan adds sharpness. There’s a whack of heat from the mustard. A creaminess from mayonnaise – which spread thinly is my must-have in any cheese toastie. It just adds that extra level of flavour, texture and richness that nothing else can. Then the best bit. My quick onion chutney. It’s my new favourite thing. (I have a lot of new favourites right now!) It’s sweet and sharp, soft in texture and ridiculously easy to make. It’s gorgeous stirred into pasta with goat’s cheese. Great with pate. And wonderful in a cheese toastie. The quantities here make enough for two toasties – but it keeps well in the fridge for a week or so, and I imagine you could pile it into sterilised jars too. Maybe. I’m not quite domesticated enough for that.

Now, a quick word about the cheese. The cheddar needs to be strong, it needs to be mature. It needs to be sliced (grated melts too quickly, then goes greasy). My favourite at the moment is the Wyke Farm one in the green packaging. So strong, quickly crumbly and just yum.

So my ultimate cheese toastie? Good bread (I only regret the plastic sandwich slide in these pictures!). Mayo. Mustard. Duo of cheeses. Lots of the cheese. A good helping of onion chutney. Fry gently. Bake. Serve.

 photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 3_zpsvo7x4hox.jpgIngredients

  • 2 slices of good bread
  • Mature cheddar, sliced – enough slices to cover a slice of bread
  • A small handful of grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • Plenty of butter
  • Onion chutney – knob of butter, 1 red onion,  1 garlic clove, pinch of thyme, salt, pepper 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp honey

Start by making the chutney – at least an hour in advance. Thinly slice the onion. Peel the garlic clove and cut in half. Pop both into a small pan with the butter, thyme, salt and pepper. Pop the lid on a sweat over a low heat for at least twenty minutes – you want the onions completely soft. Dig out and discard the garlic clove. Add the balsamic and honey, increase the temperature and bubble away for 5 or so minutes – until reduced and sticky. Make sure to stir and keep an eye out for burning!

Now it’s time to build your sandwich. Spread one side of bread with around half the mayo, then top with all the mustard. Lay over the slices of cheese, then spoon over the chutney. Sprinkle with parmesan. Spread the remaining mayonnaise over the over slice of bread and sandwich together (mayo on the inside). Butter the top outside of the sandwich and pop into a pan, butter-side down. Place over a low-medium heat for around five minutes.

Spread the top slice with more butter and, when the bottom is golden and crisp, flip over. Cook for around 3 minutes, then pop into the oven at 180C for around five minutes. Your toastie will be crisp, golden and oozing with cheesy goodness!

 photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 12_zpspid8zyjp.jpgIt’s a messy one, to the point I often use a knife and fork. But I can guarantee it’ll be one of the best toasties you’ll have ever eaten. It’s becoming a study day habit…

Are you a cheese fan? What would be in your ultimate cheese toastie?

Recipe: Butternut Squash & Goat’s Cheese Risotto

I love risotto. The carbines of the rice, the creaminess of the whole dish, the cheesiness. The fact you can eat with a fork, bowl in hand, snuggled on the sofa. A bowl of risotto is my ultimate comfort food and my go-to meal if I’ve had a bad day.

And it so happens that the one bad thing about living with W is that I can’t indulge my passion for mushroom risotto. I’ve loved all things mushroom since my early teens and despite trying, nothing will convince my fiance to eat them. Rather than give up my risotto love-affair, we’ve come to the agreement that I can try numerous other recipes on him. This is the second and was the one I was most nervous about – the last time I tried butternut squash (four years ago) I hated it. I’ve pretty much avoided it, apart from in spicier soups, ever since. Now it’s my new obsession.

This butternut squash risotto is slightly different from my usual recipes in that some of the squash is blended down, which adds an extra creaminess and cuts down the need (though not my desire!) for excessive cheese. The goat’s cheese stirred through adds a savoury tang which in my opinion is completely necessary against the sweetness of the squash. The celery adds a bit of bite. The roasted squash adds texture and a different layer of flavour. And of course, it’s scattered with parmesan for that salty kick.

This meal was only made better than I timed it to perfection. It was just ready for dolloping into bowls when W walked through the flat doors AND Bake Off was just starting. Doesn’t get much better than that! It does take a little bit longer than my standard risottos, just under an hour, but that’s because of the faff that comes with prepping a squash. It’s completely worth it and standing there stirring (with wine) counts as therapy, right?!

 photo Butternut Squash and Goats Cheese Risotto 2_zpsrqaoviiv.jpgIngredients (for 2)

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • olive oil
  • 750ml stock (we usually use chicken as I have a minor reaction to most vegetable stock cudes)
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 1 onion
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 3 dried bay leaf
  • 150g risotto rice
  • 2 tsp soft goat’s cheese
  • parmesan to serve

Peel the squash and separate the rounded send from the slender top. Chop the slender end into 2cm cubes, toss in a little oil, season lightly and roast in the oven with two cloves of garlic (peeled and halved) at 200C, stirring occasionally, until golden brown on the outside and soft in the centre. I found this took around the same length as the risotto did to cook. Cut the fatter end in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Again, chop the flesh into 2cm pieces and pop into a small pan with the stock and bay leaves. Poach on a gentle heat whilst the risotto cooks.

