Dunn Burgering About!

Spring has arrived, a flourish of foliage appearing on the trees & new growth in the garden.  This is also a time of Spring cleaning & doing all those jobs you wanted to do over the Winter, but it was too soggy & cold.  A little bit of sunshine does everyone the power of good too.  While we were out recently, we decided to have a little treat for lunch – a small cheeseburger & fries.  It was not my finest decision & reminded me of a line in a film – “what’s wrong with this picture?”.  The fries were hot but tasteless (no salt) & the burger was sad, cold & rather flat in every respect.  You could have bounced the bun down the motorway, it was that stale!  On the way home, my Husband suggested we make our own burgers.  Although it’s not my forte, I said “hold my spatula!” & that’s how the delicious Dunn Burger happened (named by my wonderful Husband).

It’s been almost 27 years since I last made a proper beef burger.  My Son was a baby, we had gone fishing for the weekend (aka sunbathing with benefits) & took along some of my homemade meatballs.  Someone suggested we make them into burgers instead & they ended up on the grill next to the trout we had caught.  A little surf & turf barbeque ensued & the rest is history.

Fast forward to today & I’ve recreated my delicious burger with a few supporting acts – homemade buns, crispy baked onion rings & my chunky “Aimée chips”.  It took me a whole afternoon to make everything, but it was definitely worth it & let’s face it, if you’re going to do something, might as well do it properly.  Also, I’m no expert on burgers, this is just the way I do it.

To make it easier for you to recreate this dish, I’ve split everything into three sections: burgers, buns & sides.  Not everyone is going to want the buns or side dishes, so this recipe is just for the beef burgers & I’ve put links to the others at the bottom.

Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need (this makes 4 burgers):

500g Minced Beef (10-15% fat content – if you cut the fat, you cut the flavour)
8 rashers Streaky Smoked Bacon
A little Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for extra pepperiness)
25g Salted Butter
50g Grated Cheese (I used Medium Cheddar)

Optional Extras:
Mustard
Ketchup or Relish
Pickles (I used pickled Cornichons & sliced them)
Crisp Iceberg Lettuce, washed & patted dry
Large Tomatoes, sliced

What to do:

Get 5 pieces of greaseproof paper ready for your raw burgers, approx 6 inchs square – one for each burger & one spare.

Divide the beef into four equal pieces & gently shape each one into a ball.  Be careful not to squeeze them too much, otherwise they will be tough & won’t cook properly.

Put each ball onto a square of greaseproof paper & put the spare piece on top.  Press down evenly to flatten out your burger slightly, until about a half an inch thick.  Remove the top square of paper & use your hands to shape the burger into a circle, flattening down any uneven areas gently.  Repeat with the other three burgers.

Wash & dry your hands again, then sprinkle a little sea salt & pepper over each burger, flipping them over & repeating on the other side.

Stack them up with the greaseproof paper still on them, put them on a plate & wrap in clingfilm.  Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes to rest, as this will help them hold their shape when you cook them later.

Remove the burgers from the fridge & set them aside while you cook the bacon.  Heat a large frying pan or skillet on a medium heat & add the bacon rashers.  There’s no need to add oil at this stage, you want them to render their fat into the pan.  Do not be afraid of the fat – fat is flavour & this is a treat (you won’t be eating burgers for every meal every day).

Once the bacon has started to get some colour to it, transfer the bacon to a baking tray & cover with foil.

Add half the butter to the frying pan & place your burgers into the pan.  Press each one with a spatula, so they make full contact with the hot surface.

Cook for approximately 4-5 minutes each side.  Now I like my burgers cooked well-done, so if you like them more on the rare side, cook them for less time.  When you flip the burgers, press again for a moment to maintain contact with the pan & if desired, add the rest of the butter.

Once your burgers look gnarly & you’re happy with them, pile up a little cheese on each burger & cover with a large saucepan lid or cake tin for a couple of minutes – this will help to melt the cheese.  If you use a cake tin, remember it will get hot, so use tongs to lift it off your burgers.

When the cheese is melted, they’re ready to serve & it’s time to pack those flavour layers into your bun!

Serve these delicious burgers with a side of chunky chips, crispy baked onion rings & a generous green salad.   Usually, I make a dish of homemade mayonnaise too, just for dunking the chips & onion rings in.

Fabulously flavoursome, this fine burger is a tower of taste. You might need both hands for this one!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

PS: Here are the links for the buns & sides:

For the buns – You’d Better Bun-lieve It!

For the side dishes – Sides by Side!

 

 

You’d Better Bun-lieve It!

Most of us buy bread, usually for ease & because quite frankly, we all lead busy lives & don’t always have the time to make our own.  There’s definitely no shame in that!  All the hard work has been done by some kindly, experienced baker & it’s even been sliced for us.  Personally, I like to have a bit of both – bake my own & buy some for convenience too.  I find making bread a relaxing experience, a chance to lose myself in thought (that’s when I get all my best ideas) & tone up my arms at the same time – bonus!  No fancy machines, equipment or unpronounceable ingredients, just good old fashioned elbow-grease & a bit of flour, water & yeast.

Having baked my own bread for a few decades now (who’s counting?!), I know it can be quite daunting to those who haven’t tried it.   Sometimes the mere thought of baking bread can send people into a tizz.  “Isn’t it messy?”, “don’t you need special equipment?” & “doesn’t it takes hours to make?” are some of the questions I’m often asked.  The answers are yes (getting messy is part of the fun), no, you don’t need special equipment & no, it doesn’t take hours.  Also, you don’t need to sit & watch over it – I make the dough, get on with other things while it’s proving & then go back to it. 

This recipe is for my Dunn Buns & they take less than a couple of hours to make, from start to finish.  Plus, you can bake them in advance (they freeze very well & retain their fluffy interior).  These gorgeously glossy topped buns are made with an enriched dough, meaning they don’t fall apart when crammed with a filling & hold their crumbs when sliced, making them perfect for burgers, breaded chicken & of course, bacon & eggs too.  They are pillowy soft with a smooth golden top & retain their shape as you eat (there’s nothing worse than when your bun goes flat & doughy).

Let’s get those beautiful buns baked & bronzed.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

500g Strong White Bread Flour (plus extra for kneading, etc)
10g Fast Acting Yeast
1 large Free Range Egg
300ml Lukewarm Water
1 large tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil (keep the bottle handy for later)
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
A little melted butter for the tin (or a butter wrapper will do)

For the topping:
2 heaped teaspoons Sesame Seeds
1 large Free Range Egg, beaten with a pinch of Sea Salt

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.  Brush the greaseproof paper with the melted butter or give it rub all over with a butter wrapper (I always keep a few wrappers in the fridge, ready for greasing baking tins & such).  You can go without the greaseproof layer if you like.  I find it helps keep the bun bottoms soft, while still giving them colour.

Mix the flour, sea salt & yeast into a large mixing bowl.

Crack the egg into a measuring jug & top up with the lukewarm water to just about 400ml.  Give everything a whisk with a fork to break up the egg & blend it into the water.   If it gets a little frothy on top, that’s fine.

