Austrian Croissants / Monica's Breakfast Bread (Godkipferl)

I made these for brunch today and they were delicious!  They're lovely with a hot mug of chocolate or coffee, a great way to treat yourself on a cold day.

Makes 6

- 1kg strong white plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1tsp salt
- 2 x 7g sachets of fast-action dried yeast
- 500ml milk, lukewarm
- 15g caster sugar, plus extra for dredging
- 125ml vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1 egg yolk, beaten

How to:-
1.  Tip the flour into a mixing bowl with the salt and yeast.  Pour the lukewarm milk into a separate bowl and mix with the sugar and oil, then beat in the 2 large eggs.
2. Pour the milk mixture over the flour mix to form a soft dough with your hands.  Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until smooth.  Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave for 15 minutes.  Dust 2 non-stick baking sheets with flour.
3. Knock back the dough and divide into 6 pieces.  Take a piece of dough and cut it into 3.  Roll or stretch each of the 3 pieces into sausage shapes about 20-25cm long.  Pinch the 3 together at one end, then plait the strands and pinch together at the other end.  Repeat with the remaining 5 pieces of dough.
4. Shape each plait into a crescent shape, place them on the floured baking sheets and leave to rest for 5 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4.
5. Brush the crescents with the beaten egg yolk and dredge them with caster sugar, then bake for 25 minutes until they are well risen and golden.  Take them out of the oven and check that the crescents are cooked by tapping the base - it should sound hollow.  Leave to cool on a wire rack before serving.

[Recipe: The Hairy Bikers' Big Book Of Baking by Si King and Dave Myers]


Parmesan & Oregano Star Biscuits

These thin biscuits with a hint of cheese and herbs are usually associated with xmas, but I tend to make them all year round.  Parmesan Stars make great little gifts or are simply a nice treat for yourself.   You can also swap the parmesan for any flavoursome hard cheese like gruyere or make a mixed batch.  They can be kept in an airtight container for up to 7 days.

Makes 26

- 125g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 100g unsalted butter, diced
- 1/4tsp mild chilli powder
- 100g parmesan, finely grated
- 1 tbsp milk
- a few pinches of dried oregano to decorate

How to:-
1. Put the flour, butter and chilli powder in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the cheese and pulse again to bring the dough together.
2. Shape into a flat disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for around 1 hour until it feels firm.
3. Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas Mark 4.  Line 2 baking sheets with greaseproof baking paper and set aside.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to around a 5mm thickness.  Use a 5-6cm star-shaped cutter to stamp out the biscuits, then re-roll the trimmings to stamp out more.
5. Put the stars on the baking sheets, brush with milk and sprinkle with dried oregano.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden.  Leave to cool.

[Recipe from a 2010 edition of Marks & Spencer Christmas Food]


Halloumi & Veg Kebabs

The weather has been gloriously sunny here in the UK and I've managed to get the old BBQ out this week and make some delicious food for my friends.  These Halloumi & Veg Kebabs have been going down a treat!  I made mine with peppers and mushrooms, but these are just as good with any combination of your favourite vegetables.

Serves 4

- 2 peppers, any colour you like
- 250g pack halloumi
- Handful of small mushrooms or 2 large flat mushrooms
- 1tbsp olive oil in a small bowl
- Skewers (if using bamboo ones, make sure to soak in water before use)

How to:-
1. Preheat the grill or barbecue.  Cut the vegetables and halloumi into bite size pieces/cubes.
2. Toss the pieces in the bowl of olive oil so everything is coated lightly.
3. Thread the pieces onto the skewers and grill/barbecue for 5-10 minutes until everything is cooked and the halloumi is soft.
4. Serve with salad if desired and your favourite dips.


Norwegian Cardamom and Lemon Stamped Cookies

I decided to try out something different to satisfy my sweet tooth, and made these Norwegian Cardamom and Lemon Cookies.  I had no idea what to expect from this combination of flavours, but  they're really good!

