Author: zoeshelton

Simple bread rolls (cobs)

bread rolls

I love bread almost as much as pasta but recently I’ve been eating less because I would rather eat no bread than bad bread.  For me the only place for a Chorleywood white sliced is in a fish finger sandwich or a chip butty when all culinary snobbery is abandoned in any case.

But life is busy and there is not always the time to make bread from scratch. Admittedly I often resort to a bag of cobs from Bird’s when the children need a packed lunch.

When I do have the time I like to make these simple bread rolls. They are easy to make but they do take time to knead, rise and bake so you need to be in the house for a day to oversee the process. It’s a nice thing to do with the children at the weekend when it’s freezing cold and rainy.

The original recipe came from the Hairy Bikers via the BBC website. By coincidence, I was in the middle of writing this post when it featured on the BBC online front page under the title ‘12 easy recipes for baking better bread‘. I can vouch for the recipe being pretty foolproof (I’ve been using it for years) although careful comparison (which I’m sure you’re all far too busy to be bothered with) will reveal some alterations by me.

Basic bread rolls (or cobs if you’re from Nottingham)

Makes 8 rolls

  • 500g of strong white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of dried yeast (I use Allinson’s Easy Bake Yeast – in a green tin)
  • 30g butter, softened
  • 75ml milk
  • 225ml warm water
  • Semolina, for dusting

Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl.

Then add the butter and rub this into the flour with your fingers until it is completely mixed in (there should be no large lumps of butter left).

Now add the yeast and salt and mix lightly with your hands.

Mix the milk with the warm water and add this to the bowl.

Mix everything together with your hands until it comes together into a rough dough.

Tip the dough onto a clean work surface and knead for at least 10 minutes until elastic and smooth. Although it’s tempting, don’t cheat with this bit or you will have very dense rolls.

Return the dough to the bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling film. Set aside for 1 ½ -3 hours until the dough has doubled in size. It is hard to give an exact time here because it will depend on the temperature of your room and other inexplicable factors like the age of your yeast and brand of your flour.

When the dough has risen, return it to a floured work surface and knock it back by kneading it on the work surface for around 30 seconds.

Separate the mixture into eight parts and roll each into a ball. Flatten each slightly with your hand and transfer the rolls to a baking tray dusted with semolina. Cover the tray with a tea towel and set aside for another hour, or until the rolls have doubled in size again.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230 degrees C.

When the rolls have expanded, dust them with flour or semolina and transfer them to the oven. I like to slash the tops once with a sharp knife.

Bake for 15 – 20 mins, or until golden-brown and cooked through. A hollow tap on the bottom of a roll is a sign that they are done.

Leave to cool for at least 30 minutes. These rolls are best served warm but not hot.



Espresso mushroom pasta


Not a great photo I’m afraid but I was far too hungry to faff around with the lighting and make it look better.

I would rather do a few more press ups and walk a bit more than give up carbs – I love them and they make me happy.

Pasta has always been my go-to for a quick, mid-week meal when life is busy but it can get a bit boring.

To spice things up a bit here is an interesting idea which mixes mushrooms and coffee for a very unique and earthy pasta sauce. I stole the concept from Rachel De Thample’s book ‘FIVE’. You don’t necessary need to be a coffee fan to appreciate this dish but you do need to like mushrooms.

Espresso mushroom pasta

Serves 2 greedy adults or 3-4 with a regular appetite

  • 200ml of freshly brewed strong black coffee
  • 15g of dried mushrooms
  • 250g of chestnut mushrooms
  • A good splash of olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 300g of pasta of your choosing (this is the dried weight)
  • A heaped tablespoon of mascarpone, cream cheese or thick cream
  • A handful of walnuts, toasted quickly in a hot dry frying pan and roughly chopped
  • A handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Brew the coffee and add the dried mushrooms to the hot coffee. Leave to soak for at least 30 mins (or longer).

Put a large pan of water on the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions or to your liking. Reserve a cup full of the cooking water for later.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and saute the mushrooms and garlic for a few minutes until they start to colour and wilt.

Drain the dried mushrooms, reserving the coffee and chop finely. Then add both the dried mushrooms and the coffee to the frying pan.

Let the chestnut mushrooms absorb the coffee and cook away until there is barely any liquid left in the pan. Mix in the mascarpone, cream cheese or cream and stir to combine. Let it bubble away until you have a sauce the thickness of single cream (you can always add a bit of the reserved pasta water if it gets too thick).

Drain the pasta and tip into the mushrooms. Stir to coat and season well with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately garnished with toasted walnuts and fresh chopped parsley.


