The Ultimate Cheese Toastie

Everyone loves toasted cheese sandwiches. It’s impossible not to because they are totally delicious. However there are 2 problems with toasted sandwiches. The first is that not everyone has a toasted sandwich maker, and the second and more serious problem is that making a toasted sandwich always involves the arduous task of having to clean the burnt on cheese off of the sandwich maker once finished. Toasties always leak, and cleaning the sandwich maker is an arse. Back in the days of old when knights were off fighting dragons and jousting for fair maidens this was a deal breaker but fortunately those days are gone! I bring to you the ultimate cheese toastie and there’s not a toastie maker in sight!

This is a toastie that’s oozing with gooey molten cheese which is only just contained by a golden brown crust. This is the sort of toastie that won’t deliver anything but pure cholesterol and pleasure right to your beating heart. This is the ultimate cheese toastie.

Makes 2 sandwiches (1 unhealthy serving)

Start by cutting the crusts off 4 slices of cheap supermarket sliced loaf. Next chop up two-thirds of a ball of mozzarella into thin ribbons, and grate a small pile of cheddar cheese. Make sandwiches out of the cheese and the bread, giving it a good grind of black pepper and leaving just under 1 cm around the edges unfilled. Take this edge and squeeze it together – the great thing about cheap bread is that the slices will hopefully stick together. Then pour out a little milk into a shallow bowl, a small pile of flour onto a plate, and beat up an egg on a final plate and season it well. Then very quickly dip both sides of the sandwich into the milk, cover it with the flour, and then put it in the egg mixture and move it around to cover both sides generously.

In a frying pan heat up a knob of butter or a glug of olive oil, and get the pan hot. When it’s ready, carefully place the sandwiches into the pan and fry for a few minutes on both sides until golden brown.

Eat with ketchup, chilli sauce, or on its own. Toasties have never been better.

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Citrusy Olive Oil Almond Cake

Confession time. Baking scares me. If the ingredients aren’t measured perfectly, or if the cake doesn’t go in the oven at just the right temperature for the exact period of time and not a second longer, there is a fair chance baking will end in disaster. It just feels so much more scientific than cooking pasta or a piece of meat. Putting on that apron and bakers hat is like donning a lab coat and safety goggles, and I’ve got some serious scars from experiments gone wrong. To be good at baking, you need pipette and thermometers, measuring beakers and scales accurate to the nearest milligram, not to mention a Bunsen burner or two. At least this was what I thought before I made this cake and so it was with some trepidation that I decided to bake my housemate a birthday cake.

Because I don’t bake often, when I do commit to a bit of kitchen chemistry I don’t normally want to make a standard run-of-the-mill cake. I want to make something that sounds fancy so that when it all goes wrong I’ve got a convenient excuse. I want to push the incredibly low limits of my GCSE science, and this was when I read about a cake with olive oil. What was this madness!? This was bound to go wrong so with my safety goggles (glasses but whatever) perched at the end of my nose I set to work and incredibly my experiment was a success. Countless gases were released, colour changes took place, and it even changed from a liquid to a solid. Bona fide science.

The cake was wonderfully moist with a satisfying almondy flavour and an intriguing olive oil/citrus tang lingering in the background. The brown butter icing was rich, creamy and delicious – the perfect accompaniment to the toasted almonds which sat proudly on top. It’s seriously delicious, and the best thing is that it’s  incredibly easy so you won’t need to wait for a special occasion to make it. Time to crack out your lab coat and get baking.

Citrusy Olive Oil Almond Cake
(adapted from olive oil almond cake by Sassy Radish)

Serves 8

Cake Ingredients:

  • 150g plain flour
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 170g granulated sugar
  • 130ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1 /2 tsp almond essence
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 150ml orange juice + a small squeeze of lemon juice

For the glaze:

  • Handful of almond flakes (toasted)
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 160g icing sugar
  • 4 dessert spoons of milk (ideally whole)
  • small squeeze lemon juice

Method

1.Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease up an ~8 inch cake tin.

