Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: Recipe (page 1 of 2)

Grana Padano competition – round 1

One of my bucket list goals is one day to buy a whole wheel of Parmesan and keep it in my cheese store at home (obviously I’d be in my dream country house that has a cheese store) so I can shave a bit off whenever I have the urge for some cheese. So it is perhaps no surprise that I was quick to accept an invite to take part in a cooking competition featuring the king of cheeses. The premise for this first challenge is simple; create 2 courses of my choosing that capture the taste of Italy and where Grana Padano is the star ingredient using the selection of food sent to me plus any store cupboard items I wanted. The competition is being judged by Francesco Mazzei and the second round takes place in London where we get to spend a day with the man himself.

With a pizza oven in my garden and the forecast for a weekend of glorious September sunshine I of course opted for pizza for one of my courses, plus parmesan is a key ingredient in the greatest of all pizzas; Prosciutto Crudo. I love this pizza because it’s the perfect combination of flavours, you have the rich tomato and mozzarella base which is then offset by the peppery rocket and the salty parmesan. I actually prefer it with English ham because I think prosciutto adds too much salt to the mix but either way it’s delicious.

I’m not sure there are any deserts that feature Grana Padano so for my second course I decided on a starter and something that would be perfect before quite a rich pizza. Butternut squash soup in my mind perfectly captures the Autumnal feeling in the air now in an Italian dish, it’s light and full of flavour and can be easily made in the time it takes to get the pizza oven up to temperature.

Butternut squash soup

Butternut squash soup


Large butternut squash, skinned, deseeded and chopped into chunks

Couple of sticks of celery, roughly chopped

Large onion, diced

Chopping veg for soup2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock

A large pile of grated Grana Padano


  1. Put a good chunk of butter into a large saucepan and melt, once melted add all the vegetables and slowly sauté until the onions are beginning to soften.
  2. Add the stock to the pan and simmer for 60 minutes with the lid on.
  3. After an hour the vegetables should be really soft, pop the mixture into a blender or food processor and give it a blitz until the vegetables are broken up but not so it’s completely smooth. I like to have a bit of substance to a soup rather than something completely smooth.
  4. Serve piping hot with a big pile of Grana Padano in the middle, the cheese slowly melts into the soup as you eat it and is delicious!

Butternut squash soup close up

Prosciutto Crudo pizza


For the dough;

250g Strong white bread flour

250g 00 grade pasta flour

6g dried yeast

5g salt

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

325ml warm water

For the topping;




Ham or prosciutto

Grana Padana shavings

Pizza oven fired up


  1. If you happen to have a pizza oven then the first job is to get that going, light a small fire with newspaper and twigs before adding some thicker sticks and small logs. My oven takes about 2.5 hours to get up to pizza cooking temperature so needs to be lit nice and early.
  2. Red Kitchenaid mixing pizza doughThen it’s time to make the dough, my recipe is based on a River Cottage one, but I’ve started using half fine pasta flour on the recommendation of a guy at a food festival who was cooking and selling pizzas. It gives the base a really delicate, thin crust which makes all the difference. For the dough I use our KitchenAid; simply mix the water, yeast and oil together and leave for 5 minutes for the yeast to get going, mix the dry ingredients together in the mixer then slowly add the yeast mixture. Once all combined you just leave it to mix for 10 minutes on a medium speed.
  3. Leave the dough to prove for an hour somewhere warm. Keep feeding the fire with logs so the temperature gradually builds up.
  4. After an hour knock the dough back and separate into 4 equal sized balls. If you’re using a conventional oven now’s the time to turn it on at the highest temperature it will go to.
  5. My oven was now up to temperature so I pushed the fire to the back and threw some smaller logs on to keep it burning.
  6. Now it’s time to make the pizzas, I prefer using a passata on the base rather than tomato puree and if I have time I make my own so I can cram a load of vegetables (courgette, onion, carrot, tomato, mushroom) into it without the kids knowing. Roll out the base until nice a thin, I use semolina flour to roll onto as it seems to really help stop the pizza sticking to the worktop or the pizza peel.
  7. Spread a layer of passata on the top, sprinkle with chunks of ham and then break up a ball of mozzarella and spread all over the pizza. Cook the pizza like this until the base is crispy (2-3 mins in my oven. 5-6 in a hot conventional oven).
  8. Take the pizza out of the oven, sprinkle the top with the rocket and a healthy covering of Grana Padano shavings.

