Oatcakes 

This weekend my culinary repertoire was added to by another something I can’t believe I’ve never tried to bake before; oatcakes. Despite being on a big old attempt at a health kick ahead of my friend’s wedding, I treated myself to some snoked duck pâté as a lunchtime treat and accompaniment to salad (you have to take a break from roast chicken occasionally!), so I was looking for something to spread it on without breaking any of my new rules. Although this recipe contains white flour (although I suppose wholemeal would work if you cared enough) , the main ingredient is lovely, fibrous, sustaining oats, with a few seeds to add some good oils and to ramp up the texture and flavour. You can add whichever seeds you like or leave them out if you’d prefer. 

  

You will need: (makes approx. 14 medium oatcakes)

50g butter

100g oats 

100g plain flour

2 tsp sesame seeds

2 tsp pumpkin seeds, chopped 

  
1. Heat the oven to 180C fan. 

2. Gently melt the butter in a saucepan and allow to cool.

  
3. If your oats are large, you may want to grind them up a little in a pestle and mortar. I used a mixture of slightly ground and whole. Add all the dry ingredients into a bowl then pour on the butter and mix well. 

4. Add 5-6 tbsp boiling water until it comes together as a dry dough. 

  
5. Roll out as thinly or thickly as you prefer and cut with a cutter or knife into your preferred shape. Roll up the remnants and repeat.

  
6. Place on greaseproof paper on a tray in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until starting to brown.

  

These give off a glorious smell when baking once those seeds and oats start to toast. This recipe takes no time at all and I will definitely be repeating it!

  
Delicious and crunchy with cheese or pâté and a great lunchtime base that will keep you fed and fuelled for an early evening workout.

Homemade Baked Beans (With Chorizo)

These are an absolute treat as a healthy but filling accompaniment to roast chicken, sausages, fajitas, and so on. As with most of my favourite recipes, these can be customised with whichever additions you prefer (or you can leave some things out to your taste, or if you’d like a veggie version for example). Although I’ve said this is a healthy recipe, I should caveat it by saying I included some chorizo because I thought it would add a nice extra layer of spice and depth (and because I had some in the fridge).  You could add smoked bacon instead, or pancetta, or go animal fat-free.

A big batch will keep for a week or so on the fridge, assuming you store in a sterilised airtight container. I reused a passata jar which I cleaned thoroughly and sterilised in the oven (150C for 15 minutes).

   
You will need:

1 tin chopped tomatoes 

Half jar of passata

4 shallots

1 sausage sized cooking chorizo, or a couple of rashers of bacon

1 tsp tomato purée 

1 tin cannellini beans

1 tin haricot beans

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp chilli powder 

1 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

  
1. Finely chop the onion and chorizo. Add to as the dry teaspoon on a medium heat.

2. Cook until the shallots are soft and the chorizo has started to leak oil and take on oil. You can blot out some of the excess oil with a paper towel if you’d like. 

3. Add the tomato purée and cook out for a couple of minutes then do the same with the vinegar. 

4. Add the tomatoes, passata, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, lemon juice, mustard and spices and stir. Swirl water around in the tomato can and add this to the sauce. Stir and leave the lid half on at a simmering level for at least an hour, stirring occasionally and adding additional water as and when necessary. 

  
5. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning as necessary. Rinse and add the beans. Simmer for another hour or so (the longer the better all in all) and serve or cool and store. 

  
Step away from shop bought! 

Beer Can Chicken

This is something I’ve wanted to try for ages and is also something Mr Brooker swears by. I don’t think he roasts chicken any other way now. It’s quicker, it’s juicier and it’s a lot more fun than a traditional roast chicken (although parts of the process can feel a little barbaric/obscene – we are sticking a can of beer up a chicken after all!

There are many ways you can flavour this guy up, but this version, which includes a good measure of salt and a glug of vinegar, gives you an incredibly crisp and delicious skin. 

Don’t use this recipe if you want a relatively immediate gravy, although you could tip some of the beer into the roasting tray with onions and garlic. 

  

You will need:

1 medium to large chicken

1 can lager

4 cloves of garlic

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander 

2 tbsp rapeseed oil 

1 tsp black pepper

1 tbsp red wine vinegar 

  
1. Pour yourself a little of the lager and place 2 of the garlic cloves inside the can. 

  
2. Crush the remaining garlic and mix the other ingredients together. Slather it all over the chicken and allow to marinade, out of the fridge, for at least 30 minutes, allowing the meat to come up to room temperature at the same time. 

