Monday, 22 September 2014

Coppa and Rocket Pizza

Coppa and rocket pizza

Although I love my job, it's always a bit of a struggle to ease myself back into the routine of work after a long, pleasure-filled summer holiday. However, after several years I think I've managed to hone my techniques to ensure a smooth transition with minimal post-holiday trauma. Take clothes for example: going straight from the sandal-and-short wearing days of summer to full-on formal work wear is guaranteed to lead to a feeling of melancholy. A gradual change is needed, replacing first sandals with shoes, then linens with heavier materials and longer sleeves until by mid-September, you're back in suits and jackets as though you've never worn anything else. 

The other important aspect to consider is food and drink. In my opinion, September, like January, is not a good month for making any new resolutions regarding alcohol or healthy eating. If you are suffering badly from back-to-work blues, aperitifs and cocktails in the garden are a great way of getting back in a holiday mood, even when there's work the next day. Food should be fun and frivolous - don't make the mistake of going straight into winter with heavy, rib-sticking stews and roasts. 

This pizza is perfect for September. It's good for prolonging a holiday feeling but is also substantial enough to take you comfortably through the darkening evenings. This particular topping, discovered recently on a trip back to Italy, combines the meaty flavour of coppa (a bit like prosciutto but using a different cut) with the peppery tang of rocket. It works wonderfully well and has become my current favourite. If you can't find coppa, prosciutto works well too.

Teatime Treat Linky Party logoThe theme for this month's Tea Time Treats is Mediterranean and as savoury dishes are allowed, I'm sending this one along; the challenge is hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Janie (this month's host) at The Hedgecombers.

Please don't think that it's not worth making your own pizza. The difference between real pizza and store-bought is incredible, they're like two different things. Also, it's really straightforward, does not take hours of kneading and is very rewarding. You don't need any special equipment apart from a couple of pizza trays and a very hot oven. 

RECIPE (makes enough for 3 or 4 pizzas)

For the dough

450g strong white bread flour, plus more for kneading
7g (1 sachet) easy blend yeast
1 teaspoon salt
approximately 300 ml warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

 Put the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and pour in about 200 ml of the water and the olive oil, mixing with your hands. Be prepared to add more water but do it gradually - you don't want it too wet (although it's not a disaster if this happens, just add more flour until you can knead it without it sticking to everything). Start kneading by pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, the fold it back and turn slightly. Keep doing this for about 10 minutes, it should feel smooth and springy when it's ready.

Form the dough into a ball and rub a little olive oil over the surface, so that it is lightly greased. Put it into a clean bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for at least 2 hours, I've left it a lot longer than this and it doesn't seem to be a problem. The dough should more or less double in size.

When you're ready to make the pizza, preheat the oven to the hottest possible setting  (240°C on mine). Divide the dough into four roughly equal parts (you can weigh them if you want to be really precise) and roll each one out. It may seem far too small to fit into your pizza tray and it will keep springing back first of all but do persevere. If you don't want it that thin, you can divide the dough into three parts rather than four.

TOPPING (per pizza)

About 2 tablespoons of passata
125g mozzarella (I use the normal mozzarella for pizza, not buffalo), thinly sliced
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

After it's been cooked:
4 slices of coppa
a handful of rocket leaves

Lightly grease the pizza trays and stretch the dough to fit. Then cover with the passata (it should just be a very thin layer), a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of oregano. Add the cheese, drizzle over the olive oil and put in the oven. It takes about 10 minutes to cook but keep an eye on it as all ovens vary. After about 8 minutes, I take the pizza off the tray and slide it back directly onto an oven shelf for the last minute or two.

Put the coppa and rocket on the pizza after it's been cooked, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Strawberry Vanilla Loaf Cake

Strawberry Loaf Cake

After the success of my strawberry muffins back in June, I've become slightly obsessed with using this fruit in baking. The heat works its magic on the strawberries, turning the already delicious flavour into a jammy, scented treat. 

