Chocolate Babka

I wasn’t planning this as an Easter themed post but the timing does seem appropriate.

This Chocolate Babka recipe is roughly based on a Paul Hollywood one that appeared as a Great British Bake-Off technical in 2020 (

I’ve adapted the recipe to use my trusty no knead and overnight proving method (as with my cinnamon buns). Paul H uses a mixer with a dough hook and I don’t have one of those. I’ve also left out the roasted hazelnuts because my son doesn’t like nuts and I’m not bothered either way. If you want to add nuts you’ll need 65g of hazelnuts roasted in a 180oC oven for 4-5 minutes and roughly chopped – sprinkle them over the chocolate before rolling.

This is an extremely sweet and indulgent weekend treat. In my version the process starts the day before (usually a Friday in my case) and results in a fresh Babka for a late morning weekend breakfast.

Chocolate Babka


  • 275g strong white flour
  • 5g fast action dried yeast
  • 25g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 50ml milk
  • 80g melted butter


I’ve given three options for the filling quantities

First weight in brackets = Paul Hollywood’s original recipe. We found this far too sickly

Middle weight in bold = As a sweet-toothed family we find this just right

Last weight in brackets = recommended if you don’t want things too gooey and chocolatey (but then if this is the case perhaps this recipe isn’t for you!) I haven’t actually tried this last option as there is a rebellion whenever I suggest it

  • Dark chocolate (80g) 60g (40g)
  • Butter (100g) 75g (50g)
  • Cocoa powder (40g) 30g (20g)
  • Caster sugar (150g) 110g (75g)
  • A good pinch of salt

The morning before you want to eat your Babka

Mix all the ingredients for the dough in a bowl. Bring together in a rough ball until everything is just incorporated. It will be very sticky. Cover bowl with cling film and leave all day to rise at room temperature.

I do it first thing in the morning while we’re all shuffling around making breakfast and packed lunches. I can then ignore it until night time.

In the evening

Melt all the ingredients for the filling in a pan or in the microwave. Leave to cool so that it is soft enough to spread but not too runny, pop in the fridge if you want to speed things up. The first time I made this I used the mixture straight away and it was a disaster – there was runny sauce seeping out everywhere.

Tip the dough onto a floured work surface and roll it out to a 40cm by 30cm rectangle. Spread the chocolate mixture thinly over the dough right to the edges (I use a large palette knife) and then roll up lengthways to make a long sausage.

Cut down the middle of the sausage with a very sharp knife. With the open, chocolate-streaked, sides upwards, twist one length over the other, lifting the left over the right then the right over the left to make a two stranded plat. Lift into a loaf tin lined with greaseproof paper up the sides (mine is 23 x 13 x 7 cm).

This is a bit of a faff but don’t worry too much, just get it as even as you can in the tin. As you can see from the photo below I don’t care too much for neatness but it doesn’t affect the taste. Paul H cuts off the ends for a tidier look but I hate waste and don’t bother.

Leave the loaf covered in the fridge overnight for a very slow prove. It needs a tight seal so it doesn’t dry out. As a proving bag I use a sealed plastic cover which came with some oven cleaner and was meant to be used for cleaning the racks. But you can also use clingfilm and a rubber band to ensure there are no gaps.

The next morning

Take out of the fridge in the morning and leave for 2-3 hours to prove. It usually takes an hour to come back up to room temperature and then 1-2 hours extra depending on the weather.

Bake at 180oC for 15 minutes, with a tray of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to add steam.

Then turn the oven down to 160oC for 20 minutes.

Rest for at least 5 minutes. At this point the chocolate will be hot and runny. Rest for longer if you want a neater experience. We can never wait that long.

Devour with strong coffee and a smug smile!

Paul Hollywood brushes his babka with a sugar syrup at the end but in my view, this added sweetness is unnecessary.

Before it hits the oven!

Prawn and squid ink linguine (for Edgar)

I love making pasta and my trusty Imperia pasta machine is one of my prized possessions. I’ve heard lots of talk recently of poor old pasta machines sitting unloved and never-used in cupboards. I feel a little bit sad when I hear this.

