1. Celebrating National Vegetarian Week 2012

    Monday 21st May 2012 marks the start of National Vegetarian Week, the UK’s annual awareness-raising campaign promoting inspirational vegetarian food and the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle. To give us some inspiration for the week,  Monica Shaw, guest blogger at Great British Chefs, talked to two of the UK’s leading vegetarian chefs to get their ideas for incorporating more vegetables into our lives.

    Ewe cheese and watermelon salad

    Blog post & Photography by Monica Shaw

    We know most of you are committed omnivores, but we also know that even meat eaters are clamouring, not just for more veg, but for more veg that actually tastes good (the popularity of Yotam Ottolenghi’s The New Vegetarian column in the Guardian and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg is testament to that).

    To give us some inspiration for National Vegetarian Week, I talked to two of the UK’s leading vegetarian chefs to get their ideas for incorporating more vegetables into our lives.

    Rachel Demuth, owner of Demuths Vegetarian Restaurant and The Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath, knows that one of the biggest factors in cooking with more vegetables is time, and it’s no surprise that her “Fast & Delicious” course is one of her best-selling cookery classes. She explains that one of the keys is keeping a well-stocked cupboard of basic ingredients from which to build a meal:

    The basics should enable you to rustle up a risotto, tasty snack, or warming stew without having to go shopping for special items. For starters: olive oil, canned tomatoes, canned beans, quinoa, couscous, lentils, and a good spice rack. For a quick solo supper, I love couscous with stir-fried seasonal veggies, topped with halloumi or marinated tofu and a sprinkling of seeds.”

    Halloumi open sandwich

    Rachel suggests that a good place to start is with a simple vegetable frittata, which can be made with any variety seasonal vegetables - wild garlic, French beans, asparagus, courgettes, carrots, broad beans - whatever you happen to have. 

    Courgette & Pea Frittata with Dill, Mint & Feta

    The frittata is a simple dish that proves you don’t have to spend hours chopping to enjoy a delicious meal”.

    Daniel Acevedo, head chef at Mildred’s vegetarian restaurant in London, suggests signing on to an organic box scheme: “I get my organic fruit and veg delivered by Riverford, which takes the guess work out of having to go to the supermarket and think about my food menu for the week.  I find if I always have a fridge full of fresh fruit and veg, throwing something together after a long day at work isn’t a hassle.”

    Pre-theatre dinner at Mildred's

    But what to throw together? Here, Daniel’s a big fan of soups and salads: an easy way for even the biggest of meat eaters to get more veg into their diets is to start with more soups and salads, both quick and easy to make and don’t require a lot of bother.”

    Roast Butternut & Cranberry Salad with Bulgur

    For some inspiration, check out Daniel’s vegan recipes for Borlotti Bean Soup with Pico de Gallo or Chunky Puy Lentil Dahl.

    There are loads of events going on all over the UK to celebrate National Vegetarian Week, from special cookery classes to veggie menus at restaurants all over the country. Or if you’re like me, take this opportunity to try a few new vegetarian recipes at home (I for one have plans for Wild Garlic Pesto and Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos).

    Will you be doing something special for National Vegetarian Week? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page

  2. Great British Menu 2012 - North West Heat Finals

    Week 5 of Great British Menu had its final judging on Friday 11th May 2012.  During a week of high drama chefs from the North West competed to impress veteran judge Marcus WareingMonica Shaw guest blogger at Great British Chefs watched the finals. After Johnnie Mountain left the show on Tuesday in response to a low score, we already knew that Simon Rogan & Aiden Byrne were in the finals. Would this make Friday’s show boring viewing?

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    If you’ve been keeping up with Great British Menu, then you know this has been a week of high drama for the North West region, with contenders Johnnie Mountain, Simon Rogan and Aiden Byrne competing for Marcus Wareing's approval. Or should we say, Simon and Aiden? Because after last Tuesday, they were the only two left when Johnnie stormed off the show in response to Marcus's dismal two point score on his fish course.

    Recreation of the Sea by Johnnie Mountain - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Whether you agree with Marcus’s judging and Johnnie’s decision is beside the point (you can add your comments to our preview post). However, the fact is, the show must go on, and go on it did.

    Johnnie’s departure guaranteed Simon’s and Aiden’s place in Friday’s judging round, which may sound like boring television, but in fact it was quite the opposite: Johnnie’s departure allowed us to witness two of Britain’s most talented chefs cook side by side amidst, not so much competition, but rather mutual respect for each other’s skills (I’m pretty sure I heard both contestants regard the other as a “genius”).

    Simon and Aiden seemed to care as much about each other’s opinions as they did that of the judges. It was a great thing to watch, and made the judging round even more interesting, because both chefs were consistently high performers from start to finish, producing knock-out dishes that seemed only to get better with each course.


    Black Cherry & Foie Gras Terrine by Aiden Bryne - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    It started with Aiden’s black cherry and foie gras terrine with palm sugar mousse, “a very confident piece of cooking" according to Matthew Fort. The main problem the judges had was its sweetness. "I love it,” said Prue, “but I could easily have it for dessert.”


    Grilled salad, truffle custard, cheese foam and cobnut crisp by Simon Rogan - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Simon’s starter was most definitely not a pudding: grilled salad, truffle custard cheese foam and cobnut crisp. Yes, vegetables. “Burnt vegetables,” said Matthew Fort, but in the best way possible. “The more it unfolds the more you realise it’s a very sophisticated dish”, said Oliver. “The contrast between acrid burnt flavour and moussey texture is extraordinary,” said Matthew.


    Beetroot poached salmon, razor clam & fennel salad by Aiden Bryne - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Aiden’s fish course - beetroot poached salmon, caviar, razor clam, citrus and fennel salad - didn’t quite hold up to the starters, with rave reviews for presentation but mixed reviews on taste. “A complete waste of a razor clam,” said Oliver, whom Matthew Fort then accused of having a “taste bud bypass”: “this is a very assured piece of cooking”.


