Monthly Archives: March 2015

Spicy Potatoes

DSCN5877As a British kid, I grew up eating potatoes. It was a staple of post Second World War Britain. But there was on offer only boiled, baked, mashed and chips, and only the chips had anything other than gravy or mint sauce on them. Potatoes with every meal and so little variation in presentation, but I was not complaining. I loved them and still do. But with cooking books and the internet, the variation on offer now is beyond belief.

I happened upon this Lebanese/Syrian recipe last year and it has established itself as a regular in our family. I have modified it slightly to suit my philosophy of cooking in the most efficient way within the bounds of a recipe.

Because it is baked it lends itself as a dish that can go in the oven alongside a main course, and therefore is cooked for ‘free’. Well perhaps I am kidding myself, but you understand where I am coming from.

Serves 4. Preparation Time 10 minutes. Cooking Time about 40 minutes


1 large potato per person, cut into 1 cm dice

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 red pepper or 2 large tomatoes, diced to 1 cm

1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

2 or 3 teaspoons ground coriander

a grind of salt and pepper



Mix all the ingredients, except the lemon juice, in a bowl and stir together well.


Tip into a baking dish as a single layer

Put into a hot oven set at 180 C/350 F/Gas 4/ Moderate for about 35 to 40 minutes. Half way through baking, stir them through.


They are finished when they are nicely browned.


Drizzle with the lemon juice and serve them immediately. Here I have served them with Peas and Stir Fried Cabbage (recipe here)





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Filed under All Year, Main Meal, Side Dishes, Spicy, Student Food, Vegetables

Hot Cross Buns


I know full well that in Britain, it is possible to buy Hot Cross Buns all year round. However in keeping with my personal philosophy of only eating most foods when in season, I only eat these at Easter time, and as I no longer live in Britain, but in Italy, that makes it easier to do. Italians do not know what hot cross buns are. So at Easter I make hot cross buns, because we like them, and because they are relatively easy to make, and the few Italian friends who have tried them, like them very much. Who wouldn’t? What is not to like?

This recipe calls for strong bread flour, and I have made these buns with white and wholemeal, both with good results. You could (I have) make this with plain flour, but you would need to add powdered gluten, to enable it to rise. If you choose this route you would need to add 1 tablespoon of gluten per 500 gm/1 lb flour. Finding somewhere that sells powdered gluten, however is another thing altogether.

The most difficult part of this recipe is achieving the right piping consistency for the cross. It really has to be quite thick if it is not to disappear during the baking.

Makes 16. Preparation about 75 minutes. Cooking 15 minutes

Ingredients for the Buns

250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup milk

75 gm/2 1/2 oz/ 1/3 cup  sugar

90 gm/3 oz melted butter

2 sachets of instant yeast

500 gm/ 1 lb strong bread flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground mixed spice

250 gm/ 1/2 lb sultanas, lightly chopped

Ingredients for the Cross

3 tablespoons of plain white flour

2 teaspoons white sugar

water to mix

Ingredients for the Glaze

65 ml/2 fl oz/ 1/4 cup water

65 gm/2 fl oz sugar


In a small pan, gently warm the milk to about hand hot temperature and no hotter.

Cube the butter and add to the milk to melt it.

Add the sugar and 2 sachets of yeast, stir thoroughly to dissolve all ingredients.


In a large mixing bowl, put in all the dry ingredients and then put in the milk and yeast mixture. Using a wooden spoon stir the mixture to bring it all together, then using your hands knead thoroughly for 5 or 10 minutes or until the dough is silky smooth. Cover with a tea cloth and leave in a warm place for 1 hour.

If you have a bread machine put all the dry ingredients for the buns into the mixing bowl, add the milk and yeast mixture and put the machine on to a dough cycle.


After 1 hour turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide equally into 16 balls and arrange them in a greased baking dish of approximately 23 x 30 cm/12 x 15 inches, cover with the tea cloth and leave for 15 to 20 minutes in a warm place.

