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Cook Book Challenge 3: Nigella Express

27 Jan

Title: Nigella Express

Author: Nigella Lawson

Stats: paperback, pages 390

Blurb:  “The domestic goddess is back and this time it’s instant”, “Once you’ve seen what Nigella can do for you in 20 minutes, you’ll never want anything else”.

Cooked from it before? Yes, fewer than 5 times.

Recipe:  Lazy Loaf.

Nigella Express

This is Nigella’s first appearance here, I have several of her books so I’ll try and space them out a little. As you’d expect from the Domestic Goddess the book is a stylish affair with luscious photography, and Lawson’s trademark style of writing, which I personally really enjoy. Recipes are grouped into themes such as “retro rapido” for classic dishes and “on the run” for packed lunches.

Lazy Loaf 1

The majority of recipes don’t have long lists of ingredients which are easily available but for some reason this book just hasn’t grabbed me. This may be because although the ingredients are easily available they aren’t the sort of thing I have in the house, and don’t see the point of going out to buy them for a supposedly quick dinner. So, finding us low on bread and the shops closed I thought I’d try the lazy loaf recipe, which as well as promising fabulous bread with minimal effort also uses ingredients we actually had, yeast, muesli, bread flour and milk.

Lazy Loaf Ingredients

With no kneading, and no proving time the mixing stage is very simple; everything in a bowl and stir.

Lazy Loaf 4

The cooking is slightly more complex, needing a temperature change part way through but otherwise it does live up to its promised ease. Here is the finished loaf…

Lazy Loaf 2

The recipe does say the loaf will be dense and it is, but in a similar way to a non yeasted bread. Also despite containing yeast it doesn’t rise much. The loaf goes into a cold oven which I may be to give it a little time to rise but don’t expect a loaf with lots of oomph. The muesli gave added texture and the occasional nugget of dried fruit was a welcome addition. The loaf was really tasty, it lasted well and toasted nicely, we mainly ate it for breakfast but I think it would have gone well with cheese too making it a good all rounder too.

Cook it again? Yes but I’m still not sure anything else has caught my eye.

Cook Book Challenge 2: Russian Polish and German Cooking

20 Jan

Title: Russian German and Polish Cooking

Author: various contributing editor Lesley Chamberlain

Stats: paperback, 256 pages

Blurb: “The first full-colour, truly comprehensive collection of Eastern European recipes”.

Cooked from it before? No

Recipe: Hungarian Goulash

Polish book

I’ll be honest I’m not sure why I bought this book! It was a random purchase from a garden centre. It may have been the promise of Romanian recipes, I taught English there for two summers and have very fond memories, but it turns out there are only really two recipes from Romania. The rest have very little information about their heritage, although it is spilt into chapters for each country or area. That said it is a book about cooking not culture, history or anthropology and a £4.99 maybe you get what you pay for.

Polish book inside

Disappointed, less than enamoured by the dated looking photography and falling into the trap of assuming everything would be heavy and potato based this book languished on the shelf. It has been cold this week and The Man said he would like something hearty and warming so this book finally had it’s chance to impress with Hungarian Goulash.

Goulash ingredients

The recipe has a simple list of ingredients, only specifying that beef should be used, Lamb makes it a different type of goulash and flour should not be used so the finished dish is a thin stew and any thickness coming from the potato breaking down. The recipe instructions were clear and simple but didn’t give too much guidance e.g chopped onions leaves a lot of room for interpretation but equally creativity and is in keeping with the no frills theme of the rest of the book.

The goulash was simple to cook, and didn’t require much attention or stirring etc; although I did fail to judge how much it would make and switched pans.

Given my initial scepticism about this book and it’s potential I was really surprised by how tasty this was.

Goulash Finished

Rich, warming and flavoursome, perfect in cold weather and I’d imagine very welcome in the depths of a Hungarian winter. The Man was surprised and impressed too. The only let down for me were the dumplings, yes that’s what you can see floating in there. I raised my eyebrows at these from the start as they only contain plain flour and egg, no seasoning or additional flavour. I found them chewy and gluey and lacking in flavour. Rib sticking? Yes, tasty ? No! Perhaps if I’d made them smaller, like very small pasta it would have been better but I’d leave them out next time.

Cook it again: Yes and there are a couple of puddings I’d like to make including sweet cheese dumplings but I have a feeling it will be a while before I do.

Cook Book Challenge 1: The Italian Cookery Course

13 Jan

Title: The Italian Cookery Course

caldesi book

Author: Katie Caldesi

Stats: hardback, 511 pages.