    Lobster with pickled beetroot and sweet apple by Simon Rogan - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Simon’s lobster with pickled beetroot, sweet apple and cuckoo flower prompted less disagreement. Everyone agreed that the combination of lobster and apple was both new and delicious. They also agreed that the green cuckoo flower puree had to go. “The green stuff is seriously disgusting,” said Prue.


    Suckling pig with northern mead, vegetables and artichoke by Simon Rogan - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    On to the mains, Simon’s suckling pig with northern mead, vintage vegetables and artichoke made all of the judges swoon, particularly around what Matthew called the “perfume of pork”. The “vintage vegetables”, so called because they were stored using an old-fashioned preserving technique that involved burying them in sand - caused some contention. Matthew asked whether “techniques of the past belong on the menu of the future”. Said Oliver: “I would love to see this piggy trotting onto the Olympic menu - it’s an Olympian piece of piggy.”


    Veal Fillet with Ham & Spring Peas by Aiden Bryne - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Aiden’s veal fillet with ham and spring peas also pleased the judges who were impressed with his molecular spherification technique which used gelification to form spherical globs of pea-like morsels to the plate. Add to that little cubes of fat and you have a “revelation”, according to Matthew.


    Orange & Olive Oil Cake with candied celery by Aiden Bryne - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    This left the puddings. Aiden’s orange and olive oil cake with candied celery exuded an “air of Zen-like tranquility”, said Matthew. All of the judges were smitten with this dish, which Prue called “a little bit of genius”.


    Poached pears, atsina cress snow, sweet cheese ice cream and rosehip syrup by Simon Rogan - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Simon, too, impressed the judges with his poached pears, anise hyssop snow, sweet cheese ice cream and rosehip syrup. All of the judges commented on how “clean” the dish tasted and that they’d never had anything like it. “I don’t know what I’m eating - it’s wonderful,” said Prue.


    When it came to deciding who should go on to the final, you got a sense that none of the judges wanted to make the call - “The brief was written for your style of cooking" said Matthew. But in this "battle royale", there could be only one winner. And you really had to feel for Aiden when they announced Simon as the winner. This was Aiden’s third time on Great British Menu, and once again he was going home. 

    Well done Simon Rogan for winning the North West heat - this was not an easy round and you’ve proved that newcomers are forces to be reckoned with. 

    If you’re in the UK you can watch this episode on BBC’s iPlayer for the next few days.

    Next week, it’s the battle of the South-East and London chefs with contenders Graham Garrett (who recently joined Great British Chefs website), Marcus McGuinness and Phil Howard. You can see the full line up of chefs and judges for the Great British Menu 2012 here.

    What did you think of the results of the North West finals?  

  3. Great British Menu 2012 - Northern Ireland Heat Finals

    Week 4 of Great British Menu had final judging on Friday 4th May 2012.  During the week we saw chefs from Northern Ireland competing to impress veteran judge Richard Corrigan (who recently joined Great British Chefs site)Monica Shaw guest blogger at Great British Chefs watched the finals. All contestants had been on Great British Menu before, but who would take the Northern Ireland title? 

    Clay Pigeon Shoot by Chris Fearon - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    This week was the turn of the Northern Ireland region of Great British Menu, in which contenders Chris Bell, Chris Fearon and Niall McKenna faced off under the discriminating eye of judge Richard Corrigan. Throughout the week, Chris Bell was in his element, leaving the real drama between Chris Fearon and Niall, neither of whom seemed to be hitting the right marks with Richard. But someone had to go, and on Thursday we said goodbye to Niall, leaving the two Chrisses to prepare their four-course menus for judging panel Oliver Peyton, Prue Leith and Matthew Fort.

    Chris Fearon had a lot to prove in the finals, as during the heats he seemed perpetually struck by nerves. For all of his clever presentations, he made silly mistakes that compromised the food. But tonight he was on his game.


    Clay Pigeon Shoot by Chris Fearon - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    To start, his “Clay Pigeon Shoot” not only made the judges laugh, it also made them mmm and aah between mouthfuls of pigeon and pastilla, which had a “lovely squidgy meaty centre” according to Matthew. And when Prue questioned its remarkableness, both Matthew and Oliver agreed she was being a “killjoy”. “This is perfect for the Olympic banquet,” said Oliver, “Happiness.”


    Rabbit, black pudding and rhubarb salad with ‘tea and dumplings’ by Chris Bell - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Chris Bell also struck a win with his starter. His rabbit, black pudding and rhubarb salad with ‘tea and dumplings’ left the judges aghast with delight.

    Often dishes this complicated don’t go well together,” said Oliver, “but this is really really nice.”


    Skate Rings by Chris Fearon - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Going into the fish course, Chris Fearon continued his Olympic-themed displays with “Skate Rings”. But unlike his starter, this dish did not live up to the presentation. “This is visually a stunner,” said Oliver, “but the delivery is a colossal problem.”


    Red wine poached turbot by Chris Bell - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Chris Bell didn’t do much better with his red wine poached turbot and bourguignon of snails. “It’s horrible …tastes disgusting,” said Prue. “This pushes the boundaries of decency rather than gastronomy,” said Matthew.


    Corn-fed Lissara duck and Bakewell garnish by Chris Bell - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Chris Bell’s main course of corn-fed Lissara duck, Bakewell garnish, cocoa and basil didn’t help his case. All of the judges agreed it was too sweet, and his bakewell tart left much to be desired. “He’s obviously not a pastry chef,” said Prue.


    Spring Jump Lamb by Chris Fearon - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    In contrast, Chris Fearon’s “spring jump lamb” was called “Plastic fantastic” by Oliver, and that’s a good thing: “That lamb is absolutely delicious – I am in the field with that lamb.” However, no one cared much for his experimental molecular basil foam. Said Prue: “The green stuff… it’s slightly horrible… disgusting.”