Meanwhile make the cross batter by combining the flour and sugar in a bowl. Add water in small increments until you arrive at a thick consistency that can still be piped. A very thick cream like consistency is what you want to achieve.




Pipe the crosses on each bun and then put the buns into a hot oven set at 230 C/ 450 F/Gas 8/ Very Hot, and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until they are golden brown. They should also grow in size while they are baking.


Meanwhile make the glaze by combining the water and sugar in a small saucepan, and put over a low heat. Stir to ensure the sugar dissolves and simmer for 5 minutes.


Use a brush to glaze the buns while they are fresh from the oven and piping hot, brushing them at least 2 times to get a good glaze.


My preferred way to eat these is to cut them in half, when they are cold, and toast them on the cut side. Then slather them in butter. Eat immediately while they are still hot.


These are eaten at any time of the day, hot or cold, with or without butter, jam or cheese.


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Filed under Bread, Easter, Spring

Spiced Chick Peas and Basmati Rice

DSCN5847 This is another family favourite, for several reasons. This is student food (or harassed parent food) at its very best. It is very quick to put a nourishing and filling meal on the table. It is dead easy to put together. It is one of those forgiving recipes that you can tinker with to produce different flavours, and it always comes out just hitting the spot. This is a store cupboard special, where the hardest part is chopping up an onion and squashing a clove of garlic.

The recipe is for 4 people, but it is very easy to scale up to account for how many people you are serving.

Time to prepare and cook about 25 – 45 minutes, dependent on the time it takes to cook your rice.



per person 80/100 gm basmati rice

1 large onion, sliced

1 clove of garlic

1 -2 tablespoons olive oil

1 x 454 gm/1 lb tin of chick peas

1 x 454 gm/1 lb tin of chopped tomatoes

1 level teaspoon curry powder/paste or to taste

2 cups frozen peas (optional)

salt and pepper to taste


Put a pan of salted water on to boil for the rice.

Meanwhile slice the onion and put it in to a saucepan with the oil and saute gently for 5 minutes.

As soon as the rice water boils, add the rice, bring back up to the boil and simmer to cook (this is how much time you have left to cook the chick peas and tomatoes!). If you have ample time you can save some money by looking at my suggestions for ‘slow’ cooking here .

Meanwhile add the minced garlic to the onions and saute for another 2 minutes.


Add the chick peas, tomatoes and frozen peas.  Increase the heat to bring to a boil. reduce the heat to simmer.

Add the curry powder and season to taste.

As soon as the rice is cooked, serve everything on hot plates.


Here I have served it with Stir Fried Cabbage (the recipe here) as well as the basmati rice.






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Filed under ALL Recipes, All Year, Main Meal, Pulses, Beans and Nuts, Rice, Spicy, Student Food, Student Food

Stir Fried Cabbage


We grow and eat a lot of cabbage, and we use many different recipes in order to vary the way we eat them. This is one such way, which is quick, economical and also tasty. As with a lot of our recipes this is one that can be adjusted to suit the style of cuisine that it is accompanying.

This serves 4. Preparation 10 – 15 minutes. Cooking 10 minutes


1 medium cabbage

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

1 dessert spoon caraway seeds or fennel seeds


Wash the cabbage leaves and then steam or boil them for 5 minutes.

Drain the leaves.


Shred or slice them finely

In a wok heat the oil, and add the seeds and garlic, cook for 1 minute.


Add the cabbage leaves and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes.

Season and serve immediately.

And if you are thinking, that is not much cabbage for 4 people, you are correct. I was doing and photographing a half recipe.

If you wanted to liven up the visual aspect of the cabbage you could add a finely chopped red, orange or yellow pepper, which takes little or no time to cook, before you add the cabbage to the wok.