Makes 24

- 225g butter, softened
- 150g caster sugar
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 250g plain flour
- 100g ground almonds
- 3tsp  ground cardamom or
1 heaped tsp cardamom seeds, ground in a pestle and mortar

How to:-
1. Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F / Gas Mark 5.  Line 2 large baking trays with greaseproof paper.
2. Using a mixer or an electric hand whisk, beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest together in a large bowl until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the flour, almonds and cardamom until the mixture comes together to form a stiff dough.
3. Divide into 24 equal sized balls and place 12 on each baking tray, leaving enough space in between to allow for spreading.  Press each cookie with a cookie stamp or the bottom of a glass to flatten.
4. Bake 1 tray at a time for 12-14 minutes, until the cookies are a pale golden brown.  Leave to cool on the tray for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack.  Store in an airtight tin and eat within 7 days.

[Recipe: The Hairy Bikers' Big Book Of Baking by Si King and Dave Myers]


Potato Open Tarts with Oak Smoked Cheddar

I was craving a little comfort food today and decided to make these savory 'tarts'.  They're actually just mini wheat wraps and provide a nice crispy base for whatever you wish to put on top.  Handy to have in your cupboard for easy meals.

Serves 4 (1 tart each)

- 4 mini wheat wraps
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 large onions, peeled and finely sliced
- 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
- 450g cooked new potatoes, sliced
- 250g greek-style yoghurt
- 1 small bunch fresh chives, finely chopped
- 50g oak smoked cheddar cheese (or plain/mature if you prefer), grated
- freshly ground black pepper
- mixed salad leaves to serve (optional)

How to:-
1. Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F / Gas Mark 6.
2. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper then lay 2 wraps on each tray, side by side.
3. Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat.  Add the onions, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes, until softened. 
4. Remove the lid, increase the heat and cook for a further 3 minutes, until lightly golden.  Stir in the mustard then spread the mix evenly over the wraps.  Arrange the potato slices on top, overlapping them slightly.
5. Mix together the yoghurt, chives, and 3/4 of the cheese then spread over the potatoes.  Sprinkle over the remainder of the cheese and grind a little black pepper on top.
6. Cook in the oven for 18-20 minutes and serve with mixed salad leaves if desired.

[Recipe by celebrity chef Lesley Waters for Hello! Magazine]


Pea & Mint Soup

I love eating a simple soup for dinner in the summer months, I know it sounds odd, but I find it a lot easier to eat lighter/smaller meals when the weather is hot.  This Pea & Mint soup is a summer staple for me.  I like to make a big batch and then divide it up into portions and freeze it for later.

- 450g peas (garden or petit pois work well)
- 2tbsp chopped fresh mint
- 1 chopped onion
- 25g butter
- 1 finely chopped garlic clove
- 1 medium sized potato, chopped into equal pieces
- 750ml vegetable stock
- double cream to serve (optional)

How to:-
1. In a large saucepot, cook the chopped onion in the butter for about 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes.
2. Add the potato and vegetable stock.  Simmer covered for 10-15 minutes.
3. Add the mint and peas and simmer for a further 5-10 minutes,
4. Blend in a food processor until smooth and serve with double cream if desired.


Ludlow Spring Food & Beer Festival

Last weekend I went to the Ludlow Spring Food & Beer Festival.  The small event is set in the grounds of the local castle, which has some beautiful views of the surrounding countryside from the top.  The Spring show is mainly focused around a big Beer & Cider tent with a handful of independent and local traders selling homemade deserts, breads, preserves, cheeses and the like, as well as a cooking demonstration tent which is sponsored by the foodie magazine, Olive.  It's a much smaller affair than the main Ludlow Food Festival which takes place in September, but it's still a lovely day out and a great way to support local & independent individuals and companies.


Giant Chocolate & Cherry Cake-Cookies

'Cake-Cookies' are something that my sister and I used to make on rainy days when we were kids.  As the name suggests, they are a combination of cake (as these have a slightly spongey centre) and cookie (with a slightly crunchy outside).

