This September marks the beginning of the fourth year of living with my flatmate. We were thrown together in our first year of uni, with four other girls, and carried on living together, with three of the others, in our second year as we all dealt with the drama of being 19 and having a landlord who’d renovate your manky bathroom but dispose of the old toilet by putting it in your wheelie bin.
We parted ways after that year living at the top of a very steep hill, only to be brought together again by the universe when we both moved to London. The universe is nice like that.
But in those three years and sharing kitchen space and secrets, I’d never once made her this old family classic. Until now, of course.
Back home, this is “chickeny crumbly stuff” because, well, it’s chickeny and it’s crumbly and the name stuck and became part of family legend. It’s soul food – the sort of dish that hugs you as you eat it. It’s nourishment that’ll have you going back for seconds and fighting with your siblings for the crunchiest bit of topping. It’s exactly what you need to help you embrace grey skies as we hurtle towards months of 4pm sunsets and cocoa.
150g stale/dry bread
110g cheddar cheese
500g chicken breast, chopped into chunks
200g mushrooms, chopped
1 medium leek, chopped
1 tin cream of chicken soup
1) In a food processor, blitz the bread until roughly crumbed. Add the cheese, and blitz again until the whole mixture is of breadcrumb texture – some lumps are fine. You can do this the night before and refrigerate if you like to be one step ahead.
2) Preheat the oven to 170C. Fry the chicken breast chunks in a large frying pan over medium heat until just browning. Add the mushrooms and leek, and continue to fry until the leeks are soft.
3) Add the soup, mayo, and a squeeze of lemon juice and simmer for about 5 minutes.
4) Transfer to an overproof dish, cover with breadcrumb topping, and bake for about 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Serve with more vegetables, if you’re that way inclined.
Can also be split into small pots or ramekins for individual portions.
Hands up if you feel like switching your oven on right now!
Tumbleweed, as expected. The nation’s bakers are on strike. Grass is the colour of sand, and people are the colour of lobsters. As we enter the third week of real summer, the country is wilting.
I’m already dreaming of jeans and jackets and pumpkin puree in everything. I’m planning what I’ll make when the temperatures dip below 20 again – hey, remember that? – and I’m not avoiding the oven for fear of melting away like a snowman.
But there’s one major plus to the heat. I first made these rolls – and, indeed took these photos – in March. And by March I, of course, mean “the dead of winter, 2013”. I made the dough, sat the bowl on top of a hot water bottle, wrapped it lovingly in my duvet. I glanced at it every twenty minutes or so, waiting to see if it had grown. Two hours later, it had just about doubled. We’d managed to ward off the cold long enough to get that yeast going.
But these days? It’s just a matter of popping it in a warm room and watching it grow, like a nature programme time lapse video of a butterfly maturing.
The best way to eat these rolls – in any weather – is sliced in half, toasted, and spread with mashed avocado. Perfect.
100g wholemeal bread flour
400g white bread flour
7g fast action yeast (one sachet)
80g cheddar, grated
Lukewarm water (around 350ml)
1) In a large bowl, combine the flours, yeast, sugar, and salt, keeping the salt and yeast on opposite sides initially. Add around half the water, and turn the mixture with your fingers. Add the rest of the water a little at a time, until all the flour is picked up from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to use all the water. Continue to turn with your fingers until a rough dough forms.
2) Coat your work top with a little olive oil, then tip the dough out and knead for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Allow to rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size.
3) Lightly flour your worktop and tip out the dough. Knock out the air by folding the dough inwards until the dough is smooth. Grease a 10 inch round cake tin (Springform if you have it!).
4) Split the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll one piece into a ball and then flatten out. Spoon around 2/3tsp pesto into the centre, and top with 1/8th of the cheese.
5) Fold all the edges in to make a ball and place in the cake tin join side down. Repeat with the remaining 7 pieces, cover the tin with a clean tea towel and leave to double in size. Preheat oven to 170C.
6) When the rolls have risen, pour about 3 inches of boiling water into a large roasting tin and place at the bottom of the oven. Bake the rolls on the centre shelf for about 40 minutes, until the tops are a deep golden brown and they make a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.
At 4pm, every single day, my phone goes off. It’s that time of day when I’m at my desk, the weight of my lunch having left my stomach, considering a cup of coffee and something to eat. And then my phone vibrates somewhere off to my left.
It’s a text about pizza.
It’s not always a text – sometimes it’s an email. It’s not always Dominos – sometimes it’s Papa Johns or Pizza Hut, because I’m not that into brand loyalty. Sometimes within a five minute window I get two, from two different companies. It’s no coincidence of course – 4pm is when we’re in a slump, between meals and with flagging attention spans. But every time it makes me want a cheesy, gooey delight.
To make it clear, I’m not the kind of pizza eater that can sit down with a side salad and a glass of wine and have a sophisticated pizza-eating session. The vast majority of my pizza experiences in recent years have occurred in one of two ways. A) When I’m walking home after a night out, having repeatedly asked “But what is the rum gone?”, and in desperate need of all of the carbs; or B) 9 hours after A) having sat starring at my laptop whining, “But why doesn’t anyone deliver pizza before 12 o’clock? It’s 10am and I need a meat feast with cheesy crust NOW!”, and then spending two hours gazing forlornly at my un-knocked-upon front door, waiting for a man in a motorbike helmet to relieve my pain.
