Monthly Archives: February 2015

Artichoke and Black Olive Pizza


Artichokes are one of those vegetables that I have a strange relationship with. Every year when they come into season, I feel irresistibly drawn to buying them, but I have yet to find ‘that’ recipe that really does it for me. I will keep trying though.

That said I just love the bottled artichoke hearts that one can buy, with their subtle creamy taste, and it is these that I have used in this recipe. Artichoke contains a phenolic compound called cynarin, which has the unusual effect of making anything you eat immediately after a mouthful of artichoke, taste sweet. This phenolic compound affects the sweet receptors in your taste buds. Now this could be bad news if you wished to take a sip of wine every now and again. To combat this potentially disastrous situation one needs to pair the artichoke with an ingredient that offsets the sweetening effect.

So I turned to a very useful book called The Flavour Thesaurus, which is a book that lays out all the flavour pairings that one can imagine. From this I decided on lemon for my pizza. I was very pleased with the end result.

First you need to knock up a batch of pizza dough (the recipe is right here), and nothing could be easier. The pizza dough recipe is one that I have used for many years, is straight forward and works every time.

While your dough is proving, make your topping and have each of the ingredients laid on plates ready to use.

Preparation time


2 tablespoons tomato passata or paste

125 gm/ 9 oz mozzarella, drained and sliced to 3 mm/ 1/8 inch thick

200 gm / 7 oz) cooked artichoke hearts, drained, sliced if large or halved if small

1 red or white onion, very finely sliced

dried oregano

50 gm/ 1¾ oz pitted black or green olives

grated zest of ½ lemon

15 gm/ ½ oz grated parmesan




With your ingredients at the ready and your rolled out and risen dough in the pizza tin, apply a thin layer of tomato passata or paste.


Sprinkle with dried oregano, onion slices, artichoke pieces, black olives, parmesan and finally the slices of mozzarella.

A quick grind of salt and pepper and into a pre heated oven set at 220 C/425 F/ Gas 7/Hot for approximately 20 minutes and no more, or until the crust is turning golden brown.

Serve immediately






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Filed under All Year, Main Meal, Vegetables

Pizza Dough


DSCN5768An Italian pizza is a thin crust confection, that follows the mantra ‘less is more’ when it comes to the toppings, and that is because the the wood fired ovens used all over Italy are fiercely hot and cook the pizza in about 5 minutes or so. Too much topping and the crust would be overdone by the time the topping is cooked. I don’t think it is possible to buy a deep pan pizza in Italy, but then why would you?

At our local pizzeria, they don’t use rolling pins to create a disc of dough. Upon receipt of your order they take a ball of dough, from a batch quietly rising, and pull and stretch it over the curved edge of a marble topped work surface, using one hand to turn the ball/disc of dough around and the heel of the other hand to form it, constantly turning a few degrees at a time and forming. Their circles of dough are almost perfectly round and achieved in just 1 or 2 minutes to the correct diameter. Wonderful to watch their dexterity.

I have been using this recipe for making my own pizze (Italian plural of pizza, so no apologies) for about 20 years, and I have never given it much thought until my friend Helen reminded me that I gave her the recipe several years ago and because it is so reliable that I should share it. So here it is. I usually make my dough using a bread machine, so that I can be doing other things while it is working, but the dough is just as good if you kneed it by hand.

The quantities below yield sufficient dough to make 2 pizze of 30 cm/ 12 inches diameter, which is what I usually make for 2 or 3 people.

Preparation time:  between 1 and 2 hours depending on the rising of the dough and the dough cycle of your bread machine


325 gm/11 1/2 oz/ strong white bread flour

225 ml/7 1/2 fluid oz hand hot water

15 gm/ 1/2 oz butter melted

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon dried yeast

a little olive oil for greasing the pizza pans


It is important to be accurate when measuring out the ingredients so that the finished dough is pliable and does not stick to your hand. Having said that if your dough does seem a little sticky just add a little more flour.

If using a bread machine pour the water into the bread pan, then add the melted butter. Sprinkle the flour over the water, and then put the salt and the sugar into opposite corners. Finally sprinkle the yeast over the top of the flour. Put the bread machine onto a dough cycle and wait for it to complete.

Making it by hand, dissolve the sugar in the water and then add the yeast and give it 30 minutes or so, to start bubbling. Then you put the flour into a large mixing bowl, stirring in the salt. Add the melted butter to the yeast mixture and the stir into the flour. Work the mixture together with your hands until it comes together as a ball of dough. Kneed and work the dough for 5 minutes and form into a ball. Cover and allow it to rise for 45 minutes.


Knock back the dough for a few minutes and then divide it into two. Taking each piece of dough in turn, form into a ball, then flattening it with your hand.


Then taking a rolling pin, roll out on a floured surface until it reaches about 30 cm/12 inches in diameter.


Transfer to a greased pizza pan, by winding it onto your rolling pin and unrolling it onto your dish or tin.




Push the dough, with your fingers, into the corners

Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise for 15 minutes.

When putting your desired topping on, remember that ‘less is more’ and then bake in a pre-heated oven set at 220 c/425 F/Gas 7/Hot for 20 minutes or until golden and sizzling.