Makes 8

- 125g unsalted butter at room temp
- 120g caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 220g self-raising flour
- 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 100g glacier cherries
- 75g milk chocolate, broken up into small chunks

How to:-
1. Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas Mark 4.
2. Combined the butter and sugar in a bowl.  Add one of the eggs, making sure to beat it in the mixture thoroughly before adding the second egg. 
3. Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing well.  Add the rest of the ingredients (cocoa powder, cherries and chocolate chunks) and again mix well.
4. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.  Using two spoons, heap the mixture into 8 portions onto the tray and slightly flatten out evenly, leaving space for the mixture to spread a little as it cooks.
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes and allow to stand for 5-10 mins before serving.


Satay veggie stir fry with Quorn Mince

A quick and easy meal that beats any greasy takeaway! 

Serves 4

- 450g Quorn mince (or other alternative)
- 250g egg noodles
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped
- 150g green beans
- 1 red pepper, sliced
- 1tbsp sesame oil
- 3tbsp soy sauce
- 3tbsp sweet chilli sauce
- 3tbsp peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)

How to:-
1. Heat the sesame oil in a wok or deep frying pan on a medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until it's soft.  Add the garlic and Quorn mince and cook for 10 minutes.  Take off the heat and set aside.
2. In a seperate saucepan, add the chilli, soy and sweet chilli sauces and pour over 150ml hot water.  Allow to simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, making sure to stir occasionally.
3. Cook the egg noodles according to the pack instructions.  Drain, and then stir in the Quorn mince, peanut butter, green beans and pepper.  Bring back to the boil, add the sauce and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
4. Garnish with fresh coriander if desired.


Petit Pois Peas Risotto

I have always wanted to make a risotto dish from scratch, so I finally gave it a go today and it turned out really well!  The key seems to be the continuous stirring, as well as adding hot stock in a little at a time, but once you get the hang of that, it was surprisingly easy to do.

Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main

- 50g butter
- 250g risotto rice
- 1 litre vegetable stock
- 350g petit pois peas (or any kind of peas)
- 1 onion

How to:-
1. Heat the vegetable stock and maintain it a high but not boiling temperature.
2. Melt the butter on a medium heat in a seperate saucepan.  Finely chop the onion and add this to the butter, giving it a good stir, and cook until the onion is soft.  Add the risotto rice and a third of the stock.  Bring to a simmer.
3.  Using a ladle, add a little at a time of the rest of the hot stock to the risotto pan, making sure to stir, stir, stir!  Allow time for the rice to absorb a decent amount of stock before adding the next ladle.
4. Add the peas during the last two ladles and cook for another 5 mins.
5. Serve whilst hot.

Notes: Risotto rice should be cooked al dente and it shouldn't be swimming in stock, you're aiming for a creamy consistency instead.  Traditionally, risottos contain parmesan, but I've omitted this as it contains animal rennet.  However, a good supermarket or health food store will usually carry at least one vegetarian (and in some cases vegan) alternative.  Likewise, simply substitute the butter in this recipe for an alternative if cooking for a vegan friend.


Back to Basics: Vegetable Stock

A good stock makes all the difference to your homemade soups etc and they're a wonderful way to use up any leftover vegetables you have lying about.  You can make a flavoursome vegetable stock with just about any variation of veggies, so do experiment with what you have and see what you like.  The recipe below is what I mainly use and always turns out great.

Makes about 2 litres

- 3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 3 carrots, unpeeled & roughly chopped
- 4 or 5 mushrooms or 2 flat mushrooms, unpeeled & roughly chopped
- 3 celery sticks, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled & crushed or finely chopped
- handful of fresh parsley
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves

How to:-
1. Place all of the ingredients into a large, deep pan.  Add 2 litres of cold water and bring to the boil.  Reduce to a simmer and then cook on a low heat for around 2 hours.  You can add more water as needed.
2. Pour the vegetable stock through a sieve into a large bowl, pressing the vegetables in order to extract as much excess liquid as possible. 

If not using straight away, allow the stock to cool for about 30 mins.  Once its properly cooled, you can either store it in a container in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze it where it'll keep for up to 4 months.


Once you've tried a homemade vegetable stock like this, you'll never go back to using those dusty old stock cubes ever again!