Spinach and Lentil Pie

A quick post, today, before I cycle back to the boat to get ready for the Bastard English Session. It’s a folk music session in our local pub, which also happens to be where we’re having our wedding next year. Everyone gets together and plays folk music and sings pop songs and gets drunk and rowdy in the best possible way. Alright, so I can’t play any instruments, but I can definitely drink wine and sing along raucously.

So, yes: things to do, places to be, all of the utmost importance. I hope you all have similarly enjoyable Friday nights planned.


I’ve mentioned this pie, very briefly, before. It’s my mother’s recipe, although I have no idea where she got it originally, and I have adapted it a bit here. I became absolutely obsessed with it as a teenager, and requested it over and over again. I don’t know why, because it sounds – and looks – like such a humble dish, but for some reason I found it irresistibly delicious.

Funnily enough, even though I have had the recipe for years, this is the first time I have actually made it myself. I’d never quite gotten around to it, and this was at least in part because I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my memories. I thought it wouldn’t taste as good as I remembered.

Luckily, these fears were unfounded. See this massive pie? I ate 4/5 of it. Not in one sitting, I might add, but… it didn’t take me long, let’s put it that way. James had some too, and although I think he liked it, he certainly wasn’t as madly obsessed with it as I am. So, while I am sure you will enjoy it if you do decide to make it, please bear in mind that the crazy dedication to it is unique to me, and it’s not an inherently magical pie.


Notes: Is this healthy? I don’t know. I think the filling is healthy – anything full of that much spinach has to be healthy, right? – but that may be negated by the fact that it’s smothered in pastry. It keeps very well for a couple of days in the fridge, and the filling can be frozen. Feel free to use whatever savoury shortcrust recipe you like.

This pie could serve 5-6 people, as long as one of those people isn’t me.


for the pastry (this makes enough for a base, lid, and decorations – if you only want a lid, halve the quantities) 

500g plain flour
big pinch of salt
280g chilled butter
3 large egg yolks
6 tbsp chilled water

for the filling

175g red lentils
450ml water
800g fresh spinach, washed and shredded
250g cottage cheese
25g butter
15g plain flour
300ml milk
sprig of thyme
bay leaf
¼ tsp grated nutmeg


  1. First, make your pastry. I am a lazy heathen and make it in the food processor. Put your flour and salt in the food processor. Cut your cold butter into little pieces and sprinkle them on top of the flour. Pulse in the food processor briefly until your get a breadcrumb texture.
  2. Beat your egg yolks with 3 tbsp of the water, drizzle over the dry mixture, then pulse to combine. The mixture should start to come together, but if it doesn’t, keep adding the water until it does. Don’t let it get too wet. Tip the pastry out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead it briefly until it comes together. Shape it into a thick disc, wrap in clingfilm, and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
  3. Get on with making your filling. Put your lentils and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, or until the lentils have absorbed all the water and gone soft. Beat into a purée.
  4. Lightly cook your spinach however you like – you could put it in a colander and tip a kettle of boiling water over it, or nuke it in the microwave for two minutes, or cook it gently on the hob. Put the spinach in your biggest pan – I use a wok – and mix in the lentil purée and cottage cheese.
  5. You then need to make a basic sauce, which makes the mixture thick and creamy. Melt the butter in a saucepan, tip the flour in, and whisk it over a low heat for around three minutes to cook the flour out and make a roux. Gradually pour the milk into the pan, whisking all the while. It will initially go lumpy, but then smooth out. Add the herbs, nutmeg, and some salt and pepper. Gently bring the sauce to the boil and thicken. Mix the sauce with the spinach mixture. Leave it to cool and thicken.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. Get the pastry out of the fridge and divide it into two pieces, one slightly bigger. Use the bigger one to line a pie dish, and pop the other half back into the fridge for now. Blind bake your pastry for fifteen minutes, and then remove whatever weights you’ve used and give it five more minutes. Your pastry should now be dry, sandy, and very lightly coloured.
  7. Tip your filling into the pastry case. Roll out the other half of the pastry and use it as a lid. Save scraps for decorations, if you’re feeling fancy. Brush the pastry with a bit of milk or the eggwhites you have leftover if you like, for colour.
  8. Bake your pie for around 30 minutes, or until the pastry is dry and golden.

