Artichoke dip/gratin in 25 mins

One of my oldest friends (and avid artichoke fan) Kirsty made this recently and introduced it as ‘epic’.  She is right.  Not only is the dip/gratin epically delicious and rich but it is also too easy for words to make using only a casserole dish, and contains just three ingredients.  You mix canned artichokes with mayonnaise and parmesan and bake it for around 15 mins.  You can eat the dip/gratin with crudités, have it on bread/toast as a sort of posh cheese on toast, or as a vegetable side dish.

The dish is probably my favourite discovery of 2015.  Thanks Kirsty!


Artichoke dip/gratin (serves 2-4 as a dip/side dish)

Can artichokes, drained and roughly chopped (not too small or it will be mushy!)

Very big squeeze mayonnaise

Very large handful parmesan, grated

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7/220 degrees.

Get a small casserole dish.  In it mix the roughly chopped artichokes with the mayonnaise and most of the parmesan until nicely moist and combined.  Sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the top.

Bake in the oven for at least 15 mins, until golden brown on top.  Finish off under the grill if you need to.  Eat with chopped veg, on bread/toast or as a veg side dish.


Cranberry sauce for veggies!


I vividly remember going to a Christmas market in Poland in minus 12 degree weather, and eating these amazing, steaming street snacks of smoked Polish cheese with cranberry sauce.  They were a warming, smokey, sweet delight.

So last week I found a really simple 3-ingredient cranberry sauce recipe that had (deservedly) great reviews and can be made 1 week ahead.   I thought about/experimented with what it can be enjoyed with apart from meat and concluded: it is lovely dolloped on top of yoghurt or swirled through porridge; great with pancakes; yummy in a cheese toastie; or alongside a cheese board (particularly with warm smoked cheese or with baked brie/camembert).  Here is the recipe, which takes just 15 minutes!  You could add extra flavours like orange/satsuma zest or ginger if you like.

Cranberry sauce (serves 8)

100g muscavado sugar/soft brown sugar

100ml orange juice, fresh or from a carton

250g fresh or frozen cranberries

Tip the sugar and orange juice into a pan, then bring to the boil. Stir in the cranberries, then simmer until tender but still holding their shape – this will take about 5-10 mins if using frozen cranberries or 10-15 mins if using fresh. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Will keep in the fridge for 1 week. On the day, bring to room temperature before serving (or warmer if you fancy).

Recipe from



Blue cheese and poppy seed biscuits


These scrummy blue cheese and poppy seed biscuits can be eaten straight away, kept in a container for several days, or made ahead and then frozen.  They are really simple to make and look impressive so are great to have handy if you are expecting people (or need an edible gift idea).  They were also wolfed down by my kids as an after school snack!

The biscuits are from a recipe in Jane Lovett’s new ‘Make It Easy’ cookbook and she often serves them after meals instead of cheese (although I reckon they would be even better WITH cheese!)  We ate half and froze half so we could have some over Christmas.  You need clingfilm. Allow about 15 mins prep, 1 hour chilling and 10 mins baking.

Blue cheese and poppy seed biscuits (makes approx 25)

110g self-raising flour

110g butter

Large pinch mustard powder

50g blue cheese, crumbled (any is fine – I opted for the cheapest!)

50g cheddar cheese, grated

1 tsp poppy seeds

1 tsp salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.  Process the flour and butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (if the mixture seems too wet, gradually add flour until it is thicker).  Add the mustard powder, cheeses, poppy seeds and salt and pepper and process until well mixed.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the mixture in to two fat sausages and wrap tightly in clingfilm.  Chill for at least an hour (it will firm up).  Unwrap and slice into discs about the thickness of a pound coin.  Place on baking paper and bake for at least 5-7 minutes, turning halfway through when golden.  They should expand a little.  Cool slightly then eat!

If you want to freeze any then do so, either after baking OR after you have sliced in to discs, but before baking.  Put the biscuits spread out in freezer bags.  Cooked frozen biscuits can be briefly heated in the oven to take the frozen ‘edge’ off them and uncooked frozen biscuits can be baked as above.