    Summer salad of apricots, jasmine and pistachio by Chris Bell - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    In the critical final stage – dessert – Chris Bell wooed Prue and Matthew with his summer salad of apricots, jasmine and pistachio. “Very pretty,” said Prue, “I’d like an outfit in those colours.” Only Oliver wasn’t convinced: “How you can see that at an Olympic banquet is beyond me … he’s thrown the kitchen sink at it.” (Following this, Prue and Matthew stole Oliver’s plate to finish it themselves.)


    Olympic Torch by Chris Fearon - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Chris Fearon unleashed yet another gimmicky dish for his pudding: an “Olympic torch” with Greek yogurt ice cream and white chocolate shards. But this gimmick actually worked. All of the chefs agreed it wasn’t perfect, but they clearly saw the potential. “This could be fabulous,” said Oliver.” “More punch from the liquorice would be the wild card element,” said Matthew.


    After a disastrous week in the heats for Chris Fearon and an inconsistent performance for Chris Bell during the judging round, there was no obvious winner – and not in the judges’ eyes, either, as two chose “Menu B” and one “Menu A”. But it’s majority rules in Great British Menu, and ultimately “Menu B” belonged to Chris Fearon, who after his tumultuous week must be feeling, well, as he said: “Gobsmacked”.

    Well done, Chris Fearon, for winning the Northern Ireland heat! If you’re in the UK you can watch this episode on BBC’s iPlayer for the next few days.

    Next week, it’s the battle of the North West chefs with contenders Simon Rogan, Johnnie Mountain and Aiden Byrne.  You can see the full line up of chefs and judges for the Great British Menu 2012 here.

    What did you think of the results of the Northern Ireland finals? Which dish was your favourite? 

  4. National Honey Week, 7th May – 13th May 2012

    If you’ve visited the honey section of your local supermarket lately, then it’s pretty clear that people not only love the stuff, but they love it for its variety. So it’s no surprise that there’s an entire week devoted to this specialty food: National Honey Week runs from 7th May – 13th May 2012 and is a campaign by the UK Honey Association to raise the awareness of honey and encourage us to use it more frequently.  Monica Shaw guest blogger at Great British Chefs talks about her favourite honeys & shares some recipes using it

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    From New Zealand Manuka to Spanish Orange Blossom, we are a nation enamoured with honey in all its forms.

    So what makes one honey different from the next? Honey’s huge variety is due to the many types of flowers from which bees gather nectar to turn into honey, for example, Acacia, Pine, Orange Blossom, Lime, Rosemary, Thyme, Sunflower, Clover, Leatherwood and Eucalyptus. Honey can be made from the nectar from one flower or from many different flowers, and each flower contributes a unique flavour to the final result.

    Honeycombe in Chunky Honey

    Geography, too, affects the flavour of honey (you’ve probably noticed the premium on Manuka honey varieties from New Zealand). Differences in climate and soil means that the same variety of honey from Spain may have a different taste from honey produced in Britain.

    This fascination with honey’s origin has coupled with a booming interest in beekeeping amongst Brits. Beekeeping classes, events and enthusiast groups abound, from The British Beekeepers Association to the ‘Buzz Club’, a beekeeping group for children recently started in London. And it’s a good thing too, as bees become increasingly under threat from pesticides and urbanization.

    So what to do with all of this fabulous honey?

    I use honey on a daily basis, to swirl into my yogurt, to drizzle over porridge, to sweeten tea and smoothies. And also in cooking.

    Roast figs in Filo Pastry

    For example, honey is a fantastic pairing for figs, and this recipe for roast figs in filo pastry has become a favourite of mine. Honey can also be turned into a lush sauce for desserts, such as Marcello Tully’s lemon parfait with honey and whiskey sauce.

    Lemon Parfait by Marcello Tully

    Which reminds me: one cannot overlook the pleasure of a hot toddy: honey, whiskey, boiling water, plus a cinnamon stick and some lemon. The perfect antidote to a nasty cold (or a rough day).

    Honey Roasted Breast of Gressingham Duck with Griottine Cherries  by Mark Jordan

    Honey is also a brilliant match for savoury dishes, for example, Josh Eggleton’s honey mustard glazed ham and Mark Jordan’s honey-roasted duck breast.

    Honey & Mustard Dressing

    My recent favourite use of honey is in honey mustard dressing: combine 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 Tbsp honey and ½ cup olive oil. Hey Presto: a simple salad dressing that is especially beautiful with crisp crunchy raw veg, boiled egg and toasted sunflower seeds.

    Are you a fan of honey? What are your favourite ways to use it? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.

  5. Great British Menu 2012 - North East Heat Finals

    Week 3 of Great British Menu culminated on Friday 27th April 2012.  During the week  we saw chefs from the North East region competing to impress veteran judge Nigel Haworth who recently joined Great British ChefsThe winner would go on to compete in the finals at the end of the series. Monica Shaw guest blogger at Great British Chefs watched the finals. Newcomers Colin McCurran & Charlie Lakin made it through to the final, but who would take the North East title? 

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    On Thursday we saw a very disappointed Stephanie Moon take her leave, leaving Colin and Charlie to prepare their four-course menus for judging panel Oliver Peyton, Prue Leith and Matthew Fort.

    From start to finish, Charlie was on a roll in the fighting-talk department, playing super defence in an attempt to win the psychological battle against Colin. But in this game, only gastronomy counts, and here the judges didn’t pull any punches.

    Quails in the Woods by Colin McCurran - from BBC’s Great British Menu 

    Colin kicked off with his starter of ‘Quails in the woods’, a theatrical dish with a woodland presentation involving dry ice, coated quail’s eggs and chicken liver parfait. The judges agreed with Nigel, who gave the dish a mere 4/10 during the heats. Having extracted the actual food from the wilderness of their plating, Prue was not impressed with the paltry offerings: “When you get rid of the wonderful décor, this is what you’ve got, and I don’t think it amounts to gastronomy.” It didn’t help that the meat was undercooked, noted Oliver: “I’m a man who likes my meat walking but that breast is raw.”

