Valentines Day, Galentines Day… Love Yo’self Day… whichever one of the above you celebrate, the week of looooooove is upon us once again. Sunny and I actually celebrated a couple of weeks ago (here in Wales we celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day instead on the 25th of January) – so I’m totally free this Friday to celebrate the other loves in my life – and that includes myself. I’ve got a hot date with a bathtub, some gin and a good book, and I cannot wait. I’ve also got at least one of these Mini Blood Orange Cheesecakes still bashing around in the fridge; I’ve been saving it to scoff during my soak. 😉
I feel like my go-to for a homemade Valentines Day treat always involves a pack of Blood Oranges. It’s kind of becoming a tradition. Last year I made Blood Orange Curd, as well as this Heart Shaped Blood Orange Upside Down Cake. And who could forget those Blood Orange-Glazed Doughnuts I made the year before that? I think they’re quite possibly my all time favourite. Part of the reason I pick them is because they just happen to be in season this time of year – they’re definitely one of my favourite things to spot in the supermarket during January – but they also happen to be my favourite citrus fruit because I usually find that they’re sweeter and juicier than your bog standard orange. Oh, and lastly, they’re pink, and they’re pretty to look at and photograph. Duh.
These miniature cheesecakes are a bit of a throwback to the horrendously 80s cheesecake that my Mum and Dad used to buy down the freezer aisle when I was a kid (…and they still do to this day). You know, the one with the bright orange jelly and tangerine segments on top? The parts are all there, I’ve just shrunk it down to cupcake size and given it a bit of a face-lift. The base is made from blitzed Biscoff biscuits, the creamy, baked cheesecake filling has that slightly tangy New York Cheesecake flavour, and then it’s all topped off with a vegetarian blood orange jelly and a candied blood orange segment. They’re really easy to make and are a sweet way of treating your favourite people this Valentines Day.
Mini Blood Orange Cheesecakes
For the Cheesecakes:
24 Biscoff biscuits (around 180g)
30g melted butter
360g full fat cream cheese
70g sour cream
110g caster sugar
zest of one blood orange
2 eggs, whisked
For the jelly:
juice of one blood orange (about 100ml)
200ml cold water
50g caster sugar
1 sachet of veggie gel
For the candied Blood Orange segments:
1 blood orange, thinly sliced
200ml caster sugar
Grab a muffin tray and line it with ten muffin cases. Heat your oven to 180°C (fan).
First, make the cheesecake base: blitz your biscuits in a food processor until they’re soft and grainy (…and look a lot like sand!). Stir in the melted butter, and then spoon a little bit of the mixture into each muffin case. Gently press down to a create a level base. Make sure you don’t pack it down too much or your base is going to be hard when it sets.You want it to crumble a little.
To make the creamy cheesecake filling, whisk together the cream cheese, sour cream, caster sugar, eggs and blood orange zest. You want an airy, smooth texture (no lumps!); the smoother it is, the creamier the cheesecake. Divide that mixture equally between the muffin cases, and then bake for 20 minutes. The cheesecakes will puff and rise in the oven, and they’ll probably crack a little. You’ll know they’re done when they start to tan a little on top. Leave them in the muffin tray in their cases to cool.
While your cheesecakes are cooling, make the candied blood orange segments. Sounds difficult, but it’s actually really easy. First, grab a deep saucepan, pop your sliced blood orange segments into it and then cover them with water. Bring them to the boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes until the peel goes soft. Remove the blood orange segments and pop them in a bowl of cold water. Don’t throw away the water in the saucepan – it’s packed full of juice and you’re going to use it to make the syrup. Measure 200ml of that juice and then pour it back in the saucepan with the caster sugar. Dissolve the sugar on a low heat, and then pop the blood orange segments in. Allow them to simmer on a low heat in the syrup for 30 minutes – turning them occasionally to coat both sides. Once done, fish them out and then leave them to cool on a piece of baking paper.
Once your cheesecakes have cooled completely, make the jelly. Again, not as tricky as it sounds! Combine your blood orange juice and 200ml of cold water. Stir in the caster sugar until it dissolves, and then do the same with the veggie gel (watch out for lumps!). Pour the mixture into a saucepan and bring it to the boil – and then divide it between your cheesecake cups. Top each one with a candied blood orange slice.
