Category Archives: Hungry Hankers

The Cheese Shed

It’s not that I forget birthdays. More that I remember them at the last-minute and, more often than not, procrastinate when it comes to posting the gift. So I do a lot of gift buying online and my latest online gift saviour is The Cheese Shed who specialise in West Country cheese.

My husband and I honeymooned in that part of England and we ate a lot of local cheese while we were there, some of which is among the best cheese I have ever tasted, so I had high hopes for these cheesy gifts. I was not disappointed.

The Cheese Shed offer 16 different gift boxes to choose from starting at £25, with names such as Nothin’ But The Blues and Some Like It Raw. The Big Softy below is making me dribble on my keyboard…

The Cheese Shed - The Big Softy

If you want to spend a bit more you can upgrade to one of the four hampers, a cheese subscription or gift vouchers. You receive an email when your gift is delivered, which I think is a nice touch to stop any worries.

If you haven’t got a sweet tooth or don’t like cake (what? It could be possible!) then look at the beautiful cakes of cheese that The Cheese Shed create. They are wedding cakes but would be stunning at any party, and are better value than most wedding cakes at £67 for one that feeds 20-25 people.

The Cheese Shed - Tyneham Wedding Cheese CakeIf you have specific cheese tastes or like trying out different combinations you can have a go at creating your own cheese cake masterpiece using the interactive cakebuilder. I warn you though – I have just spent almost an hour building different cake variations.

Would you prefer cheese, chocolates or flowers in the post?

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Sweet & Salty Lamb

I was hankering after a bit of comfort food and after playing around in the kitchen, I came up with this lamb dish. Lamb is my favourite meat and I think it tastes really good with the sweetness of the sweet potato and peppers cooked in coconut oil that contrasts with the salty feta and peppery spinach.

Lamb & sweet potato dish

To make enough for 2-3 people you’ll need:

  • 6 lamb chops
  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 peppers, diced
  • 2 tsps coconut oil
  • knob of butter
  • lemon juice
  • half a pack of feta cheese
  • half a bag of baby spinach

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Put the coconut oil and butter in a baking tray and in the oven to melt, when it is hot carefully add the sweet potatoes and peppers and stir to coat the vegetables.

In a separate baking tray put the lamb, season and add a squeeze of lemon. Cook both baking trays for 30-40 minutes, until everything is cooked and the  lamb fat is starting to crisp.

Put the raw baby spinach on plates, add the vegetable mixture and crumble the feta on top and serve with the lamb and a decent grind of black pepper.

If you cook it, let me know what you think!

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Gourmet Gin & Tonic Popcorn

Before I gave up sugar at the end of last year, Santa left in my stocking this gin and tonic flavour popcorn by Joe and Seph’s Gourmet Popcorn.

Joe and Seph's Gin & Tonic PopcornI can usually take or leave popcorn but, oh my word. This stuff is amazing. Seriously, if you like a nice G&T, you will love this. They taste of smooth, sweet caramel and right when you’re thinking that they don’t taste of G&T at all, the juniper & quinine tang hits you. And then you want more.

Joe & Seph have created some amazing sounding flavours. Madras curry with black onion seed and lime? Cheese on toast? Irish Cheddar & Paprika? Caramel, Mirin, Soya & Sesame? Oh, how to choose!

Joe and Seph's Cheddar and smoked paprika Popcorn

There are some good gift packs and you can brand your own packets if you buy in bulk, they’d make excellent wedding favours.

Prices start from £4 and there are discounts for buying six, as if we needed an excuse to buy more…

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Tinned Fear

I’m not a big Halloween fan, I’m normally hiding with the lights off pretending I’m not home when Trick or Treaters come knocking. This year I bought a few oozing eyes from Poundland but I’m hoping no-one comes so I can eat them all myself.

I might be tempted to host a children’s Halloween party if I could give tinned fear away instead of party bags though.

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies - Range of Childrens' Tinned Fear

The tins contain sweets and children’s’ stories by bestselling authors.

There is tinned fear scary enough for adults too. I love the names especially ‘A Vague Sense Of Unease’…

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies - Range of Tinned Fear

Both versions are £35 for a set of five or £8 each from Hoxton Street Monster Supplies.

I also love the Salt Made From Tears range.

Happy Halloween!