Tip the egg & water mixture into the flour, along with the olive oil.  Give everything a good mix with the fork, making sure you get right to the bottom of the bowl.

Once it’s all gathered into a sticky dough, tip it onto a lightly floured worktop.  I use a pastry scraper to make sure I get all the dough out of the bowl.  You will need a bit more flour as you go along, as it will be quite sticky to start.   Set your mixing bowl aside, you’ll need it later.

Knead firmly for about 8-10 minutes, stretching the dough away from you with the heel of one hand & pulling it back towards you.  Try not to tear the dough as you do this.  Repeat & keep going until the dough is a smooth & supple ball.  If you need a bit of flour as you knead, sprinkle a little onto the worktop & use the pastry scraper to loosen the dough if it gets sticky.

When you’re finished kneading, dust a little flour into the bottom of your original mixing bowl & place your dough inside, sprinkle a little flour on top & cover with either clingfilm lightly coated in olive oil or a dry tea-towel/cloth.

Leave the bowl in a draught-free, warm place to prove for about an hour, until you can see a little dome on the top where it’s risen & grown to almost twice the size.

Once your dough has proved, tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface (keep the oiled clingfilm/cloth from the bowl, you’ll need it again in a moment).  Give the dough a quick knead for a moment to knock out any big bubbles (don’t over-do it though, just a few seconds is fine).

Divide into eight equal pieces & gently roll into balls.  Set them onto the greaseproof-lined baking tray, spacing them a few inches apart (they will need room to grow).  Cover lightly with the clingfilm/tea-towel again & leave them to prove for another 20 minutes, until they have doubled again.

Remove the cling film, delicately brush the tops with the beaten egg using very light strokes (they will be a bit squishy & jiggly, so be gentle) & scatter the sesame seeds over them.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes, until beautifully bronzed on top & the sesame seeds are all toasted.

To check if your buns are baked, pick one up & tap the bottom – if it sounds hollow, they’re ready.

Remove from the baking tray & place on a cooling rack.  Let them cool completely (I know it’s hard to resist, but it will give you tummy ache if you don’t let them cool).  That’s it, your buns are done!  Slice, sandwich & serve!  They will keep for a day in an airtight container or you can always pop a few cooled buns into airtight bags & freeze on the day you bake them.

They are perfect packed with bacon, sausage & eggs for breakfast or even better, layered with burgers, cheese & salad for a weekend treat.  Sometimes, I make miniature versions of these with smaller fillings (perfect for picnics).

If you do have any leftover buns, try making my mini “Dunn Bun” pizzas!  Slice a bun into three generous slices, rub half a garlic clove onto each & top with a spoon of squished tinned tomatoes (tip them in a bowl & get your hands in).  Then add slices of mozzarella or whatever cheese you like, a few mushrooms or peppers & maybe some ham.  Sprinkle with a little Basil, Oregano & black pepper, dust with Parmesan & bake for 8 minutes in a hot oven (220*C) – easy mini bun pizzas!  They’re perfect as a light lunch, swift supper or a simple cheesy snack.

However you eat them, these bronzed & bun-tiful glossy buns are always a fabulous treat!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

Sides by Side!

Whether it’s the weekend or Wednesday, a little indulgence is always nice & doesn’t need to be extravagant.  Sometimes it’s the little things that bring the most joy & that includes a plate of satisfying comfort food.

When a delicious main course is centre stage, it usually requires a couple of supporting acts.  All the best ones do – fish & chips, bacon & eggs, spaghetti & meatballs (the list is endless).  Burgers always require a good bun, but they also need some serious sidekicks like crispy coated onion rings & deliciously chunky chips.  These two sides are a well-loved staple in our household & with good reason.

Firstly, the chunky chips (fondly known by our family as Aimée Chips) accompany everything from fish fingers to roast chicken.  They are ridiculously easy & totally faff-free – chop them up & chuck them in the tin kind of cooking.

Secondly, there are crispy light onion rings that literally melt in the mouth.  These oh-so-delicate flavoursome delicacies are perfectly light & crisp, tasting much naughtier than they actually are.  Before you start worrying about chips & onion rings being deep fried or not very healthy, the best bit is … there’s no frying required because they’re all baked!  That also means no hot pans to stand & watch (because nobody has the time for all that).

Ready to bake it happen?  Starting with my Aimée Chips!  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

6-8 medium Potatoes (nothing fancy, whatever you’ve got is fine)
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Coarse Semolina Flour

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & get a large roasting tin to cook the chips in.

Wash & dry your potatoes well, leaving the skins on.  Cut them into thick wedges.  Don’t worry about them being exact-sized, just make them at least the thickness of your thumb.  Place them all into a roasting tin.

Drizzle well with the olive oil, then dust with a good pinch each of black pepper & sea salt, about a quarter teaspoon.  Tip: if you’re preparing these in advance, do not add the salt until you are ready to cook them.  The salt will make them rock hard & no amount of cooking will soften them up.

Sprinkle the coarse semolina flour over the chips, shaking everything around to coat them thoroughly.  Place each potato wedge skin-side down in the tin (this helps stop them sticking to the tin, as they’re curved & touching less surface area – little bit of science-y stuff there).

Bake in the centre of the oven at 220*C for about 20-25 minutes, giving them a shake half-way through.  When they’re crispy & deeply golden, remove the tin from the oven & place on a rack.  To keep them warm, place another baking tray loosely over the top (leave a gap to allow steam to escape) & then reheat just before serving for about 5 minutes in a hot oven.

Onto those deliciously delectable onion rings!  No frying pan required, just a large baking tray & a little baking magic.  Hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

2-3 large Brown/Spanish Onions
2 large Free Range Eggs
4oz Plain Flour
2 tablespoons Greek or Natural Yoghurt (full fat or 0% fat is fine)
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C.  Prepare a large baking tray – line with a sheet of greaseproof paper.  I use Bacofoil Non-Stick Baking Paper for this (it’s strong & textured, so stands up to the heat without disintegrating).  You don’t need to use it, but it stops your onion rings from sticking to the tin & means you use less oil.

Prepare your onions – remove the tops & tails, take off the outer papery skins & cut into thick chunky slices.

Pop out the centres, then each inner onion ring, being careful not to break them.  Place them onto a plate or board & set aside.  The tiny chunky centres can be saved for another day – simple chop them into pieces, spread onto a tray & freeze for 10 minutes.  Once frozen, tip them all into an airtight bag & pop back in the freezer – no big lumps of onion this way & no waste!

Tip the flour into a shallow dish & season with a little salt & pepper.  Give it a good stir to mix well.

In another shallow dish, crack the eggs & add the Greek Yoghurt, along with a little salt & pepper again.  Give it a good whisk with a fork to break up the eggs & blend into a thick, gloopy liquid.

