Oven dried chillies


dried chillies

We had a good harvest of chillies this year from our greenhouse and polytunnel.  Too many to use fresh, despite my husband becoming addicted to slicing them raw on almost every meal put in front of him.  What is he saying about my cooking?  So we decided to dry them and crush them. We are very lucky to have an Aga, which has a warming oven that allows us to pop these in and leave them until they are ready.  They take a good twelve hours at least so this will be harder to achieve with a standard oven that you need for cooking other meals.

All we did was to place them whole onto a grill rack on a baking tray and with the oven at its lowest temperature we left them in the oven until completely dry.  We then allowed them to cool completely before grinding them in the pestle and mortar.  We put them into a sterilised jar and they should keep for ages to add a spicy kick to our dishes throughout the winter.

Drying them makes them hotter than they were fresh so less dried chilli is needed when using in recipes.

crushing chillies

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Mackerel and feta stuffed baked potatoes

mackerel and feta stuffed potatoesWe are a meat-eating family and there’s no doubt about it.  If I, or my husband, had to choose whether to eat a fillet steak or a fillet of salmon, we would both choose steak pretty much nine times out of ten. So in an effort to get more oily fish into our diet I came up with this meal.  It’s very easy to do and it was lovely eaten with my pickled damsons.

4 baking potatoes
2 smoked mackerel fillets
200g feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 180°c (gas mark 4, 350°f) and bake the potatoes in their skins (pierce each potato with a knife a couple of times before putting in the oven to prevent potato explosions) for 1 to 1½ hours until crispy skinned and cooked all the way through (test by inserting a skewer into each potato).  In the meantime flake the mackerel  and slice the feta into cubes.

Allow the potatoes to cool until you can handle them easily without burning your hands. Split them in half and scoop out the flesh into a large bowl.  Put the empty shells into a baking dish ready to be refilled.  Add the feta and salt and pepper to taste to the potato flesh and combine well.  Add the flaked mackerel and stir gently to combine trying to keep the fish in flakes. Spoon this mixture back into the potato shells and put back in the oven for 20 minutes until golden brown on top.

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Beef stew

beef stew

It’s that time of year again, with the nights darker and the days shorter and colder, when we all need more comfort food.  There is little more comforting than a plate of stew that has been bubbling slowly away for a long time.  I am particularly proud of this one because I have in the past relied on the ubiquitous stock cube for gravies and stews and I am trying to wean myself away from them.  I have been making my own stocks when I have bones available from sunday roasts, but last night there was no beef stock left over in the freezer.  So instead I browned the meat until caramelized and cooked the onions for longer than I normally would so that they took on a good caramel colour.  This proved to provide enough colour and flavour to make a tasty stew using water instead of a stock cube – great progress for me. I was really pleased with the result and it has proved that I don’t need to use a stock cube when I am cooking a stew.  The flavour is further enhanced by the vegetables and adding some herbs into the mix.

Feeds two greedy people.

300g (10 oz) shin beef, cubed
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and cubed
55 ml (2 fl oz) madeira wine (or you could use any fortified wine)
10 g (½ oz) plain flour
1 tsp mustard  powder
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried oregano or marjoram
½ tsp dried thyme
425 ml (¾ pint) boiling water
salt & pepper to taste


Heat a smear of oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add cubes of the beef (make sure you don’t crowd the pan or they will steam rather than brown).  Allow the cubes to brown for a good few minutes without stirring them, then turn them to brown the other side.  You really want gooey bits of beef sticking to the base of the pan and a good colour to develop on the beef. When all of the beef has been browned remove to a plate and add the onion to the pan.  Allow it to cook  for at least ten minutes until it develops a good caramel colour (it may take longer than this). Add the parsnip and carrot and cook again for another five minutes, add the meat back to the pan of vegetables.  Add the flour, mustard powder and herbs and cook for a good few minutes, stirring the pot so that the flour has a chance to cook. Add the madeira and stir well, cooking for a minute or so. Add the water and salt and pepper to taste and turn the heat down to a gentle simmer.  Simmer for at least two hours before serving with lots of bread to mop up the gravy.  I enjoyed it with a bit of my quince jelly.

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English muffins

muffin and jam

I decided to do a special breakfast yesterday, well it’s half term and we were all off yesterday and having a day together.  So I got these started early (about 7ish) and we were enjoying them by 9 am.  Hot off the griddle and spread with butter and jam they were really tasty.  The recipe makes 12 muffins so we had plenty left over so I made Eggs Benedict for last night’s tea.  The muffins will keep though for a few days in an airtight tin, and can be split and toasted.

