Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A pudding to make my diet crumble: Apple and elderflower crumble

Crumbles really are smile inducing things. There isn't a much finer pud than hot fruit waiting to be discovered through a thick layer of sugary, ever so slightly salty, buttery rubble. When I was a kid, the measure of a good crumble was whether it was one of those types that 'stuck to your ribs', that is, it had that right balance of sharp fruit but the crumble was gooey as it had part collapsed into the lovely liquor given off from the apples, or the rhubarb (particularly rib sticking) or whatever fruity sidekick you had chosen. A good crumble should have a pleasing soporific effect, as once it sticks to your ribs and leaves you smiley, you then feel the need for a bit of a doze, post lunch, in a crumble daze. And they are easy to make, great for using up dodgy looking fruit... in fact, I am failing to find the negative here.

The crumbles of my youth were either apple or rhubarb, the latter, oozing a greeny and pinky hue from under a delicious golden rubble. Apple ones were just as delicious, mostly, but were generally lighter in texture, and that's no bad thing. But if you didn't know your apples, you might end up with a pale green pulp redolent of apple sauce which wasn't quite the effect desired. That is why, in my opinion, you shouldn't let a Bramley apple near a crumble - A personal view admittedly. I like chunk, sweet appley chunk, with a waft of cinnamon in the vicinity.

I decided to add a splosh of elderflower cordial to the mix for two reasons. One: apple and elderflower is delicious, and two: It was in the cupboard and I often like to add it to sparkling water. Whilst the finished dish will not have you thinking 'Wow! Elderflower!' I do think it adds a hint of something quite pleasant.

The crumble recipe I give here is very approximate. Indeed, I recommend you don't follow it because you will have your own idea about how you like your crumble. And the recipe I use changes every time. Basically, I am looking for something that looks like biscuits that have been bashed with a rolling pin, which when you taste it raw, should be rubbly, sweet, salty, 'buttery' and these days nutty. And you need plenty of it: Now is not the time for restraint when it comes to making a crumble. I want some of the underside to dissolve into the fruity soup below, to give that rib sticking effect, and I want the top to caramelise nicely as the butter and sugar mingle and melt. I would also be extremely disappointed if some of the molten fruit did not seep up through the edges of the rubble, creating pools of dense fruitiness here and there.

Yes, I'm smiling.

Apple and elderflower crumble

Serves 4, plus Lola and Finn.


Six to eight firm, sweet eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into wedges
1 tbsp lemon juice
25g butter
50g sugar, added to taste. You may need slightly more or slightly less, and for that you need to taste the mixture
50ml elderflower cordial
1 tsp cinnamon

For the crumble: You may need to vary the quantities and my advice is taste a little of the crumble.

150g plain flour or maybe wholemeal if you fancy
150g butter
a pinch of salt
a handful of walnuts, finely chopped or blitzed. (Or other nuts of your choosing)
1 tsp cinnamon
50g sugar - could be white, demerara, soft brown.


Peel, core and quarter the apples and coat them in the lemon juice in a bowl to stop them browning.
Melt the butter over a gentle heat in a frying pan.

Add the apples. Coat them in the melted butter mixture and leave to soften on a gentle heat for a few minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent them from sticking and browning.

Add some of the sugar, the elderflower cordial and the cinnamon. Stir to combine and leave to blip away for a few minutes. Taste the liquid. You might feel it needs more sugar.

Pierce the apple slices with a sharp knife. They should be cooked or almost cooked. Transfer the apple mixture to a suitable dish.

For the crumble, combine the butter and the flour and either rub between your fingertips to combine or else whizz in a food processor. Add the sugar, salt and cinnamon and walnuts. Mix to combine.

When you are happy with the crumble mixture, top the fruit with it. I like to have about half an inch of crumble mix on top. If there is any crumble mixture over I tend to put it in a container in the fridge and make another crumble soon.

Place in the oven, on a baking tray to avoid any oven cleaning later on, at 180c for about 30 - 40 mins, or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling up the sides. Remove to oven and allow to rest for about 5 - 10 minutes as it will be very hot.

