Grana Padano cheese straws with Prosciutto di San Daniele

The season of home entertaining and dinner parties is nearly upon us and cheese straws really have to be one of the loveliest homemade nibbles you can serve to your guests when they first arrive. They’re oh so easy to make (because I cheat and use shop-bought puff pastry) and if you’ve got kids you can probably get them in on the act too.

As with all simple foods, success is down to the quality of the ingredients. To make good cheese straws, you must start with really good cheese. Continue reading “Grana Padano cheese straws with Prosciutto di San Daniele”

Wyke Farms giveaway: win a collection of three Cheddar cheeses

Wyke Cooler Bag Comp_CroppedIn follow-up to my recent Cheddar and apple rough puff pie post, I’ve teamed up with the good people at Wyke Farms to give you a chance to try their delicious range of Cheddar cheeses yourself.

We’ve got three sets of Wyke Farms Mature, Extra Mature and Vintage Cheddar to give away, all supplied in special edition Wyke Farms coolbags. Continue reading “Wyke Farms giveaway: win a collection of three Cheddar cheeses”

Cheddar and apple rough puff pie

cheddar and apple rough puff pie

It might be unseasonably mild in the UK for January, but these interminably dank, grey days still lead my body and mind to craving wholesome, hearty, warming dishes. Puddings and pastries in particular are at the top of my wish list, and what could be more wholesomely tempting than a slice of hot apple pie smothered in cream? Continue reading “Cheddar and apple rough puff pie”

Christmas cheeseboard challenge and giveaway

cheese board2

If there is one food I could never, ever, ever give up, it would be cheese. That would be a hell on earth just not worth contemplating. There are so many incredible cheeses out there waiting to be discovered and my idea of food heaven is being presented with a heavily laden cheeseboard, groaning under the weight of a carefully selected assortment of fine, artisan cheeses, partnered with tasty biscuits, fruity chutney and a good full-bodied red wine or port. Sheer bliss.

So when Davidstow invited me to take part in their Christmas Cheeseboard Challenge, I really didn’t need to be asked twice. Continue reading “Christmas cheeseboard challenge and giveaway”

Healthy Halloween muffins

Halloween Collage

The Halloween frivolities have started a little early here. Last weekend we had an absolute ball at the Halloween-themed Reach for the Bubbles afternoon disco in Frome. We painted each others’ faces, scoffed West Indian style hot dogs, drank mulled cider (and hot apple juice), played drum and bass musical statues and took part in a Thriller line dance, all to an awesome soundtrack provided by the phenomenal Lionel Richtea on the decks.

We’ve also been experimenting with some gruesome bakes in the Bangers & Mash kitchen. The kids wanted to see if we could come up with some terrifying but tasty snacks ready for the Halloween party season. And I wanted to see if we could make them vaguely healthy rather than the sugar-fuelled treats we generally seem swamped by this time of year.

Healthy Halloween Muffins Collage

Our experiments resulted in these cheesy vegetable muffins, which the girls have delightfully called Fungus the Bogeyman Muffins (spinach and black olives) and Blood and Gore Muffins (beetroot and carrot). If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to tempt the little monsters at your Halloween party or to fend off the trick-or-treaters, then I definitely recommend you give these a go. I promise they’re much more delicious than they might look or their names might suggest. Continue reading “Healthy Halloween muffins”

Gratin Polesano / potato and cheese gratin

Gratin Polesano CollageI was given this delicious gratin recipe by Italian chef and cookery writer, Valentina Harris, who I met through my involvement in the wonderful Wells Food Festival, which has now become an annual event in England’s smallest city.

This gratin comes from Northern Italy, and is perfect as a supper dish in itself with a green salad on the side, but if you really fancy pigging out it’s also a great accompaniment to roast chicken or pork for Sunday lunch. Continue reading “Gratin Polesano / potato and cheese gratin”

Chicken tortilla bake

chicken tortilla bake2 text

With Jack Frost nipping at our toes, the time for warming, hearty comfort food is most definitely here. And if it’s quick and easy to rustle up, so much the better.

This simple Chicken Tortilla Bake is a firm family favourite, and so easy to throw together with a few frozen veggies. It’s basically a lasagne with flour tortillas replacing the pasta sheets. Continue reading “Chicken tortilla bake”

Queso Fundido

Queso Fundido Collage

Queso Fundido is essentially a Mexican version of a cheese fondue, bringing together wonderfully oozy, gooey cheese with a fabulously spicy and very, very moreish cooked chorizo.

