Aubergine Lasagne

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

My Mum makes the best veggie lasagne.  Little chopped up cubes of courgette, lightly fried onions and garlic, tinned plum tomatoes and a dash of tomato paste sandwiched between lasagne sheets and topped with mozzarella cheese instead of cheese sauce.  It's delicious.  It feels like a healthy lasagne, not too heavy or decadent.  It tastes of my childhood.

Sometimes, though, I have the urge to branch out and see what lies in the land of decadent lasagnes.  I went into this recipe unprepared for the amount of preparation it takes!  Mum's lasagne is quick to whip up and I know it like the back of my hand - this one took a little more planning and a lot more time.  If it's a quiet Sunday night in and you have a craving for lasagne, this may not be the right one for you, but I think it would make for a perfect feast if you're entertaining people.  It's rich in flavour, plentiful in layers and decadent in the way of cheese.  Yes, please.

Time: 1hr 30mins - 2 hours     Yield: 4-6 portions


for the filling
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 aubergine (eggplant), cut into 1cm rounds
1 large courgette, cut into slices
250g mozzarella
8-10 dry lasagne sheets
2 tablespoons grated parmesan

for the cheese sauce
30g unsalted butter
30g plain flour
550ml whole milk
100g grated gruyere
freshly cracked black pepper to season

for the tomato sauce

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato puree
400g tin of peeled plum tomatoes
150g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped


Heat the oven to 200C / Gas Mark 6.
  1. In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over a high heat.  Add the aubergine slices in a single layer, turning to ensure they turn golden brown on both sides.  Repeat with the remaining aubergine and the courgette, adding more oil as needed.
  2. To prepare the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the onions, cooking until soft.  Mix in the tomato puree, tomatoes, sugar and garlic, and cook for 20 minutes or so.  Season with pepper (and salt, if you wish).  The sauce should reduce down and thicken a little.  Add the basil, and remove the saucepan from the heat to cool slightly.
  3. For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes.  Slowly add the milk to the pan, stirring constantly.  Bring the mixture to the boil and very gently simmer it for 3-4 minutes, stirring until the sauce has thickened and coats the back of the spoon.  It should be smooth and glossy.  Remove from the heat and stir in the gruyere.
  4. To assemble, pour half of the of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 20cm x 30cm oven dish.  Place half of the aubergines and courgettes on top.  Tear half of the mozzarella ball into pieces and scatter over the vegetables, then top with a layer of lasagne sheets.  Repeat this layering once again.  Pour over the cheese sauce, and grate a little parmesan over the top.  Bake for 30 minutes until golden and bubbling.


Adapted from: The Meat Free Monday Cookbook, p214

Browned Butter Pecan and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Thursday, 16 October 2014

These cookies taste as good as they look.  Straight from the oven they collapse in your hand, covering your fingers with melted chocolate.  Allow them a few minutes to cool and they'll hold together better and the nuts won't burn your tongue. Leave them to cool completely and there's no risk of accident and you can wrap them up and give them to people.  I bundled a few up for friends going on a picnic the Sunday I made them; the warmth of them seeping out through the foil.  

Pour yourself a hot mug of something, and plate up one of these cookies, warm from the oven.  They make for a lovely Autumn afternoon treat.

Yield: 20 cookies         Time: 2 hours (including chilling time)


230g (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
220g (1 cup) soft light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon molasses
100g (1/2 cup) golden caster sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
315g (2 1/4 cups) plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (and a little extra for sprinkling)
200g (1 cup) dark chocolate, cut into chunks
100g (3/4 cup) pecans, chopped


