Marinated beef skewers, Espetada

Marinated beef skewers

Donald Russell, an online butcher based in Aberdeenshire recently sent me some  of their diced beef and pork (pork recipe to follow) for review.  The meat was delivered in a polystyrene box packed with dry ice to keep it frozen in transit and it did a very good job. Donald Russell has a wide variety of meat available, delivered to your door, with plenty of recipes on their website to tempt you too.

A couple of years ago Mr OC reached a milestone birthday and our good friend Tony bought him a rotisserie  barbecue for making souvla and souvlaki. We have used it as much as the weather allows us too ever since. So I was really pleased to receive this meat for review. This beef recipe is my interpretation of the espatada that we eat when we go on our holidays to Madeira. Espatada, is cubed beef rubbed with garlic, salt and bay leaf, cooked over coals on a skewer or a bay leaf twig and then hung on your table and served with cornbread which soaks up the delicious juices. I have to have espatada at least twice on holiday. Then I cook it whenever the occasion arises when we are at home and the rotisserie can be fetched out. This time though, because the weather knew I wanted to cook this beef for review it decided to rain most of the week. This beef was, therefore, cooked at the top of the roasting oven of the Aga, which is as close as I can get to grilling meat in an Aga. It does a perfectly decent job and the beef was delicious.

440g diced beef steak
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
juice and rind of ½ lemon
1-2 tbsps olive oil
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1-2 bay leaf crumbled

Soak some wooden skewers in water for at least 1 hour to prevent them burning or use metal skewers.


Dry your diced steak with kitchen towel and place into a glass bowl or a freezer bag. Glug in some olive oil, the rind and juice of the lemon. Sprinkle over the chopped garlic, salt, bay leaf and a touch of pepper. Mix the marinade well into the beef using your hands or by shaking the freezer bag. Leave to marinate for at least an hour and preferably three.

Thread the meat securely onto the skewers and place on a grill rack over a roasting tin (line the tin with foil to save washing up). Place under a hot grill or in an oven at its highest setting for 10-15 minutes, turning once or twice until lightly charred. If you have the barbecue fired up then cook them over the hot coals. Leave to rest for a few minutes, squeeze a bit more lemon juice over the top before taking off the skewers and enjoying in a flatbread or with cornbread or a salad.

I received four packs of diced meat free of charge for the purposes of review from Donald Russell Online Butchers. All of the opinions in this post are my own and are honest. 



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Butter Buns

Butter buns

These are the buns that I dream of. I do actually dream about them. When I was young you could buy these from an Italian family bakery that had shops in Shrewsbury and other local towns. They were my all time favourite cake and one that I would choose every time I saw them on their stainless steel platter. The memory of the taste has stayed with me and when the café doors were closed for the final time, it remained just that, a memory. Many times in recent years I have thought about how I might go about making them, but I couldn’t get my head around how you might layer the bun and enclose all that buttery goodness.

A few weeks ago a lady contacted me asking if I had the recipe for the Shrewsbury Butter Bun. Before she contacted me it never occurred to me that  the butter bun was a local phenomenon. Of course, now I realise it is.  A few weeks prior to this I found out that a friend’s husband had family connections with the café and I was considering whether she might think I was mad if I asked her if he knew the secret to the butter bun. The two things happening so close together felt like fate and I knew that it was time I got my act together and found out how I could go about making the butter bun.

I haven’t asked my friend’s husband. I thought it best not to ask him to reveal family secrets. But I did find an entry for butter buns on the internet which revealed the folding technique. At last, the answer to all my dreams. I can’t find the link again, which is frustrating, but if I do I will post it here. I have used the recipe that I teach for all my enriched dough recipes on the bread making course. It’s a recipe that can be adapted for a fruit bun, chelsea bun, iced finger etc.