Serve immediately.


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Filed under ALL Recipes, All Year, Bread, Main Meal

Deep Fried Stuffed Queen Olives


I just love olives. Any sort. I also cure raw olives bought from a local market in the autumn, and that means I can add all the garlic and herbs I want.

This, however is an antipasto or ordeauve that can be put together in about 10 minutes, using the large or queen olives. You can buy them with stuffing, but it would be a matter of a few minutes to stuff them yourself with red or yellow pepper, garlic or anchovy.



5 or 6 queen olives per person

oil for deep frying


egg, beaten



Drain the olives on kitchen paper

Bring the frying oil up to temperature. If using a deep frying machine then set the temperature to 185 C/360 -370 F. If using a normal saucepan then you want to have the oil deep enough to just cover the olives. If you haven’t got an oil thermometer then the oil is hot enough when a small cube of bread browns in about 2 minutes.

Working quickly dip each olive in turn into the flour, then the beaten egg and finally the breadcrumbs, repeating the process so as to double dip each olive.

Put each olive into the hot oil for about 2 minutes, turning the olive over at least once.

Remove, when golden, with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Serve as soon as the last olive is out of the oil. Yummee!


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Filed under All Year, Antipasti, Spicy, Student Food, Student Food

Stir Fried Brussels Sprouts and Apple



I just love Brussels Sprouts. Raw, boiled, steamed, baked, in a stew, cold the next day, whatever and now this way. It is made with a little maple syrup or honey added, and that touch of sweetness gives the sprouts a bit extra on the taste front and help counter any bitterness from the sprouts.

One of the beauties of wok cooking is the speed with which food can be prepared and brought to the table, and the smaller the food is chopped to, the quicker it is cooked, and this recipe is no different. When my son Adam was at high school, he had a Chinese friend, whose parents owned and ran a Chinese takeaway, and on occasions when I went to collect Adam when he had been playing with his friend, I had the opportunity to see the behind the scenes action in the kitchen of the takeaway. An array of woks on impossibly high gas flames and the  two parents stirring and shaking vigorously for all they were worth, and producing a meal in mere minutes. Impressive.

One can of course prepare all the food before cooking, in which case one would have to soak the prepared apple in lemon juice to prevent it from going brown. However by working swiftly it can be prepared while the onion is cooking, saving the cost of said lemon juice. Like wise the sprouts can also be prepared quickly while the onions and apples are cooking.

Serves 4. Preparation Time 15 minutes. Cooking Time 15 minutes (maximum). Total time approximately 20 – 25 minutes


1 large onion, finely sliced.

2 cloves of garlic.

2 tablespoons olive oil.

1  cooking apple or firm crisp eating apple.

1 level tablespoon maple syrup or honey or sugar

370 gm/12 oz/ 3 cups Brussels sprouts, chopped into eighths , or shredded in a processor

100 gm/ 3 1/2 oz/ 1/3 cup pine nuts, any nuts, chopped or flaked, no nuts

salt and pepper to taste


In a wok (preferably), or medium frying pan, gently soften the onion, in a little of the oil, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue for another 2 minutes.

While the onion and garlic are cooking, chop the apple into small bite size pieces.

Add to the onion and garlic, increase the heat and stir fry for 2 or 3 minutes.


Add the maple syrup and stir fry for 1 minute, and then scrape into a bowl and reserve for later.



Add the rest of the oil and then the sprouts. Over quite a high heat stir fry the sprouts up to 5 minutes, depending on how fine they have been chopped, and until they have turned bright green and are beginning to brown on the edges.


Add the onion. garlic and apple mixture, and working quickly, stir fry, warming through the whole mixture. Season to taste.


Add the nuts, stirring through to distribute them equally.

Serve immediately onto hot plates.


Here I have served them with hot home made sauerkraut in a tomato sauce, and plain boiled potatoes.



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Filed under Autumn/Winter, Main Meal, Spring, Student Food, Vegetables

Lentil Loaf


This is a family favourite and also quick to prepare. I have for years been making this without reference to the original recipe, that started it all off for me. I looked again in Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Cookery, as much as anything to see what I am doing differently now. Not too much it would seem. The original recipe called for 3 tablespoons of cream to be stirred into the mix before baking, which I do not do.

Anyway here is my take on it, and I don’t recall too many complaints along the way.

Serves 4. Preparation 10 minutes. Cooking 1 hour


175 gm/6 oz/1 cup  red lentils

350 ml/12 fl oz  water

110 gm/4 oz/ 2/3rds cup cheddar or parmesan, grated, saving a little for the topping

1 medium/large  onion finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 rounded teaspoon mixed dried herbs

1 level teaspoon dried chili flakes

1 large egg beaten

Salt and pepper

1 dessertspoon lemon juice (optional)



Put the lentils (see Cooking to save Money and Time tips) and about ¾ of the water into a pan, cover and boil gently for about 10 minutes, check and add more water if needed. Boil,covered, for a further 5 minutes on a much reduced heat. You should finish with a stiff puree.

Remove from the heat and add the cheese, onion, garlic, herbs, chilli flakes and lemon. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Now add the egg and stir in to the mix.