Obviously, if it’s a week night and I’m in a rush, I’ll reach for shop bought. But with a little bit of time on my hands, I find making pasta easy and calming to make, and very calming to eat.

This recipe is for my son Edgar, who ate something similar at Marrocco’s on the seafront in Hove and urged me to try making it for him at home. I’ve put my own spin on the dish and the Marrocco family would probably be horrified. The idea of adding a little curry powder I borrowed from Monica Galetti. Adding vermouth for a touch of sweetness is all Nigella. This is still my son’s favourite dish and the one he always asks for on special occasions.

They sell squid ink sachets in my local fishmongers but you can buy it online. Make sure to wear an apron when making the pasta as squid ink stains horribly (as my much-loved orange jumper found out to its cost). Of course, if you don’t have a pasta machine you can use regular shop bought linguine. I’m not really sure how much flavour the actual squid ink adds but it looks very dramatic.

Prawn and squid ink linguine

Serves 3 (generous portions)

For the pasta

  • 330g flour (‘00’ is best but ordinary plain flour works too)
  • 3 eggs
  • A dash of olive oil
  • A small sachet of squid ink (4g)

For the sauce

  • 300g cooked prawns (frozen are fine, defrost before cooking)
  • A small (150ml) carton of single cream
  • A slug of white vermouth (I use a bottle of Martini Bianco that lingers in the back of the cupboard left over from a party – that word party feels so alien and distant right now)
  • 1 cup of water (you may not need all of this, see note below)
  • A heaped teaspoon of curry powder
  • A good handful of chopped fresh dill
  • 1 onion, grated or very finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • A tablespoon of lemon juice
  • A little oil for frying (I use olive oil)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To make the pasta dough, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with a wooden spoon until you have a rough dough. Then go in with your hands and knead until smooth and all the black squid ink is incorporated. Leave the pasta dough to rest wrapped in cling film in the fridge for at least half an hour (but you can leave for up to a day).

When you’re ready to shape, clamp your pasta machine to your work surface and set the machine to its thickest setting. Divide your dough into four and work with one ball at a time (keep the others covered with the cling film so they don’t dry out). Start by flattening the ball a little with your hands and then running through the machine.

I remember using my machine for the first time and feeling like I needed three hands to make it work. One hand has to turn the handle, while the other one has to guide the dough into the machine and then also catch it on the other side so that it doesn’t all fold up and stick together. I promise that after just a few attempts you’ll get the hang of things. If not enlist a helper – children are useful here.

If the dough starts to crack a little (this often happens to me as I don’t knead for long enough because I’m lazy) don’t worry, just fold the piece in two and run through the machine again until it softens up a bit, you may need to do this several times. Once smooth keep rolling the piece through the machine changing for thinner and thinner settings. It helps to dust the sheet lightly with flour each time you roll it through. For this linguine you need to stop at the second to last setting.

Dust each sheet lightly with flour and leave to dry out a little while you make the sauce. I use a clothes drying rack to hang the sheets on.

Heat a little olive oil or ground nut oil in a frying pan (about half a tablespoon is fine). Fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat until soft and slightly caramelised (about 5 minutes). Then add the curry powder and stir well.

Add a good slug of vermouth (approx. 3 tablespoons), turn up the heat and let it bubble away to burn of the alcohol for a minute. Add half the water and then the cream. Simmer gently on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Get ready now to cut the pasta. Dust the sheets well with flour, then run them through the machine using the thinnest linguine cutter.

Plunge immediately into boiling water for around 2-3 minutes (or until done). Drain well.

To finish off the sauce, toss the prawns in the lemon juice then add the prawns to the sauce in the frying pan and stir to heat through thoroughly. Do not boil at this stage or the sauce will curdle. Add half the dill and then salt and pepper to taste.

You may need to add a little bit more of the water at the end if the sauce is too thick. Every time I make this recipe the amount of water differs and so it’s impossible for me to give an exact measurement (this is possibly due to the varying water content of the prawns). Just use your instinct and don’t be afraid.

