Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: recipes (page 1 of 2)

A wood fired pizza oven cooking day

One thing you learn when you have a wood fired pizza oven is that it takes quite a bit of effort to get it fired up and at the right temperature for cooking, so once it’s hot you might as well maximise the use of it. It takes me about 2.5 hours to get mine hot enough to cook a pizza, then less than 30 minutes to cook 8-10 pizzas for a pizza party. Which is probably still worth it as the pizzas are awesome but why not keep the fire going and cook more?

Which is exactly what we did last weekend; we cooked some pizzas for dinner with the kids and then kept the fire going to cook some tapas in the evening for just the adults. It takes a bit of prep work but then if you want instant cooking using a pizza oven probably isn’t for you. We had a friend over for the weekend so once the fire was burning nicely we set to work on the prep, checking on the fire occasionally to add an extra log or 2.

Pizza oven fired up

We mixed up some dough for the pizza and also for some pita breads to go with the tapas. I’ve been wanting to make bread of some kind in the oven for a while and these seemed like a good starting point, I’m also itching to make naan breads which should puff up perfectly. Once the doughs were proving we got the tapas ready, on the menu was; lamb koftas, lemon and chilli scallops and some marinated squid. All cook really quickly so although the prep takes a while the cooking bit is easy and of course you just serve straight from oven to table.

Pita breads cooking

Our cooking weekend also timed nicely with the delivery of a pizza challenge from Morrison’s, they’ve launched a new in store pizza service available until 21st June to celebrate father’s day where children can build their dad’s face on a pizza. My challenge was to make a pizza that looked like me with a little help from Matilda and Henry. Now while the Morrison’s pizzas taste great, I bet none are quite as good as the ones cooked in a real wood fired pizza oven. There was much debate about how to make best use of the vegetables supplied to create a pizza, I’m particularly pleased with our use of the black part of the mushrooms to make eyebrows. The result I’m sure you’ll agree is an uncanny likeness, they do say you are what you eat….

Pizza in the shape of my face

Making a day of the cooking was so much fun, quite tempted to expand it to brunch also, the choices really are endless and while it’s a steep learning curve understanding how to cook in an oven that doesn’t have dials it really is a fab way to spend a day. This tapas cooking could easily be extended to include many more dishes and by cooking one course at a time then eating it make a great evening dinner party with friends.

The combination of the rich lamb with the spicy scallops was perfect and the pita breads were amazing. The dough for them was quite weird but once they were in the oven the just puffed up perfectly. They’d be really good with some slow roast lamb in them and some good homemade coleslaw (I’m salivating a little just at the thought of it!)

pizza oven tapas feast

I would also thoroughly recommend the wood fired oven cookbook, it has some great recipes in it and instructions on how to use you oven, but it also gives you some ideas for menus and cooking days so you can maximise the heat in your oven. This was our first real attempt and I learned a lot about how to maintain the fire and the size of log that was most effective to add to it each time, there’s definitely an art to cooking this way.

Disclosure – Morrisons sent me the ingredients to make pizza, but all words and opinions here are my own.

Wood fired oven brunch

Matilda enjoying her muffinI think I’m starting to get the hang of this cooking with fire lark; each time I use the pizza oven I seem to get better at managing the fire and getting it to the right temperature. So fuelled by this confidence and the prospect of a glorious late summer lazy Sunday morning I decided it was time to branch out and cook something over than pizza. What could be better than a wood fired oven brunch cooked and eaten al fresco?

My wonderful colleagues at work bought me this awesome wood fired oven pizza oven cookbook when I changed jobs and it has ideas for menus and cooking days at the front. Perfect to get you to start thinking about how to make the most of your oven every time you fire it up cooking different things as it heats up and cools down.

Taking inspiration from the book the plan for brunch was to make some English muffins and serve with slow roasted tomatoes, chipolata sausages, smoked bacon and scrambled egg. The challenge (and fun) about cooking in this way is you do need to plan ahead a little as it’s not as simple as just turning on the cooker, so the schedule looked like this:

8am – make the dough for the muffins and leave to rise

8.30am – light the pizza oven then prep the other dishes

9.30am – put the tomatoes in the oven, in a relatively cool spot on the side. Roll and cut up the muffins then leave to rise again.

9.45am – put the sausages in the oven (probably would have put in earlier if fatter sausages).

10am – put the muffins in the middle of the oven

10.15am – take the muffins out of the oven and put the bacon in.

10.30am – feast on brunch in the sunshine!

I’d never even contemplated making English muffins until 2 weeks ago but they’re now a firm favourite, so quick and easy to make and only need proving for about 90 minutes in total. These big, fat, fluffy piles of warm breadiness are a long way from the packets of Warburtons muffins you buy from the supermarket I can tell you. Henry and Matilda love helping me make them, I get them rubbing the butter into the flour and then they of course help me with the kneading. Then after the first prove they can help cut them out using a round cookie cutter. They take less than 15 minutes to cook and can sit to cool a little while you finish the rest of the cooking, not too long though because you want them warm so you can melt the butter in when you spread it.

