Category Archives: All Year

Peanut Butter


Go into a supermarket, pick up a jar of peanut butter and read the ingredients on the label. Chances are it contains palm oil, and possibly corn syrup. The reason this is so, is to make the end product cheaper to produce. Now there are very good ecological reasons why one shouldn’t eat any food product containing any of these two.

This recipe is very easy and the peanut butter will be exactly as you prefer it.

Makes just over 500 gm/ just over 1 lb


500 gm/1 lb salted peanuts

Peanut oil as required

1 level teaspoon of salt

1 dessertspoon of honey



1. Take an ordinary packet of salted peanuts and roast them for 10 to 15 minutes in a hot oven at 200 C/425 F/. Allow them to cool when they have reached your desired of roasted brown.



2. Pour the roasted peanuts into a food processor and using a sharp blade, process until they are reduced to the required level of crunchiness. In our family we prefer our peanut butter to be slightly crunchy not smooth.


3. Add the peanut oil and process further until you have a homogeneous mix. The mix should be a little runny.

4. At this stage you should taste and adjust the flavour for saltiness and sweetness.  I added just 1 level teaspoon of salt and 1 dessertspoon of honey.


5. When putting into pots you might want to add a little extra oil to stop the butter from drying out.



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Filed under All Year, Beans and Nuts, Pulses, Beans and Nuts

Mushrooms in Red Wine and Miso Sauce



Mushrooms are too often just fried and served, or buried in a pie. This recipe, although it is for a side dish,  brings them centre stage, and it is so simple to put together, taking just over 25 minutes to prepare, cook and serve.

A word of warning for those unused to using miso paste. It is a strong flavour, and it is easy to over do it. Add a bit and taste it before adding any more. It will be worth it all. You will be rewarded with a full flavoured side dish that everyone will be calling for seconds.

Serves 4. Preparation time 10 minutes. Cooking time 15 – 20 minutes or so.


2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves of garlic minced

1 red pepper diced

2 tablespoons red wine

16 oz button mushrooms

1/2 to 1 teaspoon miso paste

2 tablespoons chopped parsley



Melt the butter and oil in a saucepan big enough to hold the mushrooms.

DSCN6977Sauté the minced garlic for a few minutes. Add the diced red pepper and continue to sauté

Add the red wine and bring back up to a simmer.

Stir in the miso paste. Taste and add more if needed.


Add the mushrooms and stir to coat thoroughly, cover and simmer for 15 minutes

Remove the lid and continue cooking to reduce the liquid, for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Season to taste.


Serve and sprinkle the chopped parsley over the mushrooms.


Here I have served it with Peas and Saute Potatoes.


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Filed under All Year, Side Dishes, Student Food, Vegetables




I rather like this African take on ratatouille, or perhaps the French copied this when they colonised parts of North Africa. Anyway who really cares, as I like ratatouille and I also like shakshuka.

This recipe is simplicity itself and you could put a meal on the table in little over 35 minutes. Ignore the title and think poached eggs in rich tomato sauce.

If you Google ‘shakshuka recipes’ you will get about 181,000 hits and if you start to read some of them, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a dish that is at home anywhere from Mauritania on the north-west coast of Africa all the way round the Mediterranean to Albania and beyond into the Balkans. Each country that has it will doubtless claim it as their own. However what is certain is the number of different ways of adding different ingredients. Essentially a vegetarian dish, in some countries sausages or shrimps are added . The cheese and the spices used vary according to country and availability.

Basically make a spicy tomato sauce and add what else takes your fancy.

In some countries this is a breakfast meal, cooked and served straight to the table, in single serving cast iron pans with hunks of bread to mop up the juices, but this is versatile enough to be served straight to table, in a paella dish for instance, as part of a dinner course, with rice and some green vegetable.

With an eye to appearances, I would have preferred to have had a green pepper, however they are basically unobtainable here in the north of Italy. I think next time I make it I will add some peas, just to add contrast with the red background.