Serve with vanilla ice cream maybe, or cream maybe, or custard, definitely...and prepare to smile.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Spice up your life with Sweet Chilli (or chili) Pork Balls

These look suspiciously like meatballs don't they? See, I told you that meatballs would make an appearance again soon, seeing as they bring happiness to us here chez Lola and Finn. These are different in that they have an eastern influence more than a Mediterranean one which is where most of the meatball meals I make find some sort of origin. I like the zinginess of these and the distinct lack of faff, if you have a food processor to whizz up the ingredients in of course. If you don't have one of those big whizzers then one of those dinky little ones is good for blitzing the herbs and spices before you add them to the pork mince and get your hands involved.

This recipe comes courtesy of a recipe card from probably my favourite supermarket, Waitrose (Its challenger being Booths, which I also adore, being a Lancashire lass). As I work near a Waitrose, a sign that my teaching is over for the week is a trip to Waitrose before I go and pick Lola and Finn up and resume 'hands on mum' duties. I could spend hours in there, perusing all the 'hard to get' ingredients, the gorgeous looking cakes, their extensive Rioja collection and sampling the wares of the deli. It is my ideal shopping trip and sadly I derive more enjoyment from filling my trolley there than I would going clothes' shopping, being that I am a slave to cooking rather than a slave to fashion.

I have adapted this recipe by upping the coriander content a little and instead of grilling the meatballs, I like to put them in the oven to cook which takes longer but I have a temperamental grill. I have also upped the amount of chilli sauce as I thought the original was a bit stingy. I have listed the mint as optional in the recipe because I don't always use it.

Chilli pork balls, adapted from Waitrose

  • Ingredients
  • 2 large shallots, chopped or a medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 lemon grass sticks, tough outer layers removed, insides roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp mint, chopped (optional)
  • 2 tbsp coriander, leaves and stalks chopped, plus extra for garnish
  • 1½ tsp cornflour
  • 500g essential Waitrose pork mince
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 5 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the shallots or onion, spring onions, garlic and lemon grass in a food processor and whiz until very finely chopped. Add the mint, coriander, cornflour, pork, fish sauce and plenty of seasoning and pulse until well combined.

Shape the mixture into balls – wet your hands frequently to stop the mixture sticking. Place the pork balls on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and drizzle some of the sweet chilli sauce. Then place them in a hot oven, for about 20 - 25 minutes, or until the balls have started to caramelise and the fat is running from the meatballs. Spoon over more of the sweet chilli sauce if you wish.

Serve with noodles or rice, and I like lots of pak choi or steamed or briefly stir fried vegetables. I also like to drizzle a little bit extra chilli sauce if you like.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Lancastrian and proud! Lancashire Hot Pot

And proud I am, as this is one of the meals that makes me all fuzzily sentimental for my youth. Lancashire Hot Pot, the banquet of the masses, designed to feed a crowd cheaply and healthily after a long day in the fields, or down a pit, or up a chimney or any other places that grainy pictures of the industrial north might take you to. However, it is not as grim up north as people might think when you have this to come home to. For me, hot pot goes hand in hand with winter, the fire in the grate, a table full of chattering hungry mouths.

Whilst teaching might be my industry now, I am as happy to see the scalloped, pretty top of a hot pot as my ancestors probably were. Indeed when I was small, this was the best bit, the thin potato, crisped at the edges by the heat of the oven, their soft underbellies braised and flavoured by lamb stock. And unbelievably once upon a time it used to be usual to put oysters in a hot pot, when oysters were a food of the poor. How times change.

This is my version, enhanced by years of Lancastrian blood, not necessarily the same as next door's version, or the one that they cook the other side of town. Like all dishes with heritage, the original has been copied, then tweaked, the re-tweaked as the years have gone by. But, it's good. Really good. And you must serve pickled red cabbage with it. And thick crusty well buttered bread. This is not a time for refined dining; just pull up a chair, dig in and fill your boots. You're most welcome.

