A note about not blogging….

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted recently.

I thought you deserved a note of explanation. Recently my time has been taken up with travelling back to the North to see my aunt, who has been so dreadfully ill. 

Sadly, she  passed away, so I have either been with my family or working extra hours so I could take time off to get back to them.

I will start cooking and posting again as soon as I can… I just didn’t want you all to think I had given up.

T.O.B. Cooks Update

When I started this blog one of the aims was to show my friends both real and virtual what it was that I was cooking. I don’t suppose I had any idea of how it was going to develop, but develop it did.

One of the most lovely things about this blog is that you, my friends, also got involved in cooking and trying recipes. Then, those  who were friends on Facebook showed the others photographs of the food they had made and I decided to post them on here so everyone could see. Everything was evolving and changing.

We call this the T.O.B Cooks section and there’s even a page telling everyone all about it.

For those of you who don’t know what this is all about, what we do is if you make something, you send me your pictures  and I make a post for you… we add to it with every cooking escapade.

You can, like Lesley, Lolly, Nikki, Laura, and Debs send me a description of your cooking experiences to date and that goes at the start of your post… and fascinating reading they all are, too! Follow those links and see what fun we all had….

It doesn’t matter if I  haven’t  met you – once you cook and send me pictures, you are in the blog!

This week Lesley tried the Pastryless Pie that I had cooked earlier.. and look at what a fabulous job she made of it

So come on. Join in with us.

Take pictures of the cooking you’ve done from recipes on here then tell us about it – we’ll sort out how you get the pictures to me and anything you want to say on the blog post itself.

If you don’t want to do that, well at least say hello to us all in the comments section.. come and make friends – we’re all having a lovely time here!

Puys, peas please me

As the Spring advances, I seem to be getting more lively, almost as if I am speeding up.

I walk faster and I feel brighter and more alert. Must be the increased sunshine, I reckon.

The same goes for my cooking. I am moving away from slow cooked food and wanting faster results. I want to get in from work and make something quickly. Something brighter tasting and lively.

And who would have thought that lentils would fit the bill?

Not red lentils – these are lovely nutty, green and brown speckled  Puy lentils.

They cook really quickly, too.

Before you dismiss lentils as dark and stodgy, try them. They are packed full of protein and deliciously tasty and  make a perfect accompaniment for fish or meat. Sometimes potatoes just seem so… potatoey. Sometimes you want a change and lovely Puy lentils give you that.

They take the same time to cook as does roasting a piece of salmon in the oven… how about that as an easy supper option?

All you have to do is pour some Puy lentils into a pan, add some water and a stock cube (for added flavour) and start to boil gently.

The stock absorbs within a few minutes  – just try them and see if they are at the state of tenderness that you would prefer. They aren’t going to go mushy like red lentils, they keep their shape so don’t guage by looking, taste them. Maybe ten minutes or so should do it.

Then, just as you are ready to serve, add a handful or so of frozen peas.

Stir them round so they defrost.

And the surprise secret ingredient that changes this to a really lovely side dish that you will want to make again and again?

A spoonful of mint jelly. Stirred in, once everything is cooked, it  adds a lovely sweet brightness to the finished dish and really lifts it.

Don’t be put off by this – it doesn’t give it an over powering taste of mint, more of an elusive sweet sharpness that works wonderfully with fish and meat.

In actual fact, I am happy to eat this all by itself it’s so tasty.

Go on… you really should make them.

Wild Garlic

It’s been a long and hard winter and so much of the food we have wanted to eat has been, of necessity, warming and comforting. Delicious though that is, there comes a time when you want fresh food. Eventually, though, things start to sprout and poke through the earth and fresh vegetables of all kinds start to make their appearance.

You know Spring has arrived when the wild garlic is out. You can smell it, for a start, if you are walking in the woods. You might know it as ransoms and its botanical name is Allium ursinum.

Back home, in the North, there are swathes of it running round the edges of my mother’s garden, underneath the trees. Gardeners who care about formality would probably be horrified and, like the Royal Horticultural Society, class it as a weed.

But I come from a family that believes in food rather than manicured flowerbeds, so Ma lets it romp away and we reap the benefits.

Best of all, I have a brother who thinks about what his sister might like, now she is living in an apartment, high above the city.

One Sunday last year he had the inspired idea of digging up a clump of wild garlic and putting it in an old bucket so that I could drive back to the city and pot it up to keep on the balcony. It was marvellous. I could wander outside, cut off a handful of wonderfully fresh leaves and cook away.

Wild garlic is a perennial and after eating our fill of it last year, it died down and just last week I realised that what had been a bare pot was now bursting the bright and shiny leaves. The wild garlic was ready for the first harvest. 