Serves 4

Total time to prepare and cook 35 mins


3 tbsp Olive oil

1 large onion diced

2 small zucchini diced

3 cloves garlic

1 red pepper (green would look better), diced

1 yellow pepper,diced

3 medium tomatoes or a 450 g/1 lb can of tomatoes diced small

100 ml/3½ fl oz/½ cup red or white wine

2 tsp ground cumin

1 – 2 tsp chili flakes (or whatever form of chili you are most comfortable with)

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 or 3 tsp dried basil

salt and pepper to taste

100 g/3½ oz/1 cup grated cheese (Use what is local and available. I used parmesan, but cheddar, feta or pecorino would be ideal)

4 medium to large eggs



Peel and dice the onion, put it into the pan with the oil and soften for 5 minutes. (I used a 30 cm/12 inch pan, but you might want to use a bigger pan otherwise the eggs will look crowded)


Dice the peppers and add to the pan and soften for 5 minutes


Dice the zucchini and add to the pan and soften for 5 minutes.


Dice the tofu and add to the pan ( I know, it is not in the list of ingredients but I found it lurking in the fridge and decided to add it)


Add the tomatoes and wine, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes.



Meanwhile add the spices, basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir them in well. Taste and adjust the flavour according to your desire,


Sprinkle the cheese all over


Make 4 ‘nests’ in the mixture and crack the eggs into them. The observant ones of you will have spotted only 2 eggs, and that is because I was cooking for 2, me and Joy, but the list of ingredients is for 4.

Cook for a further 5 minutes or so, according to how soft you like your eggs.

You might have to add water if the mixture is drying out or cover the pan with a lid to help cook the eggs or to stop it from drying out.


Serve immediately












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

This is Not HP Sauce


This sauce is not HP sauce, but on tasting it you would be forgiven for thinking it is. Being English and living in Italy, there some things that I have grown up with that are not available in the shops and supermarkets. HP sauce being one of them.  Over the 10 years or more that we have lived here we have learnt to make do with alternatives to many ‘English’ foods, but there are no alternatives to this special brown sauce .

I do like HP sauce but I do not eat a great deal of it. It is spicy and I like it when I have chips (french fries/patate frite) on my plate. Joy, my wife, likes the sauce with baked beans on toast and with chips. No doubt I could buy this in Milan or Turin, but they are both over 60 miles (100 kms) or so away, and so several years ago I started researching by looking at recipes on the internet, and comparing those with what was actually written on a bottle of HP. After several trials I eventually refined my recipe until I arrived at this one. It is good, as good as the real stuff, if not better, but with one important difference: there are no unnecessary additives, fillers or flavour enhancers. This is the real deal, and it has good shelf life, anything up to 2 years or so.

The following list of ingredients will make over 2 litres/4 US pints/3½ UK pints, but I start with the quantity of plums that I can either forage or buy, and then adjust the other ingredients to suit. Yes I could buy 2 kg/4.5 lbs of plums but quite often I can buy more for a lower unit cost, and anyway there is a very healthy plum tree in the meadow behind our house that is loaded with small plums, and we have permission to pick.



2 kg/4½lbs plums , that are sweet and firm. If over ripe they will just dissolve and you will have to simmer the end product for longer to achieve a good pouring consistency.

1 litre/2 US pints/1.75 UK pints red wine vinegar or malted vinegar

175 gm/6 oz dates, stoned and chopped

115 gm/4 oz raisins

1 large onion, chopped

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

60 gm/2 oz/5 cm/2 in fresh ginger, grated or equivalent ginger paste or powder

1 tbsp coriander seeds, freshly ground

1 tsp allspice berries, freshly ground

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp ground turmeric

2 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp salt

200 gm/ tamarind seedless, cut into small cubes or paste

300 gm/10 oz dark sugar


Halve and stone the plums and chop if they are large.


I can pass on a small tip here. On each plum there is a groove running from top to bottom.



By cutting the plum at 90° to this groove, when you twist the 2 halves apart the stone is left edge-ways in one half and is then much easier to remove.



Put the plums pieces into a stainless steel pan with all the other ingredients.

Bring slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally, and then simmer uncovered for about 1 hour. Stirring towards the end of the hour to ensure that it is not sticking.

Remove from the heat and using a stick blender, reduce thoroughly to a smooth consistency.

Taste for  heat and add more cayenne if desired.

The consistency should be the same as that of commercial ketchups/catsups, so test by putting a tablespoonful on a cold tea plate. Allow it to cool. When cold, it should retain its shape and move slowly when the plate is tipped. If you want to thicken it, simmer for 20 minutes at a time and test again.