I have trialled these twice now, with success each time. I was frustrated with the first batch that all the sugary butteriness oozed out during the baking. With the second batch I tried sealing the bun with a little milk to prevent the leakage. I now realise that you just can’t seal them, and this is the point. All that sugary, butteriness gathers in the tray and encrusts the bottom of the butter bun. May it ooze for all its worth, enough of the filling manages to stay in to create the delicious buttery layers.

These little beauties are now going to be one of the choices for students to make during the enriched dough part of the bread making course so that I can share the butter bun love with as many people as possible. I urge you to get out your flour and make some as soon as you possibly can.

Makes 10 buns

Lightly grease two baking trays. Oven temperature, 220°c, gas mark 7 or the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga.

For the buns
300g strong white flour
250g plain white flour
10g fine salt
7g easy bake yeast
50g caster sugar
150ml warm milk
150ml warm water ( I add boiling water to cold milk and that way both get warm)
50g butter
1 egg

For the filling
100g softened butter
150g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla paste or extract

For the glaze
50 ml milk
50g caster sugar


In a large bowl mix together the flours, salt, yeast and sugar. Pour in the water, milk, egg and add the cubed butter. Mix together well ( I use my hands like a claw) and then tip out onto a work surface (no extra flour needed) and knead for about 10 minutes until feeling smooth and elastic. You can of course use a free standing mixer to do all of this for you. The dough will be sticky during the kneading process, which is fine. Better sticky than dry.

Form the dough into a ball, and place into a bowl and leave to rise, covered with a large bag or lightly oiled clingfilm. With all of the sugar, milk, egg and butter this dough will take longer to rise than a bread dough.

In a bowl mix together the softened butter, caster sugar and vanilla paste for the filling.

Place the sugar and milk for the glaze in a small pan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium and bring to the boil. Set aside.

Once the dough has doubled in volume, take it carefully out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a sausage shape and cut into ten equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Take one ball and roll out thinly into a circle. Place a teaspoon of the filling mixture in the middle of the circle. Fold over the circle to create a semi-circle. Flatten the dough over the butter and press the seam down well. Place a second teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the semi-circle. Fold the dough over to create a triangle. Flatten again and press the seam well (See pics below). Place onto a lightly greased tray and repeat with the other balls of dough. Leave to rise for 20 -30 minutes. Place on the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga, or onto the middle shelf of an oven preheated to 220°c, gas mark 7 for 15 minutes until golden.  Glaze the buns whilst hot with the sugar and milk using a pastry brush. Leave to settle on the tray for ten minutes and then lift onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Butter bun fold, stage 1

Butter bun fold, stage 1

Butter bun fold, stage 2

Butter bun fold, stage 2

Butter bun fold, stage 3

Butter bun fold, stage 3

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Marinated olives

The girls have broken up from school and seven weeks of freedom stretches ahead of them. What halcyon days… I remember them well, the sheer loveliness of being able to roam and suit myself and the sun always seemed to be blazing. But I might remember it differently from the actual reality.

What this means for me, of course, is that I will be here less often probably. We will be baking and cooking, I just won’t have the time to tell you about it.

Before the school term ended a few of us mums took the chance to have a sneaky afternoon of eating in my garden. It was really lovely. It was a friend’s birthday, so the perfect excuse for all of us to indulge. Everyone bought something along to share and a proper feast was set before us. I made the birthday cake, a lemon one, as requested, and I dipped into Rachel’s book and made her marinated olives. I am not going to give you the recipe because you really, really should buy the book as it is wonderful and full to the seams with things you will want to cook. I served the olives with manchego cheese, which paired perfectly.

Marinated olivesMay the sun shine for the next six weeks or so…


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Hazelnut cookies

hazelnut cookies

These cookies came about because I love peanut butter. I eat it off a spoon straight out of the jar. I felt like making peanut butter cookies, but because I like it so much there is not enough left in the jar to make biscuits. I did have a bag of hazelnuts in the cupboard though.

I am pleased that I didn’t have enough peanut butter as these are really, really very good, chewy and dense biscuits.