  
3. Preheat the oven to 170C fan and line a deep roasting pan well with tin foil. Place the can of lager on the centre of the tray and carefully slide the chicken onto it (this is the obscene part!) spreading its legs a little if it’s proving to be snug. Make sure it balances upright before letting go. 

  
4. Put in the oven and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the meat reaches at least 75C when probed. Don’t worry too much if the skin blackens- this is just the sugar catching the heat. 

  
5. When ready, allow to rest for around 20 minutes then carefully remove from the beer can to allow you to carve it on a stable surface – don’t burn yourself on the can or the liquid inside! 

Serve with salad, pasta, rice, whatever! I had mine with homemade baked beans and a corn cob and then in wraps for lunch. 

Blueberry Bakewells

These are a nice little treat and a great way to use up blueberries as you only need 125g. Try as I might, raw blueberries really don’t do anything for me, but in muffins or a pie they come to life. I made these yesterday to fulfil a colleague’s request, as he asked for blueberry muffins or cherry bakewells so I thought these felt like a good compromise. They do take a bit of time to make though as you’ll need to put the pastry in the fridge to chill at various points in the process but it’s a great recipe to fit in around other Sunday cooking. 

  
For the pastry, you will need: 

100g, chilled salted butter,cubed

200g plain flour

40g icing sugar

1 egg

For the blueberry filling:

125g blueberries

1 tbsp caster sugar

Squeeze of lemon juice

For the frangipane:

55g salted butter, softened to room temperature

55g caster sugar

40g ground almonds

15g plain flour

1 large egg

  
1. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients for the pastry until they resemble even crumbs. 

  
2. Beat the egg then mix into the crumbed mixture. Gently knead into a dough but don’t overwork it to keep the pastry nice and short. Then wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. 

  
3. In the mean time, put the blueberries, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and set on a gentle heat, stirring every now and then. 

  
4. Once the blueberries have started to produce juice, you might want to help the berries to pop by pushing down on them with a spoon. Keep cooking until the mixture resembles a jam, thick and shiny.

5. Allow to cool and then push through a sieve. This may take some time if you want to get as much juice out as possible whilst keeping the skins separate. Then set aside. 

  
6. Roll it the chilled pastry as thin as you dare – the thinner the better. If it’s a warm day, you may want to fold up the rolled out pastry and put it back in the fridge before cutting out circles. If you do refrigerate it, roll it out again once you take it out to smooth out any creases.

7. Grease a 12-well muffin tin. Use a round cutter or large glass if you’re struggling, to cut out 12 rounds to form the bases of the pastry cases. You may need to gather the remnants together and re-roll to get the full 12. You may also need to re hill the dough if it becomes unworkable. Place these into the base of each well. 

8. Cut inch-wide strips from the remaining pastry to form the sides of the cases, merging it carefully with the edges of the bases and at the join.

  
9. Gently prick the bases with a fork then put back in the fridge to chill for half an hour. 

10. Just before you take the cases back out of the fridge, preheat the oven to 160C fan and then make your frangipane. Do this by creaming together the butter and sugar, mixing in the egg and folding in the flour and ground almonds.

11. Remove the pastry cases from the fridge and spoon the blueberry filling into the base of each case, dividing as evenly as possible. 

 
12. Do the same with the frangipane, being careful not to mix this into the blueberry too much, but it is difficult and requires patience!

  13. Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes or until the pastry and topping are golden. 

  Carefully remove from the tin (a sharp knife may help) and sprinkle with icing sugar.

  
Enjoy with a cup of tea! 

  

Pork and Red Pepper Burgers 

The Mary Berry recipe for these calls for minced pork. I pinched an idea from my future mother-in-law, however, to make this recipe my own, (as she makes beef burgers using beef she grinds up herself – resulting in the tenderest burgers you can imagine) and to try to control the quality a bit, especially as I’m trying to focus on protein, fruit and veg as far as possible. Blitzing up your own meat lets you strip out all the sinew and fat. It takes longer, but it’s a much more satisfying process. This recipe made 4 burgers using a relatively small piece of pork. 

  
You will need:

1 pork tenderloin

1 red pepper 

4 shallots

1 tsp paprika

2 tsp chopped fresh basil or parsley

Salt and pepper 

2 tsp Dijon mustard 

Because I’m trying to cut down on carbs (especially empty ones like in burger bindings) I haven’t added in any breadcrumbs and egg isn’t really necessary as the onion and pepper will add alot of moisture. 

  
1. Finely chop the shallots and pepper. Don’t worry too much about their evenness – they’ll all get puréed later. Cook until soft then allow to cool. 