  1. Have a clean bowl or jug waiting to the side.  Place half the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and melt until all the white bits have disappeared and the liquid is starting to turn brown.  Stand by it as it will burn in seconds.  It'll bubble and crackle, so be careful not to burn yourself or let your clothes be sprayed with melted butter (which almost happened to me!).  Once it's done, remove it from the heat and immediately transfer it to the bowl/jug so that it doesn't continue to cook.  Allow to cool to one side for twenty minutes.
  2. In another bowl, sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together, and mix in the salt.
  3. In a separate bowl or with a stand mixer, beat the remaining room temperature butter along with the brown sugar until light and fluffy (up to five minutes).
  4. Mix in the vanilla and molasses.
  5. Pour in the cooled browned butter and caster sugar and mix for another couple of minutes.
  6. Add the egg and egg yolk and blend for another minute.
  7. Stir in the flour and bicarbonate of soda mixture.
  8. Fold in the chocolate chips and chopped pecans.
  9. Scoop into balls and refrigerate for  at least an hour.
  10. Heat the oven to 160C fan / 180C / 350F / Gas Mark 4.
  11. Place the dough balls on a baking tray a couple of inches apart and bake for 10-14 minutes until golden brown around the edges.  Sprinkle with a little extra coarse sea salt.  Serve warm if you can!


I love under baked cookies so I take mine out at 10 minutes and leave to cool on the tray for at least another 10.  They fall apart a little while you eat them but it's worth it!

Adapted from Joy the Baker.

Warming Red Lentil Soup

Thursday, 25 September 2014


It's chilly in the mornings, now we're almost October.  My evening walks home from the gym are now in darkness instead of summer evening sunshine, and I found myself wearing bed socks just the other day.  The clocks haven't even changed yet!  Is it just me, or does it feel, in some ways, as if they already have?

Not that I'm complaining.  I've always been a fan of seasons, and I think Autumn is a lovely one.  The leaves turn crunchy, the air hums in anticipation of Halloween (and then Christmas!), and you can pull out all your favourite jumpers that had been relegated in favour of summer wear.  It's time to spoil yourself with some cashmere, drink hot chocolate, and cosy up in pubs with your friends.

The downside is that, if you're anything like me, you're tempted to eat more.  If I'm cold, I want to eat.  The salads that I lived off all summer long no longer cut it; I need something that will warm me from the inside, and make me happy whilst I eat it.  It's such a lovely feeling, wrapping cold hands around a warm mug or bowl.  

This soup is a perfect mix of healthy and happy.  You'll need a little time to make it as it sits on the hob for an hour and a half cooking away, but I've made it on my return home from work without feeling as if I've lost an entire evening.  Your part in the process is incredibly brief - a little chopping, a little stirring, et voilĂ .   Leave it to work its magic, enjoy your evening; curl up on the sofa with your current TV marathon or your favourite book.

Once cooked, I blend my soup into a puree, as I prefer both the texture and taste.  You are under no obligation to do this - it makes a hearty, chunky soup if that's more your penchant. I rarely eat bread with it as it incredibly filling on its own, but a lovely wholegrain seeded something would probably go deliciously.


Feeds: 4 people     Time: 1 hour 45 minutes     


4 tablespoons olive oil

1 white onion, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
300g (4 or 5) carrots, chopped
4 sticks celery, chopped
330g dried red lentils, rinsed twice in cold water
a large handful freshly chopped parsley
2 pints vegetable stock
a few twists of freshly cracked black pepper


  1. In a large saucepan on the hob, heat the oil and add the onions until softened, before adding the garlic for another minute or two.  Stir frequently to avoid burning the garlic (burnt garlic is the worst!).
  2. Mix in the chopped carrots and celery and allow to soften for a few minutes, again stirring regularly.
  3. Add in the lentils, parsley and pepper, before pouring over the vegetable stock.  Cover the pan if you can (don't worry if you can't), and leave to simmer for 1 hour 30 minutes until the lentils and vegetables are very soft.  If the mixture isn't liquid enough, add a little more hot water.
  4. If you like chunky soup, then it's ready to serve.  If, like me, you prefer smooth soup, then pour the mixture into a blender with blade attachment and whizz until smooth.


If you aren't eating it all in one go, clean out the saucepan and pour the soup back in - it'll keep that way, covered, for two or three days.  Reheat as necessary.