It’s a great dish to serve to a hungry family or perhaps when you have a few friends over for drinks. Serve it in the middle of the table with plenty of tortilla chips and hunks of crusty bread and people will come running, elbowing each other way to load up their next scoopful and laughing as everyone ends up with cheese all down their chins.

You could use a good shop bought chorizo meat for this dish but I made my own, using minced pork from my favourite butcher and the Cool Chile Co’s new Mexican Chorizo Seasoning, which I can highly recommend.

Mexican oaxaca or queso quesadilla would be the traditional cheeses to use in this dish but as I couldn’t get hold of these I experimented with Mozzarella and good old Cheddar, which I thought worked a treat.

queso fundido

Queso Fundido

Serves 4 to 6

200g uncooked Mexican chorizo meat (shop bought or make your own – see below for the Cool Chile Co recipe)
150g Mozzarella cheese, grated
200g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 large tomatoes, chopped
bag of tortilla chips
crusty bread – baguette is perfect

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200° Celsius.

In a large frying pan, cook the chorizo over a medium heat for about five minutes. Drain off the excess oil and set aside.

Mix the two cheeses together in a cast iron skillet or ceramic ovenproof dish and place in the oven until just melted. This takes around five minutes but keep an eye on it as you don’t want the cheese to burn.

Give the cheese a good mix before topping with the chorizo and chopped tomatoes.

Serve at once with tortilla chips and bread. It will be gone in seconds.

queso fundido

It’s incredibly easy to prepare your own chorizo meat using the seasoning kit from Cool Chile Co.

The contents of the kit include traditional chorizo spices (achieote powder, Mexican oregano, thyme, cinnamon, bay and clove) along with dried ancho, guajillo and chipotle chillies, , and the resulting chorizo is full of rich and beautifully smoky flavours, which I was surprised to find aren’t completely overpowered by all that chilli. It’s actually quite mild in terms of chilli heat, and both my daughters enjoyed it lots and weren’t at all phased by the spiciness.

Mexican Chorizo

This recipe created double the amount of chorizo I needed for my queso fundido so I froze the rest and plan to use with tacos very soon.

1 Cool Chile Co Mexican chorizo seasoning kit
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
50ml cider vinegar
500g minced pork or beef (I used pork)
4 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil

Roast the chillies from the seasoning kit, and soak in hot water for 15 minutes. Blitz these in a food processor with the rest of the herbs and spices from the kit, as well as the garlic and cider vinegar, to create a dark red puree. Chill in the fridge.

Place the minced meat in a large bowl and add the chilled puree. Mix together thoroughly.

The chorizo meat is now ready to be used in your chosen dish, whether a queso fundido as here, or perhaps fry and crumble over fried or scrambled eggs, or mixed with diced onion and potato for a tortilla topping or taco filling.

queso fundido

I’m entering my queso fundido into this month’s Spice Trail challenge, where the theme for April is Destination Mexico.

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Disclosure: The Cool Chile Co provided me with a complementary Mexican Chorizo Seasoning kit for review purposes. All views expressed are completely my own and are 100% honest.

Black bean soup and chilli baked feta

baked feta with black bean soup

Sadly I’ve never been to Mexico but it’s right up there near the top of my bucket list. When I make it there, this is the kind of food I picture myself eating, washed down of course with a bottle of ice cold cerveza.

This black bean soup and chilli baked feta were two of the recipes I discovered through Kitchen Nomad, which unfortunately is no longer operating. I really rather liked this food box scheme, where each month ingredients from another mystery location would arrive on your doorstep along with recipe cards created by a well-known chef.

Thomasina Miers provided the recipes for the Mexican month and these two dishes were our favourites, although my husband and I enjoyed them sin niños as the chilli would undoubtedly have proven a little two much for them both, even with their adventurous palates.

The baked cheese should really feature a Mexican queso fresco but Miers recommends feta as a good alternative for this classic dish. The feta tastes amazing melted into the olive oil and is brought alive by the flavours of garlic, lime, chilli and oregano.

The black bean soup is sumptuously comforting, with a subtle and smoky warmth from the chipotle and ancho chillies, and it tastes extremely good with a dollop of soured cream and some of the chilli baked feta on top. Comer con gusto!

chilli baked feta

Chilli baked feta

Serves 6

500g feta cheese
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
half tsp dried oregano
10 sprigs fresh thyme
2 chillies de arbol, chopped
juice and zest of 1 lime
120ml extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180 C / gas mark 4.

Drain and slice the feta and place in an earthenware dish large enough to take the cheese in a single layer.