Turn this mix into a greased and lined 450 gm/1 lb loaf tin, pressing down to fill the corners.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top.

Put into a pre-heated oven set at 190 C/375 F/Gas 5/moderate hot, middle shelf for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the mixture is firm.

Remove from the oven and allow it to stand for 10 minutes, before turning it out onto a serving plate.

Serve with a tomato based sauce (see my recipe for this) and steamed broccoli or vegetables of your choice. This is just as good eaten cold with a salad, and it freezes well.







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Filed under ALL Recipes, Main Meal, Pulses, Beans and Nuts, Spicy

Cooking to Save Money and Time


There are times when cooking, that with a little forethought and planning it is possible to save cooking time and also some money. I am not talking just about making sure that the oven is full when you are cooking or that one dish comes out and another goes straight in. That is a given in my book. even though I find it difficult to achieve at times, especially when where bread or rolls are concerned.

No, what I am talking about are the little shortcuts that I have come to use over the years, and what I thought everyone knew about. I recall many years ago when I was a boy scout that one of the cooking tips was, at breakfast time,  to put potatoes in a vacuum flask, filled with boiling water, and come dinner time they would be cooked. To the best of my knowledge and memory no one did it. What follows is a logical extension of that and  will probably horrify the purists and food fascists, but who pays my, and your, energy bills anyway? So here goes.

Rice is added to boiling water and brought back up to the boil, a lid put on and the heat turned off . Then I set the timer for not quite double the cooking time. For 12 minute rice I would ‘slow’ cook it for 20 minutes, then put the heat on again and bring it back up to the boil, drain and serve. For wholemeal or brown rice which has a much longer cooking time it would be to a similar formula. You would have to experiment with your favourite brand of rice to establish the ideal time, but that would be no big deal.

Pasta can be ‘slow’cooked the same as with rice.

Potatoes as I alluded to above can be put into a vacuum flask, however my 1/2 litre/16 fl oz vacuum flask only has an opening of 3 cm/ 1 1/2 inches, but I cut a potato to roughly 3 cm/ 1 1/2 inch chunks, put them in the flask, half filling it. I then filled it with freshly boiled water and set a timer. After 6 hours they were firm but edible. Another hour and they were perfect. So 7 hours and done, but I would struggle to put a meal on the table with the contents of a small vacuum flask. You would need to experiment because different flasks have different rates of heat loss etc and different potatoes would cook faster or slower, but you probably get the idea.


Red Lentils take about 15 minutes to cook, but this can be reduced to 5 minutes by covering with cold water an hour and a half before hand, bring up to the boil and simmer to complete. Care needs to be taken as some recipes specify an exact quantity of water that will be totally absorbed during the cooking cycle, in which case add the specified amount of water.

Green or Brown lentils take about 35 to 40 minutes to cook and soften, but by covering with cold water the night before they will absorb water and soften. At 12 hours they will have swollen and absorbed a lot of water, and they will be soft enough to eat, requiring only sufficient energy to heat them up.

Dried Beans can be soaked in plenty of cold water for 24 hours at least before cooking and reduce the cooking time. Their volume will increase by about 3 times so make sure there is plenty of water. Drain and refill with fresh water for cooking. It is well to note here that the older the beans, the longer they take to cook, so eat your old stock on a regular basis to save cooking time. Also remember that only add salt once the beans have softened to the required degree. If you add salt before they have softened they will never soften by boiling.

Advantages to cooking this way. What this has meant for me is that in some instances I have had to adjust some of my cooking procedures to take into account the lengthened cooking times. So that sometimes I now start with rice instead of the accompanying vegetables, but this is an adjustment that takes very little getting used to. But my actual use of energy has gone down, and I quite like that.

As Kryten, the mechanoid, (see here for explanation of Kryten) in Red Dwarf occasionally said – smug mode!


Filed under ALL Recipes, All Year, Recipes, Rice, Vegetables

Sweetheart Jammy Dodgers


I don’t make many sweet foods, but every now and again, the occasion arises that compels me to get baking. February 14th is a good enough occasion for me and also my wife likes them. They are easy to make and take little time anyway.


250 gm butter, softened

150 gm caster sugar

1 medium egg separated

½ tsp vanilla extract

300 g plain flour

6 tbsp  raspberry jam


Cube the softened  butter. I microwave a whole 250 gm stick of butter fresh from the fridge for about 40 seconds.


In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar.

Stir in the egg yoke, the vanilla extract and then the flour. Bring together everything, using your hands and needing for about 5 minutes. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.


Roughly divide the dough  into  two pieces. Taking one piece, roll out the dough to about 5 mm/ 1/4 inch thick.


Cut out the bottom shapes, placing them on a baking sheet with baking paper on it.

Cut out the top shapes, placing them on top of the bottom shapes with egg white brushed on the bottom shape.

Continue with the remaining piece of dough.

Carefully place a teaspoon of raspberry jam in the centre of each biscuit.

Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes in a pre heated oven set to 180 C/350 F/ Gas 4/ Moderate. or until they take on a golden colour.

Cool on a wire rack


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Filed under ALL Recipes, All Year, Cakes