I've spoken before about how much I love loaf cakes; deceptively simple, the best ones are moist, buttery and bursting with flavour. This recipe does not disappoint - beautifully textured, the strawberries and vanilla work so well together, resulting in loaf cake perfection. 

This cake is ideal for al fresco eating - it's got a bold flavour, it's easy to transport and even easier to slice and devour! So I'm sending it over to this month's Tea Time Treats Picnic challenge; the challenge is hosted by Karen (this month's host) at Lavender and Lovage and Janie at The Hedgecombers.

Tea Time Treats

As strawberries are still in season, I'm also entering it in to the Simple and in Season challenge, devised by Ren Behan and hosted this month by Elizabeth from the wonderful Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.

Simple and in Season


125g butter, room temperature
160g caster sugar
2 eggs
175g self-raising flour
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g strawberries

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Grease and base line a loaf tin, 23 x 13 x 7 cm 

Wash the strawberries carefully, dry, hull and cut into quarters. 

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract.

After weighing out the flour, remove one tablespoon (this is used to toss with the strawberries before adding them to the batter). Sieve the rest of the flour and fold in to the cake mixture. Mix in the buttermilk. 

Toss the prepared strawberries in the left-over tablespoon of flour (this prevents it from all sinking to the bottom during baking) and fold in to the cake batter.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the top.

Put in the oven and bake for about 45 mins or until the cake is cooked and golden brown on top. It takes longer to cook than a normal sponge cake because of the addition of the strawberries.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 20 mins before carefully turning out and leaving to cool on a wire rack. 

This cake makes a perfect pudding eaten still warm from the oven, served with crème anglaise. As a cake, it's wonderful too and in fact tastes even better after a day or two - very handy for a summer picnic.

Strawberry Vanilla Loaf Cake

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Pea and Mint Soup

Pea and Mint Soup

A little morning ritual I've been enjoying in this gorgeous summer weather is having my breakfast espresso sitting on a bench in the garden, before heading off to work. I sip my coffee, listen to the birds, feel the sun on my face and survey the garden. 

The bench is next to my little herb corner so the coffee aroma from my espresso mingles with the heady smells of rosemary, thyme and mint. They all seem to be flourishing this year. Indeed, it was seeing that the mint was about to take over everything else that led me to make this delicious, summery, fragrant soup and although I was very liberal in my use of mint, it doesn't overpower the delicate flavour of the peas.

I am entering this soup into a few blog challenges this month:

Simple and in Season –  My Custard Pie (this month's host) & Ren Behan

Simple and in Season - enter your post on

No Croutons Required - Lisa’s Kitchen (this month's host) & Tinned Tomatoes

Four Season Food - Eat your Veg (this month's host) & Delicieux

Cooking with Herbs - Lavender & Lovage


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 spring onions
700 ml water
500g frozen peas
1 big bunch fresh mint 

Start by boiling the water (in a kettle if you have one). 

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the spring onions, roughly chopped (I use the white and green parts). Stir and cook over a gentle heat for a minute so that the spring onions just start to soften.

Add the peas and the just-boiled water. Stir everything together and simmer for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Strip the leaves off the mint and roughly chop. Add to the soup and continue cooking for a further minute or two. 

Using either a stick blender or normal blender, whizz it all up until you get the consistency you desire. I like it with a bit of texture. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with a few fresh mint leaves and a swirl of yoghurt or olive oil on top if you like. I usually eat this soup hot but it's also really nice cold. 

Pea soup

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Strawberry and Orange Muffins

Strawberry Muffins

It's been a beautiful June. I've been gorging myself on asparagus and strawberries, dining outside, going for long country walks and bike rides and sunning myself in the garden - bliss. 

I made these muffins this morning, for an al fresco breakfast. The strawberries were some that I had left in the fridge and were slightly past their best for eating normally. The buttermilk was also left over from a chocolate cake I made earlier in the week so satisfyingly, I was able to use that too. 

The muffins smelled wonderful as they were baking, the strawberries giving that heady, jammy perfume. The taste was exceptional, sweet and moist, balanced with a lovely acidity from the orange zest. 