Lancashire Hot Pot

Serves 6, or 5 plus Lola and Finn


Olive oil (or butter if you're so inclined)
50g well seasoned plain flour
600g stewing lamb (neck, chop, leg...) cubed or cut into bitesize chunks
two onions, sliced
4 carrots, roughly chunked
1/2 swede, chunked
8 - 12 potatoes, depending on size, some quartered for the stew, the rest sliced about half a centimetre thick to decorate the top
a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
about 500ml lamb stock (I make a strong stock from two stock cubes)
salt and pepper


Take the lamb and cover the chunks in the seasoned flour. In a suitable pot or large frying pan fry off the lamb in batches until well browned on all sides. Remove to a plate and repeat the procedure until all the lamb has been browned. You will probably have to add a bit of oil after each batch.

Add the onions to the dish and any seasoned flour that is left. Fry off the onions briskly, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan as the onions release their juices. Cook the onions until starting to soften but only expect to see a slight browning on the edges of the onion slices.

Note: If you are using a frying pan I would suggest that you transfer the contents of the frying pan to your casserole dish at this stage, then add the stock to the frying pan to deglaze it before then pouring that into the casserole dish. If you have a dutch oven or cast iron pot then carry on using the method below. Casserole dish users: Follow the method below but don't put the stock in as indicated below, as you have already done it!

Return the meat and its juices to the pan

Add the carrots and the swede, lower the heat, mix and cook for about five minutes, then add the quartered potatoes. Mix and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the stock. It should only come up to the level of the vegetable and meat; no more. Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce (I put in about 10 because I like the warmth it gives) and add salt and pepper. Give the stew a stir.

Preheat the oven to 180c

Top the stew with the remaining potatoes in a circular motion, layering each piece of potato on the one before. When you have completed the layering, season generously with salt and pepper.

Cover the casserole and place in the oven for about two hours, though check from time to time. You can usually smell it when it's done. You could obviously cook this slower at a lower temperature.

For the last 20 minutes of cooking, remove the lid and return to the oven to allow the top to colour up.

When you remove the stew from the oven, let it rest for a few minutes as it will be extremely hot.

Serve in bowls with lashings of pickled red cabbage, or beetroot, and plenty of crusty bread and butter to mop up the juices.

Glorious! And if you have leftovers, even better the next day!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Making pizza with Lola and Finn - Homemade pizza

Lola and Finn love the whole pizza thing. And whilst I admit to a weakness for a Domino's Vegetarian Deluxe (seriously!), I do like us to make our own. And so do Lola and Finn. There not massively interested in the whole pizza dough making rigmarole, (except when I have forgotten to retrieve it from the mantelpiece above the fire and it looks like it is starting to escape - then it's exciting!) when it comes to toppings then Lola and Finn are right in the zone, picking their salami, their ham... How much mozzarella is too much? More tomato sauce please! ...and on it goes.

I know this is a way of trying to get vegetables into kids, but with Lola and Finn it fails, with their pizzas being cheese laden meaty affairs, so I make a tomato sauce and try to hide the vegetables that way, if I have a mind to.

The pizza dough recipe is Gino D'Acampo's, from his 'I' 'The Italian Diet' (shame I don't follow that recipe as closely as maybe I should...) and the tomato sauce is my creation. The quantity here makes four nicely filling pizzas, and any leftover tomato sauce usually makes an appearance later in the week a top of a pile of fusilli pasta.

The toppings I list here are not exhaustive; they are merely suggestions based on what we have used in the past. This is all about creativity so go where your pizza craving takes you.

Homemade Pizza

Makes 4 generous size individual pizzas


For the dough:

1/2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons dried yeast
280ml warm water
360g strong plain flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing

Tomato sauce:

A glug of olive oil
One onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
Two tins of tomatoes (I use tinned cherry tomatoes)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 tablespoon basil pesto (very optional!)
salt and pepper to taste


Grated cheese
Cooked chicken
Diced peppers
Sliced tomatoes
Basil leaves.... and so on.....

First, prepare the pizza dough. Mix the salt and yeast together in a jug with the water. Sift the flour into a large bowl, make a well in the centre and add the water mixture, along with the olive oil. Use a wooden spoon to mix everything well to create a wet dough or just put the dry ingredients together and then add the liquids and knead using the dough hook on a mixer, which is what I do. If you are working by hand, turn out the dough onto a clean well-floured surface and work it with your hands for about 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

Place in a greased bowl and cover with a tea-towel or greased cling film. Leave in a warm place to rest for at least 30 minutes until the dough nearly doubles in size. I tend to leave it as long as it takes me to make the tomato sauce.

