Tag: June

Strawberry and pecan courgette cake

This courgette cake was a long time coming. Strawberry and pecan courgette cake // The Dinner BellThe cake stand in my kitchen had gathered dust. Perched atop the cabinets, it’s stood unloved since the Marvellous Night Circus cake, a state of affairs that 2012 me would never have predicted.

She also wouldn’t have predicted me being caught out with a cache of enormous courgettes that need eating.

Those ones went into courgette and Comté gratin (recipe tbc), but they got me thinking about courgette cake. When I said those words, people recoiled slightly, much like they did with avocado cake, but I’ve proven ’em wrong once and I’ll prove ’em wrong again.

This cake is perfect for this time of year, when strawberry season comes to an end, courgette gluts leave home gardeners desperately pressing the vegetable into the arms of visitors, and the clouds open to remind us that yes, we’ve had a delightful three days of summer but we are still in England, giving you just enough time to put the oven on and consider branching out into wearing sleeves again.

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The lady behind The Dinner Bell! I’m that person who doesn’t let you leave their flat without eating something, and will probably press a parcel of cookies or cake into your hands as you head to the door.

I’m a sub-editor by day, avid book-reader by night, and octopus fan always. I live in north London, but little bits of my heart still belong to Norfolk, where I grew up, and Sheffield, where I went to uni and finally lost my bumpkin accent.

Rhubarb, strawberry & almond crumble

There are two topics when it comes to desserts that I’ve found will split people: the ideal dessert menu (up to two chocolate options, at least one lemon option, and a soft choice for brace/denture wearers – anything after that is inconsequential) and the perfect crumble.

Rhubarb, strawberry & almond crumble // The Dinner BellIt’s a surprisingly divisive dessert, when you get down to it: you can’t deviate much when it comes to a pie, but when it comes to this particularly British pudding, “crumble” can be both its name and what happens to your relationship with your best friend when you realise they’re devoted to some white sugar based sandy monstrosity. Don’t even get me started on a mushy apple filling.

Why yes, I do have strong feelings on this. How could you tell?

Any crumble is a marriage of flavours. The fruit layer, the one that diminishes any (badly placed) feeling of guilt over the butter, will inform the nuances of the crumble itself: the sugars; the spices; the nuts. 

That layer of virtuousness, for me, is a vehicle – an excuse – for a thick layer of lightly spiced topping, made up equally of crumbs, oats, and little balls of what is essentially shortbread. Read More

The lady behind The Dinner Bell! I’m that person who doesn’t let you leave their flat without eating something, and will probably press a parcel of cookies or cake into your hands as you head to the door.

I’m a sub-editor by day, avid book-reader by night, and octopus fan always. I live in north London, but little bits of my heart still belong to Norfolk, where I grew up, and Sheffield, where I went to uni and finally lost my bumpkin accent.

Spicy spring pasta with spinach and pea pesto

Did I add those ingredients just so I could have a fun title? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t part of the equation — but mostly it’s about the snuck-in secret veggies, because there’s something weirdly satisfying about being able to tick off your five a day very swiftly by whipping up spinach and pea pesto.

Spicy spring pasta with spinach and pea pesto // The Dinner BellWhat can I say? I lead a thoroughly rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

Honestly, this week we’re all craving green things, whether it’s because we’ve acquired a lot of chocolate or just down to the brighter skies that come with switching the clocks back, (although that always seems to mean losing an hour’s sleep).

But it’s time for fresh starts, again, and rediscovery — the “tomorrow” we were awaiting the arrival of before it’d be sensible to look to getting in shape is here. And so we shake off the darkness of winter, peeling it away like soggy shoes after a rainy commute, and we dig into recipe books, reminding ourselves what vegetables look like, and we chuck in some extras.
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The lady behind The Dinner Bell! I’m that person who doesn’t let you leave their flat without eating something, and will probably press a parcel of cookies or cake into your hands as you head to the door.

I’m a sub-editor by day, avid book-reader by night, and octopus fan always. I live in north London, but little bits of my heart still belong to Norfolk, where I grew up, and Sheffield, where I went to uni and finally lost my bumpkin accent.

Balsamic strawberry galette with ricotta

Balsamic strawberry galette with ricotta // The Dinner Bell

It’s April, and I sneeze at least five times every morning, right when I wake up. Pollen’s in the air. We’ve cracked out the light jackets. Summer is coming for us.

Summer is the time for falling in love: with cities, with food, with freezing cold showers. It’s suncream, hot tarmac, and that unmistakable smell of strawberries, an aroma that hit me unexpectedly a few weekends ago, giving just a hint of things to come, before the UK was once again blanketed in grey.

London has never been my home – I never yearned for the big city like other teenagers did, and for too long after I moved here I lived in a bubble, terrified that I just couldn’t do it and yet too stubborn to give in. At no point has it been love. London and I are like the married couple that stays together for the sake of the kids.

Balsamic strawberry galette with ricotta // The Dinner BellPeople still say, Ooh, London eh? Good place to live while you’re young. You must have so much fun. And every time, I smile and nod and think, Well, sort of. The economy is harsh, meeting people is difficult and honestly I would rather cook for my friends and pack them off, giggly and stumbling, with a fist full of cookies, than hit the nightlife. 

But just when I think it’s too much – the isolation, and the cost – something good happens. A gaggle of strangers offers to help a women with a buggy, or a museum visit turns out to be particularly good. In this case, it was a trip to a local grocery stall – the one that’s not part of a market, and where you get called “babe” as standard – that saw me laden with almost more fruit and vegetables than I could carry.

I’m still not in love, but it helps. It’s more bearable when you can go home and say, Okay, so a pint might bankrupt me but damn it, I can buy 750g of strawberries for a quid and I dare you to beat that. These are small pleasures, and it’s almost worth it. Summer is a little slice of sunshine breaking up the unrelenting grey, and I suppose this posh jam tart is my sunshine. Read More

The lady behind The Dinner Bell! I’m that person who doesn’t let you leave their flat without eating something, and will probably press a parcel of cookies or cake into your hands as you head to the door.

I’m a sub-editor by day, avid book-reader by night, and octopus fan always. I live in north London, but little bits of my heart still belong to Norfolk, where I grew up, and Sheffield, where I went to uni and finally lost my bumpkin accent.

Wholemeal spinach, goats cheese and prosciutto pizza

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.

Wholemeal-PizzaTo 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.

Notes

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.

Serves 2

Ingredients

7g (one sachet) fast action dried yeast
100g plain flour
100g wholemeal bread flour
1tsp salt
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

Method

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.

The lady behind The Dinner Bell! I’m that person who doesn’t let you leave their flat without eating something, and will probably press a parcel of cookies or cake into your hands as you head to the door.

I’m a sub-editor by day, avid book-reader by night, and octopus fan always. I live in north London, but little bits of my heart still belong to Norfolk, where I grew up, and Sheffield, where I went to uni and finally lost my bumpkin accent.