As this recipe neatly used up some old strawberries and buttermilk, I'm sending this off to the No Waste Food Challenge. It's being hosted by Michelle of Utterly Scrummy Food for Families on behalf of Elizabeth's Kitchen.

I'm also sending this off to Four Seasons Food over at The Spicy Pear where the theme is the Colour Red this month. It's normally hosted over at Delicieux or Eat Your Veg.

Finally, I'm pleased to be entering it into a new challenge, Bake of the Week over at Casa Costello.


225g plain flour
160g caster sugar
2 and a quarter teaspoons baking powder
half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
half a teaspoon of salt
250ml buttermilk
55g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
grated zest of one orange
1 egg, beaten
about 130g fresh strawberries, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb of soda, and salt into a large bowl and mix together. I add the chopped strawberries at this point too because I found that if I added them last of all, they didn't mix in as well. Adding them at this stage means that they are evenly dispersed throughout the muffins.

In a separate bowl, mix together the buttermilk, melted butter, orange zest, and egg. Make a hole in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients in. Mix with a fork just until blended, being careful not to over mix. With a standard ice-cream scoop or a large spoon, scoop the batter into the prepared cases, filling them almost full.

Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Strawberry and Orange muffins

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Chocolate Syrup Cake for £1

Chocolate Syrup Cake

When I read about Choclette's We Should Cocoa (WSC) challenge for May, I knew I had to try and take part. I'm often unable to participate in WSC but it's a much-loved and incredibly popular challenge and I always enjoy seeing what people have made. Choclette decided to really challenge everyone this month by asking us to make a chocolate cake for £1, in line with the current focus on global poverty. 

Like many others, I found this challenge quite thought-provoking and have really enjoyed doing the research for it. Again, like most people, I soon realised that my usual cake base of butter and free-range eggs was not going to be feasible, so I had to think about alternatives. I know that margarine costs a lot less than butter but it's something that I'm really not keen on using, so the only option was to use oil. I mean, I've used oil in cakes before but usually just vegetable-based cakes such as carrot cake and pumpkin cake. Using oil in a chocolate cake was something I'd never contemplated. I also had to buy the very cheapest option for all the cake ingredients otherwise I would never have been able to manage it. I based my recipe on one I'd seen on the BBC Good Food website which you can see here. 

The results were a revelation. The cake was really delicious. I mean, nicer than my usual standard chocolate cake and a cinch to make. When it came out of the oven, it was moist and tender-crumbed with a slightly crisp exterior, just begging to be eaten (and I did indeed sample it while it was still warm). It also lasted incredibly well, staying moist and fresh much longer than a butter-based sponge. Without any budget restrictions, I would have added some vanilla essence to the batter and maybe replaced the milk with buttermilk. 

I have to confess that the total cost of the cake came to £1.01 and that doesn't include the icing sugar on top but I am still quite proud of my results. I'd like to thank Choclette for such a great challenge; my outdoor cake photos were taken in homage to her wonderful garden photography.

I'm pleased to be able to enter this in Camilla (Fab Food 4 All) and Helen's (Fuss Free Flavours) Credit Crunch Munch challenge, hosted this month by Gingey Bites.

This is also making its way over to Vanesther at Bangers and Mash for this month's Family Foodies challenge (which she runs jointly with Louisa from Eat Your Veg), entitled 'Cheap and Cheerful'


Ingredients and cost breakdown
175g self raising flour (5p)
1 tablespoon cocoa (5p)
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (2p)
140g caster sugar (14p)
2 eggs (30p)
150ml sunflower oil (21p)
150ml milk (7p)
2 tablespoons golden syrup (17p)

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Grease and base line a round cake tin, 20cm diameter

Sieve together the flour, bicarb and cocoa into a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer). Add the sugar and mix. Add the oil, milk, syrup and eggs and beat until smooth. 

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the top.

Put in the oven and bake for about 35-40 mins or until the cake is cooked and a cake tester comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 20 mins before carefully turning out and leaving to cool on a wire rack. 