It’s up to you whether you mix the sauce into the pasta or serve on top. I like to mix half in and serve half on top. Garnish with the remaining dill.

Making pasta with Edgar in the olden days.
Prawn and squid ink linguine
Making pasta with Edgar in the even older days.

I wish I could include a photo of Edgar now but he’s 10 and camera shy.

Battle of the ginger biscuits – Grandma Nancy vs Winnie the Pooh

ginger biscuits on a tray

A couple of weeks ago I was delighted to receive another handwritten letter – this time from my long-time best friend Claire – which included this recipe for her Grandma Nancy’s ginger biscuits.

For reasons that I’m unable to fathom since it’s lockdown, I have lately struggled to find the time/energy for baking. I have multiple random stresses as the moment that leave me unable to focus on anything. So I made an executive decision to hand the task to my daughter Elizabeth – unconvincingly veiled as a home-economics lesson. To make things more exciting (for whom I wonder?) I suggested she try another ginger biscuit recipe as a comparison so that we could all sit down for a taste test afterwards. After all, kids love a competition! Elizabeth chose the other recipe from Katie Stewart’s Winnie the Pooh cookbook which was the book that first got me into baking all those years ago!

And the result? Well I can report that we dithered and debated – eating a lot of biscuits in the process – but couldn’t decide on a winner.

In summary, The Winnie the Pooh ones are more like those you might buy in a packet – they are light and sugary and have a perfect snap and a uniform shape. Grandma Nancy’s are like a ginger hob nob, the oats give the biscuits more substance and a chewy texture.

Both are deliciously old-fashioned, moreish (three is about right in my opinion) and perfect with a cup of tea.

PS. I asked Elizabeth to guest write this blog post but she politely declined.

PPS. Apparently home-economics is now called food-tech.

Grandma Nancy’s ginger biscuits (handed down to me by my friend Claire)

Makes approx. 20

  • 75g (1 cup) of oats
  • 120g (1 cup) of self-raising flour (we used plain because we had run out of SR)
  • 70g (½ cup) of caster sugar
  • 120g (4oz) margarine or butter (we used Stork margarine)
  • 1 heaped dessert spoon of golden syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (Elizabeth used baking powder to make up for plain flour use)

Gently melt margarine and sugar and syrup in a pan.

Mix together the dry ingredients and add the melted margarine, sugar and syrup.

Mix with a wooden spoon to form a dough.

Put small balls of 1 dessertspoon onto a baking tray well-separated. Flatten each ball down a little.

Bake at 200oC for 10 minutes.

Winnie the Pooh’s Ginger nuts (from Katie Stewart’s The Pooh Cook Book) – with tweaks by Elizabeth

Makes 16

  • 120g (4 oz) of plain flour
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt (a pinch)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice
  • 60g (2 oz) of butter or margarine (we used Stork margarine)
  • 60g (2 oz) of caster sugar
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of golden syrup
  • 3 teaspoons of hot water

Add flour, salt, baking powder, bicarb, ginger, mixed spice, then rub in the marg or softened butter. Stir in the sugar.

Warm the syrup and add this to the mix. Bring together with a wooden spoon into a soft dough.

Shape the mix into a long sausage. Cut in half, then in half again. Portion each quarter into four balls.

Gently flatten each biscuit with the base of a tumbler. Sprinkle some caster sugar onto a saucer and dip each biscuit into the sugar on both sides.

Then place biscuits well apart on 2 baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper.

Oven 180oc for 13 minutes.

Cool slightly on the tray before lifting with a palette knife onto a wire rack to cool completely.

ginger biscuits

Winne the Pooh’s version (left), Grandma Nancy’s (right)

ginger biscuits 1

(Sort of) ANZAC biscuits

ANZAC biscuits

Continuing with the middle-aged housewife theme during lockdown, I’ve taken to handwriting letters to friends and including a recipe. The bonus being that I occasionally get one in return.