So you can see why, until recently, I’d never made pizza at home – honestly, it sounded kind of a pain in the ass. It sounded like all the faff of bread making but with added hassle with sorting out toppings. That’s not what you need at 6pm on a weeknight, let alone after one too many bottles glasses of wine. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
This is the part of the post where I should be all “But it was so easy! So quick!” But a liar I am not.
It was kind of a pain in the ass. Even using a quick dough from Smitten Kitchen, it takes a while, although admittedly this is at least in part because I like to jam as much garlic into tomato sauce as possible. But being able to control exactly what goes into it makes the whole job more worth it, because there’s no uneven cheese distribution, and no mystery fat left pooling in a cardboard box when the rest has been hoovered up by your hungover face. You can’t get tricked into eating green peppers.
And the absence of peppers, alone, makes it worth it. See ya later, Pizza Hut. Sayonara, Papa Johns. Au revoir, Dominos.
Pizza dough recipe from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.
I used half plain flour and half wholemeal bread flour, but you could use 200g plain flour, or 200g white bread flour. If not using wholemeal flour, you will need less water. Unearthed prosciutto is currently on offer in Waitrose!
I drizzled the cooked pizza with a little balsamic vinegar and served it with a rocket salad.
7g (one sachet) fast action dried yeast
100g plain flour
100g wholemeal bread flour
Approximately 150ml warm water
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
3/4 cup passata or chopped tomatoes
30g cheddar, grated
50g mozzarella, sliced
A handful of spinach, or more as desired
50g goats cheese, sliced
40g prosciutto, chopped
1) Stir together the flours, yeast, and salt, then gradually add the water, mixing with a wooden spoon, until the dough comes roughly together – you may not need all of the water. Gather the dough and tip out onto a lightly floured counter to knead it for about 5 minutes, so that the dough becomes smooth.
2) Coat a medium sized bowl with olive oil, place the dough in it, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to double in size (about half an hour).
3) While the dough rises, preheat the oven to 170C.
4) Lightly fry the onion and garlic until soft, and then add the passata or chopped tomato and simmer over a low heat.
5) When the dough has doubled in size, tip it out, lightly knead it. Tear off a piece of baking parchment just bigger than your baking tray and on this roll out the dough into a rough square the size of your baking tray, about half a centimetre thick.
6) Spread the tomato sauce onto your base, and then layer with the remaining ingredients – apart form the prosciutto – as you wish. (I went sauce, cheddar, mozzarella, spinach, goats cheese).
7) Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 20 minutes before adding the prosciutto. Bake for a further 15-25 minutes, until the base of the pizza is mid-brown underneath.
Throughout university, or at the very least towards the end of it, on those long nights of sitting in the library rather than going out like everyone else seems to be, the 9-5 life sounds pretty perfect. Evenings to yourself, not having to work over dinner, and long weekends with lie-ins, afternoons in beer gardens, and, well, freedom. You sort of forget about bills, washing up, and truly dull tasks like washing the shower curtain.
A lot of my friends are now finishing uni, terrified of the current climate for graduates and desperate to tackle adult life head on, away from the family home. Others have recently broken into the job market, having graduated last year (three cheers for the competitive nature of journalism!), while many more are still juggling internships and work experience with earning a living.
I wish I’d taken a step back to really appreciate those last few months at home as I planned my future. To soak up the family meals and laying on a trampoline with my best friends. If I could give year-ago me some advice, it’d be “don’t wish it away”. And make sure that every now and then you thank your mum for dealing with the insane amount of washing you generate.
As the saying goes, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. I think what I’m trying to say is, life is what happens when you should be writing about cheese scones. There’s been a lot of life lately. So here are some scones, to balance things out a little.
I’m not totally sure I have a signature dish. In terms of views on this blog, salted caramel layer cake is the one. But in real life? I think it’s probably cheese sauce. That’s not even a dish. It’s a lasagne topping; or a pasta sauce. But damn, it’s good.
The secret to a phenomenal cheese sauce is, of course, loads of cheese. But mustard is to cheese what speculoos is to a spoon. They are a match made in heaven.
As much as I’d love to, though, you can’t make a meal out of cheese sauce. These scones are the taste of a great cheese and mustard sauce made into a warm, carb-packed delight.
1) Preheat oven to 180c and line a baking tray. In a food processor, pulse the flour, butter, and salt until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
2) Transfer to a large bowl and stir in 3/4 of the grated cheeses, along with the mustard powder and cayenne.
3) Add the wholegrain mustard to the warm milk and stir with a fork. Gradually add this to the dry ingredients to form a soft dough. Resist over-kneading!
4) Pat out onto a floured surface to about 3/4 inch thick. Cut out using a 2 inch round cutter, transfer to baking tray and brush the tops with milk. Bake for 10 minutes, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake for a further 5 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm with butter.
When you’ve lived away from home for a while but still go back for Christmas, you get used to hearing, “Is there any particular food you want me to get in?” around the first week of December. This year, there was one less thing on my usual list of Christmas visit must-haves, because my mother entrusted me with the secret of these two-cheese biscuits. They don’t look much, these wee biccies, but oh boy do they pack a punch. Supposedly, they taste even better after a few days, but they’ve never been around long enough for us to test that theory.
Although I’m posting these as a Christmas gift (in-laws, I’m lookin’ at you), they’d also be great after Christmas to help to use up the leftover nuts and Stilton you just couldn’t fit into your stomach. Yep. they’ve got Stilton in them – but in my experience, even Stilton haters love these.
Recipe makes around 50 biscuits 5cm in diameter – perfect to pop straight in your mouth! They are happy to be frozen (and I confess to sneaking to the freezer to eat a few there and then. Oops). Continue reading →