Monthly Archives: February 2010

Fresh From The Oven: No-Knead Bread

This month’s Fresh From The Oven challenge was No-Knead Bread and it was set by Claire from Things We Make.  I was very nervous about this challenge as I have never actually made a proper loaf of bread before (shameful I know) and I was also concerned about damaging my Le Creuset pot, which I love. This is because the loaf is cooked in a double oven style in the pot and the problem is cast iron pots are not supposed to be used dry – they need some sort of liquid in them to work effectively and stop them being damaged. Having already lost one Le Creuset pot when I dropped it on my kitchen floor and it cracked, I did not want to lose another one.

However, I need not have worried. The pot is fine and the bread turned out quite well. It felt like I was looking after a child when I left the bread doing the 16 hour slosh, I was constantly checking it and making sure it was OK in its bin bag bed. I left it for about 24 hours in total and then put it in the oven. I think I took the well oiled pot bit to heart as when my bread came out and had cooled down; it was a bit greasy on the bottom of the loaf. The texture was lovely – crisp and crusty on the outside and light and airy in the middle. Overall, I think the bread worked quite well, however I think I will get a smaller cheaper cast iron pot to make it next time, as mine at 24cm is too large for the bread as it did not rise very much or get much colour on top.

Thanks to Claire for doing this month’s challenge. It’s my turn next and you will just have to wait and see what my challenge for everyone this month is!

No Knead Bread

The Mix

  • 15oz Strong White bread flour – it works best with all white I think
  • ¼ tsp instant easibake yeast (out of a sachet)
  • 1 tsp table salt
  1. Stir together well then add 10.5 fl oz of lukewarm water (a mugful)
  2. Slosh it round into a gooey lump of dough with a fork
  3. Leave in a big bowl and cover with cling film or put the bowl in a bin bag
  4. Leave it in kitchen for 16-18 hours – or more if you forget.

The 16hr Sloosh

  1. Use a dough scraper/cutter or your fingers, to scrape the wet porridgy dough away from the sides, using plenty of flour to stop it sticking, and shuffle it back into a nice round shape. Don’t be tempted to knead it.
  2. Cover with a tea towel and leave for 2 more hours.

The Bake

  1. Preheat oven to 200-220 and put in a lightly oiled Le Creuset or other large cast iron casserole with a lid on until the oven and the pan are super hot.
  2. Again use the scraper and a good sprinkle of flour to detach the dough from the bowl without puncturing it’s airy goodness. Then quick as you can, without losing the heat from the oven and pan, tip the dough onto one hand then flop it into the hot pan the right way up again and put the lid back on and get it back in the oven immediately.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes lid-on
  4. Then cook for 10-12 minutes more, lid-off until golden brown
  5. If it’s not hollow sounding on the bottom put it back in, without its tin for an extra 5 minutes. Tip out and cool well before trying to slice


  • I find this works best for me if I make the dough around the school run (3.30pm) then do the first dough slooshing when I get up, then bake it mid morning. As you can see, the times can be very approximate! Another option might be to mix the dough on a Friday when you get in from work, sloosh it mid morning on Saturday and bake it at lunch time ready for Saturday evening. It seems like a long process but it really is no effort when you get your head round it. (I  started mine in the morning and left it overnight and baked it the next morning as I had things to do)
  • If you haven’t got one yet it’s worth getting a dough cutter/scraper to save on sticky fingers. My plastic one was only 90p from a local cook shop. (I have now brought a dough scraper from Bakery Bits.)
  • My new Le Creuset (25cm) is a little bit too big for this recipe so I sit my lightly oiled 20cm mermaid pie tin in the bottom to help shape the loaf to be a bit taller and rounder. I also sometimes scatter a bit of semolina in the base for an extra crunchy bottom. You can use oil instead of flour to de-stick the dough from the mixing bowl, but it makes for a wetter and slighty denser outcome like the one shown at the end of this post. It is one of those loaves that comes out a little bit different every time anyway due to the extended prove.
  • If you fancy turning it into something a bit different to the normal loaf you can make the dough into ‘Fougasse‘ that’s at the bottom of this blog post: I sometimes split it and make 2 fougasse and a 1Ib tin loaf baked with the loaf tin placed inside the cast iron pot.
  • There is a video of this recipe (but they accidentally forget to mention the extra 2 hours proving) on the NYT:

Happy Cooking! :-)

Cheese Please!

As I am sure I have already told you before, I love cheese in whatever shape and form it comes. Therefore, I was really happy when Lizzie from Kerry Low Low Cheese sent me a Le Creuset baking dish and money off a purchase of Kerry Low Low Cheese to try it out. This was absolutely ages ago and I must apologise to Lizzie for taking ages to get this post up. It took me a while to find the cheese in the supermarket to try it out, as it seems to be very popular in my area and was always sold out.