    Charlie Lakin’s Wild rabbit with Douglas Fir Pine Needles - from BBC’s Great British Menu 

    So maybe Charlie had a chance here, both psychologically and gastronomically. His starter of wild rabbit with carrot and Douglas fir pine needles was next, but it didn’t do much better than Colin’s, with over-smoked loin and a confusing amalgamation of flavours. 

    Here’s a chef who’s trying very, very hard but he doesn’t know when to stop,” said Matthew. “He’s entered for the pentathlon when he should have entered the shotputting.”

    This left Colin and Charlie neck and neck for the fish course.

    Mullet on the sea bed by Colin McCurran - from BBC’s Great British Menu   

    Colin’s mullet on a ‘sea bed’, in which he recreated a seascape with purple potato, pomegranate, seaweed and a shimmering water made from set seaweed stock, left the judges drooling over their puns. “This is Olympic class cooking,” said Prue. “It’s gastronomic, it breaks all the boundaries, it leaps all the hurdles.”


    Charlie Lakin’s Fish cooked in a waterbath - from BBC’s Great British Menu 

    After Colin’s sea bed, Charlie’s fish cooked in a waterbath was a major disappointment of foamy proportions. “The worst thing is spoonage and massive amounts of foam,” said Prue, “and foam over beetroot is particularly dumb.”

    I don’t know if I can be bothered,” said Oliver, “if he hasn’t bothered, why should I?


    Oh well, better luck with the main course, Charlie. And better luck he had, with his Dexter beef, Littlebourne snails, marrow bone and wild garlic inspiring audible gasps of delight from the judges as the meat melted away from the bone. “Is that sexy or is that sexy?” said Prue. Matthew Fort was the only judge to complain it was boring: “the gastronomic equivalent of a really good accountant.”

    Hay Smoked Pig’s Head with mock apple & textures of onion by Colin McCurran - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Likewise, Colin’s main dish – hay-smoked pig’s head with mock apple and textures of onion – received mixed reviews. All agreed that the portions were too small, but the black pudding was, according to Oliver, “the first use of smearage in an effective manner”.


    Charlie Lakin’s Earl Grey & Strawberry Soufflé  - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    For the puddings, Charlie’s Earl Grey and strawberry soufflé with gorse flower ice cream was enjoyable, but “if I’m talking about Olympian heights of gastronomy,” said Prue, “it doesn’t crack it.”


    Chocolate, rhubarb & Custard by Colin McCurran - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Colin’s white chocolate, rhubarb and custard didn’t do much better. He changed his dish from the dark chocolate one cooked on Thursday (pictured at the start of this post). Once again presenting an unpracticed dish, his sorbet “torch” failed to catch fire. But flame or not, the dish itself was not well received.” Prue called the custard “truly horrible”, and Matthew said, “this is a classic example of a pudding that was meant to be admired, but not eaten.”

    Both Colin and Charlie had their share of wins and losses this round, with neither producing menus with consistently good dishes in the eyes of the judges. But there had to be a winner, and on Friday the judges unanimously agreed on Colin. I reckon it had something to do with that pig’s head.

    Well done, Colin, for winning the North East heat! If you’re in the UK you can watch this episode on BBC’s iPlayer for the next few days.

    Next week, chefs from Northern Ireland compete. Returning contenders Chris Fearon, Chris Bell and Niall McKenna will battle to win the favour of Richard Corrigan, a recent addition to Great British Chefs site, who will decide who goes through to Friday’s final. You can see the full line up of chefs and judges for the Great British Menu 2012 here.

    What did you think of the results of the North East finals? We’ll be discussing this over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page

  6. Easter Baking

    The coming of Easter means a long Bank Holiday weekend and with it, plenty of time to get your baking skills into full gear. And as Spring is in the air, what better time for your Easter baking to reflect this upturn in the seasons, with vibrant colours and bold flavours to match the Spring shoots and blossoms.  Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw has assembled a few of her favourite Easter baking ideas below, including a recipe for Hot Cross Buns. 

    Tim's Hot Cross Dough

    Making Hot Cross Buns - photo by Monica Shaw

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    Simnel Cake

    Simnel Cake

    Photo by Ali Elan

    The traditional Simnel cake is a sweet fruit cake that’s been eaten since medieval times as a symbolic ritual, typically topped with eleven marzipan balls to signify the eleven apostles of Christ (sans Judas!). Tradition aside, there’s a reason why this cake has stood the test of time: it’s rich, delicious and looks beautiful on the Easter feast table. Try Hobbs House’s Simnel Cake, developed by Fabulous Baker Brother Tom Herbert. Or for something a bit more bite-sized, Dan Lepard’s Simnel Cupcakes are a treat.

    Sedgemoor Easter Cakes

    More biscuit than cake (but what’s in a name?), these spiced shortbread-style goodies hail from Somerset and were traditionally tied in bundles of three to represent the Holy Trinity. If you’re after a little slice of British heritage this Easter, it doesn’t get better than this. The New York Times shares a recipe for Sedgemoor Easter Cakes adapted from ‘Good Things in England: A Practical Cookery Book for Everyday Use,’ originally published in 1932.

    Chocolate Easter Nests

    Easter 2011 - Miniature Easter 2011 - Miniature Chocolate Nests

    Photo by Stephanie Kilgast

    Three ingredients are all it takes to make these cute little chocolate nests: shredded wheat, milk chocolate and colourful chocolate mini eggs. They’re lots of fun and the perfect thing to make with the kids. Try the recipe on Gin and Crumpets.