Prosciutto, Pesto, and Goats’ Cheese Soda Bread – Bake Off Bake Along Week 3

‘This is one of the trickiest challenges we’ve ever had’, said Paul.

Aaaaand that was me out of the show-stopper. I can barely make bread, let alone make a lion’s face out of bread.

Thank god for soda bread, eh? Essentially a free-form, savoury cake. My bet is that I will be one of many people making soda bread this week. I’ll try a show-stopper at some point, promise. Just not when it involves yeast.


Full disclosure: I did also actually try to make baguettes. I used Master Hollywood’s recipe, and I was really doubtful that it was going to work from the start, hence why I knocked up a soda bread during one prove of the baguette dough as insurance. I’m sure the recipe wasn’t at fault – the problem is that I’m really not set up for bread-making. I mean, let’s take a look, shall we?

  • ‘Lightly oil a 2-3 litre square plastic container…’ – fallen at the first hurdle, don’t have one of those.
  • ‘Put the flour, salt and yeast into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook…’ – oh, how I long for a mixer, but don’t have one of those, let alone with a dough hook.
  • ‘Put each tray inside a clean plastic bag…’ – those dough bags they have on the show look really useful, but I don’t have any of those.
  • ‘Slash each one 3 times along its length on the diagonal, using a razor blade or a very sharp knife…’ – turns out that I have neither a sharp enough knife to slice dough without dragging it, nor a kitchen razor blade.
  • This recipe doesn’t even mention the couche linen to tuck the baguettes up in to prove, but that would have also been really useful if I’d had it, which I didn’t.

I know, I know, a bad baker blames her lack of tools. I am the first to admit that I also don’t know what I am doing, which can’t have helped. I don’t know quite what happened, but although the first prove seemed to go fine, the baguettes actually got smaller on the second prove and collapsed and shrunk into themselves after only half an hour. I mean, I baked them anyway, but they came out more like large breadsticks than baguettes.


So, here we have soda bread instead. To be clear, I am aware that this looks absolutely horrific. A real mess. But it tasted really good, so I got over the fact that it looked a total state fairly quickly. See that quarter chunk cut out of the loaf in the first photo? I literally ate all of that as soon as I had finished photographing it. I only meant to cut off a little corner to try it, and one thing led to another, and before I knew it I had devoured the lot like a starving wolf.

I took the instructions from the show to heart, you see: soda bread shouldn’t be kneaded too much; it should be crumbly; the texture shouldn’t be like normal bread. Who knew?! (I know, I know, loads of people. But not me). As you can see, my soda bread is pretty damn crumbly, so… success?

Source: Since Alvin’s soda bread was so highly praised, I figured that I couldn’t go too far wrong if I started off with his recipe as a base.

Notes: I made my own pesto for this, because it’s really easy and much more delicious than the stuff in jars. That said, it all gets mixed into the bread dough so it probably doesn’t make a great deal of difference – if you have a jar kicking about, do use that.

The darker bits on top of this bread that look a bit burnt are actually just where I drizzled some pesto over the top of the loaf before cooking and it went dark quickly, but those bits tasted great even though they looked rubbish.

I ate this warm and spread with salted butter and I loved it. I particularly loved how easy it was, and how adaptable. You could pretty much make this with whatever odds you had in the fridge. Bit of meat, bit of cheese, some herbs, and you’re sorted.