2. Mix the flour, ground almonds, salt and baking powder in a big bowl.

3. In another bowl whisk up the eggs briefly before adding the sugar and whisking thoroughly until well mixed. Then add the olive oil and whisk for about a minute until the mix changes colour slightly and thickens up. Finally add both extracts, zest, small squeeze of lemon juice and the orange juice and mix thoroughly.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the big bowl and whisk all of the ingredients until you have a nice smooth batter. Once you have this, pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake it in the over for between 30 to 40 minute depending on your oven and tin size, spinning it around half way through to ensure it cooks evenly. The cake is done when you poke in a knife and it comes out clean with nothing stuck to it. You’ll also know it’s done as it will look and smell delicious.Once the cake is out, let it cool for 10 minutes in the tin and then take it out and leave it to cool on an airing rack.

5. If you haven’t toasted the almonds, whack them in the still hot oven and toast them until golden brown.

6. While the cake is cooling make the glaze by melting the butter in a pan on the hob, and then keep gently heating it and spinning the pan to move the butter around. Keep going until the butter darkens slightly and smells slightly nutty and then take it off the heat. It will continue getting darker in colour as it cools off.

7. Combine the icing sugar and milk in a bowl and whisk together until smooth. I was amazed how little liquid was required so don’t go too mad with the milk. Once you’ve got a nice smooth mix, add the melted butter and whisk it all together until thick and delicious and give it a tiny squeeze of lemon juice to balance out the sweetness. Spread generously across the cake before throwing on the toasted almonds.

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Cod, Pancetta, Minted Peas, Broadbeans

I know what you’re thinking. Minted peas and pancetta; this sounds a little like one of the more exciting episodes of Come Dine With Me where the ‘zany’ host gets ideas above their station and serves the meal accompanied by a soprano they’ve drafted in for the evening… What next, scallops and black pudding? Eton Mess? But no, trust me, persevere as this is super easy, looks great, and tastes amazing.

The inspiration for this came in the way that many of my recipes start; through me buying a huge amount of something very cheap. I don’t know what it is, but I’m hardwired to love a bargain. Sometimes I know what I’m buying is a little ridiculous, but I can’t help myself. I just have to buy it and Saturday was one of those times. Ambling around Borough Market in the afternoon sun I found a huge block of pancetta for a fiver. Putty in their hands, I snapped it up and went straight home to start cooking…

Serves 2

Ingredients:

2 big handfuls of frozen peas.

1 big dollop of crème fraîche

Small handful of chopped mint leaves

Small handful of pancetta (streaky bacon)

2 handfuls of podded broad beans.

2 Cod Fillets (with or without skin)

Small knob of butter

Seasoning

I boiled up some peas for a few minutes until they were tender but still bright green (overcooking peas until they shrivel up and die is a crime) and roughly mashed them up with a fork. I added a bit of crème fraîche to bind my pea mixture slightly, and some fresh chopped mint and plenty of seasoning. This was to be the bed for the cod fillet and so I set it aside until the end.

My pancetta was a huge block so I spent a while slicing up the pancetta as thin as I could practically manage with a chefs knife, knowing that it wasn’t going to crisp up if it wasn’t really thin. Armed with my pancetta slices, I diced these up into pieces and dry fried them to release their delicious salty-savoury flavour. Once they were crisp and pretty much ready, I threw in a small bowlful of podded broad beans and heated them through.

In yet another pan (3 pans? This is posh) I heated a splash of olive oil and added the cod loin, seasoned generously on both sides, to cook for about 4 minutes. At this point it was golden brown so I flipped it over and added a small knob of butter before cooking the other side for a further 3 minutes.

To assemble the dish I made a bed of the minted peas, on top of which went the delicately placed cod fillet the broad bean and pancetta mix scattered around the edge. The soft sweet peas and gentle bite of the broad beans were a wonderful contrast to the crispy salty pancetta, and the cod flaked up into large quivering flakes which almost melted in the mouth. Voila,  a meal fit for the 4 strangers that you don’t like but invited round in the vain hope of winning the cash prize at the end of the week. My word of advice to try to resist the temptation to go overboard on the pancetta like I did – you’re guests will almost certainly mark you down for it…

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Brindisa Chorizo Grill

Friday.  Fortunately I’d bought nothing in for lunch so come mid-morning, my mind was already wondering as I assessed my lunch options. Having been looking through the  Timeout 100 Best Dishes in London, I decided to settle on a Chorizo sandwich from Brindisa at Borough Market. I managed to persuade my boss to come along with me and we walked along in the sunshine to join the sizeable queue of people waiting for their sandwiches. As we neared the front of the queue I could spell the chorizo sizzling away, a smokey sweet paprika filling my nostrils. I knew already that I’d made the right choice in coming here.