Blurb “the definitive guide to discovering and cooking Italy’s many gastronomic treasures”

Cooked from it before? Yes but fewer than 5 times.

Recipe: Ragu alla Bolognese

I picked this off the shelf because the first response I got from a friend on facebook was that I should cook Spag Bol and this seemed the most obvious choice from a number of contenders!*

I think this is a gorgeous book, very stylishly presented with beautiful photography but full of detail and quality recipes.

caldesi pages

Each recipe is prefaced with some background, tips about key ingredients or an anecdote giving the book a more conversational style and means you learn something extra as well as how to cook the dish.

Caldesi Bolognese

As you can see Caldesi’s recipe has a relatively small number of ingredients which are all easy to get hold of. It also includes chicken livers (the dark red mass to the right of the picture) and milk both more traditional ingredients in Bologna but which certainly weren’t in the versions of this my mum used to make!

I wouldn’t say the book as a whole it is aimed at completely novice cooks, the recipes do assume some knowledge and confidence especially for more technical procedures like butterflying a leg of lamb but Katie Caldesi takes you through everything in clear steps. This recipe would be a great way into the book as it is straight forward, but delivers a depth of flavour (I think thanks to the chicken livers and milk) which sets it apart from other versions.

caldesi meat

For offal-phobes the liver is chopped very finely cooks down so you can’t taste it as an individual element but it gives an underlying richness and deeper flavour to the dish as does the milk. It does take a while to cook, around 2 hours, but it doesn’t need to be watched closely so you aren’t tied to the hob keeping an eye on it.

This is the final result.

Caldesi Bolognese finishes

A lovely, rich ragu, impressive given the lack of herbs and garlic I would normally put in. The meat is really the star of this recipe which is relatively light on tomato which doesn’t dominate here as they can in other versions.

Would I cook from it again? Yes and then some. There’s a recipe for an Oxtail dish from Rome which I will be trying very soon.

*Further book choices will be made in a similarly random manner.

The 85 Cookbook Challenge

2 Jan

The Man and I have a lot of cookery books, I knew this. I just didn’t quite realise the scale of our collection. Every New Year I like to have a sort out and a tidy up, it helps me deal with the passing of the old year and helps me start the new one with the impression of being more organised. Today I counted the books on our cookery book shelves, yep specific cookery book shelves (I was chuffed to bits when I found our new flat had the perfect set of shelves so they could all be together in one place). Here they are … all 85 of them!!!

cook book shelf

I find them oddly comforting books and many have memories attached to them; we pick them up on holiday, people have give them as presents, some are impulse purchases, others longed for volumes. They range from the sublime, hello Fat Duck Cookbook to the ridiculous; I’m looking at you Favourite WV Campervan Recipes ! Shamefully some have been forgotten, never cooked from and the shelves are getting taken over with all kinds of other bits and pieces.

cook book shelf 2

If nothing else this is a waste of money and space, but I do think I would struggle to work out which to give away. So … for the next 85 weeks I aim to  cook at least one recipe from a different each week.

Maybe by the end of this I’ll have worked out which books I can live without, (to make space for some more), but I hope it will also encourage me to try some new recipes and ingredients and add some more dishes to the list of ones we have regularly. I hope you’ll find it interesting and fun to follow. I’m sure it won’t be plain sailing and there are some interesting retro books in my collection which I’m going to have steel myself to cook from, but I did buy them!

If anyone has any ideas about how I pick where to being I’d  love to hear from you? Would you start alphabetically? By date published? What do you think?

Introducing our local Community Bakery!

13 Nov

One of the exciting things about moving to a new area is exploring the local shops and businesses and I’ll be honest The Man and I are pretty lucky, having moved near to some very lovely shops we are getting a little spoiled. As I harbour the dream that one day food will play more of a central role in my work life too I’m always interested in finding out how other people are making this a reality and support small local producers.

When I discovered Blackbird Bread on Twitter, I as keen to find out more about Twickenhams Community Bakery, and not just because of the name! After a flurry of tweets we took delivery of a wonderful foccacia which was eaten to quickly for a decent photograph but does feature here with figs and dolcelatte.


Our next order was a sourdough loaf and a lemon drizzle cake as a treat.

ImageImageI loved the flavour of the sourdough and like the focaccia it kept very well, refreshing nicely even after a few days and I found we were finding more creative ways to use the bread, not letting it go to waste. The lemon drizzle was great too and disappeared very quickly!

