How do I make…sourdough?

Ah, sourdough…the bread du jour! Crusty god of every artisan bakery…where do I start?

Well, with a starter. That’s the bummer, really. You need a starter to get started and that takes time…

To create a starter:

250g bread flour
250 ml tepid water
7 seedless grapes (many people use other things — google!)

To make:

Slice grapes and mix with the flour and the water.

Put in an airtight tub or jar for 3 days (room temp) and then get rid of half the mixture. ‘Feed’ the remainder with 100g bread flour and 100ml water. Mix well.

Leave for another 24hrs, and it should be bubbling and ready to use. If it’s not bubbling, give it another ‘feed’ and leave it for a couple of days.

If you plan to make bread every week, you will need  to discard half and feed every couple of days, keeping it at room temperature.

If you plan to make bread once a month, you can keep it in the fridge, but let it come to room temperature before you use it.

I confess — I had as much success with my first starter as I did with my gluten-free rolls (which featured in the first ever Bake Off Extra Slice series as an utter failure!). However, the second attempt was a corker!




To make sourdough bread

You will need:

750g bread flour
500g sourdough starter
15g salt
350-450ml tepid water

Now, I’m a lazy so-and-so and use a kitchenaid for kneading. Feel free to go acoustic!

Put the flour, starter and salt into the bowl, fix on your dough hook and set on no.1 (lowest) setting. Slowly add as much water as you need for it to form a soft dough and so have picked up all the flour. Leave ‘kneading’ for about 4/5 minutes until dough forms a smooth skin. (You may need to place the timings by ear a little…).

Pop the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and allow to rise for about 5 hours. I should have said that at the start. When I first made sourdough I started about 7pm and then realised it was going to be a loooong night.

Hopefully, your dough will have doubled in size. Put the dough on a floured surface and fold inwards to knock out the air — be gentle with it though! Divide into two, and shape each piece in to a smooth ball. Now, I invested in some banetton baskets, because I wanted it to look all posh and swirly, but you can just put them on a floured board. If you do have baskets, be sure to heavily flour them (again — my first attempt led to the dough stuck fast to the basket. Erk.) If no baskets, do dust your balls with flour. Snigger.

Cover with a plastic bag (a bin bag works well) and leave somewhere nice and warm for 10-13 hours. Yep, 10-13 hours — not a typo! It should look doubled up and not wrinkly. Wrinkly is not good.

Finally, heat your oven to 200C, line two baking trays with parchment and turn upside down on to trays. Bake for 30-40 mins until the loaf is brown and sounds hollow when you tap the base. Cool on a wire rack.

Hamilton Squash

I went out for lunch the other day and had a very delicious stuffed butternut squash, which reminded me of a similar dish eaten many years ago courtesy of Jamie Oliver. It was so long ago, Jamie was pre-Sainsbury’s, pre-kids, pre-school lunch crusading and pre-paella controversy. Love him or hate, he does keep himself busy.

Anyway, I decided to dig out said recipe and cook it for a friend who was coming over for supper. She’s watching the calories too, so I thought this was a pretty healthy, but filling meal. We won’t mention the accompanying wine which, as we all know, is calorie-free on Friday nights.

It can be served on its own (I’m working on how to present it elegantly…will keep you posted) or as a side dish if you have more friends than me. Think of it as a risotto in its own serving case. I’m sure some fancy London restaurant wouldn’t bother with crockery and serve it as is, or on a piece of bark or something. I’m sticking to bowls and a smile.

Hamilton Squash


A smallish handful of dried porcini mushrooms
1 butternut squash, halved lengthways and seeds removed
Olive oil
1 red onion
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon pummelled coriander seeds
A pinch or two of dried chilli flakes
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped
5 sun-dried tomatoes
Salt and pepper
100g basmati rice
1/2 a handful of lightly toasted pinenuts

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 220ºC (200º for fan oven, but they do vary)

Soak the porcini for about 8 minutes in half a mug of freshly boiled water.

Using the sturdiest small spoon you can find (I actually use an ice-cream scoop — a proper one, not one with the half-sphere on it), score and scoop out some of the flesh the squash, leaving two hollowed-out halves.

fullsizerender-4Hamilton Squash







Because I’m too lazy to ‘finely chop’ the onion, I put the scooped flesh, the onion, garlic, rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes, the coriander seeds and the chilli flakes into a blender and blitz them, before frying them for about 4 minutes with a decent drizzle of garlic oil (plain olive oil will do, of course).

When they are softened, add the porcini with their soaking water and also the rice. Cook for a further 5 minutes before adding salt and pepper to taste.

Rub the skin of the squash with a little olive oil and place the halves on a large piece of foil. Stir the pine nuts through the mixture and then pack it tightly into the 2 halves of the squash. Press them together, like a big sandwich.

Wrap it in foil and bake in the preheated oven for about 1hr and 15 minutes.

As usual, I completely forgot to take a photo of the finished dish because I was too busy scoffing it. It’s not pretty, but it is very tasty.


Scotch Eggs

Scotch eggs have always been a favourite in our family.


There is something very satisfying about making your own.
And mine are baked, not fried so they are a filling and guilt-free lunch or snack.