Milk sorbet

milk sorbet 2

I don’t eat out a lot but last year I was lucky enough to try milk sorbet TWICE at two different restaurants.

The first was at ‘The Peacock‘ in Rowsley where it was the perfect companion to a dense chocolate tart. The second was at the wonderful ‘John’s House‘ in Mount Sorrel where it came on top of a hot rice pudding – an odd sounding pairing but an absolute delight.

After these two memorable food experiences I decided to try and make it myself. This recipe from Donna Hay was the first that came up on a google search and I haven’t bothered to try any others because it is perfect.

We are divided in our family as to whether milk sorbet is preferable to a good old-fashioned vanilla ice cream but I’m totally convinced that it is better in some circumstances, such as with very rich deserts where it offers a lighter and more refreshing note of contrast. It is great just on its own though (I seem to say that a  lot on this blog).

You will need an ice-cream maker for this recipe. As I’ve said before, I have a Magimix Le Glacier ice cream maker – the cheaper sort where you have to freeze the bowl overnight before using. This remains one of my best used kitchen appliances*.

*PS. I have not been paid by Magimix to say this.

Donna Hay’s Milk Sorbet

  • 1 cup/220g of caster sugar
  • 1 cup/250ml of water
  • 3 cups/650ml of full fat milk (I used Tesco Finest Channel Island milk)
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Place the sugar and water in a saucepan over high heat and stir until dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Set aside and allow to cool completely.

Once cool add the milk and lemon juice.

Churn in an ice-cream maker until firm (about 20 minutes) and freeze until required.

You will need to leave the sorbet at room temperature for around 30 minutes before serving.

Tea bread

Tea bread

Yes, it’s yet another cake…or is it a bread?

This recipe was kindly forwarded to me by one of my followers last year. I was thrilled that someone had engaged so directly with my site and me. I have baked this tea bread several times now and have tinkered with the amount of sugar in the recipe but it remains largely the same.

It’s a nice old-fashioned tasting cake/bread which makes a perfect elevenses or mid-afternoon treat with a nice cup of tea. There is hardly any fat in the recipe itself but feel free to slather slices of it with butter to make up for this fact. It is lovely by itself too though.

The cake is ridiculously easy to make and keeps very well – it actually seems to get better with age.

I like the idea of experimenting with the flavours of the tea the currants are soaked in – Earl Grey seems an obvious candidate (I think Mary Berry has a recipe that does this), but Green Tea or Theresa May’s favourite Lapsang Souchong could also be interesting.

Tea bread

  • 1 cup/140g of currants (not sultanas)
  • 1 ½ cups/330 ml of strong hot tea
  • 2 cups/260g of self-raising flour
  • ½ a cup/110g of demerara sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice

Start by soaking the currants overnight in the tea.

The next day, when you are ready to bake, heat your oven to 160oC.

Line and grease a medium-sized loaf tin (mine is 11cm wide, 22cm long and 6cm high).

In a large bowl measure out the flour, sugar, egg and mixed spice. Then tip in the currants along with their tea marinade. By now they will be all puffed up and tea flavoured.

Stir well with a wooden spoon then tip the batter into the prepared tin.

Bake for around an hour (or until a skewer comes out clean when poked through the middle).

Cool in the tin and store in an air tight container until you are ready to eat.

Two chocolate cakes

malted chocolate cake

I’ve spent most of January feeling ghastly and ill and it seems that everyone around me has been sick too, struck down by flu, hacking coughs, head colds etc. etc.

But it’s February now and I’m feeling much better. I even managed two glasses of white wine last night – having not touched a drop since the New Year (enforced, I might add, through illness not a dry January resolution).

To celebrate this more positive mood I’d like to offer you two more chocolate cake recipes to add to your collection.

The first – a Malty Chocolate Loaf – is elegant and velvety with a subtle hint of malt. It’s from my trusty Peyton and Byrne ‘British Baking’ cookbook. I don’t look forward to my trips to St Pancras Station as much now that they have closed their bakery there. Why did it go, it was such a joy?

The second is a hot, Magic Chocolate Pudding which creates its own sauce in the baking process. It’s a bit clumsy but comforting and delicious all the same – very school dinnerish. It’s my own concoction (with the aid of a little research on google).

Malty chocolate loaf

  • 125g of softened butter
  • 70g of light brown sugar
  • 110g of dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 140g of self raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon of Horlicks (or equivalent)
  • A pinch of salt
  • ½ a teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 110ml of milk (should be whole but semi skimmed seems to work just fine)
  • 50g of dark chocolate
  • 65g of milk chocolate chopped into small pieces

Preheat your oven to 170oC.