Kerry Low Low is a low fat cheese made with semi –skimmed milk. I am always sceptical about anything that says ‘low fat’ or ‘reduced’ whatever on it, as I am concerned that they will not have the same amount of flavour that the full fat normal versions do. However, I need not have worried; Kerry Low Low is rich, creamy and full of flavour. I decided the ultimate test for it would be to go into my absolute favourite dish for cheese: Cauliflower Cheese. I have loved cauliflower cheese since I was a child and I can eat it by the bucket load. One of my Nan’s still makes it for me on a regular basis. A few weeks ago, I was home alone one evening as Stuart was working and I decided to make it myself with the Kerry Low Low cheese. I added broccoli to it to give the dish a bit of colour but it’s entirely up to you, if you add it all not. My recipe is below and it worked really well. I really enjoyed it and after a busy day at work, it was the best and simplest comfort food ever!

Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheese

(Serves 1 hungry person on their own or 2 as part of a main meal)


  • 1 small head of cauliflower, broken up into florets
  • 1 small head of broccoli, broken up into florets
  • 160g cheese, grated and extra cheese for sprinkling on top (optional)
  • ¼ pint of whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 50g butter
  • Sea salt and white pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of mustard powder


  1. Boil the cauliflower and broccoli until tender in water with some salt added. Drain and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan, add the flour and whisk together. Let the flour and butter cook out together for 30 seconds before adding all the milk in.
  3. Keep whisking the milk to prevent lump forming and let the sauce thicken up. When thickened up, take off the heat and the cheese. Stir until cheese melts into the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Add the mustard powder and the nutmeg and stir again.
  4. Put the cauliflower and broccoli into serving bowl or oven proof dish (if you want to sprinkle extra cheese over the top and grill it to melt it) and pour the sauce over it and eat and enjoy! If you want melted cheese on top, sprinkle extra on and then put it under a grill until the cheese is melted and golden. Serve and enjoy!

That’s it for today. Hope you have a lovely weekend

Happy Cooking! :-)

Valentine’s Cupcakes

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone. I hope that the day has treated you kindly and you are or are going to be wined and dined by your loved one. Stuart and I had our Valentine’s meal on Friday night at Wong’s in Birmingham, our favourite Chinese restaurant. Today we are just taking it easy and I am making a curry for dinner later. However, this morning I have been in kitchen making Valentine’s cupcakes while listening to Terry Wogan’s new weekend show on Radio 2.

There are a couple of reasons why I made these cupcakes. One is that @EnglishMum on Twitter is hosting a competition on her blog for the best Valentine cupcake and I have decided to enter. My second reason is that, in a few weeks time, I am going to a wedding cupcake making course run by Kiss Me Cupcakes in West Bromwich and I wanted to get some sort of baseline for my cupcake making ability before the day. Finally, my friends Louise (from Cirencester Cupcakes) and Caroline, who very kindly gave me the recipe that you see below have both inspired me to have a go at making cupcakes.  Having a go at making cupcakes also formed part of my foodie New Year resolutions.

Ultra Simple Vanilla Cupcakes (adapted from Fair Cake and given to me by Caroline. Original recipe is here)


  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 240g self raising flour
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 220g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp good quality vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 150C Fan or 160C otherwise.
  2. Ensure that the butter is very soft. You can either leave the butter out of the fridge overnight, or zap it 20 seconds at a time in a microwave. The butter should be as soft as possible without melting.
  3. Put all measured ingredients in a kitchen mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until light and fluffy. If you do not have a kitchen mixer, put all measured ingredients in a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon, briskly, until your arms ache. Around one minute.
  4. Don’t mix it for more than a minute or so. Then you will be in trouble and there will
  5. be a slight risk of the cupcakes baking into tough little rebels. The consistency of the mixture
  6. should be a bit like heavy custard and it should plop nicely from a spoon. This mixture is enough for about 24 cupcakes, depending on the size of your cupcake liners. Fill cupcake liners between ½ and ¾ the way up. Fill ½ way up to get an even flat shape, fill ¾ way up to get a nice dome shape. Use a muffin pan, otherwise the liners spread into ghastly shapes.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes in the middle of the oven, but check after 15 by inserting a little cocktail stick. If there is anything stuck to the stick, then bake for the full 20 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for around 5 minutes and then take them out carefully and allow to cool outside the pan. Let cupcakes cool completely before icing.

Vanilla Buttercream Icing (From Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery by Martha Swift and Lisa Thomas)

Ingredients (enough for about 20 cupcakes)

  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 60ml semi skimmed milk
  • 1 tsp good quality vanilla extract
  • 500g icing sugar, shifted
  • Food colouring (optional)


  1. In a mixing bowl beat the butter, milk, vanilla extract and half the icing sugar until smooth.  This can take a few minutes.
  2. Gradually add the remaining icing sugar and beat again until the buttercream is smooth and creamy. Then add food colouring drop by drop until you reach the desired shade.
  3. Spread the icing onto the cupcakes using a palette knife and decorate as desired.

Overall, I think the cupcakes were a great success. They are very easy to make. I think my decorating skills need improving though!

Hope you have a lovely Valentine’s Day.

Happy Cooking!

Cookbook Review: Skye Gyngell – My Favourite Ingredients

‘Cooking is not about being the best or most perfect cook, but rather it is about sharing the table with family and friends’

The quote above, which I completely agree with, comes from Skye Gyngell’s latest offering, ‘My Favourite Ingredients’. The book was released in hardback last year; however, it has just been released in paperback. I have been very lucky and have received a copy to review from Quadrille Publishing.