Makes about 16

200g hazelnuts
50g butter, softened
100g soft light brown sugar
1 small egg (mine weighed 45g)
50g white spelt flour (or you can use plain flour)

Spread the hazelnuts on a baking tray and place into a preheated oven at 200°c, gas mark 7, or on the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga for about 3 minutes until toasted. Turn the oven down to 180°c, gas mark 4. Place a clean tea towel into a bowl, spread out to catch the nuts (this keeps the nuts from escaping onto the floor). Gather the nuts in the towel and rub them vigorously. Most of the skins will rub off. Pick out the nuts from their skins. Place 150g of the nuts into a food processor and blitz until really fine. Add the butter, sugar and egg and whizz until combined. Add the flour and whizz again until combined. Add the remaining 50g of hazelnuts and whizz until the hazelnuts are broken up but still chunky. Take a chunk of the dough that’s about the same size as a walnut. Roll into a ball and flatten slightly. You can use the tines of a fork to mark a pattern if you like.  Place onto a greased baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4, or the centre of the baking oven for 12-15 minutes until golden. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Make a cup of tea and have a biscuit.

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Elderflower vinegar

Elderflower vinegar

When I picked the elderflowers yesterday the first thing I made was a vinegar scented with elderflower. I used white wine vinegar, which has quite a strong vinegar taste to it. Now that it’s infused when you take a big sniff you get the vinegar first with a delicious waft of the sweet, intoxicating scent of elderflower at the end. It is really good in salad dressings. We had some last night on our bagged salad and I have just sprinkled some on my lunch of melon, strawberries and goat’s cheese with a glug of olive oil. It is delicious and delicate and well worth making. It is very easy to make. The hardest bit is sterilising the bottle (and that’s hardly hard) and if you use the bottle that the vinegar came in you don’t even need to do that.

350 ml – 500ml white wine vinegar
5- 6 elderflower heads, carefully picked and checked for insects

Pour the vinegar into a non-reactive pan (stainless steel) and place the elderflower heads in the vinegar.  Heat gently until just hot. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. When cool remove the elderflower heads and sieve the vinegar through some muslin to make sure that any stray insects are removed. Pour into a sterilised bottle or back into the bottle the vinegar came out of.

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Gooseberry and elderflower jam

Gooseberries and elderflowers

I haven’t made jam for a long time. I keep meaning to fetch some damsons out of the freezer, but I always find that something else has jogged its way to the top of my to-do list. This morning though, our broadband connection was down. The horror! It’s only when you don’t have the internet that you realise how much you use it.  I decided to change my plans and I remembered that when I had gone to feed the chickens yesterday that I had thought about the elderflowers being ready. I was chatting at the weekend about elderflower champagne. I decided it was now or never.

I went out in my sandals (why do I always do that?) to forage. The tree by the chickens wasn’t very fruitful. I managed a couple of sprigs, but realised that this is probably the tree that the jackdaws sit in waiting for their opportunity to do their own foraging in the chicken corn. There was just too much bird poo. So I ended up half way down a steep, fairly muddy bank in my sandals precariously reaching for the best blooms.

You have to take great care when picking elderflowers. Not only do I suggest your wellies or a pair of sturdy shoes, but that you very gently grasp the bloom and snip carefully. Carry said bloom with care to the waiting bowl and gently lay it in there. When you are ready to use them do a thorough examination for insects and carefully lift any off. Do not be tempted to give the blooms a shake. The sweet scent of the elderflower is captured in its pollen and it is this that you want in your jam/cordial/champagne/ vinegar. No matter how careful you are when you pick them a cloud of pollen will still be released, reminding you to be even more careful with the next snip, whether you are threatened with tipping yourself down that steep bank or not.