Butter and line a small loaf tin (mine is 11cm wide, 22cm long and 6cm high) with baking parchment.

Take a large bowl and tip in the butter, sugars, flour, Horlicks, egg and vanilla extract. With an electric hand whisk (or food processor) beat until light and fluffy.

Melt the dark chocolate in a microwave (on half power in short bursts) or in a heat proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Add this to the mix.

Add the milk and beat to combine.

Finally, stir in the milk chocolate pieces.

Tip the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer in the centre comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the tin. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Quick magic chocolate pudding

If you need a quick pudding then this is very easy to whip up with bog standard store cupboard baking ingredients and it doesn’t need any accompaniments (although a dollop of ice cream would not be out of place). Perfect for a Sunday night in front of the TV. This recipe serves four very generously.


  • 110g of self-raising flour
  • 110g of caster sugar
  • 110g of margarine (I use Stork)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder


  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 60g of light brown sugar
  • 200ml of boiling water

Preheat your oven to 180oC.

Take a small baking or glass loaf dish (as pictured below) and butter well.

Measure out all the ingredients for the sponge in a large mixing bowl and mix quickly with an electric mixer until just incorporated, try not to over mix.

Tip the cake batter into the loaf tin.

Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce until the sugar and cocoa have dissolved and pour over the cake mix. This looks a bit wrong but don’t worry it will all turn out alright once it’s baked.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until just set and eat with greed and relish.

Ginger cake

ginger cake

Happy New Year!

Why does saying this seem so inappropriate in damp and dismal January?

If you’re struggling with the January blues (I am a little bit) then you might like to treat yourself by baking (and eating) this warming ginger cake.

The original recipe comes from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries (the first one). It is a comforting, old fashioned ginger cake (tasting rather like the shop bought McVities Jamaica Ginger Cake, only better) and is very easy to make. To prove this point my daughter made the one pictured all by herself. She will not however be photographed for this blog anymore – she is nine and well aware of her rights.

The ginger flavour is quite subtle so if you want more punch then I suggest doubling the quantities of powdered and stem ginger. It is a very sturdy cake that keeps well for a week or so wrapped in foil. It actually tastes best after maturing for three or four days. Cut off a square and zap for 20 seconds in the microwave. It’s lovely by itself but even better served with ice cream, clotted cream or custard.

Ginger cake

Serves 9-12

  • 250g of self raising flour
  • 2 teaspoons of ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 200g of golden syrup
  • 2 tablespoons of syrup form the stem ginger jar
  • 125g of butter
  • 55g (about 3 lumps) of stem ginger in syrup, diced finely (or leave larger if you like a good hit of ginger)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of sultanas
  • 125g of dark muscovado sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 240ml of milk (semi-skimmed works fine)

Set your oven to 180oC (fan).

Take a 20 x 20 cm tin and line with baking parchment. I like to take the baking parchment all the way up the sides of the tin with extra to fold over the cake when storing. When I doubled the ingredients once for a large party I used a 22 x 33 cm tin.

Sift the flour with the powdered ginger, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

Put the golden syrup, ginger syrup and butter in a saucepan over a low heat until melted.

Then add the diced stem ginger, sultanas and sugar. Turn up the heat and let the mixture bubble gently for a minute, stirring often so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn.

In another bowl add the eggs and milk and whisk with a fork.

Pour the syrup and butter mixture into the flour and stir with a metal spoon, then add the milk and eggs and mix until everything is well incorporated.

Tip the mixture into the lined cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes (45-50 if you’ve double the quantity).

Leave the cake to cool in the tin and then wrap it up in the baking parchment and store in an air tight container. Leave to mature for a couple of days if you can.

Cypriot Village Bread

Cypriot bread

It’s embarrassing to admit but there’s going to be a gap in my life now that Bake-Off is all over. The children and I have loved the show so much this year (watching it curled up on the sofa in our dressing gowns).

We’ve not been bothered by the swap to Channel 4. I like Sandy and Pru and the children think Noel is hilarious. Even the adverts give us a welcome break for trips to the toilet and to make hot drinks.

With the Bake-Off theme in mind, I wanted to share with you this recipe for Cypriot Village Bread based on the recipe in Paul Hollywood’s ‘100 Great Breads‘. Now I’ve tried a few of these breads and they’re not all great (the croissant recipe is dreadfully disappointing and bears little resemblance to his croissant recipes elsewhere).

This one however has become a bit of a family favourite when we want a smorgasbord style dinner where a nice loaf of bread is the star of the show. It seems to go well with cold meats, dips, soup and cheeses alike.