My first impressions when I received the book were excellent. The layout and the photography are beautiful and it is well written, with simple and clear recipes. The quote above struck a chord with me, as that is how I feel about cooking. Cooking does not need to be complicated or turned into a work of art; cooking is simply about sharing food with your family and friends and having a good time.

The book has lots of sections in it. Each one dedicated to one of Skye’s favourite ingredients, which include; garlic, olive oil, cheese, fish and shellfish, and nuts. Recipe highlights from the book include; monkfish and coconut with curry leaves and lime, fried egg with sage, chilli and garlicky yoghurt, and chocolate and hazelnut cake. 

I believe the only way you can review a cookbook properly is by actually cooking a recipe from it. I could just tell you about how beautiful the book is, but if it’s not going to help you in the kitchen, then there is not much point. You need to know if the recipes actually work and I can now tell you, that the one I tried, does.

I decided to cook chicken with fennel and garlic, as it looked quite simple and all the ingredients are in season at the moment.  I adapted the recipe slightly as it was designed for 4 people and it was only the two of us. Instead of a whole chicken, I used boned chicken thighs and halved the quantities of everything else. I also added a small bit of water in to make more stock to cook the chicken in. I cooked mine in the oven and make it a bit thicker than the book suggests in the picture.

The original recipe (reproduced in full with permission from Quadrille Publishing) is below. Overall, it is a very simple and straightforward dish to make. It is excellent dish to make at this time of the year, with the continuing cold and wet weather. Stuart described it as ‘excellent winter grub to warm you up on cold day’.  Please have a go at making the dish and let me know how you get on and if the recipe works for you, as well as it did for me.

If you would like to purchase the book, you can get it from Amazon here.

Many thanks to Mark at Quadrille Publishing for sending me the review copy. It is much appreciated.

Chicken with Garlic and Fennel


  • 1 organic free range chicken, about 1.4kg, jointed into 8 pieces
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and fibrous outer layer removed
  • 250ml white wine
  • 2 x 340g jars (or tins) good quality peeled plum tomatoes
  • Pared zest of 1 orange
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 thyme sprigs
  • 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (optional)


Season the chicken well all over with salt and pepper. Put the olive oil into a flameproof casserole (large enough to hold all the ingredients comfortably) and place over a medium heat. When hot, brown the chicken in batches, turning to colour them all over- they should look really golden and pleasing to the eye. Once browned, remove the pieces and set aside. Pour off any excess fat from the casserole, leaving around 1 tbsp or so.

In a separate pan, gently warm the fennel and coriander seeds until they release their fragrance, then tip into a mortar and pound with the pestle to grind finely.

Add the onions to the casserole and cook over a low heat until sweet and translucent, about 5 minutes. Crumble over the chilli and add the ground spices, saffron and garlic. Season with a good pinch of salt and a little pepper, and stir well to combine. Cut the fennel bulb into quarters and add to the pan.

Pour in the wine, turn up the heat a little and let it bubble and reduce for a minute or so, then add the tomatoes. Return the chicken to the pan and add the orange zest and herbs. Turn the heat down and put the lid on the casserole. Cook very gently for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and started to fall off the bone.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. If you’re like me, you’ll want to add a splash of extra virgin olive oil to bring the whole dish together. Serve with bread – or something else to mop up the delicious juices.

Until next time,

Happy Cooking! :-)

Guest Post from Nora: Spanish bean stew

Hello Jo fans, I’m Nora from Nora the Kitchen ‘Splorer. After Jo very kindly did a post for me, I’m returning the favour. This is my very first guest post, so I’m just hoping I can keep up with Jo’s high standards.

So, for this post I decided to revisit an old favourite. A few years ago, I lived in Spain, working as a English teacher, trying to teach the present perfect tense to shouty Spanish kids in exchange for very little money. But of course the upside was easy access to delicious Spanish ingredients, such as Serrano ham and chorizo. As I was a feckless youngster, my mum was in the marvellous habit of teaching me easy and tasty meals to keep me going and this was one of them. A really flavoursome, comforting stew that’s really easy to make, as long as you have a little patience.

However, I wasn’t optimistic about recreating the taste of one of my favourite dishes in my British kitchen. Especially as chorizo is a lot more expensive here so I used quite a bit less, and I replaced the big white Spanish fava beans (made famous by Hannibal Lector!) with small white Italian cannellini beans. But actually it had the exact same intense, smokey flavour – and was perfect for a dark and dreary winter evening. So, here’s the recipe:

250g white beans, either cannellini or fava, if you can find them

1 large onion

2 cloves of garlic

2 carrots

125g chorizo (more if you’re feeling rich!), chopped into small pieces

250ml passata

1 tsp paprika

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper

a slug of red wine

Cover the beans with water and soak for at least 5 hours, ideally overnight. Bring them to the boil and simmer until soft, about an hour and a half.

Peel and chop the onion, garlic and carrots. Add to the beans in the saucepan along with the other ingredients. Simmer very gently for about 2 hours. And that’s it!

Serves 2 very generously.

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