When it is ready, pour into clean, dry and very hot screw cap jars. Fill close to the rim and screw down the lid tight. Store in a cool, dry and dark place.





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Filed under All Year, Sauces, Spicy

Muesli Flapjack


Now this is a trip down memory lane to my childhood. My mum, bless her, used to make these frequently, although she didn’t make them after my brother and I left home to make our way in the world.

I now make them for my children and grandchildren when they come to visit or when we visit them. I don’t always make them to this recipe either, as this is one of those recipes where you can mix and match to suit your mood or what is available in the cupboard. Normally I would use porridge oats instead of muesli, but I wanted to try it and see how it turned out. It was just fine.

This recipe comes with a health warning though. It is very sensitive to temperature and time. Cook the flapjack for too long or at too high a temperature, and you could use them to fill holes in the road-be warned. My mum always made bullet hard flapjack and I can recall visitors breaking teeth on at least two separate occasions.



200 g/7 oz/1 scant cup butter

200 g/7 oz/1 cup demerara sugar

75 g/3 oz/ 1/3rd cup golden syrup/black treacle/molasses

375 g/13 oz/4 cups muesli/oats

1 dessertspoon powdered ginger



In a suitable saucepan, weigh in the butter, sugar and golden syrup. Stir over a low heat to ensure an homogeneous mix.

Remove from the heat, and add the muesli or oats and stir well.


Pour into a greased baking tin about 30 x 23 cm/12 x 9 inch and using a palette knife spread the mixture evenly, working into the edges and corners.


Now the tray needs to go into a pre-warmed oven set at 170 c/325 F/Gas 3/moderately slow for 25 to 30 minutes and no more. I always use an oven thermometer to ensure that I cook at the correct temperature. The photo above shows my oven set at 150 C/300 F/Gas 2/slow, but was actually cooking at 170 C/325 F/Gas 3/moderately slow.


When the time expires remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes and no more. If you leave it until it is cold to cut the flapjack into squares, you will really struggle.


Using a sharp knife cut the flapjack into squares paying particular attention at the edges.


After another 10 minutes separate the pieces and carefully place them on a cooling rack.


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Filed under All Year, Cakes, Student Food

Couscous Stuffed Red Onions


Like a lot of the food that I write about, I really like onions. Normally they lurk in the background of the recipe, a bit like the baseline in a pop song. It is there and you are glad of it, because without the onion, the recipe would be minus a significant item.

However in this recipe, the onion takes centre stage, with the couscous providing a very pleasant supporting role

Serves 4. Preparation 15 minutes. Cooking 35 minutes



4 large red onions

150 gm couscous

150 ml vegetable stock

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove of garlic crushed

2 medium tomatoes

2 dessertspoons flaked almonds

1 dessertspoon sultanas chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs

salt and pepper


Carefully remove any dead skin from the onions

Put them in a saucepan, cover them with boiling water. Cover and bring water back up to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile in a small mixing bowl bring the stock to the boil, take it off the heat and add the couscous and allow to stand for 5 minutes to absorb the stock liquid.


Remove the onions from the saucepan with a slotted spoon. Reserve the liquid for future stock.


With a sharp vegetable knife slice a lid from each onion and put it to one side. Holding the onions still, wearing an oven glove.


Cut a deep cross into each onion, taking care not to cut too deep either into the base or the sides.


Carefully with the knife, take out successive layers starting from the centre, leaving 2 or 3 layers. Here I used my ‘special’ teaspoon, which I have sharpened. This does the job much better than a knife.

Place the treated onions in a greased baking dish.


Finely chop the removed onion and put them and the chopped tomatoes into a small saucepan. Add the oil and saute for a few minutes.

Add all the dry ingredients to the onion and stir well.

Add salt and pepper to your taste.


Add the couscous mixture and stir well.


Spoon into the onions, pressing down well and filling to the brim.


Put the lids back on.

Any mixture left over can be put into a small baking dish and cooked with the onions.

Put into a hot oven set at 180 C/350 F/Gas 4/Moderate for 20 minutes.


Serve immediately. I served these with steamed black cabbage and boiled potatoes.







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Filed under All Year, Main Meal, Spicy, Vegetables

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