Take an onion ring, coating it in the yoghurt & egg mixture all over, inside & out.  Shake off the excess & drop into the flour.  Coat well, again making sure you cover the inside too.  Don’t worry if the flour goes lumpy, that’s fine.  Lift the onion ring out, shake off the excess flour & pop onto the baking tray.

Repeat this until all the onion rings have been dipped & dunked in egg & flour.  Place them all next to each other on the baking tray & don’t worry about them touching too much.

Drizzle olive oil all over the onion rings (don’t bathe it, just a light drizzle is fine) & bake in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes, turning them over halfway through cooking.

Once they’re crispy & bronzed, carefully remove the onion rings from the tray using a fork or tongs & place onto a cooling rack with a bit of greaseproof paper underneath (just in case there are any oily drips).

Remember to pop your chunky chips back in the oven for a few minutes to warm up (remove the baking tray from the top) & that’s it, they’re all done!   

Perfect piled up next to a beautiful burger or simply stacked up as a savoury snack, these crispy baked beauties are delicious sides by side anytime!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

Flaky Pastry Pasties!

It’s this time of year that always seems magical.  Trees have an abundance of Autumnal  toned leaves, as they tumble around like confetti on the breeze, swooning in swathes wherever they land.  Late blooming flowers appear, their vibrant blossoms adding some freshness to the greenery that remains.  Although it’s November, the sun shines just as brightly as in earlier months, spilling spectacular shades across the skies as it arrives & departs each day.

It’s also a great time of year for those comforting dishes, the ones that really hit the spot when you need it.  Sumptuously slow-cooked stews, deeply filled fruit pies & crisp flaky pastries.  We all have our favourites, especially those childhood dishes that evoke fond memories of deliciousness.   The mere mention of puff pastry takes me to a stool in my Mum’s kitchen, watching her create all kinds of pastry treats & especially savoury pasties.  She would make shortcrust pastry ones, filled with her heavenly homemade stew (our version of a Cornish pasty).  Leftovers would be lovingly wrapped in fabulously flaky pastry parcels, deliciously warm & comforting.  And then there were my favourites – crisp buttery puff pastry packed with mashed potatoes, cheese & onion.  There would always be some mashed potatoes leftover from the previous night’s dinner, just enough to make a few pasties for lunch the next day.

Now you all know that I prefer homemade puff pastry (all butter & no unnecessary ingredients!), but we don’t always have the time.  This recipe is one that was passed on to me & one I make often for both savoury & sweet treats.  It’s a faster flaky pastry with all the buttery crispness of puff pastry, but takes much less time to make.  Also, don’t worry about special pastry cutters or equipment.  All you need is a small side plate or saucer & a sharp knife.  You should get eight good sized pasties from this recipe, so plenty to go around.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the Pastry:
8oz Self-Raising Flour (plus additional for dusting your worktop)
5oz Salted Butter, cold from the fridge or at least chilled so it’s firm
100ml Cold Water
1 large Egg, beaten (for glazing the pasties)
1/2oz  Melted Butter (for the tin)

For the Filling:
Approx. 8oz Potatoes, peeled & chopped into small chunks
1 tablespoon Semi-Skimmed Milk
1/2 a teaspoon Sea Salt
2oz Butter
4oz Cheese, grated (I use whatever I have in the fridge)
1 medium Red Onion, finely chopped
Freshly ground Black Pepper & a little Sea Salt
Fresh Thyme leaves (just a couple of sprigs)

What to do:

First, let’s make the pastry.  Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces, dropping them directly into the flour.

Using your fingertips, rub the butter chunks into the flour a little – we don’t want it like fine breadcrumbs, more like a rough rubble texture with plenty of lumps.  This is just breaking down the butter a bit to make rolling easier.

Using a round ended knife, stir the water into the flour mixture to form a soft dough – the bowl should be clean when you’ve finished.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a rough rectangle.  Dust your rolling pin to stop it sticking & roll out the pastry until about half a centimetre thick.

Fold into thirds (fold one end into the middle, then the other over the top), turn it 90 degrees, then roll again (remember to re-dust your work surface to stop it sticking).  Repeat this once more, then very loosely wrap in a sheet of greaseproof paper & place in the fridge for about 15 minutes or so.  This will allow it to rest & the layers to form.

While the pastry is resting, make the mashed potatoes.  Fill the kettle with water & put it on to boil.  Cut the potatoes into small chunks, about a centimetre (this will help them cook faster) & chuck in a deep saucepan.

Add the sea salt & carefully tip on the boiling water from the kettle (no standing around waiting for the pan to heat up), just enough water to cover the potatoes.  Put the lid on & simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until soft enough to cut easily.  Drain well into a colander over the sink.  Give the empty pan a quick wipe with a cloth to remove any moisture, then tip the potatoes back into the pan, ready for mashing.

Add the semi-skimmed milk & butter, then get mashing!  It’s up to you how mashed you want them (personally, I prefer a bit of texture to my mash & always use a manual hand-held masher).  Leave to cool with the lid off (don’t be tempted to put the lid on, as it forms condensation & you’ll end up with watery spuds).

While the mash is cooling, pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare your baking tray.  Line it with a sheet of greaseproof paper, lightly brushed with the melted butter (the butter will add colour & crispness to the underside of the pasties as they bake).

Add the finely chopped onions & grated cheese to the potatoes, along with a little seasoning & a sprinkling of Thyme leaves.  Give everything a good stir & have a quick taste to make sure you’re happy with the filling (this takes restraint, because I could just eat it from the pan at this stage).  Set aside.

By now, your pastry will be ready to roll.  Lightly flour your work surface & rolling pin, then roll out the pastry to about half a centimetre in thickness.  Make sure it’s nice & even, but don’t worry about being too precise.

Place your saucer or plate on the pastry, cutting neatly around the edge & repeat until you have cut out as many as you can.  Where you have leftover pieces of pastry, place them on top of each other, reshape & roll out again.  Sometimes, I’ll just shape these last ones with my fingers rather than cutting them out again (trust me, it will all be fine once they’re baked).

Take one of the circles & roll lightly from top to bottom, to make a more oval shape.  Place a couple of spoonfuls of the potato mixture onto the lower half of the pastry, leaving about a centimetre edge of pastry uncovered.  Repeat until you have all your pasties made.

Brush a little beaten egg around the edge of the pastry & fold the top half of the pastry over, pressing the edges together to seal in your filling.  From one corner of the pasty, gradually squish the edges together to form a crust, finishing at the other corner.  Lift onto your prepared baking tray, prick holes with a fork in the top.  Repeat this step, until you have all your pasties made.

Brush them well with the beaten egg & sprinkle on a little black pepper (or grated cheese if you like).  Bake in the centre of the oven for about 25-30 minutes until gorgeously golden topped & piping hot.

Place on a cooling rack for a few minutes – even if you’re eating them warm, they will be like the surface of the sun right now & melt your mouth.  While they’re cooling a little, grab a few crisp salad leaves or some chunky chips (or both), pile them on a plate & tuck in!