Put the cheesecakes in the fridge to set and cool for at least 2 hours before scoffing. 😉
Mamma mia! No more faffing around with sourdough starters – just soft and chewy (and scoffable) pizza in a snap…
Look, you can chuck whatever the hell you want on top of a pizza – pineapples, mushrooms or just plain old cheese and tomato, it doesn’t bother me – it’s the base that’s always been the deal breaker for me. It’s got to be thin and slightly crisp underneath (if you’re one of those people who are partial to deep dish then you can just go ahead and let yourself out right now). It’s got to be evenly cooked all the way through (how many times have I made pizza at home only to end up with a soggy middle?). And lastly, the crust has got to be soft and chewy – the archetype for a good sourdough pizza. The best sourdough pizza I’ve ever eaten was at Franco Manca back when I lived in London. Sunny dragged me to this tiny canteen in Brixton, shoved a menu under my nose and then quietly informed me that no other pizza would ever compare to what I was about to eat. And he was right. If you’ve ever been to Franco Manca then you’ll know they’ve got quite a small and specific menu; it’s all about stripping pizza back, using only top quality ingredients and instead of doing lots of different flavours and toppings pretty well – they do only three or four, but do them to perfection. And the sourdough base? Oh lordy.
Since then (and since moving far away from Franco Manca…) I’ve been desperately trying to come up with a sourdough pizza dupe that I can make at home. Trouble is, it’s near impossible to replicate that soft and chewy texture and crisp underside without a proper pizza oven. Still, I wanted to see if I could find a way around that slight handicap. I’ve tried sourdough starters (too much faff), I’ve tried pizza stones, I’ve tried about fifty different doughs, and I have stretched and tossed (behave) until my arms have ached… Have I ever come anywhere close to replicating that pillowy soft vehicle for cheese and tomato? Have I heck. Until now! It’s pretty damn close, and pretty damn good. Even better, it doesn’t involve keeping a jar of flour, water and yeast alive for at least a week beforehand (I mean I have a dog, I don’t need another pet to feed), nor does it require any vigorous stretching or acrobatic throwing. Just some light kneading, an hour to prove and that’s it. Part cook it on a hot skillet to crisp up the base, and then finish it off under the grill. Easy. 🙂
Cheat’s Sourdough Pizza
For the dough:
1 tsp dried active yeast*
1 tbsp runny honey
75ml warm water
200ml warm semi skimmed milk
150ml plain yogurt
50ml sour cream
1/2 tsp salt
500g strong bread flour
*make sure you use dried active yeast instead of instant yeast for this recipe – it creates a softer, chewier dough with a better rise.
For the toppings:
Handful of chopped basil leaves
Pour the warm water and honey into a large mixing bowl, and then stir in the yeast. Leave the yeast to activate for ten minutes (you should start to see tiny pin-prick bubbles across the surface of the water or a slight brown foam when it’s ready).
Next, stir in the warm milk, yogurt, sour cream, salt and flour. Stir together to create a sticky (very sticky!) dough. Oil your hands with some of the olive oil, then turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. It’ll be sticky, it’ll be messy – but persevere with it, it’ll be worth it in the end!
Pop the dough into a lightly oil bowl, cover with clingfilm, and then leave somewhere warm for an hour until doubled in size.
Split the dough (this recipe creates plenty of it, so wrap tightly whatever you’re not going to use with clingfilm and stick it in the fridge) and then turn it out onto a floured surface. No need to stretch it or work it, just roll it out thinly into whatever shape of pizza you’re going for.
Heat up a frying pan, or flat skillet until it’s burning hot. Lightly brush one side of the pizza with olive oil, then place face down onto the frying pan. Heat for a couple of minutes on one side, and then lightly brush with oil and flip it. You’ll know when to flip because bubbles will start to rise on the surface of the dough as it cooks. Cook for no more than a minute and then take it off the heat.
Spread the tomato passata across the bubbled side of the pizza, followed by the mozzarella (as well as whatever other toppings you fancy), then cook it under the grill in the oven for about 3-5 minutes until the cheese starts to bubble. Sprinkle with basil, then scoff!
Seriously, is there anything better than a steaming plate of beans on toast? Especially this time of year when it’s grim and gloomy, and you get home in the dark and the drizzle and you just can’t be bothered to cook and the Chinese Takeaway is bloody closed (ours takes a three week long break every January on a count of Chinese New Year – EXACTLY when I need them the most – the nerve!)… For breakfast, lunch or brinner (not a typo – that’s “breakfast for dinner” for the uninitiated – you’re welcome btw), it’s always a winner when you’re in a pinch and just can’t be arsed to cook anything else.