I can’t tell you how delighted I was to receive this recipe for ANZAC biscuits from my friend Vicky. It’s a true Hand-Me-Down-Recipe as it comes from her late mother’s recipe binder which she passes to me in her mum’s memory as she was “a big letter writer”. This is just so lovely.

I couldn’t wait to try making them but true to form I just couldn’t resist a little tinker. I substituted sultanas for dark chocolate chunks. This is why they look so dark in this photo – they’re not burnt honest! They made a delicious elevenses treat and taste much better than they look in this photo.

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and Wikipedia has it that these biscuits were made to send to ANZAC forces serving in WWI. This connects nicely with the story of how I came to know Vicky. My husband found her first when back-packing around Australia in the 1990s.

Vicky’s Mum’s ANZAC Biscuits

Makes 16-20

  • 2 tablespoons of golden syrup
  • 125g of butter or margarine (I used butter)
  • 100g of caster sugar
  • 100g oats
  • 50g of desiccated coconut
  • 100g of plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g of sultanas (I used the same amount of Lindt dark chocolate cut into small chunks)
  • 1 tablespoon of hot water

Preheat the oven to 170oC.

Melt the syrup, butter and caster sugar in a pan.

Then stir in the remaining ingredients (except the chocolate chunks if you are using, the mixture needs to cool a little first if you are using these otherwise the chocolate melts as I found out the hard way).

Roll into 16 balls and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes (mine were done after about 13). I needed two trays to bake 16.

Cool on the tray until they are firm enough to transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

They keep for several days in the tin.

PS. I am embarrassed to admit to the recipe I have been including in my letters because it’s so bog-standardly middle class and apparently the most googled recipe during lockdown! But, for posterity, here it is (no photo I’m afraid but you can use your imagination).

Elizabeth’s easy-peasy banana cake

  • 2 on-the-turn bananas, mashed
  • 140g of caster sugar
  • 55g of Stork margarine (or for purists use butter)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 170g of self-raising flour
  • ½ teaspoon of baking powder

Line a loaf tin (approx. 22cm long, 11cm wide, 6cm deep) with baking parchment.

Mix all the ingredients above together in a large mixing bowl. Then, using an electric hand whisk, mix until just incorporated.

Tip into the prepared tin and bake in an oven preheated to 170oC fan for 30 minutes.

Lockdown lunch – easy flatbreads with mushroom and lentil soup

mushroom soup flatbreads

Lockdown continues with no end in sight in terms of the children going back to school. I’ve grown quite used to having them around but I feel as though I am morphing into a 1950s housewife. All meals are served on the dot at set times and my brain is clogged up with thinking about where the next one will come from and how I can mix up the random ingredients in the cupboard to form some sort of presentable family meal. Putting all my feminist principles to one side, it’s a part that I’m rather enjoying playing. PS. I do not look like a 1950s housewife. No pretty tea dresses here but rather tracksuit bottoms, no makeup and grey roots scrapped back into a rough ponytail.

We’ve now completely run out of bread and plain flour and our supply of out-of-date yeast (begged and borrowed from friends and family) is dwindling away dangerously. Luckily, we have still been able to buy self-raising flour locally so I searched the internet for a bread recipe that would make use of this. I was really delighted with the results of this flatbread recipe – loosely based on one from Jamie Oliver’s website. The dough was very forgiving and soft and it could be shaped easily without the aid of a rolling pin. It’s definitely one that you could get the kids to help with (dress it up as a home economics lesson!). My husband Ben said that they tasted a bit like crumpets which can never be a bad thing in my opinion.

The mushroom and lentil soup comes from the no-nonsense ‘New Complete Vegetarian’ by Rose Eliiot. It is rather reminiscent of healthy vegetarian cafes circa 1990, but with a few embellishments it made a perfectly respectable weekday lunch. It tasted earthy and wholesome and handily made use of store cupboard ingredients and some on-the-turn mushrooms. Weirdly my son ate it happily – despite claiming to hate both mushrooms and lentils (I didn’t tell him what was in it until the end).

The flatbreads were the star of the show though and I really recommend trying them.