Fabulously flaky pastry, filled with fluffy cheesy potatoes & crisp red onion, these delicious savoury pasties are perfect for a light lunch or lazy supper.  If you do have any leftover pasties, they can be frozen once completely cooled & reheated when you fancy one (pop them in the oven at 200*C, for about 15-20 minutes until piping hot again).

These delicious pasties also make fabulous flaky finger-foods, great for picnics & parties – just make smaller nibble-sized ones & add a spicy tomato dip for dunking!  I use my tomato sauce recipe for meatballs & add a pinch of cayenne to give it a kick (recipe link here: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/having-a-ball/).   Next time you have a cheesy comfort food craving, try my easy cheesy mashed potato pasties!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaf It Out Cake!

Autumn is definitely making her presence felt, with sultry November sunrises becoming crisp, chilly mornings splashed with sunshine.  The trees have turned tinted leaves into a stunning array of amber hues & luscious colours.  This collection of colourful foliage always draws my admiration, as they seem to suddenly appear in full beautiful bloom & disappear just as quickly.  Recently, whilst parked under a particularly pretty tree at a local supermarket, I managed to snap some shots of it’s vibrantly golden leaves shimmering in the sunshine.

Nature is my biggest inspiration (as you probably can tell from my sugar artwork) & this time of year is no exception.  It’s a deliciously indulgent season, perfect for hot chocolate & comfort foods to sustain us until Spring.  And what better way to celebrate the changing of the seasons than with a sumptuous chocolate cake, layered with rich dark cherries & fluffy cream!   Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go! 

What you need:

8oz Salted Butter, room temperature
5oz Caster Sugar
3oz Light Muscovado Sugar (Soft Brown Sugar)
6oz Self Raising Flour
2oz Cocoa Powder
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
2 teaspoons Instant Coffee
4 large Free Range Eggs
2 tablespoons Greek Yoghurt

For the topping & filling:
200g Dark/Plain Chocolate, for melting
200g Mascarpone Cheese
300ml Double Cream
1/4 jar Black Cherry Conserve or Jam

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C.  Prepare two deep 7 inch cake tins – I used loose-bottomed ones for this, as it’s easier to remove the cakes when baked.  Smudge a little butter around the tins, sprinkle on a little flour & shake all around until thoroughly coated.  Add a greaseproof paper disc in the bottom of each tin & set them aside.

Sieve all the dry ingredients into a bowl & mix well with a fork.  Put to one side.

Whisk together the butter & sugars, until a soft gold & creamy consistency.

Add an egg, whisk in thoroughly & repeat until all the eggs are incorporated.

Sift half of the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture & using a spatula, fold in until all completely blended.  Add the rest of the dry ingredients & repeat until the mixture is a thick, smooth batter & there is no flour visible.

Add the yoghurt & whisk in well.  This will lighten the mixture & also add a moist texture to the cake.

Split the batter between the two tins evenly, smoothing the tops lightly with the spatula.  Place in the oven (lower rack) for approximately 30 minutes, until the tops are risen & cracked.  Poke a stick of spaghetti in the centre & if it comes out clean, your cakes are done.

Place them in their tins on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes, until the cake sides shrink back from the tin.  The centres will dip slightly, but this is fine.

Run a spatula knife around the edge of each cake to separate it from the tin.  Carefully remove the cakes & place on the racks to cool.  Be very gentle, as your cakes will be fragile & soft.  Leave to cool completely before removing the greaseproof disc gently from underneath.

While the cakes are cooling, let’s make the leaves!  Lay out some strips of greaseproof paper on your worktop, about 6 inches wide & as long as a rolling pin.  Melt the chocolate & tip into a greaseproof piping bag, snip off the very tip & pipe some skeleton leaves on the paper strips.  Pipe the outlines first, then a strip down the middle & smaller ones to the sides.  Don’t worry about them being too perfect – real leaves are all kinds of shapes & sizes.  Pipe as many or as few as you like.  Any leftover chocolate (even I laughed at that one!) can be just squished out onto another sheet of greaseproof & left to set for nibbling later.

Carefully drape your strips of leaves over a rolling pin & leave until completely set.  They will become curved & softly shaped, perfect for topping your cake.

Next, make the filling!  Whip the mascarpone & double cream in a large bowl until soft peaks, firm enough for piping (go easy, you don’t want it to become too firm).  Tip into a piping bag with the nozzle of your choice – personally, I like to keep it nozzle-free.  Tip:  If your cream does get too firm, add a teaspoon or two of cold semi-skimmed milk to soften it again.

When your cakes are completely cooled, place one on a decorative serving plate & pipe in a pretty pattern around the edge.  For the spots, I pipe on the outer edge inwards.  Spread a layer of the cream mixture in the centre of the cake & evenly spoon on a good layer of the black cherry jam.

Take the other chocolate cake & flip it over, so the flat side is on the top, then place it on top of the filling.  This will leave you with a nice flat surface for decorating!  If you’re serving this later, pop your cake in the fridge in an air-tight container (to stop it drying out).

Pipe swirls on top of the cake at intervals, then add your chocolate leaves to each swirl – don’t forget the one in the centre!   Sometimes, I also grate a little chocolate to sprinkle on the top of everything (optional, but rather lovely).

Time to indulge, so grab some plates & serve!  The fluffy, almost fudge-like texture of the cake is complimented by the cloud of mascarpone cream & crisp, chocolate leaves that crackle as you bite them.  This cake also looks fabulous with frilly white chocolate leaves mixed in with the dark, dusted with grated white chocolate too.   If you have any extra chocolate leaves, save them for nibbling with your morning coffee or add them to the frothy tops of hot chocolate, amid swirls of cream & marshmallows.

Decadent, dark & deliciously indulgent, this rich cherry chocolate cake will wow your guests whatever the occasion.  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

Plum Tuckered Pud!

The seasons have started to shift, it’s almost as if you can taste it in the air,  as we swap long lazy Summer days for softer sunsets & cosy nights.   Hot-headed August has passed the baton to sultry September,  bringing with her the bountiful & beautiful beginnings of a delicious Autumn.  There is nothing as therapeutic as an early morning meander in the countryside, especially during September!  Gloriously gorgeous berries adorn the brambles & hedgerows, while trees are groaning under the weight of their fruity loot.  Nature is amazing, turning tiny Spring blossoms into an Autumnal array of plump berries & fragrant fruits, with a little help from her pollinator peeps of course!