Filed under ALL Recipes, All Year, Side Dishes, Spicy, Student Food, Student Food, Vegetables

Stuffed Baked Squash


DSCN5824I have this lingering love affair with squash. I like it pretty much however it is cooked. However in this neck of the woods, we do not get a lot of choice. On my occasional visits to Germany and Britain, I drool over the different squashes available. Here we basically get one sort and that is the squash that looks like a green curling stone, a flattened globe. They do come in a range of sizes however, from some not much bigger than a tea plate up to bigger than a soccer football. That said it is possible, on the markets at least,  to buy a half or even a quarter of a squash, with no fuss. As an aside, it is also possible to buy one (1) stick of celery! I just love it here.

Anyway I spotted this recipe, and because of my declared love and the original title of ‘Twice Baked Squash’, investigated further.

First off it said use butternut squash. Yes I have seen them, but not around here. But I did have an ordinary squash, so I thought ‘this is a goer’.  Next it said use goats cheese. Well I have some feta that needed using – that will do. Further it said user kosher salt – haven’t got any and none to be bought around here, however as I planned to use feta cheese, which is quite salty, I decided against using any more.Next up was low-fat Greek yoghurt, and again I thought, will ordinary Italian yoghurt from Sud Tirol do? I very sensibly told myself that it would and that no one would be any the wiser.

Lastly it called for Panko breadcrumbs. Now, I have seen this word a lot just lately, but I looked it up on Wikipedia just to refresh my memory. These are breadcrumbs made from a Japanese bread that is baked specially, by passing an electric current through the dough, producing a loaf that has very little crust and has the property of absorbing very little oil or butter when it is further cooked. I make my own breadcrumbs from the bread that I make. My bread is organic sourdough and I am very happy with it, and it has not come from the other side of the world.

I have to say the original title, of Twice Baked Squash, fooled me into thinking that it was a little exotic, and it was not until I had started the first baking that I realized what I was doing. I was softening the squash in the most expensive way possible, by baking it. That is not my style, no way. So I did back-to-back test cooking on how to soften half a squash and here are the results.


Original Recipe said to wrap the squash in aluminium foil and bake at 230 C/450 F/ Gas 8/  Very Hot for 35 minutes or until a knife tested soft. Well our oven takes about 20 minutes to get to that sort of temperature, so a total of 50 minutes oven time at full bore = expensive.

My Recipe. Next I put the other half, without foil, in our vegetable steamer and steamed it for about 12 minutes, using a low gas on the hob top. Done to perfection. I used a cup full of water which took less than 5 minutes to come to the boil, and that water went straight into the stock pot afterwards. I have to confess that I feel incredibly smug when I save time and money, with no loss of flavour either.

Now to my recipe.

Serves 4. Preparation 15 minutes. Cooking 30 minutes


Half a medium squash cut through the middle,  deseeded

3 or 4 medium sticks of celery cut to 6 mm/ 1/4 inch lengths

1 medium onion finely sliced

1 clove of garlic minced

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh sage chopped finely or 1/2 tablespoon of dried sage

50 gm/ 2 oz feta cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons of yoghurt

2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs, dry toasted in a frying pan


Steam the half squash for about 10 to 12 minutes or until it is fully softened. Test with a skewer or thin knife.

Meanwhile saute the onion, celery slices and the garlic in a little of the olive oil. Leave a little texture in the celery.


Using a dessert spoon, remove the flesh, from the squash, transferring it to a small mixing bowl and , leaving a 6 mm/ 1/4 inch layer all over.


Retain the shell

Mash the flesh and then add the cheese, yoghurt, celery, onion, garlic and sage. Mix thoroughly.


Transfer the mixture to the retained shell, smoothing over the surface.

Spread the breadcrumbs evenly over the top.


Sprinkle sparingly with the remaining olive oil.

Bake in a pre set oven at 200 C/425 F/Gas 6/Moderate Hot for about 15 minutes or until it is heated right through.

DSCN5833Serve immediately with vegetables of your choice. And very tasty it was too.