It was Sunday and we were having a friend round for supper. I was cooking lamb and the thought of eating sweet roast lamb with a lovely side dish of wild garlic suddenly seemed to be the best idea I had had in a while.

All I had to do was snip off a pan full of leaves

I cut relatively carefully, taking the leaves because I wanted to leave some  buds so they can flower later

I will use them in something else.. maybe a risotto? I shall see what takes my fancy when they are ready.

Anyway, back in the kitchen, I heated a knob of butter in a large pan and looked over my leaves.

They were young and tender so they would only need the slightest bit of cooking… a quick rinse and into the pan they went.

Oh the smell……and a sprinkle of Maldon salt  was all that was needed after that.

They were served quickly with roast lamb… beautifully tender and with a gentle garlic flavour and an underlying almost-sweetness to them.

How about that,  wild food foraged from my balcony?

I have plans though…I am going to go out in the dead of night and plant some in the hedgerows. I shall turn this part of the city into a wild garlic foraging zone!

Broccoli and Stilton Pastryless Pie

At long last the days are becoming brighter and the weather seems to be improving. Today at work I had the windows open as it was getting rather hot, sitting behind glass with the sun shining in. It’s time, I think, to start freshening up food…. making it lighter and more summery.

Time, in fact, to make something like a pastryless pie.

I often make this because it is perfect with a light, dressed green salad for supper and also because it is absolutely ideal to take to work for an easy packed lunch.

A pastryless pie is, in effect, a quiche without pastry. The quiche filling is baked inside strips of ham. What that means is that if you are baking it to share with friends then anyone with a wheat intolerance or coeliac disease doesn’t have to miss out.

If you are trying to cut carbs from your diet, well, it isn’t exactly Atkins because there’s plenty of vegetables in there but it does, at least, avoid pastry.

So then… what do you need?

I had some broccoli in the fridge and that, along with a lovely piece of Stilton cheese would make a lovely pie.

I had half a dozen free range eggs, a small pot of cream, a packet of sliced Serrano ham, 200g of Emmental cheese (which I love for its sweet nuttiness) a courgette, a handful of cherry tomatoes and few baby salad potatoes.

For those of you who don’t have access to Stilton or Serrano ham or, in fact, anything else I have listed, just remember I am putting those ingredients in because that’s what’s in my fridge.

As long as you have eggs, cream, some ham (some kind of air dried ham, sliced thinly) some cheese and some vegetables you can make this.

Now, because you are making what is really a quiche filling, it is going to be runny. And you don’t have a pastry shell to pour it into. I told you we were wrapping some air dried ham around it but that isn’t going to stop the filling from running out, so this is what to do

You can buy silicone paper cake liners from most places now – one of these popped inside a springform cake tin makes the ideal liner to keep all your lovely ingredients from seeping out when you bake it.

Open your packet of ham and drape the slices round the edge.

You don’t need to completely cover the sides and you don’t need to cover the base. What you are doing is making what will turn out to be a lovely, savoury, lightly crisped ham edging. It helps keep it in one piece when you cut it.

The bottom of the pie will be lined with a layer of steamed and sliced potatoes – it makes for a firmer base. Either slice them and steam them now, or use left  over cold salad potatoes. Because I am using broccoli, I steam that at the same time.

See? Just a thin layer of little slices of potato.

Followed by a lovely layer of broccoli florets

I found a courgette in the fridge and if you use a julienne cutter, you get a glorious tangle of shredded courgette. When this cooks it disappears into the gorgeousness of the creamy, cheesey, eggy filling so even for avowed courgette haters… this would slip right on past them. Another vegetable chalked up!

Scatter those shreds over the broccoli layer

And as it is a broccoli and Stilton pie, now is the time to slice that piece of Stilton you saw earlier.  You could crumble it if you want to, and scatter it across but I thought how pretty and symmetrical it looked to arrange it in thin slivers.

I had half of a red onion left over from something else I’d made so I thought that, sliced finely so that it would cook through while the pie was baking, it would add an extra hint of savouriness.

 That was scattered on top of the cheese.

That’s the vegetables taken care of, the next thing is the delicious cheesey, eggy mix.

6 beautifully golden fresh free range eggs need breaking into a bowl and whisking round with a fork.

A small (150 ml) pot of cream gets poured in and whisked around again.

And pour it in……

Give the springform tin a gentle shake from side to side to make sure the eggy mix falls down around those lovely vegetable layers.

I had some sliced Emmental to use up as well, so that was shredded and scattered over the top.