One of the most deliciously juicy fruits of this season are plums, especially Victoria plums – sweet, golden centres wrapped in tart,  sherry-coloured skins.  We were lucky enough to be given a couple of bags of these beauties by a kind neighbour & so I decided to create something a bit special, a sweet but tangy treat – my Plum Tuckered Pud!  Now before you get all excited, this is a bit more involved than my usual “chuck it in a bowl & bake” kind of recipe.  It’s easier than it sounds, I promise, but the best bit is you can make each stage in advance & fling them together at the last minute, making you look like a superstar dessert ninja.  If you don’t have the time to make the pastry or can’t be bothered, you could always skip that step & buy a ready-made pastry case or ready-to-roll shortcrust pastry instead.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the pastry:
175g Self Raising Flour (with extra for dusting your worktop)
60g Salted Butter, cold from the fridge
60g Sugar
1 large Free Range Egg
Zest of half an Orange & half a Lemon

For the fruit compote:
2kg Victoria Plums, washed
3 Star Anise
1 Cinnamon Stick
3 long strips of Orange Zest (I used a speed peeler)
1 ball Stem Ginger, chopped finely
100g Sugar
50ml Cold Water
2 teaspoons Ginger Syrup from the jar
A good squeeze of Lemon Juice
25g Cornflour & approx 2 tablespoons of cold water to make a liquid

For the cream topping:
250g Mascarpone Cheese
250ml Double Cream
2 generous tablespoons Greek Yoghurt
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract (the good stuff)
1 generous tablespoon Lemon Curd
Fresh mint leaves to decorate
1 teaspoon Icing Sugar for dusting

What to do:

Firstly, we’re going to make the plum compote.  Half the fruit, carefully remove the stones (you can put them in the composter).  Set aside a few plums in a dish, cover & pop in the fridge to keep them firm for later (these will be for your topping).

Cut the rest of the plums into quarters – leave the skins on because they naturally contain pectin, which will help the compote thicken up.  Put them in a large saucepan with the sugar, water, lemon juice, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, ginger syrup & the long strips of orange zest.

Gently heat until the sugar dissolves into the water, carefully nudging everything around the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Bring to a boil & simmer gently for about 15 minutes on a medium heat, stirring regularly to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.  It should reduce to a sunset-coloured jammy syrup that smells like Autumn.

Turn down the heat, remove the spices & orange strips, then add the cornflour water.  Stir swiftly into the fruit compote (not so much you splash yourself, but enough to blend everything).  Once the compote has thickened up, turn off the heat immediately. 

Leave to cool in the pan, without a lid on (because that will trap condensation & add unwanted moisture).  When cool, transfer to a dish, cover & put in the fridge to chill.

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C (fan oven) & prepare your baking tin – I used a loose-bottomed quiche/pie tin, about 9 inches across.  Smudge a little butter around the inside & edges, then sprinkle a tiny bit of flour on top, shaking it all around until you have a fine floury layer.  Tip out the excess onto your worktop for rolling out your pastry.

Put the flour & sugar into a mixing bowl, then add the butter.  Using your fingertips, squish the butter into the sugary flour & rub together, until you have a fine crumb-like mixture.

Break up the egg with a fork, then add that & the zest to the floury crumbs & mix together to form a soft pastry dough.

Roll out the pastry a couple of inches larger than your tin & about half a centimetre thick.  Lay it carefully over your rolling pin & gently lift onto the baking tin, allowing it to drape into the middle.  Push it into the edges gently, so that it covers the entire base & sides of your tin evenly.

Cut off the excess around the edge of your tin, or you could just use your fingers to press it off against the edge.  Prick a few tiny holes in the base with a fork.  (Any leftover pastry can be cut into shapes & baked on a flat baking tray, dusted with a little icing sugar – perfect for nibbling).

Grab a bit of greaseproof paper, screw it up to make it easier to shape to your tin & then loosely place on top of your pastry.  Tip some baking beads or dry pasta shapes onto the paper, spreading them all across the top & filling the pastry case.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes, just until it starts to go golden.

Remove from the oven & place the tin on a cooling rack.  Carefully lift out the paper & baking beads or pasta (which you can save for another time).  Set them to one side on another rack to cool too.

Tip the Mascarpone cheese, double cream, Greek yoghurt, lemon curd & vanilla extract into a large mixing bowl & briefly whisk together until thick & fluffy.  It’s going to be piped on top of your dessert, so it needs to be thick enough to do so.  If it’s too thick, add a little more Greek yoghurt to loosen a little (a couple of teaspoons should do the trick).   Once you’re happy, pop the bowl in the fridge to chill.

Remember the leftover plums?  These are going to be your dessert decorations.  Cut the plums into thin slices, cover & put in the fridge.

Time to assemble!  Before lifting your pastry case from the tin, here’s a tip to give it a more elegant edge.  Take a sharp knife & run it around the top of the pastry, level with the tin edge, slicing off any bobbly bits.  Transfer your pastry case to a pretty serving plate.

Spoon the plum compote into the pastry case, filling it to just over three quarters of the way to the top, smoothing the surface.  Save any leftover compote (more on that later).

Snip the end off a piping bag (we’re going nozzle-less!) & half-fill with the Mascarpone cream, twisting the top of your bag to make it secure.  Starting at the outer edge, pipe round plump splodges of the cream close together to form a bumpy circle.  Then pipe more splodges on the inside, working your way towards the centre of your dessert.  If you have any gaps, pipe a few smaller ones to fill them in.

Now for those pretty plum slices we made earlier!  Place the slices skin-side up at intermittent gaps across the top, like shards of sunshine peeking through the clouds.  Add a couple of mint leaves at intervals – you don’t need many, just a few will do.   Pop your dessert in the fridge for about ten minutes or so.

Just before serving, remove from the fridge & give it a delicate dusting of icing sugar.  Slice & share!  This delicious dessert would make a pretty Autumnal centrepiece for a special dinner or celebration.  Refreshingly tangy, softly spiced plum compote, crowned with a feather-light fluffy cloud of Mascarpone cream & fresh plums, all sat atop a crisp, melt-in-the-mouth pastry base.  If you have any of that delicious plum compote left over, it’s a magical multi-tasker – it tastes rather lovely spread on hot buttered toast, or try a spoonful with a few slices of cheese & crackers too.

So why not make the most of the fabulous plums available this Autumn & try my pretty Plum Tuckered Pud!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

 

Easy Like Sunday Cuffins!

Weekends are perfect for baking & I especially adore Sunday mornings!  It’s as if time stands still, those precious couple of hours when it’s just you, your cup of coffee calmness & the birds singing outside.  Although I do love baking anytime, there’s a ravishingly relaxing appeal about weekend baking – up & at ’em early, whipping up a batch of bakes, their heavenly scent perfuming the whole house while everyone sleeps.  Plus, we all have those days where only cake will do, even for breakfast.  This is one of my favourite family “weekend baking” recipes & it fills that cake-shaped gap we sometimes have.

When I wrote this recipe, I wanted the fluffiness of a cupcake combined with the moist fruitiness of a muffin, so I created my brown sugar cuffins – no, that’s not a spelling error!  My cuffins are just what Sunday mornings need – a delicious cupcake-muffin hybrid that’s a little bit lazy & fabulously faff-free.  There’s not a drop of oil in sight, definitely no buttercream & there’s more whisking than stirring (electric whisking too, so very little effort required).  They’re not going to win any awards for their supermodel looks either – cuffins are meant to be gloriously rustic homemade fayre, rather than delicate dainty perfection.  Over the years, I’ve used different fillings (raspberry & white chocolate is always popular), but these are my favourite version.  I’ll admit, they’re not the healthiest option, but they are exquisitely satisfying & if you do eat them for breakfast, you’ve got the whole day to burn off those calories!