Make mine a double

Ciabatta rolls are drizzled in olive oil, and graced with a wonderfully silky Piquillo pepper, spicy Chorizo sausage, and peppery rocket crowned it off. One thing I noticed whilst waiting was that the sandwiches are very carefully assembled and not just thrown together any old how. This was sandwich making with love, and it was evident in every well-balanced bit I took. The ciabatta was soft and crumbly and almost managed to contain the paprika oil which was oozing out of the chorizo. The sausages were delicious – not too spicy, not too smokey, and the spell on the grill meant they lost that chewy cured meat texture which could have overpowered the sandwich. The Piquillo pepper added a wonderful softness to the sandwich, providing something delicate which completed the sandwich when contrasted to the big peppery rocket and spicy sausage. Absolutely delicious.

Being the greedy man I am, I went for the £4.95 option with double peppers and sausage which I can’t recommend highly enough – the bigger the filling to bread ratio the better! For those with smaller appetites the single £3.75 version should still pack a punch.

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The joys of working from home (Ham in Coca-Cola)

I recently had the joy of working at home for a day. Now before I get started, I feel an irrational need to point out a little too vociferously that I did actually do some work on the day in question and that this wasn’t just a day off. There is something about “working from home” which always leads to raised eyebrows and knowing looks from colleagues, but honestly, I did some work. Anyway, the reason I introduced this idea is because there are two wonderful things about working from home. Firstly, you can cook things that take ages and are impractical to do when you get home after work, and secondly, there is no one getting in your way in the kitchen as there normally is in my house. So with time and space at my disposal I set to work on cooking my first ever ham.

I’d never cooked ham before but couldn’t resist when I was sent out to the shops to buy baking powder for a Sunday baking session and found a huge Gammon joint heavily reduced. I was like a child on Christmas morning as I ran around with a huge prime pork joint, and in my excitement I promptly forgot half of the baking bits I’d be sent to collect. This didn’t matter; I returned triumphantly with what felt like half a pig.

Long ago I’d heard crazy things about people in the deep South cooking ham in Dr Pepper or Coca-Cola and the sweet and salty combination held massive appeal to me. Ham is of course a dish which traditionally benefits for this anyway – the classic honey mustard ham is one of the classic examples of how we’ve been blending sweet and salty foods for generations but by cooking the pork in coke I wanted to infuse the entire joint with these delicious flavours. I tracked down a Nigella Lawson recipe for Ham in Coca-Cola and set to work (cooking, not the work work I was supposed to be doing). Into a pan went the gammon, a big bottle of coke, and an onion chopped in half. Now normally waiting for things to boil is like watching paint dry; infuriatingly slow, rather dull, and quite easy to tell when it’s done. This time though, things were different.

Bringing this mixture to the boil was more intriguing that I’d thought – with the coke bubbling away like mad it appeared to be boiling long before it was which led to a rather fascinating session of watching the pot boil. Whilst it’s not something I’m planning on repeating, but the novelty entertained me this time. Once it was finally boiling away, I left it to simmer for a couple of hours whilst I returned to the rather less interesting world of work.

When the time came to take the joint out of it’s coke bath, I was amazed. The meat was incredibly soft, tender and juicy, oozing a deliciously sweet liquor. I wolfed down the scraps which fell of, and then set about preparing it for a glaze. I didn’t have all the ingredients for the glaze in the recipe so botched together my own. The first task was to scrape off the skin and most of thefat which had a horrible jelly like consistency from it’s coke emulsion, leaving just a very thin layer of fat. I studded the soft ham with a small handful of cloves, and then applied a sticky mix of plenty of English mustard, a drizzle of honey, and a few teaspoons of brown sugar. With the ham dressed, I put it in the pre-heated over on full whack and cooked it for 10 minutes until the glaze was bubbling. Any longer and I suspect it would start to dry out the meat but with the thick sticky yellow crust bubbling away I pulled it out to find the yellow crust hugging the succulent meat.

The ham was delicious – moist, flavoursome, and in plentiful supply. If I’m honest I wouldn’t know it was cooked in coke but the flavours were well-balanced with a touch of sweetness to balance out the salt. Thickly carved slices of this wonder pig, mayonnaise, rocket leaves, and tomato slices in a baguette – bliss.

 

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