Pineapple upside down cake – retro cooking-with-kids fun!

upside-down pineapple cake

This is a classic Seventies cake that I fancied trying out.   It sounded tasty,  looks impressive (in a retro kind of way!) and I thought my kids would enjoy making an ‘upside down’ cake.  It’s really simple to make, even if you are new to cake making.  You make a classic sponge mixture (with added syrup from the tinned pineapple) then pour it over a butter and sugar glaze with pineapple rings and glacé cherries.  Once cooked turn the cake upside down et voila!  Allow about 15 mins to prepare the cake and at least 35 mins to cook.

upside-down pineapple cake

upside-down pineapple cake

The recipe is based on one from the BBC Good Food website, but I have reduced the sugar content as online reviews said that it was too sweet. The top of the cake is sticky and the centre is light and fluffy.  It is is gorgeous with cream or ice cream. Our grandparents would be proud!

upside-down pineapple cake

upside-down pineapple cake

Pineapple upside down cake (serves at least 8 people)

For the topping

40g softened butter
40g light soft brown sugar
7 pineapple rings in syrup, drained  (keep syrup aside for the cake mixture)
7 glacé cherries
For the cake
100g softened butter
80g caster sugar
120g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Heat oven to 180 degrees//gas mark 4. For the topping, beat the butter and sugar together briefly until creamy. Line a 20-21cm cake tin with greaseproof paper on the bottom.  Butter the sides.  Spread the butter and sugar mixture on to the greaseproof paper over the base. Arrange pineapple rings on top, then place cherries in the centres of the rings.
Place the cake ingredients in a bowl along with 2 tbsp of the pineapple syrup and beat to a soft consistency (about one min). Spoon into the tin on top of the pineapple and smooth it out so it’s level. Bake for 35-45 mins until deep golden on top and a knife inserted comes out clean. Leave to stand for 5 mins, then turn out onto a plate. Serve warm with a scoop of cream or ice cream.

Semolina and herb gnocchi – an exciting vegetarian treat

semolina gnocchi

Who knew that gnocchi didn’t just refer to those small oval-shaped Italian potato dumplings, but also to this version from Rome?!  It uses semolina, frying the mixture in wedges until deliciously golden and crunchy on the outside and soft and springy in the middle, and is an unusual and exciting recipe (a rare thing in the meat-free world sometimes!). It’s also pretty straightforward to make and you can prepare the mixture in advance. At around £3.50 in total (serving 4-6 people) it’s a great value dish.

The recipe is based on one from the brilliant ‘Veggie Feast’ course at Cordon Verve cookery school in Walthamstow, London. The school has a range of one-off courses in a lovely friendly setting overlooking the vegetable garden:

For the gnocchi, you start by heating butter, milk, herbs and ground nutmeg in a saucepan, then add the semolina, egg yolks and parmesan and mix.

semolina gnocchi semolina gnocchi semolina gnocchi

Pour the mixture in to a baking tray, spread out and chill in the fridge before cutting in to wedges and frying in batches.  It takes about 15 mins to prepare the mixture, at least an hour to chill (or overnight if you wish) then around 35 mins to fry.

semolina gnocchi semolina gnocchi semolina gnocchi

The gnocchi are naughty, creamy and very comforting, so you need to offset that with some vegetables!  We had them with salad and roast potatoes the first day.  And the following day topped with with tinned chopped tomatoes heated with garlic and dried herbs.  This worked brilliantly.  My boyfriend reckons the gnocchi would be good with chopped chorizo added to the mixture before frying, but then again he thinks everything is better with chorizo.  Everything. 

semolina gnocchi

I have also found recipes for the gnocchi mixture being cut in to discs (before frying) and overlapped in an ovenproof dish, sprinkled with cheese and baked in the oven.  That sounds easier but probably not as golden and crunchy as being fried all over!  Anyway, I am rattling on a bit now, so here is the recipe:

Semolina and herb gnocchi (serves 4-6)

200g semolina (course ground – available in supermarkets)

750ml whole milk

80g butter

Small handful of fresh or dried herbs, chopped or pulled off their stalk e.g. rosemary/thyme/dried mixed herbs

Salt and pepper

1/3 tsp ground nutmeg (available from supermarkets)

2 egg yolks

50g grated parmesan cheese


Heat the butter, milk, herbs, nutmeg and salt and pepper in a saucepan until boiling quickly.  Take off the heat and quickly whisk or stir in the semolina and egg yolks, until rubbery.  Stir in the parmesan.  Add a little milk if it is too thick to stir.  Taste, and season more if necessary.

Pour in to a smallish rectangle/square baking tray lined with clingfilm.  Cool, then chill in the fridge for atleast one hour (or overnight if you wish).   Slice in to wedges.