Finely chop the onion and celery, then fry gently in the butter until soft. Add the garlic and risotto rice and increase the heat slightly – stir constantly for around two minutes before adding a ladle of stock from the pan (try not to add any of the squash). Keep stirring until the stock is absorbed, add another ladle and repeat until the rice is almost cooked; around twenty minutes.

Discard the bay leaves and transfer the poached squash into a blender. Process until smooth, then add to the risotto along with the goats cheese. Stir to combine, season with plenty of black epper, cover and leave to rest for 4-5 minutes. Divide into bowls, scatter with the roasted squash pieces and finish with a lot of little parmesan.

 photo Butternut Squash and Goats Cheese Risotto 3_zpsi7fal0li.jpgThis was the perfect warming dinner for a cold Autumnal night – which really took us by surprise here in London in early October! All of a sudden the balmy summer evenings were gone, I needed a scarf to walk home in, and I just made it to the flat in the light. I do love Autumn, but I also miss the lighter evenings. Still, not too long to Christmas now… #24sleepstilSanta! We also found this recipe great for using up a super-cheap pumpkin following halloween. At 30p I couldn’t resist!

What’s your ultimate cosy-night-in comfort food? Also, how on earth do I get someone to eat mushrooms?!

Recipe: My Ultimate Homemade Pizza Base

I love me a pizza. Franco Manca is becoming a date-night favourite when I meet W from his studio, and having The Dynamo a whopping 3 minute walk away is down-right dangerous. The good news? I’ve finally perfected my perfect at-home pizza base. Not only does it taste great, it’s super easy to make, fitting in around our schedule and making homemade pizza all too easy on a work night.

 photo Pizza Dough_zpswwofx8v6.jpgIt does “take a while” but in all honesty there’s hardly any hands-on work. The vast majority of the time involves bunging it in the fridge and forgetting about it – the actual prep you could do in the morning or (if you’re more sleep-inclined) the night before. If you want to me majorly organised then you could even go as far as part-cooking the bases in advance and freezing. Now that’s given me the idea of holding a pizza party…

The slow-rise is essential for creating an almost sourdough-flavoured base. It’s puffed up, slightly crisp on the base, and soft and chewy. This is not your takeaway American-style base, it’s not ‘deep-pan’ and it’s not ‘thin and crispy.’ It’s proper, pillowy, Italian homemade pizza. Maybe not ovely authentic, but it tastes good and fits in with my lifestyle. Basically, it’s a big thumbs up from me. Here I’ve showcased two toppings. One is my Spicy Lamb, perfect for leftover Sunday roast meat. The second is a fresher take on my Black Pudding & Goat’s cheese, using less meat, more cheese and a little courgette to lighten things up. Leaving the black-pudding off and going courgette+cheese (+fresh basil if I have any) is also super good. And my go-to comfort food pizza option? Red pepper pesto and chorizo slices is always a winner!

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 6g salt
  • 3g dried yeast
  • 200ml water (warm, but not too hot)

 photo Ultimate Homemade Pizza Dough 2_zpstz8qclr6.jpgPut the flour, salt and yeast into a large bowl, and then pour in 150ml of warm water. Stir the wateruntil a rough ball forms, then bring it together with your hands. The dough will be sticky, and you will get messy and annoyed with it. Sorry!

Knead the dough. I like to alternate between normal kneading and stretching it in the air, over and over again. You should end up with a smooth, not-so-sticky dough after around 10 minutes. Once you get to this (or even before if you feel like your arms are about to fall off, or you need to run and get to work on time) place the into a clean and well-floured bowl, cover the bowl with clingfilm and throw in the fridge.

After around 10 hours (i.e. when you get in from work), the dough should have doubled in size. Gently press all the air out of the dough using your hands, adding in a little flour if it’s still super-sticky. Split into two, and on a floured work surface press out a section of the dough into a rough circle. I tend to do this by hand rather than use a rolling pin (mainly to save on the washing up) – again I tend to do it up in the air, letting the weight of the dough stretch it out. Lay the dough on a floured surface and then begin to work on the second piece. After this, the first will have had chance to rest, you can stretch it again – you want super-thin sections, but also a thicker ‘crust’ around the edge. Repeat with the second piece.