You can of course buy these muffins, but it really is worth the effort to make your own and it really isn’t that much effort.  I use my trusty tortilla pan to cook them but any heavy based pan or a griddle will do the job.

450g (1 lb) strong bread flour
225 ml (8 fl oz) milk
55 ml (2 fl oz) water
7g sachet of easy blend yeast
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt


Measure the flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl and mix well.  Place in a low oven (100°c) for 10 mins to warm through.  Measure the milk and water into a small pan and heat over a gentle heat until hand hot.  Take the flour out of the oven and add the yeast and gradually pour in the milk and water .  Mix with your hands until the dough comes easily into a ball away from the sides of the bowl.  The mixture may need a little less or a little more liquid so add the last bit with care.

Take the dough out of the bowl and knead on a worktop surface for about ten minutes or as long as your arms will bear. It should be springy and elastic. Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with clingfilm rubbed with a spot of oil (the oil on the inside). Leave to prove until it has doubled in size, this will take about 45 minutes in a warm kitchen or longer if left in a cool spot. I have never tried this but if you leave the dough in the fridge overnight it will be risen ready for the morning, so this may be a good plan if you don’t feel like waiting for a couple of hours for your breakfast.

When the dough has doubled in size take it out of the bowl and put it onto a lightly floured worktop and roll the dough out to about 1 cm thickness.  Using a scone cutter cut out 12 muffins.  You will need to re-roll the leftover bits of dough.  Place these onto a floured baking sheet, re-cover with the oiled clingfilm and leave for about 25 mins until  risen.

Heat the pan over a medium heat until hot and then place the muffins on the pan.  Turn the heat to low.  Cook for 7 minutes on the one side until nicely browned and turn and cook for another seven minutes until cooked through.  You will have to do this in batches.  Those you don’t want to eat immediately can be cooled and kept in an airtight tin.

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Pumpkin patties

pumpkin patties

In our quest to get through our pumpkin harvest my husband suggested that we mash the pumpkin with kidney beans and make a chilli flavoured veggie burger and out of that suggestion these pumpkin patties came into being. They can be made ahead and kept in the fridge until you are ready to cook them so whilst it takes a while to get everything prepared you could do the preparation earlier when you have a bit of time, or even the day before.

The picture above shows them coated in homemade wholemeal loaf breadcrumbs.  If I am honest, I forgot that I had put the loaf in the oven until 2 hours later, so all it was good for was to use the unburned centre for breadcrumbs!  I had put the timer on, but then forgot about it and went for a walk…

I served them with a chorizo tomato sauce, which is made simply by cubing the chorizo and frying in a little olive oil with a finely chopped clove of garlic for two minutes, adding a 400g tin of plum tomatoes, salt and pepper and oregano to taste and then cooking over a gentle heat for about 20 minutes until the tomato sauce has reduced to a nice thick consistency.

500g prepared pumpkin that has been peeled, deseeded and cut into cubes
300g prepared potato, that has been peeled and cubed
130g drained weight red kidney beans (a 215g can provides this amount)
1 red onion, peeled and diced
2½ tsp harissa paste or you could use chilli sauce or dried chillies to taste
1 tsp cumin seeds
20g parmesan cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper
200g breadcrumbs
a little olive oil
a little butter


Put the cubed pumpkin onto a baking tray, sprinkle with olive oil and roast in the oven at 200° c (400°f, gas mark 6) for 15-20 mins until soft and beginning to brown at the edges.  In the meantime place the cubed potato in a pan and just cover with water and boil until tender. Fry the onion in a little oil and a little butter for 5-10 mins over a gentle heat until translucent. Drain the kidney beans and place into a large bowl.  Dry fry the cumin seeds over a medium heat for two minutes until their smell is beginning to be released.  When the pumpkin, potatoes and onion are all cooked add them to the kidney beans.  Add the harissa paste, the cumin seeds, the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste and mash the mixture well. If you have time allow the mixture to cool.  Place the breadcrumbs onto a plate. When the mixture is cool shape into patties and dip each patty well into the breadcrumbs.  You can now place them in the fridge until you are ready to cook.  When you are ready place the patties onto a baking tray and cook in a preheated oven at 180°c (350°f, gas mark 4) for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

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Chocolate, oat and almond biscuits

choc oat cookie

These are really good substantial biscuits with big chunks of chocolate.  They are easy to make and quick to cook, so a batch can be made in half an hour.  I have invented this recipe to suit people who cannot tolerate flour in their diet, they do contain oats though so if these are a no-no too you could just up the amount of ground almonds that you use to 7 oz (200g) instead of the mixture of oats and almonds.  Doing this will mean that the cookies won’t have such a satisfying texture but I am sure they will be just as good.