The Blackbird bakes three times a week from his home kitchen and I’m looking forward to trying more of the great range of loaves. You can have your bread delivered in the local area for a small charge but I really enjoyed the slightly covert feeling of picking my loves up from a house on a street not too far away.

When a lot a big supermarkets are stocking “artisan” bread and a local bakery can shift loaves without  price list seemingly regardless of where they are baked it feels nice supporting someone who is taking a different path; producing a small number of quality loaves for the local area. Sticking it to the big guys one loaf at a time!

If you live in Twickenham go and check out Blackbird Bread if not have a look around, the person next door might just be a a community baker…it could even be you!

The Hungry Sparrow is back!

23 Sep

Things have been quiet around here for a long time but it’s been a bit of a busy year, I’ve got a new job, got engaged, moved house and had to give up the allotment (because of the move) I’ve also started running again in a half-hearted way and have started a diet. I may have stopped blogging but definitely didn’t stop eating!

Food wise the past few months have looked a bit like this.

Home made mozzarella

Cola Ham

campfire cooking in Suffolk

Smoked trout, asparagus and eggy bread cook on the campfire.

Then there was my biggest and probably most important food project so far, a cake for the wedding of my closest friends. In the end I was really pleased with the way it turned out but that may have been more luck than skill.

On display with some gorgeous lemon curd friands made a super talented friend who can pipe icing beautifully.

So there we go ; I’m still cooking away, and we have been growing a few things in our little court-yard hopefully now I’ve got some balance back in life I’ll blog a bit more.

No-knead brioche buns

25 Feb

This recipe was an attempt to redeem myself after my collapsing bread disaster; with no kneading apparently required and a very slow overnight rise I thought I would give it a go. The idea came from my very cool copy of Ideas in Food but is based on one from the BBC Good Food website.

I was a bit sceptical as to whether it would rise, be really heavy or taste like brioche. I have to say I was quite impressed, after peering at the dough nervously all evening as it didn’t seem to be “doing anything”, but the texture of the dough in the morning was much more elastic than I expected, and the buns did rise nicely.

They aren’t the same as a more traditional brioche, but then I did half the recipe  I’m posting as there are only two of us which made it a bit more fiddly (1 1/2 eggs is tricky to measure out, although you can keep the remainder to brush the tops with in the morning) but I would make it again as it was a lovely, super quick treat.


  • 200g butter , very soft
  • 2 tbsp golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs , plus 1 beaten for glazing the next day
  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • ½ tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 200ml whole milk


Mix the butter, sugar and eggs in a large bowl – they’ll look a mess rather than coming together nicely.

Add the flour, yeast and salt and pour on the milk. Stir the mixture to make a sticky dough (use you hands if you prefer), cover the bowl and leave somewhere cool for the whole day or overnight.

Heat the oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Butter a 12-hole muffin or bun tin. Pull off lumps of dough the size of a clementine (flour your hands if it’s sticky) and form into a ball.

Drop into one of the holes and repeat. Brush the tops with egg and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and cooked through.

Malteser Brownies

19 Feb

I’ve been a bit flustered recently with one thing and another and in those circumstances I need to keep myself busy, so I’ve been baking up a storm. This doesn’t always mean baking well, the bread I made on friday to calm myself down with some kneading collapsed totally after I let it rise too quickly. However, I like to think I redeemed myself with these brownies.

The recipe is adapted from Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy which won me second prize at the allotment association show in the summer, her victoria sponge won me a first so thanks Lorraine! Swapping the oreos for maltesers, some of which have been given a good whack with a rolling-pin (very therapeutic) gives the brownies a lovely malty taste as well as leaving nuggets of biscuits in the cooked mixture. They are very rich, but very good and won’t hang around for long!


  • 165g  butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 200g dark chocolate, grated or finely chopped
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 2 free-range egg yolks
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 165g soft light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
  • 150g pack maltesers


  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease a 20cm/8in square baking tin with butter, then line with baking paper.
  • Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat and add the grated (or chopped) chocolate. Leave to stand for a few minutes, or until the chocolate melts, and then stir together. Alternatively, you can put the chocolate and butter in a bowl and melt in the microwave in 25-second blasts, stirring well each time.
  • Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and vanilla together in a large bowl until the eggs begin to get light and fluffy. Add the sugar in two additions, whisking between each. Pour it around the side of the egg mix so as not to knock out the air that has been whisked in. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes stiffer. Once the egg mixture is ready, pour the chocolate into it – again around the sides so as not to knock the air out.
  • Open one en of the bag of maltesers and hold it closed so they don’t go every where, place on a hard surface and give the bag a few good whacks with a rolling-pin to break up some of the chocolate.
  • Add the flour, cocoa powder, salt and a the malteasers and stir until fully combined, then pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25–30 minutes. The middle should be very so slightly gooey. Leave the brownies to cool in the tin.
  • Pull the brownies out of the tin and cut into squares.