The perfect ham parmesan and rocket pizza

There you have it, my idea of the perfect afternoons cooking and eating. All 3 children loved the soup, particularly having the melted cheese stirred through it, but the pizza was less successful ‘I don’t like this green stuff daddy’. They had a salami pizza instead plus my famous garlic pizza which is always the first pizza to go in the oven. I’ve really enjoyed taking part in this challenge, a great excuse to fire the pizza oven up for perhaps the last time this summer, now I just have to wait and see if the amazing Francesco Mazzei agrees with my menu choices.

Burger off Cancer

Marinading the chickenSometimes as a blogger opportunities arise that you just can’t say no to and last week I attended an event that was just one of those opportunities. The chance to help launch a new campaign with Cancer Research UK AND go to the Weber BBQ school was definitely worth taking time off work for.

I thought I was half decent at cooking on a barbeque but having been to the Weber school I realise how little I really knew, honestly it was eye opening learning some of the tips and techniques. But I’m going to tease you a little and leave those for a post of their own, for now I’d like to spend a bit of time talking about the campaign.

Here’s how the campaign works, are you ready for this? It’s very complicated. What you do is have a BBQ, invite a bunch of people around and ask them to make a donation. That’s it. It’s not exactly a hard sell to guests is it? Which I think is the beauty of the idea, simple to raise money and gets people together to have a good time.

CRUK_Battle of the BBQ_RT

Cancer Research UK are hoping you’ll all think this is a good idea and will join them in hosting BBQ’s on the weekend of the 19th and 20th of July for their big BBQ weekend. If you’re interested you can register to get your own fund raising pack by clicking here, you can also buy from the same link a party pack of paper plates and napkins with the awesome tag lines “burger off cancer” and “give cancer a grilling”. Mighty fine tag lines I’m sure you’ll agree, or maybe they just appeal to my dad humour?

Burger off cancerAs I drove home from the event I started to plan our BBQ and I realised that the 19th of July is when my ‘little’ race is so having a party the next day will be the ideal way to celebrate and try and forget how much my legs are aching. I’m also hoping I’ll have my pizza oven ready by then so I can fire that up for some amazing pizzas, fingers crossed! Although not entirely sure how long I’m going to want to be standing up for, can you BBQ sat down?

So what are you waiting for? Get planning your party and join in with the big BBQ weekend.

Also if you’d like a shiny new Weber BBQ for your party then Cancer Research UK are running a competition called will it grill. Simply shoot a short video of you grilling something unusual and upload to Instagram or Vine with the hashtag #willitgrill to enter. The video with the most votes before the closing date will win a shiny new BBQ. You can find full competition details here.

Look out for my next post about the BBQ school which will include some awesome tips and tricks plus some delicious recipes. Happy grilling.

Cancer Research asked me to write about this campaign to raise awareness and they invited me along to the Weber BBQ school to learn about it. 

Sunday roast summer style

I’ve never been the biggest fan of a big, stodgy traditional roast dinner that is swimming in gravy and doing so much running means that my body wants that even less now. Throw in some beautiful hot summer weather and the thought of standing in a hot kitchen to cook one is completely unappealing.

However a good piece of meat that is cooked well will always be a great centrepiece to a meal, especially when cooking for a large group of people. So I this weekend I cooked up a sunday roast summer style and it was so darn good I thought I’d share it with you. Now given that this is a roast and most of the work here is chopping veg I haven’t included a step by step guide, I reckon you can probably manage to figure it out. Instead I’m going to share a quick description of each component of the dish and how it was made. There are no exact measurements here so just do what feels right, after all that’s half the fun of cooking right?

The beef

We used a rib of beef, not a cheap cut clearly but our joint was about 1.3kg and was enough for 5 adults and 2 kids with a bit left over. Really simple to cook, just a little salt and pepper on top then cook at 220 degrees celcius for around 35 mins per kg for medium rare meat. As the lady of the manor is pregnant and the other adults don’t like bloody meat much I cooked out joint for 55 mins. Then importantly let it rest covered in foil for at least 15 minutes.


For a bit of a change to normal roasties I washed some new potatoes and drizzled some sesame oil over the top. Then simply cooked with the beef and the skin went lovely and crispy and you have the lovely flavour of the oil combined with the earthiness of the potato skin.