Sprinkle the garlic, herbs and chillies over the top of the feta, together with the lime juice and zest. Then pour over the olive oil.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is soft and squishy and smelling heavenly. Serve with crusty bread and black bean soup.

black bean soup

Black bean soup

Serves 6

25g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
half an onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 tsp chipotle sauce
500g tin cooked black beans
salt and pepper
1 litre vegetable stock
juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp ancho chillies, crumbled
small bunch of coriander,  chopped
150ml sour cream

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and when it starts to foam add the onion and herbs. Sweat gently for 10 minutes until the onion is soft.

Add the tomatoes,  garlic and chipotle sauce and cook gently for 5 minutes before adding the black beans. Cook for a few minutes before adding the stock and lime juice. Then simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes.

When cooked, whiz it up with a stick blender. Don’t go at it for too long as you want this soup to have a bit of texture.

In a small frying pan, dry roast the ancho chillies for a few minutes until they start to smoke and then remove from the heat.

Pour the soup into six warmed bowls and scatter over a little of your chilli baked feta with some chopped coriander, crumbled ancho chillies and a spoonful of soured cream.

cooking with herbsspice trail badge square

I’m entering these dishes into my Spice Trail challenge, which this month is heading to Mexico in search of delicious delights, and also into Cooking With Herbs hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage as they feature fresh coriander and dried oregano.

Tartiflette pizza

Tartiflette pizza

This recipe was first published in my Eat the Season column in the Wells Journal on 30 January 2014.

Certain dishes can magically transport you to places from your past. Whenever I eat chicken satay, for instance, I’m taken back to trips to Malaysia as a child, visiting my mother’s family. And whenever I eat buttery poulet a l’estragon, I’m straight back to France and the first time my father-in-law cooked for me and I discovered Elizabeth David.

This tasty pizza is another dish that takes me back to France. But it’s not to the snowy French Alps I go, which is where Tartiflette originates. It is to St Émilion; where I sat with my family last summer in a touristy pavement cafe in the blazing August heat, and where I first tried this rather different take on the classic French cheese and potato bake.

I promised myself then that I would make the pizza on my return home. It’s only taken me five months. But actually, I think this pizza is probably suited to the winter months. It is rich and creamy, and can definitely be classed as an indulgent comfort food with its topping of delicious Reblochon, the French mountain cheese from the Savoie region.

tartiflette pizza

My recreation back at home worked well. I wasn’t 100% sure the children would cope with the cheese as it does have a rather strong taste, but they gobbled it down greedily. Potato may sound an odd topping for a pizza and this is certainly not a light pizza, but it is just so good with the oozy cheese and caramelised onion, making for a very satisfying meal.

Tartiflette pizza

Makes 2 large or 4 individual pizzas

For the dough:

400g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
1 tsp dried oregano
250ml luke warm water
1 tbsp olive oil
semolina for dusting

For the Tartiflette topping:

150g smoked lardons
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
6 potatoes, peeled, boiled and cooled
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 Reblochon cheese, around 240g
50ml double cream

To make the dough, put the flour, salt, dried yeast and oregano into a large mixing bowl and mix well.

Make a well in the middle and pour in the lukewarm water and oil. Gradually work the flour into the liquid, making a soft dough. If it’s too dry, add a drop more water. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour.

Flour your surface before tipping the dough onto it. Knead the dough by stretching it away from you, then pulling back into a ball. Do this for five minutes or so, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover loosely with cling film and put in a warm place for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

While you are waiting for the dough to prove, gently fry the lardons until they release some fat. Add the sliced onion and continue to fry gently until the onion is soft. Stir in the crushed garlic.

Uncover the risen dough and punch it back down. Flour the surface again and divide the dough into four balls. Stretch or roll out each ball until you have a thin circle about 22cm across. Place the pizzas onto baking sheets, lightly dusted with semolina.

Thinly slice the cooked potato and arrange on the pizza bases. Scatter over the lardons, onion and garlic and sprinkle with the oregano. Thinly slice the Reblochon and lay on top. Finally drizzle each pizza with cream.

Bake in the oven for around 10 minutes, until the topping is golden and the pizzas are crispy. Serve at once with a crisp green salad.

tartiflette pizza

Admittedly pizza isn’t one of the most sophisticated dishes ever created, but in my eyes Reblochon cheese is one of the sexiest foods I know. And sexy foods in my eyes equal romantic foods. So I’m entering my Tartiflette Pizza into February’s Cheese, Please! challenge over at Fromage Homage where the theme this month is Cheesy Romance. This pizza would definitely get me in the mood for love…

cheeseplease