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Chapatis With a Vintage Touch

My mother-in-law is staying with us at the moment, there’ll be no mother-in-law jokes on here though as she’s lovely. She also makes a mean curry and amazing chapatis. I’m going to see if she’ll share her recipe with me, firstly because I love eating chapatis and secondly, so I can use one of these vintage chapati boards to roll them out on.

Rockett St George - Vintage Chapati Boards

Aren’t they beautiful? Especially the more decorative one, second from the top. The dents and grooves add to their charm and I bet they feel all lovely and warm and smooth. You can get one from Rockett St. George from £25.

If I succeed in getting  my hands on the recipe I’ll post it here next week and if I don’t, I may get one of these boards anyway and use it as a pot stand.

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Aubergine & Mozzarella Lasagne

For the last couple of weeks I’ve kept a food diary and it has been quite the eye-opener. Faced with my diet on paper, I can see patterns in my eating habits and how all those little ‘treats’ are in fact ‘regulars’. There are several improvements to be made and one of them is to reduce the amount of red meat I eat.

Lasagne is a favourite in our house, I’d usually make it with lamb or beef mince but I remembered back to a time when I ate much less meat and pulled this recipe out of my memory banks instead. I can’t remember if a friend gave it to me or whether I saw it in a magazine but it was at least ten years ago that I first made it. The dense aubergine and the chewy mozzarella add a nice texture that I think can be missing from a vegetable lasagne.

Aubergine & Mozzarella Lasagne

For the lasagne:

  • Garlic infused olive oil (basil infused would also work, or plain if you prefer)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 large or two small aubergines (mine weighed about 280g), cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • Fresh basil leaves, chopped (about 2tbsps)
  • 2 balls of mozzarella, sliced
  • lasagne sheets

For the topping:

  • knob of butter
  • plain flour
  • milk
  • grated cheese

Heat the oil in a pan and add the diced onion and crushed garlic. After five minutes or so add the aubergine and stir to coat in the oil. When the aubergine has turned golden add the chopped tomatoes and stir together. If I had any to hand I would have added a splash of red wine at this point. When it has reduced down a little, season and add the chopped basil leaves then turn the heat right down while you make the white sauce.

I make a white sauce by heating a large knob of butter in a saucepan, when it has melted I add a tablespoon of plain flour and stir until it has been absorbed, I repeat this until the butter and flour mixture looks like sand. Then I add a splash of milk and stir continuously until it is smooth and repeat until it is the consistency of a sauce. Season with salt and pepper and if you’re a perfectionist use white pepper so you don’t get black pepper speckles in your sauce. I think the trick to a lump-free white sauce is stirring and patience, I always get a little thrill when there are no lumps.

Put a layer of tomato and aubergine filling in a large rectangular or square dish, add a layer of mozzarella, a layer of white sauce, then a layer of pasta. Repeat. Top your last layer of pasta with white sauce and grated cheese. If you prefer a less rich dish, omit the layers of white sauce in the lasagne and just have it on top.

Put in an oven preheated to 180 degrees celsius (gas mark 4/350 degrees fahrenheit) for half an hour or so, until the pasta is cooked through and the cheese is golden on top.


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Preserved Lemons

I’ve meant to write this post for a while but now the sun is departing for however long, I thought the sunny Moroccan flavours from these preserved lemons would at least keep the sun in our mouths, if not on our faces.

Ingredients for preserved lemons

To make preserved lemons you will need:

  • A sterilised mason jar* and enough unwaxed lemons to fill it to bursting point. (I used a large mason jar and 9 lemons)
  • Enough sea salt to pack each lemon and liberally layer between the lemons in the jar (I used a 500g packet and had some left over)
  • Spices of your choice (I used cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks & white peppercorns but you could also consider coriander seeds, chilli or star anise)
  • Enough lemon juice to completely submerge the lemons (I used another 6 lemons)

Partially quarter lemons & pack with saltFirst wash your lemons, then top and tail them to remove the stalky bits.

Cut them into quarters leaving a couple of centimetres uncut so they are still joined at the bottom. Then pack the lemons with sea salt.

As you cut and pack the lemons, place them in your jar and squash them down a bit to release the juice. Layer the lemons with the spices and more salt.

When you can’t fit any more lemons in the jar top up with lemon juice until the lemons are completely submerged.

Preserved lemons

Turn the jar every few days and after about a month they will be ready to use. They should store for about 6 months, I keep them in the fridge to be on the safe side once opened.

