Classic quiche Lorraine

It is difficult to make this dish look appetising as this photo demonstrates.

When you work in an office with a high percentage of women (as I have done) you often have to listen to tedious conversations about dieting. And many times I have overheard diet bores slapping themselves on the back because they have had “just a little bit of quiche and salad” for lunch. This is pretty funny because there are few dishes which contain quite so much fat (pastry, eggs, bacon, cream!!!). But for some reason quiche seems to retain an image of ‘lightness’ and ‘femininity’.

Calories aside, I have never bee a fan of quiche because I think eggs and cheese mixed together is the devil’s work. Even the smell makes me want to vomit. And memories of being forced to eat my primary school’s ghastly ‘cheese and egg flan’ have never quite left me.

I recently read however that a classic Quiche Lorraine should never have cheese in it (yes, yes, it was Elizabeth David again but I’m not obsessed, honest). Hurrah I thought and quickly googled for a recipe without cheese.

The filling for this recipe is very straight forward and comes from Felicity Cloake (attempting to create the ‘perfect’ quiche Lorraine for the Guardian). The shortcrust pastry recipe is from my trusty Be-Ro book. I couldn’t help myself and added a little caramelised onion to the mix – but this is not ‘the done thing’ – Elizabeth would not approve.

I found that I could happily eat quiche made this way. And my husband, who has a very feminine palate, (he loves cappuccinos, chocolate and yoghurt) thought it was wonderful.

Classic quiche Lorraine

Serves 10-12

For the pastry

  • 225g plain flour
  • 100g margarine
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons of cold milk

For the filling

  • 200g smoked back bacon, finely chopped
  • 320ml double cream
  • 4 whole eggs and two yolks (reserve the white for brushing the pastry bottom)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced (OPTIONAL)

To make the pastry measure the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the margarine and then rub together with the flour until you have a mix the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the 3 tablespoons of milk and with a knife stir until well incorporated. Then, using your hands, bring the mixture together lightly to form a ball. Knead very gently a couple of times until smooth. Press the ball down roughly to form a thick flat circle, place in a plastic bag and allow to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 190oC.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out with a rolling pin until it is big enough to line a 23 cm tart tin. Prick the bottom with a fork all over and trim the edges. You need to make sure there are no cracks in your pastry (because otherwise the filling will seep out) but if you have some don’t worry – just patch up the holes/cracks with pastry left over from trimming the edges. Don’t worry if it looks a bit messy. Put a square of baking parchment over the surface of the pastry and fill with baking beads.

Bake the pastry case in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the beads and the baking paper and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Finally brush the bottom with a thin layer of egg white (apparently this helps to avoid a soggy bottom) and pop back in the oven for another 3 minutes. Set the case aside while you prepare the filling.

OPTIONAL: Fry a large onion (or two smaller ones) gently in a little olive oil or butter for about 15 minutes until soft and caramelised. Spread over the base.

Fry the bacon until browned but not too crisp. Drain on kitchen towel and spread half over the onion or (if you’re not using onion) over the base.

Put the cream and the eggs and yolks into a large bowl with a generous pinch of salt and some pepper. Beat together slowly until combined and then give the mix a fast whisk until frothy. Pour over the base to fill and then sprinkle over the rest of the bacon.

Bake for 20 minutes. The centre should still be a little bit wobbly if you like a creamy texture. If you prefer a denser texture then cook for 5-10 minutes longer.

Serve warm or at room temperature (but not piping hot or fridge cold – both of these dampen down the flavour).


A giant cabbage pasty


Trust me this is much nicer than it sounds.

I love cabbage. I’m thrilled that we currently have a glut that needs eating quickly before it bolts and goes to seed. I will quite happily eat a whole bowl full on its own (just stir fried with a little garlic or simply raw with a Japanese style dressing) but I’ve been trying to find recipes that  make this humble vegetable a meal in itself – not just a side dish. I’m also after recipes that will win over my husband and children.

This recipe (by Melissa Clarke for NYT food online) is brilliant and seemed to go down well. The real winner is the pastry which is very sturdy and easy to make. I can’t wait to try using it with other fillings. Potato and wild garlic perhaps, or maybe sausage and onion.

If you prefer learning by watching then there’s a helpful video here (by Melissa, not me).