    Easter Biscuits

    Easter cookies

    Photo by Jim Crocker

    Another kid-friendly baking idea: buttery biscuits cut into happy Easter shapes like rabbits, eggs and chicks. All you need is a basic biscuit base, some frosting and some cookie cutters. Fiona Cairn shares her basic recipe for Easter Biscuits in the Telegraph, or for something a little more grownup, try these orange-infused Easter Biscuits on AllRecipes.

    Hot Cross Buns

    TIm's Hot Cross Buns

    Photo by Monica Shaw

    What’s an Easter bake without hot cross buns? These sweet, spiced yeast buns take some time to make, but the method is straightforward and it’s time well spent. Once you bake your own, you will never buy store bought hot cross buns again. Chef Rachel Demuth of Demuths Restaurant kindly shared with us her recipe for Hot Cross Buns below.

    Recipe: Hot Cross Buns

    Makes 12


    ·         1 tbsp dried active yeast

    ·         1 tsp sugar

    ·         125ml warm water

    ·         350g strong white flour

    ·         100g strong wholemeal flour

    ·         1/2 tsp salt

    ·         2 tsps mixed spice

    ·         50g caster sugar

    ·         75g sultanas

    ·         75g dried apricots, chopped

    ·         75g mixed peel

    ·         125ml warm milk

    ·         50g butter, melted

    ·         1 egg, beaten

    Piping paste:

    ·         4 tbsps unbleached white flour

    ·         1 tbsp caster sugar

    ·         2 tbsps cold water


    ·         1 egg yolk +1 tablespoon milk

    ·         2 tbsps sugar + 2 tbsps water


    1.      In a bowl mix the dried yeast with the sugar and add the warm water, whisk, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place until frothy which takes about 10-15minutes.

    2.      In a large mixing bowl, sieve the flour and add the salt, mixed spice, caster sugar, sultanas, dried apricots and mixed peel.

    3.      Make a well in the centre and pour in the frothy yeast, warm milk, melted butter and beaten egg. Mix well with your hands into a sticky dough.

    4.      Lightly flour a work surface, turn the dough out and kneed the dough for 5 minutes until soft and smooth.

    5.      Place the dough in a clean oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for 60 minutes until it has doubled in size.

    6.      Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and gently kneed the dough. Roll the dough into a sausage and divide up into 12 equal pieces, using scales to be precise.

    7.      Roll each piece into a round ball.

    8.      Line a baking tray or two with baking parchment and arrange the balls in lines, not quite touching.  Leave in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes or until the buns have doubled in size.

    9.      While the dough is rising preheat the oven to 220C and make the piping paste.

    10.  To make the piping paste, mix the flour sugar and water together into a smooth paste.

    11.  Put into a piping bag fitted with a small, plain nozzle.

    12.  Beat the egg yolk and milk together for the egg wash.

    13.  When the buns have risen, make a indent of a cross on each bun using a blunt knife. Brush with the egg wash and then pipe a cross on each bun.

    14.  Put the buns in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.

    15.  While the buns are baking, make the sticky glaze. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat.

    16.  As soon as the buns come out brush them with the glaze. Transfer to a wire rack with out pulling them apart and leave to cool.

    17.  When cool enough pull apart, slice in half, apply butter and enjoy!

    Post for Great British Chefs by  Monica Shaw

    So what are you baking this Easter?  Are you inspired to try making your own Hot Cross Buns?  Will you and your family try some more chocolately delights? There’s plenty in our Easter Recipe Collection at Great British Chefs.  We’d love to hear your plans over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.

  7. Celebrating International Waffle Day

    March 25th marks International Waffle Day, a tradition with Swedish origins which is now celebrated around the world.  Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw helps us prepare for the day by sharing her favourite waffle recipe.  She also looks at a number of ways we can enjoy the humble waffle, including a bacon jam waffle sandwich! But enough waffling, onto her post

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    In Sweden, the occasion is called Vårfrudagen (“Our Lady’s Day”) and is celebrated nine months before Christmas on the day that the Virgin Mary was told that she was pregnant. According to Mr. Breakfast, the day eventually became associated with the first day of spring, when women would set aside their winter chores and move on to spring tasks, including making waffles. (Note: There is some contention about the origins of Waffle Day. I personally prefer my made-up theory that the association between waffles and “Our Lady’s Day” is due to the Virgin Mary’s insistence that she celebrate her conception with an ample waffle feast with which to nourish her growing unborn son).

    Mom's Breakfast

    Enough history, let’s get to the eating. I admit to being quite a traditionalist when it comes to waffles. My favourite recipe (below) evolved from something I found in the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook ages ago: a basic blend of flour, eggs, milk, butter and baking powder. I don’t add sugar to the batter – I save the sweet stuff for the toppings, which almost always involves good maple syrup, and often loads of fresh fruit, whipped cream and toasted nuts (banana and pecan is a winning combination).

    But with Waffle Day upon us, perhaps it’s time to break from tradition and consider other ways in which we might enjoy the humble waffle. The internet is full of inspiration:

    ·         Asparagus-Parmesan-Quinoa Waffle - The Golden Yolk adds veggies, cheese and grains to her waffle batter and tops it with various savories such as eggs, bacon and salsa.

    ·         Savory Cornmeal Waffle & White Bean Chicken Chilli - We love beans on toast, why not beans on waffles? And I’m digging the addition of cornmeal to the batter in this recipe from a chow life.

    ·         Waffle Sandwich – Sounds crazy, and yet foodie with family’s recipe for Bacon Jam, Avocado and Gorgonzola Waffle Sandwiches looks and sounds almost decadent.

    ·         Tosada Waffles – I’m not sure whether the Mexican food lover in me is repulsed or intrigued by this recipe from Betty Crocker.

    These variations sound like fun, but in the end, I’ll probably go back to my tried and true recipe, printed below for your waffle-making pleasure.