Little cherry tomatoes (there were only 4 or 5 left) were quartered and added to the top layer before the ends of the ham were folded over.

You can see when you do this that the egg and cream mixture seeps between the slices of ham and then you realise just what an excellent idea it was to use the paper liners…

Into the oven with it at 160 or so degrees C for approximately 30 -40 minutes.

You can tell when it is done when the top looks golden and if you give it a gentle side to side shake the pie quivers just a little bit… and if you press it with your finger it feels soft but firm…

The only thing to do now is to free it from the springform tin, peel back the paper liner and slide it onto a serving plate

The hardest part is waiting for it to cool slightly so you can slice into it….

With a green salad it truly is the perfect lunch or supper.

Tasty, easy to make, easy to take for lunch… cunningly packed full of vegetables in the midst of that delicious filling… just the thing for the summer months!

Pheasant in cider

When I made the strange, but rather delicious, Tomatoey, from an old cookbook, it suggested serving it with roast meat.

I always have, in my freezer, some game. Usually despatched by my brother and given to me so I have something ready to roast quickly. On the morning of the day that I was going to make Tomatoey, I rummaged through the freezer and came up with a lovely little pheasant, which I could imagine would be truly delicious served with a rich and gorgeous tomato bread side dish.

Wild game is healthy and generally very low fat – there’s no idling around in a farm, eating processed feed pellets for a wild bird. They eat what is natural and they fly so there is no excess fat on them. That’s good for a full flavoured and low fat meat but it does mean you have to cook them carefully – and by that I mean a quick roast or braise so they don’t dry out… maybe covering their tender little breasts with bacon to protect them and serving them with something that enhances their rich meat.

Roasting a pheasant takes less than half an hour, if you sear the outsides,  so that would go well with the timings I was working on for Tomatoey. Things were coming together.

First of all, get your casserole dish hot and add a teaspoonful of oil or so then sear the outsides of the pheasant, turning it round so all of the bird browns.

If you are not using cast iron, then sear the bird in a frying pan… a ceramic casserole dish will break if you put it over a hot hob!

Take the bird out and start on the next step

First, some some lovely onion needs to be chopped and popped into the casserole dish to start cooking

Some dry cure bacon can be chopped into that to make a rich and delicious sauce – but save a couple of bits to cover the breast of the bird when it is in the oven…

And a small bottle of cider will make a lovely gravy… so add some now to help the onion and bacon start to cook.

You will see it makes a lovely golden gravy as everything bubbles away.

Pop the bronzed little pheasant on top of the onion and bacon and cider mix and pour in the rest of the cider.

The remaining bacon can be laid over the top of the bird and all you have to do now is pop it into the oven for half an hour – which was handy because that was where I had the Tomatoey!

You end up with a gloriously tender and fragrant little pheasant… just falling apart..

And the gravy that has been made is both sweet and savoury

Perfect to moisten the little pheasant and extremely delicious to go along with anything else you choose to serve with it.

It is a rather special dish considering it took less than an hour to start, prepare, cook and serve. And half an hour of that it was looking after itself in the oven.

Give it a go, eh?


It was really hard trying to think what to call this post. The original recipe called it Tomato Pudding and I just didn’t think that really described it.

I’d bought the book, “First Ladies Cook Book – favourite recipes of all the Presidents of the United States” while we were on a weekend break in the north

One of the recipes in there was, apparently, a favourite of Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President, from January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961) and was called Tomato Pudding. Doesn’t sound attractive does it?

The recipe, as it was written didn’t sound that interesting either:

Tomato Pudding.

1  10-ounce can of tomato puree, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes, 1/4 cup boiling water, 1/4 cup of melted butter and 6 tablespoons of light brown sugar.

Add sugar and salt to the tomato puree and water and boil for 5 minutes. Place bread cubes in a casserole. Pour melted butter over them Add the tomato mixture. bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. Serve with quail or roasted meats.

So, a President of the United States of America, thought this was the bees-knees? And served it as a delicacy at State Dinners?  Bread and tomato?

But I could see that there was potential here… I thought at the time that the recipe was overheavy on sugar and just using puree would make the bread a rather solid block, so something was needed to lighten things up. I would, perhaps, use chopped tomatoes so there would be a difference of texture within the dish and then I needed to think what would be best served with it.

My brother makes sure that my freezer always has some game in it and I often roast a little pheasant or other bit of game, so a dish that would work alongside a roast morsel of something or other would be good.

You often find pheasant served with croutons or fried bread and I was thinking of this tomato pudding as working along those lines.

And this is what I came up with.

I had some crusty bread… I sliced about half a loaf and then cubed it. This filled a large square baking dish.