Melissa Clarke’s Cabbage and Onion Torta

(in my own words – with some amendments – and converted from US cup measurements)

Serves 6-8

For the pastry

  • 475g of plain flour
  • 60g wholemeal flour
  • A good pinch of salt
  • 170g of butter
  • Cold water (no more than 350 ml)

For the filling

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 680g of cabbage, sliced thinly
  • 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar (or more to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 70g of dry bread crumbs
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons of dried or fresh thyme
  • 225g of cheese (I used a mixture of cheddar and red Leicester but Melissa uses fontina)
  • 1 large egg yolk, to glaze

Measure the butter and place in the freezer for 1 hour to harden up a bit. In a large bowl measure out the flour and the salt. Remove the butter from the freezer and grate it into the bowl. Mix with a knife until well incorporated. Add enough cold water (a couple of tablespoons at a time) until the mixture comes together – you may not need the whole 350ml. Use your hands to bring everything together into a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in heavy based pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned (around 10 minutes).

Add another tablespoon of oil and stir in the cabbage, a handful at a time, waiting for each addition to wilt before adding more. Cook until the cabbage is tender (about 7-10 minutes). Stir in the vinegar and salt and cook for a few minutes scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add more salt and vinegar to taste if you think it’s needed.

Add the final tablespoon oil into the pan and stir in the breadcrumbs, garlic and thyme. Cook until the breadcrumbs turn golden (about 1 minute). Set aside.

Heat your oven to 220oC and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

On a floured surface, roll out your dough into a 17-by-12-inch rectangle. With the long side facing you, spread half the bread crumbs evenly over half of the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border. Top with half the cheese, then half the cabbage, then the remaining cheese, followed by cabbage and finally breadcrumbs.

Dab the edges of the dough with water. Fold half the dough over the filling and use the prongs of a fork to seal edges. Brush the crust with a beaten egg yolk.

Using a knife, cut several slits in the centre of the crust. Transfer the pie to your prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown (about 45 minutes).

Cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.


Christmas is coming – two ways with mincemeat

mincemeat filo cigars

I got told off by my husband this week when I attempted to play our special Christmas mix tape in the car. “Too early” he cries, “I’ll be sick of Christmas before it’s even here at this rate”. I sort of get his point, but this week it’s the school nativity and Christmas Fayre and so I’m forced to get in the Christmas mood whether I like it or not (for the sake of the kids of course).

The good thing about this is that I have an excuse to finally try out my homemade mincemeat. I used a new recipe this year so I want to see how it tastes. I’m not great at traditional mince pies but I have these two recipes in my collection which make nice alternatives. The first uses ready-made filo and is a lighter option to shortcrust pastry. The second is a giant slab of a tart which you cut into squares once it has baked meaning that you don’t have to faff around with pastry cutters. It also has a buttery, crumbly topping which is just divine.

It does seem a bit odd ball to make your own mincemeat and then buy ready-made pastry. Of course you can make your own pastry if you prefer. And if you think I’m a glutton for punishment making my own mincemeat then buy it in a jar – it works just fine.

By the way, the homemade mincemeat was great – definitely the best recipe I’ve tried and not very onerous. Not surprisingly it came from good old Delia (yet again). I might blog it next year once I’ve given it another go.

Mincemeat filo cigars

Makes 12

  • 6 ready-made filo sheets cut into 4 x 12.5 cm squares, making 24 in total
  • 40g butter, melted
  • A small  jar of mincemeat
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 180oC fan.

Lay a square of filo pastry onto a dry work surface and brush with melted butter. Take another filo sheet and lay this on top.

Spoon a thin line of mincemeat in a diagonal line across the square, then fold the filo sheet in two over the mincemeat to form a triangle. Fold over the two ends about ½ cm from the edge and then roll up into a cigar shape from the mincemeat end up.

Place on a non-stick baking tray with the join at the bottom and continue the process until you have 12 cigars.

Brush the cigars lightly with melted butter and then bake for 12-15 minutes until crisp and golden.

Serve warm dusted with icing sugar.

You can make these ahead and store in an air tight container. You can then reheat them in the oven (at 180oC fan, as before) for about 5 minutes.

No nonsense mincemeat tart

  • 300g shortcrust pastry (I cheat and buy mine ready-made)
  • 450g mincemeat


  • 75g butter melted
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 40g semolina
  • 40g caster sugar

Add all the ingredients for the topping together in a bowl and mix. Tip the mix onto a square of cling film and roll into a thick sausage shape. Chill in the fridge until solid.