    My Favourite Waffles



    ·         1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

    ·         1 teaspoon baking powder

    ·         1/4 teaspoon salt

    ·         2 eggs

    ·         1 3/4 cups milk

    ·         1/2 cup melted butter (or vegetable oil)


    1.      In a large mixing bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

    2.      Separate the eggs. Add the yolks, milk and melted butter to the dry ingredient mixture and mix.

    3.      Place the egg whites in a small mixing bowl and beat until moderately stiff.

    4.      Fold the egg whites into the mixture.

    5.      Ladle mixture into a hot waffle iron and bake.

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    Do you love waffles? How do you like to serve them? Tell us about your favourite toppings, sweet or savoury!  We’re discussing this over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.

  8. Guinness Mushrooms on Toast

    Preparing for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw has been brainstorming various ways to use Guinness in her cooking. Earlier this week she posted 5 Great Recipes Using Guinness, and now she puts Guinness to the test in a variation of the classic dish, mushrooms on toast.  Here’s the recipe.

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    I credit the idea of this to the stout-masters themselves, who have a recipe for Guinness Mushrooms on Toast on their website. I’ve done a simplified version, adapting Mark Bittman’s sautéed mushrooms to use Guinness instead of white wine.

    The result is really something special. The Guinness turns ordinary sautéed mushrooms into something far deeper, richer almost nutty in flavour. I like to slice the mushrooms in quarters rather than slices – the larger pieces are a good balance to the rich Guinness gravy, and also offer a bit of bite and texture to the dish.  The toast must be a good bread to stand up to these full flavours – I recommend a strong crusty sourdough or a hearty wheat loaf.  

    I also recommend a chilled pint glass, because you won’t use the whole can of Guinness making this recipe, and it’d be a shame to let the extra go to waste.

    Guinness Mushrooms on Toast


    • 1/2 cup olive oil or butter
    • 1 pound assorted mushrooms, sliced or quartered
    • a few dried porcini mushrooms (optional)
    • 1/4 cup Guinness (or more to taste)
    • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
    • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
    • Salt and pepper
    • Good bread

    Guinness Mushrooms on Toast


    1.     If using porcini mushrooms, soak them in hot water until rehydrated then finely slice.

    2.     Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add mushrooms and a pinch or two of salt to coax out the moisture. Cook 10-15 minutes, or until tender.

    3.     Add the Guinness and let it bubble away, about 1 minute.

    4.     Turn heat to low, add garlic, and cook for one minute longer. Remove from heat.

    5.     Serve on toasted bread, garnished with parsley.

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    Which recipes would you suggest for a St Patrick’s Day dinner or snack?  How have you used Guinness in dishes?  Livening up a sauce? In a stew or hotpot or even as a dessert or cocktail.  Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.

  9. 5 Great Recipes Using Guinness

    With St Patrick’s Day approaching on 17th March we had heard that  resident vegetarian Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw was fond of the odd glass of Guinness. We asked if she knew of any ways to have her Guinness and eat it too?  Here’s her five favourite recipes  

    Blog post & photography above by Monica Shaw

    I’m only 25% Irish, but I’m 100% about the Guinness. And with St. Patrick’s Day approaching this Saturday, 17th March, I’ve been looking at ways to enjoy Guinness beyond the perfect pint and incorporate the famous stout into my cooking. After all, we cook with wine, booze and ale - why not Guinness?

    In my quest to discover new ways to have my Guinness and eat it too, here are a few recipes that have inspired me:

    Guinness Mushrooms on Toast

    When trying to think of foods that would pair well with Guinness, my mind immediately turned to mushrooms, followed shortly after by toast. Here, the Guinness brew-masters themselves step up with their own recipe for Guinness Mushrooms on Toast.  Perhaps I should try again with a bit of porcini mushrooms, or would that detract from the Guinness?  I’ll just have to make it and find out.

    Guinness Bread

    guinness treacle bread
    Photography by Emily Muldoon

    My love for mushrooms on toast has a great deal to do with my love for good bread, and I’m especially enamored with granary loaves that include malted grain. A-ha moment: I can get that malty goodness from Guinness, too. Case in point: SlashFood’s Guinness and Onion bread, a hearty loaf made with wholemeal and white flour, flecked with onions. Could this be the perfect toasting bread for those Guinness mushrooms I mentioned?

    Vegetable Guinness Stew

    Many of us are familiar with the classic steak and Guinness pie, but I like this idea for a Vegetable Guinness Stew on the Kitchn. Again, mushrooms come into play, along with lots of potato carrots, onions and celery. What could be more Irish than a hearty stew? Perhaps a bit of Irish Soda Bread to go with it?

    Guinness Onion Soup

    I’m a huge fan of French Onion Soup, so when I stumbled upon this recipe for French Onion Soup with Guinness at KitchenDaily, I got kind of excited. Guinness should pair perfectly with the earthy flavours of onion. Topped with good bread and some melty Irish cheddar, I can’t think of a better way to give kudos to the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day (aside from washing it all down with a pint of Guinness, followed by some Chocolate Guinness Cake).

    Chocolate Guinness Cake

    Chocolate Guinness Cake
    Chocolate Guinness Cake photo by sally_monster

    This post wouldn’t be complete without at least one recipe that involves chocolate and Guinness, one of the most perfect flavour pairings in the world. And I must confess, I love Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Chocolate Guinness Cake, a full-flavoured cake. Either that or a nice scoop of David Lebovitz’s Guinness Ice Cream.

    Even after I write this post, I keep stumbling on more inspiring recipes using Guinness, for example, Hank Shaw’s Guinness and Molasses Bread and BBC’s Guinness Rarebit. Still, I want more! Who else out there is cooking with Guinness? Will you be making anything special for St. Patrick’s Day? Let us know on Great British Chefs Facebook Page

    Blog post  by Monica Shaw

  10. Vegging Out at the Organic Farm Shop

    Would you be inspired to cook more vegetarian food if it was beautiful to look at?This is the question that our resident vegetarian Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw often asks herself. Here she writes about one of her favourite places locally to buy and eat food - The Organic Farm Shop - a place that inspires her.  