The recipe below makes a dozen cuffins, although I like to bake double this amount & freeze some for future cuffin cravings (it’s real, trust me!).  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

4oz Self Raising Flour
4oz Salted Butter (room temp, slightly softened)
2 large Free Range Eggs
3oz Light Soft Brown Sugar (Muscovado)
1oz Caster Sugar*
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract (the real stuff, not “essence”)
1 dessertspoon Greek Yoghurt (overflowing a little, not very precise)
Tip of a teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda
1/2 a heaped teaspoon of Baking Powder
Approx 150g fresh Blueberries, washed
Zest of a whole Lemon (wash & dry it first)
1 heaped teaspoon of Self-Raising Flour for the fruit

For the syrup:
Juice of a whole lemon
2 tablespoons Caster Sugar*

(*If you don’t have caster sugar, which I rarely ever do, you can use regular granulated sugar & whizz it up in a coffee grinder/blender to make it finer).

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 175*C (fan oven) & line muffin trays with paper cases (I used paper cupcake cases, which work perfectly).

Pat the washed blueberries on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper, then tip them onto a shallow plate or casserole dish lid & add the lemon zest.  Sprinkle with the teaspoon of flour (you don’t need much) & give everything a good shake around, until the blueberries are completely coated.  The zest may fall to the bottom of the dish, but there should be hardly any flour left (if there is, don’t worry, just tip everything into a sieve to shake off the excess).  Set aside on the plate for later.

Using an electric whisk, cream the butter, sugars & vanilla extract together until it becomes a fluffy, spun gold colour.

Add one egg at a time to the creamed butter & sugar mixture, then whisk thoroughly, repeating until all the eggs are combined.

Sieve the flour, bicarbonate & baking powder into the mixture & then using a spatula, fold into the wet ingredients completely so you are left with a pale golden batter.

Add the Greek yoghurt & give it a good swish around with the spatula, before sprinkling in approximately three quarters of the blueberries & lemon zest (save some for pre-baking topping).  Stir them into the mixture & you’re done!

Scoop little mounds of the mixture into your prepared muffin tins (carefully, so you don’t burst any blueberries), using either an ice-cream scoop or two large dessert spoons (they don’t need to be exact).

Once they’re all full, plop a few of the leftover blueberries on top of each cake with a few strands of lemon zest.

Bake on the lower shelf of the oven for approximately 20 minutes, until the cuffins have risen & are a deep gold – the plopped on blueberries will have half-disappeared into the tops.

To check they are cooked, poke a strand of dry spaghetti in the centre of a cuffin & if it comes out clean, they’re ready!

Carefully place onto a cooling rack & leave to cool slightly, while you make the zesty lemon syrup.

Squeeze the juice of a lemon into a jug (I usually stick a fork in the centre of each half,  then squish it around firmly over the jug).  Add a couple of tablespoons of sugar & heat either in the microwave or in a small pan, until the sugar has dissolved into the lemon juice.  Set aside to cool for a couple of minutes.

Get the spaghetti strand again & poke a few holes in the top of each cake while they’re still warm.  Spoon a little of the lemon syrup onto the cakes, drizzling sparingly (you can save any leftover syrup in an ice-cube tray in the freezer).

Leave them for a couple of minutes, until the syrup has soaked nicely into the top of each cuffin.  If you allow to cool completely, you can freeze them in small batches using a bag or air-tight container.  They take a few minutes to defrost on a cooling rack & will still be as moist & fluffy as when you first baked them – perfect for when you crave a cake, but don’t want to bake!

Before the rest of the family get up, go pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, grab a cuffin or two & indulge in a little cakely goodness before you start your day!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

Coupler Soup

Summer appears to be racing by at a dizzying pace, wildly spinning the wheel of weather as she goes.  From sultry heatwaves to spectacular storms, August has given us plenty of gloriously sunny days too.  It’s always a busy month for us, celebrating birthdays in the first few days & our anniversary later in the month (there’s much cake to be baked & eaten!).  Breakfasts, lazy lunches, pasta & Prosecco have all been enjoyed on the patio,  while the plants have been abundant with their produce & easily picked for dinner.

The last few months, I’ve been sharing the home office with Mr Hungry (his upstairs, mine down) & it’s been a change most households have seen this year.  There are some downsides (other people can hear & see you on live calls), but there are plenty of ups too!  Not so long ago, we would meet for lunch in town to share a coffee & a few kisses, before wandering back to work.  This brief interlude would put a pep in my step & make the afternoon brighter – we have now have resumed our mid-day meet-ups.  Even though we are all in much closer proximity at the moment, it doesn’t mean we should become territorial about sharing space with our loved ones.

Shopping has recently become a bit like a treasure hunt, heightening our resourcefulness & making us more aware of our limited pantry.  This is nothing new to some of us, especially those on a limited budget or diet.  Being frugal can be a blessing, especially in the taste department.  Think of it as one of those old TV shows, where you were given a bag of ingredients & had to make a delicious dish.  It’s a challenge, but you’re up to it!

One of my favourite frugal recipes is based on an old minestrone soup.  Hearty, healthy & heaped with lots of little ingredients that don’t cost much.  We call this the Coupler Soup, because you need a couple of this & a couple of that.  We’ve all bought a tin of this, a packet of that, hoping to use it in some elaborate & exquisite dish, but shoving it to the back of the cupboard.  Bits of leftover dried pasta, a random tin of beans & that twisted up tube of tomato puree with a tiny bit left.  All seemed a bit pointless when you popped them in there, but now they are like gold dust!  You might notice I’ve used spinach instead of Cavolo Nero or cabbage.  This is simply because I like spinach on my pizza & there’s always a bit leftover, just enough to chuck in a soup or whizz into a delicious pesto, as you will know if you’ve been following my blog.  Over the years, I’ve adjusted the recipe to accommodate whatever ingredients were available, but it always has the same result – soupy satisfaction!

One of the main ingredients for this recipe is fresh chicken stock & here’s the link to my stock recipe:  https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-ten-in-a-dish/ .  I dilute it for this recipe, with a little water to wash out the tomato tin.  If you prefer to use a stock cube, make enough according to the instructions on the pack.  Ready to take the plunge?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

2 pints of fresh Chicken Stock, well-strained if homemade
4 rashers Bacon (I used streaky smoked or whatever is in the freezer)
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
2 medium Carrots, washed & finely chopped
2 sticks Celery, washed & finely chopped
2 dried Bay Leaves
1 tin White Beans, drained (such as Cannellini or Haricot beans, whatever you have available)
1 tin Italian Plum Tomatoes (save the tin for measuring your pasta)
2 handfuls of Dried Pasta (see above)
2 handfuls of fresh Spinach, washed & chopped chunky, stems & all
1 tablespoon Tomato Puree
1 sprig fresh Rosemary – remove leaves & chop finely (keep the stalk)
2 cloves fresh Garlic, chopped finely
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper

What to do:

Prepare your ingredients first – wash, peel & chop finely as above.  Set them aside, ready to start.  Keep the Rosemary stalk & dry it – they make fabulous skewers for mini kebabs (slide whole cherry tomatoes & bocconcini on, then bake for 5 minutes in a hot oven – delicious!).