Preheat your oven to 190oC fan.

Roll out the pastry to form a rectangle about 3mm thick. Transfer to a rectangular baking sheet and turn the edges of the pastry over slightly at the edges to create a rim.

Spoon the mincemeat over the surface of the pastry and distribute evenly with a palette knife right to the edges.

Take the topping out of the fridge and remove the cling film. Using a cheese grater grate the topping and then sprinkle over the mincemeat evenly. Work quickly here as the butter in the topping will start to melt and stick together when at room temperature.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the topping and the pastry are nice and golden.

Remove from the oven, cut into rectangles and dust with icing sugar.

If you are making this in advance, to reheat bake for 20 minutes at 150oC fan.

Curry flavoured pies – so wrong they’re right

curried fish pie

I have to admit to having a very guilty food pleasure. At some point in the football season, usually when there’s a lunchtime kick off at the City Ground, I like to indulge in a Chicken Balti Pukka-Pie. It just sounds wrong doesn’t it – a cross cultural food mix that surely shouldn’t work? The strange thing is that it does, they are really, really tasty, even if penetrating the stiff, rather anaemic pastry balanced on your knee with a plastic fork is a bit of a challenge.

So it was with this in mind that we first tried Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Curried fish pie’ from his ‘River Cottage everyday’ cookbook. Again, it sounds wrong but with the knowledge that curry and pastry really can work we gave it a go and I would urge you to too.

We had some people over one Saturday and cooked a selection of pies. There were the usual suspects (beef and ale, chicken and mushroom) and we included this to liven things up a bit. At first everyone was dubious, ‘fish…curry…pastry…really!!!’ However, once we persuaded a few doubters to give it a try and word got around that it was nicer than it sounded it ended up being the most popular. Several people asked me for the recipe – so here it is (albeit about a year later).

Hugh FW’s curried fish pie

Meant to serve 4-6 but we seem to polish off most of it between the two of us with a tiny bit of filling left over for the children

  • 2 fillets (600g) of firm white fish. Sustainable fish advocate Hugh suggests pollack or coley but I’m afraid I find this hard to get in our local fishmongers so I tend to use (although I do hate to say it) cod
  • 200g smoked pollack or kippers. I use smoked haddock (I’m sure this is wrong too)
  • 750ml whole milk
  • 1 onion, 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A few pepper corns
  • 75g butter
  • 75g plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of curry powder, or curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped coriander
  • Salt and pepper
  • 250g of ready-made puff pastry
  • A little beaten egg or milk for glazing

First cook the fish. Put the fillets in a pan and add the milk, onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns and bay leaf. Place over a low heat and as soon as the milk comes to a simmer remove from the heat and cover the pan with a lid.

The fish will continue to cook in the milk and should be ready after 5 minutes. After this time drain the fish with a sieve placed over a bowl as you need to reserve the milk to make the sauce. Lift out the fish and put to one side but discard the vegetables, peppercorns and bay leaf.

Now you need to make a white (béchamel) sauce with the flavoured milk. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir well. Cook gentle for a couple of minutes to cook out the flour then gradually add the milk stirring continuously until you have a smooth and creamy sauce. You probably won’t need the whole amount of milk, you’re looking for a consistency like that of thick double cream. For the pie in the picture 650ml was used and it was still a little on the sloppy side. Season well with salt and pepper and then cook on a low heat for another couple of minutes.

Remove the skin and bones from the fish and break it up into large chunks.

Now for the curry flavour. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for 5 minutes until soft. Sir in the curry powder and cook for another few minutes. Add this curry mixture to the white sauce and then stir in the flaked fish and coriander (being careful not to break it up too much). Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if you think it needs it. Put the filling into a pie dish.

Preheat the oven to 200oC fan.

Roll out the pastry with a rolling pin using a little flour to stop it sticking. Then cut it to fit your dish. Dampen the rim of the dish with a little milk and lay the pastry over the top pressing down at the edges to seal. You can decorate the top if you like with fish cut outs or a criss cross pattern. Brush lightly with beaten egg or milk and place in the oven for about 30 minutes until the pasty is golden and puffed up.

Serve with some sort of green vegetable.

Note: You can also add cooked prawns to the mix just before adding to the pie dish. I also think chopped boiled egg would be good.