  
2. Trim the pork and cut into chunks. Put the cooled veg mixture into a food processor (or bowl and blend with a good stick blender) and blend until mostly smooth. I left some lumps for texture. Remove and then replace with the pork. Blend until smooth. This part doesn’t smell great but it makes lovely burgers!

 
3. Put the blended mixtures in a bowl together and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well with your hands then form into round patties.

  

4. Gently fry on both sides until firm to the touch, flipping every few minutes to stop them burning. Don’t over cook or they’ll dry out. 

  

Serve in a bun or with salad, rice, wedges, whatever you like! 

   

Sausage and Pepper Pasta

Leftovers and store cupboard recipes seem to be the order of the day just now (trust me, my bank account is a fan!) so here’s another of my favourite quick midweek meals which largely uses ingredients from the kitchen cupboard and freezer. Unfortunately, the only way to make these types of recipe work in a relatively fresh and healthy way is to add in some fresh vegetables, but they tend to be relatively cheap and easy to pick up at lunch time or on the way home. 

  
You will need: 

1 red pepper

1 onion 

1 clove garlic

1 tin chopped or plum tomatoes or passata

Salt and pepper

Oregano, parsley and basil, 1/2 teaspoon of each 

Pinch sugar

1tsp lemon juice

1tsp Worcestershire sauce 

2 sausages per person

Portion of pasta per person 

  
1. Heat a little oil in a saucepan. Slice the onion and pepper into fine strips and add to the pan. Add the crushed garlic and cook at a low to medium heat until softened. 

2. Add in the tomatoes and stir through. Add the seasoning, sugar, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Allow to simmer for as long as possible.

3. Put the sausages on a foiled tray in the oven and bake at 180C for around 25 minutes or until brown and cooked through.

4. In the mean time, put the pasta in a large saucepan, salt and cook until ready. Cooking time will depend on the shape of pasta you choose. 

5. When the sausages are ready, carefully cut into chunks and add to he sauce. Taste, and add further seasoning if required. Add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water from the pasta pot to loosen and emulsify the sauce. This really does make a difference! 

  
6. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce then mix through. I prefer to do it this way round to save getting two pots really messy, but make sure the pasta is well drained!

Buen Appetito! 

Pulled Pork

There’s nothing quite like a slow roast on a Sunday afternoon. Especially a meltingly soft, sweet, smoky, spicy, versatile pulled pork shoulder. This has had a lot of bad press recently for being too trendy and a bit past it, but I have never before summoned the courage to try making my own. It was surprisingly simple and has given me one supper and three lunches so far, using a 640g shoulder joint (the biggest I could get). A really nice change from roast chicken salad! 

 

You will need:

1 pork shoulder 

3 tsp smoked paprika

Chunk of fresh ginger, grated

3 cloves of garlic, grated

1 tsp tomato purée 

2 tsp light muscovado sugar

150ml white balsamic vinegar

Pinch dried chilli flakes 

5 shallots, chopped 

  
1. Hold back 3 shallots and the pork and combine all the other ingredients together in a bowl. 

  
2. Line a deep roasting tin well with tin foil. Cover the pork joint with the marinade, cover with foil and leave to soak in for around half an hour.

 
3. Preheat the oven to 180C fan. Pour 300ml water into the tray and put the marinated pork in the oven for 30 minutes. Turn down to 160C and roast for 2 hours or so, basting every half an hour. If the tray bakes dry, add more water.   

4. Don’t worry that it looks a bit ropey, both when you put it in and when you take it out! The beauty is in the inside! Allow to cool for awhile on a dry sheet of foil and pour the juices into a bowl to settle, allowing you to skim the fat off the top. 

  
5. Chuck the rest of the chopped shallots in a frying pan with a little oil and fry on a low heat until soft and translucent. Tip in the rested juices and add in a good cup of water. Simmer until reduced and you’ll have a sweet, sticky, spicy BBQ sauce! It’s great on a roll or as a chutney with a salad.

6. Cut the fat off the pork and pull it apart with two forks – this is a bit labour intensive but it’s worth it! It’s easiest to shred the whole thing while it’s still warm. It’ll cease up once it’s been in the fridge. Be careful of any grizzle or fat though. 

  
Serve in a salad, on a roll, on a pizza or in pasta or noodles….whatever you choose! 

  

Mushrooms on Toast

This is something Mr Brooker introduced to my lunchtime life, and it’s a much healthier version of Pizza Express’ delightful Bruschetta con Funghi (which is loaded with cream). This makes a fabulous lunch, served with salad or alone, a great starter, if served in a smaller portion, or a tasty canapé, if vastly miniaturised. 