The original recipe asked for melted butter to be poured over the bread cubes but I thought if I replaced that with a drizzle of oil that would lighten it and make it a healthier option. If I used chilli oil then that would add a subtle bite to the whole dish. Chilli oil doesn’t overwhelm you with the taste of chilli, but rather comes in as a subtle afterburn, a tingle really, just enough to give things a bit of bite and interest. Even if you don’t like chillies, you should try it at least once. You will probably be very pleasantly surprised.

The original recipe used tomato puree and diluted it with water and added a huge amount of sugar.  But in the interests of dragging this dish into the 21st century and making it slightly more healthy for us….

 …I thought that chopped plum tomatoes would lighten the texture, giving it a bit of interest, so that it wasn’t just solid tomato paste covered bread.

And not sugar to sweeten things, but port. 

If the original recipe used tomato puree, that seems to me to be a rather solid substance so the water would be necessary. Using chopped tomatoes means there’s more liquid there so you wouldn’t need to add too much port.

 That would add another level of flavour (and don’t worry, any alcohol would evaporate in the cooking, so any children eating it won’t end up rolling drunk)

Port is sweet and I had a bottle that needed using up. If you don’t have any, use water and add some sugar… but I don’t think you need to add the original 6 tablespoons.

Stir it round and cook it down a bit.

Just boil it down gently until it reduces a bit.

Then, pour it over the bread cubes.

And just because I have been cutting back on  all sorts of things to make this a healthier, tastier dish, I thought a few knobs of butter on the top would help it cook and get a lovely crispy top.

I put it into the oven, alongside some pheasant to serve with it, at 175 degrees C  for 30 minutes.

And what was it like?

Really rather good. A crunchy, savoury top and a meltingly tomatoey middle. The contrasts of textures was appealling and the taste was excellent.

I think there’s room for improvement – maybe add some garlic to the tomatoes? – but served with a little pheasant leg and breast it really was rather delicious. I shall make it again to serve with roast pork and maybe add some chopped apples to it to break up the texture even more. There’s all sorts of tweaks I can think of with this.

Using half a loaf of bread (the staler the better, I think) a tin of chopped tomatoes, a dash of oil and a slurp or so of port (if you want to add it) you have a very quick and easy side dish that costs coppers.

So, Dwight D. Eisenhower, thanks for the idea. If it was good enough to be served in the White House in the 1950’s, then with a bit of tweaking it is good enough to be served in our house today.

An Accidental Soup…..Chickpea and Chorizo

It’s so unfair… this is the lovely, long  Easter weekend and we were planning to go North for a family get-together and I have a rotten cold. I can’t think straight, my tonsils are swollen, my chest is rattling and I feel like death warmed up. We can’t go home and inflict this on everyone so we are staying put.

I haven’t got much in to cook with because we were going to be away and, besides, I don’t really want to cook anything long and involved. I want quick and easy.  The weather is awful and we need to be warmed through.

When I go to the larder to see what there is, I have soup in mind. That would be easy to swallow and it would be good for me. Soup is always good for you when you have a cold or are under the weather… the steaming goodness opens everything up and makes you feel like you are in the land of the living again.

I find some tinned chickpeas on the shelf and in the fridge, I know there’s some chorizo. I can make soup with that, I think…..

I can picture it in my mind.. almost taste it…. hot and soothing, creamy smooth chickpeas with lovely chorizo slices to spike it up a bit….

So, I chop the onion and start to cook it

Next, I open the can and rinse the chickpeas…. that’s essential as I hate that gloopy stuff that collects round them in the tin. I know it is just the chickpea starch but it needs rinsing off. That and the briney stuff the chickpeas are in. If there’s flavour to be added, it will be me doing it, not the tin.

So, stir the chickpeas round to get them coated in the oniony juices and bits of onion (this is going to be the quickest soup ever as the chickpeas are cooked – all you have to cook, really, is the onion)

I want some smokey heat  in the soup, so a good heaped teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika will give a certain depth to it.

Stir it in and watch the colour change to a cheering golden glow

Add a pint or so of water and some stock granules

And then… well, this is when cooking while marginally delerious takes you down an unexpected culinary road……

I was thinking, in my slightly befuddled way, that chickpeas were lovely but if I added , say, ground almonds it would give a lovely rich dimension….thickening things. and adding flavour.

So I reached for one of my storage jars (which the eagle eyed amongst you may recognise as coffee jars… waste not want not, I say, and they are excellent to put dried goods in. Thing is, I never label them because I can see what’s in them. I wash them and peel the label off and then use them again. It keeps my larder looking neat and as all the jars are the same size they can be stacked on top of one another. Good thinking, eh?)