Quick flatbreads (with self-raising flour)

Makes 8

  • 350g self-raising flour
  • 350g plain yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • A good pinch of salt
  • A slug of rapeseed or olive oil
  • Optional flavourings – I added a little fenugreek and some black mustard seeds

In a large bowl mix together all of the above ingredients with your hands and mix until it all comes together into a smooth dough (use a little more flour if it’s too sticky, I needed a couple of extra sprinkles). Cover the bowl with cling film or a tea towel and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes.

When you’re ready to cook, divide the dough into 8. Roll each portion into a ball and flatten out until it is about 20 cm in diameter. Use a rolling pin if you need to.

Heat a frying pan until very hot – do not add any oil. Cook each flatbread for a 1-2 minutes on either side. They’ll bubble up a bit and go nice a brown in places. You may need to reduce the heat a little if the pan gets too hot – I like it though if they catch a little in places.

Keep warm in a very low oven (around 100oC) on a plate covered with a damp tea towel while you cook the rest (the tea towel will prevent them from drying out).

Mushrooms and lentil soup

Serves 4

  • 200g pack of mushrooms (I used chestnut), chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a little butter (approximately 15g)
  • 125g green (or Puy) lentils
  • 850ml water
  • A stock cube (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • To serve, dill or parsley, cream or grated Parmesan

Take a large frying pan and cook the onions, garlic and mushrooms in the olive oil and butter until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the lentils and the water and simmer with a lid on for 45 minutes until soft. Do not add any salt or salted stock cube until the lentils are soft as the salt prevents them from cooking.

If you are using a stock cube add this in once the lentils are soft and cook for a couple of minutes more.

Blend the soup until smooth. This will make a very thick soup. I thinned mine down with a bit more water, or you can use milk if you wish. Check the seasoning and add pepper and a little more salt if necessary.

Serve topped with dill, parsley, a drizzle of cream or olive oil, or perhaps some grated cheese.


Lockdown Cinnamon Buns

cinnamon buns

It has been two years since I last posted on this blog. I’m still alive and cooking away happily but have struggled to make time to photograph and post the recipes.

I re-join you with a little more time on my hands. I’m in lockdown and made redundant from my paid work but trying to wrestle with my new, unplanned job of school teacher.

In this current housebound situation meals have become the main focus of our days. In these uncertain times even simple food brings me reassurance, comfort and genuine joy. Meals also do a wonderful job of bringing our little family together when we have all crept off to our separate corners of the house to work, study (or pretend to), read and sneakily binge on YouTube, Netflix etc.

To break up the day even more we have heartily embraced the English mid-morning snack known as ‘elevenses’ (or, ‘second breakfast’ if you’re a Hobbit). With this comes a battle with my daughter over who is going to bake the sweet treat. She’s eleven now and a keen (but messy) baker with a mobile phone and her own Instagram page mainly devoted to showing off her results. We are both very relieved that flour, yeast and eggs have now returned to the shops after a few weeks of worrying absence.

Elevenses is probably our favourite and most extravagant meal (snack) of the day. Others tend to be modest affairs consisting mainly of rice and tins of beans masquerading as some sort of curry.

Top of our ‘elevenses’ favourites are these tasty Scandinavian style cinnamon buns. With these I can fantasise that I’m in a trendy Stockholm cafe enjoying the Swedish equivalent of ‘elevenses’ known as ‘fika’ (roughly translated as coffee and cake).

The original recipe came from Magnus Nilsson’s epic ‘The Nordic Cookbook’ but I have tinkered with it to make it simpler. I use my favourite no-knead method for a minimum of fuss. The process takes 24 hours from start to finish but the actual work involved is not at all onerous.