When ready to fry, heat a large frying pan until moderately hot and add a little butter (you only want a small knob as otherwise the gnocchi won’t brown easily).  Fry in batches, turning the slices over when they are a deep golden brown (not dark brown or black!)  Cook until both sides are this colour, remove carefully from the pan and eat!  Nice with salad.

Stilton crust veggie or meat sausage rolls (20 mins prep/30 mins cooking)

stilton crust sausage rolls

These sausage rolls are really simple to make, using shop-bought ready-rolled puff pastry (which you roll a few extra times with crumbled stilton) and either veggie or meat sausages.  They take 20 mins to prepare and about 30 mins to cook.

stilton crust sausage rolls

stilton crust sausage rolls

The stilton gives the pastry a lovely subtle flavour.  We had the sausage rolls for dinner with sweetcorn, tuna and mayo salad and will eat them as a snack tomorrow. Yum! We all loved them.

stilton crust sausage rolls

My boyfriend stuffed the little bit of leftover pastry with chorizo and that was a big hit too.

Stilton crust veggie or meat sausage rolls (makes approx 18 small ones)

Sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry (375g)

100g stilton, crumbled

Plain flour, for rolling

6 medium sized veggie or meat sausages (I used Quorn veggie sausages)

Beaten egg, to finish

Lightly flour a work surface and lay the sheet of puff pastry on it.  Cut it in half and crumble the stilton evenly over the first half.  Lay the second half over the top and gently press it on so it is sealed, then roll with a rolling pin until twice the size.  Fold it over and roll again, and then repeat this again so the stilton is spread.  You want the final sheet to be the same size as it was originally.  Cut it in to three pieces lengthways, and lay two sausages down each of the three sheets.  Fold the pastry over the sausages, allowing a 2cm ish overlap.  Seal each sausage roll with your fingers and brush each one with the beaten egg.  Cut each sausage roll in to six equally sized pieces (making 18 in total). Place on a non-stick baking tray and bake for 25-30 mins, turning so that all four sides are golden brown and the filling is piping hot. Remove from the oven and eat!

Chocolate and peanut butter cups (4 minutes of effort and no cook!)

These chocolate and peanut butter cups require about 4 minutes of effort, no cooking and taste divine, so are brilliant to share with friends (or keep to yourself!).  They are basically two rounds of smooth, sweet milk chocolate with crunchy, salty peanut butter in the middle.  The combination of sweet and salty and the texture of the cups as you bite in to them are a little bit special.  Just don’t even THINK about using smooth peanut butter!

chocolate peanut butter cups

I was inspired to try my hand at these after spending the last 2 months eating the wonderful chocolate and peanut butter bites at our lovely local cafe, Wynwood Art District, in Walthamstow, London.  Mine are definitely not as good as their’s and I am told that they use a particularly good peanut butter (I am afraid I don’t know which).  Wynwood also do lots of other delectable cakes (their lemon squares are gorgeous), great coffee and tasty, interesting savoury meals such as chickpea and tahini soup (unusual and beautiful), feta and spinach pie (my favourite) and bean and chorizo salad (the perfectly delicious hangover cure according to my boyfriend).  The fact that it is a family business where the sisters, mum and dad are all involved in cooking what they love and running the cafe warms me.  More details re Wynwood are at the bottom of this post!

But back to the chocolate and peanut butter cups.  Allow an hour to prepare them as the chocolate needs time to set in the fridge once melted – you can come and go throughout the day as they only involve 2 x 2 minutes of actual work.  You can use silicone or paper muffin cases or a silicone tray if you have them.  My boyfriend even made them in his work kitchen.  My version was a little chocolate heavy so I have changed the chocolate/peanut butter ratio slightly for the recipe.  Enjoy!

Chocolate and peanut butter cups (makes 6 cups using 6 muffin cases)

200g milk chocolate (any kind)

6 tsp crunchy peanut butter (I used Whole Earth but reckon any brand would work as long as it is crunchy!)

Melt half of the chocolate in a pan or in the microwave in 20 second bursts, to avoid burning.  Use a spoon to divide the chocolate in to each muffin cup, then put in the fridge for at least 20 mins to set.  Once set, take out and put around 1 tsp peanut butter per cup on top of the chocolate.  Then melt the remaining half of the chocolate and spoon on top of the peanut butter in each cup.  Pop in the fridge for a further 20 mins or until fully set, then carefully peel off the muffin cases and serve!  Keep at room temperature as long as it is not too warm.  Great with coffee!