And what’s even more fabulous is that, because I use sausages (not sausage-meat),  you can make them more interesting by changing the sausages to your taste!

Ingredients (makes 4):

  • 4 eggs (size doesn’t matter)
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • About 75g breadcrumbs. Any sort, but I prefer panko.
  • A small bunch of thyme (use the leaves, not the stalks)
  • A large handful of plain flour.
  • A pinch of mustard powder
  • 6 full-sized, good-quality sausages. None of your chipolatas here.
  • Oil (spray-oil is ideal)

To Make:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC (180° fan).
  2. Lay some foil on a baking tray and rub it over/spray with oil.
  3. Put the 4 eggs in a pan and cover in cold water. Pop the lid on and bring to the boil. When boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. This gives hard-boiled yolks – if you prefer them runnier, just reduce the cooking time.
  4. While the eggs are boiling, prepare 3 bowls: one with the flour and mustard powder, one with the whisked egg and one with the breadcrumbs and thyme.
  5. When the boiling eggs are done, drain and run cold water over the eggs to stop them cooking. Take the shells off and set them aside.
  6. I use disposable gloves to do this bit, but it’s up to you! Put a large rectangle of clingfilm on the work surface (about the size of a baking tray). Squash 1½ sausages into a ball and then flatten into a disc about 15cm diameter. Roll one of the eggs in the flour mix and then place in the middle of the sausage-meat.  Gather up the clingfilm so the sausagemeat wraps around the egg and twist the top so it’s like a ball. Undo and the egg will mostly be wrapped in the meat. Coax the edges of the meat over to fill the join.
  7. Repeat with the 3 other eggs.
  8. Dip each ball into the whisked egg and cover well. Then roll on the thyme-breadcrumbs, making sure the ball is covered.
  9. Pop onto the prepared tray, drizzle or spray with oil and bake for 25/30 minutes.
  10. Enjoy – as they are or with some tomato chutney.



Tomato and Coconut Cassoulet

anna jones a modern way to eatRecently, I was sent some recipes from a new vegetarian cookery book that is going to be published this week. It is called ‘A Modern Way to Eat’ by Anna Jones. Anna trained with Jamie Oliver at Fifteen and has an impressive CV. Her book sounds right up my street as it has lots of healthy, tasty vegetarian recipes that are easy and quick to make. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, I think more and more people are eating veggie once or twice a week for health and cost reasons and there is always the quandary of what to cook for the veggie guest who comes to dinner. For this reason alone, and the thought of not having to have pasta/risotto/peppers again, I am thoroughly excited to see what the rest of the recipes are and might gently direct my friends and local bistro pubs to its contents. To whet your appetite, some of the recipes in the book are popcorn tacos, pistachio, mint and courgette polpette, cherry poppy seed waffles, full of greens fritters, double chocolate cloud cake and banana, toffee and coconut cream pie.

Anyway, the recipe I chose to cook, from the ones I was sent, was Tomato and Coconut Cassoulet. I have recently returned from a visit to France and so the cassoulet caught my eye and my taste buds!


The recipe was not fussy – not too many ingredients and not a lot a cooking skill required (phew!). However, I did manage to mess up the beans on first attempt. Regular readers will know that whilst I love cooking, it doesn’t always love me.  First of all Waitrose didn’t have any tinned haricot beans *tuts* so I had to buy dried beans. Which you need to soak overnight. They are basically baked beans without any sauce and NOT haricot verts as my husband thought…

Ah, first attempt, thwarted.

Having soaked said beans; the next evening I started again and managed to let the beans boil dry (much to the mirth of my children). I now have one very blackened Le Crueset pan and no credibility with the kids…

Second attempt, thwarted.

Third time lucky, more bean-soaking and three days later I was finally to task! (note: this is all my fault. And Waitrose. Grr) It really was a very simple dish to cook and, for the diet-driven amongst you, easy on the calories. It involves tomatoes, beans, some veggies, coconut milk and sourdough bread which is cooked within the dish and absolutely divine for it. Really tasty as a meal and great for a Saturday supper with friends. It serves six easily and looks great on the table to be served up. It also is baked for half an hour in the oven which means you don’t have to be tied to the kitchen, cooking, while all your friends are quaffing wine and chatting.


My husband and I had it for supper and then I popped in some more sourdough and basil and reheated for Saturday lunch where we absolutely did not polish the entire lot off in one go.*

To make Anna’s Tomato Cassoulet:

You will need:
1 leek, washed and roughly sliced
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1cm thick piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
400g tin of tomatoes
4 tablespoons of coconut milk
400g jarred/tin haricot beans, drained. (or DIY from dried beans like I did)
500g vine or cherry tomatoes, halved
Bunch of fresh basil
4 slices of sourdough bread (I prefer a grained one but white is good too)

To make:

Preheat oven to 180°C

Heat an ovenproof wide pan on medium heat and add a glug of olive oil. Put in the leek, garlic, chilli and ginger with a pinch of salt then turn the heat right down and cook for 10 minutes (checking that nothing is burning!), until the leeks are soft. Add the tinned tomatoes, milk and beans and simmer for a couple of minutes then remove from the heat.