Cinnamon buns

Makes about 20

Dry ingredients

  • 600g of strong white flour
  • 150g of wholemeal flour (or use all white if you wish)
  • 125g of white sugar (granulated or caster)
  • 15g of dried easy bake yeast
  • 15g of salt

Wet ingredients

  • 150g of melted butter
  • 320ml of milk (semi-skimmed is fine)
  • 1 egg

Filing and baking

  • 150g of soft salted butter (or use unsalted and add a little salt)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of cinnamon
  • 75g of brown sugar (demerara, light, dark take your pick or use white sugar if you prefer)
  • Egg wash, 1 egg mixed with a little milk (or just use milk if you don’t want to waste a valuable egg)

Add all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter (I use a microwave) and add the milk and beat in the egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well until combined. Knead gently for a minute just to make sure that all the ingredients are evenly mixed. I always use the no knead method for baking these days so this is all the kneading that’s required here.

Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave at room temperature to rise for around 6-8 hours. I generally do this first stage in the morning and leave to rise all day.

Tip the risen dough onto a work surface dusted with flour and roll out into a large rectangle roughly 50cm wide by 40cm. Try to get the thickness of the dough as even as possible and pull the edges to manipulate them into a rectangle (they’ll fight to stay rounded so just do your best.

Mix together 150g of softened butter with the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Spread this buttery mixture evenly over the surface of the dough leaving a 4cm border along the long edge furthest away from you. I use a butter or palette knife but the back of a spoon also works well.

Roll the dough up into a log starting from the edge closest to you and finishing with the unbuttered edge underneath.

Cut the log into slices roughly 2 cm thick. You will need a very sharp knife so that you don’t lose the shape. The end pieces will probably be a little more raggedy but don’t worry they’ll still taste great.

Transfer each slice (flat side down) onto a lightly greased baking tray. For this amount you will need two large ones with sides to catch any seepage of the buttery, cinnamon mixture.

Cover carefully with clingfilm and leave in the fridge to prove overnight.

In the morning take the buns out of the fridge and place in a warm place to rise until they are doubled in size. This will take around 1 ½ to 2 hours. I put mine in the airing cupboard.

Lightly brush the surface of the buns with the egg wash.

Bake in an oven at 200oC for around 15-20 minutes or until golden.

Cool on wire racks (if you can wait that long).

No knead focaccia


Below is my recipe for easy ‘no knead’ focaccia. I was particularly pleased that the ‘no knead’ method worked here because focaccia dough is notoriously wet and the kneading part messy and troublesome.

This is a great bread to start on a weekend morning ready for supper in the evening. With some good olives, interesting cheeses and a bottle of wine it makes an excellent meal.

No knead focaccia

The photo above shows half the loaf you make here

  • 500g of strong white bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons of regular table salt
  • 4g of yeast
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
  • 400ml of cold water
  • Sea salt

In the morning, place all the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, table salt) in a bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add the wet ingredients (oil and water) and mix again until just incorporated. The mix will be very sticky.

Cover with cling film and leave to rise at room temperature (for at least 8 hours) as you go about your day.

Line and oil a tin (20 x 30 cm or one with a similar area) and tip in the dough pressing down gently to the edges so that it is evenly distributed.

Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 220oC and put a bowl of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create steam. Drizzle the top of the bread with extra olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Remove from the tin and leave to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing into thick wedges.

NOTE: You could leave the dough to rise overnight for warm bread in the morning, however I don’t consider focaccia to be a breakfasty sort of bread.

Fish with coconut (Sri Lankan style?)


I haven’t posted for a while as I’ve not been very adventurous in the kitchen recently.

We’ve been enjoying our small herb garden, which has just come into its own after all the cold weather, and our simple meals are far too basic to talk about – pasta (with herbs), rice (with herbs), eggs (with herbs)…you get the idea. We also have allotment grown purple sprouting broccoli coming out of our ears which I like best stir-fried quickly just by itself.

This is all good (and quite healthy) but I decided earlier in the week to spice things up a bit and make a special trip to the fishmongers so that I could make this dish which seemed suitably fresh and summery.  Its unusual, dry texture takes a bit of getting used to but the combination of heat from the spices and sweetness from the coconut, enlivened at the end by lime and coriander, is very moreish (as my father would say).