Adapted from Linda McCartney's Home Cooking p56.

Salt-Flaked Dark Chocolate Tart

Thursday, 18 September 2014


Marks & Spencer make this amazing chocolate pot that you heat up and mix with cream, pour into a waiting pastry shell and leave to set.  

Yes, you read that right.  

I'm sure by now you're aware of how much of an unequivocal snob I am about box mixes and other things that make baking easier but I consider cheating.  I generally don't believe they taste anywhere near as nice as something you've made from scratch, and I like to know exactly what I've put in so that I know what I'm eating.  Also, it's so fun! Creaming the butter and sugar at the beginning of a cake is the best part, who wants to miss out on that?  (Who wants to miss out on tasting that, more importantly...)

But I understand that we don't always have the luxury of time when baking is required, and also, as with every rule, there are exceptions.  This Pot Au Chocolat from M&S is one of them, and manages to make a better chocolate tart filling than I've managed myself so far.  It really tastes delicious and I've been trying to recreate it from scratch ever since.  

This is one of those attempts.

As these photos make apparent, I still have some practise to put in before I make a photogenic shortcrust pastry shell, but trust me when I say the flavour was there.  I brought this round to my friend Claire's house for Sunday lunch with the girls, and Steph kindly called it "rustic, but in the good way".  

This is an amalgamation of recipes - the pastry is from Paul Hollywood, the filling from Jamie Oliver.  Claire, who was hosting, had mentioned that she had salted caramel ice cream, so I wanted to make something that would go well with that.  Chocolate, obviously, but I knew it had to be that decadent mix of salt and sweet to do justice to the combination.

I love the look of the salt flakes sprinkled across the top.  Just - trust me (ie. learn from my mistakes!) -  don't sprinkle the salt until you're about to serve it, as the chocolate filling will absorb them.  This will leave you wanting to add more just for aesthetics - and then it'll be too salty!

Whilst this may not yet be the chocolate tart of my dreams, I do feel as if I've taken an enormous step closer.  One day soon I can stand proudly on my high horse and declare that I succeeded in emulating a convenience food with something homemade.  Until then I'll be quiet.  ...Or quieter, anyway.

Yield: one 9-inch tart       Time: 4 hours, including chilling time (if making the pastry from scratch)


for the pastry

250g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
125g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
2 medium egg yolks
50ml cold water

for the chocolate filling

300ml double cream
2 teaspoons caster sugar
50g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa), broken up
50ml whole milk
sea salt flakes to sprinkle


  1. To make the pastry, tip the flour into a bowl and add the butter cubes.  Rub the two together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the egg yolks and start to mix with your hands, before adding the water slowly.  It should form a paste, cleaning the sides of the bowl as you go.
  3. Tip your dough out onto a floured surface and shape gently into a ball.  Be careful not to over handle the dough.  Flatten it into a disc and wrap in cling film, before chilling in the fridge for at least three hours.
  4. Once the dough has chilled for the correct amount of time, heat your oven to 180C fan / 200C / 350F / Gas Mark 4 .
  5. Lightly butter your pie dish.  Roll out your dough and place in your waiting dish, covering with greaseproof paper and filling with baking beans.  Blind bake for 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the oven, lift off the baking beans in the paper and place them somewhere heatproof to cool down, and leave the pastry shell to cool.
  6. To make the filling, place the cream and sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil.  Once it begins bubbling, remove from the heat.
  7. Add the butter and chocolate, stirring until melted and fully incorporated.
  8. Allow the mixture to cool for a minute or two before adding the milk.  The mixture should be silky!
  9. Pour into the pastry case and leave to set for up to two hours.  Sprinkle with sea salt flakes just before serving (if done earlier, it absorbs them!).


Shortcrust pastry recipe from Paul's Hollywood's How to Bake.  If you don't have time to make your own pastry, you can use a store-bought one.  It'll drastically reduce the time it takes to make this dish.

Dark chocolate tart filling recipe from Jamie Oliver.

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