Wynwood Art District in Walthamstow can be found at, as ‘Wynwood Art District’ on Facebook and @wynwoodartd on twitter

Mince pie cookies (all the flavour in far less time!)

mince pie cookies

I had been looking for a novel Christmas recipe so a big thank you to my friend Cynthia for recommending this one, which is based on a recipe from The Times.  Best of all the cookies are very easy to make so you end up with all the mince pie flavours (using orange zest and shop-bought mincemeat) with a fraction of the effort!  That is my kind of recipe.  A great one for making with kids too if you fancy it.  Brilliant.

Apparently the cooked cookies and the dough both freeze well.  Recipe makes between 20-30 cookies depending on size.

Mince pie cookies

250g unsalted butter, softened
140g sugar
1 egg yolk
Grated zest of a smallish orange
300g flour
1 x 410g jar mincemeat

Heat oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 4.  Line 2 or 3 baking trays with grease proof/baking paper (or use a non-stick tray).  Lightly beat the butter and sugar until creamy, add the egg yolk and orange zest and then gradually the flour.  Then add most of the mincemeat and stir/mix with hands to make a dough.  Don’t worry if it seems greasy – it should crisp up when baking.

Pull off little clumps of dough, place on the baking tray and flatten slightly.  Dot a small blob of the remaining mincemeat in the middle of each biscuit.  Put in the oven and check after 10 minutes.  They will be ready in 10-15 mins when golden, a little brown at the edges but still a bit soft in the middle.  Be careful not to burn them!

Cool, and store in an airtight container.  Will last a few days.

Based on a recipe from The Times

Christmas tree biscuits for a rainy day

christmas tree biscuits

Here is a festive little activity to do with the kids (or not!) All you need are some basic ingredients, Christmassy spices (ground ginger and cinnamon) and a Christmas tree biscuit cutter. We didn’t have anything to decorate the trees with but the possibilities are endless (those squirty icing pens, little edible balls or stars). Kids (including toddlers) can enjoy mixing the ingredients, rolling the dough out and then cutting the shapes and transferring them to the baking tray.  Allow 20 minutes for the dough to harden in the fridge before rolling.

The biscuits should keep for a few days.  For an alternative biscuit recipe that can be hung on the Christmas tree click here:

christmas tree biscuits

christmas tree biscuits

Don’t worry if the biscuits don’t look perfect – some of ours weren’t even recognisable!

Christmas tree biscuits (makes approx 12)

225g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger (or 3/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp ground all spice)
115g light muscovado sugar/caster sugar
115g unsalted butter
1 medium egg, beaten

Start by preheating the oven to 180°C/ gas mark 4.
Mix the flour, spices and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter, if necessary rubbing it in using your fingers. Add the beaten egg and mix into a stiff dough. Make a big ball and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes to harden a bit.  Knead lightly and roll out on a floured surface until it’s approx 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into Christmassy shapes and place onto non-stick baking trays.  Pop them in the oven for about 15 minutes, swapping the trays around halfway through, until golden brown.
Leave the biscuits to cool then decorate with whatever you fancy.

Summer Sangria (fruity wine punch)

Sangria is a refreshing, fruity Spanish red wine punch that I was lucky enough to enjoy when one of my oldest friends Kez lived in Barcelona. It is delicious and also popular in Brazil, so I have decided that I am going to drink it regularly throughout the World Cup!

simple sangria

There are different versions of sangria, some with brandy, some with rum and some with both, and I have based my version partly on what was already in the cupboard (the above photo doesn’t really do it justice). You need red wine (any will do!), white rum, orange juice, lemonade and (ideally) fresh mint and fruit. Feel free to adjust the ratios to make it more or less alcoholic – it is all down to personal taste.

I associate sangria with summer and special occasions and hope I will still be awake and enjoying a glass when England play late tonight (most likely I will be asleep on the sofa and only jolted awake by cheering if and when our team score). Come on England!

Summer sangria – takes 5 minutes

3 parts red wine (cheap is fine)
1 part white rum e.g. Bacardi
2 parts orange juice
1 part lemonade
Chopped fruit and mint leaves e.g. oranges, lemons, strawberries, melon. Cucumber is nice too.

Mix everything together with ice. Adjust if necessary according to taste. Serve in a jug!