I am always in search of the perfect chocolate biscuit recipe, some are just too sweet, but not these they are just lovely and chocolatey and crunchy.

Makes about 15 biscuits

4oz (110g) softened butter
40z (110g) dark soft brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
4oz (110g) ground almonds
3oz (75g) porridge oats
1 oz (25g) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
4oz (110g) chopped chocolate (dark, milk or white or a mixture, whichever floats your boat)

Preheat the oven to 180°c (gas mark 4, 350°f) and grease two baking sheets with a smear of butter.

Cream the softened butter and sugar together by beating either with an electric whisk or with a wooden spoon until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat again until well combined.  Add the ground almonds, porridge oats, cocoa and baking powder and mix well.  Add the chopped chocolate and stir until combined.

Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the greased baking sheets, leaving room between for the biscuits to spread.  Place the trays into the centre of the oven and bake for about 12-14 mins until the mixture looks set.  Leave the biscuits on the trays for 10 minutes and then place onto a cake rack and leave to cool.

Make a cup of tea, sit down and enjoy!

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Chilli con carne/ enchiladas

chilli con carne

We often have chilli con carne.  I very often cheat and use a Schwarz chilli con carne mix if I am short of time, but if I have planned ahead and I have a couple of hours before tea time then I make this version. We sometimes have it with the spiced rice that I have already posted  or we have it as enchiladas like we did this week.  It makes a substantial meal, that is easy to prepare.

500g minced beef
1 onion chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 fresh chilli, chopped finely
1½ tsp hot chilli powder
1 tsp cumin seed
a small chunk of root ginger, grated or chopped finely
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 400g tin of tomatoes
1 400g tin of red kidney beans in water
olive oil


Heat a little olive oil in a pan and add the minced beef, stir to break up whilst cooking and fry until golden brown. Lift the meat onto a plate and add the onion to the pan.  Cook the onions over a gentle heat for a few minutes until translucent.  Add the fresh chilli, the garlic and the ginger and cook for another minute.  Add the cumin seed, chilli powder and oregano and return the meat to the pan.  Give everything a good stir and add the tomatoes, the vinegar and sugar and the red kidney beans. Stir well to combine.  Place a lid on the pan and cook over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally for at least an hour, preferably nearer two hours if you have the time.   Season with salt and pepper to taste just before serving.

If you want to have enchiladas and you fancy my greek-mexican fusion you will need 6 flour tortillas, 150g greek yoghurt and 200g feta cheese. Divide the chilli mixture between the six tortillas  and place in a baking dish, spread the yoghurt over the tortillas and crumble over the feta.  Place in a preheated oven at 180° c (gas mark4) for 10-15 minutes until golden brown on top.

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Standby pasta sauce

stirring the ingredients

pasta sauce

I call this my standby pasta sauce because it is the dinner I always turn to when I have failed to plan what to cook for dinner and it is already 5 o’clock. I put in whatever I have in the cupboard or fridge.  The base is a couple of cloves of garlic and a tin of tomatoes (or if it’s the summer and the greenhouse is in full flow a handful of fresh tomatoes whizzed to a passata in the blender), then I add a chilli if I have one or ½ tsp of dried chilli flakes, basil leaves or ½ tsp dried oregano. There is usually a chorizo sausage lurking in the fridge, and if I feel like it ( and have them in the cupboard) I add caper berries and olives. Tonight I had an aubergine that needed using up.  It is really adaptable and is quick to cook. The girls, of course, won’t consider spoiling their favourite dinner of plain pasta with anything that resembles a sauce, so this dinner has something for everyone!

The recipe below is the one I served tonight.

1-2 cloves of garlic chopped finely
1 400g tin of plum tomatoes (whizzed with a hand blender until smooth, but this isn’t absolutely necessary)
small handful of basil leaves, or ½ tsp dried oregano
1 chilli, chopped finely or ½ tsp dried chilli flakes
chorizo sausage, sliced into bite sized chunks
1 aubergine
salt and pepper

Chop the aubergine into cubes and fry in a pan with a little olive oil for two minutes over a medium heat.  Add the chorizo sausage and fry for another two minutes until both are browned.  Turn the heat down a little and add the garlic, chilli and basil leaves and cook for another minute.  Add the tomatoes and simmer for about ten minutes until the tomato sauce is thick.  Season to taste and serve with the pasta shape of your choice and plenty of parmesan cheese.