450g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp table salt
40g cold butter, diced
80g prosciutto, torn
200g log of goats’ cheese, cut into disks
100g (or thereabouts) pesto, fresh or from a jar
300ml buttermilk
1 tbsp butter, melted


  1. Heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, and line a baking tray with parchment or a mat. In your largest mixing bowl, sieve together your flour, bicarbonate of soda, and salt. Rub the butter in with your fingertips – I found that there was so little butter compared to flour that it never got quite to the ‘breadcrumb’ stage, but just keep going until you can’t feel the cold smoothness of the butter between your fingers any more.
  2. Reserve a couple of chunks of both the prosciutto and the goats cheese for the topping, and then add the remaining prosciutto and goats cheese to the flour mix, along with all the pesto. Give it a mix to disperse it.
  3. Mix your buttermilk with 25ml of water to thin it slightly, then make a well in your flour mix and add 3/4 of the buttermilk. Stir the mixture with a butter knife until it comes together into a shaggy, slightly sticky dough. Add more buttermilk if it feels dry and won’t hold together.
  4. Tip your dough out onto your baking sheet and shape it into a round-ish loaf. Dust it with flour and score the top in a cross shape deeply with a sharp knife – I found a bread knife best for this. Pop your remaining prosciutto and goats’ cheese on top. Bake for 40-50 minutes. When it’s done, put it on a wire rack and brush with melted butter.

The original recipe tells you to let it cool before eating it, but I thought it was best warm. Plus I am impatient and greedy, so…


Meat, Broccoli, and Cashew Coiled Phylas Pastries

Secretly, I don’t like punting. Please don’t tell Oxford City Council, because I’m not sure you’re allowed to live here if you don’t like punting. And I’m pretty settled. I don’t want to be chucked out.

Don’t get me wrong – I love boats, and I love living on the river. Punting, however, is an entirely different thing to proper boating. It’s always so much better in quintessentially Oxonian pictures than when you’re stuck in the actual experience.

The problem is that once you’re sitting in a punt, you’re stuck sitting in a punt. It’s not very comfortable, and it’s always either too hot or too cold. It gets boring fairly fast. You move along the water very slowly. You are attacked by swans and wasps. You are always worried about losing your wallet or your phone in the grimy water.


What a moaner I am! Sorry to start this blog off on such a negative note, but I am only doing it to be able to segue into talking about the one thing that I love about punting adventures: picnics. Picnics are the only reason that I continued to go punting all the time throughout university. People would lure me in by saying ‘Come punting with us! Come on! We’ll have a picnic!’

I can’t resist a picnic.

I don’t know what it is about eating perfectly normal food in a picnic setting, but put cheeses, pork pies, and strawberries in a basket and plonk it all on a blanket outside somewhere and I am there. I love the ritual of choosing, making, and compiling all the various components of a picnic. I love packing things into bags and baskets and cool boxes and lugging it all outside and lying down on a patch of grass somewhere and eating far more sandwiches than is nutritionally advisable.

Nowadays, I am free from the social obligations of punting (there’s a first world problem if ever I did hear one), so I can transition into picnicking with abandon and delight. I mean, it’s August in England, so as I write this I am looking out of the window at a grey sky and pounding rain, but otherwise the time is ripe for a good old summertime picnic gorging-fest.

So, next time the planets align and we have a) sun and b) free time, we will definitely be having a picnic and I will definitely be making these.


Source: The concept of phylas pastry is one I found in the fantastic Honey & Co. Baking Book, which I have rhapsodised about on this blog before. I’ve since looked it up, and I cannot find any other references to phylas pastry on the whole of the Internet. Admittedly I didn’t look massively hard, but it didn’t come up in a Google search, so I think the concept might be theirs. However, although I have used their spiral pastry idea, the filling here is my own invention and I have changed a lot of the proportions from the original recipe, so this is very much my version.

Notes: This recipe makes four very hefty pastries. They go well with all sorts of salads in the summer (and probably in the winter too). I would say that a hungry person could eat a whole one, but half of one of these pastries will still be a very adequate serving for a less hungry person.


glug of oil (olive or rapeseed)
1 large or 2 small onions, finely diced
250g pork mince
250g beef mince
3 tbsp Ras el Hanout spice blend
6 tbsp chopped cashew nuts
1 small bunch of tenderstem broccoli, chopped into small pieces
500g block ready made all-butter puff pastry
1 egg, beaten and seasoned, for egg wash