To make the tomato sauce. In a big enough frying pan, put a glug of oil over s medium heat and fry the onion until translucent but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Then add the tinned tomatoes and the oregano. Press the tomatoes to squash them if necessary.

Allow the tomatoes to cook down until the sauce visibly thickens. Stir the mixture occasionally to prevent it sticking. When you're happy with the consistency, taste and add salt and pepper as required. Put into a bowl to allow it to cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 220c, Gas 7.

Knock the dough back and knead a little. Cut into four equal size pieces and try(!) to form each piece into a pizza base - something I am yet to manage with massive success.

Put each base onto an oiled baking sheet and then allow the topping to commence!

One the pizzas are topped, place into the hot oven for about 10 - 15 minutes. Obviously the thicker the dough and the more 'adventurous' the topping may require more cooking. I tell Lola and Finn that their pizza will be soggy if they pile it too high, and indeed the best pizzas are the ones that are more modestly topped (like mine!)

Once cooked, cut into quarters and serve. I like a lightly dressed salad with my pizza but no-one else does. They just pick them up and tuck in!

Fridge raiding! - Cheese, onion and potato pie

Well, it's nearly payday, and I am surviving until my next food shop by using up any sorry looking bits of food I can find in my fridge and cupboards. What I can safely say is that this method does not produce inferior food; indeed, this dish is guaranteed to put a smile on all faces here. What I will say is that this is very much one of these personal choice kind of dish, so the ingredients I give here may need to be tweaked to your liking. The only departure from the norm I did make here was using up filo pastry for the pastry crust rather than the usual shortcrust that I would make up to lay on top of the oozy, cheesy, oniony filling, but I don't think it was any worse because of that.

One of my foodie aims in life is to try to replicate the cheese and onion pie that Phill's auntie used to make for him when he was small, because from what I can gather it was the best cheese and onion pie ever. I am not sure that I have hit that nadir as yet, but Phill came in from work and ate a few forkfuls of filling before I manage to trap it in pastry and he exclaimed that he was now 'hungry'. That's good enough for me, as nostalgia is very hard to replicate, which is the reason why although I might aim to make the best cheese and onion pie ever, I will probably not succeed. I am not Auntie Renie.

Lola, in particular, gives a big thumbs up on this one. Plate scraped clean.

Cheese, onion and potato pie

Feeds 4 - 6, depending on hunger.


A glug of olive oil

300g grated cheese (In this instance it was the remnants of the Christmas cheese feast, so I used strong cheddar, gruyere, smoked gouda and Double Gloucester, but my recommendation would be at least a strong cheddar, to flavour the potato and compliment the onion)
1 onion diced
3 medium potatoes, diced into small chunks
salt and pepper if needed

For the pastry:

Three sheets of filo pastry (which when cut to fit made six layers for the size of dish I used)
Olive oil or melted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper


Grate the cheese and put aside.

Dice the onion and put into the oil. Saute over a medium heat for about 10 minutes. Do not colour.

Peel the potatoes and dice into smallish chunks. Put into salted water and boil until they can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Drain.

Combine the ingredients in a bowl. Stir until well combined but take care not to mash the potatoes overly if you want texture in the finished dish. Taste and season appropriately.

Put into a suitable ovenproof dish or pie dish.

Preheat the oven to 180c

To top the filling, take one layer of filo pastry at a time, brush with oil or melted butter, and then use to cover the cheesy filling. Obviously trim the filo if you need to, or else just crinkle it haphazardly around the sides of the dish. Repeat, until you have used all the filo pastry.

Brush the top with oil and then scatter salt and pepper across the top.

Place in the oven for about 25 - 30 minutes, or until the top is browned and the filling is bubbling.
Take out of the oven and leave for about 5 - 10 minutes. A hot pie will take the roof of your mouth off.

Serve with whatever you fancy. on this occasion it was peas and sweetcorn.


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