The seed combination on top is amazingly delicious. You will probably find that you have some seeds left over after soaking and covering the dough (even though the recipe here uses half the amount that Paul suggests). Don’t throw any leftovers away but dry the seeds out again in a hot oven and sprinkle them over salads or noodle dishes.

Cypriot Village Bread

Makes one loaf which will feed a family of four as the main part of a dinner.

  • Pinch of mastika (ground first with a pestle and mortar)
  • Pinch of mechlebe (ground first with a pestle and mortar)

I have never heard of or seen these spice for sale. Paul recommends using ground fennel seeds instead which is what I do.

  • 500g of strong white bread flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of salt
  • 20g of yeast (I am going to experiment with reducing this quantity, I usually use instant action yeast and I think this is the quantity for fresh yeast)
  • 50ml of olive oil
  • 300ml of water
  • 50g of sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons of black cumin seeds (or use regular cumin seeds)
  • 2 teaspoons of caraway seeds

Put the flour, salt, yeast and olive oil and water in a large bowl and mix together. Add the mastika and mechlebe, or fennel, then knead for 5 minutes.

Leave to prove for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size (the time here will depend on your room temperature). I find it needs at least 2 hours.

Tip the sesame, cumin and caraway seeds into a cup and pour over a little warm water. This will puff up the sesame seeds help them to release their juice.

Line a baking tray. Tip out the risen dough and shape it into a ball.

Spread the seeds thinly onto a flat plate and roll the top of the ball of dough in it until well covered with seeds.

Place the dough on the lined baking tray and leave it to rise again for a further hour. I cover it with a large upturned bowl, my husband prefers to place a tea towel lightly over the top.

Preheat your oven to 220oC.

Using a very sharp knife, make a cut all the way around the middle of the ball and two large cuts across the top.

Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. I like to remove it from the tray after 20 minutes (and place is directly on the wire rack in the over) to make sure that the bottom is crisp.

Leave to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting (if you can wait that long).

Nigella’s Chicken Shawarma

Chicken Shwarma 2

I’ve avoided  posting this recipe because I didn’t want you to think I was some sort of crazed Nigella fan/stalker such is the large number of her recipes on this blog.

However, this has become such a ‘go to’ recipe when I have to feed lots of people for a buffet type spread (and so many people have asked me for the recipe) that I’ve finally caved in.

This is a wonderfully simple recipe and whilst you do need a well stocked spice cupboard there’s nothing really specialist involved. It also makes good use of chicken thighs which still remain economical even if you buy them from a quality butcher (which I always do).

I cut the chicken into thin slices which makes it go along way and serve either with rice (easy) or homemade flat breads (a bit more effort). As an accompaniment Nigella mixes up a tahini and garlic flavoured yoghurt bejewelled with pomegranate seeds but I don’t bother with this.

Nigella’s Chicken Shawarma

Serves 6 (or more if you’re serving as part of a buffet with other dishes)

  • 12 skinless and boneless chicken thighs (I like to remove as much of the visible fat as possible)
  • The grated zest and juice of two lemons
  • 100 ml of regular olive oil
  • 4 fat or 6 smaller garlic cloves grated
  • 2 dried or fresh bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons of paprika
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons of sea salt flakes
  • 1 teaspoons of ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes
  • ¼ a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • ¼ a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

Take a large bowl, tupperware or freezer bag, tip in the chicken thighs and add all the other ingredients.

Squish everything about (hands are best for this) until the chicken is well covered with all the marinade ingredients.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 1 day.

When you are ready to cook heat your oven to 200oC fan and take the chicken out of the fridge to come up to room temperature.

Spread the chicken thighs out on to a large baking tray – you may need two because you don’t want them to overlap.

Bake for 30 minutes until golden and slightly crispy on top. I like to turn mine halfway through for an even colour. Sometimes they need slightly longer than 30 minutes.

Take the chicken out of the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes covered with foil.

Slice the cooked thighs thinly with a sharp knife and place in a sharing bowl for everyone to help themselves.

Pork meatballs with grapes and a whole roasted cauliflower

meatballs with grapes

You can never have too many meatball recipes in your culinary repertoire and this one which uses sweet black grapes in a sauce to accompany a nutty pork meatball is wonderful.

The flavours are very Middle Eastern and although I used to be sniffy about fruit in savoury dishes my more mature self is starting to enjoy the combination.

The recipe is from the ‘Good Carbs Cookbook’ which I’ve already mentioned on this blog. My husband Ben agreed that the dish was tasty but then asked where the carbs were? Like Ben, I always thought that grapes were low in carbohydrates, but a quick google search suggests that they are one of the highest carb fruits there are, alongside bananas. Not that I care too much about that.