  1. First, make your filling. Heat your oil gently  in a large deep frying pan, or wok, and pop your diced onions in to cook. After five minutes, turn up the heat and add both your pork and beef mince to the pan. Cook the meat over a high heat for at least five minutes, stirring it and breaking it up to make sure it browns evenly. Turn the heat down a little, and stir in your spice, nuts, and broccoli. Cook for another couple of minutes, then take it off the heat and leave to cool. The filling must be completely cold when you make the pastries, so pop it in the fridge once it’s cool enough. You can also make it the day before.
  2. Preheat your oven to 210C/ 190C fan/ gas 7. Dust a large surface generously with flour, then roll out your pastry to a rectangle of 60cm x 25cm. I actually measure this, because it’s always bigger than I think. Cut it vertically into four 15cm x 25cm rectangles. Take the first rectangle, and place a line of your filling down one long edge of the pastry. Push it together a bit with your fingers to make a long, dense line of filling. Roll up the pastry so that you get a 25cam long pastry cylinder full of meat, making sure the join is on the bottom. Roll it up into a spiral. Repeat all this three times. I am completely cack-handed and awful at this sort of thing, and I found it totally doable – it’s not as fiddly as it sounds.
  3. Place all four pastries onto a lined baking sheet, brush with egg wash, and bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes until golden and crisp. Turn your oven down to 190C/ 170C fan/ gas 5 and keeping cooking for another 15 minutes. Enjoy the pastries hot or cold.

Review: Big Ron’s Burrito Shack (Oxford)

As reviews go, this will not be the most comprehensive, detailed, or useful one you’ve ever seen. That’s because, when I stumbled upon Big Ron’s Burrito Shack, I wasn’t planning on doing a review at all.

I’d had a really long day which had involved driving a hyperactive puppy to Swindon and back, and I was running late for Catweazle. Dashing down Cowley Road on the hunt for some quick takeaway food to grab for dinner, I saw that Big Ron’s Burrito Shack had opened, at the original Atomic Burger site, and that people were heading in.


I love burritos. Quite an indecent amount, actually. Until now, the only real burrito destination in Oxford has been Mission, and I used to go past it on my lunch breaks when I worked in an office. It took the restraining influence of James to ensure that I didn’t eat all the burritos, all the time. They’re just such a great meal. All the food groups in a conveniently portable wrap, completely customisable and totally delicious.

I walked in, and was greeted by a very friendly guy on the door.

‘Do you do takeaway?’ I asked, hopefully.

‘Ooh… Sorry, we’re not really doing takeaway tonight,’ he said.

‘Oh, no problem!’ I replied. ‘I’ll go and find something else.’

‘Actually, hang on,’ he said, ‘I’m sure we can sort something out. Go and talk to the woman in blue behind the counter and tell her I said it was okay for you to get a takeaway.’

‘Really!? Fantastic! Thank you!’

I went up to the counter, where I was greeted by another incredibly friendly person, and set about perusing the menu. Normally I wouldn’t go for chicken in a burrito – just because other options seem more interesting – but it was tequila and lime chicken. That sounded pretty delicious, so I went with that plus, um, all the available extras. Just, you know, a bit of shredded lettuce, black beans, pico do gallo, sour cream, guacamole, Monterey Jack cheese, and salsa. I was hungry, okay?

I got out my wallet to pay.

‘Oh no,’ protested the friendly woman at the counter, ‘You don’t pay! Everything’s free tonight.’

‘Wait, what? Why?!’

‘Oh, it’s a private party,’ she explained, ‘For the launch.’

Oh. Right. I had accidentally walked into a private launch party that I wasn’t invited to, asked for takeaway that they weren’t offering, and gotten free food that I wasn’t entitled to. Well done Hannah.

I was sort of mortified, and kept apologising and offering to pay, but all the staff were incredibly kind and understanding and insisted on giving me my massive free burrito.

So, I can testify that not only are the people working at Big Ron’s Burrito Shack very lovely, but that their burritos are delicious. I haven’t got a very good picture, because I was walking and eating at the same time and only had my phone on me – plus burritos are hard to photograph well at the best of times – but trust me, it was great. The tortilla was soft, yet robust enough to contain all of the fillings, which were fresh, full of flavour, and well-balanced. The chicken had a strong punch of tequila and a kick of lime, which ran through the burrito and married perfectly with the softer accompaniments of the cheese, sour cream, and guacamole.