Preserved lemons are so versatile. You could tart up a roast chicken by putting a couple in the cavity before you put it in the oven. Cook up some chicken thighs with green olives and preserved lemons. Make a marinade that goes beautifully with chicken or fish from rose harissa, olive oil and preserved lemons. Create a zesty sauce from chopped green olives, preserved lemon rind and fresh parsley. Or experiment by using preserved lemons in place of a fresh lemon in your cooking.

Give them a wash before use though and remember that just a little will impart quite a strong flavour. Some people recommend just using the rind and discarding the salty flesh but I think it depends how you’re using them.

How do you use yours?

* To sterilise jars, first wash well and let them dry in a preheated oven at 140c/Gas Mk 1/275F for about 10 minutes. Remember not to put anything cold in them until cooled or they may break. Nigella says in her Christmas book that getting them straight out of a hot dishwasher is as good as sterilised too.

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A Mouthful of a Cake Exhibition

At the weekend my friend Cristina and I went along to the Squires Kitchen ’26th Annual Cake Decorating, Chocolate and Sugarcraft Exhibition’ in Farnham. Cristina is a wonderful baker and she was looking to expand her cake decorating tool kit and I tagged along happy to look at the cakes with the motivating factor that there would probably be free cake.

There was a whole hall exhibiting cakes of all shapes and sizes including suitcase cakes, ring pillow cakes, birdcage cakes, lace cakes and any other shaped cake you’d care to imagine. It was awe-inspiring to see what can be done with a little patience and a lot of skill. There was also lots to buy; books, magazines, cake tools, moulds, cutters and a huge variety of paste, paints and glitters.

After my initial disappointment that there wasn’t any free cake, I perked up when I saw there were free workshops run by some big names of the cake world. As it was a sell-out exhibition it was very difficult to get into any of the workshops. We couldn’t get into Debbie Brown‘s mini class, but we did manage to have a chat with her afterwards and she gave us an overview of how to make these gorgeous sugarcraft babies out of Rice Krispie cakes and she made what looks very difficult, sound surprisingly easy. Her book Baby Cakes has some amazing recipes for any baby-related events you may have coming up.

Debbie Brown Cakes: Baby Cakes

Unfortunately we didn’t get into Carlos Lischetti or Alan Dunn’s workshops either as they were too full. However, for the last workshop of the day we arrived super early, queued for 45 minutes and managed to get ourselves a great view in Peggy Porschen‘s mini class ‘Boutique Baking – Raspberry & Rose Dome Cake’.

Peggy made a beautiful dome cake by lining a dome mould with joconde sponge and filling with layers of fresh raspberries and German buttercream (a custard based buttercream). She then talked us through icing the finished cake and showed how to make sugar flowers and decorate the cake to perfection.The mini class was 45 minutes long but was very detailed and I was impressed with how much she covered. I was also impressed that we all got to taste the cake at the end which was utterly divine and convinced me to buy her new book. Alas, they had sold out so I will have to wait for the general release of Boutique Baking on 24th May.

Boutique Baking by Peggy Porschen

For those of you who are serious cake makers, Peggy is running a full length workshop on how to make the same cake later in May. It’s pricey at £385 but you get the book included and you will learn some fantastic skills. Or choose from a whole raft of other courses at her Academy.

For those of you who are serious eaters (I fit into this category) and would like to try some of Peggy’s cakes, then pop along to her Parlour in Belgravia.

Until tickets go on sale for the ’27th Annual Cake Decorating, Chocolate and Sugarcraft Exhibition’ in 2013, have a look at Squires Kitchen’s huge array of goodies and tools to help turn your cakes into works of art.

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Fancy Cheese in Toast

At Christmas one of the courses I made for my extended family was brie wrapped in brioche from a Good Food recipe. I made two of them between 12 of us and although they tasted delicious they were massive and so rich that between us we didn’t finish either of them. We spent three days after Christmas finishing them off and by that time we were all thoroughly sick of the sight of them.

Nearly three months later I found myself hankering after one but put off at the quantity I decided to have a go at making individual portions.

I used the same quantities for the dough from the original Good Food recipe but instead of a large brie I used four small brie rounds. I also found that two eggs for glazing was far too much so reduced it down to one. As I don’t eat pork I also left the prosciutto out but if you do, wrap the brie rounds in prosciutto before you wrap them in the dough.