Scatter over the fresh tomatoes, then the basil and next tear up the bread and push chunks of it in between the tomatoes. Drizzle the whole lot with olive oil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes – the tomatoes should have shrunk and the bread crisp and golden. Serve with green salad.


*We did.


Black Forest Cupcakes


Yup, it’s back to the 70s!

My nan used to buy a frozen Black Forest Gateau once a month. It would be taken from the freezer in the morning and all day my sister and I would watch it slowly defrost until finally, ’round about tea-time, it was thawed and ready for greedy consumption.

These days, with my *heightened* taste buds, I am sure I would shudder at the thought, but the memory of that much longed for pudding has stayed with me.  And so, with this in mind, I decided to concoct a Black Forest Cupcake.







Using my stalwart chocolate cake recipe, I set off for Sainsbury’s in search of cherry jam and chocolate adornments to make them look desirable even if they don’t match in the taste department.

But they did match up. Maybe it’s just my 70s nostalgia, but they were yummy!

So, I can tell I have lured you closer…here’s how to make them.


200g plain flour
200g caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
40g good quality cocoa powder
175g softened, unsalted butter
2 large free range eggs (yes, it matters!)
2 tsps vanilla extract
150ml soured cream

Bung it all in together and whisk the life out of it until it is light brown and fluffy.

Set out 15 cupcake cases and put an ice-cream scoop full of mixture into each. Bake at 180ºC (160 fan) for about 15 mins.

When cool use an apple corer to take the middle out of each cake. pop a scant teaspoon of cherry jam (I use conserve) into each and plug with the top from the corer.

Pipe an elegant splurge of chocolate buttercream icing onto each cake (although vanilla would work just as well). Adorn with a chocolate marvel (I opted for Dr Oetker’s Chocolate Stars). If you want to cheat, use Betty Crocker’s Icing tubs. Nobody need ever know…

And do you know what?  They are really nice.

1978 nice.




How do I make Bread Rolls?

Despite carbs being my nemesis, I am a bread lover through and through. I recall as child wanting my ‘last meal’ to be bread and water. I know. These days it would be bread and wine. How very Eucharistic of me.

Anyway, I was making some homemade beefburgers the other day and thought why not go whole hog and make the buns as well? Now, I like a crusty roll rather than what is termed a ‘bap’ (I still snigger, can’t help myself). So I turned to the bread guru Sir Paul of Hollywood and made some of his rolls. I altered the salt content slightly (don’t tell him!) but they were really good. With burgers, with soup or just on their own slathered with butter and marmite.

Bread rolls Paul Hollywood

You will need:

500g bread flour
8g salt
10g fast action yeast
20g unsalted butter
320ml tepid water

Put the flour, salt and yeast in a mixer bowl (take care to separate yeast and salt). Add the butter and 240ml of the water and mix slowly using the dough hook. Trickle in the remaining water and continue mixing for 5 minutes.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for about 2 hours.

Turn out the dough on to a floured surface and knead lightly until all the air is knocked out.

Divide the dough into about 12 lumps and shape each piece into a ball. I do this by sort of turning the dough inside out and shaping my hand around the outside. This probably makes no sense, but as long as it is a smooth ball you’ll be ok.

Pop the rolls onto a lined baking tray and cover with a large plastic bag for about an hour until they have proved again.

Heat the oven to 220C (200 fan) and pop a roasting tray in the bottom.

When proved, fill the roasting tray with hot water and pop the rolls in the oven. The steam from the tray gives them a nice crust.

Bake for about 15 mins until they are golden on top. Tap the bottoms and if they sound hollow, they’re done.

Leave to cool and enjoy. I can never manage this and have one hot with butter melting all over it…

How do I make…..Cheese Sauce?

I used to have a fear of cheese sauce. Not in a running out of the room at the sight if it or even an allergy way, but because I had always thought it meant creating a roux. I hate to think how many times I have ruined a roux, or roux-ined one in fact! (boom boom)

Then Delia came to my rescue and gave me a ‘bung it all in’ sauce which works brilliantly. I think you’ll find ‘bung it all in’ is a culinary term accepted worldwide…

And it doesn’t really matter what cheese you use…it can be fridge leftovers or ‘specially bought. For ease, I am using fridge staples, Cheddar and Parmesan.

This recipe makes about a pint but you can easily freeze what you don’t use. I use it for fish pie, cauliflower cheese, pasta….you name it.

You will need:

1 pint (570ml)milk
40g plain flour
40g butter
1/2 tsp mustard powder (optional)
50g grated Cheddar
25g grated Parmesan

Place all the ingredients except the cheeses into a medium-sized saucepan and place over a gentle heat. Stir continuously with a balloon whisk until the sauce becomes thick and glossy(altogether this takes about 10 mins). Add the cheeses and whisk some more, adding a good grind of salt and pepper to taste.

Et,voila! Easy, huh? Come on, if I can do it…

My cheese sauce, dribbled over cauliflower, topped with a little more grated cheese and ready for the oven
My cheese sauce, dribbled over cauliflower, topped with a little more grated cheese and ready for the oven