Filed under Autumn/Winter, Cheese, Main Meal, Spring, Vegetables

Stuffed Sweet Chillis


I originally tried this Spanish recipe from a blog by Frank Camorra. I was unable to buy either the cheese (shanklish), or the grain (freekah) that he used. This for me is a recurring theme. This is after all Northern Italy and I live in a mountain village. If I lived in Milan or Turin, then maybe I could buy them. That said however there are a number of North Africans living in the vicinity and I feel a trip to nearby Biella coming. Biella, the regional capital, is a small city which does have a few ‘ethnic’ shops, which I do from time to time look into, to see what is on sale. Time perhaps to investigate  again.

However, I am not easily put off, and so I substituted with parmesan (although I intend to try feta next time), and a combination of kamut and wild rice. Kamut is an ancient grain, supposedly used in Egypt during the times of the pharaohs, very similar to wheat and has a nutty flavour. Used in this recipe it gives a satisfying texture.

When you buy the chillis, make sure that you buy the straightest available to enable stuffing with ease.

Serves 3 or 6. Preparation 15 minutes. Cooking 35 minutes


I large onion roughly chopped

3 sticks of celery cut into 6 mm/ 1/4 inch thick slices

2 or 3 gloves of garlic, minced

200 gm/ kamut or wheat

50 gm/wild rice

2 tomatoes roughly chopped or 225 gm/ 1/2 lb tinned chopped tomatoes

400 ml/water

Juice and grated rind of 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs

salt and pepper

6 large sweet chillis

150 gm/ 5 oz parmesan roughly grated.


The day before, put the kamut and wild rice in a saucepan, cover with the water and leave to soften overnight or simmer for about 45 minutes if you do not want to wait for another day.

Gently saute the onion and celery for about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and continue sauteing for another 2 minutes.

Drain the wheat and rice and add to the onion,celery and garlic.

Add the tomatoes, lemon juice and grated rind and the herbs.


Simmer for about 15 minutes without covering to allow some of the liquid to reduce.


Meanwhile with a sharp knife cut a 1 cm/ 1/2 inch slot down the length of each chilli to allow ease of stuffing.

Season to your taste and then stir in 3/4 of the parmesan.


Carefully stuff the mixture into each chilli, sprinkle the rest of the parmesan on the stuffing and then arrange in a greased baking dish.

Bake for about 25 minutes in a pre heated oven set at 180 C/350 F/ Gas 4/ Moderate, until the chillis have softened and the stuffing is heated through.

Serve immediately


Here I have served them with the simple addition of boiled potatoes and steamed carrots

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Filed under All Year, Cheese, Main Meal, Rice, Vegetables

Parmesan Whorls


In the world of quick nibbles, antipasti and finger food, they don’t come much quicker or as fulfilling as these, and like a lot of good recipes it is possible to chop and change the ingredients to suit the occasion. Leave out the paprika and add curry powder and they would make a good intro to an Indian meal. Not strictly traditional but then again, being British, I have grown up in a culture where anything worth having, from any other culture,  was used, hence the existence of Chinese, Indian and kebab restaurants in every British city, town and village. A nice strong cheddar cheese would go well here as a substitute.

DSCN5808Preparation 10 Minutes. Cooking 20 minutes


1 packet of frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 egg beaten

150 gm/ 5 oz parmesan cheese, coarsely grated

a little flour for rolling


salt and pepper


On a floured surface, unroll the puff pastry


Brush generously with the beaten egg

Sprinkle on the grated parmesan

Roll the cheese into the pastry


Generously sprinkle with the paprika

Give a good grind with the salt and pepper


Starting from a short end, roll up the pastry


Put it in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool it down and firm up


Using a very sharp knife, slice of rounds at 10 mm/ 3/8 ths inch thick


Transfer onto a baking sheet


Bake in a pre set oven at 200 C/400 F/ Gas 6/Moderate Hot for about 20 minutes or until they are golden brown


Cool on a wire rack and then eat . They won’t last too long so get ready to make some more!












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Filed under All Year, Antipasti, Cheese, Pastry, Spicy