If I get married again I would like it to be to Phil Dunphy. Seriously, the man is a) handsome b) hilarious and c) Phil Dunphy. I don’t understand why you would need anything else in a man, except perhaps for him not to be a character in a sitcom. Oops.
Anyway, while indulging in my favourite hobby of watching Modern Family re-runs on Netflix a few days ago, Phil starting mentioning the Wedge Salad. And even though I am British and have never even eaten a Wedge Salad I all of a sudden had a massive craving for one.
For the uninitiated, a Wedge Salad is basically a salad made from wedges of iceburg lettuce and cherry tomatoes drizzled in a creamy blue cheese dressing and covered and crispy bacon bits. It’s kind of epic, actually, and if you have never had one you need to get on this salad train, stat. If you use low fat mayo and sour cream you can even pretend to be all saintly, too.
So a couple of weeks ago around Shrove Tuesday, I was perusing Instagram as you do, and I kept getting visually slapped in the face by sweet things. Pancakes, cookies, fudge, MORE PANCAKES. Gawd.
I’ve never been a huge dessert fan but since I’ve stepped into the realm of little scary white pills my appetite had kicked up a notch. And because I’ve also kicked up my exercise a notch (or two, lets be honest) I’m totally embracing it. Because really, hunger is miserable. Yay, puddings!!
The need I’ve discovered to inhale a large packet of Haribo each 48 hours isn’t ideal, but that aside I’ve been sticking to larger portions and the odd sweet treat. I’ve put on 5lbs in weight and am kidding myself that’s muscle, plus I will not go near the scales again for a while.
There’s been one craving that I haven’t been able to shake for a while. And that is the craving for cookies: proper, gooey American cookies. I usually find them a bit too teeth achingly sweet and I have always been a cake person. But yet, but yet. My mouth has been watering for a cookie and a cup of tea. (And a pancake, obvs). Damn you, Instagram!
So Instagram let me to investigating plenty of cookie recipes. When I embarked on this quest I didn’t want to go down the double chocolate rout, I fancied a bit of refinement. And this is what I came up with. Ladies and gentleman, I present you with… Salted Caramel Cookies. Oh yeah.
Less calorific than a bag of Haribo. Maybe.
Sidenote: I’d told Elfie all about the fun we were going to have baking cookies and thought it would be such a great rainy afternoon activity for a 2.5 year old; I even put her in her new Polarn O. Pyret cupcake tshirt. However, I learned you should never underestimate the tantrum a toddler will have when you won’t let her stir boiling hot caramel. But she will get her own back when you find her face-down munching on the bowl of cookie dough.
If you are patient, make the salted caramel the night before and leave in the fridge overnight to harden. Then you can chop into pieces before mixing into your cookie dough. I am not patient so I just chuck mine in as a liquid.
Author: Alice Harold
75g unsalted butter (best quality)
50g light brown sugar
50g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
75 ml double cream
3 tsp sea salt (I use Maldon)
120g salted butter, melted
75g light brown sugar
75g granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
240g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g chocolate chips
Start by making the caramel. Melt together the butter, sugar and syrup and let simmer and bubble at a medium heat for about 3 minutes, stirring all the while.
Add cream and the sea salt and stir again for a couple of minutes. Pour into a shallow tuppaware container and line with greaseproof paper if you’re planning on letting it sit in the fridge overnight.
Now time for the cookie dough! Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Beat together the butter and sugars until just combined. Add the vanilla extract and the egg, and mix well.
Mix together the flour and bicarb of soda, then use a spoon to add to the mixture, stirring until it comes together into a dough. If you are using a wet caramel, add ⅔ of this now now along with a couple of extra tablespoons of flour as it will make it a bit wetter. If you’re using chunks of caramel you don’t need to add any extra flour (the leftover caramel is AMAZING on vanilla ice cream).
Add the chocolate pieces.
Scoop onto a lined baking tray: I use an icecream scoop for this and fill it by ⅔ before depositing on the tray.
Bake for 10-14 minutes. Mine take approximately 12 minutes.
Sprinkle lightly with sea salt if using, and allow to cool on the tray for a couple of minutes, before moving to a wire rack to cool completely – or scoffing immediately.
After my last Stuff On Toast post my mum sent me a text message saying “OMG Alice, I’ve been making scrambled eggs wrong for the last 40 years!” (though she probably didn’t say OMG as she is part of the generation that thinks LOL means Lots Of Love) So I have decided to dedicate this recipe to her, as she originally taught me about the brilliant combination of spinach, mushrooms and an egg.