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Bread pudding

bread pudding

We often have leftover bread especially if I have been near a bakers for two consecutive days.  We never waste it though, it either gets fed to the chickens or I whizz it into breadcrumbs and put them in a food bag in the freezer. If I have a bit of time then leftover bread gets made into this or the bread and butter pudding I have posted before.  The girls both love bread pudding and so do I.  It can be eaten warm with cold cream as a pudding or eaten cold the next day with a cup of tea.

This recipe is based on Delia Smith’s recipe in her Complete Cookery Course. I like to add a mixture of glacé cherries, sour cherries and sultanas and some candied peel if I have it in the cupboard. You can use any mixture of dried fruits as long as they weigh a combined 175g (60z). You could use dried prunes or apricots.

225g (80z) white or brown bread with the crusts removed
275 ml (½ pint) milk
75g (3 oz) dark soft brown sugar
50g (2oz) melted butter
2 tsp mixed spice
1 egg, beaten
175g (60z) dried fruits
grated rind of ½ orange


You will need a baking dish with a 2½ pint (1½ litre) capacity, well buttered.

Break the bread into small pieces and place in a bowl.  Pour the milk over the bread and leave to soak for 30 minutes.  Add the beaten egg, melted butter, mixed spice and sugar and stir well to thoroughly combine. It is best if you use a fork for this stirring to get rid of any big lumps of bread. Stir in the dried fruit and orange rind.  Spread the mixture into the buttered dish and bake in a preheated oven at 180°c (350°f, gas mark 4) for about 1 hour.  It may need slightly longer.  It’s ready when it is a lovely golden colour.

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Cottage pie

cottage pie 2We had a roast rib of beef for Sunday lunch this week, if I had not been so eager to eat it I might have remembered to take a photograph of it and a post all about it would already have been on the site.  I will try not to be so eager next time…

With the left over beef I made a cottage pie for tea tonight and I have simmered the bones with an onion, carrot and bouquet garni in enough water to cover the bones for about three hours to make a beef stock for the freezer.

A cottage pie (or a shepherd’s pie if made in the same way using left over lamb) is pure comfort food. It can even be eaten with a spoon if you feel you really need some comforting.

It’s hard to be precise about quantities as you need to adapt according to the amount of meat you have left.  I had 8 oz (225g) of beef so I added one onion, one carrot and about 4 oz (110g) of frozen peas. I then topped with half a medium swede boiled with 2 medium sized potatoes. But it will depend on what you have available in the cupboard.  The glory of something that is made out of leftovers is that it is adaptable to what you have left over.  It may be that you have some leftover mash (carrot, swede, parsnip or potato) from the meal when you enjoyed the roast beef, which would make a brilliant topping.

What I tend to do is whizz the onion and carrot together in the food processor until finely chopped and whilst they are sweating I do the same with the beef in the processor. It makes it into a consistency that is very comforting to eat.

Serves 2 generously

1 onion, peeled, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled, finely chopped
8 oz (225g) roast beef, finely chopped
4 oz (110g) frozen peas
½ pint (275ml) beef stock
1 bay leaf
olive oil
salt and pepper

For the topping:

½ medium swede, peeled and cubed
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bigger cubes than the swede
½ oz (10g) butter


Heat a little olive oil in a pan over a gentle heat and add the onion and carrot and sweat for about five minutes. Add the beef and stir and then add the stock and the bay leaf.  Cook for 1 hour at a gentle heat. Add the frozen peas.  Season to taste. Turn the mixture into a deep oven proof dish.

Whilst the beef  mixture is cooking you can cook the potato and swede topping.  Swede takes longer to cook than potatoes so I always give them a five minute head start by placing them in a saucepan and adding enough water to cover.  Add a little salt (½tsp) to the water and bring to the boil, when they have been boiling for five minutes add the potatoes and cook until both the swede and the potatoes are tender (this will depend on how big you made the cubes, you can test with the point of a knife). Drain in a colander, return to the pan and add the butter.  When the butter has melted mash them with a potato masher.

Cover the beef mixture with the potato mixture so that it is completely and evenly covered. Place in a preheated oven at 180°c (350°f, gas mark 4) for about 30-45 minutes until the top is crispy and browned.

Ready for the oven
Ready for the oven
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