Heat up a large, dry non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, and then carefully lay in one pizza base at a time. Cook the bases for 2-3 minute per side. Each side of the base should be a pale biege colour, with a few dark brown spots – I cook at a slightly lower temperature for longer just to get the base a little crispier, but if you prefer a stronger “wood-fired” flavour and texture then cook for less over a high heat. Repeat for the other base.

Add on any toppings, and then cook the pizzas for 5-7 minutes in an oven at 220 degrees. I’ve discovered that 1tbsp of creme fraiche mixed with black pepper and a small amount of parmesan makes for a divine topping, but for these black-pudding pizzas I simply spread with goat’s cheese to form a ‘sauce.’ You definitely don’t want the toppings to outshine the base here!

 photo Ultimate Homemade Pizza Dough 1_zpsaecak4qz.jpgAnd that’s is, perfect homemade pizza for two. Multiply up the quantities for more, freeze half of the dough (either shaped and part-cooked or just as it is) or one. And if you’re holding a pizza party? Part-cook, stack with greaseproof and keep in an air-tight container until the evening – then serve with a vast array of toppings. I’m thinking different pestos, meats, veg, maybe even the mac’n’cheese pizza topping I came across recently…

What’s your favourite pizza topping? Are you a fan of homemade pizza?

Recipe: Chocolate & Whisky Macarons

I have to admit, when I was sixteen and a guy was trying to impress me by telling me he could bake, I was skeptical. Just sounds a little like a cheesy chat-up line, right?! Clearly he was keeper right there and then (his cookie recipe remains our favourite to this day!), because six years on he made these.

 photo Macarons_zpsximvjnww.png photo Chocolate and Whisky Macarons 4_zpsf6nrcbkr.jpgChocolate macarons. Filled with a boozy, rich, chocolatey ganache.

I know – I’m a lucky girl! These macarons are crisp on the outside, delightfully chewy on the inside – the perfect macaron. But, in my opinion at least, it’s the ganache that steals the show. Impossibly rich and chocolatey, with a real kick coming from the whisky. We’re big whisky-lovers but if you’re worried about enjoying it then feel free to cut down to just one teaspoon. Oh, and these amounts made a shit-load of ganache too – way more than you’ll need for filling the macarons. I highly suggest chilling the mix and then rolling into truffles. You can thank me later…

 photo Chocolate and Whisky Macarons 2_zpsegmjhcln.jpgIngredients (makes around 25 macarons, and plenty of ganache!)

  • 170g icing sugar
  • 160g ground almonds
  • 120ml egg whites from about 4 medium eggs, separated into 2 equal batches
  • 160g granulated sugar
  • 1/2tsp raw cacao powder (1tsp if using normal cocoa powder)
  • For the ganache: 225g dark chocolate, 140ml double cream, 2 tbsp butter, 2 tsp whisky

Mix the icing sugar, cacao powder and ground almonds together, then sieve into a large bowl, discarding any particles that stay in the sieve. Add the first batch of egg whites to the almond mixture, mix to form a thick paste and set aside.

Tip the second half of egg whites into the bowl of your KitchenAid (or a large, clean bowl with an electric mixer set up nearby). Place 50ml water and the granulated sugar into a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cook until the syrup registers 110C on a sugar thermometer, then start to beat the egg whites on high speed. Once the syrup is at 118C pour it gradually into the whites, avoiding the moving whisk. Whisk on high until the mixture has cooled slightly and you have a shiny meringue mixture (soft peaks are good here). Tip the meringue onto the almond mixture and gently fold together until fully combined.

 photo Chocolate and Whisky Macarons 1_zpsgwnolysl.jpgHeat oven to 170C and line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment. Transfer the batter to a piping bag and pipe rounds (around a 50p size) onto the prepared baking sheets. Leave to rest for 30 mins (not in the fridge) – they should develop a film or skin on top. Bake for 13-15 mins, then cool for a few minutes before gently peeling the macaroons off the paper.

To make the filling, heat cream until warm (not boiling) and then add finely chopped chocolate, stirring until melted and combined. Add in the butter and whiskey and stir until combined, then let cool until thicken. Place the chocolate mix into a clean piping bag with a smaller nozzle and pipe around the edge of half the macarons. Fill the centre with more ganache and sandwich with another macaron half.

 photo Chocolate and Whisky Macarons 3_zpsekg8jkwb.jpgChocolate and whisky might seem like an odd combination, but it’s one I think really works perfectly. A slightly smoky whisky against a bitter-sweet but creamy desert is one of my ideas of perfection and these macarons take it to the next level. They are even better after a few days, when the moisture from the ganache softens the macaron a bit more, making them a little denser, a little brownie like. And they are so small, it would b a crime to have less than three at once…

What’s your favourite chocolate-y recipe?