  
You will need:

Crusty whole grain bread, toasted 

Mushrooms, preferably chestnut

1 clove garlic

1 tsp parsley

1/2 tsp thyme

Generous knob of butter

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Grinding of black pepper 

  
1. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a low to medium heat. Slice the mushrooms, grate or crush the garlic and herbs (unless using dried). 

  
2. Put the toast on and chuck the garlic in the pan to let its flavour release into the butter, without burning it.

  
3. Add the mushrooms and herbs, making sure to spread the mushrooms out evenly. Try not to overheat or over stir. You want these brown and textured, not grey and mushy! 

  
4.When the mushrooms are nearly ready, add the mustard and stir in. Add more if you really like it!

5. Serve over the toast with a grinding of black pepper. You won’t need to butter the toast as the mushrooms will be moist enough. 

  
I know this involves fat and dairy but at least it’s real butter! The flavour simply can’t be replicated any other way!   Just make sure you enjoy it!

Mocha Cake 

It was my Dad’s birthday recently and I wanted to make him a birthday cake that was manly enough to qualify for a man’s birthday treat. I spent 3 nights researching exactly the right flavour combination and the best recipes to provide what I was looking for.  I’ve always thought there was something brilliant about a great, moist flavoured cake with real frosting.  This was the result – not too sweet, not too rich, decorated with chocolate shavings and pecans. 

  
For the sponge, you will need:

225g butter, left out at room temperature to soften but not melt

225g golden caster sugar

4 large eggs

200ml espresso or strongly brewed coffee, cooled

4 tsp cocoa powder

225g self-raising flour 

  
For the chocolate buttercream, you will need:

150g good quality 70% cocoa chocolate 

75g salted butter, again softened

150g icing sugar 

1 large egg yolk

  
1. Brew the coffee. Ideally you want enough shots of espresso to measure 200ml. Preheat the oven to 180C fan. Grease and line two sandwich cake pans. 

2. Measure out the butter and cream until fluffy, ideally with a hand-held electric mixer.

2. Add in the sugar, and mix again, getting in as much air as you can. 

3. Add the eggs in, one by one, mixing after each addition. Once they’ve all been added, whip up until airy and moussey. Add in the coffee and mix again. 

4. Fold in the cocoa powder and flour until just mixed in. 

  
5. Split the mixture between the cake pans. I like to weigh it as I go along to make sure they are relatively even. 

6. Put in the oven and bake for around 20-25 minutes, or until springy to the touch. Remove from the oven, leave to cool a little and then turn out. 

7. While the sponges are baking and cooling (bring mindful of time in the oven) start working on the chocolate buttercream. The first step is to break up the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water. The saucepan should be slightly smaller than the rim of the bowl, the right size to keep it suspended over the water, ensuring the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water, or you’ll risk burning the chocolate. Stir occasionally until it has all melted then take off the heat and allow to cool, stirring every now and then.

8. In the mean time, weigh out the butter and whiz up with the electric beaters (now clean!) until light and fluffy. Add in the icing sugar and beat once more, before combining the cooked melted chocolate and egg yolk.

 
9. Peel the paper off of the sponges then place one on a cake board or plate, domed top facing down. Use about 1/3 of the buttercream to cover the top of the sponge, spread evenly then top with the second sponge.

 
10. Spread the remaining buttercream evenly over the top and sides of the cake, making sure there are no spaces where the sponge can be seen. 

  

11. Top with chocolate shavings and evenly spaced pecan halves, or your preferred decoration. Chocolate-covered coffee beans would work well. 

  

Serve or give away – perfect with a nice cup of tea or coffee.   

Chicken and Avocado Open Sandwiches

Ok, these still mean carbs. But we all need carbs sometimes. And they’re homemade carbs, so you have to let yourself off! They’re still almost raw and make a great light filling supper or weekend lunch, as well as ps king you full of vitamins, protein, good fats and omega 3!

  
You will need:

Half of a small baguette or a quarter of a big one

2 tbsp sour cream (optional)

1/2 medium avocado 

A large handful of roast chicken, or other chicken of your choice (this would be excellent with salmon)

Drizzle of sweet chilli sauce or sciracha 

Side salad of your choice 

1. Slice open your baguette.

 
2. Thinly spread with sour cream. Slice up your avocado and add this on top. Drizzle on some lemon juice and salt. 

  
 3. Place the chicken on top, drizzle with a spicy sauce, and serve with your salad. Speedy, healthy and a great way to use up leftovers!