The original recipe came from my ‘Essential Asian’ Cookbook. I have been unable to find any similar recipes anywhere. Perhaps this is because it’s not authentically Sri Lankan (I am always suspicious about books that claim to encapsulate the food of an entire continent) or maybe it’s just not well known enough to have made it to the top of a google search. I would be interested to hear from any Sri Lankans regarding this matter.

Anyway, if you like fish, coconut, fresh flavours, and you don’t require a sauce I would encourage you to give this a try.

Sri Lankan fish with coconut

Serves 2-4

  • 50g of desiccated coconut
  • 50g of flaked coconut (although I’ve used all desiccated when I didn’t have this and that worked just fine)
  • 500g of firm white fish (cod is what I generally use)
  • ½ a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon of lime juice, plus extra for serving (to taste)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
  • 1-2 dried chillies (depending on how hot you like it)
  • 2 tablespoons of oil (I use groundnut)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 medium onions, very finely sliced
  • Salt to taste
  • Coriander (to garnish)

Preheat the oven to 150oC.

Spread the desiccated and flaked coconut on an oven tray and toast for 10 minutes until dark and golden, shaking the tray occasionally to mix.

Place the fish, pepper, turmeric and lime juice in a frying pan, half cover with water and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes with a lid on until the fish flakes when pulled gently with a fork. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of your fish fillets. Remove the fish from the pan and leave to cool a little before flaking into pieces.

I don’t like to waste the fish cooking liquor and therefore use it to cook the rice that goes with this dish, topping up with water to make the full amount of liquid required (see rice recipe here).

Dry roast the star anise, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds and chilli in a frying pan over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Then grind to a fine powder in a food processor (easy) or pestle and mortar (hard but satisfying). This spice powder smells amazing.

Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok and add the garlic, onion and spice powder. Then stir fry over a medium heat for 10 minutes until the onion is soft and fragrant.

Add the flaked fish and toasted coconut to the pan and toss with the onion until heated through.

Season with salt and lime juice to taste and garnish with chopped coriander. This is not a dish that needs to be served piping hot, I actually prefer it warm or at room temperature.

Serve over rice, with a cucumber and tomato salad (or some similar sort of fresh salad). It’s even nice with just salad or wrapped up in a flat bread. I also like to have a dollop of yoghurt on the side.

No knead bread

no knead bread X

Why does modern life seem to involve so much unnecessary labour? Is it because we have a deep need as humans to feel useful? Work = purpose, whereas idling = useless.

But as life is so busy these days surely we should take the easy option when we can – especially when it produces the same or similar results.

I have long been a fan of the no iron clothes washing method, whereby I take garments out of the dryer before they’re completely dry and hang them on coat hangers for the wrinkles to fall out with no effort.

And in recent years we’ve been trying the no dig gardening method at the allotment and so far it has produced equivalent and in some cases better results for much less work.

Than last week I was listening to Nathan Myhrvold, author of ‘Modernist Bread’, on Radio 4’s Food Programme and he said that you really don’t need to knead bread to produce a good loaf.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear this (that’s how sad I am). I just had to put it to the test.

So I made Ben’s standard loaf but just skipped the kneading part. And what do you know, it worked just fine. The finished loaf looked a little bit rougher but the texture and flavour were excellent and possibly even better than usual.

Now this method does mean that you need to leave the dough to rise for a lot longer (8-10 hours) but this fits in more conveniently with a standard working day. Bung all the ingredients together quickly in the morning (without kneading) and the dough will be ready for its second proving (and baking) once you return from work.

PS. I can vouch that it works on pizza dough too (basic recipe here) just skip the kneading part and leave to prove for 8-10 hours.

PPS. Of course the really easy option would be to buy a factory made loaf from the supermarket or a pricey, artisan one from your local deli, but nothing beats homemade, especially when the effort to reward ratio is so high.

Ben’s bread (the no knead version)

Makes one large loaf

  • 900g of strong bread flour (mainly white with 200-300g of spelt or wholemeal if you like)
  • 12g of salt
  • 6g of easy bake yeast
  • 550ml of water
  • (Optional) A small handful of seeds of your choice e.g. sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy

Add all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Bring together with your hands until well mixed together (use a wooden spoon if you prefer).