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    A meal is only as good as the ingredients that go into it. This is as true for vegetarian cuisine as it is for anything else. In fact, it’s crucial: when you subsist on a vegetable-based diet, it’s pretty important that those veggies taste good.  In fact, I think more people – vegetarians and omnivores included – would be inspired to cook more veg if the ingredients were beautiful to look at and undeniably delicious to eat.

    For this reason (amongst others) I am hugely grateful to live just a few miles from The Organic Farm Shop in Cirencester. It’s an impressive operation: the farm grows loads of veg in plots and in polytunnels, and also rears chickens, cows and pigs. It’s all Soil Association certified organic, and you can really taste the difference. Their carrots are the sweetest I’ve ever tasted; their egg yolks are the colour of the sun; their cavolo nero is so good that I once bought three bunches of it to take with me on holiday to the States because I couldn’t bear to go two weeks without my kale fix.

    Stuffed Squash

    They also have a café that is vegetarian every day of the week except Sundays, when they do a Sunday Roast with their own meat, and a few veg options too. On one particular visit I had a beetroot and horseradish tart that completely opened my eyes to beetroot, thus proving the power of quality ingredients to transform a dish and a person’s palette.

    Much of this quality difference has to do with seasonality.

    “The café follows the vegetable garden very closely,” says Hilary Chester-Master, who runs the farm with her husband, Will. “At the moment, the cooks are under instruction to weave their magic with leeks, carrots, onions, kales, parsnips, potatoes, and sweet squashes, particularly crown prince. “

    As a veg-loving foodie, I’ve found this approach inspirational. I love to see what they’re doing in the café to inspire my own cooking at home.

    The Organic Farm Shop

    “The fundamental idea is to start the thought process of what to serve daily with these vegetables in mind,” says Hilary. “This might feel very restrictive to most chefs, but it is the only way for us as we feel so passionately about using really seasonal ingredients. So the menu might one day have leeks as the centre, not only of the soup of the day, but also the main meal of the day!”

    The Organic Farm Shop

    Hilary has taken this interest in ingredients beyond the shop and to various programmes designed to broaden people’s appreciation for seasonal veg and the process of growing them. For example, Farm Day Camp is a new a 3-day camp for 8-11 year olds where they learn all about growing, producing, cooking and eating food in a fun way.  Meanwhile, the Earth Works Project is a social enterprise to develop a safe framework within the farm for people to gain skills in horticulture and agriculture.

    No doubt, the closer you are to ingredients and where they come from, the easier it is to appreciate their quality differences. So when I go to the Organic Farm Shop and drive past their chickens, veg beds and polytunnels, it feels pretty awesome to see the source of my food and know that it’s all very well looked-after.  The best bit, of course, is what comes out of it in my kitchen. Cooking and eating vegetables just wouldn’t be as inspiring without their beautiful veg to work with.

    The Organic Farm Shop is located on Abbey Home Farm in Cirencester and is open every day of the week except Mondays. In addition to fruit, veg, milk and eggs, the shop also has a huge grocery stocked with everything from dried beans to tofu to tempeh (staples of the vegetarian’s larder!). You can find out more about The Organic Farm Shop on their website, on Twitter and on Facebook.

    The Organic Farm Shop has inspired me to cook with more vegetables, but what inspires you? Has there been a specific place, ingredient or dish that really blew your mind? How does that affect your own choices when shopping for and cooking with veg? We’re discussing these questions over on Great British Chefs Facebook page. 

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

  11. National Marmalade Week: Escape the Ordinary

    National Marmalade Week (25th February – 3rd March 2012) begins this weekend, and whether you’ve got a forgotten jar of orange marmalade in the fridge, or have made some of your own with the season’s Seville oranges, now is a fine time to celebrate one of our most beloved preserves.   Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw  looks at what to do with marmalade, in addition to spreading it on toast.


    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    Most of us reserve our marmalade noshing for the morning, where toast and butter make a perfect delivery device for the bittersweet tang of orange marmalade. But to make the most of this week, I set out to find more ways to make use of marmalade beyond the breakfast table.


    I have an obsession with raw kale salad at the moment, dressed in lemon and oil and adorned with oranges, hot red chilies and toasted sunflower seeds. Today I kicked up the orange factor with a blob of marmalade – this is definitely my new favourite way to eat a kale salad.

    Raw Kale Salad Marmalade Experiment

    If you’re feeling just a tad more ambitious, you could also turn marmalade into a simple vinaigrette by mixing with vinegar, olive oil salt and pepper. Toss with spinach and mandarin oranges for a quick, refreshing salad. A few toasted almonds wouldn’t hurt either (recipe: Spinach Salad with Mandarin Oranges).

    Or you can do like Essex Eating of Bristol’s Montpelier Basement Supper Club and make Marmalade croutons to go in an ewes cheese salad.

    As a Marinade or Glaze

    Asian stir fries often make use of orange, so why not orange marmalade?

    Add a dollop of marmalade to a stir-fry along with the soy sauce, or make a tangy sauce as in this recipe for Asian Vegetable Stir Fry with Sesame Chilli Orange Sauce.

    I can say from experience that orange marmalade can be made into a terrific marinade for tofu, as I discovered with this recipe for Marmalade Tofu with Kale and Lemon Pearl Couscous.

    Marmalade Tofu with Kale and Lemon Pearl Couscous

    Photo by teenytinyturkey

    Omnivores, try using orange marmalade as a glaze for meat, chicken and fish, for example, Roast Chicken with Orange Marmalade Glaze, Marmalade Glazed Salmon or marmalade-maker Tiptree’s Chicken Breast with Marmalade and Mustard Glaze.

    Similarly, orange is delicious with cruciferous veg like kale (as noted above) and brussels sprouts. Try roasting brussels sprouts tossed in a bit of olive oil mixed with marmalade and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. A little chilli might be nice, too.