  • 375g strong white bread flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
  • 75ml milk
  • 3 large eggs , plus 1 beaten eggs for glazing
  • 185g softened unsalted butter
  • 4 x 80g rounds of brie (or camembert works too)

Mix the first five ingredients together in a mixer with the dough attachment until the dough is smooth.

Add the butter and mix for another 4 minutes or so (make sure the butter is really soft before you add it).

Put the dough in a container covered with clingfilm in the fridge for at least six hours.

A couple of hours before you are ready to cook it remove from fridge and roll it out onto a floured surface so it’s large enough to wrap your brie rounds.

Brioche dough rolled out ready to wrap brie

Cut the dough into sections large enough to wrap each brie and fold the dough round smoothing as you go so it is neat and totally encompasses the brie.

Repeat for each round of brie and place on a baking tray covered in baking parchment. Leave plenty of room between them, as they cook they’ll rise considerably.

(You’ll be pleased to know I resisted the strong urge to add dough ‘nipples’, yes I’m childish).

Brie wrapped in brioche dough

Brush your brioche parcels with the beaten egg and put in the fridge for 30 mins. Repeat.

(I did the above the first time I cooked this recipe and didn’t the second time and I didn’t notice a real difference, so if you’re in a hurry you could save an hour by omitting the chilling stages)

Leave to rise at room temperature for an hour then place in a preheated oven at 220 degrees C/gas mark 6 for 18-20 minutes.

When you take them out they should look something like this.

Brie wrapped in brioche

When you cut into them you free the oozy brie loveliness. My husband aptly described them as fancy cheese in toast.

Oozy brie loveliness

Although my aim was to make individual portions these were still quite large and the dough would probably be enough to make six smaller ones.

I was wondering if it would work with bresaola instead of the prosciutto? I also think adding a couple of sun-dried tomatoes on top of the brie rounds would be really tasty. Or indeed spreading something like onion marmalade on the outside of the brie before wrapping. I think I’m going to have to make some more to try these ideas out…

If you’re looking for a tasty weekend brunch-time treat these would be perfect.

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Hawksmoor at Home

Hawksmoor serve the best steak I have ever tasted in their three restaurants in London – Covent Garden, Spitalfields and Guildhall. I mean it’s melt-in-the-mouth amazing.

We went to the Covent Garden restaurant a few weeks ago as a treat for my husband’s birthday and it was glorious. We started with cocktails in the bar area from their extensive list, it took about 10 minutes to choose as the descriptions were all so wonderful. In the end I went for a Hawksmoor Fizz and my husband was won over by the description of shipwrecked oak barrels that the brandy for his Shipwreck Sour was aged in.

The decor of the basement restaurant is stunning, with dark wood parquet floor, leather chairs and solid tables it is what I imagine a gentleman’s smoking room to be like (but with no smoke). I almost expected to smell sandalwood when I walked in. There’s a beautiful row of mismatched sliding doors that separates off part of the restaurant and had me hankering for our own version at home.

When I booked the table I mentioned we were celebrating a birthday and the staff were so friendly and gave us each a glass of Prosecco and my husband’s pudding on the house. Ordering is slightly different here if you are having steak. You choose from the different cuts available on the day and order and pay by the weight so that everyone at the table eating steak shares the same cut of meat. Be warned, if you start ordering the Chateaubriand it can get expensive quickly, but there’s also an express menu so it is possible to spend much less.

We had a fabulous birthday lunch, the highlight for me (apart from the steak) was the peanut butter shortbread with salted caramel ice-cream. Heaven in each salty, nutty, creamy, caramel mouthful.

This was our second visit to the Hawksmoor but for us it’s the kind of place we’d only go to as a real treat. But now Hawksmoor have put their recipes in a book ‘Hawksmoor at Home’ I can try to recreate the dishes at home.

Hawksmoor At Home

Don’t think it’s just steak in this book, the recipes are so varied and there’s lots of information. The sauces are inspiring, the Stilton Hollandaise recipe is at the top of my list to try. As I’ve mentioned before I’m quite scared of cooking seafood but the guides on preparing seafood in this book are clear and not at all scary looking. The cocktails sound delicious and there is a whole chapter on trifles.

So far I’ve made the Potted Smoked Mackerel which was very fishy but creamy too and had a nice tang of horseradish. The pickled cucumber to go with it is really simple but tasted wonderful and cut through the buttery fish perfectly.

You can order Hawksmoor At Home for £20 and all proceeds go to Action Against Hunger. It says on the website that shipping is ten days but mine was delivered within four days.

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