Cochinita Pibil

30 Jan

Cochinita Pibil is a recipe I’ve been wanting to try at home for a long time after trying it at Wahaca and has been made possible by the haul of  Mexican ingredients The Man and I brought back from New York. Some girls would have demanded a trip to Tiffany’s; I made sure we visited local stores and markets to pick up some hard to get items, luckily our luggage came in bang on the weight allowance flying home.

A traditional Mexican dish, Cochinita Pibil involves slow cooking pork, or sometimes a whole pig, in a deep red citrusy sauce until it is meltingly tender.

The key ingredient here is Achiote (annato) powder which gives the dish its red colouring, and is also used in much smaller quantities to colour Red Leicester cheese. The recipe I used is a tweaked version of this one from Helen Graves. I love her blog, her recipes have never let me down and always deliver on taste.

I had wanted to use a big slow cooking joint of meat that I could cook for a long time and would leave  plenty of left overs, but in the end I plumped for four pork shoulder steaks and cooked them low and slow.

The smell that filled the flat as it was cooking was insanely good and had The Man hanging round the kitchen looking longingly at the oven. The end result was awesome,  wonderfully juicy and messy to eat piled on tacos and secured the highest level of praise from The Man “a triumph”!


First off make the achiote paste although you can buy a ready-made version at Mex  Grocer.

2 tablespoons achiote powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
Pinch black pepper
6 whole allspice
1.5 tablespoons water

It should look something like this,  it is VERY RED but don’t be scared.

To this I added;

4 cloves of garlic finely chopped,

1/2 tsp dried chillies

2 tbsp orange juice and 2 tbsp ( the recipe should use Seville oranges, so no need for the lime but I couldn’t get my hands on any)

I added this along with the meat to the achiote paste and left to marinate in the fridge to a few hours ,although it really deserves to be left for much longer; 24 hrs would be fantastic.

When it’s time to get cooking, pre heat the oven to 150c. In a large pan with a lid brown the pork steaks, reserving the achiote paste. When the pork has a good level of char on each side add the left over paste to the pan along with a further 100ml of water and 100ml orange juice.

Place the lid on the pan and place in the oven for 3 hours checking occasionally and toping up with orange juice if it looks like getting too dry. After 3 hours remove from the oven and shred the meat, it should be so soft it falls apart with pressure from a fork.

We ate them with red onions “pickled” in lime juice and spicy salsa but I wish I’d made guacamole too.

January on the allotment

22 Jan

January is the month I usually start to tidy up the allotment after the ravages of winter, I spent this afternoon spring cleaning the shed, digging over the vegetable beds, rescuing our very over grown strawberries and generally taking stock. I got a bit carried away and did more work than one person probably should so I’m typing this while nursing a medicinal G&T.

Sundays on the allotment also come with the ammusing accompaniment of local league football being played just over the fence; today it seemed very important that man called Gary should “keep his head up”. I’m not sure what that meant and from all the shouting going on neither did Gary!

Although the winter so far has been much milder than the last one, it has been very windy and there has been one major casualty on the allotment, the greenhouse. Here it is…

Doesn’t it look sad! The Man and I found it with the cover completely ripped off by the winds a few weeks ago and all we could do at the time was pick up the plastic cover which luckily hadn’t gone too far and stuff it in the shed. For reference here is the view in January 2011.

The Man thinks it’s fixable, but I’m not sure where to start.  I’m impressed it has held together for the three years we’ve had it, we snapped part of it on the day we put it up, it had to be majorly re enforced last year, and the other allotment holders around us looked pretty sceptical when they saw it. We shall see, I hope there is life in the old girl.

On a brighter note the rhubarb is starting to come through.

The first thing we planted and still coming back for more.

Despite the hard graft which always accompanies the first proper session on the allotment in the New Year it’s nice to return to something cyclical, look back at where things were last year and what might be this year. One thing is for sure Cabbages are now added to the list of things I won’t bother with again (soon there will only be weeds on this list), but something has been eating them despite all my attempts at protecting them so I’m giving in if I can’t eat them then nothing else is going to!

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