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a deep saucepan (you will need the lid for later) & using some good kitchen scissors, finely snip the smoked bacon into the pan.  Let it sizzle for a couple of moments, allowing it to render it’s fat (this adds essential flavour & in all honesty, it’s a miniscule amount).

Add the onion, carrot & celery to the pan, mixing well with the bacon & oil.  Give everything a good stir & fry for about 4-5 minutes, until slightly softened & the onion become glossy.

Tip in the garlic & Rosemary into the vegetables & then add the beans.  Add the chicken stock & bay leaves, stirring everything gently together.

Pour the plum tomatoes into your hand over the pan, squishing them carefully into the liquid (you can always tip them into a bowl & do this beforehand, if you prefer).

Fill the tin with cold water, swish it around to get the last drops of tomato juice & pour into the pan.

Using the empty tin, fill it with dried pasta pieces – whatever you’ve got in the cupboard is fine.  This recipe is to make the most of those leftover bits you’ve been saving for a rainy day – well it’s chucking it down now!  Carefully, without splashing yourself, sprinkle them into the soupy liquid.

Add the tomato puree, tip the chopped spinach into the pan & get stirring, mixing everything together.

Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer & put the lid half on the pan.  Let it bubble away softly for about 15-20 minutes, giving it a swirl around with the spoon occasionally.

Using a clean spoon, have a taste of your soup  & adjust the seasoning to your personal taste (get a clean spoon before tasting again).  It’s worth noting that any stock (homemade or shop-bought), along with bacon, contain salt, so you shouldn’t need to add much.  When you’re happy with the flavour, turn off the heat & tuck in!

Scoop your soup generously into bowls, making sure you get to the bottom of the pan!  Add some well-buttered, crusty bread for dunking & indulge in some soupy comfort food.  Ladle any leftovers into tubs or pots when cooled, pop them into the fridge & save for another day (it should keep in there for a couple of days at least).  I’ve used jam jars to stash soup in the fridge, just put an upturned cupcake case on the jar before putting on the lid (it gives it a bit of a better seal).

Although an everyday soup, it can also be turned into a souptacular starter.  Got a bit of day old bread that needs using up?  Make your own croutons!  Cut into cubes (as chunky or dainty as you like), drizzle with a little olive oil & bake on a tray in the oven at 220*C for about 10-15 minutes (give them a shake halfway through cooking).  Once bronzed & crisp, tip them onto a sheet of greaseproof paper on a cooling rack, before transferring to a serving plate for people to help themselves.  Pile a few in the centre of your soup, swirl with a little olive oil & a dusting of grated Parmesan.  That’s it!

Whether a romantic lunch or a suppertime starter, try my Coupler Soup to use up those random ingredients & create a hearty, wholesome soup!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

A Ragu-gu-gu!

It’s been a funny old year so far, like one of those intense mystery novels with one dizzying plot twist after another.  None of us know what’s going to happen next, the author has gone rogue & the leading characters are all bickering with each other like petulant, hungry teenagers.  When everything seems to be a swirl of stress & stomach dragons are grumbling, never fear – comfort food is here!  A proper dinner helps calm grumbling of all kinds, soothing those pesky stomach dragons & restoring a little peace (albeit briefly).

Preparing a meal is something I truly enjoy.  It’s impossible not to feel relaxed, while creating something so comforting & satisfying.  The whole process requires you to focus on each task & that in itself seems to release any tension.  It’s not as precise or technical as some recipes, but it’s sheer ease brings a sense of peace as you create a meal for your family.  My adoration of Italian food began when I was a teenager & this is a rush-less ragu recipe I’ve been making for my family ever since.  It is at the heart of my homemade meat lasagne, slowly baked between blankets of cheese sauce & sheets of homemade pasta, regularly shared as a Sunday dinner & often accompanied by my Husband’s focaccia (he’s quite a talented baker).  Sometimes I make it with sausages, sometimes beef or both, usually whatever I’ve got in the freezer (I freeze meat in small batches for this very purpose).  

This is a family-sized recipe & will serve at least six people generously (it makes a decent six portion lasagne too, although I have stretched it to eight on occasion).  Keep some handy in the freezer for when you’re short on time (make sure you use fresh beef or sausage if you intend to freeze it though, not previously frozen).  

A ragu is not fast food – to me it means “Relax And Gradually Unwind”, so just take your time & go at your own pace – there’s definitely no rush.  Ready to ragu?  Hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

200g Minced Beef or 4 Plain Pork Sausages, skins removed (or half beef & pork)
2 medium Carrots, washed, peeled & finely chopped
2 sticks of Celery, washed & finely chopped
1 medium Onion, skin removed, topped, tailed & finely chopped
2 tins of Plum Tomatoes & their juice
1 generous tablespoon Tomato Puree
1 or 2 dried Bay Leaves (if you’re unsure, just use one)
1 sprig fresh Rosemary (approx 6″ long), leaves chopped finely
3 or 4 cloves garlic, chopped/sliced finely
2 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A splash of Balsamic Vinegar (the good stuff – about a teaspoonful)
Seasoning – Sea Salt & Black Pepper, both freshly ground

What to do:

Firstly, prepare your garlic, carrots, onion & celery.  Make sure you wash the carrots & celery thoroughly to remove any grit or dirt.  Peel the carrots & trim the ends off them & the celery.  Chop finely into mini pieces & set aside on your board.

Next, peel the garlic & onion.  Top & tail the onion, then chop finely as before – you can always use the food processor for this if you prefer.  Here’s a little tip from me: wear sunglasses to help reduce any tears (obviously not dark ones, you need to see).

Chop the garlic finely & then the Rosemary.  Remove the spindly leaves from the stem first – I save these for making mini-tomato & vegetable kebabs.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or deep frying pan on a medium heat.  Add the carrot, celery & onion & fry for a few minutes to soften.  Keep them moving around the pan, so they don’t catch & burn.

Add the meat – squeeze the sausages from the skins straight into the pan if it’s easier.  Break any big chunks into finer pieces (I use tongs for this, but a wooden spoon or spatula is just as good).  Stir fry until the meat is thoroughly coloured & all the pink has disappeared.

Season with a little salt & pepper, sprinkle in the garlic, Rosemary & bay leaves, giving everything a good stir (the scent is fabulous).  I don’t add the garlic at the beginning, because it can burn quite quickly & lose it’s sweetness.

Next, add the tomatoes – I tend to buy the whole plum tomatoes & squish them by hand, evenly over the pan.  Yes, it’s messy but you’ll wash.  Half fill each tin with cold water to swirl out those last little drops of tomato juice into the pan too – we don’t waste anything!