She uses those ingredients in a lovely gnocchi dish that she makes regularly, but for those days when boiling up gnocchi seems like one step too far I find it just as nice to have this on a good slice of toast. You can even have it without the toast if you’re feeling, like, super healthy or something. But the last time I did that I had to have four hobnobs two hours later, so it’s not recommended.
Start by putting your mushrooms on in a saucepan with the butter, melted. Use a bit less butter if you aren’t feeling as sinful as me.
Boil the water ready for your poached egg. I find the Delia Smith method pretty foolproof (egg in frying pan of simmering water, simmer for one minute, turn heat off, let them sit in water for 10 minutes).
When the mushrooms are nearly done throw in the spinach and pop the toast in the toaster.
Butter toast and serve with mushrooms and spinach on top. Put poached egg on the pile of yumminess… season with a touch of salt.
I might be cheating a bit here with the title of this dish. This recipe has nothing to do with an Italian Mama, but rather it was the very first recipe my own Mum taught me about 12 years ago. I have memories of her cooking this at special occasions for my brother and I, for dinner parties with her friends and she even made it for a faux dinner party I once held for my thirteen year old posse (the dress code was black tie, obviously). It was a staple of my childhood and is a recipe have modified and I come back to time and time again now I’m (barely) a grown-up.
I’m not convinced how authentic this version is. For one, I’m pretty sure the Italians don’t use mature cheddar cheese and I’m sure they use the more traditional combo of carrots and celery. But this is a recipe that I’ve honed over my 12 years of cooking it, from the vegetables and herbs I use to the amount of wine and the time I simmer the ragu. The quantity of cheese sauce has slightly increased over time and I now use less tomatoes. The result is a pasta dish that not only tastes sublime but has layers of flavour thanks to the beef stock, sugar (really!), mushrooms, wine and strong cheese. I would defy anyone not to do a bit of an Italian “MMMMMmmmmmm!” and maybe even that kissy finger pinch thing when they’re eating it.
The quantity below serves 4 hungry grown-ups and is great served with a herby salad and even some (homemade) garlic bread. I often double this otherwise I’m disappointed at the lack of leftovers which taste amazing heated up for lunch the next day. This may be a little more involved and time-consuming than most of my other recipes, but it’s bloody worth it.
In my recipe I’ve used Gourmet Garden basil and garlic, which are a great way to save time when you’re cooking without compromising on taste or flavour. Chopping herbs and garlic are one of my least favourite things to do in the kitchen, so I certainly noticed the difference! I’m entering my lasagne recipe in Gourmet Garden‘s blog off/cook off competition.
I find I get my best results from this recipe when I par-cook my lasagne sheets in boiling water for around three minutes each. I do this in 2 batches of 3 while the ragu sauce is bubbling away and then lay them out flat ready to assemble. Of course you won’t need to do this if you are using fresh pasta sheets .
Author: Alice Harold
Recipe type: Main
3 teaspoons Gourmet Garden garlic
1 white onion
1 pepper (red or orange) chopped into cubes
Half punnet chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
500g lean minced beef
100ml red wine
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato puree
4 teaspoons sugar
Half a beef stock cube
3 teaspoons Gourmet Garden basil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
60g Mature Cheddar Cheese
175ml (approx) whole milk
6 lasagne pasta sheets
Dice the onion and sweat in a large pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic, cooking slowly to ensure it doesn’t burn, about 10 minutes.
Whilst the onion is cooking chop your other veg and add to the pan. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
Add your mince and break up well. Mix in with veg and stir as it cooks.
Once it’s brown all over add the 100ml of red wine and tomato puree and stir well.
Crumble in the half a stock cube and stir again, then add the tin of chopped tomatoes.
Bring the pan to a slight simmer and cook with a lid off, stirring every 5 minutes. Leave to cook for about 40 minutes before moving on to the cheese sauce.
When the ragu is nearing the end of cooking add the sugar and salt and pepper to taste. I usually add a touch more than 4 teaspoons to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes.
Melt your butter in a small saucepan and when it’s slightly bubbling add your flour; stir well and don’t let it burn. Cook for about 30 minutes before adding a splash of milk to cook the pan down.
Add a handful of cheese and stir well to combine, followed by about half the milk. Wait for the cheese to melt then repeat, until you have a sauce about the consistency of cake batter. You might need a little less of the milk- use your judgement – but make sure you have a small sprinkling of cheddar left over for the top of the lasagne.
When this is done it’s time to assemble! If there’s any liquid left on the top of your ragu sauce skim it off and discard.