    Creative Baking

    Orange Marmalade

    Of course, being a sweet preserve, marmalade is brilliant in baked goods. Its tartness works particularly well when balanced by rich cream or eggy custard. To that end, both this Cream Cheese Crostata with Orange Marmalade and Claire McDonald’s Marmalade Tart both seem the perfect treat for National Marmalade Week.

    Consequentially, if you just can’t decide to do with marmalade this week, then listen to science and take a cue from researchers at University of Chester who claim to have discovered the perfect way to eat marmalade.

    Blog post by Monica Shaw for Great British Chefs

    How do you like to enjoy your orange marmalade? Got any favourite recipes that use marmalade? Do you think it should just be reserved for the breakfast table?  Please share your ideas on Great British Chefs Facebook page.

  12. Savoury Pancakes for Pancake Day or any day!

    Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day is on 21st February. It’s a day for eating, tossing and racing with pancakes. But pancakes aren’t only for breakfast or on Pancake Day. Last weekend Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw went on a mission to discover some amazing savoury pancakes that are well-suited for lunch or supper, be it on Pancake Day, or any day of the week.

    Photography & post by Monica Shaw

    Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day is on 21st February. It’s a day for eating, tossing and racing with pancakes. But pancakes aren’t only for breakfast or on Pancake Day. Last weekend I went on a mission to discover some amazing savoury pancakes that are well-suited for lunch or supper, be it on Pancake Day, or any day of the week. 

    Russian Blinis

    Savoury pancakes are not uncommon.  For example, potato pancakes are delicious – I grew up with these served in the Polish tradition with sour cream and applesauce.  I’m also a long-time fan of savoury buckwheat crepes (vegan or otherwise), particularly when filled with sautéed mushrooms or mashed potato and onion (again, that’s my Eastern European heritage flexing its influence). 

    Last weekend I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and explore other means of savoury pancake consumption.

    Russian Buckwheat Blinis

    Russian Blinis

    Tip-toing from my Polish roots, I first paid a visit to my Russian neighbours and their blinis, little buckwheat pancakes often served as canapés with sour cream and smoked salmon or caviar.

    Having never made blinis before, I followed The Guardian’s instructional article on how to cook perfect blinis. Word to the wise: if you want buckwheat blinis, make sure you start a few hours ahead.  Blini batter uses yeast which takes a few hours to develop, but the results are worthwhile. The batter includes crème fraiche that, along with the buckwheat, give the pancakes a nice tang, whilst caraway seeds lend a pleasant aroma that does indeed beg for sour cream.

    Blinis are tasty on their own, but they really beg for a savoury topping to turn them into a meal. I wanted to go veggie with these blinis so I had to think outside of the box.  My first topping was simple: sour cream, roasted red peppers and chives. I used roasted red peppers from a jar which made this dead easy.

    For my second topping, I made the recipe for tofu, mushroom and hazelnut pate that I learned last year at The Vegetarian Cookery School. This was good, though I learned after taking the photo that it’s even better if you garnish the pate with a bit of pickled walnut.

    The verdict: with a little patience and a couple tasty toppings, buckwheat blinis make a lovely supper with a glass of red wine. They do take a little time, though, so best to leave these pancakes for the weekend! 

    Indian Chickpea Flour Pancakes

    Indian chickpea flour pancakes

    Following the blinis, it was time to really push some boundaries and head east to India, where I discovered the Besan Cheela, a popular north Indian street food. The recipe at mytastycurry.com offers a simple base recipe: chickpea flour, water, fresh coriander, chilli and salt get mixed into a batter, then cooked as you would any ol’ pancake in a hot nonstick pan.

    I mentioned this to fellow Great British Chefs blogger Urvashi Roe who turned me on to her Gujarati version of the chickpea pancake, made with chickpea flour and yogurt (rather than water) to create a delicate, almost egg-like pancake. Furthermore, Urvashi’s recommended blend of spices are superb.

    Indian chickpea flour pancakes

    Verdict: These really won my heart. Indian chickpea pancakes are easy, healthy, gluten-free, totally vegan (when made with water) and the ideal delivery advice for pickles and chutney. The yogurt-based pancakes are VERY delicate, however, so I recommend that newbies to chickpea pancakes start with the water-based version. However you make them, Urvashi’s spice blend (given below) can’t be beat.

    Basic Indian chickpea flour pancake recipe:

    3 cups yogurt (or 1.5 cups water)

    1 cup chickpea flour

    1 tsp each salt and chilli

    1 tsp each ground cumin and coriander (optional)

    ¼ tsp each ajowan seed and turmeric (optional)

    Fresh ginger and garlic (optional)

    Fresh coriander leaves

    Simply whisk everything together, adding a bit more water to get a consistency that will spread out in the pan (it might take a few pancakes to get this right). 

    Heat a nonstick pan on medium and smear it with oil. Take a ladel-fulls of batter (I used a ¼ cup measuring cup for this) and swirl it swiftly in the pan to get a pancake.

    Cook the pancake on one side until it’s almost completely dry on top and golden on the bottom (you may have to adjust the heat to keep it from burning).  Flip the pancake and cook until the other side is golden, too.

    Italian Farinata / Socca

    Now, since we’re talking chickpea flour, a shout-out must also be given to farinata (aka socca), an Italian chickpea flour pancake very similar to the Besan Cheela, but made with olive oil and fresh rosemary. You can serve the pancake simply as is, or top it with roasted veggies (eggplant is great) and a nice sauce like puttanesca. You can find a basic recipe for farinata on my blog.

    Farinata with baked eggplant and olive and caper sauce

    By the end of the weekend, I was left with a LOT of leftover pancakes. Which is fine, because they all freeze well and will bring me numerous easy-peasy savoury pancake suppers for many days to come.

    Blog post by Monica Shaw for Great British Chefs

    Will you be cooking up some savoury pancakes for Shrove Tuesday? What are your favourite savoury pancake ideas? We’ll be discussing this over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.