I bought my elderflower heads inside and wondered what I should do with them.  I have made elderflower cordial before and I love it, but I fancied something a bit different. I fancied a scented vinegar, so I started with that (recipe to follow in another blog post) and then I thought about the gooseberries that Mr OC and I had been admiring in our garden on Saturday. Mr OC had mentioned gooseberry jam. I took that as a hint. Out I went, still in sandals, to tackle the gooseberries. Those little bushes really don’t want you to take their fruit. Several exclamations later I emerged with just over 1 kilo of gooseberries and my hands prickled and thorn ridden. There are plenty left to ripen further for a fool or an ice-cream. Perhaps gloves might be an idea next time.

The resulting jam is heavenly. It has a sherbet fizz to it, that makes your lips pucker, ever so slightly, then the heady scent of elderflower and the sweet tang of  gooseberries. If someone were ever to ask me what the colour green tastes like I would say this jam, after wondering whether they required help. The jam itself has a rose hue to it that just makes you feel happy. I am glad the internet was broken this morning.

Makes 5-6 random sized but about 300-400g jars

1kg gooseberries, topped and tailed and washed
6-8 elderflower heads, carefully picked and carefully inspected for insects
500ml of water
1 kg white sugar


Place the topped and tailed gooseberries in a jam pan or large saucepan, pour over 500ml water and place the elderflower heads on the top. Bring the water to a gentle simmer and cook until the gooseberries are soft but still whole. Remove the elderflower heads (which will have gone brown in the heat). Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring the jam to a rolling boil and boil until the jam is set. To test, place a couple of saucers in the freezer to get really cold. After nearly ten minutes of boiling spoon a little of the jam onto a cold saucer and leave for a minute. Push the tip of your finger through and if the jam wrinkles it is set, if not leave to boil for a few minutes more. My jam took about 15-18 minutes today and it is very softly set, which is the way I prefer it. Leave the jam to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then spoon into warm sterile jars and seal.

To sterilise my jars, I wash them really well in soapy hot water, rinse really well in clean water. Place on a baking tray and place in a low oven for twenty minutes. I then fill them as soon as they come out of the oven.


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Salted peanut butter brownies

Salted peanut brownies

We are off to a friend’s straight after school tonight so I have made these brownies to take with us for a treat. I have also asked one of the students attending Sunday’s bread making course for cake requests and brownies are at the top of her cake list. It made sense then, to trial these and cook again on Saturday, ready for Sunday.

They are an adaptation of Ruby Tandoh’s excellent Salted Milk Chocolate Brownies from The Guardian Cook section published on 7 February this year. I can’t resist fiddling with recipes so I have added peanut butter, used dark chocolate instead of milk and used half and half of caster sugar and soft dark brown sugar. I have also swapped the plain flour with wholemeal spelt.

When I made Ruby’s brownies the first time, (with just a few changes), it became quite clear that by sprinkling sea salt on the top of these beauties just makes them even more tempting and addictive.

If you have a fancy for a gooey, deeply chocolatey, salty and nutty cake (and who wouldn’t?) get your teeth wrapped around one (or two, or three) of these.

Makes 9 brownies

175g unsalted butter
150g dark chocolate
50g cocoa powder
100g caster sugar
100g soft dark brown sugar
3 eggs
50g wholemeal spelt flour
¼ tsp fine salt
About 100g crunchy peanut butter
Sea salt flakes


Melt the chocolate and the butter together in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir in the cocoa powder. Leave to cool slightly.

Whisk the sugars with the eggs in a large bowl until the mixture is thick and doubled in volume.

Pour the chocolate mixture onto the egg mixture and fold carefully together until well mixed. Add the flour and the salt and fold in. Pour the batter into a foil lined 20cm square cake tin. Drop blobs of peanut butter into the batter and swirl with a skewer. Sprinkle the sea salt flakes over the top.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 for 25-30 minutes or in the Aga’s baking oven with the rack set on the bottom rung for 20 minutes until the brownie is crusted on top but still has a bit of a wobble. It should be undercooked so that when it cools it is fudge and dense in texture with a crust.

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