Muffins cooking

The only other real prep that needed doing was chopping in half some tomatoes from our greenhouse and sitting them on a sliced red onion (also from our veg patch). Then I drizzled (love that word) some rapeseed oil over and sprinkled on some chopped thyme and some black pepper. This then goes in the oven in a casserole dish to slowly roast, I love tomatoes like this anyway but the onions went really sweet to go with it and give a nice kick of flavour to the breakfast.

The only thing I didn’t cook in the oven was the egg, but actually could have done that fairly easily if I wanted. What I really love about this way of cooking is the theatre of it and getting the kids really involved. They can help with the prep work and then see it actually being cooked right in front of them in the oven. I’m also enjoying the challenge of fire management with the biggest learning being to chop my logs much smaller. That way you can add ones that are 2-3 inches thick every so often, these catch light quickly and help keep a relatively stable temperature going. If the logs are any larger it just swamps the fire and absorbs all the energy, but too much smaller and they just burn out quickly.

pizza oven brunch done!

As a final little bonus we knocked up some meringues quickly and put them in the oven once everything was cooked. This falling temperature is ideal for cooking them and was about 150 degrees when we put them in. I then blocked the doorway with some bricks (this winters job is building a door) and left it for 4 hours. When I came back they were cooked perfectly and the oven was still 60 degrees so shows the insulation etc works. We had them for our pudding in the evening and they were perfectly chewy with a very delicate hint of smoke that I really quite liked.

Now to see what else I can get cooked in there before the last of the summer sun leaves us.

meringues fresh from the pizza oven

Pizza my heart

A pizza oven has been on my dream house wish list for a long time and no I don’t mean one of those attachments you can put on a Weber barbeque. I’m talking roaring wood fire in a domed oven in the garden, long handled pizza peel in hand deftly whisking out the perfect thin and crispy pizza. But it’s always stayed a dream just like having a ride on lawn mower and a kitchen with a stable door. That is until now.

After extensive negotiations and many hours of internet research the lady of the manor has given me the green light to try to build a pizza oven. Because of course I’m not going to do it the easy way and just buy an oven, no that would be far too straightforward (and bloody expensive to be fair) so I’m going down the DIY route. On the face of it it doesn’t appear to be too tricky a task, providing my dome building skills are ok the rest is actually pretty straightforward.

I’ve found a great guide for building one that I spotted on another blog and I have now got most of the materials needed. Having a load of random bricks spread around the garden turned out to actually be quite useful! I’ll try to write at least a couple more blogs about it in due course but the intention is to turn this pile of building materials into the greatest pizza making machine outside of Northern Italy in the next few weeks. Wish me luck!

Toddler heaven – homemade Easter eggs

When you get an email offering to send you a load of chocolate and assorted sugary treats you have to be pretty silly to say no right? Especially when the idea is for you to have a go at homemade Easter eggs with your children. So it was that last week we received a box full of awesome chocolate from those lovely people at Waitrose which we quickly had to hide from the resident post opener. coincidentally last week also saw the opening of a shiny new Waitrose just down the road from us, both me and the lady of the manor have been down for a look like little kids going to the candy store, I particularly like the ‘grazing’ area near the wine where you can sit for a glass of wine and a cheese platter.

We didn’t get the children to help with actually making the eggs as I’m sure you well know the attention span of a toddler is about 30 seconds and certainly won’t last for the time needed to build up the layers of the egg. So we had fun making them one evening and then leaving them in the moulds in the fridge overnight, this also had the added bonus that we could lick the bowl clean of what was left. You can find full instructions on how to make your own egg, plus lots of other Easter recipes and children’s activities on the Waitrose Easter pages here. (Plus I’ve included some simple instructions at the end of this post)

Making easter eggs with 2 crazy toddlers

Once you’ve made your egg that’s when the fun really begins, we did a half egg each for Matilda and Henry because it meant the egg wouldn’t move while they were decorating it and quite honestly we didn’t have the patience to make 2 more halves. We had a whole bunch of different treats they could use to decorate their eggs; chocolate buttons, marshmallows, jelly tots, sprinkles, popping candy and some honeycomb.

In true messy play style we let the children have free reign to decorate the eggs, I was going to just post a bunch of photos here but I think this short video better captures the chaos of doing this with 2 toddlers. It was also probably one of the funniest family activities we have ever done; keep your eye on Henry during this, his policy was most definitely 4 for me, 1 for the egg!

Surprisingly we didn’t let them eat the eggs after decorating, I think they’d just about had their sugar allowance for the day from just making them. However I will leave you with one final photo of the finished eggs. While it’s very easy to go and buy an egg from the shops homemade Easter eggs are really quite simple to make and actually a whole lot of fun.

Matildas homemade easter egg

Henrys homemade easter egg














Making your own easter egg


250g of good quality dark or milk chocolate – remember to save a little extra for decorating

What you’ll need

2 chocolate egg moulds

Flat pastry brush or small paintbrush

Heat proof bowl




Step 1  – Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over simmering water in a pan.

Step 2 – Paint a thin layer of chocolate inside the egg moulds, making sure it meets the edges of the mould. Depending on the size of the moulds you may need more chocolate, have plenty on standby!