(…Or blog about anything else? Hey c’mon, I’m having a slow January, alright?)
There’s always a healthy stash of tins of baked beans in my kitchen cupboard (none of that Branston nonsense; I’m a Heinz until I die kinda girl) – that’s the easy bit – it’s the bread that’s the trickier side to this duo. It’s got to be a doorstop wedge of fluffy, perfectly toasted bread to compliment a soggy slop of beans – which isn’t necessarily as readily available as it sounds. Thankfully, my husband’s taken up the only area of baking that I seriously struggle with and I’ve been finding myself drowning in homemade loaves (…definitely not complaining). Last weekend he played around with a lovely recipe fished out of an old recipe book for Oatmeal Bread – which made a pillowy soft loaf with a crispy, golden crust. As soon as I chewed down on a corner I knew it was THE weekend loaf to have on the recipe roster – perfect for sandwiches, dippy eggs and – oh yes – a banging plate of beans on toast. 🙂
Simple Sunday Morning Oat Loaf
For the dough:
170g strong, white flour
85g wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
30g melted butter
1 tsp clear honey
15g dried active yeast
1 egg, beaten
55g porridge oats
200ml semi skimmed milk
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp porridge oats
Gently boil the milk, then pour into a mixing bowl with the oats. Allow it to cool to about 30°C, then stir in the honey and yeast. Leave for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to do it’s thing (you should start to see tiny, pinprick bubbles – or a slight foam).
Next, add the egg and melted butter (make sure it’s cooled – you don’t want to scramble your egg!). Then, sift in both the strong white flour and wholemeal flour, as well as the salt. Stir together to make a soft dough.
Lightly oil your hands, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then knead by hand for about ten minutes – or until you get a smooth, stretchy dough.
Oil a mixing boil, then chuck in the dough, cover it with clingfilm and leave it somewhere warm to double in size for about an hour and a half.
Lightly grease a 1 lb loaf tin. Knock back the dough, then roughly shape it into a loaf and pop it in the tin. Cover, then leave somewhere warm to rise again for another hour.
Heat your oven to 220°C (fan). Glaze the surface of the loaf with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with oats. Bake for 30 minutes (after 15 minutes cover with paper if you think the crust is going to brown too much), then leave to cool before slicing up and scoffing with great big globs of butter.
One of those ‘throw it all in and let it sit’ kinda recipes – hallelujah!
I think I’m going to remember 2019 as the year that I officially fell in love with vegetarian cooking. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I’m still most definitely a meat eater (you’d have a tough time getting me to ditch hot dogs and bacon baps, and you’ll never EVER convince me that Jackfruit is a solid alternative to pulled pork – nope!), but this year I kind of moved away from throwing meat into my weekly meals just for the sake of it. Last year, there were a lot of go-to recipes on my weekly meal plan that I just automatically cooked with meat – just because that was what I’d always done. Curries, Stir Fries, Casseroles, Burrito Bowls – meals I was eating at least once or twice a week – all came with diced chicken as a standard; previously it just wouldn’t have felt like a whole meal if I’d decided to skip the meat. But honestly? There have been meal times over the past year where I’ve chewed on the realisation that – actually – the meat didn’t bring anything special or add anything to the dish. It was just… there. Gradually, I found myself becoming more and more interested in the fresh greens and vegetables I’d thrown into the dish instead, and the textures and flavours that they brought to the game.