Green veg

Absolutely love green veg at the moment, the running seems to really give me a taste for cabbage and broccoli! This time I simply chopped up some spring cabbage and sautéed gently in butter along with some peas fresh from the garden.

Roasted veg

The final component was some roasted vegetables, I just threw in what we had in the fridge. This time it was a butternut squash (love the sugary taste of this when roasted), some carrots, a couple of onions and a courgette from the garden. This was roasted with the meat and then when it came out I stirred threw some fresh herbs from the garden (mint, rosemary, thyme and majoram) which gives it really fresh taste.

All this was of course served with some gravy made from the beef juices and a yorkshire pudding or 2, it was quite honestly delicious!

Roast dinner summer style-001

Sourdough Sunday

You all know that I have had an obsession with the king of bread, the sourdough, for some time now. Last time I blogged about it (and yes my obsession is sufficient to have written more than one post already) I talked about the routine and the enjoyment of having fresh bread every weekend.

Since then I have taken things up a level. Upped my game. Moved into the big leagues. When once I was happy with a loaf that looked like this.

Sourdough tin

I now consider this the very minimum that is required.

Sourdough loaf

As with a lot of cooking it’s part science and part art and the art is what was missing. The first big change has been taking the starter out of the fridge permanently rather than keeping it in there between bakes. This has made those awesome little natural yeasts so much more active and as a result the bread is much lighter and full of bubbles.

It does mean you have to feed it every day, but actually if you’re making more than one loaf a week you need to do this anyway really to have sufficient volume of starter to use. You do need to remember to do it though otherwise you risk killing your starter for ever.

The second big change is that I finally bought a proving basket. A very simple wooden bowl that you use to prove the dough overnight in. It gives that amazing patter on the top and seems to give a really nice and consistent rise.

What I also like about sourdough is that it doesn’t give you that bloated feeling that bread can, while I have no scientific research to prove it I think the natural yeasts and slow rise are better for your digestion. Maybe I’m just making excuses for baking more bread, but I certainly notice the difference if I eat supermarket bread now.

The next challenge is getting myself a sharp enough knife to slash the top before baking and start getting some even better shapes. I’m always worried that cutting it will mean it collapses and all that time is wasted, but the last few loaves have had a big air bubble near the top which the cutting should help alleviate. But for now Sunday’s are always sourdough days and will soon also be sourdough sausage sandwich days.

Oh yes! Get in my belly!

P.S. If you want to know how to get started in making sourdough then you’ll need this post.

Recipe; Beef Hash and home made baked beans

I’m linking up with this weeks RecipeShed with this post, you can see all the other entries here.

I made another recipe from the fabulous Pieminister cook book at the weekend which is fast becoming my favourite book. This time the lady of the manor and I fancied the look of the beef hash and baked beans. I won’t reproduce the whole thing here, but I will give some space to the baked beans which were excellent.

The beef hash was pretty simple, a brisket joint is gently simmered in stock until falling apart (about 3 hours), it is then mixed with some roughly chopped potatoes that have been boiled and 5 onions that have been sliced and gently softened in enough butter to stop your arteries. Throw in a bit of chopped parsley, grate some cheese on top and pop in the oven.

However the beans were something else, very tasty and to top it all Matilda loved them! Will be definitely doing them again with other dishes. To make them you do the following;

2 celery sticks finely chopped
1 onion finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
a pinch of chilli flakes
400ml passata
400g tin of haricot beans, drained

IMAG0441-001You soften slowly the celery, onion and garlic. Once that’s done add all the other ingredients and season. Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the beans are soft. Such a simple recipe and the lack of sweetness vs. a tin of beans really helps with a rich dish like this.

The beef hash we liked, but found it a bit boring with just potatoes. I think we’ll make again at some point but leave the skins on the potato for a bit of flavour and also add in some other root veg. I’m thinking celeriac, parsnip, sweet potato and maybe some swede. With that extra bulk it would actually be a pretty cheap meal for 6 people as brisket is a cheap enough cut.

Recipe Shed – pies

According to Keith my entry for last weeks Recipe Shed was too simple, well I’m sure he won’t be dissapointed this week. The theme is pies which just happens to be my favourite food after sausages and I also recipe the Pieminister cook book for Christmas. Which I must say is an excellent book, these guys are probably my no.1 food heroes, at least partially because they come from Bristol where I lived until 2 years ago, but also their values match what I aspire to. Good food, locally and ethically sourced and not afraid to use unfashionable cuts of meat etc.