Leave in the bowl covered with cling film to rise. How long this takes will depend on the temperature in your house but it is likely to need at least 8 hours if it’s just sat on your work surface, although longer is fine and may well be necessary if it’s a cold day.

Once it has at least doubled in size, briefly knock back the dough with your hands and tip the mix into a greased bread tin (ours is 28.5cm long, 13.5cm wide and 7cm deep).

Leave to rise in the tin for about another hour. It is difficult to be precise here but the dough needs to reach just above the top of the tin.

Preheat the oven to 220oC or 230oC if, like me, you like a really golden crust and put a tin of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create some steam (this also helps with the crust formation).

Bake for 18 minutes at 220oC/230oC.

Then remove from the tin and bake for 17 minutes at 180oC.

Leave to cool before slicing.

Berlin style beef balls


A couple of weekends ago I went on a city break to Berlin with a female friend and without my husband or children. I have not been away by myself for years and it was a real treat. We spent most of the time eating, drinking and wandering aimlessly around the city.

We ate at the trendy, vegetarian, Michelin starred Cookies Cream, had a leisurely, retro brunch in the leafy Prenzlauerberg District and drank mind-blowingly strong coffee at uber-cool The Barn. However it was the Berlin beef balls, bought from a small stall in Markthalle Neun, in the Kreuzberg District that was my fondest food memory.

Once home, I decided to copy the idea – helped by the promo card which kindly indicated the ingredients in each type of ball. I just needed a little help from google translate.

Image result for Berlin beef balls

They were fun (albeit time consuming) to make. Once cooked they all looked pretty much the same on the outside so we played an exciting game of meatball roulette at dinner which my son absolutely loved. His favourite were the ‘Bangkok’ but I suspect that’s because he enjoyed saying the ‘kok‘ part exaggeratedly in an attempt to be rude (he is 8 and that is the level of his humour).

In the market hall they were rather more orderly, putting four balls of each kind on a skewer and serving with thin slices of dense brown bread and lashings of butter.

Beef balls (four ways)

Makes 40 small beef balls (10 of each flavour).

Take 1kg of good quality beef mince and divide into four portions of 250g each.

Add the ingredients to each portion according to the lists below.

Mix all the ingredients together well with your hands and roll into 10 small meatballs. I find that dampening  your hands first with a little water helps to stop the mixture sticking to them.

Heat a tiny amount of oil in a frying pan and cook the meatballs over a medium heat until they are a dark brown colour. Take your time here to make sure that they are browned well all over. The process will take around 10-15 minutes.

You will need two frying pans for this amount, or you can keep one batch warm in a low oven while you cook the rest.

The Berlin

  • ½ a small onion finely chopped or grated
  • A heaped teaspoon of mustard (probably should be German but I used English)
  • A tablespoon of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • A good pinch of salt and pepper

The Bologna

  • 1 heaped teaspoon of tomato puree
  • A handful of chopped fresh basil (do not use dried, leave out if this is all you have)
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, chopped (or use dried if you like)
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh oregano, chopped (or use dried if you like)
  • ¼ of a teaspoon of fresh or dried thyme
  • 1 small clove of garlic, chopped
  • A good pinch of salt and pepper

The Bangalore

  • ½ teaspoon of ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon of paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • Cloves (I used four whole ones and ground them in a pestle and mortar), or use around 1/8 teaspoon of already ground
  • A good pinch of salt

The Bangkok

  • 1 stalk of fresh lemongrass (to prepare, chop off the root and the green top, bash with a rolling pin to release the oils and then finely chop – you should end up with a heaped teaspoon of chopped lemon grass)
  • A handful of fresh coriander (stalks and leaves) finely chopped
  • 10g (a thumb sized piece) of fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
  • ½ a chili (red or green), finely chopped
  • A good pinch of salt


Beef Ball Roulette

Berlin beef balls Zoe

The joy of a lunchtime beer and no responsibilities!