Step 3 – Chill for 5 minutes or until the chocolate is firm.

Step 4 – Spread another even layer of chocolate over the first layer and let cool for another 5 minutes or until firm.

Step 5 – Gently ease the mould away from the chocolate. Join the chocolate halves together with a little melted chocolate, using a flat pastry brush or small paint brush – That’s it! Well done, you have made your very own Easter egg!

Wild thing, you make my loaf spring

Ok, first an admission, I stole the post title from the lovely people at the real bread campaign. But I’m not sorry, it’s an awesome title and I just had to use it. You see this month is officially Sourdough September, Britain’s first celebration of the mighty Sourdough.

There seems to be weeks and months dedicated to all sorts of random causes these day but finally one that is truly a worthy cause.

You all know how much of a fan I am of making bread with those magical little natural yeasts and if you follow me on Instagram you are no doubt already bored of my regular loaf photos at the weekend.

Once you get into the routine of feeding your starter and making a loaf every day or every weekend it’s really the easiest thing and with just 15 minutes work in the evening you can have an awesome fresh loaf the next day.

I’ve blogged a few times about making Sourdough and you can find my recipe here which is taken from the Fabulous Baking Brothers. There seems to be a few variations out there on making a loaf but this one has worked well for me and is simple to use.

So why not join me in celebrating Sourdough September and get your own starter bubbling away in the kitchen? Once you start you really won’t regret it and I can assure that a fresh Sourdough loaf makes the most amazing bacon sandwich. If I can help at all then let me know. If you do make a loaf I’d love to see some photos too.

You can also get more information on making sourdough and finding bread making courses near you by checking out the real bread campaign website here.

I’ll leave you with some bread porn as inspiration.

Sourdough loaf

Sourdough bread porn

My nan’s Gooseberry jam recipe

I am tremendously excited to have only my 2nd ever guest post to share with you and it’s from my nan! My uncle (her son) and I chat a fair amount via G+, it’s such a great way to share photos etc but limit who can see them. This week he posted a photo of her sat in the garden topping and tailing gooseberries ready for jam so I asked if she’d share her recipe with me.

So here it is, my nan’s first ever blog post, not bad for someone who’s almost 90 years young. Would love it if you can comment and share and welcome her into this wonderful world of blogging. You never know she might be the new Mary Berry?

Gooseberry jam finished and in jars

The recipe is very simple and one I’ve been following for years, stick to the instructions and you’ll have perfect jam every time.

1) Top & Tail the fruit (scrape off the bits you don’t want)
2) Wash the fruit
3) Prepare jars – wash thoroughly and dry with clean paper towel. Good idea to also fill with baby sterilizer solution and rinse.
4) Put fruit in saucepan. Add 4 tablespoons water per lb. weight if fruit is ripe. If fruit under-ripe add 1/2 pint water per lb. weight.
5) Bring to boil and stew fruit slowly until fruit is mushy. Time probably 30 minutes.
6) Add 1 lb ordinary granulated sugar per lb of ripe fruit.
Note if fruit is under-ripe add extra 1/4 lb of sugar per lb of fruit.
Keep stirring until sugar is completely dissolved.
7) When sugar is dissolved, boil the jam rapidly without stirring.
8) When mixture has thickened like soup (not watery), after 10 to 20 minutes, test to see if ready.
8) Test by placing a little of the jam on a cold saucer. It should solidify quickly and not run easily.
9) When done, move off heat and allow to cool down for 15 minutes.
10) Prepare the clean sterilized jars by warming in the oven on lowest setting for 10 minutes.
11) Carefully ladle or pour the jam into the jars, leaving a gap of 1/4 inch to the top ( 7mm ).
12) Put the tops on the jars, but don’t tighten excessively! Leave to cool down and clean up all the spills with a damp cloth!
13) Leave for a day or two before enjoying!

Nan topping and tailing gooseberries

The ultimate ‘I’ve just been ill and need vitamins’ meal

The ultimate veggie stir fry-001

I challenge anyone to look at that photo and not start salivating. This was dinner on Wednesday night, it was a thrown together meal and it was AWESOME. Both the lady of the manor and I had been ill since Sunday with tonsillitis, our meal plan had been forgotten and we’d been mainly eating soup. On Wednesday we started to feel better and were craving some vegetables, something full of flavour and goodness to recharge our bodies.

We did what every normal person does in this situation and opened the fridge. Peppers and mushrooms were grabbed along with some broccolli, then we spotted some bacon at the bottom. From the cupboard came pine nuts and egg noodles.

All the veggies, bacon and pine nuts were thrown into a wok along with some rapeseed oil. Cooked until just soft and then tipped on top of the hot egg noodles. Pretty damn tasty already but then I had a flash of inspiration.

Put a poached egg on top.

Honestly, there are few meals that a freshly cooked poached egg can’t improve. Even better that our eggs come from chickens owned by a guy on our street making them incredibly fresh and tasty.

We added a good dash of soya sauce to the plate and then devoured it like we hadn’t eaten for a week.


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