Add the tomato puree & a good splash of balsamic vinegar (even a few drops makes all the difference).  Reduce the heat to low & let it softly simmer for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

Give it a taste, then add a little salt & pepper as needed (depending on the sausages you use, you might not need very much).  Using a clean spoon, taste it again to make sure it’s to your liking (seasoning is a personal thing).

Once you’re happy, let it bubble away on a gentle simmer for another 30 minutes or so, until reduced to a rich, thick meaty sauce.  Give your ragu another quick taste to check the seasoning is good & adjust it if you need to.  To test if it’s done, drag the spoon through the middle (the parting of the ragu) – if it leaves a gap & you can see the bottom of the pan, then it’s ready!

Get the family together, grab a fork & get stuck in!  It makes a sumptuously lazy supper generously spooned over spaghetti (with a good scattering of grated Parmesan on top), or stuffed in a variety of pasta parcels & shapes.  This versatile rich meat sauce is especially fabulous layered up in lasagne – here’s the link to my vegetable lasagne recipe, just swap the meat ragu for the vegetable one: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/perfect-pastafication/

Sometimes, I’ll use the leftover meat sauce in a pasta bake (brilliant when you’re short on time & easily feeds two people comfortably).   Pre-heat the oven to 180*C.  Pop a couple of generous spoonfuls of ragu into the bottom of a small baking dish.  Next, cook a couple of handfuls of fusilli (these twirly swirls make the best topping for this,  as they are easily coated with the cheese sauce). 

Make the cheese sauce while the pasta is cooking – melt 45g butter in a pan, then add 45g plain flour & stir well to make a thick paste.   Slowly add 300ml of semi-skimmed milk, a little at a time & stir gently (I use a whisk to make sure there are no lumps).  As the sauce thickens, stir more vigorously until silky smooth.  Add a small handful of grated mild cheese (approx 60g) & mix in until melted.  Taste, then season accordingly with a little sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.  Sprinkle generously with more grated cheese, dust with a little dried Oregano & bake for about 30 minutes.

When it’s ready, the topping will have turned a gorgeously golden hue.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before tucking in (just add a simple green salad & a little homemade focaccia for scooping up the sauce.

When the world gets too fast, slow down the pace & make a little comfort in your own kitchen with a fabulously flavourful ragu – Relax And Gradually Unwind.  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

Just Dough It!

It’s early Summer & thoughts turn to sunny weekends & lazy days, sipping something refreshing in the garden & eating delicious food together.  The comforting fragrance of freshly baked bread, garden-grown herbs & sweet garlic wafting through the air, always reminds me of sunny picnics on the patio.  While the Husband is gardening his socks off (with refreshing intermissions of something chilled), I enjoy creating a few treats for us to indulge in later.

A favourite nibble is slender squares of fresh focaccia, warm from the oven & dunked in a dish of extra virgin olive oil & dark treacley Balsamic vinegar.  Simply topped with herbs, garlic & sparkly shards of sea salt, this fluffy delight is always welcome!  This version is a fabulously fruity version, topped with ripe baby tomatoes.  As they bake, they become darker, slightly softened & a little jammy, resembling cabachon rubies mounted in a golden cloud of fluffy focaccia.  Pardon my poetics, but this type of food can be inspiring!  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & let’s dough it!

What you need:

500g Strong White Bread Flour (plus extra for kneading & dusting)
12g Yeast (dried or fresh if you prefer)
330ml Lukewarm Water (dip a finger in it & it should be just warm)
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus extra for drizzling)
Half a teaspoon ground Sea Salt
12 Baby Plum or Cherry Tomatoes (washed, dried & halved)
1 sprig Rosemary (preferably fresh but dried is fine)
3-4 cloves Fresh Garlic, chopped finely
Sea Salt & Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Coarse Semolina (for your baking tray)

What to do:

Firstly, pre-heat your oven to 220*C – it’s going to need a good hour to get hot enough.

Prepare a large baking tray by sprinkling with a little coarse semolina, to stop your dough sticking (you can use a little flour instead if you prefer).  If you’re filling the tray, use one with a little lip around the edge to contain your bread, otherwise a flat one will do for free-form focaccia.

Next, dissolve the yeast in the water & give it a good firm stir, until blended into a pale muddy coloured liquid.

Mix the flour & salt separately in a large mixing bowl, making a dip in the centre.

Add the olive oil & pour in the yeast liquid, then bring everything together until you get a soft, sticky dough.

Scoop everything onto a lightly floured worktop, leaving a clean bowl.  Dust a little flour into the bottom of the bowl & set aside for later.

Knead the dough for about ten minutes, stretching it by pushing away with the heel of your hand & pulling it back over itself.  Turn the dough slightly & repeat.  If you’ve got a good sticky dough, you might need a dusting of flour occasionally as you’re doing this – be careful not to overdo this, otherwise it will alter the recipe & become unpleasant.  Remember, the effort you put into the kneading now will result in a fluffy, well-risen bread later, so give it some elbow grease – just think of those toned arms!

Once kneaded, pop your dough back in the bowl to prove.  Dust lightly with a little flour.

Smudge a few spots of olive oil on a sheet of clingfilm & loosely place over the top of the bowl.

Place somewhere warm & draught-free to rise for at least an hour (a warm airing cupboard is good if you have one).  If you can leave it longer, then do so.  Sometimes, I’ll make the dough in the morning & let it prove all day, ready for baking in the evening – all the kneading will make the dough silky smooth, soft & pliable.

When your dough has doubled in size, it’s ready for the next stage.  Simply take the oiled film off & scoop your dough onto a lightly floured work surface, making sure you remove all remnants from the bowl (you’ve put a lot of work into this, so don’t waste any!).

Give it light kneading for a few seconds, just to knock out any large bubbles that may have formed.  On a very lightly floured worktop, roll & stretch your dough to fit your tin, until about half an inch thick.

Carefully place your dough into the tin & drizzle olive oil across the top, gently smoothing it across with your hands.  Using your knuckles, make dimples all over your dough.

Dot the tomato halves all over the top, round side up & sprinkle evenly with the chopped garlic, a good pinch of freshly ground black pepper & sea salt.  Remove the Rosemary leaves from the stem & either leave whole or chop roughly, before sprinkling them on top too.

Bake in the top of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until your bread is lightly golden & the tomato skins have turned a dark crimson.

To check if your focaccia is cooked, lift it up carefully at one end & tap the bottom – if it sounds hollow, it’s ready!

Remove from the baking tray & slide onto a cooling rack.  While it’s still warm, drizzle with more olive oil & give it a couple of minutes to cool slightly.

Transfer to a chopping board & slice into focaccia fingers, ready for dipping & devouring!  Add a few accompaniments & turn it into a mini feast – try a few sundried tomatoes, fragrant olives, salami, Proscuitto & a few cheeses.   Place the board in the centre of the table & let people help themselves.  Perfect for a relaxed afternoon treat or a light lunch.  Next time you’re feeling kneady, just dough it!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x