If you're not on a budget, you could also ice this cake but I have to say that with just a dusting of icing sugar, it was pretty much perfect.

Chocolate Syrup Cake

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Penne with Speck and Leeks

Penne with Speck and Leeks

Another very busy period at work has left me little time for blogging but a recent lull has meant I've been able to catch up on some of my favourite blogs and so have found out about all those doing the fantastic Live Below the Line challenge. This asks people from all over the world to join the Global Poverty Project initiative in living on £1 a day for five consecutive days. Vanesther over at Bangers and Mash has successfully completed the challenge and her posts about it certainly make for interesting reading. She has decided to extend the frugal food theme to this month's Family Foodies challenge (which she runs jointly with Louisa from Eat Your Veg), entitled 'Cheap and Cheerful' so I'm sending this pasta dish over as it fits the bill perfectly. It's simple, delicious and has universal appeal which makes it ideal for a family meal. The leeks give a wonderful flavour and although the speck (an Italian smoked prosciutto, sometimes sold in the UK as Black Forest ham) is quite expensive, you only need a couple of slices to ensure that the wonderful smoky flavour of the ham permeates the pasta.


RECIPE- serves 3-4

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 leeks

1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon crème fraîche or sour cream
4 slices Italian speck/Black Forest ham, finely sliced
400g penne or other short pasta

Start by preparing the leeks.  As they can be very dirty, I usually slice them in half length ways and then chop them finely. Put them in a colander and wash thoroughly under running water. Drain well. 

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the leeks and cook gently until softened, being careful not to colour them as leeks can turn very bitter if they start to brown. Add the crushed garlic and continue cooking for a minute or two.

Stir through the crème fraîche. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in a large pan of salted water, as per packet instructions. Near the end of the cooking, take a ladleful of the pasta cooking water and add to the leeks. When the pasta is al dente, drain well and mix with the leeks.  Add the finely sliced speck (I usually just scissor it in) and mix briefly. If you're not watching the purse strings, serve the pasta with lots of freshly grated parmesan. 

Leek and Speck Pasta

Monday, 24 March 2014

Spring Vegetable Pasta Gratin

Pasta al gratin primavera

I often have odd vegetables lurking in the bottom of my fridge. By odd, I don't mean peculiar or rudely shaped, I just mean that I end up with a variety of different vegetables, but only small amounts of each. In an effort to reduce my food waste, I try to create delicious meals that use up these forlorn perishables.

This gratin worked really well and not only allowed me to use up all the vegetables in my fridge, but I even managed to finish some double cream that had been getting perilously near its use-by date as well. It's a lovely dish for spring, with the fresh, multi-coloured vegetables providing a soft contrast to the golden topping.

I'm sending this over to Chris at Cooking Around the World, who is hosting the No Waste Food Challenge this month on behalf of Elizabeth, of Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.

No Waste Food Challenge

RECIPE - serves 4 

320g pasta (any 'short' pasta will do, I've used penne but shells would be good too)
1 carrot
1 courgette
1 leek
100g lettuce
100g cabbage
1 tablespoon vegetable stock
20g butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
150 ml double cream
100 ml milk
140g fresh Parmesan, grated
handful of chives, chopped

Wash all the vegetables thoroughly. Dice the carrot and courgette, slice the leek, lettuce and cabbage. Heat the butter and olive oil in a frying pan and cook all the vegetables for a few minutes until beginning to soften. Add the vegetable stock, and salt and pepper to taste and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, adding the chopped chives at the end.

Heat the cream and milk in a pan for a few minutes to thicken slightly, then add 100g of the grated Parmesan, salt and pepper. 

In the meantime, cook the pasta in lots of boiling salted water until just al dente. Drain it well and mix with the vegetables. In a greased ovenproof dish, alternate layers of the pasta and vegetables with the creamy sauce and the rest of the Parmesan, finishing with a generous sprinkling of the cheese. 

Put in a pre-heated hot oven (180°C) for 10 mins, then increase the heat to 240°C for a further 10 mins. When it's ready it should be golden, crispy and bubbling. 

Vegetable Pasta Gratin