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.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Sunday, 31 August 2014

My friend, Zara, is a huge fan of chocolate chips in Banana Bread.  It was something I'd never considered doing.  Chocolate and banana?  Really?  Google swiftly put me right on the matter and made me realise that it was just me thinking it to be an odd combination.

This is the same wonderfully light recipe that I posted here, but with some chocolate chips thrown in.  It feels like a cheat posting it, but just in case there's anyone else out there who hasn't thought to put these two flavours together, I am posting it.  I stand corrected: it is delicious.


Yield: one 2lb loaf


100g unsalted butter, softened
175g caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
225g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk

150g chocolate chips


+ Pre-heat the oven to 180C / 160C fan / 350F / Gas mark 4 .
+ Lightly grease and line the bottom of a 2lb (900g) loaf tin.

  1. Mix all of the ingredients, apart from the chocolate chips, together in a mixing bowl for about two minutes, until well-blended.
  2. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  3. Spoon into your prepared tin, and bake for 50-60 minutes, until well risen and golden brown.
  4. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.


Adapted from: Mary Berry's Banana Loaf.

Summer Greek Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Hello!  I inadvertently took a summer break there, my apologies.  I will never cease to be impressed by bloggers who manage to work full time, blog regularly, and live their lives all at the same time.  I constantly feel as if I'm dropping a ball somewhere, and my little corner here has been that ball of late.

But!  Isn't summer wonderful.  We had a few glorious weeks of weather here so I made sure to enjoy as much of it as I could.  I played Bowls for the first time, ate ice cream, wished Jo a happy birthday, and survived a two-week bootcamp - 6.30am every day for an hour!  Oh, and made this salad.  Many times!

This is a perfect salad for on-the-go summer days, when you don't want to have to turn on the oven, or miss any of the precious sunshine outside.  The vinaigrette comes together quickly in a jam jar and will easily keep for a week in the fridge so you can mix and match it with other dishes, too.  I haven't specified amounts for the salad ingredients because it's very adaptable to what you have on hand and which ingredients you love the most, but I have put in italicised brackets the rough amounts I used as a guideline should you need it.

I'm in love with summer.  I'm in love with this salad.  I hope you will be, too!

Feeds: 4 people        Time: 20 minutes


for the dressing
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard
a pinch of sea salt
some freshly cracked black pepper

for the salad
100g orzo pasta, cooked and cooled
(1/4) cucumber, cut into small chunks
(12) cherry tomatoes, halved
(100g) feta cheese, crumbled
(1/2) red onion, thinly chopped
(two handfuls) pitted (Kalamata) olives
fresh basil, torn
freshly cracked black pepper


  1. Place all the dressing ingredients together in a clean jam jar, close the lid tightly and shake vigorously until combined.  It'll make more than you need, but it can be stored for up to a week in the fridge so you can use it with other salads!
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the salad ingredients.  Season with pepper.  Add the dressing as you serve.  Eat!


Adapted from Joy the Baker.

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