We will definitely be going back to sample the other filling options – I was also very tempted by the Texas pork – and the various degrees of spicy salsa. I should also point out that normally they will be offering a full takeaway service; they just hadn’t been planning on doing so on launch night when I stumbled upon them. Also, they probably won’t give you your food for free. But I’m sure the service will be just as charming all the same.



Mushroom Risotto

One of the few times I was seriously ill during my teenage years was when I got food poisoning from eating some risotto, bought in a tub from the supermarket and reheated at home. If you’ve ever had severe food poisoning, you will know that it is absolutely horrific, and actually feels even worse than it sounds.

That experience spooked me, and I couldn’t quite face risotto again for at least three years afterwards – genuinely. I am quite happy to eat all sorts of weird things that lots of people wouldn’t touch, but the mere thought of risotto made me feel a bit ill.

When three years had passed, I gingerly ordered risotto as a starter at some restaurant and, remarkably, survived. I am sure they will be optioning the film rights any day now.

Anyway, I am now wholeheartedly over my risotto aversion and trying to make up for lost time. Risotto has many things in its favour. It’s very easy to make, and very forgiving. It’s cheap (or at least, it can be). It multiplies easily to feed a crowd. It’s wonderfully adaptable. It can be made to feel summery or wintery. I feel quite bad that I neglected it for so long.

This was actually the first risotto recipe I made myself a few years back – after I got over my phobia – and though it’s very simple and there are far fancier things you can do, it’s still one of my favourites.


Source: This has been fairly minimally adapted from BBC Good Food: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2364/mushroom-risotto. I’ll do another post on why I bloody love BBC Good Food and why they’re excellent another time, but their site is often my first port of call when I am totally stuck for dinner ideas. Anyway, most risotto recipes are pretty forgiving and will happily accept anything else chucked in there, so once you have the hang of the basics then the world is your oyster. Make oyster risotto.

Notes: This will serve four, or three hungry people as a main, or more as a side – I’ve served it with roasted broccoli and crispy chicken before.


50g dried porcini mushrooms – you can get them in little packs from the supermarket
1 chicken stock cube (or vegetable if you’re vegetarian)
decent knob of butter
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g pack mixed mushrooms, sliced and washed (you can use whatever mushrooms you like – cheap and cheerful will be delicious – but I think mushroom risotto is a good excuse to use some interesting fungi if you fancy it, since they’re the star of the show here)
300g arborio risotto rice
1 large-ish glass white wine (and one for the cook)
handful parsley leaves, chopped
handful of grated parmesan, or whatever cheese you have lying about (I’ve made this successfully with gouda and cheddar)


  1. Boil about a litre of water, and tip it over the dried porcini in a bowl. Leave it to soak for about twenty minutes. In the meantime, melt the butter in your biggest frying pan – or a wok – until melted and bubbly, then chuck your onions and garlic in and fry them off gently until they’re soft.
  2. Drain your mushroom liquid into another bowl (keeping it), then squeeze the last of the liquid out of the porcini mushrooms and chop them. Crumble the chicken stock cube into the liquid and set aside. Add the chopped fresh and dry mushrooms to the pan, and stir them around a bit. Let the mushrooms soften – it will take around ten minutes. Season.
  3. Add the rice and mix that around too to get it all covered in mushroom goodness. Cook it for about a minute, and then add the wine to the hot pan. Let it bubble and evaporate, and then add about a quarter of the mushroom liquid. Keep stirring the rice until it has absorbed all the liquid and started to plump. Keep adding the stock gradually, simmering, and stirring. The rice will get fat and creamy.
  4. Taste the rice. Is it done? I like my risotto to still have a tiny bit of a bite to it, rather than being completely mushy, but cook it to your liking. Take the pan off the stove, then add a knob of butter and about half the cheese and parsley and give it a stir. Cover the risotto and leave it for five minutes to cool and rest. Pop the rest of the cheese and parsley on top, and serve.