Place half of the ragu in a large rectangular dish and press down so it’s nice and level.
Add three quarters of the cheese sauce and place three lasagne sheets on top.
Spoon the remaining ragu over the cheese sauce and place the last three sheets on top of this. Add the last of the cheese sauce to the top of the lasagne and sprinkle with cheddar.
Cook in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes, or until the top of the lasagne is golden brown and bubbling. Delicious!
Confession: I have not been to a supermarket since Hux was born. Whilst this is undoubtedly good for the soul it is simultaneously bad for the wallet, as both our villages’s Co-op and Tesco Express are more expensive than the huge supermarket down the road. The farmers market is lovely but it’s so easy to get so carried away with the organicness of it all that I find myself with an excess of kale or purple sprouting broccoli that will never ever get eaten.
Since I’ve been doing two or three little shops a week I’ve really noticed some bad shopping habits, and two items I consistently buy each time I shop – aside from Thomas The Tank Engine yoghurts – are double cream and decent butter (you know, the stuff with crunch crystals of sea salt? YUM). I seem to have gone all French on my cooking skills and am channelling somewhat of an artery-clogging Julia Child. But let’s consider our cholesterol when the weather warms up, shall we? This season seems to be the winter of comfort food and I’m ok with that.
These Creamed Leeks originated when we made a weekend trip to Cheltenham in April. We had the most amazing Sunday roast which came with a side of creamed leeks with truffles. These were so mouthwateringly delicious I grilled the waitress for a vague recipe that I could replicate at home. Ever since this side dish has been a regular accompaniment to our Roast Chicken dinners and I can’t recommend it enough: it really adds that extra lift to a veg that I normally find a bit boring.
If you like the sound of this you should check out this creamy cabbage recipe: try it once and you’ll never look at a cabbage in the same way again.
I use one leek per person but this recipe calls for three as I like a bit of leftovers: I eat them the next day in an epic roast dinner sandwich. If you’ve never had roast potatoes between two slices of bread you really haven’t lived. The drizzle of truffle oil on top is a welcome addition though not necessary as we don’t all have gold-lined pockets.
Recipe type: Side
25g good butter
Slug of truffle oil (optional)
Wash and chop your leeks into half centimetre pieces.
Heat a frying pan on a low-med heat and melt your butter. Add your leeks and stir well to coat.
Cook the leeks for a good 20-25 mins: use your judgement here, I like mine slightly caramelised with a bit of colour so tend to turn the heat up for the last five to ten mins. The important thing is to make sure they’re lovely and soft.
Add the cream and cook for another four mins, until the cream starts to thicken. Add a good pinch of salt to taste and your drizzle of truffle oil.
When Hux was first born I used to cook quite a lot. Now, before you give birth, one of the bits of advice you always read is to make sure you have loads of prepared food in your freezer, ready to turn into easy and delicious meals. I did some of that but also managed to whip up some masterpieces for dinner, so much so I’d get people asking me open-mouthed, “how do you DO it all?”.
I’d feel a bit smug, maybe shrug and say, “you know… You do what you can”, all the while thinking in my head how I was such a supermum. The making babies/cleaning the house/cooking dinner thing, woah what a doddle.
WRONG. The reason I could spend so much time in the kitchen was that Elfie would be out with her grannies and Hux would sleep all day. I basically had nothing better to do than cook or watch Jeremy Kyle, and most of the time food won.
Now Hux is growing up and demanding more of my time (he wants books, rattles waved at him, tummy time, park trips… typical demanding man) I’m finding I’m able to cook less and less. And so I turn to my blog’s namesake dish as we tend to eat a fair few meals, specifically lunch, atop a piece of toast.
One of our favourites (and simplest) of these is the classic scrambled egg on toast. I’ve honed this recipe through years of practice and I’m not ashamed to say that recently I discovered I’d been making it wrong for about 18 years. I used to cook the egg in a microwave, oh the shame! It’s taken a lot of practice but I’ve found the key to scrambled egg success is a low heat, minimal added liquids and a lot of care and attention. It only takes a couple of minutes to cook but can be ruined in literally 10 seconds – you have to watch it like a hawk.
Crack eggs into a bowl or large mug and whisk well. Season with salt and pepper.
Melt butter over a low heat and add eggs.
Stir every thirty seconds or so.
When they are about thirty seconds away from being done – i.e. still quite wet – take off the heat and stir well. As soon as there is no liquid left in the pan tip them out, you don’t want them to continue to cook.
If you would like to have yours a bit wetter, add milk or cream as you remove them from the heat and stir well.