I accompanied the meatballs with a whole roasted cauliflower using a recipe from the same cookbook. I couldn’t believe that I had not tried this before – it was incredibly delicious and so very easy. The nuttiness of the roasted cauliflower went perfectly with the sweetness of the meatball dish but I think it would also make a great addition to any standard roast dinner.

Pork meatballs with grapes

For the meatballs

  • 600g of minced pork
  • 2 shallots or small onions, very finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons of hazelnuts, crushed with a pestle and mortar or a sharp knife
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • A little plain flour to coat

For the sauce

  • 100g of sultanas
  • 150ml of freshly brewed black tea
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of butter
  • 270g of black seedless grapes (cut in half if they are large)
  • 200ml of chicken stock
  • Fresh parsley to garnish

To make the meatballs put the pork mince, half the chopped onion/shallot, garlic and hazelnuts in a bowl and season with salt and pepper to your own personal taste. I like a lot of seasoning but you may not.

Form the mixture into balls a bit smaller than golf ball size. Coat lightly with plain flour.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a deep frying pan over a medium heat. Then brown the meatballs until a dark golden colour on all sides. This will take around 10 minutes.

Turn the heat down to low and add the remaining onion/shallot. Put a lid on and leave to soften for a couple of minutes. Then add the sultanas with the tea, the stock and the grapes.

Simmer gently without a lid for 10 minutes, there is no need to stir. The sauce will reduce and thicken during this time.

Scatter with fresh, chopped parsley and serve.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower

whole baked cauliflower

  • 1 medium cauliflower
  • 1 teaspoon and a good pinch of sea salt
  • 60 ml of olive oil

Set your oven to 220oC.

Trim away the green leaves of the cauliflower and chop off the bottom so that it stands up straight.

Take a pan large enough to fit in all the cauliflower and fill it with water until it comes to ¾ of the way up the cauliflower. Add a teaspoon of salt, put a lid on and bring to the boil.

Turn the heat down to a rolling simmer and cook for 8 minutes. Drain well.

Line a baking tin with baking parchment. Put the cauliflower in the middle and drizzle over the olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt flakes.

Roast in the oven for 35 minutes.

Vegan chocolate cake

vegan chocolate cake

A very honest (and bad) photo!

I hosted my book group this week. We talked about Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Heart Goes Last’ which divided opinion and prompted a good debate. I thought it was rubbish.

I have only recently entered the Book Group World and always imagined it to be just an excuse to drink white wine on a school night. Whilst this may be true of some, ours is more a decaff tea and cake affair. This makes a nice change as most of my other social groups only seem to function when accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol.

One of our members is vegan which set me a welcome challenge to find an edible cake recipe that used neither eggs or dairy. A quick google search bought up thousands of options but I had to search hard to find one that used regular (albeit dairy free) store cupboard ingredients (no agave syrup, medjool dates, coconut butter or flax eggs here please!).

My supplies of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda have dramatically decreased since the children started using them in their ‘Kitchen Science’ experiments. But it’s the same reaction between the vinegar and bicarb that propels plastic rockets and creates mini volcanoes that makes this cake rise in the absence of eggs.

The cake is disappointingly bland until you add the silky, sticky glaze which transforms it into something rather delicious. I would serve it quite happily to non-vegans who I don’t think would complain. It’s not a looker though (as the photo above demonstrates). You could work the presentation if you like with rose petals. Nigella does this in her version.

Vegan Chocolate Cake Recipe

For the cake

  • 180g of plain flour
  • 200g of caster sugar
  • 40g of cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ a teaspoon of salt
  • 215ml of warm water or coffee (I used decaff coffee)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 70ml of vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon of white or apple cider vinegar

For the glaze

  • 100g of caster sugar
  • 60g of vegan/dairy free margarine
  • 2 tablespoons of soya milk
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180oC.

Line a 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) square baking tin with parchment and grease with vegetable oil or vegan margarine.

Into a mixing bowl add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and stir with a fork until there are no lumps.

Measure the warm water/coffee, vanilla extract, vegetable oil and vinegar into a jug and pour into the dry ingredients.

Mix the ingredients together with a metal spoon until incorporated.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes.

Cool on a cooling rack while you make the glaze.

For the glaze, in a small saucepan melt the sugar, margarine, soya milk and cocoa powder and bring to a boil stirring all the time. Simmer for 2 minutes then remove from the heat and stir for an additional 5 minutes until the mixture is cooled and thickened. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Pour the glaze onto cake and put in the fridge to set.

vegan chocolate cake 1