The book is great though, some really different pie recipes (and the pie definition has been stretched in some cases) and is organised seasonally which is something I’m really trying to adopt in my cooking.

Anyway here is the first recipe I’ve made from the book; Homity Pie (vegeterian no less)


For the wholemeal pastry:
350g wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp salt
175g butter diced
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
1 egg yolk
For the filling:
2 sweet potatoes
65g butter
1 large red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
120g mature cheddar, grated
a small bunch of spring onions
a handful of curly parsley, finely chopped
550g new potatoes
140ml creme fraiche
For the topping:
a handful of fresh breadcrumbs
1 tbsp grated Parmesan
5 sprigs Thyme, leaves picked
  1. IMAG0383-001First make the pastry. Sift the flour and salt in a bowl (I used a food processor), add the butter and rub it in until like breadcrumbs. Stir in the Parmesan and egg yolk. Then add about 120ml of cold water until it can be squeezed into a dough. Knead lightly and then chill in the fridge wrapped in cling film for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the oven to 200 degrees, prick the sweet potatoes and baked until tender.
  3. IMAG0384-001Melt the butter in a pan and gently soften the onion and garlic.
  4. While it’s softening mix the cheddar, spring onions and parsley in a bowl and set aside.
  5. Boil the new potatoes until soft and drain thoroughly. Transfer to a bowl and mix with the creme fraiche and softened onions. Then stir in the cheddar mixture. 
  6. IMAG0389-001When the sweet potatoes are cooked, scoop out the flesh  nto rough chunks and add to the mixture. Mix together but try not to break up the sweet potato.
  7. Reduce the oven temperature to 180 degrees. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick and line a 20-23cm loose bottomed tart tin. 
  8. Add the filling and sprinkle the topping ingredients over the top. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.

We have had this twice now, first with a roast chicken as a veggie option and then simply with some steamed veg. It’s absolutely gorgeous, the herbs and the sweet potato adding great flavours.

P.S if you have left over pastry as we have bothIMAG0388-001 times you can do a lot worse than make Marmite fingers out of them.  Simply spread half with Marmite, then fold over and cut into 1cm wide slides.

Recipe shed – Sausages

The theme for this weeks recipe shed is perfect, have a read of my twitter bio and you’ll see why. Sausages truly are a great food and what I love is that they are appropriate at any time of the day! You can have them in a sandwich for breakfast, hot off the BBQ at lunch, with mash potato for dinner and even cold from the fridge for an evening snack.

Rather than just give you a recipe for a standard way of serving them such as toad in the hole I’m going to share one of our regular dishes that started life as a cheap and easy student meal and has evolved into something altogether more classy. It’s a great way to make the sausages go a little further and dead easy to cook, plus you only need 2 saucepans which is always a winner.

The Fools Sausage and pasta

Serves 4-6


5 or 6 sausages (and don’t go for anything cheap, get down to your butcher and buy some proper ones that actually have meat in and not bits scraped off the abattoirs floor)

2 onions thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic

3 tins of plum tomatoes (good quality ones make all the difference, I like the Napolina ones or Waitrose basic are also excellent, they should have a thick red sauce, not watery)


Couple of peppers sliced

Balsamic vinegar

Pasta of your choice

  1. Heat some olive oil in a large saucepan, one with a good wide base is best. Add the sausages and brown for a couple of minutes. Then add the onion and garlic and gently fry until the onion begins to soften. At this stage take out the sausages and cut each sausage into 4 or 5 chunks and add back to the pan. This makes it easier to serve and the sauce goes further.
  2. Add the peppers and mushrooms and continue to gently fry. Once the veg has softened tip in the tins of tomatoes but don’t break them up at this stage. Swill out the tins with a little water and add this also to get all the juices. Season and simmer for 30 – 45 minutes with the lid off.
  3. After 30-45 mins (doesn’t need to be precise) break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and add a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and stir in. Taste to check for seasoning, the vinegar should have made it nice and tangy. You can now continue to simmer for up to another 30 mins depending on when you want to eat. If the sauce looks to be reducing too much just pop the lid on.
  4. If you want to make the sauce go even further I often add a tin of baked beans at this stage. Beans always go well with sausages and get you some good fibre into the meal.
  5. Serve with whatever pasta you prefer and a good helping of cheese grated on the top.
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