See? Looks like ground almonds.

Except it was fine polenta! I realised after I had poured some in that I had used the last of the ground almonds a couple of weeks ago….

Well, there was nothing for it but to carry on. I added some more water and stirred it round to cook it.

A good old whizz with the blender turned it all into a golden, silky soup. I tasted it to see if the seasoning needed any adjustment. I had to get the Bear to check as I couldn’t really be trusted because of my cold. A pinch of Maldon salt and it was judged to be pretty good.

The chorizo needed slicing

and adding to the soup – a few minutes to cook through was all they needed… and that was it.

From start to finish (including the three or four minutes where I stared at the polenta jar in puzzlement) that took about twenty minutes.

All I had to do was swirl some chilli oil over the top and add an extra few wafer thin slices of chorizo and there it was.

The prettiest bowl of soup. Golden yellow and glowing. Tasting absolutely delicious!

Sometimes you discover things by accident and you are really glad you did.

That soup was rich and tasty and my poor, sore throat felt soothed by it. I felt happier than I did when I started to make it.. .. and all that golden goodness filled me and relaxed me so I went back to bed and snoozed through the afternoon.

 And, do you know what? I will make it again and the next time I will deliberately add polenta.

The Beautiful North – Part Two

 One of the lovely things about staying in hotels is that you feel entirely justified in eating what’s generally known as a full English breakfast. At one time (as a direct reflection of the harshness and rationing of the war years) English cooking was pretty dire and the best that anyone would say about it was that we made excellent breakfasts. Actually, given time to enjoy it, I think English breakfasts are probably still one of the best things about English cooking.

Starting with porridge and moving on to bacon and eggs, followed by toast and tea or coffee, there really isn’t a better way to start the day. Working means you rarely have time to have a “proper” breakfast (though what on earth could be classed as improper about muesli or an egg, I don’t know) so weekends and holidays are the only time we really have to enjoy them.

Because we had been to Craster the day before and smelled the delicious whiff of kippers smoking in the smokehouse, the Bear decided to have a grilled kipper.

That quite surprised me because he really isn’t truly Omnivorous yet and besides being convinced that beans and celery and other “stringy” vegetables are out to strangle him, he’s also very much against eating any fish with bones….

And bones are something a kipper has a lot of. Still, that’s the Bear. Full of surprises.

I think the Bear was quite surprised as well but he masked his horror and dug in and even enjoyed it.

I suppose a kipper is something everyone ought to try at least once and the Bear has now tried it. He might even have them again.

Next stop on our jaunt was the Alnwick Garden, in the grounds of Alnwick Castle, which some of you might recognise from the Harry Potter films.

The Alnwick Garden is possibly the most spectacular contemporary garden in the UK today and features one of Europe’s largest treehouses,

which is a fantastic restaurant… if you want to eat there, though, you have to book well in advance as it is so popular

And the grounds are packed with beautiful water features

and elegant gardens….

Bamboo labyrinths and rose gardens… water sculptures

and this …The Poison Garden. Walled off and separate – all the plants inside are poisonous and you are escorted around by a guide.

.. the detail on the gates is incredible

and what’s really marvellous, is that they were made by a genius artist, Ridley Amos, who happens to be the father of one of the Bear’s friends! The detail is incredible, with each leaf perfectly made and distinct from each other leaf.

If you are in Northumberland then you should try to visit Alnwick. You really cannot fail to be impressed.

We set off next, crossing the causeway  to visit the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, where St Aidan set up his monastery in 635 AD


and walked out to the Castle,

which is stunning in its stark beauty.

The Bear loved it.

We crossed back to the mainland as the sun set.

We had walked at least  7 miles that day – not a lot, I know, but the fresh sea air and the biting winds made us ravenous and we ate, that night, in Bamburgh, the freshest fish you could imagine

and the Bear confessed that before he met me he used to like eating mushy peas (that’s some, in the picture) on top of crumpets! I have no idea how he came up with that concoction and no real desire to explore the reason why. All I can say is that no other chef has come up with that as a recipe to be proud of  and as for the Bear, well, he doesn’t do it anymore.

I told you he could be surprising at times… and then he surprised me some more, by teaching me to play Table Football with three coins and our fingers as goalposts. You have to keep flicking the coin between two other coins all the way across the table to get to the goal. Why this hasn’t caught in in restaurants across the world, I really don’t know. I suppose it may have something to do with the fact that we were laughing a lot. Wine may have helped, I agree.

And then it was time for bed… the last night of our weekend away.

Back to home and me to start a new job… and start cooking again.