These days I’m shopping down the meat aisle less, cooking it only when it’s going to be the main ingredient and star of the show, and reworking all those old recipes that I would have just mindlessly chucked meat into, into new and improved, ultimate veggie versions! Like this Ultimate Veggie Chilli – or Chilli No Carne! You know me, I love Mexican Food – and chilli is just one of those things I tend to cook every couple of weeks. It’s an easy, throw everything into one pot and stir kind of dish, perfect for meal prep, and – if you make enough of it – it’ll keep you fed throughout the week (or month, if you freeze it). Plus, the longer you let it sit, the tastier it becomes! This ultimate edition is packed with cauliflower, adzuki beans, mushrooms, red peppers and tomatoes – and comes packed with plenty of flavour thanks to a few unusual ingredients – including a shot of whiskey… 😉
Ultimate Veggie Chilli
Plenty for two, Perfect for four
1 tbsp vegetable oil
125g cherry tomatoes
400ml can of tinned tomatoes
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 large carrot, diced
150g chestnut mushrooms
1 can of adzuki beans
2 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp chipotle chilli paste
3 tbsp barbecue sauce
100ml fresh, black coffee
1 tbsp ancho chilli flakes
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp onion granules
25ml shot of bourbon whiskey
pinch of salt and pepper to season
chopped coriander or scallions to serve
This recipe would work brilliantly in a slow cooker – if so, just throw in all the ingredients, turn the slow cooker on and walk away (lucky you) – but a great big pot on the hob will work just as well. To start things off, get your pot nice and hot, and then add the oil, chipotle chilli paste and garlic paste. Throw in the diced onion and sweat it off.
Next, add the cherry tomatoes, carrot, red pepper, cauliflower, mushrooms and beans. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and stir to combine.
Time to add some flavour. Add the cumin, onion granules, paprika and ancho chilli flakes, then stir.
The next couple of ingredients are a little bit controversial, but are going to bring a whole lot of depth and flavour. Pour in the fresh coffee, barbecue sauce and whiskey.
Stir to combine, then turn down the heat, throw on a lid and leave to simmer for about an hour (make sure you check on it and keep it moving, or it’ll stick to the bottom and burn!).
Once cooked, season with salt and pepper, and serve with fresh coriander and/or some sliced scallions.Eat it with rice, hot sauce, avocado, sour cream, on toast or with some cheesy nachos – the choice is yours!
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I somehow ended up marrying a man who hates soup. I know! I mean, I love soup in all forms and all its glory. From chicken noodle to ramen to country vegetable, you’ll be hard pressed to find a week this time of year where I don’t whip up a bowl and slurp away to my heart’s content. I love it because it’s warming, I love it because it’s easy (…and – I’m just throwing it out there – it kind of helps that it usually comes with a hulking chunk of crusty bread). But according to Sunny, it’s not food, it’s (get this…)SUSTENANCE. Apparently it’s boring. It’s bland. It’s… bleughhh (whatever that means). You get the point.
So I kind of made it my mission this Autumn to find a soup that he will eat, so that I can eat more of the stuff (win-win, right?). And I think I’ve found it! We’re both big fans of Mexican Food, it’s our weekly jam; Burrito Bowls, Quesadillas, Chilli con no Carne (Quorn Mince, yo; it’s brilliant) are foods we can definitely agree on. He loves the beans and the smoky chipotle heat, I love the tomato and pepper based sauces and – let’s be honest – all the cheese. So I thought, why not throw all that (minus the cheese) into soup form? And that’s exactly what I did. Roasted tomatoes and peppers, chipotle chilli paste and coconut milk make up the stew, while the added onions, borlotti beans and butter beans bring in a little texture. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s absolutely delicious (and vegan friendly) – and best of all? The hubs totally agrees. Boo-ya. 😉
Creamy Mexican Red Pepper and Bean Stew
So good you’ll want seconds…
1 red romano pepper, chopped
250g mixed baby tomatoes, sliced
1 white onion, diced
1 can of butter beans
1 can of borlotti beans
good glug of olive oil
2 tbsp chipotle chilli paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli flakes
1tsp barbecue sauce(oh yes…)
1 can of coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream to serve
fresh coriander to garnish
Set your oven to 180C. Throw the chopped red pepper and sliced tomatoes into an oven proof dish with 1 tbsp of the chipotle chilli paste, season with black pepper and then roast for 30 minutes.
Pop a deep cooking pot on the hob on a medium heat with some oil. Fry up the garlic paste and 1 tbsp of the chipotle chilli paste with the diced onion – until translucent.
Pour in the roasted pepper and tomatoes, then add the paprika, coriander and barbecue sauce. Stir until well-combined. Pour in the butter and borlotti beans, and then the coconut milk and water. Stir well to combine.
Crank up the heat and allow the stew to boil. Pop on a lid, turn the head down and allow the stew to simmer for about 20 minutes – stirring occasionally.
Season, then serve with fresh sour cream and chopped, fresh coriander. Yum!
You can watch a video of me making this soup over on IGTV. Have a lovely week everyone – keep warm! 🙂